Thursday, June 28, 2018

These Trump Staffers — Including an ex-NRA Lobbyist — Left Their Financial Disclosure Forms Blank


by Gabriel Sandoval, ProPublica

Before accepting a position at the U.S. Department of the Interior last October, Benjamin Cassidy championed gun rights for nearly seven years as a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, collecting a peak annual salary of $288,333 for his work on Capitol Hill.

The public wouldn’t know that by looking at Cassidy’s government financial disclosure report. The form, which he filed soon after taking a job as senior deputy director of the office of intergovernmental and external affairs, doesn’t list his old job at the NRA — or any past job, for that matter. Cassidy’s form was nearly blank, save for his name, title and some bank holdings and investments. In the space allotted to show his income, it incorrectly stated “None.”

Federal law requires nearly all executive branch employees to submit reports intended to reveal and resolve conflicts of interest that might arise from their personal finances. The reports are supposed to be carefully reviewed, preferably by agency ethics attorneys, before being made public.
After we asked the Interior Department about the failure of Cassidy and at least three other staffers to disclose their work histories and finances, the agency responded with a bullet-pointed assessment that acknowledged ongoing problems while also noting that they “predated the current administration.”
Among the department’s findings:
  • The Interior Department’s ethics office did not “have adequate resources to accomplish its legally required compliance functions, including its responsibilities relating to the financial disclosure report program.” Just one ethics specialist, who is not an attorney, is responsible for reviewing hundreds of reports and advising thousands of employees on issues relating to those reports. This contributed to the certification and release of inaccurate reports.
  • Government employees are responsible for the accuracy of their forms. But Interior’s ethics office “is culpable in certifying forms that appeared ‘blank’ without conducting a certain level of due diligence to ensure that the filers submitted correct forms.”
  • Four Interior staffers ultimately had to re-submit their disclosure reports following ProPublica’s inquiry. As part of that process, they were interviewed by a senior career ethics attorney who went over their reports with them. The interviews revealed some staffers “were confused about what information was supposed to be reported,” according to the agency’s statement.
  • Other employees “thought they had filled out the form correctly when, in fact, they had not.” None of them appeared to intentionally hide information they were required to disclose, the department said.
Many of the problems and omissions were easy to spot. For example, an attorney for the DOI’s Bureau of Land Management, Cally Younger, submitted her financial disclosure form in September, days after joining the agency. An ethics official, Tia Barner, reviewed and approved the form, concluding that it complied with federal law.

But Younger’s form was blank, apart from her electronic signature and some perfunctory investment details. It completely neglected basic employment information, such as her old job as an attorney in Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s office. Ironically, it also left out Younger’s past role as a “public records ombudsman” in Idaho, whose mission included examining how the state’s public record laws could be improved.

After we asked about the batch of blank forms, a senior ethics official, Kim Hintz, determined that Younger “inadvertently omitted certain information.” A revised version of her form now includes more employment and financial information.

Younger should have been questioned by ethics officials when she filed her original form, said Don Fox, who served as acting director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration. “It may be, honestly, she just didn’t read the instructions and she just started filling out paperwork,” Fox said, “because if you’d even done a cursory review of the instructions, she should have known that she should have listed her position with the state of Idaho.”

Younger’s original form was a veritable font of information compared to one filed in the name of Thomas Baptiste, who is now an advisor to the Bureau of Land Management. Baptiste’s form was completely blank, with no information beyond his name, and no signature or indication that it was reviewed or approved. Baptiste previously worked as a records manager for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, as a project director at a consulting firm that works for conservative political clients, and before that at Tepeyac OB/GYN, which calls itself a “pro-life obstetrics and gynecology medical practice.”

Hintz, the Interior Department ethics staffer, found that Baptiste had “inadvertently omitted certain information.”

Yet another completely blank report was submitted, this one by Rick May, who worked with veterans after leaving active military duty in 2010 and is now a senior adviser to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. May erred when he didn’t list his wife’s income in his December filing, the Interior Department said. (It was unclear whether other relevant information was not included in the original version since the DOI did not make May’s updated report available to ProPublica before this article was published.)

Cassidy, Baptiste, Hintz, May and Younger did not respond to ProPublica’s requests for comment.
The failure to properly check federal financial disclosures could result in substantive conflicts going unnoticed, said Virginia Canter, a former Obama administration ethics attorney who now works for the nonprofit Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. She acknowledged that forms sometimes fall through the cracks, particularly given the volume of ethics issues arising in the Trump administration and the heavy workload of ethics offices.

As ProPublica has reported, failing to file the report correctly, or completely, can lead to serious consequences. Federal prosecutors can bring a civil lawsuit against any employee who willfully and knowingly submits a false report, with a fine of up to $50,000 and up to a year in prison.

The Office of Government Ethics, or OGE, audited the Interior Department’s ethics office in 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration, and found multiple problems. Many Interior Department employees had been filing their financial disclosures late, and the department’s ethics office was short-staffed. The report also found that Interior’s ethics office wasn’t exercising oversight of special government employees, or SGEs, who hold jobs in the private sector while working for the government. In 2015, four SGEs at Interior did not file financial disclosure reports, the OGE found.
In a statement, the OGE said it is still scrutinizing Interior’s ethics office as part of its 2016 audit. “OGE’s policy is to continue to follow up on recommendations until we are satisfied that the agency has addressed those problems underlying the recommendations,” the statement said.

The Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog, is also auditing aspects of Interior’s ethics office and, according to Interior officials, “will likely highlight some of the problems” reported in this article. The acting director of strategic issues at GAO, Tranchau Nguyen, said the audit “will be completed later this year.”

“Under our policies, we can’t share with you any findings until that work is completed and issued,” Nguyen wrote in an email. She added that the audit will evaluate the ethics programs of Interior and other executive branch agencies and “the processes and controls in place to oversee ethics compliance for political appointees.”

(As part of the GAO’s review, ProPublica staffers have been interviewed about our political appointee data, including Trump Town, and our interactions with federal ethics offices. None of the questions related to information or filings about any specific individual.)
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More Chaos at the Border

Port Isabel detention center, where immigrants will be sent before reuniting with children, has long history of problems


"Port Isabel detention center, where immigrants will be sent before reuniting with children, has long history of problems" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

PORT ISABEL — When Mike Seifert heard that the federal government had chosen an immigration detention center in this South Texas town as the site to reunify children with their parents after weeks or months apart, his immediate thought was: “Sorry, this place fails.”

The Port Isabel Service Detention Center, which occupies 375 acres in a remote part of South Texas just a few miles from the Gulf of Mexico, has an operational capacity of 1,175 adult detainees. And even though a large portion of the detainees held there are awaiting decisions on their asylum requests and have never been charged with a crime, it looks and operates like a prison, according to Seifert, a strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“You're gonna see a bunch of people in prison jumpsuits” at the facility, he said. “There's no way this thing can be described as child friendly."

Lawmakers and others who visited the detention center over the weekend had similar concerns. “There are guard towers, there are double rows of razor wire, there are … very high fences,” said Elizabeth Esty, a Democratic congresswoman from Connecticut who went to Port Isabel with a group of other lawmakers on Saturday. “So make no mistake … it is a criminal detention facility.”
Yet on Saturday night, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced the Port Isabel detention center “as the primary family reunification and removal center for adults in their custody.”
By Tuesday afternoon, after getting questions from reporters about how family reunifications would occur there, ICE changed that description — and appeared to change plans. Its official statement on family reunification now says that the detention center is “the primary facility to house alien parents or legal guardians going through the removal process. No children will be housed at the facility.”






ICE said its Port Isabel Service Processing Center will be the hub for
Over the weekend, ICE said its Port Isabel Service Processing Center would be the hub for "family reunification and removal," but later said "no children will be housed at the facility." Darla Cameron, The Texas Tribune
A spokesman later said that statement can be interpreted to mean that children will not be there “even for short periods,” but did not answer further questions. ICE did not respond to a list of questions sent by The Texas Tribune on Tuesday.

