Dangling pardons


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Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, tells reporters as he departs that he will "continue to cooperate" with the House Intelligence Committee as he prepares for a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, tells reporters as he departs that he will "continue to cooperate" with the House Intelligence Committee as he prepares for a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)


FILE - In this March 6, 2019 file photo, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, speaks as he departs after testifying before a closed-door session of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Cohen sues the Trump Organization, on Thursday, March 7, saying he is owed $1.9 million.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)


Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump's former lawyer, tells reporters he will "continue to cooperate" with investigators following a full day of testimony with the House Intelligence Committee as he prepares for a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)


Cohen’s lawyer says Trump advisers were ‘dangling’ pardons

By MICHAEL BALSAMO, MARY CLARE JALONICK and JONATHAN LEMIRE

Associated Press

Friday, March 8

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s advisers dangled the possibility of a pardon for his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen last year, Cohen’s attorney said Thursday, as congressional investigators zero in on the president’s pardon power.

The issue of pardons has emerged as a key line of inquiry as Democrats launch a series of sweeping investigations into Trump’s political and personal dealings.

Lanny Davis, Cohen’s lawyer, said in a written statement Thursday that his client was “open to the ongoing ‘dangling’ of a possible pardon by Trump representatives privately and in the media” in the months after the FBI raided Cohen’s home, office and hotel room in April 2018.

Davis, who was not Cohen’s lawyer at the time, said Cohen “directed his attorney” to explore a possible pardon with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others on Trump’s legal team. The statement appears to contradict Cohen’s sworn testimony last week at a House Oversight Committee hearing that he had never asked for, and would not accept, a pardon from Trump.

Davis’ comment raises questions about whether Cohen — who is slated to begin a three-year prison sentence in May for crimes including lying to Congress — lied to Congress again last week.

Cohen’s legal team argued that his statement was correct because Cohen never asked the president himself for a pardon.

“This is more proof that Cohen is a liar,” Giuliani said in an interview Thursday. “The guy says he never asked Trump for a pardon. He’s hiding behind having his lawyers do it.”

There is nothing inherently improper about a subject in a criminal investigation seeking a pardon from a president given the president’s wide latitude in granting them. But investigators want to know if the prospects of presidential pardons were somehow offered or used inappropriately.

It is hard to untangle the conflicting narratives given the unreliability of some of the central characters. Cohen, for instance, has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and saw his credibility attacked last week by Republican lawmakers. Davis has had to walk back at least one bombshell assertion over the last year — that his client could tell investigators that Trump had advance knowledge of a Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — and Giuliani has fumbled facts and repeatedly moved the goalposts about what sort of behavior by the president would constitute collusion or a crime.

Congressional investigators, meanwhile, appear to be focusing on presidential powers as a significant line of questioning in their probes.

The House Judiciary Committee, which is conducting a probe into possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power, sent letters to the FBI, the Justice Department and others for documents related to possible pardons for Cohen, former national security adviser Michael Flynn and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. All three have been charged in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible coordination between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign.

Congressional investigators are also looking into whether anyone on Trump’s legal team tried quietly to reach out to Cohen last year before he turned on the president and as his legal problems mounted.

According to a person familiar with the matter, two New York attorneys who claimed to be in contact with Giuliani reached out to Cohen after the raids on his office and hotel room. The attorneys said they could join his legal team in order to be a conduit to Trump’s lawyers, the person said.

The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

The attorneys did not explicitly discuss a potential pardon, but investigators are looking into whether it was an implicit communication that Cohen’s chances of a pardon could be increased if he hired the attorneys, the person said. The lawyers later sent Cohen a bill for their legal service, which he didn’t pay, according to the person.

Giuliani said Thursday he was contacted in May or June about a possible pardon for Cohen.

“My answer was the president is not going to consider or give any pardons now,” Giuliani said. “As I have said in the past, the president has the right to, and that doesn’t mean he won’t consider it when the investigation is over. But there are no plans to do so; that’s the answer that Jay and I and the president settled on. ‘The best thing for you to do,’ I would tell everyone, ‘is assume you don’t have the pardon.’” Jay Sekulow is another Trump lawyer.

Cohen’s legal team stressed that he was one of Trump’s closest confidants and if he wanted a pardon, he would have just asked Trump himself.

