Author: The Wall of Law



WASHINGTON — Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared polling data during the 2016 presidential campaign with a business associate accused of having ties to Russian intelligence, and prosecutors say he lied to them about it, according to a court filing Tuesday.

The allegation marks the first time prosecutors with special counsel Robert Mueller’s office have accused Trump’s chief campaign aide of sharing election-related information with his Russian contacts. Although the filing does not say whether the polling information was public or what was done with it, it raises the possibility that Russia might have used inside information from the campaign as part of its effort to interfere with the election on Trump’s behalf.

The accusation could be important evidence in Mueller’s ongoing probe into potential co-ordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.

The information was accidentally revealed in a defence filing and was meant to be redacted. The Associated Press was able to review the material because it wasn’t properly blacked out.

Manafort was among the first Americans charged in Mueller’s investigation and has been among the central characters in the case, having led the campaign during the Republican convention and as, U.S intelligence officials say, Russia was working to sway the election in Trump’s favour. Manafort has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in Washington and faces sentencing in a separate case in Virginia.

The defence filing was aimed at rebutting allegations that Manafort intentionally lied to Mueller’s team after agreeing to plead guilty last September. Prosecutors say Manafort breached their plea agreement by lying, but defence lawyers argued that any misstatements were simple mistakes made by a man coping with illness, exhaustion and extensive questioning from investigators.

The defence lawyers said Manafort suffers from depression and anxiety, has had little contact with his family and, on days when he met with investigators, was awakened before dawn to have hourslong interviews with little time to prepare for the questioning.

“These circumstances weighed heavily on Mr. Manafort’s state of mind and on his memory as he was questioned at length,” the lawyers wrote.

Tuesday’s filing revealed the first extensive details of what he is accused of having lied about. A spokesman for Manafort’s defence team declined to comment on the incomplete redactions or on Mueller’s allegations, but lawyers later filed a corrected version of the document.

The filing contains new information about Manafort’s connections to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian-Ukrainian business associate who was indicted last year on charges he tampered with potential witnesses. The U.S. believes he is connected to Russian intelligence, but Kilimnik, who is not in U.S. custody, has denied those ties.

The latest allegations further detail how Manafort’s work on the campaign intersected with his past international work with Kilimnik.

Emails previously reported by the AP and other news outlets show that in July 2016, Manafort told Kilimnik he was willing to provide “private briefings” about the Trump campaign to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian billionaire with ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Manafort dangled the briefings as he was mired in a dispute with Deripaska over a multimillion-dollar deal involving a Ukrainian cable company.

Through his spokesman, Manafort has acknowledged discussing the briefings but said they never occurred.

In addition, the defence document discloses a meeting in Madrid between Manafort and Kilimnik. Prosecutors say Manafort acknowledged the meeting only after being told that they were in the same city on the same day. Manafort spokesman Jason Maloni said Tuesday the Madrid trip mentioned in the filing occurred in January or February 2017– months after Manafort was ousted from the campaign and as Trump was taking office.

Manafort also did not initially disclose having earlier discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Kilimnik on more than one occasion during the campaign, according to the filing. Russia and Ukraine have been locked in a conflict since 2014 over Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The U.S. and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over that move as well as the country’s support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

Manafort’s attorneys don’t specify the details of the peace plan but they write that Manafort told prosecutors in September that “he would have given the Ukrainian peace plan more thought, had the issue not been raised during the period he was engaged with work related to the presidential campaign.

“Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the time forefront of Mr. Manafort’s mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed,” they said.

They say the same about his recollection of sharing polling data with Kilimnik related to the campaign.

Prosecutors have also accused Manafort of lying about his contacts with Trump administration officials, which defence lawyers deny.

The filing says that a May 26, 2018, text message exchange with Manafort involved an unidentified “third-party” who was asking permission to name-drop Manafort if the person met with Trump. The request to use Manafort as an introduction to Trump came while Manafort was under indictment in two federal cases.

