Tag Archives: DOJ

Some Very Good Ideas

One of the (depressingly few) public servants I really admire is Adam Schiff, who comported himself with dignity during Trump’s four years of monkey-poo-throwing antics. Schiff is highly intelligent and measured–attributes too few Congresspersons these days seem to share.

For example, rather than focusing solely on accountability for Trump, Schiff is trying to change the flaws in the system that enabled Trump’s authoritarianism and grifting.

According to columnist Jennifer Rubin, Schiff is proposing a bill to address the longtime accretion of executive power at the expense of Congress.

“While Donald Trump is no longer president, the fault lines he exposed in the foundation of our democracy remain — ready for a future unethical president to exploit,” Schiff said in a statement. “These weaknesses continue to erode the American people’s trust in our democratic institutions and the norms that are essential to a functioning democracy.”

The bill is chock-full of very good ideas. For one thing, it addresses the absolute nature of the Presidential pardon power, requiring the Justice Department to “provide materials to Congress concerning any self-serving presidential pardon or commutation in cases involving the President or his/her relatives, contempt of Congress, or obstruction of Congress.” it also makes it clear that pardons are “things of value” for purposes of federal bribery statutes. And it explicitly prohibits self-pardons by the President.

The bill goes well beyond the pardon power, however. It would suspend the statute of limitations for crimes committed by a president in office. In a move I find particularly important,  it clarifies the reach of the Emoluments Clause would specifically allow Congress to enforce its provisions.

The bill also seeks to end the sort of stalling we saw in the last administration that paralyzed congressional investigations, codifying “a cause of action for Congress to enforce its subpoenas, including those issued to government officials.” The bill also “expedites the judicial process for congressional subpoena enforcement actions; empowers courts to levy fines on government officials who willfully fail to comply with congressional subpoenas; and specifies the manner in which subpoena recipients must comply.

In response to such unilateral action as a president withholding previously appropriated aid (in Trump’s case, to extort Ukraine to produce dirt on his political opponent), the bill strengthens the Impoundment Control Act and beefs up disclosure requirements. Efforts to politicize the Justice Department would be limited by a requirement to keep a log of contacts with the White House and a reporting obligation for the inspector general.

Rubin points out that the bill has provisions that address nearly every Trump offense:  it requires both the president and vice president to disclose the last ten years of their tax returns, and  requires presidential campaigns to disclose foreign contacts. Other provisions protect inspectors general and whistleblowers, and increase penalties for Hatch Act violations.

I can only hope this bill passes. The odds of such passage would seem to be much greater with a Democrat in the White House–the spineless Congressional Republicans who enabled Trump would be likely to balk if a Republican was President, but will arguably be happy to vote for constraints that–at least initially–will apply to a member of the other party.

What is particularly positive about Schiff’s proposal isn’t just the obvious merit of the various provisions. It’s the recognition that the danger posed by Trump’s Presidency weren’t all attributable to his personal inadequacies and corruption. The lack of  sufficiently specific legal constraints made it much simpler for him to act in ways that enriched him and his family. Trump, fortunately, was incompetent. If a smoother, smarter version were to come along, that person could do inestimable harm.

Schiff understands the importance of legal clarity and enforceability. In a very real sense, his bill proposes to amend  James Carville’s famous admonition to read: “it’s the system, stupid!”

 

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…..