Round 2: Were Trump’s Prints on Skinnier FBI Report?

FiveThirtyEight noticed that the FBI’s 2016 Uniform Crime Report, the first released under the Trump administration, was missing 70 percent of the data tables that were included in past editions. The feds fired back, alleging a “false narrative” and claiming that plans to “streamline” the report date to 2010. FiveThirtyEight’s data sleuths are not convinced.

The FBI pushed back when FiveThirtyEight published an article last month revealing that the bureau’s accounting of 2016 national crime data–the first under the Trump administration–was missing almost 70 percent of the data tables that had been included in past. The FBI said removal of the tables was not out of the ordinary. But FiveThirtyEight says the bureau’s claim doesn’t add up. The yearly report is considered the gold standard of crime-trend tracking and is used by law enforcement, researchers, journalists and the general public. Changes to the structure of the report typically go through the Advisory Policy Board (APB), which manages and reviews operational issues for a number of FBI programs. But this change was not reviewed by the APB. One former FBI employee said the decision not to consult with the APB was “shocking.”

The FBI took issue with FiveThirtyEight’s reporting, which Department of Justice spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle called “a false narrative.” A month after the data was released, the agency posted a statement on the data tables noting that a plan to “streamline” the annual Uniform Crime Report had been in the works since 2010. But state-level UCR managers were not informed of it until late 2016. And the FBI had not publicly included the removal of data tables as part of those improvements until the statement it released following the FiveThirtyEight story. Instead, the FBI’s past statements said the agency aimed only to make data available more quickly and to improve digital features to allow users to access more data more easily.


‘Grotesque’: DOJ Vets React to Prospect of Clinton Probe

Current and former Justice Department officials are alarmed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s public suggestion that he may appoint a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton. “To have the winning side exploring the possibility of prosecuting the losing side in an election — it’s un-American, and it’s grotesque,” said John Danforth, a former DOJ special counsel.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s public suggestion that he may appoint a special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton has alarmed current and former Justice Department officials who fear he will further politicize the embattled agency, says the Washington Post. Sessions said at a congressional hearing Tuesday that he will weigh recommendations from senior prosecutors on whether to appoint a special counsel over a 2010 uranium company deal and other issues, including donations to the Clinton Foundation. Such an appointment could give President Trump and Republicans a political counterweight to the ongoing work of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is probing whether any Trump associates coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in last year’s presidential election.

For that reason, Sessions’s suggestion has raised fresh questions about the independence of the Justice Department in the Trump administration. “To have the winning side exploring the possibility of prosecuting the losing side in an election — it’s un-American, and it’s grotesque,” said John Danforth, a former special counsel who investigated the FBI’s role in a violent standoff with a cult in Waco, Tex. “The proliferation of special counsels in a political setting is very, very bad.”  Peter R. Zeidenberg, who once served as deputy special counsel in the probe of former White House aide Lewis “Scooter’’ Libby, said “the best-case scenario” is that the attorney general is trying simply to mollify an angry president and doesn’t really plan to name a special counsel. If one is appointed to probe Clinton matters, “I think the vast majority of people at DOJ would be completely disgusted and demoralized by it,’’ said Zeidenberg. “They don’t like feeling that they are political tools to be used by the president.’’


FBI: Hate Crime Reports Surged After Trump’s Election

The federal agency’s tally of reported hate crimes reached a five-year high in 2016, with a significant bump in the last quarter of the year as Trump was unexpectedly swept into the White House.

The number of hate crimes reported in the United States reached a five-year high in 2016, taking a noticeable uptick toward the end of the year around the time of Donald Trump’s unexpected electoral college victory, reports the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FBI said Monday that law enforcement agencies nationally tallied 6,121 reports of hate crimes last year, up about 5 percent from the 5,818 reported in 2015. However, 88 percent of participating law enforcement agencies reported no hate crimes in their jurisdictions, an ongoing challenge for data collection efforts. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates an annual average of 250,000 incidents of hate crime victimizations in the U.S., about 40 times the number reported by the FBI.

