Los Angeles Times

Jan. 6 committee has much left to reveal in the next round

In testimony, director denies responsibi­lity for agency’s culture of graft and misconduct.

- By Sarah D. Wire

WASHINGTON — The House Jan. 6 committee has so far presented a detailed narrative, including several bombshells, of efforts by former President Trump and his allies to overturn the 2020 election. But an influx of new witnesses and evidence shows there is a lot left for the panel to say when televised hearings resume in September.

The monthlong break will give the committee time to process the new informatio­n and draw connection­s between evidence uncovered in the more than 1,000 deposition­s and tens of thousands of documents it has collected in a nearly yearlong investigat­ion. Ongoing legal actions indicate the committee isn’t giving up on getting more testimony and records from former White House employees, those who advised Trump and some of the people involved in the riot, as the panel rushes to complete its work before the end of the year.

“The one thing we can be certain [of] is that the committee knows more than we do.... You have that sense that we are seeing only a small portion of sort of the proverbial tip of the iceberg,” said Lara Brown, director of the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management.

Committee members say the eight hearings so far led new witnesses to come

WASHINGTON — With just days left in his tenure, the director of the federal prison system faced a bipartisan onslaught Tuesday as he refused to accept responsibi­lity for a culture of corruption and misconduct that has beset his agency for years.

Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal, testifying before the Senate’s permanent subcommitt­ee on investigat­ions, contended that he had been shielded from problems by his underlings — even though he’d been copied on emails, and some of the troubles were detailed in reports generated by the agency’s headquarte­rs.

Carvajal, who announced his resignatio­n in January and is set to be replaced next week by Oregon’s state prison director, Colette Peters, blamed the size and structure of the Bureau of Prisons for his ignorance on issues such as inmate suicides, sexual abuse and the free flow of drugs, weapons and other contraband that has roiled some of the agency’s 122 facilities.

Carvajal said several times that the Bureau of Prisons, the Justice Department’s largest component with a budget of more than $8 billion, was a “very large and complex organizati­on” and that there was “no possible way” for him to know everything that was going on.

His attempts to deflect responsibi­lity for the prison system’s failings didn’t sit well with the subcommitt­ee’s chairman, Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), nor its ranking member, Sen. Ron Johnson

(R-Wis.). The subcommitt­ee’s scrutiny of the Bureau of Prisons was spurred in part by Associated Press reporting that has exposed myriad crises at the agency.

Further aggravatin­g the senators, Carvajal initially refused to testify, only doing so after the subcommitt­ee subpoenaed him on July 14 — and then, upon arriving in the hearing room, claiming he was there voluntaril­y. Ossoff withdrew the subpoena immediatel­y before Carvajal’s testimony, only after the director appeared at the hearing.

“It’s almost willful ignorance, and that’s what I find disturbing,” Johnson said of Carvajal’s assertion. “Don’t want to know what’s happening below me. Don’t want to hear about rapes. Don’t want to hear about suicides.”

Added Ossoff: “It’s a disgrace. And for the answer to be, other people deal with that; I got the report; I don’t remember — it’s completely unacceptab­le.”

Afterward, Carvajal fled from reporters seeking to

speak with him. The director, who’s declined nearly all interview requests since taking office in 2020, ducked into a freight elevator with aides before bolting down a stairwell once they realized that reporters had followed them in.

Tuesday’s hearing, one of several promised by the subcommitt­ee, focused on years of misconduct and abuse at a federal penitentia­ry in Atlanta, but the problems unearthed there speak to larger systemic issues in the Bureau of Prisons, such as severe staffing shortages, deficient healthcare and barely edible food.

The Atlanta prison, a 120year-old relic in Ossoff’s home state, once housed some of the country’s most notorious criminals, including gangsters Al Capone and James “Whitey” Bulger as well as Carlo Ponzi, the namesake of the “Ponzi scheme.” Today, it’s a crumbling, medium-security facility — no longer a penitentia­ry in the true sense of the term — with about 900 male inmates, including people

awaiting trial.

The hearing Tuesday, which also featured testimony from Atlanta whistleblo­wers, came amid an AP investigat­ion that has exposed widespread problems within the agency, including criminal employees, escaping inmates, a women’s prison known to staff and inmates as the “rape club” because of rampant staff sexual abuse, and critically low staffing that has hampered responses to emergencie­s.

Witnesses described what they said was known as the “Atlanta way” — a culture that allowed misconduct at the prison to persist for years.

Carvajal told the committee that he learned of the prison’s problems only last year and immediatel­y took action, reducing the inmate population and removing dozens of managers. Despite that, the witnesses said, the facility is still in dire straits.

Ossoff said evidence obtained by the subcommitt­ee’s investigat­ors showed agency leadership was made aware of problems at Atlanta

as far back as 2014. Carvajal has been a member of the agency’s senior leadership since 2013.

Erika Ramirez, the Atlanta prison’s former chief psychologi­st, said she was transferre­d to a different federal prison out of retaliatio­n after raising concerns about poor conditions and inmate suicides. Ramirez said she alerted the prison’s warden, other higher-ups and the agency’s headquarte­rs, to no avail.

She said contraband issues were so prevalent that she confiscate­d a smuggled microwave from one inmate, only to find it in another prisoner’s cell just a few days later. She said she confirmed it was the same device by its serial number.

Ramirez said the moldriddle­d prison had such shoddy infrastruc­ture, elevators were constantly broken and the sewers would overflow into the recreation yard during rainstorms, sometimes leaving a foot of human waste behind.

Terri Whitehead, an administra­tor who left the prison last year, testified there were so many rats in the food service area, employees would leave the prison’s doors to the outside wide open so stray cats could take care of them, compromisi­ng the prison’s security.

Ossoff told the AP after the hearing that Carvajal’s testimony “lacked credibilit­y at times” and that the director’s assertion he wasn’t aware of the issues at the Atlanta prison until about a year ago “strains credulity.”

In one of the hearing’s tensest moments, Ossoff pressed Carvajal on rampant sexual abuse at Federal Correction­al Institutio­n, Dublin, a federal women’s prison in the Bay Area known to staff and inmates as the “rape club.” Among the Dublin employees charged so far is the prison’s former warden.

“Is the Bureau of Prisons able to keep female detainees safe from sexual abuse by staff?” Ossoff asked. “Yes or no?”

“Yes, we are,” Carvajal shot back. “In those cases when things happen, we hold people appropriat­ely accountabl­e.”

“You are the director at a time when one of your prisons is known to staff and inmates as a ‘rape club,’ ” Ossoff said, to silence and stares from Carvajal.

Pressed for an answer, Carvajal said the matter is under investigat­ion.

Afterward, Ossoff took issue with Carvajal’s claims that the Bureau of Prisons can keep female inmates — or any inmates — safe.

“It is demonstrab­ly false that female detainees in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons are safe,” Ossoff told the AP. “It is demonstrab­ly false. And it is demonstrab­ly false that any inmates can rely upon the quality of care and medical care at multiple BOP facilities.”

 ?? J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press ?? AT THE Senate hearing, outgoing Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal contended that he had been shielded from the agency’s problems by his underlings. Senators took issue with his efforts to shirk blame.
J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press AT THE Senate hearing, outgoing Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal contended that he had been shielded from the agency’s problems by his underlings. Senators took issue with his efforts to shirk blame.

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