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Tag: FBI

Mueller’s Muddle and the Nation’s Peril

Mueller’s Muddle and the Nation’s Peril

If you watched even part of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress on Wednesday, you saw a man who was clearly befuddled, out-of-touch with basic facts of the investigation he headed and unknowledgeable about the report bearing his name, and at sea when it came to answering even basic questions put to him by members of the committees before whom he appeared. It was, to put it in kind terms, most uncomfortable to watch someone who has been lauded by some as such a sharp and able personage and straight shooter embarrass himself before the nation.

Beyond casting further doubt on any attempt to impeach the President, Mueller’s performance raised serious questions about what kind of peril the nation might be in if this is indicative of what can be expected from someone as highly lauded as Mueller, and in positions as influential as those he’s held. We’ll look at these questions and the former FBI director’s history in a bit.

Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee and House Intelligence Committee had hoped that Mueller’s testimony before those committees would pave the way toward impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, but it didn’t take the full day of hearings to cast those hopes onto the rocks for many. Even Trump critics and impeachment advocates characterized Mueller’s testimony as “a disaster.”

As Harvard law professor and former Obama judicial adviser Laurence Tribe tweeted, “Much as I hate to say it, this morning’s hearing was a disaster. Far from breathing life into his damning report, the tired Robert Mueller sucked the life out of it. The effort to save democracy and the rule of law from this lawless president has been set back, not advanced.”

Image by Getty Images

No less than former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod tweeted, “This is very, very painful,” later adding, “Not a commentary on the content. The report is damning. That was reenforced today. He has been an exemplary public servant, as people are both sides attested, but he clearly was struggling today and that was painful.” And media people, ranging from Fox News’s Chris Wallace to NBC’s Chuck Todd, also characterized Mueller’s testimony as “a disaster.”

This has been a disaster for the Democrats and I think it’s been a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller,” Wallace said.

I’m not a doctor, and being d’un certain âge myself, I do my best to avoid ageism. But watching as things unfolded Wednesday, it was hard not to conclude that the 75-year-old Mueller is perhaps suffering from some sort of dementia. Some have tried to attribute dementia and other such things to the 73-year-old Trump, but the contrast between the forceful Trump and the doddering Mueller could not be more stark.

NBC News took the trouble to count the number of times Mueller deflected or declined to answer questions put to him Wednesday: 198 times. “Outside of my purview,” was a term Mueller used over and over. Of course, another former FBI Director, James Comey, beat that total in his Congressional testimony on Dec. 14, responding a mind-boggling 245 times during his session that he didn’t remember, didn’t know, or didn’t recall, in response to questions put to him. It would seem, if these two are to be believed, that FBI Directors don’t know much, after all. At one point Wednesday, Texas Republican Louie Gohmert was able to get Mueller to admit he and Comey were friends. Mueller initially simply said they were “business associates.” Under further questioning by Gohmert, Mueller finally said, “We were friends.” This is a key point and goes to Mueller’s credibility since part of the Special Counsel’s mission was to determine if Trump’s firing of Comey constituted obstruction of justice. Mueller did concede that a president has the right to fire the FBI director.

It wasn’t just Mueller’s demeanor and comportment that were troubling. More disturbing were the things that became apparent during the seven hours Mueller was in the Congressional hot seat. These include:

Image by AP Images
  • Mueller has little knowledge of what is in the 488-page report bearing his name. While he was instructed by the Justice Department not to go beyond what is contained in the report – an instruction that Mueller actually had sought – he frequently had to look around at staff members sitting behind him to confirm if something was or wasn’t in the report, and often requested confirmation of the page on which a certain issue being asked about appeared.
  • Almost certainly, Mueller had little direct input to the 22-month-long, $30-million-some investigation with which he was charged as Special Counsel. Apparently he left the bulk of the investigation to staff members, most notably the highly controversial Andrew Weissmann. Despite Mueller’s stated high regard of Weissmann, a donor to the Democratic Party, Weissmann’s record is more than spotty. A unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court overturned convictions Weissmann obtained based on overzealous prosecution in the Enron case of 2002-2005, but only after he had destroyed the Arthur Anderson accounting firm, putting 85,000 employees out of work. As head of the Fraud Section of the Obama DOJ, he also greenlighted the Uranium One deal that transferred control of one-fifth of America’s uranium to Russia following a $500,000 speakers fee paid to former President Bill Clinton by a Kremlin-linked bank and millions more paid by Russian sources to the Clinton Foundation about the time of the Uranium One deal.
  • Astoundingly, Mueller said he didn’t know what Fusion GPS was or that the firm had paid former British spy Christopher Steele to prepare the so-called and unverified “dossier” as opposition research on behalf of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign. Mueller also was unaware that this “dossier” formed the basis for the initial FISA Court warrant that eventually became a key element in his appointment as Special Counsel and the investigation he headed. As Ohio Republican Steve Chabot put it, following Mueller’s confused response, “It’s not a trick question.” Mueller finally responded with one of his many “that is outside my purview” replies. I would say that it is outside reason that, short of being lost in the Borneo jungle for the past three years, one could not have heard of Fusion GPS or the Steele dossier. But there was Robert Mueller, Special Counsel and former chief cop of the U.S., looking for all the world like he was hearing these things for the first time.
  • For a man who has spent much of his career in the upper echelons of government, Mueller seemed to have no knowledge of the political implications of his position. He said he had vetted his team carefully, but was unaware that virtually his entire team had Democratic Party connections and many had donated significant sums to the Hillary Clinton campaign and other Democratic candidates. During questioning by North Dakota Republican Kelly Armstrong, Mueller pushed back, elaborating one of the rare times in his testimony, “We strove to hire those individuals that could do the job. I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years. And in those 25 years, I have not had occasion once to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.” Armstrong proceeded to point out how DOJ rules require that officials not only be free of conflict of interest but even the appearance of conflict of interest.
  • Mueller was unaware of the anti-Trump prejudice of several members of his team, such as Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, before that prejudice, expressed in their exchanged emails, was revealed in an investigative report of DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz. He said when this matter was brought to his attention he fired them.
  • Mueller, when asked by Arizona Democrat Greg Stanton, couldn’t recall which president first appointed him as U.S. Attorney. “Which senator?” Mueller asked in response to the question. “Which president,” Stanton replied. Mueller said he thought it was President Bush, referring to President George H.W. Bush. It was President Reagan.
  • In the Judiciary Committee testimony Mueller told California Democrat Ted Lieu that they did not charge Trump with obstruction due to a DOJ legal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted, seeming to give Dems the ammunition they were looking for. And then at the beginning of the Intelligence Committee testimony he walked the statement back, saying, “We did not reach a determination as to whether the President committed a crime,” adding that his team “never started the process.”

As troubling as Wednesday’s testimony was, Mueller’s history raises even more serious questions. And that history makes one wonder how he was able to earn the accolades provided him and be selected as Special Counsel. It’s not hard to uncover that history, and here are just some of the bigger issues that litter Mueller’s career:

Image by Politico
  • Appointed FBI director on Sept. 4, 2001, a week before the 9-11 attacks, Mueller can’t be held responsible for the intelligence lapses that allowed those attacks to take place. But he actively engaged in a cover-up of the bungling that went on in the FBI, the White House, and the CIA that enabled the 9-11 terrorists to carry out their plans. A joint Senate-House inquiry conducted by then-Florida Sen. Bob Graham, who took intelligence matters very seriously, uncovered the depth of the ineptness that Mueller did his best to conceal [personal note: I’ve always had huge respect for Graham, a Democrat, and one of the bigger career blunders of my life was turning down an offer of an internship as a speech writer for Graham when he was Governor of Florida]. Along with giving what amounted to false testimony to the joint inquiry, Mueller later stonewalled Graham, refusing to respond to subpoenas to testify before the inquiry. As Graham later wrote, the FBI, under Mueller, “insisted that we could not, even in the most sanitized manner, tell the American people that an FBI informant had a relationship with two of the hijackers.”
  • Mueller bungled the investigation into the anthrax attacks that followed the 9-11 attacks, focusing on an innocent man and pursuing him for seven years while the real killer walked free. After leaks to the press made life unbearable for the man, Steven Hatfill, wrongly focused on by Mueller and his deputy Comey, and the true perpetrator was finally identified and committed suicide, the government in 2008 reached a settlement with Hatfill for $5.82 million. Mueller wouldn’t even attend the press conference in which the settlement was announced and refused to apologize for any aspect of the investigation, adding that it would be erroneous “to say there were mistakes.”
  • Further bungling by the FBI under Mueller may have led to the April 15, 2013, bombing of the Boston Marathon. In brief, the FBI in 2011 had warnings from Russian intel sources that Tamalan Tsarnaev, one of the two brothers who carried out the bombing, posed a potential threat. But after an investigation of Tsarnaev, the FBI closed the case on him. “As a result of this, I would say, thorough investigation,” Mueller told a subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, “based on the leads we got from the Russians, we found no ties to terrorism.” Meanwhile, he admitted that electronic notifications that Tsarnaev had left the U.S. and spent six months in Russia were not fully shared with the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Boston. More fascinating though, and worthy of a thorough reading, is the theory that Tsarnaev was actually an FBI operative.

