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Milwaukee Sheriff ‘Missing In Action’ As He Seeks Trump Limelight

Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County in Wisconsin has become a fixture on Fox News and at conservative political events, regularly serving as a shameless advocate for President Donald Trump.

But local journalists who report on the 15-year sheriff of Wisconsin’s most populous county say his newfound national spotlight sharply detracts from his law enforcement duties. They note that he spends much of his time away from home, either promoting Trump or pushing his new book, Cop Under Fire: Moving Beyond Hashtags of Race, Crime and Politics for a Better America.

Wisconsin reporters also point out that his local approval ratings continue to fall as he ignores his responsibilities, as well as a string of troubling incidents that have occurred in the past few years. Chief among the concerns are four inmate deaths that occurred in his jails in 2016, which Clarke has failed to adequately explain, they say.

“It gives the impression that he is missing in action and that he is an advocate for the Trump administration,” Daniel Bice, a columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who has reported extensively on Clarke, said about his recent actions. “The perception is that he has gone from being the sheriff to being an advocate for Trump — that is his primary role right now.”

Clarke, a Democrat and African-American, is among Fox News’ favorite guests. A search of Fox News transcripts on Nexis since 2015 finds he has made prime time appearances more than 100 times, in most cases to discuss national issues, not his home county. (Nexis does not capture Fox News appearances on morning and daytime programming.)

In addition, a recent Journal Sentinel review of Clarke’s outside income disclosure statements found he had earned more than $220,000 in 2016 from speaking fees and related expenses, along with other gifts, during speeches to 34 different groups in 20 states outside of Wisconsin. These earnings outpace his sheriff salary which is $132,290.

“He’s not around and he’s not doing his job and not providing any leadership,” said Charlie Sykes, a longtime conservative Wisconsin talk show host now appearing on MSNBC and WNYC Radio in New York. “His approach has been to refuse to comment, refuse to be transparent in any way, and attack anyone who raises questions about it.”

And then there are the questionable incidents involving Clarke, ranging from his tweet calling CNN’s Marc Lamont Hill a “jigaboo” to his alleged harassment of a fellow airplane passenger.

Clarke also called for a boycott of a local Fox affiliate, claiming it presented “fake news” and “racist” coverage.

“He doesn’t talk to the local press except through the county sheriff’s Facebook page, but he does talk to Fox News, which is a contrast,” Bice said. “The assumption nationally among the conservatives is that he is beloved here, but even conservatives are frustrated with how long he is gone and not doing his job.”

Clarke was first appointed sheriff in 2002, winning re-election later that year and again in 2006, 2010 and 2014. He is up for re-election again in 2018.

But he didn’t gain national prominence until his last election, when groups of gun-safety advocates helped support an effort to have him voted out.

When he won that election, local reporters say, he started getting national attention as a gun-rights advocate and law enforcement voice. He drew further attention last year when he spoke out against the Black Lives Matter movement, calling it a hate group. He was also an early Trump supporter.

One of the misconceptions about Clarke, however, is his image as a crime-fighter, local journalists say. His office does very little in the way of policing, with most of its work focused on the county’s jails, highways, and parks.

“The county sheriff has almost nothing to do with crime. The police handle the crime,” said Bruce Murphy, editor of UrbanMilwaukee.com, former editor of Milwaukee Magazine and onetime Journal Sentinel reporter. “He’s the classic example of all hat and no cattle. He talks tough and he has the impression of being this guy who is taking care of crime, and he has very little to do with it.”

A January 31 report from Public Policy Polling found that Clarke had a 31 percent approval rating among local voters, and it noted that “voters consider him to be somewhat of a national embarrassment.” It also revealed that 65 percent believed Clarke has had a negative impact on Milwaukee County’s image.

PolitiFact, meanwhile, has deemed 75 percent of his statements that it reviewed false or mostly false.

“He’s very thin-skinned. He enjoys the limelight, likes the big checks and flying first class,” said Mike Crute, a talk show host on WRRD News Talk 1510 in Milwaukee. “It’s horrible. He’s got people dying in his own jails and he is nowhere to be found.”

Crute added: “He is a guy who undermines the office and the public service office. It’s all narcissism, building himself as a TV brand, following Trump’s example. The sheriff’s office and its duties are just tedious to him. He doesn’t do anything.”

James Wigderson, assistant editor of the conservative website RightWisconsin.com, called the outside appearances “a distraction.”

“The fact that he probably earns more from speaking fees than he does at his day job leads you to believe that his day job has to be suffering at some point in this process,” Wigderson said. “It’s a mixed bag in Milwaukee County when you are more frequently appearing on Fox News nationally than you are on the local news discussing what is going on in Milwaukee County.”

Journalists also say that he has not properly addressed the jail deaths or his constant trips out of town. When Media Matters approached him at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference in February outside Washington, D.C., Clarke declined to comment on either.

Most reporters who cover Clarke believe he will not run for re-election in 2018, due in part to his diminishing local image and popularity, but also because of his continued support for Trump, as many believe he still hopes to serve the president in some capacity.

“He’s become a Fox News commentator/Trump surrogate and at that point has become almost completely disconnected with the community,” said Sykes.

In response to a request for comment, Fran McLaughlin at Clarke’s office sent the following:

I spoke with the sheriff :

The left (Progressives, Democrats) doesn’t think a black guy is capable of handling many things at one time. Let me introduce them to Sheriff David Clarke. He’s added Tammy Baldwin to the list. He’s EVERYWHERE! He’s too busy to talk to you right now though. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain

Criminologists Rip Misleading Trump Immigrant Crime Office

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

Crime reporters and criminologists say President Donald Trump’s new federal office devoted to crimes committed by immigrants is unnecessary and that creating such an entity is misleading since foreign-born residents actually commit fewer crimes than most native citizens.

They also urged journalists covering the issue and the president’s claims that immigrant crime is a major issue to go beyond just reporting Trump’s anecdotal allegations and present the data that continue to prove his theories wrong.

During his Tuesday address to Congress, Trump announced that his administration is creating “an office to serve American victims,” dubbed VOICE (Victims Of Immigration Crime Engagement). He announced the new office while claiming that cracking down on immigration will “make our communities safer” and characterizing those who will be deported as “gang members, drug dealers and criminals that threaten our communities and prey on our very innocent citizens.”

He punctuated his claims by inviting several guests impacted by crimes committed by undocumented immigrants to attend the speech.

But those who have covered and researched crime say Trump’s approach to the issue wrongly paints immigrants broadly as criminals when the facts don’t support that generalization.

“The general picture, as we have noted many times, is that immigrants commit fewer crimes than nonimmigrants and that is well-documented,” said Ted Gest, co-founder of Criminal Justice Journalists and a former crime reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and U.S. News & World Report. “He is obviously cherry-picking these cases where they have committed crimes.”

