Opinion
November 17, 2020

Joe Biden is wary of investigating Donald Trump's alleged crimes, several of his advisers have told NBC News. "One adviser said Biden has made it clear that he 'just wants to move on,'" the article states, though advisers also insist that, unlike Trump, Biden will not directly interfere with the Department of Justice. Such reticence would have no effect on the legal inquiries happening on the state and local level, though it would potentially let Trump off on many alleged federal offenses.

There are three important things to say about this. First, speaking to the press about how Biden is reluctant to prosecute Trump is itself putting political pressure on the future Department of Justice. No matter their level of professionalism, an administration's lawyers are going to look to the president for their cues.

Second, it is virtually beyond question that the entire Trump administration is riddled with crime. Right out in the open we have seen egregious violations of the Hatch Act, alleged blackmail and illegal coercion, the president running a massive bribery scheme through his business empire, and about a million other things. And that is just what is known publicly.

Third, it follows that the principle Biden is tiptoeing towards amounts to saying "presidents should be allowed to commit crimes with impunity." If a scofflaw so egregious as Trump can skate after he leaves office, then the rule of law is dead.

It is frankly baffling that Democrats are so timid about prosecuting Republican crimes. When Barack Obama took office, his predecessor had created a secret CIA torture program that accomplished nothing and was baldly illegal. Corruption and crime are very unpopular, and one would think that a party would leap at the chance to expose their opponent's criminal acts. But Obama refused to prosecute any of the major architects of the program, and in fact defended them in public. (Now one of the torturers is in charge of the CIA.)

We may have to hope that the legal violations are so enormous that Biden simply can't cover them up. It's a safe bet that if anyone takes even a cursory look into the Trump administration's inner workings, they will find breathtaking lawlessness. Ryan Cooper

10:41 p.m.

For the third night in a row, hundreds of people have surrounded police headquarters in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, protesting against the officer-involved shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man.

Some protesters have been throwing bottles and other objects at police officers, who in turn have deployed tear gas and flash bangs, the Star Tribune reports. A curfew will go into effect in Brooklyn Center at 10 p.m., and at 9 p.m., law enforcement declared the protest was an "unlawful assembly" and ordered the crowd to disperse.

Wright died on Sunday afternoon, after being shot during a traffic stop. On Monday, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon told reporters it appeared the officer, Kim Potter, meant to fire her Taser, but accidentally grabbed her gun. Both Gannon and Potter resigned on Tuesday. Catherine Garcia

9:47 p.m.

Nearly 25 years after 19-year-old college student Kristin Smart vanished while walking back to her dorm, a former classmate, Paul Flores, 44, has been charged with one count of murder in connection with her disappearance.

Flores' father, Ruben Ricardo Flores, 80, was also arrested on Tuesday and accused of helping his son dispose of Smart's remains.

Smart, a freshman at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo, disappeared in May 1996 after attending a party. Witnesses said Paul Flores said he would make sure she made it safely back to her dorm, but Smart was never seen again. Classmates described Flores as awkward and unpopular, the Los Angeles Times reports, and during questioning from authorities, he admitted to lying about how he got a black eye. Investigators used search dogs and radar equipment to try to find Smart's body, but her remains have never been discovered. She was declared dead in 2002.

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson told reporters on Tuesday that new evidence in the case was secured in 2016, and in 2019, after hearing a podcast about the Smart case, witnesses came forward and were interviewed for the first time by authorities. Search warrants were issued for the home of Flores, his father, his mother, and his sister, and during a second search of Flores' home, physical evidence "related to the murder of Kristin Smart" was found, Parkinson said.

An attorney for Paul Flores declined to comment, while an attorney for Ruben Flores told the Times his client is "absolutely innocent." Parkinson said police will continue to look for Smart's remains, and in a statement, her family said they hope the arrests of Paul and Ruben Flores will be "the first step to bringing our daughter home." Catherine Garcia

8:25 p.m.

Joel Greenberg, the former tax collector for Seminole County, Florida, has been providing information about the conduct of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) to federal investigators since last year, two people with knowledge of the matter told The New York Times on Tuesday.

In late March, the Times reported that Gaetz, 38, was the subject of a Justice Department investigation into whether he had sex with a 17-year-old girl and paid for her to travel out of state with him. The Times says the inquiry stemmed from an investigation into Greenberg, who has been charged with sex trafficking of a minor, stalking, and bribery.

