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Tag: merrick garland

House Democrats Demand Corruption Probe Of Former Trump Interior Chief

Top Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee have taken former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt to task for alleged corruption and called on the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into his alleged quid-pro-quo with an influential pro-Trump developer from Arizona for a housing permit.

In a 37-page letter to Attorney General Merrick Garland, Reps. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ), the committee chairman, and Katie Porter (D-CA), chair of the subcommittee on oversights and investigations, accused Bernhardt of misusing his office to effectuate “federal agency decision-making … in the interest of private gain rather than the American people.”

Bernhardt, the lawmakers said, pressed an official to approve a permit for developer Michael Ingram, a Republican donor, despite warnings from multiple officials that developments could harm endangered species.

From 2019 to 2021, Bernhardt led the U.S. Interior Department as its secretary. He was the department’s no-2 man in 2017 when a departmental agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), suddenly reversed its longtime demand for an environmental review of a proposed development of a 28,000-home residential area in Southern Arizona, known as Villages at Vigneto.

Grijalva and Porter said the committee opened an extensive investigation into the decision in 2017, after Steve Spangle, an FWS employee, complained to news outlets that he was politically pressured into approving the development when he was an Arizona Ecological Services Field Office supervisor.

Officials warned that issuing a Clean Water Act permit could threaten endangered species, such as the southwestern willow flycatcher and yellow-billed cuckoo, in the area, which is home to birds and the northern Mexican garter snake, according to the Associated Press.

Bernhardt, the Democrat lawmakers write in their letter, met Ingram in August 2017 but didn’t disclose it in his public calendar or travel documents. Two weeks after that meeting, a phone call was allegedly placed to the Interior Associate Solicitor Peg Romanik, ordering him to reverse the FWS’s decision to block the project.

Two months later, Ingram donated $10,000 to the Trump Victory Fund, which was reportedly used in a collective GOP effort to funnel millions of dollars to reelect Trump. The permit was approved later that month, the lawmakers’ letter alleged. In the days that followed, Ingram and his associates made “highly unusual out-of-cycle donations” of almost $242,000 to Trump’s fund, the lawmakers complained.

“Evidence strongly suggests the decision was the result of a quid pro quo between Vigneto’s developer, Michael Ingram, and senior level officials in the Trump administration, potentially including then–DOI Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt,” the Democrat lawmakers wrote.

Ingram, the latter says, had “frequent access to high-ranking officials across the Trump administration,″including Bernhardt; Ryan Zinke, the Interior Secretary from 2017 to 2019; and Scott Pruitt, the 2017-2018 Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The findings of this investigation show us yet again that the previous administration cast career staff expertise aside while they handed out federal agency decisions to Trump’s buddies and big donors on a pay-to-play basis,” Grijalva said in a statement.

When reached for comment about the committee’s findings and letter, Bernhardt snapped, calling it “a pathetic attempt by career politicians to fabricate news.”

Lanny Davis, an attorney for Bernhardt’s company, El Dorado Holdings, called the committee’s findings “false, misleading, [and] unfair” and said it struck him “as reminiscent of McCarthyism’s use of innuendo as a surrogate for fact.”

Reporter Confronts Merrick Garland On 'What's Taking So Long' On Jan 6th Business (VIDEO)

A reporter at the Dept. of Justice Friday asked Attorney General Merrick Garland the question that’s been on many minds of late: Why hasn’t former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows been formally charged with criminal contempt of Congress?

On December 14 the full House of Representatives sent DOJ a contempt of Congress referral for Meadows. Since that time even more damning information has been reported by the press.

The Attorney General was not just unwilling to give a direct answer, he was unwilling to even confirm there was a referral sent to DOJ, a commonly-known fact that is also in the official Congressional Record.

"Four months is a gracious plenty of time to make a decision about whether to prosecute Meadows, especially since SCOTUS has mostly resolved the executive privilege argument,” former federal prosecutor Joyce Vance noted on Twitter.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Mo Brooks Says Trump Urged Coup To Oust Biden After January 6

Hours after Donald Trump withdrew his endorsement from Rep. Mo Brooks’ Senate campaign in Alabama, the Republican congressman —who spoke (while wearing body armor) at the January 6 rally that preceded the attack on the U.S. Capitol and voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s victory—issued a statement that should have the House Select Committee and Attorney General Merrick Garland sitting up and taking notice.

