Yemen Non-Evacuation: Court Refuses to Second-Guess Discretionary Foreign Policy Decisions

Posted: 4:38 am ET

The State Department’s Yemen Crisis page notes that due to deteriorating situation, it suspended embassy operations on February 11, 2015, and U.S. Embassy Sana’a American staff were relocated out of the country.  “All consular services, routine and emergency, continue to be suspended until further notice. The Department notified the public of this move, and its impact on consular services, and urged U.S. citizens in Yemen to depart while commercial transportation was available.”

The U.S. Embassy in Sanaa went on mandatory evacuation in May 2011 (see US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure), and again in August 2013 (see US Embassy Yemen Now on Ordered Departure) and November 2014 (see US Embassy Yemen on Ordered Departure Once Again). In July 2014, the State Department issued a Travel Warning, see New Travel Warning for Yemen — Don’t Come; If In Country, Leave! But Some Can’t Leave).

See our other posts:

The case below was filed on April 9, 2015 by a Nora Ali Mobarez, a United States citizen residing in Yemen.  She was joined by “25 other people, all of whom are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Yemeni connections” in filing a cases against the Secretaries of State and Defense and seeking a court order to “compel Defendants to comply with an alleged duty of the Executive Branch to provide a means of evacuation from Yemen for them or their relatives.”

Excerpt from the Memorandum of Opinion dated May 17, 2016 by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia:

Plaintiff Nora Ali Mobarez, a United States citizen, is currently residing in the war-torn and conflict-ridden Republic of Yemen. (See Compl., ECF No. 2, ¶¶ 4, 55– 59.) Mobarez has joined with 25 other people, all of whom are U.S. citizens or permanent residents with Yemeni connections, to file the instant official-capacity complaint against the Secretary of the Department of State (“State”) and the Secretary of the Department of Defense (“DOD” and, collectively, “Defendants”). These plaintiffs seek a court order to compel Defendants to comply with an alleged duty of the Executive Branch to provide a means of evacuation from Yemen for them or their relatives. (See id. ¶¶ 3–24, 29–77.) Specifically, their complaint asserts that the United States has closed its embassy in Sana’a, Yemen, has evacuated embassy staff, and has removed Marines from the country, but that the U.S. government has yet to execute any plan to secure the safe removal of private American citizens. (See id. ¶¶ 34–36, 77.) According to Plaintiffs, Defendants’ forbearance violates the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), 5 U.S.C. §§ 701–06, insofar as Defendants “have failed to provide through direct military assistance or contracting with commercial entities the necessary equipment, ships, airplanes, and other items that are available to Defendants to [e]nsure the security, safety, and well-being of United States citizens[,]” and have therefore “unlawfully withheld and/or unreasonably delayed agency action to which the Plaintiffs are entitled” and/or “have taken action that is arbitrary and capricious and an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law[.]” (Id. ¶ 81.)

Before this Court at present is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss the instant complaint. (See Defs.’ Mot. to Dismiss (“Defs.’ Mot.”), ECF No. 8.) Defendants contend that Plaintiffs are wrong about the existence of any duty to evacuate them. (See Defs.’ Reply in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. (“Reply”), ECF No. 12, at 6–8.)1 Furthermore, as a threshold matter, Defendants insist that legal claims such as the ones Plaintiffs bring here require the judiciary to second-guess the discretionary foreign- policy decisions of the Executive Branch, and thus, are nonjusticiable under the political-question doctrine. (See Defs.’ Mem. in Supp. of Defs.’ Mot. (“Defs.’ Mem.”), ECF No. 8-1, at 12–14.)

