Monday, December 30, 2019

Pelosi and House Democrats should hold articles of impeachment, and add to them, once White House is forced to produce witnesses and documents


Nancy Pelosi
What should Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats do with two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump? That seems to be the riveting political question of the moment as we head into the New Year. Recent news reports suggest the answer might be -- and we would argue it should be -- this: She should hold them and multiply them.

House Dems apparently are already thinking along those lines, including an extended review of issues related to Russia, based on recent court filings. From a report at The Washington Post:

The House said in court filings Monday that more impeachment charges against President Trump are possible based on the testimony they are seeking from his former White House counsel and grand jury material they want to review from the Russia investigation.

“The Committee is continuing to conduct its inquiry into whether the President committed other impeachable offenses,” attorneys for the House Judiciary Committee wrote. “The Committee’s investigations did not cease with the House’s recent impeachment vote."

That assertion was made in response to an argument from attorneys for the Department of Justice that the impeachment vote has undercut the rationale behind the House’s demands.

“It is far from clear that the Committee . . . will have any further role in the impeachment process at all,” they wrote. “The Committee has referred articles of impeachment to the House; the House has approved those articles; once the articles are transmitted to the Senate, the next steps are for the Senate to determine.”

Where is this heading? The Post provides insight:

The dueling memos came in two separation-of-powers lawsuits pending at the federal appeals court in Washington. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit next week will review the two cases in back-to-back hearings.

In the first case, House Democrats are asking the court to enforce a subpoena for Donald McGahn, who lawmakers have said is the “most important” witness in whether Trump obstructed justice in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The second case involves the House’s effort to gain access to certain secret grand jury material from Mueller’s probe.

Both lawsuits were filed before the formal start of the impeachment proceedings and last week’s House vote, which centered on Trump’s alleged effort to pressure his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a potential 2020 political rival.

Ahead of oral argument, set for Jan. 3, the D.C. Circuit judges asked lawyers for the House and the Justice Department whether their positions had changed following the vote to impeach Trump on Dec. 18. The judges in each case asked “whether the articles of impeachment render this case moot and whether expedited consideration remains necessary.” The lawyers were also asked to address whether lawmakers are seeking McGahn’s testimony and the grand jury evidence in connection to the impeachment inquiry — or to legislative oversight.

Joseph Ellis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, seems to share the Democrats' view. He recently wrote a CNN op-ed titled "Pelosi should block impeachment trial until White House is forced to reveal all":

Let's call it the Pelosi Pause. There are no written rules governing the timetable for delivery of the House decision impeaching Donald Trump to the Senate, only custom. But then there were no written rules governing the timetable for a Senate decision on Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland, only custom. If Speaker Nancy Pelosi follows Senator Mitch McConnell's playbook, Donald Trump will never stand trial in the Senate.

From a Democratic perspective that outcome would be preferable to a show trial, where the conclusion is not just foreordained, but announced beforehand by the Majority Leader after consulting with White House counsel. It's perfect: a rigged trial of a President accused of plotting a rigged election. We can only assume that Senator McConnell will be winking at the camera when he takes the oath of impartiality, "so help me God."

Pelosi need not wink, she only needs to wait. How long? Until November 2020, if necessary. McConnell claims that he has all the leverage because he has the votes in the Senate, and that, not the evidence described in the impeachment report, is all that counts. But it counts for nothing until the Senate receives the impeachment recommendation from the House.

Ellis suggests Pelosi might be holding a stronger hand of cards than does McConnell:

This is what Speaker Pelosi knows, and that could be why she is waiting. One could argue, and presumably pragmatic colleagues may be urging this course, that Pelosi and Senator Schumer should negotiate the best deal they can get and trust that some vestigial residue of bipartisanship still lingers in a few Republican senators, who might force McConnell to conduct a fair trial.

Dream on, Macduff. The Republican performance in the House impeachment proceedings made crystal clear that there is no Republican Party, only the Trump Party, which conducts itself according to Trumpian standards of civility and statesmanship, meaning like trained seals. Trusting in bipartisanship in McConnell's Senate is a surrender strategy.

Ellis has ideas about the course Democrats should follow, and we like his thinking:

Let me propose an alternative course for Pelosi. Apprise McConnell that she will forward the impeachment recommendation as soon as the Supreme Court rules on the three cases currently pending in the lower courts concerning the president's refusal to provide the documents and witnesses requested by the House Intelligence Committee and the tax returns requested by the Ways and Means Committee. The Supreme Court has already agreed to take the latter case. Chief Justice John Roberts can be urged to accelerate the schedule in all three cases, and report the verdicts prior to the customary end of the Supreme Court session in June.

In all three cases, White House lawyers have made the same argument; namely that the President has the constitutional authority to ignore all congressional requests, because he cannot be indicted, convicted, or investigated. In brief, as President he stands above the law. All the lower court rulings thus far have dismissed this argument as frivolous. Perhaps the cases can be bundled and decided by the Supreme Court sooner rather than later.

If the decision follows the precedent set in Nixon v. United States (1974), where the Supreme Court ruled, quite quickly, that Nixon had to release the White House tapes, then witnesses and documents unavailable to the House will become available for a Senate trial. Polls indicate that a majority of Americans prefer a full and fair trial that includes such testimony and evidence. If McConnell refuses to yield to the political process that generates, Pelosi can stand pat until he caves. If never, so be it. It must be a full and fair trial or nothing.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Sackler family behind Purdue Pharma and OxyContin funneled more than $10 billion of corporate funds into overseas trusts and holding companies, in apparent effort to hide assets from opioid litigation




The family behind Purdue Pharma, makers of OxyContin, funneled more than $10 billion in corporate funds to overseas trusts and holding companies as it faced heightened scrutiny for its role in the opioid crisis, according to a New York Times report. Luther Strange, former U.S. senator and Alabama attorney general, might be in the middle of this, considering reports that he is working with the Sackler family to encourage hasty settlements of opioid litigation.

Have the Sacklers been trying to hide their assets from plaintiffs' attorneys, who have filed lawsuits across the country? That seems to be the primary question, according to a report at The Week:

A new audit commissioned by Purdue Pharma found that during a time when more lawsuits were being filed against Purdue in connection with the opioid crisis, the Sackler family withdrew more than $10 billion from the company.

Members of the Sackler family have owned the company since the 1950s. Purdue's signature product, the opioid OxyContin, was approved in 1995, and the audit shows from 1995 to 2007, the company made $1.32 billion in payments to the family. From 2008 to 2017, when the company was under intense scrutiny for its alleged role in the opioid crisis, Purdue made $10.7 billion in payments. The audit shows that some of the money was moved to trusts and overseas holding companies, The New York Times reports.

More than 2,800 lawsuits have been filed against Purdue, and the Sackler family has said it will give at least $3 billion in cash as part of a settlement to resolve some of the suits filed by state and local governments. Purdue is going through a chapter 11 restructuring, and the report was filed in a New York bankruptcy court . . . .  In a statement, New York Attorney General Letitia James said investigators "must see detailed financial records showing how much the Sacklers profited from the nation's deadly opioid epidemic. We need full transparency into their total assets and must know whether they sheltered them in an effort to protect against creditors and victims."

Here are other compelling questions regarding the Sacklers and opioid litigation: Has the family engaged in tax evasion and bankruptcy fraud? How deeply is Luther Strange involved in possible subterfuge? And is an audit that Purdue Pharma commissioned be believed? We do not yet have clear answers to those questions, but we do have insights from an article at U.S. News:

The Sackler family - owners of Purdue Pharma - transferred more than $10 billion in a decade from the OxyContin maker to its trusts and holding companies, the New York Times reported, citing a new audit commissioned by the drugmaker.

