U.S. listened in on attorney calls with American citizen prisoner in Iraq

The Defense Department recorded at least 18 phone calls intended to allow confidential communication between an American citizen being held prisoner by U.S. forces in Iraq and the prisoner’s attorneys at the American Civil Liberties Union, according to a court filing late Friday.

In at least two instances, a civilian Defense Department employee listened to the attorney-client calls, government lawyers disclosed.

The surveillance may have run afoul of a federal judge’s order issued in December calling for the Pentagon to give the ACLU “immediate and unmonitored access” to the prisoner by phone or videoconference.

Justice Department attorneys described the monitoring as “an inadvertent breach … of attorney-client communications.”

“DoD deeply regrets this incident,” the attorneys said.

Not all the calls appear to have involved actual conversations, and some were apparently dialed to the wrong number, the court submission said. The ACLU lawyers took the calls at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, the filing said.

The Justice Department filing also said the monitoring was part of routine surveillance the Defense Department conducts of communications from military phones overseas. Those who arranged the calls were unaware of the monitoring, government lawyers said.

ACLU attorneys were advised of the problem on April 27, the court filing said. The filing does not name the employee or the specific Defense Department division for which he works. The employee did not reveal to anyone the content of the two calls he listened to and has been ordered not to do so in the future, the court submission said.

“Confidentiality of attorney–client communications is a cornerstone of our legal system, and any violation of it is cause for serious concern,” ACLU attorney Jonathan Hafetz said. “The government properly informed us that it recorded and screened our client’s privileged communications, and we will hold the government to its commitment to address this breach.”

The prisoner, who has not been publicly named but appears to be a dual Saudi-U.S. citizen, was turned over to American forces in Syria in September. The U.S. military, which contends that the detainee was allied with ISIS forces, later moved him to Iraq.

The ACLU went to court in October to demand access to the prisoner and to press for his release. Over the Trump administration’s objections, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan ordered the U.S. government to allow the ACLU to contact the prisoner.

In April, Chutkan issued a preliminary injunction blocking a U.S. plan to send the prisoner to Saudi Arabia against his will. Last month, a federal appeals court panelupheld that injunction.

The Kochs just embraced one of the most vulnerable Democratic senators

The conservative Koch brothers political network is launching a new ad campaign boosting Sen. Heidi Heitkamp — a surprising show of support for one of the most vulnerable Democrats up for reelection.

Americans for Prosperity is running digital advertisements to thank the North Dakota senator for helping pass a bill that relaxes some financial regulations under the Dodd-Frank law. The advertisement comes just a week after President Donald Trump praised her for her work on the bill at the White House.

“This was a bipartisan effort made possible by lawmakers like Heidi Heitkamp who put politics aside to work together,” said AFP President Tim Phillips. “While we don’t agree with Sen. Heitkamp on everything, particularly her vote against tax relief, we commend her for taking a stand against the leaders of her party to do the right thing.”

Heitkamp has made her aisle-crossing record her main selling point in her reelection race against Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) in a state that Trump easily won in 2016. She was the only Democrat invited to a bill-signing ceremony for the bank deregulation measure last week, though Cramer was also invited along with a host of other Republicans.

“There were two people there who really delivered that bill: Mike Crapo and myself,” Heitkamp said in a recent interview, referring to the Banking Committee chairman. “It’s really a question of who was there that had nothing to do with it.”

Trump has praised Heitkamp several times in the past year, though the president also helped recruit Cramer to run against her. GOP officials say Trump will soon hold a rally for Cramer in North Dakota, though a Republican senator said it was unclear whether the president will attack Heitkamp.

AFP previously spent nearly a half-million dollars earlier this year hitting Heitkamp for voting against the Republican tax law, likely dwarfing the spending on the digital ad praising her, which was not disclosed by AFP. Phillips said he hopes Heitkamp votes with the GOP on making the tax law’s temporary tax cuts for individuals permanent.

Though AFP has traditionally spent far more on conservative causes and candidates, the group occasionally aligns with Democrats. AFP is also backing the Senate Democrats’ immigration plan, which would trade a path to citizenship for 1.8 million young undocumented immigrants for $25 billion in border wall funding. Heitkamp played a central role in writing that legislation, too.