Posted tagged ‘Department of Justice’

If the President Is Not the Subject of a Criminal Investigation, Then Say So

May 19, 2017

If the President Is Not the Subject of a Criminal Investigation, Then Say So, PJ Media, Andrew C. McCarthy, May 19, 2017

Succeeding Louis F. Freeh in Washington, DC. Robert Mueller named special prosecutor for Russia probe, Washington DC, USA – 17 May 2017 (Rex Features via AP Images)

Thus, to the extent it involves the president, the investigation announced to the public is a counterintelligence probe. That matters because it would mean the president is not a criminal suspect. A counterintelligence probe is not intended to build a criminal prosecution. It is intended to collect information. Its purpose is to uncover the actions and intentions of foreign powers to the extent they bear on American interests.

To this point, after months of congressional and intelligence-community investigations, there appears to be no evidence, much less strong proof, of a crime committed by Trump. But Democrats calculate that the assignment of a prosecutor implies that there must be an underlying crime — an implication that Sen. Graham’s comments reinforce. That is why they pushed so hard for a special counsel. It fills a big hole in their narrative. They can now say, “What do you mean no crime? They’ve appointed a prosecutor, so there must be a crime — collusion, obstruction, Russia … it’s a crime wave!”

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Well is he, or isn’t he?

Almost everything in a counterintelligence investigation is classified. And much of what goes on in a criminal investigation is secret, kept confidential by investigators and prosecutors. But there is one thing that need be neither classified nor otherwise concealed from the American people: the status of the president.

Is the president of the United States the subject of a criminal investigation?

If he is not, then the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller owe it to the country to say so. There is no reason to be coy about it. In fact, because a president under criminal suspicion would be crippled, his inability to govern detrimental to the nation, it is imperative to be forthright about his status.

Instead, political games are being played and the public is forming an impression — which I strongly suspect is a misimpression — based on semantics. There is no guaranteed outcome in an investigation, but the government should not be able to keep from us the precise nature of the investigation when it involves the president and when the fact that there is an investigation has already been disclosed publicly.

We’ve been told that the main investigation, the one that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein has appointed special counsel Mueller to conduct, is a counterintelligence investigation. That is what former FBI director James Comey revealed (with the approval of the Justice Department) in House testimony on March 20:

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. (Emphasis added.)

In appointing Mueller on May 17, Rosenstein issued an internal Justice Department order stating:

The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James B. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including (i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump[.]

Thus, to the extent it involves the president, the investigation announced to the public is a counterintelligence probe. That matters because it would mean the president is not a criminal suspect. A counterintelligence probe is not intended to build a criminal prosecution. It is intended to collect information. Its purpose is to uncover the actions and intentions of foreign powers to the extent they bear on American interests.

Yet the New York Times reports that Rosenstein, in briefing the Senate Thursday:

 … affirmed that the Justice Department’s inquiry was focused on possible crimes.

This portrayal of the purported “focus” of the investigation was echoed by several senators, including Republicans Lindsey Graham and John Cornyn.

To be clear, I don’t believe Graham and Cornyn are trying to create a misimpression. To the contrary, I think they are hoping to scale back high-profile congressional hearings about the controversy. Hearings that are paralyzing the administration and frittering away the legislative time needed to push forward the Trump agenda of addressing Obamacare’s ongoing collapse, tax reform, border enforcement, the confirmation of executive officials and judges, and so on.

Yet, listen to Sen. Graham:

You’ve got a special counsel who has prosecutorial powers now, and I think we in Congress have to be very careful not to interfere.

What he means is that once a Justice Department investigation gears up, Congress should back off. But his choice of words would lead any reasonable person to infer: “Ah-hah! Now we have a serious criminal investigation. People are going to be prosecuted.”

On the Democrats’ part, this conflation of intelligence and criminal investigations is quite intentional.

If the probe of Trump’s campaign is about crimes (rather than intelligence about Russia), then they move much closer to the ultimate goal of impeachment, to say nothing of the immediate goals of derailing Trump’s agenda and reaping an electoral windfall in 2018.

This has been one of my main objections to the appointment of a special counsel. To this point, after months of congressional and intelligence-community investigations, there appears to be no evidence, much less strong proof, of a crime committed by Trump. But Democrats calculate that the assignment of a prosecutor implies that there must be an underlying crime — an implication that Sen. Graham’s comments reinforce. That is why they pushed so hard for a special counsel. It fills a big hole in their narrative. They can now say, “What do you mean no crime? They’ve appointed a prosecutor, so there must be a crime — collusion, obstruction, Russia … it’s a crime wave!”

In advancing this storyline, Democrats have gotten plenty of help from the FBI and the Justice Department.

In his March 20 testimony, Comey elaborated:

As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

With due respect, this is a heavy-handed way of putting it. As is well-known throughout the FBI and Justice Department, it is not permissible to use counterintelligence investigative authority to conduct what is in reality a criminal case. It is true enough that if, in the course of a counterintelligence probe, FBI agents incidentally discover that crimes have been committed, they are not required to ignore those crimes. But the agents do not go into a counterintelligence probe with an eye toward collecting criminal evidence. If the point is to build a criminal case, you do a criminal investigation.

Rosenstein’s clumsily worded order also contributes to the confusion. The Comey testimony cited by Rosenstein made it clear that there is a broad investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and that examining the nature of links and coordination — if any — between the Trump campaign and the Russian regime is just a part of it. Rosenstein’s order, by contrast, describes the investigation as if its sole focus is ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. For the life of me, I don’t understand why he framed it that way; he could simply have referred to “the investigation confirmed by” Comey and left it at that. Why would the Trump Justice Department gratuitously highlight the notion of Trump-Russia ties when, so far, none have been proved?

Moreover, Rosenstein’s memo goes on to explain that Mueller’s investigative jurisdiction includes any “matters” that arise out of the investigation. This is unavoidable: it needs to be clarified that the special counsel has authority to prosecute any crimes he may stumble upon while conducting the counterintelligence investigation. But the expression of this happenstance reinforces the notion that crimes have been committed.

And of course, crimes may well have been committed … but not, so far as we know, by Trump.

We might think about the main investigation, the counterintelligence investigation, as the mother ship. Attached to it, but not part of its core, are barnacles. There is the investigation of Michael Flynn, which is known to be a criminal probe — there is a grand jury issuing subpoenas, which is not something that happens in a counterintelligence investigation. There have also been suggestions of a barnacle, potentially criminal in nature, related to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, related to shady dealings with Ukrainian pols tied to Putin, in the years prior to the campaign.

Evidence of this (potentially) criminal activity came to light because the FBI and Justice Department were conducting the main counterintelligence investigation. Consequently, the activity comes within the special counsel’s jurisdiction — he is authorized to investigate and prosecute it. But this does not convert the main investigation into a criminal investigation. It is still a counterintelligence investigation.

So notice the cynical game: the public statements of the FBI, the Justice Department, and Democrats exploit the fact of the counterintelligence investigation as a basis for saying that agents are investigating Trump. But they are not investigating him as a criminal suspect — the subject of the counterterrorism investigation is Russia; Trump is relevant only to the extent that people connected to his campaign may have ties to Russia.

In tandem, the public statements of the FBI, the Justice Department, and Democrats exploit the fact that the activities of Flynn and Manafort are part of the investigation in order to describe the investigation as “criminal.” But the criminal aspects of the investigation are tangential to the main event, Russia and any potential ties to Trump, which is not criminal.

See the trick? Trump is part of the investigation, the investigation is part criminal, ergo: Trump must be a criminal suspect.

Such word games should not happen.

No one appreciates more than I do the importance of discretion in official public announcements about investigations. But when officials choose to make highly unusual public acknowledgments that an investigation is taking place, they should never create a misimpression. If they have done so, however inadvertently, they must clarify the record.

It is very simple, if President Trump is the subject of a criminal investigation, the Justice Department owes it to the American people, and to Trump, to say so. If he is not the subject of a criminal investigation, they should say so — and they should cease and desist suggestions to the contrary.

Bad Hombre Crackdown: Sessions Ramps War on Drug Traffickers

May 13, 2017

Bad Hombre Crackdown: Sessions Ramps War on Drug Traffickers, Breitbart, Ryan Saavedra, May 12, 2017

AFP

“We are returning to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress, plain and simple,” Sessions said. “If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way, we will not be willfully blind to your misconduct.”

Sessions made clear that the criminals he is referring to are not low-level offenders but rather major players in America’s war on drugs.

“These are not low-level drug offenders we, in the federal courts, are focusing on,” Sessions said. “These are drug dealers, and you drug dealers are going to prison.”

Breitbart Texas reported on Thursday that the Department of Homeland Security had concluded a six-week nationwide crackdown on gangs which led to the arrests of over 1,000 confirmed gang members.

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United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions directed federal prosecutors to pursue the most severe penalties for defendants with the most serious and provable crimes.

Sessions instructed federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” in an eight-paragraph memorandum sent to more than 5,000 assistant U.S. attorneys across the country on Thursday.

In a speech on Friday, Sessions highlighted the rapidly increasing crime rates in U.S. cities and pointed to drugs as the main cause.

“The murder rate has surged 10 percent nationwide. The largest increase in murder since 1968 and we know that drugs and crime go hand-in-hand, they just do, the facts prove that so,” Sessions said. “Drug trafficking is an inherently dangerous and violent business. If you want to collect a drug debt, you can’t file a lawsuit in court. You collect it with the barrel of a gun.”

The memo sent by Sessions also rescinded the policies of former attorney general Eric Holder Jr., effectively immediately.

