In tweets, Trump says Obama headed a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to wiretap his Trump Tower headquarters last fall. Experts doubt that it happened. “You can’t just go around a tap buildings,” one tells the Washington Post.
President Trump angrily accused former president Obama of orchestrating a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap the phones at his Trump Tower headquarters last fall, the Washington Post reports. Citing no evidence to support the explosive allegation, Trump said in five tweets that Obama was “wire tapping” his New York offices before the election in a move he compared to McCarthyism. “Bad (or sick) guy!” he said of his predecessor, adding that the surveillance resulted in “nothing found.” A Breitbart report Friday suggested that Obama used “police state” tactics last fall to monitor the Trump team.
Trump has been feuding with the intelligence community since before he took office, convinced that career officers as well as holdovers from the Obama administration have been trying to sabotage his presidency. “It’s highly unlikely there was a wiretap,” said one former senior intelligence official familiar with surveillance law. “It seems unthinkable. If that were the case by some chance, that means that a federal judge would have found that there was either probable cause that he had committed a crime or was an agent of a foreign power. A wiretap cannot be directed at a U.S. facility without finding probable cause that the phone lines or Internet addresses were being used by agents of a foreign power or by someone spying for or acting on behalf of a foreign government. “You can’t just go around and tap buildings,” the official said.
Retired New York City detective Keith Schiller, who threw reporter out of press conference, now is Trump’s director of “Oval Office operations.”
Donald Trump’s private security lacked basic procedures and policies, including for the use of force, giving guards free rein during the campaign and transition to confront physically protesters and journalists they found objectionable, Politico reports. During a 2015 protest at Trump Tower, a Trump security guard forcibly escorted a protester away from the building’s entrance because he believed incorrectly that the adjacent sidewalk was Trump’s property, according to his testimony in a civil lawsuit. Trump security director Keith Schiller, a retired New York City detective who joined Trump’s White House staff this month, said he decided to place his hands on Univision’s Jorge Ramos while ejecting him from a 2015 press conference because Ramos was “not listening or not being cordial or respectful to Mr. Trump or his colleagues, because he spoke out of term (sic).”
The sworn testimony was ordered in connection with a lawsuit against the guards, the Trump Organization, the Trump campaign and Trump himself by participants in the September 2015 Trump Tower protest. The protesters claim they “were violently attacked” by Trump’s security “for the express purpose of interfering with their political speech.” The depositions paint a picture of a security operation guided more by instinct than procedures, where employees were not subject to background checks or regular evaluations, and where lines were blurred between Trump’s campaign, his corporation and the Secret Service. Schiller now is Trump’s director of Oval Office operations.
Agent Kerry O’Grady in Denver had said on Facebook that she supported Hillary Clinton and would rather “take jail time over a bullet” for a candidate she despised, a reference to Donald Trump. The post seemingly violated the federal Hatch Act.
The Secret Service says it is taking “appropriate action” in response to an agent who suggested on social media that she would not protect President Donald Trump from a bullet, McClatchy Newspapers reports. The Washington Examiner had reported that Kerry O’Grady, an agent in Denver, posted on Facebook before the election about her support for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and that she would rather “take jail time over a bullet” for a candidate she despised. The Hatch Act bars Federal employees from commenting publicly on their political positions. In a now-deleted post from October, O’Grady suggested that she had to speak out, “Hatch Act be damned.”
“As a public servant for nearly 23 years, I struggle not to violate the Hatch Act. So I keep quiet and skirt the median,” she wrote. “To do otherwise can be a criminal offense for those in my position. Despite the fact that I am expected to take a bullet for both sides.” The Secret Service said it was “aware of the postings and the agency is taking quick and appropriate action.” O’Grady, who deleted her posts after a few days, told the Examiner her comments were prompted by the leak of an “Access Hollywood” tape that showed the president making lewd comments about sexually assaulting women.
In his White House website, newly sworn-in Donald Trump promises to “keep our streets free of crime and violence” and says his administration will end “the dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America.”
President Donald Trump promises on the new White House website that he “will empower our law enforcement officers to do their jobs and keep our streets free of crime and violence. The Trump Administration will be a law and order administration.”
