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September 20 | 2021
Photo by Federal Bureau of Investigation (Public domain)
Reprinted with permission from Alternet
When then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct by Christine Blasey Ford — a psychology professor at Palo Alto University — in 2018, the FBI conducted an investigation. But Kavanaugh's critics argued that the investigation should have been much more comprehensive in light of the fact that then-President Donald Trump had nominated him for a lifetime appointment on the highest judicial body in the United States. FBI Director Christopher Wray's handling of that investigation, according to Guardian reporter Stephanie Kirchgaessner, continues to be scrutinized three years later.
Kirchgaessner explains, "The FBI director, Chris Wray, is facing new scrutiny of the Bureau's handling of its 2018 background investigation of Brett Kavanaugh, including its claim that the FBI lacked the authority to conduct a further investigation into the then-Supreme Court nominee. At the heart of the new questions that Wray will face later this week, when he testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a 2010 memorandum of understanding that the FBI has recently said constrained the agency's ability to conduct any further investigations of allegations of misconduct."
In 2018, Kavanaugh was accused of sexual misconduct not only by Ford, but also, by Deborah Ramirez (one of Kavanaugh's classmates at Yale University in the 1980s) and web developer Julie Swetnick (who also knew Kavanaugh during his Yale days). Ford testified during now-Justice Kavanaugh's Senate confirmation hearings; Ramirez and Swetnick did not. And critics of Kavanaugh believed that Ramirez and Swetnick's allegations should have been thoroughly investigated by law enforcement. Kavanaugh flatly denied their accusations.
"The FBI closed its extended background check of Kavanaugh after four days and did not interview either Blasey Ford or Kavanaugh," Kirchgaessner notes. "The FBI also disclosed to the Senate this June — two years after questions were initially asked — that it had received 4500 tips from the public during the background check and that it had shared all 'relevant tips' with the White House counsel at that time. It is not clear whether those tips were ever investigated."
In a letter sent to two Democratic U.S. senators, Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, the FBI said that under the 2010 memo of understanding, it didn't have the authority to "unilaterally conduct further investigative activity absent instructions from the requesting entity." Kirchgaessner reports, however, that "an examination by The Guardian of the 2010 MOU, which was signed by the then-Attorney General Eric Holder and then-White House Counsel Robert Bauer, does not make explicitly clear that the FBI was restricted in terms of how it would conduct its investigation."
According to Kirchgaessner, "Wray is likely to face scrutiny on why information that was specific to the allegations of sexual misconduct was not fully explored, including evidence that was reportedly offered to investigators by an alleged witness named Max Stier, an attorney and former classmate of Ramirez, who reportedly notified senators that he had witnessed an event similar to the one recounted by Ramirez. Stier's account was never examined by the FBI."
The FBI declined to be interviewed for Kirchgaessner's article, but Whitehouse agreed to be interviewed.
The Rhode Island Democrat told the Guardian, "In its years-late response to our questions, the FBI leaned hard on the notion that this MOU limited its authority to be the FBI and investigate wrongdoing. Now that we have the MOU, it's even harder to understand the Bureau's excuses for ignoring credible information it received. Director Wray ought to be ready to answer my questions about this episode — I won't stop asking until he does."
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September 20 | 2021
It's a redistricting year in the blue state of Illinois, which means that Republicans are getting less consideration than a missionary on the Las Vegas Strip. Democrats have been winning in the Land of Lincoln for a long while, controlling the state House for all but two of the past 38 years. But they see no harm in running up the score.
Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker campaigned on a vow to take reapportionment away from politicians and turn it over to an independent commission. But that didn't happen, and when the General Assembly sent him district maps that exemplified partisan gerrymandering, he signed them into law.
"Make no mistake, these maps were drawn solely for the Democrats to maintain their political power in the state of Illinois," House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said. Democrats outnumber Republicans 73-45 in the state House, and those numbers are likely to grow more lopsided.
Similar things are going on in New York, where Democrats have plotted new district lines with the goal of cutting the GOP's eight members of Congress to four or even three of the 26 seats the state will have. That's less than 16 percent of the seats in a state where 38 percent of voters went for Donald Trump. New York's Republican Party chair Nick Langworthy said the redistricting "is a political sham built on a foundation of lies and hypocrisy."
Shams are the norm in this process, where lawmakers celebrate the glories of democracy while scheming to make elections an empty formality. Democrats in blue states are more than willing to ignore their good-government allies to cement their control in state legislatures — and to keep Nancy Pelosi in the speaker's chair.
After losing out on Maryland's last congressional map, Republicans took the fight to the Supreme Court, arguing that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. (The court disagreed.) So you might think that Republicans would be determined to put an end to partisan reapportionment. But hypocrisy is a two-way street.
Today, the GOP has control of the governor's office and the legislature in 23 states, compared to 15 such "trifectas" for Democrats. Such dominance is never more valuable than in a redistricting year, giving those in power the chance to supersize their advantage for a full decade.
Political scientists Alex Keena, Michael Latner, Anthony McGann and Charles Anthony Smith wrote in The Washington Post, "We found that, after 2011, 45 state legislative maps had been drawn with extreme partisan gerrymandering. Of these, 43 favor Republicans, while only two help Democrats. Because of these gerrymandered maps, Republicans held onto power after losing the statewide popular vote in Virginia in 2017, and in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2018."
That explains why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has no interest in a Democratic bill that would make it impossible to tilt the playing field. The For the People Act would require states to hand over redistricting to independent commissions. With that reform, incumbents would no longer get to tailor their constituencies to achieve permanent tenure.
It would not prevent either party from winning most legislative or congressional seats in a particular state. Such bodies already draw maps in several states, including Arizona, where the GOP has held a majority in both houses of the legislature since 2003, and California, where Democrats have done the same since 1997.
In most places, the issue is not which party will dominate. It's just by how much.
Besides, no one objects when a party getting a majority of the votes wins a majority of seats. Objections are in order, though, when the party getting a minority of the votes wins a majority of seats. Last year, Democratic candidates for Congress got 43 percent of the votes cast in South Carolina — but only one of the seven House seats, or 14 percent.
A federal solution is needed because at the state level, no party in power wants to cede control of redistricting. Democrats say they can't afford to unilaterally disarm in the battle for power, and Republicans show no interest in mutual renunciation of gerrymandering.
But in the long run, a fairer system would be a good thing for both parties. It would give each more opportunities to compete and more incentive to stay in tune with the preferences of those they represent.
It would be best of all for the voters, many of whom have been effectively rendered powerless. Democracy is supposed to rest on the consent of the governed, not the governors.
Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com
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