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Monday, December 09, 2019

Tag: jeff sessions

Barr And Rosenstein Must Answer In Subpoena Scandal

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

When Donald Trump wanted to talk about the investigation being conducted into how his campaign colluded with Russian agents, he used a term that was meant to demean and delegitimize. He called it "spying." Trump also accused the Obama administration of "wiretapping" his offices, which—no matter what Trump says—was in no sense true. But as more information emerges about the efforts of the DOJ to chase down supposed intelligence leaks, it's hard to think of more appropriate terms. The Justice Department may not have been technically spying, and seeking to crack open metadata from cell phones isn't really wiretapping, but the DOJ was absolutely surveilling member of Congress and their families, including their minor children.

Unlike the investigation of Trump, which was begun because the intelligence community was presented with evidence that Trump's team was engaging in efforts to gain Russian assistance in altering the outcome of the election, the effort to obtain phone data from California Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam Schiff, as well as members of their families, seems to have been launched for no reason other than because Trump wanted it so. And, despite spending weeks finding no evidence, subpoenas were issued at least three times. Then the effort was revived months later and additional resources were added.

As might be expected, Republicans are already being dismissive about the whole affair, with multiple claims that investigating Congress over potential intelligence leaks is nothing new. However, attempting to obtain phone records of Congress members without their knowledge is certainly a new thing—much less trying to get the records of their spouses and children. It's clear that the DOJ went to extraordinary efforts to find something they could bring back to Trump as evidence that either Swalwell or Schiff had done something wrong.

But the most extraordinary thing about the whole sorry affair, may be the way that no one seems to be owning it. Former attorney general Jefferson Sessions says he didn't start it. Former attorney general Bill Barr says he didn't know about it. One of these men is absolutely lying. The other may be. But there's a third man who almost certainly was involved in both the beginning and the end of this effort to … sure, why not … to spy on the families of representatives. That man is former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

As the story of the attempts by the DOJ to subpoena Apple into providing phone records of members of Congress unfolded on Friday, Sens. Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin demanded that both Sessions and Barr appear in public testimony before Congress and explain the extent of the leak investigations.

However, according to The Daily Beast, Sessions has already claimed that "he wasn't aware of, nor was he briefed on" the subpoenas, and that he was unaware of the entire leak investigation. On Friday, POLITICO reported that Barr also claimed that he was "not aware of any congressman's records being sought in a leak case."

The statement from Sessions is vaguely possible. Sessions recused himself from DOJ activities related to the Russia investigation in March of 2017, earning Trump's undying rage in the process. Since the information released was connected to that investigation, it's possible that Sessions was not involved. And besides, though his actions were not always in the news, Sessions stayed busy during his time as attorney general. Among other things, he rewrote hundreds of pages of federal guidelines, striking such rules as those which avoided placing excessive fines on the poor. He made it easier to ship guns across state lines. Sessions shredded rules that were designed to make the justice process accessible to the disabled. He also spent a lot of personal time going over drug cases and insisting that prosecutors seek the maximum penalties. He was one busy little elf.

On the other hand, the statement from Barr is, as might be expected, pure bullshit. As has been widely reported, Barr was not only aware of the investigations, he revived them when he took office in 2018. Even though attempts to pin intelligence leaks on Congress had come up dry, and investigators were indicating that the whole thing was a dead end, Barr expanded the investigation. He added more staff and, as CNN notes, brought in a prosecutor expressly to handle the leak investigations. Barr didn't just revive these cases, he "found a set of aggressive career prosecutors" who were "willing to take extraordinary steps to try to complete the probes." Which apparently included taking another crack at getting past Apple.

Like hell, Bill Barr "can't recall."

And then there's Rosenstein. When it comes to the revelations on Friday, The New York Times reports the Rosenstein has "refused to comment." But if there is anyone who needs to be dragged before the Senate and compelled to testify, it might be the former deputy attorney general.

There was a time in the spring of 2017 when Rosenstein seemed like the one person at the DOJ who was holding some semblance of justice together. He authorized the Mueller investigation after Sessions recused himself. The New York Timeseven reported that Rosenstein considered secretly recording Trump, and discussed whether enough Cabinet members could be persuaded to invoke the 25th Amendment. There was genuinely a point where Rosenstein seemed to be the one essential man; the one person in power at the DOJ who saw Trump for who he was.

But by the spring of 2018, Rosenstein appeared desperate to show he was fully on Team Trump. He instructed the DOJ to increase prosecutions of refugee families. As The Guardianreported, it was Rosenstein who argued that children should be separated from parents, even if they were infants. That fall, Rosenstein was reportedly crying after a call to Trump and then-chief of staff John Kelly, in which it appeared he might be forced to resign. He begged for his position, telling Trump that "I can land the plane," and suggested that keeping him in place gave the Russia investigation "credibility."

