U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin held an oversight hearing on September 15, 2021, to address the FBI’s mishandling of sex abuse allegations against former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. Yet, the well-deserved thrashing that FBI officials received for their failure to protect about seventy young women and girls appears to be selective outrage by Durbin and some other committee members, including Louisiana Republican John Kennedy. Although every member of that committee received information about a different case where Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors let a sexual predator off easy and violated the rights of 22 sex abuse victims, most committee members, including Durbin and Kennedy, apparently chose to ignore the misconduct. This failure to address Executive Branch wrongdoing raises questions about whether the American people can trust Congress to provide effective oversight and why our legislators rarely enact effective accountability measures for the FBI and DOJ.
Shortly after President Biden nominated former U.S. Attorney for New Orleans Kenneth Polite to head the DOJ Criminal Division, five women who suffered under Polite’s tenure as U.S. Attorney and I sent Durbin, Kennedy, and 31 other U.S. Senators, including every member of the Judiciary Committee, a brief outlining malfeasance by Polite’s office. Most of the material described his office mishandling a case against sexual predator district attorney Harry Morel and, in another case, allowing federal witnesses who reported wrongdoing by a powerful Republican Louisiana state officeholder to suffer retaliation. The five women who joined me in the brief were a woman raped by Morel, two of the witnesses who suffered retaliation, and two family members of a deceased witness, a Morel sexual assault victim and a true hero who caught Morel on tape asking for sexual favors while promising to falsify public records claiming she completed community service requirements. I am a former FBI agent who suffered retaliation because I blew the whistle on the Morel case malfeasance.
Polite’s office violated Morel’s victims’ rights in much the same way Jeffrey Epstein’s victims’ rights were violated under the supervision of then-U.S. Attorney for Miami, Alexander Acosta, who later became President Trump’s Labor Secretary. Like the Miami prosecutors, the New Orleans prosecutors did not confer with any of Morel’s 22 victims about plea negotiations or a potential plea deal, even though they were required to do so under the Crime Victims’ Rights Act.
Additionally, Polite’s office withheld from the public record the vast majority of abuse the victims suffered. Instead of documenting that between 1986 and 2012 Morel forced five women to have oral sex with him, sexually abused eight, and asked for sex from nine others in exchange for favors, Polite’s office replaced those details with a vague sentence about Morel soliciting sex from some individuals between 2007 and 2009. When I told this to a victim Morel had grabbed by the neck and forced to perform oral sex as he was promising to collect past due child support owed to her, she exclaimed, “I was erased!”
Polite’s office didn’t just erase that victim. His subordinates lied to her and the mother of the deceased hero. At the press conference regarding Morel’s plea agreement, when Polite was asked pointed questions about why a sexual predator had been given such a lenient deal, Polite, in part, blamed the victims for not being good enough witnesses. A few months later, shortly before Morel’s sentencing, Polite’s subordinates claimed to the victim and dead witness’s mother that the presiding judge had said no one would be allowed to speak at the upcoming sentencing hearing. The judge had said no such thing. Ostensibly, the DOJ lawyers were trying to prevent public accounts of Morel’s abuse that would cause Polite’s office more embarrassment like it experienced at the press conference a few months earlier. After the rape victim informed the court of what the prosecutors said, the DOJ attorneys were forced to admit to the victims they had lied. The prosecutors then intimidated the women into not speaking at the hearing by falsely claiming it would be their fault if they made victim impact statements at Morel’s sentencing and he didn’t get the maximum sentence of three years’ imprisonment. Even though victims have a statutory right to be heard at such hearings, neither woman spoke at Morel’s sentencing.
The original antipathy by New Orleans federal prosecutors to the Morel case began several months before Polite took over as U.S. Attorney. It involved a conflicted DOJ attorney who inappropriately participated in the initial, improper decision to decline prosecution after the heroic cooperating witness died, even though her recordings were still admissible and investigators hadn’t yet had the opportunity to find more victims. When Polite took over, under pressure from investigators, he reopened his office’s file on Morel. However, he improperly failed to recuse the conflicted prosecutor and other DOJ attorneys who had initially declined the case and did not want to see that decision publicly proven wrong.
Three years later, now armed with 22 newly identified victims and rare authority from DOJ officials in Washington, DC to charge Morel with violating the RICO Act, it was time for Polite to make up for the past mistakes of his office. Justice demanded that he indict Morel for RICO and other crimes. Instead, Polite approved a lenient plea deal with Morel, without conferring with any of the victims, and concealed most of the abuse they suffered.
Unlike Alexander Acosta, who was forced to resign, Polite was confirmed for his new DOJ position by a vote of 56-44. So, as Chairman Durbin, Senator Kennedy, and twelve other senators on the Judiciary Committee shed tears over the FBI’s mistreatment of Nassar’s victims, ask yourself whether these Senators are truly interested in protecting Americans from sexual abuse, or are they just shedding crocodile tears to serve their political ends. If it can’t hold DOJ attorneys accountable when they violate victims’ rights, how can we trust the Senate to enact meaningful protections for FBI whistleblowers and enact other legislation to hold DOJ and FBI management accountable for malfeasance and abuse of authority.