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You want to know how politicians skew their poll data?

A poll commissioned by Candidate A, for example may contain loaded questions like:

If you were asked to choose between Candidate A, who believes in the sanctity of life, and Candidate B, who believes in killing babies, would you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?

Or:

If you were asked to choose between Candidate A, who believes people who rape and kill should be given stiff jail sentences and Candidate B, who believes we should open the prison doors, would you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?

Candidate B, of course, actually stands for a woman’s right to choose and he believes our prisons are overcrowded with non-violent offenders, but Candidate A doesn’t couch his poll questions in that manner. Instead, Candidate B is a baby-killer who wants to turn hardened criminals loose on an unsuspecting public.

Or maybe, in Candidate A’s poll, Candidate A wants to bring jobs to the people of Louisiana while Candidate B, by tightening restrictions on tax giveaways to greedy corporations who don’t really produce that many jobs anyway, is cast as one who wants to drive business and industry from the state.

You may even be asked something like, “If you were told that Candidate A loves his family and teaches Sunday School and Candidate B beats his wife and kids, would you vote for Candidate A or Candidate B?”

Candidate A may be a womanizer who never sets foot in a church and Candidate B may be a devoted husband and father. No one has claimed that Candidate B beats his wife and kids, but you were asked a hypothetical question that implies that he does and phrased in that manner, you are naturally prone to support Candidate A even though you may know zilch about either candidate.

It’s really easy. And just because I’m using an example provided by the Trump campaign, don’t for a moment believe that the practice is limited to Republicans.

It’s not. They all do it.

But this one is especially egregious.

The Trump campaign, which somehow has me on its mailing list, sent this poll before the Mueller report was released. But to submit your response, you’re taken to another page which gives me the choice of contributing to his campaign in amounts ranging from $35 to $2,700.

“At this critical moment, we’re asking our strongest supporters:

“Do you think it’s time for this WITCH HUNT to conclude once and for all?

YES

NO

“This is the most important survey we’ve sent you this year.”

TAKE THE POLL

I tried to vote but without pledging a contribution, my poll response was blocked. In one attempt, I even received a text from the campaign informing me that I had entered an incorrect response.

So, by accepting responses only from those who contribute (and if one is prone to contribute to the campaign, it’s a pretty good bet the poll response would be sympathetic to Trump), the poll results necessarily showed heavy support for Trump, a fact he trumpeted in his tweets as “overwhelming evidence of a witch hunt.”

As pointed out earlier, this practice is by no means the exclusive tactic of Trump.

All candidates do it.

So, the next time you are polled about your political preference in the upcoming election cycle, be careful to listen to how the questions are phrased in order to get a good read as to how the poll is tilted in favor of a certain candidate.

And the next time you read about some candidate is doing well in his privately-commissioned poll, take it as biased—because it is. It’s going to be a poll tailored to the individual candidate and not an accurate reading of the electorate.

That’s just the way the game is played—by both sides.

And we are the losers.

 

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Watching former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s testimony before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, it was impossible to ignore the grandstanding by Democrats out for blood and Republicans just as determined to protect the damaged goods personified in Donald Trump.

But it was the brief appearance of 3rd District U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins that provided a brief moment of unintended comedy.

During his five minutes in attempting to defend Trump from Cohen’s bombshell charges, Higgins managed to allude to “the many arrests” he had made in his law enforcement career.

Following is an excerpt from a chapter on Higgins included in my manuscript for Louisiana’s Rogue Sheriffs: A Culture of Corruption, a book about corrupt sheriffs and law enforcement officers of Louisiana that puts that law enforcement record in perspective:

If ever there was a living caricature of the Barney Fife character from the old Andy Griffith Show, it would have to be Clay Higgins, aka the self-anointed “Cajun John Wayne,” a Dirty Harry wannabe.

Originally a patrolman and a member of the Opelousas Police Department’s SWAT team, Higgins, a former used car salesman, resigned from the OPD on May 18, 2007, in lieu of accepting disciplinary action from Police Chief Perry Gallow.

