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Tag: merrick garland

'Serious Threat': Garland Vows Tough Prosecution Of Abusive Air Passengers

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Airline unions have been calling for an increase in prosecutions of violent, unruly passengers, and U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland agrees. Garland, according to the Associated Press, is promising aggressive federal prosecutions for passengers who become abusive with airline employees.

Airlines, AP reports, have seen "a large increase in the number of investigations into passenger behavior" — and many of these incidents involve people who don't want to comply with airlines' mask requirements.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines have been asking passengers to please wear face masks on flights and to remove them only when they're eating or drinking — which is perfectly reasonable. But anti-maskers have been abusing flight attendants for enforcing that rule.

AP notes, "Airlines have reported more than 5000 incidents involving unruly passengers this year, with more than 3600 of those involving people who refused to wear face masks. Garland said, in a statement, that such passengers do more than harm employees."

The U.S. attorney general warned, "They prevent the performance of critical duties that help ensure safe air travel. Similarly, when passengers commit violent acts against other passengers in the close confines of a commercial aircraft, the conduct endangers everyone aboard."

AP notes that the Federal Aviation Administration has "referred 37 cases involving unruly airline passengers to the FBI for possible criminal prosecution since the number of disruptions on flights began to increase in January."

Steve Dickson, an FAA administrator, is quoted as saying, "The unacceptable disruptive behavior that we're seeing is a serious safety threat to flights, and we're committed to our partnership with the DOJ to combat it."

Bannon Threatens Biden Over Capitol Riot Panel Contempt Charges

By Jan Wolfe and Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Former President Donald Trump's longtime adviser Steve Bannon on Monday sought to portray the criminal charges over his defiance of a congressional inquiry into the deadly January 6 Capitol riot as politically motivated, lashing out at President Joe Biden and others.

Bannon, indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday on two counts of contempt of Congress, made his first court appearance, with Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather releasing him on his personal recognizance after a brief hearing. Hours earlier, Bannon turned himself in at an FBI field office in Washington, flanked by black-clad bodyguards.

The conditions set by Meriweather for Bannon's release did not include an order not to talk about the case publicly. Moments after the hearing Bannon addressed a throng of journalists outside the federal courthouse.

"I'm never going to back down. They took on the wrong guy this time," said Bannon, Trump's one-time chief strategist and one of more than 30 people close to the Republican former president called to testify to the Democratic-led House of Representatives select committee probing the January. 6 attack.

Bannon took aim at Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"I'm telling you right now, this is going to be the misdemeanor from hell for Merrick Garland, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden," Bannon said.

"We're going to go on the offense. We're tired of playing defense," Bannon said, who claimed without offering evidence that Biden ordered Garland to bring the charges.

Bannon was indicted on one contempt count for refusing to appear for a deposition before the committee and a second count for refusing to produce documents. The House voted on October 21 to hold Bannon in contempt, leaving it up to the Justice Department, headed by Garland, to decide on bringing charges.

Before surrendering to the FBI, Bannon told reporters, "We're taking down the Biden regime," though he did not specify what he meant by "taking down." A demonstrator standing behind him held a sign that read "Coup Plotter."

A mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol on January 6 in a failed attempt to prevent formal congressional certification of his election loss to Biden. The committee is scrutinizing Trump's actions relating to those events. Bannon is the first to face criminal charges arising from the panel's inquiry.

Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail along with a fine of up to $100,000, according to the Justice Department. The department on Friday had said Bannon faced a fine of up to $1,000.

Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail along with a monetary fine.

Meriweather imposed several conditions on Bannon including surrendering his U.S. passport. Bannon did not enter a plea, with an arraignment scheduled for Thursday.

Executive Privilege Claims

Trump has sought to stonewall the House committee and directed his associates not to cooperate. In defying his subpoena, Bannon cited Trump's insistence -- already rejected by one judge -- that the former president has a right to keep the requested material confidential under a legal doctrine called executive privilege.

Bannon, a prominent figure in right-wing media circles, was an architect of Trump's 2016 presidential victory and served as White House chief strategist in 2017. The former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. banker and Navy veteran has promoted right-wing causes and candidates in the United States and abroad.

Bannon separately was charged last year with defrauding donors to a private fund-raising effort to boost Trump's pledge to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border. Trump pardoned Bannon before the case could go to trial.

The House committee has said Bannon made public statements suggesting he knew in advance about "extreme events" that would occur on January 6. Bannon said on a January 5 podcast that "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow."

Shortly before the riot, Trump gave a speech to supporters near the White House repeating his false claims that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud and urging them to go to the Capitol and "fight like hell" to "stop the steal."

House investigators hope the Bannon charges will motivate other witnesses including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who on Friday refused to appear for a deposition, to testify.

Bannon's attorney David Schoen after Monday's hearing emphasized that his client's actions toward his subpoena were guided by Trump's invocation of executive privilege.