Again, these are just some of Mueller’s missteps and the imbroglios he’s been involved with over the course of his career. There are lots more, but these are some of the bigger ones. At this point it’s pretty clear that his utility to Trump’s enemies is pretty much done as the Dems continue to battle between themselves over whether they should attempt to impeach the President or not. Meanwhile, the polls are pretty much all over the place, but the bottom line is that most Americans don’t favor impeachment.

In the wake of Mueller’s muddled testimony Wednesday, and even more after looking at the blunders and cover-ups he has been involved with over the years, I think there are bigger issues than this. All Americans should be concerned about the nature and quality of the people in charge of running the country. This is not to say that there aren’t a lot of good and qualified people. But if someone with Mueller’s record can attract the accolades that have been piled on him, what does that say of the standard to which they are held? It’s facile to assume that those in charge at some of our most important and powerful institutions are competent and right-headed. It is to the nation’s peril when they are not.

Featured image by Getty Images. All images used under Fair Use.

The Russia Hoax Is Over: Now It’s Time to Prosecute the Real Colluders

The Russia Hoax Is Over: Now It’s Time to Prosecute the Real Colluders

Special Counsel Bob Mueller’s report is in, and it’s not going to change a lot of minds. Those afflicted with Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) are saturated with too much prejudice and misinformation to accept its conclusions and concede they were wrong. And on the other side, for those of us who knew all along that the basis for the Mueller investigation – the Russia Hoax – was bogus, the report just confirms our belief (read my July 2017 posting Why I Don’t Care About the Russia Thing to see what I said about all this nearly two years ago, two months after Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel).

Regardless which side one comes down on, what Mueller’s report should do is to alert the entire country to how there was a secret attempt by those in power, aided and abetted by many in the mainstream media, to undermine the nation’s electoral process and to thwart the election of a single person – Donald J. Trump – to the presidency, and to stymie his ability to govern once elected. Now it is time, if there is any justice left in this country – admittedly a huge stretch of belief and the imagination – to root out, investigate, and prosecute the real colluders, those parties involved in what amounts to a silent coup attempt, the greatest and most far-reaching conspiracy in U.S. history.

I don’t use those words lightly. I pride myself on not being a conspiratorialist. I think stupidity and greed and zealotry and serendipity account for far more that happens in the world than conspiracy. But if ever the word applies, it is to what has gone on behind the scenes in the FBI, the CIA, the Justice Department, the State Department, the FISA Court, Congress, the DNC, the Hillary Clinton campaign, the Clinton Foundation, the Obama White House, and — not insignificantly — much of the national media, since at least 2016. And no matter how one feels about Trump, we all should be concerned about this amalgam of forces and the danger it represents.

Some elements of this conspiracy, particularly things that went on involving several top officials of the FBI, have already been revealed, but there is much, much more that has yet to reach the light of day. If it ever does. Now with the Mueller report out and, after pumping $30 million taxpayer dollars down the toilet, clearing Trump of any collusion with the Russians, it is time to deal with the real collusion that went on, and continues to go on and, against all odds, to prosecute the guilty parties.

Let’s start with what we now know, courtesy of the 22-month-long Mueller investigation.

First, and most critically important, is that there was no collusion between Donald Trump and anyone close to Donald Trump with the Russians to steal the 2016 elections. Second, there was insufficient evidence to document any attempt on the part of Donald Trump to obstruct justice. He was completely within his rights as President to fire former FBI Director James Comey, someone who had grossly abused the power of his position (more on Comey a bit later).