The statement went on to say, “PIDC is intended to serve the unique needs of detained parents and legal guardians of minors in [government] custody by helping to facilitate communication with their children and to help parents make informed decisions about their child.”

“El Corralón” 

The detention center is off a rural road dotted with small, wood-framed houses, many with horses and roosters in their yards. A long driveway lined with palm trees leads to a guard station at the compound’s entrance, where a reporter was turned away on Monday.
Government records show that private companies have handled much of the detention center’s operations in the past, but it’s not clear if that is still the case.

In recent years, the Port Isabel facility has been the last stop before deportation for thousands of undocumented immigrants. From October 2014 to September 2015, nearly 37,000 people were detained in Port Isabel for some period of time, and 69 percent of them were later deported, according to data collected by Syracuse University.

Reports of problems with medical care, lack of access to lawyers and overall awful living conditions at the facility go back decades.

The Texas Tribune's reporting on the Families Divided project is supported by the Pulitzer Center, which will also help bring discussions on this important topic to schools and universities in Texas and across the United States through its K-12 and Campus Consortium networks.
By the late 1980s, the former naval base had become a major part of what was known as the “South Texas Detention Project,” according to the 1996 book "Other People’s Blood." The book’s author, Robert S. Kahn, worked as a legal assistant in four immigration detention facilities around that time, including Port Isabel.

Asylum claims in Texas were skyrocketing, and president-elect George H.W. Bush had decided to make some changes to Ronald Reagan’s immigration policies — particularly for people fleeing civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala.

Under the new rules, implemented by late 1988, asylum applicants from those countries could no longer get work permits or travel in the United States, as the Reagan administration had briefly allowed them to do. They would have to stay in the district where they sought asylum and if their claim was denied, they’d be locked up.

The facility at Port Isabel — which soon came to be known as “El Corralón,” or “the big corral” — was the natural choice for a detention center, and the government quickly made plans to expand its capacity from 425 to several thousand. The compound sat behind a long driveway and “chain-link fence topped with television cameras and concertina wire,” Kahn wrote.

By March 1989, 2,000 people were detained in El Corralón, Kahn reported. The plan was to interview 400 applicants a day and decide 95 percent of their cases within three hours.

Kahn wrote that beatings, sexual assaults, theft of detainees’ property and inadequate medical care were widespread issues at El Corralón. He also said that detainees were often dissuaded from seeking legal help and told that if they wanted asylum, they might be locked up for a year or longer. Lunch for detainees was beans, bread and Kool-Aid.

In early 2010, detainees at the Port Isabel facility went on staggered hunger strikes for two months to protest what they claimed was a lack of medical care and legal help. That same year, a study released by the advocacy group Texas Appleseed alleged serious problems with mental health care in Port Isabel and other detention centers, and a former security guard published a memoir that detailed still more abuses, including guards raping female detainees.

"People would be outraged"

Jennifer Harbury, an immigration lawyer based in the Rio Grande Valley who has clients in the detention center, said detainees are not allowed to touch each other because some of them have been charged with violent crimes. There are no private bathrooms, or even dividers between individual toilets, she said, and meals are often baloney and cheese sandwiches with fruit punch.
Another client got an infection in her leg that went untreated for so long that she eventually needed three surgeries, Harbury said.

Communication with the outside world — something that will be crucial for parents at Port Isabel who are trying to find their children — is also a big problem, Harbury said. If someone calls a relative in their home country, the person answering hears a recording that says, “'This is a call from a federal detention center. All calls will be monitored.' And people hang up,” Harbury said. The library does not offer access to the internet, she added.

U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, a Democrat from Colorado, said she spent about half an hour talking to 45 women at the facility on Saturday.

“Everyone was saying that they didn’t know how they could find their children,” she said. The women had been given a phone number to call, but they had to pay to make the call and most had no money. Those who did said “they couldn’t get an answer,” DeGette said.

“I hope they let the media in [to Port Isabel],” said Esty, the Connecticut congresswoman who visited the facility on Saturday along with DeGette. “Because I will tell you: If the American people saw what we saw, people would be outraged.”

Brandon Formby and Claire Parker contributed to this story.
Disclosure: Texas Appleseed has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Lest the world forget, a historian delivers a devastating account of a 1986 catastrophe in which nearly everyone did nearly everything wrong.

<h1> Chernobyl Revisited: A Case Study in Ineptitude and Deceit</h1>


June 22, 2018 by Henry Fountain, Undark

Alittle more than 24 hours after Unit 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded and caught fire in April 1986, three men gathered in front of a pile of sand at a construction site a few miles away. With shovels, they started filling sandbags that the authorities planned to drop from helicopters in an effort to quench, or at least quiet, the nuclear inferno.

But the men sweating over their shovels weren’t construction workers, or laborers of any kind. Far from it: One was a general in the Soviet Air Force, in uniform, and the other two were high-level government officials in business suits. They had been ordered to do the work by the deputy head of the Soviet government, who had come to Chernobyl a few hours before and was angry about the initial response to the accident.

The anecdote is among the most revealing in Serhii Plokhy’s new history of the Chernobyl accident. Relying on official reports (including KGB memos), interviews, and other firsthand accounts, ”Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe” lays out in devastating detail how the Soviets were vastly unprepared, in ways small and large, for what became the worst disaster in the history of nuclear energy.

The sandbag episode is also one of the book’s many examples of how Soviet officials used a mixture of humiliation, bullying, arrogance, stonewalling, and outright lying in dealing with the catastrophe, treating their own citizens, as well as the international community, with contempt.

The accident in what is now Ukraine released radiation that killed more than two dozen people, caused long-term sickness and some deaths among many thousands more, and contaminated thousands of square miles of land. (While more reactors were damaged in the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, the impact on human health was far less). The Chernobyl disaster was ostensibly the result of a stupefyingly ill-conceived and ill-executed equipment test, in which operators allowed the reactor to become unstable before its power surged out of control, leading to two explosions and a fire that spewed highly radioactive particles into the atmosphere for days. But as Plokhy thoroughly explores, the reactor’s designers and the Soviet bureaucracy were just as culpable, if not more so.
Plokhy is not a scientist — he’s a professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard — so some of his descriptions of the accident, as well as the circumstances leading up to it and the massive cleanup that followed, suffer from a lack of clarity. Early on he appears to confuse nuclear fission (the process in a nuclear plant like Chernobyl) and fusion, and although he correctly distinguishes between the two elsewhere, there are other examples of technical murkiness that detract from the narrative.

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Still, he gets the fundamental elements of the disaster right, and they are chilling. The operators of Unit 4, under pressure to conduct the test, do just about everything wrong. When the reactor explodes from the sudden buildup of superheated steam, it kills two workers instantly and condemns most of those in the control room — as well as firefighters who arrived unaware of the dangers — to a much slower, agonizing death from radiation.

Those shellshocked operators were in total denial about what happened, refusing to believe that the reactor could have exploded — to the point where one of the engineers in charge kept ordering that water be pumped into the reactor to cool it, a decision that likely added to the contamination.
Likewise, many of the bureaucrats and technocrats from Moscow who descended on Chernobyl and the neighboring city of Pripyat in the hours after the accident refused at first to accept that the nine-year-old reactor, which they considered a showpiece of Soviet industrial and scientific prowess, could have been so fundamentally flawed.

And when everyone came to realize that Unit 4 was indeed destroyed and that radioactive contamination was getting worse, denial was replaced by the Soviet government’s propensity for secrecy. The delayed decision to abandon Pripyat, home to 50,000 people, has been told often, and Plokhy gives it a full recounting here, including descriptions of parents and children enjoying a fine spring day, oblivious to the radiation around them, in the hours before they were told they had to evacuate.

