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Tag: brett kavanaugh

Refusing To Back Abortion Rights Bill, Collins Shows True Colors At Last

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) is under mounting criticism for refusing to support a Democratic bill that would make access to abortion the law of the land, as the U.S. Supreme Court, experts believe, prepares to reverse its historic 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade.

Senator Collins, who repeatedly claims to be pro-choice, is being criticized after years of supporting then-President Donald Trump's judicial nominees at every level of the federal judiciary, including two of his three Supreme Court picks.

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Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

FBI Director Faces Sharp New Scrutiny Over Kavanaugh Probe

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."

We Still Don't Know The Truth About Kavanaugh’s Shady Finances

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

By joining his fellow conservatives on the Supreme Court in declining to block one of the country's most restrictive abortion laws, a Texas statute that bans the procedure as early as six weeks into pregnancy, Justice Brett Kavanaugh made good on his unspoken pledge to demolish Roe v. Wade. Kavanaugh's actions could change the fabric of this country for decades, and empower radicals within the Republican Party to strip away more rights of Americans.

Against that dystopian backdrop let's not forget two crucial historic facts. Kavanaugh lied his way through his confirmation hearings. Facing multiple and credible allegations of sexual assault, Kavanaugh lied about witnesses; he lied about corroboration; he lied about friendships; he lied about parties. He also lied about an array of other topics, including state drinking ages, vomiting, his yearbook, and his accusers. Kavanaugh lied about his grandfather, federal judges, warrantless wiretaps, and stolen emails.

Second, some deep-pocketed patron, or patrons, over the years have clearly covered Kavanaugh's personal finances. Someone erased all of the many financial pitfalls he faced, including tens of thousands of dollars in credit card debt, while setting up him for a luxurious lifestyle well beyond what he could afford on the salary of a federal judge. We still don't know which benefactors paid for Kavanaugh's $92,000 country club initiation fee in 2016 for the Chevy Chase Club while he was making $225,000 a year, had two children in private school, and was saddled with the most debt of his life, approximately $100,000.

The staggering country club fee, which Kavanaugh plainly could not cover himself, represented the most egregious hole in Kavanaugh's make-no-sense financial disclosure made during his nomination. For instance, in 2006, he bought a $1.2 million home in a tony suburb of Washington, D.C. and made tens of thousands of dollars of upgrades while earning $175,000 and sitting on a modest savings account.

The disclosures should have been a huge red flag for the press. "The personal finances of Supreme Court nominees regularly come under scrutiny during the congressional vetting process," the Washington Post reported in 2018. And Kavanaugh's finances were by far the most befuddling of any Supreme Court nominee in modern history. But the press mostly yawned through the story.

The Post actually published one of the most detailed examinations of his finances during the time of Kavanaugh's nomination. The report though, raised no serious questions of wrongdoing, and was at times openly sympathetic towards Kavanaugh: "He has in many ways stayed true to his intent, following the Jesuit mantra of service above self instilled in him by the elite Catholic high school he attended in suburban Washington."

The Post piece also made sure only to quote friends of Kavanaugh, as they ran interference for the nominee. ("He's not the type of guy who does things to keep up with the Joneses.") One buddy told the Post that Kavanaugh joined the extravagantly expensive Chevy Chase Club because it was conveniently located near his home. Not a single Democrat or independent financial analyst was quoted questioning the obvious inconsistencies in Kavanaugh's filings.

Why didn't the Beltway press go all Whitewater on Kavanaugh? For years the D.C. media, amplifying GOP attacks, couldn't sleep at night knowing Bill and Hillary Clinton might have made money on a land deal that had crooked local ties. (Fact: They lost money on Whitewater.) Breathlessly covering every hearing, every allegation, every Republican leak, the hyperactive Beltway media treated the story as Watergate-meets-Iran Contra; the very idea that a Democratic politician may have benefited financially from some inside chicanery was presented as one of the most important and compelling news stories of the decade.

Suffice to say that if Bill Clinton had joined an exclusive country club while governor of Arkansas, which he clearly did not pay for, journalists would have camped out on the story for months and excavated it without pause.

A middling jurist who immediately embarrassed himself when nominated by Trump by claiming no president had ever "consulted more widely or talked with more people from more backgrounds to seek input about a Supreme Court nomination," Kavanaugh has always had the earmarks of a willing suck-up; someone who was cultivated and advanced by right-wing forces not for his judicial intellect, but because he's willing to do what he's told. Like help overturn Roe v. Wade.

