Jeff Sessions strays from prepared remarks to praise ‘Anglo-American heritage’ of sheriffs

Update

Jeff Sessions was using a legal technical term “Anglo-American” law, which is a reference to the legal tradition of common law that the American sheriff’s system shares with England.


Attorney General Jeff Sessions strayed from his prepared remarks to comment on the “Anglo-American” historical origins of the sheriff.

Sessions spoke Monday to a the National Sheriffs Association, which represents about 20,000 law enforcement officials across the U.S., but video recordings show an apparent improvisation from the prepared remarks distributed ahead of time to reporters, according to Splinter News.

“The office of sheriff is a critical part of the Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement,” Sessions said. “We must never erode this historic office.”

The remarks quickly raised eyebrows on social media, where commenters perceived the reference as racist in light of the attorney general’s racially problematic history.

The sheriff indeed originated in medieval England, and the name derives from Anglo-Saxon words for the guardian, or reeve, of a county, or shire.

English colonists brought the tradition to America and elected their own sheriffs in the 1600s, and various right-wing fringe movements promote the legal fallacy that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the United States.

[RawStory]

Media

FBI director Chris Wray replaces Comey holdover with Trump loyalist amid pressure from AG Sessions to ‘clean house’

FBI Director Christopher Wray has announced the replacements for two top FBI jobs that worked under ex-director James Comey, amid pressure from the attorney general and White House to “clean house” during special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe.

As The Washington Post reported Tuesday, Dana Boente, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, was named as the replacement for former FBI general counsel James Baker, who “was reassigned late last year.” He also appointed Zachary J. Harmon, a colleague from the law firm he worked for prior to taking the helm of the bureau, as his new chief of staff after his old one, Jim Rybicki, left to take a private sector job.

Baker’s reassignment in December came amid right-wing media speculation that he “leaked” information from the bureau and was an ally to Comey, who defended him on Twitter in the days after he was moved to a different position.

Boente, the Post noted, may be seen as a loyalist for President Donald Trump despite being appointed to his U.S. attorney position President Barack Obama. After acting Attorney General Sally Yates refused to back Trump’s travel ban, Boente stepped forward to defend it.

The announcement of the filled positions came after reports that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been pressuring Wray to reshuffle positions in the bureau. Yesterday, Axios reported that Wray threatened to quit if he were forced to fired Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, a foe of the Trump administration despite being appointed as acting director of the bureau following Comey’s firing.

[Raw Story]

Sessions Made What Might be His Most Racially Discriminatory Decision Yet and Barely Anyone Noticed

In an extraordinary move that is not getting nearly enough attention, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a Justice Department letter that warned state courts about the unlawful practice of forcing low income defendants to pay fines or face jail. Courts across the country were (and many still are) enforcing these type of fees in order to generate revenue. When people fail to pay the fees typically imposed for minor traffic infractions or city code violations, courts will issue arrest warrants, send people to jail or take away their driving licenses.  The problem with all that? In America, we don’t believe in debtor’s prisons. Oh, and the practice is unconstitutional. That means illegal. The U.S. outlawed debtor’s prisons in 1833. In 1983, the U.S. Supreme Court also ruled that jailing indigent debtors was illegal under the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause

“The idea that the Department of Justice doesn’t care about the United States Constitution in courts is so wrong, and really unfortunate. It is a message that should not be sent, and has practical implications,” the Honorable Lisa Foster, who served as the Director of the Office for Access to Justice at the U.S. Department of Justice said to Law&Crime.  Foster authored the “Dear Colleague” letter that was sent out in March 2016, and was rescinded by Sessions on Thursday.

Maybe the worst part of all about this decision? The fines and fees disproportionately impact minorities who can’t afford to pay fines right away and often find themselves in jail. It’s not just me saying this, there is study after study proving this.

