Email #198: “I thank the law enforcement officers”?

After the Alexandria shooting last week, you wrote: “I thank the law enforcement officers who stand guard over the Capitol complex and protect Members of Congress, our staff, and visitors each day.”

Vice President Pence agreed, tweeting: “The courageous actions of officer Crystal Griner, and that of Officer David Bailey, saved lives and prevented an even great tragedy.”

The President agreed too: “Many lives would have been lost if not for the heroic actions of the two Capitol Police officers who took down the gunman despite sustaining gunshot wounds during a very, very brutal assault.”

The President and the First Lady also visited Crystal Griner in the hospital and gave flowers to her and her wife, Tiffany Dyar. Griner and Dyar were married in 2015 in Maryland, a state that legalized same-sex marriage by referendum in 2012. It is of course ironic that Griner was shot while assigned to House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s security detail since Rep. Scalise opposes same-sex marriage.

Like Rep. Scalise, you have opposed gay rights too. You voted for amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage in 2004 and to define marriage as only “the union of a man and a woman” in 2006. If those amendments had passed, Officer Griner’s wife would still be legally unrelated to her and so would have been prevented from being with her during the critical period of her recovery in the hospital.

You also voted against prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation in 2007, a law that would protect Officer Griner’s right to pursue her career as a police officer regardless of others’ prejudices. Even more disturbingly, you voted against enforcing anti-gay hate crimes in 2009, and you voted against extending the Violence Against Women Act to include lesbians like Officer Griner in 2013.

Attitudes toward gay people have changed radically in your lifetime, most especially in just the last decade. I hope that your voting record from 2004, 2006, 2007, and even 2009 and 2013 reflect opinions that you have since reconsidered. If not, then I hope that your praise of Officer Griner’s heroism now leads you to understand her and people like her in very different terms.

Imagine the “great tragedy” if she had undergone the kind of conversion therapy the Vice President has advocated. In 2000 he wrote:

“Resources should be directed toward those institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

He also expressed the other anti-gay attitudes you shared at that time:

“Congress should oppose any effort to put gay and lesbian relationships on an equal legal status with heterosexual marriage.”

“Congress should oppose any effort to recognize homosexuals as a ‘discreet and insular minority’ entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.”

But unlike you, Vice President Pence, and Rep. Scalise, Griner does not discriminate. She risked her own life to protect the life of someone who believes her life is wrong.

You owe her far more than a thank you.

Email #193: “historic policies”?

I am relieved that Attorney General Sessions’ testimony before the Senate last week clarified what had appeared to be potential perjury during his confirmation hearings in January when he incorrectly stated that he had not had contact with Russian officials during the campaign. He said during his new testimony:

“I have never met with or had any conversation with any Russians or any foreign officials concerning any type of interference with any campaign or election in the United States. Further, I have no knowledge of any such conversations by anyone connected to the Trump campaign.”

He also clarified why he recused himself from the Russian collusion investigation, citing a specific Justice Department regulation, “28 cfr 45. 2,” which he read aloud:

“‘Unless authorized, no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he had a personal or political relationship with any person involved in the conduct of an investigation’ that goes on to say for political campaign and it says if you have a close identification with an elected official or candidate arising from service as a principal adviser, you should not participate in an investigation of that campaign… This is the reason I recused myself: I felt I was required to under the rules of the Department of Justice and as a leader of the Department of Justice, I should comply with the rules obviously.”

While both of these clarifications are essential, the Attorney General refused to provide other critical information. When asked to report conversations he had with the President regarding Director Comey and his firing, Sessions answered:

“I’m not able to discuss with you or confirm or deny the nature of a private conversation that I may have had with the president on this subject or others.”

He repeated his refusal, citing Justice Department policy as he did for his recusal:

“I’m not able to discuss with you or confirm or deny the nature of a private conversation that I may have had with the president on this subject or others. I know this will be discussed, but that’s the rules that have been adhered to by the Department of Justice as you know.”

