Wed, 26 Apr 2017 16:21:34 -0400
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton
Eric Gay / AP
On Wednesday, Texas followed through on a promise to sue the federal government in an attempt to obtain lethal injection drugs the Food and Drug Administration maintains are illegal.
The Wednesday court filing sets up the unusual scenario of Texas suing the Trump administration for hindering the death penalty — a new complaint in a lawsuit originally brought against the Obama administration.
On Wednesday, the state filed an amended complaint in federal court, alleging that the FDA is harming the state by blocking the drugs.
"TDCJ has previously purchased and used thiopental sodium in numerous executions before" the sole FDA-approved supplier stopped making the drug, the state's lawyers wrote. "Through the import at issue in this case, TDCJ is attempting once again to utilize thiopental sodium for purposes of imposing lawful capital sentences."
The FDA blocking the shipments "directly harms TDCJ by preventing TDCJ from having the option of using the drugs at issue in lawful executions," the lawyers wrote. "This harm will continue unless and until the Court" forces the FDA to allow the drugs into the country.
In addition to state government lawyers from Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office, the state has hired outside lawyers from the law firm Alston & Bird to help represent the state. Wednesday’s filing was signed by Daniel G. Jarcho, a partner in the firm’s DC office who used to represent the FDA when he worked for the Justice Department.
Last week, the FDA sent Texas and Arizona a 26-page letter denying the drugs, arguing that they are unapproved, mislabeled, and that the government is legally bound by a 2012 court order issued by the federal district court in DC that prohibits them from allowing thiopental into the country.
In Texas' complaint filed Wednesday, the state makes no mention of the 2012 court order, which was upheld by a federal appeals court in DC, although it does note that the FDA's position on thiopental changed that year. Instead, the state focuses on arguing that it is exempt from the FDA's requirements because the drugs would be used for "law enforcement."
The state points to a statute that exempts drugs “shipped or sold to . . . persons . . . engaged in law enforcement, . . . and [are] to be used only for such . . . law enforcement.”
"Use of thiopental sodium to administer lawfully-imposed capital sentences through lethal injection is a use of the drug for law enforcement purposes," the state argues. "TDCJ is a state agency that is regularly and lawfully engaged in law enforcement."
The FDA declined to comment on the case. But in the letter the agency sent last week, the federal government wrote that the law enforcement exemption does not apply when the drugs are to be used on humans. The FDA also pointed out that the exemption was written before lethal injection was created.
"As an initial matter," the FDA noted, "the law enforcement exemption could not have been intended to apply to lethal injection, because FDA issued the regulation adding the exemption ... in 1956, well before any State used lethal injection as a method of execution."
Texas is asking the court to force the FDA to allow the drugs in, and to prohibit the FDA from detaining any future shipments of execution drugs it buys. Judge George Hanks set a telephone hearing for Thursday to discuss the status of the case.
In its complaint, Texas does not name the supplier of the drugs at issue, referring to it only as a "foreign distributor."
In 2015, Texas first planned on buying sodium thiopental from a small company in India, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News. That sale, however, fell through when the would-be supplier was raided by India's Narcotics Control Bureau, its employees arrested, its drugs seized, and its facility shut down. Indian law enforcement seized a massive amount of generic versions of Xanax, Ritalin, Ambien, Viagra, and various opioids.
When that deal fell through, Texas instead turned to a man in India named Chris Harris. Harris sold 3,000 vials of sodium thiopental to Texas, Arizona, and Nebraska for more than $75,000 — promising that there would be no legal problems with the sale.
Before the drugs were shipped, the FDA and DEA warned the states and Harris that the sale would be illegal and that the government would have to stop the shipment. The states bought the drugs anyway.
In its court filing Wednesday, Texas lamented that the FDA was harming its reputation by stopping the shipment.
By ruling the drugs illegal, "FDA has formally decided that TDCJ — a law
enforcement agency — has attempted to import drugs in violation of federal law," the lawyers wrote. "The refusal order has caused, and is substantially likely to continue to cause, adverse publicity that has and will injure TDCJ’s reputation by asserting that TDCJ has attempted to import drugs in violation of federal law."
Read the full complaint:
Wed, 26 Apr 2017 11:40:47 -0400
Fox News is reeling from the Bill O’Reilly sexual harassment scandal. The company faces lawsuits alleging racial and gender discrimination. Former chief Roger Ailes was ousted months ago in a sexual harassment saga that still hangs over the network.
It’s the kind of week — the first in the post-O’Reilly primetime lineup — where a male Fox News host might want to avoid making what was widely interpreted as a sexualized comment about the president’s daughter.
Enter Jesse Watters, co-host of The Five, which this week assumed the 9 p.m. slot on Fox after Tucker Carlson moved to O’Reilly’s 8 p.m. hour. After a clip of Ivanka Trump making remarks during a recent trip to Germany, Watters on Tuesday night said with a grin, while making a quick hand gesture, that he “really liked how she was speaking into the microphone.”
The moment went viral after being tweeted by journalist Yashar Ali.
Watters’ comment prompted swift backlash across Twitter, but he defended himself. “During the break we were commenting on Ivanka's voice and how it was low and steady and resonates like a smooth jazz radio DJ. This was in no way a joke about anything else,” Watters said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.
Some are not buying Watters’ explanation.
“So much of the sexual harassment at Fox News is hiding in plain sight, on air. This overt sexualization of Ivanka Trump — while she is talking about women's empowerment! — is a perfect example of the toxic culture at Fox News,” Lisa Bloom, an attorney who is representing O’Reilly accusers, told BuzzFeed News. “They don't get it. They still don't get it. And so they have to be forced to get it through litigation and public shaming.”
Ivanka Trump at the W20 conference in Berlin on Wednesday.
Sean Gallup / Getty Images
For his part, Watters has been on a fast rise within Fox News recently. A protege of O’Reilly, he has been known for his ambush interviews and frequent segments on The O’Reilly Factor, where he would conduct man-on-the-street interviews poking fun at his subjects.
The segment has not been without controversy. One “Watters World” clip last year was criticized as a racist for mocking Asian-Americans. Still, Watters’ profile has risen at the network, evident by his recent climb to primetime. Watters also recently scored an interview with President Trump, who has subsequently followed Watters on Twitter.
But Watters’ Ivanka remark comes as Fox News’s workplace culture comes under sharp scrutiny during a particularly tumultuous time at the network, which continues to dominate the cable news landscape. Earlier this month, the once invincible O’Reilly was forced out amid an advertiser boycott sparked by a New York Times report detailing harassment allegations and $13 million in settlement payments. O’Reilly has denied the allegations. That controversy was reminiscent of Ailes’ ouster last summer amid his own spate of sexual harassment allegations (which he has also denied).
More allegations are still coming forward. On CNN’s Reliable Sources over the weekend, former Fox News and current CNN anchor Alisyn Camerota said that Ailes sexually harassed her. An attorney for Ailes denied the claims.
With Ailes and O’Reilly out, and the controlling Murdoch family taking a more hands-on approach with the network, the spotlight has now moved to other current senior executives and the extent to which they may have engendered a pernicious workplace environment.
The network is facing more lawsuits that paint a misogynist and racist working environment. On Tuesday, Fox News anchor and reporter Kelly Wright joined 12 other current former employees in a lawsuit against Fox News alleging racial discrimination that was ignored by senior executives. In the suit, Wright claims that senior network executive Bill Shine focused on his skin color and would ask how Wright thought white viewers looked at him.
Shine is also mentioned in another suit brought by on-air contributor Julie Roginsky, which alleged gender discrimination against Ailes. Shine, according to the complaint, knew of Ailes’s behavior but did nothing.
Fox News has said that it denies the claims in the various lawsuits. “Fox News and [Fox’s executive vice president for business and legal affairs] Dianne Brandi vehemently deny the race discrimination claims in both lawsuits. They are copycat complaints of the original one filed last month. We will vigorously defend these cases," Fox said in a statement.
Meanwhile, government lawyers are probing whether Fox News allegedly misled investors by hiding financial settlements with former employees. The Financial Times reported that former Fox News Chief Financial Officer Mark Kranz has been offered immunity from prosecution from government lawyers looking into the matter.
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:35:53 -0400
Joe Raedle / Getty Images
MESA, Ariz. — At 7 a.m. last Thursday, Tom Perez found himself sprinting through Reagan National Airport, dripping sweat, with no ticket in hand, determined to plead his case to a skeptical flight agent, re-open the boarding door, and take his seat.
Earlier that morning, around 5 a.m., a Lyft driver's flat tire had derailed his plan to fly from Baltimore to Salt Lake City, where he was due to rejoin Bernie Sanders for the final stretch of their week-long "Come Together and Fight Back" tour — an early effort by Perez as the new chair of the Democratic National Committee to bridge a divided party and bring alienated progressives back into the fold of institutional politics.
So he made his way home to Takoma Park, got in his car, and re-routed to Reagan National for a 7:15 a.m. nonstop. "I don’t even remember where I parked," he laughed. At 6:50 a.m., "I'm at the counter with no ticket. And the guy looks at me like, 'You gotta be fuckin’ kidding me.'" Perez booked a later flight instead, but ran through security, heading for the 7:15 a.m. gate. "I see the guy literally about to close the door, and I’m like, 'Yo! Sir! Can you help me!" He’s looking at me like, 'You got a ticket for this?'" (No.) "So I walk a short distance away. I’m figuring out my plan B, watching the plane." A few minutes later, a delay was announced. Perez flashed what he called a "puppy-dog look" back at the gate. The agent relented: "OK," he motioned, "come over here."
In Perez's telling, it wasn't too different from most days on the job as chair.
"I’ve always felt that you get more bees with honey than with vinegar," he said later that night from the backseat of a darkened suburban, rolling from an evening rally outside Phoenix to the airport, where a chartered plane would be waiting with Sanders.
The mantra extends to his approach when it comes to the liberal activists who attended the party’s week of “unity”-themed rallies to cheer on Sanders and, in several instances, to boo Perez and the DNC, drawing national headlines questioning the tour’s success.
Perez, the 55-year-old former civil rights lawyer and labor secretary, is now two months into the job. The DNC, a relatively powerless Washington institution when it comes to the task of running races across the country, has nevertheless become a major source of dissatisfaction among voters on the left. During the 2016 Democratic primary, hacked internal emails showed the DNC unfairly favored Hillary Clinton over Sanders. And earlier this year, the 15-week chair's race between Perez and the progressive candidate of choice, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, now DNC deputy chair, came to embody the running tension inside the party between establishment power and grassroots activism.
The same signs of strain spilled out into the public as Perez and Sanders traveled together to rallies from Florida and Utah to Arizona and Nevada. At one event in Maine, the crowd followed a round of "Bernie!" chants with a wave of boos when an introductory speaker mentioned "the new DNC chairman and the future of the Democratic Party." At another in Las Vegas, staffers paced the room on watch for protesters, escorting one with a "No Super Delegates Or STFU" sign to the back of the University of Nevada arena.
