Former FBI agent turned whistleblower and 5 women oppose Kenneth Polite’s nomination to lead the DOJ’s criminal division
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Senate confirmation hearings for New Orleans native and former U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite started this week. President Joe Biden nominated Polite to lead the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division and he’s receiving strong support across party lines, including from both Republican Senators Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy.
“If confirmed I look forward to leading and working alongside the tremendous public servants in the Criminal Division, its work, which includes combating cyber threats, Covid relief fraud, and exploitation of our nation’s most vulnerable populations is more essential than ever,” said Polite Wednesday before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary.
But, a former FBI agent turned whistleblower and 5 women urge U.S. Senators to oppose Polite’s confirmation. They say Polite “lacked the leadership to seek justice for women abused by a sexual predator and failed to protect federal witnesses.”
Polite served as the top federal prosecutor in New Orleans under President Barack Obama’s administration and is now President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division. But, whistleblower and former FBI agent Mike Zummer says Polite is not the man for the job. And, Zummer’s not alone in his opposition to Polite’s nomination.
“We have a sent a letter to 33 Senators expressing our opposition to Mr. Polite’s nomination to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice,” said Zummer.
Zummer says that the list of Senators includes those on the Judiciary Committee and a handful of others Zummer believes would be sympathetic to women’s issues.
According to the letter and a PowerPoint presentation sent to the U.S. Senators, 5 women joined Zummer saying they “suffered at the hands of Polite’s mismanagement while he was U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana.”
Some have come forward with allegations about how Federal prosecutors handled the high-profile case against former St. Charles Parish District Attorney Harry Morel. Morel was accused of using his position of power to trade leniency for sexual favors. Zummer claims alleged misconduct on the part of prosecutors in the case. He says that misconduct ultimately led to Polite’s office making a lenient plea deal with Morel instead of a more serious racketeering or RICO indictment.
“We had approval from Washington D.C., which is required to get any RICO charge and what happened is the local office basically took over, they decided to negotiate with Morel, and really those negotiations I believe were compromised by the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s own interest in covering up what it had done in 2013 by declining the case and the ethical issues then,” said Zummer.
The Federal investigation into Morel started years before Polite took office. The prior U.S. Attorney had declined the case. But, Polite reopened it in the Spring of 2014.
Morel eventually pleaded guilty in 2016 to obstruction of justice. And, as part of that deal, Morel made an on the record admission that between 2007 and 2009 he solicited sex from defendants in the St. Charles Parish criminal justice system. He also was permanently prohibited from practicing law. During an April 2016 news conference about Morel’s plea deal, Polite condemned Morel’s actions.
“A man who perverted his position of power and took advantage of women who needed help and he did it over and over again,” Polite said.
Morel served less than two years of his three-year sentence and never faced sexual misconduct charges even though the Feds called Morel a “sexual predator.”
“We know this was going on for many decades, and we may never know the full extent of it,” Polite said in 2016.
In his PowerPoint presentation to Senators opposing Polite’s nomination, Zummer says Federal investigators found the former St. Charles District Attorney had solicited sexual favors from 22 women. Zummer says 5 of the victims had oral sex with Morel including one by physical force. We spoke with that woman who also opposes Polite’s nomination. She does not want to be identified because she’s afraid of retaliation. We will refer to her as “Carla.”
“We were involved in a case for child support, Harry Morel wanted to go out for lunch and celebrate the case,” said Carla. “He proceeded to unzip his pants and grab my neck and push my head down and force me to do an act and I was trying not to and he said you will never get the money unless you do this and I needed the money for the kids.”
Carla also told Fox 8, “I was excited when Ken Polite took over the Harry Morel case, I was told there would be justice and I believed in him, and unfortunately that did not happen,” she said. “I had high expectations with him, I did, and he made a deal with the devil.”
The family of Danelle Keim McGovern also signed the letter opposing Polite’s confirmation. McGovern recorded undercover video as part of the FBI investigation into Morel. She died of an overdose in 2013, the day after her story went public.
“She got into trouble and the District Attorney’s job is to prosecute and to reform, so you know when she fell into his lap at you know 27 he should have helped her that’s what I wanted. I didn’t want him to go the exact opposite route and say hey this is really bad but you know what if you just get on your knees I’ll make it go away and at 27 years old you know what she did, she called the cops,” said McGovern’s sister, Tessie Keim. “To take on what she did was very hard for her, I remember helping her wire up her bra and I’m just like are you sure, are you sure and she’s like yeah Tessie I got to do this, so, I was like okay let’s do it.”
We also spoke with McGovern’s mother, Tammy Glover. “This is all she gets for all she did and she is a hero because what she did do was bring him down that’s what she did,” said Glover.
Zummer, who is an attorney, says Polite’s office never notified or conferred with Morel’s 22 victims or McGovern’s family about the plea bargaining with Morel, something he believes is in violation of the Crime Victim’s Rights Act. In his correspondence with U.S. Senators, Zummer cites specific rights in the code he believes were violated. That being victims have the reasonable right to confer with the attorney for the Government in the case and the right to be informed in a timely manner of any plea bargain or deferred prosecution agreement.
“I was trying to keep them advised of what was going on by phone but the U.S. Attorney’s Office wasn’t telling them what was going on,” said Zummer.
Zummer claims Polite’s office also violated the Crime Victim’s Rights Act by pressuring Carla and McGovern’s mother to not speak at Morel’s sentencing hearing.
“Mr. Polite’s office contacted me and told me that we were not going to be able to testify. I didn’t like that answer. I wanted to testify for my healing process,” said Carla.
Zummer, Carla, and McGovern’s family asked Senators for the opportunity to testify at Polite’s confirmation hearings.
“I am absolutely against Mr. Polite getting this position because if he can make a deal you know with the folks in New Orleans and St. Charles Parish what kind of deals can he make when he gets to D.C.,” said Carla.
“He’s not in a position right now I feel to step up into this powerful place, if he couldn’t do his job here, I don’t know how he is supposed to do it for our nation,” said Keim.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney James Baehr who worked in Polite’s office also wrote a letter regarding Polite’s confirmation. But, he wrote to the Judiciary Committee Chair in strong support of Polite’s nomination. Baehr worked on the Morel case with Zummer and says “the case was not easy.” He outlined challenges prosecuting Morel including, the key witness in the case, who wore a wire, died unexpectedly. And, that many of the acts occurred well beyond any statute of limitations. Baehr says without Polite’s leadership, Morel wouldn’t have served jail time, been disbarred, and exposed to the public. He also adds “there would have been no justice for the victims.”
Zummer says coming forward cost him his FBI career after his firing last May. But, he says it’s a battle worth fighting
“The one division that is going to deal with victims, witnesses, and whistleblowers the most shouldn’t be led by the guy who really couldn’t protect victims and witnesses and as the whistleblower, I certainly don’t think he has done me any favors, in fact, actually his office has participated in the censorship of what I have tried to get out to the public,” said Zummer.
We reached out to Polite, but the Department of Justice declined to comment on his behalf. The DOJ pointed us to letters of support for Polite including Baehr’s letter as well as another written by two former FBI special agents who worked with Polite.
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