Famed Director John McTiernan Controversy

This is a very personal story of what it is like when the wheels of injustice grind against any American. What it is like when a voice calls during an evening dinner saying “I’m the FBI” when that voice could be anyone, a fan, a stalker, a celebrity hound, and then the understandable reluctance to speak to a stranger is treated like a crime. When the FBI could have easily scheduled an appointment…..

While much is made of celebrity justice, the truth is that any American, from the high and mighty to the poorest of the poor, is one person against a huge system, in a rigged game, which raises fundamental questions about civil liberties and justice in America, for everyone.

An abuse that began under Bush was allowed to come to fruition under Obama, in a system that needs to be made far fairer for everyone….

This case truly represents the very big picture about the greater threat to civil liberties to all when the imbalance of power can work its will against any American no matter how rich or poor..

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The shiv to the gut of democracy that has been occurring for the last four years can be found in the case of the FBI snare trap of famed Hollywood Director John McTiernan, creator of such iconic films as Die Hard, Predator, Hunt for Red October, the Thomas Crown Affair, etc. In his movies, writer/director McTiernan shows a real flair for visual tension and eerie imagery, but nothing in his film experiences could have prepared him for this real life miscarriage of justice; an encounter of the grossest kind.

This case should inspire all Americans, regardless of party affiliation, who believe in supporting their country all the time and their government only when it deserves it. The DOJ, past and present who are self-anointed guardians of our cultural purity, have made sure that no real questions are asked, no real questions answered McTiernan’s is a case that must be aired and cleared because with it the very basis of our democracy is demonically challenged.

John McTiernan’s case hews back to the dark reign of Karl Rove whose attitude towards governance is never-let-the-facts-interfere-with-reality and to Rove’s obedient ministerial minions that today pervade our government bureaucracy. Rove’s continuous role throughout the government is exercised though his uber-Republican organization called American Crossroads that is committed to keeping an iron hold clamp on the justice department.

For now, a totally innocent man faces prison after a conditional guilty plea July 12 in a wiretapping case so interesting that it deserves two alternative news accounts.

From Andrew Kreig, Justice Integrity project* as seen in the Huffington Post:

“Here’s a versionsuch wire services as Reuters provided to the vast majority of Americans:

“Die Hard” film director John McTiernan pleaded guilty to lying to law enforcement officials in connection with the racketeering case of a private detective who represented many Hollywood stars.

A trial for McTiernan had been expected to begin on Tuesday in Los Angeles on two counts of making false statements to federal agents and one count of perjury. McTiernan, 59, originally pleaded guilty in 2006 to a charge of knowingly lying to agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the criminal case against private detective Anthony Pellicano, who has since been jailed.* *But the film director later withdrew his plea, saying he had received poor legal advice, had been drinking and was jet-lagged from traveling when FBI agents questioned him. Federal officials again charged McTiernan with crimes in 2009, leading to Monday’s guilty plea. A judge set a sentencing date of Oct. 4…. But the truth is stronger than the above fiction. The true essence of McTiernan’s case is better conveyed this way:

Yet again, federal authorities abused their vast powers to promote their own greater glory by manufacturing a crime and ruining a career at needless expense to federal taxpayers.

Too tough a verdict? You be the judge. First, kindly note as a matter of basic accuracy that McTiernan’s plea was “conditional” on the results of his appeal. This qualification was totally omitted by the Reuters story and thus by such headlines around the nation as that of the July 13 Washington Post, which blares out to its readers: “John McTiernan is headed to jail.” Wiretappers Unmasked

In 2002, a federal investigative team led by Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Saunders and FBI agent Stanley Ornellas exposed a scheme whereby the infamous LA private eye Anthony Pellicano, below, systematically broke wiretapping laws to help his clients Stallone, Speilberg, Cruise, etc.) in big-dollar entertainment industry battles.

In 2004, Howard Blum and John Connolly authored an in-depth overview for Vanity Fair entitled, “The Pellicano Brief.” It described Pellicano’s “A-list” clients and a pivotal raid of the detective’s offices by the feds, who seized guns, $200,000 in cash, plastic explosives and hand grenades on their way to winning a 15-year prison term for the tough-talking P. I.

The article didn’t mention McTiernan among the detective’s many famous clients, who included some vastly more powerful than McTiernan. But we now know that McTiernan by then had sampled Pellicano’s services twice, once in a case involving his stepson and another regarding questionable activity on the movie set of Rollerball.

Fast forward to early 2006. More than three years after the big raid on Pellicano’s office, none of the “A-list” Hollywood stars, managers, producers and lawyers had been jailed.

As sometimes happens in such situations, authorities sprang a perjury trap on McTiernan, who was famous for directing such action films as Predator, Die Hard, and The Hunt for Red October. In a perjury snare, authorities can create a crime by inducing a target in an unguarded moment to forgo the right to silence and give a false statement about an embarrassing matter that might otherwise not provide a basis for a criminal charge.

