The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Bob Goodlatte says he has received a “smoking gun” email that shows former President Obama Justice Department blocked conservative groups from receiving settlement payouts, even though liberal groups were given the money.
“It is not every day in congressional investigations that we find a smoking gun,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said Tuesday. “Here, we have it.”
According to the internal DOJ emails Goodlatte released Tuesday, officials chose which groups received the settlement funds, and even may have intervened to ensure conservative groups didn’t receive money.
While Eric Holder was U.S. attorney general, the Justice Department allowed prosecutors to strike agreements compelling big companies to give money to outside groups not connected to their cases to meet settlement burdens. Republican lawmakers long have decried those payments as a “slush fund” that boosted liberal groups, and the Trump DOJ ended the practice earlier this year. […]
In one such email in July 2014, a senior Justice Department official expressed “concerns” about what groups would receive settlement money from Citigroup — saying they didn’t want money going to a group that does “conservative property-rights legal services.”
“Concerns include: a) not allowing Citi to pick a statewide intermediary like the Pacific Legal Foundation (does conservative property-rights legal services),” the official, whose name is redacted in the email, wrote under the title of “Acting Senior Counselor for Access to Justice.”
The official added that “we are more likely to get the right result from a state bar association affiliated entity.” (Fox News)
The Pacific Legal Foundation responded to the email they were named in, saying the group was “flattered” the Obama administration was concerned about how successful they are.
“We are flattered that the previous administration would be concerned enough about our success vindicating individual liberty and property rights to prevent settlement funds from making their way to Pacific Legal Foundation,” PLF CEO Steven D. Anderson said in a statement, reports Fox News.
The group also told Fox the emails make clear “permanent reforms to prevent such abuse are needed.”
Goodlatte disclosed the emails during a speech on the House floor.
“Aiding their political allies was only the half of it,” said the chairman, who’s sponsoring the Stop Settlement Slush Funds Act of 2017. “The evidence of the Obama DOJ’s abuse of power shows that [then-Associate Attorney General] Tony West’s team went out of its way to exclude conservative groups.”
The documents indicate West played an active role in helping certain organizations obtain settlement information.
“Can you explain to Tony the best way to allocate some money to an organization of our choosing?” Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Elizabeth Taylor wrote in one November 2013 email.
Groups who received funding also expressed appreciation for West’s efforts, according to the emails.
“Now that it has been more than 24 hours for us all to try and digest the Bank of America settlement, I would like to discuss ways we might want to recognize and show appreciation for the Department of Justice and specifically Associate Attorney General Tony West,” wrote Charles R. Dunlap, executive director of the Indiana Bar, in an August 2014 email.
Dunlap wrote that West “by all accounts was the one person most responsible” for the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts group receiving money.
One person, Bob LeClair, responded to Dunlap’s email by saying, “Frankly, I would be willing to have us build a statue [of West] and then we could bow down to this statue each day after we get our $200,000.” (Fox News)
Goodlatte said the emails contradict Geoffrey Graber’s 2015 testimony that the department “did not want to be in the business of picking and choosing which organizations may or may not receive any funding under the agreement.” Graber oversaw the DOJ’s big bank settlements.
“Internal DOJ documents tell a different story,” Goodlatte said. “They show that contrary to Graber’s sworn testimony, the donation provisions were structured to aid the Obama administration’s political friends and exclude conservative groups.”
When ending the practice in June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said “any settlement funds should go first to the victims and then to the American people — not to bankroll third-party special interest groups or the political friends of whoever is in power.”