A Republican-appointed federal judge imposed on March 7 one-fifth of the federal guideline sentence on former Trump 2016 Campaign Manager Paul J. Manafort Jr. for massive bank and tax frauds, thereby sending a national message that wealthy, politically well-connected defendants can cheat justice if they pursue decades of crime at a high-level and with the right legal and political connections.

thomas s ellis iii federal judgeSenior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, III (shown at left in a file photo), appointed to the bench by Republican President Ronald Reagan, imposed Manafort's sentence 47-month sentence at the end of a three-hour hearing during which the judge also ordered restitution and ordered a fine of $50,000.

Trump defenders then leaped to expand on the judge's anti-prosecution sneers, which contrast with the judgment of a pro-Trump juror who explained post-trial that the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming.

The pro-defendant bias of Ellis, which had appeared sporadically during Manafort's trial last summer, became apparent during the sentencing hearing in several ways described below and most notably by the judge's conclusion that Manafort, aside from his convictions, had "otherwise led a blameless life."

Ellis's stunning sentence came after even he remarked that Manafort (shown at right in a mug shot) had failed to express regret for his crimes, which included concealing $55 million in income in 30 different overseas bank accounts to avoid income taxes. Manafort amassed his wealth in large part by serving foreign dictators accused of massive corruption, elections fraud, torture and other tyrannical behavior.  

paul manafort mugThe sentence, which will be reduced nine months to account for Manafort's pre-trial detention, was far too lenient, especially given the mind-boggling evidence of corruption by Manafort and his gang. Shocking also was Manafort's lack of remorse in his four-minute statement and his breach of trust on the global stage.

Decades ago, Manafort and such previous partners as Roger Stone and Lee Atwater helped pioneer a hybrid form of campaign work and lobbying that helped install officials and then exploited their powers on behalf of special interests.

Manafort's most recent consultancy partner was Rick Gates, who went on to obtain a high-ranking position with the Trump Inauguration Committee and become Deputy National Finance Chairman of the Republican National Committee before being indicted on corruption charges and reaching a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors.

The judge's demonstrable bias in serving as a pro-Manafort advocate at times during trial and during Thursday's hearing added to the charade of a honest rnc logojudiciary supposedly functioning in the public interest.

This editor attended Thursday's hearing in Alexandria, Virginia, sitting about 25 feet behind Manafort. He sat in a wheelchair fo reasons largely undisclosed to the public and wore a dark green jail jumpsuit with the words "Alexandria Inmate" in big white letters signifying his pre-sentence detention.

That contrasted with luxury custom suits that Manafort had sported in decades as a high-level political lobbyist and strategist for GOP candidates and notorious dictators.

Before addressing below details of Thursday's hearing and the overall prosecution, we explain the tone of this column, including its headline.

konstantin klimnikThe Justice Integrity Project is a non-partisan organization that has defended such GOP defendants as the late Alaskan Sen. Ted Stevens from Justice Department over-reach. We rarely ascribe partisan political motives to judges except in the most extreme cases. We focus mostly on reporting, not commentary.

But for this story, I draw on considerable reporting and legal experience (including nearly three decades as a member of the bar and previous experience as a federal judge's law clerk) to provide my opinion that Manafort's judge embarrassed himself and the federal system by his transparently biased hearing. The proceeding's flaws extend well beyond the shockingly light term and fine.

The judge said a fine higher than $50,000 might seem punitive -- for a criminal who spent a decade leading a crime gang avoiding taxes and committing bank frauds with the complicity global oligarchs. In one such investigative thread, authorities have said Manafort gave polling data Trump For Presidenton the 2016 campaign to Konstantine Kilimnik, right, a trainee of the Russian Ministry of Defense,

Kilimnik, according to House of Trump, House of Putin by Craig Unger, among others, began work for Manafort in 2005 when Manafort was representing the Ukrainian oligarch Akhmetov and who also opened a consulting firm in 2015 that had ties to Cambridge Analytica, the data firm that helped elect Trump. 

The judge, with 32 years of experience on the federal bench, showed early in the case that he adopted the Trump line that Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III was unfairly targeting Manafort. The judge had mocked prosecutors saying they didn't really care about Manafort's conduct because they only wanted to squeeze the defendant to pressure the president.

robert mueller full face fileThat judicial posture prompted so much public outrage early in the trial, as manifested in newspaper headlines, that Ellis kept his feelings largely under wraps after that until the sentencing hearing, where he made a great show of proceeding carefully and at length while ultimately minimizing the enormity of Manafort's crimes.