“Pfc. Clay Higgins used unnecessary force on a subject during the execution of a warrant and later gave false statements during an internal investigation. Although he later recanted his story and admitted to striking a suspect in handcuffs and later releasing him …” read the minutes of the Opelousas Police Department’s Discipline Review Board concerning the March 14, 2007, incident.

Among the actions that had been recommended by the review board:

  • Demotion from Patrolman First Class to Patrolman;
  • Reassignment to a patrol shift for more direct supervision and training;
  • Immediate removal from the SWAT Team;
  • 160 hours suspension from duty without pay.

Rather than be subjected to the disciplinary action, Higgins turned in his equipment and resigned, although his version of events varies somewhat with the official account.

The incident in question occurred, he said, when he and fellow SWAT Team members were guarding the perimeter of a drug bust and a car breached the perimeter. The driver claimed to have cash in the suspected drug house and wanted to retrieve it, according to Higgins. The man was detained and handcuffed, Higgins claimed, and threatened the officers and Higgins slapped a cigarette out of the man’s mouth.

The man, who was subsequently released, filed a complaint and Higgins admittedly lied about slapping the man but later confessed to slapping him. While awaiting a determination of his punishment, he said he jokingly referred to Gallow as a peacock. “I decided right then, on that day, that my career was over at OPD—that I would never, ever recover from this peacock thing. He was infuriated by it. So, because of that I went into the chief’s office the following week and I turned in my badge and my gear and I resigned.”

That’s not the way it happened, according to Captain Craig Thomas, who headed up Internal Affairs for the OPD. He said Higgins lied in saying that the driver of the vehicle, Andre Richard, committed a battery upon Higgins and that Higgins only came forward to tell the truth after learning that Sergeant Bill Ortego did not go along with the story told by Higgins and another officer. Ortego said that he, Higgins and a third officer were standing outside the home where the warrant was being executed when a young black man pulled up in a red vehicle, got out and approached the three officers, but did not breach a perimeter as claimed by Higgins because “there was no perimeter set up for Richard to see,” Thomas said. “He was parked in the street.”

When Higgins walked to the driver’s side of the vehicle and started looking in the car through the open door, Richard attempted to close the door while Higgins was still standing in the doorway, at which time Higgins and the second officer threw Richard to the ground, Ortego wrote in his statement. Ortego made it clear that the driver had not placed his hands on Higgins before trying to close his car door.

Once the man was on the ground, Higgins asked for handcuffs and when the cuffs were on, Higgins grabbed him by the hair and told him to contact his lawyer, Ortego said, adding that the two officers began searching Richard’s vehicle, which they did not have permission to do, and noted that Ortego himself and Lieutenant Craig Leblanc, who was also present, helped the man off the ground, at which time Richard told Higgins, “It’s all right, everybody got to die someday.” Higgins took it as an implied threat and it really pissed Higgins off, prompting him to remove the cuffs and push the man onto the car, then put his hand around his neck before slapping him in the face and telling him to leave, according to Ortego’s statement. Higgins then pulled the cigarette out of Richard’s mouth and pushed him toward his vehicle, Ortego said.

Following his departure from the OPD, Higgins next showed up as a public information officer for the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office. His career there took an even more bizarre turn and established him as something of a pseudo folk hero in what he perceived as the mold of some kind of super cop, or better yet, the reincarnation of John Wayne himself. But his blatant—and oddly comical—self-parody bathed him more in the light of Deputy Fife than the Duke.

While employed by the SLP Sheriff’s Office, Higgins took it upon himself to make a series of macho videos of himself in full battle garb and armed to the teeth. With a full contingent of law enforcement personnel, armaments and a police dog standing alertly in the background, Higgins embarked on a rant against thugs, gang members, and assorted criminals, promising them there was no safe haven for them as long as he was on the job.

The videos gained him instant notoriety on YouTube, garnering thousands of hits. That only encouraged Higgins to branch out and to begin offering commemorative cups, caps and T-shirts to an adoring public. Soon, he was appearing as a paid guest on talk shows, giving paid speeches and doing paid advertisements, all of which naturally, in today’s media-dominated society, morphed into a TV reality show. Saying he had his reasons for preferring payment in cash, he charged $1500 for a television production, a thousand dollars for a radio production and one hundred fifty dollars an hour in travel time and another thousand for a photo session.