However, unlike his citing of “28 cfr 45. 2,” when asked which regulation he meant, he could not answer but only insisted: “I am not stonewalling. I am following the historic policies of the Department of Justice.” What “historic policies”? Senator Harris pressed the point before being interrupted:

“Did you not ask your staff to show you the policy that would be the basis for you refusing to answer the majority–”

As chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and so as the individual most directly responsible for oversight of the Justice Department generally and the Attorney General specifically, could you please explain what “rules that have been adhered to by the Department of Justice” he could have meant? If no such regulations exist, could you please write to the Attorney General informing him so and request him to correct his misstatement?

I understand that you may personally agree with his refusal, but the question is on what grounds he refused. Also, in your legal opinion, if the Attorney General cited a non-existent policy as preventing him from answering a set of questions under oath, is that false testimony?

When he was a Senator during the 1999 impeachment trial, Sessions voted to convict President Clinton for making false statements under oath. A majority of the Senate did not agree, concluding that Clinton’s statement, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” while intentionally misleading, was not technically false.

During his hearing in January, Attorney General Sessions was asked:

“if there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

He answered:

“I’m not aware of any of those activities… I did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

While his original statement is explicitly false—he had communications with the Russians twice—he explained last week what he actually meant. The American public now needs to know what Attorney General Sessions actually meant when he invented a Justice Department regulation in order to conceal information regarding the President’s potential obstruction of justice.

Email #188: “a different standard for the well-connected”?

You said to me in a letter in January that the “men and women elected to represent the American people should be held to the highest standards.”

You said in a press release last October: “folks continually tell me about the importance of following the rule of law as the best way to govern our country. Too often they have seen laws ignored with little or no consequences for those who break them, and want this to change.”

You said last summer that “none should be above the law” and that you were “troubled” that “there seems to be a different standard for the well-connected.”

I agree strongly with all of these statements.

Which is why I am so disappointed by your behavior regarding your speeding ticket in April. You were caught going 69 in 35 mph school zone. Though this is roughly double the limit and so reckless driving in an area especially dangerous for children, I understand that speeding tickets happen. I’ve had a few in my life too. I am more concerned that you then challenged the ticket in court and had it downgraded to avoid demerit points on your license.

The Roanoke Times reported that the amended charge is not standard for drivers with clean records as the county’s assistant attorney said. Regardless, the decision does not hold you “to the highest standards,” which you said elected officials should be held. As our Representative, you should be modeling the “importance of following the rule of law,” not using your experience and skill as a lawyer to reduce your punishment for violating one. Given your Congressional salary and multi-million net worth, the fine and court cost are certainly of “little or no consequence.” And as one of the most “well-connected” people in our district, you should be especially vigilant about not creating even the appearance of being “above the law.”

I’m confused why you didn’t simply pay the original fine and receive six demerit points for going more than twenty miles over the limit. Since you would have to receive another twelve points within the next year before being put on probation, the punishment would still have been inconsequential. But by challenging it and having it amended, you created the appearance of corruption. That would be true of any elected official. But since you are also the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, it shows startlingly poor judgment.

You owe your constituents an apology.

To Charlie Keller, re: Lexington Town Hall

Dear Charlie,

I just want to give you a promising update. Last week I proposed that the Rockbridge Republicans co-host a town hall for Mr. Goodlatte in Lexington. I met with the chair and treasurer yesterday over coffee, and they are both enthusiastically on board. Roger works in DC during the week and he said he would contact your office about the proposal himself. Like me, they saw the potential for creating a civil, balanced format that could be a model for other elected officials and towns across the country.

Our conversation was productive in itself and a sign that it’s possible to change divisive political norms. Roger and I started out on a very bad foot while commenting back and forth on my Facebook page. He had reason to believe I lied about having emailed him (it eventually became clear that I had his email address wrong) and some insults followed–evidence that online formats can be disastrous for real communication. But Roger later said on the same thread to another commenter:

“Chris Gavaler sat down with me and Charles W. J. Kostelni from my committee to discuss a wide array of issues. While we certainly disagree on a wide variety of issues, we proved that Republican and Democrats can share a cup of coffee and have a civil discussion. This is a start. And I’m highly encouraged.”

