1) JW Releases New FBI Documents: Osama bin Laden May Have Chartered Saudi Flight Out of U.S. after 9/11
2) Congressional Confidence Rating at 14%
3) Judicial Watch Held Panel on Security and Prosperity Partnership
Just in case you weren’t yet convinced the federal government may have overlooked a few things in its investigation of the 9/11 attacks, check this out:
Last Wednesday, Judicial Watch released new documents from the FBI related to the “expeditious departure” (as the FBI puts it) of Saudi nationals, including members of the bin Laden family, from the United States following the 9/11 attacks. Here’s the headline: According to one of the formerly confidential FBI documents, dated 9/21/2001, terrorist Osama bin Laden may have chartered one of the Saudi flights! This news garnered international headlines.
Here’s what the document specifically states: “ON 9/19/01, A 727 PLANE LEFT LAX, RYAN FLT #441 TO ORLANDO, FL W/ETA (estimated time of arrival) OF 4-5PM. THE PLANE WAS CHARTERED EITHER BY THE SAUDI ARABIAN ROYAL FAMILY OR OSAMA BIN LADEN…THE LA FBI SEARCHED THE PLANE [REDACTED] LUGGAGE, OF WHICH NOTHING UNUSUAL WAS FOUND.”
Even considering the possible direct bin Laden link to the flight, it was allowed to depart the United States after making four stops to pick up passengers, ultimately landing in Paris where all passengers disembarked on 9/20/01, according to the document. (Just eight days after the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, Osama bin Laden possibly charters a flight to whisk his family out of the country, and it’s not worth more than a luggage search?)
Overall, the FBI documents uncovered by Judicial Watch include details of the six flights between 9/14 and 9/24 that evacuated Saudi royals and bin Laden family members. The documents also contain brief interview summaries and occasional notes from intelligence analysts concerning the cursory screening performed prior to the departures. (For example, only 4 of 100 passengers on three Saudi flights leaving Las Vegas between 9/19 and 9/24 were questioned by agents.)
Moreover, the documents contain numerous errors and inconsistencies which prove the FBI conducted a slapdash investigation of the Saudi flights. On one document, for example, the FBI claims to have interviewed 20 of 23 passengers on the Ryan International Airlines flight (commonly referred to as the “Bin Laden Family Flight”). On another document, however, the FBI claims to have interviewed 15 of 22 passengers on the same flight.
Which is the correct figure? We’ll likely never know. (Ironically, the FBI has tried to downplay and undermine the information contained in their very own documents.)
I should point out we obtained more complete copies documents in the first place because Judicial Watch lawyers obtained an court order from U.S. District Court Judge Richard W. Roberts requiring the FBI to resubmit “proper disclosures” to the Court and Judicial Watch. The judge had previously criticized the adequacy of redaction descriptions, the validity of exemption claims, and other errors in the FBI’s disclosures. Incredibly, the FBI had previously redacted Osama bin Laden’s name from the records in order “to protect privacy interests.”
Congressional Confidence Rating at 14%
According to a recent poll by Gallup, “just 14% of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in Congress. This 14% Congressional confidence rating is the all-time low for this measure, which Gallup initiated in 1973. The previous low point for Congress was 18% at several points in the period of time 1991 to 1994.”
(By the way, I’d like to know who the 14% are who actually think Congress is doing a great job. No one I know, for sure.)
I believe the public’s lack of confidence in our elected officials can be summed up in one word: corruption. This was the key issue in the last election cycle; the main reason why Democrats assumed control of both Houses of Congress. Democrats promised change, and the American people bought it. Now, will the Democratic leadership deliver? Time will tell, but the early signs are mixed.
Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), who leads the congressional ethics task force, was hoping to send an ethics reform package to the floor for a vote last week, but was met with stiff resistance from his Democratic colleagues.
According to the Congressional Quarterly on June 14: “Facing push back from their rank and file, House Democratic leaders decided Monday to take more time before trying to change House rules to create an outside ethics commission. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat from California, plans to meet with her caucus…to help assuage the fears of a sizable group of Democrats who believe that allowing non-members to file complaints will open a floodgate of politically motivated attacks.”
Apparently, there is a competing ethics reform package that has gained some momentum on the Hill, garnering the support of 53 members so far. Crafted by Baron P. Hill, a Democrat from Indiana, the bill would establish a panel of 12 former members of Congress to investigate complaints, but – and this is a big but – only members of Congress could file the complaints. Outside groups and citizens would be shut out of the process completely.
For the last six months, I have been working with the House Ethics Task Force as it considers ethics reform. As I told members during private meetings and in my public testimony, any ethics reform package that denies citizens and outside groups the opportunity to file ethics complaints would be, in a word, useless.
How do I know? Because this is the system that is in place right now. The same system that let Representatives John Conyers, Duke Cunningham, Mark Foley, Gary Condit, Cynthia McKinney, Jim McDermott, Patrick Kennedy, and William Jefferson – to name a few – off the hook without serious punishment for their crimes and transgressions.
Are we supposed to trust that members of Congress have had a sudden change of heart and will now take their ethics enforcement duties seriously? The slow pace of reform in the face of voter disgust with congressional corruption is one more sign of a Congress out of touch with the average voter.
Clearly, some members of Congress do not want any outsiders interfering with their business. But it has little to do with the fear that frivolous political attacks will gain serious consideration by an independent ethics commission. What members truly fear is that serious and credible allegations made by outside groups and citizens will merit investigation and lead to accountability.
The Capuano reform package is not perfect. The ethics commission proposed by Capuano may have no subpoena power. And the House Ethics Committee (the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct) would still have the final say on whether charges would be pursued. But it is a step in the right direction. The proposal would establish an independent entity to consider complaints. It would provide outside groups the ability to file complaints. And the House Ethics Committee would have to publicly disclose how a complaint is to be handled within 45 days of receiving a recommendation from the independent ethics entity. All of these are sound measures.
Democratic leaders in the House have a golden opportunity. If they manage to pass true ethics reform, and follow through with meaningful ethics investigations, they will earn a tremendous amount of good will from the American voting public. Politicians are fond of saying (disingenuously) that they don’t follow polls. But let’s face it. In two years Democrats will be judged on whether or not they made good on their promise to clean up corruption. And a 14% public confidence rating is a sign that voters are not pleased thus far.
Judicial Watch Held Panel on Security and Prosperity Partnership
Last week, Judicial Watch held an educational panel discussion on Wednesday, June 20 at the National Press Club. The issue? The Security and Prosperity Partnership, an agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada that has many conservatives nervous that we might be giving up our national sovereignty.
Joining me on the panel, which was very well received, were: Phyllis Schlafly, Eagle Forum; Rosemary Jenks, NumbersUSA; Dr. Robert Pastor, American University; and David Bohigian of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
As I told attendees, Judicial Watch has sought to bring more transparency to the Security and Prosperity Partnership process, as many in the media and the Congress have virtually ignored its workings.
However, CNN’s “Lou Dobbs Tonight” had another report featuring new documents uncovered by Judicial Watch on the Security and Prosperity Partnership. Click here to view the report.
Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch, Inc., a conservative, non-partisan educational foundation that promotes transparency, accountability and integrity in government, politics and the law.