The concept became notorious after Independent Counsel Ken Starr relied on it to try to save his otherwise failed Watergate investigation of Bill Clinton by surprising Clinton at a grand jury with unrelated questions about Monica Lewinsky. They did the same thing with Lewinsky when she herself was tripped by her phony friend, Linda Tripp.

The Lewinsky case illustrated how reporters and readers alike tend to focus, understandably enough, on the sensational specifics of a scandal without reflecting that a perjury trap is often unfair. Why? Almost anyone has done something embarrassing. So, it’s not right for authorities to use all-out tactics to create a crime by trapping some miscreants with the trap instead of focusing on whether the underlying activity is criminal.

Unfair or not, these kinds of methods are generally legal under the vast discretion that we provide to authorities. Here’s how the one against McTiernan unfolded, according to court records:

After returning ill from a film shoot in Thailand, using medicine and drinking, McTiernan received a late night phone call at home from Ornellas, the FBI’s lead agent in the Pellicano case. Towards the end of a brief conversation, McTiernan falsely denied that he’d engaged Pellicano for services.

McTiernan was promptly indicted, pleaded guilty to false statement, and received four months in prison and $100,000 fine as the first big-name entertainment industry defendant hit with time in the case. U.S. District Judge Dale S. Fischer, a 2003 appointee of President Bush and Karl Rove, denounced McTiernan at sentencing for what she called his arrogance.

In court, without provocation, she derided him as a spoiled Hollywood megastar director. Judging that hard facts are a nuisance as evidence, Judge Fischer never allowed any circumstantial facts to interfere with her harsh judgment, hard facts like this was an unverified after-hours telephone call, hard facts like McTiernan mere utterance of words not under oath is not a crime, like he hired Pellicano ten years before the phone call from the FBI.

The defendant changed lawyers, and won a 2008 federal appeals court decision that enabled him to withdraw his guilty plea. Authorities responded with a new indictment that increased the defendant’s liability by reconfiguring the original false statement into two separate felonies, plus a perjury charge arising from his pursuit of his appeal.

These maneuvers increased McTiernan’s potential prison sentence to multiple years if he dares offend authorities further by proceeding to trial. The jury instructions approved by the judge, which almost guarantee a guilty verdict by limiting the defendant’s ability to argue that he wasn’t in a position to know if the person asking him questions by phone was a verified FBI agent and not just another reporter, stalker, fan or prankster. As a high- profile Hollywood director, McTiernan’s work inevitably brings calls from imposter “reporters” and others seeking personal details about such stars from his films as Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone.

McTiernan describes his background as being a moderate Republican. But the director, like some others in the civil rights field, including in the bipartisan Justice Integrity Project, that the Obama DOJ is equally permeated by resistance to criticism and win-at-all-cost attitudes that transcend party lines.

McTiernan’s attorney, Oliver E. Diaz, notes that his client’s conditional guilty plea maintains his right to appeal numerous per-trial motions filed by the government and granted by the judge. Diaz, a Republican former Mississippi Supreme Court justice, himself had been one of the Bush DOJ’s prosecution targets before twice being acquitted of federal corruption charges. The Diaz story is described in the Project Save Justice documentary, and in a Harper’s article by Scott Horton.

Last month, McTiernan failed in his attempt to rescue the wayward Rove-anointed judge, a Republican whose courtroom comments make clear that she despises the defendant. Part of the issue seems to be that some federal authorities become personally offended if defendants use up courtroom time by failing to plead guilty, as do 95 percent of those accused.

What must be done first it should be mandatory that authorities should focus on actual crimes, not creating new ones to save face. Second, and much more important, lots of these trial problems would go away if judges encouraged both sides to proceed with a better sense of proportion. For authorities to insist, as they did here, that McTiernan spend at least a year in prison if he pleads guilty inevitability stretches out the proceedings at vast cost to everyone. To what purpose? Do taxpayers really have unlimited funds for these kinds of willful, selective prosecution jihads?

Finally, we’ve got to find new ways of providing oversight. The U.S. Senate rubber-stamps most federal prosecution and judicial appointments. The Senate provided unanimous approval, for example, for the judges overseeing the McTiernan case. Congress rarely enforces subpoenas on sensitive oversight matters any longer if DOJ doesn’t want to comply. And the traditional courthouse news reporter of olden days has disappeared for cost reasons. They’ve been replaced for the most part by visiting stenographers who carrying the title of reporter but primarily serve to amplify to the public whatever information federal authorities want to emphasize.”

John McTiernan’s case that must be cleared, wiped off the pages of the FBI as an unfortunate mistake – because the very basis of our democracy depends upon it.

Andrew Kreig

Executive Director, Justice Integrity Project

Washington, DC 20004


(202) 638-0070; (202) 787-8335 (cell)

Twitter: http://twitter.com/AndrewKreig

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Sadly, Lloyd Kam Williams passed away in 2019, leaving behind a huge body of work focused on America’s black entertainment community. We were as sad to hear of his passing as we were overjoyed to have him as part of our team.