About Bret Thompson
Posts by Bret Thompson:
One of the defining qualities of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interreference in the 2016 presidential election was the absence of internal leaks. (Mueller’s team primarily communicated their case by releasing unusually detailed indictments and charging documents.)
So when news came out that the report was finished, anticipation was exceptionally high. Last Sunday, Attorney General William Barr released a 4 page “summary” of the over 400-page report. President Donald Trump and his defenders instantly began describing it as a “total exoneration”, despite the fact that the summary and report specifically state that it “does not exonerate him.” This bit of cognitive dissonance was followed by Barr claiming this his “summary” was not a “summary.” All of this was too much for some members of the Mueller team and stories began emerging that Mueller had already provided his own written summary that was bypassed for Barr’s version which was they said gave a deceptive impression.
The public deserves to see the full report for a number of reasons and the Trump administration’s absurd handling of it so far only adds to the arguments. This was the background for the 330 rallies nationwide that Public Citizen, MoveOn, Indivisible and others in the Trump is Not Above the Law coalition organized on Thursday demanding the full release of the report.
At the flagship event in front of the White House, Public Citizen’s Lisa Gilbert was joined by a number of speakers, including U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal and U.S. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler. Nadler’s played a key role in the proceedings, including recently receiving authorization for a subpoena for the report. Nadler was received as a folk hero at the event, best captured by the spontaneous chant of “thank you” that broke out while he was on stage. You can watch a full video of the event here.
Activist pressure has already proved very consequential in this process. It’s important not to lose sight of the fact that Mueller was able to finish his investigation even though Trump threatened its very existence innumerable times. The pressure of the massive number of people that got involved in the Trump is Not Above the Law effort clearly played a significant part in the calculation.
We must keep up the pressure until we have the full report. You can help by calling Ranking Member of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee Doug Collins at 202 225-9893. Tell him that the public paid for the Mueller investigation and we deserve the full story about Russian interference in our election.
Some states have overly harsh laws that have collectively stripped more than six million Americans of their right to vote due to their criminal record. Approximately a quarter of those who can’t vote live in Florida. That may change this November, when Amendment 4 will appear on the state’s ballot.
If it secures more than 60% of the vote, Florida’s Amendment 4 would re-enfranchise felons who have completed their sentence, excluding those who were convicted of murder or felony sexual offenses. As the New York Times notes, this would “enfranchise more people at once than any single initiative since women’s suffrage.”
There is an inherent justice in allowing those who have served their time have a voice in how their country is run. Even beyond that, studies are showing that restoring voting rights has concrete benefits for the both the individual and society as a whole. Participation in democracy may help reduce the crime rate amongst those with a record. One political scientist cited by the Times who has studied the issue theorized that, “The results suggest that reversing disenfranchisement causes citizens to increase their pro-democratic attitudes and behaviors — all of which are predictors of reduced recidivism.”
Florida’s current system has functionally resulted in a lifetime voting ban for people who have committed relatively minor crimes, such as the theft of a stop sign. Luckily, if Amendment 4 passes, that unfair practice will be stopped.
Public Citizen’s Pedro Morillas recently spoke with Desmond Meade, the president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, which was instrumental in bringing Amendment 4 to the ballot.
This video was part of a series that Pedro has been producing as part of the Declaration for American Democracy. To see more like it, follow the coalition’s page on Facebook.
Please share the video to help spread the word about how Amendment 4 in Florida will open up the voting booths to members of our society who have served their punishment and who now seek to be part of the solution.
During his time in office, Pruitt made an astonishing number of questionable decisions. His continuing service, as the controversies continued to accumulate, were redefining the idea of how much scandal a cabinet-level official could endure. His resignation, delayed as it was, is rightly being celebrated. However, fans of clean air and water should know that many more challenges await.
Now that Pruitt is out the EPA’s acting administrator is now Andrew Wheeler.
Wheeler’s background could hardly be less inspiring. Until last year he worked as the top lobbyist for Murray Energy, the largest underground coal mining company in the country. The company’s CEO is a top Trump backer, having donated $300,000 to the president’s inaugural fund. Months later, the company provided the Trump administration with an “Action Plan” that called for, among other things, cutting the staff at the EPA in half and subsidizing coal plants. Four days after that memo was authored, Murray Energy gave $1 million to a Trump tied Super PAC.
