Tag Archives: DOJ

What to My Wondering Eyes Did Appear …

You likely recognize my slight modification of the iconic line from the poem, The Night Before Christmas, a/k/a, A Visit From St. Nicholas. It came instantly and unbidden to mind upon reading today’s Washington Post report entitled, Justice Department, FBI debate not charging some of the Capitol rioters. https://wapo.st/2KGv2hM

No, I am not making this up. The story was written by two highly accomplished reporters: Devlin Barrett and Spencer Hsu. As astounding and gut-wrenching as the story is, I take it for true.

The prosecutors’ discussions are assertedly based on a number of key ideas:

  1. About 800 people (+/- 100) entered the Capitol unlawfully; bringing so many cases could overload the local court;

Objection: The message from such nonsense is: “if you’re going to be part of an illegal mob action, be sure it’s a big one.” Is that really the message the FBI/DOJ want to send here?

  1. Some insurrectionists may only be guilty of “unlawful entry,” not having engaged in “violent, threatening or destructive behavior” – they merely went along with the crowd;

Objection: The perpetrators were not mere bystanders to a large-scale criminal event. They were active participants. “I just went along with the crowd that killed people and stole property” has never been a defense; why now? How do you discourage such conduct in the future if you decide to look the other way for most of the people involved?

  1. “The primary objective for authorities is to determine which individuals, if any, planned, orchestrated or directed the violence” – people who “planned and carried out violence aimed at the government” may face charges of seditious conspiracy, carrying a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison;

Hint for FBI/DOJ: good; go big with the charges for the planners; by the way, there is substantial provable evidence that the individual who orchestrated the violence was the president, Donald J Trump. Indict him.

  1. “…investigators are still gathering evidence, and agents could easily turn up additional photos or online postings that show a person they initially believed was harmless had, in fact, encouraged or engaged in other crimes.”

Another Hint for FBI/DOJ: What?? Harmless??? It is impossible to conclude rationally that any person who entered the Capitol with the mob on Jan. 6 was “harmless.” The harm began with the attack on the defending police force and continued unabated for hours. Those who entered knew they weren’t supposed to be there, saw the violence directed at the small police contingent in place to defend the Capitol and, based on extensive video, did nothing to try to stop the entry/violence that was perpetrated by the mob of which they were a part, even if they did not all directly engage in violence against the police, the building or its contents. Sacking the Capitol cannot be harmless.

  1. Some people may have done nothing but enter, look around and leave. If the only charge is unlawful entry, prosecutors might lose some cases. The exact quote in the story was: ““If an old man says all he did was walk in and no one tried to stop him, and he walked out and no one tried to stop him, and that’s all we know about what he did, that’s a case we may not win,”

Objection: So what? Irrelevant. Prosecutors are seriously concerning themselves with the remote possibility that a handful of the invaders said “whoopsie, this has gotten out of hand; think I’ll just wander on outside and watch the fun from there?” Every prosecutor, every trial lawyer, has lost some cases. It’s not a shame; happens to the best of them once in a while. Losing should be the last thing FBI/DOJ are concerned about here.

  6.  Most of the arrestees have no prior criminal records;

Objection: Utterly irrelevant; for every criminal, there is a first time. A first-time murderer is no less a murderer because he’s not murdered before. If this has any bearing, it’s at sentencing, but surely is not a factor in deciding whether to prosecute. Surely.

  1. “…defense lawyers … are contemplating something akin to a “Trump defense” — that the president or other authority figures gave them permission or invited them to commit an otherwise illegal act.”

Yet Another Hint to FBI/DOJ: this “defense” gets a good grade for clever and bold, but it’s wrong and thus no cigar. This is the point at which I seriously consider screaming obscenities. The president lacked authority to give anyone legally effective permission to force their way into the Capitol to interfere with the scheduled work of Congress. Being delusional may get you a reduced sentence, maybe, but it cannot and should not insulate you from self-evidently unlawful conduct. Believing the unbelievable (the election was stolen –Trump said so) is no excuse.