On March 31, 2016, this Court issued an order GRANTING Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint. (See Order, ECF No. 13.) The instant Memorandum Opinion explains the Court’s reasons for that order. In short, the Court agrees with Defendants’ justiciability argument, and has therefore concluded that it lacks jurisdiction to entertain Plaintiffs’ complaint.
[…]
Plaintiffs have asked this Court, in no uncertain terms, to issue an order that compels the Executive Branch to conduct an evacuation of American citizens in Yemen. Not surprisingly, Defendants insist that any such order would impermissibly encroach upon the discretion that the Constitution affords to the political branches to conduct foreign affairs; therefore, prior to considering Defendants’ contention that Plaintiffs’ complaint fails to state a claim under the APA, this Court must first determine whether or not it has the authority to traverse the thicket of thorny foreign-policy issues that encompasses Plaintiffs’ allegations. Precedent in this area makes it crystal clear that federal courts cannot answer “political questions” that are presented to them in the guise of legal issues, see infra Part III.A., but identifying which claims qualify as nonjusticiable political questions—and which do not—can sometimes be a substantially less lucid endeavor. Not so here: as explained below, after considering the parties’ arguments and the applicable law regarding the boundaries of the political-question doctrine, this Court is confident that Plaintiffs’ claims fit well within the scope of the nonjusticiability principles that the Supreme Court and D.C. Circuit have long articulated. Accordingly, in its Order of March 31, 2016, the Court granted Defendants’ motion and dismissed Plaintiffs’ case.
[…]
It cannot be seriously disputed that “decision-making in the fields of foreign policy and national security is textually committed to the political branches of government.” Schneider, 412 F.3d at 194; see also id. at 194–95 (collecting the various explicit “[d]irect allocation[s]” in the Constitution of those responsibilities to the legislative and executive branches). And, indeed, Plaintiffs seek to have this Court question the Executive Branch’s discretionary decision to refrain from using military force to implement an evacuation under the circumstances described in the complaint, despite the fact that, per the Constitution, it is the President who, as head of the Executive Branch and “Commander in Chief[,]” U.S. Const. Art. II, § 2, decides whether and when to deploy military forces, not this Court. See El-Shifa, 607 F.3d at 842 (explaining that a claim “requiring [the court] to decide whether taking military action was wise” is a nonjusticiable “policy choice[] and value determination[]” (second and third alterations in original) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)).

Plaintiffs’ suggestion that the court-ordered remedy they seek could very well stop short of a direct mandate for military intervention (see Pls.’ Opp’n at 15 (asserting that “[t]his Court can order Defendants to [effectuate the evacuation] by simply directing the evacuation to happen and leaving it to Defendants to determine the means”)) makes no difference, as far as the political-question doctrine is concerned. Regardless, the clear basis for the complaint’s assertion that Plaintiffs are entitled to any relief at all is the contention that the Executive Branch has abused its discretion— in APA terms—in refusing to evacuate U.S. citizens from Yemen thus far (see, e.g., Compl. ¶ 81), and the Court’s evaluation of that contention would necessarily involve second-guessing the “wisdom” of these agencies’ discretionary determinations.
[…]
[T]he “strategic choices directing the nation’s foreign affairs are constitutionally committed to the political branches[,]” and once it becomes clear that a plaintiff wishes the courts to “reconsider the wisdom of discretionary foreign policy decisions[,]” the judicial inquiry must end.

Read the Memorandum of Opinion here (PDF) or read below:

 

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EEOC Case: FS Candidate Wins Disability Discrimination Case, Sinks For Selective Service Registration Fail

Posted: 4:32 am ET

Via eeoc.gov:

On March 9, 2004, Complainant filed a formal complaint alleging that he was subjected to disability discrimination when he was denied an appointment to a Junior Officer position with the Foreign Service.  After an investigation, the Agency issued a final decision finding no discrimination, and Complainant appealed.  In our prior decision, we found the Agency discriminated against him when it failed to grant him a medical clearance based on its “worldwide availability” requirement.  Bitsas v. U.S. Department of State, EEOC Appeal No. 0120051657 (Sept. 30, 2009).  As relief, we ordered the Agency to retroactively offer Complainant a Junior Officer position, and to tender back pay and promotions from the date Complainant would have encumbered his position, absent discrimination, until the date he either enters on duty or is denied a medical or security clearance.  We further ordered the Agency to undertake a supplemental investigation into complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages, provide training, consider taking disciplinary action, and post a notice of the finding of discrimination.  Id.