“We are returning to the enforcement of the laws as passed by Congress, plain and simple,” Sessions said. “If you are a drug trafficker, we will not look the other way, we will not be willfully blind to your misconduct.”

Sessions made clear that the criminals he is referring to are not low-level offenders but rather major players in America’s war on drugs.

“These are not low-level drug offenders we, in the federal courts, are focusing on,” Sessions said. “These are drug dealers, and you drug dealers are going to prison.”

Sessions said that under the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice (DOJ) would stand behind law enforcement agencies across the U.S.

“We will do all that we can to keep you safe and promote public support for honorable officers in your dangerous work,” Sessions said.

Sessions encouraged all Americans to find a way to show their gratitude for law enforcement as he pointed out that those working in the field do so to help keep America safe.

“Bring a home cooked meal to your local precinct. Go to a national memorial service or simply shake the hand of a police officer and say thank you for your service,” Sessions said.

The move by Sessions against drug traffickers comes after he announced on April 28 that the DOJ was going to start targeting the notoriously violent MS-13 street gang, Breitbart Texas reported.

Results can already be seen across the country as federal agencies look to rid America’s streets of crime.

Breitbart Texas reported on Thursday that the Department of Homeland Security had concluded a six-week nationwide crackdown on gangs which led to the arrests of over 1,000 confirmed gang members.

Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” Obamacare and Sally Yates

May 12, 2017

Trump’s “Muslim Ban,” Obamacare and Sally Yates, Dan Miller’s Blog, Dan Miller, May 12, 2017

(The views expressed in this article are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of Warsclerotic or its other editors. — DM)

President Trump’s initial executive order imposed a temporary ban on refugees from seven countries where terrorism is endemic and information on potential refugees is scant, pending development of a workable vetting procedure. He later vacated the initial order and replaced it with one affecting only six countries and making other changes not relevant to the points addressed in this article. 

The initial executive order was rejected as unconstitutional, apparently because in violation of the First Amendment (freedom of religion), by several district court judges and the replacement order has had the same fate. The rulings were based, not on the text of the orders, but on Candidate Trump’s campaign references to a “Muslim ban.” Both orders applied equally to non-Muslims and Muslims from the subject countries. Neither mentioned, nor banned, nor applied to anyone from, any other Muslim majority country. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2010 there were “49 countries in which Muslims comprise more than 50% of the population.”

On May 11th, law Professor Jonathan Turley wrote an article titled Sally in Wonderland: The “Curiouser and Curiouser” Position of The Former Acting Attorney General. It deals with the testimony of now-former (fired) acting Attorney General Sally Yates concerning her refusal to allow the Department of Justice to support President Trump’s initial executive order. Ms. Yates was a hold-over from the Obama administration.

Professor Turley opined on Ms. Yates’ decision in the context of this graphic:

Sometimes congressional hearings bring clarity to controversies. Many times they do not. Controversies can become “curiouser and curiouser,” as they did for Alice in Wonderland. That was the case with the testimony of fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week discussing her unprecedented decision to order the entire Justice Department not to assist President Trump in defending the first immigration order. Yates was lionized by Democratic senators as a “hero” and has been celebrated in the media for her “courageous stand.” However, for those concerned about constitutional law and legal ethics, there is little to celebrate in Yates’ stand. Indeed, her explanation before the Senate only made things more confusing. It was a curious moment for the new Alice of the Beltway Wonderland: “Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English).”

There has been considerable speculation on why Yates would engineer such a confrontation, but what is more important is her justification for ordering an entire federal department to stand down and not to assist a sitting president. Yates’ prior explanation fell considerably short of the expected basis for such a radical step. She dismissed the review of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) by insisting that those career lawyers only look at the face of the order and did not consider Trump’s campaign statements and his real motivations. Of course, many question the use of campaign rhetoric as a basis for reviewing an order written months later by an administration. Most notably, Yates did not conclude that the order was unconstitutional (in contradiction with her own OLC). Rather, she said that she was not convinced that the order was “wise or just” or was “lawful.” She does not explain the latter reference but then added that she was acting on her duty to “always seek justice and stand for what is right.” That is a rather ambiguous standard to support this type of obstruction of a sitting president. [Emphasis added.]

. . . .

Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., asked, “Did you believe, then, that there were reasonable arguments that could be made in its defense?” In an astonishing response, Yates said no because she decided on her view of Trump’s real intent and not the language of the order. However, many judges disagree with implied motive as the appropriate standard for review, as evidenced by the oral argument this week before the Fourth Circuit. More importantly, at the time of her decision, many experts (including some of us who opposed the order) were detailing how past cases and the statutory language favored the administration. It is ridiculous to suggest that there were no reasonable arguments supporting the order. [Emphasis added.]

I agree with Professor Turley’s analysis and posted the following comment arguing that there is Supreme Court precedent for ignoring politically oriented campaign rhetoric such as Candidate Trump’s reference to a “Muslim ban.”

Ms. Yates testified that substantially the same standards of review apply to executive orders as to acts of Congress.

When Obamacare was under discussion prior to enactment and when it was enacted, its basis was claimed to be the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Those who wrote Obamacare and those who voted for it rejected the notion that it was a tax because to accept that classification would have been political suicide. President Obama did not suggest to the public that Obamacare was a tax. He claimed that it was appropriate under the Commerce Clause. As I recall, counsel for the Government rejected classification as a tax during oral argument, relying instead on the commerce clause.

The majority opinion written by Chief justice Roberts held that although violative of the Commerce clause, Obamacare was permissible instead under the powers granted by the Constitution to impose taxes and was, therefore, compliant with the Constitution. Even after the decision was released, President Obama continued to claim that it was not a tax.

Chief Justice Roberts cited the Congressional power to tax the non-purchase of gasoline — something the Congress had never done as to gasoline or any other commodity or service. He did not suggest how it could be done: tax everybody who fails to purchase gasoline, only the owners of automobiles, only the owners of gasoline reliant automobiles, only those owning such automobiles but failing to purchase specified quantities, and so on. As I recall, Prof. Turley wrote an article questioning the majority opinion’s reliance on the taxing powers of Congress. [Professor Turley wrote about the decision in an article title Et tu, Roberts? Federalism Falls By The Hand Of A Friend.– DM]

The evident basis of the Obamacare decision was the notion that acts of Congress are to be upheld if there is any Constitutional basis for doing so — despite politically motivated statements by members of Congress who had voted for it and despite assertions by the President and others that it was not a tax. Under the standard applied by Ms. Yates to President Trump’s executive order, such statements would have rendered Obamacare unconstitutional and obligated her, as Acting Attorney General, to refuse to support it in court. [Emphasis added.]

Ms. Yates was asked neither about the standard applied by the Supreme Court in upholding Obamacare nor her application of an apparently different standard to President Trump’s executive order.

The judges who have thus far rejected President Trump’s initial and second executive order adopted the same rationale as Ms. Yates. The judges who upheld the orders obviously did not.

It is probable that the Supreme Court will eventually decide on the constitutionality of President Trump’s revised executive order, particularly if (as seems likely) there is a split in the circuits. Justice Gorsuch will likely be among the justices who decide the case and the executive order will very likely be held constitutional. There will probably be more than five votes for its affirmation.

In the meantime, America will continue to receive substantial numbers of unvetted and potentially dangerous refugees whose admission the executive orders were intended to prevent. Oh well. What’s a few more American deaths by jihadists? What difference at this point does it make?

In Clinton Caper, Comey Was the Most Visible Player, Not the Most Consequential

May 10, 2017

In Clinton Caper, Comey Was the Most Visible Player, Not the Most Consequential, PJ MediaAndrew C. McCarthy, May 10, 2017

FBI Director James Comey testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2015 (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

If Comey had gone the other way, his recommendation to file charges would have been rejected, and his wings would have been clipped in a hurry. He is being cast as the official responsible for key decisions in the Clinton case and the fate of the Clinton candidacy. But the decisive scandal is Hillary Clinton’s alone, and the key decisions were never Jim Comey’s to make.

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At National Review last weekend, I addressed the Democrats’ loopy claim that the FBI became a Trump partisan in the 2016 election. The claim is worth more examination in light of President Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey.

In Clinton World, self-absorption always triumphs over self-inspection, so nothing could be more predictable than Hillary Clinton’s scapegoating of Comey, a diversion from acknowledging what really cost her the election: her own manifest flaws. Congressional Democrats are along for the ride: those who were swooning over Comey in July when he announced that Clinton would not be charged, then ripped him in October when he reopened and quickly reclosed the FBI’s investigation, and then branded him a Trump partisan hack after the votes were counted, are suddenly back in swoon mode.

Comey, of course, hasn’t changed through all of this. He’s always been the same guy. The laughably transparent explanation for all the careening around him is politics.

Mrs. Clinton was hoping to put the e-mail scandal behind her by arguing that she had been vindicated by a thorough, highly professional FBI investigation. But she lost, so the investigation that was to be her credential for office became the downfall that denied her. Comey thus became Rationalization 1 for her defeat … at least until Rationalization 1A, Russia, got some media traction. So now, Comey has gone from villainous J. Edgar Hoover to valiant Elliot Ness again – not out of anything he did, but because Democrats calculate that framing his termination as part of a “cover-up” may resuscitate the Trump-Russia narrative, which has grown stale in the absence of concrete evidence of collusion.

Note that in all of this, Comey is always in the center of events, but he has never been in control of events. Don’t be fooled by appearances. The FBI director has been the most visible player, but he has not come close to being the most consequential.

