Asset Forfeiture

Trump Does Not Know What Civil Forfeiture Is, but He Likes It

The president agrees there should be no restraint on a form of legalized theft he clearly does not understand.

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White House

In a meeting with county sheriffs from around the country on Tuesday, President Trump jokingly (we hope!) threatened to "destroy [the] career" of a Texas legislator who proposed requiring the government to obtain a conviction before taking property allegedly tied to crime. As Nick Gillespie noted, Trump's knee-jerk support for civil asset forfeiture is troubling, especially in light of a growing bipartisan consensus that the practice should be reformed or abolished because it hurts innocent property owners and warps law enforcement priorities. Worse, the White House transcript of the president's remarks about forfeiture shows he literally does not know what he is talking about, which suggests this "law and order" president is happy to go along with whatever cops want, even if he has no idea what it is.

Jefferson County, Kentucky, Sheriff John Aubrey broaches the subject of forfeiture, complaining that "people want to say we're taking money and without due process." According to Aubrey, "That's not true. We take money from dope dealers." Such assurances should be viewed with great skepticism, since civil forfeiture lets cops fund their own budgets by confiscating property they claim is connected to criminal activity. The government need not charge the owner, let alone convict him, and may not have to offer any evidence at all, since challenging forfeitures is often prohibitively expensive. It's clear from Trump's response to Aubrey's complaint that he does not know any of this (italics added):

Trump: So you're saying—OK, so you're saying the asset taking you used to do, and it had an impact, right? And you're not allowed to do it now?

Aubrey: No, they have curtailed it a little bit. And I'm sure the folks are—

Trump: And that's for legal reasons? Or just political reasons?

Aubrey: They make it political, and they make it—they make up stories. All you've got to do—

Trump: I'd like to look into that, OK? There's no reason for that. Dana, do you think there's any reason for that? Are you aware of this?

Acting Attorney General Dana Boente: I am aware of that, Mr. President. And we have gotten a great deal of criticism for the asset forfeiture, which, as the sheriff said, frequently was taking narcotics proceeds and other proceeds of crime. But there has been a lot of pressure on the department to curtail some of that.

Trump: So what do you do? So in other words, they have a huge stash of drugs. So in the old days, you take it. Now we're criticized if we take it. So who gets it? What happens to it? Tell them to keep it?

Boente: Well, we have what is called equitable sharing, where we usually share it with the local police departments for whatever portion that they worked on the case. And it was a very successful program, very popular with the law enforcement community.

Trump: And now what happens?

Boente: Well, now we've just been given—there's been a lot of pressure not to forfeit, in some cases.

Trump: Who would want that pressure, other than, like, bad people, right? But who would want that pressure? You would think they'd want this stuff taken away.

Aubrey: You have to be careful how you speak, I guess. But a lot of pressure is coming out of—was coming out of Congress. I don't know that that will continue now or not.

Trump: I think less so. I think Congress is going to get beat up really badly by the voters because they've let this happen. And I think badly. I think you'll be back in shape. So, asset forfeiture, we're going to go back on, OK?

Aubrey: Thank you, sir.

Trump: I mean, how simple can anything be? You all agree with that, I assume, right?

Unnamed Participant: Absolutely, yeah.

Trump: Do you even understand the other side of it?

Participant: No.

Trump: It's like some things—

Participant: No sense.

Even though Aubrey talks about "tak[ing] money from dope dealers" and Boente refers to "narcotics proceeds and other proceeds of crime," Trump initially seems to think asset forfeiture is what happens when police seize "a huge stash of drugs." He is puzzled that anyone would say the cops should return a pile of cocaine or heroin to a drug dealer, because "you would think they'd want this stuff taken away."

Eventually Trump seems to get that it's money (or other assets) the cops are taking, but he still assumes it's money lying next to a huge stash of drugs—as opposed to, say, the savings of a hapless college student, the winnings of innocent poker players, or the bank account of a convenience store owner whose deposits the IRS deemed suspiciously small. Trump is baffled as to why anyone would want to stop the cops from taking drug dealers' profits.

Aubrey and Boente, who obviously know better, are not about to enlighten Trump, since they both have a financial interest in promoting forfeiture, which helps fund their budgets. Aubrey leaves the impression that it's only bad guys who lose their property, saying anyone who claims otherwise is just "mak[ing] up stories." Boente leaves the reasons for the "pressure" and "criticism" utterly mysterious. And when Trump asks a roomful of cops and prosecutors if they "even understand the other side of it," it is hardly surprising that no one pipes up to explain the critics' arguments. By the time Rockwall County, Texas, Sheriff Harold Eavenson mentions a state senator "who was talking about introducing legislation to require conviction before we can receive their forfeiture," Trump is automatically outraged: "Can you believe that?" It's the greedy leading the blind.

Jeff Sessions, who yesterday was confirmed as Trump's attorney general, is not likely to fill the gaps in the president's understanding of forfeiture. Sessions, a former U.S. attorney, is an old-fashioned drug warrior and forfeiture fan who sees no reason to restrain the practice. At a 2015 hearing on forfeiture reform, Sessions claimed, without citing any evidence, that "95 percent" of people who lose money to forfeiture have "done nothing in their lives but sell dope." He said "it's unthinkable that we would make it harder for the government to take money from a drug dealer." When Trump suggests that only "bad people" see anything wrong with civil forfeiture, Sessions will heartily agree.

