Additional Problems with Middle District of Florida U.S. Attorney Nomination
by James Scanlan
In Truth in Justice editorials of June 23, 2010, and July 11, 2010, I discussed the pending nomination of Robert E. O’Neill for U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. O’Neill is the prosecutor with the penchant for calling people liars who himself made a false statement in an application for the U.S. Attorney position submitted to the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission. O’Neill stated that a District of Columbia Bar Counsel investigation of his conduct in United States v. Deborah Gore Dean had been initiated by a complaint filed by the defendant when in fact Bar Counsel itself initiated the investigation after reading a court of appeals opinion “deplor[ing]” the conduct of lead counsel O’Neill and his colleagues. I pointed out that if O’Neill made the same misrepresentation before a federal entity, he likely violated 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Irrespective of any violation of law, however, one would expect that making a false statement on an application for a high law enforcement position would disqualify a person from further consideration for the position. But, though for more than a month the Department of Justice and White House have been in possession of a document conclusively establishing that O’Neill’s statement was false, the nomination remains pending.
In the latter part of the July 11, 2010 editorial I discussed remarks O’Neill made in the Nominating Commission application criticizing a former subordinate. The subject of the remarks is former Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) Jeffrey J. Del Fuoco, who has sued O’Neill on a number of matters, including defamation for statements O’Neill made about Del Fuoco in the Nominating Commission application. Del Fuoco has joined Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. as a defendant as to certain issues. The suit is still in court, though a motion to dismiss is pending. I am not in a position to comment on the likely merits of any of the claims raised by Del Fuoco. But the complaint raises an additional issue concerning O’Neill’s credibility, and the government’s response to it raises an additional consideration regarding the likelihood that O’Neill violated 18 U.S.C. § 1001.
O’Neill’s Alleged Perjury in an Earlier Case. In addition to a claim regarding statements on the Nominating Commission application, Del Fuoco alleges that O’Neill defamed him in a 2005 deposition in an earlier case. In connection with that claim, at pages 6-9 of the complaint (¶¶ 20-22), Del Fuoco alleges that in the federal workplace O’Neill threatened bodily injury to Del Fuoco by means of statements made in the U.S. Attorney’s office to three AUSA’s (each of whom Del Fuoco identifies by name). The complaint also sets out deposition testimony from the earlier case where, while acknowledging that he may have made statements along the lines of those described by Del Fuoco, O’Neill denied that he made such statements in the workplace. Del Fuoco maintains that such denial constituted perjury by O’Neill.
I have no direct knowledge of the underlying facts. But Del Fuoco’s identifying of the three AUSAs would seem to suggest that O’Neill in fact made the statements in the workplace. And I am led to understand that, if asked, the AUSAs would so state. Department of Justice officials must know of the allegations since Department attorneys are representing O’Neill in the case. But neither in the vetting process for the U.S. Attorney nomination nor at any other time has a Department representative asked the AUSAs whether Del Fuoco’s allegations concerning O’Neill’s perjury in the earlier case are true. I am further led to understand that there is some concern within the Middle District U.S. Attorney’s office that the head of the office may soon be a person whom at least several people in the office know to have committed perjury and that, if Del Fuoco’s case goes forward, some of those people may be deposed on the matter. Having AUSAs in a position where their testimony could show the U.S. Attorney to have committed perjury will not be a comfortable situation for the AUSAs or the office, or, one would think, for the Department of Justice. As with varied matters I have raised with the Department about O’Neill’s conduct in the Dean case, if the Department had been willing to pose a few simple questions, it would not now be confronted with a problematic nomination or the prospect of a problematic tenure.
The Department of Justice’s Claims Regarding the Status of the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission. In discussing the possibility that O’Neill violated 18 U.S.C. § 1001 by falsely stating that the defendant initiated the District of Columbia Bar Counsel investigation, I have mainly addressed the likelihood that O’Neill also made to a federal entity the statement that he made on the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission application. But in some places I have suggested that O’Neill may have violated the statute even by making the false statement to the Nominating Commission because the statement could be regarded as involving a matter within the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice or the Office of Independent Counsel. When making such point regarding the statement to the Nominating Commission – which I have variously described as an “unofficial body,” “an arm of the Florida Bar,” or “a body created by Florida Senators” – I was uncertain as to the precise status of the body or the implications of that status, save that I did not regard the Nominating Commission to be federal entity.
I also did not know that in an April 26, 2010 Motion to Dismiss the Del Fuoco complaint (at 6), Department of Justice attorneys representing both O’Neill and the Department, in seeking to claim absolute privilege for O’Neill’s statements about Del Fuoco in the Nominating Commission application, have stated that the Nominating Commission is “a quasi-legislative body, established by members of the U.S. Senate.” Though the motion does not make the point because it is not germane to the argument, it is clear enough that the motion means “a quasi-federal legislative body.” Thus, there may exist another argument as why O’Neill violated 18 U.S.C. § 1001 by falsely describing the origin of the Bar Counsel investigation in his Nominating Commission application.
Additional developments regarding the O’Neill nomination/confirmation are addressed in Addendum 7 to a Robert E. O’ Neill profile on jpscanlan.com