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November 28, 2009

Should crimes and punishments be in the mix for Tareq and Michaele Salahi?

2009-11-28-SalahiswithObama My first reaction to the story of Tareq and Michaele Salahi (allegedly?) crashing a White House state dinner was to be thankful they provided something fun to discuss during the holiday weekend.  But, as should be expected, the story has come with a fair share of media buzzing over whether the couple committed federal crimes through their high-society escapade.  Interestingly, this new Huffington Post commentary titled "What To Do About White House Gatecrashers?," laments the discussion of crime and punishment for the Salahis:

After hearing about Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the brazen pair who crashed the White House State Dinner, I was alternately intrigued and worried, especially the way the media reported it. In particular CNN, where Tom Foreman and Erica Hill, subbing for Anderson Cooper, kept harping at how horrible it was and that national security was clearly at stake.

Please, this is much ado about -- not exactly nothing, but not nearly as much as they were screaming about. And I say this as one who adores Erica Hill, in particular her eyebrow raised banter with Anderson Cooper.  But I guess when she's actually hosting the show, she's determined at all costs to prove she's a serious journalist.

Okay, but when she ominously suggests what these folks did might get them into prison, fueled by Bush Homeland Security Advisor Frances Fragos Townsend, who said it was a federal offense to lie to a federal officer, I have to say, enough!...

I think there's amazement at what the Salahis did, and the Secret Service should take note, but what the Salahis accomplished didn't make Obama particularly unsafe if the basic protections surrounding the immediate area of the president are in place.

Crashing a party, even at The White House, does not rise to the level of a federal crime, so much as indicate dismay that the officials in charge were not able to keep the riff raff out....

To suggest that the Salahis go to federal prison is nonsense.  They should be thanked for exposing some flaws in the Secret Service System, though the flaws themselves led to no real danger to the president, and isn't that the real story?

Because the author of this commentary is a screenwriter, my sense is that his view may be influenced by a professional affinity for noteworthy personal dramas.  In turn, I am wondering if readers of this blog, who generally have more of a professional affinity for sound administration of criminal justice systems, have a similar or different take on whether the Salahis ought to be facing some possible criminal charges.

November 28, 2009 at 11:02 AM | Permalink

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Pranks that embarrass the government are often overprosecuted, and that would be the case if these folks face serious charges. Showing up at a restricted event and seeking entry (submitting oneself to metal detectors, searching, presenting ID, etc.) can hardly be a crime; if they'd been rejected at the door, there would be no offense, one assumes. So how can the criminality threshold be crossed because of something the GOVERNMENT did - making the error of letting them through the door?

Now, if they forged an invite or otherwise engaged in fraud to get in, that could change the equation. (I've not followed the case closely.) Otherwise, I think it was a harmless prank - no harm, no foul - and the improved future security measures mean at the end of the day the episode was a net benefit to security, not a breach deserving of CYA prosecution.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Nov 28, 2009 11:52:56 AM

Russnow is merely pointing out the drama the media is making of it. His conclusion seems to be a "sound administration of criminal justice systems." Ultimately, is law enforcement the solution to everything? Must every suspect be crime and punished (or killed) in the last act?

Posted by: George | Nov 28, 2009 11:57:18 AM

As someone who can honestly say that they have crashed parties on Capitol Hill (back in the day) I admire their chutzpah. The two times I was ever in the White House it was by invitation.

I agree with the author here. This is the press desperately trying to make controversy out of nothing and frankly if I met this couple on the street I'd give them a "high five". I honestly didn't think there were any people left in high society with that kind of balls anymore. Frankly, it was heart warming to see.

Good for them!

Posted by: Daniel | Nov 28, 2009 12:45:18 PM

Go back to school and learn to write. The "Leader in Chief" will be alright, it's you who needs protecting.

Posted by: Attorney | Nov 28, 2009 1:24:59 PM

Why don't we just wait and see what happens, if anything? Preemptive outrage at charges that have not been filed and a sentence that has not been given is just so much huffing(ton) and puffing.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 28, 2009 1:48:13 PM

FWIW I think it was very unlikely that the Secret Service was responsible for this malfunction. My guess is that the source of the problem is someone that works for the Assistant to the President. Of course we will not find out for many years what really happened.