The defence lawyers say Mueller’s team has indicated they will not pursue additional charges against Manafort. The lawyers say they don’t want a separate hearing before a judge on the lying allegations but will address them instead during the sentencing process.

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By The Wall of Law January 9, 2019 Off

Teen-Life Sentence-Clemency

Teen-Life Sentence-Clemency

NASHVILLE — Fifteen years after Cyntoia Brown was charged with murder, the woman who says she was a 16-year-old sex trafficking victim when she killed a man in 2004 is no longer under a life sentence.

Following years of national attention from criminal justice advocates, celebrities and politicians calling for mercy — and just days before he is to leave office — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday granted clemency to the now 30-year-old Brown.

“Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16. Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life,” Haslam said in his statement.

Brown will remain on parole supervision for 10 years on the condition she does not violate any state or federal laws, holds a job, and participates in regular counselling sessions. She is now 30 years old.

Brown will remain on parole supervision for 10 years on the condition she does not violate any state or federal laws, holds a job, and participates in regular counselling sessions.

While law enforcement officials had opposed clemency, arguing Brown was not justified in killing 43-year-old Johnny Allen, celebrities like Kim Kardashian West and singer Rihanna spoke out for Brown. The governor’s office received thousands of phone calls and emails from supporters.

“Thank you Governor Haslam,” Kardashian West tweeted soon after news of the clemency decision broke. Similar high-profile responses poured in from former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, actresses Alyssa Milano and Viola Davis.

Brown was convicted in 2006 of murdering Allen, a Nashville real estate agent. Police said she shot Allen in the back of the head at close range with a gun she brought to rob him after he picked her up at a drive-in theatre in Nashville to have sex with her.

Brown’s lawyers contended she was a victim of sex trafficking who not only feared for her life but also lacked the mental capacity to be culpable in the slaying because she was impaired by her mother’s alcohol use while she was in the womb.

According to court documents, Brown ran away from her adoptive family in Nashville in 2004 and began living in a hotel with a man known as “Cut Throat,” who forced her to become a prostitute. Court documents say he verbally, physically and sexually assaulted her.

One night, Allen picked up Brown at a Sonic Drive-In and she agreed to engage in sexual activity for $150. Once at his place, Brown eventually got into Allen’s bed. Brown told authorities she thought he was reaching for a gun, so she shot him with a handgun from her purse.

She took two of his guns and his money from his wallet before fleeing the scene.

Brown expressed thanks in a statement released Monday by her legal team.

“I am thankful for all the support, prayers, and encouragement I have received. We truly serve a God of second chances and new beginnings. The Lord has held my hand this whole time and I would have never made it without him,” Brown said. “Let today be a testament to his saving grace.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled against life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. Yet, the state of Tennessee argued successfully in lower courts that Brown’s sentence was not in violation of federal law because Brown did have a possibility for parole: She was sentenced to serve at least 51 years of her life sentence.

“We need to see this as a national awakening to change the draconian laws that allow juveniles, children, to be placed in adult prisons when they’re just children. They’re not little adults,” said Houston Gordon, one of Brown’s lead attorneys.

While in prison, Brown completed her GED and took college classes. She is currently one course away from finishing a bachelor’s degree at Lipscomb University.

Nashville Mayor David Briley praised Haslam’s decision, calling it a “great day for social justice and our city.” Democratic state Sen. Raumesh Akbari said the clemency announcement shows that Tennessee “can show love, compassion and mercy” for people who have experienced trauma.

Haslam’s decision comes as he’s considering his next political move in Tennessee now that U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander announced he won’t seek re-election in 2020. It’s not yet clear how the clemency decision may affect Haslam’s already solid popularity throughout the state.

In contrast to Democrats, Tennessee’s Republican lawmakers remained markedly quiet on Haslam’s decision.

Gov.-elect Bill Lee offered a brief statement, saying he “respected” Haslam’s choice in the complex case and Lt. Gov. Randy McNally said he “appreciated” the process the governor went through to arrive at his decision.

