The Intercept

Democratas agora criticam a mesma abordagem dada à Rússia por Obama

7 March 2017 - 11:13am

Um dos aspectos mais estranhos do desgastante frenesi americano com relação à Rússia é a fixação do Partido Democrata com a mudança de abordagem do Comitê Nacional Republicano (RNC) quanto ao fornecimento de armas para a Ucrânia. A controvérsia se iniciou em julho do ano passado quando o Washington Post revelou que, “a campanha de Trump operou nos bastidores na semana passada para garantir que a nova plataforma republicana não defenda o envio de armas para a Ucrânia combater a Rússia e as forças rebeldes”.

Desde então, os democratas têm usado essa mudança de linguagem como prova de que Trump e seus assessores mais próximos mantêm relações perniciosas com os russos e defendem seus interesses em detrimento dos interesses americanos. Em julho do ano passado, o senador democrata Ben Cardin, membro do Comitê de Relações Externas do Senado, escreveu uma carta ao New York Times expressando a opinião de muitos dos membros de seu partido criticando a mudança de postura do RNC, que classificou como uma “forma de pensar perigosa” que prova como Trump é controlado, ou pelo menos manipulado, pelo Kremlin. Os democratas adotaram essa tática novamente neste fim de semana frente ao reconhecimento por parte dos assessores de Trump de que oficiais de sua campanha estavam por trás da mudança na plataforma política do RNC.

A tentativa de equiparar a oposição de Trump ao armamento da Ucrânia a uma espécie de aliança dissimulada com Putin esconde um fator fundamental: uma das políticas mais firmes adotadas por Barack Obama foi recusar o fornecimento de armas letais à Ucrânia. O artigo original do Washington Post, que revelou a mudança de plataforma do RNC, disse explicitamente:

Naturalmente, o presidente Trump não é o único político contrário ao envio de armas letais para a Ucrânia. O presidente Obama decidiu não autorizar o envio, apesar de seus oficiais responsáveis pela Europa no Departamento de Estado e nas Forças Armadas recomendarem o contrário.

As primeiras reportagens sobre a controvérsia, como este artigo da NPR, também abordaram a ironia central a este debate: o armamento da Ucrânia é um desejo antigo de militaristas do Partido Republicano, como John McCain, Lindsey Graham e Marco Rubio, assim como de intervencionistas do Partido Democrata, apesar de a Casa Branca de Obama ter resistido a tais pressões firmemente:

Os congressistas republicanos aprovaram o fornecimento de armas para o governo ucraniano, mas a Casa Branca resistiu, alegando que a medida apenas encorajaria mais derramamento de sangue.

Trata-se de uma das poucas políticas do governo Obama com que a equipe de Trump parece concordar.

No final das contas, o Partido Republicano se uniu à ala militarista do Partido Democrata exigindo que Obama fornecesse armas letais para que a Ucrânia combatesse a Rússia, mas o pedido foi recusado categoricamente pelo ex-presidente. De acordo com a reportagem do New York Times de março de 2015, “o presidente Obama tem sido cada vez mais pressionado por ambos os partidos e oficiais de seu próprio governo a enviar armas para o país. Mas o presidente não está convencido de que isso ajudaria”. Como Obama permaneceu inflexível, líderes dos dois partidos ameaçaram aprovar leis que forçassem Obama a fornecer as armas para a Ucrânia.

Tradução: “Em desafio a Obama, grande parte do Congresso pressiona pelo armamento da Ucrânia”.

A abordagem com relação à Rússia (de evitar confrontos e atender aos interesses russos, não apenas na Ucrânia, mas também na Síria), que agora é considerada pela maioria dos democratas uma forma de traição, foi um dos traços mais marcantes da política externa de Obama. Mas esse fato não deve ser superestimado: Obama também tomou medidas agressivas, como as manobras para expandir o alcance da OTAN, o auxílio não letal à Ucrânia e a implantação de armamento de “defesa contra mísseis” na Romênia. Mas rejeitou a maioria das demandas para que combatesse a Rússia. Esse é um dos motivos pelos quais a “elite da política externa”, que Obama criticava e prometia repudiar à época do começo de seu mandato, estava tão insatisfeita com sua presidência.

Um extenso artigo publicado recentemente pela correspondente de relações exteriores do site Politico, Susan Glasser, sobre a guerra que está sendo travada pela “elite da política externa” de Washington contra Trump confirma essa tese de forma veemente. Pode-se dizer qualquer coisa sobre o Politico, mas não se pode negar que são extremamente competentes em dar espaço para insiders de Washington e sua covardia, garantindo anonimato para que expressem suas opiniões. Mesmo que oferecer anonimato às pessoas mais poderosas do mundo seja uma prática jornalística questionável, ela acaba por revelar o que os carreiristas de Washington pensam, mas têm medo de dizer. O artigo de Glasser, que consiste primordialmente em transmitir as opiniões de oficiais anônimos do alto escalão do governo de Obama, contém uma passagem extraordinária:

Em destaque: “[O indicado de Obama] viu muito em comum entre o tom apaziguador cético de Obama e o grande, porém vago, ‘America First’ prometido por Trump.
[Obama e Trump] chegaram à Presidência buscando melhores relações com a Rússia. ‘Há uma continuidade entre eles.’
Trump repete muito do que Obama pensava – a diferença é que ele fala de forma grosseira.
‘Não dá para ter uma conversa honesta sobre isso’.”

Em outras palavras, democratas agora combatem — e consideram traição — uma das posições em política externa mais importantes e estimadas de Barack Obama, uma postura que manteve apesar dos ataques dos líderes de ambos os partidos, assim como da comunidade de segurança nacional de Washington. A comparação não foi feita por Noam Chomsky; foi feita por um indicado de Obama.

A comunidade bipartidária da política externa ficou furiosa por Obama não ter enfrentado a Rússia de forma mais enfática e, agora, está furiosa com Trump pelo mesmo motivo (embora temam e odeiem Trump por motivos diferentes, como a ameaça que acreditam representar para a manutenção do império americano por sua combinação de inépcia, instabilidade, relações públicas nocivas, ferocidade explícita, em vez de disfarçada, e ideologia; Glasser conclui: “‘tudo aquilo pelo que trabalhei nas duas últimas décadas está sendo destruído’, me confidenciou um membro sênior do Partido Republicano”).

 

Isso demonstra como ocorreu uma mudança fundamental no Partido Democrata após a fixação com a Grande Ameaça Russa nas eleições. Para que se entenda a extensão da mudança, basta analisar essa pesquisa da CNN publicada hoje pela manhã que mostra republicanos e democratas invertendo completamente seu posicionamento quanto à Rússia em um período de oito meses:

Tradução: “Agora, isso foi invertido, com democratas duas vezes mais propensos a considerar a Rússia uma ameaça grave [do que republicanos] (51% entre democratas, 24% entre republicanos)”.

A obsessão de democratas com a Rússia não apenas os levou a exigirem investigações sobre as alegações de hackeamento e suspeitas de conluio por parte da campanha de Trump (até agora sem nenhuma prova) — investigações que todos deveriam apoiar. Foi muito além disso: democratas se transformaram em militaristas cada vez mais assustadores — e perigosos — quando o assunto é combater o único país com um arsenal nuclear maior do que o americano e que vem imbuído de uma sensação de medo, ou cerco completo, por conta da expansão da OTAN.

Em outras palavras, os democratas que fazem parte do establishment — imbuídos de um ímpeto político e, agora, por convicção — abandonaram completamente a abordagem leniente de Obama quanto à Rússia e adotaram por completo a mentalidade belicista e militarista de John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol, CIA e Evan McMullin. Por isso, não deve surpreender que uma lei proposta pela belicista mor Lindsey Graham para impedir que Trump revogue restrições contra a Rússia tenha mais patrocinadores democratas do que republicanos.

Por isso é tão emblemático que democratas, em nome da “resistência”, se aliaram a neoconservadores, agentes da CIA e ex-oficiais do governo Bush: não porque coalizões com indivíduos moralmente corrompidos devem ser evitadas, mas porque revela a mentalidade política adotada em nome de derrotar Trump. Eles não estão “resistindo” a Trump com uma ideologia de esquerda ou usando de ideias de apelo popular — por exemplo, se comprometendo a proteger regulamentações ambientais e de Wall Street que vêm sendo atacadas ou apoiando a revogação de acordos que geram desemprego, ou ainda exigindo que civis iemenitas não sejam massacrados.

Em vez disso, atacam Trump alegando nacionalismo, militarismo e belicismo insuficientes: comparando o desejo de evitar um confronto com Moscou com uma forma de traição (exatamente como fizeram durante a Guerra Fria). Por isso encontram tantas causas em comum com os maiores sanguinários militaristas dos EUA — não por ser uma aliança conveniente, mas pelas convicções que compartilham entre si (na verdade, muito antes da ascensão de Trump, neoconservadores já planejavam um realinhamento com democratas em um possível mandato de Clinton). O aspecto mais irônico — e subestimado — de todo esse espetáculo volátil é o quanto democratas têm de rejeitar e criticar um dos principais legados em política externa de Obama ao mesmo tempo que fingem não fazê-lo.

The post Democratas agora criticam a mesma abordagem dada à Rússia por Obama appeared first on The Intercept.

Leading Putin Critic Warns of Xenophobic Conspiracy Theories Drowning U.S. Discourse and Helping Trump

7 March 2017 - 10:35am

Masha Gessen is a Russian-American journalist and author who has become one of the nation’s leading Russia experts and one of its most relentless and vocal critics of Vladimir Putin. She has lived her life on and off in the U.S. and Russia, but as a Jewish lesbian and mother of three children, she left Russia in 2013 and moved back to the U.S. in part because she felt threatened by the increasingly anti-LGBT climate there, one that began particularly targeting LGBT adopted families with discriminatory legislation.

Throughout the years Gessen (pictured, above) has become one of the go-to Kremlin critics for the U.S. media, publishing harshly anti-Putin reporting and commentary in numerous media outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate, Harper’s and several articles about political repression in Russia for the Intercept. She has also become a virulent critic of Donald Trump, writing shortly after the election that “Trump is the first candidate in memory who ran not for president but for autocrat—and won,” while describing the critical lessons that can be learned on how to resist Trump’s autocratic impulses by studying Putin.

She now has a new article in the New York Review of Books – entitled “Russia: the Conspiracy Trap” – that I cannot recommend highly enough. Its primary purpose is to describe, and warn about, the insane and toxic conspiracy-mongering about Russia that has taken over not the fringe, dark corners of the internet that normally traffic in such delusional tripe, but rather mainstream U.S. media outlets and the Democratic Party. Few articles have illustrated the serious, multi-faceted dangers of what has become this collective mania in the U.S. as well as Gessen’s does.

To begin, Gessen details several examples of classic, evidence-free, unhinged, and increasingly xenophobic conspiracy theorizing masquerading as serious news in mainstream outlets such as MSNBC, CNN, and the Washington Post. Routine diplomatic interactions are depicted as dark and sinister if they involve Russians. When the most flamboyant, alarmist, tabloid-style Russia stories from leading news outlets collapse (as so many have), or when Trump’s actions (such as hiring numerous anti-Russia hawks for key positions) explode the “Putin’s puppet” narrative, it makes no difference to our mainstream conspiracy obsessives because – as she puts it – “such is the nature of conspiracy thinking that facts can do nothing to change it.”

Wild, melodramatic claims about hidden Russian plotting and Trump collusion are routinely and constantly hyped by leading media outlets based on nothing but their imaginations or, at best, coordinated whispers from intelligence officials utterly insusceptible to verification, from operatives trained in disinformation. As she writes:

The backbone of the rapidly yet endlessly developing Trump-Putin story is leaks from intelligence agencies, and this is its most troublesome aspect. Virtually none of the information can be independently corroborated. The context, sequence, and timing of the leaks is determined by people unknown to the public, which is expected to accept anonymous stories on faith; nor have we yet been given any hard evidence of active collusion by Trump officials. . . .

The dream fueling the Russia frenzy is that it will eventually create a dark enough cloud of suspicion around Trump that Congress will find the will and the grounds to impeach him. If that happens, it will have resulted largely from a media campaign orchestrated by members of the intelligence community—setting a dangerous political precedent that will have corrupted the public sphere and promoted paranoia. And that is the best-case outcome. . . . More likely, the Russia allegations will not bring down Trump.

The crux of her article is the point that has been driving everything I’ve been writing and saying about this topic for months: that this obsession with Russia conspiracy tales is poisoning all aspects of U.S. political discourse and weakening any chance for resisting Trump’s actual abuses and excesses. Those who wake up every day to hype the latest episode of this Russia/Trump spy drama tell themselves that they’re bravely undermining and subverting Trump, but they’re doing exactly the opposite.

This crazed conspiracy mongering is further discrediting U.S. media outlets, making Washington seem even more distant from and irrelevant to the lives of millions of Americans, degrading discourse to the lowliest Trumpian circus level on which he thrives, and is misdirecting huge portions of opposition energy and thought into an exciting but fictitious spy novel – all of which directly redounds to Trump’s benefit. As Gessen puts it in the key sentence that ought to be pinned everywhere in neon lights:

Russiagate is helping [Trump]—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.

I’ve been asked often why I’ve written so much against the prevailing sentiments on Russia and Trump. It’s not just because this obsessive narrative distracts from Trump’s genuinely consequential actions or from the need to find an effective vessel for activism against über-right-wing nationalism. It’s not just because it’s driven by ugly and historically familiar anti-Rusisan xenophobia, nor because it dangerously ratchets up tensions between two nuclear-armed, traditionally hostile countries. Those things are all true, but that’s not the main impetus.

Above all else, it’s because it’s an offensive assault on reason. This kind of deranged discourse is an attack on basic journalistic integrity, on any minimal obligation to ensure that one’s claims are based in evidence rather than desire, fantasy, and herd-enforced delusions. And it’s emanating from the most established and mainstream precincts of U.S. political and media elites, who have processed the severe disorientation and loss of position they feel from Trump’s shock election not by doing the work to patiently formulate cogent, effective strategies against him, but rather by desperately latching onto online “dot-connecting” charlatans and spewing the most unhinged Birther-level conspiracies that require a complete abandonment of basic principles of rationality and skepticism.

 

To see how extreme this derangement has become, let’s look at the latest conspiracy theory that took hold of fringe and mainstream figures alike this weekend. It was prompted by the death of Alex Oronov, a 68-year-old Ukrainian-American whose daughter married Bryan Cohen, who is the brother of Michael Cohen, who is Trump’s personal lawyer. Got all those connections, those “dots”?

Back in the 1990s, the fever swamp of the Far Right was driven mad by Bill Clinton’s election. They were convinced he and Hillary were mass murderers, constantly ordering the deaths of political opponents and others who could incriminate the Clintons – not just Vince Foster but an endless number of remotely related people.

Any person who died and had any kind of connection to the Clintons, no matter how remote, became part of the “Clinton Body Count.” These were people who died and whose death was ruled by the coroner to be due to “natural causes” yet were still classified by right-wing extremists as “mysterious deaths,” all for the purpose of implying that the Clintons were responsible for their deaths.

One of the primary pushers of this innuendo was the nation’s most influential radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who spent the 1990s hyping every death with any proximity to the Clintons as “suspicious.” He gleefully resurrected this theme during the 2016 campaign by claiming that people close to the Clintons were once again mysterious dying. This is what Limbaugh told his audience in August:

I can remember reading magazines back in 1992 that catalogued all the people who the Clintons knew who had died. . . . The inherent conspiracies that were associated with this. And lo and behold, here we go again.

Limbaugh cited a Townhall article describing the deaths of three DNC-related officials and told his audience: “Since the DNC emails were leaked a few weeks ago, three people associated with the DNC have all found dead, under what could be questionable circumstances.” Limbaugh added: “This is exactly the kind of stuff we saw back in 1992 and 1993.” He then mocked the media for viewing this speculation as insane conspiracy theories, emphasizing:

A lot of people [the Clintons] know who have died, been murdered . . . . it’s amazing the cycle that exists with the Clintons . . . . How many other politicians do you know who have so many mysterious deaths associated with them?. . . . But there is a Clinton body count.

Rush Limbaugh Clinton body count, Julian Assange murdered DNC staffer Seth Rich WikiLeaks… https://t.co/gZzaJkXvOa pic.twitter.com/2zmkl9Nnik

— citizenwells (@citizenwells) August 11, 2016

There’s now an identical – and quite profitable – Democratic cottage industry that specializes in pointing to every death of anyone with any proximity to Trump or Russia and strongly implying – with zero evidence – that they were murdered. But the difference is that it’s not confined to the fringes but is fully embraced by numerous mainstream Democratic figures. It’s not a coincidence that one of the key figures of this early 1990s anti-Clinton sickness, David Brock, is now always lurking at the center of similar yet highly lucrative insanity, but now on behalf of Democrats.

One of the most popular online conspiracists among Democrats is now the former Tory member of the UK Parliament and current Murdoch-rag-writer Louise Mensch, whose history of public humiliations and pure bigotry is far too long to chronicle.

But because she has now turned her deranged behavior to peddling any and all conspiracies about Trump and Russia, she has built a huge Twitter following among Democrats convinced that all of their critics are Kremlin spies and anyone who dies was murdered by the Putin/Trump axis to protect their conspiratorial cover-up. Here’s what this newfound liberal journalistic icon tweeted two weeks ago:

I absolutely believe that Andrew Breitbart was murdered by Putin, just as the founder of RT was murdered by Putin.

— Louise Mensch (@LouiseMensch) February 24, 2017

That is as flagrantly insane as the most warped versions of birther and truther fever dreams that have tragically engulfed significant portions of the U.S. population. That tweet, by itself, should disqualify her from any form of serious consideration. But Mensch is now routinely cited as some sort of credible journalistic source on Russia conspiracies by unhinged, mainstream anti-Trump fanatics such as MSNBC and Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, who will launder any insanity as long as it promotes their Tom Clancy fever dreams of Trump as a Kremlin asset.

When news of Oronov’s death broke over the weekend, Democratic Party loyalists instantly began implying, if not outright stating, that his death was really a murder, intended to silence him from exposing the Trump/Russia conspiracy. One of the leading articles pushing this evidence-free tripe was this thing called “The Palmer Report,” whose insinuations went viral because they were quickly mainstreamed by all kinds of prominent Democrats with a platform.

What is the Palmer Report? It’s a classic Fake News site created by Bill Palmer, a crazed fanatical follower of Hillary Clinton who got caught purposely disseminating fake news during the election. The site he ran during the campaign was called “The Daily News Bin,” and among other gems, that was the site that published the totally false but viral claim – based on the fraudulent assertions of MSNBC’s partisan warriors Joy Ann Reid and Malcolm Nance – that the DNC and Podesta emails WikiLeaks was publishing were forgeries.

The Palmer Report is the same Fake News site that published multiple stories claiming that the vote totals for the 2016 election were altered, causing Slate to compare it to The National Enquirer. In February, the Atlantic warned of “The Rise of Progressive Fake News,” and one of its leading examples was the “very harmful” Palmer Report.

This is where Democrats are now getting their “news” from. The Palmer Report seems to be a trusted news source for Professor Tribe. Yet it’s no better – no different – than what Macedonian teenagers or Clinton Body Count sites are churning out. But it’s being mainstreamed by prominent, establishment Democrats who have completely taken leave of their senses in the wake of Trump’s victory and show no signs of returning to anything resembling sober, grounded reasoning any time soon.

The Democrats’ favorite reporter during the 2016 campaign was Newsweek’s Kurt Eichenwald, who outright fabricated a claim that Trump “was institutionalized in a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown in 1990,” and then when caught, claimed that it was a “signal to a source.” Not even an outright fabrication and a pitiful explanation like that hurt his standing among Democrats; if anything, it bolstered it, because it was for the Right Cause.

And now, every time a Russian dies, mainstream Democratic sites instantly imply with zero evidence that they were murdered by Putin and possibly Trump to cover up something or other. Even when the autopsy rules that they died of natural causes, the conspiracies persist, indeed are often bolstered – just as Louise Mensch “absolutely believes” Putin murdered Andrew Breitbart despite the corner’s findings.

TPM’s Josh Marshall this weekend pronounced Oronov’s death a “startling new development” – just as Limbaugh and right-wing sites do for every Democrats’ death. The liberal journal The Washington Monthly – echoing the innuendo tactics of the right-wing fever swamps focused on the Clinton Body Count – added: “Was it a heart attack, as seems to be implied? Or something else? . . . . Someone might want to figure out the actual cause of death.”

Is it possible all these people were killed by Putin and Trump to ensure their conspiracy remains hidden? Anything is “possible” – in the same sense that it’s possible that Bill and Hillary Clinton had Vince Foster and multiple Arkansas state troopers murdered. But since there’s no evidence for it, responsible, rational people don’t go around spouting it and trying to lead others to believe it.

When DNC staffer Seth Rich was murdered in 2016, his family was furious and sickened by the attempt to exploit his death by implying that he was murdered by the Clintons for political reasons. In an interview with Buzzfeed, Oronov’s family just did the same thing, denouncing the theories laundered by TPM, the Palmer Report and other Democrats as “total bullshit” and noting that Oronov “died of a prolonged illness,” only “after three months at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.”

But as Buzzfeed’s editor-in-chief Ben Smith noted last night, the denunciation of this conspiracy theory by Oronov’s family received only a tiny fraction of the attention which the viral stories implying he was murdered received.

This happens over and over and over. Totally fraudulent stories about Russia are published on the internet. Those who do it – including the leading media outlets and their journalists – receive endless benefits: exploding follower counts on social media, gushing praise from their peers, media appearances, profitable traffic for their sites. But then when the stories fall apart and are debunked, as they so often are, the debunking is shared by virtually nobody, and there is zero accountability or cost to their reputations because their false stories were peddled for a Good Cause.

The most obscenely transparent charlatans and grifters have built a huge social media following over the last year by feeding Democrats an endless stream of increasingly unhinged, insane conspiracy theories about Trump and Russia. That Trump is a Manchurian Candidate recruited by old Soviet leaders and installed in the White House as a 30-year-plan – or that any critics of Democrats are on the payroll of Putin – are completely acceptable theories which many of the Democrats’ most beloved commentators endorse literally on a daily basis.

Part of it is exciting: they get to center themselves as intrepidly uncovering an international Moscow-led plot to infiltrate the U.S. Part of it is self-excusing: it explains why Democrats have failed without having to confront the party’s fundamental corruption. Part of it is personally enriching: just as was true of the Clinton years, these conspiracies have created a whole stable of new media stars, and the crazier they are, the bigger their following will be.

But whatever the motives, what’s most damaging is how mainstreamed it’s all become. These are the same circles which endlessly rail against misleading reports from Fox News and right-wing radio, and the dangers of Fake News. And yet – in the name of stopping Trump and winning the New Cold War – they are the most enthusiastic disseminators of exactly what they denounce.

The most ironic part of it all is that they are achieving exactly the opposite of what they convinced their followers they are doing: they are strengthening Trump, not weakening him, by poisoning and corroding all of the institutions that – if they had any credibility – could effectively check him.

 

Ultimately, what makes Gessen’s article so important – aside from the fact that partisan smear artists cannot dismiss her on the ground that she loves Putin and works for the Kremlin – is that it focuses on the key point: namely, that this fixation on primitive conspiracy-mongering is just a slothful way of avoiding the real work of meaningfully opposing Trump. As she explains, this bottomless, ultimately pointless obsession with Russia has utterly crowded out effective strategies for opposing Trump, and has obscured many of the truly damaging policies he is implementing with little notice:

Meanwhile, while Russia continues to dominate the front pages, Trump will continue waging war on immigrants, cutting funding for everything that’s not the military, assembling his cabinet of deplorables—with six Democrats voting to confirm Ben Carson for Housing, for example, and ten to confirm Rick Perry for Energy. According to the Trump plan, each of these seems intent on destroying the agency he or she is chosen to run—to carry out what Steve Bannon calls the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” As for Sessions, in his first speech as attorney general he promised to cut back civil rights enforcement and he has already abandoned a Justice Department case against a discriminatory Texas voter ID law. But it was his Russia lie that grabbed the big headlines.

Indeed, even the most plausible plank of the story – that the Russians were behind the hacking of Podesta and the DNC – has been widely accepted as Truth despite no evidence from the U.S. Government. As Gessen notes: “A later building block in the story, which has become its virtual cornerstone, is the joint intelligence report on Russian interference in the campaign, which was released in December and is, plainly, laughable.”

Worst of all, our discourse is being drowned by irrational, highly corrosive delusions and feverish conspiracy theorizing – not just from Trump, who built his political career on a racist and deranged conspiracy theory about Obama’s true birthplace, but also from those who have anointed themselves leaders of the Resistance against him. How can one credibly denounce Trump’s birtherism or his fact-free accusation that Obama ordered his wiretapping if one is simultaneously spreading the most blatantly evidence-free claims and conspiracies or venerating those who have built their new platforms based on feeding hungry partisans flagrantly fraudulent “reporting”?

The Russia narrative dominates national discourse, as it has for months, and becomes progressively more removed from evidence. As Gessen concludes: “What is indisputable is that the protracted national game of connecting the Trump-Putin dots is an exercise in conspiracy thinking. That does not mean there was no conspiracy. And yet, a possible conspiracy is a poor excuse for conspiracy thinking.”

The post Leading Putin Critic Warns of Xenophobic Conspiracy Theories Drowning U.S. Discourse and Helping Trump appeared first on The Intercept.