Cohen has become a key figure in congressional investigations since turning on his former boss and cooperating with the special counsel. During last week’s public testimony, he called Trump a con man, a cheat and a racist.

Trump, in turn, has said Cohen “did bad things unrelated to Trump” and “is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”

Davis tried to downplay the contradiction between his statement and Cohen’s testimony. He said when he was brought on to Cohen’s legal team in June, his client “authorized me as a new lawyer to say publicly Mr. Cohen would never accept a pardon from President Trump even if offered.”

“That continues to be the case,” Davis said. “And his statement at the Oversight Hearing was true — and consistent with his post joint defense agreement commitment to tell the truth.”

Separately on Thursday, Cohen filed a lawsuit in New York City claiming the Trump Organization broke a promise to pay his legal bills and owes at least $1.9 million to cover the cost of his defense. Cohen alleges the company breached a contract when it stopped paying his mounting legal fees after he began cooperating with federal prosecutors in their investigations.

The Trump Organization didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment. Davis said Cohen has documents to prove the allegations in the lawsuit.

Cohen is headed to prison in May after pleading guilty to campaign finance violations, lying to Congress and other crimes.

Federal prosecutors have said Trump directed Cohen to arrange payments to buy the silence of two women — porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal — who had alleged they had sex with Trump. Trump has denied having an affair.

Cohen also admitted that he lied to Congress about the duration of negotiations in 2016 over a Trump real estate project in Moscow.

The Senate intelligence committee is interested in re-interviewing Donald Trump Jr. and other witnesses after Cohen spoke to the committee last week, a person familiar with the probe said. The person wasn’t authorized to discuss the confidential investigation and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

The committee first interviewed Trump Jr. in 2017, when he told the panel he was only “peripherally aware” of the proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. Cohen told a House committee last week that he had briefed Trump Jr. approximately 10 times about the plan.

Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Michael R. Sisak in New York and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

The Conversation

3 reasons why teachers are striking right now

April 26, 2018

Author: Deana Rohlinger, Professor of Sociology, Florida State University

Disclosure statement: Deana Rohlinger does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: Florida State University provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

Teachers from Arizona and Colorado are joining teachers in Oklahoma and Kentucky on the picket line.

These teacher strikes will likely intensify the debate among elected officials over where education fits in state budget priorities. They may also prompt Americans to consider whether they are willing to pay more tax dollars to educate the country’s youth.

As a scholar who studies protest and politics in the U.S., I’m often asked why teachers are striking now.

These are the three main reasons:

1. Money matters

First, teachers are tired of trying to educate students without enough money or adequate resources. This shared grievance goes well beyond low teacher pay.

Teachers are rebelling against aging facilities, outdated teaching materials and four-day weeks – all of which are a result of reduced amounts of state and federal money flowing into public schools. In particular, funding greatly varies by school district and is often thinly spread in many states.

Take Texas, for example. School districts on the state’s east coast, especially around Houston, spend 33 percent less per student, per year, than the country’s national average of US$11,841. Compare this to school districts on Texas’s western border, which spend 33 percent more per student, per year, than the national average.

In places like West Virginia and Oklahoma, where teachers are pushing back against a poorly funded education system, most of the school districts fall anywhere from 10 to 33 percent below the national average.

Experts agree that public education has fallen on hard times in the last decade. The liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes that most schools in the U.S. took a hit after the Great Recession in 2008, and that, in 2015, 29 states in the U.S. were still spending less per student than they did in 2008.

Financial resources are particularly stretched in states that champion charter schools, which often are entitled to a piece of a state’s school dollars. According to the Education Commission of the States, 44 states and the District of Columbia permit charter schools. Of those, 25 states do not have caps on the number of charter schools that can exist. This means that the number of charter schools can increase dramatically over a relatively short period of time.

Florida, for example, added almost 100 charter schools between 2012 and 2017 – increasing the total number of charter schools in the state from 578 to 654. Education dollars in the state of Florida are attached to students rather than schools, and charter schools attract students away from the public school system. This means most public schools saw a decline in dollars received over this same period of time.