“He has made many more misstatements on crime, through the whole campaign, and it seems to me that, like a lot of people, he tries to pick out things that favor his views,” said Gest, who is also the author of the books Crime and Politics: Big Government’s Erratic Campaign for Law and Order and Understanding Crime and Justice Statistics (the latter a guide for journalists written with Daniel Lathrop). “I cannot understand myself how he can keep making these misstatements.”

Gest urged reporters on the story to “point out the total picture. I don’t know that a lot of journalists know that.”

Conservative media figures and nativist groups have fearmongered for years about a supposed undocumented immigrant “crime wave” that is not supported by data.

David J. Krajicek, another board member of Criminal Justice Journalists and a crime reporter since the 1970s — whose work includes writing for the New York Daily News — echoed Gest’s view.

“It’s statistically not true that immigrants commit more crimes than legal native residents of the U.S.,” he said. “I think journalists are having some difficulty trying to report the facts that countermand the many, many assertions that [Trump] and [Attorney General] Jeff Sessions are making about crime.”

Krajicek said one of the problems with Trump’s claims about immigrants and crime is that the far-right media pick them up without verifying that they’re true.

“We are living in a world where there are two media echo chambers,” he said. “Fox News, Breitbart and the like, and those of us who have a broader diet of news.”

He said reporters should “always be weary of policy that is made by anecdote. You can go out and find an anecdote to fit any policy narrative that you like. I hope that journalists ask the question of whether it is based in fact or just the worst-case example.”

Marisa Lagos, a criminal justice reporter at KQED Public Radio and TV in San Francisco, said that “there’s no evidence that shows immigrants commit as much crime as citizens.”

Her advice to reporters on the story: “Remind folks that the immigration system is a civil system, not a criminal system. Given the data and research, it is a dangerous narrative that there is more crime perpetrated by people who are immigrants, and we know it is not true.”

James Lynch, president of the American Society of Criminology and a professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Maryland, also said Trump’s plan misrepresents the truth.

“The work I’ve done on immigrants and crime is pretty clear. … By and large the evidence in the last 20 years is that they have lower incidences of crime compared to the public at large,” Lynch said. “The immigrant population does nothing but good — they pay taxes, they do the work. It is pretty clear that immigrants are a positive force and a very low production of crime on their part.”

Asked how the media should cover the story, he said, “They should do due diligence. … I would be skeptical of anything that comes out of a political speech.”

Christina DeJong, an associate professor of criminal justice at Michigan State University, said one of the reasons for the lower crime rate among immigrants is that many came to the U.S. for a better life, leaving behind persecution or economic problems.

“When immigration goes up, crime goes down,” she said. “The reason that most immigrants end up in jail is related to their immigration status, not some other crime. They tend to come here looking for safety.”

Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, said Trump’s new office is unnecessary because victims already have many options.

“I’m not really sure how this office is going to help victims of immigrant crime,” she said. “If someone is attacked, is hurt, is robbed by someone who is undocumented, they go to the police. If it evolves to federal crime, they go to the FBI.”

She also said there is already a federal Office for Victims of Crime at the Department of Justice.

“I don’t understand the need,” Fernandez added. “If you are a victim of a crime, you are a victim regardless of who the perpetrator is.”

She also urged reporters to take into account all of the data when reporting on the issue:

“There is no real data to say this is an enormous problem. You are taking resources that don’t need to be placed there. I have not seen data that says there is an overrepresentation of victims of crime by immigrants.”

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump hands Chief of Staff Reince Priebus (R) an executive order that directs agencies to ease the burden of Obamacare, after signing it in the Oval Office in Washington, U.S. January 20, 2017. Also pictured is White House Staff Secretary Rob Porter (C). REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/Files

President Trump’s Chaotic And Bizarre First Month Is Unprecedented

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

Presidential historians and veteran Washington correspondents say President Donald Trump’s first month in office — which has been marred by numerous scandals and vicious attacks on the press — is more “chaotic” and “bizarre” than any administration’s first month in history.

Trump put his anti-press venom on display again last Thursday in a wild press conference, during which he doubled down on claims that the press is out to get him and traffics in “fake news.”

“This is a new level of bashing the press,” Yale University history professor David Blight said shortly after the press conference ended. “It’s a complete disaster. All he is doing is daring the press to keep hunting.”

Blight is among several historians and veteran D.C. correspondents who spoke to Media Matters about how Trump’s first month in office compares to those of his predecessors. They painted a picture of Trump’s first weeks as an unprecedented mix of chaos and mounting scandals.

“In all the administrations I’ve observed, and all the ones I’ve studied, I’ve never seen such confusion and internal tension so early as in this one,” H.W. Brands, a presidential historian who has written books on Andrew Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Ronald Reagan, said via email. Referencing the recent resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn, Brands added, “I can’t recall a top adviser being forced out so soon. The knives are out; more casualties seem likely.”

According to Brands, “This administration, with very little experience of Washington — and with often expressed contempt for Washington’s ways — has had a rougher start than any in living memory.”

William H. Chafe, a Duke University history professor and former president of the Organization of American Historians, called Trump’s early weeks “totally unprecedented.”

“There’s been so much instability, so many scandals, and no legislation,” Chafe said. “By this time, Obama had already passed his stimulus package in Congress. You are talking about a completely unprecedented situation.”

Patrick Maney, a Boston College presidential historian, said many presidents have started out with troubles, but not at this level.

“This is sort of like warp speed. What is amazing to me is that this has happened in such a short time,” he said, later pointing to Trump’s anti-press approach as “rawer than any I have ever seen. Even Nixon and Clinton at their angriest with the press, it wasn’t at the same level as Trump.”

Longtime Washington, D.C., journalists and former White House correspondents also say Trump’s first month is unprecedented.

“Everything about Trump is a whole higher level of confusion because of the way he operates,” said Ron Hutcheson, a former Knight Ridder White House correspondent and past president of the White House Correspondents Association. “The media part is truly unprecedented.”

He added, “There appears to be no effort at message discipline. I am sure the comms team has one, but the president keeps stepping on it. That’s a huge change. He has experienced comms people who get the concept of, ‘let’s figure out what we want to deliver our message.’ But inevitably it gets fouled up, and usually because of something the president does.”

Marilyn Thompson, a former three-year Reuters Washington bureau chief during the Obama Administration and 27-year D.C. journalist called the administration “a rudderless ship.”

“He feels like he has stumbled in a very short time into any number of serious national security and ethical breaches that are just uncustomary,” she said. “They are hostile to the press in a way that I have never seen before and it is not a good recipe for running the country.”

Andy Alexander, a former Cox Newspapers Washington bureau chief, echoed that view: “It’s nothing new for White House officials to spin stories, shade the truth, conceal information or intentionally mislead. But what we are seeing today is routine prevarication on a large scale, with frequent assertions that are demonstrably false.”

Marvin Kalb, a D.C.-based reporter from 1963 to 1987 and former Meet the Press host, pointed to the ongoing questions about the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russia.

