Weekend open thread: Strange courtroom pronouncements edition

Kent Sorenson official photo Kent_Sorenson_-_Official_Portrait_-_84th_GA_zpsnmaxx4mw.jpg

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson testified this week in the trial of two former Ron Paul presidential campaign aides. (A judge dismissed charges against a third man who had been indicted in the same case.) After initially claiming to be the victim of a "straight-up political witch hunt," Sorenson eventually pled guilty to federal charges related to accepting hidden payments. He had been negotiating with Paul’s operatives for months on a price for changing his allegiance from presidential candidate Michele Bachmann to Paul less than a week before the Iowa caucuses.

Russ Choma wrote up Sorenson’s testimony for Mother Jones, and Grant Rodgers has been covering the trial for the Des Moines Register. On Thursday, Sorenson testified that he was upset when some staffers for Michele Bachmann’s campaign treated him "like a leper," after he revealed that he had considered switching to Paul and was offered money to do so. Dude, what did you expect? Asking to be paid for a presidential endorsement should get a person shunned from polite society. People with leprosy should take offense at being compared to a guy like you.

Sorenson said in court the next day that going into politics was "a waste of my life, and I wish I had not done it." I would guess a large number of Iowans in both parties also wish he had never gotten involved with politics.

Ten days ago, Polk County District Court Judge Douglas Staskal heard arguments in a case challenging Governor Terry Branstad’s veto of funding for two in-patient mental health facilities his administration decided to close earlier this year. In one exchange, Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Thompson asserted that the governor could theoretically shut down the state’s court system by exercising his veto power to reject all appropriated funds for the judiciary. He noted that the constitution gives state lawmakers power to override a governor’s veto (through a two-thirds majority vote in both the Iowa House and Senate), and courts should not take on that role if legislators decline to do so.

I would like to hear attorneys’ opinions on whether the governor’s veto power extends so far. Can the governor eliminate virtually any part of state government by blocking appropriations for it, as long as at least one-third plus one member of one chamber of the legislature will back up his political agenda?

I’ve posted excerpts from these reports after the jump.

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Weekend open thread: Iowa Wing Ding edition

What’s on your mind this weekend, Bleeding Heartland readers? This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

More than twenty Iowa Democratic county committees put on a great “Wing Ding” in Clear Lake Friday night. The Surf Ballroom was packed to capacity, thanks to appearances by four of the five Democratic presidential hopefuls. Despite a fairly long list of speakers including candidates for U.S. House and Senate and State Senator Amanda Ragan, who was receiving an award, the Wing Ding amazingly finished ahead of schedule. I enclose below my take on all the speeches.

For those following the saga of three former Ron Paul campaign operatives, recently indicted for their role in making illegal payments to then State Senator Kent Sorenson: Russ Choma covered the prosecutors’ latest court filing for Mother Jones. Prosecutors allege the operatives “were prepared to leak documents to harm Sorenson in 2012 if they couldn’t obtain his endorsement for Ron Paul.” An attorney for Jesse Benton acknowledged that in late 2011, his client “threatened to expose Mr. Sorenson, believing that Mr. Sorenson was trying to blackmail the 2012 RP Campaign, if Mr. Sorenson did not make up his mind on whether to commit to the Ron Paul Campaign.” But the lawyer said Benton did not follow through on what he described as “a knee-jerk, emotional reaction.” Of course, there would have been no reason to carry out the threat after Sorenson agreed to take the money in exchange for switching his allegiance to Paul.

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Former State Senator Kent Sorenson facing new criminal charges

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson faces new criminal charges of domestic abuse assault and interference with official acts, KCCI-TV’s Cynthia Fodor reported today. Sorenson resigned his Iowa Senate seat in 2013 and pled guilty to federal crimes last year in connection with illegal payments he received during the 2012 presidential campaign. Prosecutors have agreed to delay sentencing in that case because Sorenson has been cooperating with the federal government on a "larger investigation."

Fodor reported that Sorenson was arrested on July 17 after a fight with his wife, Shawnee Sorenson. She did not call the police; rather, someone called 911 after seeing her walking down the road near their home. Warren County Sheriff Brian Vos said Shawnee Sorenson “had redness around her eye and did admit she had been struck by Mr. Sorenson.” Two sheriff’s deputies then suffered unspecified injuries while arresting the former senator.

