Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the baffling reluctance of Congress and the Supreme Court to allow for remote or distance technology as an alternative to physical sessions. Democracy at a distance is better than no democracy at all in times of emergency. President Donald Trump was asked about Congress allowing remote voting given the various Senators who are now in quarantine. He thought that it was a good idea but that there may be constitutional barriers. The greatest barriers, particularly for the Supreme Court, remain cultural not constitutional.
We recently discussed how an American University professor called for the impeachment of President Donald Trump over his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. Not to be outdone, MSNBC legal analyst Glenn Kirschner is now declaring that Trump should be charged with negligent homicide over his conduct. While insisting that, as a former prosecutor, this is something he “actually know[s] too much about,” Kirschner proceeds to utterly misrepresent the controlling law and definitions of such a criminal case. While I come from the other perspective of a criminal defense attorney, the argument being put forward by the MSNBC legal analyst is devoid of any basis in the law. It does however play well for those who believe impeachment or prosecution are entirely fluid and relative concepts when it comes to Trump.
It appears that trolls are enjoying St. Patrick’s Day as much as Leprechauns. The Justice Department shocked many by dropping the matinee case of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller against two Russian companies accused of funding the “troll farms” in the 2016 election. Many critics have charged that the trolling operation was laughingly ineffective and clumsy. Moreover, the evidence against the companies, including Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering, was questioned. The prosecutors, while defending the original charges, moved to dismiss the case because they viewed the trial as threatening national security secrets. That claim seemed like more of a spin in a case that never seemed to materialize into hard evidence to support these charges. Update: The company has announced that it will sue the U.S. government for billions in damages — a move that will once again raise this same information for trial.
Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the recent criticism of the Roberts Court by a federal district judge. The law review article makes a stronger case for critics who view some judges are part of a deep bench movement against Trump. I do not see that pattern but I do view Judge Lynn Adelman as well outside of the navigational beacons for public commentary by federal judges.
I previously wrote about the highly improper threats made against the Supreme Court by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.). Schumer is now facing both complaints in the Senate and in the New York bar. The Senate has a legitimate concern about a member threatening the Court with retaliation if it does not rule in the way that he favors. However, as my column noted, Senator Whitehouse and others have made the same type of threats. Any censure or sanction remains a matter for the Senate but it would have to distinguish between Schumer’s statements and past hyperbolic statements of other senators. My main concern is the the bar complaint against Schumer. Despite my stated and strong disapproval of his threats against Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, I do not believe that this is a matter for the New York bar. Indeed, I view the effort as a threat to protected political speech.
Roger Stone’s defense team moved to force the recusal of Judge Amy Berman Jackson from the case for bias. These motions have a very low success rate and this particular motion likely has an even lower likelihood of success. Jackson is a respected and experience judge. I actually was taken aback by a couple of her comments about the case but courts of appeal are extremely reluctant to force such recusals. Moreover, the main thrust of the motion is a statement about the jury which would be viewed as virtually standardized language for courts. Update: the Defense motion is available below.
This week, many were surprised by the disclosure made by the lawyers for Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in London in the Westminster Magistrates’ Court. Edward Fitzgerald made a witness statement application for co-counsel Jennifer Robinson who shared information concerning ex-California representative Dana Rohrabacher. She claimed that he made Assange a startling offer: if he cleared the Russians as the source of the hacked emails at the Democratic National Committee, Rohrabacher could get a presidential pardon from President Donald Trump. Now Rohrabacher himself says that it is true and that he spoke of the plan with Trump White House Chief of Staff, though he did not speak of the plan with Trump himself. The timing is particularly unfortunate for the White House with a report that U.S. intelligence believes that Russia is again seeking to intervene in the election and appears to be intervening in favor of Trump. Update: A new story suggests that the Russians could also be helping Bernie Sanders.
Yesterday I wrote a column in the Hill criticizing hair-triggered responses to the controversy over the sentencing recommendation in the case of Roger Stone. This included former prosecutors who did not see the need to confirm critical facts before demanding the resignation of Barr. Former Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer called Barr, his former colleague in the Bush Administration, “unAmerican.” It is a disgraceful attack on someone who has served his country for decades with distinction. Just as many (including myself) have denounced President Donald Trump for calling opponents disloyal or traitorous, this personal attack should also be roundly denounced by all sides in this controversy.
Despite a public condemnation by Attorney General Bill Barr, President Donald Trump is back tweeting and atacking a wide range of Justice Department attorneys and investigations. That includes the recently resigned prosecutors in the case of Trump associate Roger Stone. These irresponsible tweets continue undermine Barr and magnify the problems for the Administration with both the courts and Congress.
Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz pulled a Giuliani on television this weekend by claiming bombshell evidence in his possession but refusing to disclose it. On Fox News, Dershowitz claimed that he has conclusive proof that Barack Obama “personally asked” the FBI to investigation someone “on behalf of George Soros,” the wealthy liberal donor. However, Dershowitz mysteriously referenced future “litigation” where all of this would be disclosed.
Below is my column in the Hill newspaper on the controversy surrounding the foreperson on the Stone trial and the discovery of biased public comments made before she was called as a juror. The comments raise very serious questions about not just the inclusion of Tomeka Hart on the jury but the legitimacy of the conviction in light of her participation. Courts are extremely reluctant to set aside verdicts and often deny motions for new trials like the two filed by Stone. However, such disclosures make a mockery of the process — and ultimately the court — if undisclosed bias does not have a remedy for a defendant. No defendant can prove conclusively that such bias made the difference, but no prosecutor can prove that it did not. What remains is a dangerous element of doubt in a criminal trial.
There is an interesting new controversy developing around the trial of Roger Stone. This one does not focus on the sentencing of Stone but his trial. New information has emerged that the foreperson of the trial has a long history of highly critical postings against President Donald Trump and his administration. Former Memphis City Schools Board President Tomeka Hart recently went public with her support of the prosecutors who resigned from the case. However, there are now questions of why Hart was allowed on the jury, let alone made the foreperson given her highly critical view of Trump and his associates before being called for jury service. Not only has Hart called Trump supporters like Stone racists but she celebrated a protest that projected profanities on the Trump hotel with the words “Gotta Love It.”
I recently wrote a Washington Post column explaining that, while I viewed the moves by President Donald Trump against impeachment witnesses was wrong, it was not criminal as claimed by legal analysts like CNN’s Elie Honig. Yesterday, Honig responded by arguing in a column that he and “other former prosecutors” are quite confident that the action clearly constituted the crime of witness retaliation. While Honig does not actually explain how the President’s conduct specifically violated the stated elements in the federal code, even a cursory consideration of the elements of the crime belie his assertion. Trump’s actions with regard to Vineland and Sondland would not constitute criminal witness retaliation.