He called it a “thoroughly remarkable inability of Congress to launch a top to bottom investigation of the Trump-Russia connection. It’s one of the most important stories at the beginning of any administration that I have ever seen.”

Clark Hoyt, a former longtime Washington reporter for Knight Ridder who covered the Nixon White House and resignation, also ran its D.C. bureau from 1987-1993 and 1999-2006. He also found no past equal to Trump’s first weeks in office.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Hoyt said. “From the moment that you come in, I have never seen an inaugural address that failed to reach out. Then declaring you are at a running war with the media, then the disorganization from within, the chaotic nature of activity within the White House.”

Asked how the press should approach such an unusual administration that attacks them, lies constantly, and seeks to divert attention, presidential historians said journalists should dig in even deeper.

“You have to ask the toughest questions you possibly can,” said Duke University’s Blight. “The press should be asking for evidence, evidence, evidence, examples, examples, examples” when claims are made.

Maney of Boston College said reporters should not let every little item or tweet distract them from focusing on bigger, in-depth stories such as Russia or large-scale policy plans.

“One error the media has made is this across-the-board criticism and ignoring some more serious issues,” he said. “Some of this is just bizarre, some of it I don’t know how the press can handle it.”

Meg Jacobs, a presidential historian at Princeton and Columbia universities, also urged journalists not to back off, even when they are attacked.

“They have to continue to call him out where they see him fabricating and straying from the truth,” she said. “They have to cover his efforts to transform the relationship with the press as a story as well as the substance of what the administration is doing.”

IMAGE: U.S. President Donald Trump listens to a translation during a joint news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 10, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Journalists Speak Out On How The Press Should Cover Trump

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America

Facing the reality of President-elect Donald Trump’s impending inauguration, traditional media outlets can either band together in the face of Trump’s bullying anti-press tactics or risk being steamrolled by the incoming administration.

In interviews with Media Matters, journalists and other media experts argue that reporters need to be ready to recommit to solid, rigorous reporting to hold Trump accountable and to stand together in the face of the Trump administration’s inevitable anti-press crusade.

Since being elected, Trump has continued to lash out at critical media outlets through his Twitter account. At his long-delayed first press conference as president-elect last week, Trump berated CNN reporter Jim Acosta, refused to let him ask a question, and dubbed his network “fake news.” Other journalists who were gathered for the press conference essentially just watched.

Several experts told Media Matters that the Acosta incident highlights the need for journalists to stand up to Trump.

“Part of the problem here is the press is walking into a buzzsaw,” said Ken Auletta, media writer for The New Yorker. “There is a large percentage of the population that don’t believe us. Anytime a Jim Acosta raises his hand and tries to get the attention of the president-elect, there is a sizeable part of the population that says, ‘There they go again.’”

“You don’t get the public to pay attention by caving. We can’t be intimidated,” he said. “The fourth estate has a role to play. That role is we are representatives of the public — we are supposed to ask the question to better inform the public.”

In an open letter to Trump, Columbia Journalism Review Editor-in-Chief Kyle Pope argued that the days of Trump trying to pit journalists against one another “are ending. We now recognize that the challenge of covering you requires that we cooperate and help one another whenever possible.” He added, “So, when you shout down or ignore a reporter at a press conference who has said something you don’t like, you’re going to face a unified front.”

Pope elaborated on his proposal in comments to Media Matters, writing, “Working together at press conferences could mean not asking a question until a shunned organization has had a chance to be answered; it could mean actually jointly working on stories that are beyond the capabilities of a single news organization, much like ProPublica and the NY Times do now; it definitely means calling attention to good work from our competitors that may not otherwise get adequate notice.”

Adam Clymer, a former longtime New York Times political reporter, said press organizations need to unify and keep tabs on Trump’s anti-press treatment, recalling when the National Press Club once issued a report on President Nixon’s lack of press conferences.

“In a public setting, a little solidarity is probably called for,” he said. “In public, they should not tolerate his picking on one person. That is intolerable.”

Walter Shapiro, a Roll Call correspondent whose experience also includes stints at The Washington Post and Time, predicts, “It is going to be more anti-press. … It is really important for the press to stand together.”

Media Matters president Angelo Carusone recently launched a petition on MoveOn.org calling on news organizations to stand up to Trump’s attempts to blacklist or ban critical news outlets. (As of January 19, the petition has more than 285,000 signatures.)

Lynn Walsh, president of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), told Media Matters that her group has heard from journalists who “feel threatened” by Trump’s behavior, and they are “talking internally about how we respond.”

She also said reporters must support each other, citing Shepard Smith of Fox News’ quick defense of Acosta last week. SPJ is one of several journalism groups expected to co-sign a joint letter to Trump that raises concerns about his treatment of the press and his moves and plans to limit access, including possibly evicting journalists from the briefing room in the White House.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) and the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) issued a joint statement of concern last week about Trump’s press treatment following a meeting of 50 such groups last week.

It said, in part, “In discussing top priorities as the Trump administration takes shape, the group agreed that countering legal threats to reporters – such as leaks investigations, libel suits, and a disregard for the Freedom of Information Act – and promoting a public policy in support of the public’s right to know are crucial areas that require a unified response.”

The journalists Media Matters spoke to also highlighted Trump’s regular disregard for the truth and his complex conflict-of-interest entanglements as challenges media outlets need to overcome in order to properly cover a Trump administration.

“I think it is going to be very challenging. We have to develop new ways of getting around” attempts to limit access, said George Condon of National Journal, who has covered the White House since 1982 and served as WHCA president in 1993 and 1994. “We will see how much access we have, how the press conferences are and the daily press briefing. If something becomes a pattern, we’ll react. You have to do your job — find out what the president is proposing, what it will cost, who it will affect.”

During the campaign, several veteran political reporters and journalists told Media Matters that one of the main deficiencies of media coverage of then-candidate Trump was a routine failure to follow up on important investigative reporting on Trump in favor of latching onto his outrageous comment du jour.

Steve Scully, C-SPAN senior executive producer and political editor and a former WHCA president, urged reporters to pick and choose what is important to cover and not get drawn into the outlandish story: “Don’t necessarily go for the shiny object; cover the substance. Is it harder? It is harder because he is very adept at trying to redirect the news cycle. We’ve never had somebody quite like Donald Trump in the White House. It is a whole set of new standards.”

As Media Matters and others have noted, during the transition, outlets have routinely dropped the ball — especially in headlines — by parroting Trump’s spin on current events without providing necessary context.

Lynn Walsh argued that media outlets need to be aggressive about highlighting falsehoods from the administration.

“If he is saying something that is incorrect, we have to say that is not true,” she said. “If it is incorrect or false, we absolutely have to say that is not true. We have to be better than we’ve ever been. We have to be accurate in our reporting and don’t put information out there that is false or misleading.”

“This is, I’m sure, going to be the most difficult administration ever to cover because of Trump, because of the internet, because of his apologists,” said Walter Mears, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press political reporter from 1956 to 2001. “I don’t think there is any question.”

