Trump thinks Susan Rice committed a crime but doesn’t think Bill O’Reilly did anything wrong

The New York Times reports: President Trump said on Wednesday that he thought that the former national security adviser Susan E. Rice may have committed a crime by seeking the identities of Trump associates who were swept up in the surveillance of foreign officials by American spy agencies and that other Obama administration officials may also have been involved.

The president provided no evidence to back his claim. Current and former intelligence officials from both Republican and Democratic administrations have said that nothing they have seen led them to believe that Ms. Rice’s actions were unusual or unlawful. When Americans are swept up in surveillance of foreign officials by intelligence agencies, their identities are supposed to be obscured, but they can be revealed for national security reasons, and intelligence officials say it is a regular occurrence.

“I think it’s going to be the biggest story,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office. “It’s such an important story for our country and the world. It is one of the big stories of our time.” [Continue reading…]

The New York Times reports: The embattled Fox News host Bill O’Reilly got powerful backing on Wednesday from none other than the president of the United States, who called him “a good person.”

Mr. Trump praised Fox News and Mr. O’Reilly, just days after The New York Times reported that the host had been involved in five settlements with women who said he had harassed them. The deals resulted in payouts totaling about $13 million, The Times reported.

“Personally, I think he shouldn’t have settled,” Mr. Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office with Times reporters. “Because you should have taken it all the way; I don’t think Bill did anything wrong.” [Continue reading…]

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The WhatsApp chat that nails Putin’s mafia state

Michael Weiss writes: It was a digital conversation never intended for public consumption. Yet what it discloses is nothing short of damning evidence about a decade-old conspiracy between the Russian mob and officials in Vladimir Putin’s government to steal $230 million from the Russian people, then frame and kill the whistleblowing tax attorney who uncovered the crime.

But here it is: Evidence that leaves little room for doubt that Sergei Magnitsky, the murdered lawyer, was right all along. There was collusion between members of organized crime and the Russian government to perpetrate the original theft and then cover it up. In fact, the cover-up continued years after Magnitsky’s violent end in pretrial detention, where he was beaten to death.

To understand the evidence and its import—the extent to which it exposes the rot at the core of the Russian system run by Vladimir Putin—it’s necessary to revisit the admittedly complicated details of the conspiracy, at least as they have been corroborated by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice (PDF), and the European Parliament, all of which have upheld Magnitsky’s findings—even if his own government has not. [Continue reading…]

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Judge to Trump: No protection for speech inciting violence

The Associated Press reports: A federal judge has rejected President Donald Trump’s free speech defense against a lawsuit accusing him of inciting violence against protesters at a campaign rally.

Trump’s lawyers sought to dismiss the lawsuit by three protesters who say they were roughed up by his supporters at a March 1, 2016 rally in Louisville, Kentucky. They argued that Trump didn’t intend for his supporters to use force.

Two women and a man say they were shoved and punched by audience members at Trump’s command. Much of it was captured on video and widely broadcast during the campaign, showing Trump pointing at the protesters and repeating “get them out.”

Judge David J. Hale in Louisville ruled Friday that the suit against Trump, his campaign and three of his supporters can proceed. Hale found ample facts supporting allegations that the protesters’ injuries were a “direct and proximate result” of Trump’s actions, and noted that the Supreme Court has ruled out constitutional protections for speech that incites violence.

“It is plausible that Trump’s direction to ‘get ‘em out of here’ advocated the use of force,” the judge wrote. “It was an order, an instruction, a command.” [Continue reading…]

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Why the FBI can’t tell all on Trump, Russia

WhoWhatWhy reports: It will take an agency independent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to expose Donald Trump’s true relationship with Moscow and the role Russia may have played in getting him elected.

Director James Comey recently revealed in a congressional hearing for the first time that the FBI “is investigating … the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

However, a two-month WhoWhatWhy investigation has revealed an important reason the Bureau may be facing undisclosed obstacles to revealing what it knows to the public or to lawmakers.

Our investigation also may explain why the FBI, which was very public about its probe of Hillary Clinton’s emails, never disclosed its investigation of the Trump campaign prior to the election, even though we now know that it commenced last July.