Yes, the FBI that actually carries out the dual functions of criminal inquiry and foreign intelligence collection. In either type of investigation, it is the Bureau that performs the rubber-meets-the-road work of gathering information and analyzing it, searching for the connections that prove actions and intentions. Consequently, Director Comey has gotten top billing in this drama – a happenstance made more pronounced by the director’s very forceful personality. It has made him look more important than, in fact, he has been.

Some perspective, please. There could have been no indictment against Hillary Clinton unless the Obama Justice Department approved it. Comey headed an investigative agency; he had no authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion – to decide whether charges got filed.

In the Clinton caper, Comey ostensibly seized the Justice Department’s decision-making power. In reality, though, he exercised it within obvious limitations, and under circumstances in which his superiors factored decisively.

Those superiors were President Obama, the chief executive, who made crystal clear in his public comments that he did not want Clinton indicted; and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the head of the real decision-making department – the Justice Department. Contrary to media-Democrat intimations, Lynch never actually recused herself after being caught in a shameful private meeting with Bill Clinton. That was right before the Justice Department – not Comey, the Justice Department – declined prosecution against Mrs. Clinton.

Lynch could have ignored Comey, and surely would have if he had not come out the “right” way. In effect, Comey was able to project the authority of the official making a tough call as long as the call he made was against filing an indictment.

The Obama Justice Department was never, ever going to indict Hillary Clinton. Even if he had wanted to push against that outcome, Comey had to know doing so would have been futile. But as long as he accepted the inevitable – as long as he defended the decision with dizzying disquisitions on mens rea and other criminal law esoterica – he would be given a wide berth.

That is what enabled him to do some highly irregular things: e.g., the July press conference describing the damning evidence but recommending against criminal charges, and the late October letter informing Congress that the investigation had been reopened (but, significantly, not suggesting that any charges were anticipated). The point, if I may speculate, was to protect the reputation of the FBI as much as possible under circumstances in which the Bureau was unavoidably embroiled in a political controversy. Comey knew there would be no indictment. That meant the FBI was vulnerable to charges of participation in a whitewash. The director no doubt convinced himself that it was essential, for the sake of the rule of law, to show that the FBI had not been corrupted – that it had investigated as thoroughly as the constraints imposed by the Justice Department allowed.

Comey’s agenda to protect the FBI happened to coincide with the political agenda of Obama and Lynch. They, too, needed to show that there had been a thorough, professional investigation – they knew they could prevent any charges from being filed, and they reckoned that a solid FBI investigation would make their non-prosecution decision look like good-faith law enforcement rather than partisan politics. With a little help from their media friends, the general public would remain in the dark regarding the instances in which Lynch’s Justice Department frustrated the FBI’s ability to investigate: the close working relationship with Clinton team defense lawyers, the cutting off of salient areas of inquiry, the bizarre immunity grants.

What the public would see was Hillary “exonerated” after the FBI “left no stone unturned.”

Undoubtedly, Obama and Lynch were not thrilled by Comey’s press conference, laying out the FBI’s investigation. They may even have been quite angry about it. But they also realized that Comey remained a net positive in the equation. Because of their vulnerabilities – Obama because he could not be seen as interfering with law enforcement, and Lynch because of her bone-headed meeting with Bill Clinton – they needed the decision not to indict to appear to be made by someone with bipartisan credibility. Comey fit the bill, so they were willing to put up with a lot … as long as he held firm on the bottom line.

But make no mistake: If Comey had gone the other way, his recommendation to file charges would have been rejected, and his wings would have been clipped in a hurry. He is being cast as the official responsible for key decisions in the Clinton case and the fate of the Clinton candidacy. But the decisive scandal is Hillary Clinton’s alone, and the key decisions were never Jim Comey’s to make.

Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey

May 10, 2017

Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey, Breitbart, Daniel Nussbaum, May 9, 2017

AP Photo

President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, according to a statement from the White House.

In a statement from the press office, the White House said Trump acted on the recommendation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Borenstein.

How Trump Can Help the Cops

April 26, 2017

How Trump Can Help the Cops, Front Page MagazineHeather Mac Donald, April 26, 2017

Reprinted from City Journal

Donald Trump vigorously defended law enforcement during his presidential campaign. He pledged to restore order to the nation’s cities—where violent crime is surging—and to reinvigorate the rule of law. His appointment of conservative Republican senator Jeff Sessions as attorney general was a strong signal that Trump’s words were more than campaign rhetoric. Now that the Trump administration and the Sessions-led Justice Department are up and running, where should they focus their efforts?

The most immediate goal of the Trump administration should be to change the elite-driven narrative about the criminal-justice system. That narrative, which holds that policing is lethally racist, has dominated public discourse since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. In response, officers are backing off of proactive policing, and violent crime is rising fast: 2015 saw the largest one-year spike in homicides nationwide in nearly 50 years. That violent-crime increase has continued unabated through 2016 and into the early months of 2017. A Trump administration official—perhaps Attorney General Sessions, or the president himself—should publicly address the question of what we expect from police officers: Do we want them to be proactive and to try to stop crime before it happens? Or do we want them to be purely reactive, responding to crime only after someone has been victimized? The administration should explain that data-driven, proactive policing made possible the country’s 20-year, 50 percent violent-crime decline that began in the mid-1990s.

In February, Sessions made a good start in turning around the false narrative about policing, addressing the National Association of Attorneys General. Sessions warned that the nation’s violent-crime decline is now at risk, while acknowledging that the crime increase is not happening in every neighborhood. Yet we are diminished as a nation, he said, when citizens “fear for their life when they leave their home.” (To be blunt, the violent-crime increase has hit almost exclusively in black neighborhoods. Nine hundred additional black males were murdered in 2015 compared with 2014, bringing total black homicide deaths that year to more than 7,000. It is a marker of the perversity of elite rhetoric about race that both Trump and Sessions have been fiercely attacked as racist for pledging to save black lives.)

Sessions noted that officers have become reluctant to get out of their cars to conduct discretionary stops and other “up-close” preventive policing. The administration should go further: it should convey the charged, hostile atmosphere in which officers in many urban areas now operate, thanks to the hatred spread by the Black Lives Matter movement. Gun murders of officers increased more than 50 percent in 2016, led by the targeted assassinations of cops.

A frontal assault on the dominant narrative about a racist criminal-justice system will require laying out the stark racial disparities in criminal offending and victimization. The public has been kept in the dark for decades about how vast those disparities are: blacks commit homicide at eight times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined, for example, and die of homicide at six times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. Lifting that veil of ignorance is necessary to explain why officers operate more actively in minority neighborhoods—in order to save lives. The public must also understand that it is law-abiding members of high-crime communities themselves who beg the police to maintain order, and that such public-order policing was central to the now-jeopardized 20-year crime decline.

The federal government will be vigilant against abusive policing, the administration should say, but it will not deem police departments and police officers biased for proactively fighting crime.

The federal government’s practice of slapping years-long consent decrees on police departments calls out for reform. There is zero chance that civil rights attorneys in the federal government know more than police departments do about how to fight crime constitutionally and successfully. Yet the Obama administration opened 25 “pattern-or-practice” civil rights investigations, based on the false notions that police bias is widespread and that federal lawyers are qualified to recommend effective police practices. The Department of Justice is currently enforcing 14 consent decrees with local departments, which grew out of such investigations. At a minimum, the Trump administration should publish data on how much the Obama-era investigations and consent decrees have cost those departments.

At the end of March 2017, Sessions announced a review of existing and pending consent decrees. The immediate target of this review was a consent decree for the Baltimore Police Department, hastily signed in the waning days of the Obama administration and at that point still awaiting final approval from a federal judge. Sessions’s reevaluation was fully justified.  As is typical, the Obama-era DOJ report that preceded the Baltimore decree failed to put numbers behind its charge that the Baltimore PD engaged in a “pattern or practice” of unconstitutional policing. The Obama report blasts the Baltimore cops for “clearing the corners” of miscreants and loiterers, but the police engage in such corner-clearing at the behest of the community. Since the report came out in summer 2016, Baltimore neighborhoods have been overrun by drug dealers, who now believe that they can operate with impunity. Residents have begged the department to return to corner-clearing and other public-order enforcement.

The proposed Baltimore consent decree discourages all such self-initiated police activities. It requires officers to contact a supervisor before making an arrest for minor offenses like disorderly conduct. It prohibits officers from stopping and questioning trespassers and loiterers, unless the officer has received a call for service regarding those individuals. The spurious philosophy beneath these rules is that policing should focus on “serious offenses,” not “minor infractions.” But the best way to prevent serious offenses is to maintain public order in high-crime areas. Proponents argue that the deemphasis on low-level enforcement will save money; in fact, it will only lead to more high-level crime.

Violent street crime in Baltimore has remained at alarming levels in 2017; shootings were up 78 percent through February 25, compared with the same period in 2016; homicides were up 38 percent through early March. These increases come on top of the highest per-capita homicide rate in the city’s history in 2015 and close to that record rate in 2016. Complying with the consent decree will cost financially struggling Baltimore millions of dollars—money that could be better spent hiring new officers and giving them rigorous tactical training. Officers will be pulled from the streets to compile reports for the overpaid federal monitor, covering matters including—as reported in the Power Line blog—whether beat cops respect an individual’s chosen “gender identity” in addressing him (or “zim”). In March 2017, seven plainclothes Baltimore officers were indicted for extortion and fraud. The consent decree is irrelevant to this egregious failure of supervision, focusing as it does on the usual policing-is-racist narrative. Five of the seven indicted officers were black.

