Accuracy in Media

Who is running the Justice Department, John Ashcroft or Janet Reno? Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, is demanding that Attorney General Ashcroft appear before his committee and explain why he is refusing to give them memos that explain, among other things, the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute former White House aide Mark Middleton on charges of conspiring with Chinese officials to funnel illegal campaign contributions to the Democrats.

Rep. Burton points out in a letter to Ashcroft that when he was in the Senate he accused Attorney General Reno of stonewalling and said she was obliged to turn over the memos. He also notes that Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff has informed the committee that the department will no longer allow it to see its “internal, deliberative memos.”

Janet Reno is gone, but it appears that her spirit still dominates the Justice Department.

Not long ago a letter was sent to Ashcroft calling his attention to evidence that the investigation of the crash of TWA Flight 800 was compromised by obstruction of justice on the part of the FBI, the National Transportation Safety Board and the CIA. The reply brushed all the evidence aside with the claim that a Justice Department review had found no credible evidence that would support that charge. It read like boilerplate left behind by the previous administration.

On August 15, Accuracy in Media sent a letter to the official who signed that letter, listing eleven reasons why the official explanation of the TWA 800 crash is not credible. Over two weeks have passed and the department has yet to reply. Unless the Justice Department ignores the incontrovertible evidence of serious high-level lies included in that letter, it will have to repudiate its claim that there is no credible evidence of obstruction of justice. There is no reason why John Ashcroft should put his stamp of approval on the lies Janet Reno countenanced, but that is what his subordinates have done, and the media are letting them get away with it.

The media’s double standard is glaringly evident in their reaction to the discovery that the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York was authorized to subpoena the home phone records of Associated Press reporter John Solomon for six days last May. The Justice Department was trying to find out who had leaked information to Solomon about a two-year-old wiretap on Senator Robert Torricelli, D- N.J., who is under investigation. Journalists’ phone records can only be subpoenaed with the approval of the Attorney General. In Solomon’s case, the approval was given by Robert S. Mueller III, who acted in place of Attorney General Ashcroft, who had recused himself. Mr. Mueller has since been confirmed as the new director of the FBI.

The outrage expressed by the mainstream media over this authorized invasion of John Solomon’s privacy contrasts with their silence about a far more egregious abuse of power by the Justice Department in 1997. That involved the acquisition of the phone records of author and freelance journalist James D. Sanders, who was working on a book about the TWA 800 crash. He had a confidential source within the official investigation, TWA Capt. Terry Stacey, who was intrigued by a reddish residue found on three rows of seats. When the FBI refused to tell the other investigators what it was, Stacey sent Sanders two samples and asked him to have it analyzed. The elemental analysis indicated that the residue could have come from solid rocket fuel exhaust. Sanders shared this discovery with a reporter for the Riverside (Calif.) Press-Enterprise, which published it on March 10, 1997.

It was not until then that James Kallstrom, who headed the FBI’s investigation, claimed that the residue was glue, a claim that the FBI has yet to support with any scientific evidence. They went all out to find Sanders’ source. They obtained his home phone records, which led them to Capt. Stacey. He was charged with a misdemeanor and Sanders and his wife, a TWA employee, were charged under a new law passed to bar removal of material from a crash site that might help determine the cause of the crash.

Sanders was punished for trying to help find the cause of the crash. He and his wife were convicted of a felony. The media were silent about the invasion of the Sanders’ privacy and their persecution. They didn’t lift a finger to get the Reno Justice Department to back off. Instead of making amends for the unjust treatment of Jim and Liz Sanders, the Ashcroft Justice Department is defending the wrongs of Reno.




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