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Supreme Court takes a technological step forward

Published: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 12:55 PM
Updated: Friday, November 10, 2017 @ 12:55 PM


            FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2017, file photo, the Supreme Court in Washington, at sunset. The Supreme Court is making new legal filings available online starting Monday, years behind the rest of the federal court system. It’s a big step forward for an institution that has sometimes had just a glancing familiarity with technology. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2017, file photo, the Supreme Court in Washington, at sunset. The Supreme Court is making new legal filings available online starting Monday, years behind the rest of the federal court system. It’s a big step forward for an institution that has sometimes had just a glancing familiarity with technology. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Surely but slowly, the Supreme Court is entering the 21st century. The court is making new legal filings available online starting Monday, years behind the rest of the federal court system.

Can livestreamed audio of arguments and even televised sessions be far behind? Yes, they can.

But advocates of court openness will take what they can get for now, especially because the Supreme Court will not charge for documents. The federal courts' PACER system does charge fees.

"Though the Supreme Court has moved glacially to join the rest of the judiciary in permitting online filing, that's better than not at all, and the institution should be commended for creating an e-filing system that, unlike PACER, will be free and easily accessible to the public," said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court.

Over the years, the justices have at times shown a glancing familiarity with technology. Some carry computer tablets with high court briefs loaded on them. But notes between justices are routinely sent on paper, definitely not by email.

Chief Justice John Roberts himself noted a few years back that the court stuck with pneumatic tubes to transmit newly released opinions from the courtroom to reporters waiting one floor below until 1971, long after their heyday.

Roberts said that it's appropriate for courts "to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity" because their primary role is to resolve disputes fairly.

Many Supreme Court legal briefs already are available online and for free from several sources. Scotusblog.com obtains and posts many of them, along with opinions. The Justice Department has an easily accessible archive of its extensive high court filings on its website, and the American Bar Association posts briefs in the 70 to 80 cases the court agrees to hear each term.

But the public may not know to look elsewhere. When the justices issued their highly anticipated decision upholding President Barack Obama's health care overhaul in 2012, the court's website was overwhelmed.

It, too, has recently been overhauled to make it friendlier to the public.

The Supreme Court updates come amid criticism of the PACER system as outmoded and unfair. "The PACER system used by the lower federal courts is hopelessly outdated and cumbersome. And, to add insult to injury, the PACER system charges people fees to access court records that should be made freely available," said Deepak Gupta, the lead attorney in a class-action lawsuit challenging PACER fees.

The judiciary says the fees provide the only money to pay for the system.

The cost to users was just one among several reasons the court opted not to join the PACER system, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.

"The court elected to design its system in-house so that it would have the capability to customize and continuously update to meet the distinctive needs of the court and counsel," Arberg said.

Until now, lawyers have not been required to submit their filings to the court electronically. Beginning Monday, those documents should appear quickly on the court's website. People who can't afford to pay court costs will be allowed to file paper copies, which Supreme Court employees will scan and post online.

Not everything is changing. Lawyers still will be required to submit up to 40 paper copies of every brief, and the court's color-coding system to distinguish types of briefs also will remain.

There's no timetable for electronic filings to supplant paper as the official court record.

And there's also no expectation that the justices will drop their prohibition on cameras in the courtroom anytime soon.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who once sounded open to cameras, recently told a New York audience that cameras might detract from the robust exchanges during arguments.

The Supreme Court also refuses to livestream audio of its arguments, even as the federal appeals court just down Capitol Hill recently has allowed live audio access to its hearings. The high court posts transcripts within hours of arguments, but doesn't release the audio for days.

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Trump denounces Comey, Russia probe, after release of Comey memos

Published: Friday, April 20, 2018 @ 7:31 AM

The morning after memos written by former FBI Director James Comey were delivered to Congress – and then immediately leaked to the news media – President Donald Trump blasted both Comey and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections, denying that he had done anything wrong, and defending a top aide who had been caught up in the probe.

“So General Michael Flynn’s life can be totally destroyed while Shadey James Comey can Leak and Lie and make lots of money from a third rate book,” the President thundered on Twitter from his Florida retreat in Mar-a-Lago, delivering a new nickname to the former FBI chief, and defending his former National Security Adviser, who has already plead guilty to lying to investigators about his post-election contacts with the Russian Ambassador.

Early Friday morning, Mr. Trump again denied that he, his aides, or his campaign played any role in coordinating activities with Russia during the 2016 campaign, though the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller , as Republicans in Congress joined in arguing that the Comey memos only helped the President’s cause.

Here is some of what the President found in the memos – as well as the reaction of GOP supporters in the Congress:

1. Trump again makes clear he did nothing wrong. The sun wasn’t even up yet at Mar-a-Lago, and President Trump was out with a familiar refrain on Twitter, saying there was “NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION.” Various press reports this week had said that aides had scheduled the President to be at his Florida retreat all week, ostensibly to be away from some of the furor over the new book by the former FBI Director. Mr. Trump has called Comey a ‘slimeball’ and more – and one might think there will be more Twitter daggers aimed at Comey after today.

2. Trump defends ex-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. One subject which gets a lot of attention in the Comey memos is how the President – and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus – paid special attention to the investigation into Flynn, who had been a close campaign aide and adviser to Mr. Trump. Priebus specifically asked Comey in a meeting if there was a FISA warrant on Flynn – Comey did not answer. And Comey also detailed how he felt the President had asked him to go easy on Flynn, who has already plead guilty to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador to the United States.

3. Republicans say memos prove Trump’s innocence. As the full Comey memos leaked to the press, GOP lawmakers were quickly ready with their own read on what the memos proved, and what they did not. “Former Director Comey’s memos show the President made clear he wanted allegations of collusion, coordination, and conspiracy between his campaign and Russia fully investigated,” said Reps. Goodlatte, Gowdy and Nunes, three key GOP lawmakers in the House. “The memos also show former Director Comey never wrote that he felt obstructed or threatened,” as they wrote that the memos would actually help the President in any criminal proceeding.

4. GOP calls for Comey to be prosecuted over memo leaks. Some of the information in the memos is redacted and noted as classified, which was seized upon immediately by GOP lawmakers, who argue that Comey should be charged with a crime. It immediately brought back comparisons to Hillary Clinton, and how details in her emails were seen as classified after the fact. “Intentionally leaking classified information is a big no no,” said Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL). Here is an example of one Comey memo that was considered classified – from his dinner meeting with the President in January 2017. But when you go through the details, what was redacted had to do with a subject that was not leaked, that being the President’s anger with Flynn over a call by a foreign leader soon after the inaugural. It has been reported that the phone call was from Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

5. Conservative media quickly echoes GOP, Trump. The release of Comey’s book, and his subsequent book tour, have been a unique thing to watch from the sidelines, as supporters of the President have spent the week taking shots at the former FBI Director, trying to poke holes in his story, accusing him of double standards, and questioning whether he was trying to set up the President. Look for that to continue in the weeks and months ahead.

6. In Congress, GOP lawmakers brush off Comey details. Echoing the President, Republicans delved into the details of what Comey wrote and found little to worry about, and more to bolster their argument that the President did no wrong. “If anything, this impugns the judgment of Director Comey,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), who had joined in demanding the release of the memos by the Justice Department. “There’s nothing in here even approaching ‘obstruction of justice,'” Meadows wrote on Twitter.

7. GOP zeroes in on Comey line that he doesn’t leak. As both parties cherry-picked items from the Comey memos to buttress their arguments for and against the Russia investigation, there was a juicy one for Republicans, when Comey said he told the President that he was not a leaker. “I said I don’t do sneaky things,” Comey wrote about their late January 2017 dinner. “I don’t leak. I don’t do weasel moves.” Obviously, after Comey was fired in May, he did leak portions of these memos, through a friend of his, who gave them to the New York Times. This tweet is from a Republican who is on the House Intelligence Committee.

8. Leaks, leaks and more leaks. Republicans also raised questions about the initial briefing of the President at Trump Tower by Comey and other top intelligence officials. At that time, Comey first warned the President about the existence of the Steele Dossier, and also said the FBI was keeping a very tight lid on the details, because CNN and other news organizations were waiting to run stories about it. “I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook,” Comey recounts himself telling the President-Elect. But the details did soon leak when the dossier was published by BuzzFeed news ( though the President’s private lawyer, Michael Cohen, has now dropped a $100 million defamation lawsuit related to that publication).

9. Reportedly, Mueller did not object to release of memos. While the Justice Department had resisted Republican demands for the release of the Comey memos, immediate news reports on Thursday night indicated that the Special Counsel’s office did not see a reason to prevent the material from going public. As with most things in Washington, the memos seemed to leak instantly. But it also prompted speculation that the GOP may have hoped that the feds would resist, and not release the memos, sparking a fight with Republicans in Congress.

10. Release of Comey memos also generate other headlines. While the President and GOP lawmakers focused on items in the Comey memos which they say showed Mr. Trump committed no obstruction of justice, the memos also did something Republicans probably didn’t want – and that was to focus attention on some of the more salacious items in the Steele Dossier. Comey’s memos have repeated references to the President denying involvement with hookers, and even a quote from Russian leader Vladimir Putin about the quality of Russia prostitutes.

 

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Instant leaks as feds deliver Comey memos to Congress

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 10:36 PM

Bowing to demands from Republicans in the House, the Justice Department on Thursday night gave lawmakers memos written by former FBI Director James Comey after meetings and phone calls with President Donald Trump, with the resulting leaks only amplifying Comey’s story that Mr. Trump had pressed him repeatedly about the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections.

And in classic Washington fashion – the memos were leaked almost immediately to news organizations.

You can read the set of memos from Comey – written soon after meetings directly with the President, or after phone calls with Mr. Trump.

There had been concerns that sharing the memos with Congress might cause problems for the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller – but press reports on Thursday night indicated otherwise, and a reading of the materials did not reveal a new treasure trove of information.

And more than anything, they only seemed to bring the focus more on President Trump.

Here are ten things we learned from the memos written by the former FBI Director.

1. Trump praises Comey at first meeting at Trump Tower. Before the former FBI Director could get to the subject of the Steele Dossier, the two men had some chit chat one-on-one. Comey said the President-Elect complimented the FBI chief on how he had handled the difficult situation involving the Hillary Clinton email investigation. “He said I was repeatedly put in impossible positions,” Comey recounted, quoting Trump as saying, “they hated you for what you did later, but what choice did you have?” Comey said the President-Elect said ‘he hoped I planned to stay on.’

2. Comey moves into the Steele Dossier. With other top officials out of the room at Trump Tower, Comey then described briefing the President-Elect on the contents of the Steele Dossier, expressing concerns that it could soon leak in the media. “I said, the Russians allegedly had tapes of him and prostitutes,” Comey wrote, saying that Mr. Trump said, “there were no prostitutes.” Comey said he told the President-Elect that the FBI was not investigating these stories, but that “our job was to protect the President from efforts to coerce him.”

3. The late January “loyalty” dinner. After President Trump had been sworn into office, he invited Comey to the White House for dinner – just the two of them – telling Comey that even Chief of Staff Reince Priebus did not know of their sit down. Comey said he told Trump, “I was not on anybody’s side politically.” After a detailed discussion of the impact of the Clinton email investigation on the campaign – in which they disagreed on whether there was a case against Hillary Clinton, Comey said the President made a clear point. “He replied that he needed loyalty and expected loyalty.”

4. Comey relates Trump displeasure with Flynn. One interesting side story from the late January dinner was when Comey related how the President had been angry with his National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, for evidently not informing the President that another world leader had called after the inauguration. “In telling the story, the President pointed his fingers at his head and said “the guy has serious judgment issues.”” Comey then notes that he never gave Mr. Trump any indication of the FBI interest in Flynn – or the fact that agents had interviewed Flynn just a day before about his contacts with the Russian Ambassador to the United States.

5. A meeting with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus. One memo from Comey detailed a meeting with the President’s Chief of Staff, who asked the FBI Director if there was an investigation going on into the President’s National Security Adviser. “Do you have a FISA order on Mike Flynn?” Comey quoted Priebus as asking. Later, their conversation went over the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and Comey’s late announcement which roiled the campaign. “At some point I added that it also wasn’t my fault that Huma Abedin forwarded emails to Anthony Weiner.”

6. Golden showers, hookers, and Putin. After meeting with Priebus, Comey was taken by the Oval Office for a quick visit with the President. There, Mr. Trump complained about leaks of his phone calls with foreign leaders, and again vented his frustration about details from the Steele Dossier. “The President brought up the “Golden Showers thing” and said it really bothered him,” Comey recounted. “The President said ‘the hookers thing’ is nonsense but that Putin had told ‘we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.'”

7. Trump presses Comey on Michael Flynn. In portions of the memos which had already been leaked, Comey describes how a broader meeting on homeland security ended, and then others left him one-on-one with Mr. Trump. “He began by saying he wanted to ‘talk about Mike Flynn,'” Comey recounts, adding later that the President said he had ‘other concerns’ about Flynn, but was aggravated about the leaks concerning his former National Security Adviser. But the President then returned to Flynn. “I hope you can let this go,” was how Comey remembered what the President had said in this February 14, 2017 meeting.

8. Trump urges Comey to ‘lift the cloud.’ Again, these details had been leaked previously, as Comey recounted a phone conversation in which the President complained about the Russia investigation, saying at one point that he would have won a health care vote in the House if not for the controversy over the Trump-Russia probe about the 2016 elections. Comey noted the President again returned to an issue that clearly aggravated him – “can you imagine me, hookers?” Comey’s memo also seems to say that the President was going to file a lawsuit against former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele, who had assembled the dossier. No such suit was ever filed.

9. More about loyalty to the President. In an April 2017 phone call, Comey says the President pressed him to publicly confirm that he (Mr. Trump) is not under investigation related to Russian interference in the 2016 election. “He spoke for a bit about why it was so important,” Comey recounted, saying the President feared it was overshadowing the work of his new administration. “They keep bringing up the Russia thing as an excuse for losing the election,” Comey wrote. Then Comey said the President pressed him again. “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal, we had that thing you know,” Comey quoted Mr. Trump. In a footnote to his own memo, Comey seems perplexed as to what the President was referring to.

10. The release may on spur more questions. Republicans in the House had been pressing for the release of these memos from Comey for months, convinced that they would show wrongdoing by the former FBI Director. Instead, the full memos added more context to what was going on during the first few months of the Trump Administration with regards to the Russia investigation, and seemed to give more hints about what the FBI knew of the Steele Dossier, and how Trump officials were worried about who was being investigated.

 

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Local Republican congressman says Trump’s Syria strike ‘unconstitutional’

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 6:17 PM
Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 6:17 PM

Congressman Warren Davidson, R-Troy
Congressman Warren Davidson, R-Troy

Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, said President Donald Trump’s decision to launch a retaliatory strike against Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people was “unconstitutional.”

RELATED: Ohio members of Congress react to US-Syria action

“There is no authority to do that,” Davidson said during a meeting with the Dayton Development Coalition. He said while it’s appropriate for Trump to launch a pre-emptive strike if, for example, an attack on the U.S. was imminent “our founders addressed this.” He said the founders made it clear that the key difference between a king and a president was that while both command the Army, the king can make war, “but in the United States, the legislature makes war.”

“This was not a preemptive strike,” he said. “It was a retaliatory strike against the Syrian government for acting against Syrians and there is no authority for the president to do that. None.”

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Senate confirms Rep. Jim Bridenstine R-OK as NASA Administrator

Published: Thursday, April 19, 2018 @ 2:45 PM

After operating for almost fourteen months with acting leadership, NASA finally has a new Administrator, as the U.S. Senate voted Thursday to confirm Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) as the new head of the space agency, overcoming reluctance among some Republicans, and strong opposition from Democrats who said Bridenstine who too political for the job.

“”It is an honor to be confirmed by the United States Senate to serve as NASA Administrator,” Bridenstine said in a statement. “I am humbled by this opportunity.”

“Jim Bridenstine has been very passionate for trying to get NASA back on focus with a big vision and a big mission,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).

“I’ve known Congressman Bridenstine for a long time, and I know he is just the man for this important undertaking,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT).

But among Republicans, there were clearly reservations, even as the vote took place.

“I was not enthused by the nomination,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) said on the Senate floor, as he acknowledged that continuing with temporary leadership at the space agency was not a good answer.

“There’s no way NASA can go two years and x-number of months without a permanent Administration,” Rubio added, his tone and body language sending the message that he would still have someone other than Bridenstine leading the space agency.

For Democrats, Bridenstine’s more conservative political views – especially on climate change – overrode his military experience as a pilot in the Air Force.

“Just because you know how to fly a plane does not mean you have the skills and experience to lead the federal government’s space agency,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI).

“In short, NASA needs an Administrator who will be driven by science and not by politics,” said Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI).

But as with most issues in the Congress right now, Democrats are don’t have enough votes to derail a nominee of President Trump – unless some Republicans break ranks to join them.

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