The audit, which was prepared by consulting firm Alix Partners, is likely to add further scrutiny on how much the Sackler family should pay to resolve lawsuits that Purdue Pharma face regarding the U.S. opioid epidemic, The New York Times added.

Lawsuits filed by state and local governments allege Purdue and the Sacklers contributed to a public health crisis that has claimed the lives of nearly 400,000 people since 1999 by aggressively marketing opioids while downplaying their addiction and overdose risks.

The audit showed that from 2008 through 2017, Purdue's payouts to the Sackler family totaled $10.7 billion, the report said. The auditors reported that they did not know how much cash distributed to the Sacklers was actually used to pay taxes.

If the Sacklers are trying to pull a con game, it looks like New York AG Letitia James will not be an easy mark:
Purdue reaped up to $13 billion in profits to the Sackler family, the U.S. states said in October, opposing efforts to halt lawsuits alleging the company and its owners helped fuel the epidemic.

"We are committed to holding the Sacklers responsible for the role they played in fueling the opioid crisis and will not stop fighting until we have achieved justice for victims," James said.

The drugmaker had filed for bankruptcy protection in September to pause thousands of lawsuits while it tries to build support for a proposed settlement it estimates is worth $10 billion. 

Monday, December 23, 2019

Alleged secret meeting between Alabama Power executives and U.S. Attorney Jay Town might have ensured North Birmingham bribery trial was rigged


Mark Crosswhite

Hard evidence exists that two Alabama Power executives met with Jay Town, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, at the height of the North Birmingham Superfund bribery scandal, sources tell Legal Schnauzer. It appears, sources say, the meeting was held to determine who would be the fall guy in the summer 2018 federal trial -- and that no one at Alabama Power or Southern Co. would be touched.

The Alabama Power execs in attendance allegedly were CEO Mark Crosswhite and outside counsel Mike Cole. The fall guy wound up being former Drummond Co. executive David Roberson, who was convicted along with former Balch Bingham partner Joel Gilbert. Evidence of a meeting with Jay Town grew from a $75-million lawsuit Roberson brought against Drummond.

Much of this is covered in a year-end post at ban.balch.com. Writes publisher K.B. Forbes:

Is Alabama Power untouchable? What secret deal did Crosswhite allegedly have with the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama, Jay E. Town?

More than that, did Crosswhite indeed have a secret meeting with Town and attorney Mike Cole in a downtown hotel in Birmingham? Is there hard evidence of, or witnesses to, that alleged secret meeting?

Evidence pointing to Alabama Power started surfacing because Gilbert wrote emails to keep power-company higher-ups updated on the Superfund scheme -- and he copied Roberson on those. Writes Forbes:

We learned recently that many of the emails that convicted felon and Balch-made millionaire Joel I. Gilbert wrote giving updates on the bribery/AstroTurf scheme in North Birmingham were sent to Alabama Power executives.

David Roberson, who was convicted of participating in the bribery scheme, was simply cc’d. (See the exhibit from the criminal trial below.)


Where is this story heading? That remains unclear, but it might rock the corporate/legal/political world in Alabama, and as Forbes notes, raises plenty of questions:

So was Balch Bingham’s siamese twin, sister-wife Alabama Power really calling the shots as a major backer of the money laundering entity Alliance for Jobs and the Economy (AJE)?

What would be the motive for Alabama Power to be allegedly involved in this corrupt campaign to suppress poor African-Americans from testing their toxic property and squash the tiny environmental group GASP?

Was Mark A. Crosswhite, the CEO of Alabama Power, and his peers concerned that Alabama Power’s polluting but money-making Miller Steam Plant would be the next target of GASP?

The Superfund bribery trial long has emitted foul odors, largely because it ended with a tiny handful of participants being held accountable, while most seemed to avoid scrutiny altogether. Writes Forbes:

Jay Town
We have never understood why Alabama Power never took the witness stand in the bribery trial during the summer of 2018 even though all the other major contributors to AJE did.
According to a report this April in The Washington Post, “Balch Bingham . . . has insisted that Gilbert, as a partner, acted alone and would not have raised any flags as he deposited $360,000 into the Robinson foundation account because the money went out at a moderate pace over many months. Roberson later said that 21 Balch Bingham attorneys ‘played at least some part’ in the anti-EPA campaign built on (former State Rep. Oliver) Robinson’s efforts."

Why weren’t the other 20 Balch Bingham attorneys investigated?

Then late last year, we learned that Jeffrey Bowers, a Lieutenant with the Columbiana Police Department in Alabama and the son of a retired Alabama Power executive was involved in the alleged “staged arrest” of a competitor of Balch Bingham, Burt Newsome, a sole-practitioner attorney who services and represents banks.

Clearly an apparent abuse under the color of law, why has there not been an active probe?

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Second batch of Mueller memos from BuzzFeed News focuses heavily on Michael Cohen, Hope Hicks and infamous meeting at Trump Tower with Russian


Michael Cohen

Now that Donald Trump has been impeached on two Ukraine-related articles, it's likely many Americans have lost track of the really important scandal, the one involving Russia and the Mueller Report. The latest on that topic came recently with the release of a second batch of investigative memos -- called 302s -- from a BuzzFeed News request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The first release of memos came on Nov. 2 and had an Alabama flavor, showing that former U.S. Sen. and ex-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Donald Trump were part of a conspiracy to obtain stolen Democratic emails.

BuzzFeed News released the second batch of memos on Dec. 2, and a federal judge has ordered the U.S. Department of Justice to release 500 pages of memos each month, with that process likely playing out for roughly eight years. Senior investigative reporter Jason Leopold, who has led the FOIA action for BuzzFeed, says the releases could go well beyond 302s. Writes Leopold:

The 302s are just the beginning. BuzzFeed News is pursuing five separate lawsuits to pry loose all the subpoenas and search warrants that Mueller’s team executed, as well as all emails, memos, letters, talking points, legal opinions, and financial records it generated. In short, we asked for all communications of any kind that passed through the special counsel’s office. We also requested all the documents that would reveal the discussions among Attorney General Bill Barr, former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, and other high-ranking officials about whether to charge Trump with obstruction.

What is in the second batch of memos? Here is a summary from BuzzFeed:

On [Dec. 2], in response to a court order, the Justice Department released the second installment: summaries of FBI interviews spanning hundreds of pages. These summaries, known as “302 reports,” are some of the most important and highly sought-after documents from Mueller’s investigation. They contain numerous redactions, which BuzzFeed News will challenge in our ongoing lawsuit.

The interview summaries released [Dec. 2] include Trump's former personal attorney Michael Cohen, former White House chief of staff John Kelly, former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, former communications director Hope Hicks, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, former political aide Omarosa Manigault, former New Jersey governor Chris Christie and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Here are highlights from key sections of the December release:


Michael Cohen said Trump family lawyers kept him from telling the truth

Cohen told FBI agents about negotiations to build a gleaming Trump Tower in the heart of Moscow, about how much Trump, who was then in the midst of a presidential campaign, knew about the negotiations, and about the false statement that Cohen later made to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees about it all.

Cohen said that during the presidential campaign, he informed Trump that he had a discussion with a “woman from the Kremlin” about the plan to build the tower, according to a Nov. 20, 2018, summary of his interview with FBI agents and prosecutors from Mueller's team.

“Cohen told Trump he spoke with a woman from the Kremlin who had asked specific and great questions about Trump Tower Moscow, and that he wished Trump Organization had assistants that were that good and competent,” the FBI summary says.

He also said that in his letter to Congress about the development, he initially wrote that he had “limited contact with Russian officials.” But that line was struck from the letter. Cohen said he did not know who specifically struck it.


