Friday, March 15, 2013

Blitz on Washington, Part 2, Bob Goodlatte

March 12, 2013
     1:45 PM
          We hike to the office of Senator Patrick Leahy, from Vermont, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  When the secretary learns that we aren't constituents, and that our problem pertains to a judicial issue, she sends us to another office, in another building.  (By the time the day is over we will have gone through twelve security checks.)
          But he isn't there, either, and neither are any of his staff.  I'm not surprised:  we didn't schedule an appointment months in advance, and we aren't constituents.  Nevertheless, the secretary calls a legal assistant who listens to us for five minutes, takes our cards and promises to have a judiciary staff member watch the video.  The walls of this office are adorned with idyllic scenes of Holstein cows grazing on acres of green meadow, landscapes with wildflowers, and pristine lakes against a backdrop of snowy mountains.  They inspire me to take a few relaxing breaths.  There's no rush.
          But there is a rush.  We have fifteen minutes to get to two other offices:  Congressmen Harper and Griffin, of Mississippi and Arkansas.

     2:00 PM
          Representative Griffin knows all about the Mountain Pure Water case.  John Stacks called him when he sensed something wasn't right with law enforcement, and Griffin did some research, eventually telling John he had nothing to worry about.  The following day the SWAT-team raid took place at his business.  Stacks had supported Griffin's campaign in multiple ways, including a supply of  thousands of bottles of water labeled with Griffin promotions. 
          It's been said that the best way to get an audience with your congressperson is to mention up front that you supported his campaign, and say how.  I consider this cause for deep pessimism about our country.  Money talks, almost everywhere, but I'm still naive enough to think it shouldn't matter when it comes to the governance of our country.  I wish elections could be held without campaigning.  The same small budget could be provided to each candidate, and television spots for debates and speeches could be purchased by the government as part of the election budget.  Corporations ought not to be allowed to muscle their way into the election process.  People should vote in the way elections were intended, not rich companies, not rich individual donors. 
          We had to wait with a staff member for Congressman Griffin, who was casting his vote on the gun-control legislation bill that became the top story this week.  Therefore, his Senior Legislative Assistant, Peter Comstock, took us on a trip through the Capitol building.  I stood in awe under the elaborate dome of the rotunda, because the artwork was so rich and beautiful.  The central images were encircled by what appeared to be intricately designed sculptures, but in fact are a trompe l'oeil fresco of American History.  The dome was 288 feet above us, and depicted a scene of Washington surrounded by thirteen women, representing the thirteen original states.  "Freedom" is the theme of the Capitol, and the message to visitors is the urgency with which each of us must be prepared to defend democracy and our freedom.
          We passed through many corridors and stairwells before arriving in a long echo-filled hall lined with pillars, outside the enormous room where congresspeople argue and appeal to one another before voting.  Then the congresspeople appeared.  We stood in a group in the hall for this "meeting." 
          Representative Griffin of was anxious for an update on Stacks' situation, including any word about the Grand Jury hearing last week.  He wanted to hear from me, too, to corroborate his understanding that Stacks' raid wasn't an isolated case. 
          "This kind of thing is happening more than we realized," Griffin said.  "I know of several cases in my own constituency.   It's not right, that our businesses should be treated like this.  The laws were not intended to be used in this way.
          "They put guns to her patient's and her medical assistant's head," Stacks said, pointing to me.  "That just isn't necessary in a small business that doesn't pose a threat to agents.
          "Why was a raid conducted in the first place?"  I asked.  "If they had asked me for documents, I would have handed them over."
          "It sounds as though there are some serious breaches," Griffin said.
          Then he had an idea.
          "Let me go get Bob Goodlatte!  He'll want to meet you.  I'm sure he wants to hear more about this," Griffin said.  "Wait here a minute..." and he rushed off.
          A minute later he reappeared with Represenative Goodlatte, from Virginia.  We shook hands and introduced ourselves, and I presented an abbreviated version of the raid at my clinic.
          "Why did they raid you?" he asked.
          "I don't know."
          "You don't know?"
          "It's twenty-one months, and they still haven't told her," Stacks said.  "Can you believe it?"
          "What do the warrants say?"
          "They're pretty general:  conspiracy, fraud, money laundering, racketeering," I said.  "I haven't done anything that falls into those categories."
          "They took her money, so she couldn't hire a lawyer without borrowing from a friend."
          "I closed my office six weeks ago," I said.  "The raid was demoralizing, and it affected my reputation so that I couldn't hire other doctors or nurse-practitioners."
          Congressman Griffin is a very important person, for our group's legal case.  He is Chair of the House Judiciary Committee.  If I had been able to speak with only one member of Congress, he would have been the one.  He has the power to call for a congressional hearing on the matter, if he thinks it's important enough.
          "This is a matter of dire importance for businesses like mine," I said.  "We're the businesses President Obama says he wants to support."
          "Raids are ruining our businesses," Stacks said.  "I'm going through a lot of trouble now, because of the raid.  And for what?"
          "It's a bipartisan issue," said Representative Griffin.
          "That's definitely the case," said Representative Goodlatte.  "I have Democratic and Republican members on my committee, and both have said they consider what you're talking about a serious problem.  They have other constituents who have reported similar experiences."
          "Almost a thousand people have called me, since the youtube video of my raid," said Stacks.  They say the exact same thing happened to them.  But they're too afraid of retaliation to speak out."
          "Many of them sign gag orders when they settle with the This is a big position, which could influence our case.  We are met by his counsel and legislative assistant in an office with Texas-sized paintings of longhorn cattle fording a stream, and a huge, frayed, stained flag of Texas with a musket hole torn through the center.
          Senator Cornyn may be seen in a photograph on the cover of Austin Fit magazine.  He's sharing a Texas-sized laugh, mouth wide open, with Chuck Norris.
government," I added.
          "What I'd like to do..." said Goodlatte, "is try to get a House hearing on this problem."
          "That would be great," I blurted out.
          "I think we have enough support," he went on, looking at Representative Griffin, who nodded.
          "We're asking other representatives to send you letters," I said, "if they think our issue is one that affects civilians and business owners in their districts."
          "So far we've had a positive response," said Stacks.  "Including among senators.  For instance, Senator Pryor is taking this very seriously."
          "If we had both Senate and House support, it would be taken very seriously," said Griffin.
          "Let's work on our end," said Congressman Goodlatte.  "We'll see what we can do."