Once Barr came on board, Rosenstein was reliably at his elbow, providing cover for Barr's actions. That included signing off on the conclusion that Donald Trump not be charged with obstruction in spite of the mountains of evidence in support of that charge.

Rosenstein left in 2019, but he didn't pass into obscurity. He went to work as a partner at white-shoe law firm King & Spaulding, where he is in charge of "special matters and government investigations." What investigations might that be? As Reuters reported, the firm worked for Trump's campaign in 2020, including working on efforts to block the use of absentee ballots. Far from being sent into exile, ProPublica shows that King & Spaulding was a revolving door for the Trump White House with at least seven people moved from the firm to government positions during Trump's term. In fact, when Rosenstein helped Trump oust Comey, his replacement, current FBI director Christopher Wray, came from King & Spaulding.

Far from being run out of town, Rosenstein was helped into a nice, soft, lucrative position at a firm with deep connections to Trump. A firm which counts the Trump Organization as one of its largest clients. That's quite a feat for the guy who signed off on the Mueller investigation and reportedly tried to get Trump removed from office. Trump still hates Sessions for simply recusing himself, even though Sessions has slathered Trump with praise nonstop. But Trump appears to have forgiven Rosenstein, in spite of both Mueller and the 25th Amendment report. Why is that?

It's obvious that Rosenstein must had done a lot to earn that spot. And it's obvious that he needs to testify.

He can start by answering questions about his knowledge of the effort to secure the phones of sitting representatives and their families. Sessions might claim ignorance. Barr might feign forgetfulness.

But Rosenstein was there for it all.

Saturday, Jun 12, 2021 · 9:50:01 AM EDT · Mark Sumner

Justice Officials Launch Probe Of Barr’s Surveillance Of Democratic Lawmakers

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The Inspector General of the Department of Justice has announced he will launch an investigation into the DOJ spying on prominent Democratic members of Congress during the Trump administration's time in office. Those incidents include obtaining subpoenas for communications data from at least 12 people, including Democratic lawmakers, their staff members, family members, and at least one minor child.

Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr, according to a New York Times report Thursday, were central to these incidents of spying taking place.

Among those targeted by Sessions and Barr were Democratic Congressmen Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of California.

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz, Axios reports, made the announcement on Friday. Horowitz was first appointed to that position by President Barack Obama. The announcement says the investigation will include DOJ's similar efforts on members of the media.

"The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is initiating a review of DOJ's use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records of Members of Congress and affiliated persons, and the news media in connection with recent investigations of alleged unauthorized disclosures of information to the media by government officials. The review will examine the Department's compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations. If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review."

Vengeful Trump Takes Down Sessions In Senate Runoff

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions lost his primary race to be the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Alabama on Tuesday night in a landslide, according to Decision Desk HQ. Early returns showed him losing the shot to win back his old seat by more than 20 points to opponent Tommy Tuberville, who will face off against Democratic Sen. Doug Jones in November.

It wasn't a surprising loss for Sessions, though it is a brutal one. He gave up his seat in the Senate to become President Donald Trump's attorney general, and he lost his big chance to return because his one-time benefactor turned against him. Trump enthusiastically endorsed Tuberville while viciously and repeatedly denouncing Sessions.

There's no reason to feel any sympathy for Sessions. He's an unrepentant racist who loved Trump's anti-immigrant bigotry so much that he was the first sitting senator to endorse him as a presidential candidate. He was one of the leading architects of the family separation policy that tore apart immigrant children from their parents, inflicted untold suffering, and created enduring trauma.

But his national humiliation should be a warning to the rest of us. Like it or not, Trump is in all likelihood to remain president until at least January of 2021. And his treatment of Sessions could presage his treatment of the country — especially if he loses re-election to former Vice President Joe Biden.

Sessions genuinely did love Trump. He loved Trump enough to endorse him early in the race when many still thought he was destined for defeat. Had Trump gone down in flames, Sessions would have been seen as an easy mark.

He took the risk, though, because Sessions really believed in Trump. He believed in the anti-immigrant message, the barely concealed racial animus. He wanted to help Trump enact that vision, to turn it into law.

Yet despite his commitment to Trump, he had his limits. When early in Trump's presidency, the Russia investigation began to come into view, Sessions did nothing to stop it. Worse than that, in Trump's eyes, he recused himself from the case as the ethics regulations dictated he must. He refused repeatedly to intervene in the investigation despite Trump's pleas. Trump never forgave him for this, seeing it is a fundamental betrayal, even though Sessions was only following the law and his conscience on this matter — one of few saving graces in an otherwise loathsome career. Trump eventually fired him in what can only be described as an act of obstruction of justice and retaliation.

