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Archive for August 13th, 2018

Oregon Jury Acquits FBI Agent of Lying About Firing Weapon in Death of Robert ‘LaVoy’ Finicum

Robert “LaVoy” Finicum was shot and killed by police during the armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge.

By Allan Lengel
ticklethewire.com

Federal prosecutors took a big hit on Friday in a Portland, Ore., courtroom.

A federal jury found FBI agent W. Joseph Astarita not guilty after about six hours of deliberations over two days. He was accused of lying to conceal that he fired two shots at the truck of refuge occupation spokesman Robert “LaVoy” Finicum in January 2016.

Astarita, 41, a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team, looked straight ahead but squeezed the hands of defense lawyers Robert Cary and Meghan Ferguson sitting on either side of him as the court clerk read the verdicts about 2:45 p.m., according to a report in The Oregonian newspaper.

Once the jury left, the attorneys hugged Astarita.

A 37-year-old married father of two from a Portland suburb who sat the jury told Maxine Bernstein of The Oregonian:

“I feel it’s possible someone is lying. I don’t know which side, or who, or it could be both. There’s still two unattributed shots, and I feel like we’re never going to know for sure who took them.”

He also said he “felt like a pendulum going back and forth during the trial — from ‘oh man, he definitely did it’ and then ‘well, maybe, he didn’t.”’

 

FBI Fires Strzok over Anti-Trump Texts During 2016 Election

Peter Strzok testifying on The Hill.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

The FBI has fired Peter Strzok for sending anti-Trump text messages to his lover during the presidential campaign.

Strzok attorney Aitan Goelman confirmed FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowditch ordered the termination Friday, overruling an internal disciplinary review that had recommended Strzok be demoted and suspended for 60 days.

“The decision to fire Special Agent Strzok is not only a departure from typical Bureau practice, but also contradicts Director Wray’s testimony to Congress and his assurances that the FBI intended to follow its regular process in this and all personnel matters,” Goelman said, according to Politico.

The FBI declined numerous news agencies’ requests for a comment.

Strzok, a 22-year veteran of the bureau, was among the lead investigators of Russian interference during the 2016 election until the anti-Trump text messages were discovered by a Justice Department inspector general.

Special counsel Robert Mueller immediately removed Strzok from the team investigating Russia.

The politically charged texts were amplified by the president and his supporters as evidence that the investigation into Trump and his campaign was biased.

The texts were sent to an FBI lawyer, Lisa Page, who also was part of Mueller’s team.

Page and Strzok were having an affair, and Trump called the pair “FBI lovers.”

Airport Worker Who Crashed Stolen Plane Asked, ‘Can This Thing Do a Back Flip?’

Via YouTube video taken by a resident near the accident scene.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

FBI agents have recovered the flight data recorder from a plane that was stolen and crashed by a 29-year-old airport worker whose only training appears to be video games.

Authorities are trying to determine whether the crash in which Richard Russell died was deliberate or accidental.

The rogue Horizon aircraft took off Friday evening after Russell stole the twin-engine turboprop from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and flew it in circles above the Pugent Sound in Washington before crashing in a wooded area near the island.

CNBC reports that it’s unclear whether Russell had any formal training, but Horizon Air CEO Gary Beck said he did not appear to have a pilot’s license. 

A worker on the grounds crew told air traffic control that Russell played video games.

“There were some maneuvers that were done that were incredible maneuvers,” Alaska Air CEO Brad Tilden said. “I don’t know how he achieved the experience that he did.”

Beck emphasized that “commercial aircraft are complex machines” that are not easy to fly.

“I wasn’t really planning on landing it,” Russell told air traffic controllers and a pilot, according to a recording of the incident.

 “I’ve played video games before and I know what I’m doing a little bit,” adding he knew how to “put landing gear down.”

Russell appeared to be having fun, asking, “Pilot guy, can this thing do a back flip, you think?”

The FBI, which also recovered parts of the cockpit voice recorder from the plane, said human remains were found at the crash site.

“I got a lot of people that care about me and it’s going to disappoint them to hear that I did this. I would like to apologize to each and every one of them,” Russell is heard saying before the recording ends. He called himself “just a broken guy, got a few screws loose, I guess, never really knew it until now.”

Trump Threatens to ‘Take Action’ Against FBI, Heightens Campaign to Discredit Russia Probe

President Trump

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

President Trump lashed out at the FBI, Justice Department and Attorney General Jeff Sessions in a series of tweets over the weekend.

As the showdown continues between the president and Robert Mueller over an interview, Trump is pumping up his rhetoric and threats against the groups that are overseeing the investigation of Russia’s meddling.

“Our A.G. is scared stiff and Missing in Action. It is all starting to be revealed – not pretty. IG Report soon? Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted from his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey. 

Trump has been furious with Sessions since he recused himself from the Russia investigation, which continues to pick up steam.

In another tweet, Trump threatened “to get involved” with a public records request involving his former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe.

“Why isn’t the FBI giving Andrew McCabe text messages to Judicial Watch or appropriate governmental authorities. FBI said they won’t give up even one (I may have to get involved, DO NOT DESTROY). What are they hiding?”

The tweets are part of a heightened campaign to sow doubts about the credibility of federal authorities involved in the investigation, which is looking into whether the president obstructed justice or his campaign colluded with Russia.

Jury Acquits FBI Agent Accused of Firing Gun During Oregon Standoff

FBI photo of the shooting of Robert “LaVoy” Finicum during the 2016 armed standoff.

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

A federal jury has acquitted an FBI agent accused of lying to investigators about whether he fired his gun twice at a militia elder involved in the armed takeover of an Oregon wildlife refuge.

The jury on Friday found Agent Joseph Astarita not guilty of obstruction and making false statements.

The 41-year-old agent repeatedly denied he fired his weapon at Robert “LaVoy” Finicum because he was worried about crossfire.

Astarita’s attorney, David Angeli, told CNN that prosecutors lacked eyewitness and ballistic evidence that would show the agent fired his service weapon in during the 2016 standoff. 

“We are grateful to the men and women of the jury who saw through a case that never should have been brought,” Angeli and another defense attorney Rob Cary said in a statement.

At the time of the alleged shooting, the FBI was told to hold fire while local and state law enforcement handled Finicum, who led police on a chase in his pickup and was then shot by state police after he appeared to reach for his gun.

The jury was focused on who fired two errant shots, not who killed Finicum because the deadly force was deemed justified.

Astarita’s lawyers argued that alleged evidence against the agent was the result of lies from the “reckless” actions of one Oregon State Police trooper who fired most of the shots and later changed his story.

FBI Investigating Weeks-Old Attack on City’s First Latino Mayor over Immigration

Burien Jimmy Matta

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

Three weeks after the city of Burien’s first Latino mayor said he was attacked by a man angry about his policies supporting immigrants, no charges have been filed.

Now the FBI is stepping in after several law enforcement agencies have failed to charge the 62-year-old Burien man who Mayor Jimmy Matta said attacked him at a block party in this suburb city in King County, Washington.

Matta told police that a man in his 60s put him into a headlock and pulled him to the ground on July 21, whispering to the mayor, “We’re not going to let you Latino illegal take over our city,” the Seattle Times reported at the time. 

The attack is

Both the King County prosecuting attorney and state attorney general said they have conflicts of interest.

A spokesman for Attorney General Bob Ferguson said state prosecutors are waiting for the FBI to complete the investigation.

“We’re still waiting to receive the investigation file,” the spokesman said in an email to the Seattle Times.  “Hard to guess at a timeline when we’re not sure when we’ll get the file, but I’m sure the team will need some time with it to review the evidence before making a recommendation.”

Matta has been an outspoken supporter of making Burien a so-called sanctuary city for undocumented immigrants.

Jury May Decide Fate of Manafort This Week Before He Faces Another Trial

Paul Manafort

By Steve Neavling
Ticklethewire.com

A verdict in the bank and tax fraud case against Paul Manafort could come as early as this week, and a guilty verdict could has the potential of putting President Trump’s former campaign chairman in prison for the rest of his life.

Robert Mueller’s prosecutors are expected to wrap up their case today, depending on what the defense does, the case could go to the jury by midweek.

A lot is at stake in the first trial since Mueller was appointed in May 2017 to investigate Russia’s meddling in the election. A victory could restore faith in the investigation, while a defeat could give Trump more ammunition to claim the probe is part of a “witch hunt,” a far-fetched claim that nonetheless has gained traction among many Republicans.

Monday marks the 10th day in Alexandria, Va., federal court.

When the trial resumes Monday afternoon, prosecutes are expected to call to the stand James Brennan, an executive at the Federal Savings Bank.

What’s unclear is whether Manafort’s lawyers plan to call their own witnesses.

Whatever the case, not even an acquittal ends the legal troubles of Manafort, a longtime GOP operative accused of concealing millions of dollars he made from Russian-friendly Ukrainian officials by depositing the money into foreign bank accounts to avoid taxes.

A second Manafort trial is scheduled for mid-September in Washington D.C., a case that alleges Manafort laundered money and failed to register as a lobbyist while working for the Ukrainian government.