"You can't put the genie back in the bottle," Schoen said. "Mr. Bannon acted as his lawyers counseled him to do by not appearing and by not turning over documents in this case."

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)


Garland Announces Bannon Indicted On Two Counts Of Contempt

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet

Steve Bannon, a close ally of former President Donald Trump, was indicted Friday afternoon, the Justice Department announced.

A federal grand jury returned the indictment after Bannon refused to comply with a subpoena for testimony by the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on Congress.

"Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "Today's charges reflect the department's steadfast commitment to these principles."

The indictment included two charges, one for refusing to appear before Congress and another for refusing to turn over documents.

The department said an arraignment has not been scheduled yet for Bannon.

"As detailed in the indictment, on Sept. 23, 2021, the Select Committee issued a subpoena to Mr. Bannon," U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said. "The subpoena required him to appear and produce documents to the Select Committee, and to appear for a deposition before the Select Committee. According to the indictment, Mr. Bannon refused to appear to give testimony as required by subpoena and refused to produce documents in compliance with a subpoena."

Bannon has claimed that he doesn't need to testify because former President Donald Trump's executive privilege protects him from congressional subpoenas. However, many legal analysts have argued that this claim is vacuous on multiple grounds. As a former president, Trump's claims of executive privilege are tenous at best.

And they're particularly weak as they would apply to Bannon, who wasn't an executive branch employee at the time in question. And even if the concept of executive privilege were stretched beyond its limits, Bannon would still be obligated to appear before Congress and formally assert the privilege in the specific instances when it applies.

Bannon was previously indicted by the Justice Department for his role in the fundraising effort "We Build the Wall," which purported to collect private donations to construct the border wall that Trump had campaigned for president on. The Justice Department contends that the group defrauded donors by misusing their funds. However, as one of his last acts as president, Trump pardoned Bannon for his role in the alleged scheme before the charges could even be brought to trial.

It's not only Bannon who has resisted the committee's investigation. Mark Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff, has also refused to comply with a subpoena for testimony. It's possible he has a stronger legal claim to refuse to testify, but Bannon's indictment will likely put more pressure on him to comply with the committee.

The department explained in a press release:

In its subpoena, the Select Committee said it had reason to believe that Bannon had information relevant to understanding events related to Jan. 6. Bannon, formerly a Chief Strategist and Counselor to the President, has been a private citizen since departing the White House in 2017.
Each count of contempt of Congress carries a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail, as well as a fine of $100 to $1,000. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

House Select Committee May Hold Trump Chief Of Staff Meadows In Contempt

It's been over one month since the House Select Committee on Jan. 6 subpoenaed former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, former Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel, and Stephen Bannon. They were given two weeks to submit documents and were required to be deposed one week later. Meadows and Patel got short postponements and Bannon got a contempt of Congress charge.

Meadows is asking for the same by continuing to delay and obstruct. According to multiple sources to CNN, the committee is considering giving him a new deadline to comply with the subpoena and holding him in criminal contempt if he does not. "Our patience isn't unlimited, and engagement needs to become cooperation very soon," one of the sources told CNN. "As we've already made clear, anyone who tries to stonewall our effort will face the consequences."

Chair of the committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, told CNN that they are not at the point yet where they can take Meadows to court, but "If and when the staff says to us it's not going anywhere, there won't be any hesitation on the part of the committee to make the referrals." As opposed to Bannon, the complication with Meadows is that as the former chief of staff, Meadows can claim at least a degree of protection under executive privilege.

In addition to wanting to know what Meadows was doing and what was happening in the White House in the lead-up to Jan. 6 and that day itself, the committee wants to know his role in attempting to overturn the election—with his subpoena noting that he had communicated with "the highest officials at the Department of Justice requesting investigations into election fraud matters in several states."

It's been well-reported for months that Meadows was neck-deep in multiple schemes to "nullify" the election and allow Trump to remain in charge. That included efforts to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" votes, communications with Republican members of Congress, and a fantastical scheme in which Meadows pushed the Department of Justice to investigate whether Italy had interfered with the election using satellites.

But that's likely not all the committee wants to talk to Meadows about. Now that two of the insurrection organizers are talking, Meadows should probably think about negotiating his best possible deal. Several House Republicans have been named by those organizers as active in planning the protest, and both have been in contact with the committee. The two canaries are subjects of an unrelated investigation, and said that Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) used to get them to plan the Ellipse protest. If they went along with organizing this protest, they said, Gosar promised Trump would give them "blanket pardons."

"Our impression was that it was a done deal," the organizer said, "that he'd spoken to the president about it in the Oval … in a meeting about pardons and that our names came up. They were working on submitting the paperwork and getting members of the House Freedom Caucus to sign on as a show of support." Guess who else hangs out in the Oval Office for these kinds of meetings? Yep, the chief of staff.

