Carrie Johnson

Carrie Johnson is a Justice Correspondent for the Washington Desk.

She covers a wide variety of stories about justice issues, law enforcement and legal affairs for NPR's flagship programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as the Newscasts and NPR.org.

While in this role, Johnson has chronicled major challenges to the landmark voting rights law, a botched law enforcement operation targeting gun traffickers along the Southwest border, and the Obama administration's deadly drone program for suspected terrorists overseas.

Prior to coming to NPR in 2010, Johnson worked at the Washington Post for 10 years, where she closely observed the FBI, the Justice Department and criminal trials of the former leaders of Enron, HealthSouth and Tyco. Earlier in her career, she wrote about courts for the weekly publication Legal Times.

Outside of her role at NPR, Johnson regularly moderates or appears on legal panels for the American Bar Association, the American Constitution Society, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and others. She's talked about her work on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, PBS, and other outlets.

Her work has been honored with awards from the Society for Professional Journalists and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. She has been a finalist for the Loeb award for financial journalism and for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news for team coverage of the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas.

Johnson is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Benedictine University in Illinois.

In a confirmation hearing Tuesday for James Comey to lead the FBI, the most memorable exchange FBI lasted just six seconds.

"Do you agree that waterboarding is torture and is illegal?" asked Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

"Yes," Comey replied.

Over 25 years as a federal judge, Royce Lamberth has touched some of the biggest and most contentious issues in the country. He led the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court after the Sept. 11 attacks, reviewed petitions from detainees at the Guantanamo prison, and gave a boost to Native Americans suing the federal government.

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And the Supreme Court was actually already having a busy week. Yesterday it handed down rulings in two other notable cases, both dealing with worker's rights. The justices split five to four along ideological lines to make it harder for employees to win discrimination lawsuits. The court raised new hurdles for plaintiffs who say they were victims of bias and then faced retaliation for raising the issue. NPR's Carrie Johnson has more.

President Obama will formally nominate Jim Comey to be the country's next FBI director on Friday.

Comey, a registered Republican and longtime federal prosecutor, is best-known for raising alarms inside the Bush White House about a secret electronic surveillance program. That issue has taken on new resonance after disclosures about the Obama administration's dragnet collection of American phone records.

NPR has learned that the Obama administration, under pressure to lift a cloak of secrecy, is considering whether to declassify a court order that gives the National Security Agency the power to gather phone call record information on millions of Americans.

Attorney General Eric Holder has been a lightning rod for the president's fiercest critics during his four years in office. Lately, he's been back on the hot seat with a crisis of his own making: the Justice Department's aggressive stance toward reporters in national security leak cases.

Holder heads to the Senate on Thursday, where lawmakers are sure to demand an explanation.

The lawyer for Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, a former State Department contractor charged with leaking top-secret information to Fox News, has accused the intelligence community of impeding his defense by slapping the "classified" label on hundreds of irrelevant and harmless documents.

In the three years since his arrest, Bradley Manning, the slight Army private first class with close-cropped blond hair and thick military glasses, has become less of a character than a cause.

"Bradley Manning is a very polarizing figure. People either think that he is a hero or they think he's a traitor," says Elizabeth Goitein, who co-directs the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "I actually think that he's somewhere in between."

NPR has learned that former Justice Department official James B. Comey is in line to become President Obama's choice as the next FBI director, according to two sources familiar with the search.

More than 75 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt caused an uproar with his plan to "pack" the Supreme Court with friendly justices. It was an audacious effort to protect his New Deal initiatives.

Now, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has floated the reverse — legislation that would cut three seats from the important D.C. Circuit appeals court, just as President Obama prepares to announce his nominees for those jobs.

The Court-Packing Plan

The Gallup Organization has reached "an agreement in principle" with the Justice Department to settle civil allegations that the polling company overbilled the U.S. government by providing inflated estimates for federal contracts, according to a new court filing.

A deal could be announced by mid-June, the court filing says, bringing an end to a costly and embarrassing episode that first came to light when a Gallup insider blew the whistle.

Prison is a tough place, but Congress made an exception nearly 30 years ago, giving terminally ill inmates and prisoners with extraordinary family circumstances an early way out. It's called compassionate release.

But a recent investigation found that many federal inmates actually die while their requests drift through the system.

One of them was Clarence Allen Rice.

It's another bad day for the Justice Department.

A federal judge in Louisiana has thrown out the central criminal charge against a former BP executive because prosecutors failed to prove he knew about a pending congressional investigation into oil flowing into the Gulf of Mexico three years ago. U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt also ruled that a Democratic House member who inquired about the oil flow rate was acting as head of a subcommittee, not a full congressional committee, as required under the federal Obstruction of Justice statute.

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On a Wednesday, it's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Renee Montagne is in Afghanistan this week. I'm Steve Inskeep.

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And I'm David Greene. Good morning. When we think about the controversies swirling around Washington this week, there's a common denominator. They fall on the shoulders of Attorney General Eric Holder.