Mesmo tendo modelos bem sucedidos no país, Brasil busca fora políticas ultrapassadas sobre crack

7 March 2017 - 5:00am

O Brasil costuma importar políticas públicas de vários lugares. E isso em si não é um problema. Mas, em algumas áreas, elas chegam também com problemas agregados. Quando a temática é segurança pública, não raro o Brasil importa dos Estados Unidos políticas racistas e falidas, implantadas no século passado.

A Nova Iorque dos anos 80 se tornou conhecida tanto pela “epidemia de crack”, quanto pela política de tolerância zero do prefeito Rudolph Giuliani, vendida ainda hoje como milagre contra a criminalidade. A teoria das janelas quebradas ganhou o mundo e, mesmo já tendo sido colocada em xeque pelo Inspetor-Geral do Departamento de Polícia de Nova Iorque, ainda é querida por muitos brasileiros, dentre eles, o ministro do Desenvolvimento Social e Agrário, Osmar Terra.

Conhecida como a cidade mais diversa do mundo, Nova Iorque reconheceu os erros e abandonou velhas políticas. Mas o ministro ainda bate nessa tecla gasta e não está sozinho. Muitas pessoas repetem o mesmo senso comum. Não é por falta de acesso a informação e nem precisa ir tão longe para se ter bons exemplos. No Brasil mesmo tem ao menos três iniciativas de sucesso pautadas pela não violência e pelos direitos humanos para responder ao uso de crack por pessoas em situação de rua.

Com suas particularidades, os projetos Aproximação: A cena de drogas da R. Flávia Farnese, realizado pela ONG Redes da Maré, no Rio de Janeiro; Programa de Braços Abertos, da Prefeitura de São Paulo; e o ATITUDE: Atenção Integral aos Usuários de Drogas e seus Familiares, do Governo do Estado de Pernambuco, compartilham do princípio-chave de entender as pessoas que habitam as chamadas “Cracolândias” brasileiras e tratar seus problemas de forma pragmática em benefício de toda a comunidade local e do entorno.

“Cada um tem uma história diferente, cada um passou por situações diferentes. Ninguém está aqui porque gosta de drogas não. Mas devido às circunstâncias nas quais crescemos e fomos criados, demos nisso aí, é desde criança na rua.” —Pessoa atendida pelo Projeto Aproximação, no Rio de Janeiro

Estas informações estão dispostas no relatório Crack: Reduzir Danos — Lições Brasileiras de Saúde, Segurança, e Cidadania, lançado há pouco pela Open Society Fondations. O The Intercept Brasil conversou com Daniel Wolf, diretor internacional de desenvolvimento e redução de danos da Open Society sobre o cenário no Brasil e nos Estados Unidos. Confira:

The post Mesmo tendo modelos bem sucedidos no país, Brasil busca fora políticas ultrapassadas sobre crack appeared first on The Intercept.

Intent of Trump’s New Executive Order Is Basically Identical to His Original Muslim Ban

6 March 2017 - 2:48pm

After a botched roll-out in January, President Donald Trump today signed a new version of his executive order to ban immigration to the United States from a number of Muslim-majority countries. The text of the new order removes Iraq from the list of countries affected and makes exceptions for green card holders and dual-citizens of targeted countries.

The order also removes exceptions for religious minorities, targeting en masse the citizens of Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Syria, Libya and Somalia. The travel ban will go into effect on March 16th, ten days from its signing. At a press conference announcing the revised order, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the new measure will “bolster the security of the United States and her allies.”

The revised order represents an attempt by the Trump administration to escape the legal challenges that the first order generated when it was released this January. Described by some legal analysts as “a giant birthday present to the ACLU,” the original order was almost immediately tied up in the courts. It also generated widespread protests in the United States, as activists turned out to airports to demand the release of individuals being detained or denied entry to the country. A court in Seattle ultimately ruled that the ban was unconstitutional, terminating its applicability nationwide and fatally undermining attempts to turn it into law.

Despite a few modest revisions, there is little to indicate that the order signed today is different in intent. Trump’s own surrogates have publicly stated that it is intended to be effectively identical to the much-derided order signed in January. Steven Miller, a senior adviser to the president, described it as “the same, basic policy outcome for the country.” In a statement issued today the ACLU said that the revised order “shares the same fatal flaws” as the original one, adding that “the only way to actually fix the Muslim ban is not to have a Muslim ban.”

Despite the fact that Trump campaigned for the presidency on a promise of banning Muslims from the country, the administration has pushed back against claims that its executive order is discriminatory, describing it instead as a national security measure. But a Department of Homeland Security report leaked to the press last week threw cold water on that argument, saying that “citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist intent,” and finding that “few of the impacted countries have terrorist groups that threaten the West.”

A recent study by the Cato Institute has also found that people from countries targeted by the ban “have killed zero Americans in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil between 1975 and the end of 2015.” Legal advocates say the executive order has nothing to do with national security and is designed solely to prevent Muslims from entering the United States. 

“This is still a Muslim ban, you don’t change the intent of an order simply by editing the language and re-releasing it,” said Abed Ayoub of the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. “If you look at Trump’s own statements and the statements of his surrogates, it’s clear that this policy has been motivated from the beginning by anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and anti-immigrant sentiment.”

According to the text of the order, government agencies will now be mandated to collect data on immigrants to the United States who engage in gender-based violence like “honor killings” or who have been “radicalized after entry” into the country. This type of ethno-religious reporting on criminal activity has drawn criticism for being similar to policies pursued by xenophobic and authoritarian governments in the past.

The new order also puts draconian restrictions on U.S. refugee policy. Although the text of the revised order removes a specific ban on Syrian refugees, it freezes all refugee resettlement for 120 days and caps annual acceptance numbers at 50,000 per year, less than half the current figure. Immigration policy experts say these revisions will effectively ban many refugees from the United States, and not just Syrians.

“Changing the cap from the current 110,000 admissions to 50,000 is going to be extremely detrimental to not only Syrian refugees, but also other refugee populations suffering around the world,” said Kristie De Pena, immigration policy counsel at the Niskanen Center.

The international community is currently grappling with the largest refugee crisis since World War II and the U.S. decision to take a hard line against refugees is likely to impact the policies of other countries, too. De Pena adds that the 120-day freeze on acceptances will have major negative consequences even if it is eventually lifted. Many refugees who have been approved for resettlement have received security clearances that will expire during the period of the ban, forcing them to start the process again from the beginning.

Ayoub of the ADC adds that his organization views the new order as part of a broader strategy by the administration to restrict access to the United States for immigrants, including but not exclusive to, Arabs and Muslims.

“It’s important that we keep the pressure and focus on this. Even though the words have changed the intent is the same,” Ayoub said. “This is all part of a larger anti-immigrant policy that we’re seeing from this administration. Just as it is important to keep in mind their intentions, it’s important to contest this measure as part of a larger strategy.”

Top photo: Attorney General Jeff Sessions speaks during a news conference about issues related to a reconstituted travel ban at the U.S. Customs and Borders Protection headquarters, on March 6, 2017 in Washington, as Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson look on.

The post Intent of Trump’s New Executive Order Is Basically Identical to His Original Muslim Ban appeared first on The Intercept.

Após baque do Impeachment, esquerda pena para voltar às ruas

6 March 2017 - 2:29pm

A aprovação de Michel Temer patina na casa dos 10%, o desemprego galopa, medidas impopulares são aprovadas a toque de caixa e a Lava Jato ameaça todos os homens do presidente. Não se pode dizer, portanto, que faltam motivos para insatisfação popular. Apesar disso, os organizadores das manifestações que inflamaram o país nos últimos meses esconderam as panelas embaixo da pia e guardaram as camisetas da seleção para o próximo amistoso. Até aí, nada de mais uma vez que o objetivo de alijar o PT do poder foi alcançado. Mas e os movimentos sociais? E os sindicatos e partidos políticos de oposição? Por que não se mobilizam? Por que não conseguem lotar a Avenida Paulista como fizeram MBL e Vem Pra Rua? Teria a esquerda brasileira perdido a voz, acovardada diante dos panelaços das varandas gourmets?

Por volta das 21h da segunda-feira anterior ao carnaval, sentado numa banqueta na calçada da Paulista, o coordenador do Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (MTST), Guilherme Boulos, garantiu que não. Um bom exemplo, disse, estava ao redor. Nas cerca de 400 pessoas que, desde o dia 15 de fevereiro, estão acampadas diante do escritório da Presidência da República, em barracas cobertas com faixas clamando por moradia e exaltando o “fora Temer”. Mas, como o próprio Boulos pontuou, trata-se de uma mobilização que, como várias outras que pipocam Brasil afora, restringe-se a setores organizados da sociedade.

“Por mais que a gente bote dezenas de milhares nas ruas, isso, por si só, não basta”, disse. “O que precisa acontecer para se ter um salto de qualidade na mobilização é entrar em cena a massa dos trabalhadores urbanos, o povão das periferias que assistiu ao golpe pela televisão, como se fosse uma briga entre políticos, e que ainda está em parte anestesiado.”

Integrantes do Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Teto (MTST) acampados na Avenida Paulista, em frente ao escritório da Presidência da República

Foto: Rovena Rosa/Agência Brasil

Para Boulos há dois obstáculos que mantêm essa parte considerável da população longe das manifestações. O primeiro, é o monopólio da imprensa que, segundo ele, “apassiva” muita gente. “Mobilizar pessoas com cobertura ao vivo da Globonews é uma coisa. Mobilizar pessoas por conta própria é outra”, argumentou, numa referência às manifestações contra o governo Dilma.

O segundo obstáculo tem a ver com o fato de que, ainda de acordo com o líder do MTST, parte dos movimentos organizados, nos últimos 20 anos, abandonou os trabalhos de base que os moldaram. “Deixaram de estar junto ao povo, dialogando. De subir o morro, de pisar no barro, e apostaram numa estratégia quase que exclusivamente institucional, de disputa do estado. Com isso perderam a sintonia com o povo mais pobre, das periferias.”

Para Boulos, esse afastamento das bases tem a ver com a estratégia petista que estruturou seus governos em alianças com o Congresso, e levou a reboque parte dos movimento que apoiavam o partido. “Se formos pensar a governabilidade no Brasil só do ponto de vista de maioria parlamentar, nunca teremos um governo de esquerda, porque o formato eleitoral favorece oligarquias regionais. A governabilidade deveria ter sido pensada numa perspectiva da rua, de mobilizar as forças sociais para pressionar as instituições. Mas o governo Lula e o governo Dilma não optaram por isso”, afirmou. “Essa é uma das razões pelas quais, no momento mais necessário, de uma encruzilhada histórica, nós não tivemos condição de trazer mais gente às ruas.”

Três dias depois, no segundo andar de um sobrado no bairro de Santa Cecília, em São Paulo, o líder do Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), João Pedro Stédile, concordou com as palavras de Boulos, mas relativizou o problema da perda das bases.

“A mobilização popular não depende de convocação, não depende de você dizer ‘vamos lá povo’. Isso nós ficamos dizendo todo o ano de 2016. E fizemos todo tipo de proposta: acampamento na Paulista, passeata, greve. Fizemos domingo, fizemos sexta, fizemos  segunda, e o povo não foi”, lamentou Stédile, erguendo as sobrancelhas.

“Os movimentos de massa”, continuou, “têm uma lógica de funcionamento que nem sempre a política explica. Às vezes nós temos de recorrer à psicologia social. E quando o povo se sente derrotado, ele reflui, fica na expectativa”, concluiu.

Titanic

A esquerda vive o pior momento na disputa pelo poder desde a redemocratização e boa parte disso se deve ao declínio do Partido dos Trabalhadores. A avaliação é do cientista político Cláudio Couto, que comparou o partido de Lula a um transatlântico afundando: “Qualquer embarcação menor que estiver em volta pode ser tragada pelo redemoinho. E, se não for tragada, no mínimo fica meio desnorteada”, disse. Como exemplo desse naufrágio iminente, Couto citou a perda de 60% das prefeituras petistas nas últimas eleições – fenômeno que tende a corroer ainda mais o poder do partido, uma vez que as prefeituras funcionam como alicerces da estrutura política nacional.

“O PT pisou muito na bola em termos de corrupção. Então ele também deu um pretexto dos melhores para seus opositores. E jamais fez uma verdadeira autocrítica.”

Para Couto, que é o professor do Departamento de Gestão Pública da Faculdade Getúlio Vargas (FGV), há uma série de outros componentes nessa crise. Entre eles, destacou o mau momento da economia, uma onda conservadora global, a polarização ideológica da sociedade que mina o diálogo político, e uma grande imprensa que fez oposição a Dilma, mas é conivente com Temer.

Nesse quadro, o papel central PT se deve não apenas ao fato de ele ter sido por tanto tempo o partido hegemônico da esquerda, mas também a uma dificuldade para cortar na própria carne. “O PT pisou muito na bola em termos de corrupção. Então ele também deu um pretexto dos melhores para seus opositores. E jamais fez uma verdadeira autocrítica. Acho que nenhum partido mantém o Rui Falcão na presidência por tanto tempo impunemente. Eu nem acho que ele seja corrupto, mas é o típico líder de partido de esquerda que nunca faz autocrítica, nunca percebe o erro, e o PT padece disso.”

Rui Falcão, que está na presidência do PT desde 2011, foi procurado por The Intercept Brasil, mas, por meio de sua assessoria, afirmou que só falaria se tivesse garantido um espaço de destaque na reportagem. O senador Lindbergh Farias, um dos candidatos a substituí-lo, alegou problemas de agenda e também não atendeu aos pedidos de entrevista.

Chaga histórica

O envolvimento do PT em casos de corrupção, ainda que visto como uma grande pedra no caminho de manifestações por afastar inclusive antigos militantes, é ao mesmo tempo criticado e relativizado por parte da esquerda. Nesse raciocínio, desvios do tipo, ainda que graves e passíveis de punição, seriam um problema estrutural da política brasileira, usado por setores conservadores como chamariz para uma massa descontente com a freada econômica, colada nos governos petistas por campanhas midiáticas de difamação que, no entanto, pouparam outros atores políticos.

“O sistema político brasileiro é azeitado por corrupção, a engrenagem é essa”, disse Boulos. “Para ganhar eleição tem que ter financiamento de campanha. E financiamento de campanha não é doação, é empréstimo, cobrado com juros, em favorecimento em contratos de obras públicas e estatais. Isso todo mundo sabe há 30 anos. A Lava Jato só botou isso a público, e o fez de forma muito seletiva.”

Para João Pedro Stédile, líder do MST, esperança é que as pessoas comecem a se dar conta das denúncias contra outros partidos.

Foto: AFP/Getty Images

Para Stédile, “a campanha da Globo quebrou o PT,  transformou o PT em corrupto. Agora nossa esperança é que as pessoas comecem a se dar conta das denúncias contra outros partidos, como o PMDB. E o que aconteceu no Rio de Janeiro? O seu Sérgio Cabral, que roubou 300 milhões? Era petista?”

Para ambos os líderes, contudo, essa associação automática e seletiva dos desvios de conduta apenas ao PT não deve durar para sempre, e novos fatos podem inflamar o povo. Se fossem apostar, eles escolheriam, como possíveis estopins para futuras manifestações, a Reforma da Previdência, que vai meter a mão direto no bolso do trabalhador, e novas denúncias e delações, que evidenciem a presença de outros partidos nas lambanças com o dinheiro público.

A crítica da autocrítica

O presidente da Central Única dos Trabalhadores (CUT), Vagner Freitas não vê propriamente um silêncio da esquerda. Para ele, “a resistência ao golpe foi hercúlea” e, não fosse ela, Dilma teria sido deposta muito antes. Ele disse não ver a perda das bases citada por Boulos e acha que o que faltou foi uma maior movimentação em defesa do legado petista, desde as denúncias do Mensalão do PT, em 2005. “Faltou um enfrentamento maior com os conservadores para não deixar sedimentar a imagem de que o Partido dos Trabalhadores era um partido igual aos outros”, disse.

“É claro que é muito mais difícil unificar a esquerda, porque isso significa unificar propostas, sentimentos, políticas.”

Ao refletir sobre a atual dificuldade em levar suas bandeiras vermelhas às ruas, Freitas também culpou a imprensa, mas somou a isso uma dificuldade maior de unificar esquerda. “O discurso da direita é chapado, é um discurso simples, oportunista, imediato e superficial. Os movimentos de esquerda são reflexivos entre si, têm diferenças ideológicas, diferenças históricas. Então é claro que é muito mais difícil unificar a esquerda, porque isso significa unificar propostas, sentimentos, políticas”, disse.

Partidos na lona

“A derrota de um projeto de esquerda é desanimadora, para aqueles que lutam”, afirmou o presidente do PSOL, Luiz Araújo, que também creditou parte dessa certa imobilidade diante dos escândalos da era Temer, ao PT, partido que deixou em 2005, após o escândalo do Mensalão. “A esquerda está muito fragilizada para ir para a rua. Como o PT vai fazer uma manifestação contra a corrupção depois de ser carimbado pelo povo brasileiro como um partido corrupto? Seria contraditório”, disse.

Para ele, o campo progressista perdeu em vários sentidos. “Quem era crítico ao PT perdeu porque a primeira experiência de um governo de esquerda deu no que deu. E quem acreditava no governo perdeu o governo.” Isso, segundo Araújo, que também é professor da Universidade de Brasília (UnB), colocou todo um campo político em suspenso. “Nós estamos num interregno, no qual quem era protagonista deixou de ser, mas continua tendo peso nas estruturas sindicais e populares. Um momento em que o novo ainda está tentando surgir”, completou.

Assim, enquanto o PT, segundo Araújo, aumenta sua “lulodependência”, apostando numa incerta candidatura do ex-presidente em 2018, o PSOL, tenta se sedimentar como alternativa. Mas uma alternativa dentro da crise de desconfiança dos partidos, inclusive com o surgimento de movimentos – como o que ocupou escolas estaduais em todo o país – que querem distância da política tradicional.

A política da não política

Na sede do PCdoB em São Paulo, trajando um vestido vermelho vivo, a deputada Luciana Santos, presidente do partido, usava uma bota plástica cinza que lhe imobilizava uma das pernas, após um acidente doméstico. Sua figura, parte orgulhosa em exibir o vermelho tradicional dos setores da esquerda, parte manquitolando, parecia a metáfora perfeita para o assunto da tarde.

A deputada e ex-prefeita de Olinda (PE) contemporizou o silêncio atual das ruas, argumentando que as manifestações de esquerda, salvo raras exceções – como o movimento pelas Diretas e pela deposição de Fernando Collor de Mello – não chegaram perto da dimensão dos maiores atos contra Dilma (segundo o Datafolha, a manifestação do dia 13 de março de 2016 foi o maior evento político de São Paulo, com 500 mil pessoas). Assim como seus companheiros, Luciana atribuiu parte do sucesso verde-e-amarelo ao apoio da imprensa, que teria trazido, como efeito colateral, uma ojeriza generalizada aos partidos políticos.

Manifestação contra Dilma no dia 13 de março de 2016 foi o maior evento político de São Paulo, com 500 mil pessoas, segundo Instituto Datafolha.

Foto: Getty Images

A exemplo de Boulos e Stédile, ela argumentou que manifestações pontuais têm, sim, ocorrido, como a da classe artística contra a extinção do Ministério da Cultura. Mas, para a deputada, as pessoas se movem diante da perspectiva de vitórias concretas, algo que, no momento, não parece estar no horizonte dos movimentos progressistas. Para piorar, ainda de acordo com a deputada, Temer tem usado sua ampla maioria parlamentar para aprovar medidas com uma rapidez que dificulta a oposição. “É uma agenda muito veloz. Você mal consegue discutir os impactos daquela determinada medida, como foi o caso da PEC dos gastos, e ela já é aprovada”, argumentou. Depois tentou vislumbrar um futuro com menos tropeços.

“É preciso entender a dimensão da batalha que a gente está vivendo e lutar por uma frente ampla, que vá para além da esquerda. É preciso resgatar o papel da política e propor um debate de ideias com saídas para o momento atual do Brasil”, disse.

The post Após baque do Impeachment, esquerda pena para voltar às ruas appeared first on The Intercept.

“Facts Are in the Eye of the Beholder,” Says Roger Stone, Trump Confidante, in Exclusive Interview

6 March 2017 - 1:26pm

The history of the 2016 election is up for grabs. Vying for posterity are two competing myths. One is the Russian conspiracy that elevated Donald Trump into the White House. The other is the “deep state” conspiracy that is laboring to bring him down. The first relies on secret evidence; the second on naked speculation and paranoid hand waving. Each myth has a few bits of fact dangling behind it; both are currently impossible to verify or refute.

Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative and bon vivant, has dealt in this epistemological netherworld for decades. He now has a starring role in the Russia-Trump narrative, as one of four Trump associates reportedly under scrutiny for their ties to Russia, and the only one who spoke openly during the campaign about contact with WikiLeaks. Over the weekend, Trump attempted to seize the offensive, accusing Obama of tapping Trump Tower phone lines. After an Obama spokesperson issued a denial, Stone flew off the handle.

Just nothing better than calling out liberal jerk offs on Twitter. We won, you lost. You're done!

— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) March 5, 2017

Total horseshit from the CIA controlled Washington Post pic.twitter.com/qYlz84XWjS

— Roger Stone (@RogerJStoneJr) March 5, 2017

Stone had especially harsh words for two women, calling Republican commentator Ana Navarro “fat” and “stupid” and one of his online critics a “stupid, ignorant, ugly bitch.” The latter tweet, which Stone deleted, came after Stone said he had a “perfectly legal back channel to Assange.” This echoes what Stone said in a speech last August — that he had “communicated with Assange.” “I believe the next tranche of his documents pertain to the Clinton Foundation,” he continued. “But there’s no telling what the October surprise might be.”

By that time, WikiLeaks had already released thousands of emails from inside the Democratic National Committee, sowing discord during the party’s convention in Philadelphia. Stone’s prediction turned out to be a pretty good one. In October, WikiLeaks began publishing thousands of additional emails from the account of Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

That Stone, a longtime associate of Trump, would brag about ties to WikiLeaks will come as no surprise to those who have followed his long career as a bridge between respectable politicians and the shady saboteurs (or “ratfuckers,” as they were once known) who can deliver campaign knockout blows. Stone began his political career in Washington on the less reputable margins of the Nixon administration. In 1980, he co-founded the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone & Kelly, which advised several Republican presidential candidates as well as corporations and foreign states. An early profile of Stone by Jacob Weisberg from this period pokes fun at Stone’s “self-generated image as a kingmaker,” while noting that the 32-year-old was pulling down a salary of $450,000 a year.

As a policy adviser, Stone has set himself up as an emissary of the white working class, advising candidates to focus on fiscal conservatism and a strong, conflict-averse military, while avoiding strong stances on thorny social issues like gay marriage and abortion. As a tactician, Stone has deployed a variety of unorthodox methods, including disinformation and threats. Stone once undertook a paid smear campaign against Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, during which someone calling from Stone’s number left a message on the voicemail of Spitzer’s father threatening an official subpoena. “There’s not a goddamn thing your phony, psycho, piece-of-shit son can do about it,” said the voice, which “does sound eerily like me,” Stone later said, in an interview with the filmmaker Alex Gibney.

Stone’s lobbying partner Paul Manafort went on to serve as Donald Trump’s second campaign manager during the 2016 presidential race. Manafort resigned under a cloud following reports that he took millions of dollars from a pro-Putin party in Ukraine. Stone, by his own account, had been talking to Trump about a possible presidential run as early as 1988. Manafort, like Stone, is now among the four Trump advisers whose communications and finances are reportedly under scrutiny as part of a federal investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

Stone’s new campaign book, “The Making of the President 2016,” rehashes the campaign season while gently reminding the reader how early, and how often, Roger Stone was in the room. The preface begins by attributing Trump’s victory to the talent, energy, and foresight of Donald Trump himself. It ends with a story of Stone claiming credit for inadvertently saving Trump’s life by delaying him from what turned out to be a fatal helicopter crash. Stone attributes this providential event to cosmic forces. “I know that his life was spared to save our Republic,” he writes.

Like Stone, Trump has a genius for controlling the narrative through repetition. Two appendices document the memes that Stone set into motion on Trump’s behalf. There is a chronology of the “Clinton Rape Tee,” a riff on the Obama/Hope poster, and an impressive list of online traffic statistics relating to Danney Williams, who has long insisted that he is Bill Clinton’s secret love child. The claim was proven to be false in 1999, but, as Stone writes about the Obama birth certificate controversy, one can keep “fanning the flames of uncertainty.” In the case of Williams, Stone has attacked the validity of an old DNA test and promised that a paternity suit would be filed sometime in the future. Stone claims that the Danny Williams meme, supported by a hip-hop video and a targeted Facebook campaign, suppressed the African-American vote in key battleground states. “Truth is not enough,” Stone writes. “It’d be nice if it were, but that’s not the world in which we live. People are busy and have a lot of distractions … attaching truth to something else, especially humor or shock, makes it stick.”

Truth, in other words, doesn’t stand a chance in a click-hungry traffic-driven media environment.

Stone and I spoke by phone twice, on February 26 and March 2. This interview is compiled from both conversations. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

 

What is your current role in the Trump administration?