The Sessions Justice Department requested a 90-day pause before District Court Judge James Bredar made the Baltimore decree irrevocable. This request triggered strenuous protest, not just from activists and Democratic politicians but also, bizarrely, from Baltimore police commissioner Kevin Davis himself. Davis in essence was declaring his inability to manage his own police department without federal oversight. Judge Bredar rejected the DOJ request for a 90-day extension and approved the decree on April 7, consigning Baltimore and Maryland taxpayers to a depleted and demoralized police force and to tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars of unnecessary costs and fees.

The next target of the Sessions consent decree review is an as-yet unfinalized consent decree in Chicago. Since no agreement between the Justice Department and Chicago officials has been signed, the Justice Department should drop negotiations and pull out. The Obama-era report that triggered the pending consent decree suffers from the same flaws as the Baltimore report: it provides no quantified evidence for its claim that the Chicago Police Department engages in systemic civil rights abuses. The mayhem in Chicago in February and March 2017 alone included the slaying of a two-year-old boy and two other children in separate drive-by shootings over four days, and the spread of rape, robberies, carjackings, and kidnappings into downtown and other previously safe neighborhoods. Quelling that violence will not be made easier by diverting police resources into the care and feeding of a federal monitor.

The 2012 police consent decree in New Orleans, for example, is projected to cost $55 million over five years; the actual cost will be much higher. A recent news story trumpeted the fact that sexual-assault complaints rose 83 percent in 2015 (allegedly suggesting greater “gender” sensitivity in the New Orleans Police Department). What should be of greater concern is the fact that New Orleans is also in the midst of an ongoing violent-crime spike. Shootings and homicides more than doubled in January 2017 over January 2016, notwithstanding that 2015 and 2016 had already seen a significant rise in murder and shootings.

Sessions’s announced review of pending consent decrees brought forth the same claims of impotence on the part of Chicago officials as it did in Baltimore. The attorney general should ignore these professions of dependency on the federal government and do the right thing for the law-abiding residents of Chicago’s gang-terrorized neighborhoods by tearing up the proposed decree.

The Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division should formulate and publish the criteria that it will use to open pattern-or-practice civil rights investigations of police departments. It should quantify the constitutional violations that it uncovers during pattern-or-practice investigations and explain how it concludes that these infractions rise to the level of a “pattern or practice” of civil rights abuses.

The federal government should analyze police actions against a benchmark of crime rates, not population data. If 55 percent of police stops in a jurisdiction have black subjects, for example, the relevant starting point for analysis is the percentage of violent crime committed by blacks, not the black percentage of the resident population.

The specious population benchmark for finding police discrimination is typical of the disparate-impact analysis that drove most criminal-justice policy under the Obama administration. Such analysis should be extirpated in its entirety. There is not a single colorblind law-enforcement practice that does not have a disparate impact on blacks and Hispanics, given their higher rates of crime. The only way to avoid a disparate impact in law enforcement is to stop enforcing the law.

Before the election, the FBI announced a worthy initiative to collect and publish data on all officer uses of force. Such reporting must be accompanied, however, by information on local crime rates, since police use of force will occur most frequently where cops encounter armed and resisting suspects.

Crime-fighting remains overwhelmingly a local matter. But federal agents—from the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and the U.S. Marshals Service—can provide vital assistance. Federal law enforcement reoriented itself toward counterterrorism and cybercrime following the 9/11 Islamist terror attacks. With violence skyrocketing in many urban areas, it is time for a rebalancing. Embattled police departments are calling for more federal agents to work on joint gun and drug task forces. Trump’s proposed budget for the Justice Department has recognized that demand by allocating an additional $175 million to address violent crime.

U.S. gun and drug prosecutions fell significantly during the Obama years, discouraged by the administration’s belief that mandatory-minimum federal sentences, especially for drug trafficking, have resulted in the “mass incarceration” of minorities. In fact, drug enforcement plays no role in disproportionate black incarceration rates. If all drug prisoners were removed from the nation’s prisons, the share of black prisoners would drop from 37.4 percent to 37.2 percent. Libertarians might welcome the five-year, 18 percent drop in federal drug prosecutions, but neighborhoods riven by drug violence do not. In Baltimore, when the local police stopped making drug arrests following the anti-cop riots of April 2015, shootings spiked. Attorney General Sessions must encourage U.S. attorneys in high-crime areas to increase their gun and drug cases, including RICO prosecutions. While modest changes in the federal sentencing guidelines for drug trafficking are acceptable, they should not be undertaken in the name of “racial justice.”

All federal law-enforcement agencies should adopt a CompStat system for information-sharing and analysis. CompStat, first developed in the New York Police Department under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, holds commanders ruthlessly accountable for measurable results. A White House allegedly informed by business acumen should welcome such a proven system for bottom-line accountability.

Obama’s first attorney general, Eric Holder, called on local U.S. attorneys to involve themselves in prisoner reentry and rehabilitation activities. The Trump administration should determine if that initiative is producing enough crime reduction to justify the diversion of scarce prosecutorial resources; arguably, reentry activities are most efficiently carried out by U.S. probation officers. Federal prisons, on the other hand, can serve as a model for prison work policies and prisoner education. The Bureau of Prisons should partner with private business for job-skills development, as recommended in the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.

Sanctuary cities, counties, and states must be severely penalized. These scofflaw jurisdictions, numbering about 300, refuse to cooperate with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) efforts to deport convicted illegal-alien criminals. When ICE requests that a jail in a sanctuary jurisdiction briefly hold a criminal who has finished serving his sentence so that ICE can pick him up for deportation, the jail will deliberately release him before ICE can arrive, unless his crime was particularly heinous. Over just one week in late January 2017, ICE found 206 criminal aliens who had been released back to the streets in defiance of a detention request. Their convictions included aggravated assault with a weapon, robbery, rape, aggravated assault against a family member, domestic violence, life-threatening arson against a residence, burglaries of homes and businesses, battery, carrying a prohibited weapon, resisting an officer, driving under the influence, forgery, and indecent exposure. Pending charges against those released aliens included homicide, aggravated assault against an officer with a weapon, and indecent exposure to a minor.

Such disobedience of lawful federal requests undermines the constitutional system. It is also a betrayal of a fundamental truth that big-city police chiefs purport to believe: that all violations of public order, including so-called low-level offenses, threaten community cohesion and safety. There is no public benefit to sending an illegal-alien criminal back into the community if grounds exist for removing him. Congress should impose liability on local law-enforcement officials if someone is victimized by an illegal-alien criminal released in defiance of ICE.

Passage of the Mandatory Minimums for Illegal Reentry Act of 2015, which establishes a compulsory five-year sentence for illegal reentry, would encourage U.S. attorneys to prosecute illegal aliens who have reentered the country following deportation. Trump’s proposed 2018 budget rightly funds 75 additional immigration-judge teams and 20 additional attorneys and support staff for immigration litigation in order to speed up removal proceedings.

Local police departments are shaking the cup for more federal funding, but the Trump administration should resist. Federal grants are not new money; they are merely the same taxpayers’ dollars that localities rely on, minus the huge administrative costs of being routed through Washington. Though many departments desperately need more officers and more tactical training, the better way to provide those resources is to lower federal spending mandates and the federal tax burden so that localities can pay for their own policing needs. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel is taking the lead in demanding more federal money for social programs and summer jobs. But if government welfare programs were the solution to crime, we would have had crime-free inner cities decades ago.

Only initiatives that are truly national in scope should be federally funded. Research on what works in crime-fighting is a proper federal function, since local police departments lack the money to conduct their own studies. Topics to be explored include: the effectiveness of public-order and hot-spot policing; the relationship between criminal history and recidivism; and the success rate of electronic monitoring. The federal Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, announced in February, will explore how to improve data collection in order to fight crime more effectively; a crash course in CompStat data analysis would help detect unmet data needs.

The Obama DOJ spent a lot of time talking about police “legitimacy”; by contrast, the Trump DOJ should advocate for more hands-on, scenario-based tactical training that helps officers avoid the need to use deadly force. Officers should be taught how to cope with stress. When cops use foul language, threats, and unjustified force, they are usually overreacting to stress. The current fad for de-escalation training is appropriate, so long as the proposed principles do not jeopardize officer safety.

From dash-cam videos to body cameras on officers, technology plays an increasingly vital role in policing and in public perceptions of policing. Several areas need to be addressed. The cost of storing video from police body cameras has become a huge problem. The federal government could help determine if a federal cloud for storage or a state consortium is the best solution. Washington should encourage departments to adopt lawful surveillance technology such as aerial cameras and family genetic matching to target criminals surgically.

National legislation is needed on encryption. Law-enforcement agencies now fear “going dark” during the surveillance of criminals and terrorists, thanks to encryption. The feds could also help with technology to improve communications (interoperability) between the nation’s 18,000 police departments. Anti-cop activists and anarchists are breaking into law-enforcement communications. Police WiFi was hacked during the November 2014 anti-cop riots in Ferguson, Missouri; the previous month, a radio operator tried to interfere with police movements and air-support operations in the area. Masked Black Bloc anarchists and Black Lives Matter activists will join forces in the Trump era to attack law and order, as happened in the Berkeley, California, riot in early February 2017. Federal and local law enforcement need to up their game in countering such lawlessness; the wearing of masks to facilitate crime must be severely penalized.

The Obama Justice Department ordered more than 28,000 federal law-enforcement officers and prosecutors into “implicit-bias” training—a form of sensitivity reeducation aimed at teaching police how to combat their own (alleged) subliminal prejudices. Attorney General Sessions should cancel this initiative and lift the pressure on local police departments to put their own officers through this wasteful exercise. The claim that policing, especially police shootings, is riven with “implicit bias” is untrue—in 2016 alone, four academic studies showed that if there is a bias in police shootings, it works in favor of blacks and against whites. The Office of Community Oriented Policing (COPS) has partnered with the Office of Violence Against Women to combat “gender bias.” This is another waste of money and should be ended. There is no significant gender bias in American society, and it is not a criminal-justice issue.

