Yesterday, 1:40 am by
A newfound memo from Kenneth W. Starr’s independent counsel investigation into President Bill Clinton sheds fresh light on a constitutional puzzle that is taking on mounting significance amid the Trump-Russia inquiry: Can a sitting president be indicted? The 56-page memo, locked in the National Archives for nearly two decades and obtained by The New York Times under the Freedom of Information Act, amounts to the most thorough government-commissioned analysis rejecting a generally held view that presidents are immune from prosecution while in office. “It is proper, constitutional, and legal for a federal grand jury to indict a sitting president for serious criminal acts that are not part of, and are contrary to, the president’s official duties,” the Starr office memo concludes. “In this country, no one, even President Clinton, is above the law.” Mr. Starr assigned Ronald Rotunda, a prominent conservative professor of constitutional law and ethics whom Mr. Starr hired as a consultant on his legal team, to write the memo in spring 1998 after deputies advised him that they had gathered enough evidence to ask a grand jury to indict Mr. Clinton, the memo shows. President Trump in the Oval Office on Friday. Other prosecutors working for Mr. Starr developed a draft indictment of Mr. Clinton, which The Times has also requested be made public. The National Archives has not processed that file to determine whether it is exempt from disclosure under grand-jury secrecy rules. Document OPEN Document In 1974, the Watergate special counsel, Leon Jaworski, had also received a memo from his staff saying he could indict the president, in that instance Richard M. Nixon, while he was in office, and later made that case in a court brief. Those documents, however, explore the topic significantly less extensively than the Starr office memo. In the end, both Mr. Jaworski and Mr. Starr let congressional impeachment proceedings play out and did not try to indict the presidents while they remained in office. Mr. Starr, who had decided he could indict Mr. Clinton, said in a recent interview that he had concluded the more prudent and appropriate course was simply referring the matter to Congress for potential impeachment. As Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in the latest inquiry, investigates the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia and whether President Trump obstructed justice, the newly unearthed Starr office memo raises the possibility that Mr. Mueller may have more options than most commentators have assumed. Here is an explanation of the debate and what the Starr office memo has to say. Why do some argue presidents are immune? Nothing in the Constitution or federal statutes says that sitting presidents are immune from prosecution, and no court has ruled that they have any such shield. But proponents of the theory that Mr. Trump is nevertheless immune for now from indictment cited the Constitution’s “structural principles,” in the words of a memo written in September 1973 by Robert G. Dixon Jr., then the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. This argument boils down to practicalities of governance: The stigma of being indicted and the burden of a trial would unduly interfere with a president’s ability to carry out his duties, preventing the executive branch “from accomplishing its constitutional functions” in a way that cannot “be justified by an overriding need,” Mr. Dixon wrote. In October 1973, Mr. Nixon’s solicitor general, Robert H. Bork, submitted a court brief that similarly argued for an “inference” that the Constitution makes sitting presidents immune from indictment and trial. And in 2000, Randolph D. Moss, the head of the Office of Legal Counsel under Mr. Clinton, reviewed the Justice Department’s 1973 opinions and reaffirmed their conclusion. Kenneth W. Starr after testifying before the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing for President Bill Clinton in November 1998. Kenneth W. Starr after testifying before the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing for President Bill Clinton in November 1998. Credit Joe Marquette/Associated Press What was the Starr office’s stance? In laying out his case, Mr. Rotunda played down arguments that permitting a president to be indicted would cripple the executive branch. Instead, he placed greater emphasis on immunity issues that the Nixon — and, later, Clinton — legal teams dismissed. Among them, he noted that the Constitution’s speech-or-debate clause explicitly grants limited immunity to lawmakers for certain actions. “If the framers of our Constitution wanted to create a special immunity for the president,” he argued, “they could have written the relevant clause.” He also wrote that the 25th Amendment, which allows for temporary replacement of a president who has become unable to carry out the duties of the office, created a mechanism that would keep the executive branch from becoming incapacitated if the president was on trial. And he noted that if indictments had to wait until a president’s term was up, some crimes would become untriable — such as those where the statute of limitations had run out. That could happen for crimes that do not rise to an impeachable offense, he wrote, citing the example of a president who punches an irritating heckler. “No one would suggest that the president should be removed from office simply because of that assault,” he wrote. “Yet the president has no right to assault hecklers. If there is no recourse against the president, if he cannot be prosecuted for violating the criminal laws, he will be above the law.” What has the Supreme Court said? The Supreme Court has never addressed the question of whether a sitting president can be indicted and tried. But in a landmark 1997 ruling, Clinton v. Jones, it permitted a lawsuit against Mr. Clinton for unofficial actions — accusations of misconduct before he became president — to proceed while he was in office. In his 2000 memo, Mr. Moss dismissed this ruling, emphasizing that the burdens of being a criminal defendant were greater than the burdens of being sued by a private litigant. But in the Starr office memo, Mr. Rotunda deemed the ruling far more significant for the criminal question. “If public policy and the Constitution allow a private litigant to sue a sitting president for acts that are not part of the president’s official duties (and are outside the outer perimeter of those duties), and that is what Clinton v. Jones squarely held,” he wrote, “then one would think that an indictment is constitutional because the public interest in criminal cases is greater.” Could Mueller go where no prosecutor has before? Even if Mr. Mueller were to uncover sufficient evidence to indict Mr. Trump, decide that the legal arguments in the Starr office memo were correct and conclude that he wanted to ask a grand jury for an indictment while Mr. Trump is president — all big ifs — yet another uncertainty would loom: whether he must accept the Office of Legal Counsel’s analysis, even if he disagreed with it. The Justice Department’s regulations give Mr. Mueller, as a special counsel, greater autonomy than an ordinary prosecutor, but still say he must follow its “rules, regulations, procedures, practices and policies.” They also permit Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to overrule Mr. Mueller if he tries to take a step that Mr. Rosenstein deems contrary to such practices. There is no guiding precedent about whether Office of Legal Counsel memos would fall into that category, or if a special counsel is free to reach his own legal judgments. But as Mr. Mueller’s office investigates, the ambiguity about the rules could influence calculations in the Trump camp about how much to cooperate and how much to fight, said Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor turned defense lawyer. “I would be surprised if Mueller indicted the president for the same prudential reasons that swayed Starr,” Mr. Mariotti said. “But the specter that he might do that could have an impact on things. If I were on the president’s team, I would say, ‘I don’t think it’s likely that he would, but it’s possible,’ depending on what the facts are.” source

