And People Say Rhode Island is Corrupt: Guest MINDSETTER™ Schoos

Sunday, May 14, 2017


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Donald Trump

Some of us are old enough to remember the evening of October 20, 1973 when Attorney General Richardson and Assistant Attorney General Ruckelshaus resigned rather than, at the behest of President Richard Nixon, fire Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox. Proving the third time’s the charm, Solicitor General Robert Bork delivered the coup de grace to Cox.

Cox’s offense was that he demanded that Nixon turn over audio tapes that might bear on possible criminality relative to the smorgasbord of offenses commonly known as Watergate. And as we now know, the reason Nixon refused to relinquish the tapes until finally forced to do, was that they contained incriminating evidence of his complicity in various crimes.  All of this led to three Articles of Impeachment adopted by the House Judiciary Committee and finally to Nixon’s resignation. 

Nixon ordered Cox to desist in his attempt to obtain the damning tapes and other presidential materials, yet he persisted. Disobeying the President’s order was the basis for Cox’s termination, but history has shown that the basis of the order was Nixon’s obstruction of justice to save himself.

Within a couple of weeks of Cox’s termination – Memo to the Trump administration – more people than not favored the impeachment of the President, an extraordinary step to take in a democracy.  The reason wasn’t that Nixon fired Cox, or more democrats than republicans wanted Nixon removed (although some versions of that narrative exist in our hyper-partisan age). Rather, it was felt by many, including many Nixon supporters, that he impeded a public official in the lawful performance of his duties, attempted to derail proper legislative inquiries, and subverted the rule of law.

On May 9, 2017, we had a mini-massacre of a public official. James Comey was terminated because…why?  That is the parlor game now being played out in real time. No matter one’s political persuasion or affiliation, this made no sense – not on its face and more specifically how it was done.

We know that two weeks previous, Rod Rosenstein began his new job as Assistant Attorney General. We know that Rosenstein authored a “damning” memo that was the catalyst for Comey’s discharge. We know that Comey’s FBI was investigating matters pertaining to Russia’s influence in the 2016 election, and reportedly, that he requested that the Senate provide additional resources to further conduct this investigation. 

Here’s what else we know. Rosenstein’s letter is a joke at best and a hack job at worst. This letter wouldn’t have passed muster in a I L law school class. It cites no rule, regulation, or statute. The underlying basis for the termination occurred ten months prior, and over that ten months Comey received praise from his “boss” the President. We know that there was little to no consultation with anyone in the Justice Department.  This was done in one day, not over weeks or months. And we know that the secondary “persuasive” sources cited in the memo were cherry-picked op-ed pieces and interviews, with quotes taken out of context.

On second thought forget the I L reference. This memo wouldn’t have passed muster in any high school class. 

We also know that Attorney General Sessions, who previously recused himself from any involvement in the Russia inquiry, signed off on Rosenstein’s memo. Recall that Sessions rightly recused himself from any involvement in the Russia investigation because of possible or perceived Conflicts of Interest. So here we have Sessions agreeing to discharge the person leading that investigation. 

And some people say that Rhode Island is corrupt.

Finally, the President, using these materials, which it is doubtful that he read (he’s a self-admitted non-reader), then wrote a couple of paragraphs. One of paragraph contained a self-serving statement of Comey’s exoneration of the President from any investigation into the Russia matter, and the deed was done. Well almost done. Trump sent his Luca Brasi to the Hoover Building to deliver the termination letter. If that alone weren’t classy enough, Comey was giving a speech to FBI employees in Los Angeles when the letter was delivered and the news broke. He learned that he was unemployed when a TV monitor that was on during the speech broke the news. He thought it was a prank and laughed it off. 

Let’s put this in some perspective. There were better grounds, a more respectful process, and a hint of humanity when Trump fired Gary Busey on The Apprentice.  

There will be any number of correlations between Nixon and Trump offered over the coming weeks. But on one issue there is no correlation.  Nixon respected the process of law and government. Trump does not. The proof in the Nixon pudding is that, when ordered by the U.S. Supreme Court to turn over the tapes to Cox’s successor, Leon Jaworski, he did it. He didn’t start a bonfire on the south lawn. He relinquished control of the evidence of his complicity in several crimes, knowing that his fate was sealed. 

A major difference between Nixon and Trump is that Nixon was a creature of government and the rule of law. He understood the process of government and the role of each of its branches. And while he committed horrendous crimes as President, he understood that in a democracy, when the game is up, you surrender. Nixon’s only alternative would have been to destroy the government in a vain attempt to save himself.

Trump has no knowledge of or concern for government and the rule of law. If anything, he has disdain for both. In a democracy, that is a lethal combination. We’ve seen it time and again over the past 100 plus days: recanting on virtually every promise he made as a candidate, failing to supply presidential documents to Congress, impeding a duly constituted investigation whenever possible, enriching himself and his family, and surrounding himself with counselors and cabinet officers who can only, for the most part, be described as incompetent.

But if there is collusion between the Russian effort to subvert our democratic process and any member of the Trump campaign, then this really is worse than Watergate. A serious and honorable President would actively seek to get to the bottom of the matter, but that’s not Trump. He obfuscates and deflects at every turn, and now he’s fired Sally Yates and James Comey, both intricately involved in investigations impacting his administration. 