Trump blamed Brooks’ statements about the need to move on from the 2020 elections for his decision to rescind the endorsement, saying Brooks “went ‘woke.’” But Brooks first said that last August, and the decision also comes as Brooks is trailing in Alabama Senate primary polls. So it may be a case of Trump trying to avoid the stench of loser as much as Trump being butt-hurt that Brooks no longer thinks the last election is the biggest thing in U.S. politics today. Now he’s turning his back on a guy who may have things to say that people want to hear.

In his response statement, Brooks first blamed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for having “manipulated” Trump. Brooks called himself “the only candidate who fought voter fraud and election theft when it counted, between November 3 and January 6.”

Brooks then went on to say, “I repeat what has prompted President Trump’s ire. The only legal way America can prevent 2020’s election debacle is for patriotic Americans to focus on and win the 2022 and 2024 elections so that we have the power to enact laws that give us honest and accurate elections.”

Brooks isn’t saying that he thinks President Joe Biden won the 2020 elections fair and square. He says there was voter fraud and election theft (this is a lie) and that he wants to change elections law to prevent it from happening again. But there’s an interesting word in there. “Legal.”

And that word is an important lead-in to the final paragraph of Brooks’ statement: “President Trump asked me to rescind the 2020 elections, immediately remove Joe Biden from the White House, immediately put President Trump back in the White House, and hold a new special election for the presidency. As a lawyer, I’ve repeatedly advised President Trump that January 6 was the final election contest verdict and neither the U.S. Constitution nor the U.S. Code permit what President Trump asks. Period.”

Listen: Merrick Garland Hints At  Prosecuting Trump In Interview (AUDIO)

One year into his term as U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland is once again responding to an almost overwhelming call from the left and from some Democratic elected officials – including the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack – to prosecute Donald Trump, the former president.

And in a rare moment the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is answering his critics – very carefully – but serving up essentially the same response as he did earlier.

“We are not avoiding cases that are political or cases that are controversial or sensitive,” Garland told NPR in an interview published Thursday. “What we are avoiding is making decisions on a political basis, on a partisan basis.”

The Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, the insurrection, and the assault on our very democracy last week filed in court what prosecutors might see as damning felony charges against Donald Trump, including “criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States,” and corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding.

Garland explained the DOJ’s process:

“We begin with the cases that are right in front of us with the overt actions and then we build from there. And that is a process that we will continue to build until we hold everyone accountable who committed criminal acts with respect to January 6.”

In January, facing criticism from those who believe Trump and his associates should be charged and questioning why they have not been, Garland said:

“The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6 perpetrators at any level accountable under law, whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”

Today, those looking for signs that Trump will face justice might take some solace in Garland’s non-committal hint: “This had to do with the interference with the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another. And it doesn’t get more important than that.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Under Pressure To Probe Trump, Garland Vows Not To Sidestep ‘Political’ Cases

One year into his term as U.S. Attorney General, Merrick Garland is once again responding to an almost overwhelming call from the left and from some Democratic elected officials – including the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack – to prosecute Donald Trump, the former president.

And in a rare moment the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is answering his critics – very carefully – but serving up essentially the same response as he did earlier.

“We are not avoiding cases that are political or cases that are controversial or sensitive,” Garland told NPR in an interview published Thursday. “What we are avoiding is making decisions on a political basis, on a partisan basis.”

The Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol, the insurrection, and the assault on our very democracy last week filed in court what prosecutors might see as damning felony charges against Donald Trump, including “criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States,” and corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding.

Garland explained the Justice Department’s process:

“We begin with the cases that are right in front of us with the overt actions and then we build from there. And that is a process that we will continue to build until we hold everyone accountable who committed criminal acts with respect to January 6.”

In January, facing criticism from those who believe Trump and his associates should be charged and questioning why they have not been, Garland said:

“The Justice Department remains committed to holding all January 6 perpetrators at any level accountable under law, whether they were present that day or were otherwise criminally responsible for the assault on our democracy.”

Today, those looking for signs that Trump will face justice might take some solace in Garland’s non-committal hint: “This had to do with the interference with the peaceful transfer of power from one administration to another. And it doesn’t get more important than that.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

How Trump Could Be Prosecuted For White House Document Scandal

In her forthcoming book Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, the New York Times’ Maggie Haberman reports that White House staff believed that a clogged toilet in the White House was caused by the former president flushing documents down the commode. This reporting comes not long after the National Archives and Records Administration retrieved 15 boxes of White House documents from Mar-a-Lago — documents that should have been given to NARA when Trump was still in office.