Less well known is the decision to proceed with the annual May Day parade in Kiev, just 75 miles south of Chernobyl, with radiation levels running high in the city of two million. Plokhy provides a riveting account, with none other than Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, ordering the parade to go ahead and threatening a Ukraine official with expulsion from the Communist Party if he refused.
Gorbachev, who at the time was becoming a darling of the West for his moves toward openness, comes off rather badly in Plokhy’s telling, more often interested in keeping the situation under wraps than in revealing the truth to his own people. Hans Blix, the former Swedish foreign minister who was then director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, doesn’t fare too well either, offering an overly optimistic assessment of the disaster after a visit to the scene.

Plokhy is at his best in describing these and other episodes in the aftermath of the accident. He’s especially thorough in his analysis of the political unrest in the years that followed, including the rise of an “eco” movement in Ukraine and elsewhere that was often led by writers turned politicians. He draws a clear connection between the Chernobyl accident and the eventual dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, and while some historians may argue that the link is not that straightforward, he makes a strong case for it.

The book concludes with a short epilogue about the lingering risks of nuclear power. Plokhy worries about the possibility of future Chernobyls, especially in developing countries, where, he believes, attention to safety and proper procedures might fall short.

Meanwhile, the actual Chernobyl is no longer a threat. The other three reactors at the plant have long been safely shut down, and a gleaming new shelter, financed mostly by the West and designed to last at least a century, is now in place over the remains of Unit 4. Is it possible that the world might someday forget the horrors that unfolded there three decades ago? Books like Plokhy’s should help ensure that that doesn’t happen.

Henry Fountain, a climate reporter at The New York Times, is the author of the 2017 book “The Great Quake: How the Biggest Earthquake in North America Changed Our Understanding of the Planet.”
This article was originally published on Undark. Read the original article.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Texas Supreme Court strikes down Laredo's plastic bag ban, likely ending others



"Texas Supreme Court strikes down Laredo's plastic bag ban, likely ending others" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
The Texas Supreme Court handed a loss to local government on Friday, striking down a Laredo ban on plastic bags. The decision imperils about a dozen other cities' bans across the state.

In a decision viewed as one of the court’s most highly politicized of the term, justices ruled unanimously that a state law on solid waste disposal pre-empted the local ordinance. That decision drew immediate responses from both sides of the aisle, with high praise from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who had weighed in against the bans, and condemnation from environmental groups, which had argued the ban kept at bay the harsh environmental damage brought by plastics.

The court’s ruling resolves a long-standing question over whether local governments may impose such bans, as cities including Austin, Fort Stockton and Port Aransas have in recent years. Friday’s unanimous holding makes those bans unenforceable as well and likely tosses the issue over to the Texas Legislature for debate.

The court said in a unanimous holding that its intent was not to wade into the "roving, roiling debate over local control of public affairs" but simply to resolve the legal question at hand.
"Both sides of the debate ... assert public-policy arguments raising economic, environmental, and uniformity concerns," Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote for the court. "We must take statutes as they are written, and the one before us is written quite clearly. Its limitation on local control encompasses the ordinance."

The Laredo Merchants Association sued the city back in March 2015, arguing that the city’s ban on single-use bags conflicted with a state law regulating solid waste disposal. But the question stretches back even farther than that. In 2014, then-Attorney General Greg Abbott issued a nonbinding opinion advising that bag bans are legal if they are not aimed at “solid waste management.” That murky phrase, which appears in the Texas Health and Safety Code, has become the fulcrum for debate on the issue.

The Laredo case, which made its way to the Texas Supreme Court in January, has focused on that semantic difference. Lawyers for the city, led by former Texas Supreme Court Justice Dale Wainwright, argued that the bags are not garbage and are therefore are not covered by the relevant state law. Lawyers on the other side, who have been joined by the Texas Attorney General’s Office, argue that they are.

While arguments have seemed to center on semantics, the court’s decision is likely to have major implications for local control issues across the state. It’s a loss for local governments, said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League.
“Plastic bags are the perfect case for why different geographies need different sets of rules,” Sandlin said. “This is a sad day.”

A long list of lawmakers have weighed in on the case, including by filing friend of the court briefs. Twenty Republican state lawmakers filed a brief against the ban in an earlier appeal of the case. And state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, a Laredo Democrat, told the Texas Supreme Court she supports the city’s ban.

In 2017, state Sen. Bob Hall filed a bill that would have prevented Texas cities from enforcing bag bans.

Now that the court has ruled, the issue is likely to become one for legislators to take up. Justice Eva Guzman urged lawmakers to do just that in a concurring opinion Friday.

“The legislative branch, not the judiciary, bears the unenviable task of making complicated policy decisions that balance the benefits of uniform regulation and the myriad burdens (financial or otherwise) that may be imposed on taxpayers, businesses, and the environment,” Guzman wrote.
She added, “I urge the Legislature to take direct ameliorative action. ... Standing idle in the face of an ongoing assault on our delicate ecosystem will not forestall a day of environmental reckoning—it will invite one.”

Kelly Harragan, who wrote a brief on behalf of the Turtle Island Restoration Network, said the court may revoke cities’ bans, but businesses and consumers still have the power to aid the environment.
“Customers still have a choice. Customers can still bring their own bags and should still bring their own bag — once you’re in the habit of doing it, there’s no extra burden,” she said. “Companies can also decide that they still don’t want to offer single-use bags.”

Environmentalists urged stores to do just that. 

"Plastic pollution is harming wildlife, marring the beauty of our cities, and threatening our health, safety and economy. Nothing we use for five minutes should pollute our environment for hundreds of years," said Luke Metzger, executive director of the group Environment Texas. "We call on major retailers, like HEB and Walmart, to continue observing the ban in these cities and ask the Legislature to remove the preemption statute."

Disclosure: HEB, Walmart and the Texas Municipal League have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Administration of Mayor Rahm Emanuel Keeps Monitoring Protesters

City of Chicago Stalks Protesters
Mick Dumke, ProPublica

Even before thousands of demonstrators gathered in downtown Chicago to speak out against President Donald Trump’s inauguration last year, city police were watching.

Recently released police and city records show that officers combed through social media posts and opened a formal information-gathering investigation into the protesters.

Then, throughout that day — Jan. 20, 2017 — police and top aides to Mayor Rahm Emanuel closely tracked the movements of protesters, from when they boarded trains and buses in their neighborhoods and continuing through hours of rallies and marches in the Loop.

It was another example of how the Emanuel administration routinely tracks protesters and activist groups, according to records I’ve acquired over the last several years through the Freedom of Information Act.

Now the mayor and police department may soon be able to use drones to monitor demonstrations and other public events.

This spring, mayoral allies in the Illinois General Assembly helped pass a measure that would allow law enforcement agencies statewide to use drones for “legitimate public safety purposes” at public gatherings, including to keep tabs on crowd movements. Each department would have to submit an annual report to the state on its drone usage, but otherwise would largely be able to create its own policies. The bill hasn’t been sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner yet.

Chicago’s police and political leaders have a long, troubled history of snooping on groups exercising their First Amendment rights. Police investigated demonstrators and activists under Emanuel’s predecessor, Richard M. Daley. And for decades before that, including the 20-year reign of Daley’s father, Richard J. Daley, the department’s Red Squad infiltrated dissident groups, civil rights organizations, and others seen as opponents of City Hall. The unit was dismantled in the 1970s and the department adopted new rules that were supposed to safeguard civil rights.

Still, the police department has opened investigations to monitor, infiltrate or conduct surveillance on protest groups at least five times since Emanuel became mayor in 2011, records show. Its previous targets included Occupy Chicago protesters, opponents of the 2012 NATO summit, Black Lives Matter activists, and Southsiders Organized for Unity and Liberation, a network of churches and neighborhood groups.

As events on Inauguration Day show, the Chicago Police Department and other city agencies already maintain an extensive camera, data-collection and communications network to keep tabs on protests and other public gatherings.