Ed Yarbrough, another attorney for Brown, joked at a Monday press conference that he was brought on as the “token Republican” in Brown’s case.

“I have to give a lot of credit to Gov. Haslam for having the wisdom and the compassion to do what he did today,” he said. “It will not be popular with everyone in Tennessee, but he did the right thing and we praise him for that.”

To date, Haslam has granted five commutations, 15 pardons, and one exoneration. The Republican says he is continuing to review and consider additional clemency requests.

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By The Wall of Law January 8, 2019 Off



VANCOUVER — Fear of losing a job that offered multiple perks and a promising future with a well-connected crime group led a man to falsely confess to murdering a 12-year-old girl in British Columbia in 1978, a defence lawyer said Monday in closing arguments.

Patrick Angly told B.C. Supreme Court that Garry Handlen also didn’t want to bring any “heat” on members of the close-knit organization that supported him through his common-law wife’s cancer treatment and accepted him as family.

Handlen’s alleged confession came after an undercover officer posing as the head of the fictitious group told him police had a DNA sample linking him to the crime but it could disappear if he provided enough details to pin the blame on a former employee who was dying.

Angly said the boss had already told Handlen he was certain of his involvement in Monica Jack’s death near Merritt. He said there were witnesses and the case would be going to court.

Monica Jack.

“They’re coming for you,” the undercover officer told Handlen in November 2014, about nine months into a so-called Mr. Big sting in Minden, Ont.

“He has to agree with the boss,” Angly said. “He has to say he did it.”

Handlen says in the hidden-camera confession already presented in court and outlined by Angly on Monday that he was in a drunken stupor and remembers picking up a girl, having sex and strangling her.

“I know she was native,” he says.

However, Angly said Handlen didn’t provide any new information, only what he’d already been told by the RCMP during a 40-minute interview about a month after Jack disappeared in May 1978.

“It would be wrong of you to draw inferences from the fact that Mr. Handlen was questioned in 1978,” he told jurors. “That would be wrong and unfair.”

Handlen has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder in the death of Jack. Her remains were found 17 years after she disappeared on a mountain where Handlen says later in the confession he murdered her and burned her clothes.

Angly said Handlen had already seen the crime boss firing someone else in a scenario the RCMP had concocted earlier and did not want to lose a lifestyle that offered him friends, food, hotels and the chance of a middle-management job with the organization that had paid him nearly $12,000 for jobs like smuggling cigarettes, loan sharking and repossessing vehicles.

Angly said his client had told multiple lies, suggesting his confession was just one more, and not because he was boasting, as the Crown has suggested, but because “he is a liar.”

He said Handlen’s lies stretched from saying he had been a member of the British army’s Special Air Service to claims he smuggled goods across international lines as a scuba diver and studied for a pilot’s licence.

“Is there anybody better suited to putting together a bullshit story than Mr. Handlen? Probably not.”

While none of the stories he told the other group members were true, it was in his client’s best interest to confess to murder so his dreams with the organization would not be snatched away, Angly said.

He said his client answered a lot of leading questions by the undercover officer and offered up answers that were publicly available, including in a television documentary, such as having seen Jack at a turnoff on the side of a highway and driving up a dirt road.

“It’s the police, in the form of a Mr. Big, that created the narrative, that created the story,” he said of Handlen’s alleged confession.

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HOUSTON — Two men suspected in a drive-by shooting that killed a seven-year-old black Houston girl and that was initially investigated as a possible hate crime mistakenly thought they were attacking people whom they had fought with at a club hours earlier, a prosecutor said Monday.

One of the men, Eric Black Jr., appeared in court Monday on a capital murder charge in the Dec. 30 killing of Jazmine Barnes. Black, 20, didn’t speak during the brief hearing or answer reporters’ questions as he was being led into the courtroom. His lawyer, Alvin Nunnery, didn’t speak to the media after the hearing and didn’t immediately reply to a call seeking comment.