During Trump’s four years as president, he was known for tearing up documents. All of this begs the question: Could Trump be prosecuted for destroying White House records? And according to attorney Chris Truax, the U.S. Department of Justice could, in fact, prosecute the former president — although it wouldn’t be easy.

“Revelations about Donald Trump’s ‘document retention practices’ have come fast and furious over the last two weeks,” Truax explains in an article published by the conservative website The Bulwark on February 14. “First came confirmation from the National Archives that Trump really did habitually tear government records into shreds — a fact which has been reported in the media since 2018. Then came the news that Trump had improperly retained 15 boxes of documents in violation of the Presidential Records Act and shipped them to Mar-a-Lago.”

Truax continues, “Now, there are numerous reports in the press that several of these improperly retained documents were classified. Some of them were supposedly even top secret. And now, the National Archives has referred the situation to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution. Is prosecution a real possibility? Or is this yet another case where Trump’s clearly out-of-bounds behavior either can’t or won’t be prosecuted?”

The attorney goes on to explain that for the Department of Justice, building a case against Trump for destroying White House records would be difficult but not impossible.

“There are problems with prosecuting Trump for mishandling classified documents,” Truax explains. “For example, the Department of Justice would have to demonstrate that Trump himself was responsible for removing the documents — and that he had done so knowing they were classified. Establishing those facts will be hard even if they are true, and these documents were not removed either by accident or at the direction of someone else.”

Truax adds, “Perhaps the biggest problem, though, is that when it comes to classified information, a sitting president really is kind of above the law. While he was president, Trump had the ultimate authority to decide what was classified and what wasn’t. There is at least one documented example of him ‘declassifying’ highly sensitive information on a whim so he could brag about it to the Russians. If he were criminally charged with improperly handling classified documents after he left the presidency, he could always claim that he had declassified those particular documents while he was still president. This would not be a defense to be proud of, but it might also be hard to disprove.”

The Presidential Records Act of 1978, Truax notes, “requires the White House to preserve presidential records and transfer them to the National Archives.”

“Even though Trump has clearly violated both the spirit and the letter of the law,” Truax observes, “he can’t be directly prosecuted under the Act because it doesn’t have criminal penalties. There are, however, other statutes — in particular, 18 U.S.C. § 2071 — that deal with the improper handling of government records and that could form the basis of a prosecution. This statute makes it a felony punishable by three years in prison to willfully and unlawfully conceal, remove, mutilate, obliterate, or destroy a federal record.”

Truax adds, “Applying that to the records that Trump took to Mar-a-Lago might be tricky because in order to commit the crime, you have to know what you are doing is illegal, and you have to know that the records you are removing from federal custody are federal records…. Funnily enough, the activity that puts Donald Trump in the greatest legal danger is also the most absurd: his habit of tearing up documents into little pieces…. Trump was repeatedly warned that tearing up documents was illegal, both by White House Counsel Don McGahn and by his first two chiefs of staff, Reince Priebus and John Kelly.”

According to Truax, the Department of Justice would need to show “intent” if it prosecuted him for tearing up White House documents.

“It’s a flagrant, long-term, habitual violation that Trump knew was wrong even as he continued to engage in it,” Truax writes. “The only possible excuse for his behavior is that he believed that laws like the one he violated were for little people and not for him. Now, it’s up to Merrick Garland to show Trump that he was wrong.”

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Investigating Trump's White House Document Scandal, Without Fear Or Favor

The world-historical carnage inflicted by the singularly misreported story of the 2016 presidential election has been forever captured in a pithy, ironic cliche: "But her emails..."

While every politically aware American understands that baneful phrase, it gained a far deeper significance this week with revelations of how former President Donald J. Trump "mishandled" — in fact stole, flushed, ripped up and perhaps even ate — White House documents he didn't want archivists, historians, or criminal investigators to obtain. That includes some unknown but undoubtedly large volume of classified material, from "Confidential" to "Top Secret," including information pertinent to the investigation of his attempted coup and insurrection.

