Meaghan Ellis

ACLU warns that major government surveillance decisions are happening in secret

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is raising concerns about the level of transparency, or lack thereof, the U.S. government exercises when it comes to electronic surveillance.

On Tuesday, April 20, the non-profit organization discussed the role of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, (FISC) a specialized court responsible for the issuance of "secret legal opinions authorizing the U.S. government to conduct sweeping programs of electronic surveillance."

It has been noted that the FISC's use of secret legal opinion has had a major impact on "Americans' privacy rights, freedom of expression, and free association." Now, they are asking for the U.S. Supreme Court to execute an order for the FISC to publish its secret opinions and only implement redactions that are absolutely necessary to serve as a preventative measure where real harm is an threat to national security.

According to the petition filed by ACLU lawyers in corrorboration with former Solicitor General Ted Olson, Columbia University's Knight First Amendment Institute, and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale University, the organization argues that the the First Amendment grants the American public a "presumptive right of access to significant judicial opinions, including those of the FISC."

The organization highlighted the U.S. Supreme Court petition and the FISC's operations.

The FISC operates behind closed doors and does not customarily publish its decisions. Although Congress required the government to review significant FISC opinions for declassification and public release when it passed the USA FREEDOM Act in 2015, that review is conducted solely by executive branch officials, not a court. In addition, the government has refused to apply this requirement to FISC opinions issued prior to June 2015.

According to the ACLU, there are also a number of discrepancies with the FISC, its special court of appeals known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR) and both entities' inaccurate stance on the First Amendment. The non-profit argues that both courts actually lack the jurisdiction to even take certain motives into consideration.

The ACLU argues:

As we argue in our petition, the FISC and FISCR were wrong about the First Amendment. Our legal system is founded on the presumption that laws are public. That presumption applies to all judicial opinions containing significant interpretations of law. There's no special exception for opinions involving government surveillance and national security.

In reference to the FISC and FISCR's jurisdiction, the ACLU notes that "all courts created under Article III of the Constitution, including the FISC and FISCR, have inherent authority over their own records."

As a result of placing its legal opinion outside of the ramifications of the First Amendment, ACLU argues "the FISC has deprived the public of information that's vital to understanding how the FISC has interpreted the law, and the government surveillance that it has authorized."

Now, they are advocating for the U.S. Supreme Court to properly enforce the authentic rights provided under the First Amendment.

'Insanity': Georgia GOP officials fear their voters won't let Trump's 2020 loss go

It has been several months since former President Donald Trump lost the presidential election, but his Republican base is still reeling over the upsetting defeat. And the aftermath appears to be most evident in the state of Georgia.

According to Politico, the Republican Party's problem in Georgia signals a shift in politics for many voters across the state. Although the party has dominated the state's voting landscape for decades, it appears its popularity is eroding in suburban areas.

The shift has also led to intraparty battling with the political party's base taking aim at the state's Republican leaders. DeAnna Harris, who serves as chair for the Cobb County Young Republicans, expressed concern about that approach as she noted the dangers of constantly reliving the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.

"Huge mistake," Harris said of the complaints leveled against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and the series of events that transpired in 2020. "We've got to get out of this mindset. It's almost like insanity."

For Republicans who align more with traditional politics, the intraparty disputes are becoming increasingly alarming. In addition to the ongoing battles, the Republican Party is struggling to regain a solid foundation in suburban areas since Trump's loss.

The publication also highlights that it "was moderate Republicans and independent voters, not Trump loyalists, who abandoned Trump in November, and the party's fixation on the former president may only alienate them further, with potentially disastrous consequences for 2022 and beyond."

Despite the Republican Party's uphill battle, some officials are still positive about what lies ahead in 2022. But Randy Evans, a Georgia lawyer who also served as the former president's ambassador to Luxembourg, expressed concern about the dangers of intraparty fighting.

"I'm convinced that if infighting escalates, we could easily blow it, as well," Evans said. "We've got to figure out how to come together, really. And it's an easy thing to say but a very difficult thing to actually do in this environment… The consultants and the insiders will undoubtedly attempt to shift the focus toward a message that we can all agree, like we're not Biden-Harris, and so let's just focus on that. But I think some of these divisions are so deep that I don't know that that's enough."