Black, who is African-American, was arrested Saturday during a traffic stop. Prosecutors allege that he told investigators he was driving the SUV from which an unidentified passenger fired at Jazmine, her three sisters and mother as they were on their way to a grocery store.

Eric Black Jr.

Authorities have declined to name the suspected shooter or say whether he has been arrested, but Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said he is also black.

Based on the family’s account of what happened, authorities initially believed that a white man in a red pickup truck was behind the attack. But they later received a tip that sent the case in a new direction from Shaun King, a civil rights activist who writes about racial issues and has a large social media following. The tip implicated two black men in the shooting.

Prosecutor Samantha Knecht told a judge Monday that the unidentified passenger fired on the family’s car in a case of mistaken identity, thinking it belonged to people he and Black had fought with at a club hours before the shooting. She declined to comment about the second suspect.

Gonzalez said there was, in fact, a red pickup truck driven by a white man seen at a stoplight just before the shooting, but the driver didn’t appear to have been involved. The sheriff said it was dark, the shooting happened quickly, and the red truck was probably the last thing seen by Jazmine’s family. He said authorities believe Jazmine’s family has been truthful during the investigation.

Throughout the investigation, Gonzalez stressed that he and his investigators would not stop working on behalf of Jazmine, and activists and elected officials praised him and other investigators for their efforts.

Deric Muhammad, an organizer of a rally that took place on Saturday in Houston to demand “Justice for Jazmine,” commended Gonzalez for working with the community to collect evidence that led to Black’s arrest.

In this Monday, Dec. 31, 2018 file photo, Christopher Cevilla, father of seven-year-old Jazmine Barnes, speaks during a news conference, in Houston.

“We are still heartbroken at the thought of a seven-year-old innocent child losing her life in such a violent way,” Muhammad said in a statement. “We are no less heartbroken that those person(s) currently charged with this homicide are Black; not White.”

Gonzalez cautioned that authorities were still investigating, but said: “At this point, it does not appear it was related to race.”

Prosecutors said the 9 mm handgun they believe was used in the shooting was recovered from Black’s home.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a black Democrat who represents parts of Houston in Congress, said the community came together to help solve the case.

“It’s wonderful to have a sheriff who’s willing to engage in a dialogue about violence, about hate, about guns and we have that along with the (police chief), the mayor of our city,” Lee said.

James Dixon, a prominent pastor in Houston, also thanked Gonzalez for working around the clock during the investigation.

“We are blessed in this city to have the kind of collegial relationships between pastors and law enforcement and elected officials where we all really work together, we cry together, we pray together, we serve together and sacrifice together,” Dixon said.

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By The Wall of Law January 8, 2019 Off

Locked up in China: Arrested Canadian says legal trouble followed him home

OTTAWA — Crammed into a cell with 13 other sleep-deprived inmates, strong-armed into singing the Chinese national anthem and forced by shouting guards to watch state television — a Canadian man detained in China last fall is offering a glimpse of what he says life was like for him on the inside.

Jason Cigana, a 39-year-old originally from the Montreal area, had been living and working in China’s southern city of Shenzhen for six years when he was arrested by Chinese police in October. He was locked up for three weeks and eventually deported.

Cigana wanted to share his experience with the Chinese legal system after two Canadians — Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor — were arrested there in December.

The Chinese government has said both Kovrig and Spavor were arrested on national-security grounds. Their detentions appear to be in retaliation for Canada’s arrest of Huawei senior executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the United States.

Although his case is different from Kovrig’s and Spavor’s, Cigana’s experience offers a rare look at how China handles people, including foreigners, while they are in custody.

“It’s something pretty rough, to be honest — and I was small potatoes compared to these guys,” Cigana said in an interview, referring to Kovrig and Spavor. “These guys are going to have it a lot, lot worse.”

A Canadian government source, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, confirmed Cigana was detained in China last fall.

Cigana said his arrest came a few days after he made what he describes as “racially charged” comments on an online chat group made up of mostly expatriates. He admits he also made a “very insensitive” remark about the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, in which Japanese troops killed many thousands of Chinese people.