Posted by: John Neff | Nov 28, 2009 3:51:16 PM

As a former federal worker, I can guarantee it. Many secret service officers and many of their supervisors will be working outside the federal government in 2010, after the passage of a suitable face saving interval.

The irony. They will be making 10 times more than they are now, and will be handsomely rewarded for incompetence.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 28, 2009 6:07:55 PM

I hope that if they did lie their way in they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The fact that lying to a federal officer, even uknowingly is such a serious crime is unreasonable. Maybe a high profile case centered around it will bring enough attention to the crime that it is eliminated or watered down.

Posted by: monty | Nov 28, 2009 11:46:06 PM

What a crazy story. Someone from the Secret Service had to get fired/reassigned for this. I wonder what they said to get in, and if they lied about who they were or their credentials.

Posted by: Andy | Nov 28, 2009 11:51:20 PM

The government does nothing well, except transfer the assets of working people to parasite government workers. All are incompetent in every other way. When we say, government, what is that? It is a wholly owned subsidiary of the criminal cult enterprise that is the lawyer profession. They make 99% of the policy decisions. It is time to control this cult criminal with an Amendment excluding lawyers from all benches, all legislative seats, and all responsible policy positions in the executive. It is high time to control this treasonous criminal enterprise.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 29, 2009 12:03:31 AM

John Neff --

Having once worked in the White House, what I suspect happened is that this couple talked to someone on the inside (an Assistant to the President or someone of lesser rank) to clear them in. Once cleared in, it would have been relatively easy for them to get into the dinner. My guess is that, when they talked to whomever they talked to, they lied about who they were. If that turns out to be the case, it was probably a crime; you can't legally lie your way into the White House anymore than you can legally lie your way into the CIA. At this stage, though, we're all just speculating.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 29, 2009 12:18:25 AM

monty --

How can a person "unknowingly" lie? I thought the definition of lying was to intentionally say something you know is false.

In any event, it is unlikely in the extreme that this couple "unknowingly" lied. Their whole purpose in talking to someone on the inside was to get them cleared in (if that's what happened). But they could not have been cleared unless they lied about who they were, since they had no legitimate basis for obtaining entry.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 29, 2009 12:29:02 AM

If they are prosecuted they might just posit the defense that "It's the 'people's' White House." As is often said by the President himself on national television. They might claim that someone orally invited them. Gee, I was invited by this guy at the polo club who said he worked in the White House and so we showed up and said we were invited and they let us in. This Indian son of whinery owners in Virginia plays polo.
If there was a requirement of a written invitation then they did not know it and its not their fault that they got let in without one. If there are men on the jury they might just not want to convict the lovely lady in the red dress and send her to prison.

As to exposing the President to danger. The President often wades into crowds to shake hands. Did those folks all get invitations?
The gate crashers are snakes. They are trying to gain celebrity. Perhaps our society should stop this celebration of "stars". The so-called "news" people on the networks are responsible for promoting this culture of celebrity.

Prosecution? I would defend them. If I could just get some decent fee out of them. They do not seem to be folks who pay their bills.

Posted by: mpb | Nov 29, 2009 12:07:33 PM

Scorched-earth punishments await all citizens whose mistakes, misjudgments or ignorance of the law bring them to the attention of the authorities. Why should the Salahis be any different? Off with their heads!

Still, as George noted, you've got to acknowledge the courage of anyone bold enough in this oppressive environment to poke the angry, authoritarian bear.

Posted by: John K | Nov 29, 2009 12:36:07 PM

More on the Salahis.

http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=117478

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 29, 2009 11:29:47 PM

John K --

"Scorched-earth punishments await all citizens whose mistakes, misjudgments or ignorance of the law bring them to the attention of the authorities. Why should the Salahis be any different? Off with their heads!"

What "scorched-earth punishment" are you talking about? There hasn't been so much as a charge yet, nor is there any certainty there will ever be, much less punishment of any kind.

