Tag: Jeff Sessions

Now Defending Sessions

Having bashed Jeff Sessions last week, I’ll defend him this week. He was absolutely right to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. It’s something any moderately ethical AG would do. And it’s disgraceful that Trump is out there slamming his own AG for, as a far as I can tell, allowing an investigation into the President to proceed while not reviving a dead investigation of his defeated opponent.

I intensely disagree with Sessions, but he has been loyal to Trump form the beginning. This just shows, once again, that Trump loyalty only goes one way.

Sessions Embraces Thievery

Of all the appointments that Trump has made, the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General was the one I most opposed. The AG has a lot of power and Sessions’ ideas on crime are … archaic might be a generous word. He has ordered reviews of the consent decrees on troubled police departments. He wants to restore mandatory minimum drug sentences. He wants to revive DARE, one of the biggest wastes of money in the history of the Drug War. The Democrats focused on his past racism. But while I was concerned about that, I was way more concerned with his approach to law and order, one defined by more prisons, more cops, more laws, less freedom. You should read Radley Balko taking apart one of Sessions’ speeches on the Drug War, showing over and over again that Sessions is poorly informed and out of touch with what’s been going on in criminal justice reform for the last decade or so.

Yesterday, he dropped a bombshell:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions just made it easier for police to seize cash and property from people suspected ─ but not necessarily charged with or convicted ─ of crimes.

He did it by eliminating an Obama administration directive that prevented local law enforcement from circumventing state restrictions on forfeiture of civil assets. The technique was embraced in the early years of the war on drugs, but it has since been linked to civil rights abuses: people losing cash, cars and homes without any proven link to illegal activity; police taking cash in exchange for not locking suspects up; a legal system that makes it hard for victims to get their possessions back.

Two dozen states have made it harder for authorities to take property from suspects without first securing criminal convictions. Three have outlawed it entirely, according to the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit that advocates for reform.

Multiple states — conservative states — have been reigning in asset forfeiture as abusive and unconstitutional. Police departments have been trying to bypass these rules through “adoption” — getting the federal government to nominally participate in the case so they can just take the money regardless of state law. It is a perversion of the law and abuse of state’s rights. Eric Holder put a stop to that, requiring the Feds to respect state law in the matter, one of the few things he did right. Sessions now wants to reverse that. There are a few little protections left in place — review of seizures and scrutiny of smaller amounts. But this amount to open season.

Words can not express my disgust at this. Civil asset forfeiture — in which the property is charged with a crime and its owners must prove their innocence to get it back — is a violation of our most basic constitutional rights. The IJ calls it “policing for profit” and some police departments — notably that of Tenaha Texas — have become notorious for abusing the process. It shows the duplicity of supposed federalists like Sessions that they are all about “state’s rights” when it comes to discrimination but suddenly all against them the second a state wants to shore up the basic civil liberties of its citizens.

National Review:

This is almost certainly unconstitutional, something that conservatives ought to understand instinctively. Like the Democrats’ crackpot plan to revoke the Second Amendment rights of U.S. citizens who have been neither charged with nor convicted of a crime simply for having been fingered as suspicious persons by some anonymous operative in Washington, seizing an American’s property because a police officer merely suspects that he might be a drug dealer or another species of miscreant does gross violence to the basic principle of due process. No doubt many of the men and women on the terrorism watch list are genuine bad guys, and no doubt many of those who have lost their property to asset forfeiture are peddling dope. But we are a nation of laws, which means a nation of procedural justice. If the DEA or the LAPD wants to punish a drug trafficker, then let them build a case, file charges, and see the affair through to a conviction. We have no objection to seizing the property of those convicted of drug smuggling — or of crimes related to terrorism, or many other kinds of offenses. We object, as all Americans should object, to handing out these punishments in the absence of a criminal conviction.

Conor Friedersdorf:

This was highway robbery perpetrated against American citizens by their own government. The official euphemism for the practice: “Civil-asset forfeiture.” And egregious abuses have happened in every region of the country. Over the last fifteen years, I have heard these abuses criticized by people from almost every part of the political right. The issue united conservatives at National Review and the Claremont Institute with Cato Institute libertarians and right-wing populists at Breitbart.

Conor also quote from Clarence Thomas’s scathing rejection of civil asset forfeiture, a must-read.

Ciaramella:

Lee was referring to conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ notable dissent in an asset forfeiture case this June. Thomas wrote that forfeiture operations “frequently target the poor and other groups least able to defend their interests in forfeiture proceedings.”

Data on asset forfeiture backs up what Thomas says. A Reason investigation of more than 23,000 police seizures in Cook County, Illinois over the last five years showed that Chicago’s poor neighborhoods were hit hardest by asset forfeiture. A similar investigation of Mississippi court records showed that law enforcement recorded many big hauls of cash, but the records were also littered with petty and abusive seizures.

A 2014 Washington Post investigative series found that warrantless police seizures of cash through the equitable sharing program have boomed since 9/11, hauling in $2.5 billion. Also in 2014, for the first time ever, the U.S. government seized more property from Americans than burglars did.

You can also watch John Oliver’s takedown of the practice.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that maybe Congress or the Court will wake up from their Constitutional stupor and put hard restraints on this abusive practice. But I prefer not to depend on that. Opposition to Sesssions’ directive should be immediate, sharp and relentless. We should not take one step back when it comes to civil asset forfeiture.