The third important take-away, as Mueller concluded, was that the Russians, unaided by anyone connected to Trump, meddled in the 2016 elections. Duh. Unless you’ve been living in a monastery on Mount Athos for the past century, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that the Russians have been meddling in our elections for a very long time. I don’t think I was terribly prescient to have pointed out this very thing in my July 2017 posting, and it didn’t take $30 million for me to make the observation. It wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last time. While this isn’t even close to being a surprise, it does paint a trail directly to the White House – not to Trump, but to former President Barack Obama. Again, more on this a bit later.

Thanks to DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz, we learned last year of the misdeeds of former FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok, former Special Counsel to the Deputy Director of the FBI Lisa Page, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI Director James Comey, and former Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik. Also mentioned is former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, noted for urging Comey to refer to his investigation of Hillary Clinton’s gross mishandling of official emails as “a matter,” not an investigation (speaking of obstruction of justice), and her notorious meeting with former President Bill Clinton on the tarmac at Phoenix where, she and Clinton insist, they didn’t discuss the investigation into Mrs. Bill Clinton. Right.

Thankfully, all these miscreants are now “former” officials, resigned or fired or, in the case of Lynch, phased out with the change of administration. While Horowitz absolved these parties of acting as they did for political purposes, a reading of the events and the messages exchanged between them would give any fair observer serious doubt about that contention. Nevertheless, Horowitz cites numerous incidents where agency and departmental policies were not followed, examples where clear conflicts of interest arose and officials failed to properly recuse themselves, improper use of both official and private means of communication between officials, and – importantly – improper disclosure of non-public information.

Among the many troubling findings in the IG’s report, the ones concerning improper and even illegal contacts between top FBI officials and the news media are especially troubling since they uncover the nexus – can we call it collusion? I think so – between government actors and so-called news reporters. As Horowitz said in his summary to Congress, “We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters . . . We have profound concerns about the volume and extent of unauthorized media contacts by FBI personnel that we have uncovered during our review. In addition, we identified instances where FBI employees improperly received benefits from reporters, including tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events. We will separately report on those investigations as they are concluded, consistent with the Inspector General Act, other applicable federal statutes, and OIG policy.”

Critically important in that verbiage are the words “federal statutes.” Many of these actions violated federal law, aside from the blatant ethical violations, and it is time that the guilty parties be charged and tried for their violations. This includes Comey who, as I pointed out in June 2017, openly admitted violating the law in his testimony before Congress, and has further inculcated and embarrassed himself as time has gone on. Comey accuses Trump of undermining the reputation and credibility of the FBI. But, no, Mr. Comey. It’s your actions and those of the others who abused their positions that have undermined trust in the FBI. If one can fault Trump for anything in dealing with Comey, it is in not firing Comey as soon as he took office.

That’s the FBI and the DOJ. And now we come to the CIA. This week, post-Mueller, I literally couldn’t stop laughing listening to John Brennan, Director of the CIA under Barack Obama – and someone who has accused Donald Trump of treason – lamely say perhaps he had based his allegations on faulty information. Faulty information? Okay, I used to work on the inside of the intel community, so I know what total balderdash that is. But for interviewers and alleged journalists not to challenge this contention is nothing short of journalistic malpractice. I mean, what kind of idiot does one need to be to believe a single word of this ridiculousness? He was the friggin’ head of the CIA, furchrissake, and he’s saying he accused the President of the United States of being a traitor based on “faulty information”? But it’s more than mere idiocy behind the malpractice. It’s the same kind of malice, and the motivation to cover one’s own sorry ass, that motivates someone like Brennan that motivates his interviewers to let him skate by on what on its face is utter nonsense.

While the intel community confirms the obvious, that the Russians meddled in the 2016 elections (and just about every other election), it’s another Obama appointee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, that provides the direct link to Obama himself and his role in this massive collusion. Clapper, who called President Trump a KGB operative (I suppose based on more “faulty information,” or maybe that was just “the least untruthful” thing he had to offer, like the one he gave in explaining his never prosecuted 2013 perjury before Congress), has confirmed that President Obama was informed of Russian electoral meddling. And he knew of it at least as early as the summer prior to the November 2016 elections.

