One of President Trump’s personal lawyers called for the end to special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe on Saturday in the wake of the firing of former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.
Trump attorney John Dowd called on deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein to “bring an end” to Mueller’s criminal probe that is examining Russian election meddling ties between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and possible obstruction of justice.
“I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to the alleged Russia collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt dossier,” Dowd said.
The statement was first reported by The Daily Beast, which reported that Dowd was speaking on behalf of the President, before he clarified that it was his own opinion.
Rosenstein is overseeing the Russia investigation after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the probe last year.
Trump’s lawyers have said in the past that they are fully cooperating with Mueller’s investigators and have repeatedly indicated they believe the probe would be ending shortly.
But Trump, who maintains his innocence and often refers to the probe as a “witch hunt,” reportedly attempted to do away with Mueller in the past.
White House counsel Don McGahn prevented a firestorm last June when he stopped Trump from firing Mueller by threatening to quit.
Dowd’s comments came as a defiant Trump celebrated McCabe’s termination and ripped into the FBI on Twitter.
“As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign,” he wrote. “As many are now finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice & State.”
On Friday, the Justice Department announced that Sessions had fired McCabe just days before he was set to receive his pension.
McCabe was fired by Attorney General Jeff Sessions ahead of the release of an inspector general’s report which is expected to show he shared information with the media about the agency’s investigation into Hillary Clinton.
Both Democrats and Republicans have said firing Mueller would put Trump’s presidency in jeopardy.
On Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) cautioned Trump against messing with Mueller.
“Mr. Dowd’s comments are yet another indication that the first instinct of the President and his legal team is not to cooperate with special counsel Mueller, but to undermine him at every turn,” Schumer said. “The president, the administration, and his legal team must not take any steps to curtail, interfere with, or end the special counsel’s investigation or there will be severe consequences from both Democrats and Republicans.”
President Donald Trump said it was “a great day” on Friday, not long after FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe was fired, just hours away from his retirement.
Trump also railed against former FBI director James Comey, whom he called “sanctimonious.”
After his termination was announced, McCabe said he was being “singled out” for being a witness to Comey’s May 2017 ouster from the bureau.
President Donald Trump weighed in on the firing of FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe on Twitter Friday night, calling it “a great day for Democracy.”
“Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy,” Trump said in a tweet.
“Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy,” Trump said, referring to the former FBI director whom he fired in May 2017. “He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI,” Trump claimed.
McCabe served the bureau for 21 years.
He released a statement immediately after his firing: “Here is the reality: I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey.”
McCabe was one of three top FBI officials Comey told about his conversations with Trump, many of which are now the subject of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump sought to obstruct justice when he fired Comey.
McCabe was forced out of the FBI earlier this year amid an internal investigation by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) into his approval of unauthorized disclosures to the media in October 2016 related to the bureau’s inquiry of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.
The Department of Justice inspector general, Michael Horowitz, reportedly concluded in a report that McCabe was not forthcoming during the OIG review. The FBI Office of Personal Responsibility (OPR) subsequently recommended that Attorney General Jeff Sessions fire McCabe, according to The New York Times.
Sessions said in a statement Friday that “both the OIG and FBI OPR reports concluded that Mr. McCabe had made an unauthorized disclosure to the news media and lacked candor — including under oath — on multiple occasions.”
The response to the shooting at Marjory Stonemen Douglas High School in the US has been strong and lasting.
Overseas, the deadly incident has prompted more concern about life in the US.
In Colombia, which is struggling to emerge from a half-century of civil conflict, the scale of violence in the US is alarming.
Since 1990, there have been 22 shootings at US elementary or secondary schools in which two or more people were killed, in addition to several deadly shootings at American universities over that period.
Violent incidents at US schools often pass with little notice, but the recent shooting at Marjory Stonemen Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed, has prompted a sustained response — including National Walkout Day, during which students around the US and the world called for a response to gun violence.
The Parkland shooting also drew attention overseas, where news of deadly violence in American schools has long been greeted with surprise and dismay.
