U.S. Justice Department investigating Memphis police

Important Takeaways:

  • The U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has opened an investigation into whether the Memphis Police Department has an unconstitutional “pattern or practice” of using excessive force and racial discrimination, department officials announced on Thursday.
  • Earlier this year, the Justice Department agreed to join city officials and other agencies in a review of the Memphis Police Department after its officers fatally beat Tyre Nichols, a 29-year-old Black man, in the Tennessee city in January.
  • “City and police department leaders recognize the need to scrutinize the police department’s practices to prevent such incidents from ever happening again,” Clarke said
  • Federal investigators will also examine reports that officers may be involved in racial discrimination by disproportionately stopping Black people for minor violations in the majority-Black city, such as a broken tail light on their car.
  • The Justice Department has investigated other police departments, including the Minneapolis Police Department following the 2020 murder of George Floyd
  • Last month, the Minneapolis officials agreed to federal oversight of its police force by the Justice Department after it was found to have a practice of violating people’s civil rights.

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U.S. Justice Dept launches new initiatives on cryptocurrencies, contractor hacks

By Christopher Bing and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco on Wednesday unveiled two new Justice Department enforcement initiatives aimed at targeting cryptocurrencies and government contractors who fail to report cyber breaches.

Monaco announced on Wednesday, during a virtual speech at the Aspen Cyber Summit, the launch of the National Cryptocurrency Enforcement Team, whose goal will be to “strengthen” the Justice Department’s ability to disable financial markets that allow cybercriminals to “flourish.”

The group will include a mix of anti-money laundering and cybersecurity experts.

“Cryptocurrency exchanges want to be the banks of the future, well we need to make sure that folks can have confidence when they’re using these systems and we need to be poised to root out abuse,” Monaco said. “The point is to protect consumers.”

Cybercriminals that attack U.S. companies with ransomware, a type of malware that encrypts systems and demands payment, are typically paid in cryptocurrency. The hackers often use a mix of different cryptocurrency services to accept and transfer these payments, helping hide them from law enforcement.

Monaco also announced the creation of a civil cyber fraud initiative, which will “use civil enforcement tools to pursue companies, those who are government contractors, who receive federal funds, when they fail to follow recommended cybersecurity standards.”

“For too long, companies have chosen silence under the mistaken belief that its less risky to hide a breach than to bring it forward and report it. That changes today,” Monaco said.

The announcements come after several high profile cyberattacks earlier this year against U.S. companies and government agencies.

Cybercriminals attacked a major U.S. pipeline operator, causing localized gas shortages along the U.S. East Coast in May. The incident led to new cybersecurity rules for pipeline owners in July.

(Reporting by Chris Bing; Writing by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Mark Porter, Kirsten Donovan)

U.S. Justice Department says Missouri state gun law is unconstitutional

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s Justice Department is stepping up its fight against a new state law in Missouri that aims to invalidate many federal gun regulations, saying the measure has impeded law enforcement efforts to work with state and local police and is also unconstitutional.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department filed a statement of interest in an ongoing lawsuit in Cole County, Missouri, saying the state’s Second Amendment Preservation Act, also known as “HB85,” should be declared unconstitutional and that the court should issue a injunction barring its enforcement.

“HB85 is legally invalid. Under the United States Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, the State of Missouri has no power to nullify federal laws,” the department’s filing says.

In an accompanying sworn statement, Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Special Agent in Charge Frederic Winston said the new law “has already had a significant impact on ATF’s partnerships with state and local law enforcement offices,” noting that 12 of 53 state and local officers have withdrawn from participation in ATF task forces since the law’s enactment.

A hearing in the case, which was filed by the City of St. Louis et al against the State of Missouri et al, is slated for Thursday.

The Justice Department’s court filing marks the latest move by Attorney General Merrick Garland to quash executive orders or laws in red states that clash with the enforcement of federal laws.

Earlier this month, the Justice Department secured a legal victory in Texas, after a federal judge temporarily halted an executive order by Governor Greg Abbott that restricts the transport of migrants through the state and authorizes state troopers to pull over vehicles suspected of doing so.

HB85, which was signed into law in June, purports to nullify various federal firearms laws.

The Missouri law comes at a time when the Justice Department has sought to crack down on illegal firearms, launching a firearms trafficking task force this summer to trace the origins of guns used to commit crimes.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

Biden’s Justice Dept. may defend Trump in Capitol riot lawsuits

By Peter Eisler and Joseph Tanfani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former U.S. President Donald Trump may have an unlikely ally to defend him against lawsuits alleging he incited the U.S. Capitol insurrection: President Joe Biden’s Justice Department.