So Obama knew. And we all know he knew. So what did he do, as President, to block this Russian intervention? In a private meeting in September 2016, he asked Vladimir Putin to cut it out. That’s it. Cut it out, Vladimir. One can imagine how seriously Putin took this admonition, coming from Barack “Red Line” Obama. So why didn’t Obama do more to block Russian interference? For the same reason that Comey said he released, without consequence, the news of Hillary Clinton’s emails turning up on Anthony Weiner’s private computer in October 2016: Obama figured Clinton would win the election and he didn’t want to muddy the waters, like Comey didn’t want Hillary to start her administration, which he fully expected to happen, under a cloud. And then when Trump won, it was only then that Obama went public with his knowledge and took any direct action against the Russians. Like Comey, he didn’t want Clinton to start her administration under a cloud, but he had no problem casting the darkest kind of cloud over Trump. Given his prior inaction in near-complete disregard for the integrity of the U.S. electoral system for political reasons, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that the collusion goes right to the top, to Obama himself. And what influence that had on how others acted is a matter for reasoned speculation.

Now at this point, things get still more interwoven. Byzantine would be an apt descriptor.

A large part of Mueller’s investigation was based on information gathered under a secret warrant issued by the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC, commonly called the FISA Court, based on the acronym for the act authorizing the court). The court issued this warrant, which allowed monitoring of Carter Page, a one-time low-level Trump foreign policy aide, based on an unverified, and since largely discredited, “dossier” produced by a private consulting group known as Fusion GPS and commissioned and paid for by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

To be clear, it is a major violation for the FBI to provide unverified information to the FISA Court in pursuit of a warrant. The FBI has to confirm that the evidence offered has been verified, and in offering the dossier as verified, which it was not, and not revealing that it was actually a product of the Clinton campaign, the FBI – under Comey and McCabe’s direction – essentially committed a fraud on the FISA Court. Without delving into every single detail and level of subtlety, the end result was the ability on the part of the FBI and other intel agencies to spy not just on Page but on other U.S. citizens with whom Page communicated – up to 25,000 individuals, including just about everyone connected to Trump, and possibly Trump himself.

That would have been bad enough, but what we now know is that then National Security Advisor Susan Rice – by her own admission – requested the unmasking of U.S. citizens and thus had access to information gathered not on foreign enemies, but on U.S. citizens – U.S. citizens connected to the Trump presidential campaign. Rice — the same Rice who lied to the country for weeks about the true facts of the 2012 Benghazi attack – has insisted she did this for national security reasons and not to spy on the Trump campaign.

But wait – there’s more! Former Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, another key Obama confidante, made 260 requests to unmask U.S. citizens – more than one a day both prior to, and succeeding, the 2016 elections, right up to Trump’s inauguration. Thanks to FOIA litigation against the State Department and the NSA filed by Judicial Watch and the American Center for Law and Justice, we have evidence of the political bias behind these unmasking requests, and also more evidence of the nexus between the Obama White House and the news media. Email chains unearthed by the FOIA demands reveal how Power – who, as UN Ambassador, ostensibly would have no grounds for any unmasking requests – and her counselor, Nikolas Steinberg, sought “to seek maximum amplif.[ication]” of her pro-Obama/anti-Trump political pitch with 60 Minutes Executive Editor Bill Owens and others. Owens’ response, that he would help Power pitch her effort to undermine Trump’s incoming administration, should remove any doubt about the anti-Trump bias in the media.

The list of both Obama and media people involved in this – should we call it collusion? – goes on. Read about it here.

Before we’re done with the FISA Court issue, it should be noted that Mueller himself, when he was Director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, was called by the FISC to answer for some 75 cases, some going back to the late 1990s but many under his tutelage post-9-11, in which the FBI improperly omitted material facts from warrant applications. So now the question arises, why haven’t we heard from the FISC about the improper submission of the dossier to obtain the warrant against Carter Page? Good question. Maybe, now that the Mueller report is out, we will hear from it. And if not, one has to wonder whether the FISC judges involved in issuing the warrant are part of the collusion. I’m not ready to say they are, but it’s a question that needs asking the longer the silence goes on.