  1. In a remarkable double/triple entendre, or something, the argument is noted that Trump’s impending impeachment trial will “raise questions about the culpability of followers for the misinformation spread by leaders around bogus election-fraud claims rejected by courts and state voting officials.” Further,

It’s not a like a bunch of people gathered on their own and decided to do this, it’s not like a mob. It’s people who were asked to come by the president, encouraged to come by the president, and encouraged to do what they did by the president and a number of others,” said one attorney representing defendants charged in the breach who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss legal strategy.”

Objection: – this is the “I was too stupid to know how stupid I was…” defense. Or the “my president made me do it” defense. It speaks for itself, which is what lawyers say when they don’t know what to say. Defense lawyers may try this, which is their right, but this is not the basis for prosecutorial deference. If anything, it should inspire more aggression on the part of prosecutors.

  1. “For rioters with no previous criminal records or convictions and whose known behavior inside the Capitol was not violent or destructive, the government could enter into deferred plea agreements, a diversion program akin to pretrial probation in which prosecutors agree to drop charges if a defendant commits no offenses over a certain time period.”

Another Note: the article says this tactic “has been used before in some cases involving individuals with a history of mental illness who were arrested for jumping the White House fence. Criminal defense attorneys note there may be further distinctions between individuals who may have witnessed illegal activity or otherwise had reason to know they were entering a restricted area, and those for whom prosecutors can’t show such awareness.”

Objection: This is just a variant of “I didn’t know breaking into the Capitol with a raging, screaming mob breaking windows and attacking police was illegal.” It is, I suggest, preposterous even for Trump true-believers. It’s like the “Martians made me do it” defense deeply felt perhaps but just plain wrong. We cannot have a society in which people get away with crimes because they say they’re too ignorant to know what is right and wrong. Plead insanity if you think you can establish it, but this, again, is not a ground for prosecutors to lay off.

I close this part of the post with this final quote from the story:

“There is absolute resolve from the Department of Justice to hold all who intentionally engaged in criminal acts at the Capitol accountable,” Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi said in an email. “We have consistently made clear that we will follow the facts and evidence and charge individuals accordingly. We remain confident that the U.S. District Court for Washington, DC can appropriately handle the docket related to any resulting charges.”

We must certainly hope that Mr. Raimondi’s declaration is correct. This may be the most appalling story I have read about the justice system — ever.

I cannot get my mind around the idea that (1) the president of the United States calls a mob of supporters to Washington and, along with some family members and attorneys, urges the crowd to “walk down to the Capitol” (lying about his intention to join them), (2) for the avowed purpose of preventing final Congressional certification of the presidential election the president clearly lost AND (3) the people who follow his suggestion take the walk (over a mile, plenty of time to think about what they’re doing), (4) assault the Capitol police, (5)  join the mob forcing its way into the building through smashed windows/doors, (6) are present during multiple melees throughout the building including attacks on police, and (7) are allowed to simply walk out without impediment — are being considered for leniency by prosecutors.

Have we lost our collective minds? Is this the lingering product of Trump’s undermining of the Department of Justice? Let these people walk and they will just go home, laughing all the way. What happened to respect for law, never mind “law and order?” This was an insurrection against the government of the United States. People died. A police officer attacked by the mob died. Why aren’t “felony murder” charges appropriate (participation in the commission of a felony, where a death occurs during that felony, even if the defendant wasn’t the one who killed the victim)? Why isn’t felony murder being discussed? What is going on here?

Trump Goes Full Dictator

The president has been asked multiple times if he will respect the result of the vote and participate in the peaceful transfer of power that has been a hallmark of American democracy since the Founding. His chilling responses are, in essence, “only if I win,” just as he said before the 2016 election. In that election he made much of claims that the election was being “rigged” by Democrats against him. Little was known at that time about the support he was getting from Russia which wanted Trump to defeat Hillary Clinton at all costs. Of course, a significant majority of voters went for Clinton anyway. Trump’s squeak-by win was the product of a few votes in a few states favored by the Electoral College.

This time, Trump has gone all-in with his “election rigging” claims, focusing mainly on the on-going shift toward mail-in voting compelled by the COVID-19 pandemic crisis that the president himself has admitted he deliberately downplayed the danger and misled the public despite his early knowledge of how deadly and easily transmitted the virus was. Details in Bob Woodward’s Rage. Trump claims that mail-in voting, in which ballots are sent to all registered voters rather than the traditional absentee method that send ballots only to voters who ask for them, are inherently infected with fraud.