Such publicity could have exposed a high-value, long-running FBI operation against an organized crime network headquartered in the former Soviet Union. That operation depended on a convicted criminal who for years was closely connected with Trump, working with him in Trump Tower — while constantly informing for the FBI and the Department of Justice (DOJ), and being legally protected by them.

Some federal officials were so involved in protecting this source — despite his massive fraud and deep connections to organized crime — that they became his defense counsel after they left the government.

In secret court proceedings that were later unsealed, both current and former government attorneys argued for extreme leniency toward the man when he was finally sentenced. An FBI agent who expressed his support for the informant later joined Trump’s private security force.

In this way, the FBI’s dilemma about revealing valuable sources, assets and equities in its ongoing investigation of links between the Trump administration and Russian criminal elements harkens back to the embarrassing, now infamous Whitey Bulger episode. In that case, the Feds protected Bulger, a dangerous Boston-based mobster serving as their highly valued informant, even as the serial criminal continued to participate in heinous crimes. The FBI now apparently finds itself confronted with similar issues: Is its investigation of the mob so crucial to national security that it outweighs the public’s right to know about their president? [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s business network reached alleged Russian mobsters

USA Today reports: To expand his real estate developments over the years, Donald Trump, his company and partners repeatedly turned to wealthy Russians and oligarchs from former Soviet republics — several allegedly connected to organized crime, according to a USA TODAY review of court cases, government and legal documents and an interview with a former federal prosecutor.

The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.

Among them:

• A partner in the firm that developed the Trump SoHo Hotel in New York is a twice-convicted felon who spent a year in prison for stabbing a man and later scouted for Trump investments in Russia.

• An investor in the SoHo project was accused by Belgian authorities in 2011 in a $55 million money-laundering scheme.

• Three owners of Trump condos in Florida and Manhattan were accused in federal indictments of belonging to a Russian-American organized crime group and working for a major international crime boss based in Russia.

• A former mayor from Kazakhstan was accused in a federal lawsuit filed in Los Angeles in 2014 of hiding millions of dollars looted from his city, some of which was spent on three Trump SoHo units.

• A Ukrainian owner of two Trump condos in Florida was indicted in a money-laundering scheme involving a former prime minister of Ukraine.

Trump’s Russian connections are of heightened interest because of an FBI investigation into possible collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian operatives to interfere in last fall’s election. What’s more, Trump and his companies have had business dealings with Russians that go back decades, raising questions about whether his policies would be influenced by business considerations. [Continue reading…]

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Bank that lent $300m to Trump linked to Russian money laundering scam

The Guardian reports: The German bank that loaned $300m (£260m) to Donald Trump played a prominent role in a money laundering scandal run by Russian criminals with ties to the Kremlin, the Guardian can reveal.

Deutsche Bank is one of dozens of western financial institutions that processed at least $20bn – and possibly more – in money of “criminal origin” from Russia.

The scheme, dubbed “the Global Laundromat”, ran from 2010 to 2014.

Law enforcement agencies are investigating how a group of politically well-connected Russians were able to use UK-registered companies to launder billions of dollars in cash. The companies made fictitious loans to each other, underwritten by Russian businesses. [Continue reading…]

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No, Sweden isn’t hiding an immigrant crime problem. This is the real story

Kristine Eck and Christopher J. Fariss write: Last weekend at a Florida campaign rally, the president of the United States made vague claims intimating that Sweden has an immigrant violence problem. Research we have conducted shows that this is not true. In fact, criticism of Sweden is based on common misconceptions and mishandled information.

The president’s comments were originally inspired by a Fox News report on a video propaganda piece released by Ami Horowitz, which alleges that Sweden faces a spate of Muslim immigrant violence and that Swedish authorities are covering this up. The video misuses quotes from Swedish police to suggest that official crime statistics in Sweden are being purposely withheld. After President Trump’s comments, several right-wing media outlets doubled down on these claims. This is a feedback loop based on what are now called “alternative facts.”