The President goes on to declare, “The dangerous anti-police atmosphere in America is wrong. The Trump Administration will end it.” The website was revised soon after Trump took office; law enforcement was listed as one of his six priorities. In his inaugural address, Trump vowed to end the “American carnage.”
The website says homicides rise 17 percent in 2015 in the 50 largest cities, the largest increase in 25 years. It says that in Washington, D.C., “killings have risen by 50 percent. There were thousands of shootings in Chicago last year alone.” It concludes that the U.S. “needs more law enforcement, more community engagement, and more effective policing,” and adds that, “our job is not to make life more comfortable for the rioter, the looter, or the violent disrupter.” It supports Second Amendment rights and repeats Trump’s pledge to build “a border wall to stop illegal immigration, to stop the gangs and the violence, and to stop the drugs from pouring into our communities.”
Vikrant Reddy of the Charles Koch Institute mentions heroin addiction, overcriminalization and “performance-incentive funding” as three criminal justice topics that the administration of Donald Trump may want to tackle.
Vikrant Reddy of the Charles Koch Institute suggests three justice reforms that may be pursued by the Donald Trump administration. Writing for The Marshall Project, Reddy mentions overcriminalization, performance-incentive funding, and heroin addiction. There are 5,000 obscure federal crimes, such as shipping lobster in plastic rather than cardboard boxes, that are more appropriately treated as administrative or regulatory matters, he says. The mens rea or “state of mind” portions of many criminal statutes (which specify whether the conduct must be purposeful, knowing, reckless, or negligent) often are left out when laws are drafted. Reversing this “overcriminalization” has long been a priority for conservatives and prominent progressive voices.
A widely-admired strategies for improving criminal justice outcomes is performance-incentive funding (PIF). The idea is that governments should fund programs, not merely on the number of people incarcerated. A government that contracts for lower recidivism rates and increased restitution payments to victims is more likely to find that its prisons are encouraging education and job training behind bars, Reddy says. Donald Trump performed unusually well in the election in placess ravaged by heroin abuse. He seemed to understand that he owes it to these voters—his base—to take the issue seriously. His administration will likely pursue a law enforcement solution that attacks the “supply side” of the heroin problem. There is also a “demand side,” and Reddy believes that Trump must treat this side of the problem with equal urgency. This means redirecting scarce resources from incarceration to less costly and more effective diversion programs that treat addiction. Trump’s advisors have surely noticed that attitudes towards drug policy appear to be changing. On election night, four states where Trump prevailed—Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota—voted to legalize medical marijuana. A fifth state that Trump carried, Oklahoma, voted to reclassify several drug possession felonies as misdemeanors.
“You wouldn’t need to be uber-skilled to hack it,” says one expert about giulianipartners.com, the website of Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s newly named adviser on cybersecurity.
President-elect Donald Trump tapped Rudy Giuliani as his “go to” guy on cybersecurity, but Giuliani’s New York firm could use a little better security of its own, McClatchy Newspapers reports. The website for the former New York mayor’s firm, Giuliani Security, is riddled with vulnerabilities, and tech experts cackled over the irony on social media. “You wouldn’t need to be uber-skilled to hack it,” said Aaron Hill, a web developer at Cornell University.
The Giuliani announcement prompted a few programmers to conduct their own free website analysis of giulianipartners.com. Their verdict? Pathetic. Sad. Some may have tried their hand at a little mischief. “Service temporarily unavailable,” flashed the screen when one visitor sought to browse there Friday. The site was periodically unavailable much of the day. “A 7-year-old could take that site down,” tweeted Paul Gilzow, a programmer and security analyst from Columbia, Mo.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz investigating whether FBI director James Comey violated protocols by discussing investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails publicly. Probe will also explore whether FBI and main Justice Department employees improperly leaked information.
