In theory, Americans should be proud of their national capital and all the important work that gets done there. In theory.
In reality, our nation’s capital is an utter cesspool of self-serving, unethical and unaccountable parasites. We all know it and, even worse, it’s probably a hundred times more grotesque than we can imagine. A distressingly high number of people attracted to this swamp don’t go there to do good public work or help the American people. They go in order to enrich themselves at our expense.
A particularly degenerate strain of D.C. cretin is the lobbyist. These people swarm into Washington to influence the purse-strings of the U.S. government and funnel as much American treasure as possible in the direction of their clients, including Wall Street oligarchs, defense contractors and barbaric foreign monarchies like Saudi Arabia. We’re told that Washington D.C. exists specifically to protect and benefit the American public, yet the average citizen is the one constituency which has virtually no actual representation there. Helping the vulnerable doesn’t pay very well.
Over the past couple of days, I’ve be reading political stories describing the “beltway buzz” in the aftermath of the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictments. I’ve found these articles quite instructive. The common theme is that hordes of the shady crooks who operate in D.C., and add absolutely zero value to society, are panicking that their gravy train of legalized corruption may be coming to an end.
To see what I mean, let’s examine two recently published articles. First from Politico:
Washington lobbyists who represent foreign powers have taken comfort for decades in the fact that the Justice Department rarely goes after them for potentially breaking the law. That all changed on Monday.
The two-tier justice system works quite nicely for D.C. crooks.
The news of Tony Podesta’s resignation from his namesake firm and indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates sent K Street scrambling, as lobbyists rushed to make sure they’re in compliance with the rules. The developments also renewed calls for Congress to pass legislation beefing up the Justice Department’s enforcement of the law, which lawmakers in both parties have derided for lacking teeth.
“Firms are going to be even more careful than they have been in the past in the foreign lobbying arena,” said Trent Lott, the former Senate majority leader who’s now a lobbyist at Squire Patton Boggs, where his foreign clients have included Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
Prosecutions of violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act — which requires lobbyists who represent foreign governments, political parties and other groups seeking to influence American foreign policy to register with the Justice Department — are rare. And it’s not clear whether the Justice Department will follow special counsel Robert Mueller’s lead and start cracking down on foreign lobbying violations.
The DOJ unit dedicated to enforcing FARA is small, and has focused in the past on prodding lobbyists to comply with the law voluntarily, rather than going after them by pressing criminal charges. Mueller’s willingness to indict Manafort and Gates instead of just hounding them to file has struck fear into lobbyists that they could be next.
If you’re a D.C. power player, you get asked politely to follow the law. Must be nice.
“It used to be [that the Justice Department would work with you to become compliant,” said another foreign lobbyist, who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “Now there’s a fear that they’ll just prosecute you.”
Oh, the horror. They might “just prosecute you” like a common peasant.
But the bar for criminal prosecution is high. Under the law, prosecutors can go after lobbyists only for willful violation of the law — a tough standard to prove.
“Policy makers are here to serve the interests of the American people, so we need to know when someone is pushing the priorities of a foreign interest,” Grassley said in a statement. “Unfortunately, we’ve seen time and again how lobbyists of foreign principals skirt existing disclosure laws to conceal their clients’ identities and agendas.”
But Lott said he wouldn’t hold his breath waiting for Congress to pass the legislation, especially with President Donald Trump still pushing to move a tax reform bill by the end of the year.
“There’s not much of anything happening right now in Congress, to be perfectly frank,” Lott said.
Of course not. Criminals run the place and they’re not going to prosecute themselves.
Now let’s turn to a few nuggets from a similarly themed BuzzFeed piece:
WASHINGTON – The threat of serving hard time for failing to disclose foreign lobbying work is rattling Washington’s multi-billion dollar influence industry following Monday’s 12-count indictment against Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates.
And although the charges have largely been seen as a blow to the White House, Monday’s actions by special prosecutor Robert Mueller also sent shivers down the spines of Washington’s lobbyists, both Democrats and Repulicans.
“It’s a swampy place, and the swampy stink knows no partisan allegiance,” said one senior Democratic congressional aide.
A September 2016 report by the Justice Department’s inspector general identified a series of problems with how DOJ had handled FARA cases in the past. There was disagreement within the department about what types of cases should be prosecuted, the inspector general’s office found, and the FBI felt DOJ attorneys were slow in reviewing FARA cases and reluctant to sign off on criminal charges.
The report also found that the FBI and local federal prosecutors reported feeling frustrated at being overruled by attorneys from the National Security Division about cases that they believed were worth pursuing.
Hold on a minute, what the heck is the “National Security Division” and why is it preventing rank and file FBI agents from prosecuting criminal lobbyists?
So that’s how the law works for D.C. lobbyists. Let’s now examine what happens if you’re a protester who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time during Donald’s Trump inauguration.
