Army Suspends Discharges of Immigrant Recruits

The U.S. Army has stopped discharging immigrant recruits who enlisted seeking a path to citizenship, at least temporarily.

A memo shared with The Associated Press Wednesday and dated July 20 spells out orders to high-ranking Army officials to stop processing discharges of men and women who enlisted in the special immigrant program, effective immediately.

It was not clear how many recruits were affected by the action, and the Pentagon did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the memo.

“Effective immediately, you will suspend processing of all involuntary separation actions,” read the memo signed by Acting Assistant Secretary of the Army for Manpower and Reserve Affairs Marshall Williams.

Dozens of discharges 

The disclosure comes one month after the AP reported that dozens of immigrant enlistees were being discharged or their contracts were canceled. Some said they were given no reason for their discharge. Others said the Army informed them they’d been labeled as security risks because they have relatives abroad or because the Defense Department had not completed background checks on them.

Early last month, the Pentagon said there had been no specific policy change and that background checks were ongoing. And in mid-July, the Army reversed one discharge, for Brazilian reservist Lucas Calixto, 28, who had sued. Nonetheless, discharges of other immigrant enlistees continued. Attorneys sought to bring a class action lawsuit last week to offer protections to a broader group of reservists and recruits in the program, demanding that prior discharges be revoked and that further separations be halted.

A judge’s order references the July 20 memo, and asks the Army to clarify how it impacts the discharge status of Calixto and other plaintiffs. As part of the memo, Williams also instructed Army officials to recommend whether the military should issue further guidance related to the program.

Margaret Stock, an Alaska-based immigration attorney and a retired Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who helped create the immigrant recruitment program, said Wednesday the memo proves there was a policy.

“It’s an admission by the Army that they’ve improperly discharged hundreds of soldiers,” she said. “The next step should be go back and rescind the people who were improperly discharged.”

Discharged recruits and reservists reached Wednesday said their discharges were still in place as far as they knew.

One Pakistani man caught by surprise by his discharge said he was filing for asylum. He asked that his name be withheld because he fears he might be forced to return to Pakistan, where he could face danger as a former U.S. Army enlistee.

Security requirements

The reversal comes as the Defense Department has attempted to strengthen security requirements for the program, through which historically immigrants vowed to risk their lives for the promise of U.S. citizenship.

President George W. Bush ordered “expedited naturalization” for immigrant soldiers after 9/11 in an effort to swell military ranks. Seven years later the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, known as MAVNI, became an official recruiting program.

It came under fire from conservatives when President Barack Obama added DACA recipients — young immigrants who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children — to the list of eligible enlistees. In response, the military layered on additional security clearances for recruits to pass before heading to boot camp.

The Trump administration added even more hurdles, creating a backlog within the Defense Department. Last fall, hundreds of recruits still in the enlistment process saw their contracts canceled.

Government attorneys called the recruitment program an “elevated security risk” in another case involving 17 foreign-born military recruits who enlisted through the program but have not been able to clear additional security requirements. Some recruits had falsified their background records and were connected to state-sponsored intelligence agencies, the court filing said.

Eligible recruits are required to have legal status in the U.S., such as a student visa, before enlisting. More than 5,000 immigrants were recruited into the program in 2016, and an estimated 10,000 are currently serving. Nearly 110,000 members of the Armed Forces have gained citizenship by serving in the U.S. military since Sept. 11, 2001, according to the Defense Department.


Terms of Trump-Mueller Interview Still Being Negotiated

Fifteen months since special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to head the probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, prosecutors and lawyers for President Donald Trump are still negotiating over what questions investigators can ask the president.

News reports Wednesday quoted the president’s lawyers as saying they are trying to narrow the scope of Mueller’s questions by declining to allow the president to answer questions about possible obstruction of justice.

In an interview with CNN, Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers on the case, said the team is sending a new letter today with a counteroffer. Giuliani declined to describe the counteroffer.

The Washington Post reports Giuliani, a former New York mayor who joined the Trump legal team in April this year, said the letter will largely reject a presidential interview that would include questions about possible obstruction of justice, particularly in regard to the firing of former FBI Director James Comey.

Mueller has been seeking to interview the president for months. Trump has repeatedly urged his legal team to allow him to be interviewed, believing it will give him the opportunity to clear his name. Trump’s lawyers have advised him against it, citing the fear of a “perjury trap.”