Rick Gates told the FBI that Paul Manafort urged him not to accept a plea deal

In an April 18, 2018 interview with FBI agents and prosecutors from Mueller's team, Gates said Paul Manafort told him in October or November 2017 that the White House would protect both of them and that it would be "stupid to plead" because they would get a "better deal down the road."

"Manafort said something like, 'I talked to Dowd. I've covered you at the White House' and added that a legal defense fund was coming and they were going to 'take care of us.' Manafort told Gates there were two funds out there. The first was called 'Patriot Defense Funds' and it covered White House staff. The other fund would cover anyone outside of the White House and Manafort and Gates would be '#1 and #2 on that list,'" according to a summary of Gates's interview.


Rod Rosenstein was "overcome with emotion" when he discussed Comey's firing

Following Comey’s firing on May 9, Christie told investigators that Trump called him and complained that he was “getting murdered,” presumably in the press, for the firing. Christie asked Trump whether he’d fired Comey because of Rosenstein’s memo, to which Trump replied “yes.” Christie then recommended that Trump “get Rod out there” to defend the decision. Trump said he liked the idea and would call Rosenstein.

On May 10, Rosenstein called Mueller — already thinking about appointing a special counsel. Rosenstein had learned from an FBI briefing that Trump was not a suspect and said he appointed Mueller due to how the public would react to the firing.

Rosenstein told the FBI that days before Mueller was appointed special counsel he was considered to replace Comey as FBI director. Mueller shared ideas about "what should be done with the FBI," which Sessions thought was "brilliant." Mueller interviewed for the FBI director's job on May 16 and met with Trump at the White, "but later decided to withdraw from consideration," Rosenstein told the FBI.

The next day, Mueller was appointed as special counsel. This previously undisclosed detail contradicts assertions by Trump that Mueller had applied for and was denied the job as FBI director.


Hope Hicks said Trump was “angry, surprised, and frustrated” when Mueller was appointed

Hicks, one of Trump's closest aides and former White House communications director, told investigators that Trump was “angry, surprised, and frustrated” when Rosenstein appointed Mueller as special counsel overseeing the Russia investigation in May 2017.

Hicks then mentioned Sessions, who had recused himself from the probe, followed by a short redacted section, but then she added: “The only other time she had seen Trump like that was when the Access Hollywood tape came out during the campaign.”


Hope Hicks told the FBI she was “shocked” by emails about the Trump Tower meeting

Hicks told federal investigators that she was “shocked” by emails between Donald Trump Jr. and others who attended a controversial meeting at Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering damaging information on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. Hicks, the former White House communications director, told the FBI that in June 2017, one year after the meeting took place, she reviewed emails about it and “thought they looked really bad,” according to an interview summary obtained by BuzzFeed News in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.

Senior Trump campaign officials attended the June 2016 meeting after being promised incriminating information on Clinton and after being told that it was part of the Russian government’s support of Trump. Emails released in July 2017 by Trump Jr. revealed that he responded enthusiastically to the offer before setting up the meeting, which became a focal point for both former special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional investigators probing Russian election interference.

In a June 2017 meeting at the White House, Hicks, the president, Ivanka Trump, and Jared Kushner discussed the Trump Tower meeting. “Kushner had a manila folder with documents with him and said to the President that they had found one thing that the President should know about, but it was not a big deal,” Hicks told the FBI.

Kushner then explained that he and other campaign officials had attended the meeting, “and started to open the folder when the President stopped him and said he did not want to know about it.” Hicks “speculated” that the envelope contained the emails she would later review, the interview summary says.

Representatives for Kushner and Trump Jr. didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Kushner’s claim that the meeting was “not a big deal” echoes the frequent argument from Trump, his family, and his allies that the Trump Tower meeting was fruitless and focused on the issue of American adoptions of Russian children. But the documents released Monday to BuzzFeed News further reveal serious concerns within the White House about the meeting, as well as how those in Trump’s orbit wanted to handle the eventual release of the emails.

A note from BuzzFeed News: We want your help! If you see something in these memos, email reporter Jason Leopold at jason.leopold@buzzfeed.com or reach us securely at tips.buzzfeed.com.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Committee to Protect Journalists 2019 survey shows no U.S. reporter has been incarcerated since my arrest in 2013, putting Alabama in company with Iran, Iraq, Uganda, Russia, Egypt, and other rogue states


My mugshot from the Shelby County Jail in Alabama.


The decade of the 2010s is coming to a close, and in that time frame, only one U.S. journalist has been incarcerated. Who is it? You are reading him right now. In roughly the past 14 years, only one U.S. journalist has been arrested for what a journalism Web site calls a "censorship violation" (by a court). Again, you are reading him.

I've tended to describe my five-month incarceration in Shelby County, AL, beginning on Oct. 23, 2013, as an "arrest for blogging." But I like the term "censorship violation" better because it plainly states that specially assigned Circuit Judge Claud Neilson acted outside the law in ordering my arrest, and Homewood lawyer Rob Riley and his "colleague" (lobbyist Liberty Duke) acted outside the law in seeking my arrest -- based on a preliminary injunction that even a creepy, vexatious fruit loop like Ken "Popehat" White recognized as wildly unconstitutional.

In December 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released a list of imprisoned reporters around the globe and gave me the distinction of being the only journalist in the Western Hemisphere to be jailed. CPJ recently released its 2019 survey, and it confirms one point about my arrest of which I've been uncertain: I am, in fact, the last U.S. journalist to be incarcerated. Since my release in March 2014, no other American reporter has been arrested on our shores.

How do I know that? For the first time, the 2019 CPJ survey includes a database of all journalists who have been arrested from 1992 through 2018. It shows that no American journalist has been arrested since that calm fall evening in 2013 when Shelby County deputy Chris Blevins broke into the basement/garage portion of our home -- without showing a warrant, stating he had a warrant, or even stating that a warrant existed -- shoved me to a concrete floor three times, doused me with pepper spray, and dragged me out of my home, where his partner, Jason Valenti, threatened to break my arms as I lay on my own driveway, numb and disoriented from the pepper spray.

From CPJ's 2019 survey, by Elana Beiser and titled "China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt are world's worst jailers of journalists":

The number of journalists imprisoned globally for their work in 2019 remained near record highs, as China tightened its iron grip on the press and Turkey, having stamped out virtually all independent reporting, released journalists awaiting trial or appeal. Authoritarianism, instability, and protests in the Middle East led to a rise in the number of journalists locked up in the region -- particularly in Saudi Arabia, which is now on par with Egypt as the third worst jailer worldwide.

In its annual global survey, the Committee to Protect Journalists found at least 250 journalists in jail in relation to their work, compared with an adjusted 255 a year earlier. The highest number of journalists imprisoned in any year since CPJ began keeping track is 273 in 2016. After China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, the worst jailers are Eritrea, Vietnam, and Iran.

While the majority of journalists imprisoned worldwide face anti-state charges, in line with recent years, the number charged with “false news” rose to 30 compared with 28 last year. Use of the charge, which the government of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi applies most prolifically, has climbed steeply since 2012, when CPJ found only one journalist worldwide facing the allegation. In the past year, repressive countries including Russia and Singapore have enacted laws criminalizing the publication of “fake news.”

This year’s census marks the first time in four years that Turkey has not been the world’s worst jailer, but the reduced number of prisoners does not signal an improved situation for the Turkish media. Rather, the fall to 47 journalists in jail from 68 last year reflects the successful efforts by the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan to stamp out independent reporting and criticism by closing down more than 100 news outlets and lodging terror-related charges against many of their staff. With the industry gutted by government shutdowns and takeovers, and scores of journalists in exile, jobless, or cowed into self-censorship, authorities on October 24 enacted a legislative package that granted new appeals on convictions for certain offenses -- including “propaganda for a terrorist organization,” a favorite charge of prosecutors -- and shortened some pretrial detention periods.