Pursuant to our order, on November 10, 2009, the Agency sent Complainant a Conditional Offer of Appointment to a Junior Officer position, contingent on the satisfactory completion of the security, medical, and suitability clearance processes.  On January 1, 2010, Complainant received a Class 1 Medical Clearance.  However, on July 16, 2010, the Agency’s Final Review Panel (FRP) terminated Complainant’s candidacy based on suitability grounds.

The FRP concluded that, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 3328, Complainant was ineligible for federal Executive branch employment because he failed to register with the Selective Service System (SSS).  The Panel also concluded that there were several instances of misconduct in Complainant’s prior employment which rendered him ineligible for employment with the Foreign Service.  Complainant appealed this decision, but on December 8, 2010, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) determined that Complainant’s failure to register with the SSS was knowing and/or willful; thus, he was ineligible for appointment to an Executive Agency.  Complainant sought a request for reconsideration with the OPM, which was denied.

In the meantime, Complainant sent the Agency information regarding his entitlement to compensatory damages.  On April 11, 2012, the Agency issued a final decision denying compensatory damages, reasoning that the FRP’s suitability finding would have resulted in the withdrawal of his conditional offer of employment, even if he had been granted a medical clearance for worldwide availability.  Accordingly, the Agency determined complainant was not entitled to any compensatory damages.
[…]

The Agency is ordered to take the following remedial action:

1. The Agency shall determine the appropriate amount of back pay, with interest, and other benefits due Complainant, pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 1614.501, no later than one hundred and twenty (120) calendar days after the date this decision becomes final.  The back pay period shall be from September 23, 2003 until the date the Agency discovered Complainant had not registered with the SSS, approximately July 16, 2010.  The Complainant shall cooperate in the Agency’s efforts to compute the amount of back pay and benefits due, and shall provide all relevant information requested by the Agency.  If there is a dispute regarding the exact amount of back pay and/or benefits, the Agency shall issue a check to the Complainant for the undisputed amount within sixty (60) calendar days of the date the Agency determines the amount it believes to be due.  The Complainant may petition for enforcement or clarification of the amount in dispute.  The petition for clarification or enforcement must be filed with the Compliance Officer, at the address referenced in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision.”

2. Within one hundred and twenty (120) calendar days, the Agency shall undertake a supplemental investigation to determine Complainant’s entitlement to compensatory damages under Title VII. The Agency shall give Complainant notice of his right to submit objective evidence (pursuant to the guidance given in Carle v. Department of the Navy, EEOC Appeal No. 01922369 (January 5, 1993)) and request objective evidence from Complainant in support of his request for compensatory damages within forty-five (45) calendar days of the date Complainant receives the Agency’s notice.  No later than ninety (90) calendar days after the date that this decision becomes final, the Agency shall issue a final Agency decision addressing the issue of compensatory damages.  The final decision shall contain appeal rights to the Commission. The Agency shall submit a copy of the final decision to the Compliance Officer at the address set forth below.

3. The Agency shall pay Complainant’s reasonable attorney fees in accordance with the paragraph below.

4. The Agency is further directed to submit a report of compliance, as provided in the statement entitled “Implementation of the Commission’s Decision.”  The report shall include supporting documentation of the Agency’s calculation of back pay and other benefits due Complainant, including evidence that the corrective action has been implemented.

See why. Read Harvey D. v. Department of State, EEOC Appeal No.0120122385 (Oct. 22, 2015) http://www.eeoc.gov/decisions/0120122385.txt

Under current law, all male U.S. citizens between 18–25 years are required to register with Selective Service within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Non-U.S.-citizen males between the ages of 18 and 25 (inclusive) living in the United States must also register. See the Who Must Register chart here.

 

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Ex-Fox News Commentator/CIA Impostor Sentenced to 33 Months in Prison For Fraud

Posted: 3:27 am ET

We’ve previously posted about this case here: Ex-Fox News Commentator Pleads Guilty to Fraud, Dents Benghazi Cottage Industry. On July 15, USDOJ announced that Wayne Shelby Simmons was sentenced  to 33 months in prison “for major fraud against the government, wire fraud, and a firearms offense.” The sentence also includes three years of supervised release, forfeiture of two firearms and $175,612 in criminal proceeds, and restitution to his victims.

