Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Last Call For Pardon The Corruption

Donald Trump expertly trolling America today with a series of pardons and commutations for some of the country's most infamous white collar criminals and political crooks, and of course they just happen to be white guys.

President Donald Trump announced a host of pardons and commutations on Tuesday, ranging from Rod Blagojevich, the former Illinois governor jailed on corruption charges, to Bernie Kerik, the former New York police commissioner.

"Yes, we have commuted the sentence of Rod Blagojevich. He served eight years in jail, a long time," Trump told reporters before boarding Air Force One en route to Los Angeles.

The commutation was one of a flurry of legal actions Trump took Tuesday, including pardons for Kerik, financier Michael Milken and former San Francisco 49ers owner Edward DeBartolo, Jr. And they came days before the scheduled sentencing of Roger Stone in federal court in D.C., amid widespread speculation about whether the president will pardon his former longtime aide.

Stone was at the center of last week's drama inside the Justice Department, with four career prosecutors quitting his case after Attorney General William Barr overruled their sentencing recommendation.

Stone's looming fate has drawn Trump's condemnation in recent weeks, with the president calling it a "miscarriage of justice!" on Twitter and excoriating the prosecutors and judge for their handling of the case. On Tuesday, he appeared to echo a Fox News contributor’s call for a new trial.

Trump's clemency moves furthered a pattern in which those seeking pardons have aggressively lobbied the president's allies and associates, jumping ahead of the formal process by which the White House usually reviews pardon requests. And Tuesday's announcement by the White House offered a few tantalizing hints as to who might be the next on the president's list.

Now Trump also pardoned or commuted the sentences of some less infamous people who have been pressing for one in the media through criminal justice reform:

Ariel Friedler hacked into his competitors’ computers. Paul Pogue filed false income tax statements. David Safavian is a Republican lawyer who was convicted of perjury in connection with the Abramoff corruption scandal. Angela Stanton “spent time in Georgia prisons for things like felony embezzlement, theft and fraud” but since her release in 2005 has become a best-selling author and the creator of Reclaim It Albany.

Tynice Nicole Hall was convicted of conspiracy and drug offenses involving powder and crack cocaine because her boyfriend sold drugs out of her house. Crystal Munoz was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 1000 kilograms of marijuana. Judith Negron received a 35-year sentence as part of a Medicare fraud racket.

Hey, but he got all these names from FOX News State TV anyway.

Unsurprisingly, a key influence that led to Trump’s decision, particularly as it related to Blagojevich, was Fox News. The same could partly be said of the decision on Kerik, a frequent Fox News guest whose pardon was backed by several of the network’s stars; Milken, whose pardon was supported by Fox Business Network host and Trump loyalist Maria Bartiromo; and Angela Stanton, an occasional pro-Trump TV pundit whose pardon was pushed by frequent Fox News guest and evangelical leader Alveda King.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Trump made the Fox News connection abundantly clear, telling reporters that he decided to commute the rest of Blagojevich’s sentence because he’d seen the ex-governor’s wife Patti Blagojevich pleading her husband’s case on Fox.

“I watched his wife on television,” Trump declared, adding that he didn’t know the ex-governor “very well” despite Blagojevich’s appearances on The Celebrity Apprentice years ago.

In mid-2018, the president repeatedly asked close advisers to explore a Blagojevich pardon and, while doing so, emphatically referenced clips he’d seen on Fox, including a segment on informal Trump adviser Jeanine Pirro’s weekend show, according to two sources who independently discussed the matter with the president at the time.

According to liberal media-watchdog Media Matters for America, Patti Blagojevich took to Fox programming in April 2018 to push for her husband’s sentence to be reduced, making at least seven appearances on some of Trump’s favorite primetime shows such as Tucker Carlson Tonight and The Ingraham Angle.

The hosts, meanwhile, didn’t even bother with subtlety during the interviews. For instance, Tucker Carlson asked Mrs. Blagojevich what she would say “if you could speak to the president.”

Of course, money talks too.

For those who didn’t receive the Fox News treatment, it appears that in at least one case, cold hard cash did the talking. Paul Pogue, a construction company owner who pleaded guilty to underpaying his taxes by $473,000 and received three years probation, was issued a full pardon and clemency by the president.

According to FEC filings, Pogue’s family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct contributions and in-kind air travel to the Trump Victory Committee. Beginning in August 2019, Ben Pogue—CEO of Pogue Construction and son of Paul Pogue—and his wife Ashleigh made over $200,000 in contributions to the campaign.

In August alone, Ben Pogue donated $85,000 to Trump Victory while Ashleigh Pogue contributed $50,000 that month. The following month, Ben Pogue made an in-kind air travel contribution of $75,404.40. The couple also made several large donations to the Republican National Committee and each donated $5,600 to Donald Trump for President Inc.

On the day of their first donation to the Trump campaign, Ashleigh posted an Instagram photo of her and her husband posing with Donald Trump Jr. and his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, at the Hamptons.

But the real message is a clear as a Nordic spring lake: pardons for those who Mueller put behind bars are now coming, and for everyone else, justice is for sale if the price is right.

Retribution Execution, Con't

The Trump regime continue to purge everyone involved in the House Democratic impeachment investigation.  Some are leaving out of concern for the Justice Department under Bill Barr, most are being forced out. I'm not sure which category he latest departure falls into just yet, but the lawyer who handled the Ukraine whistleblower complaint against Trump is now leaving the DNI's office.