This, in turn, meant Florida schools found it more difficult to cover the costs associated with hiring teachers and support staff, as well as paying for educational materials and building upkeep. In short, less money goes to public schools in states where charter schools proliferate. The strikes are the teachers’ way of saying they have had enough.

2. Everyone protests

Some reporters have been quick to attribute teacher protests to #TheResistance – a movement against President Donald Trump.

This assumption ignores the fact that collective action in the U.S. has been on the rise over the last few decades. Americans have grown more accustomed to organizing and taking their claims directly to politicians, and when necessary, to the streets. Between 1960 and 1985, for example, the average size of protests in the U.S. increased dramatically. Making one’s voice heard is simply a part of everyday life in the digital age.

And it’s not just liberals who use public protest as a way to achieve political goals. Protesters span the political spectrum. Remember the Tea Party’s dramatic protests outside the White House and the “sister” tea parties staged outside of state houses across the country?

This is also made clear in the fact that teachers’ political beliefs span the political spectrum. A 2017 survey commissioned by the Education Week Research Center found that K-12 teachers hold a wide array of political points of view. What they share is a passion for their profession and willingness to face down politicians over the future of public education.

Protesting, in short, isn’t only about Donald Trump. It’s an American pursuit – one made easier by new technology, social media in particular.

The man who spearheaded the Oklahoma teacher strike, Alberto Morejon, created a Facebook group after watching teachers protest in West Virginia. The group swelled to 30,000 members in three days. That is nearly three-quarters of all teachers in the state.

3. Piggybacking on success

Finally, successful tactics spread. This was true of the lunch counter civil rights protests in the 1960s and the Occupy protests that drew attention to local issues such as homelessness in communities across the country in 2011. The same is true today. When an aggrieved group finds a tactic that seems to work, even in the short term, it can quickly spread across the country.

In the case of the teacher strikes, timing is everything. States currently are finalizing their budgets for next year, which means right now teachers have the most opportunity for influence and potentially the loudest voice.

It doesn’t hurt that school is in session, which helps shine a spotlight on the important work that teachers do as well as the conditions in which they do it. When teachers strike, schools close and education comes to a grinding halt.

It is difficult to say if teachers will have all of their demands met.

West Virginia teachers experienced some success. After nine days of the strike, Gov. Jim Justice agreed to veto anti-union legislation, agreed to set up a task force to address problems facing the state health insurance program and gave teachers a 5 percent raise.

Not all politicians, however, are agreeing to teacher demands. In Colorado, some lawmakers are pushing legislation that would punish striking teachers with jail time.

Politicians contemplating action against teachers’ demands would be wise to note that teachers seem to have won over the hearts and minds of most Americans. A recent poll found that the majority of Americans are willing to pay more in taxes in order to put more money into public education.

This suggests that public education is important to the electorate – and there is an election right around the corner.

The Conversation

A chimpanzee cultural collapse is underway, and it’s driven by humans

Updated March 7, 2019

Authors: Alexander Piel, Lecturer in Animal Behaviour, Liverpool John Moores University

Fiona Stewart, Visiting Lecturer in Primatology, Liverpool John Moores University

Lydia Luncz, Research Fellow, Primate Models for Behavioural Evolution Lab, University of Oxford

Disclosure statement

Lydia Luncz receives funding from the Leverhulme Trust

Alexander Piel and Fiona Stewart do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Oxford and Liverpool John Moores University provide funding as members of The Conversation UK.

Language, music, and art often vary between adjacent groups of people, and help us identify not only ourselves but also others. And in recent years rich debates have emerged and spawned research into culture in non-human animals.

Scientists first observed chimpanzees using tools more than half a century ago. As this complex behaviour appeared to differ across different populations, researchers concluded that tool use in apes was socially learned and therefore a cultural behaviour.

This was the beginning of exploring what behaviours in other species might be considered cultural as well. Killer whale pods and dolphins exhibit different dialects and use tools differently, for instance. Scientists have mostly focused on primates, however. Capuchin monkeys of Central and South America exhibit 13 variants of social customs, to take one example, while different orangutan populations vary their callsand the use of tools, nests or other objects. But no species has garnered more discussion on the presence, importance, and evolution of culture than chimpanzees.

Chimpanzees differ in their grooming habits and the use of tools.