Sessions was thoroughly humiliated, and he only humiliated himself further when he ran for his old Senate seat. Despite Trump's constant abuse, he pledged to serve the president's will in the Senate. The Republican voters, it seemed, didn't buy it. They took Trump's word on what was good for Trump over Sessions' protestations.

So for a second time, Trump has degraded and humiliated Sessions, a man who from all appearances genuinely loved him and wanted to serve his ends. And this time, it wasn't about wresting control of a vexing investigation; it certainly wasn't about policy differences. Sessions probably would have been a loyal ally in the Senate if he had the chance to be around for a second Trump term. Trump sabotaged Sessions because he felt Sessions was insufficiently loyal when he needed it. It was an act of vindictiveness and spite. It was also, intentionally or not, a warning to anyone else who isn't loyal.

Which brings us back to the November election. Currently, Trump is strongly favored to lose. He may pull off a stunning upset and scrape by with an electoral college victory once again, but right now, it's a longshot. Most likely, Biden will be the next American president.

So what happens if Trump loses? There's been a lot of discussion about how Trump might try to contest the result or throw the election into doubt. Those are real possibilities that we need to be deeply concerned with.

But those efforts may fail, or the loss may be decisive enough that Trump doesn't even try to deny it. What then? That's when we might realize just how bad it is having a president who revels in spite and retaliation. A man with the power of the presidency, and all that that entails, will hold his office for another two and a half months after losing. He'll feel betrayed by the American people, and he'll no longer have much incentive to keep us in his good graces. We should be thinking hard about how he could be constrained in that time and what he might try to do to exact his revenge.

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.

Surprise! Bigots Running For Senate In Alabama

In the final third of his political career, George Wallace retreated from the politics of rage and resentment, apologizing to black Alabamians for his support of white supremacy and winning the votes of many of them. But he is remembered, still, as the fiery segregationist who stood in the schoolhouse door, the politician who insisted “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” His legacy is stubbornly resistant to a makeover.

White Southern politicians of the 21st century ought to think long and hard about the Wallace legacy and whether they want to be remembered for more than their political expediency and prejudices. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., seem to be ignoring the lessons of the Wallace era.

Both men are seeking a seat in the U.S. Senate that is currently held by an Alabama Democrat, Doug Jones. And in a hotly contested Republican primary, both men are appealing to a right-wing Republican base that remains resentful of the social and cultural changes wrought by the civil rights movement. To do so, Sessions and Byrne are diving unabashedly into hoary stereotypes and offensive rhetoric.

For Sessions, this is familiar territory. (He is seeking to win back the seat he gave up to become Trump’s first attorney general.) He is a dyed-in-the-wool bigot who has long fought to curtail voting rights for black citizens and who wants to limit even legal immigration. When Sessions was in the Senate, one of his chief aides was the infamous Stephen Miller, now an aide to President Donald Trump. Miller has a long history of trafficking in white nationalist beliefs and supporting the views of self-avowed racists.

So it’s no great surprise that Sessions has a new campaign ad in which he not only denounces Democratic politicians as “socialists” — a time-honored tactic by conservatives — but also accuses them of wanting “open borders” and having a plan to give “free health care to illegal immigrants.” Never mind that the claims don’t bear scrutiny.

Byrne, however, is a more recent convert to the politics of racism and resentment. Once upon a time, he was a moderate Republican with a track record of working within the mainstream. Not anymore. Since Trump’s rise to power, Byrne has been busy tacking to the right, courting ultraconservative extremists, enmeshing his campaign in racially charged rhetoric.

His latest campaign ad is incendiary, featuring images of women of color in Congress and, of all people, former professional football player Colin Kaepernick. At least Sessions has the decency to denounce some white Democrats. Byrne doesn’t. He homes in, instead, on a picture of U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., wearing the hijab, and attempts to associate her with terrorism. Kaepernick, who is famous for refusing to stand for the national anthem, is supposedly a traitor to his country. The ad may delight Alabama’s white bigots, but it also makes Byrne appear to be one of them.

And his cynicism shows through as he looks solemnly into the camera to declare that he will not let the people whom he targets in the ad “tear the country apart.” That’s precisely what Byrne is doing with a campaign that takes its cue from the George Wallace who ran for president in 1968, pledging to “Stand Up for America.” In “The Politics of Rage,” a seminal work analyzing Wallace’s appeal, historian Dan Carter writes: “In speech after speech, Wallace knit together the strands of racism with those of a deeply rooted xenophobic ‘plain folk’ cultural outlook which equated social change with moral corruption.”