“When I was there it was kind of jarring,” Adam Isacson, the director for defense oversight at the Washington Office in Latin America, said of attitudes toward the US and President Donald Trump in Colombia, where Isacson spent most of February on a research trip.
“I think people, to the extent they wanted to talk about Trump, just kind of felt the United States had lost its mind,” Isacson told Business Insider. “But this was magnified because I was there during the Parkland shooting and everything after, and that was reverberating around the news in Colombia too.”
“It was very jarring to be in places that in the recent past had had horrific massacres, and people, even in the countryside, [were] saying, ‘What was that school shooting? What is going on in the United States?'” Isacson said. “Because it’s true — ‘Here in Norte de Santander, we have problems, but nobody’s killed 17 people at once in a very long time.'”
“And then, of course, when it comes out that Trump wants to arm teachers and everything else — they really do think that we are a danger to ourselves and others right now,” Isacson added.
‘A relatively even keel’
Colombia’s recent history has been marked by periods of protracted violence. Political disputes provoked a decade-long period of conflict between 1948 and 1958 — known simply as “La Violencia.” The end of that was followed a few years later by a civil conflict in which the Marxist rebel group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia, or FARC, and groups like it clashed with the government and right-wing forces.
That latter conflict lasted for more than a half-century, until the FARC and Colombia’s government signed a peace deal in late 2016. Other rebel and criminal groups remain active in Colombia, and the implementation of the FARC peace accord has been uneven at best, but the country has seen significant improvements.
In 2017, Colombia saw its lowest homicide rate in 42 years — 24 homicides per 100,000 people — President Juan Manuel Santos said in early January. The US homicide rate is around 5 per 100,000, but Colombia is in better shape than some of its neighbors in Latin America, home to 42 of the 50 most violent cities in the world in 2017. Colombia had three cities on the list (down from four in 2016), compared to 17 in Brazil, 12 in Mexico, and five in Venezuela.
At the end of December, Colombian Defense Minister Luis Carlos Villegas said the country had about 320 fewer homicides in 2017 than it had in 2016.
Villegas said that in 2000, Colombia had 25,000 homicides and in 2017 it had “something more than 11,000, that is, less than 1,000 monthly.” He called the decline in homicide rate “an immense advance in terms of public tranquility.”
More than 300 of the country’s municipalities had passed 2017 with no homicides, Villegas added. Many of them were in Norte de Santander and the neighboring department of Santander — in the latter department, 51 of 78 municipalities reportedly went without homicides last year.
This is not to say political violence has disappeared from Colombia. Violence targeting activists and social leaders has attracted international concern — between January 1, 2016 and February 27, 2018, 262 people “dedicated to the defense of the community or of human rights” were killed, with 22 slain so far during 2018, the Colombian government said at the beginning of March.
There have also been attacks involving the National Liberation Army, or ELN, another leftist rebel group. The government suspended peace talks with the ELN in January, after the group bombed police stations in northern Colombia.
Earlier this month, the Colombian military bombed an ELN camp in northwest Colombia, killing 10 rebels. But Santos, heartened by the FARC peace accord, has also ordered his chief negotiator to resume talks with the ELN.
Overall, Isacson said, there were reasons for hope and for concern about Colombia.
“If you look at Venezuela, Honduras, Mexico, even the urban areas of Brazil right now, I think Colombia’s in better shape,” he said. The election held on March 11, in which Isacson said many Colombians voted for “status quo candidates” indicated “that, for the most part, the country’s on a relatively even keel.”
However, he said, the struggle to implement the peace accord — and the murky political outlook for the deal itself — led him to “fear Colombia is squandering a historic opportunity.” While the FARC’s broad unpopularity colors perceptions of the deal, the agreement does contain what Isacson said was a good blueprint for dealing with many of Colombia’s historic problems.
“If they would actually even carry that out halfway, I think you could prevent a resurgence of violence, and you could help the country really modernize and integrate into the world economy,” he told Business Insider, “but then I don’t see any movement in that direction right now.”