Yesterday, 12:45 am by
Protests spread to more than 100 cities in Poland on Saturday after a bill that would give its populist government the power to push all the nation's Supreme Court judges into retirement passed the upper house of the National Assembly. President Andrzej Duda appears likely to sign the controversial bill into law. He has 21 days to sign or veto the legislation, which would also give the justice minister the power to pick the judges' replacements. Protesters have poured into the streets in cities across Poland to denounce the measure, with many fearing the country's position as a Western democracy is hanging in the balance. "This is the most important decisions (sic) of (Duda's) term; it's one of the most important decisions in the new Poland," said Adam Bodnar, Poland's human rights ombudsman. A poll conducted by CNN affiliate TVN found that 55% of Poles said Duda should veto the court laws; 29% said he should not. Critics of the bill point out the President does have an out, as the bill has glaring errors in its directives. The biggest mistake has one article saying the President elects three judges, while in another article it says the President elects five. Demonstrators came out and chanted "traitors!" and "disgrace!" shortly after the Senate approved the bill -- just before 2 a.m. local time -- following a 16-hour debate, TVN reported. "This is a protest to a great extent about the future," Bodnar said. "They've managed to make such huge protest because they were based on values and ideas and not under a particular party or banner."   Protesters demonstrate Friday outside the Polish Parliament as senators decide on the judiciary bill. Three protests are planned Sunday in Warsaw ahead of what is expected to be a big demonstration Monday evening urging Duda to veto the bill. He is due to meet the high court's chief justice Monday, a Senate statement said. The bill's passage could mark a turning point for the Eastern European country -- one of the first former communist nations to join the European Union. The move by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party, known as the PiS, to control one of the last remaining independent government institutions has prompted concern in Washington and triggered warnings from the European Union that it is putting judicial independence at risk. The party insists it is simply carrying out needed judicial reform. Protesters vow to carry on Warsaw resident Marcin Banaszkiewicz has been participating in protests since the proposal came to Parliament. "I remember how my parents protested in 1989," he told CNN on Saturday, proud of the demonstrations. "This is the same moment." Banaszkiewicz, who's not a member of any political party, now waits to see whether the President will sign the measure. "We will continue to meet in protest," he said. "Until it is signed, there is hope." Andrzej Tomasz Celinski said he was marching for the future of his 1-month-old son, Tomasz. Celinski said Saturday he was not surprised the bill passed and that he had little hope it would be vetoed. "Some still hope that President Duda might veto this change in our judicial system," he said. "But in the past he also showed that he is totally obedient to (the ruling party)." But he said he sees a silver lining to the situation -- in an awakened millennial generation that is active in politics and may help vote in a new government in the future. Banaszkiewicz agreed, saying that if Duda signs the bill, the focus needs to be on upcoming elections. However, he and others said they worry that removing the judiciary's independence could compromise free and fair elections.  Poland's Supreme Court determines the lawfulness of elections, and Bodnar, the human rights ombudsman, said "it is quote probable that this changes that."   Protesters hold candles during a demonstration Friday night outside the Polish Parliament. EU: Judicial independence at risk In a sign of the growing concern, a top EU official on Wednesday threatened the use of Article 7 -- a mechanism that would allow for sanctions against Poland and possible suspension of its voting rights in the bloc. The measure has never been used before. "Each individual law, if adopted, would seriously erode the independence of the Polish judiciary," said Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission. "Collectively, they would abolish any remaining judicial independence and put the judiciary under full political control of the government." European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish Prime Minister from the opposition Civic Platform party, warned Thursday of "dangerous consequences" for Poland's standing on the world stage and said he had asked Duda for an urgent meeting. "Bringing the courts under the control of the governing party in the manner proposed by the Law and Justice party ... will ruin the already tarnished public opinion about Polish democracy," he said.   Polish Ombudsman Adam Bodnar addresses a session of the Polish Senate on Friday.   But Poland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected such concerns. "The judicial reform bill in question will not affect the independence of courts or judges and seeks only to regain the citizens' respect for the judiciary," the ministry said. "Reforms proposed in Poland are in the spirit of judicial systems in other European countries." In a televised address Thursday, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo explained her party's effort toward what it says is judicial reform. "We know the courts are performing badly. That's why we are answering the expectations of the Polish people, who want them to perform well and fairly," she said, according to state media. "Today, this is not the case." If Duda does sign the measure into law, it sets up his government to clash with the European Union in Brussels. The bloc is set to reconvene to discuss Poland on July 26. Poland does have an EU ally -- Hungary -- and its support could derail attempts to pressure the country in corral the judiciary measures. "Because of our own national interest, because of Europe's and Poland's interest, we must make clear that the inquisition offensive against Poland can never succeed because Hungary will use all legal options" in the European Union to show solidarity with the Poles, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said Saturday. 