The previous Justice Department’s concern with phantom police bias extended to personnel practices. An October 2016 report called for law-enforcement agencies to boost their minority hiring. The report recommended that departments weaken or eliminate their requirements of a clean criminal record in order to make more minorities eligible. This report and the message behind it should be withdrawn. There is no evidence that minority officers are “fairer” in their policing. The Justice Department itself found in 2015 that black and Hispanic officers in Philadelphia were more likely than white officers to shoot an unarmed black suspect based on the misperception that he was armed. Lowering hiring standards, particularly criminal-background standards, is a sure recipe for corruption and incompetence on a police force.

Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended that police departments mandatorily report to the DOJ their race and gender composition. This recommendation should be axed. And any mandated reporting on police activity that includes the race of suspects stopped or arrested should be accompanied by data on racial crime rates in the police agency’s juridiction. Ideally, the word “diversity” would be excised from all federal communications when it refers to race, sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Those traits have no bearing on federal programs or on qualifications for federal employment.

Trump is under pressure from conservatives to fire FBI director James Comey for his actions regarding presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server, his refusal to corroborate Trump’s wiretap allegations against Obama, and the FBI’s investigation of ties between Trump associates and Russia. Trump should resist the pressure to fire him. Comey was virtually the only voice in the Obama administration to call attention to the urban crime increase. He also correctly identified its cause because he understands the power of policing. He will be a valuable asset in quelling the crime spike.

Finally, while police officers have an indefeasible obligation to treat everyone they meet with courtesy and respect and within the confines of the law, community members have a reciprocal obligation to obey police commands and not resist arrest. The Trump administration could start a national campaign: “Comply now, complain later.” Such a campaign would publicize the fact that the vast majority of questionable police shootings over the last several years, as well as the justified police shootings, were triggered by the noncompliance of the victims.

Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway

April 24, 2017

Obama’s hidden Iran deal giveaway, Politico, April 24, 2017

Sean McCabe for POLITICO

The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.

The saga of how the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench into its own Justice Department-led counterproliferation effort continues to play out almost entirely out of public view, largely because of the highly secretive nature of the cases and the negotiations that affected them.

That may be about to change, as the Trump administration and both chambers of Congress have pledged to crack down on Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a government-wide review of U.S. policy toward Iran in the face of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time.”

Over the past year, the system has kicked back into gear, with some new cases filed and movement in existing ones. Some, however, involve activity dating to 2008, including the prosecution of some of Ravan’s suspected associates in the Iraq IED case. Privately, some prosecutors and investigators are hopeful that the Trump administration’s more hard-line approach to Tehran will mean more support for their efforts.

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By dropping charges against major arms targets, the administration infuriated Justice Department officials — and undermined its own counterproliferation task forces.

When President Barack Obama announced the “one-time gesture” of releasing Iranian-born prisoners who “were not charged with terrorism or any violent offenses” last year, his administration presented the move as a modest trade-off for the greater good of the Iran nuclear agreement and Tehran’s pledge to free five Americans.

“Iran had a significantly higher number of individuals, of course, at the beginning of this negotiation that they would have liked to have seen released,” one senior Obama administration official told reporters in a background briefing arranged by the White House, adding that “we were able to winnow that down to these seven individuals, six of whom are Iranian-Americans.”

But Obama, the senior official and other administration representatives weren’t telling the whole story on Jan. 17, 2016, in their highly choreographed rollout of the prisoner swap and simultaneous implementation of the six-party nuclear deal, according to a POLITICO investigation.

In his Sunday morning address to the American people, Obama portrayed the seven men he freed as “civilians.” The senior official described them as businessmen convicted of or awaiting trial for mere “sanctions-related offenses, violations of the trade embargo.”

In reality, some of them were accused by Obama’s own Justice Department of posing threats to national security. Three allegedly were part of an illegal procurement network supplying Iran with U.S.-made microelectronics with applications in surface-to-air and cruise missiles like the kind Tehran test-fired recently, prompting a still-escalating exchange of threats with the Trump administration. Another was serving an eight-year sentence for conspiring to supply Iran with satellite technology and hardware. As part of the deal, U.S. officials even dropped their demand for $10 million that a jury said the aerospace engineer illegally received from Tehran.

And in a series of unpublicized court filings, the Justice Department dropped charges and international arrest warrants against 14 other men, all of them fugitives. The administration didn’t disclose their names or what they were accused of doing, noting only in an unattributed, 152-word statement about the swap that the U.S. “also removed any Interpol red notices and dismissed any charges against 14 Iranians for whom it was assessed that extradition requests were unlikely to be successful.”

Three of the fugitives allegedly sought to lease Boeing aircraft for an Iranian airline that authorities say had supported Hezbollah, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization. A fourth, Behrouz Dolatzadeh, was charged with conspiring to buy thousands of U.S.-made assault rifles and illegally import them into Iran.

A fifth, Amin Ravan, was charged with smuggling U.S. military antennas to Hong Kong and Singapore for use in Iran. U.S. authorities also believe he was part of a procurement network providing Iran with high-tech components for an especially deadly type of IED used by Shiite militias to kill hundreds of American troops in Iraq.

The biggest fish, though, was Seyed Abolfazl Shahab Jamili, who had been charged with being part of a conspiracy that from 2005 to 2012 procured thousands of parts with nuclear applications for Iran via China. That included hundreds of U.S.-made sensors for the uranium enrichment centrifuges in Iran whose progress had prompted the nuclear deal talks in the first place.

When federal prosecutors and agents learned the true extent of the releases, many were shocked and angry. Some had spent years, if not decades, working to penetrate the global proliferation networks that allowed Iranian arms traders both to obtain crucial materials for Tehran’s illicit nuclear and ballistic missile programs and, in some cases, to provide dangerous materials to other countries.

“They didn’t just dismiss a bunch of innocent business guys,” said one former federal law enforcement supervisor centrally involved in the hunt for Iranian arms traffickers and nuclear smugglers. “And then they didn’t give a full story of it.”

In its determination to win support for the nuclear deal and prisoner swap from Tehran — and from Congress and the American people — the Obama administration did a lot more than just downplay the threats posed by the men it let off the hook, according to POLITICO’s findings.

Through action in some cases and inaction in others, the White House derailed its own much-touted National Counterproliferation Initiative at a time when it was making unprecedented headway in thwarting Iran’s proliferation networks. In addition, the POLITICO investigation found that Justice and State Department officials denied or delayed requests from prosecutors and agents to lure some key Iranian fugitives to friendly countries so they could be arrested. Similarly, Justice and State, at times in consultation with the White House, slowed down efforts to extradite some suspects already in custody overseas, according to current and former officials and others involved in the counterproliferation effort.

And as far back as the fall of 2014, Obama administration officials began slow-walking some significant investigations and prosecutions of Iranian procurement networks operating in the U.S. These previously undisclosed findings are based on interviews with key participants at all levels of government and an extensive review of court records and other documents.

“Clearly, there was an embargo on any Iranian cases,” according to the former federal supervisor.

“Of course it pissed people off, but it’s more significant that these guys were freed, and that people were killed because of the actions of one of them,” the supervisor added, in reference to Ravan and the IED network.

The supervisor noted that in agreeing to lift crippling sanctions against Tehran, the Obama administration had insisted on retaining the right to go after Iran for its efforts to develop ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear warheads and cruise missiles that could penetrate U.S. defenses, and to illegally procure components for its nuclear, military and weapons systems.

“Then why would you be dismissing the people that you know about who are involved in that?” the former official asked.

A SHREWD CALCULATION

The saga of how the Obama administration threw a monkey wrench into its own Justice Department-led counterproliferation effort continues to play out almost entirely out of public view, largely because of the highly secretive nature of the cases and the negotiations that affected them.

That may be about to change, as the Trump administration and both chambers of Congress have pledged to crack down on Tehran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Last Wednesday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a government-wide review of U.S. policy toward Iran in the face of “alarming and ongoing provocations that export terror and violence, destabilizing more than one country at a time.”

On Thursday, President Donald Trump declared that even if Iran is meeting the terms of its deal with the Obama administration and other world powers, “they are not living up to the spirit of it, I can tell you that. And we’re analyzing it very, very carefully, and we’ll have something to say about that in the not-too-distant future.”

At left, President Barack Obama delivers a statement Jan. 17, 2016, on the relations between the U.S. and Iran. At right, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meet July 7, 2015, in Vienna, Austria, during the nuclear talks between the E3+3 and Iran. | AP and Getty Photos

Such reviews are likely to train a spotlight on an aspect of the nuclear deal and prisoner swap that has infuriated the federal law enforcement community most — the hidden damage it has caused to investigations and prosecutions into a wide array of Iranian smuggling networks with U.S. connections.

Valerie Lincy, executive director of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, said Obama administration officials made a shrewd political calculation in focusing public attention on just those seven men it was freeing in the United States, and portraying them as mere sanctions violators.

That way, she said, “They just didn’t think it was going to make too many waves. And I think they were right.”

But Lincy, who closely tracks the U.S. counterproliferation effort against Iran, said that by letting so many men off the hook, and for such a wide range of offenses, Washington has effectively given its blessing to Iran’s continuing defiance of international laws.

Former Obama administration officials deny that, saying the men could still be prosecuted if they continue their illegal activity. But with their cases dropped, international arrest warrants dismissed and investigative assets redirected, the men — especially the 14 fugitives — can now continue activities the U.S. considers to be serious threats to its national security, Lincy said.