First and foremost, I am a Trump supporter. I am a Trump friend. I’m a writer, and I express myself best in a memo. I understand how to write a short, pithy, and topical memo. I prefer to share my advice that way. I have no official role whatsoever, other than Trump supporter and friend. And of course, I have to politically kibitz from time to time.

What does the kibitzing entail?

Generally, I think communications between the president and myself should remain private. But my views are well known. You can find them on Twitter. For example, one cannot oppose federal power and cite states’ rights on the transgender bathroom issue, and then turn around say that you support states’ rights to legalize medical marijuana, and then turn around and say that you’re going to crack down on states that legalize recreational marijuana. There’s an intellectual inconsistency there. It is also harmful to the Trump coalition. Although a lot of anti-marijuana conservatives voted for Donald Trump, it’s not their motivating issue. On the other hand, for a lot of young voters and libertarian voters in the Ron Paul, Rand Paul, Gary Johnson realm, this is the issue for them. They voted for Trump based on his assurances about states’ rights. Lastly, legal marijuana is a regulated, billion-dollar business. If you crack down on the three states that have passed recreational marijuana, you’ll lose roughly 200,000 jobs. States and counties will go bankrupt because they’ve already budgeted the tax revenue. So that’s an example of the kind of issue about which I’d be happy to share my opinion with the president.

How does Donald Trump consume information? How does he think through issues and make decisions?

Trump likes to be verbally briefed, after which he asks a number of very tough questions. And he doesn’t always make a decision. He takes it on the wing and says, “OK, I’ll think about it.” He does read. But if you’re writing for him, you need to get to the point — right to the basic facts. He is — at least during the period when I was involved on a daily basis — he was never particularly net-savvy. He would often have the top 10 news stories that were on the net printed out and put in a pile. Then he would read them first thing in the morning. Often, he will either write questions at the bottom of your memo, for you to respond to. Or he will say, “I have questions, call me on this.”

What do you make of his use of Twitter?

Let me back up to your question. As I say in the book, I think this was the first election in which finally the mainstream media lost their monopoly on the dissemination of political information. Now, they have to share the marketplace. This is largely based on a technological advance, as we move from television sets to handheld devices. You can still watch CBS on your handheld device, but you’ve got to go through the internet to get it. When you get to the internet, it doesn’t take you long to figure out that there are more, and better, news outlets. You have choice.

The cost of reaching a large audience has plummeted.

Exactly. Scoff at the politics of Infowars and Alex Jones if you wish. He’s reaching between 12 and 15 million people every week.

I wanted to ask about Alex Jones. You’ve become a regular guest on his show and a sort of emissary between him and the more traditional Republican Party. Now, you’re a familiar figure on the American scene. You were profiled by the New Yorker. You’ve advised presidents. Alex Jones has also been around for a while, and he’s put out a lot of wild stuff, conspiracy theories about Operation Jade Helm, FEMA Camps, crisis actors in Sandy Hook. Does any of that bother you?

First of all, I really like Alex Jones. I think he’s a patriot whose heart is in the right place. Because I appear on Infowars, that does not mean of course that I agree with him on every issue. Just as when I appear on CNN, that doesn’t mean I agree with Wolf Blitzer on everything. I do agree with him on many things. I have not written or read on all these issues. To this day, I don’t know what a chemtrail is. But he’s entitled to these views. Obviously, his audience, which is large, is not turned off by his alternative views. They’re turned on by them. On the issues of immigration and American sovereignty and personal freedom and civil liberties, I agree with him. Jones’s impact within the Republican primaries is very understated. Literally millions of people are watching him on multiple platforms.

I understand that as an audience-mover, he’s a phenomenon.

It’s a massive audience. And these people are Republican primary voters. More precisely, they are Republican activists. They go out and encourage other people to vote in Republican primaries. It would be a mistake to underestimate the importance of the Alex Jones constituency when Alex Jones was up against the Republican establishment and he needed to attract new people.

But is there any risk if millions of people listen to one of these shows and decide that FEMA has a secret plan to put them into camps?

Is there any risk in people seeing the president of United States say that they can keep their health care plan if they like their health care plan? Is there any risk in the president of the United States saying, “Read my lips, no new taxes”? Those are disinformation. I don’t want to say disinformation as well, because I’m unfamiliar with the FEMA camp report that you’re talking about. I haven’t read it. Don’t know it. But, you know, caveat emptor. Let the consumer decide what they choose to believe and who they choose to believe.

That certainly seemed to be BuzzFeed’s attitude when they explained why they published the Trump dossier.

Exactly. And by the way, I never attacked them for publishing the dossier. I attacked John McCain for passing it on, when it was rife with typos and so obviously a fraud. I’ve seen this same exact memo four times. Somebody has always been peddling this since the beginning of the presidential campaign. They get no takers. Because anybody who thinks about this would understand that given Trump’s level of sophistication, if not paranoia, and his love of privacy, if for no other reason than to preserve the element of surprise, and his germophobia — the whole thing is absurd! Zero chance that he would party with a bunch of prostitutes involving urine.

What about these reports that you were in contact with Russian intelligence? Why are law enforcement sources risking their credibility with New York Times reporters and claiming that they have collected evidence under a FISA warrant showing that this is true?

If there is a FISA warrant and my emails and text messages and presumably phone calls have been under surveillance for over a year — all on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, as the FISA court is widely understood to be a rubber stamp for the government — then that is an outrageous violation of my civil liberties on the basis of no evidence. They may learn many, many things. Obviously my communications are private and intensely personal. But I’ll tell you what they’ll also learn. I have not been in touch with any Russians. There is nothing there, regarding the Russians, to see. So ultimately, it will prove my point. This meme begins at the instant Donald Trump said that if the Russians have Hillary Clinton’s missing emails, they should release them. From that point on, Trump-is-in-bed-with-Putin becomes a talking point of the Clinton campaign, and their allies in the Obama administration, who include the people in the intelligence agencies, who are, after all, political appointees at the top, second, and third levels.

In October, you made a couple of statements that seemed to predict future leaks coming out against Clinton from Julian Assange.

I’ve addressed this ad nauseum, in the book and elsewhere. We have a mutual friend. My friend communicates with Assange and he communicates with me. He told me that WikiLeaks has devastating information on Hillary and they’ll start unloading it the first week in October. That’s it. In fact, early in October, Assange announced that he’d be releasing something in the beginning of the week for the next 10 weeks. And he does. And it’s devastating. And it’s all about Hillary. The implication that I had some role or some inside knowledge of precisely the timing and the substance of what Assange and WikiLeaks were going to do is false. Or that I had any input to it, that’s false. I merely said what I had learned, and I reported it at my own website. It’s a big jump from there to “Stone knew everything in advance.” And yes, I did in August say that Podesta’s time in the barrel would come. That was based on my own research into Podesta. None of that information came from WikiLeaks. The idea that I was foreshadowing the hacking of Podesta’s email is false.

Has anyone from federal law enforcement reached out to you as part of an investigation?

No. I would be happy to cooperate with any balanced and impartial investigation by the federal government. But just the disclosure of the FISA warrant is a felony. Just as the disclosure of the surveillance of Gen. Flynn is a felony. So, the leakers at the agency, presumably, beneath the director, are breaking the law. The president is justified in being angry about this.

People broke the law to tell the New York Times that there was an investigation into classified content in Hillary Clinton’s emails. Those were felonies as well, right?

Probably right. But let’s recognize that these agencies are not monolithic. At the top level, you have Obama appointees. At the bottom level, you have honest men and women who are trying to do their duty and have their own views. I suspect there is always an internal struggle and sometimes there are leaks against the leadership, when an agent feels that the agency is covering up a crime, he might leak that. But as Glenn Greenwald said recently in a headline, that’s a justifiable crime.

Greenwald was writing about leaking against Trump.

I understand why they’re doing it. That doesn’t make it less illegal. That’s all I’m saying.

When an issue like Russia becomes this politicized, how can a president come up with a policy? Is there any way to clear the water?

That’s the point of this exercise. There is an effort by those in the government who favor the status quo as far as Russia is concerned, with a continued Cold War, to put the president in a straightjacket so that he can’t make any change in policy if he wishes to. Anybody who thinks Trump is going to go limp about politics in the region doesn’t understand him. His position may be more nuanced, but I don’t think that he is going to roll back any punitive measures against Russia. He is not in Putin’s pocket.

Here’s what I don’t understand. You talk about the neocons who want war and make Trump sound like a Rand Paul-style isolationist, but then I hear him talk about totally obliterating ISIS and taking a much harder line.

He’s left with no choice. ISIS is a loose end. They have to be dealt with. The reason we have them is adventurism by previous administrations. Trump’s call to rebuild our strength and be a deterrent sounds to me like Barry Goldwater. Peace through strength is not a neocon slogan. I don’t think Trump is an isolationist. He’s a non-interventionist.

Earlier you said that Alex Jones has the right to say what he wants to say. Is there anything wrong with Trump using the bully pulpit to call the media “enemies of the people?”

Trump is a truth-teller. He calls it as he sees it. He’s not wrong. This is the politics of polarization, which got Nixon re-elected in 1972 with 49 states. This is pointing out to the people the difference between the regular people and the elites, and how they lie. How they push a false narrative. How big media is in bed with big government and the establishment in the two-party duopoly. They’re invested in the status quo. Yeah, I think that’s all fair commentary­, but —

— but is it different when the president says it?

I think the president is precisely the one who should say it. This is an example of leadership. To those who say this is divisive, well, we’re tired of polite. We’re tired of the phoniness of Washington in which politicians say things because they’re politically correct, things that they know are not true. Trump is not going to do that.

It’s not the divisiveness. It’s more like this guy takes an oath to uphold the Constitution and then sets about talking down most of the values enshrined in the First Amendment by attacking the notion that people can say whatever they want.

I don’t think he’s calling for them to be censored. It’s the left that is calling for the censorship of those who they decide are fake news.

But when the president calls someone an “enemy,” isn’t he calling for heavier sanctions than mere censorship? When the head of the largest military apparatus in the world calls someone an enemy of the people … that’s a military term, right?

That’s an unfair extrapolation of what he said. He didn’t mention censorship. He didn’t mention actions against them. He does have the right to say: “Don’t believe them.” And that’s really what he’s saying. “Don’t believe these people.”

So the military connotation was not his intent?

At the juncture that the president or his administration advocates censorship, that’s when they lose me. I’m outraged now by the attempts to censor my webpage, my YouTube feed, my Twitter feed. Twitter has me on some kind of logarithmic slowdown. The number of retweets has dropped. I have 150,000 followers, but I can’t get verified. There are other people passing themselves off as Roger Stone and I still can’t get verified. Not that I care, but this is just an example of the games being played. I’m against censorship, period. Let everybody have access to the market. I’m outraged by the attempts to censor me and my allies just as I would be outraged by any attempt to censor the president’s critics. [ed. — The Intercept has contacted Twitter regarding both of Stone’s claims and will update this post with any response.]

Do you have any predictions for how Trump’s coalition will evolve over the next election cycle?

It depends on whether the president is true to those who elected him. I would have to admit, candidly, when I see this many people from Goldman Sachs in the house, that I find it mildly disturbing. When I see all these quislings from the Republican National Committee on the staff and then people wonder why the place is leaking like a sieve. But in the end, I put my faith in the president.

You’ve talked about the “deep state.” Why is it that when the intelligence community is leaking about Flynn’s Russia contacts, that is the work of the deep state, but when the FBI leaks about Hillary’s emails, that isn’t the deep state? Is there a difference?

Because the people who I suspect are leaking against the president are running these agencies and have authority. The leaks that have come out against Hillary are coming from the middle and lower levels of the agencies from people who see a political cover-up and want to thwart it. They are not the deep state. They don’t run anything. They just have information. They may have a political view, but they are not running the agency. They have no influence beyond their obtaining, or having access to, information.

They had enough influence to get Comey to put out that letter before the election.

Comey had no choice. The NYPD had and has a copy of the 650,000 emails. Comey’s statement, days before the election, that there’s nothing in there, is a bald-faced lie. This is just supposition, but I think the FBI director looked at the content and said they’re going to hang me if I don’t do something.

My colleague Jon Schwarz has asked this question: Why doesn’t Trump just declassify everything we have about his supposed Russia contacts and those of members of his campaign, just to put the matter at rest?

Not the worst idea I’ve ever heard. Perfectly OK with me.

How are you thinking about the controversy over Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he didn’t meet with any Russians?

I think it’s conceivable that he misunderstood the question, that he thought he was being asked if he had spoken to any Russian contact about the campaign and therefore he thought a conversation he had with the Russian ambassador in which politics was not in any way the subject — he was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee — would not pertain. That’s just a guess. It’s still immaterial. The Trump campaign didn’t have any contact with the Russians, wasn’t infiltrated with the Russians, didn’t get any help from the Russians. They call me a dirty trickster? This is the greatest Democratic dirty trick of all. This all dates to a Hillary Clinton campaign talking point. There’s no beef. There’s no proof. Because it didn’t happen.

It does seem like the Trump transition was in touch with the Russians at some point. Are there reasons for that that might be innocuous?

First of all, that would be after the election. Secondarily, I don’t know that that’s improper. The new administration is going to have to have some relationship and communication with the Russians. It looked to me like Gen. Flynn’s call was for the purposes of setting up a phone call between the presidents of the two countries. That appears to be perfectly appropriate and within his job description. I have no idea why he misled the vice president about it.

Could there be reasons for contact with the Russians, during the campaign, before the election, that would not necessarily be inappropriate?

None come to mind. There’s no reason. There just isn’t any reason. Why would you do that? Congresswoman Maxine Waters said the Russians fed Trump the line “Crooked Hillary.” Bullshit. Donald Trump came up with Crooked Hillary. As he did Lyin’ Ted. As he did Little Marco.

So all these members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who say that the FBI does have evidence of contact between the Russian government and the Trump campaign — is that all made up?

Let’s see it. Yes. I’m calling them out. I say, it’s not true. Let’s see the proof. Again, they may have been told that by some of the intelligence agencies but where’s the beef? Where’s the proof? Again, the New York Times specifically says, emails, records of financial transactions, and transcripts of phone calls. Produce them! Where are they! Let’s settle this once and for all. [ed. The Times reported that federal agencies had obtained “intercepted communications and financial transactions” from the Trump campaign as part of their investigation, and that “intelligence reports based on some of the wiretapped communications had been provided to the White House.”]

You said this intermediary with WikiLeaks was a mutual friend and an American journalist. Is there anything else you can share about that contact?

No. But given that it is true, if you reject the idea that WikiLeaks works for the Russians, what difference would it make? I would have every right to communicate directly or indirectly with WikiLeaks. I believe Assange when he says he doesn’t work for any nation-state. He doesn’t work for the Russians.

I guess it comes down to this: At what point does contact equal coordination? Or is it just meeting with people and talking?

You write for a website. I write for a website. Your job is to go out and ask questions. Seek information. That’s also my job. That’s what I do. I’m a best-selling author. I have a website with thousands of people reading it every day. And I have no official role in the Trump campaign. And I’m not on the Trump payroll.

Is it accurate that you did have an official role prior to August?

Yes. I was a consultant for three months — June, July, and August.

And you were paid for that period of time.

Correct.

Given all that, why not just talk to Assange directly?

I never made any attempt to do so.

You said you heard that there might be leaks coming. But knowing everything about you, and the hard work that you’ve done to get clients elected in the past, wouldn’t it be reasonable for people to guess that if you were in touch with Assange, you would try to coordinate the timing of these releases? Why not do that?

But why would anyone believe that I had any reasonable ability to do so? Assange’s goal is not the election of Donald Trump. I would have no influence with him. Why would I have any reason to believe that he is interested in advice or coordination?

Actually, some have suggested that Assange’s goal was to elect Donald Trump, given the content of the WikiLeaks releases and their timing.

People are entitled to believe whatever they want. They’re certainly entitled to believe that I might try to do that. I just didn’t. Again, just like you don’t divulge the identity of your sources, I have no compulsion or requirement to divulge the identity of mine. A good source told me accurately that he had learned from WikiLeaks, that he had learned from Assange, that they had devastating political information on Hillary Clinton that they would begin to disclose in October. That’s the sum total of what I knew. I never sent any message back.

In the book’s appendix, you cite traffic figures for the propagation of the meme around Danney Williams, who continues to claim that he is Bill Clinton’s secret love child.

Frankly, I think anybody who has seen the multiple videos will say that Danney and his mother and his aunt make a pretty compelling argument. Remember, this isn’t a court of law. This is the court of public opinion. Obviously, many African-American voters believe that Danney is Bill’s son. As I show in the book, in the places targeted [with the Williams meme by the Trump campaign], African-American voter participation was down overall, and Clinton’s share was off from her national averages.

If those voters believe it’s true, does it matter whether it’s true?

The point is, it is true. I believe it’s true. And I believe it will be proven. For anybody who says “you are spreading disinformation,” I just don’t agree with that. I think I am spreading the truth.

In the book, you say that the truth gets lost with the car keys sometimes, that it doesn’t quite stick on its own. What is truth to you, given all this evidence flying back and forth and people’s beliefs being so malleable? How do you think of the truth?

How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? It’s a question that can’t be answered. Facts are, obviously, in the eye of the beholder. You have an obligation to make a compelling case. Caveat emptor. Let the consumer decide what he or she believes or doesn’t believe based on how compelling a case you put forward for your point of view.

That sounds like a relativist position.

But that’s what campaigns are about. Obama claims that he created jobs. His opponents claim that he didn’t.

It seems that with each subsequent election cycle, there is less political reality outside of the campaign.

The voters have always made the decision. Lyndon Johnson said we weren’t going any further into Vietnam. He got elected. What did he do? He went further into Vietnam. Franklin Roosevelt said he wasn’t going to send your sons or daughters into any foreign war. Except that he did, shortly after winning the election.

Jeff Sessions says that he didn’t meet with any Russians. Then it turns out that he did. You say you didn’t meet with any Russians. And you’re saying that we should trust you on that.

Well, I’m saying that it will ultimately be proven that I didn’t.

Again, couldn’t President Trump prove exactly that by ordering that these records be declassified?

I don’t think there’s anything to declassify. That’s the point. As we discussed earlier, if the FISA court really did issue a secret warrant for my communications over a year ago, that’s an outrageous violation of my right to privacy. But I can sleep at night because I know those records will show no contact with anybody or anything Russian.

Top photo: Roger Stone speaks to the media at Trump Tower on Dec. 6, 2016, in New York City.

The post “Facts Are in the Eye of the Beholder,” Says Roger Stone, Trump Confidante, in Exclusive Interview appeared first on The Intercept.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act Would Jeopardize Women’s Health

6 March 2017 - 11:36am

Nafisa Hussein was 21 when a ruptured ovarian cyst nearly killed her. The native New Yorker underwent a number of therapies — including the use of several different expensive birth control options — before it was ultimately determined that she would need to undergo a hysterectomy.

It was tough news for a young woman who had dreamed of having children. But there was still hope: She could retain her remaining ovary and use birth control to keep it healthy, which in turn would enable her some day to start a family using a surrogate. “I’m just one of many, many women taking birth control in hopes of starting a family one day,” she wrote in an email to The Intercept.

But while Hussein does have health insurance, she is still worried that the rhetoric coming from the Trump administration around women’s health and rights might put her access to birth control in jeopardy.

Indeed, it wasn’t until the Affordable Care Act passed that many basic issues of healthcare parity were finally put into place; before the ACA, for example, insurance companies covered erectile dysfunction drugs like Viagra but would not cover birth control. Most women had to pay out of pocket for birth control, a yearly expense that could creep above $1,000. The ACA changed that, requiring health insurance plans to include birth control coverage at no extra expense. It is just one of a number of benefits of the law aimed directly at bettering women’s access to reproductive health care.

While Hussein thinks that she would probably be able to come up with a co-pay if the birth control benefit were erased by a Congress and White House that have made clear their disdain for the ACA, she knows that other women would not be as fortunate. And she worries further that without support for access to birth control, insurance companies could potentially determine that it simply isn’t medically necessary and decline to cover it at all. For her, that could be deadly. Without birth control, the risk of developing a cyst on her remaining ovary increases. “And if anything happens to my remaining ovary, not only would that put my life in danger, but also my ability to one day have the family that I’m really just trying everything I can to be able to do,” the 27-year-old said. “I feel that the medical necessity of birth control is in danger with this new administration and that’s what worries me.”

Planned Parenthood, pictured Feb. 6, in South Austin, Texas, provides healthcare for women.

Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman for The Intercept

It’s hardly an irrational fear, as the lust to repeal the ACA, to defund Planned Parenthood, and to otherwise restrict women’s access to reproductive health care is at a near fever pitch among conservative Republicans — despite President Donald Trump’s lame attempt to suggest otherwise during his speech to Congress last week. In an odd eruption of word-salad, Trump tossed out the need to “invest in women’s health” as a priority — along with the need to “rebuild” the military and “promote” clean air and water.

The line was certainly a meaningless throwaway considering that he had just spent a fair amount of time attacking the ACA — “save Americans from this imploding Obamacare disaster,” he asked Congress — legislation that has invested deeply in women’s health, has increased access to care and leveled a health care playing field traditionally stacked in favor of men.

“The gains that we have seen under the ACA in recent years with women’s access to preventive care, to birth control, to maternity care, to just being able to have access to health insurance coverage broadly, all of those things have been critically important to women and in particular to lower-income women and to women of color,” said Amy Friedrich-Karnik, senior federal policy adviser at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “So to strip any of that, or all of that … would obviously have a detrimental impact on women’s lives and their ability to access the care that they need.”

Prior to the passage of the ACA, women faced a number of barriers to care that are not shared by men. In addition to having to pay out-of-pocket for birth control, just 12 percent of health insurance plans actually included coverage of maternity care — a suite of basic prenatal and postpartum services designed to ensure healthy births and reduce maternal mortality. Like men, women could be denied coverage for preexisting conditions — but for women those conditions included things like having had a cesarean section or having received medical treatment for sexual assault.

Except in a small number of states where it was outlawed, women were regularly the victims of “gender rating,” the practice of charging women far more than men for comparable health insurance. A study by the National Women’s Law Center found that 92 percent of the best-selling health plans practiced gender rating — in some cases charging women up to 85 percent more for insurance. Fifty-six percent of the most popular plans charged a 40-year-old female non-smoker more for insurance than a 40-year-old male smoker.

But the ACA changed all of that, notes Jamila K. Taylor, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “Women are no longer allowed to be discriminated against in terms of their health coverage. You have to cover people who have preexisting conditions … and women can’t be charged more for their coverage,” she said. “What the ACA did is that it really did change and reform health care and how insurance companies operate and the services provided.”

That in turn has increased coverage for millions of women. Nine-and-a-half million women obtained health insurance under the law and 55 million women gained access to expanded, no-cost preventive services, like no-pay birth control. The birth control provision alone has saved women $1.4 billion per year. Similarly, banning gender rating has saved women roughly $1 billion per year.

If the ACA goes away, so do these benefits — but not only for those who have gained coverage via the insurance exchanges or the expansion of Medicaid; every woman covered by private insurance — be it through an employer or via the individual market — would also stand to lose these protections.

How exactly Congress intends to rework the ACA is unclear; though committee members are reportedly set to start the mark-up of a replacement measure this week, that bill has not been shared — with either policy experts or the general public — or even with most members of Congress.

Signs are pretty clear the proposed changes will be unlikely to benefit women’s health.

First, there’s the desire to remake Medicaid, likely by transforming it into a state block grant scheme that would almost certainly mean a significant reduction in funding for a program that traditionally covers health care — including preventive reproductive care — for some of the nation’s poorest women. (In Texas, for example, to be eligible for Medicaid services, a single woman with one dependent can make no more than $152 per month.)

Equally troubling is the Republican promise to include language that would strip from Planned Parenthood all sources of federal funding. The strained logic for this is that because some Planned Parenthood clinics that do not receive federal funding (except in rare circumstances) provide abortion care, Planned Parenthood clinics that do not provide abortion care should not receive federal funding to provide low-income, uninsured or underinsured clients with preventive, family-planning care.

Planned Parenthood, pictured Feb. 6, in South Austin provides healthcare for women.

Photo: Ilana Panich-Linsman for The Intercept

The majority of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding comes via Medicaid reimbursements — to the tune of roughly $390 million per year — but the group also provides reproductive care via the Title X program, which is the nation’s only pot of funding dedicated to providing family planning care — including cervical and breast cancer screenings and counseling and access to birth control.

In all, Planned Parenthood receives roughly $500 million per year to provide care to some 2.5 million patients; roughly two-thirds of all Planned Parenthood clients receive care through a government-funded program.

Experts argue that dismantling ACA — removing the access and protections it provides women — tinkering with Medicaid, and potentially even decreasing or eliminating Title X funding, while simultaneously defunding Planned Parenthood, would create a potentially insurmountable roadblock for women seeking to plan their reproductive lives. “The assault is coming from all sides to all of these different programs,” said the CRR’s Friedrich-Karnik.

By repealing the ACA the government would almost ensure that millions more women would need to obtain preventive care from safety net providers like Planned Parenthood who use Medicaid and Title X to deliver services; but without Medicaid, Title X, and Planned Parenthood it is unclear where they could go. “Invariably, any attack on the health system and on the safety net would result in fewer women having access to care,” said Audrey Sandusky, director of advocacy and communications for the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. “And that’s troubling and that will result in diminished health outcomes in communities across the country.”