Perez both shrugs off the incidents and insists they're part of the point. "For every booer," he said, there are hundreds more "who want the party to succeed, have frustrations, and want to make sure that somebody is listening to them."
"And that’s what I’m trying to do — and that’s why I haven’t seen my family very much lately, and that’s why I almost missed a flight this morning."
The job of party chair, Democratic or Republican, can be thankless. But as Perez sees it, his primary role in these first six months is simply to listen — to “of course” let people vent, he said, even boo if they want. "I want to hear directly the frustrations of people who feel the party hasn’t met their expectations.” So far, Perez has heard a lot of that: the black voters from Flint, Michigan, who told him, "You guys take us for granted"; the steelworker from a family of Democrats who said, "I don’t know who to trust."
The party's most pressing problem, Perez said, is "we lose the battle of the bumper sticker." In his estimation, President Trump is leagues ahead. Take the steelworker: When "Trump says I’m gonna bring your coal jobs back," Perez argued, "he knows that’s bullshit, but at least Donald Trump is speaking to his fears. And he knows that his dad was a Democrat, and he was a Democrat, but he’s not sure why anymore."
Despite the negative reviews of the "Come Together and Fight Back" tour, "for me,” said Perez, it was "a great trip” — in part, he added, because of the week on the road with Sanders. The two didn’t know one another well before the tour. Some flights were quiet, aides said, with Sanders reading his iPad and eating peanuts. On others, the two spent hours talking about Perez’s kids, Sanders’ grandkids — and about policy. (On one westward stretch, a staffer said, Sanders pointed in outrage at the empty desert below, asking how there could be so much sun and land and not a single solar panel.)
Asked what Sanders is like, Perez had a simple reply: “He is passionate.”
A protester outside the Perez-Sanders event in Salt Lake City.
George Frey / Getty Images
The 75-year-old Vermont independent, drawing fans to the DNC rallies with “Bernie 2020” signs and “Join the Revolution” t-shirts, has maintained if not grown his influence and celebrity status in the months since last year’s presidential race. At one point on the the tour, a woman ran up to Sanders in an airport and broke into tears. Perez, by comparison, said it is “an absolute surprise to me” every time he’s even recognized.
To critics who ask, “well, why do you spend time with a person who’s not a Democrat,” Perez volunteered in the back of the SUV, “Well, the answer is, if we’re gonna take back this nation, we need to get everyone who shares our values working together.”
If Perez does admit to having frustrations, they're with the press.
"I had a chat with a reporter they other day who acknowledged — you had 2,500 people there and maybe half a dozen people booing," he said. "I'll just note, there’s empirically a very interesting distinction between local reporting and you national folks. Because local reporters actually report the totality. And the national folks — no offense — tend to like to write about the six people. They don’t like to write about the dozen standing ovations and applause lines and things like that. But I digress."
“Making house calls” is the line you hear Perez use most — in interviews, at rallies, multiple times in each of the eight candidate forums during the DNC chair's race. “Something I hear when I make house calls is ‘I need to know what the Democratic Party stands for,'” he said as the suburban coursed its way to Sky Harbor International.
Perez is a spirited campaigner, sometimes yelling point-blank into the microphone, but he is not a natural one. He's never held statewide office, and although he was vetted by Clinton during her search last year for vice presidential nominee, he did not secure one of the top spots alongside Democrats such as Tim Kaine, Cory Booker, and Tom Vilsack.
His bid for DNC chair was based largely on his record as Barack Obama's labor secretary, which he cast as an internal "turnaround job," helping to remedy the culture at a federal agency that used to rate second from the bottom in employee satisfaction, he said.
"What I’m doing now is no different than what I’ve done in every one of the three or four leadership jobs I’ve had. My first six months have always been about getting out there and listening — understanding what people’s concerns are, what people’s hopes are — and building an organization and a plan that responds to that."
For now, his plan includes house calls — and building coalitions between the DNC and other left-leaning institutions like Democracy for America, the Working Families Party, and the grassroots organizers leading protests against Trump across the country.
Before his rally on Thursday in Arizona, Perez met with leaders from the network of activists known as Indivisible (some "very eclectic" folks). They invited the DNC to participate in a training this June — "and my instruction to my team was make sure we’re a conspicuous part of it.” ("Not taking it over," he added. Just being "partners.")
As the SUV pulled onto the tarmac, Perez made his final point. Up ahead, Sanders was already on the plane, reading his iPad, face framed in the yellow light of a window.
A successful chair of the DNC, Perez said, needs five things: "listening," "consistent house calls," "thick skin," "humility," and "always making clear to folks that I can handle the truth." Over the last two months, that's what he's picked up in conversations with other Democrats about the job now ahead of him, including Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton ("She cares deeply about the party"), and former DNC chairs like Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
The one piece of advice he always gets?
"You’re never gonna please everyone. And I’ve learned that very fast.”
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 18:25:51 -0400
WASHINGTON — As the Trump administration scrambles to list the accomplishments of the president’s first hundred days, an awkward fact is becoming clear: To the extent that they have much to brag about, it’s because they’ve turned important roles and projects over to the swamp-dwelling Washington insiders Donald Trump campaigned against.
Trump’s clearest major accomplishment is also the purest example of this trend: The appointment of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was a masterpiece of insider politics, steered by the longtime master of Washington conservative judicial politics Leonard Leo and guided through the Senate by the most Washington of Washington strategists, Ron Bonjean.
The nomination process was as slick as virtually everything else Trump touched was messy: well-researched and coordinated, with an array of conservative groups feeding and sparring with the media and with Democrats. It was characterized by aggression and spin, but not overt lying or massive bumbles. And while it was hardly a rogue operation — Bonjean is close to White House press secretary Sean Spicer — it was like an alternate universe from the chaos reporters are accustomed to coming out of Pennsylvania Avenue. Crucially, Trump, after a few wild tweets, stayed out of it. And, in just 66 days, it worked for an administration that has not had any major legislative successes with its Republican Congress outside of reversing Obama-era regulations.
The lesson: The swamp is winning.
Bonjean heaped praise on the administration’s efforts with Gorsuch that included the White House counsel and legislative affairs offices in an email to BuzzFeed News.
"The White House has an outstanding communications team who asked us to assist with the Supreme Court confirmation process because they had just moved into their offices and required additional capacity of operatives who had relevant experience of working in the Senate. It was an honor to be part of this successful effort.”
Bonjean was seen as someone inside the process who was an expert on how rules and committees work, knowledge the White House leaned on. Leo had a deep understanding of an array of judicial issues large and small that might come up and served as a resource and sounding board for the team that came together weeks before Gorsuch was even nominated.
But while the president has his moments where he harkens back to populist campaign-style Trump — as he did last week in Wisconsin on a buying and hiring American initiative — the swamp he pledged to drain remains as murky and swampy as ever.
There are lobbyists waivers, the White House’s decision to not release visitor logs, and some personnel decisions (like Trump recently saying nice things about Janet Yellen). These decisions have left some in Trumpland scratching their heads and wondering if the swamp was just too rooted in Washington.
“You’ve heard of The Empire Strikes Back? Well, the swamp has struck back,” said a source close to the administration. “The establishment has ruled Washington, DC, for so long, it’s so entrenched and powerful, it’s proving harder to kill than we envisioned.”
But these issues are decidedly the purview of the president. The New York Times found that Trump is inviting potential conflicts by “populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.”
Press secretary Spicer recently had to tie himself in logical knots as he explained that the White House was declining to make visitor logs public — a move that means lobbyists or special interests could enter the White House and have meetings with administration officials or even the president himself without the public ever knowing.
“We’re following the law as both the Presidential Records Act and the Federal Records Act prescribe it,” Spicer said. “So it’s the same policy that every administration had up until the Obama administration, and, frankly, the faux attempt that the Obama administration put out, where they would scrub what they didn’t want put out, didn’t serve anyone well.”
Christopher Ruddy, CEO of the conservative Newsmax and a longtime friend of the president, argued the administration has adopted a “siege mentality” because of how antagonistic the press is and that the visitor logs would be used against the White House but that it would be better to “take a few hits” in the name of transparency.
“I personally think they should allow the visitor logs and release them. I would hope that they would reconsider that position,” Ruddy said.
“I believe that anybody that visits a public institution, the logs should be available to know who came and went unless it impacts national security,” Ruddy continued. “I’m a believer in the more disclosure, the better.”
That’s not all for swampy victories, though.
The source close to the administration said that the worst transgression of all is that Trump seems open to retaining Federal Reserve chief Yellen. Asked by the Wall Street Journal if she was “toast,” Trump responded that she was not.
“No, not toast,” Trump said. “You know, I like her, I respect her. She’s been [in the Oval Office.] She’s been in that seat. I do like the low interest rate policy.”
“I’m incredibly bothered that he said Yellen could be reappointed,” the source close to the administration said. “She’s the personification of the swamp, very much a detriment to the American worker. Great for Wall Street but terrible for most wage-earning, paycheck-to-paycheck Americans.”
Still, Trump supporters are betting that blue-collar workers care more about populist Trump’s events in Wisconsin where he says he’s going to take a “sledgehammer” to regulations, is going to scrap the NAFTA trade deal, and wants more products stamped “Made in the USA,” than who helped get Gorsuch confirmed, has the ear of the president, or is being hired in Washington.
Steve Cortes, a Fox News contributor who took part in a Hispanic business roundtable at the White House with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus last month, was succinct.
“I don’t think the Trump voter gives a shit.”
Outside Your Bubble is a BuzzFeed News effort to bring you a diversity of thought and opinion from around the internet. If you don’t see your viewpoint represented, contact the curator at email@example.com. Click here for more on Outside Your Bubble.
Tue, 25 Apr 2017 16:37:49 -0400
Pool / Getty Images
A federal judge on Tuesday barred the Trump administration from enforcing part of President Trump's January executive order that took aim at sanctuary cities — concluding that a challenged provision threatening federal funding for those cities is "clearly unconstitutional."
US District Judge William H. Orrick issued a nationwide preliminary injunction — sought by San Francisco and Santa Clara counties in California — against enforcement of Section 9(a) of the January 25, 2017, executive order.
The section of the order purported to give Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly broad authority to deny funds to cities that "refuse to comply" with a law that requires cooperation between state and local governments and federal immigration authorities.
"[T]he Order has caused budget uncertainty by threatening to deprive the Counties of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal grants that support core services in their jurisdictions," Orrick wrote.
"Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation," a late-night statement from the White House press secretary's office declared.
"Once again, a single district judge -- this time in San Francisco -- has ignored Federal immigration law to set a new immigration policy for the entire country," the statement continued. "This decision occurred in the same sanctuary city that released the 5-time deported illegal immigrant who gunned down innocent Kate Steinle in her father's arms. San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands."