The Justice Department’s internal watchdog is launching a broad review of how the FBI handled its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server, reports Politico. The review’s scope includes allegations that FBI Director James Comey violated established procedures when he publicly discussed the bureau’s findings and when he sent Congress updates shortly before the election about new evidence agents had discovered. Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said his investigation will also explore whether FBI and main Justice Department employees improperly leaked information prior to the election. Clinton and her campaign aides have blamed Comey’s pre-election revelation that he was reviving the email investigation as a key factor in her narrow loss to Republican nominee Donald Trump.
Comey said he welcomes Horowitz’s probe. “I am grateful to the Department of Justice’s IG for taking on this review. He is professional and independent and the FBI will cooperate fully with him and his office,” Comey said. Comey has said he delivered his July briefing on the FBI’s findings in the Clinton email probe without coordinating his statement with Justice Department leaders. He’s defended his statement as appropriate given the public’s questions about the handling of such a high-profile, politically-charged inquiry. Some Justice Department officials complained that his actions violated the usual practice of saying little about an investigation being closed without charges. Clinton allies also faulted Comey for publicly lambasting Clinton for being “extremely careless” with classified information, even as he said criminal charges were unwarranted.
Police shootings and former Dallas Chief David O. Brown head TCR’s list of top criminal justice stories and newsmakers for 2016. Readers and contributors also selected the election of Donald Trump, the bipartisan justice reform movement in the states, and the probe into Russian election hackers as among the 10 developments that bear watching next year.
Photo by Bruce Em via Flickr
Many Americans will be glad to see the end of 2016.
Violence seemed to crowd out most of the other headlines—whether it was police killings of civilians, ambushes against cops, terrorist-inspired murder, or urban homicides. And whatever their political views, Americans reported high levels of stress resulting from the bitter—and occasionally racist and misogynist— rhetoric that accompanied the presidential contest.
So it should surprise no one that our sixth annual feature on the year’s ten top criminal justice news stories and developments, and the most impactful criminal justice newsmaker, reflects those feelings of unease, as well as concern about what the future holds.
David O. Brown. Photo courtesy Wikkipedia via Flickr
“We’re hurting,” said then-Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown, who was overwhelmingly selected by staff, contributors and readers of The Crime Report as the most significant criminal justice newsmaker of the year.
Brown was speaking in the wake of the shocking ambush of police officers by a lone sniper in July, which left five dead and nine wounded. But he might just as well have been referring to the sense of pain and loss experienced this year by countless American families that lost loved ones to violence.
Some of those families live in Chicago, where the toll of killings reached the stunning number of 758 (so far) this month, or other troubled neighborhoods in 13 of the nation’s largest cities which experienced increases in homicides. Others live in Orlando, where the nation continues to mourn with the relatives and survivors of the June 12 nightclub massacre which took 49 lives and represented the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism since 9/11.
And we stand in silent tribute to the officers who lost their lives—not just in Dallas, but in Baton Rouge, Americus, Ga, and other places where law enforcement has been targeted in a disturbing series of armed attacks.
These were among the stories and developments singled out by those who participated in this year’s survey.
Our poll also showed that the pervasive climate of uncertainty was exacerbated by two other developments that had—and will continue to have—a major impact on criminal justice. The first was the election of Donald Trump, whose self-described “law-and-order” candidacy represented a throwback to the “tough on crime” policies of the 1980s, and which many observers worry portends abandonment—or at least a freeze—of the nationwide justice reform movement that received a boost during the eight years of President Barack Obama’s administration.
Over half of those who participated in the poll this year selected the revelations by American intelligence agencies that hackers connected with Russian intelligence not only penetrated the e-mails of U.S. campaign operatives, but used what they found in selected leaks intended to influence the election outcome. Congressional investigations may or may not show whether the attempts originated at the highest levels of the Kremlin—in the office of President Vladimir Putin himself—but what’s increasingly clear is that American cyberspace is threatened with becoming a vast crime scene, vulnerable to political as well as commercial sabotage.
An important disclaimer to what you are about to read: Our annual surveys are far from “scientific,” but they reflect the views and perspectives of some of the most knowledgeable observers of criminal justice today: journalists, academics, justice practitioners, think-tankers and advocates (in other words, TCR readers and subscribers).
As such, they are—and should be—a contribution to the public debate on criminal justice.