Prior to that, Andrew Wheeler worked as a top aide to Sen. James Inhofe. Inhofe is perhaps the most infamous climate change denier in Congress, after memorably using the presence of snow in February in Washington, D.C. as evidence against global warming. He previously chaired the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Wheeler first appeared on Public Citizen’s radar two decades ago, while working as counsel for that same committee:
Wheeler also received a junket [paid for by a nuclear lobbying association] to New Orleans for the purpose of touring the Waterford nuclear power plant. His stay just happened to coincide with the Jazz Festival in New Orleans, where he stayed at the four-star Westin Canal Place Hotel in the French Quarter, offering a heated rooftop pool, complete health club facilities and a marble bath.
Even if Wheeler is eventually replaced, it seems unlikely that any potential Trump nominee will do their all to uphold the EPA’s mission “to protect human health and the environment.” Prior to Pruitt being selected, one of the front runners for the job was Kathleen Hartnett White, who once wrote that “carbon dioxide has none of the attributes of a pollutant.” Another candidate was the head of Trump’s EPA transition team, Myron Ebell. Ebell previously derided Newt Gingrich as having “soft feelings for cuddly little critters.”
But, all is not lost. The EPA was founded in a bipartisan fashion and there is clear public support for stronger environmental regulations. For example, a recent poll found supporters of a solar panel mandate for new houses outnumbered opponents by almost three to one. Call your senator to demand that no one be picked to lead the EPA unless he or she can demonstrate a commitment to protecting EPA’s mission — our health, and our environment.
The mission of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissionis to keep Americans safe from unreasonable risk of injury or death at the hands of consumer products. Unfortunately, one of President Donald Trump’s nominee nearly her entire career defending corporations in product safety cases, not looking out for consumers.
As a partner at the corporate law firm Jones Day, Baiocco’s client list included Yamaha, Mattel, and the tobacco company RJ Reynolds, and she has spent her professional career defending corporations from product safety claims. Baiocco abd Trump’s pick to head the CPSC, Ann Marie Buerkle, are both under fire for being too cozy with the industries the CPSC regulates
Baiocco’s Senate hearing did nothing to dispel fears that she will work in opposition to the goals of the CSPC. In her opening statement, Baiocco listed one of her aims as working “to protect consumers from unreasonable risks while balancing the American public’s right to have access to a range of affordable product choices and recreational activities.”
The fact that affordability is a central consideration in Baiocco’s mind is troubling. The commission is tasked with protecting consumers from risk of injury or death, regardless of the price of a product. If Baiocco does not understand the CPSC’s central goal, and in fact thinks low product cost is an equal aim, then she will not be an effective commissioner.
We are also concerned about the significant conflicts of interest that Baiocco would bring to the job. During her nomination hearing, Baiocco said that she would recuse herself from cases involving companies she previously represented for the duration of a year as required by law. Baiocco would not, however, commit to recusing herself from these cases for the duration of her tenure on the commission. While that is the letter of the law, practically speaking, this means that the companies that she has represented only need to wait a year before she is once again working to protect their bottom line.
Thus, Baoicco’s failure to recuse herself for the duration of her time on the Commission raises significant concerns about her ability to make objective judgments as a commissioner. Here are some of the corporations to which Baiocco has connections that could potentially cause conflicts of interest:
- Yamaha: Baiocco represented Yamaha in lawsuits regarding the safety of its Rhino all-terrain vehicles (ATV). Multiple lawsuits were filed concerning the tendency of the Rhino ATV to tip over, trapping the rider beneath the vehicle. With help from Baiocco, Yamaha was able to keep manufacturing the vehicle until 2013, when pressure from the CSPC helped put an end to the Rhino’s production. The CPSC is currently considering rulemaking to protect consumers from dangerous ATV.
- Mattel: A team from Jones Day, including Baiocco, represented Mattel in connection with lawsuits surrounding Mattel’s voluntary recall of toys made with paint that contained lead. A priority activity for CSPC in 2018 is to finalize rules related to testing for lead in products under the Commission’s jurisdiction.
- RJ Reynolds: Baiocco represented RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company in a class-action suit filed on behalf of smokers in Florida. While Baiocco claimed during her hearing that this would not be a conflict of interest because cigarettes are not handled by the CSPC, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) noted that RJ Reynolds was one of the tobacco companies that advocated for the use of flame retardant chemicals in furniture. The CSPC voted last year to ban the use of organohalogen flame retardants and continues to undertake work regarding these chemicals. Thus, RJ Reynolds still has a significant interest in the work of the Commission.
We have little confidence that Baoicco will make decisions as a commissioner that are in the best for consumers rather than helping to protect the bottom line of corporate wrongdoers. Baoicco’s nomination is just one in a long line of administration officials who bring deep corporate ties to their position, more interested in protecting corporate power over the interests of those they are meant to serve.