Assistant Director Linda Barnes’ attempt to “restructure” the BAU ended the only way it could in the latest episode of Criminal Minds — with the team back together and her being told to keep her hands off the unit. Barnes made too mistakes and errors in judgment just in the last few episodes, setting herself up to fail.
She tried to take control of the unit, deciding which cases they’d take and dishing out orders she expected everyone to follow (or, more likely, fail to follow, to give her an excuse to fire one of them, like she did with J.J.) She also appeared to make her plans for the BAU a bit too known to those outside the FBI (including senators), given what we heard from Senator Mayhew after the team saved his daughter. Really, she stood no chance against this team.
Barnes Shouldn’t Have Been in the Field or Picked out Cases
It just took Linda going into the field with the team once and making a judgement call that she shouldn’t have made — interfering with the agents’ attempts to talk down an UnSub by putting an innocent woman’s life in danger and ultimately leading to the UnSub’s death — to prove that she may have experience in the field, but she belongs behind a desk.
She placed the blame for the outcome of that case on J.J. and the team at the time, which led to the reassignments, but it was a clear sign that she wasn’t the one who should be making those calls for the BAU. She knew well enough to take herself out of the field, but she insisted on J.J. running every decision by her after, and that included the cases they worked.
As we saw in “Last Gasp,” all Barnes cared about was the BAU making the FBI look good for the public. She wanted them to take cases that involved people the public would care about, “emotional victims.” J.J. argued that they needed to take cases that saved lives. She even told the assistant director the number of people who had died since she sidelined the BAU (26.) “People die when we don’t do our job,” she said.
The smart thing for Barnes to do at that time would have been to at least consider one of the cases J.J. brought to her. After all, sure, she’s had problems with how the team has been run in the past, but Barnes had to see that they got results and saved lives. Instead, she again turned down a case brought to her because she refused to see that photos weren’t staged and the woman in them was actually terrified for her life and then dead.
If not for the team’s involvement, despite her orders to not investigate and her splitting them up (and forcing Rossi into retirement), Senator Mayhew’s daughter would have likely been dead by the time she was found. It shouldn’t have taken an act like that for Barnes to acknowledge what the BAU has accomplished.
Barnes Could Have Used the Team to Her Advantage
The team has proven they get the job done. If she was really smart, Barnes would have used them to her advantage while still trying to maintain control of the unit. Instead of trying to shape their work into something the FBI could use for good PR, she looked at the optics of cases from the beginning when choosing.
In “Last Gasp,” she didn’t care if a woman’s life could be in danger until it was a senator’s daughter. Imagine how good it would have looked for her if she had been able to try to take credit for some of their work rather than have Prentiss tell a senator that she fired an agent for looking into a case that led to the rescue of his daughter.
Barnes’ Reassignments Were a Joke
She thought the BAU was a rogue unit that needed restructuring, so she reassigned most of the team to different divisions. Prentiss went to the FBI’s version of Internal Affairs (with the worst stakeout partner.) Tara was stuck listening to partners’ problems (with Mulder and Scully look-alikes.) Rossi was forced into retirement and working on a movie set where the actor didn’t appreciate his input. Garcia was stuck in a position where she couldn’t help like she did with the BAU. J.J., Luke and Simmons were still in the BAU but unable to do their jobs.
Barnes had to realize that the team would come together and eventually work a case she ordered J.J. not to, given what she saw from them. Putting them in positions that they’d want out of as soon as possible just meant it happened sooner. J.J. even warned her that they’d take her down with them, so Barnes only had herself to blame for how it turned out for her. Did she really think she could fire one of them (J.J.) and then not have the others fight for her to get her job back? Prentiss wasn’t above telling the senator what she’d done once it was clear he was on their side because of the way she’d treated them.
Barnes Was Too Eager to Change the BAU
Senator Mayhew had heard about the plans to shut down the BAU and spread profilers out to the field offices, and Barnes was quick to tell him it was just one option to increase efficiency. She was clearly trying to salvage whatever she could, but she had to have known already that she’d lost.