A final note: we’ve added where appropriate (and shortened for space) some of our participants’ comments on the reasons for their choices, as well as some issues and newsmakers which didn’t make the final list, but which we think are worth noting.
To those of you who participated in this year’s exercise, we appreciate the time you took during the busy holiday season to respond. To all of our readers—we wish a happy, healthy and safe 2017.
And as we prepare for another year of impactful developments, please also consider subscribing or making a donation (or both!) to The Crime Report, the nation’s most comprehensive online hub for criminal justice news, research and commentary.
THE TOP TEN JUSTICE STORIES OF 2016
1.Cops and Guns. As of December 21, 933 civilians were shot by police in cities and towns across the country, almost matching the nearly 1,000 deaths resulting from officers’ use-of-force last year. In last year’s TCR poll, the nationwide movement, spearheaded by groups like Black Lives Matter and generated by civilian deaths, was the lead development. Over 80 percent of our participants in this year’s poll think it is still the nation’s biggest criminal justice challenge. A typical comment from Michelle Anderson charged that cops’ “Protect and Serve” motto has degenerated to “Arrest And/or Shoot First.” The Washington Post, which last year launched the country’s only comprehensive database on police shootings, found that in the first six months of 2016, about half the shooting victims were individuals of color.
Nevertheless, as TCR contributing editor David Krajicek points out, police appear to be listening. “Largely out of view,” he writes, “professional policing organizations are working with law enforcement agencies to establish best-practice reforms that focus on de-escalation,” and other conflict-averting strategies, as well as improvements in training and recruiting. The outcome of such efforts will bear watching in 2017.
Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr
2.Trump(ed) Justice? President-elect Donald Trump made “law and order” one of the central themes in his political campaign, effectively putting crime high on the national election agenda for the first time in many years. While many of his charges related to crime rates were inaccurate, they underlined the mindset of some top advisors like Rudy Guiliani and Sen. Jeff Sessions (now attorney general-designate), who have been openly hostile to the reform efforts pushed during the eight years of Barack Obama’s administration. It’s still too early to tell what a Trump administration will actually do, but his election “caps a period of great uncertainty—and great promise—in criminal justice reform with a heightened (and ominous) degree of uncertainty going into the next,” commented TCR columnist Dan Stageman.
Particularly worrying is Trump’s lack of interest—or lack of knowledge—in science-based reform efforts. “If he applies that know-nothing mindset to the evidence-based practices that have begun to inform new thinking about incarceration and sentencing policies, reformers are going to be in for a bumpy ride,” University of Texas/Austin criminologist William Kelly wrote in TCR last month. Some 68 percent of TCR poll participants selected Trump’s election as the most important development in criminal justice this year.
3.Targets in Blue. The year began on an ominous note with the shooting deaths of Ohio policeman Thomas Cottrell and Salt Lake City-area officer Doug Barney. With the assassinations of five Dallas police officers (and wounding of nine others), and an additional three Baton Rouge cops in July, an alarmed public joined the law enforcement community in concerns that the anger over officer-involved shootings was generating in turn a new, dangerous climate for the men and women who protect us. Actually, the number of officer deaths continues to be markedly lower than in previous decades: 32 up until the end of July according to the latest available statistics)—while a significant increase over last year. Nevertheless, the 14 “ambush-style” attacks recorded through July added to the feelings of police vulnerability. Departments in New York, Los Angeles and some other cities now require officers to travel in pairs. And this month, two more officers in Americus, Ga—Nicholas Smarr and Jody Smith—were added to the roll call of tragedy. Both were killed while investigating a report of domestic violence.
4.The Russian Connection. “Gucifer 2.0” and “Cozy Bear” sound like the inventions of an over-imaginative screenwriter, but they represent an ominous watershed in American political history. They are the monikers used by a succession of mystery-shrouded and anonymous Russian-based hackers who began penetrating the email accounts of American political operatives in 2015. As the campaign swung into high gear in 2016, the hackers made thousands of emails available to Wikkileaks and others, which in turn leaked them to eager news outlets. The consensus among American intelligence agencies that it was an effort sponsored at the highest levels of the Kremlin to influence the outcome of the election against Hillary Clinton was rejected by the Trump camp. But the cyber-sabotage, the first ever attempted by a foreign power in an American election, was a chilling reminder of American vulnerability to cybercrime—and the difficulty of prosecuting its overseas-based perpetrators.