Although the Justice Department argued a narrow interpretation of what the executive order authorized in court, Orrick pointed to the "plain language" of the order and the president's own words — Trump called the order "a weapon" to fight cities that opposed his immigration policies — in concluding that the narrow reading "is not legally plausible."
The Justice Department responded by defending its interpretation of the executive order and noting what the government continues to be able to do in the wake of the injunction. Justice spokesperson Ian Prior said in a statement:
The Court upheld the “Government’s ability to use lawful means to enforce existing conditions of federal grants or 8 U.S.C. 1373.” The Department of Justice previously stated to the Court, and reiterates now, that it will follow the law with respect to regulation of sanctuary jurisdictions. Accordingly, the Department will continue to enforce existing grant conditions and will continue to enforce 8 U.S.C. 1373. Further, the order does not purport to enjoin the Department’s independent legal authority to enforce the requirements of federal law applicable to communities that violate federal immigration law or federal grant conditions.
In reviewing the claims raised by the counties, Orrick found that the order likely violates separation of power principles, as well as the Fifth and Tenth Amendments.
He noted that the order does not provide any notice, review, or appeal mechanisms for cities or states affected by the order. "This complete lack of process violates the Fifth Amendment’s due process requirements," he wrote. Orrick also found that the order is likely void for vagueness under the Fifth Amendment because it gives "no clear guidance on how to comply with its provisions or what penalties will result from non-compliance."
Regarding the purpose for the executive order's funding threat, Orrick wrote, "The Executive Order attempts to use coercive methods to circumvent the Tenth Amendment’s direct prohibition against conscription."
Later, addressing the scope of the injunction, he wrote, "Given the nationwide scope of the Order, and its apparent constitutional flaws, a nationwide injunction is appropriate."
The enjoined section of the executive order:
Full statement from the White House Press Secretary's Office:
"Today, the rule of law suffered another blow, as an unelected judge unilaterally rewrote immigration policy for our Nation. Federal law explicitly states that “a Federal, State or Local government entity or official may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity or official from sending to, or receiving from, the Immigration and Naturalization Service information regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual.” 8 U.S.C. 1373(a). That means, according to Congress, a city that prohibits its officials from providing information to federal immigration authorities -- a sanctuary city -- is violating the law. Sanctuary cities, like San Francisco, block their jails from turning over criminal aliens to Federal authorities for deportation. These cities are engaged in the dangerous and unlawful nullification of Federal law in an attempt to erase our borders.
"Once again, a single district judge -- this time in San Francisco -- has ignored Federal immigration law to set a new immigration policy for the entire country. This decision occurred in the same sanctuary city that released the 5-time deported illegal immigrant who gunned down innocent Kate Steinle in her father's arms. San Francisco, and cities like it, are putting the well-being of criminal aliens before the safety of our citizens, and those city officials who authored these policies have the blood of dead Americans on their hands. This San Francisco judge's erroneous ruling is a gift to the criminal gang and cartel element in our country, empowering the worst kind of human trafficking and sex trafficking, and putting thousands of innocent lives at risk.
"This case is yet one more example of egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge. Today’s ruling undermines faith in our legal system and raises serious questions about circuit shopping. But we are confident we will ultimately prevail in the Supreme Court, just as we will prevail in our lawful efforts to impose immigration restrictions necessary to keep terrorists out of the United States.
"In the meantime, we will pursue all legal remedies to the sanctuary city threat that imperils our citizens, and continue our efforts to ramp up enforcement to remove the criminal and gang element from our country. Ultimately, this is a fight between sovereignty and open borders, between the rule of law and lawlessness, and between hardworking Americans and those who would undermine their safety and freedom."
Mon, 24 Apr 2017 21:30:52 -0400
Steve Doocy, Mary J. Blige, Elisabeth Hasselbeck, and Tucker Carlson on the set of Fox & Friends in 2015.
Rob Kim / Getty Images
On Monday night, Tucker Carlson assumed the prized 8 p.m. time slot on Fox News, a big step in the cable news host’s steady climb at the network over the past few months.
Now Carlson is looking to raise his profile even more. According to three people familiar with the matter, the 47-year-old Fox host is shopping a book or series of books to publishers.
Carlson is having something of a surprising media moment right now. When Megyn Kelly left Fox News for NBC News earlier this year, Carlson was handpicked by acting Fox News chief Rupert Murdoch to assume her 9 p.m. time slot. The show has been generally well received, and buoyed by the political news cycle, Carlson’s ratings have soared.
This week, Carlson took over the 8 p.m. hour from Bill O’Reilly, who was forced out of Fox last week amid a sexual harassment scandal.
For book publishers, Carlson has fast become a pundit in relatively high demand. According to two sources, the ongoing auction will likely fetch Carlson millions of dollars.
The book is not autobiographical in nature, but rather reflects on themes Carlson cares about, a publishing source said.
Carlson is being represented by literary agency Javelin. The firm’s founding partner, Keith Urbahn, is a former chief of staff to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.
"Tucker's is easily the most sought-after book by a news personality in many years, and he's on track to get one of the biggest and certainly most well deserved deals in recent history,” said Matt Latimer, a partner at Javelin representing Carlson.
One natural home for Carlson’s book would be News Corp’s HarperCollins, which like Fox News owner 21st Century Fox is controlled by the Murdoch family. HarperCollins published Kelly’s recent book, Settle for More.
Before arriving at Fox News, Carlson co-founded conservative news website The Daily Caller. He hosted a show on MSNBC from 2005 to 2008 but is perhaps most well-known for his time giving voice to the conservative viewpoint on CNN’s Crossfire.
The new project would not be the first book for Carlson, who got his journalistic start in the magazine world. His 2003 autobiography, Politicians, Partisans, and Parasites: My Adventures in Cable News, traced his time throughout the Beltway media.
Carlson did not immediately return a request for comment.
Mon, 24 Apr 2017 18:05:06 -0400
Jack Jones, left, and Marcel Williams.
Arkansas Department of Correction via AP
WASHINGTON — For the first time since 2000, a state executed two people in one day on Monday.
Arkansas — which scheduled eight executions for the second half of April before one of its lethal injection drugs expires — executed Jack Jones and Marcel Williams on Monday.
The first execution, of Jones, was completed before 7:30 p.m. Central Time — less than four days after the state held its first execution in more than a decade.
The state carried out its second execution of the day, of Williams, a little more than three hours later. He was declared dead at 10:33 p.m. CT, prison officials told reporters.
Before the second scheduled execution began, however, a federal district court judge issued a temporary stay to consider a request from lawyers for Williams that his execution be halted because, lawyers argued, the first execution "appeared to be torturous and inhuman." The state opposed the request, calling the claims "utterly baseless."
After holding a hearing on the request, US District Judge Kristine Baker denied Williams' request and lifted the stay a little before 9:30 p.m. CT — opening the way for the state to proceed with Williams' execution.
Williams was executed for abducting, raping, and killing Stacy Rae Erickson, a 22-year-old mother of two, in 1994.
Jones was executed for the 1995 murder and rape of Mary Phillips during a robbery at her accounting office while her 11-year-old daughter watched. Reporters in Arkansas were told by prison officials that Jones' time of death was 7:20 p.m. CT.
The Arkansas Supreme Court and US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit had denied all pending requests for stays of execution for both Jones and Williams earlier Monday — sending both men's lawyers to the US Supreme Court for final requests to stop the executions.
Shortly past 7 p.m. Eastern Time, the US Supreme Court denied both of Jones' requests for a stay of execution. Justice Sonia Sotomayor was the only noted dissent. She would have granted a stay of execution to Jones, in a case that raised claims that the state's execution process violated the Eighth Amendment ban on "cruel and unusual punishments."
The US Supreme Court denied Williams' requests a little before 9 p.m. ET. Sotomayor, again, dissented.
Sotomayor had previously expressed her opposition to the death sentence of Williams that was carried out on Monday. A district court several years ago had ordered a new sentencing hearing for Williams due to a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, but that ruling was overturned by the appeals court on a procedural issue. The US Supreme Court let the appeals court ruling, and Williams' death sentence, stand in 2010 — over the objection of Sotomayor and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The last state to attempt two executions in one day was Oklahoma. In 2014, the state had scheduled the executions of Clayton Lockett and Charles Warner for the evening of April 29, 2014. However, after Lockett's execution went awry — one of several botched executions using the sedative midazolam in 2014 — Warner's execution was delayed.
On Monday night, as it did last week, Arkansas is using the same three drugs in its protocol as Oklahoma had been using that night.
The last state to successfully carry out two executions on one night was Texas — in 2000.
Arkansas, which had scheduled eight executions over a two-week period before its supply of midazolam expires at the end of the month, only conducted one of the four executions it had set for this past week — executing Ledell Lee on April 20.
In addition to Jones and Marcel Williams, the state plans to execute Kenneth Williams on Thursday.
A federal judge already halted the originally final execution of the eight, that of Jason McGehee, due to issues with the way the condensed execution schedule had altered the state's clemency process.
Fri, 21 Apr 2017 16:27:12 -0400
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
On Thursday, the federal government formally blocked two shipments of a massive amount of execution drugs on their way to Texas and Arizona.
The decision to block the shipments came after months of legal arguments back-and-forth between the states and the Food and Drug Administration. In announcing the conclusion, the FDA did not include its full decision or the reasons it came to its conclusion that the drugs can't enter the United States.
But the full decision shows the FDA said its hands were tied. BuzzFeed News obtained a redacted copy on Friday through an open records request.
In the decision, the FDA pointed to a 2012 court decision that requires the government block shipments of sodium thiopental, an outdated anesthetic, when the shipments appear to violate the law.
The states argued "that [the case] was 'wrongly decided,'" FDA importer Alexander Lopez wrote to Texas. "But FDA is bound by the terms of the order issued by the District Court in that case."
"We interpret the order to mean what it says: namely, that FDA is required to refuse entry to thiopental produced abroad when it appears that the thiopental is misbranded or an unapproved new drug."
There are no longer any FDA-approved manufacturers of sodium thiopental. Years ago, the sole supplier stopped making the drug because states were using it in lethal injections.
So in 2015, the states turned to a man in India who has made more than $100,000 selling execution drugs to states that have never been able to use his products. He placed a label on the vials that carries the disclaimer that they are "For law enforcement purpose only." Texas and Arizona argued the drugs should be allowed in due to a law enforcement exception.
The FDA responded that a law enforcement exception can't apply, because the drugs will still be used on humans.
"The law enforcement exemption could not have been intended to apply to lethal injection, because FDA issued the regulation ... in 1956, well before any state used lethal injection as a method of execution," Lopez wrote.
If states want to import the drug, they could attempt to have the drug approved — a process that could take years. They argued approving a drug for lethal injection would be absurd, as the approval process requires clinical trials and testing — something that has not been done for lethal injection.
"Here, it is not absurd to suggest that the [law] requires a drug to be shown to be safe and effective for use under the conditions suggested in its labeling," Lopez wrote.