One of the defenses often invoked by Giuliani and other members of Trump’s legal team in regard to whether Trump is obstructing justice by firing Comey is Article II of the U.S. Constitution. The provision gives the president executive authority to appoint and dismiss members of his administration.

In May 2017 Trump fired Comey, who was leading the Russia investigation. The day after the firing, Trump said that Russia was on his mind when he made the decision.

Interview scope unclear

The president’s lawyers had previously offered the special counsel written answers to obstruction questions and insisted on limiting the interview to matters before Trump’s presidential inauguration.

Of particular interest to Mueller is the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., several top campaign aides, and a Russian lawyer with connections to the Kremlin.

Last weekend, Trump tweeted that the meeting’s purpose was to “get information on an opponent,” i.e. former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. He claimed that such a meeting was “totally legal” and “done all the time in politics.” Trump’s tweets are at odds with his own statements about the encounter, as well as with Trump Jr.’s statement in July 2017, saying the meeting had been mostly about issues related to Americans adopting Russian children.

Last month, Trump declared on Twitter that “collusion is not a crime,” as he continued his attacks on Mueller’s investigation. Mueller is examining Trump’s tweets and public statements to determine whether he made them with the intention to deceive investigators.

Subpoena?

If Mueller and the Trump legal team fail to reach an agreement on the interview, Mueller could resort to issuing a subpoena to the president. In an interview with ABC on Sunday, Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump’s legal team, said a subpoena would spark a legal battle that could go all the way to the Supreme Court.

In May 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

The investigation has led to the indictments of several members of Trump’s circle, including former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Trump’s former campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, as well as 12 Russian intelligence agents.

Trump has repeatedly called the Russia probe a “witch hunt.”


Record Number of Women Seeking Seats in US Congress

A record number of women are running for the US Congress in November, a surge that follows a year marked by the #MeToo movement and defiance of President Donald Trump.

After another round of primary voting in several states on Tuesday, 183 women will fight for a seat in the House of Representatives in November’s midterm election.

“It’s official,” the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) said after the voting in Kansas, Michigan and Missouri. “We’ve broken the record for women major party nominees for US House in any year.”

Until now the record was 167.

In another record, at least 11 women are running for state governor, the advocacy group said on Twitter. Until now that number had peaked at 10, in 1994.

In June, women also set a record for how many are running for the Senate. It is 42 — 24 Democrats and 18 Republicans. The previous record was 40, set in 2016, said the CAWP.

Several women candidates in races that they have a good chance of winning are from minorities with little or no representation in Congress.

They include Rashida Tlaib, who won a Democratic primary Tuesday in Michigan and is now poised to become the first Muslim woman elected to Congress.

Several Native American women are also running for seats.

“A Native American woman has never been elected to the US Congress,” CAWP said.

The strong number of female candidates comes midway through the term of Trump, whose inauguration in January 2017 was met the next day with a huge march in Washington favor of women’s rights.

It also comes as the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment of women by men in powerful positions has marked a watershed moment in US society.


NY Congressman Collins Arrested, Charged with Insider Trading

Federal prosecutors have filed insider trading charges against Republican Congressman Chris Collins, who was arrested and is scheduled to appear in federal court in Manhattan.

The lawmaker from New York, one of the first members of Congress to support then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential election, turned himself in to the Federal Bureau of Investigation early Wednesday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York charged Collins in connection with an alleged insider trading scheme involving his investments in the Australian biotech company Innate Immunotherapeutics Ltd.

Earlier this year, an Office of Congressional Ethics report said Collins may have committed a federal crime by disclosing proprietary information about the company with investors, including his son, who was also charged. The office voted unanimously to send the case to the House Ethics Committee.

His son, Cameron Collins, allegedly passed the information to another alleged conspirator, Stephen Zarsky, the father of the junior Collins’ fiancee. 

The three men are charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, securities fraud and making false statements to the FBI. They also face civil charges by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Collins served on the company’s board and owned 16.8 percent of the company’s stock. His son was also a “substantial” shareholder, prosecutors said.

Indictment details

The indictment says Collins allegedly learned in an email from Innate’s chief executive that a trial for a multiple sclerosis drug had failed. Collins then disclosed the information to his son, who passed it on to his fiancee, Zarsky and a friend. Zarsky tipped off his brother, his sister and a friend, the indictment said.

“Congressman Christopher Collins is charged with insider trading and lying to the FBI, as are his son, Cameron Collins and Stephen Zarsky, the father of Cameron’s fiancee,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said.  “Representative Collins, who, by virtue of his office, helps write the laws of this country, acted as if the law did not apply to him.”

The indictment also says Collins did not trade his own Innate stock, which lost millions of dollars in value, maintaining he was “virtually precluded” from doing so due, in part, to the fact he already faced a congressional ethics investigation related to his Innate holdings. Prosecutors said, however, others avoided nearly $770,000 in losses as a result of the information.

Collins’ attorneys said in a statement they “will mount a vigorous defense to clear his good name” and added, “It is notable that even the government does not allege that Congressman Collins traded a single share of Innate Therapeutics stock.”

Midterm elections

House Republican leader Paul Ryan said the allegations against Collins “demand a prompt and thorough investigation by the House Ethics Committee” and added that Collins would no longer serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee “until this matter is settled.”

Collins is running for re-election in November and has raised more than $1.3 million dollars for his re-election bid, according to a filing with the Federal Election Commission. 

The three-term congressman represents a largely Republican district that most political analysts believed would not be ripe for a Democratic takeover in the November midterm elections.

Zarsky attorney Amanda Bassen declined to comment, and lawyers for Cameron Collins could not be immediately reached.

Innate, which is based in Sydney, also did not immediately respond to requests for comment.


Trump’s Candidate, Dem Challenger in Tight Ohio Race

Battleground Ohio was deciding the year’s final special election on Tuesday, a congressional faceoff that tested anew President Donald Trump’s political clout – and the appeal of his signature tax cuts.

The Republican president’s shadow also loomed over primary contests in four other states, none bigger than Kansas, where Trump roiled the governor’s race by opposing the GOP incumbent on the eve of the election.

In Ohio, Democratic county official Danny O’Connor was locked in a tight congressional race with Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson in a district that has been in GOP hands for decades.

The day’s races, like dozens before them, pitted Trump’s fiery supporters against the Democratic Party’s anti-Trump resistance. The results will help determine the political landscape – and Trump’s standing within his own party – just three months before the GOP defends its House and Senate majorities across the nation.

Voters in Ohio and Kansas joined those in Missouri, Michigan and Washington state. But only Ohio will send someone to Congress immediately.

The script for Ohio’s special election was somewhat familiar: An experienced Trump loyalist, Balderson, was fighting a strong challenge from O’Connor, a 31-year-old Democrat, in a congressional district held by the Republican Party for more than three decades. In an election morning tweet, Trump said Balderson would make a “great congressman.”

The winner will fill the seat previously held by Pat Tiberi, a nine-term incumbent who resigned to take a job with an Ohio business group.

Trump himself campaigned at Balderson’s side just 72 hours before Election Day, a weekend appearance to help energize his loyalists in a district the president carried by 11 percentage points.

Several voters casting ballots in suburban Westerville Tuesday, both Democrat and Republican, said they saw little difference between the two candidates.

Mike Flynn, a hospital unit coordinator from suburban New Albany northeast of Columbus, voted for Balderson as a show of support for Tiberi. Flynn, 43, said he didn’t care for mudslinging on either side of the campaign.

But Trevor Moffitt, a public health doctoral student at The Ohio State University who voted for O’Connor, said he felt Balderson’s attacks on Democrats went too far.

“I’m just tired of the rhetoric of `They’re the bad guys, we’re the good guys,”’ said Moffitt, 29. “I want to see someone who’s interested in working with the other party so we can actually get something done.”

It’s unclear how much Trump’s support helped or hurt Balderson. Described by campaign operatives as a “Whole Foods” district, the largely suburban region features a more affluent and educated voter base than the typical Trump stronghold.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a leading voice in the GOP’s shrinking anti-Trump wing, once represented the district in Congress.

At times, the race has centered on Trump’s tax cuts as much as the candidates.

O’Connor and his Democratic allies have railed against the tax plan, casting it as a giveaway for the rich that exacerbates federal deficits and threatens Medicare and Social Security. Balderson and his Republican allies have backed away from the tax plan in recent weeks, training their fire instead on top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

O’Connor has dominated Balderson on the local airwaves. His campaign spent $2.25 million on advertising compared to Balderson’s $507,000, according to campaign tallies of ad spending. The Republican campaign arm and its allied super PAC were forced to pick up the slack, spending more than $4 million between them.

Meanwhile, more than 700 miles to the west, Kansas Republicans were fighting among themselves in the battle for governor, where Secretary of State Kris Kobach was trying to unseat Gov. Jeff Colyer.

Should the polarizing Kobach win the primary, some Republican operatives fear he could lose the governor’s seat to Democrats this fall. The race could become further disrupted if Kansas City-area businessman Greg Orman makes it onto the November ballot. He submitted petitions Monday with more than 10,000 signatures for what could become the most serious independent run for Kansas governor in decades.

Trump made his preference clear for Kobach.

“He is a fantastic guy who loves his State and our Country – he will be a GREAT Governor and has my full & total Endorsement! Strong on Crime, Border &; Military,” the president tweeted on the eve of the election. “VOTE TUESDAY!”

Republicans were hoping for Democratic discord in Kansas’ 3rd Congressional District, a suburban Kansas City district where several candidates were fighting for the chance to take on Republican Rep. Kevin Yoder in November.

The five-way Democratic primary featured labor lawyer Brent Welder, who campaigned recently with self-described democratic socialists Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and ascending political star, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York congressional candidate.

Also in the race: Native American attorney Sharice Davids and former school teacher Tom Niermann.

Voters in suburban Detroit were also weighing in on the direction of the Democratic Party. Three mainstream Democrats were among those vying for a chance at retiring Republican Rep. Dave Trott’s seat in November. The field includes Fayrouz Saad, who would be the first Muslim woman in Congress.

And in suburban Seattle, three Democrats vied in a jungle primary for the seat held by another retiring Republican, Rep. Dave Reichert.

The field in Missouri’s high-stakes Senate contest was set: Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill claimed her party’s nomination, while state Attorney General Josh Hawley will represent the GOP. 

In Michigan, Sen. Debbie Stabenow was expected to win the Democratic nomination easily, while military veteran and business executive John James was vying for the chance to take her on in November. He could join Sen. Tim Scott as the only black Republican senators.

Hours before polls opened, Trump again weighed in on Twitter, casting James as “a potential Republican star.”


Record Number of LGBT People Run for US Office

A record number of openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are standing in elections for public office in the United States, a nonprofit group that supports them said Tuesday.

The Victory Institute said gay and transgender people were still underrepresented in political life, but it was aware of more than 400 LGBT candidates so far in 2018 — a higher number than ever before.

“It’s a really exciting time,” Sean Meloy, the Victory Institute’s political director, told Reuters.

“We believe that representation is power and when someone is in the room and helping to make decisions, they will automatically bring an LGBTQ perspective.”

Earlier this year, the Victory Institute said 0.1 percent of all elected public officials currently serving — or 559 — were openly LGBT.

It said an estimated 5 percent of U.S. citizens identified as LGBT, though a recent major poll suggested the figure could exceed 20 percent among young adults.

The majority of the LGBT candidates coming forward are Democrats, and many are standing in November’s midterm elections.

They are running for positions ranging from state governor to local government officials.

Among them is Alexandra Chandler, a Democrat transgender woman and former military intelligence officer running for Congress in Massachusetts.

She said a more diverse group of officials would better reflect society and bring better policy, but that she did not believe her identity was a concern for most voters.

“They want the person that gets the job done,” she said. “The gender identity or sexual identity, it’s part of someone’s biography, it’s part of the whole person they bring to the table, but it’s only a part.”

Public policy expert Patrick Egan said the figures reflected an increasing tolerance of LGBT people among the U.S. public.

“Gay people have always been involved with electoral politics and many of them ran for office,” said Egan, associate professor of politics and public policy at New York University.

“What we are seeing now is the slow receding in stigma against gay people in that they can not only run for office but run openly as LGBT.”


Ex-Manafort Aide Gates Testifies on Cyprus Accounts, Shell Companies

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s right-hand man testified at trial on Tuesday that Manafort instructed him not to tell their firm’s bookkeeper about payments from accounts in Cyprus that held millions of dollars in earnings from  consulting work for pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine.

Rick Gates, the U.S. government’s star witness in Manafort’s trial on tax fraud and bank fraud charges, told a federal court jury in Alexandria, Virginia, that there were hundreds of emails showing Manafort approved payments out of the Cypriot accounts.

Gates’ testimony on the trial’s sixth day was part of the prosecution’s effort to prove that Manafort was responsible for financial maneuverings that he and other witnesses have testified include filing false tax returns and failing to report foreign bank accounts.

Gates, Manafort’s long-time business partner, is expected to face a tough cross-examination later on Tuesday by defense lawyers in the first trial to arise from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. The Kremlin denies election meddling.

While outside the scope of the trial, Mueller is also investigating whether Trump campaign members coordinated with Moscow, an allegation President Donald Trump denies.

Manafort’s defense is seeking to pin the blame on Gates himself, who has acknowledged embezzling from Manafort’s firm.

Manafort, 69, has pleaded not guilty to 18 counts of bank fraud, tax fraud and failing to disclose foreign bank accounts.

Gates, who also was an official on Trump’s campaign, pleaded guilty in February to lying to investigators and conspiring to defraud the United States and agreed to cooperate.

On Tuesday, Gates also testified about “modified” invoices for payments to U.S. vendors that he said he created at Manafort’s request. The invoices were created to meet document requirements of a bank, Gates said, adding that the payments were legitimate.

He testified about a complex scheme in which earnings from Manafort’s political work in Ukraine would be paid by Ukrainian businessmen using companies in Cyprus to other Cyprus-based companies controlled by Manafort.

Prosecutors showed contracts laying out that Manafort would be paid $4 million a year in quarterly installments of $1 million, all channeled through Cyprus. The funds were logged as loans, but Gates testified they were in fact compensation to Manafort.

Money from the Ukraine work dried up after pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was forced from power in 2014, Gates testified. A $1 million payment for work in 2014 was “significantly past due” and “Mr. Manafort was quite upset the money had not been sent,” Gates told the court.

Manafort’s Kiev-based aide Konstantin Kilimnik was able to collect $500,000, Gates said, but “to my knowledge it was never paid in full.” Kilimnik was indicted in the Mueller investigation in June.

Gates, 46, testified on Monday that he helped falsify Manafort’s tax returns and hide his foreign bank accounts. He testified that he has met with prosecutors about 20 times. It is unclear what other information he may have provided to Mueller’s team.

Gates admitted on Monday that he did steal money through inflated expense reports, but he said it was hundreds of thousands of dollars, not millions as defense lawyers stated.

Manafort’s lawyers are expected to use the theft to try to undermine Gates’ credibility as a witness. They also are likely to bring up his making false statements to investigators.

One issue that could be a challenge for prosecutors on Tuesday is the extent to which they are allowed to admit evidence about Manafort’s Ukraine work and the oligarchs who paid him. On Monday, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis repeatedly clashed with prosecutors about the relevance of such testimony and once again urged them to speed things along.

 


US Judge Bars Trump Policy Restricting Transgender Troops

A U.S. court on Monday ruled the Trump administration could not enforce an updated policy barring certain transgender people from serving in the U.S. military, becoming the second court in the country to rule against the government since it unveiled the policy in March.

Trump announced on March 23 that he would endorse a plan by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis to restrict the military service of transgender people who experience a condition called gender dysphoria. The policy replaced an outright ban on transgender service members that Trump announced last year on Twitter, citing concern over military focus and medical costs.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in Washington denied a request by the administration to lift an injunction she had issued against Trump’s original ban. Her ruling follows one by a federal judge in Seattle who in April also refused to allow the new policy to go into effect.

The government has appealed that ruling to the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The administration argued that the new policy, which also bars anyone who requires or has undergone gender transition, was no longer a categorical ban.

Kollar-Kotelly disagreed. The new policy effectively implements the original ban “by targeting proxies of transgender status, such as ‘gender dysphoria’ and ‘gender transition,’ and by requiring all service members to serve ‘in their biological sex,'” she wrote in Monday’s ruling.

The U.S. Department of Justice could not immediately be reached for comment.

The American Psychiatric Association defines gender dysphoria as a “clinically significant distress” due to a conflict between a person’s gender identity and their sex assigned at birth. Not all transgender people suffer from gender dysphoria, according to the association, which opposes the military ban.

Monday’s ruling came in a lawsuit filed last August by several aspiring service troops and current members of the U.S. Army, Air Force and Coast Guard.

Last October, Kollar-Kotelly ruled that the original ban likely violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Three more judges also blocked the ban, forcing the military to permit openly transgender individuals to join the ranks.

Trump’s ban reversed Democratic former President Barack Obama’s policy of allowing transgender troops to serve openly and receive medical care to transition genders.

The new Trump policy exempts those diagnosed with gender dysphoria during the Obama policy, allowing them to remain in the military and serve according to their gender identity.


Is Justice Blind At a Courthouse with a Confederate Statue?

The statue of the unnamed Confederate soldier has stood since 1909 in front of the courthouse in Louisiana’s East Feliciana Parish, hands resting on his rifle looking down on the flow of lawyers, jurors and defendants going into the white columned building.

Ronnie Anderson, an African-American man charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, illegal possession of a stolen firearm, and speeding, was one such defendant and the statue gave him cause for concern.

“It’s just intimidating to walk into a courthouse that’s supposed to be a place of equality, fair justice and to see this monument that made me feel like … I don’t stand a chance,” Anderson said.

Anderson wants his case to be moved to another parish without such a memorial; his motion to change venue argues he can’t get a fair trial in the same place where a “symbol of oppression and racial intolerance” stands.

​Confederate flags and monuments – long a part of the Southern landscape – have come under renewed scrutiny following the 2015 shooting by Dylann Roof of nine black churchgoers in South Carolina and the 2017 deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Supporters say the statues are a part of history honoring their ancestors; detractors say they, in effect, honor slavery and in many cases were erected during the Jim Crow era to intimidate black people and bolster white supremacy.

Confederate monuments dot the lawns of many Southern courthouses. In addition to the one in East Feliciana, a database compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center lists 11 more in front of Louisiana courthouses.

Ben Cohen, a lawyer with the New Orleans-based Promise of Justice Initiative that advocates for reforming Louisiana’s criminal justice system, says so far it’s rare for defendants to use the legal argument Anderson is making.

Cohen represented a defendant appealing a conviction in a Caddo Parish murder case in which a prospective juror objected to the Confederate flag in front of the courthouse.

The state Supreme Court ultimately upheld the conviction but Cohen said he anticipates this argument being used more often.

“I think people are looking at these monuments in a new light,” he said.

Officials in Caddo Parish voted last October to remove theirs. They concluded that citizens would be better served if it was not in front of the courthouse “where justice is to be administered fairly and impartially.” A lawsuit stalled the move, but was recently dismissed by a federal judge.

The East Feliciana Parish District Attorney, Sam D’Aquilla says its “ridiculous” to think a statue would affect the fairness of Anderson’s trial and questions why an out-of-town defendant and lawyer are stirring up trouble in the primarily rural parish, located about 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Baton Rouge. Anderson is from Plaquemines Parish to the southeast and was driving through when he was pulled over. His lawyer, Niles Haymer is based in Baton Rouge.

D’Aquilla said he doesn’t have an opinion on the statue but regardless of whether it’s there the people inside strive for colorblind justice. He also points out the racial diversity of the elected officials across the parish.

“All the elected officials that I know of, your judges, your clerk of court, your sheriff, we all strive for racial equality. And we work hard for that,” he said.

This is not the first time the East Feliciana Parish statue has come under scrutiny.

In 2016, retired physician Paul Jackson Jr. asked the parish to move the statue to a local Confederate cemetery. He says having the statue on the courthouse grounds signals that the Confederacy was for justice: “But it wasn’t. They’re for slavery obviously.”

His suggestion was debated during a parish meeting and ultimately rejected. Jackson said he lost two friends over the issue. He said he supports Anderson’s change-of-venue motion.

Lataya Johnson, who lives and works in the parish, sympathized with Anderson’s argument and dismissed the idea that most people don’t pay attention to the statue.

“You walk by and you think about it. Because if you’re African-American do you look at it and say, ‘My fate is already destined because of this statue … Judgment has already been made because of this statue,”’ she said.

But parish president Louis Kent said Anderson is “very mistaken” in believing he will not get a fair trial in East Feliciana.

“I have been in this parish all my life. We don’t have a race problem. We never have and we’re not going to create one,” he said.

Anderson’s lawyer, Niles Haymer, says he’s already heard from other lawyers interested in filing similar motions, and he may be filing the same motion for another client. For him, this case could become a catalyst for change. A hearing on the motion is expected Tuesday.

“I feel like if we flood the criminal justice system with these motions, they’re going to have to deal with this monument issue,” he said.


Trump’s Twitter Attacks May Overshadow Economic Message

President Donald Trump has been busy on the congressional campaign trail lately, eager to tout the strong U.S. economy on behalf of Republican candidates leading up to this year’s midterm elections in November. But the president has also repeatedly launched Twitter attacks over the Russia probe, his border wall, and what he believes is unfair media coverage — attacks Republicans fear will distract from his economic message. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.



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