Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Federal judge in Siegelman FOIA case seems to favor privacy of government employees over the public's right to know if its business was conducted lawfully


Joseph and Don Siegelman
Which is more important: (A) That the public be assured its justice-related work is conducted ethically; or (B) The personal privacy of justice-related government workers is protected?

In a semi-functional democracy, the answer clearly should be "A." But the recent dismissal of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit in the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman suggests the answer is "B" -- at least in the minds of federal judges and Department of Justice (DOJ) employees.

As we recently reported, a FOIA lawsuit from Birmingham attorney Joseph Siegelman (Don's son and a candidate for attorney general of Alabama) produced documents from the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) that were, according to a source close to the case, "so heavily redacted they were worthless." That means a 12-year government cover-up of documents about the "recusal" of Leura Canary (then U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama) -- and other key issues in the Siegelman prosecution -- will continue to keep the public in the dark.

OPR turned over the documents last April for in camera review, and U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala -- surprise, surprise -- sided with the government. Haikala let the case stay dormant for roughly 10 months before dashing off three rulings in February 2018, the last being a final order, dismissing the case on Feb. 28.

This is the same Haikala,-- an Obama appointee and former attorney with Birmingham's Lightfoot Franklin firm, -- who twisted the facts and law into a pretzel in order to let Madison police officer Eric Parker off on criminal charges after he had body slammed Sureshbhai Patel (a grandfather from India), causing spinal injuries. We reported a four-part series about the myriad ways Haikala butchered the law in the Patel case. Our view is that she butchered the Siegelman FOIA case, too.

An online summary of the case docket indicates Haikala sided with the government because it claimed certain information requested was exempt under FOIA.  The final docket entry reads as follows:

2018-02-28 -- 28 -- FINAL ORDER - On February 23, 2018, OPR gave notice that it produced the identified non-exempt portions of its report to Mr. Siegelman. (Doc. 27). Because OPR produced the portions that are not protected from disclosure under FOIA exemptions 3, 5, 6, and 7(C), Mr. Siegelman's request for injunctive relief is now moot. Accordingly, this action is DISMISSED AS MOOT. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 2/28/2018. (KEK) (Entered: 02/28/2018)

FOIA includes nine exemptions, where the government does not have to produce information. In the Siegelman matter, OPR claimed exemptions 3, 5, 6, and 7(c). Let's examine the language in each of those four exemptions:

Exemption 3: Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another federal law.

Exemption 5: Privileged communications within or between agencies, including those protected by the:

1. Deliberative Process Privilege (provided the records were created less than 25 years before the date on which they were requested)
2. Attorney-Work Product Privilege
3. Attorney-Client Privilege

Exemption 6: Information that, if disclosed, would invade another individual's personal privacy

Exemption 7: Information compiled for law enforcement purposes that

7(A). Could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings
7(B). Would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication
7(C). Could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy

Detailed information is available at the following links: Exemption 3Exemption 5, Exemption 6, and Exemption 7. Without diving too deeply into the minutiae of FOIA law, let's try to look at this from the "reasonable man" perspective.

The government spent more than five years investigating Don Siegelman and co-defendant Richard Scrushy. In fact, the investigation dragged on so long that it passed the five-year statute of limitations, meaning the case, by law, could not go to trial. The prosecutors, judges, their offices, and courthouses -- all resources on the government's side of the case -- were taxpayer funded. After a jury reached a guilty verdict that ran contrary to facts and law, Siegelman and Scrushy were sent to federal prison for roughly six years each -- all at taxpayer expense.

Madeline Haikala
Does the public have a right to know if the prosecution was conducted lawfully? Well, the case cost taxpayers millions of dollars, so the answer clearly is yes. Why does the Office of Professional Responsibility, then,  seemingly feel it has no responsibility to the public? Why do OPR lawyers -- with assistance from a federal judge -- use FOIA as a tool to cloak information in darkness, rather than to shine light on government processes?

Exemptions 3 and 5 involve mostly inter-agency communications and legal privileges that can be arcane and mind-numbing. Without access to the full court file, it's hard to take an informed view of those, so we won't spent time on them.

Exemptions 6 and 7(c), both dealing with "personal privacy" (apparently of government employees, in the Siegelman case), are deeply alarming. Certainly Leura Canary and others who worked on the Siegelman prosecution have "personal privacy," to a certain extent. Let's imagine Canary used her work computer to jot out a grocery list, make a guest list for a party, or write a letter to a relative. If those showed up in a FOIA search, they understandably would be redacted as private.

But when Canary and her staff put on their prosecutors' hats and conduct public business, why should they be entitled to "personal privacy"? Why should their actions on the Siegelman case -- generally considered the most flagrant political prosecution in U.S. history -- be considered "private"?

Exemption 7, for example, applies to records that were "compiled for law enforcement purposes." But multiple courts have held it must a a "proper law enforcement purpose." What if the Siegelman case was brought for political purposes, which had nothing to do with legitimate law enforcement? That probably is the central question that Joseph Siegelman's FOIA lawsuit sought to answer. But the government apparently is allowed to unilaterally declare -- in a "trust me" sort of way -- that it acted in good faith, without providing any evidence to support that assertion.

As for Exemption 6, withheld information must fall in the category of " "personnel and medical files and similar files." Why would Joseph Siegelman be interested in personnel and medical files of DOJ employees? He wouldn't. Why would such files have an impact on his father's prosecution? They wouldn't. It's hard to imagine how Exemptions 6 and 7 could apply to the Siegelman FOIA request.

From  a practical standpoint, why would Leura Canary, her staff, and OPR be concerned about a FOIA request if the Siegelman case was conducted lawfully, for "proper law enforcement purposes?

That the government has been stonewalling now for 12 years suggests someone has something to hide. And the public should be outraged that it's still in hiding.

Monday, July 30, 2018

Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins, and her Anniston-lawyer husband Christopher Hopkins, bought a judicial seat by donating to Shelby, Sessions, and Bush -- explaining her cheat job in our pending "Jail Case"


Virginia Emerson Hopkins
Why is U.S. District Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins so blatantly cheating us in "The Jail Case"? Public documents indicate the answer is simple: Hopkins is a glorified whore for U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), former U.S. Sen. and current Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions (R-AL), and former President George W. Bush -- and almost every defendant in The Jail Case is connected to Shelby, Sessions, Bush, or all three.

I realize "whore" is an ugly word, and I don't use it lightly. But I do use it when it fits, at least figuratively -- as it does in this instance. In so many words, Hopkins and her husband (Anniston attorney Christopher Hopkins) bought a judicial seat by giving money to Shelby, Sessions, and Bush. We've seen no sign that Virginia Hopkins is remotely qualified to be a federal judge. But she and hubby funneled cash to Alabama's two crooked U.S. senators -- and our nation's worst president, until Donald Trump came along -- and that was the only "qualification" she needed.

What kind of track record do Shelby and Sessions have when it comes to appointing federal judges in Alabama? Well, they supported the nominations of Mark Fuller (he of wife-beating fame) and Bill Pryor (he of gay-porn and badpuppy.com fame). It's hard to get worse than that, although Hopkins is doing her best to prove that she, like Fuller and Pryor, is a political hack.

As for Bush, he nominated Fuller and Pryor, while allowing Karl Rove to use the U.S. Justice Department as a political weapon. Our nation still has not recovered from -- and might never recover from -- damage done to our justice system on Bush's watch. Barack Obama only made matters worse by vowing to "look forward, not backwards" when it came to Bush-era criminality. No wonder Vladimir Putin decided to meddle in U.S. elections; he saw it was easy to get away with such chicanery. In fact, one could argue Obama's weakness directly led to the ongoing Trump debacle of today.

Any reasonable observer should be able to see that Hopkins is disqualified from hearing the Jail Case, and she has an obligation under the law to step down of her own accord. She, of course, does not have the integrity to follow the law, so we were forced to file a Motion to Disqualify (with accompanying affidavit) under 28 U.S.C. 144. (The Motion to Disqualify and the required affidavit are embedded at the end of this post.)

