Email #310: “it’s not ideology”?

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you have been vigilant about providing oversight of the executive branch’s investigations and prosecutions of crimes committed by immigrants. You have written multiple letters to the Justice Department and Homeland Security about the presence of MS-13 gang members in cities across the country. You argue that membership in MS-13 should be grounds for deportation regardless of whether an individual has been convicted of an actual crime. You say: “it is time to send the message that this behavior will simply not be tolerated.”

While I support your goal of protecting Americans against criminal violence, I am confused why you apply that goal so selectively.

A May 2017 Joint Intelligence Bulletin of the FBI and Homeland Security was titled: “White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence.” The report is unclassified and now available online, but since you are chair of the House Judiciary Committee whose top responsibility is the oversight of the FBI and Homeland Security I assume you read it last spring. It warns that “small cells within the white supremacist extremist (WSE) movement likely will continue to pose a threat of lethal violence over the next year.” It documents six attacks “that involved the opportunistic targeting of racial or religious minorities.” The crimes were committed by “members of racist skinhead groups” and “Klan members.” More alarmingly, “WSEs were responsible for 49 homicides in 26 attacks” since 2000, “more than any other domestic extremist movement.”

New FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was confirmed with overwhelming bipartisan support in August, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that there are about 1,000 domestic terrorism investigations currently underway and that 176 domestic terror subjects have been arrested in the last year. He said: “Our focus is on violence and threats of violence against the people of this country. That’s our concern — it’s not ideology.”

Your focus on crimes committed by immigrants, however, does appear to be ideological. Last May, President Trump claimed that MS-13 has “literally taken over towns and cities of the United States.” But the White House, the Justice Department, Homeland Security, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not provide any evidence to support that claim. Instead, ICE reported in May that its annual anti-gang operation included the arrests of a total 104 MS-13 gang members nationwide. While I applaud those arrests and any other efforts to combat criminal organizations regardless of the immigrant-status of their members, 104 is a smaller number than 176. Yet your focus has been overwhelmingly on MS-13 with no attention on the WSE threats identified even the same month that the President lied about MS-13.

You responded to MS-13 by sponsoring the Criminal Alien Gang Member Removal Act, but what have you done in response to WSEs? Isn’t it time to send the message that this behavior will simply not be tolerated too? Or is your goal to fuel anti-immigrant fears within your voter base? If so, you must approve of the President’s tweet last week: “Ralph Northam,who is running for Governor of Virginia,is fighting for the violent MS-13 killer gangs & sanctuary cities. Vote Ed Gillespie!”

While the President’s lie about MS-13 “literally” taking over town and cities in the U.S. might be called a mere hyperbole, his claim that Northam “is fighting for” MS-13 exceeds even that low bar. Worse, the President is not emphasizing “killer gangs” generally but a tiny subsection specific to Latino immigrants. MS-13 membership is estimated at 10,000, but the FBI documents a total of 33,000 street gangs in the U.S. with a total membership of 1.4 million.  Of the 1,378 gang members arrested by ICE, less than 1/13th belonged to MS-13. And 933 were U.S. citizens–even though you and the President highlight MS-13 in order to argue that illegal immigrant criminals are threatening our nation because our border security has failed. It hasn’t.

Unlike the FBI, which sets aside ideology to focus on all threats, you exploit MS-13 while ignoring the proportionately greater threat of the white supremacist extremist movement–one with far deeper roots right here in Virginia. You have said that the “primary duty of the federal government is to keep Americans safe.” If so, you are hypocritically failing that duty by placing politics above all else.




Email #271: “allegations from the President himself”?

On March 8th, you and the other Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee wrote to former FBI Director Comey regarding “allegations from the President himself that he and his associates were placed under surveillance during the 2016 campaign.” These so-called allegations had appeared in a set of early morning tweets just four days earlier:

“Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”

“Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!”

“I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

“How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!”

Though you have since expressed in private meetings with constituents that you wish the President would stop using his Twitter account, it was impressive how quickly you responded to the President’s tweets. You also reminded Director Comey that the Judiciary Committee is the primary House committee of jurisdiction over the Wiretap Act and so requested a briefing “on the very serious allegations that the President and/or his associates were or are under surveillance.”

You never reported whether that briefing occurred, but on Friday, roughly six months after you made your request, the Justice Department filed a court brief stating that both its National Security Division and the FBI “confirm that they have no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets.” When asked about this, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders answered: “This is not news.”

Since you said your request to Director Comey was evidence that you and your fellow Republican Judiciary Committee members “will not waver in our commitment to ensuring that our nation’s most powerful intelligence tools and agencies operate with the trust and confidence of the American people,” are you satisfied in the “not news” confirmation that the President’s “very serious allegations” were fabrications?

If your concern is the trust and confidence of the American People in our nation’s most powerful agencies, do you acknowledge that your quick and credulous response to the President’s baseless tweets undermines that very trust and confidence?

Since you emphasized to Director Comey the importance of your Constitutional role to engage in “oversight of the functions of the Executive Branch,” will you now investigate the President’s role in making and disseminating these false allegations?

You told Director Comey that “Our fellow citizens must have confidence in the thoroughness and evenhandedness of our investigatory and prosecutorial agencies.” Looking back at your March 8th letter now, do you believe that it promotes or undermines thorough evenhandedness?

After the next six months have passed, do you imagine your current behavior will be evaluated as unwaveringly evenhanded by impartial judges?

When the Trump administration is a brief but astonishing chapter in our grandchildren’s history books, what supporting role do you think you and your fellow GOP Representatives will play? Principled watchmen? Savvy party loyalists? Credulous victims? Or just comic relief jesters?

Email #244: “dangerous drug traffickers”?

Marijuana is legal in the Netherlands and openly smoked in Amsterdam coffee shops. While I have no intention of smoking any pot while here with my family, I see the argument for the country not squandering its tax dollars prosecuting people who do. While I am indifferent to whether marijuana should be legalized generally in the U.S., I am pleased that medical marijuana has been.

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment to the 2015 appropriations bill specifies that:

“None of the funds made available in this Act to the Department of Justice may be used … to prevent any [states] from implementing their own laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana.”

This was common-sense, bipartisan legislation. The amendment was named after conservative Republican Rep. Rohrabacher, and it was brought to the floor of a Republican-controlled House where 49 Republicans joined with Democrats to pass it.

Sadly, I see you were not one of those Republicans. Worse, I see Attorney General Sessions hopes to see the amendment revoked. He wrote to Congress arguing that the amendment would inhibit the Justice Department’s ability to enforce the Controlled Substances Act:

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the Department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The Department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives.”

While I am pleased the Attorney General is battling dangerous drug trafficking, medical marijuana is a separate issue. According to a Quinnipiac poll from April, 94% of Americans approve of medical marijuana. And the medical research community has reached a consensus about its unique benefits, especially the alleviation of chronic pain. Moreover, states with medical marijuana record fewer deaths due to opiate overdose.

And yet Attorney General Sessions seems unaware, stating:

“I see a line in The Washington Post today that I remember from the ’80s, ‘Marijuana is a cure for opiate abuse.’ Give me a break. This is the kind of argument that’s been made out there to just — almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits. I doubt that’s true. Maybe science will prove I’m wrong.”

Science has already proven him wrong. Our Attorney General should not be making 2017 Justice Department policy based on his 80s-era assumptions. I ask that the House Judiciary Committee please caution him accordingly.