People familiar with the matter told the Times that once Greenberg realized how much evidence the government had on him, he determined that in order to get leniency, he would need to start cooperating. He reportedly told investigators that he and Gaetz gave cash and gifts to women in exchange for sex.

During a hearing last week, Greenberg's lawyer and a federal prosecutor told the judge it's likely Greenberg will plead guilty sometime in the next few weeks. Following the hearing, Greenberg's attorney, Fritz Scheller, said, "I'm sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today." Gaetz spokesman Harlan Hill told the Times that Gaetz "has never paid for sex" and proposed that Greenberg is "trying to ensnare innocent people in his troubles." Catherine Garcia

6:59 p.m.

After nearly two weeks, the prosecution on Tuesday morning rested its case against former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, and the defense began calling its witnesses, including a former police trainer who said Chauvin was justified in using a prone restraint against George Floyd.

Chauvin, a 45-year-old white man and 19-year police veteran, is facing murder and manslaughter charges in the death of Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed Black man who died while being arrested on suspicion of using a fake $20 bill. A bystander recorded the arrest, and the video shows Chauvin with his knee on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes.

The prosecution called to the stand several use-of-force experts, police officers, and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo to testify about Chauvin's actions during the arrest, with Arradondo saying he "absolutely" violated department policy, adding, "that is not what we teach."

One of the first witnesses the defense called on Tuesday, former police trainer Barry Brodd, testified that Floyd was resisting officers, and as such, Chauvin was justified in using a prone restraint. Officer Peter Chang, who responded to the scene of Floyd's arrest, also testified that the crowd gathered nearby was "very aggressive," and he was "concerned for the officers' safety, too."

The defense argument is that Floyd's underlying heart disease and the fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system led to his death, not having Chauvin's knee on his neck for more than nine minutes. Several prosecution witnesses testified earlier in the trial that Floyd died due to low oxygen levels, with cardiology expert Dr. Jonathan Rich asserting that it was "truly the prone restraint and positional restraints that led to his asphyxiation." Catherine Garcia

6:00 p.m.

Former House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) really doesn't like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a fact he made quite clear in his new book, On the House. Still, he probably doesn't mind the fact that his rival gave the publication some free promotion on Tuesday.

Cruz tweeted that someone dropped off a signed copy of the book at his office, seemingly as a prank, and he posted what is most likely a tongue-in-cheek picture of it sitting prominently in "the appropriate place" — the fireplace. Who says politicians don't have a sense of humor? Tim O'Donnell

5:17 p.m.

Could Idaho absorb eastern and rural Oregon? The short answer is almost certainly not, although Idaho's state lawmakers, at least, are listening.

On Monday, representatives from a group called Move Oregon's Border for a Greater Idaho pitched their plan to expand Idaho's border so that the state would include much of Oregon, save for the northwestern region, to members of the Idaho House and Senate, The Associated Press reports.

Basically, the idea is that Oregon's politics and culture are too deeply divided to co-exist. The division lies between liberal-leaning Portland and its surrounding area, and the rest of the state, which is more conservative. The proposal would leave college towns like Eugene and Corvallis, which lie south of Portland, remaining in Oregon. Idaho is a deep red state, so some folks outside of Portland's orbit would rather link up with their neighbors.

Idaho's legislature was interested in the presentation, per AP, but in all likelihood the strategy has little going for it. Even if Idaho agreed, Oregon's legislature and the U.S. Congress would also to have sign off, both of which are long shots, to put it mildly.

The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof, an Oregonian, is definitely not a fan of the proposal, though he did joke that he'd be okay with an expansion if the roles flipped. Tim O'Donnell

5:16 p.m.

Justin Bieber and Hailey Bieber sure seem like couple goals today — though they've been endearingly honest about getting on each other's nerves at times.

In a new interview for GQ, though, Bieber, 27, admitted that "the first year of marriage was really tough … There was just a lack of trust. There was all these things that you don't want to admit to the person that you're with, because it's scary."

Bieber described himself as initially being a husband "on eggshells" when he got married at 24, but now "we're just creating these moments for us as a couple, as a family, that we're building these memories. And it's beautiful that we have that to look forward to."

As for kids? "Not this second, but we will eventually." Read more at GQ. Jeva Lange

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