Trump Rebukes Sessions Over Recusal, Testimony

In an interview with the New York Times, President Trump called it “very unfair to the president” that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from overseeing the investigation of Russian meddling in the presidential election. Trump also said Sessions “gave some bad answers” during his Senate confirmation hearing.

President Trump said he never would have appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions had he known Sessions would recuse himself from overseeing the Russia investigation that has dogged his presidency, calling the decision “very unfair to the president,” the New York Times reports. In what the newspaper called “a remarkable public break with one of his earliest political supporters,” Trump complained that Sessions’s decision led to the the naming of a special counsel, which should not have happened. “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job and I would have picked somebody else,” Trump told the Times in an interview.

The president accused James Comey, the FBI director he fired in man, of trying to leverage a dossier of compromising material to keep his job. Trump criticized both acting FBI director Andrew McCabe and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who recommended the firing. He also took on Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the investigation into Russian meddling in last year’s election. Sessions was the first senator to endorse Trump’s candidacy and was rewarded with a key cabinet slot, but has been more distant from the president lately. “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president,” Trump said. “How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair — and that’s a mild word — to the president.” Trump faulted Sessions for telling senators he had not had “communications with the Russians” although he had met at least twice with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Jeff Sessions gave some bad answers,” Trump said.


DOJ Will Try To Prevent Asset Forfeiture Abuse

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will make asset forfeiture easier for local police to use under federal rules, but will impose new restrictions aimed at preventing the controversial practice from being abused, the Associated Press reports.

The Trump administration soon will restore the ability of police to seize suspects’ money and property with federal help, but the Associated Press reports that the policy will come with new provisions aimed at preventing the types of abuse that led the Obama Justice Department to curtail the practice. At issue is asset forfeiture, which has been criticized because it allows law enforcement to take possessions without convictions or, in some cases, indictments. The policy to be rolled out today targets “adoptive forfeiture,” which lets local authorities circumvent more-restrictive state laws to seize property under federal law. The proceeds are then shared with federal counterparts.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder significantly limited the practice in response to criticism that it was ripe for abuse, particularly with seizures of small amounts of cash. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will ease those restrictions, but with new requirements on when federal law can be used. A key change will requiring more detail from police agencies about probable cause justifying a seizure before federal authorities get involved. Also, the Justice Department will have to decide more quickly whether to take on local seizures and also let property owners know their rights and the status of their belongings within 45 days, faster than federal law requires. Another change will make it harder for police to seize under $10,000 unless they have a state warrant, have made an arrest related to the seizure, have taken other contraband, such as drugs, along with the money, or the owner has confessed to a crime. Without at least one of those conditions, authorities will need a federal prosecutor’s approval to seize it under federal law. Old rules set that threshold at $5,000. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), who has sponsored legislation to regulate asset forfeiture tightly, said Sessions’ move is “a troubling step backward” that would “bring back a loophole that’s become one of the most flagrantly abused provisions of this policy.”


Sessions Will Step Up Federal Asset Forfeiure

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will increase “adoptive forfeiture,” a practice curtailed by predecessor Eric Holder that allows states to use more permissive federal forfeiture laws.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will issue a new directive this week aimed at increasing police seizures of cash and property, reports the Washington Post.  “With care and professionalism, we plan to develop policies to increase forfeitures,” Sessions told the National District Attorneys Association in Minneapolis “No criminal should be allowed to keep the proceeds of their crime.” Asset forfeiture is a disputed practice that allows law enforcement officials to to take money and goods permanently from people suspected of crime. In many cases, neither a criminal conviction nor even a criminal charge is necessary. Under forfeiture laws in most states and at the federal level, mere suspicion of wrongdoing is enough to allow police to seize items permanently.

Additionally, many states allow law enforcement agencies to keep cash that they seize, creating what critics call a profit motive. In 2014, federal law enforcement officers took more property from citizens than burglars did. State and local authorities seized untold millions more. Since 2007, the Drug Enforcement Administration alone has taken more than $3 billion in cash from people not charged with any crime, says the Justice Department’s Inspector General. Thirteen states now allow forfeiture only in cases where there’s been a criminal conviction, said Robert Johnson of the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that represents forfeiture defendants. In 2015, Eric Holder’s Justice Department sharply curtailed a type of forfeiture that allowed local police to share part of their forfeiture proceeds with federal authorities. Known as “adoptive” forfeiture, it allowed state and local authorities to sidestep sometimes stricter state laws, processing forfeiture cases under the more permissive federal statute. Yesterday, Sessions said, “Adoptive forfeitures are appropriate, as is sharing with our partners.”