“This is a scandal,” she said. “The cases bear all the hallmarks of exactly the kinds of national security threats we’re still going after. It’s stunning and hard to understand why we would do this.”

Even some initial supporters of negotiating with Iran said the disclosures are troubling.

“There was always a broader conceptual problem with the administration not wanting to upset the balance of the deal or the perceived rapprochement with the Iranian regime,” said former Bush administration deputy national security adviser Juan Zarate, who later turned against the accord. “The deal was sacrosanct, and the Iranians knew it from the start and took full advantage when we had — and continue to maintain — enormous leverage.”

Most, if not all, of the Justice Department lawyers and prosecutors involved in the Counterproliferation Initiative were kept in the dark about how their cases were being used as bargaining chips, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials.

So were the federal agents from the FBI and departments of Homeland Security and Commerce who for years had been operating internationally, often undercover, on the front lines of the hunt for Iranian arms and weapons smugglers.

It wasn’t just that prosecutors and agents with years of detailed knowledge about the cases were left out of the consultations about the significance of the 21 men let go in the swap. The lack of input also meant that negotiators were making decisions without fully understanding how the releases would impact the broader and interconnected matrix of U.S. investigations.

At the time, those investigations were providing U.S. officials with a roadmap of how, exactly, Tehran was clandestinely building its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and maintaining its military with the unwitting assistance of so many U.S. weapons parts and technology companies. The cases were also providing key operational details of how the Iranian procurement networks operate, and who in Tehran was calling the shots.

“So when they downplayed it, it really infuriated people,” said Kenneth MacDonald, a former senior Homeland Security official who helped establish the multi-agency coordination center at the heart of the National Counterproliferation Initiative.

“They’d spent months or years on these cases and the decisions were made with no review of what the implications were,” said MacDonald, who retired in 2013 but keeps in contact with agents as co-principal investigator at the DHS-affiliated Institute for Security Policy at Northeastern University. “There was absolutely no consultation.”

A SYSTEM IN LIMBO

In a series of interviews, senior officials from the Obama White House and Justice and State Departments said the prisoner swap was a bargain for the U.S., given the release of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, former Marine Amir Hekmati and three others. Iran also promised cooperation on the case of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who had disappeared in Iran nearly a decade earlier and was believed to be either imprisoned or dead.

Those senior officials acknowledged that all but a handful of people were kept in the dark, but said top representatives of the Justice Department and FBI helped vet the 21 Iranian proliferators and that then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch herself participated in blocking some other individuals demanded by Tehran from inclusion in potential prisoner trades.

“The condition was that they not be engaged in anything remotely attached to violence or proliferation activities,” said one senior Obama administration official familiar with the swap negotiations. “And none of them were in any stage where they were providing assistance to the [Tehran] government.”

That may be true for the seven men granted clemency in the United States, but it certainly wasn’t the case for the 14 fugitives.

“These were people under active investigation, who we wanted very badly because they were operating at such a high level that they could help us begin to find out what was happening inside the black box of how Iran’s procurement networks really operate,” said Aaron Arnold, a former intelligence analyst at CPC2, the FBI’s special Counterproliferation Center unit dedicated to thwarting Iranian nuclear and weapons smuggling. “Without that kind of strategic insight, it leaves our analysts, but more importantly, our policy-makers just guessing at what Iran is up to and how to stop it.”

Fifteen months later, the fallout from the nuclear deal and prisoner swap — and questions about the events leading up to them — continue to reverberate through the Justice Department and the specialized units at the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and Commerce Department created to neutralize the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear and military ambitions.

The National Counterproliferation Initiative, created with much fanfare a decade ago, has suffered greatly, many participants said, even as they acknowledged that metrics are hard to come by. Much of the work is done in secret, and in long-range efforts that can’t be publicly disclosed, much less measured in annual arrest or conviction statistics.

But key enforcement efforts are in limbo as the result of stalled or stymied investigations and prosecutions, and the trail of some high-value targets has gone cold, numerous participants said.

At least six times in the run-up to the nuclear deal, federal investigators scrambled to get Justice and State Department approval to lure top Iranian targets into traveling internationally in order to arrest them, according to one top Obama administration Justice Department official and other participants. But the requests weren’t approved and the targets vanished, depriving the U.S. of some of its best opportunities to gain insight into the workings of Tehran’s nuclear, missile and military programs, the sources said.

“We would say, ‘We have this opportunity and if we don’t do it now, we’ll never have the opportunity ever again,” the recently departed Justice Department official recalls. But, he added, “There were periods of time where State Department cooperation was necessary but not forthcoming.”

Obama Secretary of State John Kerry declined to comment through a former senior State Department official, who said certain requests might have been delayed temporarily because they came at particularly sensitive times in the negotiations, but only with the concurrence of the White House and Justice Department.

But even now, many experienced agents and prosecutors say they are reluctant to pursue counterproliferation cases for fear that they won’t go anywhere. They say they have also received no helpful guidance on what they can — and cannot — investigate going forward given the complicated parameters of the Iran deal and lifting of nuclear sanctions. Some said they are biding their time to see how hard-liners in the new administration, including Trump himself, deal with Iran.

But others have grown so frustrated that they have moved on from the counterproliferation effort, taking with them decades of investigative experience and relationships cultivated with other government agencies and cooperating U.S. companies, a number of current and former officials said.

And critical momentum has been lost, many say, as the 10-year anniversary of the initiative in October approaches.

“This has erased literally years — many years — of hard work, and important cases that can be used to build toward other cases and even bigger players in Iran’s nuclear and conventional weapons programs,” said former Justice Department counterproliferation prosecutor David Locke Hall, adding that the swap demolished the deterrent effect that the arrests and convictions may have had. “Even though these men’s crimes posed a direct threat to U.S. national security, the [Obama] administration has essentially told them their efforts have produced nothing more than political capital that can be traded away when politically expedient.”

One senior Obama administration official who served at the White House and DHS disagreed, saying much of the intelligence about Iranian networks remains usable even though the 21 cases were vacated, and that counterproliferation agents are a resilient bunch who will continue to do their jobs.

When asked whether the counterproliferation effort has struggled, one current Justice Department spokesman said no and quipped, “We are still in the export violation prosecuting business.”

That may be the case, said David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, a physicist and former weapons inspector whose decades of scientific research into Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program brings him into regular close contact with federal authorities.

But like others involved in ongoing U.S. counterproliferation efforts, Albright said he witnessed many instances since late 2014 in which important investigations and prosecutions were hindered. Albright, who serves as an expert witness in Justice Department Iran trafficking prosecutions, added that federal agents have told him of numerous cases of “lure memos” and other requests never approved by the State Department.

“You can’t keep turning these down and expecting them to want to keep doing this,” said Albright, who added that efforts to lure suspects to countries where they can be arrested are essential in getting beyond the lower rungs of middlemen for Iran. He said he could not disclose specific details, but said, “The amount of rejections has risen to the level where people were worried that it would kill the counterproliferation effort.”

“They had wanted all of these things prosecuted, they were on a roll, they were freaking out the Iranians and then they were told, boom, stop,” Albright said of the Obama administration’s counterproliferation efforts. “And it’s hard to get them back again. We are shooting ourselves in the foot, destroying the infrastructure that we created to enforce the laws against the Iranians.”

The repercussions from the prisoner swap are especially strong in Boston, where authorities had worked for years to build the case against Jamili, the suspected Iranian nuclear procurement agent, and his China-based associate Sihai Cheng.

The two were secretly indicted in 2013 along with two Iranian companies, and Cheng pleaded guilty in mid-December 2015 to four criminal counts. He acknowledged conspiring with Jamili to knowingly provide more than 1,000 high-tech components known as pressure transducers to Iran, which authorities say advanced its nuclear weapons capabilities.

Less than a month later, though, as the prisoner swap unfolded, Boston prosecutors got orders from Washington to file court papers vacating the charges against Jamili and dropping the Interpol arrest warrant for him.

It wasn’t until later that the case agents and prosecutors learned that the Iranian negotiators had specifically demanded that Jamili be included in the swap, said Arnold, the former analyst at the FBI’s Counterproliferation Center Iran unit, where he headed a financial intelligence team tracking the money flows of the Iranian networks.

A GLOBAL CAT AND MOUSE GAME

By the time of the nuclear deal and prisoner swap, the U.S. government had spent 35 years in pursuit of Iran’s ever more sophisticated web of smugglers, traffickers, transport operatives and procurement agents.

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter declared that Iran constituted an unusual and extraordinary threat to U.S. security after Islamic revolutionaries overran the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took hostage 52 Americans. Tehran began calling the United States “the Great Satan” and vowed its destruction, in part by using proxy forces like Hezbollah.

A raft of economic sanctions against Iran and Iranian entities were put in place, followed by other restrictions on U.S. parts and technology that Tehran needed for military or other restricted applications, including its squadrons of F-class fighter jets that Washington sold it during friendlier times. Its ambitious ballistic missile program became a grave concern over the years, especially when it became apparent that Tehran was using U.S. commodities to engineer inter-continental versions that could reach the United States, and to top them with nuclear, conventional or even chemical and biological weapons.

And as Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program ramped up, so did the U.S. effort to stop it.

Overseas, U.S. intelligence operatives shadowed Iranian procurement agents, cultivated informants and used cyberweapons to sabotage Iran’s clandestine program. The U.S. military tried to interdict illicit shipments headed for Tehran. The Treasury Department issued endless rounds of targeted sanctions, but each time it restricted access to global markets for suspect individuals and companies, Tehran would simply create new ones. And successive administrations tried the diplomatic route to slow or stop Iranian proliferation, including Tehran’s efforts to share weapons and research with other enemies of the United States, without success.

