President Donald Trump has dedicated his administration to “law and order.” Perhaps keeping that in mind, ahead of his meeting with the president, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback said prison reform isn’t soft on crime, but “smart on crime.”
Numerous states have enacted criminal justice laws to lighten penalties for non-violent offenders and help ex-prisoners transition into society to reduce recidivism. At the encourage of White House adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, Trump is taking a national look at the matter.
Brownback, a Republican, said his state can offer a national example for what the country wants to do with the federal Bureau of Prisons, talking about two things that worked in Kansas.
“One is mentoring. Mentoring is critical. We’ve matched 7,500 prisoners who came out with a mentor on the outside. They’ve got to be matched,” Brownback told The Daily Signal outside the White House before the meeting with President Donald Trump and other governors Thursday about prison reform.
Brownback joined the Trump meeting in the Roosevelt Room with fellow Republican governors, Matt Bevin of Kentucky and Nathan Deal of Georgia. Both enacted similar policies to shift the focus to better integrate former prisoners for reentry to become productive and not return to crime.
“The second is to really engage their inside, their hopes, their dreams, their soul, that you can be better,” Brownback continued. “We have a lot of people [who] are generally faith-based that become involved in these programs. They mentor, but they also engage the person’s soul. Everything is voluntary. We’ve dropped the recidivism rate in half with mentoring and really engaging the soul.”
Reform the justice system to help focus on job training and rehabilitation for inmates about to be released has bipartisan support. Many conservatives back it, asserting fiscal success at the state level, while effectively reducing crime and recidivism. Also, liberals have long opposed overcrowded prisons and mandatory sentencing.
In Texas, crime dropped by 31 percent over the last decade, while incarceration has decreased by 21 percent over that time, with eight prisons closing even as the state’s population has sharply increased, noted Brooke Rollins, president of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which founded the Right on Crime initiative.
“This is a big opportunity for the country,” Rollins told The Daily Signal before the meeting.
“Texas has closed eight prisons even while our population has exploded. These people are all nonviolent offenders,” Rollins continued. “We’ve done this through drug courts, mental health treatment, and probation to keep people out of prison and put people back to work.”
Trump told the gathering that the administration “is committed to helping inmates become productive law-abiding members of society” through job-training programs, mentoring, and drug addiction treatment.
“We’ll be discussing a number of opportunities to improve our prison system and promote public safety,” Trump said. “We can help break this vicious cycle.”
Trump added that rehabilitation and re-entry initiatives could be “a ladder of opportunity for the future.”
The policy is not at all contrary to law and order, said John Malcolm, head of the Institute for Constitutional Government at The Heritage Foundation.
“If you focus on the population that is going to be released from prison and is reentering society, you should want to reduce the risk they will go back to a life of crime,” Malcolm told The Daily Signal in a phone interview.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the number one topic at the meeting was reducing former inmates returning to crime. She also confirmed that Kushner was leading the effort.
“He’s hoping to lead that conversation and put stakeholders together from a number of different areas that have expertise on this matter,” Sanders said during the press briefing Thursday.
Bevin made an economic case.
“The workforce in America demands this, is begging for this,” Bevin said during the top of the meeting. “There are millions of jobs that need to be filled. ,,, We need them to become a functional part of our economic society.”
Sessions, who has made tough action a hallmark of the Justice Department, welcomed the ideas.
“Frankly we got a report late last year that the money isn’t being spent well,” Sessions said., speaking of the federal prison system.
The rate of imprisonment for black adults fell almost 30 percent over a decade, according to a Wednesday report from the Department of Justice.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics released its statistics on the United States prison population and the rate of imprisonment among different groups, according to a release from the Bureau. Among its findings was that black Americans’ rate of imprisonment declined by 29 percent between 2006 and 2016.
“During the decade between 2006 and 2016, the rate of imprisonment decreased 29 percent for black adults, 15 percent for white adults and 20 percent for Hispanic adults,” the report read.
The Bureau also noted that the prison rate also declined across the board for Hispanics, non-Hispanic white people and non-Hispanic black Americans during the period of 2015-2016.