In late 2016, two activists created a Facebook page to announce plans for an Inauguration Day protest outside Trump International Hotel and Tower in downtown Chicago. Eventually 23,000 people indicated they were interested. Hundreds commented on the event’s Facebook page.
From the beginning, organizers stressed that they wanted the event to be peaceful and focused on speaking out against hate. But dozens of the comments on the Facebook page came from Trump supporters who mocked supporters of Hillary Clinton and other “liberals,” often with crude language.
On Jan. 19, 2017, a suburban man named Jeffrey Jacobs weighed in.

“Good place for a bomb downstairs Wacker,” Jacobs wrote, referring to the lower level of Wacker Drive, below the spot where protesters planned to gather across the river from Trump Tower. “In one of those homeless persons tents [sic].”

Even a cursory look at Jacobs showed he wasn’t an anti-Trump protester. On Facebook he had “liked” pages such as the Tea Party Patriots, “Ban liberals not guns,” “Not voting for Monica Lewinsky’s ex boyfriend’s wife,” and Occupy Democrats. His post about bombing Lower Wacker also prompted reprimands from other commenters.

When I reached Jacobs by phone recently, he volunteered that he voted for Trump. He also told me his Facebook comment was meant to be “sarcastic” — his way of saying that demonstrations can be dangerous when they take over the streets.

“I consider that a riot when they come down and protest,” Jacobs said.
Police analysts highlighted the comment last year as they were conducting “reviews” of social media about the planned protests, according to department records. The next morning, police Commander Leo Panepinto cited it in paperwork requesting approval to open an investigation. He also wrote that other commenters, including some he described as “Black Bloc” members, discussed “civil disobedience.”

That, he said, raised the possibility of violence. He didn’t name these commenters.
Panepinto is the commanding officer at the department’s Crime Prevention and Information Center, or CPIC, where police analyze information on crimes and public events alongside officials from the FBI and the federal Department of Homeland Security.

“To allow for lawful demonstrations to take place and to investigate the threat and possible criminal acts that are associated with these postings,” he wrote, “analysts will review the main sites that call for gatherings and then drill down on individuals that are associated with the threats.”
That seemed to indicate that, as part of the investigation, police would look into the Facebook post about violence.

Panepinto then asked for legal approval to “monitor” the protest event page and other social media — even though his analysts had already been doing so, as he wrote in his investigation request.
Under the department’s rules, Chicago police are allowed to monitor, infiltrate or conduct surveillance on protesters and political groups — in what they call “Investigations Directed at First Amendment-Related Information” — if they can establish a “reasonable law enforcement purpose” for doing so. But the approval doesn’t come from anyone on the outside; the department’s lawyers make the call.

In this case, the lawyers signed off on the investigation, and police continued to go through protesters’ social media.
Meanwhile, both the department and the city’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications tracked protesters in real time. The information was then shared with top mayoral aides.

Shortly after 11 a.m. on Inauguration Day, for example, Anthony Pascente, the city’s deputy chief operating officer, emailed a protest update to then-Deputy Mayor Andrea Zopp, chief of staff Joe Deal, mayoral spokesman Adam Collins and other city officials. Pascente informed the group that students from Juarez High School in Pilsen were planning to attend a protest in the Loop that afternoon. He and police officials also sent updates about groups headed downtown from Pilsen and the Near North Side.

Two hours later, a dispatch from CPIC informed Emanuel aides and other police officials that the Juarez students were on their way.

Just before 3 p.m., CPIC issued another bulletin noting that students and other protesters had assembled in the Loop, and more were coming: “Approximately 35 people have boarded the Red Line and are heading to Daley Plaza.”

Over the next eight hours, police and other city officials kept tabs on crowds that grew to thousands of protesters as they took trains and buses downtown, gathered near Trump Tower and eventually split off into several marches. One group shut down sections of Lake Shore Drive.
Along the way, police arrested 16 people for misdemeanor offenses such as waving flares, obstructing traffic and running into police officers on bikes. None resulted in a conviction, though one case is pending.

Early the next morning, Panepinto filled out paperwork to close his inquiry into the protests. He noted the arrests but offered no additional details of what investigators had done.
But Jacobs — whose bomb comment was used as a reason for the investigation — told me he was never contacted by the police or any other law enforcement agency.
That’s because police concluded the comment wasn’t “credible,” department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote me in an email. Guglielmi said police received a tip about Jacobs’ post and then opened their investigation — which is a different account than the one Panepinto offered in his paperwork.

“The Department reviewed the tip and vetted the information,” Guglielmi wrote. “It was determined that it was not credible and there was no further need to question the poster.”
Both Guglielmi and a statement from the mayor’s office said city departments team up to ensure public safety while protecting citizens’ First Amendment rights.

Drones would simply enhance those efforts, they said, by adding to their camera network while costing less than using helicopters, which police are already able to do.

“The proposed changes to the Drone Act strengthen the transparency requirements set forth under current law,” Guglielmi wrote, pointing to its annual reporting mandate.
But many questions remain.

Officials in Chicago and beyond are expanding their abilities to watch people in the name of public safety, but the public has little ability to watch them back.
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Thursday, June 21, 2018

How the Case for Voter Fraud Was Tested — and Utterly Failed

by Jessica Huseman, ProPublica

In the end, the decision seemed inevitable. After a seven-day trial in Kansas City federal court in March, in which Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach needed to be tutored on basic trial procedure by the judge and was found in contempt for his “willful failure” to obey a ruling, even he knew his chances were slim. Kobach told The Kansas City Star at the time that he expected the judge would rule against him (though he expressed optimism in his chances on appeal).

Sure enough, yesterday federal Judge Julie Robinson overturned the law that Kobach was defending as lead counsel for the state, dealing him an unalloyed defeat. The statute, championed by Kobach and signed into law in 2013, required Kansans to present proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. The American Civil Liberties Union sued, contending that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act (AKA the “motor voter” law), which was designed to make it easy to register.
The trial had a significance that extends far beyond the Jayhawk state. One of the fundamental questions in the debate over alleged voter fraud — whether a substantial number of non-citizens are in fact registering to vote — was one of two issues to be determined in the Kansas proceedings. (The second was whether there was a less burdensome solution than what Kansas had adopted.) That made the trial a telling opportunity to remove the voter fraud claims from the charged, and largely proof-free, realms of political campaigns and cable news shoutfests and examine them under the exacting strictures of the rules of evidence.

That’s precisely what occurred and according to Robinson, an appointee of George W. Bush, the proof that voter fraud is widespread was utterly lacking. As the judge put it, “the court finds no credible evidence that a substantial number of noncitizens registered to vote” even under the previous law, which Kobach had claimed was weak.

For Kobach, the trial should’ve been a moment of glory. He’s been arguing for a decade that voter fraud is a national calamity. Much of his career has been built on this issue, along with his fervent opposition to illegal immigration. (His claim is that unlawful immigrants are precisely the ones voting illegally.) Kobach, who also co-chaired the Trump administration’s short-lived commission on voter fraud, is perhaps the individual most identified with the cause of sniffing out and eradicating phony voter registration. He’s got a gilded resume, with degrees from Harvard University, Yale Law School and the University of Oxford, and is seen as both the intellect behind the cause and its prime advocate. Kobach has written voter laws in other jurisdictions and defended them in court. If anybody ever had time to marshal facts and arguments before a trial, it was Kobach.

But things didn’t go well for him in the Kansas City courtroom, as Robinson’s opinion made clear. Kobach’s strongest evidence of non-citizen registration was anemic at best: Over a 20-year period, fewer than 40 non-citizens had attempted to register in one Kansas county that had 130,000 voters. Most of those 40 improper registrations were the result of mistakes or confusion rather than intentional attempts to mislead, and only five of the 40 managed to cast a vote.
One of Kobach’s own experts even rebutted arguments made by both Kobach and President Donald Trump. The expert testified that a handful of improper registrations could not be extrapolated to conclude that 2.8 million fraudulent votes — roughly, the gap between Hillary Clinton and Trump in the popular vote tally — had been cast in the 2016 presidential election. Testimony from a second key expert for Kobach also fizzled.