The FBI figures show that 1,747 hate crimes were reported in the last quarter of 2016, a 25.9 percent increase over October through December in 2015. That figure supports a sharp increase in bias incidents reported by journalists and civil rights organizations in the wake of the election. The FBI said about 59 percent of victims were targeted because of their ethnicity, race or ancestry. Another 21 percent were picked out because of their religious affiliation and 16.7 percent based on sexual orientation. The FBI reported 381 anti-Muslim crimes, up more than 20 percent from the 301 reported in 2015. Anti-Jewish crimes increased to 834 reported incidents in 2016, up 16 percent from the previous year.


With Trump as Wingman, Sheriffs Get Their Swagger On

Some sheriffs are mimicking the president’s antagonistic political style, alarming progressives and legal observers who fear an increasingly undisciplined justice system.

A wave of county sheriffs across America who feel emboldened by President Trump and his agenda are becoming vocal foot soldiers in the nation’s testy political and culture wars, says the Washington Post. From deep-blue states such as Massachusetts and New York to traditionally conservative strongholds in the South and the Midwest, locally elected sheriffs have emerged as some of the president’s biggest defenders. They echo Trump’s narrative on everything from serious policy debates such as immigration to fleeting political dust-ups with NFL players who kneel during the national anthem.

Sheriffs are mimicking Trump’s antagonistic political style, alarming progressives and some legal observers who fear an increasingly undisciplined justice system. Some have gone to battle with Democratic officials, bucking their “politically correct” policies and using rhetoric that puts some residents on edge. Over the past nine months, various elected sheriffs have been filmed saying that they would call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on undocumented residents, have threatened to bar sex offenders from hurricane shelters, and have proposed sending inmates to help build Trump’s planned Mexican border wall. Last month, a sheriff in Louisiana suggested “good” inmates need to be kept in jail so they can cook, clean and wash vehicles. In Titusville, Fla., Sheriff Wayne Ivey is calling on constituents to arm themselves as a countywide militia. He and many other sheriffs are producing controversial, at times jarring, videos designed to show toughness, including images of deputies beating in doors.


Trump Packs Appeals Courts with Conservative Ideologues

The president has already appointed eight federal appellate court judges, the most this early in a presidency since Richard Nixon, and a ninth nominee is under consideration. The New York Times says the lifetime appointments are part of a careful plan to load the courts with young partisan conservatives who will serve for decades.

In the weeks before Donald Trump took office, lawyers joining his administration gathered at a law firm near the Capitol, where Donald F. McGahn II, the soon-to-be White House counsel, filled a white board with a secret battle plan to fill the federal appeals courts with young and deeply conservative judges, says the New York Times. McGahn, instructed by Trump to maximize the opportunity to reshape the judiciary, mapped out potential nominees and a strategy: Start by filling vacancies on appeals courts with multiple openings and where Democratic senators up for re-election next year in states won by Trump — like Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania — could be pressured not to block his nominees. And to speed them through confirmation, avoid clogging the Senate with too many nominees for the district courts, where legal philosophy is less crucial.

Nearly a year later, that plan is coming to fruition. Trump has already appointed eight appellate judges, the most this early in a presidency since Richard Nixon, and on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to send a ninth appellate nominee — Trump’s deputy White House counsel, Gregory Katsas — to the floor. Republicans are systematically filling appellate seats they held open during President Barack Obama’s final two years in office with a particularly conservative group of judges with life tenure. Democrats — who in late 2013 abolished the ability of 41 lawmakers to block such nominees with a filibuster, then quickly lost control of the Senate — have scant power to stop them.


CA Sheriffs Opposed Sanctuary Law But Now Must Enforce It

On Jan. 1, California’s 58 county sheriffs will be on the front lines of implementing the state’s new immigrant sanctuary law, which is designed to limit the people that law enforcement agencies can detain, question or investigate at the request of federal immigration officials. Many of those sheriffs were opposed to enactment of the law, says the Los Angeles Times.

