We have been discussing the controversy surrounding the decision of the Justice Department to give immunity to former State Department staffer, Bryan Pagliano and tech specialist Paul Combetta — thereby removing much of the pressure that could have been brought to bear with the threat of criminal charges. That immunity deal became even more questionable when it was disclosed that Combetta used Bleachbit to destroy email records despite his knowledge that those records were being sought by Congress. Now, there is an allegation that Combetta sought advice on the website for how to hide a “VIP’s (VERY VIP) email address.” If true, that would show a conscious effort to conceal the identity of the VIP and illegally alter federal records. Either Combetta did not disclose this effort in violation of his immunity deal or the Justice Department effectively removed a serious threat of indictment though the agreement. Update: the House Committee has ordered Reddit to preserve all messages concerning “Stonetear.”
By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor.
In a significant judgment against the City of SeaTac, Washington in a property rights case a King County Superior Court judge awarded Gerry and Kathy Kingen $18.3 million after what the court described as “a pattern of deception that lasted years.”
The trouble for the couple began in 2003 when they purchased land in the vicinity of Sea-Tac Airport with the intent to develop the land into a Park-and-Fly garage. Immediately after bringing notice to the city of their plans the city council declared a moratorium on the construction of these garages and engaged in tactics to hinder the couple’s investment until, according to court documents, they were forced under duress to sell the property to a “phantom buyer” who was later determined to be a surrogate for the city.
By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
Free speech rights in Germany took another worrying turn for the worse when German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally approved an investigation of a German citizen accused of insulting Turkey’s President Recep Erdoğan, a world leader personally responsible for the erosion of free speech in this NATO member state.
The timing and enthusiasm, despite proffers to the contrary, of the German government’s persecution of satirist Jan Böhmermann for his broadcast of a poem critical of President Erdoğan coincides directly with the German Government trying to reach a re-settlement agreement with Turkey to address the refugee crisis besieging many European nations–a situation politically damaging to Merkel’s image.
We featured numerous articles relating to President Erdoğan’s attacks on newspapers, individuals, internationals, and any critics of him who are within reach of this grasp, citing a bizarre form of Lèse majesté laws as justification. Now, Merkel is demonstrating a willingness to use a rather dusty remnant of such a statute in Germany as a tool to preserve the ego of a foreign head of state, to accomplish a domestic political goal.
For his part, Mr Böhmermann risks five years incarceration for the act of reciting poetry. In several day’s time, he became a convenient scapegoat to placate a foreign leader bent on resurrecting a Neo-Ottoman-Empire, with Erdoğan as its sultan.
Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is back in the news again this week to dispel any doubt that he is hellbent on assuming authoritarian powers. The latest subject of his wrath none other than Britain’s consul general Leigh Turner over a “selfie” taken at the espionage trial of two journalists. We previously discussed the outrageous prosecution of Can Dündar, editor of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, and his colleague Erdem Gül – a direct attack free speech, free press, and political dissent. Turner with other diplomats showed up to support civil liberties in Turkey at the start of the trial. That led to another tyrannical outburst from Erdoğan who has added diplomats to the list of undesirables in his new Islamic dominated government.
Below is my Sunday column yesterday in the Washington Post on reforming our political system. We are certainly, as the Chinese curse says, “living in interesting times.” We seem to be in the midst of an American revolution where citizens have arisen in collective disgust of the establishment and the status quo. For years, citizens have objected to a political system that is dysfunctional and detached. The two parties have largely ignored these objections and many have objected to this “doupoly” on power. For many, answer of the two parties to the American people seems to be the same as Henry Ford to customers of the Model T Ford: “you can have any color so long as it is black.” In the United States, you can have any party so long as it is red or blue; Republican or Democrat. Yet, in 2016, the public has responded with a deafening rejection of the establishment. The most obvious is Donald Trump who is the perfect personification of an angry electorate. On the democratic side, a 74-year-old Democratic Socialist has rocked the Democratic party, which overtly rigged a primary system to guarantee the selection of the ultimate establishment figure: Hillary Clinton. However, we seem to go this cathartic exercise every four years rather than seek some changes to break down the insularity of government. There is another way. Instead of just choosing some personality that matches our angry politics, we can really change the system . . . for the better. The Framers gave the public the power to solve our own problems, including the ability to circumvent Congress with a constitutional convention. We have the anger. The question is whether we have the answer.
Below is the column. There are a host of other changes that can be made to improve the system, including many that can be down without a constitutional amendment. However, there is a value in focusing on a few basics that could have a transformative effect on the respective branches of government.
By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
In the aftermath of one of the worst shootings of police officers in Washington in decades–where four Lakewood officers were gunned down as they dined at local coffee shop–citizens expressed their grief and horror for such a tragic and senseless act. The Lakewood Police Independent Guild formed a memorial fund for the benefit of widows, husbands, children, and other family members. Donations poured in from within the state and elsewhere. It was a remarkable showing of solidarity and compassion towards a grieving family of law enforcement officers and their friends.
Yet to the disgust of everyone, Skeeter Manos, one of Lakewood’s own officers, took advantage of their generosity and bilked these families out of $112,000.00. He also stole $47,000.00 from the guild’s funds in his capacity as treasurer.
To take money after the slaying of his brother and sister officers is just about as low as you can get. As a further act of his depravity, he burned through these families’ money by purchasing luxuries such as expensive vacations and other frivolous toys.
Manos later pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court and was consequently sentenced to two years of a potential twenty year maximum. Several months ago, he was unfortunately released.
In a testament to the old parable “There is no honor among thieves” he again is in trouble with the law. This time, he is alleged to have stolen from a new employer who wanted “to give him a second chance.”
There is a disturbing proceeding unfolding before the the District of Columbia Office of Disciplinary Counsel where Thomas Tamm, a former U.S. Department of Justice lawyer who leaked information to the press about warrantless domestic spying under President George W. Bush, is facing legal ethics charges in Washington. Tamm is viewed as a hero by many in exposing the program, but even among his detractors there are those who view him as a whistleblower. The intervention of the DC Bar into the case is troubling given the various policy and legal questions over his status in exposing the program.