What follows are some very disturbing excerpts from a must read article published in The Nation, The Prosecution of Inauguration-Day Protesters Is a Threat to Dissent:
Late next month, the first mass trial will be held for some of the roughly 200 people facing years—or even decades—in prison after being arrested during an anti-capitalist, anti-fascist protest that took place on the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration. The “J20” cases, as they are known, offer a glimpse at the treatment of dissent in this country, and the story they tell is one of overreach and criminalization. Defense lawyers have described the government’s approach as “unprecedented,” its indictments as “littered with fatal irremediable defects.” Sam Menefee-Libey of the DC Legal Posse, a group of activists who provide support to the defendants, was more blunt, criticizing the cases as “blatant political prosecutions” designed to “chill resistance.”
The story of the J20 protesters should frighten anyone concerned about the future of both free assembly and dissent in the United States. The charges—which include felony rioting, inciting or urging others to riot, conspiracy to riot, and property destruction—all stem from the same mass arrest, during which police indiscriminately swept up protesters, journalists, and legal observers. What makes the charges all the more troubling is that prosecutors then failed to allege that the bulk of defendants did anything specifically unlawful; rather, merely being at the protest was a crime.
A case in point: The prosecution charged all of the defendants (at one point numbering 214) with breaking the same windows. Prosecutors, of course, know that 200 people cannot break the same windows. But the logic of the case dictates that the defendants’ mere presence at a protest during which property damage occurred makes them guilty…
Few people dispute that property destruction took place during the march. Some individuals smashed windows, including those of a Bank of America branch and a limousine; prosecutors allege that there was more than $100,000 in property damage and that six police officers received minor injuries. Where things get thorny is that many of the people who have been charged did not commit property damage or violence but have been deemed guilty by their mere presence at the protest.
The problems began during the arrests themselves—arrests deemed so troubling that the ACLU has brought a lawsuit against the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) accusing its members of using excessive force, making unconstitutional arrests, and more.
Among the controversial practices police engaged in that day, lawyers and observers say, was a tactic called “kettling.” Kettling is a form of indiscriminate mass arrest, wherein police block off a given area and arrest everyone within it. To be lawful, an arrest requires probable cause based on individual suspicion. Yet, inevitably, this heavy-handed tactic often sweeps up other protesters and bystanders whose only offense was their physical proximity to the alleged crime. Indeed, a report on the inauguration by the DC Office of Police Complaints noted that “it seems that proximity to the area where property damage occurred was a primary factor” in the arrests.
The mass arrests gave birth to the next government overreach, mass “felony riot” charges against those arrested. Felony rioting carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine, and applies when the alleged riot results in more than $5,000 in property damage. This is opposed to misdemeanor rioting, which can get you only 180 days in jail.
Attorneys who have long represented protesters in DC report never having encountered mass felony charges stemming from a protest before. Not the least of the reasons is that it’s difficult to produce enough evidence to sustain felony charges against dozens—or in this case, some 200—people. Yet, rather than backing down, prosecutors expanded the case by filing additional charges, and, in April, a grand jury returned a superseding indictment that added inciting or urging to riot and conspiracy to riot to the list of crimes. These new charges brought the number of felony counts up from one to eight and the amount of time defendants could face from 10 years to more than 70 years in prison.
The government’s overarching theory, then, seems to be one of guilt by association. Or that, as Assistant US Attorney Jennifer Kerkhoff asserted during a hearing about dismissing the charges, it is “the group that is the danger, the group that is criminal.” Thus one need not have committed an act of vandalism as an individual; just being present at the protest makes one guilty. (The DoJ declined to comment for this story, as the cases are currently pending.)
Among those swept up in this overbroad approach was a group of at least seven journalists who were covering the J20 protests. While prosecutors ultimately dismissed the felony rioting charges against the bulk of the journalists nearly as quickly as they were filed, two journalists remain in the crosshairs: Aaron Cantú, then a freelancer who has published with The Nation and The Intercept, and Alexei Wood, who livestreamed the event. In April a grand jury brought a superseding indictment of eight felony charges against both reporters along with the other defendants. They face as many as 70 years in prison, possibly more.
The indictment against Cantú deploys the same guilt-by-association approach that mars the entire case. Per prosecutors, Cantú moved in proximity to the march—something that would be necessary in order for him to do his job as a journalist. But prosecutors have additional evidence against Cantú: He wore the color black.
Forget the fairytales about equal protection under the law. This is how America really works. It’s a place where criminals on Wall Street and in Washington D.C. are deemed too big to jail, and receive trillion dollar bailouts despite committing far more societally destructive crimes than a few broken windows. On the other hand, if you dare attend a political protest and someone around you destroys something, prosecutors will come down on you like a ton of bricks.
This is the real America, and the general public will continue to be relentlessly and systemically preyed upon until that day when the super-criminal class is subject to the rule of law like the rest of us.
* * *