Examples of chimpanzee culture range from social customs, such as the way they grasp their hands during grooming, to how males sexually display, to the type of tools used for cracking nuts or ant-dipping. An early study argued that there are as many as 39 different behaviours that are candidates for cultural variation. This set off an eager debate about whether animals have culture or not and how we would be able to detect it.

As in humans, cultural behaviours in chimpanzees are likely critical for individuals to demonstrate community membership. If a young chimpanzee in the Tai forest in the Ivory Coast wants to signal to a peer that they would like to play around, then they build a small, rudimentary ground nest and sit in it. In most other chimpanzee groups, ground nests are mainly used for resting.

Living with humans

But chimpanzees now face the daunting task of surviving in a habitat increasingly infested and assaulted by humans. And as their populations decline, so does their behavioural variation. In short, humans are causing chimpanzee cultural collapse.

Two of us (Alexander and Fiona) were involved in a new study which integrated data from 144 chimpanzee communities across Africa, and found the more that humans had disturbed an area, the less behavioural variants are exhibited by nearby chimpanzees. The results are published in the journal Science.

The actual mechanism behind this is not entirely known. The most obvious explanation is that increased human disturbance means there are fewer chimpanzees overall. Even those that remain have to be more inconspicuous in order to survive in areas where their food and nesting sites are threatened by logging operations, their water sources are polluted by miners, and they risk being hunted for bushmeat by poachers brought into their forests by newly-built roads.

Chimpanzee habitat is being fragmented by roads.

All this forces the chimpanzees to forage in smaller groups and use less long distance communication like pan hoots and drumming on tree trunks. This likely leads to a decrease in the spread of cultural behaviours, as associating in smaller group sizes lowers the chance of learning socially from one another.

Chimpanzees have also been observed to adapt to human disturbance by inventing new coping mechanisms such as eating human crops. But despite these rare adaptations, overall human activity is vastly erasing the rich behavioural diversity that now characterises chimpanzees.

Chimpanzee monoculture

But, if the species is gradually merging into a single cultural entity that stretches all the way from Senegal to Tanzania – why does this matter? After all, monocultural species are not inherently problematic. There is no direct relationship between cultural diversity and species distribution, for example. Flies, rats and crocodiles are all disseminated across a vast area, and yet have not yet been described as cultural. Losing chimpanzee behavioural diversity doesn’t itself threaten the species survival.

Losing diversity could be representative of larger issues, however, not least that the species is on the decline, which is the worst scenario. For example, we don’t yet know how adaptive these behaviours are. A loss of behavioural diversity could represent compromises in how animals respond to selection pressures like changes in food availability and how they adapt to climate change.

The risk is that we humans are irreversibly endangering a unique chance to discover the full extent of cultural diversity in our closest living relatives. When scientists discover a new group of wild chimpanzees it often exhibits unique behaviours that have never been observed previously, and it is hard to know what would be eradicated before we know about it.

If things continue as they are, the opportunity to study common evolutionary roots with our own species might soon be forever lost. Making protection of cultural diversity a conservation priority, which extend to numerous other species, would help to ensure the survival of our extraordinary primate heritage.

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, tells reporters as he departs that he will "continue to cooperate" with the House Intelligence Committee as he prepares for a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122463919-54beff697d014ff2bb082529382128b2.jpgMichael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, tells reporters as he departs that he will "continue to cooperate" with the House Intelligence Committee as he prepares for a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

FILE – In this March 6, 2019 file photo, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, speaks as he departs after testifying before a closed-door session of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Cohen sues the Trump Organization, on Thursday, March 7, saying he is owed $1.9 million.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122463919-8088e0d67dbb4243bd807bbc8c551739.jpgFILE – In this March 6, 2019 file photo, Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, speaks as he departs after testifying before a closed-door session of the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Cohen sues the Trump Organization, on Thursday, March 7, saying he is owed $1.9 million.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, tells reporters he will "continue to cooperate" with investigators following a full day of testimony with the House Intelligence Committee as he prepares for a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/03/web1_122463919-6a7aaf6dfd884efa8611cc47b735f153.jpgMichael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, tells reporters he will "continue to cooperate" with investigators following a full day of testimony with the House Intelligence Committee as he prepares for a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports