Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}


In New Filing, FBI Agent Strzok Uses Trump’s Boasting Against Him

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Peter Strzok, the former FBI agent who was fired after texts showing his deep dislike for President Donald Trump were revealed, accused the government of violating his rights to privacy and free speech in a new court filing. The allegations, which are part of his lawsuit challenging his termination, used Trump’s own words against the Justice Department, arguing that the president’s claims undermine the administration’s argument in the case.

Strzok alleges that he was terminated because of his personal opposition to Trump, which is protected by the First Amendment. He has also argued, as has former FBI lawyer Lisa Page, that the release of his texts with Page constituted a violation of privacy. However, the Justice Department contends that its actions were within bounds because Page and Strzok’s communications occurred over their work phones and they discussed FBI business.

Page and Strzok’s extramarital affair was exposed in the publication of the texts, a fact which Trump has exploited in his effort to demonize the pair as part of a supposed “deep state” conspiracy against him. They also both worked on the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russia investigation, two highly politicized probes.

Trump’s campaign of demonization against the pair appears to be hurting the Justice Department’s defense in the lawsuit.

The administration claims that Strzok was fired from the FBI for violating its policies. But Strzok maintains that it was his anti-Trump opinions that led to his termination — and he cites Trump’s public campaign against him personally as evidence of this fact.

The new filing opens with a recent quote from Trump claiming direct credit for his termination.

“These were dirty people. These were bad people,” Trump said to reporters about the people ousted from the FBI, including Strzok. “These were evil people, and I hope that someday I’m going to consider it my greatest, or one of my greatest achievements, getting rid of them.”

Strzok’s lawyers wrote that such comments show the FBI agent’s termination was “a politically-motivated achievement of President Trump and his political allies tied to a politically-motivated effort to use Mr. Strzok’s text messages to discredit investigations of the President and his campaign.” Strzok has already accepted a demotion and suspension for his conduct, they argued, but the termination seems to be a direct result of Trump’s personal urging.

The filing noted that the Justice Department’s recent motion to dismiss the lawsuit didn’t include any comment from FBI Deputy Director Bowdich, who made the ultimate decision to fire Strzok. And it is still not known publicly who in the department authorized releasing Page and Strzok’s texts to the media — that’s something the lawsuit seeks to uncover.

Since Strzok was a high-ranking official, the department has contended that the standards on his speech are much stricter, so he cannot claim First Amendment protection for his anti-Trump comments. It is important that the FBI maintain a perception of fairness and impartiality, and since his comments undermine this perception, they are relevant to his job performance.

But Strzok’s lawyers countered that it was the Justice Department that decided to leak his texts to the media in the first place. After breaching his privacy in this way, they argued, the department can’t then use the public distrust the breach on its part may have caused to justify terminating Strzok. The filing also pointed out that the DOJ inspector general uncovered evidence that members of the FBI had sent pro-Trump, anti-Hillary Clinton texts during their work — but these employees remain unidentified and, apparently, unpunished. This, the lawsuit says, further supports the view that Strzok was punished for his political views.

Brad Heath, a Reuters reporter, noted how extraordinary it is for the president’s word to be used against him to undermine his administration’s legal positions, though this is actually something of a trend in the Trump administration.

“There’s a pretty remarkable pattern at this point of the Justice Department contradicting President Trump in court filings,” he said on Twitter. “And an even weirder pattern of DOJ expressly arguing the president doesn’t always know what he’s talking about.”

The fact that Trump is a well-known boaster and liar may actually help his administration in the legal context, though; judges may conclude that his statements cannot be treated as reliable guides to the facts of a matter. While this may protect him somewhat legally, it would be a pretty devastating indictment of his character as president.

Texans Fight Trump Over Land Seizures For Border Wall

The Trump administration is looking to seize land from Texans in order to build a border wall — and now, some are fighting back to stop it from happening.

Becky Jones, a Texas landowner, is preparing to take the Trump administration to court to keep her land, she told the New York Times this week. Her decision came after receiving a letter from the government demanding she allow officials to survey her farmland as the first step towards seizing it to build a border wall.

Jones told the Times that the border wall would harm wildlife in the area, which is near the Santa Ana Wildlife Refuge. A 2019 congressional spending bill specified property within that refuge is off limits from a border wall, according to the Times.

Richard Drawe, another Texas landowner, took a different route, grudgingly accepting a Trump administration financial offer for land his grandfather purchased in the 1920s. Drawe’s family owns a farm near the Rio Grande river with breathtaking views, according to the Times, but a future border wall will ruin that view.

“We just finally gave up,” Drawe told the Times. “If they offered me a million dollars to build the wall, I would refuse it if I knew they wouldn’t build it. I don’t want the money. This is my life here.”

Jones and Drawe are not alone in lamenting Trump’s efforts to seize private land for his border wall. According to the Texas Tribune, many other landowners are fighting the Trump administration’s efforts to survey their land for a border wall.

Ricky Garza, an attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project, told the Tribune that he has several clients currently fighting the Trump administration in court over the issue of property access to survey land.

“Hell no, we’re not signing anything,” David Acevedo, a landowner near Loredo, told the Tribune when he was asked if he would give permission to federal agents to survey his land.

According to the Associated Press, the Trump administration has ramped up efforts to take land from private citizens, filing three lawsuits in December alone. The Times noted that courts generally defer to the executive branch in cases of emergencies, meaning most families will eventually be forced to settle for compensation for their land, even if they don’t want to lose it.

Donald Trump made a campaign promise in 2016 to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. At the time, he vowed that Mexico would pay for the wall, but that plan fell through when Mexico flatly refused to do so. Trump later declared a national emergency along the southern border to force through his plans for a wall and is using billions of dollars allocated to the military to pay for it.

Trump promised up to 450 miles of new border wall would be built by the end of 2020, according to the Times. However, thus far, the administration has build zero miles of new wall, and has simply replaced roughly 90 miles of older barriers.

The administration counts those replacements as “new wall,” according to the Times.

Property owners in the region say the fight to keep their lands is nothing new.

Pamela Rivas, a landowner near the Los Ebanos port of entry to Mexico, has been fighting to keep her land since the George W. Bush administration first tried to take it from her, her son, Michael Maldonado, told the Times.

“The longer that we can endure it, maybe something might change,” Maldonado said. “Maybe a new administration comes in and says, ‘you know, we’re not going to deal with this.'”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

McGahn Subpoena May Mean More Impeachment Counts

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Some critics of President Donald Trump — Democrats as well as Never Trump conservatives — have argued that the U.S. House of Representatives should have brought more than two articles of impeachment against Trump. But there is nothing in the U.S. Constitution saying that House Democrats cannot pursue additional articles if they decide to, and according to a House Judiciary Committee court filing on Monday,  they aren’t ruling out that possibility.

Politico reported on Monday that the House Judiciary Committee was trying to enforce a subpoena of former White House Counsel Don McGahn to determine “whether to recommend additional articles of impeachment.”

According to House of Representatives counsel Douglas Letter in the court filing, testimony from McGahn “remains central to” the House Judiciary Committee’s “ongoing inquiry into the president’s obstructive conduct. If McGahn’s testimony produces new evidence supporting the conclusion that President Trump committed impeachable offenses that are not covered by the articles approved by the House, the Committee will proceed accordingly — including, if necessary, by considering whether to recommend new articles of impeachment.”

Meanwhile, in a different court filing, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) asserted that because of the House’s December 18 impeachment vote, the McGahn case is no longer urgent — and federal courts should not intervene in the matter with a Senate trial on two articles of impeachment on its way.

“The reasons for refraining are even more compelling now that what the Committee asserted, whether rightly or wrongly, as the primary justification for its decision to sue no longer exists,” DOJ lawyers wrote in their filing.

But Letter, in the House Judiciary court filing, argued, “McGahn’s testimony is critical both to a Senate trial and to the Committee’s ongoing impeachment investigations to determine whether additional presidential misconduct warrants further action by the Committee.”

Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore

Local Paper Asks How Nunes Finances Multiple Lawsuits

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) has aggressively gone after his critics with defamation lawsuits — five of which are still active— targeting Twitter, CNN, McClatchy, a Republican political strategist, satirical social media accounts, and others. But as local paper The Fresno Bee reported on Saturday, it’s unclear where Nunes is getting the funding for these lawsuits.

It noted that while Nunes himself seems to largely live on his salary as a Congressman, and his wife is a school teacher, he appears to have no trouble affording multiple high-profile lawsuits that likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The one lawsuit that he has already dropped after a few weeks, which Nunes brought against a man who accused him of being a “fake farmer,” cost $3,400, according to Federal Election Commission records cited by the outlet.

But the ongoing lawsuits’ costs will surely run far beyond that price tag, and yet the Bee could find no documentation for their funding.

“Nunes would have to set up a legal defense fund to accept free legal services or to receive money from a benefactor,” the report noted. “Members of Congress have strict rules against receiving generous gifts, with some exceptions for family.”

McClatchy has reported that Nunes has no such fund currently, which could pose a danger to him if it turns out he is receiving the funds from an unauthorized source. The Bee said that some have speculated that Peter Thiel, the right-wing billionaire who has previously supported a major lawsuit that financially ruined the outlet Gawker, is behind Nunes’ suits. But there does not seem to be any evidence for this claim.

There is another possibility the outlet considered, though. It noted that Nunes could get away without paying his attorney, Steven Bliss, if they had an agreement that the lawyer would be compensated only after the cases resulted in monetary damages being awarded. That way, Nunes could permissibly get the legal work done upfront for free.

Lee Berlik, a defamation attorney not working for Nunes, suggested to the Bee that this was a plausible explanation:

“It would not surprise me if Nunes’ lawyer was handling these cases for free or on a contingency basis,” Berlik said. “He’s getting a lot of free publicity – people are learning his name.”

However, it’s hard to imagine that many if any of Nunes’ lawsuits will be successful. And even if Nunes won some monetary award, it’s far from clear the amount would provide Bliss enough compensation to justify all the work being done.