Two years ago, as others in California were limiting cooperation with federal immigration agents, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Department welcomed them into its jail, says the Los Angeles Times. Sheriff Margaret Mims gave U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement unrestricted access to databases and private rooms to interview inmates. She reorganized release times so agents could easily pick up people who had served their sentences. The policy sparked outrage among immigrant rights groups, who called it a pipeline from incarceration to immigrant detention, one that they said disproportionately and unfairly affects Latinos. “We are not anti-immigrant for working with ICE,” Mims said in defense of the approach. “We are anti-criminal activity.”

That belief is held by many of California’s 58 county sheriffs who will be on the front lines of implementing the landmark “sanctuary state” law, which takes effect on Jan. 1. The law was a sharp rebuke from Democrats to President Trump’s call for more deportations. It is designed to limit the people that California law enforcement agencies can detain, question or investigate at the request of federal immigration officials. But its impact will largely rely on county sheriffs whose departments play a vital role in immigration enforcement — and most of whom, like Mims, were opposed to its enactment. As keepers of jails across the state, sheriffs will retain control over who has access to the citizenship status of hundreds of thousands of people booked into their facilities every day. As elected officials, many represent conservative or rural areas, where voters might be more likely to oppose the new state law.


Trump’s Speech Aims at Opioids, But Where’s the Money?

Trump’s long-awaited action on the national drug scourge includes no new funding. The mother of a heroin overdose said it’s “like trying to put a Band Aid on a fatal wound.” In an editorial, the New York Times castigated the president as clueless, suggesting that his call for “really big, really great advertising” to steer young people away from drugs recalls the failed “Just Say No” campaign of the Reagan era.

To the loved ones of those devastated by opioids, President Trump’s declaration Thursday of a public health care emergency is too little, too late, says USA Today. It’s “like trying to put a Band Aid on a fatal wound,” says Charlotte Wethington of northern Kentucky, who lost her son to a heroin overdose 15 years ago. “It is absolutely ridiculous that we have not done more in the time that this epidemic — pandemic — has been going on.” Trump’s directive does not release any additional funds to deal with a drug crisis that claimed more than 59,000 lives in 2016, says the New York Times. And he made little mention of the need for the rapid and costly expansion of medical treatment that public health specialists argue is crucial to addressing the epidemic.

In an editorial, the Times said the president “demonstrated that he has not grasped what’s needed to combat the opioid problem and, more important, the ways in which his own policies impede recovery for millions of Americans.” The editorial said Trump “repeated old promises to stop drug trafficking from Mexico by building the wall.” It continued, “He announced tough-sounding but vague plans to ban one prescription opioid he did not name but called ‘evil,’ to train federally employed prescribers in safe prescribing practices and to develop nonaddictive painkillers. He said the administration would produce ‘really big, really great advertising’ aimed at young people because, ‘If we can teach young people not to take drugs, it’s really, really easy not to take them.’ This is sloganeering reminiscent of the ineffective, Reagan-era ‘Just Say No’ programs, when the ravages of drug abuse in black and Hispanic communities were treated with harsh punishment, rather than the empathy and care that is being called for today.”


From ‘Just Say No’ to D.A.R.E., Drug Campaigns Have Failed

President Trump touted an advertising campaign as “our most important thing” in addressing the opioid crisis. But government and academic assessments of “Just Say No”-style anti-drug messages have shown they don’t work.

President Trump is promising a “massive advertising campaign” as part of his administration’s response to the worst drug crisis in U.S. history, but past marketing efforts have shown few results, and experts say other measures could be far more effective in curbing the current epidemic, says the Associated Press. In a speech Thursday about his opioid strategy, Trumps said “our most important thing” will be “really tough, really big, really great advertising, so we get to people before they start.” But government and academic assessments of “Just Say No”-style messages have shown they don’t work.