'A political coup d'etat' The measure passed in the Senate early Saturday is one of four aimed at changing the judiciary. Last week, Duda approved the first law, which allows Parliament to appoint 15 of 25 members to the National Council of the Judiciary. The lower house of Parliament passed the latest bill Thursday.   Protesters hold candles and shout slogans as they demonstrate Friday in front of the Polish Parliament. Grzegorz Drobiszewski, president of the Young Democrats Association, a youth group connected with Poland's largest opposition party, accused the PiS on Saturday of "making a political coup d'etat" and attempting to take full control over the judicial system. "This is a clear violation of the principle of a tripartite power," he said. "Legislative, executive and judicial power in one hand is a dictatorship." Wojciech Mosiejczuk, a game designer and filmmaker, posted an image on Twitter of the Senate vote count, describing it as the "penultimate nail" in the coffin of Poland's judicial system.   Guy Verhofstadt, a Belgian lawmaker who leads the liberal grouping in the European Parliament, tweeted Saturday that he was confident those opposed to the bill would continue the fight. "Polish citizens know Poland can only be strong & prosperous if democratic and part of the EU. That's why they will never give up," Verhofstadt wrote.   Critics of the bill, and the opposition, admit the judiciary needs reform but disagree about the way in which the PiS has gone about it. "It is a situation (where) you should repair your house, mend windows, paint walls, seal the leaking roof," said Bodnar. "But you should not put explosives under foundations of the house." Visits by Trump, British royals The public outcry over efforts to curtail judiciary independence has flown largely under the radar amid recent high-profile visits to Poland by US President Donald Trump and the British royals. But the US State Department tweeted a warning Friday to Poland "to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate (the) constitution & respects judicial independence."   When asked whether the Trump administration would urge Duda to veto the measure, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said: "I am not aware if we will ask him to do that." Nauert said the State Department had passed along Washington's concern that the bill limits the judiciary and potentially weakens the rule of law. Since coming to power, the Law and Justice party has eroded other institutions and freedoms: The right to peaceful assembly has become more restricted, and new media laws have made it more difficult for the press to operate independently. Poland plummeted 29 spots in 2016's World Press Freedom Index, landing at No. 47. In 2017, it dropped to 54. source            

Yesterday, 11:42 pm by
Following on the heels of the health care debacle in the Senate, Mitch McConnell is desperate to get legislation passed that moves Trump’s agenda. That’s why he’s now trying to rush through an 850-page Energy Bill (The Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017 (S 1460)) that will lock the U.S. into fossil fuel dependency for decades. This bill is a dream come true for the fossil fuel industry.  It will: Expedite the review of Liquified Natural Gas export facilities in the US.  These facilities increase the demand for fracked natural gas, and then send that gas oversees. This would result in more communities harmed by natural gas fracking, pipelines, and facilities, and a big increase in climate emissions. Make the Federal Energy Resources Commission (FERC) the lead agency in authorizing natural gas projects.  FERC has a horrible track record, always approving pipelines approved by industry at the expense of local communities and the environment.  We need to curtail its power, not increase it. Increase funds for extraction of fossil fuels in coastal waters.  After the Deepwater Horizon debacle, we need to put a moratorium on off-shore drilling, not expand it. Expedite the process for allowing fracking on Federal lands. At the same time, this legislation does absolutely nothing to increase wind or solar power in the US.  At a time when the US needs to shift rapidly to clean energy sources, this legislation would move us backwards. There is still time to kill this bill.  Incredibly, Democrats in the Senate have not raised their voices in opposition, but they have the power to put the brakes on this bill. That’s why we all need to call our senators today, Republican or Democrat, and tell them to oppose The Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017.  You can reach your Senators through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, and tell them that they need to reject this deeply flawed energy bill that will lock the US into fracking and fossil fuels, without any support for wind or solar. source Read More: S.1460 - Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017 Environmentalists Urge Democrats to Join Sanders in Opposing Dirty Energy Bill Murkowski takes another crack at energy bill; OCS review opens

July 22, 2017 by
Congressional leaders have reached an agreement on sweeping sanctions legislation to punish Russia for its election-meddling and aggression toward its neighbors, they said Saturday, defying the White House’s argument that President Trump needs flexibility to adjust the sanctions to fit his diplomatic initiatives with Moscow. The new legislation sharply limits the president’s ability to suspend or terminate the sanctions. At a moment when investigations into the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian officials have cast a shadow over his presidency, Mr. Trump could soon face a bleak decision: veto the bill — and fuel accusations that he is doing the bidding of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — or sign legislation imposing sanctions his administration abhors. The White House has not publicly spoken about the compromise legislation. But two senior administration officials said they could not imagine Mr. Trump vetoing the legislation in the current political atmosphere, even if he regards it as interfering with his executive authority to conduct foreign policy. But as ever, Mr. Trump retains the capacity to surprise, and this would be his first decision about whether to veto a significant bill. Congress has complicated his choice because the compromise legislation also encompasses new sanctions against Iran and North Korea, two countries the administration has been eager to punish for its activities. A sanctions package had stalled in the Republican-led House for weeks after winning near-unanimous support in the Senate last month. Democrats accused Republicans of delaying quick action on the bill at the behest of the Trump administration, which had asked for more flexibility in its relationship with Russia and took up the cause of energy companies, defense contractors and other financial players who suggested that certain provisions could harm American businesses. The House version of the bill includes a small number of changes, technical and substantive, from the Senate legislation, including some made in response to concerns raised by oil and gas companies. But for the most part, the Republican leadership appears to have rejected most of the White House’s objections. The bill aims to punish Russia not only for interference in the election but also for its annexation of Crimea, continuing military activity in eastern Ukraine and human rights abuses. Proponents of the measure seek to impose sanctions on people involved in human rights abuses, suppliers of weapons to the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and those undermining cybersecurity, among others. Paired with the sanctions against Iran and North Korea, the House version of the bill was set for a vote on Tuesday, according to the office of Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the chamber’s majority leader. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin, Democrat of Maryland, praised a House bill that would impose sweeping sanctions on Russia. On Saturday, the agreement appeared destined for bipartisan, bicameral support. Senator Ben. Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that though he would have preferred full adoption of the Senate version, “I welcome the House bill, which was the product of intense negotiations.” He said the legislation would “express solidarity with our closest allies in countering Russian aggression and holding the Kremlin accountable for their destabilizing activities.” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the minority leader, said he expected this “strong” bill to reach the president’s desk promptly “on a broad bipartisan basis.” In the House, Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the minority whip, praised the agreement’s stipulation that “the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions.” But Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader, struck a notably different tone. In a statement, she said she was “concerned by changes insisted upon by Republicans” that would empower Republican leadership only to “originate actions in the House to prevent the Trump administration from rolling back sanctions.” She also registered concerns about adding sanctions against North Korea to the package, questioning whether it would prompt delays in the Senate. Mr. Schumer and Mr. Cardin expressed no such concerns. Republican leaders did not immediately release statements on Saturday. The delays in the House became a source of deep frustration among some Russia hawks, including Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, before he left Washington for medical treatment for a brain tumor. “Pass it, for Christ’s sake,” he said to his House colleagues, as the measure languished last week over technical concerns raised mostly by Republicans. As House Republican leaders like Speaker Paul D. Ryan chafed at the suggestion that they were doing the White House’s bidding by not taking up the measure immediately, the administration sought to pressure members by insisting that the legislation would unduly hamstring the president. Officials argued that Mr. Trump would be effectively handcuffed — deprived of the power to ease or lift the sanctions as he saw fit. The White House pushed to remove language giving Congress the ability to block such actions. source

July 22, 2017 by
Last month, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced his office would file a lawsuit against anti-choice protestors who've harassed patients and staffers at the Choices Women's Medical Center in Jamaica, Queens, since at least 2012. According to Schneiderman's formal complaint, over a dozen anti-choice activists initiated "a barrage of unwanted physical contact, as well as verbal abuse, threats of harm, and lies about the clinic's hours and its services," directed at the clinic's patients. The behavior wasn't just offensive, Schneiderman insisted, but against the law. He would sue. It isn't the first time. Schneiderman, who was elected attorney general in 2010 and re-elected in 2014, has been devoted to women's healthcare access for decades, representing abortion clinics pro-bono as a young lawyer and standing up for pro-choice legislation in the New York State Senate. In 2012, he sued to secure an expanded buffer zone around Planned Parenthood in Utica, New York. After Donald Trump's election—but before he could be inaugurated—Schneiderman introduced the "Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act of 2017," legislation that would ensure access to free contraception for New Yorkers, even if Trump repealed the Affordable Care Act. And in May, when lawmakers unveiled the American Health Care Act, Schneiderman didn't waste any time; he made it clear he would sue if it became law; the AHCA, he maintained, was "unconstitutional," placing an undue burden on a woman's right to choose. Schneiderman speaks at a NARAL rally in 2001, during his second term in the New York State Senate. If all this is for a good soundbite or good press or in pursuit of some eventual bid for even higher office after he seeks re-election in 2018, then Schneiderman deserves some credit for his forethought; without fanfare, he's been working to get women access to abortion services since 1972. Then fresh out of high school and not sure what he wanted to do next, Schneiderman moved to Washington, D.C. He found an office job, a gig so unremarkable he can hardly recall the details. It didn't last; soon, he'd met a group of people who were in the process of setting up an abortion clinic. And he wanted to be involved. It was the year before the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade. And in 1972, that meant abortion was legal in New York and D.C. and illegal everywhere else in the southeastern United States. "No one had any idea the Supreme Court was going to rule in Roe next year and change that," Schneiderman remembers. At the time, activists and medical professionals assumed that D.C. would be "the southernmost outpost" for women nationwide—a destination for reproductive health care services for decades to come. "And so there were people setting up clinics—doctors, activists, and businesspeople who thought this was an investment," Schneiderman says. It seemed like an opportunity. He applied for a job. Schneiderman landed "at the bottom of the food chain," an attendant whose job it was to stock supplies and to get women in an out of the clinic with as little drama as possible. At one point, he was dispatched to the national airport and instructed to pick up women "who were coming in from Atlanta or Chattanooga or wherever and bring them back and forth." "I didn't really pry a lot," Schneiderman says. "I was there trying to be professional and reassuring and sometimes people would share, but it's not like people felt like they had to get into the car and spill their guts to me." And yet the experience turned out to be "much richer and more emotional" than Schneiderman had anticipated, and the women made an impression on him, traveling to D.C. from all over the South to secure no less than their freedom. At the clinic, Schneiderman came to feel that the issue of choice was "not a controversial issue" at all. He'd borne witness; "if a woman can't control her own body, she isn't really free." Eric Schneiderman, during his time at Harvard Law School in the early 1980s. By the following year, Schneiderman was enrolled at Amherst College and the Roe decision had legalized abortion nationwide. Well, that's settled, he thought. He dropped in and out of school, was admitted to Harvard Law, and moved back to New York, where it became clear that the issue of access hadn't really been decided at all. It turned out, Schneiderman