Want to see my place on the list? Here's how I did it:

* Click on the database link;

* Go to the drop-down box under "Show" and click "Imprisoned";

* Use the drop-down box under "Years" to select "2006 to 2019." (Note: I started with 2006 because that's the year San Franciso-based videographer Joshua Wolf was arrested after taking video of a protest, where a court later determined a crime might have taken place and ordered Wolf to turn over his video as possible evidence. Wolf refused and was arrested. Such judicial orders related to possible crimes are lawful in the United States.)

* That search turns up 1,176 journalists. The list is alphabetized by first name, and Wolf appears on page 26, and the charge against him is listed as "retaliatory."

* I turn up on page 46, with a charge of "censorship violation." You can click on my name and find this summary of case:

Shuler, whose blog Legal Schnauzer specializes in allegations of corruption and scandal in Republican circles in Alabama, was arrested on contempt of court charges for failure to comply with an October 1, 2013, preliminary injunction prohibiting him from publishing certain stories on his blog.

The charges stem from a defamation suit brought by prominent local attorney Robert Riley, Jr., son of a two-term former Alabama governor and a rumored future political candidate himself. The suit is related to Shuler's blog posts in July 2013 that claimed Riley had an extramarital affair and offered details.

Riley vehemently denies the allegations. In an interview with CPJ, Riley said he has a right to seek injunctive relief in a defamation case and there is legal precedent for doing so. He said someone who decides "to make up a lie, destroy someone's reputation, that's not journalism."

As the case was pending, the Circuit Court of Shelby County issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction prohibiting Shuler from publishing more about the alleged affair. When Shuler continued to publish stories about Riley on his blog, the lawyer filed a petition asking that the blogger be held in contempt. He was arrested weeks later.

Leading press freedom and civil rights groups said the injunction contradicted decades of First Amendment jurisprudence and did so in complete secrecy, as all records in the case were initially sealed by the court. The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press wrote: "Neither a default judgment nor a full adjudication on the merits of the defamation claims appears to have occurred. ... Courts have determined that bans on speech prior to such determinations are prior restraints. The Supreme Court has found prior restraints to be presumptively unconstitutional and has never upheld one."

On November 12, 2013, the judge in the case filed a permanent injunction against Shuler and said he would unseal the court documents. It was not clear whether the permanent injunction pertained only to past defamatory content, such as a takedown order, or applied to future speech. In a footnote in the ruling, the judge said Shuler would remain imprisoned until he complied with the order to remove the statements. Carol Shuler wrote on Legal Schnauzer that her husband said in court that he could not remove the content from a jail cell.

Here is a little exercise I would encourage readers to try. Once you get to page 46 of the CPJ database, where my name appears, check out the origins of other journalists who appear on that page. They come from places such as Iran, Cuba, Uganda, Bangladesh, Congo, Iraq, Russia, Egypt, and Turkey. Shelby County, Alabama -- in terms of constitutional freedoms -- keeps some pretty disreputable company, and it suggests "The Heart of Dixie" has become a backwater and a police state, probably driven largely by former U.S. Senator and ex-Trump attorney general Jeff Sessions and his associates, who include racist Trump adviser Stephen Miller.

How will this situation change if Trump is "re-elected" in 2020? It almost certainly will not get better.

Below is a video about the CPJ's 2019 report:




Monday, December 16, 2019

Ex-Drummond Co. executive David Roberson turned down immunity deal for testimony that would have pointed to bribery involving Luther Strange, Bradley Byrne, Martha Roby, Mo Brooks, and more


David Roberson and family

A former Drummond Co. executive rejected an immunity deal in the North Birmingham Superfund scandal that would have provided testimony pointing toward several heavyweight Alabama political figures as the recipients of bribes, according to a report at banbalch.com.

David Roberson wound up being convicted in the summer 2018 trial, serving as the unwilling fall guy for Drummond. He has filed a $75-million lawsuit, essentially alleging his former employer hung him out to dry.

Front and center in the bribery scheme was former Alabama attorney general and ex-U.S. Senator Luther Strange, along with much of the state's Congressional delegation. From banbalch.com and publisher K.B. Forbes:

One of the most startling facts we learned this year was how convicted ex-Drummond executive David Roberson declined a full immunity deal before the criminal trial.

In July, we wrote about this tsunami:

"In the North Birmingham Bribery Case, Dave Roberson was offered an immunity deal if he had testified against Balch and Bingham, according to insiders. Why didn’t he testify? Why didn’t he take the deal?

"We now recently learned that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Alabama offered the deal in exchange for specific testimony about how Drummond Company allegedly knew that the campaign contributions for politicians to sign ghost-letters written by convicted Balch-made millionaire Joel I. Gilbert were flat out bribes."

Several heavy-weight politicians were allegedly involved in the pay-to-play scheme.

Roberson refused to testify out of loyalty to Drummond and assurances that Drummond had his back.

Roberson's decision to trust Drummond did not pan out; now, he and his family are in a dire situation:

Now that Roberson has lost his gainful employment, home, personal possessions, health insurance, and now on the brink of bankruptcy, Drummond Company stubbornly refuses to resolve the $75 million lawsuit.

Low class? Classless? or Blatant foolishness?

Even if Roberson’s criminal conviction is tossed, and he is vindicated, his life has been shattered as the “Fall Guy” for a bigger scheme, a disgraceful scheme.

How disgraceful was the scheme? Forbes provides details, much of them involving Luther Strange. The source documents are available here:

Ex-U.S. Senator Luther Strange, Balch Bingham’s biggest stooge…involved himself in the North Birmingham EPA matter even though Strange had no authority to do so. At the time, the Governor had delegated the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to handle all issues related to the North Birmingham EPA matter.

* On October 13, 2014, convicted felon and Balch-made millionaire Joel I. Gilbert sent Luther Strange, then the Alabama Attorney General, a draft letter about the North Birmingham EPA matter.

* Four days later, on October 17, Strange accepted a $25,000 contribution from Drummond Company.

* Six days later after the money was deposited, Strange signed the ghost-written letter and dispatched it on his official letterhead to the EPA on October 23, 2014.

Strange hardly was alone in acting like a glorified whore. Here is more from banbalch.com. Source documents are available here: 

The vast majority of the U.S. Congressional delegation from Alabama….[even] though none of these members of congress represent the North Birmingham area, jointly signed a letter to the EPA, allegedly provoked, too, by Balch.

* On October 30, 2014, a ghost-written letter drafted by Balch Bingham and signed by six members of the U.S. House of Representatives in Alabama was dispatched. That same day, Congressman Robert Aderholt reported receiving $5,000 from Alabama Power, according to FEC filings.

* A week before, Drummond Company gave Congressman Bradley Byrne $5,000 on October 22, while forking out another $5,000 to Congressman Mike Rogers on October 24.

* Balch Bingham sweetened the money trail by tossing $2,000 to Congressman Aderholt on October 28, 2014.

* At various times in October, Congressman Mo Brooks received $2,000 total from Balch Bingham, $2,500 from Drummond, and $5,000 from Alabama Power.

* Congresswoman Martha Roby reported a $4,000 contribution from Alabama Power on election day, November 4, 2014—five days after the letter was mailed out.

Over $30,000 was used to grease the wheels.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

In a stunning moment of candor, Shelby County officer Howard Brogdon admits the written law and the way the law is enforced can be two entirely different things


Mike McGarity

"Let me be candid, Mr. Shuler. There is a way the law is written and a way the law is enforced."

 -- Lt. Howard Brogdon, Shelby County (AL) Sheriff's Department


Howard Brogdon probably did not mean to be quite as bluntly honest as the quote above sounds, in discussing the realities of the legal system in Shelby County, Alabama. When I asked him about the felony assault our criminally inclined neighbor, Mike McGarity, committed against me, Brogdon essentially said (three times) that the written law doesn't mean squat in his jurisdiction -- that cops, prosecutors, lawyers, and judges enforce the law however they want to, even if it's wildly contrary to the written law.