Last February I warned of the rise of the totalitarian state and nothing since then has dissuaded me from that view. After all that’s happened, the Congress must finally demand that the Justice Department appoint a Special Prosecutor.

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Geoffrey A. Schoos, Esq is the President of the Rhode Island Center for Law and Public Policy


Related Slideshow: Rhode Island’s History of Political Corruption

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Buddy Cianci

Vincent A. "Buddy" Cianci resigned as Providence Mayor in 1984 after pleading nolo contendere to charges of assaulting a Bristol man with a lit cigarette, ashtray, and fireplace log. Cianci believed the man to be involved in an affair with his wife. 

Cianci did not serve time in prison, but received a 5-year suspended sentence. He was replaced by Joseph R. Paolino, Jr. in a special election. 

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Joseph Bevilacqua

Joseph Bevilacqua was RI Speaker of the House from 1969 to 1975, and was appointed as Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court in 1976.  It was alleged that Bevilacqua had connections to organized crime throughout his political career.  

According to a 1989 article that appeared in The New York Times at the time of his death:

The series of events that finally brought Mr. Bevilacqua down began at the end of 1984... stating that reporters and state police officers had observed Mr. Bevilacqua repeatedly visiting the homes of underworld figures.

The state police alleged that Mr. Bevilacqua had also visited a Smithfield motel, owned by men linked to gambling and drugs...

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Thomas Fay

Thomas Fay, the successor to Bevilacqua as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, resigned in 1993, and was later found guilty on three misdemeanor counts of directing arbitration work to a partner in his real estate firm, Lincoln Center Properties.  

Fay was also alleged to use court employees, offices, and other resources for the purposes of the real estate firm.  Fay, along with court administrator and former Speaker of the House, Matthew "Mattie" Smith were alleged to have used court secretaries to conduct business for Lincoln, for which Fay and Smith were business partners. 

Fay was fined $3,000 and placed on one year probation. He could have been sentenced for up to three years in prison. 

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Brian J. Sarault

Former Pawtucket Mayor Brian J. Sarault was sentenced in 1992 to more than 5 years in prison, after pleading guilty to a charge of racketeering.  

Sarault was arrested by state police and FBI agents at Pawtucket City Hall in 1991, who alleged that the mayor had attempted to extort $3,000 from former RI State Rep. Robert Weygand as a kickback from awarding city contracts.

Weygand, after alerting federal authorities to the extortion attempt, wore a concealed recording device to a meeting where he delivered $1,750 to Sarault.

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Edward DiPrete

Edward DiPrete became the first Rhode Island Governor to be serve time in prison after pleading guilty in 1998 to multiple charges of corruption.

He admitted to accepting bribes and extorting money from contractors, and accepted a plea bargain which included a one-year prison sentence.

DiPrete served as Governor from 1985-1991, losing his 1990 re-election campaign to Bruce Sundlun.

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Plunder Dome

Cianci was forced to resign from the Mayor’s office a second time in 2002 after being convicted on one several charges levied against him in the scandal popularly known as “Operation Plunder Dome.” 

The one guilty charge—racketeering conspiracy--led to a five-year sentence in federal prison. Cianci was acquitted on all other charges, which included bribery, extortion, and mail fraud.

While it was alleged that City Hall had been soliciting bribes since Cianci’s 1991 return to office, much of the case revolved around a video showing a Cianci aide, Frank Corrente, accepting a $1,000 bribe from businessman Antonio Freitas. Freitas had also recorded more than 100 conversations with city officials.

Operation Plunder Dome began in 1998, and became public when the FBI executed a search warrant of City Hall in April 1999. 

Cianci Aide Frank Corrente, Tax Board Chairman Joseph Pannone, Tax Board Vice Chairman David C. Ead, Deputy tax assessor Rosemary Glancy were among the nine individuals convicted in the scandal. 

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N. Providence Councilmen

Three North Providence City Councilmen were convicted in 2011 on charges relating to a scheme to extort bribes in exchange for favorable council votes. In all, the councilmen sought more than $100,000 in bribes.

Councilmen Raimond A. Zambarano, Joseph Burchfield, and Raymond L. Douglas III were sentenced to prison terms of 71 months, 64 months, and 78 months, respectively. 

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Charles Moreau

Central Falls Mayor Charles Moreau resigned in 2012 before pleading guilty to federal corruption charges. 

Moreau admitted that he had give contractor Michael Bouthillette a no-bid contract to board up vacant homes in exchange for having a boiler installed in his home. 

He was freed from prison in February 2014, less than one year into a 24 month prison term, after his original sentence was vacated in exchange for a guilty plea on a bribery charge.  He was credited with tim served, placed on three years probation, and given 300 hours of community service.

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Joe Almeida

State Representative Joseph S. Almeida was arrested and charged on February 10, 2015 for allegedly misappropriating $6,122.03 in campaign contributions for his personal use. Following his arrest, he resigned his position as House Democratic Whip, but remains a member of the Rhode Island General Assembly.

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Gordon Fox

The Rhode Island State Police and FBI raided and sealed off the State House office of Speaker of the House Gordon Fox on March 21--marking the first time an office in the building has ever been raided. 

Fox pled guilty to 3 criminal counts on March 3, 2015 - accepting a bribe, wire fraud, and filing a false tax return. The plea deal reached with the US Attorney's office calls for 3 years in federal prison, but Fox will be officially sentenced on June 11.


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