Imagine getting pulled over for failing to stop at a stop sign. You get a $100 ticket. You can’t pay it right away, so your license gets suspended. Then you have to drive to work to support your family but get pulled over and thrown in jail for having a suspended license. Don’t believe me? The Southern Poverty Law Center filed a federal lawsuit in 2015 alleging that the small town of Alexander City, Alabama (population 15,000) was running a “modern-day debtor’s prison” where poor people who couldn’t pay city fines were forced to sit in jail instead. 

The stories go on and on.

Now to be clear, the “Dear Colleague” that was sent last year under the Obama administration was not some kind of earth shattering, super left-wing mandate. The letter was literally just guidance notifying local judges, prosecutors, attorneys and advocates about the law. It was a letter that state municpalities had asked for. Here are some examples of what the letter instructed:

 (1)Courts must not incarcerate a person for nonpayment of fines or fees without first
conducting an indigency determination and establishing that the failure to pay was
willful;
(2) Courts must consider alternatives to incarceration for indigent defendants unable to
pay fines and fees;
(3) Courts must not condition access to a judicial hearing on the prepayment of fines or
fees;
(4) Courts must provide meaningful notice and, in appropriate cases, counsel, when
enforcing fines and fees

The DOJ attorneys go on to cite very well-established Supreme Court opinions like Bearden v. Georgia (1983) to back up their guidelines.  The SCOTUS opinion found that the due process and equal protection principles of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibit “punishing a person for his poverty.”  In fact, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held tha tthe government can’t jail someone for failure to pay a fine.  The strange thing about all of this is that until Attorney General Sessions came along, this was a pretty non-partisan issue. Both Republicans and Democrats agreed there was a problem here.

In fact, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which is a well-known conservative non-profit organization for state legislators, was also opposed to these type of excessive fees and fines. In their resolution against the practice they wrote: “excessive criminal justice financial obligations can contribute to unnecessary incarceration as some studies have found 20 percent of those in local jails are incarcerated because of failure to pay a fine or fee, which can make it even harder for the person to obtain employment and add to the burden on taxpayers.”

The initial “Dear Colleague” letter, which has now been rescinded, was in response, in part, to the DOJ’s Ferguson Report which found that police were unfairly targeting minorities, and saddling residents with fines. For example, a Ferguson woman parked her car illegally in 2007, and somehow ended up having to pay $1,000 and serve 6 days in jail. That’s insane.

“It is tragic for the Department of Justice to retreat from concerns about and constitutional commitments to equal and fair treatment,” Judith Resnik, the Arthur Liman Professor of Law at Yale Law School, said in an email to Law&Crime.

“I think it shocking and unfortunate,” Judge Foster said.

[Law and Crime]

Trump reverts to campaign-trail name-calling in Twitter rant calling for probe of DNC

President Trump issued a flurry of tweets over a five-hour span Friday urging the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee over a joint fundraising agreement they signed in August 2015.

Trump’s accusations follow publication by Politico of an excerpt from former acting DNC Chair Donna Brazile’s upcoming book. Brazile alleges she found “proof” that the 2016 Democratic primary was rigged in Clinton’s favor.

Previous presidents have avoided even seeming to direct the Justice Department on whom to investigate — but not Trump.

Trump reverted to his campaign-trail name-calling of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), again referring to her as “Pocahontas.”

He also in one post called Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) “Crazy Bernie.” Trump has described this kind of rhetoric as “modern day presidential.”

Trump’s epic Twitter rant took place in the hours and minutes before he was set to depart the South Lawn via Marine One for his Air Force One flight to Hawaii to kick off his 12-day swing through Asia.

Implicit in the messages was more criticism of Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, though Trump did not mention the nation’s top prosecutor by name.

Asked later Friday if he would fire the attorney general if he doesn’t investigate Trump’s Democratic political rivals, the president said, “I don’t know.”

Two White House officials quickly cautioned against reading too much into Trump’s comments, reiterating that he has no plans to fire Sessions. And although the White House maintains that Trump’s tweets are “official record,” it says Trump has not ordered Sessions or the FBI to do anything related to Democrats.

The aides said the tweets were a media savvy way to deflect attention from the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

This week, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, who also had a role in the campaign, were indicted on 12 counts, and former Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to lying about his dealings with Russians who were offering “dirt” on Clinton.