He says he regrets both and he never thought his comments would reach an audience outside the 88-member group on the WeChat platform. He said screen shots of the conversation were shared widely on social media in China — and reached tens of millions of people. 

The remarks were translated from English to Chinese, but he says his words were twisted to sound a “hell of a lot worse.”

As his comments spread, they stirred up a lot of public outrage, to the point his conversation made national news in China.

Cigana, who’s married to a Chinese national with whom he has a four-year-old son, learned making such statements also violated local laws.

Fearing a backlash, he holed up at home for days. Then, Chinese police came knocking at his door.

He was detained, interrogated for several hours and released, several times over four days.

Police eventually locked him up for three consecutive weeks.

Cigana described the conditions he faced inside the detention centre as “terrible.” Fourteen people packed into one cell and a shower that consisted of a cup and a bucket, he said.

He recalled the lights being left on for 24 hours a day, and cranked up at night. Barking dogs, slamming doors and shouts from guards made it almost impossible for detainees to ever get any shuteye, he said.

“The rooms are monitored, so let’s say if you’re sleeping and you cover your eyes they’ll start screaming through the intercom to not cover your eyes,” Cigana said.

The guards also forced him to sing the anthem, vow loyalty to China and absorb propaganda on state TV, he said.

“If you turn away from the television during this time you are yelled at and berated,” he said. “It’s something straight out of Nineteen Eighty-Four.”

Months after his detention and deportation, Cigana’s case continues to haunt him.

A website in his name has appeared online and he said it’s designed to ruin his reputation. Purportedly created by his family to seek forgiveness on his behalf, it’s a mix of English and Chinese and talks about what a mess his life has become since “saying horrible disrespectful and insentience (sic) comments about China,” taking “photos of perverted nature” and “saying many pro-Hitler and anti African American culture.”

Cigana said his reputation has been further damaged by other postings on online chat rooms made in his name. Some of the postings are sex-related requests that he had nothing to do with.

“None of it is true,” Cigana said.

When police took him in for questioning, Cigana said his name had yet to appear in any Chinese news stories. But shortly after he left the police station the first day, he said, a photo of him taken during his interrogation as well as his passport information were already circulating on social media.

Cigana has consulted lawyers in an effort to get the website and the postings removed from the internet but he’s been told the process will be difficult and expensive.

As he hunts for work that will help him sponsor his family’s immigration to Canada, Cigana fears he will have difficulty finding any if potential employers Google his name. He’s considered changing it.

He says he “messed up.”

“Not that there’s an excuse — my wife is Chinese, my son is Chinese,” Cigana said. “I don’t hate Chinese people. I guess it was just a case of sometimes we go a little bit hard on the internet without realizing it’s not a game. You can be punished for it. It’s something that essentially ruined my life.”

Last week, a federal government official speaking on background said 200 Canadians are detained in China for a variety of alleged infractions.

Guy Saint-Jacques, Canada’s ambassador to China between 2012 and 2016, said in an interview that crowded cells with poor sanitary conditions and 24-hour lights have been reported in other cases, including by Canadians Julia and Kevin Garratt. The two were Christian aid workers who ran a coffee shop in northeastern China, near the North Korean border.

China arrested the Garratts in 2014 and accused them of spying and stealing military secrets. It took two years before both were freed.

Saint-Jacques said Canadians facing more minor charges in China, such as visa issues, don’t usually face tough conditions like those described by Cigana.

“It sounds familiar, although maybe a bit harsher,” said Saint-Jacques, comparing Cigana’s recollection to other cases he was aware of.

He added he didn’t recall cases where there were attempts to attack a detainee’s reputation online.

But he said the Nanjing Massacre, in particular, is a very sensitive topic for Chinese people.

“I would like to have more details (about Cigana’s case), but obviously this gentleman touched a raw nerve with his comments and they wanted to make an example,” Saint-Jacques said. “You have to assume ownership of what you say all the time.”

Andy Blatchford, The Canadian Press

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