Moving on to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation, where much of this litany of misdeeds originates, I’ve already made clear on a number of occasions, including in my other linked postings above, why Hillary Clinton needs to be prosecuted. She should be, as should anyone in the State Department (my former employer), whether career person or political toady, who allowed her to get away with conducting official business, and putting highly classified emails, on an unsecured private server. Her complete and clearly illegal disregard for national security, as well as her other misdeeds, including her “pay-for-play” deals while Secretary of State, such as the Uranium One deal and involving the Clinton Foundation, all provide fertile ground for investigation and prosecution. As I’ve said more times than I can count, had I done what she did, I’d be in prison right now. And that is where she should be.

By the same token, those officials, whether in the FBI, or any of the other agency or department, at whatever level, who violated the law, should be prosecuted. A clear marker needs to be laid down to assure this sort of abuse of power does not recur. Now, if ever, post-Mueller, is the time for this process to be set in motion.

But do I see it happening? Do I believe that tomorrow the sun will come up in the West and set in the East? The depth of corruption, the extent of the collusion, and the two levels of justice we live with in this country all make prosecution of Hillary and most of the other guilty parties about as likely. Sure, there might be some low-level functionaries punished, beyond the resignations and firings that have already taken place. Maybe. But the worse offenders? The most egregious actors? Not likely. I truly wish I believed otherwise, and given the seriousness and profound impact this affair – this attempted silent coup – has had on the country, I think things will not be right with our democracy ever again without some semblance of justice. Just as Lincoln’s assassination, the assassination of JFK, and Watergate each changed the direction and nature of the country that came after them, we likely are witnessing a similar disruption that will have lasting effects. And we may never see things set right.

All of this has been hiding in plain sight for the past three years, and actually much longer. It’s all been there to see if anyone took the time and effort to look. To look, and not depend on the misrepresentations, obfuscations, and just plain untruths – that journalistic malpractice, that is but one manifestation of the death of journalism, I referred to earlier – committed by a large part of the mainstream media, fed and furthered by some in Congress, and the other official players in the bureaucracy. It is this part of the collusion, the part contributed and covered-up and spread by the mainstream media, that I think poses the greatest danger to our democracy, which so depends on a free – and fair – news media.

In his parting remarks to the country in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower warned of a military-industrial complex that posed a threat to our liberties and democratic processes. Now we need to speak of a political-media complex that poses a threat at least as great, and almost certainly greater, as the military-industrial complex Eisenhower saw. It is perhaps the defense and support of this new complex that, more than anything, motivates and drives the effort to defame and bring down Trump. This largely explains why opposition to Trump can be found on both sides of the political aisle. Whether in his accusations of fake news or his willingness to buck the established order, Trump represents a threat to the political-media complex and all it stands for. And whether we like him or not, we all need to fear this complex.

Justice and Other Oxymorons

Justice and Other Oxymorons

On Monday, the editors at Merriam-Webster, the acknowledged delineator of American English, named “justice” as its Word of the Year for 2018. The company cited a 74% increase in look-ups of the word over 2017, and said it was one of the most consulted words throughout 2018.

“The concept of justice was at the center of many of our national debates in the past year: racial justice, social justice, criminal justice, economic justice,” Merriam-Webster said in explaining its choice, going on to add, “In any conversation about these topics, the question of just what exactly we mean when we use the term justice is relevant, and part of the discussion.”

 Indeed, it is. As well as our interpretation, the connotation, not just the denotation, we put on the word. And how it relates to our belief systems, both in the instant and in the bigger scheme of things. And how it works, or doesn’t, in actual practice.

Ironically, I got the news of this selection on the car radio on my way back from St. Pete, where I had my latest encounter for what passes for “justice” in contemporary America. I had filed a motion to hold the miscreant who had destroyed one of my boats, in clear violation of an agreement he had entered into with me and over which the court retains jurisdiction, in contempt. What I told the judge – this was before learning it was Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year – that I was seeking one thing, summed up in a single word, and that word was “justice.” I was boiling things down to their most basic objective, and that word expresses it.

Well, I got some reasoned explanations from the judge, and some references to precedence in prior court decisions on the kind if issue I was raising, and agreement that I had suffered significant losses at this guy’s hands. And what I came away with was . . . wait for it, wait for it    . . . not justice. Anything but. Even, in an oblique way, the judge agreed I wasn’t going to get justice, regardless what I did or the other party did. Sure, I could continue to pursue the matter, at whatever cost and effort it takes, but it wasn’t going to make any difference in the end, as far as the judge was concerned. I was, in the slang acronym that applies in this case, SOL.

