Thursday, July 31, 2014

Another Labor Presidential Endorsement Fiasco Might Already Be Brewing

“Since SEIU is not part of the AFL, we won’t be participating in that process.”

Alex Wong / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — In the lead up to the 2008 Democratic primary, the country's largest unions couldn't decide who to endorse, splitting largely between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and ruining the potential for a united, dynamic endorsement.

This time around, the AFL-CIO wants to avoid that disaster. But a rift between labor groups is already forming.

Thursday, the AFL-CIO released a streamlined process for the labor federation to endorse (or not endorse) a 2016 presidential candidate. Although Clinton seems probable to run again, another viable Democratic candidate or two could fan the flames of another dogfight between union groups.

Based on an interview BuzzFeed had with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in June, the plan released today seems smaller in scope than what the union wanted.

Trumka said in June he hoped all the unions — those aligned with the AFL-CIO and those that are not — would "adopt a policy that says none of us will endorse until all of us decide to endorse."

"Hopefully we'll have all the unions, not just those that are affiliated," Trumka added in June, referring to the several unions that split with the AFL-CIO to create a new labor group called Change to Win.

The process announced Thursday, however, refers specifically to "affiliates" — meaning the process leaves out some of the country's largest unions that are part of the breakaway labor group Change to Win.

At least one of Change to Win's unions — the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) — has said it won't play ball with the AFL-CIO's new process.

"Since SEIU is not part of the AFL, we won't be participating in that process," SEIU spokesman Tyler Prell told BuzzFeed in an email.

A spokesman noted that Change to Win does not endorse candidates as a federation, so its unions are free to endorse who they want, when they want.

A spokeswoman for the AFL-CIO confirmed via email that only AFL-CIO affiliates would be a part of the process, and did not immediately respond to follow up questions on what happened.

The process will begin as early as November, when AFL-CIO affiliated unions will finalize a questionnaire for candidates to fill out by year's end.

In-person interviews will begin as early as January of next year. Candidates will be invited for private sessions with union leaders to "discuss issues and campaign viability."

A final decision is slated to be made by July 2015.

"The Political Committee will make a recommendation for endorsement of a particular candidate, or a recommendation of no endorsement, in time for the Executive Council summer meeting," the guidance says.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Obama Administration Spent Thousands On Strippers, Boxing Tickets In Failed Sting On Border Patrol Agent

The case against a border patrol agent gets dismissed after his lawyer claims multi-agency corruption task force entrapped his client.

U.S. Border Patrol agent in Roma, Texas.

AP Photo/Austin American-Statesman, Jay Janner

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration abandoned a corruption case against an Arizona border patrol agent after his attorney accused federal agents of entrapping his client, and spending federal dollars on strippers, plane tickets, and tickets to a Manny Pacquiao fight as part of their investigation.

A federal judge dismissed money-laundering and corruption charges against Customs and Border Protection agent Lauro Tobias Tuesday in response to dismissal motions from both the Department of Justice and Tobias' attorney, which were filed within hours of each other July 25.

Tobias, a 10-year veteran of the CBP who also served in the Air Force for two decades, was arrested in March 2013 after he took a trip from Phoenix to Las Vegas for a drug deal — six kilograms of cocaine were exchanged with unnamed persons for $100,000. Tobias was paid $4,000 for working as security during the deal, based on court documents.

Tobias has maintained he did not know the trip was for a drug deal, and that he was assured the exchange was legal.

But, based on court documents, the drug deal wasn't real: Everyone involved, aside from Tobias, appears to have been a part of a federal task force that has been attempting, with little success, to root out corruption within the Border Patrol along the Arizona-Mexico border.

It's unclear why the Justice Department abruptly asked for the dismissal the same day as Tobias' attorney filed his motion.

Justice Department spokesman Cosme Lopez declined to comment on the case, which was the culmination of a multi-year investigation of the Lukeville Port of Entry border crossing by the Southern Arizona Corruption Task Force. The task force is made up of agents from Border Patrol, FBI, Justice Department, IRS, and other federal agencies. The dismissal of the case raises questions about the money and time invested in the task force, which has pursued rooting out systemic corruption on the border since 2010.

According to documents filed with the court, Tobias claimed the federal task force put the fake drug deal into play, as well as supplying the money, drugs, and agents for the various parts in the alleged conspiracy.

Both the defense and prosecutors asking for a dismissal, which U.S. District Court Judge Cindy Jorgenson granted Monday with prejudice, just over 14 months after the FBI announced Tobias' arrest.

Tobias' attorney, Steven West, argued in an interview with BuzzFeed that federal agents tried to turn Tobias bad in order to use him as mole in the border station. "They couldn't get close to the so-called 'suspect corrupt people,'" he said. "I think they took a 90-degree turn."

"I suspect there were some meetings around that time," West said, explaining that during pre-trial hearings when he began making his entrapment claims the judge "seemed predisposed" to allow him to make the case.

West also said prosecutors appeared uncomfortable with the possibility of key information about the task force becoming public.

"My sense is that we had a case. They didn't want the line of witnesses I was going to call to testify [speaking in public] … they would have had to answer a lot of questions," West said Wednesday.

The Justice Department had made clear it was unwilling to provide even basic details of the investigation to the defense during pre-trial hearings.

For instance, according to a court motion filed by Tobias' attorney, department officials would not release certain information about the investigation during discovery, including "an accounting of how much money was spent on this operation by the government … on hotel rooms, air fare, frequenting adult entertainment establishments, rental car costs, restaurant bills, and any other 'perks' that were used to implement the operation, such as the Pacquiao fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas." In another example, prosecutors were unwilling to even tell West — the defendant's attorney — the code name of the investigation.

An FBI source referred requests for comment on the case to the Justice Department.

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