John Dean is infamous as the White House Counsel (1970-1973) who the FBI called “the master manipulator of the cover-up” at the heart of the Watergate scandal which ended the Nixon presidency.
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Dean eventually pleaded guilty and became a witness for the prosecution through most of the subsequent Watergate trials. As Robert Mueller might put it, Dean “was flipped.” That earned him leniency and shortened his time in the prison at Ft. Holabird (Maryland), and is reminiscent of the role that Michael Flynn is currently playing in the Russia probe.
Today the former lawyer is an author, columnist, and commentator, who has been sharply critical of both Bush and Trump.
Dean is especially angry this week at Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has chosen the holiday season to reverse a series of laws and rules put in place under President Obama intended to close American’s last, illegal debtor prisons operating in about a dozen states, mostly in the south.
They still exist as both fantastic revenue generators for local police and local governments – and as a way for the conservative white establishment to keep black people, and the poor, in poverty and away from the polls.
Dean says it is not just wrong but is part of an attitude among the Republicans currently in power that is mean-spirited and, he says, “evil.”
The GOP’s idea of a war on poverty is putting poor people in prison. Too many Republicans are way beyond vicious they are evil. Most annoying are those who call themselves Christians. https://t.co/66MZUrFPXr
— John Dean (@JohnWDean) December 28, 2017
Here is the way it works: A local community has police ticket people in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods for everything from parking to failing to remove garbage, and then slaps them with penalties in the hundreds of dollars, which they don’t have.
Then the local courts, who are in on the conspiracy with the mayor and police chief, add interest and penalties to the debts, and soon people whose only crime is being poor are in jail for failing to pay – which the ACLU says is unconstitutional in any case.
“Jeff Sessions action makes clear that he and his Justice Department are unconcerned by courts trampling on the rights of poor people,” says Nusrat Choudhury, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Racial Justice Program.
“There is no place in this country for a justice system,” adds Choudhury, “that lets rich people buy their freedom while poor people are locked up or lose their driver’s licenses because they can’t afford to pay money to courts.”
That is what President Obama thought, who set out to eliminate modern-day debtors prisons in 2015. His Justice Department issued a 185-page report based on its investigation of the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri following the shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.
“It documented how Ferguson police sought to advance the ‘City’s focus on revenue rather than – public safety needs,” says Choudhury, “leading to the routine incarceration of poor people to elicit court fine and fee payments, which raised due process concerns and reflected racial bias.”
“At the time of the investigation,” adds the ACLU lawyer, “over 16,000 people had outstanding arrest warrants form Ferguson, a city of 21,000. Untold numbers found themselves perpetually in debt to the city and periodically confined to its jail.”
“This practice is blatantly unconstitutional, and the guidance had helped jump-start reform around the country,” writes Chiraag Bains, a former counsel in Obama’s Justice Department’s Civil Rights division, now at Harvard Law School, writing an op-ed in the New York Times today.
That led to Obama’s Justice Department issuing a letter seeking better civil rights.
The 2016 guidance put pressure on state and local courts across the country to follow the constitutional principles which prohibit putting poor people in jail because they can’t afford to pay court fines and fees.
It appears to have made a difference but left many local politicians grumbling about lost revenue, many of them Republicans in red states.
Trump and Sessions have now chosen the holiday when everyone is looking elsewhere to officially rescind the guidance.
“It’s withdrawal,” adds Bains, “is the latest sign that the federal government is retreating from protecting civil rights for the most vulnerable among us.”
Bains is not alone in his condemnation but there is no President Obama to back them up anymore.
.@JohnWDean the sad part is that this is part of a generally disdainful attitude toward the poor that I see in my mentions all the time: the "I got mine, let them take care of themselves and stop taking my money" ethos that feels much broader than just Republican leadership.
— Joy Reid (@JoyAnnReid) December 28, 2017
Just as the tax bill is really for the rich, the government that Trump wants is not only greedy but also wants to control those whom it deems lesser people.
This is Jeff Sessions’ Christmas gift to the working class and middle class citizens who Trump recruited with his empty populist rhetoric. Now hidden among the tinsel, gifts and new year’s celebrations, the AG is reaching out to give his Republican cohorts the green light to exploit and control the poor once again.