Official crime statistics from Sweden actually show that the crime rate has remained steady since 2005. What’s more, the Swedish police do not collect information on the ethnicity, religion, or race of perpetrators or victims of crime, which means there’s no evidence for claims that Muslim immigrants are committing crimes in record numbers. Nor is there any evidence to support the claim that Swedish authorities are manipulating the statistics, as the producer of the video alleges.

Actually, compared to the U.S., the government of Sweden is a model in making data accessible and actions transparent. Its official statistics are some of the most complete and readily accessible in the world. Since 1766, Swedish law on freedom of the press has included a principle of public access (Offentlighetsprincipen), which grants public access to all government documents upon request unless they fall under secrecy restrictions. This law is the oldest piece of freedom of information legislation in the world. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s ties to organized crime — past and present

The Daily Beast reports: In 2013, Sater’s connection to Trump, who was still two years shy of running for national office, caused the mogul one of his many moments of pique with a member of the international press. Trump stormed out of a BBC Panorama interview when asked by John Sweeney, “Shouldn’t you have said, Felix Sater, you’re connected with the Mafia and you’re fired.” Trump replied by suggesting Sweeney might be “thick” and that he could not break a contract with Bayrock even if Sater’s mob ties were established to his satisfaction.

Sater’s tenure at Bayrock wasn’t just confined to leveraging the Trump brand. He was accused of threatening gruesome acts of violence against erstwhile business associates who were in a position to disclose his shady history. In 2007, the manager of one Trump hotel-condo in Phoenix, Arizona, sued Sater after he allegedly threatened to get a cousin to electrocute the manager’s testicles, dismember him and leave him “dead in the trunk of his car.” Sater reportedly settled that case out of court, but denied the charges.

By 2010, Sater was out at Bayrock — but in at the Trump Organization. He reportedly brandished a business card naming him as a “Senior Advisor to Donald Trump.” He also had a valid email address at the organization, a phone number that had previously belonged to one of Trump’s general counsels, and his own office in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue.

Sater’s role as an employee of the Trump Organization also came to light when he was accused of shaking down one of his former colleagues at Bayrock.

Jody Kriss, the former finance director of Bayrock, alleged that he was entitled to a share of the $227 million profits in the Trump SoHo project. As reported by The Daily Beast in August 2016, Kriss claimed, in a court case filed in Delaware, that he was owed $7 million for his work on the project but offered a settlement of only half a million dollars. His principal antagonist in recouping his investment, he said, was Felix Sater.

In sworn testimony, Kriss stated that his money had become entangled with an Icelandic financial company known as FL Group, which seemed to draw Russian investors “in favor” with Vladimir Putin. (Bayrock founder Tevfik Arif was also part of this deal.) According to Kriss:

“Felix Satter [sic] told me that the deal with FL prohibited me from getting the rest in that I could either take the money and shut up or risk being killed if I made trouble. I knew at that time Satter had served a prison sentence for first degree assault (stabbing someone in the face with a wine glass stem) and with learning what would soon become common knowledge, that Satter had had a decades-long involvement with the New York and Russian mafia and had just in 2007 been sued in a civil action in Phoenix.”

The Delaware case ultimately was dismissed because of jurisdiction; but the judge stated on the record that Kriss’s accusations appeared to be legitimate. Sater’s defense team denied allegations.

In a separate and still-pending suit to which Kriss is a plaintiff, this one filed in New York’s Southern District, he has alleged that “tax evasion and money-laundering are the core of Bayrock’s business model.”

The defendants have argued that the suit amounts to a shakedown, but the judge has ruled that Kriss has enough of a case to warrant moving forward.

As for Sater, he had coffee the other day with the president’s personal lawyer and discussed a peace plan for Ukraine. [Continue reading…]

 

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New Trump deportation rules allow far more expulsions

The New York Times reports: President Trump has directed his administration to more aggressively enforce the nation’s immigration laws, unleashing the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes.

Documents released on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security revealed the broad scope of the president’s ambitions: to publicize crimes by immigrants; enlist local police officers as enforcers; strip immigrants of privacy rights; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations.