Sorenson’s attorney said his client will plead not guilty to the new charges, and that the whole family has been under stress while Sorenson awaits sentencing in the federal case. In a statement to KCCI, published in full on the television station’s website, Shawnee Sorenson said today that she started the fight on Friday after drinking some alcohol, “which I now realize was not the right thing to do.” By her account, her husband grabbed her because she was “throwing things” and “clawed him.” Shawnee Sorenson added that she did not want the police involved and “would not press charges,” because “Kent looked worse than I did.” Nor did she ask for the no-contact order that was filed after the arrest. She is “tired of the media portraying Kent in a negative light. He has done his best to be a good father, husband and provider for our family despite all the pressures he is facing.”

Linh Ta reported for the Des Moines Register that Sorenson “had $2,000 bond posted to avoid jail” and will have a preliminary hearing on the new criminal charges on July 28. He was acquitted on a domestic abuse assault charge in 1994 “when the witness testified that the allegations were false,” Jennifer Jacobs reported for the Des Moines Register in 2010.  

Kent Sorenson sentencing delayed as he cooperates with federal investigators

Nearly six months after he pled guilty to receiving hidden payments for endorsing Ron Paul, former State Senator Kent Sorenson still hasn’t been sentenced and won’t be for some time. Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register,

In a [February 19] hearing before U.S. District Judge Robert W. Pratt, attorneys for the government and for Sorenson agreed to delay sentencing in the case until April. The reason, Justice Department lead attorney Robert Higdon Jr. said, was that the government was “engaged” and “making progress” on a “larger investigation” into the 2012 presidential race. […]

It is unclear exactly who may be the target of the ongoing investigation, but questions have been raised about top aides in Paul’s 2012 campaign.

Sorenson received shady indirect payments from Michele Bachmann’s presidential campaign for months, but his guilty plea was related to a payment scheme he negotiated with Ron Paul supporters. Russ Choma reported last year for the Open Secrets blog,

Sources say two grand juries are looking into the 2012 campaigns of Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), whom Sorenson originally endorsed, and Paul, to whom Sorenson switched his support just days before the Iowa caucuses. A number of individuals confirmed to OpenSecrets Blog that they had been interviewed by FBI agents, the grand juries, or both.

Click through for more speculation on angles federal investigators may be pursuing.

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Kent Sorenson has more positive drug tests

Awaiting sentencing for concealing payments received for helping Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, former State Senator Kent Sorenson has now tested positive three times for marijuana use, the Associated Press reported last week. Sorenson’s attorney had said the first positive test was caused by drug use prior to the plea agreement. In a more recent court document,

A lab toxicologist gave an opinion on Oct. 28 that Sorenson “reused marijuana prior to the collections on Oct. 7 and Oct. 21,” which would amount to a second violation of his release conditions, she wrote.

I’d like to hear from members of the Bleeding Heartland community who are familiar with the criminal justice system: would evidence of more recent marijuana use likely affect the sentence Sorenson will receive, even though the crimes to which he pled guilty are unrelated to illegal drug use?

Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu reflected on Sorenson’s “perfect hypocrisy,” since as a state senator he “voted to subject welfare recipients to random drug tests, at their own expense, even if they had no history of drug abuse.” I’ve enclosed excerpts from her latest piece after the jump.

Various states that have introduced drug testing for welfare recipients have found the tests “ended up costing taxpayers more than it saved and failed to curb the number of prospective applicants,” and that welfare recipients use illegal drugs at rates significantly lower than the general population.  

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Kent Sorenson tested positive for marijuana

Former State Senator Kent Sorenson tested positive for marijuana two weeks ago, according to court documents released today. Sorenson is on probation pre-trial release under supervision while he awaits sentencing for concealing illegal payments he received from Ron Paul’s presidential campaign and giving false testimony about the scheme. Jason Noble reported for the Des Moines Register,

His attorney, F. Montgomery Brown, said Sorenson disclosed using marijuana prior to making his plea and denies using since he’s been under court supervision. Testing shows declining levels of the drug, Brown added, which is “consistent with abstinence.”

In the court documents, the probation officer assigned to Sorenson asked that no action be taken in response to the drug test, noting that he has maintained full-time employment. The U.S. Department of Justice attorney assigned to the case did not object.

“I would not expect it to have any impact upon his pretrial release at this time,” Brown said. “They’re not asking for any revocation of that release.

Brown added, “He’s not the first tea partier to have a substance abuse issue.”

I hope Sorenson gets the help he needs to abstain from habit-forming drugs. Questions for those in the Bleeding Heartland community who are familiar with the criminal justice system: is it typical for a probation officer and a DOJ attorney not to recommend immediate consequences for a defendant who violated probation by failing a drug test? And would a positive drug test likely affect the sentence Sorenson will receive, even though the crimes to which he pled guilty are unrelated to illegal drug use?

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