5.Bipartisan Justice. Whatever the future holds for justice reform at the federal level, over half of survey respondents believed the movement for change in states and municipalities continues to be a noteworthy development. In a report we noted this month, the Urban Institute said “justice reinvestment” strategies have spurred “significant criminal justice reform” in 28 states. The reforms include legislation on sentencing, improvements in community supervision practices and diversion of individuals who commit non-serious offenses from prison. The process has had downs as well as ups, with some states deciding to drop reform efforts and others encountering stiff opposition based on budget and other considerations, and it’s not clear whether the efforts will receive support from the Trump administration. But TCR readers felt the fact that it is supported by legislators and philanthropic organizations otherwise sharply divided along ideological and partisan lines offers one of the few encouraging prospects for change in the criminal justice system for 2017.
Photo by Paige Filler via Flickr
6.Legal Pot. Last year, the TCR survey spotlighted the growing number of states whose voters approved legalizing marijuana for medical or recreational use. That trend strengthened this year with the passage of referenda in California, Nevada and Massachusetts. As of this month, Americans in 29 states and the District of Columbia now support some form of legalization. But that in turn has set the stage for a potential clash with the (apparently) hardline views of the incoming Trump administration on the “drug war.” Obama’s Department of Justice tacitly adopted a hands-off approach to prosecuting federal drug violations in states where pot is legal. Whether the next DOJ regime will continue that policy is anyone’s guess, but as TCR Los Angeles bureau chief Joe Domanick points out, California’s pro-pot decision alone, thanks to the size of that state’s economy, is likely to “put pressure on the government to reclassify or de-schedule the drug.”
7.Orlando Nightmare. On June 12, a security guard named Omar Mateen, a self-described follower of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, walked into the Pulse, a popular nightclub among the LGBT community in Orlando, and began shooting. Before police were able to intervene, he had killed 49 people and wounded 53. It was called the deadliest mass shooting in American history, and the deadliest incident of domestic terrorism since 9-11. Just as significantly, it reminded Americans of their vulnerability to the same threats that “lone wolf” actors pose elsewhere in the world (most recently in Berlin).
Especially worrying is that the targets of these individuals are not confined to large cities like New York (where bombs left in a trash can exploded in September, injuring 29 people), but include unlikely places like St. Cloud, MN where 10 people were knifed at a shopping mall by a Somali immigrant who claimed he was inspired by ISIS. As David Krajicek wrote in TCR soon after the Orlando shootings, they represented “a convergence of the contentious subjects that have dominated American discourse in the recent past: the singular presidential campaign, political paralysis over guns, fears and frustrations about terrorism, and the nation’s views of ‘others,’ including Muslims and the LGBT community.”
8.Murder Cities. Homicides rose in 13 of the largest American cities this year, underlining fears that the nation is facing a new wave of violent crime. In fact, those fears may be premature. NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, which reported the results of a survey of 25 cities this month, also noted that the murder count declined in 12 cities—including some that had been experiencing high rates of killing in previous years. Nevertheless, in those cities where murders increased—led by Chicago, which continues to report record levels of homicides –police and municipal leaders face a combustible mix of poverty, unemployment, gang violence, drug trafficking, and easy gun availability that has so far defeated attempts to curb the murder toll.
Arguably, news coverage of the plight of those at-risk cities helped fuel the public-safety fears that candidate Trump further stoked during the election—even though in most cases, homicides were confined to specific neighborhoods and victimized individuals already involved in criminal or gang activity. Nevertheless, examining the roots of the violence and strategies for prevention/intervention will be an overriding preoccupation of criminologists and community agencies next year. TCR reader Dianne R. Layden suggested that the complex phenomena of issues now facing America—generated by examples ranging from the Orlando massacre to police shootings—“reflect the connection between violence and social issues in America.”
