Category Archives: legal news

Suddenly, Mueller seems a bit more vulnerable

If I were Robert Mueller, I might be sleeping a bit fitfully for an undetermined period of time.

Mueller, the special counsel appointed to examine allegations of collusion by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign with Russians seeking to influence the 2016 election, now suddenly seems a bit more vulnerable to White House trickery.

Rachel Brand, the No. 3 in command at the Department of Justice, has quit to become general counsel for Walmart. Brand had held her job at DOJ for less than a year.

This is a real big deal. Here’s why.

The president can’t stand Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from anything dealing with Russia. Sessions had worked on the Trump campaign foreign policy team and on its transition to the presidency. He was too close to the Russia matter to be an independent investigator. So, he stepped aside. It angered the president so much that he has said that had he known Sessions would recuse himself, he would have nominated someone else to become AG.

There’s that.

Now we have Rod Rosenstein, the No. 2 at DOJ. Rosenstein selected Mueller — a former FBI director and a crack lawyer himself — to be the special counsel. Mueller has assembled a first-rate team of legal eagles to investigate the “Russia thing” that caused Trump to fire James Comey as FBI director. Rosenstein has the authority to fire Mueller if directed by the president, but he has said he won’t do so “without cause.” Trump hasn’t exactly issued a vote of confidence for the job Rosenstein is doing as the second banana at Justice.

OK, now for the punch line.

Trump can select whoever he wants to succeed Brand. The new No. 3 must go through a Senate confirmation process. If the president were to dismiss Rosenstein, that means the next in command would be available to dismiss Mueller if the president issues the order.

My operative question, thus, goes like this: Is the president going to ask Rachel Brand’s potential successor if he or she is willing to fire Mueller if the order comes from the White House?

Sessions is now out of the game, more or less. Rosenstein says he won’t fire Mueller simply because the president wants him gone. That means, the way I see it, that Sessions and Rosenstein now are vulnerable to the Machiavellian whims of the guy who sits behind that big desk in the Oval Office.

Trump could axe both the AG and his chief deputy, leaving the next in line — the third in command — to do the dirty work of getting rid of Robert Mueller, which then could derail the special counsel’s work of finding the whole truth behind the collusion matter.

I believe that would smell like, oh, obstruction of justice.

Stand tall, Judge Curiel

This is awesome news!

A U.S. district judge who Donald J. Trump dissed as “a Mexican” has been given the authority to preside over a case involving the wall that the president wants to build across our nation’s southern border.

I cannot think of anything cooler than this — politically speaking, that is.

Judge Gonzalo Curiel will decide the merits of a case that questions whether the federal government can circumvent environmental laws to build the wall.

The Trump administration says it can; plaintiffs have filed suit saying that the administration would violate the law.

The irony of this just drips with richness. Trump disparaged the Indiana-born Judge Curiel during the 2016 presidential campaign, calling him “a Mexican,” alleging that he couldn’t judge another case involving Trump University fairly and impartially. Curiel is of Mexican heritage. However, he is as American as Trump, or me, or you, or anyone whose ancestors came to this country from somewhere else. I believe that constitutes the vast majority of U.S. citizens.

According to The Huffington Post: 

The case consolidates three lawsuits filed last year by the state of California, environmental groups and Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.). The suits challenge the waivers granted by Congress in 1996 and 2005 allowing the federal government to bypass certain federal and state laws, including environmental regulations, for border security reasons.

The suits claim the waivers are outdated and should not apply to Trump’s border wall plan. California said the construction of the wall could do “irreparable harm” to the state’s wildlife. Legal experts say the groups that have brought the lawsuits will bear a significant legal burden to prove their case.

Curiel gets to decide who’s right. Isn’t that just outstanding?

I cannot to hear the blowback if Curiel rules against the administration. Nor can I await the reaction if the judge rules in the president’s favor.

As one who believes that judicial matters should be decided according to what the law allows — and if they follow the U.S. Constitution — I will have faith that Judge Curiel will interpret the law fairly.

Also, as one who doesn’t favor construction of the wall, I will accept whatever decision the judge delivers, even if it disagrees with personal political beliefs.

I would hope the president could do the same thing if the ruling goes against him.

He won’t.

‘An American disgrace’? Not even close

Robert Mueller is looking for the truth behind an allegation that will dog the presidency of Donald Trump for as long as he holds the office.

Yet the president calls the search an “American disgrace.”

It is no such thing.

The disgrace is being generated from another source. The Oval Office has produced a disgraceful example either of extreme naivete or willful ignorance or — in the worst case — of deliberate deception.

I don’t know which it is. The president has signed on to the continuing disparagement of the FBI, the Department of Justice and other intelligence agencies that stand by their combined assertion that the Russian government intervened in our 2016 presidential election.

Trump won’t acknowledge publicly what he must: that the intelligence agencies’ assessment is accurate.

I want to stipulate that I do not know if the Russian interference determined the election outcome. I haven’t seen any evidence that votes were changed or that local local elections officials were compromised. Maybe none exists of actual impact on the outcome.