"There are numerous situations where it is difficult to design appropriate clinical trials, such as testing a treatment for anthrax infection or plague. In such cases, FDA regulations may allow flexibility, or trials may differ from what scientists generally envision, but FDA's statutory authority remains the same."
If the states wanted to import the drugs, the FDA said they either needed to get the drug approved, or go to court to lift the 2012 order.
Litigation seems likely. Over the past year and a half, both states have indicated publicly that they would sue if the drugs were denied. Texas has requested the FDA give them time to seek a court order before the drugs are destroyed or returned to India. The FDA said the states have 90 days to export or destroy the drugs.
Read the full decision:
Fri, 21 Apr 2017 14:30:05 -0400
Jack Gruber / AP
WASHINGTON — As Vice President Mike Pence stood on the massive deck of the USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier at Yokosuka Naval Base in Japan, he delivered a message to North Korea, which he called "the most dangerous and urgent threat to the peace and security of the Asia Pacific."
"The era of strategic patience is over," he said. "The shield stands guard and the sword stands ready."
It was the kind of high stakes message American presidents have delivered abroad for years, but it came from Pence, not President Donald Trump.
“'I wish I could be where you are,'” Pence recalled Trump telling him on the phone earlier in the day. "And I know he meant it, from the bottom of his heart."
As Trump's first 100 days in office come to a close next week, he has not once been where Pence or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson have gone — on foreign trips representing the United States, preferring instead to visit the states that helped propel him to the presidency and of course spending many weekends in Florida at Mar-a-Lago. Trump's first announced foreign trip will be in May to Brussels for a NATO meeting.
His decision not to travel abroad reflects a combination of an election that focused on a return to "America First," and on the homebody ways of a 70-year-old who spends a lot of time golfing at clubs he owns. But it also marks a new era in American relations with its allies and enemies alike, and the emergence of a world with a smaller American presence, or at least one where if you want to meet the president of the United States, you're coming to him — not the other way around.
At the same point in April in his first term, Barack Obama had visited nine countries including the UK, France, Germany, Turkey, Iraq and Mexico. George W. Bush had visited Mexico and Canada, as well as 23 states compared to Trump's 7.
"Part of it is that he's so deeply unpopular overseas, which is the exact opposite of Obama," a source close to the administration said of the stay-at-home POTUS. "Does it really serve him to go over and face massive protests? After he ran on America First it can be challenging to go to rest of the world."
A Trump administration official disputed that his America First approach has played into his lack of travel, noting that comparing him to past presidents doesn't work precisely because he came to Washington to shake up traditional approaches.
Trump's meetings and phone calls with foreign leaders have been robust, the official said, and he trusts Pence, Tillerson, homeland security chief Gen. John Kelly and secretary of defense James Mattis to meet with foreign leaders.
"Obama liked to micromanage everything, he thought he was the smartest person in the room," the administration official said. "This president has a lot of faith in his team."
While some of Obama's travel involved events that were already scheduled before he became president like the April 2009 NATO summit, which Trump will attend in May, former officials say Obama still prioritized traveling abroad, despite difficulties getting foreign travel on the books as the country emerged slowly from recession.
"He thought it was important because the Iraq war had eroded our standing in the world and he thought he had to do the real work of public diplomacy not just with leaders but with people that live in those countries," said Tommy Vietor, who worked on foreign policy issues for Obama during his two terms. "He saw value in that when you need support from an ally or not quite an ally like the Chinese or Russians."
But Christopher Ruddy, a longtime friend of President Trump and CEO of conservative NewsMax Media said Trump has developed a traditionalist foreign policy, which is good for world stability, right from home.
"He came in charging hard against the Chinese and offering an olive branch to Russia, but now he understands the strategic importance of China and he recognizes some of the problems with Russia because of the Syria crisis," Ruddy said. "He’s getting his feet on the ground — you can have controversial positions, but without upsetting the apple cart."
Unsurprisingly, Trump opponents give him much less credit on the issue.
"Trump hasn't gone abroad or to many other states in the first 100 days, because it's coincided with the Palm Beach social season," said GOP strategist and CNN commentator Ana Navarro of one of the few places Trump has traveled to often, his private club in Florida. "He has been busy entertaining, holding court, golfing, jacking up membership prices and hiring foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago. Not much time left to go to Montana or Argentina."
Kevin Madden, a former senior advisor on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaigns, said so much of Trump's appeal to his supporters was concentrated around domestic policy promises so the lack of travel isn't too much of a surprise. But while he isn't interested in matching the cadence of past presidents, the emergence of a new crisis may force his hand.
"It's too soon to say whether the change has hurt just yet, since this approach is only beginning to be tested with recent developments in North Korea and Syria," Madden said, adding that "in times of crisis, presidents don't outsource their responsibility, so the approach may very well change and adapt as circumstances around the globe change and adapt."
A White House official with knowledge of Pence's role said there's been "a pretty consistent pattern" on foreign travel of Tillerson and Mattis traveling to a region to lay the groundwork for the administration. Those visits are then followed up by Pence delivering a message from Trump, who will ultimately be "the closer" when he travels to the region like he will in May and to Southeast Asia for three summits in November.
A beneficiary of this approach will likely be Pence, who has already been empowered in the mold of past powerful vice presidents like Joe Biden and Dick Cheney, said Jeffrey Lord, a public Trump booster on CNN.
"Under the circumstances there is no hotter button issue than North Korea and he sent him to South Korea, which really means something," Lord said.
But as people on both sides of the aisle know, there is only one POTUS.
"You can send Pence places, that’s good, its useful," Vietor said. "It's reassuring, he stays on script, and probably understands the issues that are at stake more than Trump ever will but there’s no substitute for sending the president."
Outside Your Bubble is a BuzzFeed News effort to bring you a diversity of thought and opinion from around the internet. If you don’t see your viewpoint represented, contact the curator at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for more on Outside Your Bubble.
Fri, 21 Apr 2017 14:22:34 -0400
Dave Kotinsky / Getty Images
WASHINGTON — Campaign Zero's DeRay Mckesson is set to launch a podcast titled "Pod Save the People" that will aim to help give its listeners direction on social advocacy.
The podcast will be published under Crooked Media, the new liberal political network founded last year by former Obama aides Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, and Tommy Vietor.
Mckesson first appeared with Lovett, Favreau, and Vietor on the network’s flagship “Pod Save America” podcast at the height of the anti-Trump protests, discussing the lessons he learned protesting and organizing.
The move to sign Mckesson, the most famous activist to emerge from the Black Lives Matter movement, comes briefly off the heels of its successful "Keepin' It 1600" podcast on The Ringer Podcast Network, founded by the sports columnist and author Bill Simmons. They spun off the podcast, and, like The Ringer, have plans to expand it into a larger editorial platform, which has so far largely featured themselves, as well as MTV News writer Ana Marie Cox. (Mckesson had one other suitor for the project, he said, but declined to name the podcast network.)
Mckesson's group, Campaign Zero, has sought to recalibrate its organizing strategy under the Trump presidency. The group most recently created "Our States", a resource manual to assist people who want to oppose Trump's policies at the state level; and a more comprehensive Wikipedia-style format called the Resistance Manual designed to quickly inform anti-Trump organizers on the administrations policies and priorities that the group deems worth protesting.
Crooked Media hopes to have an impact on the 2018 midterm elections, and part of its strategy was to dedicate a podcast exclusively to activism, organizing and what steps people could take to make a difference. Favreau said he immediately thought of Mckesson, whom he met while running for mayor of Baltimore.
"Because we're growing so slowly every person that we bring on we almost want them to have multiple talents," Favreau told BuzzFeed News. "And I think with DeRay, he's someone who's obviously knows how to organize and been involved with the movement, but he's also brilliant and down to earth when you talk to him which also fits in with our brand and what we're trying to do."
Mckesson told BuzzFeed News that Campaign Zero quickly learned that even the people most interested in helping it advance its goals didn’t have guidance in terms of what actually do. Already armed with the web tools, Mckesson likened his aim with the podcast to his appearances on cable news and on Twitter over the course of the past few years: as a large-scale attempt to help give supporters language to talk about matters of policing, racial issues, and the movement itself.
His own success as a principal in the movement — and as a player in national politics — is due in large part to his effectiveness as a communicator.
“I’m trying to figure out how we give people language that they can repeat,” Mckesson told BuzzFeed News. “I think a lot of the media, not just podcasts, are doing a lot of the ‘Let me explain the world to you’ [format] but not in a way listeners can actually keep explaining the world to people."
“I want to be intentional about how I use platforms to amplify this work,” he said. I think a podcast will be a great opportunity to do that."
Fri, 21 Apr 2017 11:24:25 -0400
On this week's No One Knows Anything, we talk about why Bill O'Reilly was forced out of Fox News, how much people should really be reading into the Georgia and Kansas special elections, and how a custody trial involving Alex Jones has taken on a bigger significance within media.
Steven Perlberg, who covers media and politics for BuzzFeed News, joins to talk about O'Reilly. And regular co-host Charlie Warzel calls in from Texas where he's been covering the Jones trial.
As he wrote earlier this week:
Since Sunday evening, when the Austin American Statesman broke the news that Jones’ attorneys planned to defend his custody on the grounds that his two-plus decades of conspiracy theorizing has been “performance art,” Alex Jones' name and reputation have unexpectedly become one of the biggest stories in the country.
And while it’s unusual for a contentious family custody case to end up as fodder for late-night television hosts (the Jones case got the extended Colbert monologue treatment on Monday evening), Jones’ trial is far larger than his painful and in some ways ordinary family dispute. For the millions on either side who both adore and revile Jones, the case offers the hope of answering a near-impossible question: Where does Alex Jones the character end and Alex Jones the person begin?
But the herculean task of untangling Jones from his political views has put the 43-year-old broadcaster at the center of something bigger than himself. Unexpectedly, Jones is now the star of a courtroom drama that feels less like a quotidian family law case and more like a referendum on politics, the internet, and the media in the post-Trump ecosystem.
How to listen:
Stream the episode above, or search for “No One Knows Anything” in your podcast app of choice, like Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Pocket Casts, and more. This link automatically opens the show in Apple Podcasts or Stitcher, depending on your mobile device.
Be sure to subscribe to the show so you never miss a new episode!
Thu, 20 Apr 2017 17:49:23 -0400
Pat Sullivan / AP
After a nearly two-year standoff between death penalty states and the federal government, the Food and Drug Administration formally blocked shipments of thousands of illegal execution drugs on their way to Texas and Arizona. The move sets up a potential legal battle between death penalty states and the Trump administration.
In 2015, Texas, Arizona, and Nebraska each purchased 1,000 vials of sodium thiopental, an anesthetic now-banned in the United States. The supplier, a man in India named Chris Harris, claimed to be a manufacturer, but a BuzzFeed News investigation raised questions about his claims.