As the judge’s opinion noted, Kobach insisted the meager instances of cheating revealed at trial are just “the tip of the iceberg.” As she explained, “This trial was his opportunity to produce credible evidence of that iceberg, but he failed to do so.” Dismissing the testimony by Kobach’s witnesses as unpersuasive, Robinson drew what she called “the more obvious conclusion that there is no iceberg; only an icicle largely created by confusion and administrative error.”
By the time the trial was over, Kobach, a charismatic 52-year-old whose broad shoulders and imposing height make him resemble an aging quarterback, seemed to have shrunk inside his chair at the defense table.

But despite his defeat, Kobach’s causes — restricting immigration and tightening voting requirements — seem to be enjoying favorable tides elsewhere. Recent press accounts noted Kobach’s role in restoring a question about citizenship, abandoned since 1950, to U.S. Census forms for 2020. And the Supreme Court ruled on June 11 that the state of Ohio can purge voters from its rolls when they fail to vote even a single time and don’t return a mailing verifying their address, a provision that means more voters will need to re-register and prove their eligibility again.
For his own part, Kobach is now a candidate for governor of Kansas, running neck and neck with the incumbent in polls for the Republican primary on Aug. 7. It’s not clear whether the verdict will affect his chances — or whether it will lead him and others to quietly retreat from claims of voter fraud. But the judge’s opinion and expert interviews reveal that Kobach effectively put the concept of mass voter fraud to the test — and the evidence crumbled.

Perhaps it was an omen. Before Kobach could enter the courtroom inside the Robert J. Dole U.S. Courthouse each day, he had to pass through a hallway whose walls featured a celebratory display entitled “Americans by Choice: The Story of Immigration and Citizenship in Kansas.” Photographs of people who’d been sworn in as citizens in that very courthouse were superimposed on the translucent window shades.

Public interest in the trial was high. The seating area quickly filled to capacity on the first day of trial on the frigid morning of March 6. The jury box was opened to spectators; it wouldn’t be needed, as this was a bench trial. Those who couldn’t squeeze in were sent to a lower floor, where a live feed had been prepared in a spillover room.

From the moment the trial opened, Kobach and his co-counsels in the Kansas secretary of state’s office, Sue Becker and Garrett Roe, stumbled over the most basic trial procedures. Their mistakes antagonized the judge. “Evidence 101,” Robinson snapped, only minutes into the day, after Kobach’s team attempted to improperly introduce evidence. “I’m not going to do it.”
Matters didn’t improve for Kobach from there.

Throughout the trial, his team’s repeated mishaps and botched cross examinations cost hours of the court’s time. Robinson was repeatedly forced to step into the role of law professor, guiding Kobach, Becker and Roe through courtroom procedure. “Do you know how to do the next step, if that’s what you’re going to do?” the judge asked Becker at one point, as she helped her through the steps of impeaching a witness. “We’re going to follow the rules of evidence here.”
Becker often seemed nervous. She took her bright red glasses off and on. At times she burst into nervous chuckles after a misstep. She laughed at witnesses, skirmished with the judge and even taunted the lawyers for the ACLU. “I can’t wait to ask my questions on Monday!” she shouted at the end of the first week, jabbing a finger in the direction of Dale Ho, the lead attorney for the plaintiffs.

Ho rolled his eyes.

Roe was gentler — deferential, even. He often admitted he didn’t know what step came next, asking the judge for help. “I don’t — I don’t know if this one is objectionable. I hope it’s not,” he offered at one point, as he prepared to ask a question following a torrent of sustained objections. “I’ll let you know,” an attorney for the plaintiffs responded, to a wave of giggles in the courtroom. On the final day of trial, as Becker engaged in yet another dispute with the judge, Roe slapped a binder to his forehead and audibly whispered, “Stop talking. Stop talking.”

Kobach’s cross examinations were smoother and better organized, but he regularly attempted to introduce exhibits — for example, updated state statistics that he had failed to provide the ACLU in advance to vet — that Robinson ruled were inadmissible. As the trial wore on, she became increasingly irritated. She implored Kobach to “please read” the rules on which she based her rulings, saying his team had repeated these errors “ad nauseum.”

Kobach seemed unruffled. Instead of heeding her advice, he’d proffer the evidence for the record, a practice that allows the evidence to be preserved for appeal even if the trial judge refuses to admit it. Over the course of the trial, Kobach and his team would do this nearly a dozen times.

Eventually, Robinson got fed up. She asked Kobach to justify his use of proffers. Kobach, seemingly alarmed, grabbed a copy of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure — to which he had attached a growing number of Post-it notes — and quickly flipped through it, trying to find the relevant rule.
The judge tried to help. “It’s Rule 26, of course, that’s been the basis for my rulings,” she told Kobach. “I think it would be helpful if you would just articulate under what provision of Rule 26 you think this is permissible.” Kobach seemed to play for time, asking clarifying questions rather than articulating a rationale. Finally, the judge offered mercy: a 15-minute break. Kobach’s team rushed from the courtroom.

It wasn’t enough to save him. In her opinion, Robinson described “a pattern and practice by Defendant [Kobach] of flaunting disclosure and discovery rules.” As she put it, “it is not clear to the Court whether Defendant repeatedly failed to meet his disclosure obligations intentionally or due to his unfamiliarity with the federal rules.” She ordered Kobach to attend the equivalent of after-school tutoring: six hours of extra legal education on the rules of civil procedure or the rules of evidence (and to present the court with a certificate of completion).
It’s always a bad idea for a lawyer to try the patience of a judge — and that’s doubly true during a bench trial, when the judge will decide not only the law, but also the facts. Kobach repeatedly annoyed Robinson with his procedural mistakes. But that was nothing next to what the judge viewed as Kobach’s intentional bad faith.

This view emerged in writing right after the trial — that’s when Robinson issued her ruling finding Kobach in contempt — but before the verdict. And the conduct that inspired the contempt finding had persisted over several years. Robinson concluded that Kobach had intentionally failed to follow a ruling she issued in 2016 that ordered him to restore the privileges of 17,000 suspended Kansas voters.

In her contempt ruling, the judge cited Kobach’s “history of noncompliance” with the order and characterized his explanations for not abiding by it as “nonsensical” and “disingenuous.” She wrote that she was “troubled” by Kobach’s “failure to take responsibility for violating this Court’s orders, and for failing to ensure compliance over an issue that he explicitly represented to the Court had been accomplished.” Robinson ordered Kobach to pay the ACLU’s legal fees for the contempt proceeding.
That contempt ruling was actually the second time Kobach was singled out for punishment in the case. Before the trial, a federal magistrate judge deputized to oversee the discovery portion of the suit fined him $1,000 for making “patently misleading representations” about a voting fraud document Kobach had prepared for Trump. Kobach paid the fine with a state credit card.
More than any procedural bumbling, the collapse of Kobach’s case traced back to the disintegration of a single witness.

The witness was Jesse Richman, a political scientist from Old Dominion University, who has written studies on voter fraud. For this trial, Richman was paid $5,000 by the taxpayers of Kansas to measure non-citizen registration in the state. Richman was the man who had to deliver the goods for Kobach.
With his gray-flecked beard and mustache, Richman looked the part of an academic, albeit one who seemed a bit too tall for his suit and who showed his discomfort in a series of awkward, sudden movements on the witness stand. At moments, Richman’s testimony turned combative, devolving into something resembling an episode of The Jerry Springer Show. By the time he left the stand, Richman had testified for more than five punishing hours. He’d bickered with the ACLU’s lawyer, raised his voice as he defended his studies and repeatedly sparred with the judge.