The other commenter had started out annoyed and combative, but she quickly thanked him for his “courteous response.” The exchange alone shows how important it is for members of opposing parties to sit down and talk face-to-face.

I trust Mr. Goodlatte will be pleased to hear that he has indirectly fostered civil discussions, and I hope he will join in directly soon himself. Please let me know what next steps we can take to bring him to Lexington. Do you need a more formal proposal from me or the Rockbridge Republicans or do you have enough information for now? I hope you’re as highly encouraged as Roger, Charles, and I, and I look forward to talking to you again soon.

Best,

Chris

To Charlie Keller, re: “civil discourse”

Dear Charlie,

You mentioned that in terms of maximizing the Congressman’s outreach, a private meeting with, for example, four unhappy Democrats is not nearly as worthwhile as, say, an event with 100 professors at the W&L Law School. That’s a reasonable argument. But you may be missing some of the picture.

After Mr. Goodlatte met with three leaders of SAW (Staunton-Augusta-Waynesboro) last month, Jenny Kitchen posted a summary on her blog. She said: “At the end of the meeting he mentioned that he appreciated the civil discourse… Over all he is a very easy person to talk to, I just don’t agree with him.”

That’s literally the most positive description I’ve read about Mr. Goodlatte this year. And it was written by someone who adamantly opposes his political positions. Because SAW communicates with the range of other district 6 activist groups, Jenny’s comment also reverberated up and down the valley. A compliment from an opponent shared among other opponents—that carries a hell of a lot more weight than a visit with a high school class in Front Royal or with Buddy the Eagle in the Waynesboro Wildlife Center.

It’s also good strategy. Talking civilly with Democrats dampens the outrage so many constituents are feeling. You surprised me when you said you look at sites like Daily Kos. I get their email updates in my inbox (I presume I signed some petition back in December), but I’m turned off by their biased headlines and never click their links. These are often fundraising emails, so I understand why stoking outrage is useful.

It would be hard to feel outrage at a Bob Goodlatte who seeks out real conversations and listens sincerely with the goal of finding common ground. But that’s not the image Mr. Goodlatte currently has. Frankly, from a partisan perspective, that’s good for Democrats nationally. The more unreasonable the chair of the House Judiciary Committee appears, the better for the Democratic party in November 2018.

But I’m more opposed to political polarization than I am to the GOP. Civil discourse undermines the easy demonization that is the norm in our country right now. Civility, while good in itself, isn’t my end goal. It’s a means of achieving communication and eventually mutual change. I believe that only in our current environment of extreme polarization could Donald Trump have become president. I believe he’s a bad president not simply for Democrats, but for the country over all, and, ironically, Republicans especially.

If the Congressman truly appreciates civil discourse—and I believe he does—he could do more to promote it. I think if Republicans and Democrats sit down and sincerely listen to each other—from DC down to grassroots—the better off the country will be. I hope the Congressman will help begin that change.

I suggest a series of Facebook conversations. Mr. Goodlatte’s constituents—both Democrats and Republicans—would deeply benefit from seeing him talking meaningfully with non-Republicans. I don’t suggest live events—the opportunity for ambush is too high—but please consider recording conversations and releasing them afterwards. Since he already knows and had a good meeting with Jenny Kitchen, he might begin there. I just ask that he use his position to model civil discourse and reduce the demonization on both sides.

Thanks again for hearing me out.

Best,

Chris Gavaler

PS. Don’t worry, my next 200 emails won’t be to you. I just wanted to follow through on our conversation and what I see as real potential for progress. I will return to using the “Contact Bob” form on the Congressman’s website–though I do hope now that you have an actual person attached to my name, you will have more reason to take them seriously.