Via USDOJ | CIA Imposter Sentenced to Prison for Fraud

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Wayne Shelby Simmons, 62, of Annapolis, Maryland, a former Fox News commentator who has falsely claimed he spent 27 years working for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was sentenced today to 33 months in prison for major fraud against the government, wire fraud, and a firearms offense.  Simmons was also ordered to serve three years of supervised release, to forfeit two firearms and $175,612 in criminal proceeds, and to pay restitution to his victims.

“Wayne Simmons is a fraud,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Simmons has no military or intelligence background, or any skills relevant to the positions he attained through his frauds.  He is quite simply a criminal and a con man, and his fraud had the potential to endanger national security and put American lives at risk in Afghanistan.   I want to thank the agents and prosecutors for their efforts on this complicated case.”

“With this sentencing, Simmons now faces the consequences of his criminal activity, deceit, and dishonesty,” said Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  “He fraudulently obtained positions with the U.S. government by lying about his previous employment and history, and further, defrauded a victim through a bogus real estate investment scheme. Simmons abused people’s trust for his own selfish gain, and in doing so placed lives at risk and jeopardized national security.”

“Mr. Simmons never worked at CIA and we are pleased that justice was served in this case,” said Dean Boyd, Director of CIA’s Office of Public Affairs.

Simmons pleaded guilty on April 29.  According to court documents, Simmons defrauded the government in 2008 when he obtained work as a team leader in the U.S. Army’s Human Terrain Systems program, in 2009 when he attempted to obtain work with the State Department’s Worldwide Protective Service, and again in 2010 when he was deployed to Afghanistan as a senior intelligence advisor on the International Security Assistance Force’s Counterinsurgency Advisory and Assistance Team (CAAT).  To obtain these positions and the security clearances they required, Simmons made false statements about his financial, employment, and criminal history, including that he had worked for the CIA, that he had previously possessed a top secret security clearance, and that his prior criminal convictions related to his supposed clandestine work.  In order to obtain the CAAT position, Simmons also lied about the nature of the work he had done just a year earlier with the Human Terrain Systems program, a program from which he had been forced to resign prior to deployment.  The government’s investigation determined that Simmons was never associated with the CIA in any capacity and that during the years he claims to have worked for the agency, he was instead working in a variety of capacities and having various run-ins with the law.  His work activities from 1973-2000 include: defensive back for the New Orleans Saints NFL team, nightclub doorman, manager at a rent-by-the-hour hot tub business, bookie, operator of a limousine business and an AIDS-testing business, mortgage broker, and employment at an anti-graffiti business.  During that time, the defendant was also convicted of state firearms, assault, and gambling charges and federal firearms charges.

Simmons also defrauded an individual victim, identified as E.L., out of $125,000 in connection with a bogus real estate investment.  As part of the fraud, Simmons sent E.L. promised monthly disbursements to make it appear as if her funds had been invested as promised and repeatedly lied to her about the whereabouts of her money in order to perpetuate the fraud.  There was never any actual real estate investment project, and Simmons simply spent the funds.

Finally, when Simmons was arrested in this case, he was found to be in possession of two firearms, which he was prohibited from possessing on account of his prior felony convictions.

Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Paul M. Abbate, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge T. S. Ellis, III.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul J. Nathanson and James L. Trump prosecuted the case.

A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.  Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1: 15-cr-293.

Click file to read the indictment (PDF) via USDOJ/USAO/Eastern District of Virginia.

This is a guy who was part of the Pentagon’s Retired Military Analysts program whose members, the um… “message force multipliers” were given regular briefings from Donald Rumsfeld, then the secretary of defense. Read the wild story on how this con unraveled: The Plot to Take Down a Fox News Analyst via NYT mag.

 

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NY Couple Pays $1 Million Penalty in Immigration Fraud Scheme Involving Philippine H-1B Nurses

Posted: 3:01 am ET

Via USDOJ/Vermont:

New York Lawyer and Wife Pay $1 Million Following Conviction on Immigration Fraud Scheme

The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Vermont announced today that Loreto Kudera, age 45, and Hazel Kudera, age 43, a married couple from New York, New York, who have pleaded guilty to an immigration fraud scheme, have paid the final installment of their $1 million forfeiture penalty representing ill-gotten gains from the scheme.