How dire it might get is entirely unclear. For example, while the birth control mandate under the ACA is quite popular with the public, that is not the case with some conservative lawmakers — including new Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. As a Republican Congressman from Georgia, Price opposed the ACA and in particular its requirement that insurers provide no-cost birth control, a provision he dismissed as totally unnecessary. “Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one,” he said in response to a question about how low-income women might obtain birth control if coverage was rescinded. “The fact of the matter is that this is a trampling on religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”

Foes of reproductive autonomy have often couched their distaste of the birth control mandate in terms that frame it as though it is a form of religious persecution, an argument that has had some traction, notably in the Hobby Lobby stores case that was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Ironically, rolling back access to preventive reproductive care would more than likely lead to an increase in the number of abortions, which have fallen to historic lows. As Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards pointed out in a statement following Trump’s speech to Congress, the birth control mandate is “directly tied” to the decrease in women seeking abortion. “If this Administration and Congress want to invest in women’s health, they should listen to women,” she said.

In all, and given the overarching disrespect for women that Trump and his administration seem to embody, there is no reason to believe that the president’s assertion that investing in women’s health means anything at all. “Across the board, their policies don’t do anything to support women,” said the CAP’s Taylor. “With President Trump making that statement about investing in women’s health, I haven’t seen any indication at all that that is something on the table for them.”

Top photo: A nurse practitioner uses a fetal heart monitor on a pregnant patient at the Borinquen Medical Center on Aug. 2, 2016 in Miami.

The post Repealing the Affordable Care Act Would Jeopardize Women’s Health appeared first on The Intercept.

Mulheres do mundo inteiro vão parar no próximo dia 8

6 March 2017 - 10:50am

Um dia sem mulheres: essa é a proposta da Greve Internacional de Mulheres, ou apenas #8M, um ato de protesto organizado de forma colaborativa por ativistas de 50 países. A proposta é que, por quanto tempo puderem, pelo menos por alguns minutos, mulheres parem suas tarefas como um manifesto contra o feminicídio e a desigualdade de gêneros.

No Brasil, o movimento está sendo unificado sob o nome de Parada Brasileira de Mulheres e já está organizado em estados como Rio de Janeiro, PernambucoRio Grande do Sul. Além de eventos em grupo, como marchas e rodas de debate, as interessadas também estão convidadas a fazerem pequenas ações, como vestir roupas da cor lilás e usar o tempo de almoço para conversar com as colegas de trabalho sobre as desigualdades de gênero.

Uma das coordenadoras do movimento Ni Una Menos na Argentina, Cecilia Palmeiro está trabalhando na conexão entre as ações nos diferentes países e explicou ao The Intercept Brasil que a greve do próximo dia 8 vai funcionar nos moldes da greve-geral organizada na Argentina em 2016:

 

“O que fizemos na primeira greve foi uma hora de cessação de atividade, só por uma hora. Deu super certo. Nos vestimos também de preto, todas. Era muito interessante visibilizar a cumplicidade entre nós. Você saía para a rua e via todas as mulheres vestidas de preto. É uma ação para nós ficarmos juntas, sei lá, 15 minutos. Você pode deixar de trabalhar 15 minutos, meia hora, uma hora, o que der, está ótimo”, diz Palmiero.

A greve internacional de mulheres já chega a mais de 50 países

Palmeiro conta que esta foi a saída encontrada para que todas pudessem participar. Ela frisa que apenas mulheres sindicalizadas conseguiriam fazer uma greve nos padrões conhecidos — em que se para um dia inteiro, pelo menos —, e esta não é uma realidade majoritária.

Muitas trabalham como empregadas domésticas para outras mulheres poderem trabalhar fora de casa. Hoje, são aproximadamente 6 milhões de empregadas domésticas no Brasil. A ideia é que a paralisação não faça recair mais trabalho nos ombros dessas, mas que elas também possam fazer parte do movimento.

Dados do Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatística (IBGE) mostram que 44% das mulheres empregadas no país não têm carteira assinada (contra 37% entre homens) e que o desemprego também afeta mais a elas: entre as mulheres, o índice é três pontos percentuais mais alto, 13,8%.

A articulação internacional representa um novo passo para o feminismo. Agora, as ações atingem nível global. “Vai ser um antes e depois na história do movimento feminista, porque nós conseguimos nos articular mundialmente”, afirma Palmeiro.

Contudo, o ideal mesmo seria que, em vez de um “dia sem mulheres”, chegasse o dia sem opressões e agressões contra as mesmas. Se isso acontecesse, a produtividade do país tenderia a melhorar com o tratamento igualitário para ambos os gêneros no mercado de trabalho, por exemplo. E, em apenas 24 horas, 131 mulheres deixariam de ser estupradas, as vidas de 16 seriam poupadas e 205 deixariam de ser agredidas.

The post Mulheres do mundo inteiro vão parar no próximo dia 8 appeared first on The Intercept.

Democrats Now Demonize the Same Russia Policies that Obama Long Championed

6 March 2017 - 8:37am

One of the most bizarre aspects of the all-consuming Russia frenzy is the Democrats’ fixation on changes to the RNC platform concerning U.S. arming of Ukraine. The controversy began in July when the Washington Post reported that “the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes last week to make sure the new Republican platform won’t call for giving weapons to Ukraine to fight Russian and rebel forces.”

Ever since then, Democrats have used this language change as evidence that Trump and his key advisers have sinister connections to Russians and corruptly do their bidding at the expense of American interests. Democratic Senator Ben Cardin, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, spoke for many in his party when he lambasted the RNC change in a July letter to the New York Times, castigating it as “dangerous thinking” that shows Trump is controlled, or at least manipulated, by the Kremlin. Democrats resurrected this line of attack this weekend when Trump advisers acknowledged that campaign officials were behind the platform change.

This attempt to equate Trump’s opposition to arming Ukraine with some sort of treasonous allegiance to Putin masks a rather critical fact: namely, that the refusal to arm Ukraine with lethal weapons was one of Barack Obama’s most steadfastly held policies. The original Post article that reported the RNC platform change noted this explicitly:

Of course, Trump is not the only politician to oppose sending lethal weapons to Ukraine. President Obama decided not to authorize it, despite recommendations to do so from his top Europe officials in the State Department and the military.

Early media reports about this controversy from outlets such as NPR also noted the irony at the heart of this debate: namely, that arming Ukraine was the long-time desire of hawks in the GOP such as John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio, but the Obama White House categorically resisted those pressures:

Republicans in Congress have approved providing arms to the Ukrainian government but the White House has resisted, saying that it would only encourage more bloodshed.

It’s a rare Obama administration policy that the Trump campaign seems to agree with.

Indeed, the GOP ultimately joined with the hawkish wing of the Democratic Party to demand that Obama provide Ukraine with lethal weapons to fight Russia, but Obama steadfastly refused. As the New York Times reported in March, 2015, “President Obama is coming under increasing pressure from both parties and more officials inside his own government to send arms to the country. But he remains unconvinced that they would help.” When Obama kept refusing, leaders of the two parties threatened to enact legislation forcing Obama to arm Ukraine.

The general Russia approach that Democrats now routinely depict as treasonous – avoiding confrontation with and even accommodating Russian interests, not just in Ukraine but also in Syria – was one of the defining traits of Obama’s foreign policy. This fact shouldn’t be overstated: Obama engaged in provocative acts such as moves to further expand NATO, non-lethal aid to Ukraine, and deploying “missile defense” weaponry in Romania. But he rejected most calls to confront Russia. That is one of the primary reasons the “foreign policy elite” – which, recall, Obama came into office denouncing and vowing to repudiate – was so dissatisfied with his presidency.

A new, long article by Politico foreign affairs correspondent Susan Glasser – on the war being waged against Trump by Washington’s “foreign policy elite” – makes this point very potently. Say what you will about Politico, but one thing they are very adept at doing is giving voice to cowardly Washington insiders by accommodating their cowardice and thus routinely granting them anonymity to express themselves. As journalistically dubious as it is to shield the world’s most powerful people with anonymity, this practice sometimes ends up revealing what careerist denizens of Washington power really think but are too scared to say. Glasser’s article, which largely consists of conveying the views of anonymous high-level Obama officials, contains this remarkable passage:

In other words, Democrats are now waging war on, and are depicting as treasonous, one of Barack Obama’s central and most steadfastly held foreign policy positions, one that he clung to despite attacks from leading members of both parties as well as the DC National Security Community. That’s not Noam Chomsky drawing that comparison; it’s an Obama appointee.

The destructive bipartisan Foreign Policy Community was furious with Obama for not confronting Russia more, and is now furious with Trump for the same reason (though they certainly loath and fear Trump for other reasons, including the threat they believe he poses to U.S. imperial management through a combination of ineptitude, instability, toxic PR, naked rather than prettified savagery, and ideology; Glasser writes: “‘Everything I’ve worked for for two decades is being destroyed,’ a senior Republican told me”).

 

All of this demonstrates how fundamental a shift has taken place as a result of the Democrats’ election-related fixation on The Grave Russian Threat. To see how severe the shift is, just look at this new polling data from CNN this morning that shows Republicans and Democrats doing a complete reversal on Russia in the span of eight months:

The Democrats’ obsession with Russia has not just led them to want investigations into allegations of hacking and (thus far evidence-free) suspicions of Trump campaign collusion – investigations which everyone should want. It’s done far more than that: it’s turned them into increasingly maniacal and militaristic hawks – dangerous ones – when it comes to confronting the only nation with a larger nuclear stockpile than the U.S., an arsenal accompanied by a sense of fear, if not outright encirclement, from NATO expansion.

Put another way, establishment Democrats – with a largely political impetus but now as a matter of conviction – have completely abandoned Obama’s accommodationist approach to Russia and have fully embraced the belligerent, hawkish mentality of John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Bill Kristol, the CIA and Evan McMullin. It should thus come as no surprise that a bill proposed by supreme warmonger Lindsey Graham to bar Trump from removing sanctions against Russia has more Democratic co-sponsors than Republican ones.

This is why it’s so notable that Democrats, in the name of “resistance,” have aligned with neocons, CIA operatives and former Bush officials: not because coalitions should be avoided with the ideologically impure, but because it reveals much about the political and policy mindset they’ve adopted in the name of stopping Trump. They’re not “resisting” Trump from the left or with populist appeals – by, for instance, devoting themselves to protection of Wall Street and environmental regulations under attack, or supporting the revocation of jobs-killing free trade agreements, or demanding that Yemini civilians not be massacred.

Instead, they’re attacking him on the grounds of insufficient nationalism, militarism, and aggression: equating a desire to avoid confrontation with Moscow as a form of treason (just like they did when they were the leading Cold Warriors). This is why they’re finding such common cause with the nation’s most bloodthirsty militarists – not because it’s an alliance of convenience but rather one of shared convictions (indeed, long before Trump, neocons were planning a re-alignment with Democrats under a Clinton presidency). And the most ironic – and over-looked – aspect of this whole volatile spectacle is how much Democrats have to repudiate and demonize one of Obama’s core foreign policy legacies while pretending that they’re not doing that.

The post Democrats Now Demonize the Same Russia Policies that Obama Long Championed appeared first on The Intercept.

Did Angela Garcia Kill Her Own Daughters — Or Did Prosecutors Cover Up a Wrongful Conviction?

5 March 2017 - 10:43am

On a Monday morning last spring, as downtown Cleveland got a facelift before the Republican National Convention, 39-year-old Angela Garcia sat anxiously in a courtroom wearing jail scrubs and clogs. It was the day after Mother’s Day, the 16th time the holiday had passed since her children died. Garcia waited for the judge’s cue, then stood up to do something she had sworn she’d never do.

1The Plea

“Guilty,” she said when asked how she pleaded to the killing of her daughter Nyeemah Garcia, age 3. “Guilty,” she repeated, her voice cracking at the name of her second daughter, 2-year-old Nijah Evans. In the back of the courtroom, her sisters quietly wiped away tears. Cuyahoga County Judge Michael Astrab asked her to reiterate that she had, indeed, set the fire that killed her children. Yes, Garcia said, suppressing a sob.

Nobody had expected the day to go this way. Not Garcia’s family, who stood firmly by her side over the past decade and a half as she swore the 1999 fire had been a tragic accident. Not her lawyer, Assistant Ohio Public Defender Joanna Sanchez, who had prepared for months to make the case for a new trial. And not the two expert witnesses for the defense, Richard Roby and John DeHaan, distinguished fire scientists who flew hundreds of miles to testify that “there was no evidence of arson,” as both insisted afterward. All of them left the courtroom certain that Garcia had just pleaded guilty to a crime that was never a crime at all.

Garcia had been convicted of setting her house on fire, intentionally killing her daughters. Prosecutors said she was driven by greed: tens of thousands of dollars in insurance money and the freedom to pursue a life with her fiancé. The state of Ohio tried to convict her three times — at first it sought the death penalty — and after two hung juries, finally succeeded in May 2001. Garcia was sentenced to life, with a shot at parole after 49 1/2 years. She would be 72.

But as with many arson cases that have come under scrutiny in recent years, the evidence against Garcia was flawed — based on circumstantial evidence, a flimsy fire investigation, and junk science. Garcia spent more than a decade in prison before her case was taken up by the Ohio Public Defender in Columbus. In 2015, she won a rare evidentiary hearing, with Sanchez arguing that advances in fire science should qualify as new evidence in Garcia’s case. The motion was based on a review of the evidence by Dr. DeHaan, whose book, “Kirk’s Fire Investigation,” is a staple in the industry. DeHaan, who has since retired, has spent years working to exonerate people wrongly accused of arson. His report exposed the lack of scientific validity behind Garcia’s conviction, pointing to accidental scenarios that were never explored, along with recent scientific studies that have further undermined the state’s case. “The court should be forced to realize it was a wrongful conviction, set it aside, and be done with it,” DeHaan said on the day of the hearing.

For Dr. Roby, who testified at Garcia’s final trial in 2001, the hearing was a second chance to set the record straight about a fire scenario that had grown even more dubious with each new scientific revelation about fire behavior. “As the years have gone by, this case has looked more and more and more egregious,” Roby told Sanchez when she asked him to return to Cleveland for the evidentiary hearing. He flew on his own dime.

But the chance never came. On the morning of May 9, 2016, Cuyahoga County prosecutor Richard Bell pre-empted the proceedings with an unexpected plea offer. The deal required Garcia to admit she set the fire, keeping the aggravated arson conviction intact while reducing the charge of first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter. Rather than gamble on the hope of a new trial — which, if granted, still carried the risk of another guilty verdict — Garcia could be out of prison in less than six years.

“As the years have gone by, this case has looked more and more and more egregious.”

Plea deals are central to the machinery of the criminal justice system — and often the best of a bad set of options for the innocent and guilty alike. But the result is that people often plead guilty to crimes they did not commit, a problem so pervasive the Innocence Project just launched a new campaign to raise awareness of the issue. In cases that turn on flawed forensics — a growing concern across the country — the effect is to preserve junk science rather than expose and correct it.

In the time since Garcia went to prison, more than 50 people have been exonerated in arson cases across the country, with many more convictions overturned. Spurring the trend is the debunking of long-held myths that once guided fire investigation, along with some shocking miscarriages of justice. In 2004, Texas executed Cameron Todd Willingham for killing his three children over the protests of fire experts who had dismantled the forensic evidence in his case. While the state has refused to admit its mistake, the Texas State Fire Marshal subsequently took the unprecedented step of re-examining old arson convictions in collaboration with the Innocence Project. Last November, Texas finally exonerated 68-year-old Sonia Cacy, 25 years after she was wrongfully convicted of a 1991 arson murder. More recently, Utah prosecutors dropped charges against a man named Herbert Landry, who fled Hurricane Katrina only to be arrested for trying to burn down his apartment complex in 2006. Like Garcia’s conviction, his two-day trial hinged on visual evidence that had long been discredited in the scientific community — burn patterns found at the scene of the fire, which investigators claimed as proof that he had poured a flammable liquid. In fact, the fire was an accident.

In the courtroom last May, one of Garcia’s sisters muttered what others were thinking: The state’s case was weak, and Bell knew it. “They ain’t got nothing,” she said under her breath. “That’s why they’re doing that shit.” Bell was the same man who convicted Garcia in 2001; he had never shown signs he would strike a deal. Garcia herself had declined a plea offer years before, refusing to say she killed her children. But now, after 15 years in prison, she suddenly had a glimpse of freedom. She would take it. As the decision sunk in, Garcia’s mother, Lucy, left the courtroom abruptly, unable to bear the sight of her daughter pleading guilty. “We’ve been doing this for so long,” Garcia’s older sister Judy said afterward, with a weary mix of sadness and relief.

The official ending, as told by the state of Ohio, is that Angela Garcia was guilty of arson all along. “Garcia’s plea comports with the 2001 testimony of a jailhouse snitch named Tonya Lanum,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported, “who said that Garcia told her: ‘I didn’t mean to kill my kids. It was all a misunderstanding and it was supposed to be an insurance thing.’” But an investigation of the case by The Intercept reveals a more likely scenario, in which the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office aggressively prosecuted an innocent woman using unreliable evidence, then orchestrated a plea deal to cover it up.

In the years since Garcia went to prison, state actors central to her conviction — including the trial judge — have been arrested for ethical crimes, seriously calling into question their handling of her case. And perhaps most importantly, evidence uncovered in the months after the plea deal last spring shows that Bell and his colleague Mary McGrath were perfectly aware that their 2001 conviction of Garcia was based on junk science. Rather than grapple with the possibility that they had wrongly imprisoned a young mother who lost her children, Sanchez says, they “offered the deal as a way to make the case go away as fast as possible.”

Today, Garcia’s guilty plea leaves several unanswered questions. What caused that tragic fire in the fall of 1999? Does the state really believe its own arson theory? If so, why did Bell offer Garcia a plea deal before the court ruled on her motion for a new trial? And if not, shouldn’t she be exonerated, rather than being slapped with more years in prison and a lifelong felony record?

One person who found the outcome disturbing was Cuyahoga County Judge Mike Donnelly, an outspoken advocate of transparency in plea deals, who observed the case from afar. Prosecutors are not obligated to protect their convictions, he told me the day after the hearing, in his chambers at the Cuyahoga Court of Common Pleas. “They’re obligated to seek the truth. And do justice.”

“The question needs to be asked of the state in this case: Why did you do what you did? Why?”

Cleveland firefighters respond to the scene at 9618 Harvard Ave. on November 20, 1999.

Photo: Cleveland Fire Investigation Unit

2The Fire

The fire at 9618 Harvard Ave. began around dinnertime on November 20, 1999. It was the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Next door, Shirley Brandon was on the phone when she heard someone banging on her door. It was her neighbor Angela Garcia, “hollering, help me, help, me,” as Brandon would later testify. Brandon’s sister, Penny, was there too; she later told the Plain Dealer a panicked Garcia said “her babies were inside.”

Brandon dialed 911, then raced with Garcia toward her house. Brandon tried to get in but both the front and back entrances were locked. Firefighters arrived in minutes, but it was too late. The flames had ripped through the two-story home. “It was like it had a face,” Brandon would recall. “It was just reaching in and out the windows. It was spinning all around in the house and like saying, ‘anything in my way, I am taking it with me.’” A crowd gathered as firefighters searched for Garcia’s toddlers, Nyeemah and Nijah. One at a time, the men emerged holding their small, limp bodies. The girls had been found in the master bedroom upstairs, both severely burned. Nyeemah had gotten tangled in the window blinds, which “melted all around her,” one firefighter later testified, calling it “a nightmare.” Both were declared dead from smoke inhalation.

Cleveland Fire Lt. Albert Lugo went to the city’s MetroHealth Medical Center later that night with his boss, Capt. Richard L. Patton. Lugo became a firefighter straight out of high school, joining the Fire Investigation Unit in 1986. Since then, he’d determined the origin and cause of nearly 2,000 fires. In Ohio and around the country, men like Lugo had been trained on the job, working alongside more experienced investigators who taught them to spot the signs of arson. Such work was considered more art than science, rooted in instinct, experience, and the sharpest skills of observation. In Cleveland, like many cities, fire investigators were trained primarily as cops, armed with police powers and working alongside detectives and prosecutors in the Justice Center downtown.

Lugo took a statement from Garcia at the hospital, where she had just viewed her daughters’ bodies. In a report the next day, he summarized her version of events. She had been talking on a three-way phone call with her mother and sister when she went to use the bathroom upstairs. There were scented candles burning in the dining and living room. Nyeemah and Nijah were in the spare bedroom. Garcia couldn’t say how long she was in the bathroom, just somewhere between five and 10 minutes. (At first, Lugo wrote, Garcia said she had to “change her ‘pad’. She then corrected herself and said that she did not change her ‘pad.’”) At one point, Nyeemah tried to come in to tell her something, but Garcia shooed her away. Shortly after that, Garcia began coughing. She tried washing her face, but it didn’t help. As she left the bathroom, the lights went off. “She noticed that the hallway was starting to fill up with smoke,” Lugo wrote. “She then started to go downstairs but was met with a gush of smoke coming up the stairway.” Garcia “gathered her children,” leading them to her bedroom, but lost them in the dark. “She then broke the glass from the window and exited out into the porch roof. She slid out of the roof and fell to the ground,” then ran next door for help.

The house at 9618 Harvard Ave. after the fire.

Photo: Adrian Scott

Returning to the house the next morning, Lugo concluded that the fire was likely a tragic accident. Although it had spread fast and left some unusual burn patterns, a private investigator swept the grounds with his accelerant-sniffing dog, Pyra, to search for signs of an ignitable liquid — the dog did not alert. No materials were collected for testing. Instead, Lugo based his conclusion on an area of significant destruction: a gaping hole in the dining room floor where a large candle had once stood, perhaps knocked over by “one of the children,” as he wrote in his report. Lugo drew a diagram of the house, identifying this as the area of origin — a puddle shape in the northeast corner of the dining room. There were few additional details. “After carefully reviewing the fire scene,” Lugo wrote, “it was determined that this was an accidental fire.” The cause was “undetermined,” pending further investigation. But the next day, on November 22, the house was torn down.

Patton, the head of the FIU, remained suspicious. He had examined the bedroom windows, noticing they were pretty narrow, and that the glass was only partially broken. At the hospital, Patton had seen only a small cut on Garcia’s hand, writing in a report that she showed “no other obvious injuries, cuts, bruises, burns or tears to her clothing.” She had also refused treatment at the hospital that night. “All these facts together indicate that Angela did not exit the house through the 2nd floor windows,” he wrote.

Neighbors were suspicious, too. No decent mother would leave her children to die in a fire — something had to be wrong. They began sharing what they knew with investigators. There were rumors Garcia was suicidal, that she had called her relatives to tell them she loved them before the fire. There were parties at the house, people coming and going. In one anonymous phone tip, a woman told police that Garcia had confessed to her that she intended to kill herself and her kids but had changed her mind. Another caller had seen a TV news segment claiming that Garcia had been preparing a candlelight dinner for her fiancé, Mario Watkins; she wanted investigators to know that Watkins was just a live-in boyfriend — and Garcia might be a crackhead, based on “the fact that Angela has very dark lips, has a wild demeanor about her and has no morals,” as Lugo wrote in his report. “This caller made it sound as if Angela had plotted to kill the children,” he added. The kids and the house were covered by insurance, the woman said. Garcia planned to “collect on the insurance money and then take off with her boyfriend.”

Some of the tips came from Garcia’s own extended relatives, which was disconcerting. But Garcia’s harshest accuser was her next-door neighbor, Shirley Brandon, to whom she had run for help. “She’s a bitch and killed those babies,” Brandon told investigators. Garcia made no effort to save her children, she said. In fact, she only mentioned them when Brandon asked where they were. She swore that the window Garcia claimed to climb through had been intact — and that when Brandon asked how she’d escaped, Garcia said, “I just ran out.” The statement was recorded by investigators in all caps.

On the day before Thanksgiving, Patton’s investigators visited Watkins at home. They found him upset, saying he hadn’t discussed the fire with Garcia because she was just “constantly repeating that she should have stayed with the children.” Watkins insisted Garcia was a good mother and denied that she had mental or financial problems — “If she needed anything she got it from her family.” That same day, Garcia’s mother, Lucy Ahmad, and her older sister Judy Nichols met with Patton and Lugo downtown. Garcia was in shock, her mother said, and “has not fully realized what has happened.” Judy, who was particularly close to her sister, said she had been happy with her life; Angela planned to buy the house on Harvard and get married. One detail caught investigators’ attention: Judy told them that over the summer, Garcia had tried to join the Navy but was ineligible because of her dependent children. Garcia took steps to transfer custody of Nyeemah and Nijah to Judy, “at a recruiter’s urging,” but never followed through.

Later, Patton and Lugo reflected on Garcia’s demeanor, recording their impressions. It had been four days since the fire. Both remembered Garcia as “well aware” of what was happening at the hospital. In fact, during their interview, she had been “pleasant almost to the point of being cheerful.” She did get upset while talking about her daughters, but her demeanor changed depending on who was in the room. She seemed to be gauging their reactions as she spoke. Patton and Lugo agreed “it was inappropriate and unusual considering the circumstances.”

By early December, Patton’s suspicions had escalated. An insurance agent had revealed he sold Garcia a renter’s insurance policy in October, the same day Garcia and Judy met with a mediator about transferring custody of her kids. Soon, Patton lost patience with Watkins, who had refused to sign a statement typed by one of his investigators, then failed to show up for a follow-up interview. On December 13, Watkins was arrested at work. Accompanied by an agent with the federal U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Patton interrogated Watkins, who refused to talk without a lawyer “despite repeated assurances that he was not a suspect.” Patton threatened him with obstruction of justice, keeping him in jail until late that night. The next morning, Watkins agreed to sign a statement. It included a description of the large candle in the dining room, which he estimated sat one foot from the wall, apart from any combustible materials.

