Tuesday, December 05, 2017

High crimes and misdemeanors? No. But some very odd courtroom occurrences

Last week was certainly interesting. With a high profile guilty plea, and a surprising not guilty verdict, among other things, it was quite a week.

Michael Flynn, who served as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the Obama administration, then briefly as President-elect Donald Trump’s national security advisor, on Friday followed predictions that he would plead guilty to one count of making false statements to the FBI about conversations he had with Russian officials during Trump’s period of transition to the presidency.

This has gotten the Russia-obsessed left all excited in its so-far frustrated grand hopes of showing that Trump should be impeached for interfering in the election. This incident, however, will not satisfy those desires.

As a transition team member, Flynn’s talking to representatives of foreign governments is not illegal, and in fact is routinely done. Sorry, Trump haters, it is not evidence of collusion in the election.

Given all of that, why did Flynn lie about what he discussed with the Russian ambassador? Who knows? He hadn’t done anything illegal, and could simply have declined to talk with the FBI. It’s a mystery. A report in National Review, in fact, says that Flynn’s lies were so small and insignificant a crime that the FBI didn’t think it would prosecute him. And then, the FBI already had transcripts of Flynn’s discussion with the Russian ambassador, so why question him? Could it be they did it in hopes of trapping him in a lie?

A source close to Flynn said that said the investigation has taken a toll on his family’s financial condition and has been emotionally draining, and that he pled guilty to end the process, according to a Fox News story. Following the guilty plea Flynn agreed to cooperate with the FBI’s continuing investigation.

The news of the plea spawned an ABC News story that Flynn would be testifying that he was directed by then-candidate Donald Trump to reach out to Russia during the campaign. As you can imagine, this story created some crazy reactions. The Dow Jones Industrials took a 300-plus point drop. And, Trump-hater Joy Behar on ABC’s “The View” delightedly told the TV audience that, “ABC News’ Brian Ross is reporting Michael Flynn offered full cooperation to the Mueller team and is prepared to testify that as a candidate, Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians! Yes!” Her excited announcement drew enthusiastic responses from her co-hosts and the studio audience.

Unfortunately for all those Trump haters, it was “fake news.” Ross’ report was incorrect, which ABC finally acknowledged after eight hours, and later suspended Ross for his incompetence.

Moving from that fake news to an incomprehensible jury verdict in a tragic death: on a pleasant San Francisco evening a couple and their 32 year-old daughter walked leisurely on Pier 14, when the daughter fell to the ground. Seriously injured, she begged her father, “Dad, help me!” as he held her in his arms. He couldn’t help her and shortly thereafter Kate Steinle was declared dead of a gunshot wound.

At the time the gun went off, it was in the possession of an illegal alien who had been previously deported five times, and had seven felony convictions. Jose Ines Garcia Zarate’s answers to police questions had at least two very different accounts of what happened, but he said the shooting was an accident. One account held that he simply found the gun, which had been stolen from a federal law enforcement officer’s car a week earlier, under a bench wrapped in a tee shirt, and that the weapon accidentally discharged. Another account claimed the gun accidentally discharged. Three times. Another had him shooting at seals in the ocean. The shot, or one of the three shots, ricocheted off the ground and hit Steinle.

CBS News reported “Garcia Zarate had been deported five times and was homeless in San Francisco when he shot Steinle. He had recently completed a prison sentence for illegal re-entry to the U.S. when he was transferred to the San Francisco County jail to face a 20-year-old marijuana charge. 

“Prosecutors dropped that charge,” the CBS report continued, “and the San Francisco sheriff released Zarate from jail despite a federal immigration request to detain him for at least two more days for deportation. The sheriff's department said it was following the city's sanctuary policy of limited cooperation with federal immigration authorities.”

Zarate was charged and tried for first-degree murder, second-degree murder, involuntary manslaughter, assault with a semi-automatic weapon, and possession of a firearm by a felon. He was found not guilty of all but the possession charge.

A person who was in the country illegally for the sixth time and had seven felony convictions was breaking the law by handling a weapon, during which time that weapon (accidentally?) discharged and killed an innocent person.  That is pretty much the definition of involuntary manslaughter.

Many people bear some responsibility for this tragedy. First, Zarate; then, in no particular order, the sheriff; those operating and supporting sanctuary jurisdictions; and the defense attorneys, who put saving their client from his just rewards above their duty to achieve justice.

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