Trump Games the Legal System but Will It Last?

Photo: AP/Alex Brandon, as published in CityWatch LA, 12/2/19.

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher
(Originally published in CityWatch LA, 12/2/19)

DC DISPATCH-In a normal judicial proceeding, when the Court speaks, it does so through orders. A court order is a command issued by a judge. If a judge orders you to appear for your speeding ticket hearing, failure to do so can result in a bench warrant or a default judgment. Penalties can also include jail time and fines.
A subpoena, also an order of the court, can be issued by either of the parties to a civil action and, if approved by the judge, can require a person to produce documents or appear in person to provide testimony. And like most CityWatchers, when faced with a court order, a subpoenaed party would cooperate. For many of us that may mean paying a speeding ticket or getting current on child support, because the fear of being held in contempt of court or jailed would frighten most people, especially given their unfamiliarity with judicial process.

Could you ever imagine being completely immune from any court order and/or subpoena? Life would be very different for most of us, if we thought that the arm of the law could in no way reach out and touch us. Yet, this is the position that Trump is claiming. He maintains that he is basically above the law and needs to answer to no one for his conduct. He also argues that anyone who works for him is similarly exempt — in effect, claiming absolute immunity from any legal process. We are witnessing in real-time what life is like for a person who believes this. In a country that promotes the rule of law, this monarchical conduct is simply not sustainable if Congress and the Courts are to have a role in running the country.

In his recent book, “The Warning,” Anonymous notes President Trump’s familiarity with the legal system. When Trump became President, he had something like 3000 outstanding cases to his name. Anonymous recalls a conversation Trump had with a group of staffers when he paraphrased, “If you want to irritate someone threaten to sue, but if you really want to scare someone, file a lawsuit against them.” Trump is in the luxurious position of being able to rely on an army of Justice Department lawyers to bring his claims, however frivolous, and he no longer has the check of legal fees to control his conduct. He also has a group of lawyers led by Rudy Giuliani who work for him pro bono. Talk about carte blanche. No wonder he is tempted to abuse the American legal system.

We have a litigious expert in the White House and while rules of civil procedure may not be his strength, he is very familiar with the benefits of delay. Trump is now for the first time in his life concerned with outcomes. Even if he loses in the lower courts, there is always a higher court to appeal to and more time to prevent the public from getting access to whatever information he is hiding. When coupled with his constant attacks on Twitter and in the press designed to undermine whatever position his opponents may take, Trump has manipulated the legal system to his ultimate advantage — likely assuring that he can defer any negative court decisions until after the election of 2020.

There are a few risks on the horizon for the President, however. The litigation calling for him to produce his tax returns is advancing at a faster than expected pace and is already pending review by the Supreme Court. The Court could decide to take one of the cases and stall a resolution until next year, or it could decline to hear the cases, letting the lower courts’ decisions stand — in which case, the President could find himself suddenly exposed and forced to produce his taxes.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) has issued countless subpoenas for both testimony and documents. Trump has instructed his subordinates at the Department of State, the Department of Defense, the Department of Energy, and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) not to cooperate in any way, citing an unfair impeachment process. This obstruction of Congress is unprecedented and exceeds even the Nixonian example.

While the Democrats have managed to build a credible case working around the top layer, the testimony of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney under oath, should under normal circumstances present the President’s defense that his conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine was a proper exercise of his foreign affairs powers and not, as Congress is alleging, an improper request to a foreign government for Trump’s personal benefit in a political campaign. By refusing to cooperate in any fashion, it is logical that Congress would infer guilt from these parties’ obstruction. Congress has also wisely refused to engage with Trump in the courts in trying to enforce subpoenas against these parties. The Congressional figures pressing Trump’s indictment know his game and are pressing on without them.

