And Marie Masferrer, a board member of the Florida Association for Media in Education and a school librarian who used to work in the Manatee County system and remains in close touch with former colleagues in that district, said they have told her that students are struggling.
Tuesday Reads: Stormy WeatherPosted: January 31, 2023 Filed under: abortion rights, Afternoon Reads, Donald Trump, SCOTUS | Tags: Black history, book banning, Dobbs decison, Durham investigation, George Santos, LGBT rights, public health emergency, Republican antiabortion proposals, Roe v. Wade, Ron DeSantis, U.S. Supreme Court 11 Comments
We can all agree that the right-wingers on the Supreme Court have created problems not only for women, but for all of American society. They seem determined to turn this country into a theocracy dominated by so-called “christians” who don’t follow Jesus’s teachings. In fact, they don’t seem interested in the New Testament at all. They prefer the fire and brimstone god of the Old Testament.
Linda Greenhouse, who reported on the Court for The New York Times for many years before leaving in 2021, has returned with an important op-ed.
The New York Times: The Latest Crusade to Place Religion Over the Rest of Civil Society.
Federal civil rights law requires employers to accommodate their employees’ religious needs unless the request would impose “undue hardship on the conduct of the employer’s business.” Congress didn’t bother to define “undue hardship,” so 46 years ago the Supreme Court came up with a definition of its own.
An accommodation requiring an employer “to bear more than a de minimis cost” — meaning a small or trifling cost — need not be granted, the court said in Trans World Airlines v. Hardison. In that case, an airline maintenance worker claimed a legal right to avoid Saturday shifts so he could observe the tenets of the Worldwide Church of God, which he had recently joined. Ruling for the airline, the court noted that if one worker got Saturdays off for religion reasons, the burden would fall on other workers who might have nonreligious reasons for wanting to have the weekend off.
“We will not readily construe the statute to require an employer to discriminate against some employees in order to enable others to observe their Sabbath,” the court said.
Treating religion as nothing particularly special, the decision reflected the spirit of the times but was deeply unpopular in religious circles. There have been many attempts over many years to persuade Congress to amend the law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to shift the balance explicitly in favor of religiously observant employees. Between 1994 and 2019, more than a dozen such bills were introduced. None emerged from Congress.
And so now, a very different court from the one that ruled 46 years ago is about to do the work itself.
Now the Court has agreed to hear a case that may move us further away from the separation of church and state.
The appeal was brought by a conservative Christian litigating group, First Liberty Institute, on behalf of a former postal worker, Gerald Groff, described as a Christian who regards Sunday as a day for “worship and rest.”
Mr. Groff claimed a legal right to avoid the Sunday shifts required during peak season at the post office where he worked. Facing discipline for failing to show up for his assigned shifts, he quit and filed a lawsuit. The lower courts ruled against him, with the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit expressing no doubt that the disruption and loss of morale Mr. Groff’s absences caused in the small rural post office where he worked exceeded the de minimis threshold that the Supreme Court’s 1977 precedent requires an employer to demonstrate.
The decision to hear his appeal brings the Supreme Court to a juncture both predictable and remarkable. It is predictable because Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch have all called for a case that would provide a vehicle for overturning a precedent that is clearly in tension with the current court’s privileging of religious claims above all others, whether in the context of public health measures during the Covid-19 pandemic or anti-discrimination claims brought by employees of religious organizations.
The court in 1977 worried about the burden on nonreligious workers from accommodations granted to their religious colleagues. To today’s court, as Justice Alito has repeatedly expressed it, the real victims of discrimination are those who take religion seriously.
Read the rest at the NYT link.
The wingnuts on the Supreme Court have already dealt a terrible blow to women’s rights by giving “christian” evangelicals what they long dreamed of–overturning nearly 50 years of women’s rights to make their own reproductive choices. The reversal of Roe v. Wade also drove a truck through the wall of separation between church and state, since the anti-abortion movement is largely based on “christian” evangelical “values.” Ever since that decision, republicans in state legislatures have worked to make getting an abortion more difficult than ever–in some ways more difficult than before Roe.
Abigail Tracy at Vanity Fair: Republicans Are Only Getting Sneakier With Their Antiabortion Proposals.
Kansans may have resoundingly rejected an antiabortion referendum last year, by a striking double-digit margin, to ensure reproductive rights remain enshrined in the state constitution, but that wasn’t deterrence enough for the state’s Republican legislators. Nor was, apparently, the Republican Party’s relatively poor performance this past midterm cycle—one largely defined by the fall of Roe v. Wade. “I’m hearing a lot from my constituents who believe we should continue to do more to help the unborn,” Wichita state senator Chase Blasi told reporters earlier this month, proposing a law that would allow cities and counties to regulate abortions, in spite of state protections.
These first few weeks of 2023 suggest it’s not that Republican lawmakers missed the abortion memo—they simply don’t seem to care. In Washington, a newly empowered Republican House passed an antiabortion bill during its first full week in the majority. And across the country, Republican state lawmakers continue the crusade against reproductive rights, attempting to find ways to circumvent popular opinion, and even statutory protections.