A facility he lists with the DEA turned out to be a former apartment he left owing rent on. The facility he registered with the FDA is a small office space he rents; a secretary at the building said manufacturing couldn’t be done there.
States, desperate to obtain execution drugs, have turned to Harris a handful of times over the past several years. Each time, Harris convinces the states that the legal problems with the drugs he sells are solved; They’ve never actually been used in executions, but he’s made more than $100,000 from the sales.
In 2015, the FDA warned Texas, Arizona, and Nebraska that buying thiopental from Harris would be illegal, and that they would block the shipments if they tried it.
In the letters, the FDA pointed to a 2012 injunction by a federal judge that forces the FDA to block illegal shipments of sodium thiopental. The ruling came about after the FDA, under President Obama, had allowed shipments of execution drugs into the country.
Inmates sued the FDA, and Judge Richard Leon ruled the government had “a mandatory obligation … to refuse to admit the misbranded and unapproved drug, thiopental, into the United States.” The order also directed the FDA to stop “permitting the entry of, or releasing any future shipments of, foreign manufactured thiopental that appears to be misbranded or [an unapproved new drug].” The ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court in 2013.
Despite the FDA's warning that doing so would be illegal, the states tried to import the drugs anyway.
Harris shipped the drugs to Nebraska, Texas and Arizona last year. Nebraska’s shipment never left India; the state tried to get a refund, but Harris refused. Texas and Arizona’s shipments were seized at the airport by Customs and Border Patrol, under orders from the FDA.
In January, Texas sued the FDA for detaining the drugs without making a final decision, prompting the FDA to agree to provide one in April. Both Texas and Arizona have publicly indicated that they intend to sue the FDA if the drugs were formally denied.
The deadline for making the final decision was Thursday. The Justice Department announced the decision in a court filing on Thursday afternoon.
"[T]he United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a final decision, refusing admission of the detained drugs into the United States," the lawyers wrote.
In a statement, the FDA said the drugs would now have to be sent back to the supplier or destroyed, adding that its hands were tied because of an injunction put in place years ago.
"The FDA previously exercised enforcement discretion regarding the importation of sodium thiopental used for lethal injection," FDA spokesperson Lyndsay Meyer said in a statement.
"However, in 2012 the United States District Court for the District of Columbia issued an order that permanently enjoins the agency from" allowing foreign thiopental that appears to violate federal law.
"As such, the court order requires the FDA to refuse admission to the U.S. any shipment of foreign manufactured sodium thiopental being offered for importation that appears to be an unapproved new drug or a misbranded drug."
In a statement, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice criticized the decision to block the drugs.
"It has taken almost two years for the Food and Drug Administration to reach a decision which we believe is flawed," TDCJ spokesperson Jason Clark said.
"TDCJ fully complied with the steps necessary to lawfully import the shipment. We are exploring all options to remedy the unjustified seizure."
Before Texas purchased drugs from Harris, the state had intended to purchase the drugs from a different supplier in India. The deal fell through when the supplier was raided by India’s Narcotics Control Bureau, its facility shut down, its drugs seized, and five of its employees arrested. Indian authorities say the company was selling opioids and psychotropic drugs illegally to people in the United States and Europe.
Weeks later, Texas turned to Harris and sent him a check for $25,000.
In total, the three states sent Harris more than $75,000. If Texas and Arizona are hoping to get a refund, they are unlikely to get it. Nebraska asked for one last year and the supplier refused.
“I am sorry to state that refund of the payment is not possible as there has been no fault of my company,” Harris wrote, adding that he hoped they could do business again in the future.
Outside Your Bubble is a BuzzFeed News effort to bring you a diversity of thought and opinion from around the internet. If you don't see your viewpoint represented, contact the curator at email@example.com. Click here for more on Outside Your Bubble.
Thu, 20 Apr 2017 14:23:45 -0400
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
WASHINGTON — Arkansas officials on Thursday evening carried out the state's first execution in more than a decade — putting Ledell Lee to death minutes before the death warrant was due to expire at midnight.
The execution was supposed to begin at 7 p.m. Central Time, but three temporary court orders — issued amid a series of challenges to the state's execution drugs and death penalty process — pushed back the execution to the last 30 minutes of the day.
Lee, convicted in the 1993 murder of Debra Reese, remained uncertain of his fate into the night, as state officials fought to carry out one of four executions the state had scheduled for this week.
Arkansas Department of Correction via AP
It was past midnight in Washington, with less than 45 minutes left on the death warrant for Lee, when the US Supreme Court denied his final five requests to stop his execution.
At 11:30 p.m. CT, an Arkansas prisons' spokesperson told reporters, "We will begin the process of carrying out the sentence of Ledell Lee."
A prison spokesperson told reporters the execution took just 12 minutes: The first drug was administered at 11:44 p.m. CT and Lee's time of death was 11:56 p.m. CT.
Although the final filings prompted no noted dissents from any of the justices, an earlier decision — in an Eighth Amendment challenge to the state's execution drug protocol — split 5-4, with the four liberal justices voting to stop his and other Arkansas inmates' executions. The vote was the first apparent 5-4 split decision of the court since Justice Neil Gorsuch began hearing cases at the court at the beginning of this week.
The seventh execution in the country this year, Lee's execution was the first across the nation in more than a month. It was the first execution carried out in Arkansas since November 2005.
It was, however, also a sign of the difficulty that states face in carrying out executions. Lee was one of four people in the state scheduled to face execution this week, but all of the other executions were halted by the courts.
The other scheduled Thursday execution in Arkansas — that of Stacey Eugene Johnson — was stayed by a Wednesday ruling of the Arkansas Supreme Court.
Johnson, convicted in the 1993 murder of Carol Heath, received a stay of execution from the court on Wednesday. A motion for reconsideration was denied Thursday, and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge said she will not seek US Supreme Court review at this time.
The state's high court also, however, stayed a lower court's injunction on Thursday afternoon that was preventing the state from being able to use one of the three drugs it uses in its execution protocol. The move allowed the state to move forward with preparations for Thursday night's scheduled execution of Lee.
A reporter from TVH-11 in Little Rock noted that witnesses were being taken in vans to the execution site from the holding area a little past 6 p.m. in preparation for the scheduled execution.
Moments before the execution was scheduled to begin, however, the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued a temporary stay of execution until 8:15 p.m. CT to consider a pending appeal relating to Lee's ability to prove that he had an intellectual disability. Arkansas opposed that stay request.
At 8:15 p.m. CT, the US Supreme Court — Justice Samuel Alito, specifically — stepped in by issuing a stay of execution for Lee until 9:30 p.m. ET "or pending further order of the undersigned [Alito] or of the Court, whichever is later."
From then on, all eyes were on the US Supreme Court — as all of Lee's other requests at relief from lower courts had been denied. The temporary stay entered by Justice Alito continued until the US Supreme Court denied all of the remaining requests a little before 12:30 a.m. ET Friday.
The scheduled Thursday executions of Lee and Johnson were supposed to be the second of four days this month in which Arkansas would be carrying out two executions.
The Wednesday order halting Johnson's execution on a DNA-related claim, however, was issued by a now-familiar 4-3 split of the state high court. Justices Karen Baker, Shawn Womack, and Rhonda Wood dissented. The same 4-3 division stayed the executions of both men due to be executed on Monday of this week.
The Arkansas Supreme Court denied Lee's three requests, including a DNA-related claim, on Thursday afternoon. In response, lawyers for Lee filed a lawsuit in federal district court, seeking a stay of execution and a ruling that Arkansas' DNA testing statute, as construed by the Arkansas Supreme Court, is unconstitutional.
In addition, Lee and the other inmates pressed appeals on issues relating to the state's use of the sedative midazolam in its three-drug protocol, the clemency process being used by the state in conjunction with the April scheduled executions, and the timing of the executions themselves.
The Eighth Circuit, in a 7-1 decision, rejected the clemency process appeal on Thursday evening.
Later Thursday evening, the Supreme Court rejected stay requests in three different petitions brought previously by multiple Arkansas death-row inmates — although one of them, coming out of the case challenging the state's use of midazolam in its protocol as a violation of the Eighth Amendment, prompted the four liberal justices to dissent from the court's stay denial.
Three additional requests to the Supreme Court seeking a stay for Lee were filed Thursday evening, and the four inmates involved in the clemency process appeal at the Eighth Circuit — including Lee — sought Supreme Court review of that case and stays of execution. A final request, regarding DNA testing, also was filed with the court late Thursday after the Eighth Circuit denied Lee's request on the issue.
Eventually, however, all of the requests were denied — and Lee's execution went ahead.
The next scheduled executions — of Jack Jones and Marcel Williams — are set for Monday, April 24.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson in February ordered the executions to be scheduled before the end of April. The scheduling was necessary, the state has claimed, because its midazolam supply expires at the end of the month.
At the beginning of the day Thursday, things had looked good for the inmates — as a state trial court judge, Circuit Judge Alice Gray, had issued a temporary restraining order on Wednesday evening preventing the state from using the vecuronium bromide it purchased from McKesson Medical-Surgical in its executions.
Vecuronium bromide is the second of three drugs used in the state's protocol. (Potassium chloride is the third drug in the state's protocol.) The company claims the state purchased the vecuronium bromide under false pretenses. McKesson contractually bars drugs it sells from being used in executions.
Gray found that the state acted in bad faith and that the company is likely to succeed in its lawsuit. As such, she granted the TRO — at the hearing on Wednesday and in a written order issued a little before noon Thursday. Without the use of the drug, Arkansas would not be able to carry out executions unless it obtains a replacement drug for its protocol.
Rutledge's office, however, filed its notice of appeal with Gray's court 15 minutes later. Before the written order was even filed, moreover, the state asked the Arkansas Supreme Court to step in. Once the written order was filed, the state asked for an emergency stay of that order. McKesson opposed the requests.
After quick briefing from both sides, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay of the injunction — meaning the state could use the execution drugs — while the appeal is heard.
The move set off the flurry of filings on the other issues, as defense lawyers desperately sought for an argument that would keep Ledell Lee alive past midnight.
Ultimately, however, they could not find a court that would do so.
Documents relating to challenges to scheduled executions in Arkansas:
Wed, 19 Apr 2017 17:53:17 -0400
WASHINGTON — The Alabama Supreme Court on Wednesday unanimously upheld a suspension of Roy Moore — the court's elected chief justice — that will last for the remainder of his time in office.
The decision means the judge who lambasted the US Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex couples' marriage rights will not serve on the state's high court again. He is suspended until his term expires in January 2019 and is ineligible to run again due to his age.
The high court — with seven specially appointed justices sitting in judgment because all of the elected justices recused themselves — upheld a state judicial ethics board's ruling that Moore violated judicial ethics canons on six counts, concluding, "[W]e affirm the judgment of the Court of the Judiciary in all respects."
Moore found himself in the latest controversy due to an order he issued to state probate judges in January 2016 that ignored federal court rulings regarding same-sex couples' marriage rights.