[Los Angeles Times]

The Justice Department Declares War on Attorneys Who Dare to Oppose the Trump Administration

On Friday, the Department of Justice filed an astonishing appeal with the Supreme Court, urging the justices to intervene in the Jane Doe case that seemed to have ended last week. Doe, an undocumented 17-year-old in a federally funded Texas shelter, was denied abortion access by the Trump administration, which argues that it can force undocumented minors to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. On Oct. 24, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Doe must be allowed to terminate her pregnancy, which she did the next day. Now the DOJ is urging the Supreme Court to vacate that decision—and punish the ACLU attorneys who represented Doe.

Make no mistake: With this filing, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ Justice Department has declared war on attorneys and groups who dare to oppose it in court.

Because Doe obtained her abortion, Friday’s appeal might seem pointless, presenting no live controversy for the justices to adjudicate. But the DOJ has three goals here. First, it wants the Supreme Court to punish the D.C. Circuit for issuing a decision that it believes to be egregiously wrong by wiping the entire ruling off the books. Second, the DOJ wants to eradicate a decision that sets a legal precedent it despises. Doe’s lawsuit was initially brought as part of a class action, and the ACLU will continue to litigate its broader claim against the Trump administration’s absolute bar on abortion access for undocumented minors. As long as the D.C. Circuit’s decision remains on the books, those lawsuits are almost guaranteed to succeed. The Justice Department wants it gone so that it can litigate this issue anew.

Third, and most importantly, Friday’s appeal is a flagrant effort to crucify the individual attorneys who represented Doe, and to terrify likeminded lawyers into acquiescence. The DOJ thus asks the Supreme Court to force Doe’s lawyers to “show cause why disciplinary action should not be taken” against the ACLU—either by the court itself or by state bars—for “material misrepresentations and omissions” designed to thwart an appeal.

In other words, the DOJ is using the full weight of a government agency to threaten professional ruin upon the lawyers who defended Jane Doe’s constitutional right to abortion access.

The DOJ claims that after the D.C. Circuit ruled in Doe’s favor on Oct. 24, government attorneys believed they had until Oct. 26 until Doe got her abortion. Under Texas law, women must obtain “counseling” at least 24 hours before terminating her pregnancy, and this counseling must be performed by the same physician who performs the procedure. Doe had already received this counseling from a Texas doctor when the D.C. Circuit issued its decision. According to the DOJ, ACLU lawyers told the government that this physician would not be working and that Doe would receive another counseling appointment on the morning of October 25, and get the abortion to October 26. Government lawyers asked to be kept informed of the timing of the procedure, and they claim that ACLU lawyers agreed to comply with their request. They also say that the DOJ planned to ask for a stay on Oct. 25—but on that same morning, ACLU attorneys arranged for Doe to visit the doctor who had already counseled her, allowing him to perform the procedure.

Put differently, the government argues that the ACLU owed government lawyers a notification of when Doe’s legal abortion would occur. The end goal here seems to have been to try to continue to block the abortion until it would be illegal to terminate, even though she had secured an unqualified right to do so. (Doe was 16 weeks pregnant by that point; Texas bans abortion after 20 weeks, and the government had already delayed the abortion by a month.) The DOJ also claims that Doe’s lawyers had the responsibility to keep answering their phone calls to update them on her status: “Efforts to reach respondent’s counsel were met with silence, until approximately 10 a.m. EST, when one of her lawyers told the government that Ms. Does had undergone an abortion.”

What really seems to enrage the DOJ, however, is that Doe didn’t attend a second counseling session—which would have been duplicative and wasteful, and caused her yet more needless delay—because the physician who counseled her the first time later agreed to perform the procedure. If ever there were an indicator of the un-distilled bad faith at work here, it’s government lawyers insisting that a non-person with no rights undergo a second round of the same counseling, not for the purposes of medical advice, but so that they would have more time to thwart her choice.