“Wait, wait, wait!” shouted Robinson at one point, silencing a verbal free-for-all that had erupted among Richman, the ACLU’s Ho, and Kobach, who were all speaking at the same time. “Especially you,” she said, turning her stare to Richman. “You are not here to be an advocate. You are not here to trash the plaintiff. And you are not here to argue with me.”
Richman had played a small but significant part in the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump and others had cited his work to claim that illegal votes had robbed Trump of the popular vote. At an October 2016 rally in Wisconsin, the candidate cited Richman’s work to bolster his predictions that the election would be rigged. “You don’t read about this, right?” Trump told the crowd, before reading from an op-ed Richman had written for The Washington Post: “‘We find that this participation was large enough to plausibly account for Democratic victories in various close elections.’ Okay? All right?”

Richman’s 2014 study of non-citizen registration used data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study — an online survey of more than 32,000 people. Of those, fewer than 40 individuals indicated they were non-citizens registered to vote. Based on that sample, Richman concluded that up to 2.8 million illegal votes had been cast in 2008 by non-citizens. In fact, he put the illegal votes at somewhere between 38,000 and 2.8 million — a preposterously large range — and then Trump and others simply used the highest figure.

Academics pilloried Richman’s conclusions. Two hundred political scientists signed an open letter criticizing the study, saying it should “not be cited or used in any debate over fraudulent voting.” Harvard’s Stephen Ansolabehere, who administered the CCES, published his own peer-reviewed paper lambasting Richman’s work. Indeed, by the time Trump read Richman’s article onstage in 2016, The Washington Post had already appended a note to the op-ed linking to three rebuttals and a peer-reviewed study debunking the research.

None of that discouraged Kobach or Trump from repeating Richman’s conclusions. They then went a few steps further. They took the top end of the range for the 2008 election, assumed that it applied to the 2016 election, too, and further assumed that all of the fraudulent ballots had been cast for Clinton.
Some of those statements found their way into the courtroom, when Ho pressed play on a video shot by The Kansas City Star on Nov. 30, 2016. Kobach had met with Trump 10 days earlier and had brought with him a paper decrying non-citizen registration and voter fraud. Two days later, Trump tweeted that he would have won the popular vote if not for “millions of people who voted illegally.”
On the courtroom’s televisions, Kobach appeared, saying Trump’s tweet was “absolutely correct.” Without naming Richman, Kobach referred to his study: The number of non-citizens who said they’d voted in 2008 was far larger than the popular vote margin, Kobach said on the video. The same number likely voted again in 2016.

In the courtroom, Ho asked Richman if he believed his research supported such a claim. Richman stammered. He repeatedly looked at Kobach, seemingly searching for a way out. Ho persisted and finally, Richman gave his answer: “I do not believe my study provides strong support for that notion.”

To estimate the number of non-citizens voting in Kansas, Richman had used the same methodology he employed in his much-criticized 2014 study. Using samples as small as a single voter, he’d produced surveys with wildly different estimates of non-citizen registration in the state. The multiple iterations confused everyone in the courtroom.

“For the record, how many different data sources have you provided?” Robinson interjected in the middle of one Richman answer. “You provide a range of, like, zero to 18,000 or more.”
“I sense the frustration,” Richman responded, before offering a winding explanation of the multiple data sources and surveys he’d used to arrive at a half-dozen different estimates. Robinson cut him off.

“Maybe we need to stop here,” she said.
“Your honor, let me finish answering your question,” he said.
“No, no. I’m done,” she responded, as he continued to protest. “No. Dr. Richman, I’m done.”

To refute Richman’s numbers, the ACLU called on Harvard’s Ansolabehere, whose data Richman had relied on in the past. Ansolabehere testified that Richman’s sample sizes were so small that it was just as possible that there were no non-citizens registered to vote in Kansas as 18,000. “There’s just a great deal of uncertainty with these estimates,” he said.

Ho asked if it would be accurate to say that Richman’s data “shows a rate of non-citizen registration in Kansas that is not statistically distinct from zero?”

“Correct.”

The judge was harsher than Ansolabehere in her description of Richman’s testimony. In her opinion, Robinson unloaded a fusillade of dismissive adjectives, calling Richman’s conclusions “confusing, inconsistent and methodologically flawed,” and adding that they were “credibly dismantled” by Ansolabehere. She labeled elements of Richman’s testimony “disingenuous” and “misleading,” and stated that she gave his research “no weight” in her decision.

One of the paradoxes of Kobach is that he has become a star in circles that focus on illegal immigration and voting fraud despite poor results in the courtroom. By ProPublica’s count, Kobach chalked up a 2–6 won-lost record in federal cases in which he was played a major role, and which reached a final disposition before the Kansas case.

Those results occurred when Kobach was an attorney for the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform from 2004 to 2011, when he became secretary of state in Kansas. In his FAIR role (in which he continued to moonlight till about 2014), Kobach traveled to places like Fremont, Nebraska, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Farmers Branch, Texas, and Valley Park, Missouri, to help local governments write laws that attempted to hamper illegal immigration, and then defend them in court. Kobach won in Nebraska, but lost in Texas and Pennsylvania, and only a watered down version of the law remains in Missouri.

The best-known law that Kobach helped shape before joining the Kansas government in 2011 was Arizona’s “show me your papers” law. That statute allowed police to demand citizenship documents for any reason from anyone they thought might be in the country illegally. After it passed, the state paid Kobach $300 an hour to train law enforcement on how to legally arrest suspected illegal immigrants. The Supreme Court gutted key provisions of the law in 2012.

Kobach also struggled in two forays into political campaigning. In 2004, he lost a race for Congress. He also drew criticism for his stint as an informal adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. Kobach was the man responsible for Romney’s much-maligned proposal that illegal immigrants “self-deport,” one reason Romney attracted little support among Latinos. Romney disavowed Kobach even before the campaign was over, telling media outlets that he was a “supporter,” not an adviser.

Trump’s election meant Kobach’s positions on immigration would be welcome in the White House. Kobach lobbied for, but didn’t receive, an appointment as Secretary of Homeland Security. He was, however, placed in charge of the voter fraud commission, a pet project of Trump’s. Facing a raft of lawsuits and bad publicity, the commission was disbanded little more than six months after it formally launched.

Back at home, Kobach expanded his power as secretary of state. Boasting of his experience as a law professor and scholar, Kobach convinced the state legislature to give him the authority to prosecute election crimes himself, a power wielded by no other secretary of state. In that role, he has obtained nine guilty pleas against individuals for election-related misdemeanors. Only one of those who pleaded guilty, as it happens, was a non-citizen.

He also persuaded Kansas’ attorney general to allow Kobach to represent the state in the trial of Kansas’ voting law. Kobach argued it was a bargain. As he told The Wichita Eagle at the time, “The advantage is the state gets an experienced appellate litigator who is a specialist in this field and in constitutional law for the cost the state is already paying, which is my salary.”

Kobach fared no better in the second main area of the Kansas City trial than he had in the first. This part explored whether there is a less burdensome way of identifying non-citizens than forcing everyone to show proof of citizenship upon registration. Judge Robinson would conclude that there were many alternatives that were less intrusive.

In his opening, Ho of the ACLU spotlighted a potentially less intrusive approach. Why not use the Department of Homeland Security’s Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements System list, and compare the names on it to the Kansas voter rolls? That, Ho argued, could efficiently suss out illegal registrations.

Kobach told the judge that simply wasn’t feasible. The list, he explained, doesn’t contain all non-citizens in the country illegally — it contains only non-citizens legally present and those here illegally who register in some way with the federal government. Plus, he told Robinson, in order to really match the SAVE list against a voter roll, both datasets would have to contain alien registration numbers, the identifier given to non-citizens living in the U.S. “Those are things that a voter registration system doesn’t have,” he said. “So, the SAVE system does not work.”

But Kobach had made the opposite argument when he headed the voter fraud commission. There, he’d repeatedly advocated the use of the SAVE database. Appearing on Fox News in May 2017, shortly after the commission was established, Kobach said, “The Department of Homeland Security knows of the millions of aliens who are in the United States legally and that data that’s never been bounced against the state’s voter rolls to see whether these people are registered.” He said the federal databases “can be very valuable.”

A month later, as chief of the voting fraud commission, Kobach took steps to compare state information to the SAVE database. He sent a letter to all 50 secretaries of state requesting their voter rolls. Bipartisan outrage ensued. Democrats feared he would use the rolls to encourage states to purge legitimately registered voters. Republicans labelled the request federal overreach.
At trial, Kobach’s main expert on this point was Hans von Spakovsky, another member of the voter fraud commission. He, too, had been eager in commission meetings to match state voter rolls to the SAVE database.

But like Kobach, von Spakovsky took a different tack at trial. He testified that this database was unusable by elections offices. “In your experience and expertise as an election administrator and one who studies elections,” Kobach asked, “is [the alien registration number] a practical or even possible thing for a state to do in its voter registration database?” Von Spakovsky answered, “No, it is not.”
Von Spakovsky and Kobach have been friends for more than a decade. They worked together at the Department of Justice under George W. Bush. Kobach focused on immigration issues — helping create a database to register visitors to the U.S. from countries associated with terrorism — while von Spakovsky specialized in voting issues; he had opposed the renewal of the Voting Rights Act.
Von Spakovsky’s history as a local elections administrator in Fairfax County, Va., qualified him as an expert on voting fraud. Between 2010 and 2012, while serving as vice chairman of the county’s three-member electoral board, he’d examined the voter rolls and found what he said were 300 registered non-citizens. He’d pressed for action against them, but none came. Von Spakovsky later joined the Heritage Foundation, where he remains today, generating research that underpins the arguments of those who claim mass voter fraud.

Like Richman, von Spakovsky seemed nervous on the stand, albeit not combative. He wore wire-rimmed glasses and a severe, immovable expression. Immigration is a not-so-distant feature of his family history: His parents — Russian and German immigrants — met in a refugee camp in American-occupied Germany after World War II before moving to the U.S.
Von Spakovsky had the task of testifying about what was intended to be a key piece of evidence for Kobach’s case: a spreadsheet of 38 non-citizens who had registered to vote, or attempted to register, in a 20-year period in Sedgwick County, Kansas.

But the 38 non-citizens turned out to be something less than an electoral crime wave. For starters, some of the 38 had informed Sedgwick County that they were non-citizens. One woman had sent her registration postcard back to the county with an explanation that it was a “mistake” and that she was not a citizen. Another listed an alien registration number — which tellingly begins with an “A” — instead of a Social Security number on the voter registration form. The county registered her anyway.
When von Spakovsky took the stand, he had to contend with questions that suggested he had cherry-picked his data. (The judge would find he had.) In his expert report, von Spakovsky had referenced a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office that polled federal courts to see how many non-citizens had been excused from jury duty for being non-citizens — a sign of fraud, because jurors are selected from voter rolls. The GAO report mentioned eight courts. Only one said it had a meaningful number of jury candidates who claimed to be non-citizens: “between 1 and 3 percent” had been dismissed on these grounds. This was the only court von Spakovsky mentioned in his expert report.

His report also cited a 2012 TV news segment from an NBC station in Fort Myers, Fla. Reporters claimed to have discovered more than 100 non-citizens on the local voter roll.
“Now, you know, Mr. von Spakovsky, don’t you, that after this NBC report there was a follow-up by the same NBC station that determined that at least 35 of those 100 individuals had documentation to prove they were, in fact, United States citizens. Correct?” Ho asked. “I am aware of that now, yes,” von Spakovsky replied.

That correction had been online since 2012 and Ho had asked von Spakovsky the same question almost two years before in a deposition before the trial. But von Spakovsky never corrected his expert report.

Under Ho’s questioning, von Spakovsky also acknowledged a false assertion he made in 2011. In a nationally syndicated column for McClatchy, von Spakovsky claimed a tight race in Missouri had been decided by the illegal votes of 50 Somali nationals. A month before the column was published, a Missouri state judge ruled that no such thing had happened.
On the stand, von Spakovsky claimed he had no knowledge of the ruling when he published the piece. He conceded that he never retracted the assertion.

Kobach, who watched the exchange without objection, had repeatedly made the same claim — even after the judge ruled it was false. In 2011, Kobach wrote a series of columns using the example as proof of the need for voter ID, publishing them in outlets ranging from the Topeka Capital-Journal to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post. In 2012, he made the claim in an article published in the Syracuse Law Review. In 2013, he wrote an op-ed for the Kansas City Star with the same example: “The election was stolen when Rizzo received about 50 votes illegally cast by citizens of Somalia.” None of those articles have ever been corrected.

Ultimately, Robinson would lacerate von Spakovsky’s testimony, much as she had Richman’s. Von Spakovsky’s statements, the judge wrote, were “premised on several misleading and unsupported examples” and included “false assertions.” As she put it, “His generalized opinions about the rates of noncitizen registration were likewise based on misleading evidence, and largely based on his preconceived beliefs about this issue, which has led to his aggressive public advocacy of stricter proof of citizenship laws.”

There was one other wobbly leg holding up the argument that voter fraud is rampant: the very meaning of the word “fraud.”

Kobach’s case, and the broader claim, rely on an extremely generous definition. Legal definitions of fraud require a person to knowingly be deceptive. But both Kobach and von Spakovsky characterized illegal ballots as “fraud” regardless of the intention of the voter.
Indeed, the nine convictions Kobach has obtained in Kansas are almost entirely made up of individuals who didn’t realize they were doing something wrong. For example, there were older voters who didn’t understand the restrictions and voted in multiple places they owned property. There was also a college student who’d forgotten she’d filled out an absentee ballot in her home state before voting months later in Kansas. (She voted for Trump both times.)
Late in the trial, the ACLU presented Lorraine Minnite, a professor at Rutgers who has written extensively about voter fraud, as a rebuttal witness. Her book, “The Myth of Voter Fraud,” concluded that almost all instances of illegal votes can be chalked up to misunderstandings and administrative error.

Kobach sent his co-counsel, Garrett Roe, to cross-examine her. “It’s your view that what matters is the voter’s knowledge that his or her action is unlawful?” Roe asked. “In a definition of fraud, yes,” said Minnite. Roe pressed her about this for several questions, seemingly surprised that she wouldn’t refer to all illegal voting as fraud.
Minnite stopped him. “The word ‘fraud’ has meaning, and that meaning is that there’s intent behind it. And that’s actually what Kansas laws are with respect to illegal voting,” she said. “You keep saying my definition” she said, putting finger quotes around “my.” “But, you know, it’s not like it’s a freak definition.”

Kobach had explored a similar line of inquiry with von Spakovsky, asking him if the list of 38 non-citizens he’d reviewed could be absolved of “fraud” because they may have lacked intent.
“No,” von Spakovsky replied, “I think any time a non-citizen registers, any time a non-citizen votes, they are — whether intentionally or by accident, I mean — they are defrauding legitimate citizens from a fair election.”

After Kobach concluded his questions, the judge began her own examination of von Spakovsky.
“I think it’s fair to say there’s a pretty good distinction in terms of how the two of you define fraud,” the judge said, explaining that Minnite focused on intent, while she understood von Spakovsky’s definition to include any time someone who wasn’t supposed to vote did so, regardless of reason. “Would that be a fair characterization?” she asked.

“Yes ma’am,” von Spakovsky replied.

The judge asked whether a greater number of legitimate voters would be barred from casting ballots under the law than fraudulent votes prevented. In that scenario, she asked, “Would that not also be defrauding the electoral process?” Von Spakovsky danced around the answer, asserting that one would need to answer that question in the context of the registration requirements, which he deemed reasonable.