Most striking to this reporter was that the judge failed to reference Manafort's gross abuse of his high position of public trust as a presidential campaign manager who had taken the job for free with a clear-cut goal of using the position to sell influence to keep living in luxury..

Notable also was the judge's tolerance for Manafort's unwillingness to provide his financial information to the court's probation office so that the court could assess how many assets Manafort has available for a fine or restitution. It would have been simple for the judge to postpone sentencing until Manafort and his lawyers totaled up his millions of dollars in assets.

The judge's conduct went far beyond traditional political partisan politics and almost defies explanation. And that opens the door extremely sinister potential rationales, with the judge's motives potentially involving his role as a longtime "fixer" for sensitive legal disputes within the intelligence community, as amplified below.

The Sentence

Sentencing guidelines, based on sentences for similar crimes and the defendant's background, prompted court career officials to call for a recommended a term of 19.5 to 24 years for Manafort's crimes. Prosecutors said the calculation was correct but declined to call for a specific term. The judge congratulated them for that failure, saying that he would have held it against prosecutors had recommended a specific term.

The judge accepted the defense recommendation that he recommend to the Trump Justice Department that Manafort serve his sentence at the minimum security federal facility in Cumberland, Maryland. The judge rejected prosecution efforts to tap Manafort's homes worth more than $4 million for a fine, saying that $50,000 was enough punishment combined with restitution to victims.

kevin downing head portraitAfterward, lead defense counsel Kevin Downing, right, spun the media with a brief comment outside the courthouse claiming that the case proved, "most importantly" that Manafort was not involved with any "collusion" with any "Russian government official."

That is like the Trump administration claims of "no collusion." It is a half-truth deception at best that ignores how Manafort was heavily involved with other Russians who were well-connected to officials -- and that judge Ellis had forbidden any discussion of collusion during the trial.

Downing's comment failed to note also that prosecutors were keeping such information confidential to protect their ongoing investigation of corruption in the Trump administration and that a parallel prosecution occurred in the District of Columbia.

In September, Manafort pleaded guilty to two charges in that case that could bring him up to 10 more additional years in prison at sentencing next Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman. She could impose a term consecutive to that Ellis imposed on Manafort or a concurrent term.

In a column to be published over the weekend, we shall note separately below a brief and exclusive interview that we conducted with Downing regarding his previous career as a senior litigation counsel focusing on tax cheats. We asked him why he did not prosecute Manafort, his current client, for tax evasion when he had the chance.

Read more ...

 

News coverage of current political strife in Venezuela serves as a fresh reminder that U.S. mainstream newspapers and broadcasters too often deliver remarkably biased “news” reports on sensitive global topics.

venezuela flag waving customThe extreme bias in U.S. reports about Venezuela frequently appears also in coverage of such other topics as Syria, Palestine and Russia – regardless of repeated reassurances to audiences by the relevant outlets that they are committed to professional standards of fairness, accuracy and unbiased coverage.

Clearly, that’s not the case on certain topics.

The corporate media — including the prestigious newspaper outlets like the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post — consistently portray leaders of Venezuela, Syria and Russia as bloodthirsty dictators with no semblance of popular appeal. That's despite independent evidence that they have won elections (unlike some tyrants counted as strong U.S. allies) and probably could continue to do so in fair elections, according to independent popularity polls and other evidence.

juan guaido nicolas maduroIn the meantime, the U.S. and other Western media puff up opponents seeking to overthrow these governments while the "news" outlets show their support by minimizing negative coverage of opposition figures.

For example, Juan Guaidó (shown at left in the adjoining photo), the U.S.-anointed and self-declared “interim president” of Venezuela, has only a slender semblance of a constitutional right to seize power by the terms of his nation's constitution.

U.S. news reports typically describe Guaidó as head of his nation's National Assembly. But very few reporters delve deep enough to report his tiny plurarily of 26 percent in winning his seat or the enormous effort that the United States has exerted on his behalf, including via presssure on other governments and via CIA and other covert means in the tradition of the "Monroe Doctrine."

Similarly, U.S. audiences are rarely exposed to the dominance within Syrian rebels of Al Qaeda and similar radical Islamist factions associated with 9/11 attacks.

The intensely negative media coverage of Palestinians is obvious also in the mainstream media. But it falls into a different category because it is typically paired with a flip-side of fawning coverage of Israel and its leaders. Those patterns reoccur even when the result is for the media to ignore for the most part the human rights abuses involved in Israel’s keeping Gaza residents, in particular, virtually powerless in an open-air prison in horrid living conditions.

