Blogs > Cliopatria > Boston College (Cont.): Pushing Holder

Nov 16, 2011

Boston College (Cont.): Pushing Holder

It's been political all along, so it's finally becoming political.

While the District Court in Boston has taken no action since October 5 regarding the federal government's effort to subpoena archival material about paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland (background is here), the heart of the fight is no longer in the courtroom. I'm still working on details, but the outline is clear: Members of Congress are becoming concerned about the subpoenas directed at Boston College, and are beginning to express those concerns to the Department of Justice.

The emerging change in political climate is the result of the work being done by three Irish-American organizations: the Irish American Unity Conference, the Brehon Law Society, and the Ancient Order of Hibernians. At the bottom of this post, for example, is a letter sent last month to Attorney General Eric Holder (which is also available on the IAUC website). Irish-American activists have met with members of Congress, and have been trying to get meetings at the State Department and in the White House.

It's working. This is information at fourth-hand, for reasons I'll explain in a moment, but Senator John Kerry recently called Holder to express his concerns about the subpoenas, asking the attorney general to re-evaluate the harm they might do to the peace in Northern Ireland. Holder's initial reaction was, apparently, that the courts would figure it out. But Kerry pressed for a better answer, telling him that this use of the US-UK MLAT contradicted the assurances he was given when he voted for the treaty, and Holder promised to take a fresh look at the question.

I can't figure out exactly how serious that promise was, because I've only been able to talk to someone who talked to someone who talked to someone who talked to Kerry. I asked the DOJ press office if they could confirm that Kerry and Holder had discussed the subpoenas. Their complete answer: "Thanks for reaching out but we would decline to comment."

But Kerry's office gave a more interesting answer. Whitney Smith, Kerry's press secretary, said she "can't confirm private meetings," but also offered this statement: "Senator Kerry and his staff have sought information and been kept up to date on the subpoenas issued to Boston College.  Obviously this is a sensitive issue, and while it is an issue for the courts, Senator Kerry has urged all parties involved to carefully consider any actions that could affect the peace process."

That's a non-denial that confirms the basic details: Kerry is watching, and urging "all parties" to think hard about the effect their choices will have on the ground in Northern Ireland. Other members of Congress are also looking closer at the subpoenas, and I expect to have more detail shortly.

The Department of Justice has made a mistake, and will be hearing about it more and more in the coming days.

More soon.

I've redacted home addresses and personal phone numbers at the end of the letter below, but it's otherwise as written.

IAUCPresEric H. Holder Jr. 10-20-11

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