These allegations of wrongdoing are laughably flimsy and outwardly vindictive. Even under the DOJ’s contorted narrative, it’s obvious that the ACLU simply acted efficiently, and the Trump administration is bitter and embarrassed that it lost. The government argues that the ACLU “at least arguably had an obligation to notify the government” that Doe would terminate on Oct. 25—an “incredibly significant development.” But that’s just not how this works. The government had sufficient time to ask the Supreme Court to stay the D.C. Circuit’s decision before Doe terminated. In fact, Texas was already prepared with its own amicus brief backing the DOJ. But the government didn’t act in time. And it’s not the ACLU’s fault that its client secured her constitutional rights while the government dallied in its efforts to exert control of her reproductive capacities. This week-late effort to blame the ACLU for its “arguable” responsibility to ensure that the government could continue to harm their client is not just an effort to save face, but also an attempt to warn attorneys that zealous effectuation of their duties to the clients will now be punished.

The Justice Department’s crusade against the ACLU is especially galling in light of the fact that there was sanctionable misconduct here—on the part of the government itself. Scott Lloyd, the official who blocked Doe and other minors from abortion access, likely violated a long-standing federal settlement agreement in his anti-abortion crusade. Under this agreement, undocumented minors like Doe must be allowed access to family planning services, which Lloyd intentionally and repeatedly withheld. He even instituted his anti-abortion views as official government policy in obvious violation of the federal settlement.

If anyone deserves to be punished here, it is surely Lloyd, who flouted the law for purely ideological purposes. But instead of investigating its own employee for potential misconduct, the government is going after Doe’s ACLU attorneys for defending her constitutional rights. This is a shocking assault on the nation’s civil rights attorneys, and an unprecedented effort by the DOJ to slander and shame those attorneys who defend their clients’ rights against the government’s abuse of the law. After today, lawyers who question the Trump administration’s legal views should be aware that they have targets on their backs.

[Slate]

Sessions’ DOJ reverses transgender workplace protections

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has reversed an Obama-era policy explicitly defining transgender workers as protected under employment discrimination laws, CBS News’ Paula Reid reports.

The Wednesday policy reversal of what qualifies as employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act comes down to an idealogical disagreement over whether “sex” is decided by a person’s birth certificate, or whether sexual discrimination includes broader gender identity. Title VII prohibits any employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2014 interpreted “sex” discrimination to apply to discrimination based on gender identity, while Sessions’ DOJ interprets that it only applies to discrimination between men and women.

Sessions’ DOJ argues Holder went beyond the definition of the 1964 law by including transgender discrimination.

“The Department of Justice cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided,” DOJ spokesperson Devin O’Malley said. Unfortunately, the last administration abandoned that fundamental principle, which necessitated today’s action. This Department remains committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals, and will continue to enforce the numerous laws that Congress has enacted that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”

The move comes after President Trump has announced he will prohibit transgender individuals from serving in the military, a decision that shocked his own party and caused backlash from Democrats and civil liberties groups.

Sessions’ latest policy shift could very well could end up in court, Reid reports. Already, it’s under fire from civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

“Today marks another low point for a Department of Justice, which has been cruelly consistent in its hostility towards the LGBT community and in particular its inability to treat transgender people with basic dignity and respect,” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a statement.

“This Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions has time and time again made it clear that its explicit agenda is to attack and undermine the civil rights of our most vulnerable communities, rather than standing up for them as they should be doing,” Esseks continued. “Discrimination against transgender people is sex discrimination, just as DOJ recognized years ago. We are confident that the courts will continue to agree and will reject the politically driven decision by Attorney General Sessions.”

[CBS News]

Trump After ‘Lock Her Up’ Chant: Talk to Jeff Sessions

 

President Donald Trump told an Alabama crowd Friday night that if “Crooked Hillary” Clinton had won the 2016 election, “you would not have a Second Amendment.”

“You’d be handing in your rifles,” Trump said. “You’d be turning over your rifles.”

The comment was met by chants of “lock her up,” reminiscent of his own campaign rallies during the 2016 presidential rally.

