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

By Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — When U.S. Attorney Zachary Fardon took his post six months ago amid pressure to curtail Chicago’s relentless street violence, he was clear that federal authorities were not going to be able to swoop in and make arrests that would suddenly solve the intractable problem.

While Fardon has downplayed expectations, the announcement Monday that he has created a new Violent Crimes section at the U.S. Attorney’s Office clearly reflects how gun violence has become a high-profile issue for an office better known for combating terrorism and public corruption.

After months of consultations on how his office spends its resources, Fardon decided to spin off 16 prosecutors from the larger Narcotics and Gangs section to focus solely on how best to use federal statutes to go after violence, said Randall Samborn, a spokesman for Fardon.

Samborn said prosecutors will use drug and gun statutes as well as extortion and money-laundering laws to go after criminal crews responsible for violent acts, including bringing conspiracy prosecutions similar to racketeering cases. While no new resources have been tapped, the restructuring will allow prosecutors to attack the problem with more agility, he said.

“This is putting a group of talented attorneys together and telling them that their mission is to help the city and the district tamp down violent crime … and to use all the tools and strategies at their disposal that are going to accomplish that mission,” Samborn said. The unit also will continue to run proven violence prevention initiatives such as Project Safe Neighborhoods.

Samborn said that, to a certain extent, the new section re-emphasizes an issue that has long been a priority of a U.S. Attorney’s Office that already allocates about a third of its resources to gang, gun and drug prosecutions.

Even the announcement itself was low-key — made without a news conference or press release on a day when Fardon was running in the Boston Marathon.

When Mayor Rahm Emanuel was asked about it Monday, he didn’t appear to have been filled in on any details.

“I don’t know whether it means more resources, I don’t know what it exactly is, but I’m pleased they’re doing it,” Emanuel told reporters.

Former federal prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer said the creation of the new unit puts a focus on the issue and allows the team of prosecutors the opportunity to take a leadership role in tackling a problem. But the overall look of the prosecutions — especially sophisticated racketeering cases aimed at gang leadership — may end up looking largely the same.

“It’s not like the office is going to start doing things tomorrow that they weren’t doing last week,” said Cramer, now head of the Chicago office of the private security company Kroll. “There is no magic pill — if there was they would have been doing it years ago.”

Picked to head the section was Assistant U.S. Attorney Ron DeWald, a former Cook County prosecutor who throughout his career has worked with Chicago police and other law enforcement agencies, Samborn said.

The move is part of a larger restructuring of the office’s approximately 160 prosecutors and $34 million budget undertaken by Fardon, who took office in October. Other changes include the creation of a specialized securities and commodities fraud section as well as stepping up efforts to combat the growing problem of cyber crime, Samborn said.

It’s not unusual for an incoming U.S. attorney to reorganize an office, finding efficiencies and shuffling priorities.

The last major restructuring came in 2002 under Fardon’s predecessor, Patrick Fitzgerald, who a year after the Sept. 11 attacks announced a new focus on terrorism cases as well as the creation of a major case squad and units on complex financial fraud and public corruption. A decade earlier, newly appointed U.S. Attorney Jim Burns brought in a key assistant to help reorganize the office in the aftermath of allegations of misconduct in the El Rukn gang prosecution.

Samborn said in the past 10 years the Narcotics and Gangs section had grown to more than 40 attorneys and become unwieldy to manage. In creating a section focused on violent crime, Fardon wanted to allow more time for strategic thinking among a smaller group of prosecutors dedicated to a single cause, he said. “What this is saying is that we are aware this is a problem and that we have a role in (fixing) it,” Samborn said.

AFP Photo

Many Democrats are getting nervous about the upcoming presidential election. Ominous, extensively reported articles by two of the best in the business—the New Yorker's Jeffrey Toobin and The Atlantic's Barton Gellman—outline Boss Trump's plot to keep control of the White House in 2021 no matter how the American people vote.
Trump is hardly making a secret of it. He's pointedly refused to commit to "a peaceful transfer of power."

"Well, we're going to have to see what happens," is how he answered the question. He added that after we "get rid of the ballots"—presumably mail-in ballots he's been whining about for weeks--"there won't be a transfer, frankly. There'll be a continuation."

Of course, Trump himself has always voted by mail, but then brazen hypocrisy is his standard operating mode. If you haven't noticed, he also lies a lot. Without prevaricating, boasting, and bitching, he'd be mute. And even then, he'd still have Twitter. He recently tweeted that the winner "may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED" because mail-in ballots make it a "RIGGED ELECTION in waiting."
Gellman gets this part exactly right in The Atlantic: "Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.
"Trump's invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before."
No, we haven't. However, it's important to remember that Trump makes threats and promises almost daily that never happen. Remember that gigantic border wall Mexico was going to pay for? Trump has built exactly five miles of the fool thing, leaving roughly two thousand to go.
His brilliant cheaper, better health care plan? Non-existent.
On Labor Day, Boss Trump boasted of his unparalleled success in strong-arming Japan into building new auto-manufacturing plants. "They're being built in Ohio, they're being built in South Carolina, North Carolina, they're being built all over and expanded at a level that we've never seen before."
Not a word of that is true. Two new plants, one German, another Swedish have opened in South Carolina, but construction began before Trump took office. Auto industry investment during Barack Obama's second term far exceeded Trump's. His version is sheer make-believe.
But back to the GOP scheme to steal the election.
First, it's clear that even Trump understands that he has virtually no chance of winning the national popular vote. He's been polling in the low 40s, with no sign of change. To have any chance of prevailing in the Electoral College, he's got to do the electoral equivalent of drawing to an inside straight all over again—winning a half-dozen so-called battleground states where he defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016 by the narrowest of margins.
At this writing, that looks highly unlikely. The latest polling in must-win Pennsylvania, for example, shows Trump trailing Joe Biden by nine points. That's a landslide. Trump's down ten in Wisconsin, eight in Michigan. And so on.
So spare me the screeching emails in ALL CAPS, OK? Polls were actually quite accurate in 2016. Trump narrowly defeated the odds. It can happen. But he's in far worse shape this time. Furthermore, early voting turnout is very high, with Democrats outnumbering Republicans two to one.
Hence, The Atlantic reports, "Trump's state and national legal teams are already laying the groundwork for post-election maneuvers that would circumvent the results of the vote count in battleground states."
The plan is clear. Because more Democrats than Republicans are choosing mail-in voting during the COVID pandemic, Trump hopes to prevent those ballots from being counted. Assuming he'll have a narrow "swing state" lead on election night, he'll declare victory and start filing lawsuits. "The red mirage," some Democrats call it.
"As a result," Toobin writes, "the aftermath of the 2020 election has the potential to make 2000 look like a mere skirmish." With Trump in the White House urging armed militias to take to the street.
Mail-in votes take a long time to count. Things could definitely get crazy.
True, but filing a lawsuit to halt a Florida recount was one thing. Filing suits against a half dozen states to prevent votes from being counted at all is quite another. Public reaction would be strong. Also, winning such lawsuits requires serious evidence of fraud. Trumpian bluster ain't evidence.
The Atlantic reports that GOP-controlled state legislatures are thinking about sending Trumpist delegations to the Electoral College regardless of the popular vote winner—theoretically constitutional but currently illegal.
Fat chance. If that's the best they've got, they've got nothing.
Anyway, here's the answer: Vote early, and in person*.

[Editor's note: In some states, receiving an absentee ballot means that a voter can no longer vote in person* or may have to surrender the absentee ballot, including the envelope in which it arrived, at their polling place. Please check with your local election authorities.]