On June 9, 2016, the Kuderas pleaded guilty to charges that they conspired to commit immigration fraud. According to the public record, Hazel Kudera owns several medical staffing agencies in New York specializing in providing nursing professionals to hospitals, outpatient and skilled nursing facilities. She and her husband, Loreto Kudera, then a lawyer at the Law Offices of Barry Silberzweig, in New York, New York, provided false and fraudulent information to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in St. Albans, Vermont when applying for  for foreign nurses.

The H-1B visa program permits an employer to petition on a behalf of a foreign national beneficiary to enter the United States for the specific purpose of working for the employer in a specialty occupation. There are a limited number of H-1B visas available each year, and the purpose of the program is to ensure that these visas go to legitimate beneficiaries to fill specialty positions from a qualified work force. Working as a general RN or LPN is not considered a specialty occupation by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. Knowing this, Hazel Kudera and Loreta Kudera falsely stated that these foreign nurses, mostly from the Philippines, would be working in specialty occupations at prevailing wage rates when, in fact, they were going to work as LPNs or RNs at much lower rates, mostly at nursing homes. Hazel Kudera and Loreto Kudera profited from this scheme from the filing fees they collected from the beneficiaries as well as from the health care facilities which were paying fees to the medical staffing agencies owned by Hazel Kudera. The Kuderas admitted that they submitted 100 or more fraudulent petitions as part of their scheme. As a result of their convictions, the Kuderas agreed to forfeit $1,000,000 in illegal proceeds to the United States.

The Kuderas are scheduled to be sentenced on September 28, 2016. The maximum penalties for their conviction are five years of imprisonment, three years of supervised release, or a fine of $250,000 or twice the amount of gross gain, whichever is greater. The sentence will be advised by the United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The United States Attorney commended the investigative efforts of the United States Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service, the United States Department of Labor Office of Inspector General, Office of Labor Racketeering and Fraud, and the United States Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, in Boston, Massachusetts, who jointly spearheaded the investigation. The United States Attorney also wishes to thank the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service, Security Fraud Division, at the Vermont Service Center in St. Albans, Vermont for their assistance with the investigation.

The original announcement is available here.

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JW v. @StateDept: Under Secretary Patrick Kennedy’s Testimony (Transcript)

Posted: 2:27 am ET

On June 30, Judicial Watch released the transcript of the deposition conducted with the State Department’s Under Secretary for ManagementPatrick F. Kennedy.  Read below or read the original post here.

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JW v. @StateDept: Huma Abedin’s Testimony (Transcript)

Posted: 3:47 am ET

 

Judicial Watch has released the transcript of Huma Abedin’s deposition in connection with the group’s FOIA litigation.

If you want to read the transcript, it is available below or read the original post here (PDF).

 

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Visa Fraudsters Who Recruited H-1B workers For the “Bench” Get 87 Months in Federal Prison

Posted: 3:35 am ET

Via DOJ/Northern District of Texas:

Atul and Jay Nanda Used Their Corporation, Dibon Solutions in Carrollton, Texas, to Commit Fraud Through H-1B Visa Program to Create a Low-Cost Workforce

DALLAS — Two brothers who were convicted at trial in November 2015 on felony offenses stemming from a conspiracy they ran to commit visa fraud to secure a low-cost workforce at their information technology consulting company headquartered in Carrollton, Texas, were sentenced today to lengthy federal prison terms, announced U.S. Attorney John Parker of the Northern District of Texas.

Atul Nanda, 46, and his brother, Jiten “Jay” Nanda, 45, were each sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Barbara M. G. Lynn to 87 months in federal prison.  Each was convicted on one count of conspiracy to commit visa fraud, one count of conspiracy to harbor illegal aliens, and four counts of wire fraud.  The brothers, who have been on bond, were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.