Brogdon's statement absolutely squares with my experience in Shelby County. But I never expected to hear a member of the sheriff's department admit the system operates in brazenly unlawful ways. Let's examine portions of my conversation with Lt. Brogdon. (A video, with the full conversation, is embedded at the end of this post.):

Howard Brogdon (HB): With the facts presented to the magistrate, it's their decision, not ours. If the magistrate turned you down for a felony, the only thing I could suggest would be for you to request the DA take it to the grand jury. But they very rarely take a misdemeanor to the grand jury.

Roger Shuler (RS): Deputy Stockman took the report, and he said it was his decision to make it third degree, and everybody up the line just keeps it at third degree.

I don't want to sign a misdemeanor complaint when it's not third degree. The only element of that, which involves use of a dangerous instrument, involves criminal negligence, and [McGarity] was not negligent. It's either second or first. It's not like he was swinging the sign and just happened to hit me.

HB: Let me be candid, Mr. Shuler. There is a way the law is written and a way the law is enforced. . . . The DA gets these rulings from the appellate courts and reduces them down to the magistrate level. Appellate courts have ruled on the code as it's written, and now it's practiced that way.

Brogdon deserves high marks for honesty. I never dreamed I would hear someone in the Shelby County "justice" system speak so frankly about how the "law" really is practiced in what can only be described as a judicial hellhole:

LB: I'm telling you the written word is not the holding case here. . . .

You're talking to the wrong people. Law enforcement doesn't handle the case law. The way to proceed is request it to be put on the grand jury. If they deny you, you're done. In our opinion, it was a misdemeanor, and to the magistrate, their opinion was the same.

There are all kinds of different renditions of the law the way its written. It comes down to the way it's worked in the jurisdiction where you live. We put our opinion on a report, and if the magistrate doesn't change it, it's up to the DA to change it. Talking case law with me isn't going to help you.

That's two more times -- for a total of three -- where Brogdon admits the written law means little or nothing in Shelby County Courthouses. It's possible he feels helpless to straighten out a system he knows is crooked. Let's consider some of the profound stuff an Alabama law-enforcement officer has admitted in a stunningly candid moment:

(1) The written law means nothing in many cases -- criminal and civil -- suggesting it's possible for a case to be completed without anyone ever bothering to read the actual law;

(2) Determinations about criminal cases often are made based on opinion -- a kind of "folk lore" that develops within a jurisdiction -- and is unlikely to change;

(3) The patrol cop, who might have struggled to complete a high school diploma, makes determinations on an incident report about how an offense is classified -- and it's unlikely that will change as the case moves to the level of magistrate, district attorney, and judge.

(4) Patrol cops make such determinations, even though it's not their business to deal with case law, and they often don't know how statutes or case law actually read.

My conversation with Lt. Brogdon ended with this sobering thought:

RS: The fellow who assaulted me has an extensive criminal record already. As a citizen, I'm starting to think, "Am I going to have to wind up with a hole in my chest, bleeding and dead basically, before anyone takes this seriously?"

(To be continued)



(Previously in the series)


* Dep. Lee Stockman starts the runaround on Alabama assault law -- 11/18/25



* Sgt. Jayme Moore keeps the runaround wheels spinning -- 11/26/19



Wednesday, December 11, 2019

By sweeping aside the Russia scandal and Mueller report, Democrats are in the process of blowing it on their efforts to impeach President Donald Trump


Democrats announce articles of impeachment 

House Democrats yesterday produced two articles of impeachment -- one for abuse of power and one for obstruction of Congress -- against President Donald Trump. In so doing, Democrats focused solely on issues related to Ukraine, with no article based on Russian election interference and the Mueller report. In essence, impeachment will focus on the alleged misconduct of President Trump, while ignoring the much more expansive and serious misconduct of Candidate Trump.

Is it a mistake to give Trump a pass on the Russia scandal? A number of commentators already are crying, "Yes" -- and we agree with them. We also suspect this is the first major sign that Americans will have to endure four more years of a Trump White House. Whether the country can survive that is anyone's guess, but our suggestion is, "Brace yourself."

A Salon article by Andrew O'Hehir, dated 12/6/19 (last Friday) seemed to presage yesterday's events, with the headline "Are Democrats Blowing Trump's Impeachment?" Writes O'Hehir:

[Last] Thursday’s announcement by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Democrats are ready to vote articles of impeachment against President Trump — presumably on the narrowest possible terms, after a constrained and foreshortened process — is hardly surprising. It is, however, disheartening. Why they would even consider moving to a floor vote on impeachment without doing whatever is necessary to compel testimony from John Bolton, who is now a private citizen and has always been a blast-hardened neocon Republican, and who is clearly eager to roast Donald Trump’s gizzard on a fork and then eat it, is profoundly baffling. 
Or maybe, sadly, it isn’t. So far, this spectacle confirms my sense that the Democratic Party is strikingly ill-prepared for the historical role it ought to play in this moment of small-d democratic crisis. Driven as usual by fear, excessive caution and a morbid fascination with identifying the middle of the middle of the political middle (and then veering slightly to its right), the Democrats are entirely likely to screw things up, whether morally or tactically or politically or all at once.

O'Hehir, in fact, suggests Democrats already have botched it by settling into a "back to normal" political stance that has placed Joe Biden as a frontrunner who quite possibly could lose to even an impeached Trump in 2020:

Actually, the Democrats have already screwed it up. Let’s be clear that the Republican defense of Trump is completely incoherent, because there is no defense for his actions. But on a generic or abstract level, Republicans have floated halfway-valid concerns about the process of the impeachment inquiry and the motivations behind it — which Democrats have done little to dispel.

Republicans claim that Democrats have been itching for a pretext to impeach Trump since before he took office, and finally landed on one. That’s at least partly true, although the Angry White People Party is too consumed by paranoid delusions to understand the ways in which it is both true and untrue, and how those reflect the deep and wide schism within the Democrats over how to respond to the Trump era. Sure, Rashida Tlaib got elected in Detroit vowing to “impeach the motherf***er,” but a whole lot of other Democrats got elected while not talking about that at all, and explicitly or otherwise espousing the “back to normal” politics that have made Joe Biden the 2020 frontrunner all year long.

In case you haven’t been keeping score, there is no “normal” to go back to, history never flows backward and that whole approach is a dangerous delusion, as we will all learn the hard way soon enough. Biden would be a disastrous nominee and a terrible president, which is not to say there’s an obvious alternative who inspires immense confidence. But for our present purposes all that is a side issue, even if it’s also a yawning abyss beneath our feet.

Susan Hennessey, executive editor of the Lawfare blog and general counsel of the Lawfare Institute, argued in a piece published Monday (12/9/19) that Democrats should present articles of impeachment that have some breadth and are not too narrow. The headline: "The One Episode From the Mueller Report That Democrats Must Include in Impeachment."Writes Hennessey:

It would be a huge mistake not to include an article related to Mueller. It would be a mistake substantively and a mistake strategically. And the House Judiciary Committee’s recent hearings on impeachment show why.

The argument here is not that the House should include any and every plausible article based on conduct described in Mueller’s report. To the contrary, it would be unwise to be so overbroad. But there is a single, specific article of impeachment that should be included: one describing how the president of the United States obstructed justice by directing White House Counsel Don McGahn to create a false internal record denying that the president had instructed him to have Robert Mueller fired as special counsel.

