What Had Happened Was... (Aug. 26th-Sept. 1st, 2019)

A lightning fast weekly recap so you don't feel like an idiot on Monday

(Cinergy movie theater-Odessa, Texas)

Here’s a catch-up of the major events of the week of August 26, 2019. You can check in with a minimal time commitment, read about the big stuff and stay in the know before we’re on to the next. For me, this will always be the week that Donald Trump suggested we shoot nuclear bombs into hurricanes to stop them and his advisors giving him the obligatory “we’ll look into it.”

This week we had movement against major companies responsible for the opioid epidemic, a suspension of Parliament to help push Brexit through, Deutsche Bank covering for Trump, great news for Comey, Custom’s deporting sick immigrants and another mass shooting. There’s a lot to cover, let’s dig right in.

Landmark Opioid Ruling; Pressure on Perdue Pharma

On Monday, a judge in Oklahoma found that Johnson & Johnson was responsible for fueling Oklahoma’s opioid crisis and ordered restitution in the amount of $572 million to cover the fallout from the epidemic on the state and its residents. This award amount was substantially lower than the $17.5 billion over 30 years asked for by the plaintiffs to cover the estimated costs of treatment, emergency care, law enforcement, social services and other addiction-related needs.

“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma and must be abated immediately. As a matter of law, I find that defendants’ actions caused harm, and those harms are the kinds recognized by [state law] because those actions annoyed, injured or endangered the comfort, repose, health or safety of Oklahomans.” — Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman, reading part of his decision aloud from the bench

Even though the recovery amount is lower than expected, this ruling is critical. It establishes a new legal precedent that will help future plaintiffs overcome the “public nuisance” standard in litigation that was previously an obstacle. This landmark decision is the first time the courts have found a drugmaker responsible for pharmaceutical fallout and will likely act as a model for the over 40 other states lined up to pursue similar claims against the industry.

The Sackler family, who built their wealth on their aggressive marketing scheme and sales of the widely abused painkiller OxyContin, are also attempting to negotiate a settlement with more than 2,000 cities, counties, states and individuals. The current proposal involves Purdue Pharma going into bankruptcy and the Sacklers being kicked out of the drug business altogether. They would additionally be required to contribute $3 billion (possibly more), depending on the sale price of Mundipharma, their international drug company in a payment to be distributed over seven years.

Critics of this deal cite the current valued worth of the Sackler family, which is estimated at $10 billion to $12 billion and the fact that a $3 billion payout would not be commensurate with the damages. Under this proposal the Sacklers would still retain much of their wealth and might be able to keep billions of dollars that they allegedly pulled out of the company. One major risk of not reaching a settlement is that Purdue will likely file bankruptcy, which could substantially devalue the company and place a $3 billion recovery at risk. Regardless, it appears that no one in the Sackler family will be going to jail over their actions and they will still be left with substantial wealth, meaning they will ultimately profit off of the crisis they created.

More than 400,000 people have died of overdoses from painkillers, heroin and illegal fentanyl since 1999.

Deutsche Bank Continues to Hide Trump’s Financial Secrets

On Tuesday, Deutsche Bank told a federal appeals court that it has Trump’s tax returns in its possession that were sought by Congress earlier this year that Trump has yet to turn over despite congressional subpoenas. Current and former bank officials claim Deutsche Bank has portions of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns for multiple years. The bank has apparently amassed substantial financial data on Trump that it has collected over its two-decade relationship with him.

Deutsche Bank has been Trump’s primary lender for a long time and has previously stated that for most years, it only had the first several pages of his tax returns. But the bank now acknowledges that it possesses far more detailed financial data starting in 2011 that include balance sheets, financial statements and documents detailing the organization of Trump’s businesses.

The private banking division of Deutsche Bank that caters to its wealthy clients, struck up a relationship with Trump and his family and portions of his tax returns were shared widely with executives as the bank considered doing business with him. Other divisions of the bank expressed opposition to doing business with Trump because he had already defaulted on his debts to the bank. In 2012, the private division ultimately went forward and loaned Trump and his companies approximately $350 million dollars in over the next five years.

Congressional investigators believe the documents held by Deutsche Bank could be more helpful than the previously requested tax returns in assisting with a comprehensive view of Trump’s business operations and sources of his money. On Friday, a three-judge appeals court panel heard arguments from lawyers for Trump and the two Democrat-controlled committees that issued the subpoenas, the House Financial Services Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. Trump’s lawyers have argued that the subpoenas are overly broad and serve no legitimate legislative purpose, and have repeated this argument at every phase of litigation.

Democrats told the panel that their request for a wide range of documents was necessary and part of an extremely broad investigation. They added that in an investigation including laundering Russian money to move it to the United States, they need to see how the process is handled domestically, which further broadens the scope of the investigation. The appeals panel did not indicate when it would issue its ruling on whether Deutsche Bank will be compelled to turn over Trump’s financials, so stay tuned.

Queen Approves Suspension of Parliament, Protests Ensue

On Wednesday, the Queen of England approved an order from Prime Minister Boris Johnson for parliament to be “prorogued” from the second week in September until 14 October – just 17 days before the scheduled date of Brexit on Halloween. Prorogue is a formal term within the British Constitution that means to discontinue a session of Parliament…I had to look it up. The approval was given at a session of the Privy Council in Balmoral despite letters from Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson requesting urgent meetings with the Queen to urge her to withhold it. Privy Council is a formal body of advisers to the Queen that mainly is comprised of senior politicians, such as current or former members of either the House of Commons or the House of Lords. Had to look that one up, too.