The Biden White House rejected claims from Trump for executive privilege over records held by the National Archives this week. White House counsel Dana Remus told the National Archives that Biden has determined that shielding the documents from Congress "is not in the best interests of the United States." She added, "Accordingly, President Biden does not uphold the former President's assertion of privilege." Trump has asked Meadows to claim executive privilege to evade the subpoena.

Meadow's compliance might be influenced by what, if anything, Attorney General Merrick Garland decides to do about Bannon and the contempt charge against him. Garland told lawmakers last week, ahead of the contempt vote, that the Justice Department will follow "the facts and the law" moving forward on Bannon's case.

"I will say what a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia said I think yesterday or a day before," Garland told a House committee. "If the House of Representatives votes for a referral of a contempt charge—then the Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances, we will apply the facts and the law and make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution."

Biden potentially complicated things a bit last weekend by telling reporters, "I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable," referring to people resisting subpoenas. Presidents aren't supposed to do anything that looks like pressuring Justice, never mind four years of Trump doing just that. Asked in follow-up whether these people should be prosecuted by the Justice Department, he answered, "I do, yes." That led to Department of Justice spokesman Anthony Coley following up with a statement: "The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop."

That was October 15. Since then Bannon has accused Garland and the FBI of removing Trump from office in a coup. For real.

House Democrats on and off the committee are urging Garland to act. "The U.S. attorney [general] obviously has a decision to make; they have charging criteria. There are rules for prosecutors, they'll run it through their analysis. And, you know, we think that the public interest is obviously overwhelming in seeing that this subpoena is respected and that this crime is prosecuted," committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) told The Hill.

"I think there's a real desire on the part of the attorney general, for the most part, not to look backward," Rep. Adam Schiff said on the Yahoo News "Skullduggery" podcast last week. "Do I disagree with that? I do disagree with that, and I disagree with it most vehemently when it comes to what I consider even more serious offenses. For example, a taped conversation of Donald J. Trump on the phone with Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state from Georgia, trying to coerce him into fraudulently finding 11,780 votes. […] Because I think if you or I did that, we'd be under indictment by now."

What Merrick Garland Must Do Now

The coming weeks will be the most consequential of Merrick Garland's life — not just for the attorney general himself but for our country. Garland will have to decide, presumably with the support of President Joe Biden, how to address the looming authoritarian threat of former President Donald J. Trump and his insurrectionary gang. His first fateful choice will be how to deal with Stephen K. Bannon, the fascism-friendly, criminally pardoned former Trump senior adviser who has defied a subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating the events of Jan. 6.

That panel has issued a contempt citation of Bannon, which will reach the floor for approval by the full House early next week. When that resolution passes, as it assuredly will, Speaker Nancy Pelosi will ask the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to open a prosecution of Bannon, which could ultimately cost him a year behind bars and a fine of $100,000. (Trump won't be able to deliver a pardon, as he did last January to save Bannon from prison for defrauding gullible Trumpists in a "build the wall" scheme.)

Unless Garland instructs him not to do so, the U.S. attorney will commence that prosecution. If Garland fails to allow the prosecution to proceed, he will cripple the constitutional order and rule of law in the United States that he claims to uphold.

There is no conceivable basis in law for Bannon's refusal to testify about Jan. 6 and surrender relevant documents in his possession. His cocky assertion of "executive privilege" is entirely hollow for several reasons. He hasn't worked in the White House since 2017. He cannot claim to be following Trump's constitutional orders. And since Trump is no longer president, he no longer possesses the power of executive privilege, which only the sitting president, that is, Biden holds. And Biden rejected Trump's privilege claims over his documents and ordered that they be turned over to Congress.

Beyond all that, any such privilege claim is wholly void against an investigation of high crimes by public officials, as established in the Watergate case. Indeed, that exception would be especially salient and powerful in confronting a criminal conspiracy against the Constitution.

"Sloppy Steve," as Melania Trump called him, was a central organizer of the Jan. 6 events in Washington and predicted the night before the Capitol Hill insurrection that "all hell is going to break loose" on "one of the most historic days in American history." Well, the investigators want to know all about just what he knew and when he knew it.

Garland has a profound responsibility to act expeditiously and forcefully to curtail Bannon's lawless defiance of Congress. Dithering is unacceptable, and the attorney general should ask the district court to expedite this docket. Just as Trump sought to conceal the truth in the Russia investigation and both impeachment inquiries, he is now seeking to cover-up what actually happened on and around Jan. 6. He obstructed those probes through assertions of privilege and felonious misuse of the pardon power, among other tactics.

That obstruction cannot be allowed to happen again. If the Justice Department proves too paralyzed to handle Bannon's defiance, then Pelosi can invoke the "inherent contempt" power to have him arrested. Although nobody has been busted under that authority for more than a century, that's no reason not to do it now. There's always an open cell in the D.C. jail.