The new enforcement policies put into practice the fearful speech that Mr. Trump offered on the campaign trail, vastly expanding the definition of “criminal aliens” and warning that such unauthorized immigrants “routinely victimize Americans,” disregard the “rule of law and pose a threat” to people in communities across the United States.

Despite Mr. Trump’s talk, research shows lower levels of crime among immigrants than among native-born Americans. [Continue reading…]

A report published by Pew Research Center in 2013 states: The crime rate among first-generation immigrants—those who came to this country from somewhere else—is significantly lower than the overall crime rate and that of the second generation. It’s even lower for those in their teens and early 20s, the age range when criminal involvement peaks. [Continue reading…]

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Trump pursues his attack on Sweden, with little evidence

The New York Times reports: President Trump escalated his attack on Sweden’s migration policies on Monday, doubling down on his suggestion — based on a Fox News report — that refugees in the Scandinavian country were behind a surge in crime and terrorism.

Mr. Trump set off consternation and ridicule on Saturday when he seemed to falsely imply to a throng of supporters at a rally in Florida that a terrorist attack had occurred in Sweden, which has admitted tens of thousands of refugees in recent years.

On Sunday, as questions swirled, a White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said that “he was talking about rising crime and recent incidents in general, not referring to a specific issue.”

Mr. Trump then said on Twitter that he was referring to a Fox News segment about an American filmmaker who argues that the police in Sweden are covering up a migrant-driven crime wave.

Officials in both countries expressed alarm and dismay at Mr. Trump’s remarks. Senator Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the president should get his information from intelligence agencies and not from television. The Swedish Embassy in Washington offered the Trump administration a briefing on its immigration policies. On Monday, Sweden’s prime minister, Stefan Lofven, said he was surprised by Mr. Trump’s comments, and noted that Sweden ranked highly on international comparisons of economic competitiveness, human development and income inequality. [Continue reading…]

FactCheck.org reports: Sweden saw a dramatic increase in asylum applicants in 2015, with more than 162,000 people arriving in the country, according to the Swedish Migration Agency. Of those, more than 51,000 were from Syria, with another roughly 42,000 from Afghanistan and 21,000 from Iraq. All told, Sweden has taken in nearly 200,000 refugees and migrants in recent years, more than any other country per capita in Europe, the BBC reported.

That’s a big number for a country with a population just under 10 million. (By way of reference, a comparable number based on the population of the U.S. would come to about 5.2 million. President Barack Obama set the level of refugees the U.S. would accept in fiscal year 2017 at 110,000 before he left office, but Trump cut that number to no more than 50,000.)

While there has been an uptick in some crime categories, government statistics from Sweden do not corroborate the claim of a major crime wave due to immigrants.

According to the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brå), lethal violence (murder, manslaughter and assault that results in death) totaled 112 victims in 2015. That’s up by 25 (a sizable increase) from 2014, but it’s about the same as the number in 2007, which was 111 victims.

“In a long-term perspective, ever since the 1990’s when Brå started the measurements, the trend shows that lethal violence is declining,” the website says. [Continue reading…]

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On Air Force One, Trump flies into the cloud of unknowing

Trump didn’t know about Flynn’s conversations about sanctions with Russia’s ambassador and neither did Pence. Flynn himself can’t remember, and the FBI and intelligence agencies listening in couldn’t decipher the true significance of what may or may not have been said. It’s all a deep, deep, mystery.

It’s Friday. Surely by Monday the media will also have forgotten about this story.

CNN reports: President Donald Trump said Friday afternoon he was unaware of reports that his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, may have spoken about sanctions with the Russian ambassador before the inauguration.

Trump, speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, said he will “look into that.”

A US official confirmed to CNN late Friday afternoon that Flynn and the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, did speak about sanctions, among other matters, during the call.

The context of Flynn’s side of the conversation wasn’t clear, even to the FBI and intelligence agencies that reviewed the content, and there’s nothing to indicate that Flynn made any promises or acted improperly in the discussion.

Flynn cannot rule out that he spoke to Kislyak about sanctions, an aide close to the national security adviser said earlier Friday.

Flynn, the aide said, has “no recollection of discussing sanctions,” but added that the national security adviser “couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

Earlier Friday, a senior White House adviser told CNN that Vice President Mike Pence did not know that Flynn may have discussed sanctions in the December conversation and believes “it’s a problem.”

Three administration officials said Pence only knew what Flynn told him — that he had not talked about sanctions — before Pence stood before cameras last month and vouched for Flynn. One official said Pence was trying to “get to the bottom of it,” and two senior administration officials said Pence was “very intentional” in asking Flynn about his communication with the Russians before speaking to the media.

A source with knowledge of the situation told CNN the only reason Flynn hasn’t been fired is that the White House doesn’t want to look bad. Adding to Flynn’s problems, the source said, is that this latest revelation reflects poorly on Pence. [Continue reading…]

Indeed, it is of the utmost importance that Trump and those around him maintain their flawless reputations.

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Trump says sanctuary cities are hotbeds of crime. Data say the opposite

Christopher Ingraham writes: The “sanctuary cities” that President Trump has repeatedly characterized as incubators of crime are generally safer than other cities, according to a new analysis of FBI crime data.

There’s no legal definition of a sanctuary city, but most observers adopt criteria used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to identify cities and counties where local authorities refuse to hand over illegal immigrants to federal agents for deportation.

Throughout his presidential campaign, Trump often characterized these locales as dangerous hotbeds of criminal activity and promised to suspend all federal funding to them.

“We will end the sanctuary cities that have resulted in so many needless deaths,” he told a crowd in Phoenix in the fall.

But an analysis of FBI crime data by Tom Wong, a professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego, finds that counties designated as “sanctuary” areas by ICE typically experience significantly lower rates of all types of crime, including lower homicide rates, than comparable non-sanctuary counties. The analysis was published by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank. [Continue reading…]

The Los Angeles Times reports: President Donald Trump’s plan to enlist local police and sheriff’s departments in immigration enforcement has set the stage for a pitched battle with California officials who have long prioritized building ties with immigrant communities.

Trump’s plan, which was issued Wednesday as part of a pair of executive orders, seeks to broaden the reach of federal immigration authorities into county jails.

It also calls for empowering police officers and deputies to act as immigration enforcers, leaving open the possibility that they would be required to inquire about the immigration status of the people they encounter on the streets.

Such a regime could conflict with the Los Angeles Police Department’s decades-old policy that prohibits officers from initiating contact with a person solely to ask about whether he or she is in the country legally.

Local governments that defy the Trump administration’s immigration policies by acting as “sanctuary cities” could be denied federal funding, one of the executive orders states.

More than 400 jurisdictions across the country, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and about 40 others in California, have such policies protecting immigrants.

California state officials have signaled that they will put up a fight. The California Legislature has selected former U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to serve as outside counsel on the state’s legal strategy for dealing with the incoming administration.

The state’s new attorney general, former congressman Xavier Becerra, said at his swearing-in Tuesday that he will form a united front with officials from other states to defend their policies against any federal challenges.

Hours after Trump signed the executive orders, Los Angeles leaders suggested they would mount a legal challenge if funding is taken away. [Continue reading…]

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White House petition calling for release of Trump tax returns exceeds 100,000 signatures required for response

The Independent reports: A petition calling for the immediate release of Donald Trump’s tax returns has reached the 100,000 signatures needed to prompt a White House response.

The petition, posted to the White House’s official website on Friday, demands for the new President to “immediately release [his] full tax returns, with all information needed to verify emoluments clause compliance.”