Syria, Russia, Palestine and Israel are mostly beyond the scope of this column. Instead, it provides samples of Venezuelan recent coverage. One example is the March 4 news story below filled with flattering comments about Guaidó and the reporter's scorn for President Nicolás Maduro, shown above at right. We offer also an explanation for this pattern:

  • First, the mass media are inherently susceptible to use for political advocacy, even deceitful advocacy (otherwise known as “propaganda”). That was true during the first years of the United States and it remains true today, as we shall see below in more detail.
  • Second, the concept of professional standards of fairness, fact-checking and rendering “news” and commentary as a civic service and facebook logonot simply as a power-grab is being undermined by a variety of economic and political trends. The factors are too numerous to mention here. But, as indicated by our near-daily running account of Media News, the factors include the economic collapse of many news outlets because of web-related competition. That competition lessens costs of production / distribution for new entrants and siphons away advertising to such powerhouse competitors as Facebook and Google.
  • Finally, the so-called “marketplace of ideas” has always been more fragile than commonly understood. That's because the ultimate “marketplace” is not so much outlets selling to consumers, but a far more complex market whereby much of the revenue comes from advertisers or other power players who have agendas that are far more targeted than simply providing information in a neutral manner. These power players include those who seek natural resources and other assets via regime change, oppressive loans or war.

"While it is not possible for the media to tell the population what to think," as longtime commentator Ben Bagdikian once wrote (in a quotation that I used in my 1987 book Spiked about media self-censorship and economics), "they do tell the public what to think about."

To expand on the last point, traditional print media have typically relied on economic models whereby one-quarter or so of revenue might google logo customcome from subscriptions and three quarters from advertising. For broadcasters, all revenue came from advertising, with lots of that income  from political organizations during election years.

Social media like Facebook and related high-tech services like Google have many leaders who are intimately connected with Wall Street and the military-intelligence complex. They typically mingle at such elite gatherings as the Bilderberg and Davos conferences, took the process to its logical extreme whereby the customer does not typically pay anything and is instead the commodity whose attention and privacy being sold to purveyors of messaging.

att logoFurther complicating the media landscape, many brand name outlets known to consumers are owned by conglomerates with shifting and otherwise hard-to-discern agendas.

For example, AT&T has been reassembled in large part after once being broken up on antitrust grounds. It has recently acquired Time Warner with its array of content providers like CNN, TNT and HBO.

As cnn logoreported by the New York Times on March 4 in AT&T Assembles a Media Team, Joining a Battle With Giants, "On Monday the company took a step closer to becoming something never before seen on the American corporate landscape — part telecommunications behemoth and part media-entertainment giant."

Read more ...

A federal judge on Thursday forbade former Trump advisor Roger Stone from publicly discussing his pending obstruction of justice case after she told him that she did not believe his amy berman jackson roger stoneexplanation of why he broadcast on Monday a photo of her with "crosshairs" next to her head.

Stone, a longtime GOP political operative, used the social media channel Instagram to distribute the photo (shown at right) along with text implying that his judge was politically biased.

The message also denounced Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's probe, which had resulted in Stone's indictment on seven felony charges in January relating to release of hacked Democratic emails that helped the 2016 Trump presidential campaign. 

Presiding in a courthouse in downtown Washington, DC, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Stone that she was giving him one last chance to comply with her obligation on federal bail law to protect public safety and fair trial rights. She warned that she would jail him pre-trial if he violates again the conditions of his release on a $250,000 bond.

The judge also forbade Stone from commenting on the case through intermediaries, including friends or "volunteers" who support him in his denunciation of the Mueller probe. Stone has used such allies as InfoWars host Alex Jones and the ultra-nationalist Proud Boys.

Berman's ruling came during a tense hearing in front of a packed courtroom that included Stone's wife, Nydia, and daughter, Adria, both residents of Florida.

Afterward, two strong supporters of Stone and Trump in attendance privately described to this reporter their sense that the judge's ruling was fair Roger Stoneto Stone — and that he was very fortunate to escape bond revocation given the overall circumstances, including the judge's expressed disbelief at some of Stone's explanations for his behavior.

Stone and his attorneys took the unusual step for a defendant in putting him under oath pre-trial to testify about his behavior.

Stone repeatedly apologized and explained that his actions stemmed from his stress and contributions by supporters, whom he said he could not identify for the most part. Also, he said that he did not regard the cross as an image of a rifle crosshair but instead, to the extent he has thought about it, as an Celtic or occult symbol.

“Thank you, but the apology rings quite hollow,” said the judge at one point, "I don’t find any of the evolving and contradictory explanations credible.”

Read more ...