“You’ve got to speak to Jeff Sessions about that,” Trump replied, referencing his US attorney general.

Though Trump had threatened to pursue charges against Clinton before the election, after the election he signaled he would not.

Trump told The Wall Street Journal on November 11 that “it’s not something I’ve given a lot of thought, because I want to solve health care, jobs, border control, tax reform.”

He excited rally-goers with mention of the Second Amendment when campaigning for Republican Sen. Luther Strange ahead of Alabama’s runoff election next week.

Trump is in Huntsville, Alabama, campaigning for Strange who is up against Roy Moore in Tuesday’ Republican primary runoff.

Trump spent much of his speech applauding his administration’s work — including its strong support of the Second Amendment.

“We’ve got a lot of things done — they hate to admit it — including, we have a Supreme Court Justice, Judge Gorsuch, who will save, how about a thing called your Second Amendment? Right? OK, remember that?” Trump said.

[CNN]

Media

Trump Ends DACA Program

President Donald Trump has decided to end the Obama-era program that grants work permits to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as children, according to two sources familiar with his thinking. Senior White House aides huddled Sunday afternoon to discuss the rollout of a decision likely to ignite a political firestorm — and fulfill one of the president’s core campaign promises.

The administration’s deliberations on the issue have been fluid and fast moving, and the president has faced strong warnings from members of his own party not to scrap the program.

Trump has wrestled for months with whether to do away with the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known as DACA. But conversations with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who argued that Congress — rather than the executive branch — is responsible for writing immigration law, helped persuade the president to terminate the program and kick the issue to Congress, the two sources said.

In a nod to reservations held by many lawmakers, the White House plans to delay the enforcement of the president’s decision for six months, giving Congress a window to act, according to one White House official. But a senior White House aide said that chief of staff John Kelly, who has been running the West Wing policy process on the issue, “thinks Congress should’ve gotten its act together a lot longer ago.”

White House aides caution that — as with everything in the Trump White House — nothing is set in stone until an official announcement has been made.

Trump is expected to formally make that announcement on Tuesday, and the White House informed House Speaker Paul Ryan of the president’s decision on Sunday morning, according to a source close to the administration. Ryan had said during a radio interview on Friday that he didn’t think the president should terminate DACA, and that Congress should act on the issue.

A spokesman for Ryan did not immediately respond to a request for comment. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement, “A decision is not finalized. We will make an announcement on Tuesday.”

The president’s expected decision is likely to shore up his base, which rallied behind his broader campaign message about the importance of enforcing the country’s immigration laws and securing the border. At the same time, the president’s decision is likely to be one of the most contentious of his early administration, opposed by leaders of both parties and by the political establishment more broadly.

The White House and Congress have tried to pass the issue off on each other – with each arguing that the other is responsible for determining the fate of the approximately 800,000 undocumented immigrants who are benefiting from DACA. Though most Republicans believe that rolling back DACA is a solid legal decision, they are conscious of the difficult emotional terrain. Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch joined Ryan in cautioning Trump against rolling back the program.

The president is likely to couch his decision in legalese. Many on the right, even those who support protections for children brought into the country illegally through no fault of their own, argue that DACA is unconstitutional because former President Barack Obama carried it out unilaterally instead of working through Congress.

Some Republican lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have said that Congress needs to pass a law to protect the so-called Dreamers.

“My hope is that as part of this process we can work on a way to deal with this issue and solve it through legislation, which is the right way to do it and the constitutional way to do it,” Rubio told CNN in June.

Trump’s expected decision to scrap DACA within six months represents another challenge for Ryan and fellow congressional Republicans, who are facing an end-of-September deadline to avert a government shutdown and government debt default, while also tackling a Hurricane Harvey relief package and a major tax reform push.

It’s not clear that Congress will be able to come to an agreement on the future of DACA.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who previously said he was very disappointed by Trump’s lack of action on DACA, expressed fresh frustration on Sunday night with the idea of a delayed implementation.

