Claiming there is “no good reason for refusing to trust congregants,” Attorney General Bill Barr’s Dept. of Justice has filed a legal notice in federal court announcing it supports a Virginia church that violated Governor Ralph Northam’s executive order banning in-person religious gatherings of more than 10 people. A U.S. Attorney suggests the order constitutes “unlawful discrimination.”
The DOJ’s intervention goes against specific warnings the CDC, President Donald Trump, the Coronavirus Task Force, and the Dept. of Health and Human Services have issued to reduce the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic that to date has killed nearly 70,000 people in the U.S.
Barr has directed the U.S. Attorneys to specifically ensure religious rights are not affected during the pandemic, despite the fact that medical experts, the CDC, and even the White House warn gatherings of more than 10 people are dangerous to the public health.
On April 5 police issued a summons for the pastor of the Lighthouse Fellowship Church on Virginia’s Chincoteague Island. The church reportedly held services for 16 people in a 225-seat chapel. The pastor allegedly faces “jail time or a $2,500 fine,” according to Fox News. The church is represented by Liberty Counsel, a right wing Christian law firm that appears on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list of anti-gay hate groups.
At a March White House press conference President Trump said, “avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people.”
“The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America,” which appears on the White House website, also specifically says “avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.”
The CDC points to HHS guidance that advocates “virtual worship,” and in guidance specific to Seattle and other areas hit hard by the pandemic, the CDC directed “Every Community and Faith-based Organization” to “Move faith-based and community gatherings of any size to video-accessible venues or postpone/cancel.”
The Dept. of Justice is taking a far different stance.
“For many people of faith, exercising religion is essential, especially during a crisis,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division said in a DOJ statement.
“Unlawful discrimination against people who exercise their right to religion violates the First Amendment, whether we are in a pandemic or not,” Dreiband also says,
“The Commonwealth of Virginia has offered no good reason for refusing to trust congregants who promise to use care in worship in the same way it trusts accountants, lawyers, and other workers to do the same. The U.S. Department of Justice will continue to monitor any infringement of the Constitution and other civil liberties, and we will take additional appropriate action if and when necessary.”
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What Cassidy Hutchinson’s Testimony Means for Criminal Prosecution of Donald Trump: Report
Former White House senior aide Cassidy Hutchinson revealed some new information to the House Select Committee investigating the attack on Congress and the attempt to overthrow the election.
One question being asked by the New York Times, however, is whether the information she gave was enough to aid in a potential criminal prosecution of former President Donald Trump.
Among the things she told the committee was that as Trump went onstage Jan. 6 to speak to the rally crowd he knew that there were people in the audience with weapons, including guns. Instead of trying to deescalate the crowd, she said that he wanted the supporters brought closer and allowed in even if they had weapons that wouldn’t normally make it through metal detectors.
“Legal experts said the testimony provided more evidence to support a possible criminal prosecution, as it suggested that Mr. Trump was aware of the potential for violence but went on to urge his supporters to head to the Capitol,” wrote the Times analysis.
Trump then called on the crowd to “fight like hell” and told them that he would lead them to the Capitol in a powerful march.
“And after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you, we’re going to walk down, we’re going to walk down,” he said, repeating the phrase. “Anyone you want, but I think right here, we’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them. Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength and you have to be strong. We have come to demand that Congress do the right thing and only count the electors who have been lawfully slated, lawfully slated.”
The Times pointed that the Justice Department said that it doesn’t have an explicit investigation focusing on Trump. There is, however, evidence that the DOJ is moving swiftly on the fake electors’ scandal. Meanwhile, Trump legal adviser John Eastman was raided by federal agents, including FBI agents, who took his phone to turn it over to the Justice Department Inspector General. That is an indication that there’s an internal investigation happening over the role some lawyers like Jeffrey Clark played in the attempt to overthrow the election.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department has captured many of those who came after Congress on Jan. 6 and interviews with them reveal that they’re placing the blame squarely on Donald Trump. Some said that Trump called them to Washington and to the Capitol for Jan. 6.
“Ms. Hutchinson’s testimony could place Mr. Trump into a conspiratorial relationship with members of the mob, lawyers said, suggesting that he pushed them into action even though he was aware that they presented an immediate threat,” wrote the Times.
Hugo Lowell, reporter for The Guardian, explained that Hutchinson’s comments “marked a new degree of apparent consciousness of guilt among Trump’s closest advisers – in addition to that of at least half a dozen Republican congressmen and the Trump lawyer John Eastman – or fear that they might have committed a crime.
He went on to explain that “in raising Giuliani’s interest in a pardon, Hutchinson also testified that Trump’s former attorney may have also been central to a crime with respect to his seeming knowledge of what the far-right Oath Keepers and Proud Boys groups were planning for January 6.”
The idea that the White House knew about the involvement of the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys “raised the spectre that the former president’s then-attorney [Giuliani] was broadly aware of the intentions of two far-right groups.” Many of the groups’ members have since been arrested and charged with seditious conspiracy.
Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe urged the DOJ to be forthcoming about its intentions to dodge the implications of politicization.
A word to the wise: I definitely don’t favor leaks from DOJ, but the sooner it becomes publicly clear that the criminal investigation has reached Trump, the harder it’ll be for him, by officially announcing his candidacy, to claim that his indictment would be a political act. ⏳
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) June 29, 2022
Founder and executive director of Protect Democracy Ian Bassin noted that the idea of attempting to intimidate witnesses is a potential criminal offense for Trump. If the people relaying the message to Hutchinson and the other witness are investigated for being part of that it’s unclear if they will implicate the president.
Rep. Cheney now sharing evidence of witness intimidation. New potential criminal charges against Trump and others. This is serious Mafia stuff.
— Ian Bassin 🇺🇦 (@ianbassin) June 28, 2022
Sol Wisenberg, a former deputy to special counsel Ken Starr, told the Times that it’s clear Trump has criminal culpability.
Did Trump commit a crime? “This is the smoking gun,” Sol Wisenberg, a former deputy to Ken Starr, tells me about today’s hearing. “There isn’t any question this establishes a prima facie case for his criminal culpability on seditious conspiracy charges.”
— Peter Baker (@peterbakernyt) June 28, 2022
Secret Service Agent Called Protestors Tear-Gassed During Trump Bible Photo Op ‘Rioters’ and ‘Anarchists’: Report
A U.S. Secret Service agent referred to the tear-gassed peaceful protestors gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House in June of 2020 as “rioters,” “anarchist[s],” and, apparently, “Anti American Thugs” as he or she wrote fondly of then-President Donald Trump.
The revelation comes via veteran journalist Andrew Beaujon, a senior editor at Washingtonian, who obtained a redacted email in response to his Freedom of Information Act request. Beaujon posted a screenshot of the email Wednesday, apparently in an effort to show Secret Service agents are not non-partisan. Two allegedly are pushing back against Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony from Tuesday, before the U.S. House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack. Through a source the agents who were close to Trump are reportedly claiming he did not grab the steering wheel or lunge at one of his Secret Service drivers.
Hutchinson testified she was told by an agent Trump “grabbed at the steering wheel” and lunged at the agent’s “clavicle.”
Beaujon tweeted: “About that Secret Service pushback: Here’s a redacted message from someone in the Uniformed Division, White House Branch, in response to my FOIA for Secret Service emails during the 2020 protests by the White House.”
“I have been out their [sic] on the front lines face to face with the rioters/anarchist[s],” the email reads. “Yesterday President Trump proudly walked across Lafayette Park going to the recently damaged St. John’s Church. Together with high ranking administration officials the President was photographed with Bible in hand in front of the Church. After the photo he marched backed to the White House symbolizing Anti American Thugs.”
While the wording is strange it seems clear the agent is a supporter of Donald Trump and opposed U.S. citizens exercising their First Amendment rights, just as they were being gassed.
One year after the incident, during which Trump was highly-criticized, an Inspector General’s report raised additional questions, as Vox reported in June of 2021.
One senior White House official at the time said the Trump White House was “celebrating” the tear-gassing of the protestors.
Legal Experts Urge Committee to Subpoena Ginni Thomas After She Backs Away From Testifying
Legal experts are encouraging the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack to subpoena far right-wing activist and lobbyist Ginni Thomas, now that she is backing out from appearing barely weeks after saying she “looks forward” and “can’t wait” to testify.
In an 8-page letter, her attorney says he needs “a better justification for why Mrs. Thomas’s testimony is relevant,” The Washington Post reports.
The Committee has been interested in speaking with her since at least last summer but had declined to invite or subpoena Thomas, the spouse of a sitting U.S. Supreme Court Justice. After evidence of email correspondence between her and the infamous “coup memo” author John Eastman, the Committee said they would like to talk with her. She quickly told the right-wing Daily Caller she “can’t wait to clear up misconceptions. I look forward to talking to them.”
Virginia Thomas, who goes by “Ginni,” is a longtime and powerful name in Washington who actively, according to reports, pushed dozens of state and federal officials to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Her attorney says he sees no reason for her to speak with the Committee.
“Mrs. Thomas has expressed a willingness to try to come before the Committee as a means of clearing her name,” Thomas’ attorney Mark Paoletta wrote in a letter, HuffPost adds. “But, based on my understanding of the facts … I do not believe there is currently a sufficient basis to speak with Mrs. Thomas.”
Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance, now a law professor and MSNBC/NBC News legal analyst, is calling for Thomas to be subpoenaed.
“Thomas said she’d testify during the uproar,” Vance said via Twitter. “Now, she’s hoping to duck under the radar with so much other news. She should be subpoenaed like any other witness & if she fails to appear, treated like Bannon and Navarro, as she has no privilege to avoid testimony.”
Attorney, MSNBC anchor, and legal analyst Katie Phang tweeted, “SUBPOENA her. Now.”
Seth Abramson, an attorney and author said: “Only by issuing a subpoena to Ginni Thomas *now* does Congress have a chance of being able to work through her inevitable legal challenges and refer her to DOJ for a Criminal Contempt indictment *before* a possible handover of Congress to the insurrectionists in early 2023.”
Miranda Yaver, PhD, a political science professor who teaches courses on law at Wheaton also tweeted, “Subpoena Ginni Thomas.”
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