Jason Foster, chief investigative counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee, fits a classic Washington profile: A powerful, mostly unknown force at the center of some of the most consequential battles on Capitol Hill. For the last year, Foster — empowered by his boss, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the committee’s chairman — has been the behind-the-scenes architect of an assault on the FBI, and most centrally its role in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to interviews with current and former congressional aides, federal law enforcement officials and others. With Foster in charge of his oversight work, Grassley has openly speculated about whether former FBI director James Comey leaked classified information as Comey raised alarms about President Donald Trump’s possible interference in the Russia probe. Grassley and the other Republicans on the committee have questioned the impartiality of a former member of Mueller’s team, cast doubt on the credibility of the FBI’s secret court application for permission to surveil a Trump campaign associate and called for a second special counsel to investigate matters related to Hillary Clinton. A firm that conducted opposition research on Trump has made clear in court it believes Grassley’s committee, with Foster as its lead investigator, had leaked sensitive information about its business.
Indian Country News is a weekly note from High Country News, as we continue to broaden our coverage of tribal affairs across the West. Patricia Roybal Caballero was a freshman lawmaker in New Mexico’s House of Representatives when she walked into a popular Santa Fe restaurant in 2013 for a meeting with some of her colleagues. Roybal Caballero, a community and economic developer of Piro-Manso-Tiwa ancestry, was by then used to dealing with negative perceptions about her race, but what happened next astounded her. “Before I had a chance to ask for a table, the hostess said, ‘I am sorry, but we’re not taking applications right now,’” Roybal Caballero told me recently. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission.
The Albuquerque-based Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women has hosted its fifth annual Tribal Leaders Summit to brief tribal, state and federal officials who work with victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. Last week’s event included presentations by Navajo Nation Council Delegate Amber Kanazbah Crotty, former U.S. Assistant District Attorney for New Mexico David Adams, and Alray Nelson, lead organizer for the Coalition for Diné Equality. NM Political Report sat down with Cheyenne Antonio, project coordinator for the Coalition’s anti-sex trafficking initiatives, and Kimberly Benally, the Coalition’s training and development manager, after the two-day summit to hear some of their takeaways. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. NMPR: Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall were both invited but didn’t attend this year’s summit, in part because they were in D.C. voting to pass FOSTA, federal legislation intended to hold websites accountable for platforming activities related to prostitution and sex trafficking.
BOSTON — After back-to-back, eight-hour shifts at a chiropractor’s office and a rehab center, Nirva arrived outside an elderly woman’s house just in time to help her up the front steps. Nirva took the woman’s arm as she hoisted herself up, one step at a time, taking breaks to ease the pain in her hip. At the top, they stopped for a hug. “Hello, bella,” Nirva said, using the word for “beautiful” in Italian. “Hi, baby,” replied Isolina Dicenso, the 96-year-old woman she has helped care for for seven years.
The tony neighborhoods tucked into the juniper-dotted grasslands on the east side of the Sandia Mountains represent yet another battleground in New Mexico’s water wars, one in which the state’s top water official has abandoned one side for the other. Last week, testimony ended in a trial over whether a private company can pump more water—114 million gallons more each year—from the Sandia Basin. Nancy Benson and her husband live in San Pedro Creek Estates, where they built their retirement home in 2000 after living in Albuquerque. She is shocked the state would consider granting the application after rejecting it previously. “This area is fully appropriated, there is nothing extra,” she said.
A student-organized march and rally in Albuquerque attracted thousands of people to Old Town this morning as part of the national March for Our Lives which protested gun violence and school shootings. The march began at the Old Town Plaza and ended a few blocks away at Tiguex Park. Along the edges of the crowd at Tiguex Park, Democratic gubernatorial and congressional candidates shook hands and spoke with attendees. But most of the calls to action, poems and inspirational words came from middle school, high school and college students. Lillian Hunt, 17, and Emma Buck-Anderson, 19, who helped organize the rally, both said they just want adults to hear their concerns when it comes to issues like school safety.
The Legislative Finance Committee started the process to create a task force focused on preventing school shootings. State Sen. George Munoz, D-Gallup, made the motion after a morning full of testimony from state, school and law enforcement officials about ways to prevent school shootings. The Legislative Council will decide on the makeup of the task force during its April meeting. The vote came after Munoz said the Legislature should start the process for an extraordinary session for school security, saying that there was no time to wait to address the issue. At the hearing Thursday, many people recalled the December shooting at Aztec High School that left two students and the shooter dead.
Gerald Espinosa vividly remembers his anxiety-riddled drive up Colorado’s McClure Pass in May 2015, watching the charge on his fully electric Fiat 500e plummet as he inched toward the 8,755-foot summit. He was in the final stretch of what normally would have been a four-hour jaunt from Denver to Paonia, in the western part of the state. With charging stops, it ended up being a two-day trip. His car packed with bikes and clothing, he spent the last few hours charging the battery in his electric vehicle, or EV, in Carbondale. As he climbed, the remaining range on his charge dropped from 70 miles to 40 to 30.
In recently-rediscovered video, Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce said same-sex marriage would lead to polygamy and marriage solely to pay for health insurance for those who have AIDS. American Bridge 21st Century PAC, which specializes in opposition research against Republican candidates, unearthed the video and provided it to HuffPost. Pearce is the lone Republican running for governor in New Mexico. The video was reportedly recorded in Carrizozo on Sept. 20, 2008.
For the FBI, the longstanding failure to diversify its ranks is nothing short of “a huge operational risk,” according to one senior official, something that compromises the agency’s ability to understand communities at risk, penetrate criminal enterprises, and identify emerging national security threats. Indeed, 10 months before being fired as director of the FBI by President Trump, James Comey called the situation a “crisis.”
“Slowly but steadily over the last decade or more, the percentage of special agents in the FBI who are white has been growing,” Comey said in a speech at Bethune-Cookman University, a historically black school in Daytona Beach, Florida. “I’ve got nothing against white people — especially tall, awkward, male white people — but that is a crisis for reasons that you get, and that I’ve worked very hard to make sure the entire FBI understands.”
It’s a charged moment for the FBI, one in which diversifying the force might not strike everyone as the most pressing issue. Trump has repeatedly questioned the bureau’s competence and integrity. Many Democrats blame Hillary Clinton’s defeat on Comey’s decision to announce that the bureau was reopening its inquiry into her emails days before the election.