realized, that while the pro-choice movement celebrated, its opponents had been building a much stronger infrastructure "from the grassroots up." The battle was just getting started. Protests outside of clinics had turned violent. During Schneiderman's first term in the New York State Senate, Dr. Barnett Slepian, an abortion provider, was murdered at his home just outside of Buffalo, New York. Schneiderman raced to introduce legislation to protect clinics, but he watched as states nationwide began to pass restrictions to limit women's access. The pro-choice movement, he believed, had ceded essential ground; it couldn't compete with the kind of discipline and organization that those on the opposite side of the issue had developed. That is until the Supreme Court intervened once more. Over the past year or two, Schneiderman has become if not quite optimistic then at least heartened to see the pro-choice movement engage and organize. He points to the Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt case, which ruled in the clinic's favor in 2016; how "our side" coordinated amici briefs to support a woman's right to choose, how lawyers reached out to the public, how advocates learned to speak to people in words that resonated and galvanized. It had begun to feel to Schneiderman like a revival. And then came the 2016 election, and after it, the kind of full-blown resistance that gives even the hyper-grounded Schneiderman real, wide-eyed hope. "I think people are now much more focused on the fact that women's rights are under assault, in general, and reproductive health services are under assault, in particular," Schneiderman insists, leaning forward at his desk, an expanse of the Manhattan skyline behind him. "And if we don't fight back and fight back effectively, these rights are going to get eroded." The good news—he has a game plan. Here, he outlines how progressives can run and win. How do you think the pro-choice community's advocacy work around last year's Supreme Court case changed the way we talk about abortion in the United States? I'm a student of American political movements, and sometimes I've looked at the difference between the abortion rights movement and the LGBT rights movement over the same 30-year span. Instead of asking for tolerance, [the LGBT movement] began asking for equality. The abortion rights movement took sort of the opposite [approach], saying, "We can agree to disagree; people have conscience and different views on this." I think that the women who came forward to tell their stories [last year] personalized it and shifted public conscious and awareness. And to me, changing the language of the debate is as important as a legal victory, because if you want to build a movement that changes how people treat each other and how people think, you have to change the law, but you have to do more than change the law; you have to have people believe the law is just. The fact is it used to be that people were sort of shy when it came to talking about abortions and abortion rights, and that is less true and that's going to make ours a more effective movement and that's going to make us stronger. Obviously, we rely on federal law, but change happens at the state level, and it's states nationwide that are undermining access. How can progressives take that on and win back these state legislatures? What's the recourse? There's no substitute for the hard work of organizing in politics. I'm a lawyer and I'm proud of the work we do, going to court to try to stop bad things from happening and promoting good causes. But ultimately, it comes down to organizing and electing good people from the ground up, and there's no substitute for that. And I think there's an increased awareness of that since November. The notion that you vote once every four years for president, and that means you've done your civic duty is ridiculous, but we take it as a law of nature that there'll be a big fall-off in turnout for liberals, except for presidential years. Well, that's disgraceful and it's not a law of nature; that's just laziness on our side or failure to understand the consequences. In the meantime, you recently brought a lawsuit against protestors at the Choices Clinic in Queens, New York, following a very extensive investigation by your office. Tell me what exactly the case is against them. This is a situation where we were receiving complaints that a very aggressive campaign of harassment had started up outside the Choices Clinic. We had surveillance video from the clinic; we sent our investigators and looked into documents of what happened, and it was just very aggressive, appalling efforts to intimidate; screaming at patients that [they] could die at any moment, making references to shootings at Planned Parenthood clinics, physically blocking women and hustling people, pushing them. Some women have to bring their children to the clinic, [and protestors have been] harassing the children going in. It was really nasty stuff. We documented it and went into court. We're seeking a buffer zone to cover the sidewalk and to ensure there are protections for these women. Before I was AG, this office was involved in litigation over buffer zones, and there's a case law in New York, and we have a federal [Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances] Act, and we have a clinic access bill that I was the sponsor of when I was in the New York State Senate, so we are quite optimistic that we're going to get an injunction to protect this clinic and end this harassment and let these women proceed with dignity to make these important decisions about their own bodies. It seems to me like over past six months, we've seen intimidation at all levels of government, and we've seen it used as a tool of harassment nationwide. Those who want to do it will tell you it's free speech. Why are they wrong? The cases are very clear on this. You can stand anywhere where you're not impeding someone's access to a constitutionally protected right to reproductive health services and you can state your point of view. You can give a speech. You can publish whatever you want. But you're not allowed to blockade an entranceway and scream insults at women and say they're going to die and go to hell in an effort to intimidate them and stop from accessing a constitutional right. There are pretty clear laws about what is acceptable free speech. For example, blackmail is speech, if you think about it that way, and the law is clear that you can't use a free speech defense to claim you're allowed to blackmail this person. Eric Schneiderman, around the time he went to work in an abortion clinic in Washington, D.C. There are lots of case where there are limits of speech based on other rights, and this is one that courts have been balancing for some time, so I feel that we have developed a good record on this particular case, but your point is right. It does feel like these instances are part of a much larger effort to more aggressively than ever deny women these basic rights—whether it's Trump trying to change the rule so that employers can opt out of providing coverage under moral exceptions or it's the provisions in these healthcare bills that passed the House and [were] considered in the Senate that would have a devastating effect on reproductive health services. You've spoken out about these issues, in