For those who might be foggy on the details regarding McGahn, Hennessey provides a primer:

It’s worth briefly recapping the facts on this episode, as recounted in the Mueller report. In June 2017, following press reports that the special counsel was investigating Trump personally, the president ordered McGahn to have Mueller fired. McGahn prepared to resign rather than carry out the order, but he was persuaded to remain. Months later, in January 2018, the New York Times reported that the prior June Trump had directed McGahn to have Mueller fired. The president sought to have McGahn publicly deny this story, but McGahn refused to do so because the story was accurate in significant part. Approximately one week after the initial Times story, Trump told White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter to direct McGahn to create a record “for our files” denying the story and saying McGahn had never been told to fire Mueller. Trump suggested to Porter that if McGahn refused to write such a letter, Trump might fire McGahn. Porter communicated Trump’s request to McGahn, and McGahn refused to create such a record, reiterating that the story was true and that in June 2017 the president had, in fact, told him to have Mueller fired. Finally, the president directly pressured McGahn, in an Oval Office meeting, to refute the story and McGahn again refused. 
Susan Hennessey
Mueller determined that McGahn’s account of events was credible and that the weight of evidence supports an inference that Trump’s pressure on McGahn was not about countering a news report but, rather, was an effort to “deflect or prevent further scrutiny of [Trump’s] conduct towards the investigation.” Running through the three elements of statutes criminalizing obstruction of justice—an obstructive act, nexus to an investigative proceeding and corrupt intent—Mueller found that evidence supports the conclusion that the president’s conduct met all three. And critically, Mueller determined that there are no available constitutional defenses for the president here. Whatever the scope of Article II, it does not extend to directing the White House counsel to falsify records.


Numerous other Mueller-related articles could be included, but Hennessey explains why the McGahn episode cannot be swept aside:

While there are other compelling examples, the McGahn episode is the single strongest episode of obstruction of justice in the entire Mueller report. The facts of what occurred are established by clear evidence and are supported by both documentary records and the testimony of multiple White House officials. It is also an example of obstruction that is unambiguous on the law—it presents a clear criminal violation.

And that’s exactly why the Democrats would be nuts not to include this episode as an article of impeachment.

We know now that Democrats did not follow Hennessey's advice, and we suspect they -- and the country -- will pay a huge price.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Jesse G. Phinney, former cameraman on "The Apprentice," faced pedophilia charges in the Philippines and wound up dead in a jail cell, meeting the same fate as former Trump chum Jeffrey Epstein


Donald Trump on "The Apprentice"

Jeffrey Epstein is not the only Donald Trump associate to face charges of being a pedophile and winding up dead in a jail cell. Epstein is not even the first associate to face such charges and meet such a fate, according to a report from a D.C.-based investigative journalist.

Jesse G. Phinney, a cameraman on Trump's The Apprentice television show, was found dead in a jail cell roughly 18 months before Epstein was found under similar circumstances, reports Wayne Madsen. From a recent post on Phinney's death at the Wayne Madsen Report (WMR), which is subscription only:

A year-and-a-half before the jail cell hanging of alleged child sex trafficker, convicted child sex offender, and one-time close Donald Trump friend Jeffrey Epstein at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Manhattan, another Trump associate accused of pedophilia was found hanging in his jail cell in the Philippines.

Jesse G. Phinney, a cameraman for Trump's "The Apprentice" reality television show, was discovered on December 5, 2017, hanging by his belt in his jail cell in Cebu in the Philippines. Phinney, who lived and worked in Los Angeles, had been arrested by officers of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Phinney was arrested after he was identified by Cebu province Vice Governor Agnes Magpale that Phinney was suspected of violating the Anti-Trafficking of Persons Act and the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act.

How seedy does the Phinney story get? Very:

After a raid on Phinney's apartment in Talisay City, the NBI discovered an 8-year old was present in the residence at the time of the police action. WMR's sources in the Philippines report an additional three underage girls, the oldest 12, were also residing in Phinney's apartment.

Jesse Phinney
Police discovered high-end camera equipment and production lighting in Phinney's apartment. Also found were children's clothing, including bikinis, and toys. The 8-year old girl was turned over to the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

If you have followed the Epstein story, see if this sounds familiar:

Phinney, 42, was found hanging by his belt in his cell. Friends of Phinney contended that Phinney never wire a belt. A U.S. pathologist hired by Phinney's family in Boston found that Phinney's death appeared not to be from asphyxiation from hanging but from blunt-force trauma indicative of a beating death. It should be noted that Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, who routinely carries out extrajudicial executions in the country, is a favorite of Donald Trump.

Phinney's possible murder mirrors that of Epstein, who was found hanging in his cell on August 10, 2019, while two guards failed to conduct mandatory 30-minute checks on Epstein, who had been placed on a suicide watch in the jail's Special Housing Unit. The MCC guard station was located a mere 15 feet from the guard station. The two guards have been criminally charged by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York with conspiracy and falsifying records. No reasonable explanation has been made about the unusual visit to the MCC by Attorney General William Barr after Epstein was reportedly physically assaulted by another inmate. Barr's father, Donald Barr, was involved in the decision to hire Epstein to teach teens at the Dalton School in Manhattan in the mid-1970s. Donald Barr was the school's headmaster from 1964 to 1974. Epstein was hired in 1974. 
The NBI began their surveillance on Phinney in December 2016. Affidavits were sworn by a mother and girl that Phinney had young girls sleep overnight at his apartment, took photographs of them, and gave them presents. Police discovered photos of children from throughout Southeast Asia and Central America. Phinney was a frequent traveler to both regions that are heavily favored as sex tourism locations by pedophiles.

Phinney's death is a story where politics, media, entertainment, and law enforcement intersect -- and those, to a great extent, are the worlds that produced Donald Trump:

Local press reported that the U.S. embassy in Manila had shown an interest in Phinney's death. Phinney had announced his retirement from TV work in Los Angeles and said he was planning on settling in Cebu. A second autopsy showed that Phinney's head showed a hemorrhage and there were bruises on his back, none of which were consistent with suicide by hanging. A Paris-based firm, Insiders Corp, began conducting a pro bono investigation of Phinney's arrest and death. Insiders Corp maintains an office in the Philippines and Boston and its founder, Julien Serres, is a former correspondent for Le Figaro and the Canal+ television network in Asia. Epstein was returning from Paris to the United States on his Gulfstream jet when he was arrested at an airport in New Jersey. French authorities have been criticized for dragging their feet on investigating Epstein's operations in France. Epstein maintained residences in Paris, Biarritz, and Nice.

Phinney was also a cinematographer for the reality TV show "Keeping Up with the Kardashians." Trump is close to both Kim Kardashian, who is an executive producer for the show, and her husband, rapper Kanye West.

Perhaps it boils down to this question: Do we have a murderer in the White House -- and does the president use public resources to wipe out individuals who are perceived to have dirt on him?

Monday, December 9, 2019

Birmingham's Balch Bingham law firm, with its ties to racist activities and political figures, adds eight new lawyers to its roster -- and all of them are white


Balch Bingham's all-white new hires
(From banbalch.com)

Birmingham's Balch Bingham law firm recently announced the hiring of eight new associates -- and all of them are white, according to a report at banbalch.com. The firm's leadership seems to have a tin ear, given its widely reported ties to racist U.S. Senate candidate (and former Trump attorney general) Jeff Sessions and the North Birmingham Bribery Scandal, which essentially was a scheme to keep corporate polluters from being held accountable for poisoning a heavily black neighborhood.

Balch is located in the heart of a city that is more than 70 percent black, but it seems fine with presenting a lily-white face to he public. Four of the new white hires will work in Birmingham, with the other four set to work at firm satellites in Jackson, MS; Gulfport, MS; and Atlanta, GA. From a report at banbalch, headed by publisher K.B. Forbes:

Demonstrating again that Balch Bingham’s leadership in Birmingham is oblivious to their own alleged institutional racism, the embattled firm recently announced the hiring of eight new associates throughout its footprint, including four in Birmingham.

