Tag Archives: Bill Barr

Distraction

Note: Apologies for the extra and misleading email yesterday. The blog referenced (to which the link would not work) will post on the 16th. (I sometimes work ahead–and in those cases, obviously don’t know what I’m doing…)

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I know that many of you who read this blog also subscribe to Heather Cox Richardson’s  Letters from an American. That almost-daily letter is particularly valuable for those who are trying to just keep up with the daily outrages and indignities coming from the White House, since she tends to focus on updating readers to the fire hose of improprieties that exhaust so many of us.

The other day provided an example: from continued fallout over Trump’s “suckers and losers” insult to America’s soldiers, to documentation of his continuing buildup and corruption of the Military-Industrial Complex, to not-so-surprising revelations in Michael Cohen’s new book, to the absolutely unprecedented, legally-appalling effort of Bill Barr’s version of a Justice Department to assume Trump’s defense against Jean Carroll’s defamation suit, it was just another day in TrumpLand.

On the off-chance that you missed that last offense, here’s a brief background: Carroll is one of the many women who have accused Trump of sexual assault. She alleged that he raped her some 20 years ago, and when he responded in true Trumpian fashion that he’d never even met her (as usual, there are contemporaneous photographs to the contrary) and she “wasn’t his type,” she sued him for defamation.The courts have thus far refused to dismiss or halt that lawsuit.

Now, lawyers with the Department of Justice (presumably with straight faces) are arguing that Trump was acting in his official capacity as president when he denied knowing her and thus should be defended by the DOJ, which is funded by taxpayer dollars. As Richardson reported,

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig called this “a wild stretch by DOJ…. I can’t remotely conceive how DOJ can argue with a straight face that it is somehow within the official duties of the President to deny a claim that he committed sexual assault years before he took office.” He continued: “This is very much consistent with Barr’s well-established pattern of distorting fact and law to protect Trump and his allies.”

(I am at a loss to understand Barr, who–unlike Trump– is not stupid. My operating theories since he began acting like the President’s consiglieri vacillate between mental illness and blackmail, since he clearly knows that history will not be kind…)

All this is, in a fashion, beside the point. 

Much has been made of Trump’s ability to distract—to point to the “shiny object” (squirrel!!), to create a new outrage in order to distract attention and media from his most recent crimes and misdemeanors. It’s true that the media turns its attention to the most recent example of norm-and-rule breaking, but what makes this constant misbehavior a really effective distraction is simply the “fire hose” rate of discoveries of the administration’s corruption and incompetence.

It becomes impossible to keep up–and it exhausts those of us who continue to try.

The sheer volume of the misbehavior prevents the sort of continued, in-depth reporting of  a single incident of unethical or criminal behavior–the sort of ongoing media attention that would be paid to such incidents occurring in past administrations. Think of the amount and duration of reporting on Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky, or the Watergate break-in. Substantial research has shown that it takes numerous repetitions of news items before they “sink in” and become common knowledge.

Historians will undoubtedly have a field day with the literally hundreds of examples of this administration’s criminal, unethical and deeply disturbing behaviors, but the rapidity with which these incidents come to our attention and then vanish means that they barely have time to make an impression on the significant number of citizens who do not follow political issues closely.

There’s an analogy here to that old joke to the effect that, if you have run over someone with your car and maimed them, you’d do well to back up and finish them off.  A few corrupt transactions will attract sustained attention, but the daily trashing of laws and norms will simply wear us out. 

How Do We Spell Corruption? T-R-U-M-P

Well, I suppose the headline really should read “Trump Administration,” since Trump has managed to assemble a group of people who are both magnificently inept and thoroughly dishonest.

It’s something every day–usually, thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic, buried under the propaganda and disinformation being spewed every day by the buffoon-in-chief.

NBC recently reported on a story first broken by Pro Publica.