These assertions have no basis in history. Multiple states, including Republican-led states, have long used mail-in voting without material evidence of voter fraud. Paul Begala’s recent book, You’re Fired, The Perfect Guide to Beating Donald Trump, shares some compelling data on this subject. He reminds us of the Pence-Kobach voter fraud commission, ponderously named by Trump as the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Kobach was the lead horse in the Trump wagon train seeking evidence that voter fraud was rampant in the United States.

During its roughly seven-month life, the Commission came up with … nothing of substance. The pathetic history of this effort at voter suppression, inspired by Trump’s hurt feelings over having lost the popular vote in 2016, are set out at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presidential_Advisory_Commission_on_Election_Integrity, including the finding by a federal magistrate that Kobach had engaged in “patently misleading representations” in a court dispute over document access.

Begala reports that the Bush administration had also tried to unearth voter fraud. Then Attorney General Ashcroft investigated hundreds of campaigns involving 197 million votes and prosecuted 26 people. In a study of 14 years of elections (1 billion votes), the Washington Post found 31 cases of actual or plausible voter fraud. For the 2016 election, a WAPO investigation revealed 4 published reports of fraud in an election with 135 million votes. Sidebar: one of those cases was someone who voted twice for … Donald Trump.

Begala observes that voter fraud involves a very small gain for the fraud-favored candidate (one incremental vote) whereas the perpetrator faces the prospect of federal prison. If you think that’s fanciful, recall Crystal Mason who cast a provisional ballot, which was never counted, in Texas while on federal supervised release following a prison term for tax fraud. She was sentenced to five years – five years – in prison for an uncounted vote when she had never been told of her disqualification under Texas law. https://bit.ly/3mVm4eI

Never deterred by facts, Trump and his enablers have been stoking the fears of massive voter fraud and other problems for months. As reported by Politico,

This past spring, President Donald Trump began a full-fledged assault on voting by mail, tweeting, retweeting and railing about massive fraud and rigged elections with scant evidence. Then the Republican apparatus got to work backing up the president. In the weeks since, Trump’s campaign and the Republican National Committee have taken to the courts dozens of times as part of a $20 million effort to challenge voting rules, including filing their own lawsuits in several battleground states, including Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Nevada. And around the time Trump started musing about delaying the election last week, aides and outside advisers began scrambling to ponder possible executive actions he could take to curb mail-in voting — everything from directing the postal service to not deliver certain ballots to stopping local officials from counting them after Election Day. https://politi.co/33ZERNl

The more recent developments are pretty well known, including the efforts of Trump’s Postmaster General, a man with zero experience managing the Postal Service, to slow down mail deliveries, removing automated mail-sorting machines, altering delivery schedules to force mail to be undelivered or delayed, and so on. This is classic voter suppression by other means in the face of a national health crisis that has, due in large part to the president’s lying, killed more than 200,000 Americans and left tens of thousands more with permanent, crippling organ damage.

We are now in the final two months run-up to Election Day. Trump is desperate. He is behind in almost every poll, including many  battleground/swing states and his lies/distortions/deflections have not moved the needle in his favor.

Then the question is put: will you respect the vote and participate in a peaceful transfer of power? His answer remains, in effect, NO.

Does he mean it? We would be foolish to think it’s just a ploy on his part, part of Trump’s bag of braggadocio that so excites his political base at rallies. When you ask someone, “what do you do?” and he answers, “I’m a thief,” you should believe him.

Trump’s campaign to undermine the legitimacy of the election is unrelenting, supported by Russia again, and like an elixir for his base. However, many of Trump’s key enablers, like Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are falling behind their Democratic opponents and pleading for help from Fox Propaganda News viewers.

Remember Trump’s answer: ‘NO, I will not respect the election result because I know, in advance with the use of my mystical powers to see the future, that it will be unfair to me and I won’t stand for it.’ There are suggestions that he will order the U.S. military and state National Guard units to the polls, for the sole purpose of intimidating voters. His supporters in open-carry states have already appeared at some protests related to the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor armed with AR-15s and other weapons. They call themselves militias, but they are actually armed gangs who will not hesitate to participate in voter suppression in support of Trump’s white supremacy agenda.

