One court decision. Two polar-opposite conclusions.
That’s the story on Capitol Hill on Monday after sexual-assault charges in a high-profile case against an Army general were thrown out in military court under a plea deal for lesser violations.
The case further fueled Democrats’ intra-party fight over how to handle military sexual assault, a struggle that pits New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand against Missouri’s Claire McCaskill. Following the plea deal, both senators remained as dug in as ever.
Congressional reaction Monday to the dismissal of the charges was swift and divisive. It reinforced familiar battle lines over an ongoing political fight over the proper role for commanders in such cases.
McCaskill contends that the charges that Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair twice forced his former mistress, a captain, into sex acts and threatened to kill her and her family would never have come forward if not for the commander.
“As a former sex-crimes prosecutor, Claire knows how difficult these cases can be, and this case is obviously a complicated one,” said McCaskill spokeswoman Sarah Feldman. “But one of its lessons highlights what we already know—that commanders are often more aggressive than prosecutors in pursuing prosecutions.”
McCaskill has argued that commanders need to be held accountable and should keep this power, arguing that it is the best way to ensure sexual-assault prosecutions are brought forward. The senator’s office argues that if the case had been handled by prosecutors alone, the rape charge would not have been brought forward. It points to reports in The New York Times that a prosecutor in the case resigned after trying to pressure a commander to drop the sexual-assault charges, according to defense lawyers.
“If this court-martial had been handled by prosecutors alone, it would not have gone to trial,” said a background memo on the case from McCaskill’s office, which was sent to reporters.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the divide, critics who have fought to strip commanders of the power to decide which sexual-assault cases move forward came out arguing the general’s plea deal proves the system is broken.
Gillibrand, whose legislation to take the decision to prosecute out of the chain of command failed in the Senate earlier this month, said that the Sinclair case was an example of what’s wrong with the system.
In an op-ed in the New York Daily News on Friday, Gillibrand said she was concerned about a report in USA Today that the judge had to temporarily halt the court-martial in the Sinclair case “over fears the commanding officer had rejected a plea deal on lesser charges for political reasons, despite concerns over the evidence.”
Although she did not respond immediately to requests for reaction to the Sinclair developments Monday, Gillibrand said in her op-ed that she would continue to fight for the reform.
“We will work harder than ever in the coming year to strengthen our military by taking sexual assaults and other major crimes out of the chain of command — so that no victim is compelled to turn to his or her boss to ask for justice,” she wrote. “We need every case to move forward based solely on the evidence and judged solely on the merits, not political pressure or other nonlegal considerations.”
Others who share Gillibrand’s stance on removing the chain of command spoke up as well.
“This is another example of why commanders shouldn’t be deciding whether someone is prosecuted,” said Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., who has long sought legislation to create a joint military-civilian structure to oversee such cases. “Legal decisions should be made by legal experts, not commanders.”
Speier added, “A justice system that is beholden to the whims of a commander is not credible. Even after pleading guilty to several sordid offenses, I am certain Sinclair will be sent home with a generous pension paid by taxpayers who expect their military leaders to serve honorably.”
What We're Following See More »
“In the spring of 1971, I met a girl,” started Bill Clinton. In his speech Tuesday night at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton brought a personal touch, telling parallel stories of his relationship with Hillary Clinton and the work she has done throughout her career. He lauded the Democratic nominee for her career of work, touching on her earliest days of advocacy for children and those with disabilities while in law school, her role as Secretary of State, and her work in raising their daughter, Chelsea. Providing a number of anecdotes throughout the speech, Clinton built to a crescendo, imploring the audience to support his wife for president. "You should elect her, she'll never quit when the going gets tough," he said. "Your children and grandchildren will be grateful."
A coalition of mothers whose children lost their lives in high profile cases across the country, known as the Mothers Of The Movement, were greeted with deafening chants of "Black Lives Matter" before telling their stories. The mothers of Sandra Bland, Jordan Davis, and Trayvon Martin spoke for the group, soliciting both tears and applause from the crowd. "Hillary Clinton has the compassion and understanding to comfort a grieving mother," said Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin. "And that's why, in the memory of our children, we are imploring you — all of you — to vote this election day."
With the South Dakota delegation announcing its delegate count, Hillary Rodham Clinton is officially the Democratic nominee for president, surpassing the 2383 delegates needed to clinch the nomination. Clinton is expected to speak at the convention on Thursday night and officially accept the nomination.
About 5,500, according to official estimates. "The Monday figures marked a large increase from the protests at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, where even the largest protests only drew a couple of hundred demonstrators. But it’s a far cry from the 35,000 to 50,000 that Philadelphia city officials initially expected."
Only a day after FiveThirtyEight's Now Cast gave Donald Trump a 57% chance of winning, the New York Times' Upshot fires back with its own analysis that shows Hillary Clinton with a 68% chance to be the next president. Its model "calculates win probabilities for each state," which incorporate recent polls plus "a state's past election results and national polling." Notably, all of the battleground states that "vote like the country as a whole" either lean toward Clinton or are toss-ups. None lean toward Trump.