The next day, December 15, Patton laid out his findings. He included the candle’s location, noting that it sat on a sturdy iron stand, kept firmly in place by a spike at the center — not something to fall over easily. But he had also obtained more crucial evidence: phone records and reports from ADT, which maintained a security system in Garcia’s house. The documents revealed an incriminating timeline on the night of the fire. Garcia’s three-way phone conversation had ended at 7:20 p.m., less than 15 minutes before the first 911 call. In the meantime, at 7:30 p.m., ADT received a “tamper code” from the alarm panel. When ADT called the house three minutes later, the phone was picked up. For 12 seconds, the person who answered was silent.

The only phone in the house was downstairs. The ADT panel was by the front door. At 7:33 p.m., Patton concluded, Garcia had to have been downstairs. She had lied about escaping through the window. She must have run out the front door.

“Based on this and other information,” Patton wrote, “all accidental causes of ignition have been eliminated and the cause of this incident will be changed from #00 UNDETERMINED to #11 INCENDIARY.”

On February 23, 2000, Garcia was arrested for murder.

Angela Garcia waits for her sentencing in Judge Bridget McCafferty’s courtroom at the Cuyahoga County Justice Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer

3The First Trial

The Angela Garcia case was big news in Cleveland, one of the first death penalty trials under Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason, who called it “the most twisted and depraved type of crime we prosecute.” Mason took office in 1999, “polishing the image of a straight-backed, stiffed-lipped lawman,” as described by the Cleveland Scene. Critics soon began accusing him of overreach — in his first year, indictments spiked, including in low-level drug crimes. But the Angela Garcia case was no petty prosecution. “A mother being accused of killing her child certainly was somewhat exceptional,” former Assistant County Prosecutor Robert Glickman recalls.

Glickman was the lead prosecutor at Garcia’s first two trials. Now in private practice, he speaks dispassionately about the case. Yet he was ruthless in his prosecution of Garcia, taking particular advantage of the trial judge, Bridget McCafferty, who was brand new to the bench at the time. Elected in 1999 despite virtually no trial experience, McCafferty soon became notorious for having her decisions overturned on appeal. In 2003, the Cleveland Scene asked attorneys to anonymously rate Cuyahoga County judges; McCafferty won in two categories: Most Political and — in a landslide — Least Intelligent. “She has no idea what she’s doing,” one lawyer said.

Indeed, transcripts from Garcia’s trials show McCafferty had almost no grasp of the rules of evidence, let alone the standards that should guide expert testimony on complex areas of forensics in a capital trial. Over the vociferous objections of the defense, Glickman and his co-counsels, Mary McGrath and Michael Sullivan, got away with introducing new evidence without warning. Defense attorney Tom Shaughnessy accused the state of misconduct, calling it “trial by ambush.”

Garcia’s first trial began in August 2000. In opening statements, the state cast 23-year-old Garcia as a promiscuous single mom — “each child had a different father” — who had fallen into financial straits and decided to kill her kids. “Prosecutors said she was a cold, greedy schemer who wanted to be rid of the children one way or another,” the Plain Dealer reported. The state relied heavily on circumstantial evidence: After trying unsuccessfully to hand off her daughters to Judy in the summer of 1999, Garcia purchased two insurance policies: a renter’s policy for $40,000, covering the contents of her home, and a life insurance policy for herself, along with $5,000 riders for her children. One day after her insurance kicked in, she burned down her house, murdering her daughters. She then tried to profit from their deaths, filing a fraudulent insurance claim. Garcia was so remorseless, neighbors saw her at a local bar weeks later, “joking, laughing, carrying on.”

There were holes in the state’s theory. For one, apart from trying to transfer custody to Judy, there was no evidence that Garcia did not want her children, let alone that she wished to kill them. There were no signs of neglect or abuse; the coroner found them “healthy and well nourished” and their pediatrician had last examined them the month before. On the day of the fire, Garcia had the called the doctor with concerns that Nijah, who had been born with breathing problems, was wheezing and having nose bleeds.

Nor, upon closer inspection, did Garcia’s purchase of life insurance in the weeks before the fire seem quite as calculated as the state made it seem. The man who sold her the policy testified that Garcia had been reluctant to buy it. Judy had met him to purchase insurance for herself and convinced her sister she should be covered, too.

Prosecutors never explained how, exactly, Garcia set the fire.

Finally, prosecutors never explained how, exactly, Garcia set the fire. State witnesses merely insisted that it could not have been caused by the candle in the dining room accidentally falling to the ground, as Lugo initially wrote in his report. The candle was “introduced to some available combustibles in the room at floor level,” Patton testified, offering no further specifics. Since all physical evidence was destroyed with the house, Patton relied on photographs of the scene, pointing out some telltale signs for the jury. Central among them was a heavy char on certain wooden surfaces, he explained, a phenomenon called “alligatoring.” This was evidence that a liquid accelerant had been used to set a fire, he said.

Patton was no longer in charge of the arson unit by the time he took the stand at Garcia’s trial. Whether by choice or not, he was back fighting fires on the city’s east side. His total tenure on the FIU was brief; Patton had joined in 1996 – 10 years after Lugo, his former subordinate. This made him inexperienced to lead the FIU. Yet, in a sense, the timing might have made him a better fire investigator. In 1992, the National Fire Protection Agency had released a landmark publication: NFPA 921: Guide for Fire & Explosion Investigations, the “single most important treatise ever published” in the field, according to renowned fire expert John Lentini. The guide revolutionized arson analysis, dictating that investigators could no longer rely on their training and experience to decide whether a fire was incendiary, but must instead use the scientific method: gathering all available data to form a hypothesis about the fire, and then rigorously testing that hypothesis.

Outrage and controversy followed the initial publication of NFPA 921. In his subsequent book, “Scientific Protocols for Fire Investigation,” Lentini describes how the guide “aroused the ire” of veteran fire investigators who had spent their careers abiding by their own subjective analysis. DeHaan recalls how many investigators confronted with NFPA 921 said, “Ooh, that isn’t what I’ve applied in my past cases. I don’t want to apply this because that would mean that I’ve gotten some of these cases wrong.” Among the tools eliminated by the guide were go-to visual signs like the alligatoring Patton pointed out to Garcia’s jury. Today, alligatoring is a long-discarded myth; NFPA 921 warns sternly against using it as proof that an accelerant has been used to start a fire.

If Patton was not qualified to say the fire was arson, a second development, on the heels of NFPA 921, should have kept him off the stand. In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a major ruling about expert witnesses in cases like Garcia’s. The case, Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, stated that such testimony had to be both scientifically valid and relevant to the matter at hand, with judges playing the role of gatekeeper for both tests. While many courts still struggle to apply the Daubert ruling, Judge McCafferty appeared to have no idea what it was.

The result was witness testimony that was both scientifically flawed and far out of bounds. State expert Ralph Dolence was particularly problematic. An independent fire investigator and master electrician who testified that he had investigated some “15,000 fires” — a dubiously high estimate — Dolence said Garcia could not have escaped through the second floor window, despite little basis for such speculation. He never went to the scene or saw any of the evidence before it was destroyed with the house. Yet he emphatically endorsed Patton’s findings, relying on photographs and a series of experiments conducted in his lab. Using exemplar candles and a modified stand that he deemed similar to the original (there was no way to know the actual dimensions), Dolence said he repeatedly knocked the candles over, letting them fall on combustible materials like carpet and wood. Each time they failed to ignite. Other accidental scenarios were summarily dismissed. “The cause of the fire was an intentionally lit fire by lighting some combustible material in that area on fire,” Dolence testified, adding, “There is no doubt in my mind.”

Garcia’s lawyers were capable in their cross-examination of state experts. They invoked the dictates of NFPA 921, asking why no evidence had been collected at the scene and why Pyra, the accelerant-sniffing dog, had failed to alert — a big red flag. Yet Garcia’s attorneys never called a fire expert of their own. In fact, for the first two trials, no one testified for the defense at all.

In contrast, Glickman introduced a parade of witnesses to testify against Garcia, many of whom described behavior that seemed inappropriate for a mother whose kids had died in a fire. Although early news reports — and several witnesses — said Garcia had been hysterical at the scene, prosecutors invited everyone they could to describe her apparent lack of emotion. An EMT said Garcia seemed “almost annoyed” after seeing her dead children at the hospital; an ADT employee testified that, over the phone 10 days later, Garcia “didn’t sound like she was in any type of distress.” And despite early reports showing that Shirley Brandon’s front door had been stained with soot and blood the night of the fire, witnesses repeatedly said they saw no physical signs that Garcia had experienced the fire conditions she described.

More damning were Garcia’s inconsistent accounts of her escape. One witness said she claimed to have run out the front door. Another read a nonsensical statement Garcia had given to an insurance investigator, in which she “kicked out the top right window in the bedroom with her foot, and then dove through the window, most likely not touching the roof at all on the way down.” But the most compelling evidence of Garcia’s dishonesty was contained in her insurance claims. A property specialist named Daniel Curtin was surprised when, two days after the fire, Garcia met with him equipped with her own set of inventory forms. It turned out that her stepfather’s company, Sabur Builders, specialized in rehabilitating structures damaged by fire — what some call a “fire chaser.” Through the family business, Garcia had learned how to detail fire losses — an unsettling coincidence.

Garcia returned the inventory forms unusually fast, Curtin testified, estimating losses worth $64,000. When he reviewed the list, Curtin noticed some “incredibly high” estimates. His suspicions were later confirmed by Detective Ralph Peachman, who visited local appliance and furniture stores in the run-up to the trial, finding significant discrepancies between their records and items Garcia claimed to have purchased and lost. A stove that partially survived the fire, for example, was supposedly purchased in 1998 at Best Buy — yet when Peachman showed employees a photo, they laughed. The stove was decades old, possibly from the 1960s. “She treated the fire that killed her two children like it was the lottery,” prosecutors said in closing statements.

The jury swiftly found Garcia guilty of insurance fraud. But murder was a different matter. Over five days of contentious deliberation, jurors became deadlocked, yelling at one another loudly enough to be heard outside their room. According to the Plain Dealer, the conflict arose after one black juror, a middle-aged resident of Cleveland’s east side, saw a photo of Nyeemah and Nijah and “immediately noted the dozens of red and blue beads carefully woven into the toddlers’ dark, curly hair.” The juror knew such a hairstyle took a lot of time and patience — to her, it was evidence that Garcia loved and cared for her kids.

The juror held firm, refusing to convict. Others eventually joined her. Black jurors later described to the Plain Dealer how differently they saw the case from their white peers. For example, Garcia’s attempt to give Judy custody of her daughters so she could join the Navy was viewed as admirable sacrifice — an investment in her family’s future — rather than a way to get rid of them. One woman said white jurors had not even heard of security doors, a fixture in low-income neighborhoods but foreign to the suburbs. “How do you explain your whole life to someone like that?” Finally, black jurors were more skeptical of government witnesses, including firefighters, who had “a reputation for racism.”

The trial ended in a hung jury. “It was almost like we were coming from different planets,” a white juror said. Prosecutors announced they would try Garcia again.

A steel plant in Lorain, Ohio, a suburb of Cleveland.

Photo: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post/Getty Images

4Cleveland

There was truth to the notion that Cleveland’s black and white residents lived worlds apart. The city consistently ranks as one of the most segregated in the United States, with the black population still largely concentrated on the east side. Garcia’s house was in a poor neighborhood just 6 miles southeast of downtown, yet largely invisible to many white residents. Shuttered steel plants had given way to abandoned lots; one 2004 development report noted how “negative perceptions about the neighborhood tend to reinforce the physical barriers.”

Cleveland’s fire department itself was deeply divided by race. For decades, black firefighters alleged that racism barred them from advancing in the profession, which was dominated for generations by white Irish Catholics. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court case Firefighters v. City of Cleveland became a flashpoint for the fight over affirmative action; one retired battalion chief recalled the inane excuses for keeping black firefighters off the force, like the claim that “our nostrils were too wide and we would consume too much oxygen,” as he told the Washington Post. The problem may be less overt today, but prejudice persists. “You can’t be black on the fire department,” veteran Cleveland firefighter Anthony Luke told me bluntly in 2015. “We’re not part of that fraternity.”

The impact was not limited to the firehouse. A 2002 lawsuit brought by Luke and 34 other firefighters alleged that Cleveland’s black communities suffered from this legacy of racism. Black fire stations were the first to be defunded or closed – and when there were fires, black homes were more likely to be gutted. “We do more damage in black neighborhoods than we do in affluent white neighborhoods,” Luke told me. As with many police forces, white firefighters sometimes brought adversarial attitudes to the black neighborhoods where they worked. This was hardly unique to Cleveland. Racism has long been a problem within big city fire departments; among the adventure-laden firefighter memoirs published in decades past, the 1977 “Ghetto Fire Fighter” enters the minds of fictionalized New York firefighters navigating the “jungle” of East Harlem, where black and Puerto Rican residents see them as the “enemy.”

As a young, unwed mother of two, Garcia was easily reduced to a racial stereotype. Police incident reports from the fire labeled her black, “non-hispanic,” though she is Puerto Rican. Once Captain Patton deemed the fire arson, the case against Garcia proceeded largely on the basis of her fraudulent insurance claims, which made it easy to exploit racist assumptions. By the third trial, Rick Bell compared Garcia’s spending habits to a drug addiction — she “needed another score.”

Yet the truth was that Garcia had grown up comfortable, if not spoiled, with no criminal record. The family business afforded them designer clothes. Her stepfather, Ibrahim Ahmad — known by his nickname, Al — owned a Rolls Royce, his prized possession. Through his work rehabilitating old structures, Al had purchased the 100-year-old house on Harvard Avenue for cheap, first letting Judy live there, and then Garcia. In this sense, Garcia had little in common with many of her neighbors. Trial transcripts show that she herself had expressed disdain for the “crackheads” next door. At the second trial, prosecutors used the statement to show Garcia’s lack of gratitude toward the people who tried to help her the night of the fire.

I met Garcia’s family on a rainy afternoon in March 2015, in the Cleveland suburb of Bedford. Her older sisters — Judy Cotto-Nichols and Carin Mahoney-Ingram — were there, along with Garcia’s best friend, Chawntee Harris, the godmother to Garcia’s daughters. Mario Watkins was there too; he had married Garcia after her last trial, but the two are no longer together. Garcia’s mother, Lucy, served coffee and carrot cake. Al died in 2013. “My husband was destroyed by this,” Lucy said. “He got really sick.”

Angela Garcia with her two children, Nyeemah and Nijah.

Photo: Lucy Ahmad

A pile of family photos sat on the coffee table: Angela as a child, beaming comically with a can of soda; Angela and Chawntee as teenagers, striking poses in ’90s outfits. In a photo taken closer to the time of the fire, Garcia wears a huge smile, kneeling between Nyeemah and Nijah. Both girls wear tiny gold hoop earrings that match the bigger ones worn by their mom. “The kids were spoiled,” Carin said bluntly. Judy laughed. “Spanish people — we got a tendency of buying kids jewelry when they’re babies,” she said, “So yeah, my sister, she made sure my kids had jewelry, her kids had jewelry.”

On the day of the fire, Lucy was in Florida, where she planned to spend Thanksgiving with her side of the family. “We were cooking these things called pasteles,” she said, when she got on the three-way call with Angela and Carin. Her daughters longed for her cooking, Lucy said. Garcia said she couldn’t travel since Nijah was sick; she had to administer treatment through a respiratory machine. Not long after Lucy hung up, Al called to say there was a fire on Harvard and he was going to check it out. “He calls me back and tells me, ‘It’s Angela’s house! It’s Angela’s house!’ I say, ‘How could it be?’”

Lucy became agitated describing the aftermath of the fire. She was deeply indignant that no relatives were allowed to testify on her daughter’s behalf. “Nobody, nobody was on the witness stand on behalf of Angela Garcia, to say something positive about her.” Worse, Judge McCafferty had Lucy banned from the courtroom because she could not contain her emotions. The rest of the family was told to stay out too, spending most of the time outside the courtroom. “It looked like Angela didn’t have a support system,” Carin said. In fact, the opposite was true. Judy often took care of Garcia’s daughters. Her sister had gotten the idea to join the Navy came from her stepbrothers, who enlisted to further their education, Judy said. She would have gladly taken the girls.

Lucy did everything she could to get the word out about her daughter. She spoke to community groups and went on Spanish-language radio stations. She even flew to Chicago, standing outside an event featuring Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton in case she could get their attention. She found an ally closer to home, Cleveland community activist Art McKoy, who helped organize protests on Garcia’s behalf. In a photo of one rally, participants hold signs reading, “Angela Garcia is INNOCENT.” McKoy recalled the protests, telling me he was particularly struck by the participation of members of the Amish community, who worked with Al through Sabur Builders. “They loved him,” McKoy said.

Al tried desperately to help his stepdaughter before he died. He was certain one of the candles Garcia was burning in the living room had been defective, hunting down identical ones to show investigators. In one report from December 1999, Lugo described a phone call in which Al also tried to explain what might be fueling the rumors about Garcia. Al had married Lucy, Angela’s mother, after divorcing his first wife, and there were “some resentments and jealousies between the two families.” He offered to bring Garcia to the Justice Center to take a lie detector test. Garcia took two polygraph tests, passing them both.

But the lie detector results were not admissible in court, and Al’s efforts were soon recast in a sinister light. “We received an awful lot of information” suggesting his company was engaged in fraudulent practices, Glickman, the original prosecutor, recalled. The whole family was eyed with suspicion; Judy remembers one observer at the courthouse remarking upon Lucy’s mink coat, which enraged her mother. (“We work hard for that mink coat! We work hard for that Rolls Royce!”) The insinuation that Garcia’s family was complicit in the murder plot ran like an undercurrent through the trials. “Everything was twisted around,” Lucy said. In a particularly strange and lurid accusation, prosecutors even argued that Nyeemah had not gotten tangled in the window blinds on her own. Instead, they said, Garcia had used the blinds to tie up her daughter so she couldn’t escape.

Cuyahoga County Jail.

Screenshot: Google Street View

5The Informants

Garcia was awaiting her second trial at the Cuyahoga County Jail in late 2000 when she was placed in protective custody. Someone had slipped her a piece of paper featuring the words “burn, baby burn,” which guards interpreted as a threat. In the “pod,” Garcia met a young white woman named Tonya, who had been arrested with her husband, Timothy Lanum. The two had recently been married after a three-day romance. Unbeknownst to Tonya, Lanum was a notorious jailhouse snitch, known downtown as “Timmy.” After embarking on a series of minor criminal misadventures, they both landed in jail for passing bad checks. True to his reputation, Lanum soon claimed to have secured a confession from a man facing murder charges. Tonya was placed in protective custody while her husband cooperated in the case.

In the pod, the two women chatted about their families. Tonya complained that she was having trouble calling home, and Garcia offered to help, arranging a three-way call through Lucy. In December, Tonya was released following a plea deal, later writing Garcia a warm letter, telling her to have “good positive thoughts.” But after Christmas, something changed. Tonya went to the downtown Justice Center to meet with Cleveland Police Detective Robert Matuszny, who was investigating Garcia’s case. According to Matuszny, Tonya said Garcia had confessed to her in jail.

Snitch testimony is pervasive across the country, despite being famously unreliable. In the Cameron Todd Willingham case, a jailhouse informant waited for years after Willingham’s execution to admit he lied on the stand. Informants have played key roles in other Cleveland arson cases as well. After Garcia’s conviction, prosecutors used a web of snitches to convict a man named Antun Lewis for setting one of the deadliest fires in the city’s history. A different man, unrelated to the case, later wrote to Lewis’s defense attorneys from prison, claiming one of the informants had admitted to concocting the story, and that Lewis had been framed. Lewis was recently denied a new trial.

However dubious Tonya Lanum’s story, Glickman put her on the stand at Garcia’s second trial. The defense effectively attacked her credibility. “Do you find it coincidental at all that the husband and wife team hits the jail and within about three weeks a male has confessed to the husband and a female has confessed to the wife?” Tom Shaughnessy asked. Tonya conceded that she had spoken to Matuszny on her husband’s advice but denied that she was lying. Prosecutors said no deals were made to elicit her testimony, but the Plain Dealer noted that she won a 60-day suspended sentence just days after she came forward to police.

Nevertheless, the state’s new witness failed to clinch a conviction. On February 2, 2001, Judge McCafferty declared a second mistrial.

Garcia never heard from Tonya Lanum again. But years later, in prison, she received a strange piece of mail, sent from a men’s penitentiary in Ohio. It was handwritten, on four pages of lined notebook paper, dated June 5, 2014. The author was Timothy Lanum.

“Hello, I don’t know how to begin this,” he wrote. “No need for introductions because you know exactly who I am.” Lanum cautioned Garcia not to “read too much” into the letter, while hinting that he might be able to help her. He didn’t know whether she was guilty or not, he wrote, but “I do have a feeling that you weren’t.” Lanum was scheduled for release soon, and he suggested he might be able to “elicit certain info” from his ex-wife about Garcia’s case, adding, “The whole thing with you has been bothering me for a long time.”

Garcia gave the letter to Joanna Sanchez, who immediately contacted Lanum. This offended him. In a letter to Sanchez on June 27, 2014, Lanum said he understood her client’s trepidation but was disappointed Garcia had not written back herself. “I am in a position where I can possibly help, not hurt, her cause,” he wrote. Having now lived in prison for years, he explained, “I cannot imagine sitting with a sentence like hers if I hadn’t done anything. That is the part of me that wants to help.” But he wanted to be sure he wasn’t helping a “child murderer.”

I reached Lanum in the fall of 2015, shortly after his release from prison. Over the phone, he reiterated what he wrote in the letters. He said his conscience had gotten to him. “I was like, damn, what if this girl is sitting there for something she didn’t do — and I had a role in that?” Lanum wanted assurances that Garcia was truly innocent, which I said I couldn’t offer. But then he talked anyway. As he told it, Matuszny had called him out of his cellblock late one night, around 11 p.m. “And he’s like, ‘Look, this is what we need you to do, this is what we need her to say.’” In exchange, he and Tonya would be shown leniency by the state. Lanum relayed the message to Tonya. “You know where she got her testimony from? From me, telling her on the phone, ‘This is exactly what you say.’ Whether or not Angela did it or not, it was a fucking travesty. Because it was all made-up bullshit that they wanted on the record.”

Lanum agreed to provide more details in person. But he abruptly canceled our appointment and later stopped communicating, saying he no longer wished to be involved. Over the phone, Matuszny said he had “no clue whatsoever” why Lanum was saying he fabricated testimony. “At no time did I ever tell him part of the investigation … I don’t know where that’s coming from.” Glickman was also adamant that Lanum was lying, adding that he personally had never met with a jailhouse snitch. “The police found out what they found out,” Glickman said. During his time in the Prosecutor’s office, he added, Matuszny and his partner “were absolutely at times the best homicide investigators in our county. I absolutely don’t believe that.”

In response to multiple Facebook messages, Tonya Lanum declined to be interviewed. “Yeah im not interested in talking to you,” she wrote.

Family photos of Angela Garcia, her sister Judy Nichols, and Garcia’s daughters, Nyeemah and Nijah.

Photo: Ross Mantle for The Intercept

6Angela

The Ohio Reformatory for Women is located just outside the town of Maryville, a 2 1/2-hour drive south from Cleveland. Opened in 1916, the prison recently celebrated its 100th anniversary — a press release recalled its origin as a single stone building housing 30 women and focused on education. Today, a cluster of “cottages” has multiplied to accommodate a population of nearly 3,000 — including the one woman on Ohio’s death row. As we walked the grounds, the officer escorting me compared it to a college campus. Although there are some courses on offer, they are only available to women who are within five years of parole. When I visited Angela Garcia in March 2015, that date was not until 2044. “I watch PBS,” she told me. “That’s how I educate myself.”

I met Garcia in a small room between lunch and the 4 p.m. count. She was nervous but upbeat, curious about my digital recorder, which she thought would contain a mini-cassette tape. (“I’m stuck in the ’90s,” she said.) Garcia had heard I lived in New York and she shared a vivid childhood memory from Brooklyn’s Prospect Park: A bunch of kids were sliding down a large rock on cardboard slabs, but her older sister Judy wouldn’t let her join them. Later, a boy took a bad fall and bloodied his face — “and she was like, ‘See, I told you you didn’t want to do it.’” Judy still calls Angela “babygirl.” Angela calls Judy “my sister who’s my mother.” It made sense that Judy would have been the one to make Garcia buy insurance, or the one willing to take care of her kids so she could enlist in the Navy.

Garcia spent much of her childhood in New York, where her biological father lives. When she moved to Cleveland at 14, her classmates didn’t know what to make of her. She had a New York accent and a much darker complexion than the rest of her Puerto Rican family — Lucy called her and Judy her “salt and pepper shakers.” In New York, Garcia’s neighbors came from all kinds of backgrounds; Ohio felt sharply segregated by comparison. Even in prison, Garcia does not fit into anyone’s clear racial categories. “Here,” she said, “you’re either black, white, or Mexican. That’s it.”

Nyeemah’s father, Darrick Ceasor.