Even though Trump and his legal counsel expressly ordered parties not to appear before the HPSCI, it is amazing how many people have shown extraordinary courage to testify both secretly and in public notwithstanding the Presidential orders. The recent conviction of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone for lying to Congress may also have served as a harbinger. When there is a conflict between the Congress and an Executive branch leadership that may be engaged in wrongdoing and covering up that wrongdoing, it may be prudent to comply with the subpoena. While the long arm of the law has not yet reached into the White House and taken hold of our President, it has caught up with some of those around him. If individuals very close to the President are now concerned that the blanket claim of executive privilege won’t protect them indefinitely, the President himself should be worried as well.

(Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitors and contributes to Daily Koz and other important news publications.)

 

Ten former NFL players charged by the Justice Department

Brian A. Benczkowski, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Department of Justice stated in a Washington Post report, “Ten former NFL players allegedly committed a brazen, multimillion dollar fraud on a health care plan meant to help their former teammates and other retired players pay legitimate, out-of-pocket medical expenses.” (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Justice)

According to a report by The Washington Post, “After an FBI investigation, the Justice Department filed charges Wednesday morning in the Eastern District of Kentucky against Robert McCune, John Eubanks, Tamarick Vanover, Ceandris Brown, James Butler, Frederick Bennett, Correll Buckhalter, Etric Pruitt, Portis and Rogers.”

Ten former NFL players were charged by the Justice Department “with defrauding a health care program for retired players of nearly $4 million.” Other players may be charged, as well.

Michael Bloomberg: An Option That is in the Money

Photo originally published in CityWatch LA, 11/14/19.

by Sara Corcoran, Courts Monitor Publisher

(Originally published in CityWatch LA, 11/14/19)

DC DISPATCH-Michael Bloomberg, the former Mayor of NYC, has officially expressed interest in earning the Democratic nomination for 2020.

Although his pathway to the nomination may be unconventional, likely forgoing the four early but low-vote states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina and instead making a concentrated Super Tuesday attack for the big-delegate states including California and Texas — Bloomberg has the right moxie, background, temperament, and demographic appeal to unseat Trump in the next Presidential election.

The current roster of Democrats lacks a candidate that has the ability to comfortably beat Trump.  Moreover, recent swing state polling margins confirm this. All the current Democratic front runners are either negative or in the margin of error when paired on the electoral college map against Trump. Bloomberg has the best chance of changing this paradigm. Although national polls that have shown Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden beating Trump in the popular vote, it is only Biden who eeks out a win in some of the swing states, including Arizona and Virginia, with an outcome too close to call.

The current lineup of Democratic candidates does not offer enough risk insurance against a Trump presidency, given the likelihood that 2020 will be determined within the margin of error yet again. Joe Biden, once the best shot to beat Trump, has been weakened by the mere allegation and perception of corrupt practices by his family in Ukraine. Although the impact on Biden’s polls of Trump’s attacks tends to fluctuate, to dismiss it as a contingent liability is naive. Trump’s attacks are not likely to stop. If anything, they will increase and become more vicious. Biden’s defense of his son has been to evade and plead ignorance. There is a real risk that he will not be able to absorb the Trump onslaught, particularly if he remains financially vulnerable.

After Bloomberg officially expressed interest in pursuing a 2020 run, the reaction has been mixed, but more favorable to some who are looking for a middle of the road option. For Independents, swing voters, and moderate Democrats, this should be a welcome move. His announcement may also serve to quell the rumblings of a possible third try by Hillary Clinton. Biden has publicly approved of a Bloomberg run, although privately, he may be shaken. On the other hand, both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have piled on with criticism of “billionaires buying their way into an election.”

Although both Sanders and Warren (who are millionaires, not billionaires) have had impressive careers, they will not be able to carry the white, working-class vote in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. They are both Washington insiders in a country that has an increasing appetite for “outsider” Presidential candidates even those who are independently wealthy. It is ironic that Tom Steyer, a billionaire, has been unable to create traction with voters, suggesting that some unknown quantifier is at play.