Trump's outraged bellowing about Hillary Clinton's alleged mishandling of her emails and other State Department documents was of course utter fakery. Subsequently, not only Trump but nearly everyone around him — notably Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, Steve Bannon and many others — regularly used unsecured private communication devices to discuss government business. "Lock her up!" was nothing but the usual Trumpian cynicism and should have been a predictive sign that he was projecting his own real and rampant misconduct.

The stunning truth about Trump's unlawful and bizarre treatment of presidential documents is just beginning to emerge in full, yet certain mainstream media outlets appear determined to minimize his potential criminal exposure. No less an authority than the New York Times informed its readers last week that "if Mr. Trump was found to have taken materials with him that were still classified at the time he left the White House, prosecuting him would be extremely difficult and it would pit the Justice Department against Mr. Trump at a time when Attorney General Merrick B. Garland is trying to depoliticize the department."

That statement appeared in a news article, although it clearly expressed the unsupported opinion of Times journalists, hiding behind a characterization of Garland's current state of mind regarding Trump — in short, punditry and soothsaying. And that report stands in stark contrast to the weight the Times put in the balance in 2016 — influencing the reporting of every major American news outlet — by obsessively insisting that Hillary Clinton was vulnerable to criminal prosecution. From that coverage, which pervaded American political media, innocent voters could only surmise that she had probably committed felonies and that her alleged misdeeds were the most important fact of the election.

So obsessive, in fact, was the paper's coverage that "in just six days, the New York Times ran as many cover stories about Hillary Clinton's emails as they did about all policy issues combined in the 69 days leading up to the election," according to analysis published by the Columbia Journalism Review. One editorial, published on May 26, 2016, after the State Department inspector general exonerated her, was headlined "Hillary Clinton, Drowning in Email," noting that "the email controversy" amplified by the Times was "likely to make her seem less personable to many voters."

Washington journalists may attempt to justify that distorted focus, much as they once sought to justify the Whitewater non-scandal two decades earlier, but it's still a disgrace. The judicious James Fallows, writing in The Atlantic, described the Times' coverage of Hillary's emails as "imbalanced and credulous" and "a legitimizing and enabling factor" in Trump's election.

The FBI and the Justice Department ultimately found no crimes committed by Secretary Clinton, despite FBI director James Comey's glaring and sanctimonious violations of Justice Department policy in bandying about claims of potential criminality, before pronouncing her innocent.

At this moment, we know no such thing about Trump or his gang — who appear to have both enabled and warned him many times about his violations of the Presidential Records Act as well as various classification statutes. We don't know what was in the dozen or more boxes with which he absconded from the White House, except that he appears to have taken classified material and that somehow the records of his telephone communications during the January 6 insurrection appear to have been deleted.

The National Archives and Records Administration has asked the Justice Department to investigate these matters. We must hope that Attorney General Merrick Garland will do his duty in enforcing the rule of law and pursue the facts wherever they may lead. No longer president, Trump is subject to criminal prosecution if he broke the law as president — and there is plenty of reason to believe he did so. Given his unbroken record of lies, subterfuges and brazen obstruction of justice — 10 instances of obstruction memorialized by Robert Mueller in his report on Russian influence on the 2016 election alone.

So, reporters and analysts should take a very long step back before offering any assumptions or predictions that Trump cannot be prosecuted or implying he did not commit crimes. The same people telling us that he can't be prosecuted once led us to expect that Hillary Clinton would be locked up.

Let the investigation proceed, and let justice be done.

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.


National Archives Seeks DOJ Probe Of Trump Stealing White House Records

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has requested the Department of Justice investigate Donald Trump’s handling of presidential records after it was forced to travel to Mar-a-Lago, the former president’s Florida home, to retrieve 15 boxes of documents and other items that belong to the federal government.

“Archives officials suspected Trump had possibly violated laws concerning the handling of government documents — including those that might be considered classified — and reached out to the Justice Department,” The Washington Post reports, citing people familiar with the matter.

Trump, as numerous stories have noted, had a habit of ripping up papers, including important government documents and other items required by law to be retained and handed over to the National Archives.

The Post’s sources “said the discussions about the matter remained preliminary, and it was not yet clear whether the Justice Department would investigate. The department also might be interested in merely reclaiming classified materials.”

Despite having reclaimed 15 cartons, more is still missing. Trump’s aides reportedly are searching for the items.

Reprinted with permission from Alternet