particular. What would your office do to prevent these kinds of measures from taking effect? We have said that we would challenge the House bill on a constitutional basis, if it became law, and we'll see what comes out of the Senate. Whether people like it or not, women have a constitutional right to an abortion, and you can't impose a burden on a constitutional right. The Supreme Court has said that; it's not just good wishes. And we are prepared to stand up in court and defend women's rights and defend human rights, but at the end of the day, as much as we can win there, it comes back to doing the hard work of politics. We have to elect new people and better people, and we have to shift public awareness so people do understand that this is a matter of freedom. This is not something that should be up for debate, and in much of the world, it's not. It's scary because we're talking about real people's lives and real people can really be hurt. We've tried to be focused on the substance and not be distracted by the personal quirks or conduct of people in the administration or in Congress, as fascinating as those are. We're focused on whether people will lose their healthcare coverage, will people be wrongfully deported, is the air going to get dirtier? Why do you think that some people still see fit to debate whether or not Democratic Party candidates need to be pro-choice? There are very few issues on which donors and activists are more guilty of cutting people too much slack than on abortion rights. That needs to change. A candidate comes in and says, "I'm pro-choice," and that's the last time they'll say the word "choice" until they come back in four years to run for reelection. This was 10 or 12 years ago, but I've been saying for over a decade that we really need to push for more than "checklist liberals," people who say they support access, but don't introduce legislation to protect it, for example. We need to demand more; evidence of what they've done. And I think the movement is shifting people into that place. People want results. They want action. They need to harass elected officials, including me, but that's good; harassing elected officials is part of your duty as a citizen. Like you said, there are many reasons why reproductive rights are still up for debate in the United States, but sexism or at least some men's unwillingness to stand up for a woman's right to choose in public is a factor. Clearly, that has never been a problem for you. Please advise men: How should they be advocating for the women in their lives? The fact is I have real clarity on my position on these issues. I just have a clarity about it, and I'm not insecure and I'm not threatened by people. And I think that's the first step—to be clear and grounded and be steady so that when you speak up, speak from a place of calm, but firm understanding of where you are on an issue. I think it makes it easier. I think there are too many folks—men and women—who are still kind of uncomfortable talking about [abortion], and that makes it harder to be honest. I don't know anyone who doesn't know someone or has had her own experience with an abortion. It just doesn't happen. The truth of the matter is for most Americans who say they are against abortions, if something happened to a family member or friend in their personal life, they would be overwhelmingly likely to look the other way and not cut the other person off and sever the relationship. Really, the struggle of abortion rights is about equality, yes. But it's also about justice because rich people will always have access to abortions. Let's be really honest: What we're really talking about is poor and working-class women who would struggle and be hurt by these restrictions, who would have trouble getting on an airplane to fly to somewhere. This is an issue of justice and an issue of equality, and when you talk about it, you need to have that clarity. Where did you find that clarity? In my case, it was listening to people and watching what was going on. I listened to women talking to the doctors and the people who worked in the clinic. I listened to social workers who were understanding these stories. It was obvious to me that these were very decent human beings who were trying to manage their lives as best as they could and had to flee from their homes in order to get basic health services. And I heard the doctors, too, who talked a lot about the fact that they viewed their role as saving women's lives because when you don't have legal abortion, women's health suffers and people die. Eric Schneiderman, with his daughter, Catherine. In a way, it was all much starker then. It was clear what happened in a state where abortion was illegal and what happened in a jurisdiction where it was legal, and there was a much starker choice to be made. But it suits the other side to make it all hazier. Back then, we were in this time of tremendous activism—the anti-war movement, challenging authority. But I think we're now seeing even better organizing than what was done then. People are running for office, training others to run for office, keeping themselves educated. After the election, I was afraid people would go to one or two demonstrations and then go home. That hasn't happened. People are staying involved and staying active, and that's historically how the United States has gotten better. We are a more just and more equal country than we were 100 years ago, and 100 years ago, we were more equal than 100 years before that. That's our national trajectory. That's our mission. source

July 22, 2017 by
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner “inadvertently omitted” more than 70 assets worth at least $10.6 million from his personal financial disclosure reports, according to revised paperwork released Friday. White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner listens during President Donald Trump’s joint news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., on March 17, 2017. The previously unreported assets were included in updated disclosure reports certified by the U.S. Office of Government Ethics on Thursday as part of the “ordinary review process,” according to Kushner’s filing. Among the new set of assets Kushner disclosed, which could be worth as much as $51 million, he reported owning an art collection worth between $5 million and $25 million. The new forms also reflect that Kushner sold his interest in an aging shopping mall along the Jersey Shore, and no longer has a stake in a company that had held an interest in apartments in Toledo, Ohio. Kushner also clarified his $5 million to $25 million stake in a holding company that owns Cadre, a real estate tech startup he co-founded with his brother, Joshua, that investors valued at $800 million. Kushner’s wife and the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, also filed new federal disclosures. She reported assets of at least $66 million and earned at least $13.5 million in income last year from her various business ventures, including more than $2.4 million from the new Trump hotel near the White House. The filings reflect the extraordinary wealth of Trump and her husband, who jointly made at least $100 million since the beginning of 2016 and hold at least $206 million in combined assets, including some that they report are being sold off. The couple stepped down