The combative judge previously was removed from office by the same judicial ethics board for refusing to remove a copy of the Ten Commandments from the courtroom.
The court found that the Judicial Inquiry Commission, which investigated and prosecuted the complaints, and Court of the Judiciary, which heard the complaints and meted out the punishment, acted within their jurisdiction.
To the broader point about whether the commission proved its case against Moore, the state's high court was blunt: "The record before this Court supports the findings of the Court of the Judiciary; therefore, we cannot conclude that its judgment is plainly and palpably wrong, manifestly unjust, or without supporting evidence."
The court rejected all other arguments raised by Moore — including those questioning the authority of the Court of the Judiciary to issue the sanction of suspension.
Additionally, the court ruled on one aspect of Moore's challenge that is no longer applicable to him — whether it violated his due process rights to be be taken off the bench, as required by state law, after the Judicial Inquiry Commission filed its complaint.
The court, which ruled on the matter due to the fact that the commission is sure to file other complaints against other sitting judges in the future, held that the law does not violate due process rights of judges, in part at least, because they are paid during the time their complaint is resolved.
Mon, 17 Apr 2017 18:00:36 -0400
Jim Young / Reuters
WASHINGTON — One condemned man's fate remained in question Monday until nearly midnight in Arkansas, where the state was stopped from carrying out the first two of eight scheduled executions in April.
Although the Arkansas Supreme Court had issued stays of execution for Don Davis and Bruce Ward — both to have been executed Monday — the state asked the US Supreme Court to vacate the stay for Davis.
With the death warrant signed by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson due to expire at the end of Monday, the state was preparing witnesses for the scheduled execution in the final 30 minutes of the day — in the hopes that the justices in Washington would allow the execution to proceed.
The US Supreme Court refused to step in and lift the stay, however, denying the state's request with the clock ticking down to midnight.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge's office has asked the US Supreme Court to vacate the stay of execution granted to Davis, on death row for the 1990 shooting death of Jane Daniel. Davis' lawyers opposed the request to lift the stay.
The last-minute fight over Davis' scheduled execution was just the latest in a flurry of litigation resulting from the state's aggressive execution schedule — which itself came about, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson has acknowledged, because one of the state's execution drugs is due to expire at the end of the month.
Earlier Monday, a federal appeals court sided with the state in a challenge brought by the death-row inmates largely based on questions surrounding the sedative — midazolam — that is due to expire soon. The drug has been at the center of several botched executions in recent years, although the US Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma's protocol, which included the drug.
A district court judge had ruled over the weekend that the inmates were likely to succeed in their challenge to the state's protocol. As such, the district court put all eight scheduled executions on hold. The state appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. The court, sitting en banc — meaning the whole appeals court — ruled 7-1 against the inmates Monday evening in ending that stay of execution entered by the district court.
The appeals court decision meant the state was able to continue attempts to carry out executions — two a night on four nights in a 10-day period — although other challenges stood in their way.
Those challenges led the state to stop with appeals trying "at this time" to execute the other man scheduled to be executed Monday. The Arkansas Supreme Court had granted that man, Bruce Ward, two different stays of execution — relating to two different claims his lawyers raised.
The state high court previously granted a stay of execution for Ward on a claim that he lacks the competency to face execution. The state asked the court to reconsider the stay, which the court declined to do Monday evening.
Then on Monday, the court granted an additional stay to Ward and a stay for Davis on a claim that their executions should both be stayed pending the outcome of a case before the US Supreme Court currently, McWilliams v. Dunn. McWilliams will address whether the expert assistance an indigent defendant is provided at trial must be independent of the prosecution. In their argument in favor of the stay, lawyers for Davis and Ward wrote that both men "have been denied this right." Three justices of the state's high court dissented from the stays in two written opinions.
Although Rutledge tweeted that she would appeal the ruling to the US Supreme Court as to both men's cases, her office announced a little past 8 p.m. ET that the office only would be continuing in efforts Monday to proceed with Davis' execution.
After the US Supreme Court denied her request as to Davis, Rutledge issued a statement calling Monday night's halted execution "heartbreaking" for the family of Jane Daniel.
She also, though, made clear that she would continue fighting in court to proceed with the remaining scheduled executions over the coming days. The next two executions — of Stacey Johnson and Ledell Lee — are scheduled for Thursday.
As such, the coming days likely will involve significant additional litigation — including a likely request for US Supreme Court review of the ruling against the inmates on their federal claim that the state's execution protocol — which uses the sedative midazolam — is unconstitutional.
Also Monday evening — in yet another piece of litigation surrounding the state's executions — the Arkansas Supreme Court vacated a temporary restraining order that a state trial court judge had entered last week barring the state from using the vecuronium bromide it had purchased from McKesson Medical-Surgical in its executions.
The company — which contractually prohibits its drugs from being used in executions — alleged the state purchased the drugs under false pretenses.
Fri, 14 Apr 2017 23:20:36 -0400
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
AP Photo/Danny Johnston
WASHINGTON — At the end of February, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that his state planned to hold eight executions over the course of the last two weeks of April — two each on four different days.
The move — carrying out executions of all but one person on the state’s death row in a 10-day period — was necessary, the governor explained, because its limited supply of one of the three execution drugs in the state’s execution protocol is due to expire at the end of the month.
Since then, however, Hutchinson and state lawyers have found out that the task might be more difficult to accomplish than they had hoped.
By Friday evening, less than 72 hours before the first execution is set to take place, all of the eight executions had been put on hold — by three different state and federal courts.
A fourth court issued a ruling on Saturday morning siding with the inmates — a broad injunction halting the executions that followed a four-day hearing in federal court this past week.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office is fighting in court to ensure that at least some of the executions can go ahead, though, announcing Saturday morning that her office will be going to a federal appeals court to ask it to reverse the federal injunction.
On Saturday evening, the state filed its appeal at the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
The biggest underlying issue is that Arkansas has not carried out an execution for nearly a decade. The most recent execution was held in November 2005. The last year when Arkansas conducted more than one execution in a year was 2000, when it held two executions several months apart.
The decision to move forward with so many executions in such a short period of time means that challenges to its procedures — which involve a robust, statutorily based clemency process and a three-drug execution protocol that includes the sedative midazolam — are raising significant issues.
For example, although the US Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s use of midazolam in a three-drug execution protocol in 2015, most death penalty states have since discontinued the use of the drug — which has figured into several botched executions in recent years. Additionally, a federal appeals court recently upheld a trial court’s order halting executions in Ohio during litigation over the state’s planned use of midazolam.
Because it has been nearly a decade since the most recent execution in Arkansas, the situation there also means, looking ahead, that Arkansas officials — from the governor to the state’s attorneys to prison guards — don’t have any recent experience with the actual practice of executing people.
On top of everything else, Hutchinson has tasked officials in his state with carrying out two executions each night. The last state to try that was Oklahoma in 2014 — and the state had to put off the second execution after the first was botched.
What's more, the pure number of executions is striking. Hutchinson scheduled eight executions in 10 days. By way of comparison, there have only been six executions in the entire country so far all year.
Two federal court challenges — one relating to the clemency consideration and one relating to the drug protocol — have raised significant questions about what will happen over the next two weeks.
In the drug protocol challenge relating to midazolam use, US District Judge Kristine G. Baker held a four-day hearing this week, featuring testimony from expert witnesses on both sides, over the inmates’ request for a preliminary injunction and the state’s opposition.
On Saturday morning, Baker denied the state's request to dismiss most of the inmates' claims and ruled in favor of the inmates' request for a preliminary injunction, halting their executions because the inmates were able to show the protocol that includes midazolam "creates a demonstrated risk of severe pain" and that risk is substantial when compared to "known and available alternatives."
"Plaintiffs argue that Arkansas’s lethal injection protocol violates the Eighth Amendment under this standard," Baker wrote. "After hearing the evidence presented by the parties, the Court is compelled to stay these executions."
Before that ruling was issued, however, a state judge issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) halting all of the upcoming executions based not on the use of midazolam but, instead, due to a challenge from a supplier of one of the other drugs in the protocol — vecuronium bromide.
McKesson Medical-Surgical, Inc. — the largest U.S. pharmaceutical distributor, according to the Fortune 500, where it's ranked No. 5 — brought that challenge in the Circuit Court of Pulaski County on Friday. In it, the company seeks “return of illegally obtained property” — its drugs.
The company alleges in its complaint that the Arkansas Department of Corrections “misled” the company regarding its sale of vecuronium bromide to the state, as the company does not allow sale of its drugs for use in executions. Specifically, the company details how the state sought to “circumvent McKesson’s controls by placing the Vecuronium order over the phone through a familiar customer sales representative” and later “refused to return the 10 boxes of Vecuronium” after McKesson discovered the state’s plans to use the drug in executions.
On Friday evening, Judge Wendell Griffen issued the TRO, ordering that the state “shall not use vecuronium bromide obtained from [McKesson] until ordered otherwise by this Court.”
“As a public opponent of capital punishment, Judge Griffen should have recused himself from this case,” Judd Deere, the communications director in the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, said in a statement. “Attorney General Rutledge intends to file an emergency request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to vacate the order as soon as possible.”
Asked to comment on Deere's comments regarding whether Griffen should have recused himself from hearing the case, Griffen told BuzzFeed News via email, "I am unable to discuss pending litigation. Any arguments by the parties will be addressed on the record."
Griffen had set the next hearing in the case for 9 a.m. Tuesday morning, April 18, which is the morning after the first day of scheduled executions, but later developments have appeared to moot the need for that hearing.
After Rutledge's office filed a request with the Arkansas Supreme Court to ask that the TRO be vacated — and after Baker had issued the preliminary injunction in federal court — McKesson announced that it was seeking to withdraw its request for a TRO as unnecessary.
The company made clear in a statement, however, that it might refile the suit if necessary to stop the state from using its drugs in executions.
In addition to the state and federal court rulings relating to the drugs that Arkansas intends to use, two of the eight people scheduled for execution already have been given individualized orders stopping their executions — with a judge asking for more information regarding a third request.
On Friday evening, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a stay of execution for Bruce Ward, who was scheduled to be executed on Monday, April 17. On Saturday, the state asked the court to reconsider its stay.
Arkansas Department of Correction, via AP File
Ward’s attorneys say that he has a “lifelong history of severe mental illness, including paranoid schizophrenia, delusions, and breaks with reality.”
The stay was the result of an appeal from a complaint filed in Jefferson County Circuit Court to stop Ward’s execution on the grounds that his severe mental illness made him incompetent to be executed. The complaint said that spending three decades in solitary confinement worsened Ward’s mental health amounting to cruel and unusual punishment.
“We are grateful that the Arkansas Supreme Court has issued a stay of execution for Bruce Ward so that they may consider the serious questions presented about his sanity,” Scott Braden, one of Ward’s attorneys from the Arkansas Federal Defender Office, said in a statement.
