Family of Robert “Lavoy” Finicum files wrongful death lawsuit

Katie Aguilera

Two years after Robert “Lavoy” Finicum was shot and killed by Oregon State Police officers on Highway 395 in Harney County on January 26, 2016, the Finicum family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against a slew of defendants.  These include the United States, FBI, BLM, Oregon State Police, Harney County, a number of officials from those agencies, the Center for Biological Diversity, and 100 ‘John Does,’ among others.

The lawsuit was filed Friday, January 26, 2018 by lawyers Lisa Ludwig and J. Morgan Philpot in US District court in Pendleton, Oregon.

The 48-page complaint states, “the murder of LaVoy was plainly unlawful under rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and also…unlawful under other laws of the United States and the laws of the State of Oregon.  It was the result of a brutally deliberate course of action willfully set in place and caused by a small selection of county, state, and federal officials who are named as defendants in this lawsuit.  These defendants were mentally predisposed and committed to using excessive lethal force, to solve a political dispute.”

It goes on to describe the events that led to the shooting of Finicum on January 26, 2016, beginning with the Bunkerville, Nevada standoff in April, 2014.  It claims that Finicum was intentionally targeted because of his association with Cliven Bundy and family, his membership in the Church of Latter-day Saints, and his “political views and statements regarding land rights and federal government overreach—specifically, his consistent political activism and statements that were critical of the BLM.”

The complaint claims that law enforcement and the BLM deliberately mischaracterized Finicum as being a threat to law enforcement and government employees by willfully participating in the “spreading of false and maliciously inaccurate information.”  It goes on to state the BLM and FBI kept an active file on Finicum, and that “Defendant Love [Former BLM employee, Daniel P. Love] and other John Doe defendants fabricated information, edited, omitted, or reported misleading information from this file, and added misleading information to this file, for the purpose of intentionally creating the false impression that LaVoy Finicum was associated with militia and presented a risk of violence to law enforcement…”

This misinformation, according to the lawsuit, “contributed directly to the subsequent shooting death of LaVoy Finicum.”

Also in the complaint are details about the January 2, 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Harney County, Oregon by Finicum and others.  It states a meeting took place on January 2, 2016, between Ammon Bundy and others, discussing Bundy’s plan to move the protest to the Refuge in an attempt at “adverse possession.”  According to the complaint, this meeting was openly attended by a Harney County deputy sheriff.

The complaint alleges that the defendants worked to control the narrative in order to keep the adverse possession claim out of public discourse.  It states, “these defendants ignored legal advice and counsel that suggested that the appropriate course of action would be legal notice and possible trespass charge—by local law enforcement and local civil court actions.  These same defendants also ignored advice from local legal authorities, that no law had been broken by the attempted adverse possession.”

“Instead, Defendants…willfully decided to fight a public political battle, and demanded that the FBI, BLM, and DOJ take the lead and bring the occupation to a close by force.”

It goes on to point out that there were never any eviction notices or complaints of trespass during the occupation of the Refuge.  Also, that as of January 26, 2016, “there was no criminal complaint, no probable cause affidavit, no federal indictments, or any other formal proceeding to inform—let alone argue—that LaVoy Finicum or any other occupier was being accused of breaking the law.”  This includes the time of the initial January 26, 2016 traffic stop and subsequent roadblock, where Finicum was shot and killed.

The lawsuit claims that Oregon State Police and FBI agents executed a “deadman’s roadblock” in violation of police procedure and the Constitution on January 26, 2016.  It states, “the roadblock had been strategically placed so as to prevent it from being visible until impact was a near certainty for any vehicle traveling at posted speeds.”

The complaint also discusses the actions of FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita during the roadblock, who is currently facing charges for his alleged attempt to cover up the fact that he allegedly fired his weapon twice after Finicum crashed into the snowbank to avoid the roadblock.  It claims that one of these shots resulted in the wounding of Ryan Bundy, who still has a piece of metal in his shoulder that may or may not be a bullet or bullet fragment.

The shooting of Lavoy Finicum was ruled as justified by Oregon officials.  The officers involved stated that Finicum was reaching into his jacket pocket which they say they later found held a loaded pistol.  Video of the shooting shows Finicum exit his truck with his arms up, however, as he moves away from the truck he drops his arms twice, and before he is shot three times, he appears to reach for his side.

Early in the occupation of the Refuge, in an interview, Finicum had said, “I’m not going to end up in prison.  I would rather die than be caged.  And I’ve lived a good life.”

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Judge expected to make decision on dismissal motion in lawsuit regarding 9/11 attacks

Katie Aguilera

A long-running lawsuit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia brought by families of victims of the terror attacks on September 11, 2001 may be dismissed before it goes to trial.  In August 2017, Saudi Arabia filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the plaintiffs “could not show that any Saudi official, employee or agent planned or carried out the attacks.”

On January 18, 2018, Judge Daniels “sparred with an attorney representing insurance companies and businesses seeking damages from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., which took the lives of almost 3,000 people, over whether or not plaintiffs could bring claims against the Saudi government under the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, or JASTA,” according to this New York Law Journal article by Andrew Denney.

That article goes on to say that Judge Daniels “questioned if the plaintiffs proved that providing funding to the group [Al Qaeda] specifically caused it to carry out the 9/11 attacks and if the Saudi government could be held liable for all attacks conducted under the banner of Al-Qaeda.”

Judge Daniels previously dismissed claims against Saudi Arabia in September 2015.  Daniels said that “Saudi Arabia had sovereign immunity from damage claims by families of nearly 3,000 people killed in the attacks, and from insurers that covered losses suffered by building owners and businesses.”  However, the passage of JASTA, which narrows the scope of foreign sovereign immunity, enabled the families to sue the Saudi government.  This allowed the case to move forward.

The 9/11 Commission report stated that, “It does not appear that any government other than the Taliban financially supported al Qaeda before 9/11, although some governments may have contained al Qaeda sympathizers who turned a blind eye to al Qaeda’s fundraising activities.  Saudi Arabia has long been considered the primary source of al Qaeda funding, but we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded the organization.  (This conclusion does not exclude the likelihood that charities with significant Saudi government sponsorship diverted funds to al Qaeda).”

The commission report also stated, “to date, the US government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.  Ultimately the question is of little practical significance.”

If the case goes to trial, it will give the families of victims of the attacks the opportunity to seek some justice for what happened.  It will also hopefully bring attention to, and connect, information that has come out in the years since the attacks that often gets little coverage.

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US national security focus to shift

Katie Aguilera

In an address at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on January 19, 2018, US Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, discussed details of the first National Defense Strategy to be drafted in a decade.  Mattis stated that terrorism will no longer be the main focus of US security.

“…with great power competition between nations becoming a reality again, though we will continue to prosecute the campaign against terrorists that we’re engaged in today, but great power competition, not terrorism, is now the primary focus of US national security.”

The unclassified summary of the National Defense Strategy, or NDS, makes it very clear who these great powers are.  It states “China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea. Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic, and security decisions of its neighbors. As well, North Korea’s outlaw actions and reckless rhetoric continue despite United Nation’s censure and sanctions. Iran continues to sow violence and remains the most significant challenge to Middle East stability. Despite the defeat of ISIS’s physical caliphate, threats to stability remain as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly.”

The NDS is peppered with language that demonstrates the desire for US global dominance.  It states that the Department of Defense will “be prepared to defend the homeland, remain the preeminent military power in the world, ensure the balances of power remain in our favor, and advance an international order that is most conducive to our security and prosperity.”

Apparently, the war hawks are feeling the need to remind the world that the US is the mightiest great power, and is willing to do whatever it takes to defend its empire.  After all, these competing great powers have been building up their strength for years while the US has been eroding its own in Afghanistan and Iraq (and everywhere else).  Mattis warned, “if you challenge us, it will be your longest and worst day.”

What could go wrong?

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That Twitter Email

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This is a portion of an email that was in my (and many others’) inbox this morning.  My first reaction was, no big deal.  I have no doubt I’ve encountered any number of bot accounts (Russian or otherwise) on Twitter.  I am constantly following stories and topics that expose some of the things our government does wrong, and has vested interest in keeping out of sight.  The sort of stories a foreign government wishing to sow dissent within our nation would undoubtedly want to push on social media.

War, protest, surveillance, injustice…

I also know that I have been susceptible many times to social media memes that are considered anti-government because I happen to disagree with many of the things my government is doing, both here and abroad.  And, I do question the established, official narrative more often than not.  This leads me down many strange internet paths.

After thinking about this email more, however, I find it to be more than a little disturbing.  It’s like an early warning of greater surveillance to come.  A sort of, “we know who you’ve been talking to and what you’ve been talking about,” message, and if I’m not careful in the future, that can be used against me.

As if to warn me away from disagreeing with anything the government does, or agreeing with anyone who presents opinions or ideas that oppose the government approved narrative.  As if to warn me that my activity on social media is monitored 24/7 for any sign of treason.

Not that it comes as a surprise that any (all) social media activity is monitored.  This email that so many received this morning is just such a friendly reminder of that fact.  An officially sanctioned admission of that fact.

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BLM ordered to deliver a report on the dismissal of the Bundy case

Congressional hearings may follow

Katie Aguilera

Utah Representative Rob Bishop (R) has ordered Brian Steed, the acting chairman of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to deliver a report on the handling of the Bundy case.  Judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial in the federal case against Cliven, Ryan, and Ammon Bundy, and Ryan Payne, on December 21, 2017.  She ruled it a mistrial with prejudice January 8, 2018, dropping the charges against the men.

The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that a congressional hearing is expected to follow the BLM’s report, which Bishop ordered to be delivered by January 24.

“The failures in the Bundy case and previous cases display serious misconduct by the BLM law enforcement officials, and strongly suggest that there are systemic issues within BLM’s law enforcement operations,” Bishop said.

Concerns have also grown that the mistrial will embolden people to act violently against federal authorities in future disputes.  Arizona Representative Raul Grijalva (D) has ordered a Government Accountability Office study, which is currently ongoing, “on the scale of recent threats and attacks against BLM officials and property,” according to the Las Vegas review article.  “’You’ve emboldened people like Bundy and the way they think—that it’s OK to threaten federal marshals with weapons, to occupy an area, armed, and talk about violence and foment that,’ Grijalva said.”

The Bundys argued that the April 12, 2014 armed standoff between the family and their supporters, and the BLM law enforcement, was the result of the aggressive posture taken by the BLM during the operation to round up Cliven Bundy’s trespassing cattle.  The information the prosecution was accused of withholding from the defense in the case confirmed some of the Bundys’ claims regarding the BLM’s actions.

Currently, a bill has been introduced to the House committee on natural resources that would require the Department of the Interior to “terminate the Bureau of Land Management Office [and U.S. Forest Service] of Law Enforcement and cease using Interior employees to perform law enforcement functions on federal lands.” The bill still awaits action by the committee.

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Indictment unsealed in bribery case involving Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation

Katie Aguilera

On Friday, January 12, 2018, the Department of Justice unsealed an 11-count indictment against Mark Lambert, a former co-president of a trucking company that provides transportation for nuclear materials to customers in the United States and abroad.  Lambert is alleged to have been involved in a bribery scheme with an official from a subsidiary of Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation.

According to the Department of Justice announcement:  “Mark Lambert, 54, of Mount Airy, Maryland, was charged in an 11-count indictment with one count of conspiracy to violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) and to commit wire fraud, seven counts of violating the FCPA, two counts of wire fraud and one count of international promotion money laundering.  The charges stem from an alleged scheme to bribe Vadim Mikerin, a Russian official at JSC Techsnabexport (TENEX), a subsidiary of Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corporation and the sole supplier and exporter of Russian Federation uranium and uranium enrichment services to nuclear power companies worldwide, in order to secure contracts with TENEX.”

Lambert’s former co-president, Darin Condrey, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the FCPA and commit wire fraud in June of 2015.  Vadim Mikerin also pleaded guilty, to conspiracy to commit money laundering involving violations of the FCPA.

These charges come after an FBI investigation that began at least as early as 2009 looking into various violations of the FCPA by people involved in two large deals approved by the Obama administration in 2010 and 2011.

The first deal, in 2010, was the Uranium One deal, which sold part of the Canadian company Uranium One to Russian owned Rosatom.  This made Rosatom one of the biggest uranium producers in the world, and at the time of the sale, gave them control of around 20% of the U.S. uranium supply.  (This does not mean that Russia can export uranium from the U.S.)

The second deal was in 2011.  It gave Rosatom’s subsidiary, Tenex, the right to sell commercial uranium to U.S. nuclear power plants rather than uranium recovered from old Soviet nuclear weapons.

Both deals appear to be surrounded with allegations of kickbacks, money laundering, and extortion.  It is certainly possible that Lambert, Condrey, and Mikerin will not be the only ones facing charges in relation to these deals.

The Hill reported on October 17, 2017 that the FBI had “gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.”  None of this was publicly revealed before the Obama administration approved either deal.

Also from the Hill:

“’The Russians were compromising American contractors in the nuclear industry with kickbacks and extortion threats, all of which raised legitimate national security concerns. And none of that evidence got aired before the Obama administration made those decisions,’ a person who worked on the case told The Hill, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution by U.S. or Russian officials.”

The Hill goes on to discuss the large sums of money the Clinton Foundation received from parties with an interest in the Uranium deals.  The New York Times reported on this in April 2015, writing “Uranium One’s chairman used his family foundation to make four donations totaling $2.35 million.  Those contributions were not publicly disclosed by the Clintons, despite an agreement Mrs. Clinton had struck with the Obama White House to publicly identify all donors.”

There were other donations as well, and Mr. Clinton received a payment of $500,000 for a speech in Moscow, paid for by a “Russian investment bank with links to the Kremlin that was promoting Uranium One stock,” according to the April 2015 New York Times article.

The Clintons have denied that these payments had any affect on the approval of the two deals.  According to the October 2017 article from the Hill, “the Obama administration and the Clintons defended their actions at the time, insisting there was no evidence that any Russians or donors engaged in wrongdoing and there was no national security reason for any member of the committee to oppose the Uranium One deal.”  Both deals were approved by multiple U.S. agencies, and the Canadian government in the Uranium One sale, not by Hillary Clinton or the State Department alone.

The FBI’s investigation continued for at least four years, and it is unclear if any of the officials tasked with approving these deals were made aware of it, or of the financial crimes under investigation, when they made their decisions.

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Judge dismisses case with prejudice in Las Vegas

Judge Gloria Navarro dismissed the case against Cliven, Ryan, and Ammon Bundy and Ryan Payne with prejudice this morning.  The judge cited the Brady violations by the prosecution that led to the trial ending in a mistrial in December as one reason for the dismissal.  This means the defendants cannot be retried for the charges they were indicted for.