“We knew all along that they weren’t going to be satisfied with overturning Roe v. Wade,” Abby Ledoux, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Action Fund, says of antiabortion lawmakers and activists in an interview with Vanity Fair. Reflecting on the slew of legislation that has been introduced in state houses across the country so far this year, Ledoux adds, “They’re not done and they’re coming for more rights.”
Since the start of the year, across 27 states, more than 105 bills that would restrict abortion have been filed or prefiled—(meaning, not all of them have been formally introduced), according to Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Many of these bills would ban abortion—some at fertilization; six bills—filed in Kansas, Missouri, New Hampshire, Texas, Wyoming, and West Virginia—would specifically target medication abortions, according to the fund; others would impose harsh criminal penalties for doctors and abortion-seekers. Of course, not all of these bills are expected to pass, but they do lay bare the ever changing legal and political landscape in post-Roe America.
It isn’t just the overt attempts at restricting abortion access that concern reproductive rights activists. But also what Ledoux refers to as “underhanded attempts” and “work-arounds” that have the potential to “subvert democracy, to thwart the will of the people, and to really rig the game” in pursuit of unpopular political agendas. For instance, in Ohio, Republican lawmakers introduced a bill that would require a supermajority threshold of 60%, as opposed to a simple majority of voters, to pass ballot measures to amend the state constitution. Similar legislation was also introduced in Arizona.
According to Axios, the Biden administration is considering fighting back with actions they previously shied away from: Biden administration mulls public health emergency declaration on abortion.
The Biden administration is weighing a plan to declare a public health emergency that would free up resources to help people access abortions.
….Both abortion rights advocates and Democratic lawmakers have urged the Department of Health and Human Services and President Biden to take such a step in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade, which they say has created a “full-scale reproductive health crisis” across the U.S.
The lawmakers argued that such a move would allow the administration to help support states that protect abortion, deploy Public Health Services Corps teams and give the government “the ability to accelerate access to new medications authorized for abortion.”
….”There are discussions on a wide range of measures … that we can take to try to protect people’s rights,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra told Axios during a pair of Monday public events that touched on reproductive health access.
“There are certain criteria that you look for to be able to declare a public health emergency. That’s typically done by scientists and those that are professionals in those fields who will tell us whether we are in a state of emergency and based on that, I have the ability to make a declaration,” Becerra added, when asked about a public health emergency declaration on abortion.
He said that there hasn’t been a “full assessment” on what a declaration on abortion would look like and whether conditions merit it, but there’s still “an evaluation” on the topic.
More details at the Axios link.
Speaking of politicians trying to take away our rights, Ron DeSantis is going further than almost any other governor. He really doesn’t want school children to learn anything about LGBT issues or about the history of African Americans in the U.S.; and he’s banning so many books that the library shelves in schools are nearly empty.
This is from a guest essay at The New York Times by Janai Nelson, president and director-counsel of the Legal Defense Fund: Ron DeSantis Wants to Erase Black History. Why?
An unrelenting assault on truth and freedom of expression in the form of laws that censor and suppress the viewpoints, histories and experiences of historically marginalized groups, especially Black and L.G.B.T.Q. communities, is underway throughout the country, most clearly in Florida. The state’s Department of Education recently rejected a pilot Advanced Placement African American studies course from being offered in Florida’s public high schools.
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE” law — which would limit students and teachers from learning and talking about issues related to race and gender — Florida is at the forefront of a nationwide campaign to silence Black voices and erase the full and accurate history and contemporary experiences of Black people. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., the American Civil Liberties Union, the A.C.L.U. of Florida and Ballard Spahr filed a lawsuit on behalf of university professors and a college student opposing the “Stop WOKE” law and, along with a second lawsuit, won a preliminary injunction blocking Florida’s Board of Governors from enforcing its unconstitutional and racially discriminatory provisions at public universities.
Florida’s rejection of the A.P. course and Mr. DeSantis’s demand to excise specific subject areas from the curriculum stand in stark opposition to the state-issued mandate that all students be taught “the history of African Americans, including the history of African peoples before the political conflicts that led to the development of slavery, the passage to America, the enslavement experience, abolition and the contributions of African Americans to society.” [….]
Mr. DeSantis’s “Stop WOKE” law relegates the study of the experiences of Black people to a prohibited category. The canceling of any students’ access to accurate, truthful education that reflects their diverse identities and that of their country should chill every American. Not only do these laws offend First Amendment freedoms of speech and expression; to the extent they harm certain groups on the basis of race, gender or other protected status, they also violate principles of equal protection. And they are a chilling precursor to state-sponsored dehumanization of an entire race of people.
This disturbing pattern of silencing Black voices and aggressive attempts to erase Black history are one of the most visible examples of performative white supremacy since the presidency of Donald Trump.
There’s much more at the NYT link.
On DeSantis’s book banning project:
Hannah Natanson at The Washington Post: Hide your books to avoid felony charges, Fla. schools tell teachers.
Students arrived in some Florida public school classrooms this month to find their teachers’ bookshelves wrapped in paper — or entirely barren of books — after district officials launched a review of the texts’ appropriateness under a new state law.