It also prompted swift action on the part of St. Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz. After Higgins’s forced resignation, Guidroz said, “Clay Higgins formed a personal business venture to raise money by selling mugs, T-shirts and other trinkets using department badge and uniform.” Explaining that using the sheriff’s office to promote his businesses was against departmental policy, Guidroz said, “I reined Higgins in.” He said that Higgins needed to take his own advice to not be disrespectful and to “follow the law.” Guidroz said he never authorized Higgins to appear on mugs, T-shirts or any other paraphernalia.

The personal business to which Guidroz referred, Captain Higgins Gear Company, LLC, was incorporated on October 15, 2015.

Guidroz related an incident in which Higgins requested extra body armor and an AR-15. He also asked to take the sheriff’s department decals off his car because, Higgins said, “My wife is home alone a lot and I don’t want them (those he had targeted in his videos) to see that I’m a policeman living in this area with the decals on my car.”

Guidroz said he told Higgins, “No, and I’ll tell you why: You put a target on fifty-five other deputies in this parish that have marked units. By calling these guys (gang members) out on the street, claiming to be a bad-ass, you put that target on them. Why should I grant you that request to unmark your car?”

As his supersized ego continued to grow, so, too, did his dream of a TV reality show in which he would out-Seagal actor Steven Seagal who at one time had his own TV reality cop show in which he did ride-alongs with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department. Higgins, expanding on that theme, actually envisioned himself popping in on various police department SWAT teams around the country and inviting himself to raids where he would personally arrest perps and then exact confessions from them during on-camera interrogations. Left unexplained was just how he intended to convince local police departments to allow him to swoop in and claim the glory after what may have been months of investigation and surveillance on their part.

Only after he left the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office was it learned that Higgins had not paid federal income taxes for several years, and his salary there was being garnished by the IRS. Moreover, it was also learned belatedly that Higgins was being sued by one of his ex-wives for one hundred thousand dollars after falling behind on child support payments a decade earlier.

Higgins, who denied an accusation by another ex-wife (not the one who sued him for child support) that he put a gun to her head during an argument in 1991, landed on his feet, this time as a reserve deputy for Lafayette City Marshal Brian Pope who was himself indicted by a grand jury in August of 2016.

Meanwhile, Higgins was seeking the seat previously held by Rep. Charles Boustany who ran and lost in his race for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the retiring David Vitter. Higgins, running as an unabashed supporter of Donald Trump, was pitted in the runoff against Scott Angelle, a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission who finished third in a four-man race for Louisiana Governor in 2015. In the November primary, Angelle led with 29 percent of the vote to Higgins’s 26 percent. But in the December 10 runoff, Higgins, with 77,671 votes (56 percent), swamped Angelle, who pulled but 60,762 (44 percent). After having lost two major races within a year’s time, Angelle was likely through running for elective office though Trump later hired him to head up the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

Days before his runoff victory, Higgins was taped by ex-wife Rosemary Rothkamm-Hambrice as they discussed his delinquent child support payments. “…I really don’t know how much we should talk about this on the phone,” Higgins said. “I’m just learning really about campaign laws but there’s going to be a lot of money floating around…”

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In 2016, her first year as a member of the Louisiana Legislature, Sen. Sharon Hewitt (R-Slidell) successfully sponsored Senate Bill 466 which provided a procedure for the LSU Board of Supervisors and the Commissioner of Administration to seek approval from the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget and the legislature to proceed with the sale of a state hospital.

The bill, which may have stymied Bobby Jindal’s privatization blitz had it been in effect at the time he jettisoned state hospitals to private contractors, passed the House, 97-0 but met resistance in the Senate before passing by a 25-11 vote.

That same year, Hewitt sponsored Senate Concurrent Resolution 84 which, in a classic example of bureaucratic redundancy, requested the Division of Administration “to provide a report of all the reports required of the executive branch by statute and resolution.”

Inexplicably, in 2018, she voted against SB 117 by Sen. J.P. Morrell that would have required any state contractor to comply with the Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act.