Lastly, and most recently, in a now common apparent effort to bolster Trump’s claims of voter fraud working against him, the Justice Department announced it was investigating nine “discarded military ballots” that were cast for Trump in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. https://cnn.it/2FZzo1a

The announcement is extraordinary in multiple respects: DOJ does not normally announce pending investigations absent compelling circumstances, especially if they may influence an election. That is true notwithstanding the astounding, history-changing decision by James Comey, then Director of the FBI, to announce a reopened email investigation of Hillary Clinton only days before the 2016 election. That decision, in which Comey overrode the advice of virtually everyone else at Justice, is recounted in Jeffrey Toobin’s True Crimes and Misdemeanors.

The initial announcement regarding the Pennsylvania ballots was wrong regarding how many votes were for Trump and had to be reissued. As noted by CNN, the disclosure of the candidate’s identity

immediately raised suspicions that the Justice Department was trying to furnish material that Trump could promote for political gain. Indeed, Trump and other White House aides used the information, even before it was made public, to attack mail-in voting. Election officials go to extraordinary lengths to protect ballot secrecy. It’s unclear how investigators figured out who the votes were for, and why they made that information public.

Not surprisingly, the federal inquiry was prompted by a request from the Republican District Attorney in Luzerne County; the DOJ attorney announcing the case is also a Trump-appointed Republican.

As usual with vote fraud cases, the “discarded” ballots are a tiny fraction of the “normal” voter turnout in Pennsylvania (6.1 million votes in 2016). Because the envelopes appeared similar to the ballot application envelopes, the story goes, the local officials decided to open them for fear of missing absentee ballot requests from the military, a problem that had cropped up in the last primary and, apparently, not cured.

This is, I believe, related to an ongoing problem with ballots, the requesting and use of which has become so complicated that many mistakes are made by ordinary voters whose votes are then rejected. This happens even in jurisdictions that have no history of voter suppression.

Another curiosity about this situation is that the investigation apparently had not yet learned who “discarded” the ballots or why. Yet, DOJ was most anxious to make public statements about the investigation and, it turns out, brief Trump in detail before the DOJ’s public announcement of the situation.

Trump spoke to Fox News Radio about it and the White House Press Secretary was informed and advised reporters before DOJ’s announcement.

CNN’s report continues:

Trump and Attorney General William Barr …have promoted debunked conspiracy theories and blatant disinformation to claim that mail-in voting leads to massive fraud. Election officials from both parties have rejected these claims and say there are tried-and-true safeguards prevent and quickly detect fraud.

The unorthodox Justice Department announcement is sure to fuel suspicion that Barr is using the Justice Department as a political weapon to help Trump’s reelection.

In recent months, Barr has aided Trump’s effort to label Democratic-run cities as “anarchist” strongholds, and has targeted Democratic-run states over Covid-19 deaths at nursing homes. Barr has also intervened in criminal cases to help prominent Trump allies.

David Becker, founder of the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation, and a former DOJ attorney himself, said

the announcement didn’t say anything about the voters’ preferences in the down-ballot races, and that it said nothing about how the ballots were actually discovered.… to release a public statement with so little info, at the beginning of an investigation, is inexplicable, and law enforcement malpractice.

Becker was not alone in his condemnation of the early partial release of what amounts to political campaign material supporting Trump. For example,

It’s wildly improper, and it’s truly unconscionable,” said Justin Levitt, a former Justice Department official who is now a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. https://wapo.st/334NpDv

But, wouldn’t you know, the reality turns out to be quite different than the hysterical web of deceit and conspiracy that Trump and his sycophantic enablers weave. The discarding of ballots was a mistake by an inexperienced contractor, since fired. Another nothing-burger in the Trump pantheon of wounds and slights in the fantasy word he has concocted around voting fraud. https://cnn.it/2Sen7IV

Trump’s ongoing campaign to undermine confidence in the election, assisted by his Attorney General acting, and using the resources of the Justice Department, as de facto personal attorney for Trump and his re-election campaign. Barr’s involvements on behalf of the president and his enablers is so bad that more than 1,100 former DOJ officials publicly urged Barr to resign last February. https://n.pr/3hXHNPG

Trump’s plan seems clear. He intends to resist with every available tool, legal or otherwise, the outcome of the election. There are reports that his statements and claims have alarmed the generals in the Chiefs of Staff and in the Pentagon that they may be called on by Trump to intervene in the election. https://wapo.st/2Gawcj7 Trump would not hesitate to order the military to intervene if he thought that would save his presidency from electoral defeat.