School officials in at least two counties, Manatee and Duval, have directed teachers this month to remove or wrap up their classroom libraries, according to records obtained by The Washington Post. The removals come in response to fresh guidance issued by the Florida Department of Education in mid-January, after the State Board of Education ruled that a law restricting the books a district may possess applies not only to schoolwide libraries but to teachers’ classroom collections, too.
House Bill 1467, which took effect as law in July, mandates that schools’ books be age-appropriate, free from pornography and “suited to student needs.” Books must be approved by a qualified school media specialist, who must undergo a state retraining on book collection. The Education Department did not publish that training until January, leaving school librarians across Florida unable to order books for more than a year.
Breaking the law is a third-degree felony, meaning that a teacher could face up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine for displaying or giving students a disallowed book.
I can just imagine the kinds of people who would take one of those “media specialist” jobs and then undergo “state retraining.”
The efforts to conceal titles in Manatee and Duval have stirred outrage from educators and parents, many of whom shared images of bare wooden shelves or books veiled behind sheets of colored paper. Teachers wrote in Facebook posts and text messages that they are angry and disheartened. District officials in both counties have emphasized that the removals are temporary and will last only until staff can determine whether the titles meet the standards imposed by Florida law.
Michelle Jarrett, president of the Florida Association of Supervisors of Media, which assists school library administrators and programs statewide, said that “closing and covering up classroom libraries does nothing to ensure Florida’s students remain on track for reading success.” [….]
At one school, “the kids began crying and writing letters to the principal, saying, ‘Please don’t take my books, please don’t do this,’” Masferrer said.
If DeSantis runs for president in 2024 against Trump, we are going to witness a Republican shit show that will be far worse than 2016 and 2020. DeSantis may be pandering to the crazies, but Trump has truly gone over the edge.
Former President Donald Trump in 2018 had an infamous press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital of Helsinki in which he signaled that believed Putin’s denials about having interfered in the 2016 election despite assessments to the contrary from American intelligence agencies.
Four-and-a-half years later, Trump is now touting his trust of Putin over American intelligence agencies as a source of pride.
In a post on his Truth Social account, the former president attacked former officials at the FBI and CIA whom he accused of trying to undermine his presidency by investigating his campaign’s multiple contacts with Russian agents during the 2016 presidential race.
“Remember in Helsinki when a 3rd rate reporter asked me, essentially, who I trusted more, President Putin of Russia, or our ‘Intelligence’ lowlifes,” he wrote. “My instinct at the time was that we had really bad people in the form of James Comey, McCabe (whose wife was being helped out by Crooked Hillary while Crooked was under investigation!), Brennan, Peter Strzok (whose wife is at the SEC) & his lover, Lisa Page. Now add McGonigal & other slime to the list. Who would you choose, Putin or these Misfits?”
I’m getting a headache just reading all this stuff. I hope I’m not giving you one too.
Last Friday, Dakinikat wrote about the New York Times article on the failure of the Barr/Durham so-called investigation of the origins of Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian influences on the 2016 Trump campaign. This is a reaction from Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Awful new details about the Durham probe demand a serious response.
The New York Times disclosed extraordinary new revelations this past week about prosecutor John Durham’s years-long quest to delegitimize the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In 2019, this obsession of President Donald Trump was initiated by his attorney general, William P. Barr, but as the Times found, Durham’s effort was itself profoundly tainted.
Now, because Democrats have 51 Senate seats after gaining one in the midterm elections, they have subpoena power on Senate committees that were previously divided. That means the Judiciary Committee is in a position to investigate the Barr-Durham escapades.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the Judiciary Committee chair, is signaling such an intent. In an emailed statement, Durbin said that reports of Durham’s “abuses” are “outrageous,” and “one of many instances” in which Trump and Barr “weaponized the Justice Department.”
Durbin added that his committee “will do its part and take a hard look at those repeated episodes, and the regulations and policies that enabled them, to ensure such abuses of power cannot happen again.”
That’s encouraging, but how far will this investigation go? The Times report finds that Barr relentlessly pushed Durham to substantiate Trump’s theory that the Russia investigation was a conspiracy by intelligence and law enforcement against him. But Durham’s effort petered out “without uncovering anything like the deep state plot” invented by Trump and Barr.
Worse, the Times also found bizarre irregularities. Durham relied on Russian intelligence memos to access emails of an adviser to financier George Soros, in hopes of finding evidence of improper collaboration between law enforcement and the Hillary Clinton campaign. It never materialized.
That, plus Barr’s habit of publicly hinting that Durham was on the trail of major wrongdoing — unscrupulously serving Trump’s political interests — were strongly opposed internally by Durham’s top deputy, the Times reports. Similarly, Durham leaned on the department’s inspector general to change his 2019 conclusion that the Russia probe was not politically motivated.
More at the WaPo.
And speaking of corruption, George Santos has decided to recuse himself from House committees. The Washington Post: Rep. George Santos is stepping down from committees amid fabrications about his biography.
Embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) told House Republicans on Tuesday that he will step down temporarily from his committee assignments amid multiple investigations into his campaign finances after he lied about key aspects of his biography.
