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The DOJ Took More than Two Years to Answer a FOIA on Its Criminal Division Head; Three Days Before Christmas 2023 We Got a Troubling Disclosure

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By Pam Martens and Russ Martens:

Kenneth Polite

On July 20, 2021 the U.S. Senate voted 56-44 to confirm Kenneth Polite (pronounced Po-leet) to head the most powerful criminal law enforcement office in the United States, the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. The vetting of this candidate immediately raised red flags at Wall Street On Parade.

Despite Polite owing more than $1.5 million in debts according to his financial disclosure form and public mortgage records; paying over 18 percent interest on an outstanding balance on a credit card; 19.99 percent interest on a personal loan; and then accepting a job where his income was going to be slashed by approximately 77 percent – not one Senator on the Senate Judiciary Committee asked a single question about Polite’s unusual financial obligations during his confirmation hearing on May 26, 2021.

In addition, Polite was coming from the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bochius, which had plenty of red flags itself. Polite was a partner there earning approximately $877,500 in 2020. His job at the Justice Department was to pay less than $200,000 annually. Morgan, Lewis has, for decades, provided legal representation to the Wall Street mega banks. Polite’s financial disclosure form revealed that JPMorgan Chase was one of his clients over the prior 12 months.

JPMorgan Chase is a recidivist lawbreaker on Wall Street with an unprecedented five felony counts brought by the Justice Department and admitted to by the bank. Having a recidivist felon that is the largest bank in the United States as a recent client and then moving into the job as a potential prosecutor of that bank is not good optics, so Polite signed an Ethics Agreement (EA) that read in part:

“he will be required to recuse from particular matters involving specific parties involving his former employer or former clients for a period of two years after he is appointed….”

During the time that Polite was ostensibly recusing himself from matters involving JPMorgan Chase, the Attorney General of the U.S. Virgin Islands brought a civil case in federal court in Manhattan against JPMorgan Chase for “actively participating” in Jeffrey Epstein’s international sex-trafficking ring where Epstein and his wealthy pals were sexually assaulting underage girls.

According to documents released in the lawsuit, the bank was alleged to have laundered more than $5 million in hard cash for Epstein over the span of a decade without filing the legally-required Suspicious Activity Reports with law enforcement. In addition, various employees of the bank were making visits to Epstein’s Manhattan mansion where sexual assaults of minors were alleged to have occurred.

The Criminal Division of the Justice Department has yet to bring a criminal case against JPMorgan Chase for either willfully participating in and/or covering up Epstein’s crimes for more than a decade. (See our report: Former FBI Agent Prepared to Testify that JPMorgan Had Jeffrey Epstein Account for 28 Years – Not 15 Years – and “Impeded” Criminal Investigation of Epstein.)

The number of red flags swirling about Polite’s vetting to become the top criminal cop in the United States and supervise a department of some 1400 prosecutors and staff, prompted Wall Street On Parade to file a Freedom of Information Act request for documents with the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) on July 26, 2021. We requested “all electronic correspondence from November 6, 2020 through July 20, 2021 that relates to the nomination or confirmation or vetting of Kenneth A. Polite for the position of Assistant Attorney General at the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice.”

We received a response from OGE dated September 30, 2021, more than two months from the date of our inquiry. The cover letter said the OGE was “enclosing 96 pages of responsive records” subject to various redactions.

The 96 records were anything but responsive. Most of the 96 pages were simply clerical emails between staff members that shed zero light on how all of the red flags on Polite’s financial disclosure form and work history had been ignored.

The relevant documents, it turns out, were withheld and sent over to the Justice Department for more stalling. The OGE cover letter explained as follows:

“In searching for responsive records, OGE located 58 (some partial) pages of records that originated at the Department of Justice. We are therefore sending these responsive materials, along with a copy of your request, to the Department of Justice…We are asking the Department of Justice to review the material and respond directly to you.”

This past Friday, December 22, 2023 – more than two years after we first filed our FOIA, the Justice Department finally got around to looking at those 58 documents and sent us only a portion of those, with heavy redactions.

One electronic document did, however, raise more deeply troubling concerns about how candidates for the U.S. Department of Justice are vetted. The email was from Cynthia (Cindy) K. Shaw, the Director of the Departmental Ethics Office at the Justice Department. Shaw noted in a previous email that she would be the “reviewer” working with the OGE in the vetting of Polite. But in this email dated April 14, 2021, Shaw appears to be seeking the opinion of the man being vetted as to whether her suggested wording of his Ethics Agreement might raise questions. (See document below. Redactions were made by the DOJ.)

Internal DOJ Email Related to Kenneth Polite

Is it the legitimate job of an ethics reviewer to make sure no questions are raised by others?

After being put in charge of the Criminal Division under an understanding that he would recuse himself for two years in matters involving his prior clients at Morgan, Lewis & Bochius, Polite ended up resigning his position at the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice after just two years and two months in the job.

Polite headed for another big paycheck at corporate law firm Sidley Austin, where he is the “global co-leader of Sidley’s White Collar Defense and Investigations practice.”

Polite, like so many before him, has gone from head honcho in the top federal division mandated to root out and prosecute criminals to dramatically elevating his income by defending corporate executives against government-alleged crimes.

There is now no Senate-confirmed head of the Criminal Division of the DOJ. The woman Polite hired in May of 2022 to be his Chief of Staff, Nicole Argentieri, has stepped into the role of acting head of the Criminal Division.

Immediately prior to joining the Justice Department, Argentieri had been a partner in the White Collar Defense & Corporate Investigations department at corporate law firm O’Melveny & Myers.

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