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Attorney Thomas Tamm, Champion of Civil Liberties, Faces Ethics Charges

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on February 04, 2016 5:59 AM

A man known for his civil liberties work faces disciplinary action by the D.C. Office of Disciplinary Counsel -- the body responsible for ethics violations by attorneys licensed with the D.C. bar. And what clearly egregious instance of misconduct did this man commit to warrant this charge? Embezzlement? Conspiracy?

No, Mr. Thomas Tamm has been charged with two counts professional misconduct stemming from his whistle-blowing on then President Bush's warrantless wiretapping programs in 2004, almost 12 years ago. Sources report that his license possibly is at stake.

The Program

Thomas Tamm, the attorney in question, joined the DOJ's Office of Intelligence and Policy Review in 2001. This federal arm was responsible for filing warrant requests with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of FISA. While on the job, he observed that a number of cases were being treated differently than the rest and deduced that the evidence used to support a warrant issuance was being collected unconstitutionally. Apparently, this was part of a greater scheme in President H.W. Bush's War on Terror campaign -- something that agency insiders knew ominously as "the Program."

Before Snowden

Tamm asked his supervisors about the Program and he was told that it was "probably illegal." In mid 2004, he picked up a payphone and made an historic phone call to Eric Lichtbau of The New York Times. Years later, a Pulitzer Prize would be awarded for NYT's reporting on NSA's wiretapping. The public has since become inured to the notion of government spying and many fully expect that their every move is tracked by government actors. The legality of it hardly seems to matter for many.

Since then, Tamm's life as an attorney has been extraordinarily trying, though he has his public supporters. He's since been recognized by civil libertarians as a light in the transparency in government movement.

"One of the Most Ethical Attorneys I Know"

The fact that ethics charges are being lodged against Tamm more than a decade after the alleged unethical incident strikes many as too coincidental to be an accident: they smell political motivation to punish Tamm for his actions.

Former DOJ ethics attorney Jesselyn Radack blew the whistle on the controversial interrogation techniques employed in the "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh controversy and had to wait a decade in order to rest assured that no ethics charges would be lodged against her. In assessing Tamm's case, she remarked despondently, "I believe the charges against him are politicized retaliation ... [Tamm] is one of the most ethical attorneys I know."

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