“The imprisonment rate decreased for non-Hispanic adult black, non-Hispanic adult white and adult Hispanic prisoners from 2015 to 2016. The rate of imprisonment decreased 4 percent for black adults (from 1,670 to 1,608 per 100,000), 2 percent for white adults (from 281 to 274 per 100,000) and 1 percent for adult Hispanic prisoners (from 862 to 856 per 100,000),” a press release read.
A recent study argued that the United States was keeping people in prison for too long and suggested the country get rid of its life without parole sentences.
“Everyone deserves a meaningful chance of release,” the Urban Institute study said. “People should not be forever judged solely based on their crime but should instead be evaluated based on who they are now.”
Reversing Obama-era policy, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has given federal prosecutors the discretion to prosecute marijuana traffickers.
That’s good news for those who believe in the rule of law. And good news, too, for those concerned about public health and the safety of our nation’s youth.
On Jan. 4, Sessions revoked the Cole Memo, a 2014 Justice Department directive issued by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole. The memo essentially gave marijuana producers and distributors in states that had legalized the drug immunity for violating federal drug laws.
Sessions’ directive gives the 94 U.S. attorneys all over the country clear guidance for deciding when to prosecute those who violate federal law prohibiting marijuana cultivation and distribution.
The Baby Boomers reading this column should realize that the marijuana being produced today is many times stronger and more potent than what we saw in the 1960s.
The science today is also much clearer: We have far greater knowledge of the long-term, deleterious effects of marijuana on the physical and mental health of users, particular children and teenagers.
The bottom line: Today’s pot is a potentially dangerous substance. That’s why it is classified as a Schedule I controlled drug along with heroin, LSD, and ecstasy—it isn’t alcohol.
While alcohol can be abused, it is not addictive for most people. Moreover, most consumers stop well shy of the point of intoxication. Moderate amounts even have some positive health benefits such as reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Compared to alcohol, we now know that long-term marijuana use can cause physical disorders such as respiratory disease, social problems such as anomie, and mental health problems such as schizophrenia, something we didn’t know about in the 1960s.
Its effect on the young may be more pernicious. It may impair the brain development of children and teenagers. It is associated with lower test scores and lower education attainment. Teenagers who use pot are also much less likely to graduate from college and much more likely to attempt suicide.
Today’s pot is genetically modified to boost the “high” a user can get. The goal, naturally, is to get more people hooked on pot, just like Big Tobacco’s goal was to get more people hooked on cigarettes.
Today’s pot pushers are just Big Tobacco 2.0. Why else would they be infusing THC, the active ingredient, into everything from cookies to ice cream to Gummy Bears?
These products directly target the young, creating serious risks for children who may not know what they are ingesting and teenagers who use these products to hide what they are doing from their parents.
States like Colorado that have legalized marijuana use have seen huge increases in marijuana-related traffic accidents and fatalities as well as accidental poisonings of both children and pets. Pot use by teenagers, who are most vulnerable to its damaging effects, has also greatly increased, as have school suspensions and expulsions for pot use.
The Cole Memo ignored all of this information, directing federal prosecutors to back off enforcement.
So does Sessions’ directive mean federal prosecutors are now going to go after the college kid who smokes a joint in his dormitory?
Of course not. U.S. attorneys have limited resources. They don’t prosecute misdemeanors. The only criminals they will take to court are the large-scale manufacturers and distributors.
Revenue-hungry lawmakers in states like California and Colorado may be willing to trade the problems created by marijuana legalization for the tax bonanza they expect to reap. But it’s a very raw deal for their neighbors.
States like Nebraska and Oklahoma have complained that Colorado’s legalization has increased trafficking into their states, with all of the myriad problems associated with increased drug abuse.
As Sessions’ memo notes, Congress “determined that marijuana is a dangerous drug and that marijuana activity is a serious crime.” The attorney general has no authority to simply decide not to enforce a law, which is exactly what the Holder/Lynch Justice Department did.
States cannot authorize parties to engage in conduct that federal law prohibits and as long as the Controlled Substances Act is on the books, states cannot tell their citizens to disregard it.
From a policy standpoint, it is wise to battle the growth of an industry that distributes a potentially dangerous drug in what is a national market and thus a national, not just a local, problem.
