ICE spokesman resigns, citing fabrications by agency chief, Sessions about California immigrant arrests

by Meagan Flynn and Avi Selk March 13 Email the author

2:13  Sessions responds to Oakland mayor: ‘How dare you’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions scolded Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who warned the city of a possible ICE raid last month. (Reuters)
A spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has resigned over what he described as “false” and “misleading” statements made by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and ICE acting director Thomas D. Homan.
James Schwab worked out of the agency’s San Francisco office until he abruptly quit last week. He said he had been told to “deflect” questions about the Oakland, Calif., mayor’s interference with an ICE raid last month and to refer reporters to statements from Sessions and Homan that suggested that hundreds of “criminals” (“criminal aliens,” Homan called them) escaped capture in Northern California because the mayor tipped them off.
“I quit because I didn’t want to perpetuate misleading facts,” Schwab told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I asked them to change the information. I told them that the information was wrong, they asked me to deflect, and I didn’t agree with that. Then I took some time, and I quit.”
Sessions, Homan and President Trump sharply criticized Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf (D) for issuing a public warning in late February about an imminent ICE raid throughout the region. At the time, Schaaf said she wanted to protect “law-abiding” immigrants from “the constant threat of arrest and deportation.”

Schwab also criticized the mayor’s warning as “misguided,” but he told Fox affiliate KTVU after resigning that ICE ended up capturing 232 suspected undocumented immigrants — even more than officials had originally expected. About half of the people picked up had felonies or misdemeanors on their records, officials say.
In the raid’s aftermath, officials in Washington had repeatedly suggested that hundreds of criminals had escaped because of the mayor’s actions.
Homan said in a news release that “864 criminal aliens and public safety threats remain at large in the community, and I have to believe that some of them were able to elude us thanks to the mayor’s irresponsible decision.”
The ICE director went further the next day, according to the Chronicle, when he said that “there’s 800 that we are unable to locate because of that warning” — essentially blaming all the escapees on the mayor.
Then, last week, Sessions gave a speech in Sacramento. “How dare you?” he asked the mayor. “Those are 800 wanted criminals that are now at large in that community, 800 wanted criminals that ICE will now have to pursue by other means, with more difficulty, in dangerous situations, all because of one irresponsible action.”

These figures propagated across news outlets. Trump said Thursday that ICE had been prepared to arrest “close to 1,000 people” but got “a fraction” of that, thanks to the mayor — and called Schaaf a disgrace.
As the regional ICE spokesman, Schwab said this week, he had wanted to set the record straight.
The officials from Washington had been referring to the raid’s target list of about 1,000 people, he said, but immigration sweeps never net anywhere close to the total number of targets.
“I didn’t feel like fabricating the truth to defend ourselves against [the mayor’s] actions was the way to go about it,” he told the Chronicle. “We were never going to pick up that many people. To say that 100 percent are dangerous criminals on the street, or that those people weren’t picked up because of the misguided actions of the mayor, is just wrong.”
If reporters asked him about Homan’s and Sessions’s comments, he said, his superiors at ICE told him to simply “deflect to previous statements” from those top officials.

“It’s the job of a public affairs officer to offer transparency for the agency you work for,” Schwab told the Chronicle. “I’ve never been in a situation when I’ve been asked to ignore the facts because it was more convenient.”
As the days went by, he told CNN, “I just couldn’t bear the burden — continuing on as a representative of the agency and charged with upholding integrity, knowing that information was false.”
So after a long career as a government spokesman — with stints at NASA and the U.S. Army before he joined ICE in 2015, according to his online résumé — Schwab quit.
He announced the decision “abruptly,” another ICE official told KTVU.
[ A government worker says he didn’t want to help ICE deport immigrants. So he quit. ]
ICE officials said late Tuesday that Schwab’s statements were inaccurate, and their percentage of arrests in California was lower than usual.
The agency said 925 of its targets in the San Francisco Bay area had “criminal histories.” The figure included 884 with felony or misdemeanor convictions, ICE officials said, without offering a breakdown of the severity of those crimes. The agency provided a sample list of 10 suspects who remain at large and whose convictions include manslaughter, armed robbery, sex with a minor and drunken driving.