The Biden administration paved the way for that possibility, say constitutional scholars and lawyers in the cases, by arguing in an unrelated defamation case against Trump that presidents enjoy sweeping immunity for their comments while in office – and the right to a defense by government lawyers. Biden’s Justice Department used that rationale in a surprise decision this month to continue defending Trump in a case filed by E. Jean Carroll, who contends Trump raped her 25 years ago and then lied about it while in office, defaming her.

That decision reaffirms the position the department took under the Trump administration. And it has profound implications for several ongoing lawsuits, including one filed by two U.S. Capitol Police officers seeking to hold Trump liable for injuries they suffered defending the building in the Jan. 6 attack.

Attorney Philip Andonian said he fears the Justice Department, under the same legal rationale, will also defend Trump in a case Andonian is pursuing on behalf of U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat. Swalwell alleges Trump incited the deadly Jan. 6 riot in an effort to stop Congress from performing its duty to certify Biden as the election winner. Andonian called the logic behind the department’s decision to defend Trump against Carroll’s defamation suit “alarming.”

The Justice Department appears to put no limits on immunity for speech by a sitting president on any matter considered “of public concern,” Andonian said.

The Justice Department declined to comment on whether it would use the same argument as a basis for intervening in the other lawsuits Trump faces. The White House did not respond to a request for comment but has previously said it had no role in the department’s decision on whether to defend Trump in the Carroll case or others.

Trump faces more than a dozen active investigations and lawsuits involving a wide range of matters, including sexual misconduct allegations, financial disputes and government probes into his business dealings and his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. But the Justice Department’s assertion of presidential immunity in the Carroll case would only be relevant to other cases involving his statements or actions while in office.

The Justice Department laid out its rationale for defending Trump in a June 7 brief in the Carroll case. After Carroll, a former magazine writer, wrote in 2019 that Trump raped her, Trump – while in office – accused her of lying and said he’d never met her. Carroll is among about two dozen women who have accused Trump of sexual misconduct. The brief argues that Trump, like any president, is covered by federal laws, including the Westfall Act, that protect federal employees from being sued for actions taken as part of their jobs.

Although Trump’s remarks were “without question unnecessary and inappropriate,” the brief said, he was acting within the scope of his office when he made them. “Elected officials can – and often must – address allegations that inspire doubt about their suitability for office,” the argument says. “Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job.”


One prominent constitutional scholar characterized the department’s position in the Carroll case as a blunder that will be difficult to undo.

“It would be very difficult for the Justice Department to change course now,” said Laurence Tribe, a Harvard University constitutional law professor and a frequent critic of Trump. “The Titanic is aimed at the iceberg.”

Tribe and other critics of the department’s position say it fails to draw obvious distinctions between a president’s official conduct and matters that clearly fall outside the duties of the office. When a president says or does something illegal, they say, it does not warrant a taxpayer-financed defense by government lawyers.

Tribe served as a legal adviser for the House of Representatives’ second impeachment of Trump, in which the former president was accused – but eventually acquitted – of trying to overturn legitimate election results to retain presidential power. Tribe said it would be “outrageous” for the department to defend Trump against the lawsuits related to the U.S. Capitol riots “on the basis that fomenting a violent insurrection, as charged in those suits, fell within the president’s job description.”

Trump has denied any responsibility for the violence at the Capitol. His lawyers have said he was making political arguments, protected by the First Amendment, and not inciting people to riot.

Jesse Binnall – a private lawyer defending Trump in the Capitol Police case, the Swalwell case and at least two other ongoing suits – declined to comment on whether he will seek the department’s intervention on Trump’s behalf in any of those matters. Such a request would require the Justice Department to take an official position.

Binnall has echoed the Justice Department’s immunity argument in briefs filed for some of those cases, but he so far has not directly requested that the department intervene in any of them.

If the Justice Department does end up defending Trump in any of the other cases pending against him, he still would be able to retain his private counsel, allowing him to protect his own interests if they diverge from those of the government.


While Trump was president, the Justice Department argued in the Carroll case that federal law gave him a “broad grant of immunity” against her lawsuit, adding that he was protected because he spoke about her in his role as president. A federal district court rejected that position in October, and the department filed an appeal in the waning days of Trump’s presidency. If the Justice Department wins on appeal, that would effectively end Carroll’s case against Trump.

Carroll’s lawyer, Roberta A. Kaplan, said it was “shocking” that the department would maintain the same argument under U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who was appointed by Biden after the appeal was filed.

In testimony before Congress, Garland defended the position by saying the department had a duty to follow the law rather than to protect any administration. “Sometimes it means we have to make a decision about the law that we never would have made and that we strongly disagree with as a matter of policy,” he said.

The Justice Department’s appeal in the Carroll case is pending before the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The outcome could have implications for at least four other federal lawsuits pending against Trump. Three of them seek to hold Trump liable for remarks in a speech on Jan. 6 shortly before the Capitol riots. They include the case filed by injured Capitol Police officers, as well as the cases filed by Representative Swalwell and U.S. Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat. Thompson alleges that Trump violated federal law by inciting his supporters to block Congress from executing its official duties.

The fourth case was filed by the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, an advocacy group for low-income people. The lawsuit claims Trump disenfranchised Black voters by trying overturn the results in Detroit, a majority Black city, after the 2020 election.

Andonian, the lawyer in Congressman Swalwell’s suit against Trump, said he fully expects that Trump’s lawyers now will adopt the Justice Department’s reasoning to argue that the former president was speaking on “matters of public concern” in his Jan. 6 speech. Trump that day continued his false claims that the election had been stolen from him through voter fraud; assailed Vice President Mike Pence for refusing to stop Congress from certifying Biden’s win; and called for his supporters to march to the Capitol.

Andonian and other attorneys argue there’s a legal distinction between Trump’s attacks on Carroll and his incendiary speeches seeking to reverse his election loss.

Ben Berwick, a lawyer representing the Capitol police officers, said that Trump’s appearance at the Jan. 6 gathering just before the Capitol insurrection amounted to a “campaign rally” unrelated to his official duties. That’s a different setting, he said, than the presidential news conference where Trump made the statements about Carroll.

“He is effectively acting as a candidate,” Berwick said. “He has no official role in the certification of electoral votes.”

Joseph Sellers, an attorney representing Congressman Thompson in his suit against Trump, concurred that Trump had stepped well beyond the cover of presidential immunity.

“I don’t think anyone would think it’s within the scope of the president’s legitimate duties to encourage people to interfere with the functioning of another branch of government,” Sellers said. “He was promoting an insurrection and a riot.”

(Reporting by Peter Eisler and Joseph Tanfani; additional reporting by Disha Raychaudhuri and Rick Linsk; editing by Jason Szep and Brian Thevenot.)

Airlines, unions urge U.S. to prosecute ‘egregious onboard conduct’

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A group representing major U.S. airlines and aviation unions on Monday wrote to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Justice Department to crack down on the growing number of disruptive and violent air passengers.

The Justice Department did not immediately comment on the letter, first reported by Reuters.

The letter from Airlines for America, which represents American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Southwest Airlines and others, along with major unions said the “incidents pose a safety and security threat to our passengers and employees, and we respectfully request the (Justice Department) commit to the full and public prosecution of onboard acts of violence.”

The head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Steve Dickson, in January imposed a zero-tolerance order on passenger disturbances aboard airplanes after supporters of former U.S. President Donald Trump were disruptive on some flights around the time of a Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol attack.

Monday’s letter added that the airlines and unions hope the Justice Department “will commit to taking action, along with coordination with the FAA, to ensure that egregious onboard conduct is fully and criminally prosecuted, sending a strong public message of deterrence, safety and security.”

The letter to Garland said that since the FAA’s zero- tolerance policy was announced, the agency has received more than 3,039 reports of unruly behavior and has opened 465 investigations into assaults, threats of assault or interference with crew members.

More than 2,000 cases included passengers refusing to wear face masks as required on all airplanes.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on April 30 extended a federal face mask mandate on airplanes and in airports through Sept. 13.

(Reporting by David Shepardson, Editing by Franklin Paul and Howard Goller)

U.S. Attorney General Garland expands resources to combat hate crimes

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday directed the Justice Department to expand funding and other resources to states and municipalities to help track and investigate hate crimes, and ordered prosecutors to step up both criminal and civil investigations into hate incidents.

In a memo to Justice Department employees, Garland said that Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta will assign someone to coordinate and serve as a central “hub” on hate crimes by working with prosecutors, law enforcement and community groups to ensure there are adequate resources to investigate and track hate crimes.

“Hate crimes and other bias-related incidents instill fear across entire communities and undermine the principles upon which our democracy stands,” Garland said in his memo.

“All people in this country should be able to live without fear of being attacked or harassed because of where they are from, what they look like, whom they love, or how they worship.”

Garland’s memo comes at a time when Asian Americans have faced an increase in attacks and racist encounters since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when then-President Donald Trump first started blaming the virus on China.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which designates a Justice Department employee to expedite a review of hate crimes reported to police during the pandemic.

In March, Garland announced he was launching a 30-day expedited review to explore ways the department could improve efforts to prosecute hate crimes and collect better data.

Thursday’s memo implements some requirements in the law, as well as some recommendations from the prior review.

Garland’s memo on Thursday also designates an official who will be tasked with expediting the review of hate crimes and calls on U.S. Attorneys offices to assign local criminal and civil prosecutors to serve as civil rights coordinators.

“Acts of hate do not always rise to the level of federal hate crimes, but such hate incidents still have a destructive effect on our communities. Federal civil statutes sometimes provide remedies when federal hate crime statutes do not,” Garland wrote.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

U.S. spike in domestic terrorism ‘keeps me up at night,’ attorney general says

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland asked Congress on Tuesday to provide more funding for investigating and prosecuting domestic terrorism, saying it poses an “accelerating” threat that keeps him up at night.

Garland, who had served as a federal appellate judge and federal prosecutor before President Joe Biden nominated him to lead the Justice Department, was testifying about the department’s budget request for the 2022 fiscal year.

“We have a growing fear of domestic violent extremism and domestic terrorism,” Garland told a U.S. House of Representatives budgeting subcommittee. “Both of those keep me up at night.”

He did not name specific violent groups, but members of the far-right Proud Boys and Oath Keepers are among the more than 400 people arrested for the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by former President Donald Trump’s supporters.

The hearing marked Garland’s first appearance before Congress since being confirmed as the nation’s top law enforcement officer in March.

He told the House panel that the lethality of weapons available to both foreign and domestic terrorists has increased, and that the Justice Department is “putting its resources into defending the country with respect to both”.

“We have an emerging and accelerating threat,” Garland said.

He highlighted in his opening remarks that the Justice Department is requesting $85 million in additional funding from Congress to bolster its efforts to combat domestic terrorism.

Garland said the department is also seeking a “historic investment” of $1 billion in its Office of Violence Against Women, and that the budget proposal includes a $232 million increase in funding to help combat gun violence.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe; Editing by Scott Malone and Mark Heinrich)

Two charged for pepper-spraying police officer who died after assault on U.S. Capitol

By Brad Heath and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department on Monday charged two men with pepper-spraying three Capitol Police officers, one of whom later died, during the Jan. 6 assault on Congress by Donald Trump supporters trying to overturn his election defeat.

Julian Elie Khater and George Pierre Tanios are facing multiple counts, including assaulting police with a deadly weapon, after investigators said they sprayed at least three officers with an unidentified, but powerful, chemical agent.

One of those officers, Brian Sicknick, was later rushed to a hospital and died the next day.

Khater and Tanios are not charged with killing Sicknick, whose cause of death remains unclear. A law enforcement source familiar with the matter said it is still too early in the probe to know if Tanios or Khater directly bear any responsibility for Sicknick’s death.

According to the complaint, the FBI said the two men “appeared to time the deployment of chemical substances to coincide with other rioters’ efforts to forcibly remove the bike rack barriers that were preventing the rioters from moving closer to the Capitol building.”

Khater, 32, of State College, Pennsylvania, was arrested as he disembarked from an airplane at Newark Airport in New Jersey. Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, was arrested at his residence in West Virginia. Both are scheduled to make initial appearances in court later this afternoon.

The FBI located Khater after a tipster who worked with him at a food establishment shared his Linkedin page.

Tanios, meanwhile, operates Sandwich U – a shop in Morgantown, West Virginia that makes “fat” sandwiches, a type of sandwich containing greasy foods such as fries or mozzarella sticks that first rose to popularity among Rutgers University students in his hometown of New Brunswick, New Jersey.

The FBI said it identified Tanios through witnesses who recognized his photo, including a former business partner who also said Tanios was embroiled in a legal dispute amid allegations he had embezzled $435,000 in a prior business venture.

According to a court filing, the government is seeking to have Tanios detained.

In video footage, investigators say Khater walked toward Tanios and said: “Give me that bear shit” and reached into a backpack Tanios was carrying. Tanios then replied: “Hold on, hold on, not yet, not yet…It’s still early.”

The complaint said the officers were temporarily blinded and disabled by the substance and “needed medical attention and assistance from fellow officers.”

Reuters could not immediately determine who will be representing Khater or Tanios.

More than 300 people have already been charged in connection with riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by a mob who were hoping to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s election.

Five people, including Sicknick, died in connection with the deadly attack, and lawmakers hid in fear for their lives.