In response, federal law enforcement agents and prosecutors were deployed to shut down the Iranian procurement networks and dam the rivers of U.S. parts and technology illicitly flowing to Iran in violation of export control laws.

That proved virtually impossible, given the hundreds of trading, shipping and transport companies Iran employed, and the complex payment schemes and often unwitting procurement agents it used to get the products via other countries with lax export controls.

Meanwhile, since at least 1982, the Government Accountability Office began issuing stinging reports about how the lack of coordination and information-sharing among U.S. agencies severely hampered efforts to bring criminal cases against traffickers.

After the 9/11 attacks, those turf battles intensified. The cases often took years to investigate, and federal agents from two or even three agencies would sometimes discover they were conducting international undercover operations against the same target, a top former Homeland Security official recalls.

Securing convictions from American juries was also a huge challenge given the complex nature of the cases, especially when the procurement networks were buying so-called dual-use components that also could be used for less nefarious purposes.

Two post-9/11 cases exposed gaping holes in the global counterproliferation safety net. In the United States, Israeli-born trafficker Asher Karni was arrested for illegally shipping suspected U.S. nuclear components to Pakistan for its atomic bomb arsenal. And in Pakistan, metallurgist Abdul Qadeer Khan was caught selling his country’s nuclear capability to Iran, Libya and North Korea.

At left, an Iranian security employee walks in a part of the uranium conversion facility just outside the city of Isfahan, Iran, in 2005. At right, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities on April 8, 2008. Ahmadinejad announced on Iranian state television during the visit that Iran had begun the installation of some 6,000 new centrifuges, adding to to the 3,000 centrifuges already at the facility. | Getty

Both cases ratcheted up Washington’s fears that the vast underground of WMD trafficking rings could sell their wares to Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.

In 2007, the Bush administration responded by establishing the National Counterproliferation Initiative, charging the Justice Department with coordinating and expanding U.S. efforts to dismantle the procurement networks.

Task forces were established around the country, with special training for prosecutors and agents in how to collectively build cases that would not only put front-line traffickers in prison, but also map the illicit networks and target their leadership.

From the outset, Iran cases were front and center, especially in cities like San Diego, Houston and New York with large military, industrial or technology sectors. Boston, in particular, seemed a favorite of the Iranian networks.

Soon, the multi-agency teams were homing in on key players in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs and another network procuring the IED components that Tehran’s fearsome Revolutionary Guard used to assist Iraqi insurgents killing American troops in Iraq.

An early high-value target was Amin Ravan, who by 2008 was working with a Singapore firm on behalf of the Aerospace Industries Organization, described by a secret State Department cable that year as “the umbrella organization and key procurement center for all Iranian industries responsible for developing and manufacturing missiles.”

Another was Behrouz Dolatzadeh, the suspected assault weapons buyer for Tehran. Authorities say he had been active as far back as 1995 in illegal arms smuggling and other illegal activities in connection with a sprawling business empire linked to Iran’s hard-line leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

By 2011, the Justice-led task forces had developed so many promising leads that the FBI, Commerce and Homeland Security Department had created special units to better coordinate efforts. Together, they also improved liaisons with overseas law enforcement agencies instrumental in interdicting shipments headed for Iran.

And working with U.S. intelligence agencies and the State Department, the task forces successfully lured several key Iranian operatives out of Tehran and China for capture elsewhere, including two who would end up on Obama’s prisoner swap list.

Dolatzadeh was indicted under seal in Arizona in February 2012, lured to the Czech Republic to inspect weapons en route to Iran, and arrested. And Ravan, already linked to the IED network, was secretly indicted in Washington in November 2012 and captured soon after in Malaysia.

And after a three-year undercover investigation, U.S. authorities lured a major Iranian proliferator named Parviz Khaki to the Philippines in May 2012 and arrested him on charges of conspiring to smuggle nuclear-related U.S. equipment to Iran.

“By dismantling this complex conspiracy … we have disrupted a significant threat to national security,” John Morton, then-director of DHS Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said at the time.

All three investigations provided U.S. officials with unprecedented insight into Iran’s secret procurement efforts, current and former task force members said. But Dolatzadeh and Ravan were released by courts overseas, and Khaki died in custody, before the U.S. could extradite them.

The counterproliferation teams also enlisted the help of American companies, providing them with Iran’s massive shopping list of needed items and hotlines to call when they got a nibble.

“It took a long time to mature, but by 2013 to 2014, it became very evident that we were getting a lot of great leads,” recalls Randall Coleman, who as assistant FBI director oversaw the bureau’s fledgling Counterproliferation Center and special coordinators in all 56 field offices.

“We were very aggressive, and as a result of that, our caseload went up about 500 percent,” Coleman said. “It really exploded. We were rocking and rolling.”

One of the most promising cases was in Boston, where federal agents were deep into their investigation of the illicit flow of parts to Iran from a Massachusetts firm, MKS Instruments, and its Shanghai subsidiary.

With help from MKS, which was not suspected of wrongdoing, agents initially focused on Cheng and gathered evidence that he had been indirectly supplying Iran with components with nuclear applications for years. The trail led to Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, an Iranian company designated by European authorities as an entity involved in developing and procuring parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

“Time is important, not only for you, for me, for your end user, but also for your nation,” Cheng wrote in a 2010 instant message to a suspected Iranian accomplice. “I personally believe the war will break out in 2 years and that will be the start of World War Three.”

But the agents’ curiosity was also piqued by another message from back in 2007, in which the Iranian accomplice, Seyed Jamili, asked Cheng for thousands of pressure transducers, for “a very big project and secret one.”

The project, authorities determined, was Iran’s clandestine uranium nuclear enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, where the transducers helped run thousands of gas centrifuge cascades to reach weapons-grade capability. There was even a photo of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad touring Natanz, with the centrifuges — and MKS transducers clearly visible — in the background.

International U.S. arrest warrants were secretly issued for the two men, and authorities nabbed Cheng when he traveled to London to watch a soccer match in February 2014. After he was extradited and brought to Boston that December, authorities began to realize that Jamili was a far more important cog in Iran’s proliferation network than they had suspected.

It was Jamili who had recruited Cheng with the promise of big and easy money, they determined, and who had been using his Iranian import-export firm as cover for personally recruiting other procurement agents on trips to China and possibly other countries.

Around that same time, negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear deal with Iran were heating up, and so were the top-secret prisoner swap talks on the sidelines of them.

AN OPERATIONAL SLOWDOWN

By the winter of 2014, federal agents and prosecutors began to detect waning support at the higher rungs of the Obama administration for their counterproliferation efforts against Iran, according to numerous officials involved. Also, they said, Justice Department management — and an interagency Iran working group — suddenly were scrutinizing Iran cases more closely, asking a lot more questions and holding up requests and approvals that in the past had been routine.

No specific guidance or order was given, some said, but the message was clear.

“They didn’t want to have cases just popping up in the workup to the agreement or shortly after the agreement. The administration would not look good if there were [cases documenting] these acquisition attempts. And the Iranians kept doing it,” MacDonald, the former senior Homeland Security official, said of Tehran’s illegal procurement efforts.

“They were never told no, just to wait,” MacDonald said of the agents. “It was a common theme among the people working these cases. The official response was that nothing had changed, that if you brought the case forward, it would be worked. But unofficially, that was just not the case.”

Some of the cases involved significant investigations into nuclear and missile proliferation that required State Department approval, including visas to lure suspects to the U.S. for arrest, said MacDonald, who had also served on the White House Task Force on Export Control Reform. “I’ve been told that the highest levels of the State Department weren’t processing those, and the cases couldn’t move forward.”

A former senior State Department official said that in most cases, State Department and White House could only provide nonbinding guidance on how ongoing law enforcement operations might affect the sensitive negotiations. Ultimately, he said, the Justice Department was responsible for pushing back and protecting the integrity of its investigations and prosecutions.

And while it’s possible that federal law enforcement officials missed opportunities as a result of State Department delays, “I am not aware of a single case where they lost out on some key arrest or information, or some proliferation activity was allowed to continue,” the former senior State Department official said, adding that some lures and extraditions were approved “until the very end of our tenure.”

Clockwise from upper left: A U.S. plane sits on the tarmac of Geneva’s airport Jan. 17, 2016, awaiting the arrival of some of the Americans freed by Iran in a prisoner swap with the United States. The prisoners were former Marine Amir Hekmati, Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, Idaho pastor Saeed Abedini, private investigator and retired FBI and DEA agent Robert Levinson, Massachusetts student Matthew Trevithick and Nosratollah Khosravi-Roodsari (not pictured). | AP and Getty Photos

Richard Nephew, a former top Iran sanctions official at the State Department and National Security Council, said any delays were “much more a case of managing the diplomatic initiative than letting the bad guys get away with stuff. If we found out in the NSC that something involved active law enforcement activity, then we were advised to stay the hell away from it.”

A top Obama Justice Department official rejected the notion that the State Department didn’t undermine important cases. He said prosecutors and investigators sometimes acceded to requests for delays they believed to be reasonable. But they became infuriated at times, he said, especially when opportunities to lure and arrest key Iranian proliferators were lost due to delay or outright rejection by State.

“The impediment was not the leadership of DOJ but the other agencies that DOJ has to work with to bring these cases successfully,” the Obama Justice official said. “They can kibosh it, they can pocket veto it, they can tell us no, they can punt it down a couple of steps.”

Justice Department officials demanded “high-level conversations” with the State Department and White House, but “not a whole lot” changed, the Obama Justice official said. “Did it fix the issue? I don’t think it did. I remember people up and down at DOJ being frustrated with the inability to move things.”

