Crime

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  • Report: The nonprofit of frequent Fox News guest and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow is under investigation

    Sekulow’s organization is being investigated for “troubling” fundraising tactics and funneling donations to his family and personal businesses

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The Guardian is reporting that authorities in North Carolina and New York are examining the filings from a nonprofit led by former Fox personality and President Donald Trump’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow after reports unveiled that the organization steered tens of millions of dollars to Sekulow’s family.

    The report comes after The Washington Post found that millions of dollars donated to Jay Sekulow’s charities have ended up going to Sekulow’s family and their personal businesses.

    The Post noted that Sekulow’s media exposure on Fox News as an anti-Obama pundit and his close ties to Trump has led to the skyrocketing of donations to his groups the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE). The Guardian wrote that Sekulow’s fundraisers at CASE used scripts filled with anti-Muslim rhetoric, lies about Planned Parenthood, and falsehoods about the Affordable Care Act to scare conservatives into paying up.

    Today, Attorney General Josh Stein of North Carolina and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York announced they are investigating CASE’s filings following the report that CASE and an affiliate have been paid more that $60 million dollars in compensation and contracts to Sekulow, his family members, and their companies. From the Guardian:

    “Josh Stein, the attorney general of North Carolina, and Eric Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, said on Wednesday they would be examining the operations of Jay Sekulow’s group Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (Case).

    Stein said in a statement: “The reports I’ve read are troubling. My office is looking into this matter.”

    Amy Spitalnick, a spokeswoman for Schneiderman, said in an email: “We’re reviewing their filings.”
     

    [...]
     

    "Earlier this month, Sekulow directed fundraisers for Case to pressure hard-up Americans to donate money to the group by saying the funds were urgently needed to repeal the Affordable Care Act if they initially resisted.

    A script contained in the contract instructed the telemarketers to tell people that their money was needed for Case’s “massive campaign to repeal and replace Obamacare”.

    “Many people are helping with smaller amounts,” fundraisers were told to say. “Can Jay count on you for a smaller, but just as important gift?” People should be urged a third time to donate if they continued to resist, the script said.

    Fundraisers were told that if asked for information on Sekulow, they should say: “He never charges for his services”. Since 2000, the not-for-profit group and an affiliate have steered more than $60m to Sekulow, members of his family and businesses where they hold senior roles."
     

    [...]
     

    "The 2017 script for Case’s telemarketers detailed only the latest in a series of forceful requests for money the group has made over recent years. Scripts for several years were obtained by the Guardian. The not-for-profit group raises more than $40m a year, most from small contributions made by Christians across the US who receive alarmist political messages by telephone or in the mail.

    At the height of last year’s presidential election, Sekulow instructed his telephone fundraisers to “listen, empathize, [and] relate” to people who said they could not afford to donate to Case, before pushing these people twice more for an “urgently needed gift”. A script signed by Sekulow told the marketers to “overcome [the] objection” to donating, and to tell the person on the line that “many people are finding ways to help with smaller amounts as well”.

    Telemarketers for Case have over the years delivered frightening warnings about a variety of issues, depicting Christians in the US as under siege from both Muslim terrorists and a liberal political elite led by a president supposedly desperate to increase the national abortion rate.

    “Islamic extremists are headed in your direction, and you are most likely the main target,” Sekulow himself told people in a recorded message used in fundraising calls during 2011.”

  • Conservatives need to cut the bullshit and stop exploiting a tragedy to blame the left

    Right-wing media show no self-awareness of their role in influencing violent incidents

    Blog ››› ››› CRISTINA LóPEZ G.

    James T. Hodgkinson, a man with a record of domestic violence, a legally purchased assault rifle, and a valid concealed carry permit, on June 14 opened fire on Republican congressmen and staffers practicing for the congressional baseball game.

    The FBI is still investigating the incident, but one thing is already clear about this latest example of unhinged gun violence. The overwhelming evidence of conservative media's influence on a significant number of deadly incidents makes their attempt to deflect attention from their role in creating a toxic political culture both cynical and exploitative.

    According to reports, the gunman had shared anti-Republican sentiments publicly online and had been critical of the president. Reports of the shooter’s political background immediately prompted unscrupulous right-wing hacks to pounce on the tragedy, looking to exploit the terrifying gun violence incident as a way to score cheap political points by blaming the left. In a new display of audacious defiance of reality, conservative voices have put the blame of the shooting not only on the left, but also on the press and various celebrities as well. But, blaming the left or the media for Hodgkinson’s actions is equivalent to blaming Jodie Foster for the attempted assassination of former President Ronald Reagan.

    The gimmick, however, is deplorable not just for its cynical exploitation of fear, pain and human tragedy; it’s also a hollow attempt to distract from the conservative right’s own responsibility in creating a political culture that inspires violence by fanning the flames of hatred. It’s a red herring aimed at avoiding the obvious, and very concrete, policy-centered conversation that needs to happen around gun violence.

    Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, two of the loudest conservative voices, immediately blamed the shooting on “the left” and “left-wing news media.”

    Additionally, the NRA, an organization that customarily deflects conversations about gun violence by blaming fatal shooting incidents on video games, political correctness, and strict gun laws, skirted its own precedent to also blame the left at large for the shooting.

    Right-wing figures’ opportunistic attempt to draw direct correlation from out-of-context phrases from progressive politicians to the actions of a violent man with easy access to assault weapons also points to a critical lack of self-awareness when it comes to their own role in influencing violent incidents.

