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Grassley seeks data on porn viewer

Demands to know why attorney has not been charged with crime

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Justice Department declined to press charges against an assistant U.S. attorney caught with child pornography, and the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee demanded Thursday to know why.

The department's Office of the Inspector General reported to department officials that the federal prosecutor, who was not named, perused pornography on his government computer during work hours on a daily basis. On May 31, months after the misconduct was uncovered, the IG told Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, that the employee had yet to be disciplined.

"The investigation determined that the [assistant U.S. attorney] routinely viewed adult content during official duty hours, and that there was at least one image of child pornography recovered on the AUSA's government computer. The AUSA acknowledged that he had spent a significant amount of time each day viewing pornography. The U.S. attorney's office declined prosecution. Disciplinary action against the AUSA is pending," reads the summary provided to Mr. Grassley in a compilation of investigations that were withheld from the public.

The investigations took place during a six-month period ending March 31.

In a statement to The Washington Times late Thursday, however, the Justice Department said, despite the information provided to Mr. Grassley by its investigative arm, that the employee had left the department in early May.

The department would not say whether it had disciplined the attorney, stating only that the employee had left government service.

The department would not comment on why it did not press criminal charges or on whether the attorney had been charged at the state level.

"The Department took immediate and appropriate action in this case and the AUSA ceased working in the district in late April 2011 and left Federal Service in early May," it said in Thursday night's statement.

The Office of the Inspector General declined to comment.

"This means that, at the very least, the DOJ has allowed an admitted serial viewer of pornography - possibly child pornography - to serve as an AUSA for two months, if not longer, and has yet to take action," Mr. Grassley wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asking, among other things, whether the attorney worked with children and whether he remained eligible for a pension. "This is simply unacceptable and compounds the questions raised by the fact that this AUSA was found to have 'at least one image of child pornography' on his government computer and yet he was not charged with a crime."

Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor who now heads the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), said that, in her experience, the Justice Department culture isn't one in which lawyers look the other way to protect colleagues.

"I don't think AUSAs are all that tolerant of other people committing crimes," she said.

The federal government often handles child porn cases, in part because the electronic files generally cross state lines. Approximately 95 percent of defendants in felony nonviolent sex offense cases are convicted, according to Justice Department data, with most defendants pleading guilty to avoid the most severe prison terms.

"They're very aggressive, and generally, the cases are a slam dunk because they know that a certain computer has received child pornography," said Ronald W. Hayward, a former assistant U.S. attorney who is now a defense lawyer. "If [federal agents] come to your door, at that point, the ball game is basically over."

But he said that cases with very few images are sometimes turned over to the state. "They want the good stuff," he said.

Records obtained by The Times last year found that Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) employees had been found to have viewed pornography while at work and received suspensions as short as one day. In another letter based on information from an inspector general, Mr. Grassley said a total of 33 SEC contractors and employees had been caught watching porn over a five-year period, and that while five contractors were terminated and eight employees were allowed to resign, "the SEC did not actually terminate any of the SEC employees."

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