The following information from our affidavit shines white-hot light on Hopkins' ascendance to the federal bench -- as well as her tendency to act corruptly in the Jail Case, not to mention other cases where Shelby and Sessions might favor one party over another:

Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins has demonstrated bias and prejudice in the instant case that is both “extrajudicial” and “pervasive” in her unlawful rulings.

A report titled "Money Trails to the Federal Bench," from the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR), indicates Hopkins wound up on the federal bench because of the cold-hard cash she helped funnel to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), with some also going to Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), now attorney general in the dysfunctional Trump administration.

The CIR report states the following under the header: Hopkins, Virginia Emerson, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama
Nominated: October 14, 2003 | Confirmed: June 15, 2004

Summary: In May 2003, five months before her nomination, Hopkins and her husband, attorney Christopher Hopkins, each contributed $1,000 to Sen. Shelby, who strongly supported her nomination. On Halloween 2003, two weeks after Hopkins was nominated by the White House, President Bush received $2,000 from Hopkins’ husband. Sen. Sessions, also a backer of her nomination, later received $1,000 from husband Christopher Hopkins several months after her confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Sessions is a member. Overall, Hopkins’ husband made nearly $9,000 in federal contributions between 2000-2004, with all but $500 going to Republicans.

Virginia Hopkins, formerly an attorney in private practice, gave President Bush $250 in 2000.

The CIR report even provides a helpful timeline, which makes the Hopkins judicial appointment look an awful lot like the kind of quid pro quo that constitutes bribery under U.S. law. Were federal crimes committed in the name of putting Virginia Emerson Hopkins on the bench? Well, consider the following:

Chronology:

* May 21, 2003: Shelby receives $2,000 total from Hopkins and her husband;

* October 14, 2003: Bush nominates Hopkins;

* October 31, 2003: Bush-Cheney campaign receives $2,000 from Hopkins’ husband;

* November 19, 2003: Confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee;

* March 2, 2004: Sessions receives $1,000 from Hopkins’ husband;

* June 15, 2004: Hopkins is confirmed by the Senate.

Do you see a pattern here? It's hard to miss. Money flows from the Hopkins camp into the Shelby/Sessions/Bush coffers, and positive steps are taken toward naming Virginia Emerson Hopkins a federal judge, culminating with her confirmation in June 2004.

Richard Shelby, in Russia
Long-time readers might remember that the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found in the Don Siegelman case that a jury is free to "infer" that an illegal quid pro quo was present in a bribery case. With that in mind, one could make a strong argument that the Hopkinses, Shelby, Sessions, and Bush all should have been thrown in the slammer years ago.

If someone (Shelby, Sessions, the Alabama State Bar) is influencing Hopkins to cheat us on the Jail Case, that would constitute obstruction of justice, which still could send the responsible parties to prison. And we intend to file a criminal complaint on just that subject.

Here is a wrap-up from our affidavit:

The summary? Christopher Hopkins made $9,000 in federal contributions just before, and after, his wife was nominated to the federal bench. Then, we see a regular money trail leading from Christopher and Virginia Hopkins to Richard Shelby, the Bush-Cheney campaign, and Jeff Sessions. All of these contributions came between May 2003 and March 2004, just before and after Virginia Hopkins was nominated. In essence, Christopher and Virginia Hopkins bought a seat on the federal bench, in a thinly disguised pay-to-play scheme and it had nothing to do with the nominee's judicial qualifications. We learn that Virginia Hopkins owes her judicial seat to her allegiance (and financial contributions) to Richard Shelby, Jeff Sessions, and George W. Bush.

Why does this matter in the instant case? Almost every defendant in this case is tied, directly or indirectly, to Shelby, Sessions, and Bush – or all three. And I, Roger Shuler – on the blog Legal Schnauzer – have written numerous highly critical articles about these three prominent political figures (and their appointees or associates). In other words, I have shined unflattering light on the individuals who have supported, championed, and enhanced Judge Hopkins’ legal career – creating a deep animosity in her that is personal, extrajudicial, and way outside the four corners of the courtroom. Judge Hopkins has exhibited a consistent bias and prejudice toward Carol and me because we have unmasked the individuals (and their associates) who have been her personal boosters.








Thursday, July 26, 2018

Twenty years ago this month, Richard Shelby's son was caught importing hashish into the U.S., and he apparently got off with a $500 fine and nothing else


Richard Shelby
This month marks the 20th anniversary of an incident that drives home an unsettling lesson: White elites in the United States enjoy privileges that don't apply to the rest of us. Specifically, if you are going to get caught bringing hashish into this country, it helps to be the son of U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL).

We are talking about Claude Nevin Shelby, the youngest son of the senator, who most recently was in the news for leading a GOP delegation to Russia during the week of July 4. When Claude Shelby was 32 years old, in 1998, he had a serious run-in with the law at Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta. From an Associated Press story, dated July 28, 1998:

The youngest son of Alabama senator Richard Shelby was arrested on drug charges last week at Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, customs officials said Tuesday.

Claude Nevin Shelby, 32, of Tuscaloosa, Ala., was taken into custody last Friday after U.S. Customs Service inspectors using a drug-sniffing dog found 13.8 grams of hashish in his possession, officials said.

Shelby, who had arrived at the airport on a Delta Airline flight from London, was issued a $500 administrative penalty by Customs officers. After paying the fine on the spot, he was turned over to the Clayton County Sheriff's Department for state prosecution.

He was released from the Clayton County jail on Friday, according to a jail official, who would not give his name. He referred questions on possible state charges to Clayton County Sheriff Stanley Tuggle, who was not immediately available.

Hashish
 Sen. Shelby was shocked, absolutely shocked, that his son would be involved in the drug trade -- but not so shocked that he apparently could not pull some strings behind the curtains. From the AP report:

Shelby's father, a Republican who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that he and his family ``are shocked and saddened by the misdemeanor possession charge against my son and I will stand by him through this difficult ordeal.''

``However, I do not condone any violation of the controlled substance act, including marijuana derivatives,'' he said. ``My position on fighting illegal drugs is well known. It continues to be a priority for me regardless of personal circumstances.''

Claude Shelby, a real estate investor, is married and has one child.

Did Claude Shelby face any punishment other than the $500 penalty noted above? Not according to a book titled America's Corrupt War on Drugs: And the People, by Rodney Stich (2013). From the book:

One of Sen. Richard Shelby's constituents, Jerry Lundy, wrote a letter to the senator asking for his help on behalf of Lundy's son, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison on drug charges when the son never had any drugs, never was near any drugs, and sentenced solely on the purchased testimony coerced by DOJ prosecutors. That witness later recanted his testimony and made out an affidavit describing how he was coerced and threatened by DOJ prosecutors to provide the perjured testimony. The father was seeking the senator's help. Sen. Shelby responded with a standard form letter:

"We must take a strong stand against drugs, and I support strict punishment for individuals involved in the possession or distribution of illegal drugs. I believe that our nation's drug problem is serious enough to warrant harsh sentences."

But when it came to his own son, his position took a complete reversal. The senator's son, Claude Shelby, was arrested upon arriving by plane at Atlanta's Hartsfield Airport with 13.8 grams of hashish. Sen. Shelby applied the proper pressure in the right places, and instead of a long prison sentence, the charges were reduced to a simple misdemeanor and ordered to pay a $500 administrative fine. Without the senator's involvement, his son would probably with a prison inmate with a long prison sentence.

Bottom line: Jerry Lundy's son received a 30-year sentence on drug charges that appear to be dubious. Sen. Richard Shelby's son was fined $500, when there seems little or no doubt that he indeed brought hashish into the country (from London) via an airplane. (Question: Since when is it  a misdemeanor to bring 13.8 grams of hashish into the United States?)