It’s just like how she had the team’s reassignments already chosen (for the most part) after placing the blame for what happened in “Annihilator” on them. She jumped the gun then — she wanted it to turn out a certain way, so it did — and here, she wanted to move forward with a BAU that looked like she wanted and could control, even though her plan was a bit extreme.
She knew they were the “crown jewel” of the FBI, but she didn’t seem to consider that it would only take them rescuing one person, the right person, for her plans to become impossible. She seemed to rely too much on the power she thought she held over the unit due to her professional relationship with the director, but all it took was someone with more power to put an end to that.
The director did tell her to keep her hands off the BAU, so it’s likely this is the last we’ll see of her and the last time she’ll be a problem for the team.
What did you think of Linda Barnes’ attempt to restructure the BAU? Do you think she set herself up to fail?
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte announced Wednesday that the Philippines is withdrawing its ratification of a treaty that created the International Criminal Court, where he is facing a possible complaint over thousands of suspects killed in his anti-drug crackdown.
Critics expressed shock at Duterte’s decision, saying he was trying to escape accountability and fearing it could foster an even worse human rights situation in the country. Others called the move a foreign policy blunder that could embolden China to scoff at Manila’s victory in an international arbitration case against Beijing over contested territories.
An ICC prosecutor announced last month that she was opening a preliminary examination into possible crimes against humanity over alleged extrajudicial killings in Duterte’s drug crackdown, angering the president.
Duterte said Wednesday that the court cannot have jurisdiction over him because the Philippine Senate’s ratification in 2011 of the Rome Statute that established the court was never publicized as required by law. He called the failure to make the ratification public a “glaring and fatal error.”
Thousands of mostly poor drug suspects have been killed under Duterte’s drug crackdown. He argued Wednesday that the killings do not amount to crimes against humanity, genocide or similar atrocities.
“The so-called war against drugs is lawfully directed against drug lords and pushers who have for many years destroyed the present generation, specially the youth,” Duterte said in a 15-page statement explaining his legal position.
“The deaths occurring in the process of legitimate police operation lacked the intent to kill,” Duterte said. “The self-defense employed by the police officers when their lives became endangered by the violent resistance of the suspects is a justifying circumstance under our criminal law, hence, they do not incur criminal liability.”
Duterte also invoked presidential immunity from lawsuits, which he said prevents the ICC from investigating him while he is in office. The president renewed his verbal attacks against U.N. human rights officials who have expressed alarm over the massive killings.
He said the U.N. expert on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, had without any proof “pictured me as a ruthless violator of human rights” who was directly responsible for extrajudicial killings. He also criticized ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who announced last month that she is opening a preliminary examination into the killings.
Last Friday, the United Nations’ human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, suggested that Duterte “needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric evaluation” over his “unacceptable” remarks about some top human rights defenders.
Zeid demanded that the Human Rights Council, which counts the Philippines among its 47 member countries, “must take a strong position” on the issue, and insisted “these attacks cannot go unanswered.”
Duterte has acknowledged his rough ways and tough approach to crime, but suggested many Filipinos have come to accept him.
He has lashed out at European governments, saying they should “go to hell” for imposing conditions on financial aid.
Opposition Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate called Duterte’s move to withdraw the country from the Rome Statute a “grave setback to human rights and accountability.”
It is “intended to escape accountability by present and even future officials for crimes committed against the people and humanity,” Zarate said.
Another opposition lawmaker, Tom Villarin, said Duterte’s action “would have unprecedented repercussions on our international standing as a sovereign state.”
Villarin said it could also embolden China, which has refused to comply with an international arbitration ruling that invalidated its vast territorial claims in the South China Sea under a 1982 U.N. treaty. The Philippines filed and largely won the arbitration case.
Like this article? Gain access to all of our great content with a month-to-month subscription. Start your subscription for as little as $32.