With the 2022 primary just months away from kicking off, Republican officials and lawmakers have a lot of ground to cover if they want to regain control not only in Georgia, but in Congress.

DHS watchdog blocked Secret Service investigations during Trump administration: report

The chief Secret Service watchdog reportedly blocked investigations into the agency's handling of summer protesters in Lafayette Square and the spread of the coronavirus within the federal agency, according to documentation and individuals with information about the decisions made.

According to The Washington Post, multiple individuals with knowledge of the recommended investigations have spoken out on the condition of anonymity. The publication reports that Joseph Cuffari, the inspector general for the Department of Homeland Security declined agency staff members' reccomendation to investigate the Secret Service's role in dispersing protestors from Lafayette Square last summer.

As police officers used forceful tactics to disperse predominantly peaceful protesters, Secret Service agents managed to escort former President Donald Trump across the street to St. John's Episcopal for a photo opp.

Records also show that Cuffari pushed to enforce limitations on an investigation to determine whether or not the Secret Service "flouted federal protocols put in place to detect and reduce the spread of the coronavirus within its workforce."

In response to the latest reports, Erica Paulson, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, released a statement explaining the prioritization of investigations. Paulson claimed that budget limitations typically prohibit some investigations from moving forward whereas "the highest risks and are likely to have the greatest impact."

"Our office does not have the resources to approve every oversight proposal," she said. "We have less than 400 auditors and inspectors to cover the entire Department of Homeland Security, an agency with almost half a million employees and contractors. Like all IGs, we have to make tough strategic decisions about how to best use our resources for greatest impact across the Department."

Paulson continued: "In both of these cases, we determined that resources would have a higher impact elsewhere."

Colorado judge resigns after she 'used the full N-word' in conversation Black co-worker: court documents

A Colorado judge who was recently censored by the state's Supreme Court amid accusations of racist language has now resigned.

According to CBS News, documents compiled by the Colorado Supreme Court include details about Arapahoe County District Court Judge Natalie T. Chase's racially insensitive conversation with a co-worker. The conversation allegedly took place back in 2020 as Chase, a Family Court Facilitator, and a former law clerk were driving back home from Pueblo, Colo., after attending an event.

"Judge Chase is white and the Family Court Facilitator is Black," the documents read. "On the way back from Pueblo, Judge Chase asked the Family Court Facilitator questions about why Black people can use the N-word but not white people, and whether it was different if the N-word is said with an 'er' or an 'a' at the end of the word."

According to court documents, "During the conversation, Judge Chase used the full N-word a number of times."

Colorado Supreme Court Censures Arapahoe County District Court Judge Natalie Chase www.youtube.com

The facilitator noted that Chase's use of the word made her uncomfortable. According to the documents, the facilitator was left "angry and hurt by the conversation."

"The employee tried to explain the Black Lives Matter movement, and Judge Chase stated that she believes all lives matter," according to the documents. "Judge Chase also stated that the conduct of the police officers in the George Floyd matter should be investigated."

The court also notes that "the judge violated four separate judicial rules, and therefore undermined confidence in the judiciary." As a result of the events that have transpired, the Colorado Commission on Judicial Discipline Case asked for Chase's resignation.

Despite her resignation, Chase insists she "did not intend any racial animus."

US Supreme Court justice lands book deal with massive $2M advance

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett has negotiated a massive new book deal with a sizable advance.

According to Politico, three publishing industry insiders have revealed the newly-confirmed justice, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump, has reportedly written a manuscript that focuses on "how judges are not supposed to bring their personal feelings into how they rule." Ahead of the book's release, Barrett has reportedly received a staggering $2 million advance.

Despite the nature of the book, an industry insider has admitted the advance is "an eye-raising amount."

Justice Barrett's seven-figure advance comes as Trump-era aides and advisors struggle to even secure a book deal and obtain decent advances on manuscripts. Washington D.C. literary agent Gail Ross weighed in on the challenges former Trump administration officials face.