Bloomberg is a self-made billionaire who has created jobs. Coming from humble beginnings, Bloomberg made his wealth the old-fashioned way, he earned it. His career on Wall Street started as a partner Solomon Brothers. As the creator of the Bloomberg terminal, Michael Bloomberg transformed the way professionals could access, interpret, and understand capital market relationships with banking, credit, currency, and government finance to name a few. Anyone who has had the pleasure of accessing a terminal appreciates the wealth of information that it affords. Today, Bloomberg is a diverse conglomerate that focuses on financial services, software, and media with over 20,000 employees and revenues north of $9 billion.

As much as the liberal base of the Democratic Party thinks they drive the nomination process, it is incumbent upon this branch to support the candidate that has the best chance of beating Trump. It is Bloomberg whose option is in the money (“in the money” refers to a concept in options where the underlying security’s price is greater than its strike price). At a minimum, Bloomberg can distract Trump away from Biden and allow the former VP to recover from the onslaught against his family. Bloomberg is a covered option that has value whether you go long or go short.

In the present environment where much of the Democrats case against Trump centers on charges of foreign influence and accommodations, Bloomberg will have to deflect claims that his business interests make him susceptible to foreign influence given his various subsidiaries with China in particular. Bloomberg will have to address the allegations of firing journalists and changing editorial content in its news in exchange for maintaining access and financial terminal business. That said, Bloomberg can differentiate himself from Trump by demonstrating he understands what putting his assets in a trust involves — he did it when running for mayor of New York. Bloomberg’s brand isn’t about chaos and nepotism. He has a clear understanding of how to avoid conflicts of interest.

Instead, his focus is on creating jobs, accepting climate change as a threat, and instituting concrete economic policies. He has run a massively complex city and has proven executive skills. He has developed relationships with mayors and governors across the country and is data-driven in his responses to problems. When Trump won the presidency, he allegedly called Bloomberg and asked him for advice. “Hire people smarter than you,” he reportedly recommended. Trump was obviously too insecure to follow this suggestion with disastrous consequences and claims that Bloomberg lacks “the magic” to win. We shall see how much magic Trump brings to the next election as he turns his attention to a possible Bloomberg threat.

A repeat of the 2016 Presidential race would be devastating to the Democratic Party but if they underplay the significance of state data in favor of national data, it is likely to occur. Progressive Democrats keep looking at national polling with the hopes the state polling will eventually mirror it, but this won’t happen without the right candidate who leads by more than 5%. Trump salivates at the prospect of fighting an election into the margin of error where the dirt he cultivates against opponents can have magnified value and impact. When polling data goes below 5%, foreign actors can interfere indiscriminately without being identified, at least in the short run.

Michael Bloomberg made his fortune by making wise choices about options. If the Democrats want to win the 2020 election, they need to do the same.

Sara Corcoran writes DC Dispatch and covers the nation’s capital from Washington for CityWatch. She is the Publisher of the California and National Courts Monitor and contributes to Daily Koz, The Frontier Post in Pakistan and other important news publications.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

 

Atlanta immigration court backlog delays hearing for famous rapper

Photo credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP as reported by to 11Alive.

According to 11Alive, “21 Savage, whose legal name is Shéyaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, allegedly entered the U.S. legally in July 2005 at age 7 on an H-4 visa but failed to leave under the terms of his “nonimmigrant visa” when it expired in 2006, according to ICE… He was expected to face a judge in the weeks after his release, but TMZ reported on Wednesday that with a serious case backlog in immigration courts – Syracuse University said in September it now exceeds 1 million – he still doesn’t have a court date, and continues to face deportation.”

The 11Alive report explains that according to Syracuse University’s immigration case tracker, there are more than 13,000 cases in the Atlanta court’s backlog, and the average wait time for a hearing is currently 1,250 days or nearly three-and-a-half years.

Because of the backlog, 21 Savage is in limbo and cannot travel outside the U.S., even for his concert tours.