But Sessions has also done the right thing from a legal standpoint. He has acted to preserve a constitutional government in which Congress determines what the law is, and the president and the attorney general fulfill their duty to enforce the law—not ignore it.
Two prominent conservative lawmakers say Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop leaks to the media about the Russia probe or step down as attorney general.
Sessions “has recused himself from the Russia investigation, but it would appear he has no control at all of the premier law enforcement agency in the world,” Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, write in an op-ed published Thursday by the Washington Examiner.
“It is time for Sessions to start managing [the Justice Department] in a spirit of transparency to bring all of this improper behavior to light and stop further violations,” the lawmakers wrote.
Meadows, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, and Jordan, a former chairman of the group, write that the attorney general hasn’t done enough to stop leaks about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, including alleged collusion with Donald Trump’s campaign:
The alarming number of FBI agents and [Department of Justice] officials sharing information with reporters is in clear violation of the investigative standards that Americans expect and should demand. How would New York Times reporters know any of this information when the FBI and DOJ are prohibited from talking about ongoing investigations?
If Sessions can’t address this issue immediately, then we have one final question needing an answer: When is it time for a new attorney general? Sadly, it seems the answer is now.
The FBI is part of the Justice Department, which Sessions runs as attorney general. The former Alabama senator recused himself from any Russia probe because of his role in the Trump campaign.
The two lawmakers specify a Dec. 30 story in The New York Times that they say used “four current and former anonymous intelligence officials to suggest that George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign volunteer, was a ‘driving factor’ who triggered the FBI’s spying on the Trump campaign.”
The Times reported that Papadopoulos, a low-level foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, told an Australian diplomat that Russia had emails embarrassing to Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the election.
The lawmakers lay out detailed questions, in five categories, that they say must be answered to understand why government officials leaked the information in the first place.
Their last group of questions:
Why won’t the FBI answer questions from Congress on this very topic? Why do they continue to refuse transparency on whether they paid Christopher Steele for the Russian dossier? We in Congress have asked them repeatedly to tell us what was in the application they took to the FISA court to get a warrant for spying on the Trump campaign. Did they use the dossier in their application?
Steele, a former British intelligence officer, authored a document containing allegations about Trump’s connections with Russia. Steele wrote the so-called dossier for Fusion GPS, a research company that was paid by the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.
“It seems remarkably odd that instead of the FBI answering the critical questions that Congress has repeatedly asked, they instead leak a far-fetched and ill-supported story to the New York Times,” Jordan and Meadows write. “If this is the truth, then give us the documentation we’ve asked for to prove it.”
The New York attorney general has transformed his office into a bastion of the resistance movement by taking 100 legal or administrative actions against the Trump administration this year.
Eric Schneiderman’s legal team sued the Federal Communications Commission over its rollback of net neutrality regulations, challenged each successive version of the travel ban in court, and filed innumerable amicus briefs and formal letters challenging the perceived gutting of consumer finance protections and civil rights.
“We try and protect New Yorkers from those who would do them harm,” Schneiderman told The New York Times in a recent interview. “The biggest threat to New Yorkers right now is the federal government, so we’re responding to it.”
Though other state attorneys general have taken to challenging President Donald Trump in court, Schneiderman has taken a particularly aggressive stance, bolstering his political capital in a virulently anti-Trump state.
Enmity between the pair goes back a long way, beginning in earnest when Schneiderman spearheaded the investigation into fraudulent practices at Trump University in 2014. Since that time, Trump has referred to the attorney general as a “total lightweight,” a “total loser,” and “the nation’s worst AG.” Trump has also suggested Schneiderman should submit to a drug test because the attorney general “cannot be a cokehead.” Trump reached a settlement in the Trump University case in 2016.
Schneiderman’s office has maintained a rapid pace, challenging the administration at every turn. Most recently, New York joined 14 other states in suing the Environmental Protection Agency “for failing to meet the Clean Air Act’s statutory deadline” on air pollutant levels. The state also recently sued the administration for refusing to pay for a 17-year-old illegal immigrant’s abortion.