John Skipper resigned suddenly as ESPN president in December, citing a long struggle with “substance addiction.”
In a new interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Skipper shed light on the days leading up to his resignation, a time he said included being caught up in an extortion plot over a cocaine purchase.
Skipper said he resigned after disclosing the extortion to Disney CEO Bob Iger, agreeing at the time that he had “placed the company in an untenable position.”
In December, John Skipper resigned suddenly from his role as president of ESPN and cochairman of Disney Media Networks, citing a long struggle with “substance addiction.”
The move came as a shock to the sports-media world at the time. But in a new interview with the ESPN historian James Andrew Miller for The Hollywood Reporter, Skipper described the difficult days leading up to his resignation, which he said included being caught up in an extortion plot over a cocaine purchase.
In the interview, Skipper said he had been an “infrequent” cocaine user and that his drug use did not interfere with his work at ESPN. When Miller pressed him on that, saying the behavior Skipper described didn’t sound like an addiction, Skipper said that in December someone he had not previously bought cocaine from “attempted to extort” him and that this ultimately brought about a discussion with Disney CEO Bob Iger that led to his resignation.
“They threatened me, and I understood immediately that threat put me and my family at risk, and this exposure would put my professional life at risk as well,” Skipper said. “I foreclosed that possibility by disclosing the details to my family, and then when I discussed it with Bob, he and I agreed that I had placed the company in an untenable position and as a result, I should resign.”
“It was inappropriate for the president of ESPN and an officer of The Walt Disney Co. to be associated in any way with any of this,” he later said. “I do want to make it clear, however, that anything I did in this regard, and anything else resulting from this, was a personal problem. My drug use never had any professional repercussions, but I still have profound regret.”
Skipper described spending the day after his resignation by himself in New York City, crying as he “realized the profundity of what I’d done to myself, to my family, and that I’d given up the best job in sports on the planet.”
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Tonight, a little bit of Cleveland will appear in the newest episode of crime drama show, “Criminal Minds.”
Local singer-songwriter Marina Strah’s song, “Coming Home,” will appear in the episode. The song is about Strah’s life in Cleveland.
“Getting a song placed on a show or movie has always felt like a bucket-list goal for me,” said Strah. “I kept saying that if I could land a song, it would make me feel like I belong in this industry and that I actually have a shot at this insane dream.”
The episode will air on CBS at 10 p.m. It’s the 16th episode of the show’s 13th season.
Strah earned fame when she won Ryan Seacrest’s cover song contest in 2014, with her acoustic version of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.” Earlier that year, she also won an “Ohio’s Got Talent” competition.
Strah’s been working on new music this year. Her newest single, “On Your Mind,” arrived on Feb. 16, and she plans to release a new album in late summer.
You can catch Strah live at Shelby Olive’s album release party on March 16 at Musica, 51 E. Market St., Akron. Strah will also perform a free concert on March 28 at The Playground, 8735 Day Dr., Parma.
“This is an awesome start to what I think is going to be a really cool year,” Strah said.
Blink Health, a pharmacy startup that provides discounts to prescription drugs and has raised $165 million in funding, is suing a competitor it claims is an “unlawful copycat scheme.”
The lawsuit alleges Hippo, a new startup founded by former Blink Health executives, got ahold of Blink Health’s trade secrets and unfairly uses them to compete with Blink Health.
Blink Health is seeking $50 million in damages already caused, along with $200 million in punitive damages for a total of $250 million.
Blink Health is suing a pharmacy startup it claims is an “unlawful copycat scheme.”
Blink Health, a startup that helps negotiate lower drug prices, was founded by 35-year-old Geoffrey Chaiken and 32-year-old Matthew Chaiken. The company is now suing Hippo, a company founded by former Blink Health executives that operates under a similar format to deliver prescription drug discounts.
In its complaint, Blink Health claims violations of the Defend Trade Secrets Act, alleging that Hippo got ahold of Blink Health’s trade secrets and has and continues to use “stolen property for its own benefit and in unfair competition with Blink at thousands of ‘pharmacies nationwide.'”
The company is seeking $50 million in damages, along with $200 million in punitive damages, for a total of $250 million.
“No company should be allowed to cheat and steal its way into existence, as Hippo is trying to do,” Blink Health’s attorney Orin Synder said in a statement sent to Business Insider.
8VC, which led Blink’s Series A and B rounds, said in a statement, “We are fully supportive of Blink Health and its actions.”
Hippo was not immediately available to comment.
Here’s how Blink Health’s prescription discounting
When it comes to lowering prescription costs, there are a number of different approaches startups are taking, from comparing the price at one pharmacy to another nearby so consumers shopping around for a lower price can get a sense of where they might go. Others have delivery components as well as discounts.
Blink Health operates a little differently. Instead of having people go from one pharmacy to another, Blink Health negotiates to get the same price at different pharmacies for generic medications and some branded diabetes medications. Blink Health works at Rite Aid, Walmart, Kroger and K-Mart, but it doesn’t currently work at Walgreens or CVS Health.
Say you need to pick up a prescription for your medication, but you have a high deductible plan that requires you to pay $3,000 out of your own pocket before your insurance starts picking up the rest of the tab. Instead of going to the pharmacy and accepting whatever price they offer (which can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy), you could download the Blink Health app, or go to the company’s website.
In the app, you can find your prescription and purchase it directly through the app. Then, when you get to the pharmacy counter, you show your phone to the pharmacist who rings it up instead. In return, Blink gets a cut of the transaction.
Where Hippo and Blink Health have similarities
The system of having the same price at any pharmacy and presenting a virtual card is the same model Hippo is using, according to its website.
For example, here’s how Blink Health describes the process:
And here’s how Hippo’s site describes it:
Hippo was started by two former Blink Health executives: former chief financial officer Eugene Kakaulin and former general counsel Charles Jacoby. In 2016, Kakaulin sued Blink Health claiming breach of contract and violations of federal whistleblower law when Kakaulin came to the founders with information about securities violations. The case was later settled.
Blink Health’s complaint alleges that Hippo got confidential marketing plans, such as strategies and slogans, information about how Blink Health set up relationships and contracts with pharmacy benefit managers, as well as some of the back-end coding that helps fill the prescription when someone using the app/website uses their card, and that these are trade secrets belonging to Blink Health.
Actor Adam Rodriguez has come a long way since he was dancing in Jennifer Lopez and Busta Rhymes music videos back in the 1990s. Rodriguez is now one of the stars of “Criminal Minds” on CBS and the director of tonight’s new episode. Season 13 is already off to an interesting start as Linda Barnes is shaking things up.
Rodriguez chatted with CBS Local’s DJ Sixsmith about his career and why “Criminal Minds” continues to find success 13 seasons in.
DJ Sixsmith: You directed tonight’s episode of the show. What was the most rewarding part of this experience?
Adam Rodriguez: It was a great feeling. I’ve been working in television a long time and any time you’re part of a cast for a period of time, it’s always nice to get to work with the characters and the crew in a different capacity. Getting a chance to do that as a director was a joy. I’m loving the people that I’m working with on “Criminal Minds.” Putting on a different hat allows me to appreciate what everyone does in a different way. We turned out a great episode and I’m really proud of the episode coming out tonight.
DS: You’ve directed in the past. How did this experience compare to your experiences on other shows?
AR: They’ve all got their own individual set of challenges. I don’t think this could’ve gone more smoothly. That’s the beauty of working on well-oiled machine and a show that’s been on as long as “Criminal Minds” has been on. It is because of the people that are making the show on a daily basis. It’s been a great experience and I think that’s why in large part I’m so happy with the way the episode turned out. Everybody came to play, the actors gave their best and so did the crew.
DS: Why has “Criminal Minds” resonated with the audience for such a long time?
AR: Aside from the performances and scripts, I think the stories are not afraid to go dark and explore what is so twisted about these serial killers that we have to hunt down every week. I think not being afraid to go there has kept the show interesting for the 13 seasons its been on.