In that case military leaders will have to choose between Trump and the Constitution – saying they’ll leave it to the courts will not suffice if Trump, as Commander-in-Chief, orders them to intervene on his behalf. And resignation, the other suggested option, will not work either. The decision-making authority would simply devolve down the chain of command until someone –- there’s always someone – says “I’ll give the order.” It will be someone least capable of leading but who is intoxicated by the power or the attention, however brief it may be.

Trump is half-way there. He has been asked repeatedly and continues to hedge: “we’ll see what happens.”

One suggested solution is that the Democratic vote must be so overwhelming that there simply is no basis for a claim of electoral fraud. A gigantic Blue Wave would be helpful, but it is no guarantee against a desperate man who has no allegiance to the Constitution or anything else beyond himself. Everyone should prepare for the worst. And, without fail, VOTE. VOTE like your country’s life and your own depend upon it. Because they do.

 

The Mueller Report – Where From Here?

It is more than curious that Attorney General Barr and Deputy AG Rosenstein were able, in a matter of hours, to conclude that the massive evidence accumulated in the Mueller investigation in fact established that Trump did not obstruct justice when the Mueller report itself, according to quotations provided by Barr/Rosenstein, found that the evidence was inconclusive and did not exonerate the president on the obstruction issue. Not only is the Barr/Rosenstein conclusion not supported by the material they did disclose, there was no explanation of why Barr/Rosenstein felt it was appropriate for them to make their exoneration statement when the issue of how much of the Mueller report will be disclosed is still unresolved. Put that on top of the statement from an unnamed but high-ranking DOJ official on Saturday that the Mueller report contained no further indictments. Why, and who, was in such a hurry to begin pumping up the “not guilty” narrative for Trump?

The foregoing suggests to me that, in addition to other high crimes and misdemeanors, Trump has succeeded in undermining the core integrity of the Department of Justice. At the same time, the media seem to have lost their minds entirely and are reporting the story as if it were written by Barr/Rosenstein on their behalf.

Unless and until, the Mueller report, and the evidence on which it was based, is disclosed, the case against Trump will remain open. The only excuses for redaction of the report and withholding the evidence involve clear national security, executive privilege and grand jury limitations. The public is entitled to know how Mueller arrived at the conclusion that events such as the Trump Tower meeting and the multitude of lies told by Trump personally and by his family and other enablers did not support a finding of collusion. The public is also entitled to a deep understanding of the basis for Mueller’s conclusion that the evidence on obstruction was inconclusive when Trump admitted to, for example, firing James Comey for a corrupt reason.

I expect that after Trump does his victory dance, claiming exoneration when the Mueller report itself found no conclusion on that issue was possible, he will take the same position on disclosure that he took with his tax returns. He first said he would release them, then refused. He said just the other day that the Mueller report should be publicly disclosed but now, on the strength solely of the Barr/Rosenstein summary, he will almost certainly reverse his position again.

The battleground will now shift entirely to Congress and perhaps the courts as the various open cases against Trump and the Trump organizations proceed. There is no reason to give up, as some people, in shock no doubt, have suggested. Making a case against a sitting president, aided by a political party that is 100 percent invested in protecting him, was always going to be hard and take a long time. Trump’s victory claim is itself based on a false representation about the Barr/Rosenstein summary of the Mueller recommendations. No surprise that he would lie about that since he has lied about so many other things.

Hopefully, this development will awaken the Democratic Party to the difficult road ahead. Already, before the issues are even remotely resolved and while the actual Mueller report is still a mystery, pundits are predicting an easy win for Trump in 2020. Were that to happen, democracy as it has been known in America for my lifetime and beyond would likely be destroyed, possibly for decades. We would then be faced again with the duty outlined in the opening words of the Declaration of Independence: “when in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands ….”

So let’s keep our wits about us and get about the business of planning and executing the political force that is necessary to fulfill not the ambitions of the plutocracy that now governs this country but the wishes and needs of the majority that voted against Trump in 2016 and can, with the right leadership and the right understanding, prevail.