from running their companies and left behind their lavish Manhattan apartment to move their three small children to Washington earlier this year. The new disclosures come as Kushner faces renewed questions about his vast business holdings and how they may conflict with his role shaping public policy. A lawyer advising Kushner said that federal officials are allowed to amend their initial financial disclosures before they are certified, and stressed that Kushner had complex finances. “Jared and Ivanka have followed each of the required steps in their transition from private citizens to federal officials. The Office of Government Ethics has certified Jared’s financial disclosure, reflecting its determination that his approach complies with federal ethics laws,” said Kushner attorney Jamie Gorelick. “Ivanka’s financial disclosure form is still in the pre-certification stage, as she began the process later.” Clay Johnson, who served as President George W. Bush’s director of presidential personnel, said he was surprised by the sheer number of updates six months in. “The way we ran it … is that the general direction to all nominees is tell us what we ask for now. We will then stand behind you whatever may come in. But there are to be no surprises,” said Johnson, who also served as Bush’s deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget. The federal disclosures filed by Ivanka Trump were her first since taking on an official, unpaid role at the White House. The bulk of her assets came from the $50 million value she placed on her business trust, formed to hold a collection of her businesses and corporations. The trust produced between $1 million and $5 million in income. Trump got $2.5 million in salary and severance when she resigned from the Trump Organization in January. She received $787,500 as an advance for her book, “Women Who Work.” In addition, Trump also revealed that she will be receiving recurring annual payments totaling $1.5 million from some of her real estate and consulting interests, according to agreements she worked out in consultation with the Office of Government Ethics. Her filing notes that the fixed payments were necessary to reduce her interest in the performance of the businesses. The documents also show that the young couple resigned from a wide array of corporate positions: Kushner stepped down from 266 such posts, while Trump resigned from 292 positions. The form requires officials to report their income within ranges, which makes it difficult to determine the couple’s exact wealth. A White House spokesman said Kushner sold his interest in the Monmouth Mall in Eatontown, New Jersey, in May. His family company recently received approval from town officials to greatly expand the mall in the face of opposition, and now is embroiled in a related lawsuit filed by four residents. Kushner reported receiving at least $2.1 million in income from the property. He also no longer owns a company holding an interest in several apartment complexes in Toledo, Ohio. Those complexes are part of the Kushner Cos.’ garden apartment business that includes more than 20,000 units in six states. The Toledo apartments are no longer listed on the Kushner Cos. website, suggesting that the company may have sold them off. Representatives of the Kushner Cos. did not immediately respond for comment. source Read More: Report: Ivanka Trump And Jared Kushner Have Raked In $212 Million Since 2016

July 22, 2017 by
President Donald Trump’s administration has ended Affordable Care Act contracts that brought assistance into libraries, businesses and urban neighborhoods in 18 cities, meaning shoppers on the insurance exchanges will have fewer places to turn for help signing up for coverage. Community groups say the move, announced to them by contractors last week, will make it even more difficult to enroll the uninsured and help people already covered re-enroll or shop for a new policy. That’s already a concern because of consumer confusion stemming from the political wrangling in Washington and a shorter enrollment period. People will have 45 days to shop for 2018 coverage, starting Nov. 1 and ending Dec. 15. In previous years, they had twice that much time. Some see it as another attempt to undermine the health law’s marketplaces by a president who has suggested he should let “Obamacare” fail. The administration, earlier this year, pulled paid advertising for the sign-up website HealthCare.gov, prompting an inquiry by a federal inspector general into that decision and whether it hurt sign-ups. Protestors gather during a demonstration against the Republican repeal of the Affordable Care Act, outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 21, 2017. Now insurers and advocates are concerned that the administration could further destabilize the marketplaces where people shop for coverage by not promoting them or not enforcing the mandate compelling people to get coverage. The administration has already threatened to withhold payments to insurers to help people afford care, which would prompt insurers to sharply increase prices. “There’s a clear pattern of the administration trying to undermine and sabotage the Affordable Care Act,” said Elizabeth Hagan, associate director of coverage initiatives for the liberal advocacy group Families USA. “It’s not letting the law fail, it’s making the law fail.” Two companies — McLean, Virginia-based Cognosante LLC and Falls Church, Virginia-based CSRA Inc. — will no longer help with the sign-ups following a decision by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials not to renew a final option year of the vendors’ contracts. The contracts, awarded in 2013, were never meant to be long term, said CMS spokeswoman Jane Norris in an email. “These contracts were intended to help CMS provide temporary, in-person enrollment support during the early years” of the exchanges, Norris said. Other federally funded help with enrollment will continue, she said, including a year-round call center and grant-funded navigator programs. The existing program is “robust” and “we have the on-the-ground resources necessary” in key cities, Norris said. But community advocates expected the vendors’ help for at least another year. “It has our heads spinning about how to meet the needs in communities,” said Inna Rubin of United Way of Metro Chicago, who helps run an Illinois health access coalition. CSRA’s current $12.8 million contract expires Aug. 29. Cognosante’s $9.6 million contract expires the same date. Together, they assisted 14,500 enrollments, far less than 1 percent of the 9.2 million people who signed up through HealthCare.gov, the insurance marketplace serving most states. But some advocates said the groups focused on the healthy, young adults needed to keep the insurance markets stable and prices down. During the most recent open enrollment period, they operated in the Texas cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, McAllen and El Paso; the Florida cities of Miami, Tampa and Orlando; Atlanta; northern New Jersey; Phoenix; Philadelphia; Indianapolis; New Orleans; Charlotte, North Carolina; Cleveland and Chicago. The insurance exchanges, accessed by customers through the federal HealthCare.gov or state-run sites, are a way for people to compare and shop for insurance coverage. The health law included grant money for community