“All you can do is listen, write down what he says, and be as aggressive as possible in finding out what’s behind it,” Mears added. “He’s already demonstrated that he can misrepresent anything by simply saying his version of truth and he’s got a lot of people who will believe it.”

Several major news outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Politico, have already announced plans to increase White House staffing, doubling it in some cases.

David Folkenflik, NPR’s media correspondent, said it’s going to be “very important to follow his business entanglements and legislation. The important thing is not to let the Trump administration off the hook and keep your eye on the ball. We have not heard a full picture of Trump’s relationship with the Russians.”

He added, “News organizations are going to have to scrutinize and disentangle some of the business relationships, his foreign entanglements, and policy decisions.” Given the “combination of the lack of previous scrutiny of Trump and many of his most important figures and the skepticism to contempt he has for the roles the press plays in accountability and transparency,” media will “have to be willing to forgo access in order to serve the larger job.”

Will Trump Actually Sever Ties With His Business?

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Government ethics experts say President-elect Donald Trump needs to divest himself completely of his business holdings to avoid any conflict of interest, and that he should give reporters legal documentation of his plan when he unveils it in two weeks.

The president-elect has recently faced heavy criticism over a vast array of potential conflicts of interest between his business empire and his upcoming administration.

On Wednesday, Trump issued a series of tweets announcing a “major news conference” with his children in which he will “discuss the fact that [he] will be leaving” his business “in total.” Trump claimed that while he was not legally “mandated” to make this move, he felt it “is visually important, as President, to in no way have a conflict of interest with my various businesses.”

Many major media outlets responded to Trump’s announcement with headlines parroting Trump’s suggestion that he will be completely cutting ties to focus on the presidency and avoid conflicts.

But legal experts tell Media Matters that Trump’s vague announcement does little to address the potential conflicts, and any plan short of Trump completely selling his interests will leave the window open for an ethical mess. They also point out that Trump simply claiming to be separate from the business but leaving his children in charge is another major ethical red flag.

Geoffrey Hazard, professor of law and a government ethics expert at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and University of California Hastings Law School in San Francisco, said the president-elect should sell all of his business holdings: “Get it as far away from your personal control as you can. Legally, it is not too complicated.”

Hazard said the Trump children should “clearly not” be given control of the organization “because they are still his children. They can communicate with each other by nods and winks and they will.”

“He ought to be able to point to a set of legal documents and say about them, ‘Here’s what we’ve done,’” Hazard added. “He ought to turn over a stack of papers that [journalists] could give to their legal people to look at.”

Stephen Gillers, New York University Law School professor of legal ethics, also said complete divestiture is needed.

“To really cut the concerns he has to sell all of his interests in all of the Trump properties,” Gillers said. “The conflict concern is those might influence his decisions as president. He has to have no financial interest in the profit or loss of any of the Trump enterprises. Give no reason to question whether he made a decision because it’s good for the business.”

Gillers suggested reporters should directly ask Trump on December 15, “Will you divest yourself of any financial interest of any properties of Trump Enterprises? And if you don’t, how will we know that the decisions as president have not been influenced by business considerations?”

“To divest himself will require a lot of lawyering,” Gillers said. “It will not be easy but it can be done and proof of that should be made available to the public.”

(An illustration of one of the many potential conflicts of interest looming for the Trump administration, via The New York Times.)

Kathleen Clark, a government ethics expert at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, MO, said his tweets do not detail how far he will remove himself from the businesses. She said that needs to be asked by the press.

“That addresses whether he will focus on the presidency, but that does not address in any way the initial conflicts he has through his ownership interests,” she said of his tweets. “He needs to divest from his business interest. It means to sell it — that’s the only way that he can move forward in the government without people reasonably being concerned that his government decisions are motivated by his personal financial interests.”

As for reporters seeking answers, she said they “need to see the documents, we all need to see the documents because Mr. Trump has a habit of saying two things that are mutually exclusive and he does them at the same time. The focus has to be on whether he has actually divested or not.”

Richard Painter, a former ethics attorney for the George W. Bush White House, said via email that any separation from The Trump Organization “is not enough unless he is going to sell the businesses.”

Painter followed that with a long list of potential conflicts that could arise otherwise. Those include:

“Payments from foreign governments that violate the Emoluments Clause (foreign diplomats staying in hotels, parties thrown by foreign governments in hotels, loans from the Bank of China, rent paid by foreign governments and companies controlled by foreign governments in office buildings, etc.); appearances of quid pro quo (bribery, solicitation of a bribe or offering a bribe) every time ANYBODY working for either the government or the Trump business organization talks about both government business and Trump organization business in the same conversations or even with the same people; and litigation risk.”

“Under the Jones v. Clinton case the President can be sued in his personal capacity and presumably also can be required to testify in other lawsuits,” Painter explained. “If Trump owns the businesses it will be a lot easier for plaintiffs lawyers to sue him personally and even if they do not to require his testimony, than it would be if he sell the businesses.”

He said reporters need to ask, “Is he going to divest and if not how is he going to deal with these problems that I mention?”

IMAGE: Donald Trump (R) along with his children Eric (L), Ivanka (2nd L) and Donald Jr. attend a ceremony announcing a new hotel and condominium complex in Vancouver, British Columbia June 19, 2013. REUTERS/Andy Clark 

FBI Veterans, Historians See Leaks As ‘Dangerous’ And ‘Unprecedented’

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

The recent FBI leaks about the bureau’s investigations surrounding Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton are “dangerous” for democracy and “unprecedented,” according to FBI historians and former agents who tell Media Matters that the leaks harm the FBI’s reputation and unfairly influence the presidential election.

FBI Director James Comey has been widely criticized for his decision to send a vague letter last Friday to Congress announcing that the FBI had identified and planned to review additional emails “that appear to be pertinent” to its investigation of Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

In the wake of Comey’s letter, numerous leaks have emerged from the FBI. The Guardian reported that the leaks have been designed to hurt Clinton’s campaign, due to factions within the bureau that are “pro-Trump.” According to one agent quoted by the paper, “The FBI is Trumpland.”

Several historians and former agents spoke with Media Matters and said the unusual leaking of information and subsequent media reports can do damage not only to the current presidential election but also to the FBI’s effectiveness and the nation’s democracy.

“It is a big negative to the country. It pollutes the image of democracy. It is completely incompatible with democracy,” said Kenneth O’Reilly, the author of three FBI books and a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska, Anchorage. “In the good old days, [leakers] were either fired or sent to a field office and you didn’t have so much of that as an issue. You have renegade agents and they are a lot harder to control. You are having these factions and there is one faction in there and their whole life mission is to get the Clintons.”

Sanford J. Ungar, a scholar in residence at Georgetown University and the author of FBI: An Uncensored Look Behind the Walls, agreed.

“If the bureau is perceived as being partisan, it loses credibility. People are less willing to talk with them and it is a major setback. It is just a bizarre development in the past few days,” he said. “The bureau’s reputation is quick to be weakened and hard to recover.”