Dibon Solutions is an information technology consulting company located on Chenault Drive in Carrollton; it is a family operation created by the Nanda family.  Atul and Jiten Nanda created, established, and ran the corporation that they used to commit fraud through the H1-B visa program.

“The H-1B visa program is a powerful and positive tool for businesses and foreign workers alike when properly used,” said U.S. Attorney Parker.  “When employers abuse the program, however, the foreign workers become a captive stable of cheap labor, victimized to the company’s financial benefit.”

“This federal investigation uncovered Dibon’s deeply rooted conspiracy of maximizing its profits at all costs,” said Katrina W. Berger, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Dallas.  “These two brothers created a highly profitable, and highly illegal business model at the extreme expense of the alien workforce that they recruited.  In addition, this same illegal business model operated at an unfair advantage to Dibon’s competition since it had a much lower operating overhead.”

The H-1B visa program allows businesses in the U.S., such as Dibon, to temporarily employ foreign workers with specialized or technical expertise in a particular field such as accounting, engineering, or computer science.

The Nanda brothers recruited foreign workers with expertise who wanted to work in the U.S.  They sponsored the workers’ H-1B visa with the stated purpose of working at Dibon headquarters in Carrolton, but, in fact, did not have an actual position at the time they were recruited and knew the workers would ultimately provide consulting services to third-party companies located throughout the U.S.  Contrary to representations made by the conspirators to the workers (and the government), Jay and Atul Nanda directed that the workers only be paid for time spent working at a third-party company and only if the third-party company actually first paid Dibon for the workers’ services.  Additionally, in Dibon’s visa paperwork, the conspirators falsely represented that the workers had full-time positions and were paid an annual salary, as required by regulation to secure the visas.

This scheme provided the conspirators with a labor pool of inexpensive, skilled foreign workers who could be used on an “as needed” basis.  The scheme was profitable because it required minimal overhead and Dibon could charge significant hourly rates for a computer consultant’s services.  Thus, the Nandas, as Dibon’s owners, earned a substantial profit margin when a consultant was assigned to a project and incurred few costs when a worker was without billable work.  This scheme is known as “benching.”  Dibon actively recruited H-1B workers for the “bench.”

The Nandas required the H-1B visa candidates to pay the processing fees that the law requires to be paid by the company. The Nandas attempted to hide this, however, by having the H-1B candidates pay the fees directly to Dibon either with cash or a check written to “Dibon Training Center.”

The three other defendants charged in the case, Siva Sugavanam, 37, Vivek Sharma, 48, and Rohit Mehra, 39, who each pleaded guilty before trial to one count of aiding and abetting visa fraud, were each sentenced earlier this month by Judge Lynn to two years’ probation.  Sugavanam was the lead recruiter for Dibon; Sharma acted as Dibon’s office manager; and Mehra recruited employees for the bench and transported benched employees to and from Dibon Headquarters.  All three had knowledge of and/or involvement in the filing of false documents with the Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in securing recruits’ employment with Dibon.

The case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, HSI and the U.S. Department of State.

Original announcement is posted here.

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JW v. @StateDept: Karin M. Lang Testimony (Transcript)

Posted: 2:50 am ET

 

Judicial Watch recently released the deposition transcript of Karin Lang, director of the Executive Secretariat staff since July 2015 and designated representative for the State Department.  Prior to her assignment at Main State, she was the chief of the American Citizen Services at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

The Lang transcript is available here (PDF) or read below.  Lang was designated by the State Department as its 30(b)(6) witness assigned to provide the agency’s testimony on the Clinton email issue.

 

 

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Rainey v. @StateDept: Attention Whistleblowers — Rules and Regs Are Not Laws

Posted: 2:14 am ET

 

Last year, we blogged about a decision by the Merit Systems Protection Board concerning a Whistleblower Protection Act case where a State Department employee, Timothy Allen Rainey, alleged that the agency stripped him of certain job duties and gave him a poor performance rating after he refused to follow an order that would have required him to violate federal acquisition regulations (FAR) and training certification procedures. See Rainey v. State Department: “Right-to-Disobey” (Precedential Decision).