It is quite likely that a Republican will win the race for the Senate. Jones won a special election in crimson-red Alabama only because the winner of the Republican primary was Roy Moore, a former jurist who was damaged by credible accusations of sexual misconduct with teenage girls. Trump remains hugely popular here in my home state.

But like neighboring Mississippi, Alabama has serious challenges, including high rates of infant and maternal mortality and a poor system of public education. It deserves to be represented by politicians prepared to meet the future, not those mired in the reprehensible politics of the past.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Republicans Drop Criminal Justice Reform, Revert To Reactionary ‘Law And Order’

That didn’t last long.

For a while, it looked as though the distance between the parties had narrowed on the issue of criminal justice reform. Bipartisan cooperation passed the First Step Act, a small step indeed toward remedying America’s mass incarceration crisis that disproportionately, in a historically skewed system, burdens minorities and the poor in everything from arrests to sentencing. Increasingly, though, the rhetoric resembles a partisan return to form.

But is the public changing?

With a nudge from viral videos and reasons to doubt the “official” story, as well as attention paid to inequities built into the history of policing in America, more aware citizens may have evolved more than politicians.

For past presidential candidates like Richard Nixon, “law and order” became mantra as well as code, a promise to protect a silent (white) majority from young people protesting war, African Americans demanding equality, anyone looking to shake up the status quo. It was a page from a very old playbook — and it worked for those afraid of change.

You can hear the refrain, amplified, from the current president, when he bolsters law enforcement on the border and speaks of an invasion. Donald Trump may take a cue from “consultants” such as Kanye West and Kim Kardashian when he intervenes in the individual case of a nonviolent drug offender or feuds with Sweden over a jailed rapper. But the president has always seemed more comfortable when he has advised police officers not to be “too nice” to suspects or maligned cities as criminal cesspools — even when the city was El Paso, Texas, relatively peaceful until a white domestic terrorist echoing the president’s words blasted its tranquility to bits.

With 2020 looming, other members of the administration and other Republicans are falling in line and reverting to the past.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, so eager to release police departments from agreed-upon consent decrees to reform corruption and misconduct, had nothing on successor William Barr.

In a recent speech to the Fraternal Order of Police conference in New Orleans, Barr took a partisan blowtorch to the legitimacy of duly elected prosecutors, saying the appointment of progressive district attorneys is “demoralizing to law enforcement and dangerous to public safety” because they “spend their time undercutting the police, letting criminals off the hook, and refusing to enforce the law.”

In a column in The Washington Post, Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, Democratic nominee for commonwealth’s attorney in Arlington, Mark Gonzalez, district attorney for Nueces County, Texas, and Wesley Bell, county prosecutor for St. Louis County, Missouri, hit back, writing: “We are dedicated to safety and justice. We understand that our current criminal legal system throws away too many people, breaks up too many families, destroys too many communities and wastes too much money. And we refuse to accept that a wealthy democracy cannot figure out how to keep its people safe without criminalizing as many things as possible, prosecuting as hard as possible and punishing people for as long as possible.”

These are officials who campaigned on the promise to respect all citizens instead of reflexively treating entire populations as potential perps. As someone who grew up in an urban neighborhood that was at once under protected and over policed, I recognize the challenges these prosecutors were elected to alleviate.

Because of videos and education, the general public and those not affected by unequal treatment have learned, as well, of the names and cases of Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile — and the list goes on. Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s decision not to run for another term was hastened by the delayed release of the video of Officer Jason Van Dyke, now serving time for his crime, shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald 16 times.

When Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City officer who placed Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold before he died, recently was fired, the police union president was the loudest voice objecting to the move, and now Patrick Lynch is hinting at a work slowdown in response. To those haunted by the voice of Garner saying “I can’t breathe” 11 times and the sight of officers and EMT personnel standing by, Pantaleo was lucky no charges were filed.

Props must also be given to efforts such as The New York Times’ “1619 Project,” which examines, it says, “the consequences of slavery” and the contributions of black Americans at the very center of the story we tell ourselves about who we are. Its all-too-true stories draw the line from injustices then to those that persist, including the fact that law enforcement throughout the country’s history was often the brutal enforcer of repressive policies.

In the 2020 presidential race, Democratic candidates are not afraid to be vocal about criminal justice and police reform plans. In fact, candidates have had to explain their past records as mayors and prosecutors and, in front-runner Joe Biden’s case, his role in helping to write the 1994 crime bill, acknowledged to have played a large role in the mass incarceration that followed.