So you can understand why the radio report on M-W’s Word of the Year got my attention. It wasn’t the only thing on my mind driving across Tampa Bay on the Howard Frankland Bridge on the way back when I heard it, given the ongoing and persistent reminders these days of the injustice inherent in our system and those entrusted with implementing it. But it certainly brought the reality of that injustice home once more. In truth, I didn’t have much expectation going into the hearing that I was going to get the justice I sought. This wasn’t my first encounter with the American system of “justice,” including several tours through so-called “family court,” which is an oxymoron if there ever was one, so I was conditioned by experience to know how these things usually go. And in that sense, I wasn’t disappointed.

This is not meant cynically – you can draw your own conclusion whether cynicism is justified or not –but what I’ve come to expect is that wrong-doers are more likely than not to be rewarded for their misdeeds, or at best not penalized for them. And the wronged party is, if not outrightly punished – which experience and observation has shown me happens in a significant percentage of cases – left as I was in this case, SOL.

If this was just a personal issue it would be bad enough. But today we were witnessing an American hero, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, facing sentencing (later deferred) for lying to the FBI. Normally one might assume that, as the judge in that case said this morning, this is a serious offense. But put in the context of how the FBI conducted itself in this and related matters, how the FBI, in dealing with Flynn, thoroughly abrogated the standards it imposes on other law-enforcement agencies and, most telling of all, the total inconsistency evident in how individuals who committed much more serious violations of law and national security, Hillary Clinton and many others associated with her, were allowed to skate by, one has to wonder, where is the justice? Looking at the big picture, if you conclude that the American people is SOL if it expects justice, you’d certainly be justified.

I’ve said before that we have a dual system of justice and nothing I’ve seen since then dissuades me from that view. Special Counsel Robert Mueller has spent millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars chasing after process crimes, like that which Flynn has admitted committing, offenses unrelated to his primary mission, which is finding collusion between the Russians and the President – which, to date, not a single piece of evidence has been shown to exist – futile indictments of Russian oligarchs, and other chimeras. Meanwhile, the most obvious offenses committed by Clinton, which include destroying evidence of her crimes and lying to the FBI, go untouched and unprosecuted.

Then there are the 25 FBI agents in the past year who have been fired, demoted, or resigned for their expressions of bias against President Trump and their unprofessional behavior. Have there been any prosecutions of any of them? Not a one. This includes former agent Peter Strzok, who took part in the questioning of Flynn that later led to the charge of lying to the FBI, even after other agents involved in the interview said they thought Flynn had not lied. It was Strzok, you might remember, who changed the wording of former FBI Director James Comey’s statement to exonerate Hillary Clinton, and then later told Congress, under oath, he didn’t remember doing it. Now Strzok was no low-level flunky. He was head of the FBI’s Counterespionage Section and second in command of the agency’s Counterintelligence Division, and he was involved in every investigation that could help Clinton or hurt Trump. And he’s the same agent who wrote to his paramour at the agency, FBI Attorney Lisa Page, answering her alarmed question whether Trump could become president by saying, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.” Several other Strzok emails to Page, reported in the Department of Justice’s inspector general report on him, reinforce the same anti-Trump bias. Can there be any question that the dichotomous treatment of Clinton and of Flynn, not to mention the President himself, does not have political motivation behind it? Political motivation within the country’s top law-enforcement agency? And you wonder whether there is not a dual system of justice?

Not to let Comey off the hook, the former FBI head, who increasingly looks like an arrogant buffoon, and a dishonest one at that, admitted the FBI would never have gotten away with what it did with a more “competent” administration. Comey had some other profound things to say after meeting with Congressional investigators behind closed doors on Friday. He said he didn’t learn anything new about the investigation into Trump from the session. Well, Mr. Comey, the point of questioning a witness is not for the witness to learn something new, but for the questioners to do so. Apparently the Congressional investigators didn’t learn much from Comey, either, after he told them an astounding 245 times during the session that he didn’t remember, didn’t know, or didn’t recall, in response to questions put to him. Incompetent or a liar? Take your pick. Great choice. But no prosecution of Comey for the outrageous illegal acts he’s admitted to in earlier sworn testimony to Congress and has even written and bragged openly about since. Equal justice? Where?

