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Ben Carson accused of ‘witch-hunt’ by senior member of his department

Criticism comes after a week of controversy over Carson’s department spending on expensive office furniture

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Ben Carson accused of ‘witch-hunt’ by senior member of his department” was written by Jamiles Lartey and Jon Swaine, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 6th March 2018 21.14 UTC

A second senior official in the Department of Housing and Urban Development has publicly criticised the secretary, Ben Carson, accusing him of leading a “witch-hunt” against some career bureaucrats in the department.

Marcus Smallwood told Carson in an email on Tuesday that Hud’s civil servants were working in fear after the demotion of his colleague Helen Foster and Carson’s rejection of her claims.

The Guardian revealed last week that Foster had alleged to a federal watchdog that she was reassigned to a lesser role in part because she refused to break a legal spending limit on the redecoration of Carson’s office in Washington. Her demotion is now being examined by the Republican-controlled House oversight committee.

“Helen Foster is not the only person at Hud that has been persecuted in this witch-hunt under your watch,” Smallwood, Hud’s director of records management, wrote in the email, which he shared with the Guardian.

“She is the only person who has been brave enough to stand on principle and put her career, reputation, and livelihood on the line. The rest of us have operated in fear.”

Raffi Williams, a spokesman for Hud, said: “Mr Smallwood’s email is under review.”

Smallwood accused Carson of smearing Foster as a liar by suggesting in a tweet that her allegation was unsubstantiated. In a Facebook post on Monday, Carson further complained without evidence that he had been the victim of “character attacks”.

“A week has gone by and it is now very clear that Helen Foster was not lying about the furniture purchases,” said Smallwood.

After Foster’s complaint was made public, it emerged that Hud had ordered a ,000 dining set for Carson’s office. Hud claimed the set was not subject to the ,000 limit Foster said she sought to uphold, because it was for the benefit of all staff. Carson later asked for the furniture order to be scrapped.

Smallwood asked Carson to make a public apology to Foster and to note “that all employees at Hud should feel free to follow the law, ask when they are unsure, and not fear retribution”.

The email on Tuesday, which was copied to several of Carson’s top deputies, alleged that Hud would probably be unable to comply with the House oversight committee’s request for all emails relating to Foster’s demotion “because there has been a concerted effort to stop email traffic regarding these matters”.

Williams, the Hud spokesman, denied there had been any halt to emails on the topic and said: “The House oversight committee will receive a complete response to their query.”

Smallwood also lent support to a separate allegation by Foster that politically sensitive requests made to the department under the Freedom of Information Act (Foia) were handled unusually.

Foster said that despite overseeing Foia requests for the department, she was sidelined when a pair of requests were made for emails including discussions of Donald Trump. She said she was told by a department lawyer that this was because she was perceived to be a Democrat.

Smallwood told Carson that “undue influence was placed on Helen, and myself to process FOIA request of a political nature in a fashion different from the normal process”.

Smallwood accused Carson and senior Hud managers of reprisals against not only Foster for blowing the whistle on the furniture spending, but also of letting important business go uncompleted due to the interdepartmental feud.

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Court Orders White House to give Jim Acosta his hard pass back

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Federal judge Timothy J. Kelly sided with CNN on Friday, ordering the White House to reinstate chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass.

The ruling was an initial victory for CNN in its lawsuit against President Trump and several top aides.

The lawsuit alleges that CNN and Acosta’s First and Fifth Amendment rights are being violated by the suspension of Acosta’s press pass.

Kelly did not rule on the underlying case on Friday. But he granted CNN’s request for a temporary restraining order.

This result means that Acosta will have his access to the White House restored for at least a short period of time. The judge said while explaining his decision that he believes that CNN and Acosta are likely to prevail in the case overall.

CNN is also asking for “permanent relief,” meaning a declaration from the judge that Trump’s revocation of Acosta’s press pass was unconstitutional. This legal conclusion could protect other reporters from retaliation by the administration.

“The revocation of Acosta’s credentials is only the beginning,” CNN’s lawsuit alleged, pointing out that Trump has threatened to strip others’ press passes too.

That is one of the reasons why most of the country’s major news organizations have backed CNN’s lawsuit, turning this into an important test of press freedom.