And what's the basis for believing it was a mistake or misjudgment? The wife had a camera crew following her around all day for their "audition" for some reality TV show, and their agent is at this moment soliciting network $$$ bids for the privilege of interviewing them. Does that sound like a "mistake" to you? Kinda sounds like a well-planned stunt to me. What do you know about these lovely folks that I'm missing?

"Still, as George noted, you've got to acknowledge the courage of anyone bold enough in this oppressive environment to poke the angry, authoritarian bear."

That's it, John! They're not money grubbing publicity hounds. Nooooooooooo!!! They're the embodiment of courage -- the latter day version of Nathan Hale! Righto.

Why is it that no one else has your insight?

But speaking of poking at the authoritarian bear, there is a story out today of a fellow, Maurice Clemmons, who, having previously been victimized by said bear in the form of a scorched-earth prison sentence, apparently got a good poke in today. The following are the first three paragraphs of the AP story:

"PARKLAND, Wash. - A man with an extensive criminal past — whose 95-year prison sentence was commuted in Arkansas nearly a decade ago — was being sought Sunday as a 'person of interest' in a deadly ambush on four police officers who were gunned down inside a coffee shop.

"Pierce County sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer told reporters that Maurice Clemmons, 37, was one of several people investigators want to talk to and that he could not be called a suspect 'at this point.'

"In a news release, the sheriff's office said Clemmons has an extensive violent criminal history from Arkansas, including aggravated robbery and theft. Clemmons also recently was arrested and charged in Pierce County in Washington state for third-degree assault on a police officer, and second-degree rape of a child." ###

Now of course, having learned from your (and others') posts about how the cops make it all up for the purpose of railroading innocent people, I have my doubts that these four ambush murders occurred at all. Don't you? The AP was undoubtedly hoodwinked by some prosecutor's hoax.

Still, on the off chance that Mr. Clemmons actually pulled off a multiple cop murder to kind of, you know, round out his child rape, what do you think we should do to avoid the horror of a "scorched earth" sentence? I mean, some barbarian out there might think that 95 years won't be quite enough this time.

So quick! This site needs some advice about holding the "authoritarian bear" in check, lest it exploit this transparent pretext to put the already much victimized Mr. Clemmons back in the slammer.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2009 12:18:34 AM

Just a question. What does Maurice Clemmons have to do with a discussion of the Salahis?

Posted by: beht | Nov 30, 2009 12:31:24 AM

beht --

Maurice Clemmons has a great deal to do with John K's view, in his post here and prior posts on many other threads, that people like the Salahis -- people who allegedly act merely out of mistake or innocent misjudgment -- are routinely "railroaded" into prison for "scorched-earth" sentences.

In fact, that view of the system is a fantasy. The story of the gruesome, execution-style murders of four policemen less than 24 hours ago is testament to what goes on in the real world. Pointing out the hatred of police and prosecutors that John K fans (and to which you lodge not a hint of objection), and the ostensible results of that hatred, is intended as a jolt of reality and a counterweight to John K's surrealistically fawning protrayal of the Salahis as the next in a thousand mile long line of victims of the "authoritarian bear."

At least there will be four fewer "authoritarian bears" out there to further victimize the poor, poor Salahis -- notwithstanding that the Salahis have not been "victimized" at all, and, to the contrary, have obtained exactly what they craved, i.e., a boatload of media attention.

I am aware that mentioning multiple police murder may be offensive to those (are you among them?) who view only criminals as society's victims. It may be particularly offensive to those clamoring for willy-nilly clemency, in view of the fact that Mr. Clemmons was the recipient of same. Now we see what he did with his "second chance."

May I inquire as to what you plan to do to give the four dead policemen a second chance?

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2009 1:12:35 AM

There is a young man, I don't remember his first name, last name is Sengstacke (grandson of the Sengstacke who owned the Chicago Defender Newspaper). This young man lived practically around the corner from the Obama home in Chicago's Hyde Park. One day, this young man, as high as a kite, walked up to the gate of President Obama's home (it is unclear as to whether the President was even in Chicago on that date). He was stopped and questioned and said (allegedly) that he wanted to see President Obama about a job. They asked him where his car was parked, he showed them, they found a gun in it. But he didn't take the gun with him to the gate, and he was parked around the corner near his house where he lived. He is in prison.I wonder what would have happened if the reality couple had gone to the gate of his home in Chicago ? By the way, Mr. Sengstacke is African American.