House Panel Favors Most Federal Anticrime Projects

The House Appropriations Committee voted yesterday to maintain funding for almost all current federal anticrime programs. Programs to aid crime victims could get more aid, but money to hire local police officers could drop. The measure still must be approved by the full House, the Senate and President Trump.

Federal spending on Department of Justice anticrime programs is holding its own in the appropriations process this year, despite some concern among criminal justice watchers that it would drop after Republicans took control of the White House and both houses of Congress.

Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee approved its bill to fund the Justice Department in the year beginning October 1. For the most part, key crime items ended up with about the same level of funding as in the last year of the Obama administration.

The House bill would increase the Byrne Justice Assistance Grant Program, which provides many of the funds for state and local anticrime projects, to $443.6 million, up from $334.6 million in the current year.

The bill would eliminate the hiring grants under the Community Oriented Policing program (COPS), which is getting $195 million this year. However, House Republicans have long criticized local police hiring under COPS, which began in the big 1994 federal crime law when Bill Clinton was president.

In recent years, the House often has voted to reduce the COPS program only to see the Senate insist on continuing its funding. That same scenario could occur this year.

The House bill could dramatically increase federal aid to programs that help crime victims to $4.632 billion, more than double the current $2.237 billion figure. Still, that money may not survive the negotiating process with the Senate or may be used for other purposes.

The new measure would continue the trend of reducing federal aid for projects to reduce juvenile crime.

Among other major items in the House bill:

  • The FBI would get $8.8 billion, $92 million above President Trump’s budget request. Increases would focus on fighting terrorism, cybercrime and human trafficking.
  • The federal prison system would get a little over $7 billion. The appropriations committee said it is concerned about crowding in federal prisons, and it endorsed the Trump administration’s plan to continue using private prisons after the Obama administration said it would stop private-facility contracts.
  • Spending on for the DOJ Office on Violence Against Women programs would increase to $527 million from $482 million this year.
  • Prisoner reentry projects under the Second Chance Act would get $68 million, the same as this year.
  • Drug courts would get $43 million, the same as this year.
  • The Justice Reinvestment Initiative, which pursues sentencing reform in states, would get $25 million, the same as this year.


Heritage’s Muhlhausen to Head NIJ

David Muhlhausen, an adjunct at George Mason University and an advocate of empirical research on justice issues, has testified before Congress on policing and prisoner reentry issues. He succeeds Nancy Rodriguez to head the National Institute of Justice, the DOJ’s research arm.

David Muhlhausen of the Heritage Foundation has been named director of the National Institute of Justice, the U.S. Justice Department’s research arm, the White House announced. He succeeds Nancy Rodriguez of Arizona State University, who had been NIJ director since early 2015.

Muhlhausen, a research fellow in empirical policy analysis at Heritage, has “championed using rigorous, empirical research to formulate and evaluate government policies,” the White House said.

Muhlhausen has testified frequently before Congress on the efficiency and effectiveness of various federal programs.He has been called most often by the House and Senate Committees on the Judiciary to discuss how to improve policing strategies, prisoner reentry programs, and other criminal justice programs.

In a 2015 report, Muhlhausen said that, “Since the 1990s, the Justice Department has poured significant funding resources into prisoner reentry programs. To date, however, we do not know enough about what works in helping former inmates safely and successfully reintegrate into society.”

He criticized one study that declared reentry programs effective because it “compares offenders volunteering for services with less motivated offenders not volunteering for services. For the Boston Reentry Initiative, program administrators carefully selected inmates for participation, and the evaluation compared these preferred inmates with inmates not selected for participation.”

Muhlhausen favors studies based on the technique of randomly assigning participants in programs being compared. In the case of prisoner reentry, he said, failure to use random assignment did not “account for individual differences that affect program outcomes. This failure leaves open the possibility that the underlying differences between the groups of former inmates receiving and not receiving reentry services, not the program, caused the observed impact.”

He wrote in the Washington Times that his “review of evaluations of prisoner re-entry programs that use random assignment — the gold standard of evaluation designs — shows that the programs tend to produce, at best, mixed results.”

An advocate of the death penalty, Muhlhausen contends that capital punishment deters criminals. He also has been critical of the Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Policing Services program (COPS), writing in 2013 that “the COPS program has an extensive track record of poor performance and should be eliminated,” adding that its grants “unnecessarily perform functions that are the responsibility of state and local governments.”