 

An unprecedented coalition of family members, researchers, film makers, and former law enforcement and other government officials is calling for a new investigation of the four iconic 1960s assassinations: President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy.

mlk i have a dream speech dc aug. 28 1963

The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., shown during the 1963 March on Washington

Today's announcement, timed for release before the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday in the United States on Monday, is provided below and elsewhere. This editor is proud to have joined this effort by the newly formed Truth and Reconciliation Committee.

Please help spread the word via social media and any other method, including news editors in your locale and civic organizations. A petition signup page and new website for the committee will be announced early next week.

-- Andrew Kreig / Editor

 Kennedy and King Family Members and Advisors Call for Congress to Reopen Assassination Probes

Please scroll down to see the “Call” text and see attached for the list of signers

On the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a group of over 60 prominent American citizens is calling upon Congress to reopen the investigations into the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. Signers of the joint statement include Isaac Newton Farris Jr., nephew of Reverend King and past president of the Southern Christian Leadership rfk jr twitterConference; Reverend James M. Lawson Jr., a close collaborator of Reverend King; and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. [shown at right in his Twitter photo] and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, children of the late senator.

Other signatories include G. Robert Blakey, the chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which determined in 1979 that President Kennedy was the victim of a probable conspiracy; Dr. Robert McClelland, one of the surgeons at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas who tried to save President Kennedy’s life and saw clear evidence he had been struck by bullets from the front and the rear; Daniel Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower who served as a national security advisor to the Kennedy White House; Richard Falk, professor emeritus of international law at Princeton University and a leading global authority on human rights; Hollywood artists Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen, Rob Reiner and Oliver Stone; political satirist Mort Sahl; and musician David Crosby.

The declaration is also signed by numerous historians, journalists, lawyers and other experts on the four major assassinations.

The joint statement calls for Congress to establish firm oversight on the release of all government documents related to the Kennedy presidency and assassination, as mandated by the JFK Records Collection Act of 1992. This public transparency law has been routinely defied by the CIA and other federal agencies. The Trump White House has allowed the CIA to continue its defiance of the law, even though the JFK Records Act called for the full release of relevant documents in 2017.

The group statement also calls for a public inquest into “the four major assassinations of the 1960s that together had a disastrous impact on the course of American history.” This tribunal -- which would hear testimony from living witnesses, legal experts, investigative journalists, historians and family members of the victims -- would be modeled on the Truth and Reconciliation hearings held in South Africa after the fall of apartheid. This American Truth and Reconciliation process is intended to encourage Congress or the Justice Department to reopen investigations into all four organized acts of political violence.

Signers of the joint statement, who call themselves the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, are also seeking to reopen the Robert F. Kennedy assassination case, stating that Sirhan Sirhan’s conviction was based on “a mockery of a trial.” The forensic evidence alone, observes the statement, demonstrates that Sirhan did not fire the fatal shot that killed Senator Kennedy -- a conclusion reached by, among others, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, the Los Angeles County Coroner who performed the official autopsy on RFK.

adam walinskyThe joint statement -- which was co-written by Adam Walinsky (left), a speechwriter and top aide of Senator Kennedy -- declares that these “four major political murders traumatized American life in the 1960s and cast a shadow over the country for decades thereafter. John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were each in his own unique way attempting to turn the United States away from war toward disarmament and peace, away from domestic violence and division toward civil amity and justice. Their killings were together a savage, concerted assault on American democracy and the tragic consequences of these assassinations still haunt our nation.”

truth and reconciliation logoThe Truth and Reconciliation Committee views its joint statement as the opening of a long campaign aimed at shining a light on dark national secrets. As the public transparency campaign proceeds, citizens across the country will be encouraged to add their names to the petition. The national effort seeks to confront the forces behind America’s democratic decline, a reign of secretive power that long precedes the recent rise of authoritarianism. “The organized killing of JFK, Malcolm, Martin, and RFK was a mortal attack on our democracy,” said historian James Douglass, author of JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters. “We've been walking in the valley of the dead ever since. Our campaign is all about recovering the truth embodied in the movement they led. Yes, the transforming, reconciling power of truth will indeed set us free."

The Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s Calls for Action:

1. We call upon Congress to establish continuing oversight on the release of government documents related to the presidency and assassination of President John F. Kennedy, to ensure public transparency as mandated by the JFK Records Collection Act of 1992. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform should hold hearings on the Trump administration's failure to enforce the JFK Records Act.

(More on next page below)

Read more ...

 

The two-day Senate confirmation hearing for William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for the vacant Attorney General post, concluded on Jan. 16 with the curious incident involving the nominee’s early career in the CIA and equally strange incident of his role in obtaining pardons in 1992 for fellow Republicans convicted of crimes in the Iran-Contra national security scandal.

william barr senate hearing cnn screengrab jan 15 2019Barr is shown at left in a screengrab from the hearing, with his wife at top right.