On a Tuesday just before Halloween in 2018, a group of federal prosecutors and agents from Texas arrived in Washington. For almost two years, they’d been investigating the opioid dispensing practices of Walmart, the largest company in the world. They had amassed what they viewed as highly damning evidence only to face a major obstacle: top Trump appointees at the Department of Justice.

The opioid crisis was the most pressing public health issue facing the country before the arrival of the current pandemic. What the investigators had uncovered was proof of clearly criminal activity by Walmart–activity that played a significant part in creating and sustaining that crisis.

Opioids dispensed by Walmart pharmacies in Texas had killed customers who had overdosed. The pharmacists who dispensed those opioids had told the company they didn’t want to fill the prescriptions because they were coming from doctors who were running pill mills. They pleaded for help and guidance from Walmart’s corporate office.

Investigators had obtained records of similar cries for help from Walmart pharmacists all over the country: from Maine, North Carolina, Kansas and Washington, and other states. They reported hundreds of thousands of suspicious or inappropriate opioid prescriptions. One Walmart employee warned about a Florida doctor who had a “list of patients from Kentucky that have been visiting pharmacies in all of central Wisconsin recently.” That doctor had sent patients to Walmarts in more than 30 other states.

How did “corporate” respond? By repeatedly forbidding pharmacists from cutting off any doctor. Pharmacists were told to “evaluate each prescription on an individual basis.”  One opioid compliance manager even sent an executive an email (viewed by ProPublica, which confirmed its contents), that Walmart’s focus should be on “driving sales.”

The prosecutor investigating Walmart’s behavior prepared to indict the corporation for violating the Controlled Substances Act.  She had the support of her boss, who also believed the evidence justified what would have been an unprecedented step.(Fortune 500 companies don’t get indicted–gee, I wonder why…)

Before the Texas prosecutors could file their case, however, Walmart escalated concerns to high-ranking officials at the DOJ, who then intervened. Brown was ordered to stand down. On Aug. 31, 2018, Trump officials officially informed Walmart that the DOJ would decline to prosecute the company, according to a letter from Walmart’s lawyer that lays out the chronology of the case.

The Texas prosecutors appealed to higher-ups at DOJ, pointing out that dispensing opioids without a legitimate medical purpose is legally indistinguishable from dealing heroin.

Criminal law says if a person or entity is willfully blind or deliberately ignorant, they are as liable as if they had acted intentionally. Once Walmart’s headquarters knew its pharmacists were raising alarms about suspicious prescriptions, but the compliance department continued to allow — even push — them to fill them, well, that made the company guilty, the Texas prosecutors contended.

This wasn’t a situation where a few employees “went rogue.”  Worse, the company was a repeat offender; seven years earlier, Walmart entered into a settlement with the DEA in which it promised to improve its controls over the abuse of opioid prescriptions.

The DOJ didn’t budge, so prosecutors tried another tactic: criminal charges against individual employees. Trump officials blocked that, too. Then prosecutors tried to bring a civil case, and Trump officials blocked that.

The lengthy story at the link is detailed enough to dispel any doubts about how thoroughly this administration has corrupted the DOJ.

The news of the Walmart investigation comes at a time when the Trump administration is being assailed for legal favoritism and cronyism. Attorney General Bill Barr has inserted himself into multiple investigations of Trump friends and associates. In February, four prosecutors on the case of Roger Stone, a Trump friend and adviser, quit the case in protest after political appointees undercut their sentencing recommendation.

The Trump DOJ has also pulled back on white-collar and corporate investigations and prosecutions. White-collar prosecutions are at a record low. Walmart itself seems to have already benefited from the Trump administration’s approach to corporate misconduct. The company was the subject of a seven-year investigation into bribery allegations in Mexico and around the globe. The Obama administration sought $600 million in fines, according to The New York Times, which broke the story, but failed to reach a resolution with the company. The Trump DOJ settled the charges for $282 million in June 2019.

It certainly pays to have low friends in high places…..