“While we can’t put a number on how many targets avoided arrest due to the mayor’s warning, it clearly had an impact,” said ICE spokesperson Liz Johnson. “While we disagree with Mr. Schwab on this issue, we appreciate his service and wish him well.”
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department initially denied that the attorney general had spoken of “800 wanted criminals” in his speech.
“The AG said they were ‘wanted aliens’ not criminal,” Sarah Isgur Flores wrote to The Washington Post on Tuesday morning, referring to his prepared remarks.
But Sessions veered from the written remarks, and was was recorded saying “800 wanted criminals” at least twice in his speech.
In a subsequent statement to The Post, Flores wrote: “Does anyone seriously dispute that the Mayor attempted to thwart the efforts of federal law enforcement to apprehend wanted aliens in Oakland — many of whom had previously been arrested or convicted of crimes ranging from drug trafficking, to domestic abuse, to child pornography?
“But if anyone wants to have a public argument over precisely how many dangerous criminal aliens eluded arrest because of the Mayor’s irresponsible actions, we are happy to have that debate. We believe in the rule of law and one criminal alien victimizing residents of Oakland is one too many.”
Schaaf applauded Schwab’s decision to resign.
“I commend Mr. Schwab for speaking the truth while under intense pressure to lie,” she said in a statement to The Post. “Our democracy depends on public servants who act with integrity and hold transparency in the highest regard.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story said that Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores did not dispute James Schwab’s statement. The story has been updated to accurately reflect Flores’s position and to include additional figures from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

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Scoop: FBI director threatened to resign amid Trump, Sessions pressure

Attorney General Jeff Sessions — at the public urging of President Donald Trump — has been pressuring FBI Director Christopher Wray to fire Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but Wray threatened to resign if McCabe was removed, according to three sources with direct knowledge.

Wray’s resignation under those circumstances would have created a media firestorm. The White House — understandably gun-shy after the Comey debacle — didn’t want that scene, so McCabe remains.
Sessions told White House Counsel Don McGahn about how upset Wray was about the pressure on him to fire McCabe, and McGahn told Sessions this issue wasn’t worth losing the FBI Director over, according to a source familiar with the situation.
Why it matters: Trump started his presidency by pressuring one FBI Director (before canning him), and then began pressuring another (this time wanting his deputy canned). This much meddling with the FBI for this long is not normal.

McGahn has been informed about these ongoing conversations, though he has not spoken with Wray about FBI personnel, according to an administration source briefed on the situation. Trump nominated Wray, previously an assistant attorney general under George W. Bush, last June to replace James Comey as director.

Trump has also tweeted negatively about other senior FBI officials who are allies of Comey, including the former top FBI lawyer James A. Baker who was recently “reassigned” after pressure from Sessions.

White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said of Wray: “As we’ve said, the president has enormous respect for the thousands of rank and file FBI agents who make up the world’s most professional and talented law enforcement agency. He believes politically-motivated senior leaders including former Director Comey and others he empowered have tainted the agency’s reputation for unbiased pursuit of justice. The president appointed Chris Wray because he is a man of true character and integrity and the right choice to clean up the misconduct at the highest levels of the FBI and give the rank and file confidence in their leadership.”

As I reported last night, Sessions has adamantly urged Wray to make a “fresh start” with his core team.

Trump and other Republicans have been hammering McCabe — who was selected by the White House as acting director after the Comey firing — for months on Twitter.

On July 26, Trump tweeted: “Why didn’t A.G. Sessions replace Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, a Comey friend who was in charge of Clinton investigation but got…big dollars ($700,000) for his wife’s political run from Hillary Clinton and her representatives. Drain the Swamp!”
The latest: The New York Times — and others — reported in December that McCabe “is expected to retire after he becomes eligible for his pension [in] early [2018].” But senior Justice officials are still not sure what McCabe plans to do.

The FBI declined to comment for this story. Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores also declined to comment.

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Colorado U.S. Attorney Refuses To Change Marijuana Policy Despite Sessions Order

By Guardians of Democracy Staff
Published on January 4, 2018
The U.S. Attorney for the District of Colorado has announced that he will not change his policy toward marijuana prosecution despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions allowing federal prosecutors to go after marijuana users in states where pot is legal.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Bob Troyer said Colorado is “already” guided by the principle of focusing prosecutions on “the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state,” .

“Today the Attorney General rescinded the Cole Memo on marijuana prosecutions, and directed that federal marijuana prosecution decisions be governed by the same principles that have long governed all of our prosecution decisions,” Troyer said.

“The United States Attorney’s Office in Colorado has already been guided by these principles in marijuana prosecutions – focusing in particular on identifying and prosecuting those who create the greatest safety threats to our communities around the state,” he continued.

Colorado legalized marijuana use and possession in 2012.

Federal law still prohibits the sale and use of marijuana, but a memo written by then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole, ordered U.S. attorneys in states where marijuana has been legalized to deprioritize prosecution of pot-related cases.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have since legalized marijuana for recreational use, including California, where legal sales began on Jan. 1 and are projected to bring in $1 billion annually in tax revenue within several years.

Sessions has hinted for months that he would move to crack down on the burgeoning cannabis market.

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Jeff Sessions Is Bringing Back Civil Forfeiture with a Bang

Here’s how the police can take your assets even if you haven’t been convicted of a crime.

By Kristin Miller | August 29, 2017

In mid-July Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a policy rollback that’s getting criticism from both sides of the aisle, and the center, too. As The Washington Post notes undoing this Obama-administration policy is a big deal — and means big money.

RELATED: while he was tweeting

Known as “adoptive forfeiture,” the program — which gives police departments greater leeway to seize property of those suspected of a crime, even if they’re never charged with or convicted of one — was a significant source of revenue for local law enforcement. In the 12 months before Attorney General Eric Holder shut down the program in 2015, state and local authorities took in $65 million that they shared with federal agencies, according to an analysis of federal data by the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm that represents forfeiture defendants.
President Trump even mentioned the process in a now somewhat infamous exchange with Texas law enforcement officials when he vowed to “destroy” a state lawmaker that stood in the way of asset seizures.

Civil asset forfeiture has become increasingly controversial, especially because of the extremely limited chance to appeal the proceedings. And then there’s the fact that you don’t have to be convicted of a crime to be subject to civil forfeiture — it’s the property that is at issue. The Institute for Justice found in a 2015 report that between 1997 and 2013, 87 percent of the Department of Justice’s forfeitures did not require any criminal charge or conviction.

A survey by the HuffPost and YouGov found that 71 percent of those surveyed hadn’t even heard of the term.
Jeff Sessions has a vehement defense of the program:

Civil asset forfeiture is a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed, and it weakens the criminals and the cartels. Even more importantly, it helps return property to the victims of crime. Civil asset forfeiture takes the material support of the criminals and instead makes it the material support of law enforcement, funding priorities like new vehicles, bulletproof vests, opioid overdose reversal kits and better training. In departments across this country, funds that were once used to take lives are now being used to save lives. wanted to find out more about the blurry world of civil forfeiture so we talked with Sarah Stillman, a New Yorker writer and director of the Global Migration Program at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and the author of “Can the President ‘Destroy’ Criminal-Justice Reformers?” — the result of a yearlong investigation into the controversial process.

RELATED: Inequality

Jeff Sessions Is Just Not in the Same League as Former Attorneys General
BY Nan Aron | January 10, 2017
Stillman told us that Sessions statement is misleading:

What stood out to me when Sessions made his comments is that one of the things he underscored is that he sees it as totally reasonable in that we’re going after bad guys. He went on to say you can tell that because four out of five people don’t challenge the forfeiture. Of course, he doesn’t mention that it costs money to do that and that is also a big causal factor as to why people don’t challenge it.
In fact, people who have been subject to civil forfeiture are not entitled to a lawyer. Many times, paying a lawyer would cost more than the property may be worth. And, there are only a handful of pro bono law clinics, like The Institute for Justice, that are taking on these cases.

In part Stillman says getting rid of civil forfeiture is just plain common sense among the American populace. A survey by the HuffPost and YouGov found that 71 percent of those surveyed hadn’t even heard of the term. A meagre seven percent supported the practice.

Indeed, Stillman says:

There’s a really easy solution to that which is just make all forfeiture criminal. That to me is the intuitive part of this. The idea that if you commit a crime, and you’re profiting off of that crime, and you’re proven to have done so, then the goods that you’ve got can be taken away from you. I think most citizens would get that concept and be able to stand behind it. I think what people don’t comprehend is the distinction between criminal forfeiture, the process I just described, and civil forfeiture where nothing really has to be proven against you.

Sessions is bucking a nationwide trend by putting so much emphasis on civil forfeiture. According to Stillman: “One of the things that really stands out to me about forfeiture is that it’s so rare to have a bipartisan issue where you’ve got so many voices on the right and so many voices on the left both saying the same thing.” Some conservative think tanks like Cato and the American Enterprise Institute are against the practice.

Stillman notes that the practice of civil forfeiture varies widely by both state and locality. Due in part to the curtailing of municipal and local police budgets, forces have come to rely on it as a way to add to dwindling coffers.  Yet, over 20 states have recently passed laws that limit civil forfeiture. (Read the Institute for Justice’s report: “Policing for Profit” for a current list.) Many of those reforms are to change the way the monies are disbursed — so that the flow of money doesn’t come directly back into the department’s pocket.

Sessions is in favor of “equitable sharing,” which Stillman says just lets state and local law enforcement agencies use a loophole by first turning money over to the feds who then give it right back. But, she says, there is a layer of hope in that most of the decisions about criminal justice matters are made at the state and local level — and the tide doesn’t seem to be turning back in Sessions’ direction.

Read more installments in our series “While He was Tweeting” — keeping an eye on Trump’s wrecking ball.
TOPICS: Civil Liberties

TAGS: civil forfeiture, civil liberties, civil rights, crime, department of justice, jeff sessions, policing, while he was tweeting, wrecking ball

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