Yorktown Commons Apartments
According to an online resume, Claude Shelby manages two apartment complexes near the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa -- Yorktown Commons and Parkview Circle Apartments. He's been a deacon at First Presbyterian Church. He enjoys golf, water skiiing, wakesurfing, and swimming.

Sounds like a pretty nice life for a guy who might well still be in federal prison if his father was not a U.S. senator.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

U.S. Judge Madeline Haikala dismisses FOIA case on Siegelman prosecution, as DOJ is allowed to produce documents so heavily redacted as to be worthless


Joseph and Don Siegelman
A lawsuit seeking information from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) about the prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman has been dismissed. As often is the case with federal-court matters in Alabama, the final ruling is dubious -- in large part, because Judge Madeline Haikala received documents from the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) last spring and sat on the case for roughly 10 months before making a final ruling.

Does Haikala's ruling make sense under the law.? We don't have access to the entire court file, so it's hard to make a determination on that question. But an online summary of the case docket raises troubling questions and suggests powerful conservative forces -- both in Alabama and Washington, D.C. -- are trying to keep the lid on what really happened in a case that has become known as the most notorious political prosecution in American history.

Here is the most disturbing part: OPR turned over documents that "were so heavily redacted they were worthless," a source close to the case says -- and Haikala let the government get away with that. Haikala,an Obama appointee and former attorney with Birmingham's Lightfoot Franklin firm, is the same judge who twisted the facts and law into a pretzel in order to let Madison police officer Eric Parker off on criminal charges after he had body slammed Sureshbhai Patel (a grandfather from India), causing spinal injuries. We reported a four-part series about the myriad ways Haikala butchered the law in the Patel case.

Is there any reason to think Haikala got it right in the Siegelman matter? I don't see any.

The case started when Birmingham attorney Joseph Siegelman (Don's son and currently a candidate for Alabama attorney general) filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking documents about the prosecution that caused his father to spend more than six years in federal prison. Of particular interest were documents related to the supposed recusal of Leura Canary, who was U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama on the Siegelman case -- even though her husband, Bill Canary, had worked for the campaign of Siegelman's chief opponent, Bob Riley.

Madeline Haikala
Joseph Siegelman's lawsuit is the latest in an effort that has gone on for more than a decade, struggling to unlock the truth behind his father's case and meeting OPR stonewall tactics at every turn. This is from a Legal Schnauzer post of April 17, 2017:

The road to seeking government documents has been long and winding in the Siegelman case. It started with a FOIA request in 2006, a FOIA lawsuit in 2009, and years of stonewalling by both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.

Are these documents sensitive? Well, the government has covered them up for 11 years, when both Republicans and Democrats controlled the White House. That has led to the current Joseph Siegelman lawsuit, with OPR supposedly turning over the documents and Haikala supposedly set to act with integrity while reviewing them outside of public view.

At the time those words were written, OPR had just turned over the requested documents for Haikala's in camera review. We now know those documents were so redacted, with information blacked out at every turn, that they provided almost no information about Canary's "recusal" or anything else related to the Don Siegelman prosecution. To justify the redactions, OPR apparently claimed the material was exempt from disclosure under FOIA. Haikala -- surprise, surprise -- sided with OPR, in a ruling that suggests we might as well not have a FOIA law if the government can get away with producing blacked-out documents that reveal nothing.

Here are the final four entries from Joseph Siegelman's FOIA case:

2017-04-10 -- 25 -- NOTICE by Office of Professional Responsibility, United States Department of Justice (Notice of Submission of Ex Parte, In Camera Material) (Bennett, Michelle) (Entered: 04/10/2017)

2018-02-09 -- 26 -- ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE - The Court ORDERS OPR to SHOW CAUSE by February 23, 2018 why the portions of the report identified above are subject to the FOIA exemptions claimed and cannot be segregated and produced, or to produce those portions of the report to the plaintiff. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 2/9/2018. (KEK) (Entered: 02/09/2018)

2018-02-23 -- 27 -- RESPONSE to re 26 Show Cause Order filed by Office of Professional Responsibility, United States Department of Justice. (Bennett, Michelle) (Entered: 02/23/2018)

2018-02-28 -- 28 -- FINAL ORDER - On February 23, 2018, OPR gave notice that it produced the identified non-exempt portions of its report to Mr. Siegelman. (Doc. 27). Because OPR produced the portions that are not protected from disclosure under FOIA exemptions 3, 5, 6, and 7(C), Mr. Siegelman's request for injunctive relief is now moot. Accordingly, this action is DISMISSED AS MOOT. Signed by Judge Madeline Hughes Haikala on 2/28/2018. (KEK) (Entered: 02/28/2018)

Notice that OPR turned over the requested (and heavily redacted) documents for Haikala's review on April 10, 2017, and the case went dormant until February 2018. Then, in a span of 19 days, Haikala issued three orders that disposed of the case -- with no sign she even considered any Siegelman arguments to OPR's claims of exemption -- with a final order dated February 28, 2018.

Does that smell funny to you -- especially when you consider Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions played a major role in launching the Siegelman investigation while serving as U.S. senator from Alabama? It sure smells funny to me, given that Sessions and his allies -- including some "Democrats" -- likely had major influence on Haikala, and her outlook for career advancement.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Drunk-driving Missouri prosecutor Nicholas Jain faces a lawsuit after campaign effort to "talk tough on crime" led to alleged libel of man with dismissed charges


Nicholas Jain
Nicholas Jain, the drunk-driving Missouri prosecutor who spearheaded a bogus "assault of a law enforcement officer" charge against my wife Carol, faces a defamation lawsuit in his home area of Dunklin County (county seat: Kennett).

Jain is running for prosecuting attorney (PA) of Dunklin County and faces a Republican primary on August 7 against incumbent Jeff McCormick. But in his efforts, while campaigning, to attack McCormick and sound "tough on crime," Jain talked his way into a lawsuit. (The complaint is embedded at the end of this post.)

In a June 27 post to his campaign Web site, Jain discussed cases McCormick's office had dismissed. One of those involved a defendant named Kaluem Reid, and Jain suggested something was corrupt about the dismissal of charges against Reid. From Jain's Facebook post:

Prosecutors should be open and responsive to the citizens they serve, and proud of the way they resolve the cases they handle. I will be proud of the way I prosecute cases, and I will want the public to know the end result of those cases. I am committed to seeking the truth as prosecutor, and during this election.

Four weeks ago, after repeatedly hearing questions while campaigning all over the county, I asked current prosecutor, Jeff McCormick, for information on cases that his office dismissed, specifically those that were moved out of this county before being dismissed. He wrote “I will have someone research those items and will get back to you with an estimate of the time and cost to provide the information along with an estimate for copies.” I am still waiting.

While waiting, I found one defendant, Kaleum Reid, whose cases, which included felony drug and weapons charges, were transferred out of Dunklin County and immediately dismissed. The attorney who got these dismissals for Defendant Kaleum Reid was, at that time, also representing prosecuting attorney Jeff McCormick in a civil matter. (Jain apparently is referring here to a 2017 divorce  case involving McCormick.)

Prosecutors must avoid even the appearance of impropriety. Moving cases out of this county and dismissing them accomplishes nothing except keeping the dismissal from being reported in the local newspaper. And, when a prosecutor agrees to do this for an attorney who is actively representing both the defendant and the prosecutor at the same time, it raises even more questions.

This is the same Nicholas Jain, who while serving as an assistant PA in Greene County (Springfield), brought at least two cases without a whiff of probable cause -- the "assault" case against Carol and a DUI case against Charles Hollis Roux. The arrest of Roux was so dubious that Judge Margaret Palmietto suppressed evidence, and Jain appealed, with the Missouri Court of Civil Appeals violating its own precedent to overrule Palmietto. On the second go-around before her, Palmietto took the easy route and convicted Roux, even though her own words showed there was no probable cause for arrest, much less prosecution. (See State v. Charles Hollis Roux, Case No. 1631-CR00195 at case.net.)