It’s a big change from when Democrats were reluctant to speak out, afraid of being judged “soft on crime.”

So, while for a moment it seemed Democrats and Republicans might be moving closer to a tentative truce on the issue, unfortunately the importance of seeking a more just “justice” is becoming, like so much else, another opportunity to disagree.

Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, The Charlotte Observer, as national correspondent for Politics Daily, and is a senior facilitator with The OpEd Project. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3.

Trump ‘Not On Board’ For Sessions’ Senate Candidacy In Alabama

It looks like Trump has no plans to reward Jeff Session’s slavish loyalty.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions can’t count on Trump’s endorsement if he runs for his old Senate seat next year.

Talking with The Hill Thursday, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) said he spoke with Trump about Sessions’ running for the seat he vacated to become U.S. attorney general. According to Shelby, Trump was less than supportive.

“I talked to the president about it to … about if Sessions ran, he was not encouraging,” Shelby said. “How do I say it? He was not on board.” When pressed about why Trump wasn’t supportive, Shelby declined to specify.

Trump’s refusal to endorse Sessions may not be surprising to some. The two have had beef ever since Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation in 2017, which eventually led to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller.

Following the recusal, Trump publicly condemned and bullied Sessions for over a year, going so far as to say “I don’t have an Attorney General” and claim that “a lot of people” asked him to fire Sessions.

And it’s not new for Trump to refuse to endorse the people who have been most loyal to him. Recently, he even refused to say he’d support his vice president, Mike Pence, if he ran for president in 2024.

Despite Trump’s belittling, Sessions implemented his boss’ racist policies, including the separation of children from their parents at the border, the Muslim ban, suppressing minority votes and denying asylum to victims of domestic violence. Sessions was forced out of the department in November 2018, and it’s clear he and Trump are no longer friends.

If Sessions decides to jump into the race without Trump’s blessing he has stiff competition. Roy Moore, the alleged pedophile strongly endorsed by Trump in 2017, is already in the race.

It’s not new for Trump to refuse to endorse the people who have been most loyal to him. Recently, he even refused to say he’d support his vice president, Mike Pence, if he ran for president in 2024.

It’s clear loyalty is a one-way street with Trump.


Published with permission of The American Independent.

Sen. Harris Urges Probe Of Barr By DOJ Inspector General

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), a member of the Judiciary Committee and a 2020 presidential candidate, followed up her noteworthy performance on Wednesday questioning Attorney General Bill Barr with an aggressive move: calling for an investigation by the Justice Department inspector general.

In an exchange she had transcribed for a letter to the department, Harris asked the attorney general if the White House had ever asked or suggested that Barr or the Justice Department open any specific investigations. He struggled to answer her clearly:

Senator Harris: Attorney General Barr, has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?
Attorney General Barr: Um. I wouldn’t … I wouldn’t. uh—

Senator Harris: Yes or No?
Attorney General Barr: Could you … could you repeat that question?
Senator Harris: I will repeat it. Has the President or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone? Yes or no please, sir.
Attorney General Barr: Urn, the President or anybody…
Senator Harris: Seems you would remember something like that and be able to tell us.
Attorney General Barr: Yeah, but I’m, I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest.’ I mean, there have been discussions of, of matters out there that, uh — they have not asked me to open an investigation. But…
Senator Harris: Perhaps they’ve suggested?
Attorney General Barr: I don’t know. I wouldn’t say suggest…
Senator Harris: Hinted?
.Attorney General Barr: I don’t know.
Senator Harris: Inferred? You don’t know?
Attorney General Barr: No.

Harris’ letter to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz said that she had “grave concern about the independence” of Barr, and that the White House directing the opening of investigations “strikes at the very heart of the rule of law and threatens to undermine the longstanding independence of the Justice Department.” She also noted that there’s good reason to think the president might be trying to corruptly influence the department.

“Such inappropriate requests by the President have been well documented,” she wrote. “For instance, in addition to investigating the Russian influence operation, Special Counsel Mueller also examined the President’s conduct with regard to the Russia probe and documented a disturbing pattern of behavior on the part of the President—repeated attempts to target his perceived opponents using the power of federal lass enforcement.”

In particular, Mueller documented Trump asking then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions at least three times to open an investigation into Hillary Clinton. Some, including Lawfare’s Ben Wittes, have argued that this request alone is an impeachable offense.

She noted that Barr was “unable or unwilling [to] answer the question” of whether such requests have been made of him. She, therefore, asked that the inspector general investigate “whether the Attorney General has received or acted upon requests or suggestions, whether implied or explicit, to investigate the president’s perceived enemies.”