Revelations that FBI investigators who were part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team sent each other derogatory text messages about Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign dominated a House hearing Wednesday featuring the No. 2 Justice Department official.
The electronic messages disparaging Trump fit into a larger pattern of partisanship undermining the integrity of Mueller’s ongoing probe into allegations the Trump campaign team colluded with Russia, according to legal analysts and government watchdogs.
The Justice Department submitted copies of about 375 of the two FBI agents’ text messages to Congress on Tuesday night, as Politico reported and Republican and Democrat lawmakers confirmed Wednesday during the House Judiciary Committee hearing.
The text messages include several exchanges between Peter Strzok, an official who served in the FBI’s counterintelligence division, and Lisa Page, an FBI attorney. Strzok and Page reportedly were having an extramarital affair at the time they sent the text messages about Trump and other 2016 presidential candidates.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Strzok’s “strident” texts created an appearance of impropriety and was one reason to appoint a second special counsel to look into wrongdoing within the FBI and the Justice Department designed to “hang” Trump.
“Were you aware of just how biased Mr. Strzok was?” Rep. Louis Gohmert, R-Texas, asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein during the hearing.
“No, I was not,” Rosenstein replied.
“It’s not just the FBI agents and their obvious partisanship,” Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal analyst at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal. “It is now a whole series of disturbing revelations about the lawyers hired by Mueller that show the same level of bias, partisanship, and conflicts of interest.”
The text messages first came to light as the department’s Office of Inspector General conducted an internal review of the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct official business as secretary of state from 2009 through 2012.
Clinton, the Democrats’ 2016 presidential nominee, was cleared before the election of any criminal activity by then-FBI Director James Comey, who Trump fired less than four months into his presidency.
The dates of the text messages by Strzok and Page range from August 2015 to December 2016, according to The Washington Times and other media outlets that obtained copies. Fox News Channel reported that officials were reviewing more than 10,000 messages.
Republican lawmakers noted that Strzok was lead investigator in the probe of Clinton’s secret email setup, and identified him as the one who urged Comey to use the words “extremely careless” rather than the legally weighted “grossly negligent” to describe Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state.
Mueller removed Strzok from his investigative team about five months ago, in July, after learning of the text messages. Strzok was in charge of the FBI’s investigation into Clinton’s private email server prior to joining Mueller’s team.
Page, the FBI lawyer, also served on Mueller’s investigative team, but by the time Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz’s probe uncovered the text messages, she had returned to other duties at the FBI.
Strzok and Page referred to Trump as an “idiot” during the Republican primaries, the text messages show. Other exchanges indicate that the pair supported Clinton for president over Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in the Democratic primaries.
Politico noted a March 2016 text in which Page declared: “God trump is a loathsome human…omg he’s an idiot.”
“He’s awful,” wrote back Strzok, who also texted that Trump was an “idiot” in another exchange.
House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., expressed concern about partisan inclinations within the Justice Department and FBI in a statement he released during the oversight hearing, when committee members questioned Rosenstein about the text messages, the Russia probe, and the Clinton email investigation.
“Reports on the political predisposition, and potential bias, of certain career agents and department lawyers on Special Counsel Mueller’s team are deeply troubling to all citizens who expect a system of blind and equal justice,” Goodlatte said. “DOJ investigations must not be tainted by individuals imposing their own political prejudices. We are now beginning to better understand the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller’s team.”
Rosenstein appointed the former FBI director as special counsel after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe because of his advisory role in the Trump campaign. The deputy attorney general repeatedly defended Mueller’s investigation during the hearing from Republican lawmakers who cited evidence of political bias on the part of key investigators.
“I’m not aware of any impropriety, I’m not aware of any violation of rules,” Rosenstein said early on, a refrain he would repeat while declining to address the appearance of impropriety.
“How can you say with a straight face that this group of Democrat partisans are unbiased and will give Trump a fair shake?” Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, asked at one point.
“This guy thought he was super agent James Bond at the FBI,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said of Strzok, pointing to texts in which Strzok appeared to see it as his mission to protect the nation from Trump.
Jordan said Americans have lost trust in Mueller and the Russia investigation, and Rosenstein ought to disband it and begin to probe efforts within Justice and the FBI to undermine Trump as president.
