UPDATED (2:20 P.M.): The Texas state senator in question below turns out to be a complicated matter; it could be as many as four, three of whom are Republicans. Scroll down for new information.
Donald Trump campaigned as "the law and order" candidate, so it's not surprising that he is likely to govern as one, too.
Still, when it comes to the issue of civil-asset forfeiture laws, even the dirtiest of Dirty Harry wannabes will grant there's something really creepy about the cops and the courts having the ability to take your stuff without even charging you with anything, much less convicting you of anything.
But here's an exchange via the Twitter feed of CNBC's Steve Kopack that should send chills down the spine—and bile up the windpipe—of every American who gives a damn about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and whether or not Lady Gaga included "under God" during her satanic Super Bowl incantations (she did).
Sheriff tells Trump that state senator is doing something he doesn't like
Trump: "Do you want to give his name? We'll destroy his career." pic.twitter.com/75y3t9zc54
— Steve Kopack (@SteveKopack) February 7, 2017
Civil-asset forfeiture, which often doesn't require any sort of criminal charge, is big bucks. As Scott Shackford has noted, in 2014, the FBI alone snatched up $5 billion in seized assets. It's common for local police departments to grab whatever they can from whomever they can (often, the relatives or friends of people assumed to be drug dealers and the like). C.J. Ciaramella took a long, disturbing look at the way the state of Mississippi gilds its budget with seized assets.
Again, we're not talking about drug lords who are charged, have their assets frozen, are found guilty, and then have their assets sold at auction to pay reparations, or anything like that. The way a ton of asset forfeiture works is that the cops, or a prosecutor, or somebody else takes your stuff, claiming that it's connected to some sort of illegal activity. You may or may not be involved in anything illegal, but it's on you to get your stuff back. The likely next attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions, is a big fan of asset forfeiture, so it's likely to be an issue, even in states that are trying to rein it in. And it should be reined in, like a crazy horse: It's not about law and order, it's about unaccountable power.
The Texas state senator referred to in the video above appears to be Konni Burton of Colleyville. Get this, too: She's a libertarian-leaning Republican and here's how she explained the situation to the Texas Observer:
"Right now, law enforcement can seize property under civil law, and it denies people their basic rights," said Burton, who sits on the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "There's a basic problem with this process that I want to correct."…
Now it's uniting politicians who might not otherwise be willing to break bread, according to Matt Simpson, senior policy strategist for ACLU Texas.
"It's an issue that crosses party lines; it's not Democrat versus Republican or liberal versus conservative," he told the Observer, adding that he hasn't "seen a bill we wouldn't support in relation to civil asset forfeiture reform, especially some of the stronger ones."
Local police departments and other law enforcement agencies in Texas get about $42 million a year from seized assets, creating a moral hazard that even Donald Trump would recognize. And as far as ruining Burton's career—or that of anyone else involved in the effort—the president might want to consider that regular Americans understand that there's been a massive decrease in violent and property crime over the past couple of decades. These days, people are often worried about how bullying authorities are likely to act, creating a bipartisan push for all sorts of criminal-justice reform.
Hat tip: BalkansBohemia's Twitter feed.
Update: Various Texas media sources say that it's not actually clear whom Trump and Sheriff Harold Eavenson are discussing in the video clip above. Eavenson has refused to name the senator directly and now the Dallas Morning News reports that in addition to Burton, other possible senators include en. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa (D-McAllen), Bob Hall (R-Rockwall), and Don Huffines (R-Dallas).
"He was just being emphatic that he did not agree with that senator's position," Eavenson said, adding of the senator in question, "I'm not into assassinating his character."
Eavenson will become president of the National Sheriff's Association in June. He has been active in the Sheriff's Association of Texas.
Well, sure, maybe. Then again, the fact that there are so many suspects underscores how unpopular civil-asset forfeiture is across traditional political parties.