Prosecutors: Flipping Off the Law with Impunity

“It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal,” US president Donald Trump said in a recent Fox News interview. “I know all about flipping …. Everything is wonderful and then they get 10 years in jail and they flip on whoever the next highest one is or as high as you can go.”

Self-serving? Sure. The president’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, recently struck a deal with federal prosecutors to plead guilty to several crimes — and testified that then-candidate Trump had directed him to make an illegal campaign contribution. In return for his cooperation, he expects a lighter sentencing recommendation from those prosecutors.

Self-serving, yes, but also true. The American criminal justice system is shot through with the behavior in question. The “flipping” President Trump describes isn’t something that “almost ought to be illegal.”  It’s something that IS illegal.

Title 18, Section 201 of the United States Code provides that “Whoever … corruptly gives, offers, or promises anything of value to any person … with intent to influence the testimony under oath or affirmation of such first-mentioned person as a witness upon a trial, hearing, or other proceeding, before any court … shall be fined under this title … or imprisoned for not more than fifteen years, or both, and may be disqualified from holding any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”

The same section similarly forbids seeking or accepting such inducements. And it includes no exceptions for prosecutors hunting bigger game than they’ve already cornered, or for defendants expecting lighter sentences — certainly things “of value” — if they agree to serve as those prosecutors’ hunting dogs.

If the goal of the American “justice” system is indeed to seek justice, prosecutors should charge defendants with the actual crimes they  can prove those defendants committed and judges should levy the penalties prescribed for those crimes, assuming the laws and penalties are indeed just (that’s a different question).

But that’s not the goal, as many prosecutors see it. The goal is to horse-trade toward more and bigger convictions by simultaneously bribing and extorting defendants, offering reduced charges and sentences in return for guilty pleas and “cooperation,” often initially “over-charging” those defendants so there’s more on the auction block.

If, as rumored, every prosecutor sees a future attorney general, governor, or even president in the morning mirror, then above and beyond the aforementioned crimes,  “flipping” becomes a matter of soliciting and receiving illegal campaign contributions, doesn’t it?

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


Democrats Move Back Toward Trusting the People

Hillary Clinton Speech at Democratic National Convention (July 28, 2016)
By Maggie Hallahan [CC BY-SA 4.0] from Wikimedia Commons

“[A] political party which wishes to lead,” reads the preamble to the Democratic Party’s charter, “must listen to those it would lead, a party which asks for the people’s trust must prove that it trusts the people …”

On August 25, the Democratic National Committee took that passage to heart by limiting the power of “superdelegates” in choosing the party’s presidential nominee. Good move, and long overdue.

Proximate inspiration: The disastrous 2016 presidential cycle, in which superdelegates played a key role in assuring the nomination of Hillary Clinton (and the election of Donald Trump) by giving Clinton a seemingly insurmountable early advantage over insurgent Bernie Sanders. Backroom work by the DNC itself to engineer that outcome — exposed in a WikiLeaks email dump — made cries for reform  inevitable.

In fact, the “superdelegate” system worked precisely as intended in 2016, and  it has belied the Democratic Party’s claim to represent “the people” since its adoption in 1984.

In 1981-82, the Hunt Commission met to develop a party response to two major defeats: George McGovern’s 49-state loss in 1972, and Jimmy Carter’s 1980 failure of re-election.

As Branko Marcetic explains in “The Secret History of Super Delegates,” the party had previously reformed its process after 1968, moving the party’s center of nomination power out of smoke-filled rooms and into the hands of primary voters. As a result, McGovern and Carter won their nominations by going around the party establishment and directly to “the people.” The Commission’s solution to “restore balance” was a special class of delegate, the superdelegate, of perceived superior political judgment.

Superdelegates make up nearly 1/6th of national convention delegates, and they are by definition party insiders: DNC members, governors, members of Congress, and former presidents, vice-presidents, congressional leaders, DNC chairs.

Unlike regular delegates, who are bound by primary and caucus results, superdelegates theoretically answer to no one. They’re free to support any candidates they like, for whatever reasons they think important.

But that freedom from constraint, in addition to alloying the party’s supposed internal democracy with an elite semi-veto, is illusory. Superdelegates — officeholders hoping to be re-elected, or up-and-comers planning future campaigns — rely on the DNC itself for support. Superdelegates have every incentive to vote for whomever the DNC favors, so that the DNC will favor THEM.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign and then-DNC-chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz weaponized the superdelegate system to make Clinton seem “inevitable” even where the popular vote said otherwise.

When Sanders whipped Clinton by more than 22 points in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary, the two came out of the state with the same number of delegates in hand due to superdelegate pledges of fealty to Clinton. When Clinton lost she tied. When she tied she won. Inevitable! And that depressed turnout for Sanders in later states.

In 2020, superdelegates won’t be allowed to vote on the first presidential nomination ballot unless that vote is purely ceremonial because there’s an obvious winner from the popular voting. The superdelegates only vote effectually if “the people” can’t decide the first time around. A little more democratic that way, don’t you agree?

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.


SALT Shakeup: So Much for “Their Fair Share”

1040 Tax Form

On August 23, the Internal Revenue Service announced new rules on the  federal income tax’s State and Local Tax deduction. The rules are intended to thwart an interesting scam several state governments worked up to “save” that deduction. It’s an interesting reversal of the two major parties’ usual talking points.

Republicans love to be seen as taking axes to taxes. “Tax cuts” are their two favorite words. But as part of “paying for” last year’s tax cuts, they capped the SALT deduction. Taxpayers who itemize their deductions can now only strike $10,000 in state and local taxes off their federally taxable income. Republicans are “paying for” their middle class tax cuts by soaking the rich.

Democrats, especially Democrats who govern high-tax states, love to soak the rich. In fact, they have some favorite tax words, too — three of them on the subject of tax cuts that benefit wealthier Americans. Those Americans, Democrats say, need to pay “their fair share.” But they’re against soaking the rich (for “their fair share”) in this particular case.

Why? Well, the SALT deduction allowed those states to soak the rich more, without much of a fight. Think your taxes are too high here? Just grab that federal tax deduction to take the edge off! Pay “your fair share” here — the feds can take it in the shorts or force people in lower-tax states to subsidize you at the federal level. The SALT cap invites state and local tax rebellion.

So the tax-and-spend states came up with and audacious scheme:

They set up “charitable foundations” to do the stuff they do with taxes. Then they offered dollar-for-dollar state tax credits for donations to those foundations … which the wealthy could deduct from federally taxable income as “charitable donations” instead of as “state and local tax payments,” thus avoiding the cap.

A transparent shell game, and one the IRS can hardly be blamed for seeing through and putting the kibosh on.

I’m all in favor of state governments operating as charities, but real charities take actual donations, not donations in lieu of taxes. Why not keep those charitable foundations and use them to replace, rather than offset, state and local taxes?

And while we’re at it, how about we push the feds to do the same thing? Want a new aircraft carrier? Hold a bake sale.

Squabbling over which gang gets the tax take doesn’t change the fact that taxation is theft.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.