He later added, “Now I have to wonder if there is somebody in a very influential, well-placed position at the FBI who has some very particularly strong feelings about this election, who wants to leak as much as possible to affect this election.”

Douglas Charles, a Penn State Greater Allegheny associate professor of history who has written three books on the FBI, said this kind of activity is not the normal course of FBI business — and for good reason.

“Most people understand leaks like this don’t happen very often for the FBI,” Charles said, later adding, “These leaks say to me there is some rift of some kind. In one way or another, it is influencing the election, for good or bad, which is something the FBI is not supposed to do or be involved in. There is a danger of the FBI becoming too involved in politics like the Hoover era. It was behind the scenes and quiet [back then], not so up front and blatant as this is. The worst that happens is the damage to its reputation, and its reputation is maybe one of its most important things because if it is damaged that affects it going forward.”

Tim Weiner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and FBI historian, echoed that view.

“Normally, [the Department of] Justice would not be bad-mouthing the director of the FBI and the director of the FBI would not be discussing an investigation that at the time had barely been hatched,” he said. “It’s the power of the information that is disclosed that makes readers spit out their coffee in the morning.”

Nancy Savage, executive director of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI, said not only are such leaks unacceptable among agents, but they are often wrong.

“That is pretty unprecedented,” Savage, who spent 35 years as an agent, said of the leaks. “Leaks are leaks — they aren’t necessarily accurate and sometimes you can get people who have their personal ax to grind and their own view of it.”

James Wedick, a former FBI agent who served for over three decades, also offered concern about the accuracy.

“There are some leaks now and I am dubious exactly how good the leaks are,” he said. “You don’t know who is providing the information and you don’t know if it is good information and it may have some effect on the election. These agents take their oaths seriously. You are not going to find many agents willing to leak information, so I am suspect of it. If it does happen, it is dangerous, it is bad.”

Leaking “does damage to the reputation of the agency,” said Binny Miller, a former Justice Department attorney and a professor at American University Washington College of Law. “I haven’t seen this kind of thing in the press about any other things the FBI has investigated. The problem with leaks is the people who make the leaks, you cannot asses it. A government agency needs to speak with one voice. You could compromise an investigation.”

Athan Theoharis, a professor emeritus and FBI historian at Marquette University, said it’s simply “really dangerous.”

“The Clinton leaks are particularly egregious because they occur in the midst of a presidential campaign. You shouldn’t be doing anything that has political ramifications,” he said in an interview.

Former Prosecutors Criticize Media’s ‘Uninformed Speculation’ On FBI Email Letter

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters

Several former prosecutors are criticizing the wildly speculative and overblown media coverage of FBI Director James Comey’s Oct. 28 letter announcing that the bureau plans to review additional emails that “appear to be pertinent” to its investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state.

Comey’s letter has been criticized by figures across the political spectrum due to its vagueness and apparent defiance of Justice Department precedent. This weekend, the Clinton campaign distributed a letter featuring several dozen former federal prosecutors and officials at the Department of Justice “expressing serious concerns over FBI Director Comey’s departure from long-standing department protocols.”

In interviews with Media Matters, several signatories of the letter were critical of the “firestorm of misinformation” and baseless speculation that has dominated media coverage of Comey’s actions since Friday.

“It’s a predictable result of what happens when you depart from well-settled DOJ practice regarding criminal investigations,” said Tony West, a former U.S. Associate Attorney General from 2012 to 2014. “Oftentimes it’s uninformed speculation. It created a firestorm of misinformation and misinterpretation and speculation from the media and political commentators.”

He later added, “There’s a tension between trying to be first and fast and trying to be accurate. I find that with stories like this, it’s not unlike what I experienced in the Justice Department – you would have an incident and early intelligence on that incident and oftentimes the early intelligence is incorrect. You see that play out with stories like this. It is very difficult to correct first impressions.”

Stuart M. Gerson, former acting U.S. Attorney General and a former Assistant Attorney General from 1989 to 1993, agreed.

“The problem with it is we are in an age of scoop journalism. Finding an accurate picture requires a lot more experience, judgment and perception,” Gerson said in an interview. “There is nothing in that letter that suggests there is a single culpable email, there is not even an indication of that. They should have dug further. There should have been tougher interviews of sources. There needed to be something more from the Justice Department itself. More real reporting.”

For Donald B. Ayer, a former deputy U.S. Attorney General from 1989 to 1990, there was “a lot of confusion surrounding” Comey’s letter that should have sparked caution.

“Who knew what?” he said. “The media is running around trying to pick up the story and examine it. The letter he wrote wasn’t a masterpiece of clarity.”

“To the extent the media reported they were emails from Hillary Clinton, no one ever said that,” he added, later saying of the media reaction, “there were people with their hair on fire, ‘oh my God,’ ‘the end of the world is upon us,’ there was a lot of alarm.”

Ayer also stressed that Comey’s letter said “he had no way to know that there was any information at all that they had that had any bearing. If the press was really trying hard, they could have deduced that they had come upon things to look at, but we don’t know anything about them. That would have been better than to put talking heads on TV to speculate on what it might be.”

Jamie Gorelick, former Deputy Attorney General of the United States, struck a similar note, saying Comey’s letter was “so unusual that it allowed kind of rank speculation.”

Timothy Heaphy, a former U.S. Attorney from 2009 to 2014, accused many in the press of being “more focused on the sensationalist headline of reopening the investigation and nefarious speculation. There could have been more careful reporting, going beyond the FBI’s letter. There were more questions raised than answered by that letter.”

Bill Nettles, former U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina from 2010 to 2016, said many in the news media should have just reported what was known and not guessed at what was not revealed yet.

“Just to report the letter and then let it speak for itself,” Nettles said. “You’ve got all of these people with opinions who would rather be in the media than be right. Do a little bit more in-depth reporting and let more facts come out.”

Donald Stern, former U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts from 1993 to 2000, said the letter’s vagueness and timing “led to the kind of rampant, unwarranted and purely speculative reporting of what the FBI had and what it meant. Some of it is uninformed speculation and some of it is speculation without knowing what to make of it.”

Asked what the press should be doing differently, he said, “put it in context, parse the language that Comey is saying, and make clear he is really not saying anything of substance, that they do not know what is relevant and they don’t even have [the emails] in their possession yet. That way, a much more restrained way, would have been the way to go.”

Election Experts: Roger Stone’s Exit Polling Plan Smacks Of ‘Intimidation’

Election experts and polling veterans tell Media Matters that the plan by longtime Donald Trump adviser and friend Roger Stone to unleash hundreds of untrained “exit poll” watchers in search of vote theft on Election Day risks intimidating voters in the targeted communities. They also explain that unprofessional exit polling is a nonsensical way to discover alleged voter fraud and vote rigging, which is “extremely rare” in the first place.

Stone, an ardent conspiracy theorist and devoted Trump ally, has for months been warning that Democrats are planning to “rig” and “steal” the election for Hillary Clinton. (Trump has echoed this warning in numerous campaign rallies.)

Stone heads the 527 group Stop the Steal, which has announced plans to conduct “targeted EXIT-POLLING in targeted states and targeted localities that we believe the Democrats could manipulate based on their local control, to determine if the results of the vote have been skewed by manipulation.” The Guardian, in a piece that quoted several experts raising concerns about Stone’s proposal, noted that Stone and his group plan to “conduct exit polling in Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Richmond and Fayetteville – all locations in pivotal swing states.” Stone has been recruiting volunteers for the project from far-right sources like the audience of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ radio program.

After the Huffington Post raised concerns about plans listed on Stop the Steal to have election-watchers wear official-looking ID badges and videotape inside polling places, Stone said he “ordered them taken down” from the site and stressed that he would “operate within the confines of election law.”

But the underlying plan to conduct amateur exit polling is still extremely problematic, several election law experts and polling veterans told Media Matters.

“From what I’ve read about it, this doesn’t sound like exit polling of the traditional sense, it sounds to me as if there is a targeting of certain communities, primarily minority communities and we fear this is going to have an intimidating effect,” Ezra Rosenberg, co-director of the Voting Rights Project of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law said in an interview. “Voters are supposed to be free in their voting. This seems to be pointed in absolutely the wrong direction.”

He later added, “We certainly do have a fear of intimidation when they focus on areas of disproportionately large minority populations. It is just wrong. It has an intimidating effect.”

Alan Abramowitz, an Emory University political science professor and author of Voice of the People: Elections and Voting Behavior in the United States, said he was “very skeptical about the accuracy of any exit polling conducted by Mr. Stone and his allies. He is a well-known right-wing provocateur and there is little doubt that any such ‘exit polling’ would be extremely biased.”

“The kind of vote fraud Trump and Stone have been warning about is, in fact, extremely rare. There are lots of real problems with the way elections are conducted in the U.S., but that is not one of them,” Abramowitz said.

Rick Hasen, a professor and political campaign expert at the University of California, Irvine, School of Law, likened Stone’s plan to a “goon squad.”

”It does not sound like a sensible exit polling strategy,” he said. “Why target only these nine cities? Exit polling is best to get a snapshot of the electorate, not to ferret out supposed voter fraud. Impersonation fraud — the kind of fraud Trump and his allies have been talking about — is extremely rare and I can’t find evidence it has been used to try to sway an election at least since the 1980s.”

Richard Benedetto, professor of journalism at American University School of Public Affairs, disputed that any of Stone’s methods could wind up helping a legal challenge of the election results.

“It won’t be an admissible thing in court, you need to be able to prove real fraud, not hearsay stuff,” Benedetto said. “That the people who voted were not the actual people, you have to have evidence of that. There is a lot of exit polling that goes on and most of it is pretty bad, most of it is unscientific. You have to have a scientific sample.”

Lorraine Minnite, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University, Camden, conducted exit polls in New York as a political science professor at Barnard College. She said Stone’s lack of credibility hurts any such effort by him to examine the voting.

“It doesn’t sound like what they are doing is an exit poll,” she said in an interview. “He is not a credible person when it comes to elections and campaign tactics.”

As for claims of voter fraud, she said, “That’s not factually accurate and there is no evidence to support a claim like that. It doesn’t make any sense. If what is happening is voter imposters, I don’t understand how somebody doing an exit poll is going to uncover that.”

Nate Persily is a Stanford Law School professor and elections expert who also served as the Senior Research Director for the Presidential Commission on Election Administration after the 2012 election. He called in person voter fraud “incredibly rare.”

“In person voter fraud at polling places … is a terribly inefficient (and easily discoverable) way to rig an election,” Persily said via email. “It would require enlisting hordes of voters to go from polling place to polling place pretending to be someone they are not.”

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.

Experts: Trump’s Legal Threat Against New York Times ‘A Pure Loser’

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s threats to The New York Times for reporting allegations that he committed sexual assault are legally far-fetched and provide a troubling portrait of how a Trump administration would handle the press, according to experts interviewed by Media Matters.

In just the past 24 hours, outlets including The New York TimesPalm Beach Post, and People magazine have detailed accounts of Trump groping and making other unwanted sexual advances toward women.

Trump’s lawyers shot back with threats of legal action against the Times, claiming in a letter that its article was “reckless, defamatory and constitutes libel per se.”

Aggression toward media figures and outlets — especially those who have been critical of him and his candidacy — has been a hallmark of both Trump’s presidential campaign and his business career. In an “unprecedented” announcement, the Committee to Protect Journalists warned today that “a Donald Trump presidency would represent a threat to press freedom,” saying Trump has “consistently betrayed First Amendment values.”

Several experts tell Media Matters his latest threats of legal action against the Times are further evidence of what would likely be a problematic relationship between the press and Trump if he were to be elected president.

“It just confirms how difficult he would be with the press and how he would view the press as an enemy,” George Freeman, Media Law Resource Center executive director and former New York Times assistant legal counsel, said about the latest attack. “It would be a very contentious relationship in all probability, particularly in that his whole character is built on beating up anyone who attacks him.”

Mizell Stewart III, president of the American Society of News Editors (ASNE) and vice president of news operations for USA Today Network, agreed.

“I think it is clear he would take an adversarial position with the press as president,” Stewart said. “Mr. Trump has decided that an aggressive posture is his way of dealing with the media. We have seen that in him in dealing with news outlets and coverage.”

“From ASNE’s perspective, these are tactics that people employ when they choose to try to intimidate the press. We have watched as newsroom leaders across the country have chosen to oppose that intimidation.”

David Hudson, a Vanderbilt University law professor and First Amendment expert, said: “It is fair to say it would not be the coziest relationship between the press and the president.”

“These are not good signs,” Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said about the legal threats“It is certainly not positive. There have not been any positive signs of how he would interact with the press.”

Leslie and others also said Trump would have a nearly impossible time proving libel or slander for these news reports.

“It’s pretty clear that he would have a very difficult battle if he brought this as a libel suit. He is one of the biggest public figures and would have to prove they acted with malice, which is one of the toughest to prove,” Leslie said.

Hudson added, “As a public figure he has a very high standard to meet. He would have to show that not only are the statements false, but the media would have published them knowing they are false.”

“A lot of times people say they are going to sue as an intimidation tactic,” he explained. “I would not want to print allegations like that unless I had some concrete evidence of it. [The New York Times] is a very respected newspaper; I would assume they have their own attorneys and vet things like this.”

Lucy Dalglish, an attorney and dean of the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, said the Times article seemingly went beyond what was necessary to avoid such litigation.

“Because he’s a public figure, he would have to show it put him in a bad light and [was done] with malice and with the knowledge it was false and reckless disregard,” she said. “It seems to me the Times went well beyond with people who remembered being told about these incidents virtually immediately or in an acceptable amount of time. … He has to prove that the statement that was made was false. The burden of proof is on him to show it is false.”