DS: The Barnes storyline has been intriguing this season. What can people expect when they tune in tonight?
AR: The Barnes storyline has really amped things up big time. She’s trying to pick the team apart and really insert herself in the middle of a group of people that works really well together. She’s trying to completely destroy that.
DS: What are the proudest moments of your career?
AR: That my career has been able to last as long as it has to this point. I’ve been able to work consistently for a very long time. There are some projects that I’m most proud of. “Magic Mike” comes to mind just because of the amount of physical work that went into preparing for that role. There were a lot of sacrifices that went into getting ready for that.
The prosecutors these days are younger than Ben Brafman’s children and the criminal defense lawyers who have operated in his orbit for the last four decades are all retired or dead. But don’t expect Brafman, 69, to fade from the limelight.
Why? “It’s kind of too late in my life to start a second career,” he said during an interview in his Midtown Manhattan office, proving once and for all that he doesn’t understand the concept of retirement.
Surrounded by framed newspaper clippings of his proudest achievements, Brafman recounted the victories that prompted The New Yorkerto call him “The Last of the Big-Time Defense Attorneys.” But, he said, he still agonizes over the defeats and still struggles with the public humiliation that accompanies losses in high-profile cases.
“It was a very draining day, both emotionally and physically, and for several days coming into today, I had virtually no sleep as my mind and heart kept racing with anxiety,” he said in an email that night. “When the guidelines are 27 years and the government is insisting on 15 years, a seven-year sentence might look good to some. To me, it was terribly disappointing.
“To be candid, I hated everything about today. In truth, I think Martin took his sentence better than I did.”
To explain what the public humiliation is like, Brafman tells the story of an encounter with a well-known oncologist at a charity event. The oncologist said he had always wanted to meet Brafman because they have a lot in common. “What do we have in common?” Brafman asked quizzically.
“Oncologists don’t generally deal with humiliation,” he told the doctor. “When you get sick, everyone who loves you becomes closer and supports you. When I deal with someone who is prominent and if their criminal case becomes a matter of public discussion, there’s an added dimension of humiliation, which is sometimes the most difficult part of my job.”
In the Shkreli case, Brafman saw his client vilified because the pharmaceutical executive had raised the price of a lifesaving drug for treating HIV to $750 a pill. While the sentence was a disappointment, the verdict wasn’t a complete loss.
“In our view, he was acquitted of the most important count, which accused him of intentionally trying to steal other people’s money. Given what we had to overcome, I think we did a very good job in that case and I’m very proud of the result,” he said.
Beyond Skhreli, Brafman’s client list is familiar to New York’s legal community. But for the uninitiated, they include Harvey Weinstein, Jay Z, 50 Cent, Michael Jackson, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Genovese crime family boss Vincent Gigante, Bonanno crime family boss Vincent Basciano, Cameron Douglas, nightclub owner Peter Gatien, Conservative Party pundit Dinesh D’Souza, former New York State Assemblyman Carl Kruger, former Suffolk County political boss John Powell, Plaxico Burress and Puff Daddy.
Despite the celebrity cache, Brafman insists the work isn’t glamorous.
“People ask how I spend my days,” Brafman said. “They think I’m clubbing with Puff Daddy or throwing passes to Plaxico Burress in my backyard. I’m not. Sometimes I’m on my hands and knees before some very young prosecutors begging to get an ounce of future for some soul whose whole life is on my shoulders.”
Interacting With Prosecutors
Preet Bharara, who was considered by some to be the most powerful prosecutor in America when he was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was so impressed with Brafman that he invited him to speak to the staff. Previous guests included four Supreme Court justices, two FBI directors and former New York City Mayor David Dinkins and so Brafman was in good company.
“He was in a position to impart a lot of wisdom that you can’t get from a book,” Bharara said in an interview. “Ben Brafman is an old-school guy and I mean that as the highest compliment. We don’t have enough of that. When he comes in the room, people don’t immediately have their back up. Being disarming and friendly is not weakness. It shows tremendous strength and confidence actually.”