The top lawyer for the intelligence community, whose decision to block a whistleblower's complaint about President Donald Trump and Ukraine from reaching Congress helped jumpstart the impeachment inquiry, is resigning from his post, officials confirmed.

Jason Klitenic, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, will depart early next month, according to an agency spokeswoman. His exit comes as the acting DNI, Joseph Maguire, nears a March 11 deadline to depart as well. Federal law prevents Maguire from serving in an acting capacity beyond that date, meaning a new director must be nominated and confirmed by then, or Trump must pick a new acting official.
No official reason for Klitenic's departure has been provided. But he became the subject of scrutiny in September when he consulted with the Justice Department and determined that a whistleblower complaint deemed "urgent" by an internal watchdog would not be provided to Congress. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) demanded access to the complaint after learning it had been blocked — and that it likely pertained to Trump or his senior advisers — and the furor that ensued led to a cascade of support for impeachment in the House.

The Trump administration's initial refusal to provide the complaint, as well as a string of media reports suggesting the complaint described wrongdoing by Trump in his posture toward Ukraine, ultimately led Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open an impeachment inquiry in late September. Within days of her decision, Maguire testified to Congress and the whistleblower complaint was released publicly. Trump also decided to release the readout of a July 25 call with Ukraine's president that became a central piece of evidence in the impeachment inquiry.

Schiff first asked the DNI for the whistleblower complaint after the agency's inspected general characterized it as an "urgent" and credible matter. Typically federal laws trigger a requirement that such complaints are forwarded to Congress. But in a Sept. 13 letter, Klitenic replied that rather than honor the inspector general's assessment, DNI consulted with the Justice Department, which overruled the inspector general and determined the complaint did not meet the threshold required to share it with lawmakers.

"Based on those consultations, we determined that the allegations did not fall within the statutory definition of an 'urgent concern' and that the statute did not require the complaint to be transmitted to the intelligence committees," Klitenic wrote on Sept. 13.

He also argued that the whistleblower had no legal right to approach Congress directly with his concerns. "We believe that it is important to apply the statute as it was written, because reading it to give a complainant a unilateral right to forward a complaint to the congressional intelligence committees would raise serious constitutional questions," Klitenic argued.

Klitenic's letter also hinted at Trump's role in the complaint, noting that it involved "confidential and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the Intelligence Community." Schiff said at the time that such a description could only apply to Trump or his top aides.

So is Klitenic leaving because he failed to kill the whistleblower complaint that led to the impeachment of Trump, or is he leaving because he sees who Trump truly is?

Maybe both.  We don't know.

That should scare everyone.

Lowering The Barr, Con't

The nation's largest voluntary group of federal judges has called an emergency meeting for today on how to handle Attorney General Bill Barr stepping in last week to take control of federal cases involving Donald Trump.

A national association of federal judges has called an emergency meeting Tuesday to address growing concerns about the intervention of Justice Department officials and President Donald Trump in politically sensitive cases, the group’s president said Monday. 
Philadelphia U.S. District Judge Cynthia Rufe, who heads the independent Federal Judges Association, said the group “could not wait” until its spring conference to weigh in on a deepening crisis that has enveloped the Justice Department and Attorney General William Barr. 
“There are plenty of issues that we are concerned about,” Rufe told USA TODAY. “We’ll talk all of this through.” 
Rufe, nominated to the bench by President George W. Bush, said the group of more than 1,000 federal jurists called for the meeting last week after Trump criticized prosecutors' initial sentencing recommendation for his friend Roger Stone and the Department of Justice overruled them
Trump also took a swipe at the federal judge who is set to preside at Stone’s sentencing hearing Thursday. 
"Is this the judge that put Paul Manafort in SOLITARY CONFINEMENT, something not even mobster Al Capone had to endure?” Trump tweeted last week, referring to U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. “How did she treat Crooked Hillary Clinton? Just asking!" 
Jackson jailed Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, prior to his convictions in two separate financial fraud cases after he sought to tamper with potential witnesses.

Rufe said the judges' association is “not inclined to get involved with an ongoing case,” but she voiced strong support for Jackson. 
“I am not concerned with how a particular judge will rule,” Rufe said, praising Jackson's reputation. “We are supportive of any federal judge who does what is required.” 
The unusual concern voiced by the judges’ group comes in the wake of an equally unusual protest. More than 2,000 former Justice Department officials called on Barr to resign Sunday, claiming his handling of the Stone case "openly and repeatedly flouted" the principle of equal justice.

If the FJA decides to call for Barr's resignation, things could potentially get ugly, but I don't think they will.  Remember, Mitch McConnell's assembly line of scores of judicial confirmations mean Trump has appointed nearly a quarter of all currently-serving federal judges in just 3 years, and that has to include a healthy percentage of the FJA's membership.

Frankly, I don't expect a single Trump-appointed judge to raise a finger, either so best-case scenario out of this is a mealy-mouthed position of "deep concern" (heaven forfend!) voiced in a heavily watered down statement that Barr will wipe Trump's ass with before chucking it in a gold-plated toilet.

I'd like to think this would lead to Barr's imminent resignation, but even if that somehow miraculously happens, McConnell will make sure Trump has an even worse AG confirmed within weeks, and the new AG won't be shy about locking Democrats up, either.

Most likey, Barr will respond defiantly and nothing will happen.


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