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Former FBI whistleblower files against judge in Libby trial over secrecy issues

Ron Brynaert
Published: Wednesday March 22, 2006

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Former FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds filed a motion asking for the recusal of the judge assigned to her case because of his alleged "bias to secrecy," RAW STORY has learned.

Edmonds, who was hired as an FBI language specialist shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, translated tapes which allegedly shed light on shoddy work done by the bureau, then was subsequently gagged from telling her story by federal courts. A 2004 Justice Department review found that many of her claims about her treatment by the bureau were supported.

The motion, filed in federal court on Tuesday, requests the recusal of Judge Reggie Walton from her pending case filed under the Federal Tort Claim Act. Walton is also currently hearing the perjury case involving I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, who is suspected of leaking the name of former CIA undercover operative Valerie Plame Wilson to the media.

Edmonds' motion for recusal is partially based on Judge Walton’s financial disclosure statement for 2003, which is almost completely redacted save for the date of the filing and the judge's name (pdf link). According to Edmonds, this redacted statement "appears to be in violation of the Ethics in Government Act." The Act requires judges and other high-level judicial branch officials to file annual financial disclosure reports as a check on potential conflicts of interest.

According to a 2004 Government Accountability Office study (link), judges were allowed in only 55 instances from 1999 through 2002 to completely withhold information from their statements on security grounds.

The motion for recusal (pdf link) ties Judge Walton's redacted statements to an alleged "deference to secrecy in his rulings on Edmonds' previous claims where he was the presiding judge, and the unusual operations of the case assignment system concerning Edmonds' cases."

Edmonds also cites news websites and bloggers in her motion who have attacked the assignment of Judge Walton to both the Edmonds and Libby cases.

"The convoluted movement of Plaintiff's claims among courts all leading back to Judge Walton creates the perception that the system has been manipulated," the motion reads. "Indeed a Google search of the internet shows numerous news websites and bloggers advancing the belief or implying that the assignment of Judge Walton to both Plaintiff's cases and that concerning the prosecution of Lewis Libby is anything but coincidence. Many of these commentators also claim or imply that these cases were assigned to Judge Walton to be disposed of in favor of the government."

But the motion notes that "whether or not these perceptions are correct is irrelevant," and that the rules for disqualification maintain only that a judge's "impartiality might reasonably be questioned."

Edmonds' release follows.

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The redaction of Judge Reggie Walton’s entire Financial Disclosure Statement appears to be in violation of the Ethics in Government Act. The Ethics in Government Act requires that Federal Judges file a yearly financial disclosure statement with the U.S. Judicial Conference as a check on conflicts of interest. A disclosure may be redacted only to the extent necessary to protect the individual who filed the report and for as long as the danger to such individual exists. The Financial Disclosure Statement filed by Judge Reggie Walton in 2003 redacts all information except for the date of the filing and Walton’s name. This is highly unusual. According to a recent GAO Report, less than one percent of judges on average request complete redaction of their financial disclosure each year. For Judge Reggie Walton’s 2003 Financial Disclosure, Click Here. For the request letter sent to the U.S. Judicial Conference on March 6, 2006, asking for the release of Judge Walton’s unredacted financial disclosure statement Click Here.

In July 2004, Judge Reggie Walton disposed of Edmonds’ First Amendment case on the basis of the government’s assertion of State Secrets Privilege. On the same day as the decision, Judge Walton quashed a subpoena for Edmonds’ deposition by attorneys representing over 1,000 family members who lost love ones during the terrorist attacks on 9/11. In limiting the deposition in the case, Burnett et al. v. Al Baraka Investment & Development Corp., Judge Walton prevented the 9/11 attorneys from asking a majority of the proposed questions related to the attacks. These included even the most mundane questions, such as:

• When & where were you born? • Where did you go to school? • What languages do you speak? • What did you focus your studies on in school? • In what capacity have you been employed by the United States Government?

The convoluted route the Edmonds’ case has taken to Judge Reggie Walton’s courtroom appears suspicious and creates the perception that the system has been manipulated. Edmonds’ First Amendment case, filed in July 2002, was assigned to Judge James Robertson who recently resigned from the FISA Court in protest of warrantless NSA eavesdropping. In February 2003, Edmonds’ case was removed from Judge Robertson and reassigned to Judge Walton with no explanation provided. Edmonds filed a motion to request the case to be transferred from Judge Walton, and be assigned to Judge Ellen Huvelle who had been presiding over Edmonds’ related FOIA case since July 2002. The court granted Edmonds’ request and transferred her case to Judge Huvelle. However, two days later, Edmonds’ case was removed from Judge Huvelle and reassigned to Judge Walton with no further information or reason provided. On July 6, 2004, Judge Walton granted the government’s motion to dismiss based on the assertion of the State Secrets Privilege.

In March 2005, Edmonds filed in D.C. Federal Court a separate claim under the Federal Tort Claims Act, and the case was randomly assigned to Judge James Robertson. However, five days later, Edmonds’ claim was removed from Judge Robertson and reassigned to Judge Reggie Walton. This set of facts reveals apparent violations of local rules governing the assignment of cases.

Sibel Edmonds worked as a language specialist for the FBI’s Washington Field Office. During her work with the bureau, she discovered and reported serious acts of security breaches, cover-ups, and intentional blocking of intelligence that had national security implications. After she reported these acts to FBI management, she was retaliated against by the FBI and ultimately fired in March 2002. Since that time, court proceedings on her issues have been blocked by the assertion of “State Secret Privilege” and the Congress of the United States has been gagged and prevented from any discussion of her case through retroactive re-classification by the Department of Justice.

In January 2005, the Justice Department's Inspector General vindicated Edmonds’ claims when it declared that many of her charges "were supported by other witnesses and documents, and that her allegations were, in fact, the most significant factor in the FBI's decision to terminate her services."

Judge Reggie Walton was nominated to his position as a United States District Court of Columbia Judge in October 2001 by President George W. Bush. He served as President George H. W. Bush’s Associate Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy in the Executive Office of the President and as President Bush’s Senior White House advisor for Crime.

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Sibel Edmonds is currently seeking signatures for an online petition (link) calling on Congress to hold joint public hearings by the Senate and House Judiciary Committees to allow her allegations to be heard. More information can be found at Brad Blog.