It sounds like it wasn’t really Santos’ decision, lol. I guess McCarthy was sick and tired of the press hounding him about Santos.
That’s all I have for you today. Have a great Tuesday, everyone!
Lazy Caturday ReadsPosted: January 28, 2023 Filed under: cat art, caturday | Tags: Allison Guerriero, Charles McGonigle, Department of Justice, FBI, George Santos, Mark Rossini, Memphis Police, Tyre Nichols 14 Comments
Last night the Memphis Police released video of the brutal beating of Tyre Nichols–a young man who weighed 140 pounds–by five police officers after a routine traffic stop. It is horrific and inexplicable. At one point one of the officers lifted Nichols’ limp body up so the others could more easily punch and kick him. Nichols never got any explanation of why he had been stopped. Toward the end of the beating he called out for his mother.
The New York Times provides a brief analysis the video in a series of live updates of the coverage: Video Captures Brutal Beating of Tyre Nichols.
America was shocked anew on Friday by a display of police violence caught on video, as Memphis released body camera and surveillance footage of police officers kicking and punching a 29-year-old Black man who later died. The man, Tyre Nichols, ran after being pepper sprayed by officers, but shows no signs of fighting back as the police beat him with a baton. “To me, that’s worse than Rodney King,” said Ed Obayashi, a police training expert and use-of-force expert, after watching the video.
Here are the details:
A New York Times analysis of the video footage found that police officers deployed an escalating spiral of physical force and gave conflicting orders, repeatedly demanding that Mr. Nichols show his hands, even as other officers held his arms behind his back while another punched him. After officers pepper sprayed and beat Mr. Nichols, they left him sitting on the ground unattended and handcuffed, and once the medics were on the scene, they stood by for more than 16 minutes without administering treatment.
- Mr. Nichols, who was pulled out of his car by officers, can be heard saying, “I’m just trying to go home,” and at one point repeatedly screams, “Mom, Mom, Mom” as he is clubbed. Lawyers have said that his mother’s home was about 100 yards away from where he was beaten. Here is what we know about Mr. Nichols.
Five Memphis police officers accused of causing Mr. Nichols’s death — Tadarrius Bean, Demetrius Haley, Emmitt Martin III, Desmond Mills Jr. and Justin Smith — were fired last week and charged on Thursday with murder and other crimes. The officers, who are all Black, posted bail on Friday and were released from jail. Here are the charges they face.
The sheriff of Shelby County, which includes Memphis, said that two of his deputies who were on the scene after the beating had been “relieved of duty” on Friday night, pending an investigation, after he watched the video. Earlier this week, the Memphis Fire Department said two of its employees had been relieved of duty pending an internal investigation.
The Times also created A Timeline of Tyre Nichols’s Lethal Police Encounter. Read it at the link.
Also from The New York Times live update page, an analysis by experts on police violence: ‘The definition of excessive force’: Policing experts assess the beating of Tyre Nichols.
Experts in police training who reviewed videos released on Friday of the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis said they believed there was no justification for the actions of the police officers involved, who have been charged with crimes including second-degree murder in his death….
“In my career, I’ve never seen — I mean, you see it in the movies — but I’ve never seen an individual deliberately being propped up to be beaten,” said Ed Obayashi, a police training expert and lawyer who conducts use-of-force investigations for state law enforcement across the country.
“To me, that’s worse than Rodney King,” added Mr. Obayashi, who is also a deputy sheriff and policy adviser in the Plumas County Sheriff’s Office in California.
In police training, it is emphasized repeatedly to officers that they need to be aware of their physical surroundings, Mr. Obayashi said, but the same stress should be placed on awareness of their own emotions. If officers’ tempers run high, he said, they are bound to make mistakes.
In the Nichols confrontation, it is possible the officers felt disrespected when their directions weren’t followed, he said.
“This appears to be a case of classic contempt of cop,” he said, “for them to catch up with him later and then exact their revenge on the poor individual.”
Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, an organization of current and former law enforcement officials that studies the improvement of policing, said the officers’ behavior also fell short in other ways….
The beating is “the definition of excessive force,” Mr. Wexler said. In his view, Mr. Nichols did not present a danger that matched the force the officers used, beyond appearing to not want to be arrested.
Even when Mr. Nichols was lying on the ground, none of the officers attempted to help him, which Mr. Wexler said was a violation of their duty to render aid.
“This person was not treated as a human being,” he said.
Who was Tyre Nichols? This is from the AP via ABC7 in Los Angeles: Tyre Nichols was NorCal native with ‘beautiful soul’ and creative eye. He was born in Sacramento and had a website dedicated to his photography.
On most weekends, Tyre Nichols would head to the city park, train his camera on the sky and wait for the sun to set.
“Photography helps me look at the world in a more creative way. It expresses me in ways I cannot write down for people,” he wrote on his website. He preferred landscapes and loved the glow of sunsets most, his family has said.
“My vision is to bring my viewers deep into what I am seeing through my eye and out through my lens,” Nichols wrote. “People have a story to tell, why not capture it.”
