Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Webster Smith's Former Attorney, Ronald Machen, Was A Good Man, Once

The Obama Administration’s latest gift to Lois Lerner, the former IRS tax-exempt chief, came recently when U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald Machen informed the House of Representatives that he would not file charges on its formal contempt citation against Ms. Lerner. This absolution, which shields Ms. Lerner from a grand jury probe, came on Ronald Machen’s final day on the job. Then he pulled a quick disappearing act.

                                                            (Ronald Machen)
To review the Facts:
Ronald Machen is no stranger to high profile cases, and he has taken his share to the U.S. Supreme Court.

He represented former Coast Guard Academy cadet, Webster Smith in his efforts to overturn his 2006 court-martial conviction.

    (Lois Lerner)
 If Americans know anything about the IRS it’s that it accepts no excuses, and so they trudged wearily on Wednesday, April 15th, to pay their taxes. That’s in notable contrast to the free passes that keep flowing to the tax agency’s most famous former employee, Lois Lerner.
Ms. Lerner was summoned to the House on May 22, 2013, to answer questions about her role in the IRS’s politically biased review of Tea Party nonprofit group applications for tax-exempt status.
She began her testimony with a statement recounting her career, reprising the scandal and proclaiming her innocence. She ended by saying: “I have not done anything wrong. I have not broken any laws, I have not violated any IRS rules or regulations, and I have not provided false information to this or any other congressional committee.” Only after she offered this long defense did she claim her right not to incriminate herself by citing the Fifth Amendment, refusing to answer questions.
House lawyers determined that, in making that statement, Ms. Lerner had forfeited her right to remain silent. The House on May 7, 2014 held her in contempt of Congress and sent the citation to Ronald Machen.
The law clearly explains that the U.S. Attorney’s only “duty” “shall be” to “bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.” Mr. Machen instead sat on the contempt citation for 11 months, and on March 31 sent Speaker John Boehner a letter explaining he ha unilaterally decided not to investigate Ms. Lerner.
According to Ronald Machen’s rationale, Ms. Lerner’s statement made only “general claims of innocence” that did not forfeit her Fifth Amendment rights to refuse to answer questions. To reach this conclusion, Ronald Machen had to willfully ignore that Ms. Lerner, in her statement, rebutted specific accusations against her.
“[M]embers of this committee have accused me of providing false information when I responded to questions about the IRS processing of applications for tax exemption,” she said, before claiming she had never done so. Those accusations had been detailed to her in a letter from former House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrel Issa, eight days before she testified.
Ronald Machen also had to ignore that Ms. Lerner had prior to her House appearance voluntarily met for an interview with Justice prosecutors. As the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky has noted, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in its 1969 Ellis v. U.S. decision found that “once a witness has voluntarily spoken out, we do not see how his protected interest is jeopardized by testifying in a subsequent proceeding, provided he is not required to disclose matters of substance which are unknown to the Government.”
Since Ms. Lerner had already disclosed to the “government” (prosecutors), she lost her privilege to clam up before Congress. And we’d note that after her House stonewall, she again chose to speak in an interview with the Politico website. Ms. Lerner wants the right not to answer questions except when it suits her public-relations purposes.
In any event, the job of making these legal calls belonged to a grand jury—not Ronald Machen.
                                         (Eric Holder with Ronald Machen)

Then again, this is the prosecutor who in an exit interview with the National Law Journal about his tenure touted his allegiance to Attorney General Eric Holder, describing him as a “tremendous mentor and a tremendous friend.”
After Ronald Machen’s performance in shielding Ms. Lerner from the consequences of her actions, Mr. Holder would no doubt return the compliment. The handling of the IRS scandal is a blot on both of their careers. 
(Source: wall Street Journal Opinion, Apr15, 2015)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Driving A Nice Car Can be A Drag, If You Are Black

There’s No Such Crime As ‘Driving While White’

There’s No Such Crime As ‘Driving While White’

The shooting of Walter L. Scott in South Carolina prompts the question:
When is the last time you heard of a white man in a Mercedes-Benz being pulled over for driving with a broken taillight?