9.Hate Goes Mainstream. Until Dylann Roof opened fire in an historic black church in Charleston last year, killing nine parishioners, most Americans took comfort in the idea that racial and ethnic-inspired violence belonged to an earlier and uglier era of U.S. history. But in the weeks after the election, the number of incidents of harassment and intimidation of minority groups surged past 1,000, underlining what many felt were the viral racial politics triggered by a divisive campaign.
While the number of such incidents appears to have subsided since, examples continue to surface around the country, prompting warnings from civil rights organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, who charge that once-fringe white supremacist and neo-nazi groups have become empowered through the so-called “alt-right” since the campaign. Particularly notable is that many of the reported incidents occurred on college campuses. Although Trump has asked such groups to “stop it,” many fear the volatile atmosphere generated by blatant campaign appeals to extreme-right nationalists will be a test for authorities at every level of government. This month, Roof was convicted on 33 counts, including hate crimes resulting in death. The sentencing phase of his trial, where he faces the possible death penalty, begins early next year.
10.Opioid Epidemic, Continued. One curious fact emerging since the campaign was that support for Donald Trump was highest in areas that have experienced the highest deaths from opioid abuse. Considering that the same red-state electorate has also been victimized by the loss of manufacturing jobs and the pervasive sense of being “left behind” by the economy, the connection illustrated why an otherwise deadlocked Congress was moved to pass in its waning hours the 21st Century Cures Act—the first coherent effort by Washington to tackle what many consider America’s most worrying public health crisis. Drug overdose deaths—over half of them linked to opioid use—were already the leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S. in 2015. The new law will provide $500 million in federal funding to help states develop treatment and diversion programs for substance-abusers. But many observers say a lot more needs to be done.
Several additional developments suggested by TCR readers are worth noting, even though they didn’t make the “Top Ten.” Several poll respondents pointed to the February death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as a critical milestone for American jurisprudence. The vacancy he left has gone unfilled because of the Senate’s refusal to consider the Obama administration’s nominee. The incoming administration has signaled it will nominate someone who will toe the conservative line on issues like gun control and abortion. As Graham Kates points out, the outcome of the coming nomination battle will “have a significant impact on the criminal justice system for a long time.”
Reforms in pretrial justice, such as the use of risk-assessment strategies by courts to determine those most likely to need confinement before trial and rethinking the use of money bonds, are gaining traction in many U.S. jurisdictions. Cherise Fanno Burdeen observed that “the dysfunction of the CJ system, (the) influence of the bail-bonding industry on efforts to advance pretrial justice, and the deaths in custody of pretrial defendants” were developments worth watching in the coming year and, she noted, “We have the chance to do something about it that doesn’t take years of legislative battles.”
TCR NEWSMAKER OF 2016
DAVID BROWN. Since he took charge of the Dallas police six years ago, Brown has attracted national attention as a “progressive” police leader committed to community policing, better training and recruitment of minorities. All of those arguably helped him lead his city through the trauma of an ambush that cost the lives of five police officers in July–and ensured that the hard-won climate of openness and partnership between Dallas residents and police was preserved. For Brown, the crisis was especially personal: Just after he became chief in 2010, his son fatally shot a police officer before being killed during a shootout with law enforcement officers. The first African-American to lead the Dallas force, Brown began pushing for reforms long before the nation was galvanized by concerns over police shootings by the 2014 killing of an unarmed man in Ferguson, Mo. He has since retired from the force to pursue other activities, including a stint as an ABC-TV analyst and a book, which is due next year. But for many readers, he remains the model for what smart, 21st century policing in America can be. “If we really want to do something about violence, we need the good people to stand up,” commented a reader who signed his name as “Matt” and called Brown a “true hero.” He was the top pick of a majority of TCR readers and staffers.
DONALD TRUMP, as noted above, thrust criminal justice policy into the headlines this year for the first time in decades. And he has also set the stage for fierce battles in the coming years over the future of the criminal justice system. While it’s entirely possible that President Trump may soften or reverse some of the hardline approaches to crime he advocated during the campaign, much will depend on who occupies the key posts in the Department of Justice.