Whether it did or didn’t, the issue is that the Russians meddled. The operative question is whether the Trump campaign was complicit in that act of aggression against our electoral system.

Mueller was selected to find the truth. Republicans and Democrats sang together in praise of Mueller’s appointment, which came from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after AG Jeff Sessions recused himself from anything dealing with the Russia probe.

The disgrace is occurring now as Republicans are seeking to discredit Mueller, whose integrity once was considered impeccable. If the president fires Mueller, or Rosenstein, or both of them, then the disgrace moves into another category altogether.

Then we’re talking about a certifiable constitutional crisis.

Trump’s definition of “disgrace” needs work. It’s not the search that disgraces the nation. It’s the attempt to derail it that gives millions of Americans serious cause for concern.

POTUS takes aim at FBI, DOJ

Donald John Trump has unloaded on the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Christopher Wray runs the FBI; Jeff Sessions is attorney general of the United States.

What do these men have in common? They were nominated by the president, the same Donald John Trump who’s now disparaging their leadership of these critical law enforcement agencies.

Someone will have to explain to me how this engenders confidence in the agencies’ ability to do their job and the president’s ability to find “the best people” to run them.

Trump is likely to release a memo that condemns the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Russian meddling in our 2016 presidential election. Wray doesn’t want the memo released; he says it is incomplete and it paints an inaccurate picture of what the FBI has done to get to the truth about alleged “collusion” between the Russians and the Trump presidential campaign.

The president’s latest tweeet storm has called into the question the leadership of these agencies, while at the same time praising the “rank and file” employees.

He wrote this today: “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans – something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago,” the president tweeted. “Rank & File are great people!”

He’s already trashed AG Sessions for his decision to recuse himself from anything dealing with Russia. If he had known Sessions would take himself out of the probe, Trump has said, he would have picked someone else.

So help me, I cannot remember a time when the president has disrespected his own appointees in the manner that we’re witnessing at this moment.

Bizarre.

Still waiting for jury duty

I must be a weirdo.

I’m now 68 years of age and I have a item on my bucket list that I likely won’t ever fulfill.

I want to serve on a trial jury. I want to get the chance to determine whether someone is guilty or innocent of a crime. I even would settle for a civil case that would allow me to rule in favor of a plaintiff or a defendant.

It won’t happen. Not likely ever.

Over many years of living I’ve heard too many friends and acquaintances gripe about serving on a jury. They don’t have the time. They don’t want to be bothered. Public service? Let someone else do it!

Why, I never …

I posted a blog item in February 2009 that called attention to a local sheriff reporting for jury duty. Randall County’s top cop, Joel Richardson, performed his act of public service.

So, what’s your excuse?

I was proud of Sheriff Richardson.

Alas, I won’t be able to do what he did … more than likely.

In Randall County, where I’ve lived for more than two decades, I receive jury summonses about two, maybe three times a year. The county’s automated system allows summons recipients to call the prior evening to see if we have to report. Almost without fail, I call and the recording excuses “all jurors” until the next time we get called.

Then there’s this grand jury matter. I served on a Randall County grand jury some years ago. We met for three months, handing out indictments and no-billing people listed in criminal complaints brought by the district attorney’s office. The DA, James Farren, told us we could kiss any future jury duty goodbye, given our grand jury experience. Why? Defense counsel would strike us as being biased in favor of the prosecution.

Drat!

I know this sounds strange. I do wish I could get a jury summons, answer it, report for duty and then get selected to hear a case. Hey, the pay is lousy.

Then again, public service isn’t about personal enrichment … correct?

Too bad, disgraced doc; victims need to be heard

Larry Nassar said what? It’s too hard for him to listen to the testimony of young women he abused sexually while he was a practicing physician?

Oh, cry me a river!

Nassar has pleaded guilty to sexual abuse involving young gymnasts he was treating. Several of the victims happen to be members of the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team.

Dozens of young women have been testifying at Nassar’s sentencing hearing. It apparently is too much for the disgraced doctor.

The judge who is presiding over this case, Rosemarie Aquilina, isn’t cutting him any slack.

The pedophile, who’s facing a potential life sentence in prison for what he did to those girls, needs to hear all the victims who want to speak.

If it’s too hard on him, well, the former doctor should not for a split second expect a scintilla of sympathy from the court — or anyone else.

As RealClearPolitics has reported:

“Now this is entertaining to me,” County Court Judge Rosemarie Aquilina reportedly said as she read the letter. The news outlet said the judge scoffed in particular at this line: “Aquilina said if I pass out she’ll have the EMTs revive me and prop me up in the witness box.”

“I suspect you have watched too much television,” Aquilina said. “It’s delusional. You need to talk about these issues with a therapist and that’s not me.”

High court to settle redistricting dilemma?

I don’t expect the current U.S. Supreme Court to decide that Texas’s legislative and congressional boundaries were drawn in a manner that discriminates against people of color.

Why not? Because its ideological composition would tilt toward those who dismiss such concerns.