Photo: Lucy Ahmad

Garcia’s mother converted to Islam after marrying Al. As Judy recalled, Garcia took to it, too, attending mosque regularly. That’s where she first met Nyeemah’s father, Darrick Ceasor. Garcia had suffered multiple miscarriages when she was younger; doctors said she would be unable to carry a baby to term without surgical intervention. But when she became pregnant with Nyeemah in 1995, she decided to go through with it. She was bed-ridden during both her pregnancies. When Nyeemah was born in July 1996, Ceasor had just been convicted of cocaine charges, which were later overturned. Although they broke up before he went to prison, Garcia regularly took their daughter to see him.

Ceasor remains on good terms with Garcia, who calls him by his nickname, College. On the night of the fire, he told me, he had called to discuss an upcoming visit but could not reach her. Then he saw a news report about a fire on the 9600 block of Harvard Avenue. He called her parents’ house, where her stepdad answered. “I could hear it in his voice,” Ceasor said. “He was crying. … I can remember him saying, ‘Your babies.’” With the family’s help, Ceasor got permission to go to the funeral home to say goodbye to his daughter. He stood in shackles after the other guests had left — “just me and a casket,” he said. Later, he watched coverage of Garcia’s trial in disbelief. “Every day there was a report about that case. Every day. They would emphasize that she escaped and the children didn’t. How could this mother leave?” Some of his own relatives expressed suspicion, he said. “I told them, in my mind, in my heart of hearts, I would never believe that she did anything to harm her children.”

Had the jury known what Garcia went through to have her daughters, or her efforts to foster Nyeemah’s relationship with her dad, they might have seen her in a different light. Instead, Garcia was judged almost entirely by her escape and how she acted afterward. People find it hard to accept when parents survive fires without their children, says Richard Roby, the fire scientist who testified at her last trial. “Everyone thinks they would run through the flames to get the kid,” he says. “Believe it or not, your muscles will seize up and stop you from doing that and your brain will make you get the hell out of there. But people don’t believe that. They all think, ‘If it was my kid, I would walk through concrete walls to save them.’” Suspicion is often compounded by the various ways people behave following a traumatizing ordeal. “I have seen it in a lot of my cases,” DeHaan says. The person “wasn’t acting like you’d expect a mother to act.”

Indeed, as investigators had been trained to do, Richard Patton and Albert Lugo had dwelled on Garcia’s demeanor after the fire, noting how at one point she even “laughed in response” to a question. Speaking to Garcia, it was not hard to imagine such an interaction. She is instinctively chatty, eager to answer questions, even difficult ones, all the while smiling through her nerves. When I first searched for her profile on the website of the Ohio Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, I was surprised to find her grinning in her booking photo. On closer inspection, it seemed clear she had been crying.

Garcia remembers the fire as a blur. She spent the next several days in bed, getting up when she was told someone needed to see her. She had never been arrested before — “My parents would have killed me!” — and for weeks she says she was unaware she was even a suspect. “I didn’t know what a grand jury was,” she says, recalling her indictment in February 2000. She did not yet have formal representation, only the advice of a civil attorney her parents knew. After getting summoned to court, she went downtown by herself and took the stand.

Glickman, the original prosecutor, remembers this as Garcia’s fatal mistake. “Frankly, when I sent her the subpoena to testify in front of the grand jury, I thought that her lawyer would decline,” he said. Garcia’s testimony “locked her story in,” he says, “which was wonderful for me but pretty stupid for her.” Strategically, he could now pursue all kinds of evidence that conflicted with her statements under oath. “In criminal law, if you can prove to a jury that a defendant lied, it puts them in a really difficult position. It doesn’t really matter what they lied about. But you can look at a jury and say, ‘You know everything else they’re saying isn’t true, because they lied about this.’”

It’s impossible to know what Glickman was referring to, since grand jury proceedings are secret. But he emphasized Garcia’s conflicting statements about escaping the house as the most compelling evidence against her — far more important than her lies about money. “Look, forget the insurance fraud,” Glickman said. “We used to joke around when I was a young prosecutor — the first thing that anybody does when their car is stolen is all of a sudden they have a new pair of golf clubs in the trunk.”

Yet by the third trial, the case against Garcia relied overwhelmingly on her financial motives. “I felt like I was on trial for something totally different,” Garcia says. The focus on arson for profit was so intense, there are points in the trial transcript where it is easy to forget that the state was accusing her of plotting to kill her daughters. As one state witness testified, “In an arson, the property is the victim.”

Angela Garcia’s stepfather, Ibrahim Ahmad, holds a photo of his granddaughters, Nyeemah and Nijah.

Photo: Lonnie Timmons III/The Plain Dealer

7The Conviction

The trial that finally sent Garcia to prison for life took place in May 2001. After two mistrials and 18 months of publicity, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor William Mason was not taking chances. To replace Glickman, who had left for private practice, Mason chose a man he trusted not only to win a conviction, but to be the public face of the Prosecutor’s office: Assistant Prosecutor Richard “Rick” Bell, the head of the General Felony Unit. Bell embodied the same image Mason had promoted: clean-cut and upright. “I tell the assistants under my charge that their job is not to win,” Bell told the Cleveland Scene in 2002. “As prosecutors, unlike defense attorneys, your job is to seek justice; it’s not to win at all costs.”

Bell has twice been named Prosecutor of the Year for the State of Ohio, a recognition he lists on his official bio, which still boasts his prosecution of Garcia for aggravated murder as one of his major professional accomplishments. In recent years, he has won praise for working to address Cleveland’s backlog of untested rape kits. Bell joined the Prosecutor’s office in 1990, spending his early career on child sex abuse cases. In his opening statement at Garcia’s trial, Bell cast the state as a defender of children: “We represent even the smallest and the littlest of our citizens that can’t speak for themselves.”

Bell was joined by a charismatic black prosecutor named Aaron Phillips, a part-time Baptist minister whose business card, according to Cleveland Magazine, read, “Sensitive to the needs of the downtrodden with the intelligence of the elite.” Art McKoy, the local activist who organized protests with Garcia’s family, recalls Phillips as a gifted litigator, someone who could make you believe you were guilty even if you had done nothing wrong. In an office filled mostly with white prosecutors, Phillips was strategically deployed. “If they wanted to convict a black person and everything else was failing, they called in Aaron Phillips,” McKoy said.

Phillips transformed the racial dynamics of Garcia’s case. While Bell stacked his witness list with welfare agents, bank employees, and anyone else who might cast Garcia’s poor finances in a criminal light, Phillips unleashed racially charged rhetoric that a white prosecutor could not. “He called me, like, a ‘predator,’” Garcia recalled.

After long insisting that Garcia set the fire in the dining room, using the large candle to ignite some unknown combustible materials, Bell introduced a new scenario.

But the most significant difference between the third trial and the previous two was the state’s theory of the crime. After long insisting that Garcia set the fire in the dining room, using the large candle to ignite some unknown combustible materials, Bell introduced a new scenario. The fire now had two points of origin: one in the dining room and one on the stairs leading up to the second floor. The evidence: a never before noticed “burn pattern” visible in a picture taken at the scene. This, prosecutors said, was proof that Garcia had poured a flammable liquid on the staircase, trapping her daughters upstairs before running out of the house.

The circumstances behind the state’s revelatory new evidence are murky. Glickman remembers the discovery occurring toward the end of Garcia’s second trial, too late to work it into the case. As he recalls, his co-council Michael Sullivan, who had once been a volunteer firefighter, “was going over the photographs for probably the several hundredth time and saw what none of us had noticed. There appeared to be a second burn pattern that showed use of an accelerant. We showed it to an expert, who confirmed it.” Fire investigator Ralph Peachman describes it somewhat differently. “It was a cumulative discovery from the arson unit, if memory serves me,” he said over the phone. “We went over things and over things and tried to be as thorough as we could be.”

But the case records reveal a more dubious source for the state’s new arson scenario. In a March 2001 report — a month and a half before the third trial — Patton described how he and Ralph Dolence had reassessed the fire scene photos “in light of the information provided by Tonya Lanum about the possibility of a second point of origin in this incident.” They discovered a photograph that “revealed unusual burn patterns” on the staircase of the house. One side of the carpet had been totally consumed, showing “heavy charring,” while the other side remained undamaged. There was a marked division between the two areas, Patton wrote — “a clear indication of an ignitable liquid pour pattern.”

These were textbook examples of unreliable arson indicators. With no laboratory testing to back up the images, Shaughnessy argued that the state’s conclusions were “the equivalent of walking into a drug case and having the officer looking at a picture of a white substance and saying, geez, that looks like crack cocaine, it must be.” But Judge McCafferty admitted the new evidence. The second point of origin became the linchpin in the third trial, proof that the fire was incendiary.

State witnesses adapted to the new theory, although it was not always easy. Testifying for the first time — and taking the place of his old boss, Patton — Lugo struggled to explain why he had initially concluded the fire was an accident, only now to call it arson. He had actually suspected at the time that the fire was incendiary, he claimed — “We knew there was some type of accelerant poured, but we did not get a sample to pinpoint.” But Lugo could not answer for why his original report made no mention of such suspicions or why he hadn’t collected any materials to confirm them. Instead, he pointed to pour patterns and other burn marks, pointing to alligatoring on the wooden staircase in the photo newly presented by the state.

To bolster such weak testimony, Bell brought in reinforcements. A new expert insisted that he could tell through visual analysis alone that the fire had been caused by a liquid accelerant. “You are asking me if I can look at this pattern and say to myself that’s a liquid pour pattern,” he said on cross-examination. “Yes, I can say that. I don’t care what the NFPA says.” Other witnesses were brought in for their impressive credentials. An ATF agent named Lance Kimmel endorsed the significance of alligatoring while downplaying the authority of NFPA 921. To emphasize the role of arson for profit, Bell also called Gregg McCrary, a former FBI agent, as well as Ronald Saunders, a forensic auditor with the ATF. On direct appeal, the 8th District Court of Appeals would later rule that the testimony from Saunders and McCrary had been improperly admitted.

Perhaps most brazen among the state’s new witnesses was Frank Atkins, a rookie firefighter at the time of the fire, and one of the first to arrive on the scene. Atkins shared a rather stunning late-breaking revelation: On the night of the fire, Atkins testified, he had found a blue Bic lighter sitting on the staircase of the house. The lighter had somehow survived the conflagration. More confounding still, Atkins testified that he did not mention his discovery to fire investigators, instead leaving the lighter back where he found it. “I just felt it was insignificant, I suppose,” he said.

Through a union secretary, Atkins declined to be interviewed. Lugo, who has since retired, told me over the phone that he remained confident in the investigation, while conceding that such evidence as alligatoring (like “a lot of things that were taught at that time”) was not sufficient on its own to call a fire arson. In hindsight, he said, it would have been better had the house not been torn down so quickly. “We would have taken the whole place apart board by board,” he said. Still, he maintains the cumulative detective work made the case strong. “I believe right now that it was a rightful call.” In an email, Patton declined to speak. “The transcripts are clear,” he wrote.

A hole in the dining room floor at Angela Garcia’s house on 9618 Harvard Ave.

Photo: Cleveland Fire Investigation Unit

8Science versus Law

If anyone could have made the difference for Garcia at her third trial, it was Richard Roby, a chemical engineer and expert in combustion and fire behavior. After two mistrials in which Garcia’s attorneys had called no witnesses, Roby’s credentials were unmatched. Before arriving in Cleveland, he testified, he had been working on a peer review panel assembled by NASA to consider proposals for fire safety research at an international space station, “because fire burns much differently in the absence of gravity than it does here on earth.” In sharp contrast to the state’s witnesses, Roby was not only well-versed in NFPA 921, he was one of its contributing authors.

Roby laid out the deep flaws in the state’s case. There was the total lack of physical evidence collected at the fire scene and the fact that Pyra, the accelerant-sniffing dog, had not alerted. False negatives are far less common than false positives, he explained. “In fact, we made it a fundamental element of NFPA 921 that even if you have a dog hit, you cannot trust that dog hit, unless it’s confirmed by laboratory samples.” Similarly, because such visual evidence can be very misleading, he emphasized that burn patterns must be backed up by lab tests. As for alligatoring, Roby explained that there is no reliable correlation between such burns and the presence of an ignitable liquid.

Roby introduced a radically different theory about where the fire started. Despite the candle in the dining room and the large hole in the floor, he believed the point of origin was in the living room. The dining room “had the least amount of readily burnable furniture in the house,” he pointed out. But the living room was fully furnished, providing numerous fuel loads that would have helped spread the fire. Roby’s analysis was counterintuitive. At the time of Garcia’s trial, a hole in the floor where a fire had burned through was almost always assumed by investigators to be caused by some ignitable liquid, and a likely point of origin. But drawing such conclusions was “a very dangerous thing do,” Roby testified.

In hindsight, Roby’s own analysis was not perfect. In a testament to how much more scientists have learned since 2001, he wrongly surmised that the hole in the floor had likely been the result of a “liquid pool fire” created when radiant heat from the living room caused the candle in the dining room to melt. But as with so many previously debunked notions about fire, subsequent studies have shown that such phenomena are actually the result of ventilation effects following flashover — essentially the transition point at which a fire in a room becomes a room on fire.

Still, the central elements of Roby’s testimony hold up, as do a number of lab tests he showed the jury. In one video, he showed how a Bic lighter would melt, catch fire, and even explode when exposed to conditions like the ones in the house that night. Another video, produced by NFPA, showed how a fire can reach flashover in a matter of minutes. A third video was even more revelatory. It addressed a nagging mystery since the start of the case: the tamper alert received by ADT at 7:30 p.m. on the night of the fire. For months, prosecutors had presented this as proof Garcia had been downstairs, sabotaging the alarm system before running out the door. While an ADT witness had testified that a tamper alert could be caused by burning phone wires, there seemed to be no good way to explain why a phone call from the company at 7:33 had been followed by 12 seconds of silence, and why a second call produced a busy signal.

But Roby had brought a phone technician to his lab to set up an experiment. They wanted to see what happened when a call was placed to a phone whose wires were being exposed to fire. Old landlines like the ones at Garcia’s home were designed like an electrical circuit: When someone picked up the handset to answer the phone, the circuit was completed. Phone wires often short out during a fire, Roby explained. “If somebody is calling in while the wires are burning, guess what? The fire answers the phone.” His videotaped experiment also showed how, as with a phone left off the hook, if a person calls back, they get a busy signal, just as ADT did on the night of the fire.

The phone records helped establish the time frame for when the fire reached flashover, Roby said. Given the timing of the 911 call, the window was consistent with what Garcia described upon leaving the bathroom. “There is light smoke and all of a sudden it becomes very dark, think and heavy,” Roby said. “The lights go out. We would expect that.” It would take no time at all for her to become dizzy and disoriented.

Bell could not rebut the videos or the science behind Roby’s experiments. So instead, he attacked Roby’s credibility. He stressed how much money he had been paid by the defense, a common courtroom tactic. But Bell went further, claiming he had obtained phone records from Roby’s lab suggesting that no such experiment had been carried out. “He essentially accused me of fraud,” Roby recalled. Finally, Bell went after his resume. Roby served as a firefighter in Michigan and and a fire instructor in New York during the 1970s and ’80s, and had listed this experience on his CV. During cross-examination, Bell claimed he had been unable to verify these credentials. In a rather amazing display of courtroom theater, Bell brought two fire chiefs in uniform — one from Michigan and one from New York — who stood behind the prosecutor’s table to say they did not recognize Roby. This was on a Friday afternoon; over the weekend, a colleague of Roby’s traveled to Cleveland with the documentation that disproved Bell’s allegations. On Monday the colleague confirmed Roby’s experience on the stand. But the damage was done. “The jury had all weekend to stew on the ‘fact’ that I had lied about the phone, that I had lied about my credentials,” Roby said.

Unfortunately for Garcia, Roby’s testimony was further undermined by the only other witness for the defense: an insurance investigator who had previously testified for the state. He disagreed with the state’s new theory of the fire, but unlike Roby, maintained that the area of origin was the dining room. Bell seized upon the contradiction as further proof that Roby was not to be trusted.

Ironically, Roby was also undermined by his own honesty and expertise. Unlike science, which is a process of endless inquiry, law demands certainty and favors finality. Jurors, like lawyers and judges, are easily swayed by witnesses whose conclusions are asserted with total confidence, no matter how flawed. In contrast to state experts, Roby testified that he could not ultimately say how the fire began. “There was not sufficient investigation,” he said, “not sufficient evidence collection in the living room that allowed me afterwards to be able to go back and say here is what caused the fire.”

Bell heaped scorn on Roby in his closing statement, calling his testimony “pure fantasy” and accusing him of peddling junk science. Out of nowhere, he accused Garcia’s stepfather, Al, of being in on the murder plot, pointing to the testimony of a very nervous insurance salesman who had arranged to sell Garcia her renter’s policy — calling him “a patsy.” But Bell’s co-counsel Aaron Phillips had the last word for the state, mercilessly condemning Garcia for killing her daughters. “She is a predator,” Philips cried. “She’s not a mother. She is not a human being. She is a predator.”

On May 24, 2001, the jury found Garcia guilty. At her sentencing, Judge McCafferty berated Garcia for treating her daughters “like coins in a slot machine.” Prosecutor Mason praised his own “unwavering commitment” to the case. “The suffering and death of these two children demanded justice,” he proclaimed.

Former Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Bridget McCafferty walks out of the federal courthouse in Akron, Ohio, on March 25, 2011, after she was found guilty of 10 counts of lying to FBI agents.

Photo: Lisa DeJong/The Plain Dealer

9The State’s Crimes

The years have not been kind to those who helped send Garcia to prison. After 10 years developing a reputation for her sharp tongue and harsh sentences, in 2011 Judge McCafferty was convicted on 10 counts of lying to the FBI in a federal corruption probe. Running for re-election while under indictment, in 2010 she lost to Judge Michael Astrab — the man who would later preside over Garcia’s plea deal. McCafferty spent 14 months in prison. In the end, her crimes may have indirectly helped Garcia. Had McCafferty retained her seat on the bench, Garcia’s motion for an evidentiary hearing would have been for her to decide.

Less than two years after winning the case against Garcia, Aaron Phillips was arrested for taking bribes to throw out cases. He did a stint in prison; today he preaches at a small Baptist church on the city’s east side, while dabbling in racial justice activism. When I visited Cleveland, Phillips was scheduled to appear at a rally calling for justice for Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot dead by Cleveland police in 2014. He didn’t show up.

Fire investigator Ralph Peachman, a staple witness for the prosecution from beginning to end, was later sued by two men wrongfully jailed for arson after a firecracker was thrown off a balcony at a Cleveland Indians game. Peachman was accused of keeping the men in custody for months in an attempt to coerce testimony against their friend, even though he knew they had nothing to do with the explosion, conduct the Ohio Supreme Court called “reprehensible.” Peachman eventually went to work in a different part of the state.

If there was reason to worry Garcia’s conviction might have been compromised by ethical lapses, no one in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office seemed concerned.

Even one of the firefighters whose conduct was heroic on the night of the fire — and who testified for the state — was later brought down by scandal, pleading guilty to participating in a payroll scam within the fire department.

If there was reason to worry Garcia’s conviction might have been compromised by ethical lapses, no one in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s office seemed concerned. In 2010, the Plain Dealer ran a five-part exposé titled Presumed Guilty, showing how Mason’s office aggressively pursued hundreds of criminal cases despite weak evidence. Mason’s successor, Prosecutor Timothy McGinty, later had the chance to revisit Garcia’s case through a new Conviction Integrity Unit, a division charged with seeking out wrongful convictions. “We always want to have open ears on the subject of innocence,” he said upon launching the unit in 2014. Yet Garcia’s application was swiftly denied. The three-sentence rejection letter misspelled the word “conviction.”

Instead, Garcia’s case was quietly resolved through the plea deal in the spring of 2016. It was a painful compromise for Garcia and her family. After leaving the courtroom following Garcia’s guilty plea, I received an emotional phone call from her biological father in New York, who worried that spending more years in prison would be harmful to Garcia’s health. But as time passed, her family had no option but to accept the outcome and look to the future.

Joanna Sanchez, too, was moving on to other cases last fall when a collection of documents arrived at the Office of the Ohio Public Defender in Columbus. A colleague had filed an open records request related to a different arson case. To her colleague’s surprise, the contents contained materials that had serious implications for Angela Garcia. The attorney shared the documents with Sanchez. She was stunned at what she found.

The files were related to an arson seminar sponsored by the Ohio State Fire Marshal in the fall of 2015. The free one-day course was available to judges and prosecutors, who, in exchange, earned Continuing Legal Education credit — a professional obligation of lawyers across the country. (In Ohio, according to the state bar association, practicing attorneys must earn and report at least 24 CLE credits every two years; the seminar counted for six.) The brochure and coursework showed a heavy focus on the proper investigation of fires; a 56-slide PowerPoint presentation included the minimum qualifications for fire investigators, the significance of NFPA 921, the importance of following the scientific method, and, critically, instruction on how to properly determine origin and cause. One PowerPoint slide jokingly referred to the “good ole days” when fire investigators could simply insist, “It started there because I said it started there!!!!!!” Another slide listed some of the debunked arson indicators of decades past, among them, the “big shiny char” known as alligatoring.

But most importantly, the materials included a registration list. Among the names were Richard Bell, along with that of his co-counsel Mary McGrath, who had worked on Garcia’s case from the start. The fire marshal later sent me an attendance list for the seminar. Both Bell and McGrath had signed the sheet. Yet neither submitted for CLE credit.

The revelation dramatically recast Garcia’s plea deal. “Based on Bell’s participation in the seminar and what was taught at that seminar, it is clear that prosecutor’s office knew by the time of Angela’s hearing that the original investigation was seriously flawed,” Sanchez said.

Indeed, what happened after the seminar strongly suggests that Bell made a last-ditch attempt to save his case. The class was held on November 5, 2015, a month and a half before Garcia’s evidentiary hearing was originally supposed to take place. But on November 20, exactly 16 years since the fire, the state asked for a continuance. That same day, Bell hired an independent consultant named Joe Sesniak to write a report for the state. Sesniak, a former cop and veteran fire investigator who sits on the board of the International Association of Arson Investigators, submitted his findings in April 2016, one month before the rescheduled evidentiary hearing.

The report spoke volumes. It conceded that there were “significant deficiencies in the scene investigation by the Cleveland Fire Investigation Unit,” including the failure to collect and test any physical evidence. It acknowledged that such evidence would be inadmissible today. It even upheld Roby’s phone experiment, which Bell had suggested never took place. Yet Sesniak disputed that the defense motion for a new trial was based on new evidence, since NFPA 921 and other such resources were available long before the 2001 trial. Because the law required Garcia to present new evidence, it did not matter that the fire investigation was hopelessly inadequate. In other words, while the state’s fire theory might be utterly bankrupt, Garcia’s conviction should stand.

Roby described Sesniak’s report as an attempt to put lipstick on a pig. DeHaan said he tried to “split the baby.” Both pointed to recent studies on ventilation effects during post-flashover fires that absolutely qualified as new evidence in the case. And both said Sesniak’s report showed that the state’s own expert clearly saw the fire scenario as fatally flawed. Bell, too, must have certainly realized this. Yet rather than drop the arson charge, he offered Garcia a plea deal that kept the state’s discredited theory of the fire intact.

“Surely the prosecutor’s office knew that for Angela, who had been tried three times, already spent more than 15 years in prison, and was looking at a minimum of 27 more years before she could possibly be released, the deal was too good to pass up,” Sanchez said. “By offering the plea, they prevented it from becoming public that the Fire Investigation Unit had employed unscientific methodology in arson cases for years and that the prosecutor’s office had wrongfully convicted a woman of murdering her two children.”

The Cuyahoga County Proseuctor’s office declined to comment on the plea deal or the arson seminar. Asked why the Conviction Integrity Unit had declined to take on Garcia’s case, a spokesperson for the office wrote that the committee “concluded that her claim of actual innocence was undermined by the many conflicting stories she had told over the years.”

“And don’t forget,” he added. “At the end of the process, for all the talk about new scientific evidence, she pled guilty to setting the fire that killed her children.”

The Cleveland skyline viewed from across the Cuyahoga River on April 7, 2016.

Photo: William Edwards/AFP/Getty Images

10“I Thought I Was a Good Mother”

Until the day she pleaded guilty to killing her kids, the last time Garcia had seen Cleveland up close was in 2013, after her stepfather, Al, died. As she rode through the city on the way to the funeral home, she was struck by how different it looked. The buses looked like accordions, and all the phone booths had disappeared. Like Nyeemah’s father when he stood before his daughter’s casket, Garcia was alone as she said goodbye to the man who had raised her as his own. For years, Al had blamed himself for the fire; he had planned to send an electrician to the house in the days before the fire because of some faulty wiring. In their last conversation, the night before he died, Al brought it up again out of the blue. Garcia told him to let it go. “I think he needed me to tell him it was OK,” she said.

Garcia never really had a chance to grieve for her daughters. These days, she said, she wonders what they would have been like now, as young women; whether they would like sports like she did. “I thought I was a good mother,” she said. She admits she was wrong to lie on her insurance forms. “If anything, judge me for that,” she said. But to those who put her in prison, she says she hopes they will admit their own mistakes. “I don’t want to lose nobody else in here,” Garcia said.