On June 7, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld the Merit Systems Protection Board ruling in a precedent-setting opinion — agreeing that the term “a law” in section 2302(b)(9)(D) refers only to a statute, and not to a rule or regulation.

In this IRA appeal, Rainey claimed that his duties as contracting officer had been taken away from him because he refused to obey his supervisor’s order to tell a contractor to rehire a terminated subcontractor.  Rainey contended that he refused to obey the order because dong so would have required him to violate a provision of the Federal Acquisition Regulation.  The issue was whether the right-to-disobey provision of the Whistleblower Protection Act, 5 U.S.C. §  2302(b)(9)(D), which protects covered employees from retaliation “for refusing to obey an order that would require the individual to violate a law,” applied to the appellant, who alleged that he had suffered retaliation for refusing to obey an order that would require him to violate a regulation.  The Board, relying on a recent Supreme Court decision, Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean, 135 S. Ct. 913 (2015), which held that the word “law” in the “right-to-disclose” provision of the WPA, 5 U.S.C. §  2302(b)(8), refers only to statute, and not to a rule or regulation, ruled that the term “a law” in section 2302(b)(9)(D) should also be interpreted to refer to a statute, and not to a rule or regulation.  122 M.S.P.R. 592 (2015).

The Court writes:

Dr. Rainey makes a final argument that the FAR is a particularly important regulation that has the full force and effect of law and therefore should be regarded as “a law” within the meaning of section 2302(b)(9)(D) even if other regulations do not qualify as “laws” for purposes of that statute. The first problem with that argument is that substantive agency regulations that are promulgated pursuant to statutory authority typically have the “force and effect of law,” see Perez v. Mortgage Bankers Ass’n, 135 S. Ct. 1199, 1204 (2015); Chrysler Corp. v. Brown, 441 U.S. 281, 295 (1979), so that feature does not distinguish the FAR from other more quotidian legislative rules. The second problem with the argument is that, as noted, there is nothing in the section 2302(b)(9) that even hints at a distinction between important regulations and less important regulations; to the contrary, the statute distinguishes between “a law” and “law, rule, or regulation,” and the FAR clearly falls on the “regulation” side of that divide.

What now?  Court says “Congress is free to alter the scope of the statute”:

Dr. Rainey’s arguments are heavy on policy reasons why Congress likely would not have wanted to confine the scope of section 2302(b)(9)(D) to statutes. Those policy considerations are not without force, and it may be that the statute should be extended to cover rules, regulations, and other sources of legal authority. If so, Congress is free to alter the scope of the statute. But we are not so free. Between the restrictive language chosen by Congress and the closely analogous decision of the Supreme Court in MacLean, we are constrained to hold that the protection granted by section 2302(b)(9)(D) is limited to orders that are contrary to a statute, and does not encompass orders that are contrary to a regulation.

This is bad.  So basically State Department employees will not be able to get whistleblower protection for refusing orders that violate rules or regulations in the Foreign Affairs Manual/Foreign Affairs Handbook.  If a supervisor orders an employee to break the rules/regs in the FAM/FAH, the employee must comply or be subjected to disciplinary action/s?  How nutty is that?

Click here to contact your congressional representatives.

Read the ruling below or read it via mspb.gov here (PDF). 

 

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JW v. @StateDept: Ambassador Stephen D. Mull Testimony (Transcript)

Posted: 1:14 am ET

 

On August 30, 2011, there was an email between then HRC deputy chief of staff Huma Abedin and Ambassador Steve Mull, who was then the Executive Secretary of the State Department. Following that assignment, he was appointed U.S. Ambassador to Poland, and last year, he was appointed Lead Coordinator for Iran Nuclear Implementation.  The Daily Caller obtained the emails through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed on its behalf by Cause of Action and has reported about the emails here (see ScribD file here).

On June 6, Judicial Watch released the deposition transcript of Ambassador Mull.  The transcript is available here.  Or read below.  According to the transcript, here are the numbers on the following words/phrases:

“Objection” — 124 matches;

“I don’t know” — 32 matches;

“I can’t recall” — 21 matches;

“I can’t remember” — 7 matches;

“I don’t remember” — 6 matches.

 

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