As for Carol's case, Jain dropped out of it when he moved to Dunklin County earlier this year, replaced by a brainless twit (with zero respect for the rule of law) named Nicholas Bergeon; Palmietto (the original judge in Carol's matter) stepped down on a recusal motion, replaced by the hideously corrupt Jerry Harmison, who convicted Carol without a shred of fact or law to support it.

This tells us two things about Nicholas Jain:

(1) He's the product of a hopelessly crooked "justice system" in Greene County;

(2) He is such a hypocrite that he brings DUI charges against others, while keeping his own DUI conviction -- for which he served two years of probation -- under wraps.

How did Jain step in doo-doo regarding the Kaleum Reid case? Here is more from Jain's Facebook post:

From what I’ve been able to piece together, over the course of two days in August 2017, the Malden Police Department investigated and submitted three reports to the prosecutor’s office, each of which resulted in felony charges being filed. One case was based on an eyewitness report that Kaleum Reid brandished a weapon in a threatening manner during an altercation, and the prosecutor charged Reid with felony unlawful use of a weapon. Early the next morning, an eyewitness reported seeing Kaleum Reid pointing a gun out of the window of his car then hearing six to seven shots after she ducked down to hide. The victim hid on her living room floor until daylight after the defendant shot into her home. Based on that report, the prosecutor charged Reid with another charge of felony unlawful use of a weapon. Later that same day, police executed a search warrant at Kaleum Reid’s house where they found what preliminary tests indicated to be cocaine. The prosecutor charged Reid with felony possession of a controlled substance.

On August 30, 2017, a private attorney entered his appearance in the two weapons cases. He then entered his appearance in the drug case on September 14, 2017.

On October 12, 2017, Kaleum Reid’s private defense attorney filed a petition in an unrelated civil matter as private attorney for Jeff McCormick.

According to the Delta Dunklin Democrat’s Dunklin County case reports, on October 25, 2017, venue was changed to New Madrid County for all three cases against Kaleum Reid.

Around November 2, 2017, Jeff McCormick dismissed all three cases against his attorney’s other client, Kaleum Reid, previously held on more than $100k in cash bonds on three separate felony charges, was released to return to the streets.

There could be some legitimate reason for these cases to be dismissed, but did that reason not exist the week before when the cases were in Dunklin County? And, why was no special “independent” prosecutor requested when both prosecutor and defendant with three separate felony charges were current clients of the same private attorney?

For some reason, Kaleum Reid took offense to Nicholas Jain trashing his good name over charges that were dropped. Heck, even Jain admitted there might have been legitimate reasons for dismissal, but he bashed Reid anyway -- and Jain never provided any specifics about what would be unethical about Reid and McCormick having the same attorney, one in a criminal case and one in a civil matter.

Jeff McCormick
The attorney in question, Theodore Liszewski of Sikeston, MO, wrote in Reid's complaint that there were, in fact, solid reasons for dismissal -- and they had nothing to do with McCormick. Specifically, a witness refused to participate in court proceedings, and no evidence linked Reid to the alleged offenses. From the complaint:

5. At some time during the calendar year 2017, Plaintiff [Reid] was charged with two counts of unlawful use of a weapon in Dunklin County, Missouri;

6. Plaintiff thereafter retained counsel;

7. Plaintiff’s Counsel, upon being retained by Plaintiff, spoke with Ian Page, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney for Dunklin County, Missouri regarding Plaintiff’s charges and the allegations against Plaintiff;

8. Plaintiff’s defense counsel, nor Plaintiff, spoke to the elected Dunklin County Missouri Prosecuting Attorney about Plaintiff’s case;

9. Ultimately, the State’s charges were dismissed after witness refused to participate in Court proceedings and no evidence linked Plaintiff to the charges alleged.

Reid is suing Jain for false light/invasion of privacy and libel, and Jain could wind up lighter in the pocketbook. Reid is seeking in excess of $25,000 in damages on each count, plus pre-judgment interest and costs. It's hard to determine how high the damages could go, but a six-figure judgment for Reid does not seem out of the question.

You'd think Nicholas Jain -- with a DUI conviction rattling around in his own closet, plus at least two cases he initiated without probable cause -- might be careful about questioning the ethics of others. The Reid complaint alleges that Jain made his Facebook remarks without consulting anyone connected to the dismissed charges -- witnesses, defense counsel, Reid himself.

This is in keeping with Jain's handling of Carol's case. Clearly, no one investigated the case before bringing charges, no one talked with the "victim" officer (Jeremy Lynn) , who admitted he initiated contact with Carol, not the other way around -- meaning, as a matter of law, she was not guilty.

Nicholas Jain has a habit of trashing others in the public square, without doing his due diligence. This time, it might bite him in the ass -- big time.



Federal judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins wrongly claims that violent cops, who act unconstitutionally and with bad faith, are shielded by immunity


Officer Chris Blevins
If Alabama federal judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins had her way, cops could break into your home (without a warrant), beat you up without stating their reason for being there, douse you with pepper spray, and haul you to jail without the whiff of a criminal allegation against you -- and it would all be lawful, as long as they were acting within the boundaries of their employment.

What I described above is a state-sanctioned kidnapping, and of course, it isn't lawful in the United States -- at least, not yet. It also describes exactly what deputies in Shelby County, Alabama, did to me, and it is the heart of our federal lawsuit (we call it the "Jail Case) that is pending before Hopkins in the Northern District of Alabama.

We already have shown that Hopkins unlawfully dismissed portions of the Jail Case on statute-of-limitations grounds. She wrongly dismissed other portions of it on state immunity grounds -- essentially saying the actions I described above are lawful, as long as cops are acting within the lines of their job -- and not, say, breaking into your house while on a drunken weekend bender.

Hopkins' finding is preposterously off target, and we have challenged it with a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment under Rule 59 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (FRCP). In fact, Hopkins ruling is so unlawful that we've had to file two amendments to our Rule 59 motion, just so that we could attempt to address most of the screw-ups. (Hopkins' judgment, and our Rule 59 motion -- plus our two amendments to the motion -- are embedded at the end of this post.)

If all that doesn't work, we will appeal to the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. We also will consider filing a criminal complaint against Hopkins and others who apparently have been involved with cheating us on the Jail Case, including officials with the Alabama State Bar, who clearly have interfered in the matter. It all could wind up in a federal lawsuit under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act -- against Hopkins, opposing lawyers and parties, State Bar officials, and perhaps others.

As you can tell, my wife, Carol, and I consider this a serious matter. We've already been cheated on our "House Case" (involving the theft of our home of 25 years in Birmingham via wrongful foreclosure), and we intend to pursue every possible avenue to get justice in that matter. Hopkins' ruling on immunity in the Jail Case is particularly appalling because the cheat job is so obvious.

On page 25 of her memorandum opinion, under "Count Nine, Assault and Battery," Hopkins admits the statute of limitations under Alabama law is six years, so she can't screw us on that. But she comes up with something else -- the immunity sham.  This is from her memorandum opinion on the issue:

Sheriffs generally enjoy sovereign immunity from suits for damages in their individual capacities for acts they performed in the course and scope of their employment. See Ex parte Davis, 930 So. 2d 497 (Ala., 2005).

Notice Hopkins use of the word "generally" in the passage above. That means sovereign immunity does not always protect deputies, and Hopkins ignores portions of the law that do not fit her agenda -- which is to let cops skate for gross violations of our constitutional rights. From our Rule 59 motion, at No. 23:

How wrong is Hopkins on her finding that the officers are protected by state-agent immunity? A case styled EX PARTE ALABAMA DEPT. OF YOUTH SERVICES, 880 So. 2d 393 (Ala: Supreme Court, 2003) holds: "Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the foregoing statement of the rule, a State agent shall not be immune from civil liability in his or her personal capacity: (1) when the Constitution or laws of the United States, or the Constitution of this State, or laws, rules, or regulations of this State enacted or promulgated for the purpose of regulating the activities of a governmental agency require otherwise; or (2) when the State agent acts willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his or her authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law." The Shulers allege that the officers, at the direction of Curry, acted in bad faith (with malice and fraud) and outside the boundaries of the U.S. Constitution. Therefore, the officers are not protected by state-agent immunity.