Freeman of the Media Law Resource Center called the legal claim “a pure loser.”

“I think it’s all bluster,” he said. “But it’s not surprising given that he is always threatening litigation. As a presidential candidate, he would have to prove actual malice. … It seems to me it would be virtually impossible for Trump to even come close to showing the Times had serious doubts about the claims of groping when the women seem so credible and it was confirmed and substantiated by many other people they had spoken to.”

The Times’ legal team responded to the lawsuit threat in a letter concluding that if Trump “believes that American citizens had no right to hear what these women had to say and that the law of this country forces us and those who would dare to criticize him to stand silent or be punished, we welcome the opportunity to have a court set him straight.”

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters for America.

IMAGE: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Colorado, U.S., July 1, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Legal Experts: “Fiduciary Responsibility” No Excuse For Tax Avoidance

After The New York Times published tax documents from 1995 revealing that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump lost nearly a billion dollars and could as a result have avoided paying any federal income tax for “up to 18 years,” Trump and his campaign surrogates have claimed he had a “fiduciary responsibility” to reducehis personal tax liability to the smallest amount possible under law. Veteran tax law experts tell Media Mattersthis explanation is “silly,” “complete nonsense,” and “almost incomprehensibly incoherent.”

In a front page Sunday article, the Times reported, “The 1995 tax records, never before disclosed, reveal the extraordinary tax benefits that Mr. Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, derived from the financial wreckage he left behind in the early 1990s through mismanagement of three Atlantic City casinos, his ill-fated foray into the airline business and his ill-timed purchase of the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.”

The Trump campaign issued a statement in response that said, among other things, that Trump “has a fiduciary responsibility to his business, his family and his employees to pay no more tax than legally required.” Leading campaign surrogates including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani have made similar claims during media appearances. Giuliani told CNN, “If you have a set of laws, you live by those laws. And the reality is, you are ignoring completely the fiduciary obligation he has to all the people around him to run his business at the lowest possible expense.”

But respected tax attorneys and others who teach tax law said this defense doesn’t pass the smell test.

“That’s nonsense,” said Rutherford B. Campbell, a corporate law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law. “He has a fiduciary responsibility to reduce the corporation’s tax liability. … The notion that somehow he owes an obligation to the corporation to reduce his own taxes doesn’t make sense.”

Jeff Scroggin, a tax attorney with Scroggin & Co., P.C., of Roswell, GA, agreed.

“I don’t see that as a legitimate argument,” said Scroggin. “The only way I can see that argument working is to say he is going to take the dollars he saves and invest them back in the business and I doubt seriously he is doing that. I doubt seriously anyone is expecting him to do that, take the savings and put them back in the business.”

He later added, “If you lose a billion dollars can you really be a successful businessman? It has to raise questions about the viability of what he’s been doing over those years.”

Martin McMahon, co-author of law school textbook Federal Income Taxation of Individuals, said having the responsibility to pay as little corporate taxes as possible does not extend to personal taxes.

“I’ve never heard of any legal principle that the owner of a business has an obligation to the employees of the business or the directors to minimize the owner’s personal tax liability,” McMahon said, calling it, “complete nonsense, there is absolutely no legal principle to support that.”

Edward Kleinbard, a tax law professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law, echoed that view.

“He owes no fiduciary duty to anyone else not to pay personal income tax. It is an almost incomprehensibly incoherent argument,” Kleinbard said via email. “No, it’s just plain silly. No one is under a fiduciary duty to lose nearly $1 billion of other people’s money. He made very bad investment decisions, he skirted with bankruptcy, his lenders forced him to unload several of his properties at pennies on the dollar, and as a result he claimed a $900+ million tax loss attributable to losing his lenders’ money. What’s hard about that?”

Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at The Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution, called Trump’s claim “kind of odd.”

“It is his own tax return, he is the one who personally benefits from it,” Williams said. “He has this other income that normally people would have to pay tax on.”

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters For America.

IMAGE: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump walks off his plane.  REUTERS/Mike Segar

 

 

 

 

Conservative Newspapers Explain Why They Refused To Endorse ‘Frightening’ Trump

Published with permission from Media Matters for America

Opinion editors at three major newspapers that have routinely endorsed Republicans for president — dating back more than a century in some cases — tell Media Matters they endorsed Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton because Republican nominee Donald Trump is “frightening” and potentially “dangerous.”

Political observers and veteran news experts, meanwhile, say such a dramatic move by longtime Republican-friendly publications could have a greater impact on the race than more expected endorsements.

“We have been traditionally considered a conservative newspaper, having endorsed Republicans for the last hundred years,” said Cindi Andrews, editorial page editor of the Cincinnati Enquirer, which endorsed Clinton on September 23. “For me personally, the two biggest concerns come down to temperament; how he would be on the world stage, his demeanor, his language he uses about citizens in our own country of different races and genders, as well as immigrants. It is fundamentally what we’re about as Americans.”

The Enquirer, owned by Gannett Company, had last endorsed a Democrat in 1916 when it backed Woodrow Wilson. Andrews said the five-member editorial board was unanimous in their choice, adding that a non-endorsement was not an option.

“We felt that fundamentally not endorsing in any race we are looking at is a pretty lame approach,” she said. “Because somebody has to decide who the next president is and voters have to make a decision, it felt a like a dereliction of duty.”

The Enquirer wasn’t the first traditionally Republican paper to endorse Clinton. The Dallas Morning News ended 80 years of GOP presidential endorsements on September 7 when it backed Clinton.

“We had recommended John Kasich in the primary and were disappointed that his campaign didn’t catch more fire,” said Keven Ann Willey, Morning News editorial page editor since 2002 and a member of the Pulitzer Prize Board. “Over that time Donald Trump just became more and more difficult to tolerate. The thought of him as the leader of our country just became anathema. On issues ranging from immigration to foreign relations to tax policy, it was hard to find much to align with him on. He is really not a conservative, he is a Republican of convenience.”

Willey said the nine-member editorial board was unanimous in their choice of Clinton, another unusual occurrence.

“It was a long and deliberative process,” she said, adding that opposition to Trump was based on many things such as his “name-calling of people and groups of people and the tone, the ramifications of that are just frightening.”

The most recent and perhaps most surprising case was the Arizona Republic, which gave Clinton the nod this week. That marked the first time it had endorsed a Democrat in its history, which dates back to 1890 went it launched as the Arizona Republican.

Editorial Page Editor Phil Boas said the nine-member editorial board began criticizing Trump nearly a year ago.

For him, the tide started to turn against Trump when Trump supporters “started kicking and punching” a protester at a rally in Birmingham, AL, in November 2015 and Trump yelled, “get him the hell out of here.” Trump later doubled down on his rhetoric in an interview the same week, telling Fox News, “maybe he should have been roughed up.”