    Take Byron Williams and his failed plot to shoot people at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU. Williams explicitly pointed to Glenn Beck’s now-defunct TV show and Alex Jones’ websites as the information sources that prompted his violent actions on the Tides Foundation, a relatively unknown organization that Beck repeatedly vilified on his program. Or the assassination of abortion provider Dr. George Tiller, which followed continuous vitriol from former right-wing star Bill O’Reilly, who told his “audience of millions over and over again” that Tiller was “an executioner.” Or the murder of three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, CO, at the hands of Robert Dear, a man whose “paranoid delusions, misogynist beliefs, and violent fantasies” matched “perfectly” the usual narratives that come out of “Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones and Bill O’Reilly and countless far-right web sites.”

    Or the racially motivated massacre that ended nine black lives in Charleston, SC, perpetrated by a habitual commenter at the Trump-supporting, neo-Nazi outlet The Daily Stormer. After a man opened fire at a Washington, D.C., family pizzeria, it was hard to forget Alex Jones asking his audience to investigate the conspiracy theory that alleged the restaurant was hiding a child sex-trafficking ring. In the same way, Jones also exhorted Trump to use force against his opponents and threatened violence against supporters of “parasitical maggot” Bernie Sanders.

    So no, right-wingers don’t get to exploit this tragedy. They should not be able to get away with using pain and fear to avoid important policy conversations about gun access in American society. Not when the evidence of their role in promoting violence over politics is so overwhelming.

  • Trump ally Michael Savage calls for government takeover of the media following shooting at GOP baseball practice

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Right-wing radio host Michael Savage called for a government takeover of media following a shooting at a baseball practice of Republican members of Congress.

    Five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), were wounded during baseball practice in Alexandria, VA. The assailant, “identified by multiple law enforcement officials as James T. Hodgkinson II,” was killed by police after they exchanged gunfire.

    Responding to the shooting, Savage questioned whether Trump should “take control of Twitter” and asked, “Is it time for the government to take control of the out-of-control pirates on social media ... who do not monitor left-wing haters?” He also advocated for removing Rachel Maddow and others from the airwaves by the federal government, citing “their constant drumbeat of their hatred against Trump and Republicans, calling for, among other things, resistance with their sneers every night.”

    Savage later argued that CNN and MSNBC were “practicing a silent form of jihad against America” and demanded that Republicans “call a hearing a make the heads of CNN and MSNBC answer to them as to what they are doing to curtail the sneering hatred of Rachel Madcow (sic) in particular.”

    Savage concluded his tirade by warning that the violence created by the media’s “jihad” “is only the beginning,” arguing that the shooter was inspired to violence by “the hatred for Republicans and Trump” of the media.

  • Collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia probably would have been illegal, contrary to conservative claims

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    PolitiFact rated Fox anchor Gregg Jarrett’s claim that collusion with a foreign government in an election isn’t a crime “false,” citing three election law experts who named four statutes that could have been violated. Amid an FBI probe into whether members of President Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, various conservative media figures have piled on to make similar claims that such actions -- if they occurred -- are not illegal.

    On May 10, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera was among the first to say that collusion with the Russian government in an election wouldn’t be a crime. Fox host Sean Hannity said on his radio show on May 22, “Let’s say they did [collude], they said to Vladimir Putin, ‘Hey Vladimir, release everything you got.’ And Vladimir released it to Julian Assange. You know, is that a crime?” On May 30, Fox’s Jarrett asserted on air that “collusion is not a crime. … You can collude all you want with a foreign government in an election. There is no such statute.” Jarrett made a similar argument in a FoxNews.com op-ed. And on May 31, conservative author Michael Reagan claimed on CNN, “Collusion is not breaking the law,” and repeatedly asked “what law” collusion breaks.

    In a June 1 fact check, PolitiFact, responding to Jarrett, wrote, “We ran Jarrett’s argument by three election law professors, and they all said that while the word ‘collusion’ might not appear in key statutes (they couldn’t say for sure that it was totally absent), working with the Russians could violate criminal laws”:

    Nathaniel Persily at Stanford University Law School said one relevant statute is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

    "A foreign national spending money to influence a federal election can be a crime," Persily said. "And if a U.S. citizen coordinates, conspires or assists in that spending, then it could be a crime."

    Persily pointed to a 2011 U.S. District Court ruling based on the 2002 law. The judges said that the law bans foreign nationals "from making expenditures to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a political candidate."

    Another election law specialist, John Coates at Harvard University Law School, said if Russians aimed to shape the outcome of the presidential election, that would meet the definition of an expenditure.

    "The related funds could also be viewed as an illegal contribution to any candidate who coordinates (colludes) with the foreign speaker," Coates said.

    To be sure, no one is saying that coordination took place. What’s in doubt is whether the word "collusion" is as pivotal as Jarrett makes it out to be.

    Coates said discussions between a campaign and a foreigner could violate the law against fraud.

    "Under that statute, it is a federal crime to conspire with anyone, including a foreign government, to ‘deprive another of the intangible right of honest services,’ " Coates said. "That would include fixing a fraudulent election, in my view, within the plain meaning of the statute."

    Josh Douglas at the University of Kentucky Law School offered two other possible relevant statutes.

    "Collusion in a federal election with a foreign entity could potentially fall under other crimes, such as against public corruption," Douglas said. "There's also a general anti-coercion federal election law."