In other words, a deputy and a sheriff are not protected by immunity when they violate rights under the U.S. and Alabama constitutions -- or when they act willfully, maliciously, fraudulently, in bad faith, beyond his or her authority, or under a mistaken interpretation of the law.

Immunity is one of the most twisted, confusing, nonsensical areas of the law I have encountered. In Alabama, it's particularly mind-numbing because sheriff's are considered "constitutional officers," and deputies are considered the sheriff's "alter egos" -- and some case law hints that such status gives them absolute immunity to abuse citizens without fear of being held accountable.

Other case law, such as Ex parte Alabama Dept. of Youth Services (cited above) essentially holds that "constitutional officers" might be immune to charges of alleged negligence, but they lose that protection for intentional acts in "bad faith." We've seen signs that law related to state immunity for sheriffs and their deputies is inconsistently written and inconsistently applied in Alabama. But the most recent case we've found from the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, built largely on findings of the Alabama Supreme Court, make clear that Hopkins butchered immunity law in the Jail Case. We will explain further in upcoming posts.

As for Chris Blevins and Jason Valenti, the two officers who beat me up in my own home (and Valenti threatened to break my arms) -- and Sheriff Chris Curry, who apparently directed their activities -- it's clear they acted way outside the constitution and with all of the ill motives noted above.

These concepts -- that state agents, employees, and officers are not immune when they act outside the law, outside their authority, with ill motive, etc. -- go well beyond the Alabama law that Hopkins cites. From our Rule 59 motion:

Hopkins essentially says cops enjoy sovereign immunity to break into someone’s home, beat them up, and unlawfully arrest them without a warrant (and no whiff of a criminal allegation). The officers assert various forms of immunity, including qualified immunity, and that defense fails. Per Jones v. Fransen, et al (11th Cir., 2017), “But the doctrine’s protections do not extend to one who “knew or reasonably should have known that the action he took within his sphere of official responsibility would violate the constitutional rights of the [plaintiff].” Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 815 (1982).

Law from the state, Eleventh Circuit, and U.S. Supreme Court are clear -- cops are not protected by immunity when they unlawfully enter your home, beat you up, douse you with pepper spray, and arrest you without a warrant or any hint of a criminal allegation.

How can a federal judge possibly get this wrong? One answer might be that Virginia Emerson Hopkins and her husband essentially bought a judicial seat by making campaign donations to then Alabama U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions. Hopkins is nothing but a sleazy product of the Shelby/Sessions corruption pipeline, and we will spell that out as our series on this topic continues.


(To be continued)















Monday, July 23, 2018

Voting-machine maker, with remote-access feature, was involved in Alabama's 2002 governor's race -- where Don Siegelman votes disappeared -- and might have made it easier for Russians to hack 2016 race


ESS office in Birmingham
News broke last week that officials with the nation's largest manufacturer of voting software admitted they produced systems in the 2000s that included a remote-access feature. Now we've found evidence that the company, Omaha-based Election Systems and Software (ESS), was involved in the controversial 2002 Alabama governor's race -- the one where incumbent Democrat Don Siegelman was declared the winner, only to have some of his votes disappear overnight due to a supposed "computer glitch," giving the election to Republican Bob Riley.

The ESS story made headlines because of revelations about Russian officials in indictments that Special Counsel Robert Mueller brought recently. But it has profound implications for Alabama, adding to the already considerable evidence that the 2002 election was stolen. For good measure, the company has an office in Birmingham, in the Oxmoor area.

What does a remote-access feature mean for a voting system? It means someone away from the voting site could interfere with the tabulations -- and they likely would get away with it. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) received a letter from ESS officials in April, confirming some of their systems allowed for remote access. It did not take Wyden long to realize that was a bad sign for election security.

The Web site motherboard.vice.com broke the ESS story last Tuesday From the story by reporter Kim Zetter:

The nation's top voting machine maker has admitted in a letter to a federal lawmaker that the company installed remote-access software on election-management systems it sold over a period of six years, raising questions about the security of those systems and the integrity of elections that were conducted with them.

In a letter sent to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) in April and obtained recently by Motherboard, Election Systems and Software acknowledged that it had "provided pcAnywhere remote connection software … to a small number of customers between 2000 and 2006," which was installed on the election-management system ESS sold them. . . .

ESS is the top voting machine maker in the country, a position it held in the years 2000-2006 when it was installing pcAnywhere on its systems. The company's machines were used statewide in a number of states, and at least 60 percent of ballots cast in the US in 2006 were tabulated on ESS election-management systems. It’s not clear why ESS would have only installed the software on the systems of “a small number of customers” and not all customers, unless other customers objected or had state laws preventing this.

How did Wyden react to news about remote-access on ESS systems? With alarm -- and concern about the company's apparent stonewalling. Writes Zettner:

Wyden told Motherboard that installing remote-access software and modems on election equipment “is the worst decision for security short of leaving ballot boxes on a Moscow street corner. . . .

“ESS needs to stop stonewalling and provide a full, honest accounting of equipment that could be vulnerable to remote attacks,” he told Motherboard. “When a corporation that makes half of America’s voting machines refuses to answer the most basic cyber security questions, you have to ask what it is hiding.”

Don Siegelman
 As Wyden's reference to Moscow indicates, the ESS story has international implications, thanks to the Mueller indictments:

Even if ESS and its customers configured their remote connections to ESS in a secure manner, the recent U.S. indictments against Russian state hackers who tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections, show that they targeted companies in the U.S. that make software for the administration of elections. An attacker would only have had to hack ESS and then use its network to slip into a county's election-management system when the two systems made a remote connection.

As for the 2002 Alabama election, ESS's involvement has been a matter of published record for some time. From an article at In These Times, by reporter Bev Harris:

In the Alabama 2002 general election, machines made by Election Systems and Software (ESS) flipped the governor’s race. Six thousand three hundred Baldwin County electronic votes mysteriously disappeared after the polls had closed and everyone had gone home. Democrat Don Siegelman’s victory was handed to Republican Bob Riley, and the recount Siegelman requested was denied. Three months after the election, the vendor shrugged. “Something happened. I don’t have enough intelligence to say exactly what,” said Mark Kelley of ESS.

When I began researching this story in October 2002, the media was reporting that electronic voting machines are fun and speedy, but I looked in vain for articles reporting that they are accurate. I discovered four magic words, “voting machines and glitch,” which, when entered into a search engine, yielded a shocking result: A staggering pile of miscounts was accumulating. These were reported locally but had never been compiled in a single place, so reporters were missing a disturbing pattern.

I published a compendium of 56 documented cases in which voting machines got it wrong.

How do voting-machine makers respond to these reports? With shrugs. They indicate that their miscounts are nothing to be concerned about. One of their favorite phrases is: “It didn’t change the result.”

Except, of course, when it did.

Did a vulnerable system change the result of the Alabama 2002 governor's race? Was Bob Riley ever the legitimate governor of Alabama? Reasonable people have been asking those questions for 15 years or so. The latest reports on ESS provide even more reasons to ask those questions.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

"Luv Guv" Robert Bentley, Alabama's former chief executive, claims his fondling of adviser Rebekah Mason was not inappropriate workplace behavior




Most rational Alabamians probably concluded that former Gov. Robert Bentley was a corrupt, dishonest rube about the time he resigned in April 2017, after pleading guilty to two misdemeanors. If there is any doubt that Bentley is a loon, it should be erased by Bentley's words in a deposition, revealed this week.