Garland's fateful responsibilities extend beyond the House subpoenas. As evidence of constitutional crimes mounts around the former president, so too does the duty of the attorney general to demonstrate that no one, emphatically including Citizen Trump, is above the law.

We now know that Trump demanded that the Justice Department elevate his election fraud lies on at least nine occasions, according to a new report from the Senate Judiciary Committee. He urged the department's top officials to "say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the (Republican) Congressmen." That was a brazen violation of federal law, which prohibits any official from attempting to "deprive or defraud" Americans of a fair election process. He broke the same law when he threatened Georgia officials if they failed to "find" enough votes for him to win the state.

And there remains a gigantic file of evidence, gathered by former Special Counsel Robert Muller, showing that Trump obstructed justice 10 times during the Russia investigation. Were he not a sitting president at the time, his conduct would have warranted multiple felony indictments. As former national security officials Mark Medish and Jonathan Winer write in a new article for Just Security, "Granting a president carte blanche to obstruct justice is at odds with the rule of law and America's founding principles, which abhorred arbitrary rule of tyrants."

Upholding the law is essential, regardless of threats of violence from Trump's fanatics or warnings that future Republican regimes will carry out vengeance. The phantom specter of payback is not a legal category. Surrender to the seditionists is not an option under the law. Garland, the whole world is watching.

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.

Hawley Defends Violent Anti-Mask Protestors As FBI Launches Probe

Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) is up in arms after Attorney General Merrick Garland announced on Monday that the FBI will partner with local law enforcement to respond to harassment and violence against school board officials and teachers across the country.

In his memo announcing the effort, Garland said, "In recent months, there has been a disturbing spike in harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence against school administrators, board members, teachers, and staff who participate in the vital work of running our nation's public schools." Those engaging in the violence are often angry about mask mandates in schools and the supposed teaching of what they call "critical race theory."

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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.










Ruling: IRS Must Deliver Trump Tax Returns To Congressional Committee

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

In a new opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, officials conclude that the administration is legally obligated to hand over former President Donald Trump's taxes to Congress, as requested.

The announcement is the latest development in Democrats' years-long struggle to see Trump's tax records. He conspicuously refused to make his tax returns public during the 2016 (and 2020) presidential campaign, despite having said he would do so. Many critics believed they would provide evidence of wrongdoing, impropriety, financial failure, or even criminality. So when Democrats took control of Congress in 2019, the House Ways and Means Committee requested his records from the IRS using a statute that allows lawmakers to obtain such information.

But the Trump administration stonewalled, using highly dubious legal reasoning. Now, the Biden administration, and Attorney Merrick Garland's Justice Department in particular, has reversed that decision:

When one of the congressional tax committees requests tax information pursuant to section 6103(f)(1), and has invoked facially valid reasons for its request, the Executive Branch should conclude that the request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose only in exceptional circumstances. The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President's tax information. Under section 6103(f)(1), Treasury must furnish the information to the Committee.

The Trump administration had argued that Congress did not have a legitimate legislative purpose to request. But the new OLC document rejects those claims, saying that lawmakers clearly have presented facially valid reasons for requesting the returns, and that is essentially the end of the story:

The statute at issue here is unambiguous: "Upon written request" of the chairman of one of the three congressional tax committees, the Secretary "shall furnish" the requested tax information to the Committee. 26 U.S.C. § 6103(f)(1). As the 2019 Opinion recognized, this statutory directive does not exempt the June 2021 Request from the constitutional requirement that congressional demands for information must serve a legitimate legislative purpose. 2019 Opinion at *17–19. The 2019 Opinion went astray, however, in suggesting that the Executive Branch should closely scrutinize the Committee's stated justifications for its requests in a manner that failed to accord the respect and deference due a coordinate branch of government. Id. at *24–26. The 2019 Opinion also failed to give due weight to the fact that the Committee was acting pursuant to a carefully crafted statute that reflects a judgment by the political branches, going back nearly a century, that the congressional tax committees should have special access to tax information given their roles in overseeing the national tax system. Particularly in light of this special statutory authority, Treasury should conclude that a facially valid tax committee request lacks a legitimate legislative purpose only in exceptional circumstances.

It added:

Even if some individual members of Congress hope to see information from the former President's tax returns disclosed on the public record merely "for the sake of exposure," Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, 140 S. Ct. 2019, 2032 (2020) (internal quotation marks omitted), that would not invalidate the legitimate objectives that the Committee's receipt of the information in question could serve.

However, Trump may still have the opportunity to delay disclosure further. BuzzFeed reporter Zoe Tillman noted that Trump has a short period of time to try to intervene:

Even if the House committee obtains the tax returns, they won't immediately become public. Documents identifying particular people are supposed to be kept by the committee in closed session.