All of the new associates are white.

Coming on the heels of a $19.5 million verdict loss in Miami, Balch’s attempts to rehabilitate their image appear to have sputtered.

Last spring, the firm let go of their only female African-American attorney in the Birmingham office, Kimberly Bell.

Bell was one of the lead attorneys representing Balch in the Newsome Conspiracy Case.

Bell was a member of the Birmingham Bar Association’s Diversity and Inclusivity Committee, according to Balch’s 2016 Diversity Report.

A Balch press release, dated 11/19/19, provides a rundown of the new, all-white hires.

What about a big-picture view of Balch's hiring practices. That comes from a banbalch post in May 2019:

Of the 203 profiled attorneys, partner, and staff on Balch’s website we reviewed… only three were African-American women, while two additional attorneys were African-American men.

All five African-Americans attorneys, partners, or Of Counsel appear to each be in a different regional office (Atlanta, Birmingham, Gulfport, Jackson, and Montgomery).
When you add the new additional attorney in Augusta, less than 2.5% of Balch and Bingham’s attorneys, partners, and top staff is African-American, according to a review of Balch’s website.

Yet, Balch’s footprint shows a different story according to U.S.Census figures:


* Atlanta is 54% African-American.

* Augusta is 54% African-American.

* Birmingham is 73% African-American.

* Gulfport is 36% African-American.

* Jackson, MS is 79% African-American.

* Jacksonville, FL is 30% African-American.

* Montgomery is 56% African-American.

* Vidalia, GA is 40% African-American.

* Washington,DC is 50% African-American.


Institutional racism is real.

Besides all of the alleged unsavory, unethical and foolish behavior engulfing the once prestigious firm, the lack of diversity appears to be another black-eye that could potentially cause more clients to flee.

It has been reported for years that Jeff Sessions is a racist -- and recent reports indicate he has a habit of surrounding himself with racists, such as current Trump adviser Stephen Miller. With Sessions is running to reclaim his U.S. Senate race in 2020, is Balch trying to earn favor with the "evil elf" by adding to its already overwhelmingly white roster of attorneys?

Thursday, December 5, 2019

AG William Barr hints that cop critics should not receive police protection, suggesting thugs with badges should be free to wreak havoc in communities





U.S. Attorney General William Barr said earlier this week that if some communities do not start showing more respect for cops, they might not get police protection. (See video above.)

Barr made the remarks while presenting the Third Annual Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in Policing. Are Barr's comments pure nonsense? We would say yes, given that he seems to be suggesting that citizens whose taxpayer dollars fund law enforcement might not receive protection if they fail to bow sufficiently to cops. Barr also seems to ignore widely reported incidents of cops trafficking in violence against citizens, rather than offering protection. Finally, Barr's remarks are wildly out of line with the Schnauzer household's experiences with officers, which we have reported on frequently here at the blog -- and we happen to be white liberals who have been attacked by cop thugs while living in two bright red states, Alabama and Missouri -- even though it is clear black Americans receive the brunt of police misconduct.

Before I started reporting on political and legal corruption in Alabama -- much of it tied to statewide political figures, such as Jeff Sessions, Luther Strange, Bob Riley, Rob Riley, Bill Pryor, and Doug Jones -- my wife, Carol, and I had sparkling clean records and never had experienced a significant encounter with cops. Now, we both have been physically beaten by cops and spent time in jails -- me in Alabama (for five months); Carol in Missouri (for a few hours, with her time reduced because she needed a trip to a hospital for treatment of a broken arm, courtesy of cops.)

How goofy are Barr's remarks? Well, he somehow managed to compare the experiences of today's cops with those of military troops returning home from Vietnam. A report from NBC News provides details:

During a ceremony to honor police officers, Barr said crowds applaud departing troops and show their approval for individual service members in airports, but police get no cheers when they roll out of the precinct and get no ticker-tape parades when they come home.

In the Vietnam era, he said, the troops who served in that conflict bore the brunt of people opposed to the war.

"The respect and gratitude owed them was not given, and it took decades for the American people to realize that," Barr said. It's good to see troops today getting the proper recognition, he added.

"But I think today the American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers. And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves. And if communities don't give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need."

Civil-rights groups were quick to take issue with Barr, as NBC News reports:

"Support and respect are earned, not given as the result of a demand from those who carry badges and guns," said Jeffrey Robinson of the ACLU. "Attorney General Barr is telling communities across the country to bow their heads in respect to police even if those same police are violating their rights and killing people without justification."

Vanita Gupta, who headed the Civil Rights Division under President Barack Obama, said, "The idea that the attorney general of the United States, the nation’s chief law enforcement officer, is recommending abandoning communities as retribution for pushing for police reform or criticizing policing practices, is profoundly dangerous and irresponsible."

Carol and I disagree with Vanita Gupta's assessment. If cops were to abandon our neighborhood, we would applaud their exit. Neither of us ever has suffered significant harm at the hands of a so-called street criminal. Cops, on the other hand, have broken into our homes twice and beaten both of us -- leaving Carol with an arm that needed about eight hours of trauma surgery for repair. We have yet to see cops make a community problem better. Multiple times, we've seen them make problems worse. Here are a few "highlights" from out experiences with cops:

* When Mike McGarity, our criminally inclined neighbor, started repeatedly trespassing on our property (along with his kids and guests), we first tried having a rational conversation with McGarity, letting him know that the trespassers from his property were not welcome on ours. When that proved fruitless, I contacted an attorney who sent written warning, and we eventually called the Shelby County Sheriff's office. We asked the officer if he would visit McGarity and explain the law to him, since we weren't able to make him understand. "We don't do that," officer Michael Greene said. "We just write reports."

* In 2013, after I reported on Rob Riley's relationship with lobbyist Liberty Duke, plus Judge Bill Pryor's ties to 1980s and '90s gay pornography, Alabama deputies started swarming our property, with officer Chris Blevins eventually breaking into our home -- without showing a warrant, indicating he had a warrant, or stating his purpose for being there. -- beating me up, dousing me with pepper spray, and  hauling me for a five-month stay in jail. At the time, I was the first U.S. journalist to be incarcerated since 2006, and the only one in the western hemisphere to be jailed in 2013.

* In September 2015, Missouri deputies conducted an unlawful eviction at our duplex apartment, pointing an assault rifle at my head and slamming Carol so brutally to the ground, and yanking on her arms with such force, that they induced a comminuted fracture of her left arm -- the kind of injury that normally is seen in car crashes or other forms of intense trauma.

* Alabama cops brought a bogus resisting-arrest charge against me, and Missouri cops brought a false assault charge against Carol -- claiming she assaulted one of them, instead of the other way around. Those incidents led to court proceedings, where we watched cops lie repeatedly under oath, with at least one clear instance of perjury.

As for William Barr, it's not fully clear what he meant with his recent remarks. From HuffPost:

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for clarification on who specifically Barr was referring to when he mentioned “communities” and what he meant by people finding themselves without police protection.

But American Bridge, a liberal super PAC that first flagged the comments, said the attorney general was referring to communities of color that have historically had a contentious relationship with law enforcement due to police brutality, mass incarceration and racial profiling.

“The Attorney General isn’t being subtle and that shouldn’t surprise us considering this administration’s record,” American Bridge spokesperson Jeb Fain told HuffPost in a statement. “When it comes to communities of color, he sees justice and equal protection under the law as subject to conditions.

“Barr’s words are as revealing as they are disturbing ― flagrantly dismissive of the rights of Americans of color, disrespectful to countless law enforcement officers who work hard to serve their communities, and full of a continuing disregard for the rule of law.”