“Ending DACA now gives chance 2 restore Rule of Law. Delaying so R Leadership can push Amnesty is Republican suicide,” King tweeted.

Meanwhile, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who has called on Trump to stand up for the Dreamers, tweeted out her displeasure with Trump’s expected announcement.

“After teasing #Dreamers for months with talk of his ‘great heart,’ @POTUS slams door on them. Some ‘heart’…” she wrote.

[Politico]

Reality

As a candidate, he pledged that on the first day of his presidency he would terminate Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which offers work permits to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children.

Instead, on the 229th day of his presidency, he trotted out Attorney General Jeff Sessions to announce that the Trump administration will gradually wind down the program over the next six months. DACA will end more than a year after Trump took office — or possibly not at all. The delay is intended to give Congress time to pass a replacement measure that could provide similar protections to those known as “dreamers.”

 

Trump Asked Sessions About Closing Case Against Arpaio

As Joseph Arpaio’s federal case headed toward trial this past spring, President Trump wanted to act to help the former Arizona county sheriff who had become a campaign-trail companion and a partner in their crusade against illegal immigration.

The president asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether it would be possible for the government to drop the criminal case against Arpaio, but was advised that would be inappropriate, according to three people with knowledge of the conversation.

After talking with Sessions, Trump decided to let the case go to trial, and if Arpaio was convicted, he could grant clemency.

So the president waited, all the while planning to issue a pardon if Arpaio was found in contempt of court for defying a federal judge’s order to stop detaining people merely because he suspected them of being undocumented immigrants. Trump was, in the words of one associate, “gung-ho about it.”

“We knew the president wanted to do this for some time now and had worked to prepare for whenever the moment may come,” said one White House official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the action.

Responding to questions about Trump’s conversation with Sessions, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “It’s only natural the president would have a discussion with administration lawyers about legal matters. This case would be no different.”

The Justice Department declined to comment.

Trump’s Friday-evening decision to issue his first pardon for Arpaio was the culmination of a five-year political friendship with roots in the “birther” movement to undermine President Barack Obama. In an extraordinary exercise of presidential power, Trump bypassed the traditional review process to ensure that Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court, would face no time in prison.

Trump’s pardon, issued without consulting the Justice Department, raised a storm of protest over the weekend, including from some fellow Republicans, and threatens to become a stain on the president’s legacy. His effort to see if the case could be dropped showed a troubling disregard for the traditional wall between the White House and the Justice Department, and taken together with similar actions could undermine respect for the rule of law, experts said.

Arpaio faced up to six months in prison and was due to be sentenced in October. During his 23 years as Maricopa County sheriff, Arpaio was a lightning rod, in part because of his aggressive crackdown on illegal immigrants. He also was accused of racial profiling, failure to investigate sex crimes, poor treatment of prisoners and other instances of police misconduct.

To Trump, however, Arpaio is an American hero — a man who enlisted in the military at 18 after the outbreak of the Korean War, worked as a beat cop in Washington and Las Vegas and as a special agent investigating drug crimes around the world, then was elected sheriff in the epicenter of the nation’s roiling immigration debate.

Arpaio’s age weighed on Trump, some of his confidants said. The 71-year-old president could not stomach seeing an 85-year-old he admired as a law-and-order icon wasting away in a jail cell.

Trump’s spring inquiry about intervening in Arpaio’s case is consistent with his alleged attempts to influence the federal investigation of Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser. Trump also made separate appeals in March to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael S. Rogers to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.

Trump’s pardon of Arpaio “was his backhand way of doing what he wanted to do at the front end,” said Robert Bauer, a former White House counsel in the Obama administration. “He just wanted to kill the prosecution off. He couldn’t do it the one way, so he ended up doing it the other way. This is just another vivid demonstration of how far removed from an appropriate exercise of the pardon power this was.”

Presidents can set law enforcement priorities, but they are expected to steer clear of involvement in specific cases to avoid the perception of politicizing the impartial administration of justice.

Trump backed off the Arpaio case after being advised it would be inappropriate, but that he even tried is “beyond the pale,” said Chiraag Bains, a former senior counsel in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Bains said he believes Trump “has a sense that the chief executive controls everything in the executive branch, including the exercise of criminal power. And that is just not the way the system is set up.”​

Trump and Arpaio became brothers in arms five years ago. As they saw it, the two provocateurs — one a celebrity real estate developer, the other a polarizing sheriff — were pursuing justice in the form of supposed evidence that Obama’s birth certificate was fraudulent.

As caretakers of the false “birther” conspiracy, Trump and Arpaio relentlessly probed Obama’s birth in Hawaii and nurtured a lie to damage the legitimacy of the nation’s first African American president.

“There was no collusion,” Arpaio said in an interview Saturday. “I started my birth certificate investigation around the same time he did his.”

The Manhattan mogul sent Arpaio a fan letter and flattered him on social media. “Congratulations to @RealSheriffJoe on his successful Cold Case Posse investigation which claims @BarackObama’s ‘birth certificate’ is fake,” Trump tweeted in 2012.

Three years later, in July 2015, when Trump swooped into Arpaio’s hometown of Phoenix for the first mega-rally of his upstart presidential campaign, the sheriff returned the favor by testifying on stage to “the silent majority” that Trump had begun to awaken.

Backstage at that rally, Arpaio recalled, the two men talked about their shared birthday — June 14, which is Flag Day. Their friendship blossomed and Arpaio became a fan favorite at Trump rallies. “I had a gut feeling that he was going to win,” Arpaio said.

Even as Trump went on to win last November, however, Arpaio lost his reelection — and that was the least of his troubles.

Federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Arpaio last October. Trump was paying attention to the case and he called Arpaio to check in on him around Thanksgiving, according to the former sheriff. That’s when Arpaio told the president-elect that his wife, Ava, had cancer.

On July 31, Arpaio was convicted by a judge, as opposed to a jury. Arpaio and his lawyer, Mark Goldman, said they did not contact Trump during this period, nor ask anyone in the administration for a pardon.

“I didn’t ask for the pardon,” Arpaio said. “He wanted to do it because I think he understood what I was going through.”

Inside the West Wing, the pardon process was set in motion. Senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, who had gotten to know Arpaio through their work on immigration policy during the campaign, advocated internally for the pardon, as did chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

The White House Counsel’s Office had quietly begun preparing the paperwork and communications staffers had started drawing up talking points when Trump foreshadowed his intentions Aug. 15 by retweeting a Fox News story reporting that the president was “seriously considering” pardoning Arpaio.

Around the same time, Arpaio received a call from the White House Counsel’s Office asking whether he would accept a pardon if one were issued. He told the presidential lawyer that he would, according to Goldman.

The drumbeat culminated Tuesday when Trump returned to the Phoenix Convention Center — the site of the July 2015 rally — for a “Make America Great Again” campaign event.

As Air Force One rumbled toward Arizona, Sanders tried to douse speculation by telling reporters that the president would have “no discussion” and “no action” pertaining to Arpaio at the rally.

Arpaio said he was eager to attend the rally and visit with the president backstage, but decided, “I didn’t want to cause any harm or riots, so I stayed away, which really hurt me.”

When Arpaio heard Sanders say Trump would not talk about a pardon, he said he turned to his wife and told her, “Don’t believe anything you hear because I know how he is.”

Sure enough, Trump bellowed from the stage, “I’m just curious: Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?”

The crowd burst into applause.

“Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” Trump asked.

More applause.

“He should have had a jury, but you know what? I’ll make a prediction,” the president said. “I won’t do it tonight, because I don’t want to cause any controversy. . . But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”

Arpaio and his legal team did not feel very good the next night, when they read a CBS News report that Trump was being advised not to pardon Arpaio until after his sentencing.

Goldman wrote a two-page letter to White House Counsel Donald F. McGahn II, sent on Friday morning, saying, “Hopefully this is more fake news,” and telling McGahn that a delay until after sentencing “would place Sheriff Arpaio in an untenable and unprecedented position.”