     3:00 PM
          We make our way to Senator Cornyn's office. He is the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.  This is a big position, so Senator Cornyn could help take this case into a Senate hearing.
          We are met by his legislative assistant, Adam Shapiro, and counsel Stephen Tausend, in an office with Texas-sized paintings of longhorn cattle fording a stream.  There is also a huge, frayed, stained flag of Texas with a musket hole torn through the center.
          Senator Cornyn may be seen in a photograph on the cover of Austin Fit magazine.  He's sharing a Texas-sized laugh, mouth wide open, with Chuck Norris.  The bigness of Texas fills this office, just as the state dominates the map.  Maybe we can get some action from these congresspeople.
          We tell our stories, once again.  John Stacks has a water-bottling plant in Texas, which is why we were given an appointment.  We are asked the same questions:  Why did the government agents do such a thing?  Did they show warrants?  What did the warrants say?  Why did they need guns?  Is this happening to other people?
          "We need help," I say.  "We don't know where else to turn."
          "You came to the right place," Adam said.
          "But this doesn't sound like America," said Tausend.  "It can't be America."
          "It's America, and this kind of thing is happening," said Stacks.
          "It sounds like some other country," Tausend reiterated.
          "You mean, like a country with a military government?"
          "Yeah, like that."
          "We need to get America back," he said.
          "Yes, we do," said John Stacks and me, in unison.

     4:00 PM
          Thad Cochran's staffer asks us to send documentation of what happened to us at the hands of government agents.  The senator is on the Homeland Security Committee, which may oversee judicial misuse of powers.

     4:30 PM
          Senator Roger Wicker's staffer seems interested in our story.  He takes the youtube tape and promises to watch it.  He'll "give the senator a report."  He asks about our connection to Mississippi, which is where Stacks has one of his three water bottling plants.  Stacks offers to send some cases of bottled Mississippi spring water, so the office doesn't have to pass out water with New York labels.  The secretary intervenes, saying they can't accept gifts unless they're not accompanied by a thank-you note, otherwise the gift can be interpreted as a bribe.    

     5:30 PM
          Senator Graslee's office.  The staffer is standing in the hallway, overhears us talking and asks if we need the senator.  We ask him to give the senator a copy of Rampant Injustice and say we want a hearing.  Then the staffer looks past us.  His attention has been focused on his girlfriend, another employee in the world of Congress.  She is walking toward him, dressed in what I now realize are requisite colors for working here:  black dress, coat and shoes.  The staffer leaves us with a hasty good-bye.  "He's got other things on his mind," says Stacks.


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