Nichols, a 29-year-old father, was on his way home from taking pictures of the sky on Jan. 7, when police pulled him over. He was just a few minutes from the home he shared with his mother and stepfather, when he was brutally attacked by five Memphis police officers…
He was the baby of their family, born 12 years after his closest siblings. He had a 4-year-old son and worked hard to better himself as a father, his family said. He was an avid skateboarder from Sacramento, California, and came to Memphis just before the coronavirus pandemic and got stuck. But he was fine with it because he was with his mother, and they were incredibly close, Wells said. He had her name tattooed on his arm.
Friends at a memorial service this week described him as joyful and lovable.
“This man walked into a room, and everyone loved him,” said Angelina Paxton, a friend who traveled to Memphis from California for the service.
There’s more at that link about Nichols’ life in Sacramento. Here is Nichols’ photography website. Read more about Nichols:
CNN: Tyre Nichols was a son and father who enjoyed skateboarding, photography and sunsets, his family says.
The New York Times: From Sacramento to Memphis, Tyre Nichols Cut His Own Path.
In other news, we are getting more information about the case of former top FBI agent Charles McGonigle, who has been charged with secretly taking money to help Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska evade sanctions and from an Albanian intelligence operative and former FBI informant.
It appears that McGonigle was turned in by former girlfriend. Here’s a Daily Beast summary of a long Insider article about it. The Daily Beast: Enraged Ex-Lover Tipped Off FBI to Top Official Accused of Helping Russia.
The angry ex-lover of the FBI’s former New York counterintelligence chief claims she tipped the feds off to some of his misdeeds before his arrest last week. Charles McGonigal, who was part of the FBI probe of the Trump campaign’s Russia ties, has been charged with money laundering, lying to the FBI, and taking money to help a sanctioned Russian oligarch, among others. In an interview with Insider, Allison Guerriero said she dated McGonigal for a year, unaware he was married. He spent far more lavishly than an FBI salary would typically allow, she recalled, and she once found a bag of cash in his apartment. But after their fling ended, he revealed he was married and had no plans to leave his wife. She said she was so angry that, after a bout of drinking, she emailed his boss to disclose the affair as well as extensive dealings she’d noticed McGonigal had in Albania. It’s unclear what came of the email but the feds turned up on her doorstep three years later to ask her about McGonigal and some of her allegations regarding Albania appeared in last week’s indictment.
Here’s the story at The Insider: Exclusive: Inside the extramarital affair and cash-fueled double life of Charles McGonigal, the FBI spy hunter charged with taking Russian money. Here’s the introductory section:
One morning in October 2017, Allison Guerriero noticed something unusual on the floor of her boyfriend’s Park Slope, Brooklyn, apartment: a bag full of cash. There it was, lying next to his shoes, near the futon, the kind of bag that liquor stores give out. Inside were bundles of bills, big denominations bound up with rubber bands. It didn’t seem like something he should be carrying around. After all, her boyfriend, Charles F. McGonigal, held one of the most senior and sensitive positions in the FBI.
“Where the fuck is this from?” she asked.
“Oh, you remember that baseball game?” McGonigal replied, according to Guerriero’s recollection. “I made a bet and won.”
McGonigal had two high-school-age children and a wife — or “ex-wife” as he sometimes referred to her — back at home in Chevy Chase, Maryland. He would return there once or twice a month. But McGonigal had led Guerriero to believe that he was either divorced or soon would be. She didn’t question his story, nor did she question the story about the bag full of cash.
A few days before, Guerriero had sat on the couch with McGonigal in the one-room garden sublet to watch McGonigal’s Cleveland Indians beat the Yankees. Much later — after Guerriero’s cancer diagnosis, their breakup, and McGonigal’s retirement from the FBI — McGonigal would be indicted on suspicion of, among other things, accepting $225,000 in cash from a former employee of Albania’s intelligence agency. That total includes one $80,000 chunk that was allegedly handed over in a parked car, outside a restaurant, on October 5, 2017. October 5 and 6 also happened to be the days when the Indians beat the Yankees in the first two games of the American League Division Series. Today, Guerriero no longer believes the bag of cash contained winnings from a sports bet.
Read the rest at the Insider link.
This is a scoop from Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo: Albanian Firm Ties Indicted Former FBI Official To Yet Another Disgraced Former Agent.
Indicted former top FBI official Charles McGonigal is a partner in an Albanian firm along with another disgraced former FBI agent, records obtained by TPM show.
An Albanian corporate filing ties McGonigal to Mark Rossini, a flamboyant figure who left the FBI amid scandalous 2008 charges and who currently faces separate bribery-related charges in an August 2022 federal indictment in Puerto Rico.
The previously unreported business connection links McGonigal to another former agent with a similar profile: a high-flier at the bureau with experience in counterterrorism and counterintelligence, and one who appears to have engaged in business with an eyebrow-raising array of foreign clients after leaving federal law enforcement.
The nature of the Albanian company — called Lawoffice & Investigation — remains unclear. Why and how McGonigal apparently got involved with the firm, and how he may have met Rossini, are also unknown.
Albanian journalists have published a series of articles since September 2022 highlighting McGonigal’s presence at the company, which they tie to the country’s oil industry.