I told you in an earlier posting I wasn’t going to forget about these things, so consider this an installment on keeping that promise.

Getting back to my own case, which pales in comparison to these much larger miscarriages – abortions is more like it – of justice, the extent to which justice eluded me in court also applies to law enforcement as well. Before filing the contempt motion that was the subject of Monday’s hearing, I tried repeatedly to get the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Department to take action against the “Defendant,” and noted how he had violated at least four criminal statutes, which I cited by number and text. Well, speak about wasted effort. One level of the chain of command after another, starting with the deputy who witnessed the damage done and spontaneously termed it “disgusting,” and escalating, insisted it was a civil, not criminal, matter. They even insisted that the State’s Attorney’s office said it was a civil, not criminal matter. This the same State’s Attorney who refused to prosecute a man who allowed his young son, 23-month-old Lawson Whitaker, to die in a hot car, despite clear signs, and even admission by the father, that he was on drugs at the time. And this is the same Sheriff’s Department that failed to test the father for drugs, despite those same clear signs and admission. Pinellas County Prosecutor Bernie McCabe shamelessly went on TV and said he decided not to prosecute the father since he had “suffered enough” by losing his son. He suffered enough? Really? What about little Lawson? How much did he suffer, locked in his car seat in a sweltering car, while he slowly died? At 5 p.m. on the early September Florida day he perished, his body temperature was reported to be 108F. This is the state of “justice” in this country.

I am reminded of something my friend Ed Sanders said back in the 1970s. I knew Sanders when I lived in Woodstock, N.Y., and we worked on some investigations together. If you don’t know who Ed Sanders is, he describes himself as a poet-investigator, and among other claims to fame he is a founding member of the rock band The Fugs. He also wrote the book The Family, which laid out the events that led up to the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family, and Sanders told me he once shared a sleeping bag with Charlie Manson out in the California desert while researching the book. This is what Sanders said to me then about the police, and I think seldom in my life have I heard truer words, which to this day I frequently quote:

“Big crime, big problem. Little crime, little problem. No crime, no problem.”

That’s how it was then, and that’s how it is now. Mostly you’ve got to try to get the police to do anything to you – much less, for you – unless somehow you just haplessly fall into their clutches, often for some insignificant offense that hurts no one. I’m not specifically anti-police, but they’re just one more element of this unjust justice system we have.

Yesterday I was reminded of something else out of the past. I presented the judge with the stack of photos of the damage the “Defendant” had done to my boat and what he stole, since the exhibits as filed online may not have been very clear. He kind of flipped through a few of them as he was telling me I was SOL. Later, I could only think of one thing, the lines from Arlo Guthrie’s 1967 masterpiece, Alice’s Restaurant Massacree, which go:

We walked in, sat down, Obie came in with the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, sat down. Man came in said, “All rise.” We all stood up, and Obie stood up with the twenty seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures, and the judge walked in sat down with a seeing eye dog, and he sat down, we sat down. Obie looked at the seeing eye dog, and then at the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one, and looked at the seeing eye dog and then at twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one and began to cry, ‘ cause Obie came to the realization that it was a typical case of American Blind Justice, and there wasn’t nothing he could do about it, and the judge wasn’t going to look at the twenty-seven eight-by-ten color glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against us. And we was fined $50 and had to pick up the garbage in the snow, but thats not what I came to tell you about.

Well, coincidentally – I swear it’s true – I had submitted exactly 27 photos of the damage and also the actual stolen air conditioner, and I absolutely wasn’t thinking of Alice’s Restaurant when I did. The judge didn’t have a seeing-eye dog, but he wasn’t going to look at the 27 photos, with or without circles and arrows or a paragraph on the back of each one explaining what each one was. And in the end, I was SOL.

I think Oxford Dictionaries’ choice for Word of the Year is perhaps telling: “Toxic.” And Dictionary.com’s selection says what we get: “Misinformation.” As for “justice,” reverting to Meriam-Webster, an oxymoron – which could be Word of the Year any year — is, “broadlysomething (such as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements.”

Yup, “justice,” an oxymoron, for sure, as it exists in America today.