A senior former federal law enforcement official involved in counterproliferation efforts agreed, saying the FBI was especially impacted. “Did some of these other agencies’ actions … undermine what we were trying to accomplish in terms of the Iran network in the U.S.? Yes. But you are treading into waters where people don’t like what you are doing because it affects other things they are trying to do, diplomatically and politically.”

Ultimately, the dysfunction created by the slowdown spread far beyond the enforcement agencies and damaged relationships with partners in private industry and foreign governments, former DHS official MacDonald and others said.

By early 2015, the Obama administration’s oft-publicized desire for securing an Iran deal “was politicizing all of the ongoing investigations,” Arnold said. He visited his former CPC Iran Unit colleagues that August while briefing Treasury and FBI officials on the Iran deal, reached a month earlier, as a counterproliferation expert at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.

“There was a fear that as negotiations went on, the White House wouldn’t want to get caught in a flap” created by a high-profile arrest or criminal case, Arnold said.

For agents and prosecutors, the headlines such an incident would create would antagonize not only their superiors but also a White House intent on proving to Tehran that it was committed to reaching an accord. On the flip side, it could also provide ammunition to the proposed deal’s many critics in Congress and elsewhere, who were claiming that Iran was aggressively continuing its clandestine procurement efforts even as it pledged good behavior.

But agents and prosecutors had an even more powerful reason to throttle back on Iran proliferation cases, according to Arnold and others.

Despite repeated requests, many were not given guidance or reassurances that the nuclear deal being negotiated in secret wouldn’t render unprosecutable new and ongoing cases, especially high-priority ones against nuclear traffickers, Arnold said. So agents had no confidence that their work would bear fruit.

“It was absolutely insane,” Arnold said. “People didn’t know what to do.”

“From the summer of 2015 on, there was a serious slowdown” as many counterproliferation officials shut down prosecutions and investigations voluntarily, Arnold said. “During that time, CPC wasn’t as aggressive as it should have been.”

The senior Obama administration official acknowledged that the twin sets of negotiations influenced the overall U.S. counterproliferation effort against Iran, especially the timing of individual investigations, prosecutions and international efforts to bring suspects to justice.

Such competing equities are unavoidable when high-level matters of diplomacy and geopolitics are under consideration, the official said. At those times, the White House must be guided by broader policy objectives, in this case de-escalating conflict with Iran, curbing its nuclear weapons program and freeing at least four American prisoners.

“The White House wouldn’t be getting involved in saying yea or nay to particular arrests or cases or the like” that are the purview of the Justice Department, the administration official said. “It was not uncommon, though, that before we were going to undertake a law enforcement action that we thought would have foreign policy implications, we would alert folks at the White House so that there could be appropriate notice given to a foreign government. That happens.”

The former official also acknowledged the complaints by agents and prosecutors about cases being derailed but said they were unavoidable, and for the greater good.

“It’s entirely possible that during the pendency of the negotiations, that folks who were doing their jobs, doing the investigations and bringing cases, having no understanding of and insight into the other process, were frustrated because they don’t feel like their stuff is moving forward,” said the Obama official. “Or they were not getting answers, because there are these entirely appropriate discussions happening on the policy side.

“That doesn’t strike me as being, a, unusual or, b, wrong,” the official added. “But I completely understand why it’s frustrating.”

The Justice Department refused repeated requests to make available for interviews anyone related to the counterproliferation effort since the Iran deal, or to provide information about its role in the negotiations.

But in a statement to POLITICO, the Justice Department said the negotiations “did not affect the Department’s determination to investigate and charge worthy cases” and that it continued to “investigate, charge, and prosecute viable criminal cases … throughout negotiations of the JCPOA,” the formal term for the Iran deal. The Justice Department said it filed federal charges against 90 individuals and entities for violations of export controls and sanctions implicating Iran between 2014 and 2016, many under seal. It did not provide information about cases under seal for those or other years, making it impossible to place those numbers in the proper context.

Also, some of those cases involve the 21 Iranians let go in the swap. And because numerous individuals and entities often are charged in a single case, the statistics suggest a slowdown in counterproliferation efforts, according to current and former investigators and a POLITICO review of DOJ cases.

The timing of arrests, prosecutions and other investigative activities “may be informed by a variety of factors, including, especially in the national security context, collateral foreign policy consequences and impacts on American lives,” the Justice Department said. “Once an individual is charged, the Department works to ensure that the defendant, whether located in the U.S. or abroad, is held accountable. In seeking to apprehend defendants located abroad, however, we need assistance from other departments, agencies, and countries, and sometimes we cannot accomplish an arrest without it.”

Senior Obama administration officials also said the negotiations over the nuclear deal and, even more so the prisoner swap, required such extraordinary secrecy that only a tiny number of people were involved.

But as the nation’s top law enforcement official — and as a participant in the negotiations —Lynch failed in her responsibility as attorney general to protect the integrity of the Justice Department’s investigations and prosecutions from any political interference, some current and former officials believe.

Lynch, through an aide, declined to comment.

(A timeline graphic is at the link below. — DM

Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, raised the issue of Justice Department independence in 2015, when as a senator he asked incoming Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates about whether she knew that she had “the responsibility to say no to the president if he asks for something that’s improper?”

Earlier this year, this issue arose again when Trump fired then-Acting Attorney General Yates for doing just that and refusing to defend his executive order on immigration. By doing so, Trump had “placed the independence of the Justice Department at stake,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.). “The attorney general is the people’s attorney, not the president’s attorney.”

Obama spokesman Kevin Lewis also emphasized the importance of such a firewall recently when addressing Trump’s claim that Obama had ordered wiretaps of him or his campaign. “A cardinal rule of the Obama administration was that no White House official ever interfered with any independent investigation led by the Department of Justice,” Lewis said.

Many front-line current and former authorities disagree, and say the Iran deal and prisoner swap is a glaring example of that.

“A lot of people were furious; they had cases in the pipeline for months, in some cases years, and then, all of a sudden, they were gone — all because they were trying to sell the nuke deal,” a former Department of Commerce counterproliferation agent said. “Things fell apart after that. There are some really good cases out there and they are not going forward. They just let them die on the vine.”

A MASTERMIND EMERGES

Top Obama administration officials insist that the nuclear deal does not impede any of the broader U.S. efforts to go after Iran’s vast nuclear, missile and conventional weapons procurement efforts. Even so, many participants said the way forward is still sufficiently unclear that they can’t, or won’t, proceed.

Over the past year, the system has kicked back into gear, with some new cases filed and movement in existing ones. Some, however, involve activity dating to 2008, including the prosecution of some of Ravan’s suspected associates in the Iraq IED case. Privately, some prosecutors and investigators are hopeful that the Trump administration’s more hard-line approach to Tehran will mean more support for their efforts.

Like many others, though, Albright said he is concerned that the counterproliferation effort has suffered significant and lasting damage, even if much of it involves classified efforts that may never become public.

“How much damage was done to the law enforcement side of this from us pulling back from these prosecutions?” he asked. “We have to pick up the pieces.”

Albright said that is especially the case in Boston, where he testified for the government against Cheng.

A few weeks after the prisoner swap, a judge sentenced Cheng to nine years in federal prison, even more than the prosecutors asked for, for his role in the conspiracy.

Cheng’s lawyer, Stephen Weymouth, accused federal prosecutors of unfair treatment, saying they threw the book at his client, a relatively small fish, while dropping all charges against the “mastermind,” Jamili.

Since the swap, federal authorities have learned more about Jamili, including intelligence tying him directly to Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan, a top Iranian nuclear official who supervised a key “commercial affairs” initiative at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility, according to officials familiar with the case. Authorities believe Jamili was on the phone with Ahmadi-Roshan on Jan. 11, 2012, when unknown assailants on a motorbike killed him by attaching a bomb to his car. Tehran accused Israel’s Mossad in the attack.

But the federal agents’ efforts to pursue such leads, even in the U.S., have been complicated by the general uncertainty hanging over the broader counterproliferation effort, according to Arnold, the former FBI analyst.

At left, young supporters of Lebanon’s militant Shiite Hezbollah movement carry portraits March 18, 2017, of the founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as they march in the southern Lebanese town of Kfar Hatta during the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter. At right, an S-200 surface-to-air missile is driven past Iranian military commanders Sept. 22, 2015, during the annual military parade in Tehran marking the anniversary of the start of Iran’s 1980-1988 war with Iraq. | Getty

“Part of the frustration is that there is strong evidence Iran is still conducting illegal procurement operations and the FBI can’t really go forward with these cases,” said Arnold, who has been closely following the Jamili-Cheng case as part of a Harvard research project into nuclear proliferation networks.

That frustration is especially acute when it comes to Jamili and the 13 other fugitives. When dropping the charges, the Justice Department said it was doing so in large part because it was unlikely that the U.S. would ever be successful in capturing or extraditing them anyway.

Some federal officials familiar with the cases scoffed at that, noting that they have lured many Iranians to places where they could be arrested, and that others were tripped up by sealed Interpol warrants while traveling. In Jamili’s case, said one, “he has traveled so we know there’s a chance we could get him.”

Despite decades of intensive investigations, Arnold said, U.S. officials still have a “major air gap” when it comes to understanding the intermediaries like Jamili involved in the Iranian networks — who are between foot soldiers like Cheng and government officials running the nuclear and weapons programs.

“All of a sudden, we’re no longer playing whack-a-mole, and we suddenly have this key player who is directly involved and has insider knowledge as to how this whole process works,” he said. “So to see him being traded away is frustrating.”