Remarkably, no one apparently raised (at least in depth) the nominee’s CIA background and his role facilitating pardons while he served as attorney general during the presidency of George H. W. Bush.

That’s this reporter’s recollection after attending part of the hearing, watching much of the rest cable television. An expert law professor afterward told me that he had watched the entire hearing and neither topic was mentioned by anyone.

Let’s invoke the famous Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” to reflect on why what we can call the "curious incident" of the omissions might be important in Barr's confirmation proceeding.

arthur conan doyle the adventure of silver blaze 1892 illustration by sidney pagetIt's one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes detective stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle. "Silver Blaze" describes s the apparent murder of the trainer of a successful race horse, Silver Blaze (shown in an 1892 illustration by Sidney Paget), and the horse's disappearance on the eve of an important race.

“The tale is distinguished by its atmospheric setting in 19th Century England and the late-Victorian sporting milieu,” according to the Wikipedia entry from which this summary is excerpted, including in language below:.

The story also features some of Conan Doyle's most effective plotting, hinging on the "curious incident of the dog in the night-time" that Holmes, a private detective, raises with Scotland Yard’s official detective Gregory:

Detective Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

cia logoIn the matter at hand: 

William Barr kick-started his professional career with three years’ work from 1973 to 1978 for the CIA while he attended the George Washington University's School of Law. This was a period of intense change for the agency following devastating disclosures of major scandals in the post-Watergate era.

Vice President George H. W. Bush had been CIA director for about a year beginning in 1976 in the Republican Ford administration until the presidency of Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1977.

george hw bush HRFollowing a judicial clerkship, meanwhile, Barr went on to serve in a number of Justice Department posts in the Reagan-Bush administration, beginning in 1981.

Under President Bush (shown in an official photo), Barr heled progressively higher Justice Department positions. He became Deputy Attorney general in 1990. Barr served as Bush's second attorney general beginning in November 1991 following the resignation of former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh.

Barr left the post in January 1993 as President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, installed his own team via the normal cycling of political appointees during a change of presidential parties.

Shortly before Barr left, he helped Bush facilitate the 1992 post-election pardons of six prominent Republican fellow appointees, most of them convicted of serious crimes involving the Iran-Contra scandal.

That scandal is best known because it revealed that Reagan-Bush administration officials knowingly violating a law enacted by Congress forbidding sensitive transactions involving Iran or right-wing rebel groups in Central America known as the “Contras.”

Iran, then as now, was particularly notorious because radical Muslims had seized American hostages during the Carter administration and voiced many anti-American threats.

Read more ...

 

Former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, President Trump's nominee to return to the post, presented two starkly different images at his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 15 in Washington, DC. 

Barr, 68 (shown in a screengrab), stressed through his words and manner the appearance of an independent lawyer dedicated to public service and a "rule of law" according to relatively neutral principles on the conservative side of the political mainstream with his principles honed by his long William Barr smile fox screengrab Smallexperience and integrity.

These, nationwide cable audiences saw throughout the day, included Barr's respect and friendship for such former U.S. Justice Department colleagues as the current Special Counsel Robert Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Barr's Republican supporters on the Senate Judiciary Committee eagerly promoted that Barr persona, which is most likely to maximize Barr's votes for confirmation. The supporters include the new chairman of the Republican-controlled committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, below right.

Barr's other persona was that of a pushy supplicant eager to butter up President Trump with dubious legal theories granting the president strong protections from federal corruption and lindsey graham judiciary chairmansimilar investigations. Those probes most notably involve Mueller's ongoing probe Russian influence helping enable Trump's 2016 presidential election victory, among other alleged misconduct or crime.

Support for that version of Barr's motives arose primarily from questions and comments by committee Democrats. Such questions came from those who cited Barr's previous written and verbal statements. The gist was that Barr sent an unsolicited memo to Trump's White House staff arguing that Mueller has been abusing his authority in unconstitutional ways.

Some have described Barr's public statements as a campaign for the post. Separately, some questioned Barr's statement to a New York Times reporter that prosecution of Hillary Clinton for a uranium deal approved by the Obama administration was more justified than the current inquiry over Mueller.

Barr would supervise Mueller if confirmed as attorney general and could fire Mueller.

So, the question remained at the end of the day: which, if either image, previews for the public how the real William Barr would act if confirmed?

The Justice Integrity Project will explore the possibilities in depth during this confirmation process. 

We begin with excerpts below on selected news stories and commentaries early this week about the nominee's confirmation process.

Read more ...