But the judge will rule on all of that later. Further hearings are likely to take place in the next few weeks, according to CNN’s lawyers.

(CNN)

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CNN sues President Trump for banning reporter Jim Acosta

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CNN is filing a lawsuit against President Trump and several of his aides, seeking the immediate restoration of chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s access to the White House.

The lawsuit is a response to the White House’s suspension of Acosta’s press pass, known as a Secret Service “hard pass,” last week. The suit alleges that Acosta and CNN’s First and Fifth Amendment rights are being violated by the ban.

The suit is being filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday morning, a CNN spokeswoman confirmed.

Both CNN and Acosta are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. There are six defendants: Trump, chief of staff John Kelly, press secretary Sarah Sanders, deputy chief of staff for communications Bill Shine, Secret Service director Joseph Clancy, and the Secret Service officer who took Acosta’s hard pass away last Wednesday. The officer is identified as John Doe in the suit, pending his identification.

The six defendants are all named because of their roles in enforcing and announcing Acosta’s suspension.

Last Wednesday, shortly after Acosta was denied entry to the White House grounds, Sanders defended the unprecedented step by claiming that he had behaved inappropriately at a presidential news conference. CNN and numerous journalism advocacy groups rejected that assertion and said his pass should be reinstated.

On Friday, CNN sent a letter to the White House formally requesting the immediate reinstatement of Acosta’s pass and warning of a possible lawsuit, the network confirmed.

In a statement on Tuesday morning, CNN said it is seeking a preliminary injunction as soon as possible so that Acosta can return to the White House right away, and a ruling from the court preventing the White House from revoking Acosta’s pass in the future.

“CNN filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration this morning in DC District Court,” the statement read. “It demands the return of the White House credentials of CNN’s Chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta. The wrongful revocation of these credentials violates CNN and Acosta’s First Amendment rights of freedom of the press, and their Fifth Amendment rights to due process. We have asked this court for an immediate restraining order requiring the pass be returned to Jim, and will seek permanent relief as part of this process.”

CNN also asserted that other news organizations could have been targeted by the Trump administration this way, and could be in the future.

“While the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, this could have happened to anyone,” the network said. “If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials.”

Acosta has continued to do part of his job, contacting sources and filing stories, but he has been unable to attend White House events or ask questions in person — a basic part of any White House correspondent’s role.

Acosta is on a previously scheduled vacation this week. He declined to comment on the lawsuit.

On CNN’s side, CNN Worldwide chief counsel David Vigilante is joined by two prominent attorneys, Ted Boutrous and Theodore Olson. Both men are partners at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Last week, before he was retained by CNN, Boutrous tweeted that the action against Acosta “clearly violates the First Amendment.” He cited the Sherrill case.

“This sort of angry, irrational, false, arbitrary, capricious content-based discrimination regarding a White House press credential against a journalist quite clearly violates the First Amendment,” he wrote.

David McCraw, the top newsroom lawyer at The New York Times, said instances of news organizations suing a president are extremely rare.

Past examples are The New York Times v. U.S., the famous Supreme Court case involving the Pentagon Papers in 1971; and CNN’s 1981 case against the White House and the broadcast networks, when CNN sued to be included in the White House press pool.

The backdrop to this new suit, of course, is Trump’s antipathy for CNN and other news outlets. He regularly derides reporters from CNN and the network as a whole.

Abrams posited on “Reliable Sources” on Sunday that CNN might be reluctant to sue because the president already likes to portray the network as his enemy. Now there will be a legal case titled CNN Inc. versus President Trump.

But, Abrams said, “this is going to happen again,” meaning other reporters may be banned too.

“Whether it’s CNN suing or the next company suing, someone’s going to have to bring a lawsuit,” he said, “and whoever does is going to win unless there’s some sort of reason.”

(CNN)

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US attorney general Jeff Sessions fired by Trump

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions has resigned as the country’s chief law enforcement officer at President Donald Trump’s request.

Sessions announced his plan to resign in a letter to the White House on Wednesday.

Trump announced in a tweet that Sessions’ chief of staff Matt Whitaker would become the new acting attorney general.

The attorney general had endured more than a year of stinging and personal criticism from Trump over his recusal from the investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign.

Trump blamed the decision for opening the door to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who took over the Russia investigation and began examining whether Trump’s hectoring of Sessions was part of a broader effort to obstruct justice.

Timeline:
1973-1975 – Practices law in Alabama.

1975-1977 – Assistant US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.

1981-1993 – US Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama.

1986 – President Ronald Reagan nominates Sessions to become a federal judge. The Senate Judiciary Committee opposes the nomination following testimony that Sessions made racist remarks and called the NAACP and ACLU “un-American.”

1995-1997- Alabama Attorney General. During this time, an Alabama judge accuses Sessions of prosecutorial misconduct related to the handling of evidence in a case but ultimately, Sessions is not disciplined for ethics violations.

1996 – Elected to the US Senate. Re-elected in 2002, 2008 and 2014.

1997February 2017 – Republican senator representing Alabama.

February 2, 2009 – Votes in favor of the confirmation of Eric Holder as attorney general.

April 23, 2015 – Votes against the confirmation of Loretta Lynch as attorney general.

February 28, 2016 – Becomes the first sitting US senator to endorse Donald Trump’s presidential bid.

November 18, 2016 – President-elect Donald Trump announces he intends to nominate Sessions to be the next attorney general.

January 3, 2017 – An NAACP sit-in to protest the nomination of Sessions as US attorney general ends when six people are arrested at Sessions’ Mobile, Alabama, office.

February 8, 2017 – After 30 hours of debate, the US Senate confirms Sessions as attorney general by a 52-47 vote.

March 1, 2017 – The Washington Post reports that Sessions failed to disclose pre-election meetings with the top Russian diplomat in Washington. Sessions did not mention either meeting during his confirmation hearings when he said he knew of no contacts between Trump surrogates and Russians.

March 2, 2017 – Sessions recuses himself from any involvement in a Justice Department probe into links between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

March 10, 2017 – The DOJ abruptly announces the firing of 46 US attorneys, including Preet Bharara of New York. Bharara said that during the transition, Trump asked him to stay on during a meeting at Trump Tower.

April 3, 2017 – The Department of Justice releases a memorandum ordering a review of consent decrees and other police reforms overseen by the federal government in response to complaints of civil rights abuses and public safety issues. During his confirmation hearing, Sessions expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of Justice Department interventions in local police matters.

July 21, 2017 – The Washington Post reports that Sessions discussed policy-related matters with Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak before the 2016 election, according to intelligence intercepts. Sessions had previously claimed that he did not talk about the campaign or relations with Russia during his meetings with Kislyak.

October 4, 2017 – In a memo to all federal prosecutors, Sessions says that a 1964 federal civil rights law does not protect transgender workers from employment discrimination and the department will take this new position in all “pending and future matters.”

November 14, 2017 – During a House judiciary committee hearing, Sessions says he did not lie under oath in earlier hearings regarding communications with Russians during the 2016 presidential campaign, and denies participating in any collusion with Russia. Sessions also says the DOJ will consider investigations into Hillary Clinton and alleged ties between the Clinton Foundation and the sale of Uranium One.

January 4, 2018 – Sessions announces that the DOJ is rescinding an Obama-era policy of non-interference with states that have legalized recreational marijuana. The reversal frees up federal prosecutors to pursue cases in states where recreational marijuana is legal.

March 21, 2018 – Sessions issues a statement encouraging federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty for certain drug-related crimes, as mandated by law. Seeking capital punishment in drug cases is part of the Trump administration’s efforts to combat opioid abuse.

May 7, 2018 – Sessions announces a “zero tolerance” policy for illegal border crossings, warning that parents could be separated from children if they try to cross to the US from Mexico. “If you cross the border unlawfully, even a first offense, we’re going to prosecute you. If you’re smuggling a child, we’re going to prosecute you, and that child will be separated from you, probably, as required by law. If you don’t want your child to be separated, then don’t bring them across the border illegally.”

May 30, 2018 – Trump again expresses regret for choosing Sessions to lead the Justice Department. In a tweet, he quotes a remark from Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) who said that the president could have picked someone else as attorney general. “I wish I did!,” Trump tweeted. He had first said that he was rethinking his choice of Sessions as attorney general during a July 2017 interview with the New York Times.

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