Between 1998 and 2004 the U.S. government spent nearly $1 billion on a national campaign designed to discourage use of illegal drugs among young people, particularly marijuana. A 2008 follow-up study funded by the National Institutes of Health found the campaign “had no favorable effects on youths’ behavior” and may have actually prompted some to experiment with drugs, an unintended “boomerang” effect. A 2011 study of the government’s “Above the Influence” campaign suggested eighth-graders who had seen the campaign were only slightly less likely to have tried marijuana than those who had not. Other drug prevention campaigns from the 1980s and 1990s have also fared poorly under scientific review. A 2009 review of 20 studies of school-based D.A.R.E. programs showed students who underwent training were about as likely to try drugs as those who didn’t. The program, founded in the early 1980s, sent local police officers into thousands of U.S. schools to warn about the dangers of drug use.


Amid Immigration Furor, Many Opt for Citizenship

The U.S. is on pace to receive more than 1 million citizenship applications this fiscal year. Amid the political bluster over immigration, many of the 9 million people eligible to become citizens are opting to protect themselves against removal by applying for naturalization.

In a year when the government has bolstered enforcement, backed curbing legal immigration and rescinded a program that protects undocumented youth from deportation, hundreds of thousands of immigrants are applying for citizenship to protect themselves from removal and gain the right to vote, reports the New York Times. Naturalization applications generally spike during presidential cycles and fall after an election. But this year, the volume of applications is on track to surpass that of 2016–the first time in 20 years that applications have not slipped after a presidential election. “The draw of U.S. citizenship becomes more powerful when you have the political and policy environment that you have right now,” said Rosalind Gold, senior policy director at the Naleo Educational Fund, a national bipartisan Latino group.

About 8.8 million people are eligible to become American citizens, meaning they have been lawful permanent residents, or had a green card, for at least five years. In the first three quarters of the 2017 fiscal year, 783,330 people filed applications, compared with the 725,925 who filed during the same months a year earlier. The current figure is well on pace to surpass the 971,242 who applied in the 2016 fiscal year. With the surge of applications, the processing backlog has ballooned. There were 708,638 pending applications at the end of June, a steady rise from 522,565 at the end of the 2016 fiscal year and 291,833 in 2010. The average wait time has doubled, to 8.6 months from four months a few years ago, with applicants in cities like Dallas, Houston, Las Vegas and Miami waiting a year or longer.


White House to Declare Opioids a ‘Public Health Emergency’

America’s “crisis next door” will be designated a public health emergency, although President Trump will stop short of declaring a more sweeping national emergency. The entrenched opioid epidemic claimed 64,000 American lives last year.

President Trump will order his health secretary to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency Thursday — but will stop short of declaring a more sweeping state of national emergency, reports USA Today. In an address from the White House, Trump will also try to rally the nation to a growing epidemic that claimed 64,000 American lives last year, and will advocate for a sustained national effort to end to the addiction crisis. “Drug demand and opioid misuse is the crisis next door,” said Kellyanne Conway, a senior counselor to the president. Trump will sign a presidential memorandum ordering Acting Secretary of Health and Human Services Eric Hargan to waive regulations and give states more flexibility in how they use federal funds, officials said.

Trump first promised to declare a national emergency to combat the crisis on Aug. 10, and repeated that pledge last week, saying a national emergency declaration “gives us power to do things that you can’t do right now.” But there’s a legal distinction between a public health emergency, which the secretary of Health can declare under the Public Health Services Act, and a presidential emergency under the National Emergencies Act. The latter is what the president’s own opioid commission recommended in July. Declaring a state of national emergency would give the president even more power to waive privacy laws and Medicare regulations to increase the number of beds available to treat substance abuse. The legal powers Trump is invoking were designed for a short-term emergencies like disasters and infectious diseases. By law, a public health emergency can only last for 90 days, but can be renewed any number of times. There are 13 localized public health emergencies already in effect for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate, and the California wildfires.