With so little media attention paid to Kavanaugh's massive expenditures over the years, we still don't have any answers. We don't know if he's operating on the Supreme Court under a constant conflict-of-interest cloud, because we don't know which wealthy forces have aided and abetted his rise.

One possible, unconfirmed explanation for how Kavanaugh's debt magically evaporated, how he bought a house he could not afford, and joined one of the most exclusive and expensive country clubs on the East Coast while living on the salary of a federal employee? Kavanaugh's rich father secretly gifted him lots of money over the years. (Kavanaugh's father drew a large salary working for a cosmetics trade group and walked away with a $13 million payout in 2005.)

Kavanaugh and the White House likely wanted to avoid that Daddy Warbucks storyline during the confirmation hearing though, since the jurist was presented as a hard-working, aw-shucks Everyman who worked his way up to the highest echelons of the American judiciary.

And guess what? As Kavanaugh does his best to outlaw choice, the press has never tried to confirm any key facts surrounding the endless unanswered questions of Kavanaugh's finances and his miracle $92,000 country club fee.

Justice Barrett Doesn’t Want You To Think She’s A ‘Partisan Hack’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Justice Amy Coney Barrett, the newest member of the U.S. Supreme Court whose nomination was rammed through the Senate by then-Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, on Sunday told guests invited to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville, "My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks."

She was roundly criticized and mocked for that claim, which was reported by the Louisville Courier Journal.

Barrett was nominated immediately after liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death, before she had even been buried. She was confirmed one week before the November 2020 election in a 52-48 vote, entirely on party lines, and sworn in the very next day, all thanks to the efforts of Senator Mitch McConnell. McConnell in 2016 infamously blocked President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, from even getting a committee hearing, then pushed through Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh before Barrett's nomination.

Here's Senator McConnell celebrating Barrett's confirmation, which indeed was on former U.S. Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton's birthday:

The court now sits with a 6-3 highly-conservative majority, and some across the country feel several of the conservatives have flouted judicial ethics by weighing in on issues, directly or in directly. Justice Clarence Thomas's wife, Ginni Thomas, is a far right wing lobbyist who used to run a Tea Party organization. She is believed to have had a hand in President Donald Trump's expulsion of transgender service members from the U.S. Armed Forces. And Justice Kavanaugh, infamously during his Senate confirmation hearing, infamously threatened revenge against Democrats.

In fact, as Amy Coney Barrett was being sworn in, The New Republic published an opinion piece stating she and Justice Kavanaugh "have demonstrated this week that they should be thought of as political operatives, not justices."

Barrett of course brought this perception on herself, allowing her nomination to be pushed through in the weeks before a highly controversial presidential election, appearing at a super-spreader event at the White House celebrating her nomination, then later standing on the White House balcony with President Trump, days before the election, all of which effectively worked as an endorsement of his re-election.

Los Angeles Times columnist Jackie Calmes noted at the time just how unprecedented this single act was:

Many are mocking Barrett's claim.










Flamboyantly Pious Ken Starr Had So Far To Fall — And He Did

Reprinted with permission from Chicago Sun-Times

Perhaps you recall the eminent "Judge Starr" of Republican legend and song, a pious Christian avatar of justice and sexual propriety. Back when he was dutifully investigating President Bill Clinton's sex life — "our job is to do our job," he'd tell TV crews staking out his suburban driveway, a soft-handed househusband obediently taking out the trash — Kenneth Starr posed as a man of firm moral views and unimpeachable integrity.

Fawning newspaper profiles depicted Starr as an uxorious fellow whose favorite pastime was going for Sunday drives with his equally pious wife, singing hymns together. Never mind that said profiles were often written by the same reporters to whom independent counsel Starr's prosecutors had been leaking damning, albeit misleading, tidbits about Bill and Hillary Clinton's impending indictment for "Whitewater" crimes.

Indictments that never came, for the simple reason that bringing trumped-up charges against prominent people endangers prosecutors more than defendants. The same psalm-singing crusader eventually published the infamous Starr Report, narrating in near-pornographic detail each and every one of Bill Clinton's furtive grapplings with Monica Lewinsky.

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh mostly wrote it.

Forcing a shamefaced Clinton to face a nationally televised sexual inquisition probably saved his presidency. Millions of sinners in the TV audience cringed to see it, a possibility that never seemed to have occurred to the sanctimonious Starr or his journalistic enablers. Angry with Clinton for being such a damn fool, I never saw it coming myself.