It states: “The unprecedented economic conflicts of this administration need to be visible to the American people, including any pertinent documentation which can reveal the foreign influences and financial interests which may put Donald Trump in conflict with the emoluments clause of the Constitution.” [Continue reading…]

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Myths about kleptocracy

Natalie Duffy and Nate Sibley write: The word “kleptocracy” often conjures Cold War imagery of despotic tyrants in poor, faraway places. And it is true that many of the world’s most corrupt countries are in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

But a kleptocracy is no longer a corrupt political system in a few poor nations: It is a sophisticated global network whose members include world leaders and powerful business people. Kleptocrats send money around the world with the click of a button, aided by unscrupulous professionals with the expertise to launder it through anonymous offshore companies and secure it in luxury assets in the West. According to the International Monetary Fund, as much as 5 percent of the world’s gross domestic product is laundered money, and only 1 percent of it is ever spotted. Illicit cross-border financial flows have been estimated at $1 trillion to $1.6 trillion per year. A 2012 study put the total private wealth held offshore at up to $32 trillion and suggested that, since the 1970s, elites from 139 low-to-middle-income countries had parked as much as $9.3 trillion in offshore accounts.

Some of the money is hidden right here. As the driving force behind global economic reform for the past three decades, the United States has played an important role in the rise of the globalized kleptocrat. America has become one of the leading secrecy jurisdictions. Delaware, South Dakota, Wyoming and other states do not require disclosure of corporate ownership, meaning that kleptocrats aren’t parking their assets just in exotic locations like the Cayman Islands or the British Virgin Islands anymore.

U.S. real estate then provides an attractive conduit for securing and legitimizing the laundered funds. A New York Times investigation revealed that, of the properties purchased for more than $5 million in Manhattan in 2014, more than half were bought by anonymous companies that disguised the buyers’ identities. [Continue reading…]

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Video shows Trump with mob figure he denied knowing

Michael Isikoff reports: A newly uncovered video appears to contradict Donald Trump’s claim that he never knew a high-stakes gambler who was banned from New Jersey casinos for alleged ties to organized crime.

The reputed mob figure, Robert LiButti, can be seen standing alongside Trump in the front row of a 1988 “WrestleMania” match in Atlantic City, N.J. LiButti wasn’t there by accident, according to his daughter, Edith Creamer, who also attended the event. “We were his guests,” she told Yahoo News in a text message this week.

The video was given to Yahoo News by a confidential source who discovered it in the online archives of World Wrestling Entertainment, the sponsor of “WrestleMania.”

The video appears to lend new support to assertions Trump once had close relations with LiButti, who was banned from the state’s casinos in 1991 because of his ties to Mafia boss John Gotti, then the chief of the Gambino crime syndicate. Separately, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission that same year levied $650,000 in fines against the Trump Plaza hotel over its dealings with LiButti, who gambled huge sums at the hotel’s casino. LiButti died in 2014. [Continue reading…]

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In pop culture, there are no bad police shootings

Alyssa Rosenberg writes: Movies, television and novels have trained audiences to excuse almost any police shooting, including the deaths of children — until now, when the emergence and near-ubiquity of real-life videos have made the gap between fiction and reality undeniable.

Whether a shooting is legal is determined in part by an officer’s fear. But when the Los Angeles Police Department cleared scripts for television series such as “Dragnet” or “Adam-12,” “any shooting that was done on the shows was squeaky clean,” explained former detective sergeant Joseph Wambaugh, who worked briefly in the LAPD’s public information office, where the scripts were reviewed. “Any officer would have to be in total control.”

If this standard had nothing to do with how officers actually reacted after shooting someone, it was intended to bolster the audience’s confidence in police officers.

In fact, officers on early cop shows such as “Dragnet” and “Naked City” were often presented as so decent that they questioned their own decisions to shoot and had to be convinced that they’d done the right thing. Often, the person doing the convincing was a parent or relative of the dead person.

The first time Joe Friday (Jack Webb), the archetypal stoic police officer, killed a person in the “Dragnet” episode “The Big Thief,” he was so distressed that his partner had to help him fill out his incident report. “I kind of wonder if there was another way,” Friday declared glumly, unconvinced that he was right to shoot even though the other man had a gun. Friday was ultimately reassured by the law itself, when the shooting was ruled a justifiable homicide.

Friday’s question hangs in the air, but it both casts and dispels doubt in a single sentence. If someone who cares as much as Joe Friday does couldn’t find a better solution when confronted with a dangerous criminal, then maybe one doesn’t exist. Friday’s concerns are themselves the proof that he would never do the wrong thing. [Continue reading…]

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