“That’s when I sat down and wrote an editorial that these are sort of the ominous base notes of authoritarianism,” said Boas, an admitted lifelong conservative Republican. “It was a sign and alarm that this guy might be dangerous.”

Since then, the paper has routinely criticized Trump, endorsing John Kasich in the Arizona primary and hitting the businessman in numerous editorials.

“Because this is probably the most unusual election in our lifetimes, the process was different than what I’m used to and for us,” Boas explained. “It really evolved over a year on our pages, a conversation with our readers. I don’t think any loyal reader of our editorial pages are that surprised that we endorse Clinton. For a year now we have been writing scalding editorials about Donald Trump.”

Boas also cited Trump’s mocking of New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski’s disability. “I was just appalled by it,” he said. “He made fun of a disabled man, he mocked him. … To behave that way is disrespectful of the office. This became bigger than party, bigger than team.”

Asked why they chose to endorse Clinton and not just decline to endorse a candidate, he said, “She conducts herself in a way that’s responsible, she is not going to scare off our allies and create an international incident.”

While newspaper endorsements are seen as having less impact in recent years, political and newspaper observers said such sharp changes in these normally conservative publications could be influential.

“This is hugely significant,” said Poynter Institute President Tim Franklin, a former editor and editorial board member of the Indianapolis StarThe Orlando Sentinel and Baltimore Sun. “Most newspapers develop a core set of beliefs and values and then they stick to those core beliefs and values for years. That is a covenant with the audience.”

Citing the key undecided voters, Franklin added, “These endorsements could have an impact on what seems to be a very small undecided group.”

Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, also saw the potential for an impact if more conservative papers go with Clinton.

“They are attracting lots of attention, for sure,” Sabato said via email. “If enough GOP papers endorse their first Democratic presidential candidate ever, that might cause some voters to ask a logical question: Why is this happening. The answer is obvious: Donald Trump.”

Matt Dallek, associate professor at the George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, said the endorsement switch can be impactful.

“It is newsworthy that in some cases, like the Arizona Republic, it is the first time they haven’t endorsed a Republican and that I think generates additional stories, additional attention beyond the editorials themselves,” Dallek said. “Even voters who don’t necessarily see that headline, it gins up attention in subsequent stories and people hear about it.”

He added, “These endorsements from these newspapers will likely have more impact than, say, Henry Paulson writing an Op-Ed saying he’s voting for Clinton. I’m not sure that really penetrates with people in places like Ohio like it does coming from the hometown paper.

David Yepsen, former Des Moines Register political columnist, said, “One thing Trump has to do is get moderate and wavering Republicans to ‘come home.’ When Republican papers endorse Hillary Clinton, those endorsements become something that might continue to give those Republicans pause about him.”

David Boardman, a former Seattle Times editor and currently dean of the School of Media and Communication at Temple University, said, “It reflects something about how most opinion journalists see this election, clearly their level of distaste for Trump is compelling them to take positions different from what they did in the past.”

Among those known for a long history of Republican presidential support who have yet to offer their choice are The Indianapolis Star and The Orange County Register. The Wall Street Journal does not normally endorse in presidential races.

USA Today, which has “never taken sides” in a presidential race before, declared Trump “unfit for the presidency” in an editorial this morning.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump reacts to supporters as he arrives to a campaign event in Radford, Virginia February 29, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Keane

Former George W. Bush Ethics Lawyer: Trump And His Family Need To Cut Ties With The Trump Organization If Trump Wins

Published with permission from Media Matters for America

Richard Painter: Trump’s Foreign Business Conflicts Are “A Serious Problem” Deserving Of Media Attention

Richard Painter, the former chief ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush, says if Republican nominee Donald Trump becomes president, the only way to avoid serious conflicts of interest would be for Trump and his family to sell all of their holdings in the Trump Organization. Painter also stressed that the issue was a “serious problem” that warrants increased media attention.

The ethical mess presented by the Trump Organization is back in the news thanks to a Newsweek piece by reporter Kurt Eichenwald, who explained that if Trump and his family don’t cut ties to the family’s business conglomerate, Trump would “be the most conflicted president in American history, one whose business interests will constantly jeopardize the security of the United States” due to the Trump Organization’s relationships and financial entanglements with foreign interests.

Painter, who served as President George W. Bush’s chief ethics lawyer from 2005 to 2007, said the conflicts are so vast and serious that Trump and his family should simply sell off the company’s assets if he becomes president.

“He needs to be out, he and his family need to be out,” Painter said in a phone interview Wednesday. (Trump has previously suggested that he would turn his business empire over to his children if he wins the presidency.)

“To deal with the conflicts of interest the answer is to have all of these holdings, put ‘em all into a holding company, one company. He assigns all of his personal interests in everything to a holding company, then does an initial public offering for cash on Jan. 20 with the registration statement and he takes the cash, puts it in treasury bills or something like that.”

Painter, who has publicly endorsed Hillary Clinton, points out that the criminal conflict of interest statute that bars such associations for federal employees does not apply to the president or vice president.

But he said that still does not make them acceptable and said previous presidents and vice presidents have divested themselves from such conflicts upon taking office.

In his article, Eichenwald explained the Trump Organization’s blatant conflicts of interest have been “largely ignored,” something Painter says the media should rectify.

“I think it needs media attention, I think it’s a serious problem,” he said. “The fact that he won’t even deal with it just like he won’t release his tax returns is a serious problem. The problems with Clinton is we just hear the same stuff over and over again, there is not a lot of stuff to talk about. … With Trump we’ve got this long list of problems.”

Painter said that the key danger is when U.S. economic or foreign policy affects a nation with which Trump has business dealings or a business relationship. He fears that would put the U.S. at risk.

“My number one concern is the amount of debt and the way he’s basically beholden to the banks. Like any real estate guy he has the support of loosey goosey credit regime and that means cronies in the banks keep throwing money at him,” he said. “What the Newsweek article does is flesh out another dimension of this particularly with respect to the international holdings and I very much suspect that they’ve only uncovered the tip of the iceberg.”

He continued, “He has holdings all over the world, financial relationships all over the world. These are people who would be directly impacted by United States foreign policy. He makes money abroad because he has friends and if he has enemies he’s going to lose money abroad. This is a very serious problem for the United States from the vantage point of our foreign policy and our national security to have a president with significant economic exposure outside of the United States.”

Painter stressed that for Trump to simply turn over control of The Trump Organization to his children would not be enough.

“Just turning it over to his son and say his son is going to manage it, or his daughter, that doesn’t solve the problem,” Painter said. “I don’t think that if he has these financial interests and turns it over to his son, he knows what’s there. He knows who they’re dependent on outside the United States. He knows which foreign governments and which organizations, which business consortiums he’s dependent on. If the statute applied to him, the criminal conflict of interest statute, that solution would never work.”

Painter has also — while explaining “there is little if any evidence that federal ethics laws were broken” by Clinton and those working for her — urged the Clintons to further distance themselves from the Clinton Foundation.

Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., U.S., September 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar