President Trump has another good reason to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions right now. Sessions is implementing a dangerous and destructive new policy that can potentially cost the Donald and his family everything.
Sessions has reinstituted civil asset forfeiture; a policy that allows law enforcement and prosecutors to seize the property and money of suspected criminals without a charge or even a warrant, The Washington Post reported. Sessions has revived a program that lets local police and prosecutors use federal civil forfeiture to take property and money from suspected criminals.
Former Attorney General Eric Halder shut down a similar program in 2014 after a flurry of news stories about abuse. Widely reported outrages included; $50,000 in legal casino winnings seized from a motorist in Nevada, and a seizure corridor along Interstate 40 in Tennessee where sheriff’s deputies took cash from hundreds of motorists.
“Interstate 40 has become a major profit center for Tennessee law enforcement,” Phil Williams the chief reporter at Nashville’s Channel 5 said. An investigation by Williams found that two rival “drug taskforces” were competing to seize cash from motorists. The so-called drug taskforces were only stopping vehicles heating west back to Mexico with cash from drug deals; while ignoring criminals hauling heroin to the streets of America’s cities.
For a good overview of Civil Asset Forfeiture and the damage it does see the Institute for Justice’s Policing for Profit webpage. Another example of the corruption is Hamilton County (Ohio) Attorney Joe Deters who allegedly gave a friend $2.2 million worth of no-bid contracts, Injustice Today reported. Two thirds of the money involved came from forfeiture funds.
Despite those; and many other well-publicized abuses, Sessions has revived civil forfeiture – which should scare Donald and his family to death. The Trumps might be victims of the very evil they’re trying to revive.
How Seizure could threaten the Trump Family and Everybody’s Property Rights
Under the civil forfeiture practices Sessions is reviving money; and property, can be seized from suspected criminals without a warrant or charges. All a prosecutor needs to implement seizure is a claim that money is the proceeds of crime no proof is needed.
The government can do that because forfeiture is a civil procedure so police and prosecutors using it don’t have to follow the rules for criminal charges. Instead it simply sues a suspect or his or her property in court, often after the money or property has been taken.
The danger to Donald, his children and their family business is obvious; many Americans consider Trump a criminal. A prosecutor could start forfeiture against him, or Ivanka, or Eric or Donald Jr. or Jarred Kushner and try to seize the billions of dollars’ worth of real estate they own, right now.
How Seizure could Cost the Trumps Everything
The seizers would have the twin motivations of greed and a righteous cause. Worse they would undoubtedly have the whole-hearted support of millions of Americans, including many card carrying members of the American Civil Liberties Union.
All it would take is one grandstanding District Attorney; who is running for Congress in a heavily Democratic district, to get the ball rolling. The DA could try to seize Mira Lago and auction it off to raise money for education. Even if such efforts failed they might cost the Trumps’ tens of millions of dollars in legal fees.
An even worse nightmare for the Trumps would be this scenario: It is 2021, and in one of his first acts in office; President Duane Johnson delivers on his campaign promise to seize all of the Trump family’s money and property.
Newly-appointed Attorney General Hillary Clinton eagerly and enthusiastically goes along with the politically-motivated theft. Even though Donald had not been charged with a crime he and his children would lose everything overnight. The former President of the United States might end up sleeping in Peter Thiel’s guest room; and waging a legal battle to retain ownership to Trump Tower and access, to his own bank accounts.
If you think this is fantasy remember we just had a president elected with the help of the “jail crooked Hillary” promise.” “Seize crooked Donald’s money; and return it to the taxpayers,” would be even more popular in some quarters.
Disturbingly such politically-motivated theft would be totally legal under the loathsome legal doctrine; Sessions and his henchman Assistant Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, are promoting. Seizing a tycoon’s assets would also be very popular in a nation plagued with income inequality and seething with anger at the “billionaire class.” Add an economic downturn; and a large deficit, to the mix and you have a recipe for legalized theft on a vast scale.
How Civil Forfeiture Threatens Everybody’s Rights
Forfeiture is destructive because it is morally wrong, unconstitutional and corrupting.
Simply taking money or property without due process is theft. That should certainly trouble people of faith for it clearly violates the Third Commandment; “Thou Shall not Steal.” All the Christians that voted for Donald Trump should certainly think about this.
Civil forfeiture violates the Fourth’s Amendment’s ban on “unreasonable search seizure” and warrant requirement. It also violates the Fifth Amendment which states: no person can be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”
Civil forfeiture is corrupting because it makes the major goal of law enforcement gathering of funds. Police officers get turned into tax collectors and the objective of law enforcement becomes raking in as much cash as possible.
A related problem is that police no longer have an incentive to shut criminals down, instead they want them operating and making more money to tax. Remember the I-40 corridor in Tennessee, the drug taskforce ignored the drugs and seized only the cash.
This should frighten rich people like Trump because sooner or later the forfeiture predators will turn their attention to those with the most money. Everybody else should be scared of forfeiture; because in a country where police can seize anybody’s money at any time, nobody is safe. Tax collection by forfeiture is even more likely, if state and local governments start running out of money; which is happening in Illinois.
Forfeiture and the Dangerous Fantasies of Law and Order Republicans
Forfeiture is an example of the dangerous fantasy that motivates law and order Republicans. The fantasy is that law enforcement officers are incorruptible superheroes who are immune to human weakness.
Yes most law officers are brave, honest, law abiding, ethical and honorable but they are also human beings. A person with a badge is still susceptible to all the temptations that can bring down the rest of us. Therefore giving law enforcement; and worse prosecutors many of whom are politicians, vast powers will lead to vast corruption.
Simply assuming that police and prosecutors will do the right thing is not enough; there must be limits to their powers, as the Founding Fathers wisely recognized. It must also be recognized that the power Sessions and Trump are giving police for a noble purpose can be abused for more sinister ends.
Republicans; especially libertarians who believe in the Constitution and Christians that believe in original sin and the Bible, must recognize Law and Order Republicanism for the dangerous fallacy that it is. If they do not they might become victims of the system it is creating.
What can be done to stop forfeiture?
Fortunately there is a lot that can be done to stop civil forfeiture some steps include:
- A federal law banning civil forfeiture or restricting its’ use to after a conviction or guilty plea would be the best solution.
- Require all funds obtained through forfeiture to be turned over the U.S. Treasury or used only for victim restitution. This would eliminate conflict of interest for law enforcement; and the incentive to make seizure the major focus of police work.
- Supreme Court justices and federal judges with a strong commitment to the Constitution and basic rights must be appointed. The U.S. Supreme Court can end all civil forfeiture with one ruling if it wishes.
- Average citizens need to let their elected representatives; including President Trump, know they oppose the practice and will vote against them if they support it.
- Republicans need to start practicing the values they claim to believe in. A party that promotes Civil Forfeiture is neither Christian nor Libertarian.
- Everybody needs to support legal organizations opposed to forfeiture; like the Institute for Justice on the right, and the American Civil Liberties Union on the left, and journalists dedicated to exposing the practice such as The Washington Post’s Radley Balko.
- Expand the public defender system to civil courts to give poor people at least some legal representation in seizure cases. One good way to get attorneys to participate would be to forgive the student loans of lawyers that worked as public defenders for a few years. Prosecutors and police knowing suspects might get representation may be more reluctant to engage in seizure.
If we don’t take these steps many innocent Americans; including President Trump, might find themselves deprived of their property rights – by the people who are supposed to be serving and protecting them.