"It would be hard to imagine anyone on the inside offering us any wisdom, insight, or even good storytelling that would educate, enrich or even entertain us at this point," said D.C. literary agent Gail Ross. "Books are selling quite well today because they offer us those elements. I presume a couple may convince a publisher otherwise. For me, tall tales by Trump acolytes don't cut it."

Politico also notes another barrier that may be contributing to the challenges.

One obstacle for certain Trump alumni could be the ideology of those often making the decisions on major book deals: They tend to be Democrats disdainful of Trump and wary of underwriting a project that could lead to public blowback.

However, some have managed to seal deals. The publication reports that former White House trade advisor Peter Navarro and Jared Kushner, former White House senior advisor and Trump's son-in-law, have so managed to obtain book deals.

Roger Stone has something to say about the lawsuit alleging he owes IRS nearly $2M

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Roger Stone on Friday, April 16, alleging that he owes the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) nearly $2 million. Now, Stone is firing back with his take on the latest lawsuit.

As reports about the lawsuit began circulating online, Stone took to Telegram with his reaction. Along with links to reports about the case, Stone said, "Same Deep State Bullshit — different day," reports Law & Crime.

He added, "After Robert Mueller's dirty cops destroyed me financially the Department of Injustice, well aware of the fact that I have no income and no assets files a bogus civil suit against me. I guess they're still really pissed off about the pardon. Now I have no choice but to defeat them again."

Stone concluded his post with the hashtag written in third person that says, "#RogerStoneStillDidNothingWrong."

However, the Justice Department and IRS argue otherwise. According to the lawsuit, "For each of the years 2007 through 2011, Roger and Nydia Stone filed joint federal income tax returns but did not pay in full the amount of the income taxes they reported as due," the lawsuit alleges. What follows is a chart listing payments the Stones allegedly failed to make."

It also reads, "Despite notice and demand for payment, Roger and Nydia Stone have failed and refused to pay the entire amount of the liabilities described . . . [t]aking into account all payments, credits, and abatements, as of April 2, 2021, Roger and Nydia Stone jointly and severally owe $1,590,361.89 in unpaid income taxes, penalties, and interest for tax years 2007 through 2011, plus further interest and statutory additions that continue to accrue."

The lawsuit also highlights back taxes from 2018 that Stone failed to pay. According to the lawsuit, that year, the political operative filed a separate tax return that did not include his wife. The agency insists Stone "owes the government $407,036.84 after not paying 'in full the taxes he reported.'"

In addition to the Stones, a number of other entities are also named in the lawsuit. Law & Crime reports that those entities include: " Drake Ventures LLC (an "an alter ego of the Stones"), the Bertran Family Revocable Trust ("which holds title to the condominium where the Stones reside"), and an assortment of other parties (Broward County, Fla.; Russell Harris; Galleria Lofts Condominium Association, Inc.; and Galleria Lofts LLC)."

If the tax lawsuit proves to be ineffective in resolving the alleged debt, the DOJ "seeks an order setting aside the transfer of the Stone Residence to the Bertran Trust as fraudulent."

"The Stones dominated and controlled Drake Ventures to such an extent that it does not exist as an independent entity," the lawsuit claims. According to court documents, the Stones "entered into an installment agreement with the IRS that required them to pay $19,485 each month toward their unpaid taxes." However, "[a]fter Roger Stone's indictment," the couple bought their home "in the name of the Bertran Trust."

Based on the suit, a total of six counts are alleged against the couple. Those counts include:

  1. Unpaid federal income taxes spanning the years 2007 through 2011 by both Roger and Nydia Stone
  2. Unpaid federal income taxes in 2018 for Roger Stone individually
  3. Alter ego liability for Drake Ventures;
  4. Fraudulent transfer to the Bertran Trust
  5. Nominee liability for the Bertran Trust
  6. The case seeks a declaratory judgment as to federal tax liens against all defendants."
Roger Stone has not yet released an official statement about the lawsuit.

Footage of cops tackling grandma with dementia is a reminder of what AOC really means by 'defund the police'

The Loveland Police Department in Colorado is facing heightened backlash amid the release of body cam footage showing one of its officers tackling a 73-year-old grandmother with dementia. The harrowing footage also serves as a reminder of what Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez means when advocating for police to be defunded.

According to VICE, a federal civil rights lawsuit has been filed against the Loveland Police Department and three of its officers on behalf of a 73-year-old grandmother named Karen Garner. The lawsuit which details Garner's disturbing arrest also offers a breakdown of her medical condition noting that she suffers from "dementia and sensory aphasia," and has "an inability to understand spoken and written speech."

The bodycam footage shows Garner being approached by Loveland Police Officer Austin Hopp after she was accused of shoplifting from a local Walmart. When Hopp asked Garner why she did not stop walking when he turned on his patrol siren and lights, she only offered a blank stare and an inaudible response.

As she attempted to walk away, the bodycam footage shows Hopp grabbing the 80-pound woman, throwing her down to the ground as he twisted both arms behind her back in what the lawsuit describes as a "painfully upward" position.

Hopp and the officers who assisted him are also said to have "hog-tied her on the side of the road." The tactic is seen as a controversial restraining method that some law enforcement agencies have banned officers from using.

Loveland Officer Assault on Elderly Lady With Dementia (Complete - Unedited) youtu.be

According to the lawsuit, as a result of the officers' handling, Garner suffered a number of injuries including "a dislocated shoulder, a fractured humerus bone, and a sprained wrist." The lawsuit also notes that Garner "was covered with bruises by the time she arrived at a hospital" and was not taken to receive medical treatment until several hours after her encounter with the officers.

"What little freedom and happiness Ms. Garner enjoyed in her life as an elderly adult with declining mental health was, on June 26, 2020, recklessly and deliberately obliterated by the Loveland Police Department," the lawsuit states.

Garner's disturbing interaction with police officers serves as another reminder of why social workers may be better suited than police officers when it comes to certain people. Last summer, Ocasio-Cortez sounded off about the need for law enforcement budgets, funding, and resources to be reallocated to other areas of social service where they could be more beneficial.

In response to the lawsuit against the Loveland Police Department, Tom Hacker, a spokesperson for the law enforcement agency released a statement saying, "There's no record associated with this event, no frame of video, no shred of any evidence that won't be looked at pretty thoroughly."

Matt Gaetz and Andrew Cuomo: A troubling new 'school of politics'

As a number of lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle find themselves at the center of controversy, there is one common occurrence between most of them: despite mounting allegations, none of them have plans to adhere to the calls for their resignations.

At the top of the year, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, (D) was hit with a litany of sexual harassment allegations that have deeply blemished his previously vaunted handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Several women have leveled accusations against him for allegedly inappropriate behavior over the last decade.

But despite calls for his resignation, Cuomo is not having it. In fact, the New York governor has dismissed the calls for his resignation describing it as "anti-democratic."

Over the last several weeks, as more details were still being reported about the allegations against Cuomo, reporters broke the story about Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and the FBI launching an investigation in connection with sex-trafficking allegations against the staunch Trump-supporting politician. Gaetz has made it clear he has no intent on resigning either. In fact, last week, the Florida lawmaker tweeted his response to the calls for his resignation.

"I may be a canceled man in some corners. . . . But I hear the millions of Americans who feel forgotten, canceled, ignored, marginalized and targeted," he tweeted. "I draw confidence knowing that the silent majority is growing louder every day."

A new report published by The New Yorker highlights the stark difference between traditional politicians and the so-called "new school of politics." The writer, Eric Lach, compared how past lawmakers have handled previous scandals in comparison to new school politicians like Cuomo and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), who are embroiled in "overlapping scandals" which consist of strings of allegations that ultimately intertwine with other allegations. '

When Rep. Christopher Lee's (R-N.Y.) Craiglist scandal made headlines, he decided to resign the same day. A special election was held shortly after his resignation and he was replaced by Kathy Hochul, the Democratic county clerk in Erie County, N.Y. Now, she is the lieutenant governor of the state which would place her in the governor's seat if Cuomo opted to resign. However, that likely will not be the case because he has no plan to step down.

Even former President Donald Trump serves as a glarying example of politicians in the "never resign" era of politics. Despite never-ending allegations, scandals, and other discrepancies, resigning was never an option.

Lach explains the evolution of politics over the last decade citing the glaring difference in lawmakers' handling of scandals. "In the decade between Lee's resignation and Cuomo's current situation, what counts as a career-ending scandal in American politics has been redefined."

As of April 17, neither Cuomo nor Gaetz have any plans to resign or apologize. According to Lach, past politicians who accepted accountability "were living in a different political reality. If we were still living in it, we'd already be talking about Governor Kathy Hochul."

'White Supremacy Caucus': GOP lawmaker torches 'America First Caucus' as he offers his take on lawmakers joining it

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) did not mince words when he shared his opinion of the right-wing America First Caucus. The Republican lawmaker also criticized his colleagues interested in joining the caucus as he stressed that there should be consequences for such actions.

On Friday, April 16, Kinzinger took to Twitter with a series of tweets about the formation of the new caucus. According to Mediaite, the caucus was founded by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), both of whom recently attended a white nationalist conference and served as keynote speakers. The publication reports that the two lawmakers have been working to recruit a number of other Republican lawmakers including Rep. Barry Moore (R-Ala.) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas).

Although the America First Caucus claims it places an emphasis on "common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions," Kinzinger argues otherwise. The Illinois lawmaker insists the caucus is nothing more than a white supremacy caucus.

"Just when I was hoping to take a long weekend away from crazy I see this," Kinzinger tweeted. "Completely disgusted."

Kinzinger also said that he believes lawmakers who opt to join the caucus should suffer a number of consequences including being stripped of their Congressional duties and expelled from participating in the Republican conference.

He added, "I believe anyone that joins this caucus should have their committees stripped, and the Republican conference should expel them from conference participation. While we can't prevent someone from calling themselves Republican, we can loudly say they don't belong to us."

Kinzinger's latest criticism of Greene comes just months after she was stripped of her Education and Budget Committee duties after circulating misinformation campaigns, violent verbiage, and conspiracy theories. The Republican lawmaker was one of the 11 House Republication lawmakers to cast a vote with Democrats in favor of Greene being reprimanded.

Ron DeSantis faces backlash as pandemic rages in Florida

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is adamantly refusing to consider increasing unemployment benefits in his state as many works are still struggling due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During a news conference held on Friday, April 16, the Republican governor was asked about the possibility of him supporting an increase in unemployment benefits, reports The Tampa Bay Times. Currently, the state is paying unemployed workers $275 per week, an amount considered to be one of the lowest in the United States. While state lawmakers insist the amount is not substantial, DeSantis made it clear that he has a different take.

According to the governor, $275 is enough and he has no intention to support an increase. "Increase benefits?" he said. "Look, no, I think we're getting people back to work." When asked a second time, DeSantis doubled down on his take. "Our unemployment is what it is. It's fine," he said. "The federal government obviously is putting in a lot of money."

The Florida governor also argued that his goal is to get people back to work although the pandemic continues to spread in his state. Despite DeSantis' take, Florida's unemployment benefits are severely underwhelming as it is only equivalent to approximately $6.87 per hour. In wake of the governor's latest remarks, lawmakers and critics have taken to Twitter to fire back.

Florida Democratic lawmaker Jason Pizzo tweeted, "Aug. 2020, [Gov. Ron DeSantis] said two important things: 1) he couldn't change weekly amount - that's the legislature's purview 2) roadblocks to benefits looked intentional The House and Senate need to hold firm and do what's fair and decent for today, and tomorrow."

Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando, Fla.) also pushed back against DeSantis' claims as she criticized the state's "embarrassingly low" unemployment rate. She tweeted, "Unemployment is NOT fine. It's broken & benefits are embarrassingly low."

Senate Bill 1906 advanced in the Florida Senat4e on Thursday, April 15, and is now poised for a vote on the floor. If passed, it would increase the statement's minimum and maximum amount for weekly unemployment benefits. The bill also includes an extension of the duration of time a person can receive unemployment benefits. Instead of 12 weeks, recipients will be entitled to 14 weeks.

BRAND NEW STORIES

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.