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October 15th, 2022:

Treasury Department investigating DeSantis

Noted for the record.

The Treasury Department is now investigating whether the taxpayer money Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) spent to fly Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard for political theater last month came from federal COVID-19 relief.

Richard Delmar, the department’s deputy inspector general, sent a letter to a congressional delegation of Massachusetts lawmakers on Friday saying that his office was reviewing Florida’s use of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) that was established by the American Rescue Plan.

“We will review the allowability of use of SLFRF funds related to immigration generally, and will specifically confirm whether interest earned on SLFRF was utilized by Florida related to immigration activities, and if so, what conditions and limitations apply to such use,” Delmar wrote.

The Treasury official said the department planned to “get this work underway as quickly as possible.”

Delmar’s letter, which was released by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) on Wednesday, came in response to the request Markey and five other Massachusetts lawmakers had sent on Sept. 16 asking for a probe into DeSantis’ potential abuse of the aid.

“States should not be permitted to use COVID-19 relief funds for any parochial interest unrelated to the pandemic, particularly for naked political conduct that imposes severe and unjust harms on disadvantaged groups of individuals,” the lawmakers wrote.

While the $12 million DeSantis poured into the gambit didn’t come directly from Congress’ COVID-19 relief funds, it did come from the interest his state had earned off the aid, per the Washington Post.

See here and here for some background. Daily Kos adds some details.

The civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) had this past June urged the Treasury Department to open a probe into the Florida governor. DeSantis had not yet launched his cruel stunt dumping migrants across the country, but he had been seeking to use $12 million in federal coronavirus funding to aid his anti-immigrant platform. SPLC had warned in its letter that the “proposed misuse of these funds reinforces anti-immigrant policies,” as well as “sets a dangerous precedent.”

Damn, was that on money. DeSantis had already signaled last fall that he was going to make a scandal out of entirely routine flights that the federal government carries out, including under the insurrectionist president. When that didn’t stick long enough to his liking, he went to Texas to just carry out his own flights.

Markey’s office said it has been in contact with federal, state, and local officials regarding DeSantis’ cruel transportation of dozens of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard, with support from nonprofits like the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and the Venezuelan Association of Massachusetts. Markey’s office noted efforts to ensure that vulnerable children and adults transported by DeSantis from Texas to Massachusetts have been met with “continued care.”

DeSantis is not the only anti-immigrant governor under investigation by the Treasury watchdog, as a matter of fact. This past spring, Delmar said the department would be launching a probe into whether Texas Gov. Greg Abbott misused federal pandemic funds to keep his illegal Operation Lone Star border stunt operational. The Washington Post reported possible misuse of as much as $1 billion.

Congressional lawmakers led by Texas’ Joaquin Castro and Veronica Escobar had urged the watchdog to investigate Abbott using federal funds like his personal ATM for racist hate, writing that he was diverting money from critical public sector resources. “It is negligent and irresponsible for Governor Abbot to direct additional funding to Operation Lone Star, especially if the funding in question was intended to help Texans rebuild from the pandemic,” they wrote.

This story has just a tangential Texas connection, but I’m following it anyway out of sheer curiosity. Mostly, I want to see if it’s even possible for there to be consequences for would-be authoritarians like DeSantis, who will otherwise keep pushing boundaries since there’s apparently nothing to stop them. Along those lines, we also have this.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar on Thursday certified that 49 migrants who were flown to Martha’s Vineyard by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last month were victims of a crime. The move clears a pathway for those migrants to get a special visa to stay in the country that they otherwise would not have received.

Rachel Self, a Massachusetts attorney working with the migrants, told radio station WGBH that the move by Salazar is a key part of the migrants’ applications for a “U visa,” which is reserved for victims of crime or people who witnessed a crime. In a statement, Salazar said his office had submitted documents with the federal system “to ensure the migrants’ availability as witnesses during the investigation.”

Attorneys like Self are seeking the visas for the migrants on the grounds that they were taken to Martha’s Vineyard under false pretenses.

“Based upon the claims of migrants being transported from Bexar County under false pretenses, we are investigating this case as possible Unlawful Restraint,” Salazar said in a statement.

Salazar said his office has identified witnesses in the case but could not release their names because the investigation is ongoing.

DeSantis’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Salazar’s statement hinted that no action would be taken against the Republican governor, saying that “only those who were physically in our jurisdiction at the time of the offense are considered suspects.”

While it is no surprise that there were laws broken in this process, the idea that DeSantis himself could have been targeted by law enforcement was always a big stretch. He’d have plenty of cover even if there were a good circumstantial case to be made. Maybe if Perla does some singing if and when she’s ever hauled in, that could change, but again I would not bet on it. Perhaps just the idea that his own actions led to these migrants getting a long-term stay in the country will serve as a deterrent to future stunts like this by DeSantis. I’ll take what I can get. The Current has more.

UPDATE: Things get even more complex.

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine has opened an investigation into whether southern border state governors misled immigrants as part of what he called a “political stunt” to transport them to Washington.

Racine told ProPublica and The Texas Tribune his office is examining whether immigrants were deceived by trip organizers before boarding buses for Washington, including several hundred who were bused from Texas under instructions from Gov. Greg Abbott and dropped near the official residence of Vice President Kamala Harris. Racine’s office has the authority to bring misdemeanor criminal charges or to file civil fraud cases.

Racine said that in interviews with his investigators, arriving immigrants “have talked persuasively about being misled, with talk about promised services.” He offered no specifics about the inquiry, including whether it is being handled by his office’s criminal or civil divisions. The attorney general’s office declined to answer further questions.

Various state and federal laws could apply to transporting immigrants across state lines. Racine’s office could look into whether anyone committed fraud by falsely promising jobs or services, whether there were civil rights violations or whether officials misused taxpayers’ money.

[…]

Racine’s involvement ratchets up the pressure on the governors over their actions.

Elected as a Democrat, Racine criticized the Republican governors for using “people as props. That’s what they’ve done with the immigrants.”

Racine’s office can prosecute certain misdemeanors, and felonies are handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. But its highest profile work has been bringing civil fraud lawsuits against nonprofits and businesses. In May, it reached a $750,000 settlement in a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee, alleging that it had abused donors’ funds by overpaying for rentals at the Trump International Hotel.

The governors have said they have done nothing wrong in transporting immigrants to “sanctuary cities” that may be better equipped to care for them. They say they want the rest of the nation to share the burden of what they call the Biden administration’s open border policies.

[…]

Domingo Garcia, president of the League of United Latin American Citizens, an advocacy group, said that some immigrants who were sent from Texas to Harris’ residence in Washington have told his team they were misled about their final destination. The immigrants believed they were bound for Union Station, the city’s central transportation hub, where many hoped to connect with family or trains and buses to other locations. Instead, he said, they were dropped off at about 6 a.m. in an unfamiliar spot, where a church group quickly organized to pick them up.

“I think they are being tricked and being used,” Garcia said.

Since the spring, buses have arrived almost daily at Union Station, where immigrants can now seek support from a new city Office of Migrant Services. So far, Texas taxpayers have spent about $14 million on migrant transportation, according to state records. Buses into Washington have continued in recent days, with several additional arrivals at the vice president’s residence.

As I said above, I don’t know how much actual accountability this can force, but it’s something.

New sexual harassment lawsuit filed against Deshaun Watson

Number 26, that we know of.

A new sexual assault lawsuit has been filed against former Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, accusing him of pressuring a Houston massage therapist into giving him oral sex.

The lawsuit was filed in Harris County on Thursday afternoon by a woman identified only as Jane Doe. She is represented by Houston attorney Anissah Nguyen.

The lawsuit accuses Watson, who is now the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, of reaching out to the woman through Instagram in December 2020, arranging a meeting in a hotel room and then her pressuring into the sex act. The woman is seeking damage for physical and mental pain and suffering and loss of earnings, among other things, according to the lawsuit.

“Watson used his celebrity to take advantage of a young woman working hard for her success,” the lawsuit said. “Due to his behavior, she has suffered from severe depression and anxiety. Plaintiff is currently seeking counseling.”

[…]

Watson was previously sued by two dozen women, who made similar allegation he assaulted and harassed them. He has denied the allegations and has not been charged with any crimes. Since June, Watson has reached settlements with 23 of 24 the women who accused him of assault. In July, the Houston Texas reached settlements with 30 women preparing to sue the team over their role in the allegations against Watson.

See here for more on the other active lawsuit against Watson. As ESPN notes, there was a lawsuit that was dismissed in addition to the now-two active ones and the 23 settled ones, which is how we get to 26. We had heard about two more potential suits against Watson back in June; it’s possible this is one of those two, but I note that this plaintiff is not represented by Tony Buzbee, so who knows. Based on previous reporting, the possibility exists that even more could be filed. This is a reminder that no matter how much you don’t want to think about Deshaun Watson, we still have to think about Deshaun Watson.

So many abortion clinics have closed

Most of them are in Texas.

More than half of the 23 abortion clinics in Texas have closed since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, according to a new report.

Twelve clinics have shuttered their operations entirely in the state, and the rest have focused on other services, which could include cancer screenings, STI treatments and contraception, according to the review by the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health access. The count did not include a list of clinics that have closed.

Nearly half of the 26 abortion clinics that have closed nationally since the court’s decision were in Texas, according to the report.

[…]

In the wake of the Supreme Court decision, which lifted federal abortion protections, several independent abortion providers announced they were relocating their Texas operations to states where the procedure is still allowed. Whole Woman’s Health, which is moving its Texas operations to New Mexico, had worked in Texas for nearly 20 years, with clinics in Austin, McAllen, Fort Worth, and McKinney before this summer.

Whole Woman’s Health now offers a program in which Texas patients who are up to 11 weeks pregnant can go to New Mexico or four other states for a telemedicine appointment and pick up prescribed abortion medication in that state. It also plans to open a physical clinic in New Mexico and is in the process of searching for a building.

“We know the same amount of people in the community we serve still need abortion care,” said Amy Hagstrom Miller, the group’s founder and CEO. “The ban doesn’t do anything to prevent unplanned pregnancies; it just keeps people from getting professional medical care.”

Two things to keep in mind here. One is that the number of clinics in Texas at the time of the Dobbs decision was already way down from the early 2010s. This is because of the the anti-abortion law that was passed in 2013, the one that Wendy Davis famously filibustered against, which was aimed at regulating clinics out of business; this was a prime example of a so-called TRAP law, which stood for “targeted restrictions (or regulations) on abortion providers”. You know, the law that forced abortion clinics to transform themselves into ambulatory surgical units and did things like require minimum corridor widths, under the bullshit guise of “safety”. The Supreme Court in 2015, which still had Anthony Kennedy on it, threw out this law on the grounds that it was a lying pile of baloney that did nothing to actually promote safety and put an “undue burden” on the providers. (The case was Whole Women’s Health v Hellerstedt, you may have heard of it.) For a brief shining moment, clinics and abortion advocates in Texas began making plans to sue the state over other restrictive laws that this decision would have rendered unconstitutional.

And then 2016 happened, and we know the rest. But the point is that in between the passage of the 2013 TRAP law and the 2015 Hellerstedt decision, more than half of the clinics that had provided abortions in Texas had closed. None, as far as I know, had reopened following Hellerstedt, though going by the numbers in both stories it’s likely some new places began offering abortion services. However you slice it, the number of clinics that were around to close this year was down sharply from less than ten years ago. We were already a state where getting an abortion was exceedingly difficult to do for many women.

What this all means is that even if Democrats manage to fill the inside straight and put themselves in a position to re-establish abortion rights nationwide in 2023, we’re a long way off from abortion being readily available in Texas again. That process could take a decade or more, and that’s assuming that Republicans don’t gain a trifecta and do a national abortion ban or some other horrible thing. We have some hope of making the laws right again. Getting back to where we were, let alone where we need to be, that is a much longer-term project. Daily Kos has more.

Endorsement watch: You have to want it first, part 2

The Chron endorses Jay Kleberg for Land Commissioner over his no-show opponent.

Jay Kleberg

This year’s campaign for land commissioner is a battle over the job description for the state’s oldest public office. The Texas General Land Office manages disaster relief, helps with school funding, leads the Veterans Land Board and stewards the state’s 13 million acres of public land.

Between state Sen. Dawn Buckingham, a Republican, and Democrat Jay Kleberg, voters have a choice between starkly different visions. Buckingham, 54, has focused her campaign on border security, combating inflation and “fighting the Green New Deal.” Kleberg says the job ought to be focused on the basics of the office — “anything else is a distraction,” he has said on the campaign trail — and he believes Texas ought not run away from clean energy or from responding with urgency to climate change.

In an interview with the editorial board, Kleberg, 44, contended that his opponent’s focus areas are her way of angling for higher office. Buckingham declined to participate in the meeting.

“The message I deliver to people is that I actually want to do this job,” Kleberg told us. “It’s an expansive enterprise. It doesn’t have to be a political steppingstone. It doesn’t have to be mired in politics. Whether it be land management, education, veterans, coastal protection or energy, these are things that I think most Texans can rally around.”

We agree, and that is why we support Kleberg’s candidacy.

You can find my interview with Jay Kleberg (and also Janet Dudding) here. It’s easy to believe what he’s saying about what he wants to do as Land Commissioner. For what it’s worth, Dawn Buckingham is quoted in the piece saying something to suggest she would not try to screw Houston and Harris County out of future federal relief funds, which is better than what we have now – admittedly, a very low bar to clear. The Trib has a profile of the candidates and overview of the race, in which Buckingham also did not participate; she does appear to have deigned to respond in this Chron story on the race. I dunno, you want a job, you should be willing to talk about it. I’m just saying. Anyway, vote for Jay Kleberg.