A federal judge said Wednesday that Attorney General Eric Holder violated Justice Department policy by making statements defending the FBI’s actions in the sting case against the so-called Christmas Tree bomber.
U.S. District Judge Garr M. King wrote in a filing late Wednesday that he was concerned about statements Holder made “regarding defendant’s state of mind and specific activities,” which he concluded “constitute a breach” of a Justice Department policy on the release of information relating to criminal and civil proceedings.
A lawyer for Mohamed Osman Mohamud, the man accused of trying to blow up a car bomb at a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Oregon, had argued that Holder’s statements regarding the FBI sting case were inappropriate.
Holder dismissed concerns about entrapment in the case in his comments to the media after Mohamud was arrested by FBI agents in late November.
King denied the defense’s motion to order the government to cease and desist from inappropriate pretrial comment. But King said he expects DOJ’s policy, which he wrote “falls within the standards of professional responsibility,” to be obeyed by “all personnel of the Department of Justice, including the Attorney General.”
“I do not believe that the Attorney General made the comments to influence the outcome of the trial,” King wrote. “In this high profile case, however, there are statements which I conclude constitute a breach of the Policy.”
The Justice Department told TPM in a statement that they believed Holder’s comments “struck a proper balance between defendant’s due process rights and the need to inform the public on law enforcement actions once the threat was safely averted.”
“While the Department is disappointed in the Court’s finding, the Attorney General did not make any statements about this case in an attempt to influence the outcome of the trial, and we are pleased the judge recognized that fact,” DOJ spokesman Dean Boyd told TPM in the statement. “As always, the Department will continue to adhere to standards of professional responsibility in providing adequate information to the public.”
Specifically, King criticized Holder’s Nov. 29 statement, which said (in King’s words) that “the government was able to thwart somebody who clearly had the intention to harm a great many people, followed by a discussion of defendant’s state of mind,” as wall as his Nov. 29 statement that he was familiar with the investigation and was confident that there was no entrapment and his Dec. 10 statement at the Muslim Advocates’ Annual Dinner in San Francisco where he said the FBI’s efforts helped identify a person who repeatedly expressed his intention to kill innocent Americans.
King’s ruling did not mention statements Holder made in response to my question on allegations of entrapment at a news conference on Dec. 9.
Late Update: King’s ruling is embedded below.