So now comes Starr's professed former mistress to drive what should be the last nail in the rotting coffin of his reputation. Former GOP public relations executive Judi Hershman has published an essay entitled "Ken Starr, Brett Kavanaugh, Jeffrey Epstein and Me" on Medium.

I confess I never thought the man had it in him for motel room romance.

That Starr is a world-class sexual hypocrite has long been obvious. Do you know how hard it was for a name-brand Republican holy man to get himself fired as president of Baylor, the world's largest Baptist university? Covering up gang rapes by the school's football team did it. Even Starr's practice of running onto the field in a cheerleading costume couldn't save him after the truth emerged in 2016.

To hear her tell it, Starr's former mistress is anything but a woman scorned. "Our affair ran its course after a year or so of occasional encounters and a steady exchange of affectionate texts and emails," she writes. "No fireworks, no drama." Rather, it was watching a recorded interview with one of the Baylor victims that "helped me understand how I could have been blind for so long to the pattern of misogyny coursing through Starr's career."

Shedding crocodile tears, Starr made a show of empathy, but then proceeded to do nothing on the victim's behalf. "Shamelessly and effectively," Hershman writes, "he shoved rape allegations under the carpet in the name of Christianity."

Starr's role in helping negotiate a sweetheart deal for serial child rapist Jeffrey Epstein (13 months in jail with daily 12-hour passes) also troubled her. "I confess I did not recognize Jeffrey Epstein's name at the time, but I knew what statutory rape was," Hershman writes, "and I couldn't understand why Ken Starr would be involved with him. 'Is this a church thing?' I asked. 'Are you trying to "cure" him? Why would you do this!"'

"Everyone deserves representation, Judi," Starr responded, adding, "He promised to keep it above 18 from now on."

As the world knows, Epstein failed to keep his promise. A man would have to be painfully naive to think a convicted pedophile ever would. Or deeply cynical to pretend to believe him. Take your pick. Starr's efforts on behalf of the billionaire child rapist also included a covert smear campaign against the female prosecutor who'd prepared a 60-count federal indictment against his lowlife client.

"Somehow," Hershman comments, "Starr's role as the nation's parson always comes back around to sex."

Also money, I'd add. Not for nothing was Starr once a tobacco company shill. I'd also observe that for a woman with no ax to grind, Hershman deploys some awfully sharp edges.

She even recounts a 1998 episode in which Kavanaugh, then Starr's prosecutorial understudy, staged a full-on primate rage display: physically intimidating and chasing her around a conference table over a disagreement she doesn't describe. She says she'd all but forgotten his "feral belligerence" until she watched him go ballistic over Christine Blasey Ford's allegations at his Senate confirmation hearings.

She thinks he's got no business on the Supreme Court.

But at least Starr himself never got there, to his eternal regret and the nation's good fortune. Instead, he ended up in that shyster's purgatory: defending Trump against impeachment.

"It's not just the hypocrisy," Hershman thinks, "it's the damage Starr's sham moral authority has done — to our nation, to our people."

The Pedophiles' Best Friend Is A Trump Republican

Of all the lurid nonsense circulating among conspiracy-addled Republicans, none of their theories is viler than the libel of child sexual abuse that began under the rubric of "Pizzagate" and became the basis of the cult ideology of QAnon. So successful was the smear campaign begun by followers of Donald Trump that millions of deranged people now believe those gothic horror tales targeting the likes of Hillary Clinton, Chrissy Teigen, and Tom Hanks, with the connivance of Republican politicians in search of Jewish space lasers.

Then there's real life, in which actual, detestable pedophiles and other sex offenders can depend on their reliable defender Kenneth W. Starr to shield them from the punishment they deserve. Yes, it's that Ken Starr, the Savanarola of sexual propriety, who is the pedophiles' best friend.

What we have learned in recent days about the sanctimonious Starr, from his alleged sexual infidelities to his zealous defense of the late Jeffrey Epstein, not only strips away his pious pretensions as sheer hypocrisies but also raises serious questions about his conduct that must still be answered.

A former public relations executive named Judi Hershman opened the latest inquest into Starr's iniquities on July 13 when she published an essay on Medium titled "Ken Starr, Brett Kavanaugh, Jeffrey Epstein and Me" that detailed, among many other things, her own illicit affair with the former independent counsel. Her account of an episode with the borderline Kavanaugh and his uncontrollable temper when they both worked for Starr on the Clinton prosecution, as well as her disillusionment with the misogynistic Starr, is worth reading. Yes, that Ken Starr, who, she says, took her hand and "placed it on his crotch."