“I think he’s one of the most able, if not the most able, criminal defense lawyer in New York and one of the reasons I think Ben is a breed apart is because he fights for his clients fair and square,” Bharara said.
In 1980, when Brafman launched Brafman & Associates, prosecutors and criminal defense lawyers spent more time together because more cases went to trial. Brafman was on trial nonstop for 15 years, sleeping only two hours straight most nights.
“If not for the fact I observe the Sabbath, I think I’d be dead,” said Brafman, an Orthodox Jew who prays, rests and recharges from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. “I think God knew exactly what he was doing.”
One of the most notorious trials involved the acquittal of Gatien. Gatien was dubbed the “King of Clubs” because he owned prominent nightclubs at which the government was alleging a series of drug deals took place.
U.S. District Judge Frederic Block of the Eastern District of New York, who presided over the trial, wrote about Brafman in his book. “He was brilliant. I never saw a more skilled criminal defense attorney,” he said.
Michael Bachner, Brafman’s first associate, called Brafman a brilliant cross-examiner with an innate ability to know when a witness was telling the truth.
“He also has this self-deprecating manner to him despite all the big egos that criminal lawyers have. Even hostile witnesses open up,” said Bachner who now has his own firm.
Asked to identify Brafman’s weaknesses, Hafetz & Necheles name attorney Frederick Hafetz said, “None of us are Superman. We all take a step occasionally we wish we didn’t take,” but he added, ”I’m a big fan of Ben’s.”
Paul Shechtman, a partner at Bracewell, handled an appeal on a case that Brafman tried.
“I thought that Ben’s summation was magical,” he said. “I thought the defendant was guilty. The jury thought the defendant was guilty. But there was a brief moment at the end of Ben’s summation where I thought the client was innocent.”
When he was a prosecutor, Shechtman had a meeting with Brafman who had come to his office to fight for a client. Shechtman said he knew he was going to deny Brafman’s request “but when he was done, I almost did it.”
Brafman said he savors the times when he does get to tell a client he has convinced a prosecutor not to level charges.
“I guess It’s like telling someone that they no longer have cancer and they’ve been cured,” he said. “But I think it’s even better because I don’t have science on my side and I don’t have blood tests and surgery. I don’t have cutting-edge drugs that are being developed every day that help me in my work.”
‘I Don’t Represent Terrorists’
While acknowledging that he has clients who have been charged with murder, Brafman draws the line at terrorists.
He believes that reviled terrorists deserve the best representation but said he is not the right person. It’s not that he sits in judgment but that he’s been in the business long enough to be selective about the cases he takes.
“You can’t pass moral judgment as a criminal defense lawyer,” he said. “Once you start doing that, you can’t do this kind of work because most of the people who come to you are not picked out of the yellow pages for the distinction of having to hire a criminal defense lawyer.”
The prevalence of terrorism and the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe account in part for Brafman’s reluctance to retire and travel. He no longer feels welcome beyond the United States and Israel.
Brafman, who has been an emcee or keynote speaker at more than 100 charitable events in the last five years, many for Israel and the Jewish community, bemoans “this world of indiscriminate violence and mass murder that is essentially just out there. It terrifies me that this is the world I’m going to be leaving my children and grandchildren.”
But he finds it easy to follow his faith, nevertheless, because observing the Sabbath as a modern Orthodox Jew in the United States is no sacrifice compared to the horrors his ancestors endured. Brafman’s maternal grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin were murdered at Auschwitz and his father was arrested by the Gestapo on Kristallnacht. “I remember saying at my mother’s funeral that today, the day she died, is the only day she is not afraid,” Brafman said.
With no prospect of retirement in sight, Brafman sees his job as a criminal defense lawyer and the ability it gives him to support the causes he believes in as ways to practice his religion. The job and Judaism are ironically closely aligned.
“One of the fundamental teachings of Judaism is giving people the benefit of the doubt,” he said.