What is the surest sign Bentley is so narcissistic and self-righteous that his visions of grandiosity form a disconnect with reality? My No. 1 choice is this: Audio evidence shows that Bentley delighted in massaging the boobs and exploring the nether regions of married senior adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason, but he now says such behavior was not -- I repeat, NOT -- inappropriate.

If you have forgotten the contents of the Bentley audio, we have a transcript here, courtesy of Yellowhammer News. As for the deposition, we invite you to take a gander at these words from Bentley, on pages 176 and 177, and try not to spew. (The full deposition is embedded at the end of this post.) The questioning, from attorney Kenneth Mendelsohn, focuses on Bentley's divorce from his wife of 50 years, Dianne:

Q. Was the relationship between you and Rebekah Mason the reason for the divorce?

MS. MAYS: Object to the form.

A. It was one of the reasons, yes.

Q. And I understand you say that there was no consummation of your love, but Mrs. Bentley did not like the relationship that you had with Mrs. Mason?

MR. SEGALL: Object to the form.

A. No, she did not.

Q. And she believed that as a married man, and certainly a man that had been married for right around 50 years, that having such a relationship with Ms. Mason was inappropriate?

MR. SEGALL: Object to the form.

A. I'm sure that she did.

Q. Do you consider the relationship inappropriate? 
A. No.
Bentley even struggles to admit he owed the people of Alabama an apology. He decides to play the "clueless oaf" card, a role for which he is particularly well suited. From pages 177-178:

Q. And there have been a couple of occasions where you apologized to the people of the state of Alabama. Do you recall those?

A. I do.

Q. What were you apologizing for?

A. The first time I apologized was in a press conference, that was the day that Spencer [Collier] had his press conference; but at that time, I don't know what I was apologizing for, because I didn't know what I was even talking about. I didn't know what was released. You know, I apologized for inappropriate things that I may have said, but at that time I didn't know what those things were. And if I had it to do over again, I probably would not have had a press conference that day. But the second time that I apologized, then all of this had been brought out. I mean, I still didn't know what was on the tapes, I never knew that until they were actually released. So the second time that I apologized, it was up in Huntsville, and I wanted an opportunity to do that, I did do that. I said, "I own these. If it's my voice, I own them. I do not deny it, and I want to apologize to the people of the state and to anybody that was hurt from them."

Good Lord, this guy makes Shallow Hal sound like Alistair Cooke.





Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Donald Watkins says "Luv Guv" Robert Bentley did, in fact, order investigations of Web-based journalists who broke stories on Rebekah Caldwell Mason scandal


"Luv Guv" Bentley and Rebekah Caldwell Mason

Former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, contrary to his sworn deposition testimony, ordered investigations of Web-based journalists, according to a report from attorney, businessman, and Facebook blogger Donald Watkins. In fact, Watkins says Bentley's attacks on him went beyond personal matters to targeting at least one of his businesses.

As we reported yesterday, Bentley admits in his deposition that he met with a cabinet member at least three times about investigating Watkins and me, as the two journalists who reported on the governor's extramarital affair with adviser Rebekah Caldwell Mason (and related scandals) for roughly seven months before the mainstream press rose from its slumber on the story. (A transcript of the deposition is embedded at the end of this post.)

The cabinet member was former Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) secretary Spencer Collier, who brought the wrongful-termination lawsuit for which Bentley was deposed. Bentley acknowledges, under oath, meeting with Collier multiple times to discuss possible investigations of Watkins and me -- apparently on the grounds that accurate journalism was seen as a "threat" to the governor.

Bentley suggests that he never ordered any investigations, but Collier took it upon himself to proceed because the governor felt "threatened." Watkins says in his latest post, published yesterday and updated this morning, that is false. From the Watkins post, titled "Surviving Hatred In Alabama":

Online journalist Roger Alan Shuler published an article [yesterday] reporting that former Alabama governor Robert Bentley ordered the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (“ALEA”) to open a criminal Investigation on Shuler and me for exposing his marital cheating and public corruption scandal with his lover, Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Bentley was also the Chief Magistrate of Alabama when the order was given, but he provided law enforcement officials with no evidence that Shuler or I had engaged in any wrongdoing.

To his credit, then-ALEA Chief Spencer Collier refused to open the criminal investigation Bentley requested. Bentley later fired Collier.

In March 2017, Collier confirmed to me that Governor Bentley requested a criminal investigation that targeted me. Bentley's June 23, 2018 deposition testimony in Collier's wrongful termination case affirms this fact.

Watkins and I are pretty much on the same page, but I read Bentley's deposition testimony a bit differently than does Watkins. I understand Bentley to be stating, under oath, that he did not order an investigation, but he discussed it with Collier, who moved forward of his his own accord. Watkins, as I understand it, essentially says Bentley lied under oath -- and in doing so, Watkins breaks two important pieces of information:

(1) Collier told him more than a year ago that Bentley requested a criminal investigation of Watkins -- and, presumably, of me, too. Collier has stated publicly that Bentley used ALEA as a political tool;

(2) Collier refused to open the criminal investigations that Bentley requested.

As for me, I believe the Watkins/Collier version of events over anything Bentley might say -- under oath or not. Remember this statement from Bentley in a December 2015 interview with al.com's disappearing and discredited Chuck Dean, apparently referencing online reports from Watkins and me. Writes the discredited Dean:

Throughout the ordeal Bentley, reluctant to talk about the deeply personal issue, would only say it was a personal, family matter.

And he never addressed the unfounded rumors of an affair.

Until now.

"The rumors were not true," said Bentley.

The governor then seemed to let out months of pent up frustrations.

"There were people on blogs and people in the press who crossed the line. They truly crossed the line. People on talk radio crossed the line," said Bentley.

Bentley said it's hard as a public official to address the kind of rumors that were being spread and he said he felt to directly address them would only serve in some cases to give them credibility.

Bentley said the rumors hurt many people.

"There were many people - my own family and there were a lot of other families - many people, people that I love, that I care about, they went through some difficult times because people were able to say whatever they wanted to say. They were just ridiculous. I don't know how anyone could ever believe them."

We now know the "rumors" were true -- and Bentley knew they were true at the time he spoke these words. -- with Chuck Dean licking his boots, like Donald Trump bowing before Vladimir Putin. This is a so-called "Christian" governor lying to the public about his own extramarital affair -- and he found a limp-wristed journalist who swallowed every word. (Have we mentioned that Chuck Dean is discredited, and he seemingly has disappeared from the journalism scene?)

Donald Watkins
Three words that could apply to Bentley are "wicked," "loony," and "dishonorable," and the deposition testimony reveals he has learned nothing from his misadventures with the fetching Ms. Mason and her magnificent boobies. In fact, Bentley states under oath that "Home Wrecky Becky" now works at his dermatology practice, with a salary of $5,000 a month.

So, while Bentley continues to prop up the Mason household, he reportedly did his best to ruin one of Donald Watkins' businesses. From the Watkins Facebook post:

Unlike Spencer Collier, John D. Harrison, then-Superintendent of the Alabama State Banking Department, went along with a separate Bentley order to place my Birmingham-based bank and me under heightened regulatory scrutiny. Working in concert with the FDIC, the State Banking Department launched a full-scale, coordinated "Blitzkrieg" investigation of Alamerica Bank and me that has been ongoing for five years. To provide political cover for this illegal regulatory activity, the State Banking Department encouraged the FDIC to take the lead in trying to run me out of the banking business.

As an accommodation to the State Banking Department, the FDIC trumped-up baseless allegations that I violated Regulation O with respect to a loan the bank made to one of my business partners and a loan that was made to one of my sons. Regulation O governs bank loans to executives and directors of the bank. I was chairman of the bank at the time these loans were made, but I had no role in their application process, underwriting, or approval.

In my case, the FDIC has repeatedly refused to recognize that both loans fell squarely within the well-known, published exceptions to Regulation O. This has not been the case with similarly situated bank officers and directors.

Where does the banking matter stand? Well, it's ugly, and provides evidence that Bentley is tied to a probe that is drenched in racism. Writes Watkins:

I formally answered the FDIC’s allegations and denied all of the charges, while asserting my affirmative defenses. My case is in front of an FDIC administrative law judge, but it has been stayed indefinitely.

My case will likely have to start over in light of a June 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declaring the process used by federal agencies like the FDIC and SEC for selecting and assigning administrative law judges to be unconstitutional. I lodged the same objection to the selection of the administrative law judge in my FDIC case.

Based upon what is happening in Washington, the public knows that federal regulatory agencies have become convenient tools for imposing and enforcing political agendas and for administering retribution against targeted individuals. My case is no different.

In fact, the "non-public" agency files in this state/federal regulatory investigation of Alamerica Bank are filled with racially derogatory references to me. What is worse, another Birmingham, Alabama-based federal agency that is involved in a parallel investigation of the same two loans transactions has at least two reputed white supremacists embedded in the agency who are reportedly actively working on my case.. . .

Alamerica Bank is one of only nineteen African-American-owned banks in the United States. Within this group, we are the only one that state and federal regulators are actively trying to collapse (without any success to-date).

For the record, no judicial body has ever found that I have violated any state or federal banking industry rule or regulation.

All of this -- plus Bentley's deposition testimony and his blatantly false statements to Alabama's largest news organization -- raise a number of troubling questions:

(1) Should Bentley be referred for a perjury investigation related to his testimony in the Collier lawsuit?

(2) Did Bentley violate Alabama ethics law by ordering that state resources be used for his personal mission to investigate journalists who had repeatedly broken stories about scandals in his administration?

(3) While a grand jury has cleared Bentley of additional criminal charges in the overall Mason scandal, should he be referred for an ethics investigation related to his apparent orders regarding Watkins and me?

(4) Why would Alabama Republicans overwhelmingly support incumbent attorney general Steve Marshall, a Bentley appointee, in yesterday's primary runoff election? It seems to be widely understood in Alabama that Bentley is fundamentally dishonest and corrupt, and yet, voters support his appointee, whose estranged wife died under mysterious circumstances just a few weeks ago. Does that make a lick of sense?





Trump and Putin might have thought Helsinki summit was private, but intelligence agencies from Finland and Sweden likely reported it in almost real time




Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin might have thought their meeting in Helsinki yesterday was virtually private, but that almost certainly was not the case, reports a D.C.-based investigative reporter. In fact, Wayne Madsen writes that a transcript likely was provided to key western political and military leaders in real time.

An article at the subscription-based Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), dated July 16-17, carried the headline "No note takers at Helsinki summit, but Trump-Putin conversation will be fully wired." How so? Madsen provides the details:


Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin's one-on-one summit in Helsinki, which, like Trump's meeting in Singapore with North Korea's Kim Jong Un, was without advisers and note takers but with only translators, will be fully monitored in real-time with transcription provided almost immediately to select Western political and military leaders.

To ensure that any secret deals made between Trump and Putin or discussions about the U.S. investigation of malfeasance with the 2016 election are fully known to others, Finland's top-secret signals intelligence agency, Viestikoelaitos (VKL), the academic-sounding Signals Experimental Institute, has likely had the summit venue, the Finnish Presidential Palace (Presidentinlinna), located on the Helsinki harbor waterfront and overlooking Market Square wired for audio and video surveillance. Working with the Finnish security and intelligence service, the Suojelupoliisi (SUPO), VKL will have its ears extended on to the Putin-Trump summit. When it comes to Russia, an old enemy, Finland takes nothing for granted, especially when it involves a one-on-one meeting between the leaders of Russia and the United States. This is particularly true when the summit involves an American president whose loyalties to his own country and NATO are under heightened suspicion.

As a former intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy, Madsen has an insider's knowledge of such activities. He reports that Finland is sophisticated when it comes to signal intelligence:

The VKL, a department of the Finnish Air Force, is a third-party provider of signals intelligence (SIGINT) to the FIVE EYES cooperative alliance of the National Security Agency (NSA), Britain's Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE), Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), and New Zealand Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). The FIVE EYES alliance also shares intelligence routinely with Germany, France, and NATO. During the renovation of the Presidential Palace, fully completed in 2015, new high-tech "security" systems should afford eavesdroppers all the surveillance of the Putin-Trump summit that is desired by the Finns.

Finland likely was not alone in following the Trump-Putin proceedings, Madsen reports. He was expecting Sweden to also be involved:

It will not be merely the VKL and SUPO that will have an ear on the Putin-Trump meeting but also the Swedish embassy, which is conveniently located near the Presidential Palace. The Swedish National Defense Radio Establishment or Försvarets radioanstalt (FRA), a Third Party agency for NSA and FIVE EYES, will also be listening in on the summit from its eavesdropping unit located on an upper level of the Swedish embassy in Helsinki. The FRA-run and NSA-equipped unit has been in use since the days of the Cold War.

Finland's President, Sauli Niinisto, will not have to worry about eavesdropping devices listening in on his dinner conversations or "pillow talk." Although the presidential office is located in the palace, Niinisto and Jenni Haukio, Finland's first lady, live at another location in Helsinki, the Mantyniemi official presidential residence.

The central parties to the summit, especially Trump (with his widely expressed disdain for NATO), might be clueless about the spying capabilities of those in the neighborhood. But they are not dealing with a bunch of rubes, reports Madsen:

Messrs. Putin and Trump may believe that their meeting will be strictly one-on-one. Ironically, their conversations will be known, in near real-time fashion and thanks to VKL and FRA, to key members of the Finnish and Swedish governments, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, British Prime Minister Theresa May, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and even Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull -- all recipients of Trump's boorish bluster. In fact, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will only know what was said at the summit by nicely asking leaders like Merkel, May, or Trudeau to be cued in.

Trump believes he knows much more about the world by watching Fox News and reading the National Enquirer. Trump ignores intelligence reports and makes decisions based on his "gut feeling." Soon, Mr. Trump will discover that the Western intelligence agencies will provide his gut with a "feeling" -- a swift kick to the stomach.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

"Luv Guv" Robert Bentley admits in deposition that he talked with law enforcement about investigating me and Donald Watkins for our reporting on scandal


Robert Bentley's mugshot after guilty plea
and resignation.
Former Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley talked with a member of his cabinet about investigating me and attorney/Facebook blogger Donald Watkins, according to a deposition in a pending lawsuit.

The deposition, conducted in June, is part of a wrongful-termination lawsuit that Spencer Collier, former secretary of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA), brought against Bentley and others. (A transcript of the full deposition is embedded at the end of this post.)

I apparently was targeted for investigation because I broke the story here at Legal Schnauzer, on August 31, 2015, about Bentley's extramarital-affair with aide Rebekah Caldwell Mason. Watkins followed up on my reporting, and that apparently prompted an investigation of him. In other words, Bentley and his team retaliated against Web-based journalists for accurately reporting on the "Luv Guv" scandal. In addition, it appears Mike Echols, Bentley's former CPA, was investigated.

The mainstream press largely ignored the scandal for roughly seven months -- and al.com reporters John Archibald and Chuck Dean attacked me for breaking it -- until audiotapes of Bentley and Mason surfaced in March 2016.

Reports of Bentley's team investigating Watkins and me have surfaced in several news outlets, including Alabama Political Reporter (APR), which published a Bill Britt story with the headline "Bentley Ordered Law Enforcement to Target Critics." In the deposition, Bentley admits he discussed such matters with . . . of all people, Spencer Collier. Here is Bentley, from page 207 of the deposition:

Spencer and I talked two or three times about all these things that had transpired, you know, the things that were on blogs and things like this. The thing about Donald Watkins, so much of that had been fed to him by, obviously, somebody, and so he was one of the ones that was putting out some of this material that I felt was somewhat threatening. So Spencer told me -- I remember on three occasions, Spencer said, "Now, Governor, you're not telling me to investigate this, because I don't know how they investigate things," but he said, "I am going to investigate this." He investigated -- I don't know how much they did on Donald Watkins, I don't know what they looked into it on it, I don't know what they used, but he was one of the ones that we talked about. The guy at Legal Schnauzer, whatever his name is, he was one of the others. I also gave Spencer some e-mails from my former accountant that Spencer felt like were extortion. So Spencer investigated some things. I don't know exactly how much was investigated, though.

Legal Schnauzer
Bentley seems to be laying the investigations at Collier's feet -- this was while Collier still was a loyal sergeant, before he, too, was investigated and then terminated. But Bentley's tone changes a bit on page 208 of the deposition, under questioning from Collier's lawyer, Kenneth Mendelsohn. Suddenly, it doesn't seem the investigations were all Collier's idea:

Q. And the things on Donald Watkins, Legal Schnauzer, and Mike Echols are all things that Spencer did on his own?

A. No. We had talked about it, but Spencer said, "If you feel threatened" -- basically, if we feel like that was a threat, if the governor feels threatened, then it's the duty of the law enforcement to do whatever they need to do. I don't know how much investigation was done.

Q. And what Donald Watkins was posting on his blog, or whatever you call it, his Facebook page --

A. Right.

Q. -- was matters concerning your relationship with Rebekah Mason?

A. Primarily, yes.

Q. The same thing with Legal Schnauzer?

A. I guess, yes.

On page 210 of the deposition, we find this, again with questioning from Mendelsohn:

Q. Do you have any information, other than what you just referred to about your conversations with Spencer, that he ever did any background checks on Donald Watkins or Legal Schnauzer?

A. I don't.

MR. MENDELSOHN: That's all I've got now.






Arrest of Russian operative Maria Butina on spying charges points to NRA-related communications that landed in the files of Trump AG Jeff Sessions


Maria Butina
Trump attorney general and former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was "in the loop" on communications that led to yesterday's charges against a Russian woman who stands accused of spying for Moscow by infiltrating the National Rifle Association (NRA) in an effort to influence the Republican Party and American politics. From a report at The Guardian:

Maria Butina, who purported to be a pro-gun activist, met American politicians and candidates to establish “back channels” and secretly reported back to the Kremlin through a high-level Russian official, according to the US justice department.

Prosecutors said in a statement that Butina, 29, had been “developing relationships with US persons and infiltrating organizations having influence in American politics, for the purpose of advancing the interests of the Russian federation”.

Butina was charged with conspiracy to act as a Russian agent within the US without notifying the attorney general. She was arrested on Sunday and appeared before a magistrate in Washington on Monday, officials said. In an affidavit, an FBI agent said investigators had searched Butina’s laptop computer and mobile phone.

According to a Rolling Stone (RS) report earlier this year -- and we reported on it in a post dated April 30, 2018 -- those "U.S. persons" included Jeff Sessions and his former chief of staff Rick Dearborn, who went on to become a member of the Trump transition team. The winding road that led from Butina to Sessions involved Vladimir Putin ally Alexander Torshin and Republican/NRA operative Paul Erickson.

Rolling Stone reported on an email between Erickson and Dearborn and describes Butina as "Torshin's protege."  It says Erickson and Butina had started a business together in South Dakota. From the RS report, which was built on a response from Democrats to a U.S. House Intelligence Committee report on the Trump-Russia scandal:

In particular, the Democrats strongly suggest that Putin ally Alexander Torshin was running an op through the NRA: "The Kremlin-linked individual" – Torshin – "appears to have used the group" – the NRA – "to befriend and establish a back channel to senior Trump campaign associates through their mutual affinity for firearms," the Democrats write, "a strategy consistent with Russian trade craft." (Torshin, a lifetime NRA member, was recently sanctioned by the Treasury Department and can no longer travel to the United States.)

The Democratic report also publishes a full excerpt of an infamous May 2016 email from Paul Erickson to the Trump campaign. (Previously, this email had only been reported in snippets by The New York Times.) Erickson is an NRA- and GOP operative who repeatedly visited a Torshin-backed gun-rights group in Moscow. He later started a mysterious business with Torshin's protege, Maria Butina, in South Dakota.

How close does this get to Jeff Sessions. According to RS, the answer is "real close":

The excerpt is illuminating: Erickson addressed the email – which included a proposed meeting between candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin – to Rick Dearborn, then a top Trump campaign staffer. But the full text suggests Sen. Jeff Sessions was directly in the loop. Erickson wrote: 
"I'm now writing to you and Sen. Sessions in your roles as Trump foreign policy experts/advisors. […] Happenstance and the (sometimes) international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin's Kremlin. Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S. that isn't forthcoming under the current administration. And for reasons that we can discuss in person or on the phone, the Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true re-set in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House."

Where was the excerpt found? In Jeff Sessions' files:

Did Sessions, now the attorney general, receive a copy of this email directly? The report's footnote, sourcing the email, reveals the document came from "Attorney General Jeff Session [sic] Document Production." Rolling Stone asked for clarification from a spokesperson for Ranking Member Adam Schiff; he replied: "We cannot comment."

That this email was found in Sessions' files is a startling revelation. Sessions previously told House investigators that he did not recall the outreach by Erickson, according to The New York Times. And it may provide new context for why Sessions recused himself from the Justice Department's Russia investigation.

The Democratic report also reveals that Dearborn moved Erickson's message up the chain of command – and amplified when and where Putin hoped to meet with candidate Trump. "Dearborn communicated this request on May 17, 2016 to the highest levels of the Trump campaign, including Paul Manafort, Rick Gates and Jared Kushner," the Democrats write.

Here is how we concluded our April post on Butina, Torshin, Erickson, Dearborn, and Sessions:

Russia's outreach efforts did result in a meeting with a Trump representative, and there is little doubt Jeff Sessions knew about it. There also is little doubt that Republicans on the intelligence committee tried to cover it up. Writes Dickinson:

"Torshin hoped to use the 2016 NRA convention to break the ice, and open a personal line of communication to "someone of high rank in the Trump Campaign," the report continues. "As explained in Dearborn's email, such a meeting would provide Torshin an opportunity “to discuss an offer he claims to be carrying from President Putin to meet with DJT." ("DJT" is a reference to Donald J. Trump.) "They would also like DJT to visit Russia for a world summit on the persecution of Christians at which Putin and Trump would meet.'"

Ultimately, Torshin met the future-President's son, Donald Jr., at the NRA convention. The Democrats upbraid the majority for "conveniently" concluding there was "no evidence that the two discussed the presidential election." The Democrats expand: "this relies solely on the voluntary and self-interested testimony of the individual in question . . . Trump Jr." The report adds: "The Majority refused multiple requests by the Minority to interview witnesses central to this line of inquiry, including Torshin, Butina, Erickson, and others."

How ugly could this get for the NRA -- with Jeff Sessions right in the middle of it? From RS:

"The Democrats conclude the NRA section of their report with a litany of questions the GOP majority refused to examine, writing that the GOP majority report "ignores significant outstanding questions about individuals who sought to set up this back channel, including why Torshin and Butina were interested in connecting the Trump campaign to Putin, what they sought to get out of that connection, why they enlisted the support of NRA colleagues, and whether others in the campaign were communicating with Russia through the NRA."

The Democrats also underscore that Republicans took no interest in getting to the bottom of allegations that Russian money illegally boosted Trump's candidacy. "The Majority refused to investigate," Democrats write, "whether Russian-linked intermediaries used the NRA to illegally funnel money to the Trump Campaign, to open lines of communication with or approaches to Trump or his associates, and how those approaches may have informed Russia's active measures campaign as it unfolded throughout 2016."

Butina, who has been in the United States, is the first Russian operative to be arrested in the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election. If she cooperates with investigators or goes to trial, that could present a nightmare scenario for Jeff Sessions and some of his associates.