Monday Reads: The Wheels of Justice Turn very Slowly

Rediscovered painting by Raphael, circa 1520

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I’m focusing on the last standing functional branch of our Democracy today. I’ve noticed that some of the court cases recently have shown us that a few of our institutions are still working despite attempts to take them down.  I also cover a bit of that because, as you know, “these are the times that try men’s souls”.

The Special Counsel’s Appointment and Authority has been upheld by one of the first Trump Court Appointee’s this morning. This is significant as Mueller’s team takes aim at Roger Stone who dallied with Guccifer 2.0 and may be one of the first of the campaign’s inner circle to be directly indicted for playing footsy with the Russians. This is via CNN:

A federal district judge who was appointed by President Donald Trump has upheld Robert Mueller’s appointment and constitutional authority in the special counsel’s case against Russian social media propagandists.

Judge Dabney Friedrich, who serves at the trial-court level in DC federal court, said Concord Management and Consulting could not have its case tossed on constitutional grounds. The Russian company accused of backing a social media effort to sway voters against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claimed Mueller didn’t have power to bring the case because he was not appointment by the President and confirmed by Congress. Mueller was appointed under the authority of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has broad power as the acting head of the Justice Department for the 2016 election probe.

“The appointment does not violate core separation-of-powers principles. Nor has the Special Counsel exceeded his authority under the appointment order by investigating and prosecuting Concord,” Friedrich wrote in an opinion published Monday morning. She was one of the first judges Trump placed into a federal court position.

Friedrich cited opinions by three other federal judges — Amy Berman Jackson, who oversees Paul Manafort’s criminal foreign lobbying case; T.S. Ellis, who oversees Manafort’s financial fraud case; and DC District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell — to back up her decision.
All three judges also denied requests to invalidate Mueller’s authority, with Howell writing as recently as late July that a witness subpoenaed to turn over documents and to testify before the grand jury about Roger Stone would have to. That witness, Andrew Miller, has been held in contempt of the court and now may appeal.

 

Bronze statue of Astraea

Both Manafort and Stone and key associates have tried to dart and dodge aspects of their indictments.  So far, they’ve failed.

The prosecution is wrapping up its tax- and bank-fraud case against Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman.

After the blistering pace set by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, the trial ground to a sudden halt on Friday for an unexplained reason. The judge and lawyers spent half the day huddled behind closed doors, with the trial not resuming until mid-afternoon.

The star of the trial was Gates, who was depicted by the defense as an unprincipled crook who ripped off Manafort and maybe the Trump campaign, and cheated on his wife to boot. But he also described to prosecutors how he helped Manafort hide millions of dollars that he earned from political consulting work in Ukraine in offshore accounts, and helped forge documents that made it easier for Manafort to defraud banks.

The jury heard from plenty of financial experts who backed up those claims. The professionals who helped Manafort, including his bookkeeper and tax accountant, said Manafort was the one in charge and insisted on giving final approval. The accountant said she was aware that Manafort’s tax returns contained false information. Bankers testified they wouldn’t have approved Manafort’s loan requests had they received the correct information from him about his income and debts.

Stephen Calk, chief executive officer of Federal Savings Bank in Chicago, expedited approval of two loans for Manafort totaling $16 million as he pushed Manafort for help landing a job with the Trump administration soon after the 2016 election, a former bank employee testified.

Manafort’s defense gets a chance to put its case before the jury this week, although it’s not required to do so. It’s unclear whether Manafort plans to testify or when jurors will begin deliberating.

Lady Justice Streets of Dublin.  Jenny Rainbow (artist)

However, the White House continues to skirt laws and ethics guidelines.  This one is a whopper of an issue.  The Daily Beast has this lede: ‘White House: It’s in ‘Public Interest’ for Staff to Skirt Ethics Rules to Meet With Fox News’ written by Lachlan Markay. No wonder they want to change the way administrative judges are appointed.

It is “in the public interest” for a the White House’s top communicator to be excused from federal ethics laws so he can meet with Fox News, according to President Donald Trump’s top lawyer.

Bill Shine, Trump’s newly minted communications director, and Larry Kudlow, the White House’s top economist, who worked at CNBC before his White House post, have both been excused from provisions of the law, which seeks to prevent administration officials from advancing the financial interests of relatives or former employers.

“The Administration has an interest in you interacting with Covered Organizations such as Fox News,” wrote White House counsel Don McGahn in a July 13 memo granting an ethics waivers to Shine, a former Fox executive. “[T]he need for your services outweighs the concern that a reasonable person may question the integrity of the White House Office’s programs and operations.”

Kudlow, a former CNBC host, received a similar waiver allowing him to communicate with former colleagues.

Including Shine and Kudlow, the White House has granted a total of 20 waivers to provisions of various federal ethics laws and the ethics pledge that President Trump instituted by executive order the week he took office. Federal agencies have granted many more such waivers.

Very Old White Guy from Iowa Grassley has decided September 4th is the day to trot out the Kavanaugh confirmation.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings will start on Sept. 4 and last between three and four days, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced on Friday.

That scheduling tees up the GOP to meet its goal of getting President Donald Trump’s pick seated on the high court by the time its term begins in early October, barring unforeseen obstacles or a breakthrough by Democrats who are pushing to derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

The Supreme Court battle so far has focused on documents related to Kavanaugh’s five years in the George W. Bush White House. Democrats have excoriated the GOP for declining to seek records from the nominee’s time as Bush’s staff secretary and condemned the Republican decision to rely on a Bush-driven review process for the early round of vetting, while the majority party hails the vast scope of documents that are set for release.

Grassley said earlier this month that he anticipates being able to complete Kavanaugh’s consideration by the Judiciary panel within about two weeks after the close of the confirmation hearings, which will feature questioning of the nominee beginning on Sept. 5. After the Judiciary panel clears Kavanaugh, Grassley added, the nomination is expected to reach the Senate floor within days.

“At this current pace, we have plenty of time to review the rest of emails and other records that we will receive from President Bush and the National Archives,” Grassley said in a Friday statement setting the hearing dates. “It’s time for the American people to hear directly from Judge Kavanaugh at his public hearing.”

The FBI has overridden its normal process of employee discipline to fire Agent Peter Strzok who basically was exercising his first amendment rights to criticize D’oh Hair Furor.  I’m wondering how long it will take to fire up a law suit on this one. This is from Matt Zapotosky at WAPO.

The FBI has fired agent Peter Strzok, who helped lead the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election until officials discovered he had been sending anti-Trump texts.

Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer, said FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich ordered the firing on Friday — even though the director of the FBI office that normally handles employee discipline had decided Strzok should face only a demotion and 60-day suspension. Goelman said the move undercuts the FBI’s repeated assurances that Strzok would be afforded the normal disciplinary process.

“This isn’t the normal process in any way more than name,” Goelman said, adding in a statement, “This decision should be deeply troubling to all Americans.”

The FBI declined to comment.

The termination marks a remarkable downfall for Strzok, a 22-year veteran of the bureau who investigated Russian spies, defense officials accused of selling secrets to China and myriad other important cases. In the twilight of his career, Strzok was integral to two of the bureau’s most high-profile investigations: the Russia case; and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Meanwhile, Cruella D’Vos “Just Pulled a Full Marie Antoinette And Retracted Fraud Rules Against For-Profit Colleges.” This is from Elura Nanos writing for Law & Crime.

Welp, now we’ve at least closed the circle on Betsy DeVos and for-profit colleges. She’s gone from evading questions about whether she would regulate these fraud machines to disbanding the team charged with investigating them. Now, she flat out withdrew the gainful employment rule, signaling to all that under her watchful eye, the DeVrys, the Trump Universities, and the Corinthian Colleges are free to flourish – while unwitting students and their families can simply eat cake.

The “gainful employment rule,” you may remember, is the one adopted in 2016 under the Obamaadministration, after several cash-cow diploma mills found themselves defending fraud lawsuits brought by swindled students. The rule prohibited these businesses from using deceptive practices to entice customers to plunk down thousands in student loan money when the corresponding “degree” wasn’t worth the expensive paper on which it was printed. Or in other words, exactly what Trump University was accused of doing. It was also the rule Senator Elizabeth Warren skeweredDeVos on at DeVos’ confirmation hearing.

Well, as they say “No justice, No Peace”.

This is pretty outrageous.

The Clearwater man who shot and killed a father of three outside a convenience store in a parking dispute last month — setting off a stand your ground debate that has swept Florida and the nation — has a history of road rage.

Since 2012, according to records and interviews, 47-year-old Michael Drejka has been the accused aggressor in four incidents. Investigators documented three cases in police reports.

The other was not shared with authorities at the time but involved the same handicap-reserved parking spot outside the Circle A Food Store near Clearwater and another shooting threat.

Two involved allegations of Drejka showing a gun. In another, a trooper accused him of aggressive driving and cited him after a crash when Drejka braked hard in front of a woman driving with two children.

Drejka has not spoken publicly in the weeks since he shot and killed 28-year-old Markeis McGlockton. No one has spoken much about him, either. Not family. Not neighbors. Not lawyers. Several alleged victims in previous incidents either declined to comment or could not be reached. Drejka remains, in many ways, an enigma to the public. He has not been arrested.

The shooter was white and the victim was black.  Just an hour ago, however, we got this lede from the Tampy Bay Times: “Shooter charged with manslaughter in Clearwater stand your ground case”.

Prosecutors charged Michael Drejka, the man accused of killing Markeis McGlockton in a shooting that has reignited a debate around Florida’s stand your ground law, with manslaughter Monday.

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Drejka was taken into custody Monday morning. He is being booked into the Pinellas County Jail, where he will be held in lieu of $100,000 bail.

Drejka, 47, has avoided arrest since he shot 28-year-old McGlockton on July 19 because of the controversial self-defense law that eliminated one’s duty to retreat before resorting to force.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced July 20 that his agency was precluded from arresting Drejka because evidence showed it was “within the bookends of stand your ground and within the bookends of force being justified,” which provides immunity from arrest, the sheriff said. He forwarded the case Aug. 1 to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office to make a final charging determination.

Lady Justice by Cartoonist Gunduz Agayev

So, I have ignored Omarossa today but I will pass this bit of sad news on about our country’s Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

Music legend Aretha Franklin is “gravely ill,” her family told WDIV-TV (Channel 4) on Monday.

Channel 4 anchor Evrod Cassimy said this morning in a tweet: “I spoke with her family members this morning. She is asking for your prayers at this time.”

She is said to be dying at this time so we’re losing a great voice and person again.

So that’s a little this and that on what may be our last functional branch of government.  Pray it stands its ground.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Advertisements

Monday Reads: Happy National Napping Day!

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

Now this is a national day of observance that I can go all in on! I’m thrilled BB let me know about the reason for the season having taken two days of morning naps in a row!

National Napping Day is observed annually the day following the return of daylight saving time. National Napping Day provides everyone with the opportunity to have a nap and catch up on the hour of sleep they lost due to the spring forward time change.

So, now that we’ve established a visual and emotional happy place, let’s move into the utter display of corruption and incompetence presented by Education Secretary “I’m mostly misunderstood” DeVos. Can any one be more clueless about a job than this woman other than KKKremlin Caligula himself? Leslie Stahl managed to ask her basic questions that left the Secretary flummoxed and stumbling on 60 Minutes.

The reason Betsy DeVos wanted to be secretary of education was so she could promote school choice, offering parents options other than traditional public schools – where 90 percent of kids go. She has proposed massive cuts in public education funding and wants to shift billions to alternative players like private, parochial and charter schools.

Betsy DeVos: We have invested billions and billions and billions of dollars from the federal level And we have seen zero results.

Lesley Stahl: But that really isn’t true. Test scores have gone up over the last 25 years. So why do you keep saying nothing’s been accomplished?

Betsy DeVos: Well actually, test scores vis-à-vis the rest of the world have not gone up. And we have continued to be middle of the pack at best. That’s just not acceptable.

Lesley Stahl: No it’s not acceptable. But it’s better than it was. That’s the point. You don’t acknowledge that things have gotten better. You won’t acknowledge that, over the–

Betsy DeVos: But I don’t think they have for too many kids. We’ve stagnated

Lesley Stahl: Okay, so there’s the big argument. So what can be done about that?

Betsy DeVos: What can be done about that is empowering parents to make the choices for their kids. Any family that has the economic means and the power to make choices is doing so for their children. Families that don’t have the power, that can’t decide: “I’m gonna move from this apartment in downtown whatever to the suburb where I think the school is gonna be better for my child” if they don’t have that choice – and they are assigned to that school, they are stuck there. I am fighting for the parents who don’t have those choices. We need all parents to have those choices.

Like most right wing extremist theocrats, DeVos isn’t interested in the truth about a train wreck in Michigan she helped create. Choice is a code word for publicly funded Christian Madrassas that are segregated by social class and race.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, former chair of Michigan’s Republican Party, appeared taken aback when asked during a 60 Minutes interview Sunday whether her home state’s school’s have become better under policies she pushed.

As chair of the American Federation for Children in Michigan, DeVos worked to expand chartered private schools in the state. Most of the reading and math scores among students at charter schools in Michigan are below average and overall academic progress lags behind other states.

“Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?” 60 Minutes journalist Lesley Stahl asked DeVos in the interview, pointing out that public schools also haven’t flourished under policies she championed.

“I don’t know. Overall—I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better,” DeVos replied.

Along with her husband Dick DeVos, a billionaire heir to the Amway fortune, DeVos has backed state bills in Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Florida for voucher programs where students can get public funding to subsidize the cost of attending a private or religious school. She proposes expansion of that system and has pushed for it in Michigan for decades.

“Your argument that if you take funds away that the schools will get better, is not working in Michigan where you had a huge impact and influence over the direction of the school system here,” Stahl said.

“I hesitate to talk about all schools in general because schools are made up of individual students attending them,” DeVos replied. She said she had “not intentionally visited schools that are underperforming” to find out what is going wrong.

DeVos will be heading up the Task Force on School Safety. Wonder if that means Blackwater units in every school? And what about those Grizzlies?

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will lead a commission tasked with broadly examining ways to protect schools from gun violence, the White House said Sunday.

Administration officials also said the White House would support arming school personnel who volunteer for the job, offering federal funds to provide “rigorous firearms training” to qualified employees.

The proposal has angered education groups, who have said arming educators could put both adults and students at risk. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García last month said, “Bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence.”

But DeVos, who has met with students, teachers and families in the wake of the deadly Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., said little progress had been made protecting students over the past several years. “No student, no family, no teacher and no school should have to live the horror of Parkland or Sandy Hook or Columbine again,” she said.

While not immediately committing to any ideas or timetables, DeVos said, “No stone will be left unturned” in the effort to uncover and highlight evidence-based approaches proven to reduce violence.

“We’ve had to talk about this topic way too much over the years,” DeVos told reporters during a conference call Sunday. “And there’s been a lot of talk in the past but very little action.”

Still not convinced she’s like one of the worst people in the world. Take her student loan storm trooper attitude and link it to this headline: ‘Education Department awards debt collection contract to company once tied to DeVos’.

A company that once had financial ties to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was one of two firms selected Thursday by the U.S. Department of Education to help the agency collect overdue student loans. The deal could be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The decision to award contracts to Windham Professionals and Performant Financial Corp. – the company in which DeVos invested before becoming secretary – arrives a month after a federal judge ordered the department to complete its selection of a loan collector to put an end to a messy court battle. Windham and Performant beat out nearly 40 other bidders for contracts valued at up to $400 million, but their win may be short-lived if the losing companies fight the decision.

The selection of only two [companies] opens the door to protests from the unsuccessful bidders,” wrote Michael Tarkan, senior research analyst at Compass Point, in a research note on Performant. “Based on prior contract awards, we would not be surprised to see protests, lawsuits and appeals which could all delay the start date for the new contract.”

Historically, the department has used as many as 17 companies to recoup past-due student loans. Earlier attempts to whittle down the number of firmshave been met with resistance. Companies that lost out on a 2016 debt collection contract have been embroiled in a lawsuit that has prevented the federal government from assigning new accounts.

But, hey, she’s “conservative” so Twink DeVos should be all about state’s right! Am I right? Uhmmmmm, nope!

The Education Department issued guidance Friday informing state regulators to back off the companies managing its $1.3 trillion portfolio of student loans, arguing that only the federal government has the authority to oversee its contractors.

“State regulation of the servicing of direct loans impedes uniquely federal interests,” the department wrote. “State regulation of the servicing of the Federal Family Education Loan Program is preempted to the extent that it undermines uniform administration of the program.”

The notice arrives as states have stepped in to fill what many see as a void in the federal oversight of student loan servicers, the companies the Education Department pays nearly $1 billion to handle debt payments. The move has created consternation within the industry, which has lobbied Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Congress to prevent states from imposing additional rules and regulations. Now the department is taking action, but some legal experts say the declaration is a hollow gesture.

“Nowhere in this document does the Department of Education quote a statute from Congress that says the department is authorized to block states from stopping deceptive debt collection practices. That’s because such a law does not exist,” said Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and former enforcement attorney at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. “Many states are likely to view this document as legally dubious . . . and will wait for courts to weigh in with their own interpretation.”

California, Connecticut and the District of Columbia require servicers to obtain a license to operate within their borders as a way to bring the companies under their regulatory purview. Their local agencies have the authority to monitor loan servicers’ compliance with federal laws, investigate their behavior and refer cases to the attorney general.

And from that radical rag Forbes Magazine“4 Ways Betsy DeVos Plans To Make It Harder For Ripped-Off Students To Get Loan Forgiveness.” Trump University any one?

With thousands of “borrower defense to repayment” applications pending, Betsy DeVos wants to impose a higher burden of proof for defrauded students seeking student loan forgiveness.

Borrower defense offers federal student loan forgiveness for students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, including the now-closed Corinthian Colleges.

If this revision from the Department of Education goes through, students will face bigger hurdles along the path to borrower defense student loan forgiveness.

Although it’s unclear whether the proposal would affect existing applications, it would at least introduce four major challenges for future applicants.

Other headlines guaranteed to drive you back under the covers via Memeorandum:

John Bacon from USA Today: Death penalty for drug dealers? Count Trump in

Anita Kumar from McClatchy DC: Ivanka Trump never cut ties with the Trump Organization. That’s turned into a problem.

NBC News: Qataris opted not to give info on Kushner, secret meetings to Mueller

Jake Pearson from Associated Press: Trump Jr., donor have longtime undisclosed ties

Annie Gowen from The Washington Post: Hillary Clinton says ‘follow the money’ in the Trump-Putin relationship

And now, you can close your eyes and repeat after me: Let’s make America and America again!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?