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.

A lot of people are counting on special counsel Robert Mueller.

Federal prosecutors have lots of ways to intensify pressure on the people they're investigating, from early morning FBI raids to leaning on relatives of those under government scrutiny.

But even by those measures, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in last year's presidential election is moving with unusual speed and assertiveness, according to half a dozen legal experts following the probe.

The Justice Department has experienced an "explosion" in the number of referrals, or requests for probes, this year from intelligence agencies over the leak of classified information, prompting the attorney general to consider whether to loosen regulations on when it can subpoena media organizations.

Deputy White House counsel Gregory Katsas is the leading candidate for a judgeship in one of the most important federal appeals courts in the nation, NPR has learned.

While the White House has not yet named its pick for the seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, a Katsas nomination would open the door to confirmation hearings that could plumb a series of legal controversies from the first six months of the Trump administration.

Thomas Wheeler, who has been leading the Justice Department's civil rights unit, informed staffers there Thursday that he would be leaving the post, according to two sources familiar with the communication.

The debate over whether the president of the United States can be charged with a crime is as old as the country itself.

Early evidence comes from the diary of a Pennsylvania senator, who recorded "a heated debate on this very issue" in September 1789, said Hofstra University Law School professor Eric Freedman.

"For those who believe in original intent, we have pretty good evidence of original intent," Freedman said. "The founders just disagreed on the very question."

If Senate Republicans get their way, former Justice Department lawyer Christopher Wray will soon become the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, recently told reporters he hopes the nomination will "not languish" and said it's his plan to get Wray confirmed before the August congressional recess.

But before any votes take place, Wray will have to face a series of questions about his background — and his backbone.

1. Will you be loyal to the justice system or to the president?

Christopher Wray's friends and mentors use one word to describe him: steady.

That trait could come in handy at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where employees have been reeling since President Trump fired Director James Comey two months ago.

Robert Mueller has made no public comment since he was named to lead the Department of Justice investigation into Russian interference in last year's election.

Instead, he has let his actions do the talking. The former FBI director and decorated U.S. Marine has submitted a budget and quietly hired an all-star team that includes 15 Justice Department prosecutors. And, a spokesman for Mueller said, he's not done bringing on new lawyers.

Five years ago, the Justice Department concluded that juvenile courts in Memphis, Tenn., failed to give due process to children.

Civil rights investigators uncovered significant racial disparities, and they reached a deal to fix some of those failings.

John Huber is a career prosecutor in Utah who's served in both Democratic and Republican administrations. This month, the Trump White House nominated him to serve as a U.S. attorney in that state.

But it came as something of a surprise to current and former Justice Department veterans Wednesday when Huber appeared for a news conference in Washington: not in the halls of Justice, but at the White House podium.

Running the Justice Department presents a challenge in any administration. But the Trump era is different.

In just five months, Justice leaders have been under heavy pressure, on everything from the travel ban to the Russia investigation. And one man, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, is bearing the weight.

Here's something you need to know about Rosenstein: He's worked at the Justice Department for his entire career, nearly 27 years.

Last year, Rosenstein told NPR the advice he gives younger lawyers.

The Trump White House had been considering Robert Mueller as a top candidate to lead the FBI before the deputy U.S. attorney general changed course and tapped Mueller to serve as special counsel investigating Russian interference in last year's election, two sources familiar with the process told NPR.

TV networks have deployed countdown clocks. People are tweeting about places to watch and whether they'll offer morning cocktail specials. Congressional aides report that demand for seats inside the Senate hearing room has reached levels not seen for decades.

Anticipation is building for testimony from fired FBI Director James Comey, not least in the White House, where the president and his aides worry the telegenic former law enforcement leader could inflict both political and legal wounds.

What Comey might say

For nearly four years now, an unusual coalition of Republicans and Democrats has worked to reduce mandatory prison terms for many federal drug crimes.

But that bipartisan movement may be shallower than it appears. Indeed, Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who both supported a cut-back on some drug punishments, are preparing a bill that would create tough new penalties for people caught with synthetic opioid drugs. Grassley chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Feinstein is the panel's ranking member.