Typical of the backwater mentality of the Louisiana Republican Party and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry (LABI) that has kept this state from entering the 21st Century, the bill failed by an 18-20 vote.

The resistance to legislating equal pay for women parallels the Louisiana Legislature’s stubborn insistence on beating back repeated efforts to raise the minimum wage in Louisiana. Even Arkansas has recognized that a person simply cannot subsist on $7.50 an hour.

But now Louisiana. I wonder if it has ever occurred to our political leaders that the determination to keep wages low might just have a little to do with the state’s perpetual bottom ranking in everything but poverty, obesity, crime and football?

That vote probably contributed in large part to her selection as “National Legislator of the Year” by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), an organization noted for its rigidly conservative political positions that favor the privileged over those who actually get the work done.

ALEC has long been in lockstep with the Republican Party that promotes tax breaks for the wealthy and valuable incentives and exemptions for corporations while placing the tax burden on the working class.

ALEC likes to describe itself as non-partisan but that description is about as far from the truth as possible. The organization has a long and sordid history of supporting big oil, big pharma, banking and insurance companies over the rights of injured workers, minorities, the environment, affordable prescription drugs and public education.

And it opposes equal pay for women.

Was I being overly harsh in describing LABI and the Republican Party of obstructing progress in Louisiana? Perhaps, but consider this: In Louisiana, the earnings gap between men and women just happens to be the largest in the nation.

Progressive? Hardly.

Women in this state make 69 cents for every dollar earned by men in the same job, according to the Association of American University Women (AAUW).

But Hewitt apparently navigates on a level that puts her out of touch with reality. She holds a bachelor of science in mechanical engineering from LSU and put that degree to good use managing major deepwater assets in the Gulf of Mexico for Shell Oil.

Chances are she received comparable pay as male engineers at Shell and I can only say good for her. She earned it.

But she seems to forget that not everyone can be so fortunate. Perhaps it never occurred to her as her career advanced that other women deserve equal pay for equal work as well.

There can be no rationalization for not recognizing that fact.

It reminds me of an old television commercial by Eddie Chiles who said, “If you don’t have an oil well, get one.” Which is just a cute way of saying, “I got mine; it’s too bad if you didn’t get yours.”

Just a touch of arrogance there. Personally, I’d rather own the Boston Red Sox or the New York Times. But you see, lofty aspirations like that are simply out of reach for the unwashed masses.

Equal pay should not be.

ALEC, which bestowed its “National Legislator of the Year” honors upon Hewitt, has among its membership corporations hit hardest with penalties for employment discrimination. ALEC member CSX Transportation was recently fined $3.2 million for employing unfair and unnecessary tests designed to steer women into lower-paying occupation. In 2005, ALEC member Federal Express was fined $3.4 million fir discrimination against a woman.

But be proud, Louisiana. A woman legislator just got a national award from ALEC.

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Just the good ol’ boys
Never meanin’ no harm
Beats all you never saw
Been in trouble with the law
Since the day they was born

                                  —Theme from The Dukes of Hazzard by Waylon Jennings

The recent actions of State Rep. STEVE PYLANT (R-Winnsboro) most probably were not the intended consequences of the CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS passed by the Louisiana Legislature in 2017.

Pylant represents House District 20 which includes all or parts of the parishes of Caldwell, Catahoula, LaSalle, Tensas and Franklin.

In 2013, Pylant was one of only two members to vote against a bill to give special consideration to veterans of the armed forces who are arrested or convicted of a crime: “I support veterans 110 percent,” he sniffed at the time, “but when someone violates the law, we should be fair and impartial, no matter who they are. Everyone has problems … I don’t think it’s fair to be more lenient on some than others because of their military background.”

He currently serves a vice chair of the House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice and in 2015, he voted against reducing the penalties for the possession of marijuana.

The following year—and again in 2017—he voted against Senate Bill 180 (Act 343) which provided exemptions from prosecution for anyone lawfully possessing medical marijuana.

In 2017, he voted in favor of Senate Bill 70 (Act 108) that make misbranding or adulteration of drugs under certain circumstances a felony.