Attorney general-designate Jeff Sessions has been a staunch opponent of efforts to eliminate or reduce mandatory-minimum sentences for drug offenders, and as a senator was instrumental in stalling a bipartisan bill to overhaul federal sentencing guidelines. But he has also supported stronger federal action on the opioid crisis. Many observers believe the new team at justice is unlikely to follow the previous administration’s forceful strategy of placing police departments accused of racial bias under “consent decrees.” Also uncertain is whether the new administration will continue to support community policing and other strategies advocated by the Obama government’s much-praised Task Force on 21st Century Policing. TCR contributor Adam Wisnieski worries that Trump’s campaign speeches employed “rhetoric that hasn’t been politically mainstream for a decade.”
Photo by Rich Girard via Flickr
FBI Chief JAMES COMEY tied with Trump for second place in this year’s newsmakers poll, largely because of his 11th-hour announcement in October that he was renewing a probe into Hillary Clinton’s use of her private server for official emails—which he had previously concluded did not warrant a criminal investigation. Comey subsequently announced a few days before the November 8 vote that the probe had turned up no new incriminating evidence; but by then the doubts he raised about Clinton arguably clinched her defeat—particularly in states where a narrow difference of votes made all the difference.
That conclusion is far from universally accepted, but throughout this campaign year Comey’s high political profile has earned him unflattering comparisons to J. Edgar Hoover. (Earlier, Trump accused Comey of being “bribed” by Democrats to look the other way from Clinton’s supposed transgressions.) Some readers, however, felt he was an inspiring example of probity as a high government official. Michelle Anderson, who describes herself as a “white, 52-year-old Texan female who voted for President Obama in 2008 and 2012,” called Comey’s decision to go public “correct”—regardless of the timing. “Any individual that chooses to do what’s right versus what’s popular (or) politically advantageous will stand out in today’s society,” she wrote.
On the other hand, TCR Los Angeles bureau chief Joe Domanick called Comey’s “unprecedented interference” in the campaign an “extraordinary breach of tradition for an investigator or prosecutor.” Washington bureau chief Ted Gest focused on other Comey actions that had a significant impact during the year, including “his outspokenness on race and policing, his insistence that the FBI do better on its database on police shooting, and his semi-endorsement of the Ferguson Effect theory on why crime has gone up in many big cities.”
The debate is certain to be renewed next year. FBI directors are appointed for 10-year terms on the principle that they should be outside the four-year presidential cycle, and thus immune from political interference. Appointed in 2013, Comey has served less than half of his tenure. Will President Trump keep the non-political principle intact—or look for a new director who has not been tainted by this year’s political warfare? There may be no better signal about the direction of the new president’s administration.
Finally, a few other names surfaced in our reader and staff selections which we consider worth mentioning. Richard Cohen, president of the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center has “long been a guiding light for Americans concerned about a surge in hate groups,” writes TCR contributing editor David Krajicek, adding that the group’s “reputation for painstaking and objective analysis…proved especially important this year.”
Two governors also received special notice. On August 24, Republican Bruce Rauner of Illinois signed a far-reaching juvenile justice bill that was considered a template for smarter treatment of justice-involved juveniles—including allowing judges to divert first-time offenders guilty of minor offenses from prison. Just as notable was the fact that he won support from both political parties—a model for criminal justice bipartisanship in states across the nation (see #5 in our Top Ten above). Michelle Anderson called him an “example of leadership that truly serves the needs of his constituents.”
Similarly, the bipartisan campaign for justice reforms led by Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy, a Democrat, achieved significant reductions in the state’s incarcerated populations this year. In a December TCR article focusing on his reforms, Christopher Moraff wrote, “Over the past year alone, the number of inmates in Department of Corrections custody has declined by nearly eight percent (and) during the month of November, the DOC — which oversees both prisons and jails in Connecticut — experienced its largest population drop on record.”