Would Barr have much concern for our experiences with cops? Probably not, based on the HuffPost report:

The attorney general has proved before that he does not support the more humane criminal justice reform that’s coming to states, counties and local jurisdictions across the country. Since taking over as attorney general in February, Barr has maintained the “tough on crime” approach that President Donald Trump has adopted.

In August, Barr told the Fraternal Order of Police ― the country’s largest police organization ― that there should be “zero tolerance for resisting police.” The attorney general gave an emotionally charged speech going after local prosecutors he accused of making police officers’ jobs more difficult because of their more progressive approaches to criminal cases.

“There is another development that is demoralizing to law enforcement and dangerous to public safety,” Barr said in his August speech. “That is the emergence in some of our large cities of district attorneys that style themselves as ‘social justice’ reformers, who spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook and refusing to enforce the law.”

Barr is also behind the Justice Department’s push to reinstate the federal death penalty, something that hasn’t been put to use since 2003. The attorney general scheduled five executions for this month and the next, though a district judge ordered a preliminary injunction while some of the people Barr wants to put to death legally challenge his workaround for reinstating capital punishment at the federal level. The injunction was upheld this week by a federal appeals court. The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to make a ruling.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Alabama U.S. Senate candidates Doug Jones and Tommy Tuberville provide strong hints that they aren't cut out to serve if one were to prevail in 2020 election


William Barr and George H.W. Bush in the Iran-Contra era

Two 2020 candidates for a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama have made recent statements that indicate they lack the intellectual heft to handle the job. And one of them already holds the job.

We are talking first about Democrat Doug Jones, who currently occupies the seat and said, if given a "do-over," he would not vote to confirm Donald Trump nominee William Barr as attorney general. Then came GOP candidate Tommy Tuberville, best known for his years as head football coach at Auburn University, claiming Barr's predecessor, Jeff Sessions, "had a chance to support the president and blew it."

Tommy Tuberville
Political figures make a lot of dumb statements, but I'm not sure I've ever seen two of them, within days of each other, make comments as dumb as these.

Let's tackle Jones' statement first. This is from al.com's report on the senator's comments about the Barr confirmation:

Sen. Doug Jones would switch his vote and not confirm Attorney General Bill Barr if he got a shot at a do-over, he said Wednesday.

In a response to a Twitter user, who described themselves as a Jones voter both in 2017 and in the upcoming 2020 election, Alabama’s Democratic junior senator said he would vote against Barr’s confirmation “with the benefit of hindsight.”

When he announced his intention to vote to confirm Barr on Feb. 7, Jones said: “I have concluded that Mr. Barr is qualified for the position of Attorney General and his record strongly suggests he will exercise independent judgment and uphold the best interests of the Department of Justice.”

While Jones said he had concerns about Barr’s views on executive power, the then-nominee’s statements during his confirmation hearing and personal assurances to Jones himself -- including stating that "no one, including the president of the United States, is above the law -- assuaged the senator’s concerns.

Why would Jones need "the benefit of hindsight" to reject Barr when he had the chance. Barr's reputation as a political hack and fixer, dating to his days as AG under President George H.W. Bush during the Iran-Contra Scandal, have been well-known for years -- and received wide coverage at the time Trump nominated him. Consider this NPR report from January 2019:

This won't be the first time that William Barr, President Trump's nominee to become attorney general, will be involved with what's been called a "witch hunt."

Barr, who is scheduled to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday for his confirmation hearings, ran the Justice Department once before, under President George H.W. Bush.

Back then, the all-consuming, years-long scandal was called Iran-Contra. On Dec. 24, 1992, it ended when Bush pardoned six people who had been caught up in it.

"The Constitution is quite clear on the powers of the president and sometimes the president has to make a very difficult call," Bush said then. "That's what I've done."

Then-Attorney General Barr supported the president's decision in the Iran-Contra case, which gave clemency to people who had been officials in the administration of President Ronald Reagan, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. He had been set to go on trial to face charges about lying to Congress.

To the man who led the Iran-Contra investigation, however, the pardons represented a miscarriage of justice.

"It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office, deliberately abusing the public trust without consequences," said Lawrence Walsh, the independent prosecutor in the case, at the time of the pardons.

Barr said later that he believed Bush had made the right decision and that he felt people in the case had been treated unfairly.

Doug Jones was unaware of this information when he voted to confirm William Barr? Or what about this information from a report at Common Dreams, which referred to Barr as the "Cover-Up General":

Back in 1992, the last time Bill Barr was U.S. attorney general, iconic New York Times writer William Safire referred to him as “Coverup-General Barr” because of his role in burying evidence of then-President George H.W. Bush’s involvement in “Iraqgate” and “Iron-Contra.”

General Barr has struck again—this time, in similar fashion, burying Mueller’s report and cherry-picking fragments of sentences from it to justify Trump’s behavior. In his letter, he notes that Robert Mueller “leaves it to the attorney general to decide whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.”

As attorney general, Barr—without showing us even a single complete sentence from the Mueller report—decided there are no crimes here. Just keep moving along.

Barr’s history of doing just this sort of thing to help Republican presidents in legal crises explains why Trump brought him back in to head the Justice Department.

Christmas day of 1992, the New York Times featured a screaming all-caps headline across the top of its front page: Attorney General Bill Barr had covered up evidence of crimes by Reagan and Bush in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Earlier that week of Christmas, 1992, George H.W. Bush was on his way out of office. Bill Clinton had won the White House the month before, and in a few weeks would be sworn in as president.

But Bush’s biggest concern wasn’t that he’d have to leave the White House to retire back to Connecticut, Maine, or Texas (where he had homes) but, rather, that he may end up embroiled even deeper in Iran-Contra and that his colleagues may face time in a federal prison after he left office.

Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh was closing in fast on him, and Bush’s private records, subpoenaed by the independent counsel’s office, were the key to it all.

That's about 27 years of history that managed to elude Doug Jones' attention? Amazing.

What about Tuberville's gaffe? Let's consider this report from Alabama Political Reporter:

Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville on Saturday criticized Jeff Sessions’ work as U.S. attorney general.

Tuberville spoke with the Alabama Political Reporter before Saturday’s Iron Bowl in Auburn.

“He had his chance to support the president as attorney general, and he blew it,” Tuberville said.

Sessions has praised President Donald Trump and vowed to support the president’s policies if he returns to the U.S. Senate, but the president has been very critical of Sessions’ efforts as attorney general, particularly his decision to recuse himself from the Russia collusion investigation.

Sessions recused himself from the probe after it became public knowledge that he had met twice with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign and did not disclose that to the Senate during his confirmation hearings. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then became the acting attorney general on Russian collusion probe, and he made the decision to appoint former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel.

Trump blamed Sessions for the Mueller investigation . . . , [and] the president has gone so far as to call his appointment of Sessions as attorney general “my biggest mistake” as president.

How nutty is Tuberville's claim that Sessions "blew" his opportunity to support Trump? Legal scholars have pointed out for years that the AG's role is not to support the president. Yes, the AG is a political appointee, but he is to serve as the nation's chief law-enforcement official, independent of the White House.

If Tuberville were to land in the Senate, he could be faced with voting to confirm, or not confirm, an AG nominee. It's important that he know what the job is supposed to entail.

As regular readers know, I'm hardly prone to supporting Jeff Sessions. His brand of Southern-fried politics -- based in his own racist instincts and a tendency to surround himself with racists -- is abhorrent and detestable. But he had no choice but to recuse from the Russia probe, and it's one of the few honorable and legally correct actions I can recall him taking.

That Tommy Tuberville does not seem to understand that indicates he lacks the intellectual foundation to serve in the U.S. Senate -- but, then, again, the same could be said of Doug Jones, and he already serves in the Senate.