Without a pardon, Goldman said, Arpaio could be “sentenced, handcuffed, given a ‘perp walk’ and incarcerated” and “left to languish in federal custody.”

McGahn did not immediately reply, but a few hours later, at about 6:30 p.m. D.C. time, another lawyer in his office called Goldman’s co-counsel to double-check that Arpaio would accept a pardon. A few minutes later, an email arrived from the White House with a single page attachment: an “Executive Grant of Clemency” for Arpaio signed by Trump in his thick, black script, complete with a golden Justice Department seal.

Goldman printed out three copies of the document and drove out to Arpaio’s home in Fountain Hills, a suburb of Phoenix, where the former sheriff was getting ready to take his wife to dinner at Arrivederci, an Italian restaurant, to celebrate Ava’s 86th birthday.

“Of course, his first question was, ‘Is this a fake document?’ ” Goldman recalled. “We know the sheriff has looked into fake documents.”

The Arpaios still went out for their spaghetti dinner. As of Saturday, Arpaio had not heard from Trump personally, but said if the president were to call he would advise him to take a lesson from his Arizona adventures.

“If they can do it to me, they can do it to anybody, including the president of the United States,” Arpaio said. Alluding to the Russia probe, he said, “He’s been under a lot of fire right now, him and his family, and I’ve been through the fire quite a while.”

[Washington Post]

Trump Administration Looking Into Jailing Journals For Publishing Leaks

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, taking up an issue that has infuriated President Donald Trump, went on the attack against leaks on Friday, and said that the government was reviewing policies on compelling journalists to reveal sources.

“One of the things we are doing is reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas,” Sessions told reporters as he announced administration efforts to battle what he called a “staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country.”

“We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” he said.

A media subpoena is a writ compelling a journalist to testify or produce evidence, with a penalty for failure to do so. The fact the administration is reviewing its policy leaves open the possibility of sentencing journalists for not disclosing their sources.

Trump has repeatedly voiced anger over a steady stream of leaks to the media about him and his administration since he took office in January. Some have been related to probes into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, others have concerned infighting in the White House.

Speaking to reporters after the media event with Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the department was just starting to review the policy on media subpoenas and could not say yet how it might be changed. But he did not rule out the possibility of threatening journalists with jail time.

Under U.S. law, a government attorney must seek the attorney general’s approval before issuing a subpoena to attempt to force a member of the news media to divulge information to authorities.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller was jailed in 2005 for refusing to reveal a source about stories on Iraq, but she cut a deal with prosecutors before she was formally charged.

In addressing the wider issue of leaks, Sessions said the Justice Department has tripled the number of investigations into unauthorized leaks of classified information and that four people have already been charged.

“We are taking a stand,” said Sessions, who in recent weeks has been publicly criticized by Trump for his performance in the job, including for what Trump called his weakness on the issue of going after leakers. “This culture of leaking must stop,” Sessions said.

It is not illegal to leak information, as such, but divulging classified information is against the law.

Some of the more high-profile leaks in the Trump administration have revealed White House infighting in articles that would appear not to involve divulging classified information.

Sessions did not immediately give the identities of the four people charged, but said they had been accused of unlawfully disclosing classified information or concealing contacts with foreign intelligence officers.

Rosenstein did not give the exact number of leak investigations the Justice Department is currently handling, only that this number has tripled under the Trump administration.

In the latest major leak to the media, the Washington Post published transcripts on Thursday of contentious phone calls that Trump had in the early days of his administration with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

“No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence or to talk freely in confidence with foreign leaders,” Sessions said of that case.

One tool Sessions has for prosecuting leakers is the Espionage Act, a World War One-era law that was designed to stop leaks to America’s enemies. Federal prosecutors have used it 12 times to charge individuals for disclosing information to the media, eight of them under Democratic former President Barack Obama.

The most recent case, and the first under Trump, was the Justice Department’s indictment in June of Reality Leigh Winner, 25, a U.S. intelligence contractor accused of leaking a classified National Security Agency report about Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election.

[Reuters]

1 2 3 4