Prosecutors accused McGonigal this week in separate federal indictments in D.C. and Manhattan of concealing cash he received from a former Albanian intelligence employee totaling $225,000, and of evading sanctions for work he performed for Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, a paymaster of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
But the Albanian corporate document connects McGonigal to the murky world that led Rossini to not just one, but two run-ins with federal law enforcement. Federal prosecutors charged Rossini in August 2022 over his alleged involvement in a bribery scheme involving the former governor of Puerto Rico. That came 14 years after Rossini’s first scandal, which involved actress Linda Fiorentino and notorious Hollywood fixer Anthony Pellicano, and quickly became tabloid fodder.
“It just violates the basic precepts of why you sign up to take these kinds of jobs, or your focus on the mission and serving the U.S. government and the American public,” Javed Ali, a retired FBI senior analyst and former senior counterterrorism director at the National Security Council, told TPM of the allegations. “These are the kind of things that, at a really idealistic level, should be motivating you to do the work. … But what we’re seeing is one of the worst case examples of someone abusing their position and trying to leverage it for a different purpose.”
More at the linnk.
And of course there is news about scam artist and Republican Congressman George Santos, if that is in fact his name. Here’s the latest:
Noah Lanard and David Corn at Mother Jones: We Tried to Call the Top Donors To George Santos’ 2020 Campaign. Many Don’t Seem To Exist.
In September 2020, George Santos’ congressional campaign reported that Victoria and Jonathan Regor had each contributed $2,800—the maximum amount—to his first bid for a House seat. Their listed address was 45 New Mexico Street in Jackson Township, New Jersey.
A search of various databases reveals no one in the United States named Victoria or Jonathan Regor. Moreover, there is nobody by any name living at 45 New Mexico Street in Jackson. That address doesn’t exist. There is a New Mexico Street in Jackson, but the numbers end in the 20s, according to Google Maps and a resident of the street.
Santos’ 2020 campaign finance reports also list a donor named Stephen Berger as a $2,500 donor and said he was a retiree who lived on Brandt Road in Brawley, California. But a spokesperson for William Brandt, a prominent rancher and Republican donor, tells Mother Jones that Brandt has lived at that address for at least 20 years and “neither he or his wife (the only other occupant [at the Brandt Road home]) have made any donations to George Santos. He does not know Stephen Berger nor has Stephen Berger ever lived at…Brandt Road.”
The Regor and Berger contributions are among more than a dozen major donations to the 2020 Santos campaign for which the name or the address of the donor cannot be confirmed, a Mother Jones investigation found. A separate $2,800 donation was attributed in Santos’ reports filed with the Federal Election Commission to a friend of Santos who says he did not give the money.
Under federal campaign finance law, it is illegal to donate money using a false name or the name of someone else. “It’s called a contribution in the name of another,” says Saurav Ghosh, the director for federal campaign finance reform at the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group. “It’s something that is explicitly prohibited under federal law.”
These questionable donations, which account for more than $30,000 of the $338,000 the Santos campaign raised from individual donors in 2020, have not been previously cited in media reports. Mother Jones identified them by contacting (or trying to contact) dozens of the most generous donors to Santos’ 2020 campaign, which he ended up losing by 12 points.
There’s much more at the Mother Jones link.
It looks like Santos may be facing a criminal investigation by the DOJ. The Washington Post: Justice Department asks FEC to stand down as prosecutors probe Santos.
The Justice Department has asked the Federal Election Commission to hold off on any enforcement action against George Santos, the Republican congressman from New York who lied about key aspects of his biography, as prosecutors conduct a parallel criminal probe, according to two people familiar with the request.
Monday Reads: Sunshine on a Cloudy DayPosted: January 16, 2023 Filed under: just because | Tags: Biden, classified documents, George Santos, Santos and kidnapped asylum seekers, Trump, Trump and MBS, Trump and stolen classified Documents 12 Comments
Good Day, Sky Dancers!
There are some interesting articles and analyses today so let’s get started!
Jessica Levinson at MSNBC has this to say about the classified documents and the media’s false equivalencies between the last two presidents. ” Investigations into classified docs should leave Trump more worried than Biden. Don’t focus on the headlines in the investigations into classified documents held by Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Focus on the details.”
There’s a line in an old song that goes, “Lawyers dwell on small details.” It’s true. The law is all about details. From one perspective, two cases may appear similar, but depending on the details, they can be very different.”
Classified documents were found at the offices and homes of former President Donald Trump and President Joe Biden from the time he was vice president. In November Attorney General Merrick Garland appointed Jack Smith as special counsel to lead the investigation into the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. Thursday, after reports that classified documents from his vice presidency had been found at Biden’s home and office, Garland appointed Robert Hur as special counsel to investigate that matter.
So far, the stories look similar. Neither Biden nor Trump should have been in possession of classified documents after they left office. These are the people’s documents, not theirs.
But because the law concerns itself with details, not headlines, the similarities mostly stop there.
As a former president, Trump might be indicted, but perhaps the most important reason Biden is unlikely to face indictment or criminal prosecution is he’s currently president. As we know all too well from the four years of the Trump administration, the Justice Department has a policy against indicting sitting presidents. An opinion issued by the Office of Legal Counsel, a division of the Justice Department, provides that charging the president with a crime would “unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions.”
The GOP now controls the House of Representatives, and we know members of that party have been raring to go to investigate and possibly impeach Biden. But impeaching Biden for possessing classified documents would be improper for two reasons. First, there is a good argument to be made that people can only be impeached for misconduct committed while in office. Biden’s retention of classified documents occurred after he left the vice presidency and before he assumed the presidency. Second, impeachment is only available when the subject of the impeachment has engaged in “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
After a Trump attorney’s false assertion to the Justice Department that all the requested documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence had been returned, the Justice Department was ultimately forced to obtain and execute a search warrant.
For reasons discussed below, Biden’s conduct is unlikely to be characterized as criminal, even if he weren’t the sitting president. There is also plenty of reason to believe that Trump will or at least ought to be. Consider what each did after being alerted that he might be in possession of classified documents.
Trump reportedly ignored multiple requests from the National Archives for those documents, and after a Trump attorney’s false assertion to the Justice Department that all the requested documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence had been returned, the Justice Department was ultimately forced to obtain and execute a search warrant. Prosecutors have also argued that Trump’s team tried to hide the documents found at Mar-a-Lago before and after the subpoena was issued.
Reportedly, in Biden’s case, the White House counsel alerted the National Archives as soon as classified documents were found at Biden’s former office in November. The National Archives didn’t ask; Biden’s team offered.
Then that team searched for any additional documents that belonged to the government. It found additional files at Biden’s residence in December and more last week, before the White House announced Saturday that additional documents had been found Thursday. The Biden story is one of cooperation, not obstruction.
The contrast was muddied this weekend in the Sunday Shows. There’s an outline of what various Congressional Representatives said at Politico written by Eugene Daniels. “POLITICO Playbook: Three storylines to watch in Biden’s document drama.” Evidently, some Republicans still believe that someone that obviously obstructed the return of stolen documents deserves the same treatment as one that immediately notified the Archives of their existence and fully cooperated.
GOP investigations are inevitable, and they will be ferocious. Rep. JAMES COMER (R-Ky.), the newly minted chair of the House Oversight Committee, released a statement yesterday hammering Biden and promising an investigation.
“Many questions need to be answered but one thing is certain: oversight is coming,” Comer said. “The Biden White House’s secrecy in this matter is alarming. Equally alarming is the fact that Biden aides were combing through documents knowing there would be a Special Counsel appointed.”
Comer is now requesting additional documents and communications “related to the searches of President Joe Biden’s homes and other locations by Biden aides for classified documents, as well as the visitor log of the president’s Wilmington, Delaware, home from January 20, 2021 to present,” per CNN’s Daniella Diaz.
The exchange of the morning came as Comer appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper, which offered a preview of how Republicans will approach the issue, especially vis-a-vis Trump.
Tapper: “Do you only care about classified documents being mishandled when Democrats do the mishandling?”
Comer: “Absolutely not. … At the end of the day, my biggest concern isn’t the classified documents, to be honest with you. My concern is there’s such a discrepancy between how President Trump was treated … versus Joe Biden.” Watch the video
The Washington Post has an exclusive today. “New details link George Santos to cousin of sanctioned Russian oligarch. The New York congressman once claimed Andrew Intrater’s company was his “client,” while another Intrater company allegedly made a deposit with a firm where Santos worked. Isaac Stanley-Becker and Rosalind S. Helderman share the byline.
George Santos, the freshman Republican congressman from New York who lied about his biography, has deeper ties than previously known to a businessman who cultivated close links with a onetime Trump confidant and who is the cousin of a sanctioned Russian oligarch, according to video footage and court documents.
Andrew Intrater and his wife each gave the maximum $5,800 to Santos’ main campaign committee and tens of thousands more since 2020 to committees linked to him, according to filings with the Federal Election Commission. Intrater’s cousin is Russian billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government for his role in the Russian energy industry.
The relationship between Santos and Intrater goes beyond campaign contributions, according to a statement made privately by Santos in 2020 and a court filing the following year in a lawsuit brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission against a Florida-based investment firm, Harbor City Capital, where Santos worked for more than a year.
Taken together, the evidence suggests Santos may have had a business relationship with Intrater as Santos was first entering politics in 2020. It also shows, according to the SEC filing, that Intrater put hundreds of thousands of dollars into Santos’ onetime employer, Harbor City, which was accused by regulators of running a Ponzi scheme. Neither Santos nor Intrater responded to requests for comment. Attorneys who have represented Intrater also did not respond.
And speaking of “business dealings,” this is from DAWN. “U.S.: Investigate New Evidence of President Trump’s Business Dealings with MBS . Multimillion-dollar payments from LIV Golf, Reportedly 93% owned by MBS-Controlled Fund, to Trump Golf Resorts Raise Serious Questions about Conflict of Interest, Threats to National Security.”
The U.S. Department of Justice and Congress should investigate the disturbing facts and circumstances surrounding payments by Saudi Arabia’s sovereign Public Investment Fund (PIF), via its wholly-owned LIV Golf company, to businesses owned by former President Donald Trump, said Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN).