Photo by Global Panorama via Flickr
A few of our poll participants added Russian President Vladimir Putin to the list of 2016 criminal justice newsmakers. While our annual survey is traditionally limited to U.S. figures, the strong possibility—hinted by U.S. intelligence—that the Russian leader was behind the cyber-trickery aimed at undermining our election is sobering enough to merit his selection as someone who had an impact on criminal justice in America—both directly, in his alleged sponsorship of cross-border cybercrime; and indirectly, by swinging the election outcome towards Donald Trump, whose approach to crime and punishment will stamp the U.S. landscape over the next four years—and perhaps longer.
A stretch? Perhaps. But so much else in criminal justice this year has defied expectations and confounded assumptions, that the addition of President Putin to our annual list seems a logical way to underline the uncertain climate Americans face as they prepare for 2017.
Stephen Handelman is the editor of The Crime Report. He welcomes readers’ comments.
Release of FBI affidavit to justify search warrant for emails relating to Hillary Clinton on Anthony Weiner’s laptop shows that FBI director James Comey’s late-October announcement of the probe was “legally unauthorized and factually unnecessary,” says Clinton lawyer David Kendall.
Hillary Clinton’s allies blasted the FBI after court filings were unsealed showing more details about the bureau’s basis for renewing its probe into Clinton’s private email setup and roiling the presidential race shortly before Election Day, Politico reports. Clinton’s camp says the FBI had remarkably little evidence to go on when it sought a search warrant on Oct. 30 to look for classified emails on a Dell laptop belonging to Anthony Weiner, the estranged husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin. The FBI says it discovered Clinton-related emails on the computer after seizing it during a probe over Weiner’s alleged sexually explicit online exchanges with a minor.
The FBI said in an affidavit that the laptop was likely to contain evidence of illegal possession of classified information, apparently by Weiner or Abedin, although neither has been charged. Clinton lawyer David Kendall said the FBI affidavit release “highlights the extraordinary impropriety of [FBI] Director [James] Comey’s October 28 letter … which produced devastating but predictable damage politically and which was both legally unauthorized and factually unnecessary.” Said ex-Clinton aide Brian Fallon, “It is salt in the wound to see (the) FBI rationale was this flimsy.” Randol Schoenberg, a California lawyer who went to court to get the records unsealed, said, “This was a whole lot of nothing. I was shocked. When they said they got a search warrant, I expected there to be more than nothing. No evidence at all they would find any evidence of a crime … There was no indication they would find anything, and they didn’t find anything.”
Donald Trump’s voting margins over 2012 GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney were highest in counties with higher than average drug, alcohol, and suicide mortality rates. There is no clear causal relationship between drugs, alcohol, suicide, and support for Trump.
One of the darkest theories about President-elect Donald Trump’s electoral upset is the idea that the opioid epidemic ripping across middle America played a significant role in the outcome of the election, reports Slate. There seems to be a correlation between places that went heavily for Trump and areas struck hard by the opioid crisis. This has turned up anecdotally, with photojournalist Chris Arnade, known for his “Faces of Addiction” series, saying he “fell into” writing about Trump supporters while documenting addiction. “Wherever I see hope exiting,” he tweeted, “I see Trump and drugs entering.” For Arnade and others, it feels like no coincidence that Trump did best in counties with higher mortality rates.
That’s what Shannon Monnat, a rural sociologist and demographer at Penn State, found when she analyzed voting data in her recent paper, “Deaths of Despair and Support for Trump in the 2016 Presidential Election.” She says Trump’s margins over Mitt Romney were highest in counties with higher than average drug, alcohol, and suicide mortality rates. Monnat’s research focuses on the industrial Midwest, New England, and Appalachia. “These places,” she says, “have experienced a perfect storm that facilitates addiction, depression, and suicide,” hence the “deaths of despair” moniker. Last year, Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton discovered that the death rate for middle-aged white Americans, particularly those with a high school education or less, jumped 20 percent between 1999 and 2013—meaning half a million more people died during those years than would have if rates had remained flat. Ultimately, this connection is just a correlation, with unclear causation. It seems likely it’s a manifestation of another established correlation between lower economic status and support for Trump. The whys behind many of these correlations are still unclear and may never become clear. Monnat acknowledges that there is no clear causal relationship between drugs, alcohol, and suicide and support for Trump.