The court will decide Abbott v. Perez sometime this year. It involves the manner in which several districts were drawn. Critics say that Hispanics were denied the right to choose a candidate of their own because of the way a San Antonio-area district was gerrymandered.

I’ll set aside the merits of the case that justices will hear. I want to concentrate briefly on the method the states use to draw these districts.

They are done by legislatures. The Texas Legislature is dominated by Republican super-majorities. The custom has been that the Legislature draws these boundaries to benefit the party in power.

Legislators don’t like being handed this task at the end of every census, which is taken at the beginning of each decade. The late state Sen. Teel Bivins of Amarillo once told me that redistricting provides “Republicans a chance to eat their young.” I’ve never quite understood Bivins’s logic. To my mind, the process allows the party in power to “eat the young” of the other party.

The 1991 Texas Legislature redrew the state’s congressional boundaries in a way that sought to shield Democrats, who controlled the Legislature at the time. The Legislature divided Amarillo into two congressional districts, peeling Republicans from the 13th Congressional District to protect then-U.S. Rep. Bill Sarpalius, a Democrat. Sarpalius was re-elected in 1992, but then lost in 1994 to Republican upstart Mac Thornberry.

Gerrymandering not always a bad thing

My own preference would be to hand this process over to a bipartisan commission appointed by the governor and both legislative chambers. I favor taking this process out of politicians’ hands. Their aim is to protect their own and stick it to the politicians — and to voters — from their other party.

Perhaps the Supreme Court’s decision might include a dissent that spells out potential remedies to what I consider to be a political travesty.

One can hope.

Here’s yet another flip-flop from POTUS

Donald J. Trump Sr. is the king of flip-flops.

He once supported Hillary Clinton; now he’s her arch-enemy. He once said states should determine pot use legality; now he’s all for the feds’ ruling the matter. Trump once said he’d cooperate “100 percent” with special counsel Robert Mueller …

Now he’s saying some quite different.

The president who in June 2017 said he would submit to interviews over the “Russia thing” now believes there’s no need for such an interview and implies he won’t agree to a request from Mueller for a sit-down visit.

Mueller, though, does have subpoena power. He can order the president to talk to him. The president then can determine whether he wants to disobey a lawful order. If he does, then he becomes a lawbreaker — kind of like the time President Clinton lied to a federal grand jury about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky; that lie handed congressional Republicans the pretext they were looking for, so they impeached the president.

Trump kept repeating himself this week about there being “no collusion” with Russians seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election outcome. He said it’s been “proven” there’s no collusion.

Actually, Mr. President, nothing has been proven. There’s no proof that the Trump campaign did work in cahoots with the Russians, or it didn’t. That is what Mueller and his legal team are trying to ascertain.

So … talk to the special counsel, Mr. President. You’ve got nothing to hide? Say it directly to Robert Mueller.

Look inward, Mr. President, when talking about libel

Donald John “Stable Genius” Trump Sr. wants to change libel laws.

This president is angry about a book that paints his administration in a negative light. He calls libel laws a “sham” and a “disgrace.”

OK. How does one put this presidential nonsense into some perspective? I’ll try.

This president spent years defaming Barack H. Obama by insisting that the former president wasn’t constitutionally qualified to serve in the office to which he was elected twice. Did the former president sue him? No, although he had grounds.

Then, during the 2016 presidential campaign, the Republican candidate defamed Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz’s father by implying that he might have had a hand in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Trump said Rafael Cruz had met with Lee Harvey Oswald prior to the assassination, suggesting some — dare I say it? — “collusion” between the elder Cruz and the man who actually killed the president. I believe there might be grounds for a lawsuit there, too.

For this president now to get his skivvies in a knot over some negative coverage — and to insist on changes in libel law — is on its face laughable.

It’s also disgusting and disgraceful.

Look inward, Mr. President … if you dare.

States’ rights … or not?

While he was running for president of the United States, Donald J. Trump said that states should be left to determine the legality of smoking pot.

Now that he is the president of the United States, Trump seems to be saying something else. Or, at least he’s allowing the attorney general to say it for him. AG Jeff Sessions has repealed relaxation of federal prosecution of marijuana laws. He has sicced federal prosecutors loose on those who are accused of smoking pot illegally.

Now comes a question: Which is it, do states’ right prevail on this matter or is this a matter where federal policy overrides them?

California has just legalized the sale of “recreational marijuana,” joining several other states and the District of Columbia in this initiative.

The AG is having none of it.

But to whom does the attorney general answer? Let’s see. It’s the president. And this president is on record saying that states should be left to set marijuana-use rules and laws.

Didn’t he say that? Didn’t he mean it? Wasn’t he speaking from his gut, or his heart, or did he make it up as a throwaway line?

The order Sessions rescinded, of course, came from President Barack H. Obama’s Department of Justice. DOJ said in 2013 it wouldn’t concern itself with marijuana court fights in states where its use is legal. Sessions is taking another attitude altogether.

However, is he speaking for the department he runs or for the president of the United States — or both! If so, has the president changed his mind?