He holds a doctorate in public policy from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and a bachelor’s degree in political science and justice studies from Frostburg State University. At George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government, Muhlhausen has taught program evaluation and statistical methods to graduate students for 11 years.

The NIJ directorship formerly required confirmation by the Senate but the job now can be filled by the White House without a Senate vote.

This report was prepared by Ted Gest, Washington Bureau Chief of The Crime Report. Readers’ comments welcome.


Sessions Touts DARE; Experts Agree That it Doesn’t Work

DARE was largely based on one idea: If you tell kids about how bad drugs are, they will be so scared that they will not use them. The program leveraged this to try to teach kids how to say no to drugs. It didn’t work. Decades of research show that DARE was nothing short of a complete disaster, failing to reduce drug use among youth.

Ignoring decades of scientific evidence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions this week praised an anti-drug program — DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education)— straight out of the 1980s “tough on crime” playbook, reports Speaking at a DARE conference, Sessions said, “DARE is, I think, the best remembered anti-drug program today. In recent years, people have not paid much attention to that message, but they are ready to hear it again. … We know it worked before, and we can make it work again.” DARE was largely based on one idea: If you tell kids about how bad drugs are, they will be so scared that they will not use them. The program leveraged this to try to teach kids how to say no to drugs. Different levels of government threw money at DARE, encouraging the majority of school districts around the nation to take it up.

It didn’t work. Decades of research show that DARE was nothing short of a complete disaster, failing to reduce drug use among youth. Even DARE’s own leaders finally acknowledged this after years of denying the evidence, redesigning the curriculum under a new slogan — “keepin’ it REAL” —by 2012 after the overwhelming empirical evidence finally led multiple levels of government to pull back funding for the program. There isn’t much in scientific research that is nearly unanimous. Evaluations of DARE are one of the few exceptions. Time and time again, when researchers carefully studied the program, they found that DARE failed at its most basic purpose: to prevent drug use. Vox several studies to prove its point, including a 1999 Justice Department finding that, “To date, there have been more than 30 evaluations of the program that have documented negligible long-term impacts on teen drug use. One intensive, six-year study even found that the program increased drug use among suburban teens by a small amount.” As Stanford drug policy expert Keith Humphreys tweeted this week, DARE “has been heavily studied and it just doesn’t work, period.”


DOJ Guts Health Care Corporate Fraud Strike Force

After winning only one major case, health care unit is cut as the Justice Department shifts priorities to violent crime, drugs and illegal immigration.

Last fall, the U.S. Department of Justice claimed a major victory for its Health Care Corporate Fraud Strike Force when it nailed Tenet Healthcare Corp. for a multimillion-dollar kickback and bribery scheme. It was the strike force’s first major victory, and it also may have been its last. DOJ has gutted the strike force under Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ new priorities of violent crime, drugs and illegal immigration, reports The unit has been cut from five full-time lawyers to only two, who are splitting their time in the strike force with other duties. A DOJ spokesperson said the strike force, which was created in 2015, is “going strong.”

Tenet Healthcare was a whistleblower case involving Medicaid fraud that had been languishing in court since 2009 until the strike force stepped in. Last fall, the firm agreed to a $516 million settlement, compliance reforms and an independent monitor for three years. Two subsidiaries in Georgia pleaded guilty, two individuals have been convicted and a third has been charged. Tenet said supervisors lied to in-house counsel about the purpose of millions of dollars in contracts, which purportedly were for “services” but really were bribes and kickbacks to clinics and doctors for sending Medicaid patients to Tenet hospitals. Some DOJ lawyers say that white-collar crime and corporate fraud resources are being shifted to cover violent crime, drug and illegal immigration  cases.



DOJ Questions Honesty of ‘Sanctuary Cities’ Statements

The Justice Department said some of the 10 jurisdictions under scrutiny insist they are compliant with the law while still defiantly refusing to cooperate with efforts to detain and deport immigrants living in the U.S. illegally.

The Justice Department is questioning whether so-called sanctuary cities responded honestly when asked whether they follow the law on sharing the citizenship status of people in their custody with federal immigration authorities, the Associated Press reports. In a strongly worded statement yesterday, the department said some of the 10 jurisdictions under scrutiny insist they are compliant with the law while still defiantly refusing to cooperate with efforts to detain and deport immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. The Justice Department said it was reviewing policies of the jurisdictions to determine whether they should lose some federal grant money for failing to prove they are adhering to federal immigration law.