The judge cut him off. “Well that doesn’t really answer my question,” she said, saying that she found it contradictory that he wanted to consider context when examining the burden of registration requirements, but not when examining the circumstances in which fraud was committed.
“When you’re talking about … non-citizen voting, you don’t want to consider that in context of whether that person made a mistake, whether a DMV person convinced them they should vote,” she said. Von Spakovsky allowed that not every improper voter should be prosecuted, but insisted that “each ballot they cast takes away the vote of and dilutes the vote of actual citizens who are voting. And that’s —”

The judge interrupted again. “So, the thousands of actual citizens that should be able to vote but who are not because of the system, because of this law, that’s not diluting the vote and that’s not impairing the integrity of the electoral process, I take it?” she said.

Von Spakovsky didn’t engage with the hypothetical. He simply didn’t believe it was happening. “I don’t believe that this requirement prevents individuals who are eligible to register and vote from doing so.” Later, on the stand, he’d tell Ho he couldn’t think of a single law in the country that he felt negatively impacted anyone’s ability to register or vote.

Robinson, in the end, strongly disagreed. As she wrote in her opinion, “the Court finds that the burden imposed on Kansans by this law outweighs the state’s interest in preventing noncitizen voter fraud, keeping accurate voter rolls, and maintaining confidence in elections. The burden is not just on a ‘few voters,’ but on tens of thousands of voters, many of whom were disenfranchised” by Kobach’s law. The law, she concluded, was a bigger problem than the one it set out to solve, acting as a “deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What's happening at the border? Here's what we know about immigrant children being separated from their families

"What's happening at the border? Here's what we know about immigrant children being separated from their families" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
The attention of the nation has turned to Texas and its border with Mexico after the Trump administration enacted a policy that has resulted in undocumented children being separated from their parents. Here's what we know:

What’s happening at the border?

The federal government announced an immigration policy of “zero tolerance,” which means all adults who cross the border illegally between official ports of entry will be criminally prosecuted. Since children can't be sent to federal jail, kids who are detained with their parents are being separated from them. While their parents go through the legal system, children are handed over to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement.
A temporary facility opened Friday at the port of entry at Tornillo. The tent city will hold 360 minors and could expand, The Texas Tribune has reported.

Why is the Trump administration doing this?

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the “zero tolerance” policy in April.
“If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you,” he said the following month. “It’s that simple. … If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.”
The policy is meant to deter immigrants from attempting to cross the border illegally. Sessions said President Donald Trump won the 2016 election in part thanks to his tough stance on immigration.
“If you want to change our laws, then pass a bill in Congress,” he said. “Persuade your fellow citizens to your point of view.”
Trump, meanwhile, is blaming Democrats.
In a tweet Monday morning, he said, “Children are being used by some of the worst criminals on earth as a means to enter our country. Has anyone been looking at the Crime taking place south of the border. It is historic, with some countries the most dangerous places in the world. Not going to happen in the U.S.”

How many children have been separated from their parents?

Official numbers say about 2,000 children have been separated from their parents at the border, but the actual number is likely higher.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said 1,995 children were separated from 1,940 adults between April 19 and May 31. Those numbers don’t include separations from June or any separations that occurred before April 19. 
The Trump administration tested the “zero tolerance” policy starting in October. The New York Times reported that between October and April, more than 700 children were separated from adults claiming to be their parents. The reporting was based on data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

What happens to the children once they’re separated?

Unaccompanied minors and children separated from their parents are taken into custody by the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Some parents have told an assistant federal public defender that their children were taken immediately at the border; others said they were separated at processing facilities.
The majority of unaccompanied, undocumented children are taken to detention centers, according to the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The office tries to place children in foster homes or with relatives already living in the United States.
Reporters were allowed to tour a children’s facility in Brownsville where over 1,400 boys are being housed. CNN reported the boys attend school in six-hour shifts and have two hours of outdoor time a day.
Caseworkers, judges and Border Patrol officers don’t know when families will be reunited, according to The Boston Globe. Some families report being separated for over six months. The Houston Chronicle reported that the government mistakenly gave parents trying to find their children an ICE tip line phone number instead of a Department of Homeland Security phone number.

In what kind of conditions are the kids living?

Advocates worry that shelters don’t have the resources to care for children who have been separated from their parents, according to the Washington Post. Last week, federal authorities let a group of reporters into a Brownsville center that used to be a Walmart.
The number of kids staying at the shelter, which is called Casa Padre, doubled between April and May of this year. The shelter houses about 1,500 boys, who attend school for six hours a day and spend two hours outside. The boys are allowed to make two phone calls a week. Officials who run the shelter say the average stay there is 49 days.
Officials also let reporters tour a processing center in McAllen. U.S. Customs and Border Protection released video from the Central Processing Center.
Lawmakers toured the temporary shelter in Tornillo, a border city about 40 miles from El Paso, last week. After the tour, state Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, said there are doctors and caseworkers in the facility.
U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, also toured the facility, and told Texas Monthly the temporary facility seems to be safe and well run.
“They get three meals a day and snacks, it’s the same food that the staff eats,” Hurd told Texas Monthly. “There are fifty caseworkers that are working to get them placed with other family members.”

How did the Obama administration handle similar cases?

The Obama administration drew criticism from immigration advocates for its 2015 policy of detaining mothers and children, but it released families from detention together.
During a surge of undocumented immigration from Central America in 2014, a federal judge ruled that families were being held in “deplorable” conditions in Texas detention centers after crossing the border, according to previous Texas Tribune reporting. U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee gave the Obama administration about two months to release women and children in centers in Dilley and Karnes City, Texas.
Homeland Security officials initially said they were detaining families to deter immigrants from illegally crossing the border, according to The New York Times. In February 2015, a federal court ruled that the children had to be released. In 2016, a judge ruled that a 20-day detention limit for children applied to families, too. Federal authorities then released many of those families and told them to return for their court dates.

How are Texas lawmakers reacting?

Many Democrats are outraged. On Father’s Day, U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat from El Paso who is running for U.S. Senate, and former El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar, who is running for Congress, led a protest at the Tornillo tent city. Six Democratic members of the Texas Legislature sent a letter to two federal agencies calling the tent cities “abhorrent and possibly illegal.”
Republicans' reactions have been mixed. U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-Helotes, blamed the Trump administration — not Congress — for the policy.
"This is clearly something that the administration could change," Hurd told CNN. "They don’t need legislation to change it. They don’t need Democrats in order to change it. This is a Department of Justice policy, and this is something that’s being enacted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.”
Texas House Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, called the policy “wrong” and said Washington should work quickly to end it.
Gov. Greg Abbott, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz and Texas Land Commissioner George P. Bush, all Republicans, echoed President Trump and blamed Democrats in Congress for the policy. 
"Listen, if the Democrats would agree with him right now, they could pass a law today that would end the ripping apart of these families and make the border secure," Abbott said on Sunday to NBC 5 in Dallas-Fort Worth. 
Laura Bush, the former first lady of the U.S. and of Texas, called the "zero tolerance" policy “cruel” in an op-ed published in The Washington Post.

What are lawmakers doing to address this policy?

Cruz announced emergency legislation designed to keep immigrant families together. A press release sent from his office says the legislation would double the number of federal immigration judges from roughly 375 to 750 and expedite review of asylum cases. In the meantime, temporary shelters would be authorized in order to house families together.
“We can fix this,” the statement says. “If my Democratic colleagues will join me, not play politics but work to solve the problem, we can start to end family separation this week.”
Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, introduced the Keep Families Together Act, which would prohibit the government from separating a child who has no permanent immigration status from his or her parents. All 49 Senate Democrats have signed on to the bill, which has no Republican support, according to USA Today.
As this story develops and we have more information, we’ll continue to answer your questions. To submit questions about what's happening at the border, email texplainer@texastribune.org. Follow The Texas Tribune on Twitter  or our list of journalists covering the policy for updates.