He also supported drug testing of welfare recipients and the right of concealed carry in restaurants that sell alcoholic beverages;

That seems about right for the man who, before entered the Louisiana Legislature in 2012, served for 16 years (1996-2012) as the high sheriff of Franklin Parish.

So, with all those law and order credentials, how did it come to be that Rep. (formerly Sheriff) Pylant would come galloping in on his white horse to secure a property bond of $90,000 to spring four convicted felons from jail in Catahoula Parish in December 2018?

Perhaps they weren’t members of the military, thus earning them greater consideration for leniency.

Or perhaps one of those arrested is the brother of a member of the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office and the judge, a tad more adherent to the law than those seeking to exert political influence, noted that he could not grant bail to one and not the others.

All or none, in other words, so Rep. Pylant obligingly ponied up the $90,000 property bond for all four defendants, each of whom had prior drug convictions as well as other assorted convictions spread among them.

The four were said to have been hunting on private property in Tensas Parish and were originally booked on promises to appear in Catahoula court on bonds of $5,000 each as set by Judge John Reeves. But Seventh Judicial District Attorney Brad Burget said when he reviewed the clerk’s file that showed the four were all convicted felons, he determined that “an appropriate bond” had not been set.

Booked on Dec. 8 were Jamie Dewayne Roberts, 45, Michael S. Linder, 49, and Trampas Barton, 43, all of Wisner, and Steve Drane, 50, of Gilbert.

Roberts, at the time of the arrests, was armed with a CVA Elite Stalker 35 Whelen rifle and in addition, had a concealed .22 magnum North American Arms revolver in his front pocket. Barton had a Model 7400 Remington 30.06 rifle. Linder had in his possession of CVA Elite Stalker 35 Whelen rifle, and Drane had a Browning A bold 325 WSM rifle.

Convicted felons are prohibited by law from possessing firearms.

Catahoula Parish Sheriff Toney Edwards said that after the four were booked, he received a call from Bryan Linder who asked that his brother, Michael Linder, be released on a PTA—promise to appear in court.

Bryan Linder works for the Franklin Parish Sheriff’s Office, the office once headed by Rep. Pylant, so it’s pretty easy to connect the dots on how things went down from that point.

But, for the moment, let us examine those felony conviction records of the four.

  • Jamie Dewayne Roberts: possession of methamphetamine in 2010; theft of anhydrous ammonia (used in the manufacture of methamphetamine, or meth) in 2016, an indication he didn’t learn much from his first conviction.
  • Trampas Barton: Distribution of methamphetamine in 2016, five additional convictions for burglaries and two more for drugs.
  • Michael S. Linder: Manufacture of methamphetamines.
  • Steve Drane: Manufacturing meth and on parole until 2021.

At least they weren’t involved in the possession or distribution of marijuana. That’s something Pylant, as your basic law and order representative, just couldn’t abide.

So thank your lucky stars you’ve got protection
Walk the line and never mind the cost
And don’t wonder who them lawmen was protecting
When they nailed the savior to the cross

                            —The Law is for Protection of the People, Kris Kristofferson

 

 

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The hits just keep coming.

Another victory in a public records lawsuit—sort of—while a state tax official goes and gets himself arrested for payroll fraud, and three members of the Louisiana State Police Commission (them again?) find themselves on the hotseat for apparent violations of state regulations that already cost some of their predecessors their positions.

All in a day’s work in Louisiana where the sanctimonious, the corrupt, the unethical, and the unbelievable seem to co-mingle with a certain ease and smugness.

The Lens, an outstanding non-profit news service out of New Orleans, has just won an important fifth with the Orleans Parish District Attorney when the Louisiana Supreme Court DENIED WRITS by the district attorney’s office in its attempt to protect records of fake subpoenas from the publication.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal in October had AFFIRMED a November 2017 ruling by Orleans Civil District Court which had ordered the DA to turned over certain files pursuant to a public records request dating back to April 2017.

As in other cases reported by LouisianaVoice, the court, while awarding attorney fees to The Lens, stopped short of finding that the DA’s denial of records was “arbitrary and capricious,” meaning the DA’s office would not be fined the $100 per day allowed by law for non-compliance with the state Public Records Act.