The cities include New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Philadelphia, which said in its letter to the department that the city was adhering to the law even while refusing to collect information on residents’ immigration statuses. Also on the list are two states — California and Connecticut — along with Miami-Dade County, Fl., Cook County, Il., Milwaukee County, Wi., and Clark County, Nv. The locales were singled out last year by the department’s inspector general for having rules that hinder the ability of local law enforcement to communicate with federal officials about the immigration status of people they have detained. The cities disagreed with that assessment, saying their rules comport with the federal law that bars municipalities from forcing local officials to keep certain information from federal immigration authorities. The move was the latest by the Trump administration after the signing of an executive order that went after federal money going to such locations. A judge later blocked that, saying the president could not set new conditions on spending approved by Congress.


Were Sanctuary Cities Excluded From DOJ Aid List?

So suggests Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Joseph Gerth, who raises questions about why low-homicide cities like Lansing, Mi., were selected while Louisville was passed over.

You’d think that after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell protected Attorney General Jeff Sessions from being called a racist on the Senate floor, Sessions owe a debt to the senator, but when the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it is forming partnerships with a dozen cities to help them crack down on violent crime, Louisville, which is well on its way to setting a record for homicides for the second straight year, was not on the list, writes Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Joseph Gerth. Lansing, Michigan, was, even though its eight homicides last year was the lowest number in decades.

Louisville is dealing with a horrific problem, with 124 homicides in Jefferson County, and 64 so far this year. Ian Prior, a Justice Department spokesman, said cities weren’t asked to apply and were picked “based on crime statistics, input from federal law enforcement components … and interest/ability of the site to benefit from intensive training and technical assistance.” Cincinnati is on the current list. Last year it saw its number of homicides drop from 71 to 62. And Toledo, Ohio, is there, with 36 murders last year. Ohio, where Gov. John Kasich, has been openly critical of President Trump, has two cities on the list. Gerth notes that several cities on the DOJ list have serious murder problems, including Birmingham, Al., Indianapolis, Houston, and Memphis. The columnist notes that none of the chosen locations for the DOJ program are sanctuary cities, which limit their cooperation with the federal government in enforcing immigration laws. While Louisville isn’t officially a sanctuary city, Mayor Greg Fischer had made clear that it welcomes immigrants.


DOJ Aids 12 Cities in ‘Public Safety Partnership’

A new program announced by Attorney General Jeff Sessions is aimed at helping local authorities study crime patterns and develop plans to reduce violence.

The Justice Department says it’s aiding 12 U.S. cities to decrease violent crime under a new program, the Associated Press reports. DOJ said today it will help local authorities study crime patterns and develop plans to reduce violence. Attorney General Jeff Sessions says officials will find “data-driven, evidence-based strategies” that can be measured over time. The cities are: Birmingham, Al., Indianapolis, Memphis, Toledo, Oh., Baton Rouge, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Houston, Jackson, Tn., Kansas City, Mo., Lansing, Mi., and Springfield, Il. The department says it chose cities that have higher-than-average rates of violence and showed receptiveness to receiving assistance.

The announcement came at a “summit” of federal and state law enforcement officials in Bethesda, Maryland. Sessions says helping cities combat violence is a top priority for the Justice Department. At the event, Sessions said he new program will be called the National Public Safety Partnership, or PSP. He said that “Based on local needs, the PSP program will provide two complementary but separate tiers of help — Diagnostics Teams and Operations Teams. Diagnostic Teams will assess the local factors driving increased violent crime, and will help local leaders develop strategies to address those factors, over a period of up to 18 months. Operations Teams will provide rigorous training and coaching over a three-year period … Operations Teams will provide enhanced crime trend analysis and comprehensive gun-crime intelligence programs.” The twelve cities are being added to ten cities that who took part in a pilot concept known as the Violence Reduction Network. Sessions said DOJ planned to announce more PSP sites later this year. DOJ barred the news media from attending anything but Sessions’ opening remarks at the summit and denied requests from several advocacy organizations to attend. A DOJ spokesperson said that, “While the Department of Justice Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety has welcomed input from all groups over the past several months, the crime summit is focused on creating an opportunity to hear from state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners, victims groups, and academics that have studied crime reduction efforts to learn what is working to reduce crime, as well as how the Department of Justice can best support those efforts.”