Deere, the communications director for Arkansas Attorney General Rutledge, said the attorney general “is evaluating options on how to proceed” in response to the stay.
Ward was sentenced to death for the 1989 murder of Rebecca Doss, an 18-year-old store clerk at a gas station in Little Rock. Ward was convicted of strangling Doss to death. Her body was discovered in the men’s restroom at the store.
Ward’s lawyers also asked the Arkansas Supreme Court for a stay pending the outcome of a pending US Supreme Court case, McWilliams v. Dunn. That appeal, filed on April 12, states that Ward, 60, was denied his right to an independent mental health expert who could have help his defense attorney understand and better present his mental health issues in court.
Earlier in the week, a federal judge stopped the planned April 27 execution of Jason McGehee.
US District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr., hearing the challenge to the state’s treatment of the clemency process for the upcoming scheduled executions, halted McGehee’s scheduled execution after the Arkansas Parole Board recommended commuting his death sentence to life in prison without parole.
In his April 6 ruling, Marshall wrote that McGehee was entitled to the 30-day period required by law for the parole board to send their recommendation to the governor. The 30-day period will go past the date when the state’s supply of its execution drug expires.
“Judge Marshall was clearly troubled by the state's clemency process," John C. Williams, a lawyer for McGehee, told Time. “He was emphatic that the clemency process has been shoddy and arbitrary in many respects.”
McGehee was sentenced to death for his role in the 1996 murder of 15-year-old John Melbourne Jr. Then 20, McGehee was the leader of a gang of delinquents and was involved in the fatal beating and torture of Melbourne, the youngest member of the group — who was believed to have “snitched” to the police, according to court records.
On Friday, lawyers for another one of the inmates scheduled for execution, Marcel Williams, asked the court to step in and stop his execution due to the “deviations from procedure” in the clemency process, which the lawyers argue “uniquely prejudice” their client. Two members of the seven-member parole board voted in favor of granting clemency to Williams, who is due to be executed on April 24.
“Because, as argued below, the arbitrary restriction on the development of evidence at the clemency hearing, prevented Mr. Williams from creating a persuasive record for mercy, his due process rights were violated,” they wrote.
Later Friday, Marshall issued an order asking the state to respond to Williams’ request by 5 p.m. Monday.
Williams, 46, has admitted to killing Stacy Rae Erickson in 1994. At the clemency hearing, however, he begged for forgiveness from her family and asked for his death sentence to be reduced to life without parole. “I am so sorry,” an emotional Williams told Erickson’s family at the hearing. “I wish I could take it back, but I can't. To those I hurt, sorry is not enough.”
Williams was sentenced to death for abducting, raping, and killing Erickson, a 22-year-old mother of two. Williams’ attorney argued that his trial lawyers had failed to present compelling, mitigating evidence relating to his troubled upbringing and a background of poverty and abuse that would have potentially resulted in a life sentence.
The Other Scheduled Executions
Attorneys for Don Davis, scheduled to be executed on the same day as Ward, also asked the Arkansas Supreme Court for a stay pending the outcome of the US Supreme Court case, McWilliams v. Dunn.
His attorneys said that Davis, 54, had an IQ in the range of intellectual disability and that he suffered from ADHD and psychoactive abuse disorders.
The appeal said that mental health had been a “significant issue” for Davis and that he had repeatedly and unsuccessfully requested the independent experts to help with his case.
Davis was sentenced to death for the 1990 shooting death of Jane Daniel. The murder weapon a fingerprint, and items stolen from Daniel and her neighbor’s home linked Davis to the crime.
The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday denied a request to stay the execution of Stacey Eugene Johnson, who is scheduled for execution on Thursday, April 20, and the parole board has also rejected Johnson’s bid for clemency.
Johnson, 47, has maintained his innocence in the 1993 death of Carol Heath, who was beaten and strangled to death in her home where her two young children, ages 6 and 2, were present.
The second execution scheduled for Thursday, April 20, is of Ledell Lee, 51. The Arkansas Parole Board similarly denied recommending clemency for Lee on March 27. Lee has maintained his innocence in the 1993 murder of his neighbor, Debra Reese.
Reese, 26, had been beaten to death with a tire iron that her husband had given her for protection. She had been struck 36 times, according to court records.
The state parole board recommended against clemency for Kenneth Williams, who had killed four people in the late 1990s. He is due to be executed on April 27.
Williams, 38, escaped from prison in 1999 while serving a life sentence without parole for the murder of Dominique Hurd, a University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff cheerleader. After escaping, he went to the nearby residence of Cecil Boren, a farmer, and shot him to death. Williams then fled in a stolen truck which he crashed into another vehicle during a high-speed police chase resulting in the driver’s death. In 2000, Williams was sentenced to death for Boren’s murder.
The state parole board recommended on April 10 against clemency for Jack Jones, scheduled to be executed on April 24.
Jones, 52, was sentenced to death for the 1995 murder of Mary Phillips during a robbery at her accounting office. Jones robbed Philipps and her 11-year-old daughter Lacy at gunpoint, according to court documents. He then tied Lacy to a chair while he anally raped Phillips and strangled her to death. He also choked Lacy until she was unconscious and struck her eight times in the head with the barrel of a BB gun. Lacy regained consciousness when the police were photographing her body thinking she was dead. She testified against Jones in court.
Fri, 14 Apr 2017 17:57:05 -0400
Jose Luis Magana / AP
WASHINGTON — The White House counsel's office has interviewed approximately 20 lawyers for open seats on the federal trial court in Washington, DC, sources familiar with the process tell BuzzFeed News, setting its sights on a bench dominated by President Obama's nominees.
The White House has been vetting candidates for federal court vacancies for months, but with the US Supreme Court confirmation fight over, the counsel's office can focus its attention on the 126 other open seats across the country.
There are four vacancies on the US District Court for the District of Columbia. It's the dominant court in the nation for lawsuits over access to federal government records, and routinely handles major cases dealing with national security and legal challenges to actions by executive branch agencies. Nine of the the 11 active judges serving on the court were nominated by President Obama.
Candidates interviewed by the White House so far for the four vacancies include West Virginia Solicitor General Elbert Lin; Matthew Miner, a private practice lawyer who was a longtime senior aide to Attorney General Jeff Sessions when Sessions was still in the US Senate; and Dabney Friedrich, a former member of the US Sentencing Commission who served in the White House counsel's office under President George W. Bush.
Presidents typically defer to senators to recommend nominees for their home state district courts, but DC doesn't have any senators. President Trump is expected to rely little, if at all, on the advice of the city's lone official congressional representative, Democratic Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton. Democratic presidents have given Norton senatorial courtesy to recommend candidates; President George W. Bush didn't do so, but he did consult her on his intended nominees. Norton sent a letter to the White House in March asking for some voice in the process, but it isn't clear if she received a response. A spokesperson for Norton and a White House spokesperson did not return requests for comment.
The counsel's office is stacked with lawyers who practiced at private law firms in Washington before joining the White House and are familiar with the local legal community. Until recently, Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the conservative lawyers' group the Federalist Society, was on leave from the organization to serve as an adviser to Trump on judicial nominations.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has made recommendations for the DC court, lawyers familiar with the process told BuzzFeed News. A spokesperson for Grassley said in an email that, "Nominations to the Article III courts are the President’s to make. Occasionally the Chairman makes recommendations, as is customary."
BuzzFeed News confirmed the names of six of the approximately 20 lawyers interviewed to date: Besides Lin, Miner, and Friedrich, the counsel's office has spoken with private practice lawyers Jessie Liu, Stuart Nash, and Kate O'Scannlain.
Although it wasn't clear if any of them are considered frontrunners at this stage of the vetting process, the varied backgrounds, political and legal connections, and experience among the six illustrate the wide range of lawyers that the White House is considering for the court.
Before joining the West Virginia attorney general's office as its top appellate lawyer in 2013, Lin practiced at a private law firm and spent a few years as a trial attorney at the US Department of Justice. He clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas, as well as Judge William Pryor of the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, who was one of the judges on Trump's short list for the Supreme Court.
Friedrich, a former federal prosecutor, served as counsel to Sen. Orrin Hatch when Hatch was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Liu, also a former federal prosecutor, served as a senior official in the Justice Department's national security and civil divisions during the second Bush administration. Miner was a federal prosecutor in Alabama before he was hired to work for Sessions in the Senate.
Nash is a former judge on the District of Columbia Superior Court. He was a senior official in the Justice Department — including a year working for Hatch on the Senate Judiciary Committee — before he was confirmed to Superior Court in 2010.
O'Scannlain is a private practice lawyer who has practiced in Washington for more than a decade and is affiliated with the Federalist Society. Her father is Ninth Circuit Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain.
Nash declined to comment. Lin, Friedrich, Miner, Liu, and O'Scannlain did not return requests for comment or couldn't be reached on Friday.
Fri, 14 Apr 2017 12:54:30 -0400
Bryan Woolston / Reuters
WASHINGTON — A small but growing number of the 200-plus defendants charged with felony rioting on Inauguration Day are pledging to reject any plea deal offer from prosecutors.
A statement outlining the pledge, obtained by BuzzFeed News, was written in response to the first guilty plea entered in the rioting cases in late March. The statement represents the views of at least 20 defendants, and is still being circulated, according to Ben Aubin, one of the defendants who helped draft it.
"We do not concede that plea bargains such as this legitimize the charges against us and we will continue to fight our cases and demand trials. The risk of imprisonment, fines, and probation is far less meaningful than giving even tacit legitimacy to these charges," the statement says.
People participating in a demonstration billed as an anti-capitalist and anti-fascist protest in Washington during President Trump's inauguration on Jan. 20 smashed the windows of cars and stores, causing more than $100,000 in property damage, according to police.
DC law defines a riot as a "public disturbance" involving at least five people that leads to violence or the threat of violence against people or property. The felony rioting charge isn't limited to individuals directly involved in acts of violence, though — it also covers those who "willfully incited or urged others to engage in the riot."
The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a maximum fine of $25,000. Of the 214 defendants indicted on the felony rioting charge, one has pleaded guilty so far. Jack Sorensen, 18, of Pittsford, NY, entered a guilty plea on March 24 to a lesser charge of misdemeanor rioting. In the plea agreement papers filed with the court, he admitted not leaving as the protests turned violent. Sorensen did not admit direct involvement in any property damage.
Sorensen was sentenced to 180 days in jail, but that sentence was suspended. He'll spend year on probation, pay a $500 fine, and do 50 hours of community service. He declined an interview request.
The statement from the defendants who say they won't plead guilty isn't accompanied by a list of signatories. It's signed, "L12," a reference to the fact that the mass arrests on Inauguration Day took place at the corner of L and 12th streets in northwest Washington. BuzzFeed News spoke or messaged with seven defendants who joined the statement, and some said they feared retaliation from prosecutors as well as professional and other personal consequences if they went public.