The Russia Follies, Chapter 58

The advantage of being on vacation is that I can watch an entire Trump news cycle play out before commenting on it. So it is with the latest Russia scandal. Apparently, Jeff Sessions, our Attorney General, denied meeting with the Russians during the campaign. But it has now been revealed that he met with the Russian Ambassador twice. Today has brought more revelations of unreported meetings and unreported business ties.

As is usually the case with revelations about this Administration’s contacts with Russia, it provoked an instant reaction of “Treason! Impeachment! Worse than Watergate!” followed by the refractory period of, “OK, we’ll look into it.” as more facts come out. For example, most of these contacts between Trump officials and the Russian ambassador took place at the RNC … at an event organized by the Obama Administration State Department.

A few things to unpack from this.

First, one of the big claims is that Sessions perjured himself in his testimony to Congress. Having thought about this for a while and read quite a bit of online commentary, I’m inclined to think he didn’t. There’s enough leeway in his answers that he can honestly say he didn’t discuss the campaign with Kislyak. One of the most hilarious figures in this mess is now Claire McCaskill. After she claimed to have never met the Russian ambassador, it took ten seconds for conservative Twitter to show that she had. Sessions may have forgotten these meetings or regarded their content as insignificant. His answers were problematic, no question. But sticking a charge of perjury on them requires a lot of facts that are not yet in evidence.

Questions of perjury aside, I agree with the calls for Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the ongoing Russia investigation (after I drafted this, Sessions agreed to recuse himself). I also think Sessions needs to give a full account of his conversations with Kislyak to determine if he did perjure himself before Congress.

And I agree that there needs to be a full independent Congressional investigation into this matter. At minimum, we’re talking about members of the Administration potentially using their positions to advance their business interests. At worst, we’re talking about the subversion of Administration members by a foreign power. Even if you are a Trump supporter, you can not have this cloud hanging over him for the next four years. There is a tendency for partisans to hunker down and not want to “give in” to the other side. That’s a bad instinct. Bad for America. And frankly bad for Trump. Investigate now. Investigate fully. This isn’t some Daily Kos conspiracy theory any more.

(I suspect, incidentally, that the explanation here is closer to the “business interests” side of the spectrum than the “treason” side. The Trump Administration is filled with amateurs who have no idea how important disclosure is and filled with business people who have ties to Russia and potential conflicts of interests — all the way up to the President himself. If it were shown that the Administration is subverting American interests in favor of Russian ones, that would be one of the worst scandals in American political history. But I find that unlikely to be the case, especially with Sessions who is a notorious hawk on Russia.)

I’ll be honest. We’re a month and a half into the Trump years and I am frankly getting tired of this clown show with the Russians. This entire thing could have been avoided had Trump released his tax returns and disclosed his business interests (and not done his whole, “Putin, if you’re listening” routine). One thing that needs to come out of this is full financial disclosure from both the President and his advisors. Releasing tax returns can no longer be optional. And while we’re on it, we should make medical disclosure mandatory too. We don’t need another JFK hopped up on five kinds of prescription meds trying to navigate a potential nuclear war.

The Last Report

What do Baltimore, St. Louis and Chicago all have in common? First, all three have seen huge surges in crime in the last few years, with St. Louis and Baltimore vaulting to the murder capitals of the United States. And second, all three have now been the target of damning DOJ investigations:

The Chicago Police Department routinely violates civil rights, uses unnecessary force, discriminates against minority residents, and fails to hold officers accountable — creating a climate of distrust, violence, and fear that makes residents and cops unsafe. That’s according to a massive new report that the US Department of Justice released on Friday.

As part of the investigation for the report, the Justice Department reviewed thousands of pages of documents, conducted hundreds of interviews with officials and residents, and participated in dozens of ride-along observations with police over 13 months.

Federal investigators attributed the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) vast problems not to individual officers but to policies from the city and police department that regularly failed to adequately train officers and hold them accountable for wrongdoing — sending a message that bad behavior is tolerable.

This isn’t unexpected, of course. The attempt to cover-up the shooting of Laquan McDonald (and the subsequent revelation that Chicago cops were routinely destroying dash cams); the revelation of a black site where suspects were taken to be abused; the recent expose about how the CPD covered up for a cop who was routinely taking money from drug dealers for protection. But the scale of this is simply massive. First-hand reports of abuse and discrimination — many from cops themselves. A record of investigating only a tiny fraction of complaints, a culture of escalation of dangerous situations. And, making everything worse, a culture of denial and cover-up. Here is just one example:

I mentioned at the top that these three cities have all seen huge surges in violent crime. Balko (and many reseachers) don’t think this is a coincidence. When people don’t trust the cops, crimes become way harder to solve and prevent. And a good way to make people not trust cops is to hold cops accountable when they do bad stuff. The DOJ does not think (and neither do I) that Chicago is filled with bad cops. They lay the blame squarely on policies that fail to create accountability and even encourage this sort of thing.

Now you can contrast this to de Blasio “vile anti-cop rhetoric” and ending of stop-and-frisk, which has results in a gigantic surge in … well, actually crime has fallen in New York. To the point where the Daily News admitted they were wrong to opposed ending stop-and-frisk. (Mark this down. It may be the only time I ever say anything positive about de Blasio. Well, two things: he is, for the moment, not Hillary Clinton).

The good news, this should be the last we hear of this. Jeff Sessions, our pending AG, has indicated he will stop these investigations, end consent decrees and get the feds to stop bothering with this.