Posted by: Emma | Nov 30, 2009 1:53:13 AM

I want the lawyers who run the criminal law in jail.

They are in utter failure. They allow 23 million Index felonies a year. Then they prosecute and imprison a ton of innocent people. Explanation? They are looking out only for themselves. These incompetents prefer to falsely prosecute someone innocent who is easy, than to do the work needed to prosecute someone really dangerous but hard. They refuse to incapacitate because their jobs depend on the criminal remaining busy. When the Sentencing Guidelines dropped crime by 40%, they were eliminated as mandatory, to preserve lawyer jobs.

Get rid of these self-dealing incompetents from all benches, all legislative seats, and all responsible policy positions in the executive.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Nov 30, 2009 7:47:07 AM

It's a good thing Bill Otis is always available to explain what other people's real views are so we won't be confused by what they actually said. Clearly everyone who disagrees with him has a secret (probably Communist) agenda, while only Bill here is commenting in good faith. And if you disagree with him, obviously you support murdering police officers. How could anyone argue such a brilliant and thoughtful point?

I realize Bill sees all lawbreaking as morally equal, hence his equation of this case with Maurice Clemmons. But that attitude raises a question: If we fill jails and prisons with people like the Salahis will there be enough space for the Maurice Clemmons of the world?

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Nov 30, 2009 7:50:37 AM

Grits,

Your first sentence is this: "It's a good thing Bill Otis is always available to explain what other people's real views are so we won't be confused by what they actually said."

The first sentence in your next paragraph is this: "I realize Bill sees all lawbreaking as morally equal..."

Nuf' said.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2009 9:55:02 AM


Grits,

I notice that your post is exclusively a personal swipe at me, and says not one word about the substantive issues I noted. For example, to take one, I took note that the campaign to grant clemency -- which has been all the rage on this site -- apparently succeeded for Mr. Clemmons.

We now see its results. Do you like them?

One might think that the problem lies with the undifferentiated urge for leniency. But if you think that presents any difficulties, there's no hint of it in your post.

You are a relentless campaigner for the defense side, pretty much no matter what the issue, and pretty much no matter what the facts. That is not me telling people what you think; anyone can go back and read your remarks for themselves. And you know perfectly well what you've been saying.

Cases like this multple police murder do not reflect favorably on the defendants-are-social-victims theory, and it is therefore not surprising that partisans of that theory want to pretend they never really said what they said.

That I understand their feelings is not a reason that I should indulge them, nor am I going to, your ad hominems notwithstanding.

P.S. I trust you support the notion of accountability (if you don't, say so and I will stand corrected). What accountability should there be for those who recommended that Clemmons be put back on the street, and what specific form should that accountability take?


Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2009 10:33:11 AM

Giving attention to people like these and the balloon dad or that alleged kiddie porn producing beauty queen merely encourages them and others like them. I suspect that the only effective punishment for them would be to prohibit them from appearing in the media and the First Amendment would prevent that.

Posted by: virginia | Nov 30, 2009 11:41:31 AM

Ginny --

"Giving attention to people like these and the balloon dad or that alleged kiddie porn producing beauty queen merely encourages them and others like them."

I suspect that's right, but the attention they get on "Sentencing Law and Policy" probably is not the kind that gets their blood moving, if they know this blog exists at all, which I doubt.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2009 11:49:44 AM

Bill --

On the Salahis and whether they'll be harshly punished, we'll see.

Are they money grubbers? Probably, Bill. Do you know anybody who isn't? Certainly they're publicity hounds (but that hasn't always been a felony either).

I'll give you this. Courage was probably a poor word choice. Foolhardy would have been more apt. No doubt.

Beyond that, it's absurd to suggest I hate cops, agents or prosecutors, especially cops. One of my favorite people on the planet until he died a few years ago was my Dad, a well-publicized, highly successful, long-time homicide detective in Southern California.

But you know what, Bill, in Dad's last five years with the force he was head of internal affairs, and he didn't like "badge-heavy cops" any more than killers. In fact he may have liked them less since he viewed abusing authority as more troubling in some respects than crimes of passion.

My gripe with the feds is that in their macho, arm-punching culture, it seems nobody wants to be the guy who frets about whether the suspect/target actually did something deserving of what most suspect/targets end up getting (crushed).

I've yet to see a prosecutor admit error, even when there's a preponderance of evidence to suggest they screwed up big time.

What qualifies as scorched earth punishment? Virtually anything that emerges from the sentencing-guidelines abacus. The folks that concocted the guidelines clearly were sending a message about perceived toughness, not justice or sentencing equanimity.

When we have these exchanges, Bill likes to talk about crazed cop-killers, child rapists and terrorists who shoot up military bases.

I like to talk about Harvey Silverglate's citizen-felons, ordinary folks who fall into any of the 4,000-plus statutory traps our moronic, self-serving congress has set for all citizens since Republicans discovered the effectiveness of demagoging the crime issue.

Posted by: John K | Nov 30, 2009 7:05:21 PM

John K --

"Are they money grubbers? Probably, Bill. Do you know anybody who isn't?"

Oodles of people -- people of great talent who could make a bundle in private business, but choose not to out of devotion to some cause. They work in non-profits, charities, government (sorry!), PD offices, police departments and a whole bunch more. Indeed, from what you have said, I strongly suspect your father was one such person.

"Beyond that, it's absurd to suggest I hate cops, agents or prosecutors, especially cops."

I never said you hate them. I said your broadbrush posts, which are uniformly and harshly critical of police and prosecutors, FAN hatred of them. Seldom do we see the post in which you don't portray them as, at best, amoral cowboys out to put the bite on someone, guilty or not, and then send them away forever or the functional equivalent thereof.

If that was who they actually are, hatred would be deserved. It isn't.

"What qualifies as scorched earth punishment? Virtually anything that emerges from the sentencing-guidelines abacus. The folks that concocted the guidelines clearly were sending a message about perceived toughness, not justice or sentencing equanimity."

This is the kind of overstatement that does you in. You can't possibly believe that VIRTUALLY ANYTHING that emerges from the guidelines is a scorched-earth punishment.

Now, Mr. Clemmons DID get a scorched-earth punishment (95 years). But it wasn't enough. He blew away four cops anyway. So what do we do? Give him another 95 years and tell him that THIS TIME WE REALLY MEAN IT? How 'bout the death penalty?

"When we have these exchanges, Bill likes to talk about crazed cop-killers, child rapists and terrorists who shoot up military bases."

Yes, I think in a discussion about the outer limits of permissible sentences in a civilized country, these things are very much worth talking about. They also tend to have the virtue of being about specific facts and specific cases, rather than just philisophical posturing.

"I like to talk about Harvey Silverglate's citizen-felons, ordinary folks who fall into any of the 4,000-plus statutory traps our moronic, self-serving congress has set for all citizens since Republicans discovered the effectiveness of demagoging the crime issue."

Actually, the Democrats have been in control of both houses for three years. And it is not demagoguery to point out, for example, that crime remains a serious social problem; that it exacts an enormous toll in human suffering; that it costs hundreds of millions, if not billions, each year; and that it went way down (40%) as incarceration went way up. Indeed, incarceration, while certainly less than an ideal or happy-making solution, has a better track record than almost any other government social program.

Honestly, I can't figure you out. You're obviously an intelligent man, but when you get on this subject, it's like a switch goes off in your head.

Posted by: Bill Otis | Nov 30, 2009 8:03:09 PM

Bill, I might harbor even more malice toward Clemmons than you. Not only did he kill four police officers, if indeed he's the shooter, but because of him lots of other inmates who actually deserve another chance will be somewhat less likely to get one.

Notice already the political buzzards circling Huckabee.

Posted by: John K | Dec 1, 2009 10:34:47 AM

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