"To accept plea bargains under these circumstances could be considered admitting guilt and giving legitimacy to the state’s charges against us," the statement says. The statement also pledges not to cooperate with prosecutors or provide evidence against other defendants.
Aubin told BuzzFeed News that the purpose of the statement wasn't to throw Sorensen "under the bus," but rather to express their intention to fight what they contend are unlawful prosecutions. Aubin, who said he's been a participant in anarchist culture but wasn't directly involved in any of the property damage, said he hasn't been offered a plea deal.
"Because this is such an important case, we would rather accept jail time," Aubin said. "Going to jail is not something that any of us is fearful of because we represent more than ourselves at this moment."
A spokesperson for the US attorney's office declined to comment on whether plea deals have been offered to other defendants.
Prosecutors have told the District of Columbia Superior Court judge presiding over the rioting cases that they plan to group the defendants into categories based on the specific type of criminal activity they're accused of, the evidence available, and the extent to which certain evidence relates to multiple defendants. The first group includes 12 people, and prosecutors said they're prepared to immediately set a trial date.
One member of the first group, Spencer Kaaz, told BuzzFeed News that he supported the statement pledging not to take a plea deal. Kaaz, who said he has been arrested before for participating in political demonstrations, denied any direct involvement in the property damage on Jan. 20. He said he learned from his lawyer that there were evidence records indicating he was carrying smoke bombs at the time, which he denied. He said he hadn't been offered a plea deal.
"The whole rationale behind [the statement] is to say, these charges are illegitimate, we do not recognize these allegations because they’re falsified, they’re trumped up charges. For many different reasons, just to oppose it in general," Kaaz said.
A number of defendants are pursuing efforts in court to get their cases dismissed, arguing that prosecutors have failed to identify specific evidence tying them to any particular act of destruction.
More than 100 defendants also jointly filed papers in court earlier this week opposing the government's proposal to make all of the electronic data gathered by police and prosecutors available all at once to defense lawyers via one central database. Defense lawyers argue that this approach raises privacy concerns and wrongly absolve the government of its responsibility to identify the evidence that is relevant to each individual case.
Statement from "L12":
Thu, 13 Apr 2017 23:08:09 -0400
Jon Ossoff, who's become a surprise fundraising powerhouse and is running the Georgia special.
WASHINGTON — The Democratic Party is trying to ride this wave — but they might get crushed by it.
Washington Democrats are celebrating the surge of excitement, energy, and — of course — money pouring in from the #resistance to Donald Trump. But they're also increasingly aware that some of the forces powering the new left have no love for a party seen as betraying Bernie Sanders or for congressional campaign committees with long acronyms most Democratic voters have never heard of. And so the question now is whether the resistance will energize the organized Democratic Party — or burn it down.
“Do not surrender parts of the country to right wing Republicans,” Sanders warned on MSNBC’s Chris Hayes Wednesday night, the day after a Sanders-supporting Democrat in Kansas came within seven points of a massive upset in a conservative district, a race in which the House Democratic campaign arm opted not to get involved. “With a little bit of help, they might have pulled it off. And I would hope that the Democratic leadership learns that lesson.”
Democrats are certainly having a moment. The energy that has materialized on the left in the wake of Donald Trump’s election in November has Democrats ebullient about their prospects for the 2018 congressional elections.
There was almost an upset in Kansas. In Georgia, a 30-year old, first-time Democratic candidate raised $8.3 million in under two months. And in states from Arizona to North Carolina, Democrats say, candidates are lining up to run for Congress in challenging districts.
But some Democrats worry that energy could be a double-edged sword, one that might turn inward between now and 2018.
That dynamic was on display Tuesday night, after James Thompson, a Democratic lawyer from Kansas, outperformed Hillary Clinton by 20 points in Kansas’s deep red 4th District. The national Democratic Party apparatuses steered clear of the race, deeming it too much of a longshot to warrant spending precious money or resources. After Thompson’s close call, some Democrats deemed that decision a mistake.
The fight in Kansas Tuesday was between a Democrat and a Republican, but it also marked the latest chapter in the internecine Democratic Party fights marked by deep distrust of the Democratic campaign institutions by the grassroots. The distrust, some Democratic operatives allow, is earned: It was just six months ago that a similar cast of characters was saying states like Wisconsin and Michigan — states Donald Trump won — were safely in Democratic hands. In the aftermath of that defeat, some are questioning whether Democrats are blowing a shot in the opposite way — throwing away an opportunity to make great gains in the House and the Senate, despite a very difficult map for incumbent Democrats.
“Why wouldn’t you take these opportunities?” said Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh, saying the DCCC made a mistake not doing more in Kansas.
“To me, this is what you pray for as a party. These are the days you spend years waiting for,” she said.
But there are dangers ahead that rather than being able to ride the wave, Democratic institutions will find themselves getting crushed by it.
It’s happened before. In 2010, the tea party proved a huge boon for Republicans, energizing their base and helping them win historic majorities in a wave election. But in 2012, that energy turned inward, and their party ate its own in primary elections, losing some seats they were favored to win. Some Democrats worry that if they’re not careful, this midterm cycle could prove more 2012 than 2010 for their party.
A major source of both peril and opportunity is candidate recruitment. A favorable-looking political environment can be a huge boon for Democrats, helping to persuade top tier recruits to take the plunge. But it’s also a moment rife for conflict. “Democrats can mess it up by everybody piling up into certain districts to run rather than running in as many districts as possible,” said a Florida Democratic consultant, or “if Democrats start imposing purity tests and start questioning the goodwill of folks like at the DCCC.”
Or the issue could be simply a wealth of riches.
“Where we have run into problems with enthusiasm before is when you get a lot of people last-minute running for these offices,” said North Carolina Democratic consultant Morgan Jackson. A candidate might be hugely appealing, but if they get in too late without having built the necessary infrastructure, they can find themselves easily bested in a primary by someone with better name recognition.
In watching what’s happening in North Carolina, Jackson says he’s hopeful. Strong candidates are starting to explore House campaigns already — even in some more Republican-leaning congressional districts — and they are doing so early enough before the election and the candidate filing deadline to give someone time to really establish themselves as a candidate, and perhaps even avoid a primary. “To me that shows that the enthusiasm is being channeled the right way and we may be able to avoid the divisive primaries that we’ve had in the past,” Jackson said.
The question is how — and where — the Democratic campaign establishment figure into this unbridled energy. Quite clearly, it’s a boon for Democrats overall. And some Democrats say it’s important.
But for all the griping about the DCCC’s absence in Kansas, some Democrats also caution that the party institutions have to be careful. It’s a tricky balance for a national party to take advantage of the energy and try to channel it to its uses, without being seen as trying to coopt it. Democratic campaigns right now are trying to figure out how to at once get involved and plugged in to newly formed activist entities like the Indivisible Group, without trying to take over.
“I think the best thing you can do right now is let the genuine citizens lead this,” said Colorado Democratic consultant Laura Chapin.
“It’s not that you abandon strategy,” she added, “but I think there’s kind of a ‘water finds a way’ principle going on here.”
And given that the energy seems to be there regardless of what the party structures do, some, like Marsh, think Democrats are making a mistake to ignore opportunities to channel that water like in the Kansas special election — and should look at upcoming special elections in Georgia (where Democrats are already very involved), Montana, and South Carolina. Even if they aren’t going to win, the specials pose opportunities to do party building, these Democrats argue. It’s an opportunity to help train people on the ground in all the campaign mechanics – door knocking, phone banking, campaigning. Maybe Democrats don’t win the House seat, but “maybe that investment in infrastructure has a ripple effect that can maybe bring over a Senate seat, bring in a governor, bring in other elected positions,” Marsh said.
But some say that maybe it shouldn’t be the party structures that are helping to amplify this energy at all. “No campaign has ever been won by waiting on the party to act … the party is definitely helpful, but the party comes in only after the candidate finds their magic,” said the Florida consultant.
And that leaves some Democrats asking if maybe instead of an adversarial relationship between the institutions and the grassroots, it could evolve into more of a “symbiotic” relationship, as Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz termed it, between entities like Daily Kos and more liberal organizations, which helped fundraise for Thompson, and established institutions like the DCCC.
“I think there’s a strategy that you want to harness that energy, that you want to give everybody an opportunity to participate maximally, but the last thing we need is a bunch of smarty-pantses telling us, you know, how the Resistance should be deployed,” said Schatz. “People are going do what they want to do and that’s the beauty of this thing.”
Thu, 13 Apr 2017 21:12:25 -0400
Lawrence Bryant / Reuters
WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice Thursday sent a letter to Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló denying a $2.5 million appropriation for nonpartisan voter education and a plebiscite vote that would allow Puerto Ricans to vote about what they want in terms of their status as a territory.
Puerto Rican government officials told BuzzFeed News they will still likely move forward with the plebiscite vote June 11. A Department of Justice spokesperson said their role in the matter was limited to the issue of whether to appropriate funds.
Most of the issues raised by DOJ in the letter related to the goal of the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status that the popular will of the people of Puerto Rico be ascertained in a clear way. The letter argued that the 2012 plebiscite vote, in which a majority rejected the current status and chose statehood, was "the subject of controversy" and much had changed in five years politically, economically, and demographically on the island, which means it is unclear that residents reject the status quo territory option. (The upcoming plebiscite as written only gives "statehood" and "free association/independence" as the two options, not the current territory option.)
In a series of tweets, Puerto Rico's governor said it was "unacceptable" to include a "colony" option in an effort to decolonize Puerto Rico. The Trump administration's position, he said, is contrary to the will of the Puerto Rican people who have rejected a continuation of a colonial system that is wrong.
"I think that this is an attempt by the attorney general to singlehandedly go against what has been the policy of the U.S. for the last 25 years," said Kenneth McClintock, Puerto Rico's former secretary of state, who said that there is no dispute that the island is a territory of the United States. "Therefore present status can not be part of the options to resolve — resolve means solutions, an alternative to the problem itself."
Puerto Rico has in recent years been felled by a financial and health care crisis. McClintock said the 2011 White House task force came to the conclusion that in order to resolve Puerto Rico’s economic problems "you have to address the political status problem or the economic situation will not improve."
The DOJ letter also took issue with how the 2017 plebiscite is worded, including the description of statehood as the only option that guarantees American citizenship by birth in Puerto Rico and the description of "free association," which the agency said could be misleading.
The DOJ declined comment beyond the letter.
Puerto Rican officials said that in calls before and after the decision was made, DOJ officials remained open to working with the Puerto Rican government. Officials said they will study the DOJ recommendations but fully intend to move forward with the plebiscite, though there is concern that the vote will not be recognized by Congress moving forward. Still, Governor Rosselló called the June 11 plebiscite the most important vote that will reveal the will of the people.
But in conversations after the decision came down, statehood supporters were sharply criticized Sessions individually.
"He's almost acting on this holy Thursday evening as a Judas who is being traitorous to longstanding American policy on Puerto Rico," McClintock said.