organizations to train people to help consumers apply for coverage, answer questions and explain differences between the insurance policies offered. In Illinois, CSRA hired about a dozen enrollment workers to supplement a small enrollment workforce already in the state, Rubin said. The company operated a storefront enrollment center in a Chicago neighborhood from November through April. “It was a large room in a retail strip mall near public transit with stations set up where people could come in and sit down” with an enrollment worker, Rubin said. CSRA spokesman Tom Doheny in an email said the company “is proud of the work we have accomplished under this contract.” He referred other questions to federal officials. Cognosante worked on enrollment in nine cities in seven states, according to a June 6 post on the company’s website. The work included helping “more than 15,000 Texas consumers” and staffing locations “such as public libraries and local business offices.” A Cognosante spokeswoman referred questions to federal officials. The health care debate in Congress has many consumers questioning whether “Obamacare” still exists, community advocates said. “What is the goal of the Trump administration here? Is it to help people? Or to undermine the Affordable Care Act?” said Rob Restuccia, executive director of Boston-based Community Catalyst, a group trying to preserve the health care law. source

July 21, 2017 by
The leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee have cut a deal with President Donald Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort to avoid a high-profile public hearing next week, with the two men agreeing to provide records to the panel and to be privately interviewed ahead of any public session. In a joint statement, panel Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein said, "(W)e will not issue subpoenas for them tonight requiring their presence at Wednesday's hearing but reserve the right to do so in the future." The committee has issued a subpoena for Glenn Simpson, the co-founder of Fusion GPS, the political firm that compiled a dossier at the center of the federal Russia probe. Attorneys for Simpson say he will not accept the committee's invitation to testify Wednesday.   Grassley and Feinstein said in their statement: "Glenn Simpson, through his attorney, has declined to voluntarily attend Wednesday's Judiciary Committee hearing regarding compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Therefore, a subpoena has been issued to compel his attendance. Simpson's attorney has asserted that his client will invoke his Fifth Amendment rights in response to the subpoena." The subpoena was served by email Friday afternoon. Also on Friday, the House intelligence committee announced it will interview Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner on Tuesday as part of its probe into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. Kushner is being interviewed by the Senate Intelligence Committee on Monday. source

July 21, 2017 by
The state Democratic Party — led by Gov. Cuomo — is taking aim at breakaway Democrats who have helped the GOP maintain control of the state Senate, sources said. The state Democratic committee will vote on Wednesday whether to demand that members of Independent Democratic Conference end their alliance with Republicans — or else. Those that don’t may no longer receive donations from the state party or get help from local Democratic clubs gathering signatures on nominating petitions. Republicans hold just 31 of the 63 seats in the Senate. But they call the shots by counting Democrat Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn) as a member of their conference, while making deals with the 8-member IDC led by Sen. Jeff Klein (D-Bronx). Cuomo has claimed that he’s done all he can to get the IDC and mainstream Democrats back together. “I can facilitate a marriage, but that assumes you have two parties who want to marry each other. If they don’t want to marry, I have no power or role in forcing the marriage. There is no political shotgun-marriage equivalent,” he said on July 11. The retaliation threat by the state party comes as Cuomo tries to clear the deck for his re-election and possibly the 2020 presidential race. He promised mainstream Senate Democrats during a meeting this week in his midtown office that he would work toward winning a majority in the chamber next year, Politico reported. Critics on the left say Cuomo has been far too accommodating of the rebel Democrats and hasn’t exerted pressure on them to return to the Democratic fold. It’s a story line that’s been picked up by national media. “This is another political stunt by people more interested in getting print than votes. We will see you at the polls,” said IDC spokeswoman Candice Giove. source

July 21, 2017 by
Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, resigned on Friday morning, telling President Trump he vehemently disagreed with the appointment of the New York financier Anthony Scaramucci as communications director. Mr. Trump offered Mr. Scaramucci the job at 10 a.m. The president requested that Mr. Spicer stay on, but Mr. Spicer told Mr. Trump that he believed the appointment was a major mistake, according to person with direct knowledge of the exchange. Mr. Spicer’s turbulent tenure as the president’s top spokesman was marked by a combative style with the news media that spawned a caricature of him on “Saturday Night Live.” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, during a briefing last month. His rumored departure has been one of the longest-running internal sagas in an administration brimming with dissension and intrigue. A former Republican National Committee spokesman and strategist, Mr. Spicer was a frequent target of the president’s ire — and correctives — during the first few months of the administration. His resignation of Mr. Spicer was also a blow to the White House chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the former Republican Party chairman who brought Mr. Spicer into the West Wing despite skepticism from Mr. Trump, who initially questioned his loyalty. Mr. Scaramucci was to meet with Mr. Priebus on Friday, according to a West Wing official — and applause could be heard in the second-floor communications hallway when Mr. Scaramucci was introduced. His appointment came two months after the previous communications director, Mike Dubke, stepped down. Mr. Trump was frustrated with Mr. Priebus over the slow pace of finding a replacement, according to a half-dozen people familiar with the situation. Mr. Trump made the appointment over the objection of Mr. Priebus, who thought Mr. Scaramucci lacked the requisite organizational or political experience. But the president believed Mr. Scaramucci, a ferocious defender of Mr. Trump’s on cable television, was best equipped to play the same role in-house, and he offered him a role with far-reaching powers independent of Mr. Priebus’s. When Mr. Spicer flatly rejected the president’s offer of a position subordinate to Mr. Scaramucci, according to two administration officials familiar with the exchange. The appointment of Mr. Scaramucci, a favorite of Mr. Trump’s earliest campaign supporters, was backed by the president’s daughter Ivanka, his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, the officials said. source