INSKEEP: First, news broke that the Justice Department secretly obtained phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors. This has ignited a First Amendment uproar.

The Associated Press is protesting what it calls a massive and unprecedented intrusion into its gathering of news. The target of that wrath is the U.S. Justice Department, which secretly collected phone records for several AP reporters last year. The AP says it's caught in the middle of a Justice Department leak investigation.

The scope of the Justice Department subpoenas is what gives David Schultz, a lawyer for AP, pause.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Ignacia Moreno, the point person at the Justice Department for prosecuting environmental crimes, says she will leave government service next month.

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When Charles Ramsey talked with a 911 operator about the woman he'd found, the operator had this question.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Can you ask her if she needs an ambulance?

CHARLES RAMSEY: You need an ambulance or what? She needs everything. She's in a panic. I bet she's been kidnapped, so you know, put yourself in her shoes.

INSKEEP: Put yourself in her shoes.

NPR's Carrie Johnson reports law enforcement is trying to do just that.

A new watchdog report (PDF) says a Federal Bureau of Prisons program designed to help terminally ill inmates get early release is "poorly managed and implemented inconsistently."

The study by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz, which was released Wednesday morning, finds that in 13 percent of cases in which prisoners were approved for the program, inmates died before bureaucrats in Washington made a final decision.

It's one of the smallest law enforcement agencies in the federal government, but the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has sure had a busy couple of weeks.

Dozens of its agents raced to Boston, where they analyzed bombs left near the finish line of the marathon. Others went south to Texas, where a fertilizer plant exploded under mysterious circumstances. Members of the ATF's national response team are still on the scene in tiny West, Texas, sifting through rubble at the blast site, near a crater that's 93 feet wide.

Footage from surveillance cameras along the Boston Marathon route gave the FBI early clues about the bombing suspects. And prosecutors say they'll use some of those images to try to prove their criminal case against 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. But the proliferation of cameras in America's big cities is raising some tricky questions about the balance between security and privacy.

It was pictures of two brothers taken by a camera outside the Lord & Taylor department store that provided the first glimpse of the men who allegedly bombed the Boston Marathon.

President Obama's nominee to lead the Labor Department has been one of the most aggressive advocates for civil rights in decades. Tom Perez prosecuted a record number of hate crimes cases and extracted huge settlements from banks that overcharged minorities for home loans.

But some Republican lawmakers say those same qualities give them pause about voting to confirm Perez as a Cabinet member.

'Making A Huge Difference'

Steven Nolder joined the federal public defender's office when it opened in Columbus, Ohio, nearly 18 years ago. Nolder handled his share of noteworthy cases, including the first federal death penalty trial in the district and the indictment of a former NFL quarterback embroiled in a ticket fraud scheme.

Lately, Nolder says, his professional world has turned upside down.

Robert Mueller became FBI director just days before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, he's been the U.S. government's indispensable man when it comes to national security.

But Mueller's term has expired, and the clock is ticking on an unprecedented extension that Congress gave him two years ago.

The first time the Obama White House thought about a replacement for Mueller, back in 2011, officials threw up their hands and wound up begging him to stay. Congress passed a special law to allow it. Then Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa put his foot down.

The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., is sometimes called the second most important court in the country, regularly delivering the final word on major environmental, labor and national security cases.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has a whopping four vacancies, the most in the nation, including one opening that dates all the way back to 2005, when John Roberts moved to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Thomas Perez, the president's nominee to lead the Department of Labor and a high-profile Latino advocate for civil rights, is scheduled for a Senate confirmation hearing April 18. But behind-the-scenes wrangling over his nomination, and his controversial role in a Supreme Court case, is already well under way.

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Inside the courtroom, the debate over California's gay marriage ban was joined with sharp questions and a splash of humor. But where will all lead is still unknown. As NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, expectations for a sweeping and decisive ruling may be overblown.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Chief Justice John Roberts set the tone in the opening moments. Almost immediately, he pressed the lawyer defending California's gay marriage ban on the most basic of points.

When advocates for gay marriage talk about it, they usually focus on the struggle for equality and civil rights.

But how the Supreme Court decides the Defense of Marriage Act case being argued this week could possibly have big implications in another arena — the money same-sex couples owe the Internal Revenue Service.

The case that could throw out a law that defines marriage as between a man and woman started with a tax bill.

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NPR's business news starts with a new labor secretary.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: President Obama has chosen justice department lawyer Thomas Perez for the post. Perez is the son of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He ran the labor department in his home state of Maryland and he will add a high profile Latino voice to the cabinet. But, NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, his nomination is not without controversy.

A federal appeals court has rejected an effort by the CIA to deny it has any documents about a U.S. drone program that has killed terrorists overseas, ruling that the agency is stretching the law too far and asking judges "to give their imprimatur to a fiction of deniability that no reasonable person would regard as plausible."

Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in which the justices unanimously ruled that defendants facing substantial jail time deserved legal representation in state courts, even if they couldn't afford to pay for it.

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