On January 13, 2023, Elliot Peters, a name partner at Keker, a prominent San Francisco law firm, who is lead counsel to the PGA in the players’ lawsuit, inadvertently revealed in a court proceeding that PIF owns 93% of LIV Golf, pays for all of its events, and holds all of the entity’s financial risk. PIF’s chairman is Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman (MBS), who has absolute and final decision-making control over the fund. LIV Golf is a newly established golf tournament franchise that has emerged as a rival to PGA Golf. It has paid Trump-owned golf resorts unknown millions of dollars to hold its events there, and former President Trump has publicly championed the new league, made prominent appearances at its events, and urged PGA players to sign on with LIV Golf.
“The revelation that a fund controlled by Crown Prince MBS actually owns almost all of LIV Golf means that MBS has been paying Donald Trump unknown millions for the past two years, via their mutual corporate covers,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director of DAWN. “The national security implications of payments from a grotesquely abusive foreign dictator to a president of the United States who provided extraordinary favors to him are as dangerous as they are shocking.”
The information about LIV Golf was otherwise kept sealed in the secret shareholder agreement between PIF and LIV Golf, although LIV Golf had previously disclosed that the PIF was its majority shareholder. There has been no independent verification of the ownership percentages reportedly revealed in court. It is not known who owns the other seven percent of LIV Golf. LIV Golf Players and LIV Golf have sued PGA for suspending PGA players who have signed contracts with LIV Golf, and PGA has sued LIV Golf and the PIF for interfering with its players’ contracts. MBS is the chairman of PIF and has absolute decision-making power over its investments.
There is little doubt that MBS controls the PIF with as much absolute power as he controls the rest of the country, with final decision-making on all of PIF’s investments. When PIF’s advisory panel objected to PIF’s $2 billion investment in Trump’s son-in-law’s newly established fund, Affinity Partners, MBS reportedly vetoed the objections to proceed with the controversial investment as the only investor in a start-up fund that had no track record. Following DAWN’s demand for Congress to investigate this investment, as well as the $1 billion PIF investment in Trump’s former Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin’s newly established fund, Senator Warren announced she would commence an investigation into conflict of interest breaches and ethics law violations that bar solicitation of foreign government officials while in office.
“Former President Trump made no secret of the endless favors he granted MBS and Saudi Arabia during his term in office, from his first state visit to the country, to vetoing legislation that would have banned arms sales to the country, to protecting MBS by hiding the CIA’s report concluding MBS ordered Jamal Khashoggi’s murder,” said Whitson. “It now appears that like his son-in-law and treasury secretary, Trump is cashing in his chits with MBS for all these favors.”
DAWN stands for Democracy for the Arab World Now. It’s an advocacy group founded by Jamal Khashoggi, an American Journalist brutally murdered at the request of MBS in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on October 2, 2018.
Further down the Republican food chain, we have this headline by Caleb Newton writing for Bipartisan Report:. “Legal Action Against Ron DeSantis For Migrant Trafficking Upheld By Judge.”
Florida Judge John C. Cooper has upheld a lawsuit filed in his personal capacity by a Democratic state Senator from the south of the state challenging the legal framework GOP Governor Ron DeSantis used for transports last year of migrants from Texas to a community in Massachusetts.
The trip, which was evidently facilitated without any prior notice to local leaders or members of the community where the migrants arrived, although residents quickly mobilized to help those involved, mirrored high-profile efforts by other Republican governors. That list includes Greg Abbott of Texas, whose administration was responsible for a trip that saw migrants arrive in temperatures below freezing outside the D.C. residence of the vice president on Christmas Eve. With the trip for which DeSantis was responsible and other ventures, concerns have also circulated about potential deception targeting those the organizers were trying to cajole into joining the voluntary trips, including about basic facts like the eventual destination.
In Florida, the case from Democrat Jason Pizzo challenges the process by which the state set aside $12 million for the transport of migrants. Also at issue in general has been that the transports designated for support by those funds originate in Florida, but the migrants the DeSantis team ferried to Massachusetts started their trek in Texas, although the venture made a brief stop of under an hour in Florida itself. Pizzo argues a new initiative of the substance seen in something like the funds for transports for migrants requires a separate legislative effort rather than mere inclusion in routine budgeting.
The Miami Herald noted the state team argued the budgetary provisions were actually just expanding on a law imposing restrictions on state partnerships with individuals transporting certain migrants into Florida unless detaining or removing those individuals from Florida or the United States. The thing is — that other law was signed after the budget, so no argument about the two building off each other would inherently solve the fact that such isn’t how time works.
Cooper scheduled the trial in Pizzo’s case to start at the end of this month, on January 30. The DeSantis team specifically — and unsuccessfully — sought the case’s dismissal. Separately, the Florida governor has already faced a raft of other scrutiny over the endeavor, including confirmation from the oversight official known as an inspector general at the federal Treasury Department that they would be looking at DeSantis’s usage of interest derived from federal relief funds connected to COVID-19 for the flights. That official spoke to the situation after an inquiry from members of the Congressional delegation from Massachusetts.
Nothing like a bit of sunshine on a cloudy day.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?