It has probably happened somewhere, sometime, but there’s a better chance of your car being hit by a meteor.
Getting shot dead during a minor traffic stop also isn’t a prevailing fear among white males in America, no matter what type of vehicle they own.
Scott himself didn’t imagine he was going to die when he was pulled over. Unfortunately, he happened to be a Black man driving a Mercedes, which is what got him noticed. He was behind on child-support payments and probably didn’t want to go to jail.
Something happened at the scene, Scott got Tased and then tried to run away. Officer Michael Slager fired eight times, hitting the unarmed 50-year-old in the back. The killing was caught on cellphone video by a bystander.
Slager told the dispatcher that Scott had snatched his Taser, but the video shows the officer dropping an object that looks just like a Taser near Scott’s handcuffed body. Slager has been charged with murder and fired from his job.

The shooting was shocking to watch, as the whole world has, yet the sequence of events leading up to it is sadly familiar to Black men in this country. They can’t afford to drive around as carefree as us white guys.
In September, a South Carolina state trooper shot and wounded another unarmed Black motorist after pulling him over because he allegedly wasn’t wearing his seatbelt.
I’ve got white friends who rarely buckle up, yet I don’t know of one who has been ticketed for it, or even stopped and warned. Maybe they’re just lucky.
The Black comedian Chris Rock uses his Twitter account to record his traffic-stop encounters. In a recent seven-week period, he was pulled over three times (once as a passenger).
It’s possible he and his friends aren’t very good drivers. It’s also possible they’ve been targeted merely for “Driving While Black,”(DWB) an unwritten offense that still exists in many regions of the country, not just the Deep South — and not just in high-crime areas.
The odds would be fairly slim for a Black man driving a luxury car not to be pulled over at least once on a road trip between, say, Utah and North Dakota. Even in a ’98 Taurus he’d need to be watching the rear-view mirror for blue lights.
Generalizing about traffic stops can be problematic. The numbers often spike in certain neighborhoods at certain times of day, and a small number of officers can account for many incidents of racial profiling.

Still, the evidence that it exists is more than anecdotal.
Using a “Police-Public Contact Survey,” the U.S. Justice Department analyzed traffic stops of drivers aged 16 or older nationwide during 2011, comparing by race and weighting by population.
To the astonishment of hardly anyone, Black drivers were about 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers, and approximately 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than Hispanic motorists.
A series published by the Washington Post in September reported that minority drivers had their cars searched (and cash seized) at a higher rate than white drivers. That jibed with the Justice Department’s conclusion that vehicle searches occurred substantially more often when the driver wasn’t white.
Another unsurprising fact: Compared to other races, white drivers were most likely to get pulled over for speeding. Black drivers were statistically more likely to be stopped for vehicle defects or record checks.
Which is what happened to Walter L. Scott in North Charleston.
Never in almost five decades of driving have I been pulled over for a busted brake light or a burned-out headlight, even though I’ve had a few.
It didn’t matter whether I was in a Dodge, Oldsmobile, Jeep, Ford, Chevy or even, for a while, a Mercedes SUV.
The only thing I’ve ever been stopped for is, like many impatient white people, driving too fast.
And every time a police officer walked up to my car, I knew exactly why he or she wanted to chat with me. It was no mystery whatsoever.

That’s not always the case for a Black man behind the wheel of a car in this country. This is not just a perception; it’s a depressing reality.
If it had been me or Matt Lauer or even faux Hispanic Jeb Bush driving that Mercedes-Benz in South Carolina, Officer Slager wouldn’t have stopped the car. Not for a busted taillight, no way.
Which prompts another question: How long can this go on?
(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL, 33132.)
Photo: Redjar via Flickr