Before I left the prison, I asked Garcia what she would do if she were to win her freedom. She joked that she wanted to use a cellphone. But mostly, she said, she wants to take care of her family as they have taken care of her, especially her mother, who is getting older. She’d like to cook for her, make her breakfast in bed. “You know what I really want? I want to lay in bed with my mom and just snuggle with her,” Garcia said. “That’s all I want.”

Finally, she wants to meet the family of Cameron Todd Willingham, the Texas man wrongly executed for killing his own daughters in a fire. “That’s one of the first things I want to do,” Garcia said. His death was a horrible tragedy, she said. But she was certain it had convinced many people to revisit other arson cases, to help people like her.

“I want to tell his mother: Your son didn’t die in vain.”

Top photo: Angela Garcia waves goodbye to her family as she is led out of Judge Bridget McCafferty’s courtroom on June 8, 2000, by Cuyahoga County sheriff’s deputies.

The post Did Angela Garcia Kill Her Own Daughters — Or Did Prosecutors Cover Up a Wrongful Conviction? appeared first on The Intercept.

A “mula” do presidente e o escândalo sem nome

5 March 2017 - 8:58am

Em 2005, Roberto Jefferson (PTB) deu uma entrevista bombástica para Renata Lo Prete revelando um esquema de compra de apoio de deputados pelo governo. Em uma entrevista curta, Jefferson disse a palavra “mensalão” 17 vezes. O escândalo já vinha batizado e atormentaria o governo Lula e o alto escalão do PT por muitos anos. À época, o assunto foi tão explorado e martelado na cabeça dos brasileiros, que muito se duvidou da reeleição de Lula. O ex-senador do PFL (ex-Arena, atual DEM) e filhote da ditadura militar Jorge Bornhausen chegou a decretar a morte do PT com uma frase reveladora da sua alma: “Estou é encantado (com a crise do mensalão), porque estaremos livres dessa raça pelos próximos 30 anos”.

José Yunes, ex-assessor e amigo de mais de cinco décadas de Michel Temer, deu uma declaração igualmente bombástica na semana passada revelando a existência de uma estratégia para eleger parlamentares fiéis a Eduardo Cunha. Yunes ficou sabendo disso pela boca de Lúcio Funaro – doleiro, lobista, operador das propinas de Cunha e que foi preso na época do mensalão – em setembro de 2014, às vésperas das eleições daquele ano. Este honorável cidadão relatou dessa maneira o esquema para Yunes:

“A gente está fazendo uma bancada de 140 deputados, para o Eduardo (Cunha) ser presidente da Câmara”.

O melhor amigo de Temer ouviu essa frase quando o doleiro, a mando de Eliseu Padilha, passou em seu escritório para deixar um “pacote” misterioso que alguém buscaria mais tarde. Segundo delação de ex-executivo da Odebrecht, o tal “documento” na verdade eram R$ 4 milhões em dinheiro vivo, que era parte de uma propina de R$10 milhões repassada para o PMDB. Yunes se viu sendo “mula” de Padilha e resolveu contar tudo para o presidente não eleito, que, à época, era candidato à vice de Dilma.

“Contei tudo ao presidente em 2014. O meu amigo (Temer) sabe que é verdade isso. Ele não foi falar com o Padilha. O meu amigo reagiu com aquela serenidade de sempre (risos).”

É óbvio que Temer não foi reclamar com seu braço direito. As chances de um esquema comandado por Padilha e Cunha ser ignorado por Temer são menores do que a de um tucano ser preso. Portanto, é mais do que provável que, antes mesmo da eleição, Padilha e Temer já tramavam para colocar Cunha na presidência da Câmara. É importante lembrar que Cunha não foi o candidato do governo para a Câmara, era Arlindo Chinaglia (PT), o que significa que a cúpula peemedebista já trabalhava contra os interesses do governo do qual faziam parte. Naquela época, o impeachment já estava no horizonte e seria muita ingenuidade acreditar que esses fatos não estavam relacionados. Cunha foi eleito por uma maioria avassaladora na Câmara. Uma maioria que o acompanharia até a derrubada de Dilma.

Marcelo Camargo/ Agência Brasil

Após a eleição de Cunha, O Globo registrou que ele “é considerado inimigo da presidente Dilma Rousseff, com quem sempre teve uma relação difícil”. Ou seja, com base no depoimento de Yunes, é possível concluir que o vice-presidente há muito tempo já trabalhava nos bastidores – e depois abertamente – para eleger um inimigo do governo. Cunha articulou intensamente contra o governo para aprovar a MP dos Portos (com uma emenda cuja única beneficiária foi uma das principais empresas financiadoras de Temer), trabalhou pela derrubada do decreto da presidenta que criava a conselhos populares em órgãos públicos e fez de tudo para travar a votação do Marco Civil da Internet. Agora sabemos que o inimigo mortal da presidenta vinha sendo armado pelo vice-presidente desde antes das eleições presidenciais. Qual o nome disso senão traição, conspiração e/ou golpismo?

Em abril de 2015, poucos meses após Cunha virar presidente da Câmara, Dilma, preocupada com o desgaste da relação com o PMDB, colocou Temer na articulação do governo. A raposa foi alçada à condição de pacificadora do galinheiro depois de ter passado meses tramando o cerco com a raposada. Enquanto isso, Cunha comandou durante todo o resto do ano um boicote sistemático ao governo, trabalhando contra todas as medidas de saída da crise econômica por meio de pautas-bombas, travamento de votações e muita chantagem. Com a maioria dos parlamentares na mão e o apoio do vice-presidente, Cunha ficou cada vez mais à vontade para encaminhar o principal projeto do seu mandato: o impeachment.

“Michel é Eduardo Cunha”, já dizia Jucá no spoiler dos spoilers. Mas a relação não é mais a mesma. Depois de cassado e preso, Cunha vem frequentemente fazendo ameaças veladas a Temer. Insinuou haver digitais de Temer nas irregularidades no Porto Maravilha e o arrolou como testemunha na Lava Jato, quando fez perguntas comprometedoras. Curiosamente, Temer agora coloca Osmar Serraglio (PMDB) no Ministério da Justiça, um homem tão próximo de Cunha que chegou a reivindicar a anistia dos crimes cometidos pelo amigo. As ameaças teriam surtido efeito? Não é possível afirmar categoricamente que sim, mas a chantagem estaria perfeitamente dentro do contexto golpista da atual da política brasileira.

Cunha também fez duas perguntas para Temer sobre seu amigo José Yunes:

“Qual a relação de Vossa Excelência com José Yunes?”

“O sr. Yunes recebeu alguma contribuição de campanha para alguma eleição de Vossa Excelência ou do PMDB?”

Perguntas essenciais para compreender o papel de Temer na Lava Jato, mas o juiz-herói Sergio Moro evitou a fadiga de Temer cancelando essas e mais 11 perguntas embaraçosas. Os questionamentos foram considerados “inapropriados” pelo magistrado. Segundo ele, “não há qualquer notícia do envolvimento do Exmo. Sr. Presidente da República nos crimes que constituem objeto desta ação penal”. Parece piada, mas este é o homem conhecido por ser implacável contra a corrupção. Estamos muito bem de heróis, né, Brasil?

Yunes simplesmente revelou que os milhões da Odebrecht serviram para construir uma poderosa bancada de deputados para colocar um criminoso na presidência da Câmara. Com o envolvimento comprovado de Padilha, o braço direito de Temer, e com a “mula” amiga de Temer caguetando tudo, já não é mais possível ignorar as digitais do não eleito em mais esse escândalo. No país em que casos de corrupção são sempre batizados, como Mensalão e Petrolão, por que esse até agora não foi?

É instigante. Só acho que não podemos esperar que o batismo seja feito pela Globo, já que, segundo o Tabapuã Papers e Panamá Papers, Temer é sócio de Yunes, assim como o filho de Yunes é sócio de Roberto Marinho.

A minha sugestão é que chamemos de Golpe.

The post A “mula” do presidente e o escândalo sem nome appeared first on The Intercept.

If Trump Tower Was Wiretapped, Trump Can Declassify That Right Now

4 March 2017 - 7:23pm

If in fact Trump Tower was wiretapped during the 2016 presidential campaign, as President Trump claimed in several tweets Saturday morning, he can do much more than say so on twitter: Presidents have the power to declassify anything at any time, so Trump could immediately make public any government records of such surveillance.

What Trump is saying seems to be a garbled version of previous reporting by the BBC, among other news outlets.

Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 4, 2017

According to a report in the BBC, citing unnamed sources, a joint government task force was formed in spring of 2016 to look into an intelligence report from a foreign government that Russian money was somehow coming into the U.S. presidential race. In June the Department of Justice, part of the task force, asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court for a warrant to intercept electronic communications by two Russian banks (presumably involving communications with Americans, or else no warrant would be needed).

However, the BBC’s report says, the FISA court turned the application down, something it almost never does. The Justice Department then asked again in July with a more narrowly drawn request, which was again turned down. Justice then made a third request for a warrant on October 15, which was granted.

None of this involves wiretapping Trump Tower. However, it is possible that Trump picked that up from a Breitbart article that in turn relied on a Heat Street piece that claimed the warrant was issued because of evidence of links between a “private server in Donald Trump’s Trump Tower” and a Russian bank. In fact, the server in question, set up by a marketing company hired by Trump, was physically located in Philadelphia.

Barack Obama’s spokesman responded to Trump’s tweets by saying that “neither President Obama nor any White House official ever ordered surveillance on any U.S. citizen.” Notably, this statement does not deny that someone in the Obama administration ordered surveillance of Trump Tower, simply that the White House did not – which isn’t meaningful, since in a properly functioning executive branch the Justice Department would make that decision on its own without White House interference.

So what does all this mean?

The most likely explanation is that there was never any wiretapping of Trump Tower – or as Trump put it in another tweet, “my phones” — but the FISA court did allow surveillance of the Philadelphia server and the Justice Department ultimately decided there was nothing to it.

Or perhaps the Justice Department decided there was something to it and is still investigating it.

Or perhaps there were FISA court warrants but for surveillance of people around Trump that had nothing to do with the Philadelphia server and the Russian bank.

Or perhaps Trump never read the Breitbart article but instead learned there was significant surveillance of Trump Tower in the way you’d expect a president would, from the massive intelligence apparatus he commands.

Or perhaps Trump has simply gotten all of this wrong.

Whatever the case, Trump has the power to clarify it and everything else about the Russia story right now by declassifying whatever surveillance records exist of contacts between people in his orbit and Russia. If he and his associates did nothing wrong, he has every incentive to do so as soon as possible.

The White House press office did not immediately respond to requests to comment on whether Trump will use his declassification power regarding his tweeted claims. It’s previously ignored repeated questions about whether he will use it regarding the general issue of contacts between Russia and his campaign.

Interestingly, there has in fact been significant government surveillance involving a presidential campaign in the past, although it’s unlikely Trump will want to remind America of it.

During the 1968 contest between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon, President Lyndon Johnson was attempting to negotiate a peace deal to end the Vietnam War.

Nixon was worried that if this happened just before the election it would help Humphrey, who was Johnson’s vice president. Recently discovered notes by one of Nixon’s top campaign aides show that Nixon asked him to “monkey wrench” the peace talks. Via Anna Chennault, a top Republican fundraiser, the Nixon campaign sent messages to the government of South Vietnam not to go along with Johnson’s plans.

Johnson knew that this was happening at the time, and believed that it constituted “treason.” He ordered the FBI to wiretap the embassy of South Vietnam in Washington, which picked up Ambassador Bui Diem communicating with Chennault. (Presidents could and did directly order wiretaps prior to the establishment of the FISA court in 1978 to prevent executive branch abuses of its surveillance power.) The FBI also began conducting general surveillance of Chennault.

Johnson and several top officials, including Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, struggled with what to do in a fascinating phone call on November 4, 1968, the day before the election.

Johnson speaks of not wanting to be “a McCarthy” and worries about the certainty that “we’ll be charged with trying to interfere with the election.”

Rusk also equivocates, telling Johnson that “I do not believe that any president can make any use of interceptions or telephone taps in any way that would involve politics. The moment we cross over that divide we are in a different kind of society. … We get a lot of information through these special channels that we don’t make public. For example, some of the malfeasances of senators and congressmen and other people. … I think that we must continue to respect the classification of that kind of material.”

Clifford chimed in with another concern: that Americans just couldn’t endure learning how the world actually works. “I think,” Clifford fretted, “that some elements of the story are so shocking in their nature that I’m wondering whether it would be good for the country to disclose the story, and then possibly to have a certain individual elected. It could cast his whole administration under such doubts that I would think it would be inimical to our country’s interests.”

In the end, Johnson decided not to reveal what he knew about Nixon’s shocking subterfuge.

The next day Nixon narrowly beat Humphrey. During Nixon’s time in office, 20,000 more U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese died before the war finally ended.

The fact that Nixon did ally with a foreign government for advantage in a presidential election certainly doesn’t mean that Trump did the same. However, it does mean that U.S. politicians are capable of doing that – and that past presidents have used wiretaps to track the actions of their political adversaries.

U.S. President Donald Trump waves as he walks on the South Lawn after he returned to the White House March 2, 2017 in Washington, DC. President Trump has returned from his trip to visit the USS Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier in Newport News, Virginia.

The post If Trump Tower Was Wiretapped, Trump Can Declassify That Right Now appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump Wants NSA Program Reauthorized But Won’t Tell Congress How Many Americans It Spies On

4 March 2017 - 9:15am

The White House wants Congress to reauthorize two of the NSA’s largest surveillance programs before they expire at the end of the year.

One of them scans the traffic that passes through the massive internet cables going in and out of the U.S. and ends up catching vast number of American communications in its dragnet.

But how many? Lawmakers have been asking for years, and the intelligence community has consistently refused provide even a ballpark figure.

At a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, several members expressed frustration that intelligence chiefs – first under Obama, and now under Trump — have failed to provide any kind of estimate, even in classified briefings.

“The members of this committee and the public at large require that estimate to engage in a meaningful debate,” said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., the leading Democrat on the committee. “We will not simply take the government’s word on the size of the so-called ‘incidental collection.”

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which lapses at the end of the year, allows the NSA to collect vast amounts of domestic internet traffic as long as it maintains it is only “targeting” foreigners. Documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden described two huge surveillance programs that operate under that authority. One program, PRISM, allows the NSA to collect data in bulk from tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple. The other program – Upstream – allows the NSA to tap the massive internet cables that carry information in and out of the U.S. and search for communications involving certain foreign “targets” or “selectors”.

As the NSA scans the cables for information on its targets, it also collects information on the Americans those targets are communicating with, as well as entirely unrelated information, such as communications from people who happened to be in the same chat room as a target. Furthermore, the targets can be selected for any “foreign intelligence purpose” — not just counterterrorism.

As a result, the NSA ends up collecting information on a huge number of U.S. persons without getting a warrant – collection they describe as “incidental,” but which is really inevitable. And using what critics call the backdoor loophole, law enforcement officials then search through that material for information on Americans.

That collection on Americans is part of how the law was designed, according to Elizabeth Goitein, a lawyer for the Brennan Center for Justice. “Incidentally,’ is the terminology used by the government,” Goitein testified at Wednesday’s hearing. “But it is part of the design of the program to acquire communications of foreign targets with Americans.”

The issue of “incidental collection” has come into the spotlight in the weeks since Trump’s inauguration. Last month, anonymous members of the intelligence community leaked information about phone calls between the Russian ambassador – who was understandably targeted for surveillance – and Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Flynn’s resignation spooked some Republicans who worried about that ability being used improperly. “Whatever your political persuasion is, for me it had a chilling effect,” said Rep. Raúl Labrador, R- Idaho. “My political opponents could use my personal information, that they maybe gathered in some private information, against me in the future. That should be quite terrifying to anybody, whether you’re a Republican or Democrat.”

Conyers, along with a bipartisan group of 14 Democrats and Republicans, sent a letter to the Director of National Intelligence in April last year, asking “simply for a rough estimate” of how many Americans had their communications collected.

Conyers sent a follow-up letter in December. “The intelligence community has not so much as responded to our December letter,” Conyers said Wednesday. “I had hoped for better.”

Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., first requested an estimate in 2011 – even before the Snowden disclosures demonstrated the reach of the surveillance programs. The federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight board recommended in 2014 that the NSA start keeping track of the number. In 2015, more than 30 civil liberties organizations wrote a letter to the Intelligence Community’s Civil Liberties Protection Office, demanding the same thing, and got an unresponsive reply.

The intelligence community insists that it doesn’t keep track, in part because doing so would require it to identify which phone numbers and computer IP addresses belong to American citizens. April Doss, a former NSA lawyer, told the committee that it would require the NSA to de-anonymize everyone in their communications. “In my view, the collection and maintenance of that reference information would itself pose significant impacts to privacy,” she said.

But Goitein noted that the NSA already uses computer IP addresses to approximate who is a U.S. citizen for other purposes, so it would be easy for them to estimate how many Americans’ communications they collect.

“The NSA has determined that the IP address is an accurate enough indicator of a persons status… to use it to filter out the wholly domestic communications that the NSA is prohibited from acquiring,” she testified. “If it’s accurate enough to enable the NSA to comply with that constitutional obligation, then it’s certainly accurate enough for the estimate.”

Top photo: A man looks at his cellphone as he walks on the street in Madrid in 2013.

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The U.S. Government’s Privacy Watchdog Is Basically Dead, Emails Reveal

3 March 2017 - 2:24pm

There’s a little-known federal agency whose job is to ensure U.S. spy agencies protect privacy and other civil liberties even as they work to defeat terrorists and criminals, and to blow the whistle when that doesn’t happen. But the agency, known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, is down to just a single voting member — which means it has been stripped of nearly all its powers, according to emails obtained by The Intercept.

The board was created by Congress in 2004, at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, to help the executive branch balance national security priorities with individual rights. After Bush administration officials heavily edited PCLOB’s first report, one member resigned, and Congress in 2007 turned it into an independent agency and expanded its writ to include oversight of congressional action. Still, the board remained obscure; some members of Congress seemed unaware of its existence even as documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden produced more privacy scandals.

PCLOB is supposed to have five members, no more than three of whom come from the same political party; to employ a full-time chairperson; to have regular access to the 17 intelligence agencies; and to publish unclassified versions of its evaluations of U.S. espionage powers.

But with just one part-time board member left, after another member’s term ended last week, the agency has very few formal powers to police the so-called “deep state” until President Trump nominates a new board, the emails reveal. Without the statutory quorum of three members, PCLOB “may not initiate new advice or oversight projects” or offer advice to the intelligence community, according to a list drawn up by Jen Burita, PCLOB’s public affairs and legislative officer, and shared by email with several congressional staffers who had raised questions about the impact of the attrition among board members.

In addition, the agency cannot submit to Congress either its semi-annual reports, which detail the conclusions of its investigations, or its plans for declassifying information it has uncovered. The board can’t hold public meetings, which have offered the chance for public input in the past, or give formal recommendations to the intelligence community.

The board can proceed with ongoing investigations, and individual members — or member, as the case may be — may make public appearances, issue statements, testify before Congress and give advice to intelligence agencies without purporting to speak for PCLOB as an agency or board.

Nominations to bring PCLOB to quorum seem unlikely to happen any time soon, if they happen at all. One hurdle is that Trump has to work with Democrats to name at least two of the board’s members, and lack of bipartisan cooperation stymied PCLOB appointments under Presidents Bush and Obama. The bigger issue is that Trump may not be interested in naming any members at all. On Fox News on Tuesday, the president claimed he hasn’t filled upwards of 600 administration slots because “they’re unnecessary to have.”

The board’s eight or so staff workers are ready for a doomsday situation.

“The board has anticipated a sub quorum scenario and has been preparing for that already,” Burita wrote in an email to a staff member of the House intelligence committee in early December. (The email and other documents cited in this story were obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information Act request.)

One key item on PCLOB’s agenda for the near future was helping ensure that privacy rights were protected in the course of implementing a pact called Privacy Shield, which would allow corporate information transfers to the U.S. from within the European Union. The U.S. government reassured Europeans, fearful of American surveillance programs, that PCLOB would be involved in overseeing such transfers. But with only one member, that’s unlikely, says Jake Laperruque, senior counsel at the legal think tank The Constitution Project. “PCLOB falling away may be another nail in the coffin for the US-EU Privacy Shield unless Congress gets serious” about reforming other areas of surveillance policy, he wrote in an email to The Intercept.

One congressional staffer asked Burita in an email if there was “any word from Trump-elect team on names for consideration.” There was no response indicating that was the case.

But this didn’t start with Trump. The board’s been withering away for almost a year.

Its former chair, David Medine, resigned last March to work on global poverty issues and was never replaced. James Dempsey, the executive director of the Berkeley Center for Law & Technology, left when his term ended on January 29. Judge Patricia Wald, a former chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, quietly retired on January 7 — requesting no statement be made publicly, according to the emails. And as of February 21, Rachel Brand, who served in the Bush administration Department of Justice, is gone too, after her term ended.

The board’s one remaining board member, Elisabeth Collins, worked in the Justice Department under George W. Bush and, according to the Associated Press, “drafted revised guidelines in 2008 that … gave FBI agents involved in national security probes new authority to conduct physical surveillance without a court order.” Collins also dissented from a 2014 PCLOB finding that the NSA’s bulk phone-record collection program was illegal and should be shut down.

The board served a vital oversight role in recent years. After examining how the NSA was vacuuming up massive amounts of information about Americans’ phone calls in 2014, it eviscerated the program in an extensive public report. That input helped Congress decide to nix the program and replace it with one where companies held onto the data instead of the government in 2015.

The panel’s nearly 200-page 2014 study on Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act will undoubtedly play a role in lawmakers’ decisions about how to reform foreign surveillance programs this year. The board had also intended to publish a report by the end of 2016 on its investigation into Executive Order 12333, a major expansion of the intelligence community’s surveillance powers by President Ronald Reagan, but that never happened.

Medine, in an email to the The Intercept, called on Trump to take action. “With only one member remaining, the board can no longer conduct business until new appointments are made by the president and confirmed by the Senate,” he wrote.

While PCLOB might be hobbled for the time being, it appears the board members did scramble to complete several classified reports before losing quorum.

According to the emails obtained by The Intercept, PCLOB managed to complete and submit a “deep dive” report on the CIA as well as an assessment of an Obama presidential policy directive on privacy prior to Dempsey and Wald’s departure.

The emails don’t describe the CIA report in detail, but do give a general sense of the directive behind the investigation into the presidential policy directive, known as PPD-28, which required intelligence agencies to draw up plans to protect personal information collected in the course of their work. Burita wrote that Obama “encouraged the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to prepare a report that assesses the implementation of any matters contained within this directive that fall under the agency’s mandate … as it relates to counterterrorism efforts and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.”

Top image: An email obtained through Freedom of Information Act by The Intercept sent by PCLOB public affairs and legislative officer Jen Burita.

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Trump pode optar por “informações alternativas de inteligência” em respaldo a seus “fatos alternativos”, segundo ex-agentes

3 March 2017 - 2:03pm

Uma ex-analista da CIA designada pelo governo Bush para tentar vincular Saddam Hussein à al Qaeda alerta que o governo Trump pode estar adotando o mesmo modelo de “informações alternativas de inteligência” que levou à guerra do Iraque. “Eles usaram informações falsas. Além disso, usaram relatórios não revisados, escolheram a dedo os que vinham de fontes que não considerávamos confiáveis e repassaram para o presidente”, disse Nada Bakos, que trabalhou na CIA de 2000 a 2010, em entrevista a Jeremy Scahill.

Ouça a entrevista a partir do 8m40s no último espisódio do podcast Intercepted (em inglês):


Assine o podcast Intercepted no iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify ou em outras plataformas.

 

Bakos disse temer que o governo Trump esteja operando na “expectativa de que procedamos de acordo com o que eles querem, em detrimento da realidade e da situação na linha de frente”. Essa abordagem “trará um caráter político para a estrutura da comunidade de inteligência. Dessa maneira, você pode usar informações de forma política e, quem sabe, criar uma equipe que contribua para a sua própria causa”, disse a ex-analista. “Na minha opinião, esse é um dos aspectos mais preocupantes da forma como [Trump está] lidando com a comunidade de inteligência. Se [a comunidade] sempre atende a seus anseios e serve a sua visão de mundo, não importa se ele tem uma [visão de mundo].”

Depois de 11 de Setembro, enquanto o vice-presidente Dick Cheney orquestrava os impulsos bélicos, Bakos integrava uma equipe da CIA incumbida de produzir provas em respaldo às alegações do governo de que o Iraque mantinha uma aliança com a al Qaeda. “Essa questão não apareceu de forma orgânica com base nas informações que estávamos coletando”, disse Bakos a Jeremy Scahill no último episódio de Intercepted. “A questão foi levantada pelo governo. Nós não vimos indícios. Portanto, não formaríamos uma equipe dedicada a avaliar essa informação.”

O ex-secretário de Defesa Donald Rumsfeld também criou o Gabinete de Planos Especiais do Pentágono, que se empenhou em extrair informações de todos os órgãos da comunidade de inteligência que respaldassem o argumento em favor da guerra. “As conclusões deles eram essencialmente o oposto do que constatamos”, contou. “Esse fato por si só já representava um verdadeiro carro na frente dos bois. Chegamos à nossa conclusão. Entregamos para a Casa Branca e para o Congresso. O Departamento de Defesa tinha uma opinião muito diferente sobre as relações entre Saddam e outras organizações terroristas.” Esse modelo de informações de inteligência politizadas — apresentação de relatórios não revisados e não confiáveis — leva a informações de baixa qualidade e a consequências trágicas. “Nesse caso, levou a uma guerra”, concluiu Bakos.