Hershman recalls Starr's attempt in 2010 to deceive her into "counseling" Epstein, whom he whitewashed as "a very wealthy, very smart businessman who got himself into trouble for getting involved with a couple of underage girls who lied about their ages." He explained that "everyone deserves representation" and that the very smart businessman had "promised to keep it above 18 from now on." By then Epstein had raped scores of underage girls, and thereafter continued to do so.

Hershman writes that at the time, it didn't occur to her that Starr himself would be lying about Epstein, or that he might have been involved in executing the "secret and egregious sweetheart deal" that allowed the very smart businessman to evade justice for so many years.

But according to a new book by Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown, who first blew the lid off that deal, Starr was zealously committed to the Epstein defense. Her earlier reporting led to the dismissal of Alex Acosta, the U.S. Attorney in Florida who signed off on that agreement, from former President Donald Trump's cabinet.

In Perversion of Justice, Brown writes that Epstein brought on Starr and Jay Lefkowitz, his longtime associate and partner at Kirkland & Ellis, because of their connections in the Bush Justice Department. Starr's campaign on behalf of Epstein included a "brutal" smear of a female prosecutor and an insider lobbying effort at the department's Washington headquarters.

Apparently, Starr has a strangely protective attitude toward molesters and rapists, even when he isn't being paid big money to defend them. A few years after his crusade on Epstein's behalf, he and his wife sent a letter to a county judge urging leniency for Christopher Kloman, a retired school administrator and friend of the Starrs who pled guilty to molesting five girls at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. They thought he should be sentenced to community service, but the judge instead gave him 43 years in prison.

Americans first glimpsed the dark side of Starr's character when he published the salacious Starr Report (co-authored by Kavanaugh) that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. They learned more about him when he was booted from the presidency of Baylor University for covering up the rampant sexual abuse of women on campus, including a gang rape by football players. With his partisan fanaticism and his bogus religiosity, he was a natural for Trump's impeachment defense.

Considering the smears perpetrated against Hillary Clinton in recent years, it is ironic indeed to review the unsavory conduct of a man who spent so much public time and money attempting to frame her for crimes she didn't commit as first lady. But these revelations about Starr should evoke more than bemused contempt.

What Julie Brown's book demands is a full investigation of an authentic conspiracy to pervert justice by Republican prosecutors and lawyers, including Starr. The Justice Department and the House and Senate judiciary committees must not let them get away with it.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this column wrongly identified the former US Attorney in southern Florida as Alex Azar -- the former secretary of health and human services. Azar has no connection with the Epstein case and we regret the error.]

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

Supreme Court Will Hear Case That Endangers Roe Decision

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

Reproductive freedom is under direct threat after the Supreme Court said it will review a Mississippi law placing harsh restrictions on abortion rights. The law in question is one of many passed in states around the country by Republicans seeking to get a challenge to Roe v. Wade heard at the Supreme Court, an effort bolstered by Donald Trump's appointments moving the court sharply to the right.

The Mississippi law bans abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions only for "severe fetal abnormality" or medical emergency, and not for rape or incest. Roe v. Wade allows abortion until the point of fetal viability, which comes around 24 weeks. Even though the vast majority of abortions take place before 15 weeks of gestation, banning the procedure starting at 15 weeks would give the most vulnerable pregnant people less time to consider their choice, save money if needed, find a provider, and overcome the many barriers states like Mississippi put in their way. Yet, showing the degree to which the Mississippi law is a political move and not one responding to real conditions in the state, the only abortion clinic in the state only performs the procedure up to 16 weeks.

But the political move is a powerful one, reaching far beyond Mississippi: As part of this case, the court will reconsider whether "all pre-viability prohibitions on abortion are unconstitutional." That raises the possibility of shattering decades of the court's own precedent, and it does so for no medical reason.

"In an unbroken line dating to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's abortion cases have established (and affirmed, and re-affirmed) a woman's right to choose an abortion before viability," Judge Patrick Higginbotham wrote for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. "States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman's right but they may not ban abortions."

This is one of the key reasons then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell held open one Supreme Court seat for the last ten months of Barack Obama's presidency, then filled another in an unprecedented rush in the final weeks before the 2020 election. Now, the Trump-McConnell six to three conservative court could fulfill years of efforts to effectively end women's control over their own bodies and right to decide their futures.

But, uh …