In court filings last week, the Justice Department revealed it intends to file charges against more than 100 additional defendants, in what it described as the most complex investigation it has ever handled.

(Reporting by Brad Heath and Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Andrea Ricci)

U.S. Justice Department faults Acosta for ‘poor judgment’ over Epstein deal

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An internal Justice Department investigation has concluded that then-U.S. Attorney Alex Acosta exercised “poor judgment” by allowing financier Jeffrey Epstein to enter a non-prosecution agreement over alleged sex crimes, but cleared him and other prosecutors of any professional misconduct in their handling of the case.

In a statement released on Thursday, the Justice Department said that when Acosta let Epstein enter the non-prosecution agreement in 2008 that spared him from federal sex trafficking charges, he “failed to make certain that the state of Florida intended to and would notify victims identified through the federal investigation about the state plea hearing.”

The department added that while no federal prosecutors engaged in wrongdoing, Epstein’s victims “were not treated with the forthrightness and sensitivity” they deserved.

The controversial 2008 agreement with Epstein has come under intense scrutiny in recent years following an investigation by the Miami Herald. Under the terms of the deal, Epstein pleaded guilty to lesser state charges and served a brief stint in jail where he was granted daily work release.

At the time, Alex Acosta was serving as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.

Last year, federal prosecutors in New York were able to resuscitate the case and charged Epstein with sex trafficking of minors.

Acosta, who was serving as labor secretary then under President Donald Trump, initially tried to defend his role in the previous Epstein investigation. But he resigned amid growing pressure a few days later.

Epstein was found dead in his jail cell in New York of an apparent suicide about a month later.

His longtime friend Ghislaine Maxwell was arrested earlier this year and has pleaded not guilty to charges that she lured underage girls so that Epstein could sexually abuse them.

The findings by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility were announced earlier on Thursday by Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who blasted the agency for not taking a more forceful stance.

“Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ – it is a disgusting failure,” Sasse, who had requested the internal Justice Department probe, said in a statement.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

U.S. court upholds Harvard race-based admissions; Supreme Court appeal expected

By Nate Raymond and Jonathan Stempel

BOSTON (Reuters) – A U.S. appeals court on Thursday upheld Harvard University’s use of race in undergraduate admissions, rejecting a challenge by affirmative action opponents who said the Ivy League school’s policy discriminates against Asian-Americans.

Opponents of the decision by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston promised to appeal to the Supreme Court, where legal experts believe the 6-3 conservative majority could use the case to end more than 40 years of allowing race as a factor in higher education admissions.

The appeals court rejected claims by Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), a nonprofit founded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, which drew support from Republican President Donald Trump’s administration.

SFFA said Harvard engaged in impermissible “racial balancing” to make it easier for Blacks and Hispanics to win admission, and did not narrowly tailor its use of race.

It said this violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which the school must comply with in order to receive federal funding.

U.S. Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch, however, said Harvard’s use of race was not “impermissibly extensive” and was instead “meaningful,” because it prevented diversity from plummeting.

“Harvard’s race-conscious admissions program ensures that Harvard can retain the benefits of diversity it has already achieved,” she said.

Blum in a statement pledged to ask the Supreme Court “to end these unfair and unconstitutional race-based admissions policies at Harvard and all colleges and universities.”

The Supreme Court has allowed race to be used in college admissions to promote diversity in the classroom.

Harvard spokeswoman Rachael Dane said Thursday’s decision reflected efforts to “create a diverse campus that promotes learning and encourages mutual respect and understanding. … Now is not the time to turn back the clock on diversity and opportunity.”

The 2-0 decision upheld an October 2019 ruling by U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs in Boston. A third judge on the appeals court panel, Juan Torruella, died last month.

Burroughs had concluded that Harvard’s admissions program was “not perfect” but that it the school had no “workable and available race-neutral alternatives.”

Lynch said the nature of Harvard’s admissions process, including that applicants win approval from a 40-person committee before being offered admission, “offset any risk of bias.”

The U.S. Justice Department had under Trump backed SFFA, arguing in a “friend-of-the-court” brief that Harvard “actively engages in racial balancing that Supreme Court precedent flatly forbids.”

The Trump administration filed a similar lawsuit on Oct. 8 against Yale University, accusing that Ivy League school of discriminating against Asian and white applicants.

Yale said it “does not discriminate against applicants of any race or ethnicity,” and would not change its admissions policies because of what it called the government’s “baseless” lawsuit.

SFFA is also pursuing a similar case against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill challenging its consideration of race as a factor in its admissions process. A non-jury trail in that case began on Monday.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Catherine Evans and Jonathan Oatis)