Durante a mesma entrevista, Clint Watts, ex-agente especial do FBI que trabalhou na Força Tarefa Antiterrorismo, observou que a estratégia inicial de Trump consistia em enfraquecer a comunidade de inteligência e “fortalecer as forças armadas e a comunidade de segurança”.

Eu acho que as pessoas mais espertas na comunidade de inteligência vão tratá-lo como um ditador. E como você trata um ditador? Você joga com o ego dele. Portanto, acho que eles vão acabar influenciando o presidente como fariam com um adversário estrangeiro. Se quiserem convencê-lo do que é verdade ou o melhor para a América, vão acabar tratando [o presidente] como um Gaddafi ou um Putin, ou alguém que queiram convencer. E terão literalmente que fazer com que suas análises e informações de apoio se compatibilizem à visão de mundo do presidente, o que é assustador já que isso acaba por criar obliterações.

Watts também estabeleceu paralelos com os dias que antecederam a guerra do Iraque e observou que o governo Trump já começou a desconsiderar os relatórios do Departamento de Segurança Interna que contradizem sua agenda política. “Já notamos isso no caso da análise de inteligência relativa à [proibição da entrada de muçulmanos]. Foi produzido um relatório que não respaldava a política que estão tentando implementar. Então, agora o governo diz: ‘bom, não vamos dar ouvidos a isso. Vamos continuar pressionando’.”

“Suponho que a Casa Branca começará a criar equipes alternativas para oferecer um ponto de vista concorrente para esses assuntos e, se isso acontecer, especialmente no Departamento de Defesa ou no Conselho de Segurança Nacional, seria muito preocupante”, disse Watts. “Na minha opinião, isso indica que [a Casa Branca] não confia nas agências de inteligência.”

Outros riscos, além da politização das informações de inteligência, são a ignorância e a inexperiência básica do círculo de pessoas próximas a Trump, especialmente os conselheiros da Casa Branca Steve Bannon e Sebastian Gorka. “O que mais me assusta é que estamos lidando com pessoas com pouquíssimo conhecimento sobre os grupos que estamos combatendo no momento.” A Casa Branca está encarando o Irã, a Irmandade Muçulmana, a al Qaeda e o Estado Islâmico como aliados no momento, disse Watts. “Isso é loucura.” Estão criando um grande inimigo para poderem lutar.

“O fato de Gorka não conseguir nem mesmo entender algo tão simples”, acrescentou Bakos, “significa que ele é a pessoa errada para lidar com antiterrorismo e entender o Oriente Médio”.

“Meu maior medo”, afirmou Watts, “é que haja um grande ataque terrorista e essa corrente ganhe força, porque isso fará com que o país se una em apoio ao presidente, que precisará ser duro e provar seu mérito, e os ideólogos vão avançar primeiro porque são mais organizados”.

“Se eu fosse a al Qaeda ou o EI, atacaria agora. Se eu fosse um estado-nação, como Rússia, China ou Irã, provocaria os EUA agora, porque assim seria gerada aquela reação exagerada que eles desejam.

A entrevista de Jeremy Scahill com Nada Bakos e Clint Watts pode ser ouvida no episódio 6 do podcast Intercepted: Donald no País das Maravilhas..

The post Trump pode optar por “informações alternativas de inteligência” em respaldo a seus “fatos alternativos”, segundo ex-agentes appeared first on The Intercept.

Seguranças da Vale são indiciados por ataque violento contra agricultores no Pará

3 March 2017 - 12:31pm

Seguranças que atuam em uma propriedade da mineradora Vale no município de Canaã dos Carajás, no sudeste do Pará, foram indiciados por lesão corporal após um conflito com fazendeiros da região. Os agricultores Jorge Martins dos Santos, 46, e seu filho Thiago Sales dos Santos, 24, contam que, na última segunda-feira, faziam, juntamente com outros trabalhadores rurais, reparos em uma cerca de arame que separa a propriedade da família da linha de ferro da mineradora, quando foram agredidos com socos, pontapés, spray de pimenta e coronhadas por ao menos oito seguranças da empresa Prosegur, a serviço da Vale.

A cerca está em área da mineradora, mas, segundo a família, a empresa não cumpriu com uma obrigação judicial de separar os dois terrenos, o que teria provocado a fuga de animais dos fazendeiros. A Vale alega que eles invadiram a propriedade da empresa e que seus seguranças agiram em legítima defesa. Desde sua chegada à região, a empresa é acusada de uma série de práticas abusivas e ilegais.

Thiago Sales dos Santos

Segundo Jorge, em 2014, uma ação judicial determinou que a Vale deveria construir uma cerca para separar os terrenos. “Eles nunca fizeram isso, então nós mesmos fomos reparar uma outra cerca que existe lá desde que o proprietário do terreno era outro, para impedir que os animais fujam para a estrada”, disse. De 2014 a 2017, o agricultor fez cinco boletins de ocorrência se queixando do roubo de animais, e afirma ter perdido até 22 vacas de uma só vez.

De acordo com o relato de Jorge, enquanto eles faziam os reparos, chegou uma caminhonete dizendo que eles eram invasores e que estavam dentro de propriedade da Vale. “Minha mulher foi pegar os documentos em casa para mostrar a obrigação da empresa, mas então parou outra caminhonete, de onde desceram vários homens encapuzados, que começaram a agredir a mim e a meu filho, enquanto todos os empregados se deitaram no chão. Meu filho ao me ver sendo agredido chegou a reagir e acertar um deles, mas apanhou ainda mais por isso.” Jorge conta que Thiago teve convulsões e desmaiou, e que, depois disso, foram amarrados e postos em um carro, onde continuaram a ser agredidos. Ele relata ainda ter recebido ameaças de morte.

Segurança da Vale agredido em confronto no Pará.

Foto: Vale

A Vale, por meio de nota, afirma que os fazendeiros realizaram uma “tentativa de invasão”, construindo a cerca dentro de terreno da empresa. A mineradora diz ainda que seus seguranças abordaram os fazendeiros pacificamente, apenas agindo em legítima defesa após terem sido agredidos por Thiago – que teria ferido o nariz de um segurança – e se limitando a conter “a agressão e a continuidade da invasão do imóvel”.

A empresa também afirma que a cerca já foi instalada, mas foi “quebrada cinco vezes pelo fazendeiro e por pessoas a seu mando”, com o intuito de invadir as terras. Segundo a Vale, o caso foi registrado na polícia e não há nenhuma pendência entre as partes. A empresa de segurança Prosegur, por sua vez, reforça que sua equipe agiu em legítima defesa durante a ação, realizada para “evitar uma invasão criminosa”. A companhia também ressalta “que todos os seus colaboradores passam por treinamentos e capacitação específicos de acordo com a operação a ser executada”.

Caldeirão de conflitos

O episódio é o conflito mais recente em uma região marcada há décadas por litígios agrários entre latifundiários e posseiros e distante apenas 100 quilômetros de Eldorado dos Carajás, onde em 1996 ocorreu o massacre de 19 trabalhadores sem-terra. Em dezembro, a cidade de Canaã dos Carajás viu a inauguração de mais um fator complicador deste cenário, a mina S11D, ou, nas palavras da Vale, “o maior projeto de mineração de sua história e da indústria da mineração”.

A empresa pretende explorar até 90 milhões de toneladas de minério de ferro por ano no empreendimento, e diz em sua divulgação “que o futuro há de ser muito melhor”. Com discurso totalmente oposto ao da empresa, no entanto, trabalhadores rurais, líderes sindicais e ativistas denunciam um modelo de exploração não sustentável, baseado na atração de trabalhadores sem que haja condições para recebê-los, na apropriação de terras por práticas questionáveis, em crimes socioambientais e nas intimidações a vozes dissonantes.

“Desde os anos 2000, no entanto, com a chegada da mineração, essa região virou um caldeirão de conflitos. Esse que aconteceu é só mais um.”

“Acompanhamos grandes conflitos agrários nesta região desde a década de 1980, onde tínhamos posseiros de um lado e grandes proprietários, com todas suas infiltrações no poder público, de outro”, afirma Raimundo Gomez da Cruz Neto, conhecido como Raimundinho, do Centro de Educação, Pesquisa e Assessoria Sindical e Popular (Cepasp), que auxilia trabalhadores sem-terra. “Desde os anos 2000, no entanto, com a chegada da mineração, essa região virou um caldeirão de conflitos. Esse que aconteceu é só mais um”, diz.

Compras de terrenos

A área do Grande Carajás concentra a maior reserva de minério de alto teor de ferro do mundo, além de contar com reservas de outros metais como cobre, níquel e bauxita. Segundo a assessora política do Instituto de Estudos Socioeconômicos (Inesc), Alessandra Cardoso, isto torna a área muita estratégica para a indústria minerária. “Devido ao seu potencial riquíssimo, a Vale tem uma visão de higienizar a área, cercá-la, ter seu domínio territorial. Temos então um processo de conflito fundiário muito intenso, no qual pequenos posseiros tentam se manter, diante de uma empresa que quer limpá-los dali”, afirma.

A situação aqui é muito difícil, porque a Vale comprou mais de 50% do município.”

Existem diversas denúncias de aquisições ilegais de terra na região. Um levantamento realizado pelo Sindicato dos Trabalhadores e Trabalhadoras Rurais de Canaã dos Carajás afirma haver indícios da venda de até 199 lotes de reforma agrária na região. A venda destes lotes é ilegal, uma vez que as terras pertencem à União, e os agricultores que nela cultivam são apenas seus beneficiários. Em 2010, a Vale precisou indenizar o Instituto Nacional de Colonização e Reforma Agrária (Incra) em R$ 6 milhões pela compra de 80 lotes de assentamento em outra área do Pará. “A situação aqui é muito difícil, porque a Vale comprou mais de 50% do município”, diz o presidente do sindicato, José Ribamar da Silva Costa, referindo-se a Canaã dos Carajás.

Dentre estas aquisições, não está o terreno de Jorge, mas não por falta de tentativas: em 2014, a Vale fez investidas para comprar a totalidade do terreno do fazendeiro. A compra não foi efetivada, porque não alcançaram um valor que agradasse a ambas as partes. A mineradora obteve então o direito de passar sua linha férrea por área do produtor rural, por meio de uma ação de servidão minerária. Para isso, no entanto, deveria indenizá-lo em R$ 450 mil, além de  construir uma passagem e a cerca que Jorge afirma nunca ter sido construída.

Levados para a delegacia pelos seguranças da Prosegur, os fazendeiros foram encaminhados para o hospital pelo delegado Fabrício Andrade. The Intercept Brasil não conseguiu contatar o delegado, mas, em entrevista a uma televisão local, ele afirmou que “houve um excesso por parte da parte patrimonial”, e que, em virtude desse excesso, os seguranças foram indiciados por lesão corporal. Andrade disse ainda que houve desproporcionalidade nas agressões, o que descarta a possibilidade de legítima defesa. Segundo ele, o direito de integridade física se sobrepõe ao de propriedade.

A tese da desproporcionalidade é corroborada pelo advogado da família, Marcos Tavares, que salientou ainda que a tese da Vale de invasão de propriedade é “absurda”. “Não se faz ocupação de terra com poucas pessoas. Há todo um preparo prévio, que simplesmente inexistiu”, afirma. Jorge também apresentou um contra-argumento à tese da mineradora:  “Como duas pessoas como nós, que não tem muita altura nem muito físico, lutariam contra 10 pessoas armadas?”. Questionada a este respeito, a Vale  lembrou dos outros trabalhadores presentes no reparo da cerca, que teriam se deitado no chão, e reforçou mais uma vez que “a legítima defesa e o desforço imediato são mecanismos de defesa previstos na legislação”.

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Statement on the Arrest of Former Intercept Reporter Juan Thompson

3 March 2017 - 11:28am

We were horrified to learn this morning that Juan Thompson, a former employee of The Intercept, has been arrested in connection with bomb threats against the ADL and multiple Jewish Community Centers in addition to cyberstalking. These actions are heinous and should be fully investigated and prosecuted. We have no information about the charges against Thompson other than what is included in the criminal complaint. Thompson worked for The Intercept from November 2014 to January 2016, when he was fired after we discovered that he had fabricated sources and quotes in his articles. 

The post Statement on the Arrest of Former Intercept Reporter Juan Thompson appeared first on The Intercept.

California Nonprofit May Have Violated Tax Law By Donating to Anti-Muslim, Far-Right Dutch Candidate

3 March 2017 - 10:43am

The David Horowitz Freedom Center, a controversial California-based nonprofit that sponsors virulently anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant campaigns in the U.S., has quietly played a prominent role in financing Dutch far-right nationalist Geert Wilders’s People’s Party for Freedom (PVV). The PVV’s platform calls for an end to Muslim immigration and the closing down of mosques and Islamic schools in the Netherlands — and polls suggest it may win the largest number of seats in the Netherland’s parliamentary elections this month.

By providing grants to the PVV, the Freedom Center, which operates as aa 501(c)3 nonprofit, may have violated IRS tax rules that prohibit tax-exempt charitable groups from funding overt political campaign activity.

Former IRS tax officials who spoke to The Intercept also note that the Freedom Center failed to disclose the grants to Wilders’s political party in its annual tax return, another potential violation of the law. Nonprofit groups’ tax returns are public documents.

Records posted by the Dutch interior ministry show that in 2014 and 2015 the Freedom Center provided multiple donations totaling 126,354 euros — approximately $134,000 — to the “Stichting Vrienden van de PVV,” or the Friends of the PVV Foundation, the fundraising arm of the party.

The Friends of the PVV, a subsidiary group of the party, is the foundation used to solicit outside funds for Wilders, according to The Power of Populism, a book by historian Koen Vossen chronicling the rise of Wilders and his party. Go to the party’s website, and the “donate” button takes you to a PayPal account for the Friends of the PVV.

In 2014, the Friends of the PVV reported receiving 18,110.69 euros — or about $19,000 — from the Freedom Center. But in its 2014 tax return, the Freedom Center indicated that it had not provided any foreign grants of more than $5,000 that year. And in another section of the return, the center failed to disclose any foreign grants at all.

Screenshots from the David Horowitz Freedom Center 2014 tax return. Highlighted portion relates to foreign grants.

Michael Finch, the president of the Freedom Center, confirmed the donations, but said that they may have been a “pass through” for Wilders’s legal defense fund. Wilders has found himself in court on multiple occasions in the Netherlands over accusations that he has incited hate speech toward Muslims.

Speaking over the phone, he said would need to “do some research” and would respond to questions over email. Requests for comment over email were not returned. The PVV did not respond to a request for comment.

“The gift from the David Horowitz Foundation to the ‘Friends of the PVV’ does constitute funding for Wilders’s party,” said Ruud Koole, a professor of political science at Leiden University, in an email to The Intercept.

The six figure grants also “constitute a considerable amount of money from a single donor according to Dutch standards,” he added. That is especially true due to the unique structure of the PVV, which does not accept traditional state subsidies because the party only has one member controlling the entire party: Wilders. Dutch law requires that political parties seeking state election subsidies must have at least 1,000 members.

“All in all, the PVV has very little income. Therefore, the gift from the Freedom Center is relatively important,” Koole said.

The exact amount given to the PVV from the Freedom Center is under dispute. The Dutch newspaper NRC reported in December that Horowitz’s foundation acknowledged sending the PVV $75,000 in 2014, followed by $75,000 in 2015 and $25,000 in 2016 — bringing the total amount to $175,000. The newspaper pointed out that those figures did not reflect the figures in the campaign filings to the Dutch government — and that Wilders’s accountant, who had approved the campaign filings, declined to explain the disparity.

The Freedom Center’s donation to a foreign political party “seems on its face to violate the law,” said Louisiana State University law professor Philip Hackney, who spent five years working for the IRS’s chief counsel. “A charity is not supposed to make a contribution to a political campaign.”

Hackney compared the situation to Donald Trump’s foundation, which faces a fine for making a political contribution to a political committee supporting Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi. The prohibition on 501(c)3 political donations applies to political donations both domestically and abroad, he added.

Marcus Owens, an attorney who previously managed the IRS division overseeing tax-exempt organizations, said the Freedom Center’s failure to report the foreign grants on its IRS filings could also create legal problems. “Failure to report, or report accurately, could thus trigger a range of penalties beginning with civil failure-to-file penalties to criminal penalties for conspiracy to defraud the United States and the making of false statements on tax returns,” Owens said.

Horowitz, a former communist turned conservative firebrand, has used his nonprofit to launch an array of right-wing campaigns to stoke anger about Islam, illegal immigration, and other hot button issues. Horowitz sponsors Frontpagemag.com, a website that depicts Muslims as terrorists and rapists bent on “infiltrating” the top levels of government and both major political parties. The website pushes a regular flow of content against refugees, calling Muslim migrants carriers of infectious disease and predators with a “violent lust for ‘white’ women.”

Jihad Watch, another Horowitz-funded site, mobilized opposition to the construction of an Islamic community center in Manhattan, erroneously calling the project a “victory mosque” celebrating 9/11.

Horowitz, by his own account, mentored Stephen Miller, the controversial White House aide, starting when Miller was in high school. Miller declared in a recent interview that President Trump’s national security policies “will not be questioned,” and is playing a prominent role in shaping executive orders related to immigration, including the attempt to temporarily ban travel from seven majority-Muslim countries and block refugees. Miller invited Horowitz to speak at his high school in Santa Monica and at Duke University, where Miller managed a chapter of Horowitz’s “Terrorism Awareness Project.”

Wilders, arguably the most bombastic anti-Muslim politician in Europe, has cultivated close ties with the American far right. He frequently tours the U.S. to give lectures on the dangers of Islam and is known for his crude commentary on Muslim immigrants. He has called Moroccans “scum” and promoted a theory that the prophet Muhammed suffered from a brain tumor and that his visions were a result of “paranoid schizophrenia” from the disorder.

Wilders has appeared at multiple Horowitz-related events over the last decade. Horowitz’s Freedom Center hosted Wilder at an event adjacent to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2009. The following year, the Dutch politician appeared at a rally organized by Horowitz-funded bloggers to protest the proposed Park51 Islamic community center in Manhattan. In 2014, Wilders spoke at Restoration Weekend, Horowitz’s annual summit used to raise money for his foundation.

NRC also reported that Horowitz organized a fundraiser for Wilders in Washington in 2009, raising $75,000. Dutch political parties were not required to publicly report donations until 2013.

Nina Rosenwald, an heiress recently profiled by The Intercept for her role in financing the anti-Muslim refugee movement — and a donor to Horowitz’s Freedom Center —  recently told Politico that she has also provided support to Wilders, but she wouldn’t say how much.

Wilders tweeted in December to thank Horowitz, a “dear friend and ally” for all “your support and friendship.”

Top photo: Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party in The Hague, Netherlands, on June 16, 2016.

The post California Nonprofit May Have Violated Tax Law By Donating to Anti-Muslim, Far-Right Dutch Candidate appeared first on The Intercept.

Sessions’s Recusal Gives Senators Powerful Leverage to Demand Russia Special Prosecutor

2 March 2017 - 7:10pm

Now that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from any involvement in investigations by the Justice Department involving potential Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the authority to make decisions on the issue — including whether the appointment of a special prosecutor is necessary — falls to the deputy attorney general.

This turn of events gives the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee the power to demand a special prosecutor, if they choose to wield it.

There is currently no permanent deputy attorney general, just Acting Attorney General Dana Boente, a former U.S. Attorney who stepped in after Sally Yates, an Obama appointee, was fired. However, Donald Trump’s nominee, U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod Rosenstein, will undergo confirmation hearings with the Senate Judiciary Committee this month.

And those Judiciary Committee members can now ask Rosenstein to commit to naming a special prosecutor before voting whether to send his nomination to the full Senate.

At least seven of the nine Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including ranking member Dianne Feinstein of California, have publicly called for a special prosecutor to investigate potential criminal actions by Russian officials and any of Trump’s associates. South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, one of the 11 Republicans on the committee, has said that “if there is something there that the FBI believes is criminal in nature, then for sure you need a special prosecutor.” If the nine Democrats and Graham acted as a block, they would have the power to prevent Rosenstein’s nomination from being voted out of committee.

There is direct historical precedence for this. In 1973, in the midst of the Watergate scandal, President Nixon nominated Elliot Richardson, then his secretary of defense, to be attorney general. Judiciary Committee members demanded that Richardson commit to appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Nixon. In fact, they went even further: Richardson was pressured to name who specifically he would appoint before the vote was held, and then both Richardson and his choice — one-time Solicitor General Archibald Cox — were questioned by the committee about the degree of independence Cox would have to pursue the investigation.

Only then did the committee vote to confirm Richardson, in May 1973. And once in office, he did appoint Cox. Richardson only served until that October, when he resigned in the famous “Saturday Night Massacre” rather than follow orders from Nixon to fire Cox, who had subpoenaed White House audio recordings. Solicitor General Robert Bork ended up in charge, and fired Cox.

The attorney general — or as in this case, his deputy — has the sole discretion under Justice Department regulations to appoint a special prosecutor “when he or she determines that criminal investigation of a person or matter is warranted” and such an investigation “would present a conflict of interest for the Department” and “it would be in the public interest to appoint an outside Special Counsel.”

Other special prosecutors in addition to Cox and his successor, Leon Jaworski, include Kenneth Starr, whose investigation of Whitewater eventually led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the inquiry into the Valerie Plame affair.

Notably, Fitzgerald was appointed by then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey after Attorney General John Ashcroft recused himself from the investigation.

Attempts to reach multiple members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday afternoon failed, leaving unresolved the question of whether they will use the leverage they now possess. However, Feinstein and committee members Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Al Franken, D-Minn., reiterated their call for a special prosecutor after Sessions’s press conference this afternoon.

Top photo: US Attorney General Jeff Sessions answers questions during a news conference at the Justice Department on March 2, 2017, in Washington.

The post Sessions’s Recusal Gives Senators Powerful Leverage to Demand Russia Special Prosecutor appeared first on The Intercept.

Republican Senator Sends Cease-and-Desist Letter to Constituent for Calling Too Much

2 March 2017 - 5:36pm

Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson has been avoiding his constituents lately. Last week, a group of constituents even held a town hall about health care without him, after he declined to attend. (He held a telephone town hall instead).

Now one of Johnson’s constituents has received a cease-and-desist letter from the senator’s office, demanding that he stop calling the senator and stop trying to meet with his staff. The letter to Earl Good of Milwaukee instructs him to only contact the office in writing from now on.

Good is a Vietnam veteran and attentive constituent who, in an interview with his local CBS station, acknowledged that he has been very persistent in his attempts to get through to the office and talk to the senator’s staff about issues that concern him, including the possible privatization of the Veterans Administration.

He acknowledged that he once called 83 times before someone picked up the phone.

“The day before was 40 to get through. The day before that was eight. The day before that was 29, so they’re very aware of who I am by my cell phone number,” he told CBS 58.

He gave the letter — simply signed by “Staff” — to the local activist group Citizens Action of Wisconsin, which posted it on its website:

Credit: Citizen Action Wisconsin

“Constituents are always welcome and encouraged to contact our office with their concerns, regardless of political viewpoint. Unfortunately, very infrequently a pattern of inappropriate behavior emerges that crosses the bounds of decency and requires action to ensure the well being of visitors to the office and staff,” a spokesperson for Johnson told CBS 58.

Daniel Schumann, a former congressional staffer who works on federal government transparency at Demand Progress, said he has never heard of such an action being taken by a congressional office.

“It’s extroardinarily unusual to say the least,” he told The Intercept. “I mean if they were doing things that were illegal or otherwise really inappropriate, then maybe there could be grounds for doing something like that — if they were threatening him or his office staff. But while the member office is under no obligation to listen to any communications, they can’t tell people that they can’t communicate with their elected official.”

Schumann said that congressional offices typically refer to persistent constituent callers as “frequent flyers,” and that there are other less punitive ways to get them to reduce the call volume while still meaningfully taking their input.

“You try to build a rapport with the caller,” Schumann advised. “You try to say, ‘You know what? You call frequently. It’s good. The members wants to hear from you. But let’s help consolidate these communications. So instead of calling a number of times with different issues, let’s set aside once a day or once a week where we’ll go through the issues you have and we’ll talk about it.'”

Brad Fitch, a long-time Capitol Hill staffer who is president of the Congressional Management Foundation, which works on Congressional-constituent interaction, said he is sympathetic to staffers who are faced with large call volumes from irate constituents.

“Normally congressional offices are subject to — and individual staff members are subject to — an unbelievable amount of berating that no other industry in the world gets,” he said.

But there are more constructive ways to deal with insistent constituents, as long as they’re not doing anything illegal. For instance, he said, “You have a special voice mail box set up that the person can vent for a certain amount of time, you’re allowing the individual to communicate.”

And the bar is pretty high for what’s illegal in constitutent-to-Congress communications. In 2006, a woman in Colorado left a package full of dog feces in the mailbox of an office of Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave. She was charged with using a noxious substance — but her lawyers argued that she had a First Amendment right, and that it was protected speech. She was found not guilty.

One of her defense attorneys told reporters: “If you can’t take a little crap, you shouldn’t be in Congress.”

The post Republican Senator Sends Cease-and-Desist Letter to Constituent for Calling Too Much appeared first on The Intercept.

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