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THE MUSINGS OF A TRADITIONAL SOUTHERN DEMOCRAT

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Sid in his law office where he sits when meeting with clients. Observant eyes will notice the statuette of one of Sid's favorite Democrats.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Holder Decision on Benghazi Case Reverberates

From The New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Hours after learning that the United States ambassador to Libya and three others had been killed in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, senior American officials held a secure videoconference call to discuss how to proceed in investigating the attack.
 
The prosecutor on the call for the Justice Department was Zainab N. Ahmad, one of the department’s most respected national security lawyers. In less than a decade in the United States attorney’s office in Brooklyn, Ms. Ahmad had successfully overseen several high-profile prosecutions, working alongside the New York-based F.B.I. agents who were going to take the lead in investigating Benghazi.
 
But as Ms. Ahmad began to build the case with the agents, other prosecutors in the Justice Department began quietly lobbying Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to take it over. Neil H. MacBride, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, which covers Northern Virginia, called a senior F.B.I. official in Washington to strategize about how they could land the case.
 
And the United States attorney for the District of Columbia, Ronald C. Machen Jr., sent a series of messages to Mr. Holder’s deputies, arguing that his office — which is perceived to have a lower standing in the department’s hierarchy than the ones in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Northern Virginia — was due for one of the big cases.
 
Less than 24 hours after the attack in Libya — and 21 months before the apprehension of a suspect, Ahmed Abu Khattala — Mr. Holder assigned the case to Mr. Machen’s office. The move was a surprise because nearly all major national security cases since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks had been steered to the United States attorneys’ offices in New York and Brooklyn, which have the most seasoned prosecutors in the country, and Northern Virginia, which is known for its government-leaning judges and jury pools.
 
But in this case, the decision to give the case to Mr. Machen’s office has left lingering concerns among some senior F.B.I. and Justice Department officials who worry that it was a mistake to entrust such a politically charged prosecution to an office with less experience than others in trying terrorists.
On Monday, Mr. Khattala, who will most likely go on trial this year or in early 2015, will make his first court appearance since his arraignment in June, and those doubts have not dissipated.
 
“This is not how it should have been done,” said one law enforcement official, who like others critical of the decision spoke on the condition of anonymity.

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