The inspector general at Justice is doing that already, Rosenstein repeated.
“What’s it going to get to get a second special counsel to answer these questions?” Jordan shot back.
“High-ranking FBI officials involved in the Clinton investigation were personally invested in the outcome of the election,” Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, says during Wednesday’s hearing. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters/Newscom)
In his statement, Goodlatte specified major issues with the special counsel’s probe of possible coordination between Trump campaign operatives and Russian officials:
First, we have FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page exchanging communications showing extreme bias against President Trump, a fact that would be bad enough if it weren’t for the fact that these two individuals were employed as part of the Mueller ‘dream team’ investigating the very person for whom they were showing disdain.
And calling it mere ‘disdain’ is generous. According to the documents produced last night to this committee, Mr. Strzok and Ms. Page referred to the president as “an utter idiot,” “a loathsome human,” and “awful,” while continually praising Hillary Clinton and the Obamas.
These text messages prove what we all suspected: High-ranking FBI officials involved in the Clinton investigation were personally invested in the outcome of the election, and clearly let their strong political opinions cloud their professional judgment. And this was only an ‘initial disclosure,’ containing heavy redactions.
Second, former embattled FBI general counsel and current Mueller prosecutor, Andrew Weissmann, expressed his ‘awe’ of a former DOJ official [Acting Attorney General Sally Yates] for shunning the president and failing to faithfully execute the law. However, we are the ones now in ‘awe’ that someone like Mr. Weissmann remains on an investigative team that looks more and more partisan.
Third, we have learned that a top Mueller prosecutor, Jeannie Rhee, in addition to other actions that would normally justify recusal, served as an attorney for the Clinton Foundation. Aren’t DOJ attorneys advised to avoid even the ‘appearance of impropriety?’ A former Clinton employee is now investigating President Trump. This seems to be the very definition of ‘appearance of impropriety.’
Fourth, we just recently learned that another top DOJ official, Bruce Ohr, has been reassigned because of his and his wife’s connections with the infamous [Trump] ‘dossier’ and the company [Fusion GPS] from whom the opposition research document originated.
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a Washington-based nonprofit that promotes “integrity, transparency, and accountability in government,” released a YouTube statement Tuesday about what he said were “anti-Trump and pro-Hillary text messages.”
Fitton called on the Justice Department to respond to Judicial Watch’s related requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
“We are getting the runaround from this Justice Department and this FBI in our Freedom of Information Act lawsuits,” he said. “The coverup and secrecy must end. We want the documents now.”
The Justice Department did not respond to The Daily Signal’s request for information Wednesday on any policy or guidelines governing text messages and other mobile messaging on government devices, and for a comment on whether the Russia probe is undermined by political bias.
Heritage’s von Spakovsky told The Daily Signal in an email that Rosenstein should revoke Mueller’s authority to pursue Russia-related questions since there are too many “conflicts of interest” at work.
How can you have lawyers working on this special investigation who represented the Clinton Foundation; represented the IT staffer who installed the home server; attended Hillary’s election eve party; supported [acting Attorney General] Sally Yates’ unprofessional and unethical behavior? All of this raises serious questions about Mueller and the lawyers he has hired and his lack of judgment. The work of this special counsel seems to now be irretrievably suspect.
After revoking Mueller’s authority, von Spakovsky said, Rosenstein “should ask the Criminal Division of the Justice Department and its career prosecutors to investigate the very narrow issue of Russian election collusion.”
No Improper Orders
During the hearing, Democrats–Reps. Hank Johnson of Georgia and Eric Swalwell of California among them–asked Rosenstein whether Trump ever interfered with investigations.
“I told you I have never received any improper orders,” Rosenstein snapped to Johnson at one point.
“Are you afraid of President Trump firing you?” Johnson asked.
“No, I am not,” Rosenstein replied.
Other Democrats cast Republicans as running down the professionalism of the FBI and Justice Department.
In response to questions from Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Texas, Rosenstein made an emotional defense of Mueller’s reputation, record, resume, and experience.
“I believe he was an ideal choice for this task,” Rosenstein concluded.