And because the district attorney was not held personally liable for non-compliance, he will not have to pay the attorney’s fees either; that will be paid by the good citizens of New Orleans.

And, in all probability, the next time the DA’s office or any other public official in New Orleans decides to withhold public records from disclosure, he or she will also skate insofar as any personal liability is concerned with taxpayers picking up the costs.

Until such times as judges come down hard on violations of public records and public meeting laws, officials will have no incentive to comply if there is something for them to conceal.

The records requests were the result of the practice by the DA of issuing FAKE SUBPOENAS (and this preceded Trump’s so-called “fake news”) to force reluctant witnesses to speak with prosecutors—a practice not unlike those bogus phone messages from the IRS that threaten us with jail if we don’t send thousands of dollars immediately.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune described the practice as an “UNDERHANDED TRICK.”

Meanwhile, former Livingston Parish Tax Assessor and more recently Louisiana Tax Commission administrator CHARLES ABELS has been arrested on charges of payroll fraud, improper use of a state rental vehicle and for submitting unauthorized fuel reimbursement requests for the vehicle.

Abels was elected Livingston Parish assessor, an office held up until that time by his grandfather, with 51 percent of the vote in 1995. He served only one term, however, being defeated by current assessor Jeff Taylor in 1999.

In 2002, he was hired as a staff appraiser by the Louisiana Tax Commission. He said at the time that he was a recovering alcoholic who was trying to turn his life around. He was promoted to administrator of the commission during the tenure of Gov. Bobby Jindal.

He was arrested last march on a domestic violence charge but the case was never prosecuted.

One LouisianaVoice reader, a longtime critic of the Louisiana Tax Commission, said Abel’s arrest came as no surprise and that the entire agency is long overdue a housecleaning. “Let’s hope that the State of Louisiana doesn’t wind up on the hook financially for any misdeeds,” he said.

And then there is the Louisiana State Police Commission (LSPC) which just won’t go away.

Almost three years ago, two members became the second and third to RESIGN after reports that they had contributed to political campaigns in violation of the Louisiana State Constitution.

So, you’d think their successors would’ve learned from their indiscretions, right?

Nah. This is Louisiana, where prior actions are ignored if inconvenient and duplicated if beneficial.

But then again, this is the LSPC that paid Natchitoches attorney Taylor Townsend $75,000 to not issue a report on a non-investigation into political contributions by the Louisiana State Police Association (LSTA), contributions that were not paid directly to candidates (including John Bel Edwards and Bobby Jindal), but funneled instead through the personal bank account of LSTA Executive Director David Young so as to conceal the real source of funds.

And now, we have three of the commission members who combined to contribute more than $5,000 to political campaigns during their terms on the LSPC), either personally or through their businesses.

Whether the contributions were justified as having be made by a business (as claimed by State Rep. Mark Wright, R-Covington) or whether the money was contributed to a political action committee as opposed to an individual candidate appears to make no difference; they are all strictly prohibited under state law.

Despite his earlier obfuscation on the issue, Townsend did provide some clarity on the legality of political activity. Quoting from the Louisiana State Constitution, Townsend said, “Members of the State Police Commission and state police officers are expressly prohibited from engaging in political activity. More specifically, Section 47 provides that ‘No member of the commission and no state police officer in the classified service shall participate or engage in political activity…make or solicit contributions for any political party, faction, or candidate…except to exercise his right as a citizen to express his opinion privately…and to cast his vote as he desires.’”

But the real kicker came from a headline in the Baton Rouge Advocate, which proclaimed, “Three State Police commissioners under probe for possible unlawful political donations.”

Buried in that STORY was a paragraph which said LSPC Chairman Eulis Simien, Jr.” tasked the commission’s Executive Director Jason Hannaman to conduct an investigation into the allegations and report back with the findings. Hannaman, a civilian administrator for the board, said Thursday he hoped to complete the report by next month’s meeting.”

Oh, great. An in-house investigation. That should do it. Get a subordinate to investigate his bosses. At least Taylor Townsend carried out the appearance of an outside, independent investigation—until he proved by his inaction that it wasn’t.

What are the odds of this being truly independent and candid?

 

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