Four months into the Trump administration, the president's lawyer needs a lawyer.

Intensifying investigations into Russian interference in last year's presidential election and ties between Russians and the Trump campaign have a lot of high-profile people in search of legal advice, if only out of an abundance of caution. And, two sources tell NPR, one of them is White House counsel Donald McGahn.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is narrowing the scope of an executive order on so-called sanctuary cities.

A federal judge in California last month blocked a key part of that order, reasoning that the Trump administration had overstepped by threatening to yank federal money from those places.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Justice Department selected Robert Mueller III as special counsel to investigate any links or coordination the Trump campaign had with Russia as part of that country's effort to interfere in last year's presidential election.

"Special Counsel Mueller has agreed to resign from his private law firm in order to avoid any conflicts of interest with firm clients or attorneys," a Justice Department statement noted.

Robert Mueller, who has been appointed to handle the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, took the reins as FBI director a week before the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. That day would influence his entire 12-year run leading the agency.

Mueller oversaw arguably the most significant changes the century-old FBI had gone through, and he received praise from lawmakers from both parties on Wednesday for his commitment to justice.

Hours after a news report that President Trump had asked the FBI director to back away from an investigation, Democrats seized on the information to accuse the White House of a serious crime.

"We are witnessing an obstruction of justice case unfolding in real time," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., a former state attorney general.

Updated at 2:44 p.m. ET

Neither Merrick Garland nor Sen. John Cornyn of Texas will be the new FBI director.

Two friends of Judge Merrick Garland who asked not to be named say he loves being a judge, and he intends to remain on the bench.

This comes after word that Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell recommended Garland to President Trump as a candidate for FBI director.

Updated at 7 p.m. ET

A 13-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit heard arguments on Monday over President Trump's revised travel ban, with judges repeatedly questioning the government's lawyer in the case about Trump's campaign call "for a complete and total shutdown" of Muslims entering the country.

Standing at the kitchen counter in his spotless town house near the Baltimore airport, Reddy Annappareddy heated up some water to make his lawyer a coffee and contemplated his hard fall from grace.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has proposed hiring its own prosecutor corps to bring cases related to drug trafficking, money laundering and asset forfeiture — a move that advocacy groups warn could exceed the DEA's legal authority and reinvigorate the 1980s-era war on drugs.

Updated at 7:15 p.m. ET.

The U.S. Justice Department has escalated its approach to so-called sanctuary cities, writing at least eight jurisdictions Friday to put them on notice they could be failing to cooperate with immigration authorities.

Alan Hanson, the acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's grant-making arm, warned the cities that they're required to submit proof that they comply with federal immigration law.

The woman leading the Justice Department's investigation of foreign meddling into the 2016 election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia has told staff members she will leave the department in May.

Mary B. McCord has served at the highest levels in the national security unit, either as its leader or chief deputy, for the past three years. A longtime federal prosecutor based in Washington, McCord easily won the confidence of both career lawyers and her supervisors inside the Justice Department.

The U.S. Justice Department is sending a message to state and local governments: Failure to comply with federal laws could have big consequences.

This year, most of the conversation has focused on whether sanctuary cities that limit their cooperation with federal immigration authorities will be able to keep grant money for their police departments. But veterans of the Justice Department said that's only a piece of what could be at stake.

Updated at 4:23 p.m. ET

Attorney General Jeff Sessions is recommending the White House nominate Washington labor lawyer Eric Dreiband to lead the Justice Department's civil rights division, according to two NPR sources briefed on the hiring process.

As advocates for medical marijuana gather in Washington, D.C., on Friday for an annual conference, supporters of marijuana legalization are worried.

That's because new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been making tough comments about the drug, and there's a lot of uncertainty about how the Trump administration will enforce federal law.

Over his 20 years in the U.S. Senate, Jeff Sessions made no secret of his disdain for marijuana. In his new job as the nation's top federal law enforcement officer, his position on marijuana has not moderated.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered the Justice Department to conduct a broad review of agreements that seek to overhaul troubled police departments. He's says it isn't the federal government's job to manage state and local law enforcement agencies, which is a shift from the Obama administration.

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