"Suspending Parliament is not acceptable, it is not on. What the prime minister is doing is a smash and grab on our democracy to force through a no deal…the first thing we'll do [when MPs return to the Commons next Tuesday] is attempt legislation to prevent what [the Prime Minister] is doing [followed by a vote of no confidence] at some point.” — Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

The backlash from all sides was unleashed — Commons Speaker John Bercow, who does not speak typically publicly in his position, called the move a “constitutional outrage,” former Chancellor Philip Hammond described it as “profoundly undemocratic” and conservative former Prime Minister Sir John Major said he is seeking legal advice on Johnson’s move.

Although Johnson claims the suspension will give him room to work on the agenda for his new government with ample time to discuss Brexit, no one is really buying it. This strategy looks more like a deliberate squeeze to prevent democracy and many in the U.K. are struggling to recall any previous prime minister in modern times doing something like this. The people of London took to the streets and have continued with protests every day since.

Many, including myself, have wondered why the Queen didn’t just reject Boris Johnson’s request for prorogue. The answer is fairly simple: although the Queen could have said no to the prime minister and refused to sign the suspension legislation in theory, she would never do so. Queen Elizabeth II acts acts on the advice of her prime minister, and always has. The last time a monarch didn’t accept advice was in the 1830s. Vernon Bogdanor, author and British Constitutional expert explains further: “It’s a rule that has served her throughout her reign. It means that any criticism of her decision is directed at the PM and the government and not the queen.” This intended result is that protests by the people will be directed at the Prime Minster and not the Queen who utilizes this method to insulate herself. Given the video of protesters chanting “no one voted for Boris” above, it seems to have worked.

OIG Report Exonerates Comey

On Thursday, the Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General (OIG) released its long-awaited report on James Comey’s handling of a series of memos documenting alleged obstruction of justice by Trump. Trump has repeatedly claimed (mostly via tweet) that Comey shared classified information and broke the law, but he was wrong…again. It was reported earlier this month that the DOJ would not be bringing any criminal charges against James Comey and the final conclusion of the newly released OIG report this week formally found there was “no evidence” that Comey had leaked classified information to the media.

James Comey took to Twitter to demand an apology.

So did Trump.

To say this OIG conclusion has frustrated Donald Trump is an understatement. After bailing on his official trip to Poland to watch Hurricane Dorian coverage on TV from Camp David, he is still frantically tweeting about Comey as I write this:

Another Mass Shooting in Texas

Seven people have died and at least a dozen others were injured as a result of a mass shooting in the West Texas cities of Midland and Odessa on Saturday. The incident began when a state trooper on Interstate 20, between Midland and Odessa, tried to pull the suspect over late in the afternoon. As the driver appeared to be crawling to a stop in his vehicle, he opened fire on the state trooper through his back windshield, then fled down the highway, shooting at a person at I-20 and east Loop 338. From there, the suspect “proceeded on a shooting spree in the City of Odessa,” and then stole a postal truck, which led authorities to believe for several hours that more than one shooter might be involved.

The suspect then drove to the Cinergy movie theater on Highway 191, where he shot an Odessa officer and a Midland officer. Police returned fire once the suspect was stopped at the theater and the suspect was killed outside the theater according to authorities.

Police officers and state troopers attempted to keep drivers off the highways as the cities of Odessa and Midland went on lockdown. Universities, businesses and residents all proceeded to close themselves in after seeking safety. A television station in Odessa actually evacuated its studio while its reporters were covering the breaking news live on the air (see the video below).

Russell Tippin, chief executive of the Medical Center Health System in Odessa, confirms that 13 people had been treated, including one who died and a toddler younger than 2, who has since been transferred to another hospital. Seven of the patients in Odessa were in critical condition from gunshot wounds as of Saturday night, and most of those injured have already undergone surgery. Two patients are classified in serious condition. A hospital spokesman confirms that the injured child is in satisfactory condition and has been transferred to Lubbock.

Authorities have yet to confirm the names of victims who have died and have also not identified the shooter. Midland Mayor Jerry Morales told the press that a rifle had been used in the attack, but the specific type of gun and ammunition has not been confirmed. At this point, the gunman’s motive is not clear, but authorities have identified him as a white male in his 30’s. This latest shooting attack comes only four weeks after a 21-year-old gunman opened fire at an El Paso Walmart on Aug. 3. Odessa is only 300 miles east of El Paso. Fifty-one people have died in mass shootings in the month of August alone in the United States-there have been 38 shootings with three or more fatalities this year so far.

Honorable Hopeful Mention

On Wednesday, sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg sailed into New York City’s harbor in her zero emissions boat to attend the United Nations Climate Action Summit and spread awareness among Americans about what she calls "the climate crisis." On Friday, she joined thousands of activists for a climate protest in front of the United Nations. Greta also disclosed in a Twitter post that she has Aspergers, but that it “means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm” and that “given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower.”

And a child shall lead them.

For more detail on the events of the week, see the following articles listed below:

Trump's Campaign Manager and His Wife Got Over $900,000 from Pro-Trump Super PAC: A must read about how Brad Parscale and his wife have received large payments from a Trump-Pence super PAC, possibly in violation of federal election law.

Trump Goes After Military Families Again: A look into the ongoing confusion over the new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy that will revoke a previous rule which allowed automatic citizenship for children of U.S. service members born overseas.

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Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.