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50 responses to “Trump Does Not Know What Civil Forfeiture Is, but He Likes It

  1. Trump: I mean, how simple can anything be? You all agree with that, I assume, right?

    Unnamed Participant: Absolutely, yeah.

    Trump: Do you even understand the other side of it?

    Participant: No.

    “The ‘ayes’ have it!” 8-(

  2. So he was misinterpreting the assets as seized narcotics and his acting AG failed to correct him on it. Pretty sad.

    1. We’ll just look at the other acting a
      AG who tried to correct him…

  3. The article on 1984 just got Memory-holed…

    1. I guess irony can be pretty ironic at times.

  4. Trump: So what do you do? So in other words, they have a huge stash of drugs. So in the old days, you take it. Now we’re criticized if we take it. So who gets it? What happens to it? Tell them to keep it?

    Boente: Well, we have what is called equitable sharing, where we usually share it with the local police departments for whatever portion that they worked on the case. And it was a very successful program, very popular with the law enforcement community.

    Way to bury the lede, Mr. Sullum! The cops are distributing drugs!!

  5. Such pessimism. I smell opportunity. He’s clearly malleable. And uninformed yet influenceable is certainly better than informed and steadfast. And considering that ultimately he’s a populist, once he groks the reality of Asset Forfeiture, things are reasonably likely to improve.

    1. His waterboarding position seems to indicate this as well. Trump’s all “waterboarding works, bring it back, MURICA, FUCK YEAH” and Mattis has a long history of laying down exactly why it’s a bad idea. Suddenly Trump’s deferring to him on the issue.

      1. Let’s hope that someone knowledgeable gets his ear regarding tariffs and foreign trade before it’s too late.

        1. I think that’s one of the issues you’re not going to convince him on. If you watch interviews from the 80s and 90s Trump talks about it all the time. I think it’s one of the few things he’s ‘principled’ on unfortunately.

          1. Trade policy is something I’m fairly certain he believes he understands. So yeah, that one is likely lost.

      2. Remember his sit-down with Obama… I remember my impression being that a different person came out of the room, than had gone in.

        1. That’s when Obama told him about what’s really in Area 51 and who really killed JFK.

          1. So, he never watched X-Files before?

    2. Sure, if you can get him to listen to the right person.

      So there’s the question: of his inner circle that he trusts, who do you think is going to care enough to talk to him about it? Cause I guarantee, if it’s a random lobbyist vs Bannon? Then Bannon is going to win.

      “Influenceable” only helps if you’re the one with his ear.

  6. I really believe an eggplant would beat Trump one on one in a game of jeopardy.

    1. Perfect ^^^

    2. Somebody get Lorne Michaels on the horn. I want to see an “SNL” Jeopardy skit with Trump, ASAP. Maybe a Presidential Edition–George W. vs Obama vs Trump.

    3. It’s refreshing to know our President is a fucking idiot and not just plain evil–even if the result is the same.

    4. Given that you can go negative in Jeopardy for thinking you know things you don’t actually know, this is pretty much a lock. Frankly, I’m not even sure he could grasp the whole ‘structure your answer in the form of a question’ thing.

  7. Is this surprising at all? His entire business career has shown a proclivity to using the might of government to steal property from others.

    1. But only if he was doing the stealing, & in most cases (of large urban developments) it’s the only way to stay competitive in that biz. Like commodity farming. The only difference is that most businesses that use the might of gov’t thusly get the spoils from taxpayers broadly, while in this case it comes from a few property owners. Even then, in most cases they’re compensated in such wise as may be below market but not so low that they lose $ on the purchase of the parcel.

  8. You want to make Trump question civil assets forfeiture? Point out to him what could have happened if he was charged with a sexual assault.

    1. Point out that if someone was dealing drugs in Trump Tower unbeknownst to Mr. Trump and the feds wanted to seize his building they could under the law.

      1. That’s a good one! He’d then ask a lawyer if that was true, & the lawyer would say yes, albeit maybe with qualif’ns which the lawyer would explain to him at a good hourly rate. I wish someone would bring that up to him.

  9. God this guy is a fucking idiot (Trump, not Sullum). He’s Tommy Boy without the charm and physical comedy.

    1. Not an idiot, just someone who’s never been paid before to learn about this subject. Most people would probably have the same misunderstanding.

  10. “…complaining that “people want to say we’re taking money and without due process.” According to Aubrey, “That’s not true. We take money from dope dealers.”

    Horse. Fucking. Shit.

    20 years ago my phone rang. It was an ex-friend of mine who was working as a narcotics detective for the SO.

    him – “You know anyone that has an airplane?”

    me – *lie* “No, not really. Why?”

    him – “We need an airplane”

    me – “Now that I think about it I might know someone but they are pretty straight laced. They don’t have anything to do with drugs.”

    him – “That doesnt matter. We can take whatever we want.”

    me – “Come to think of it I think that guy’s father died and they sold the airplane. Sorry, I don’t know anyone.”

    1. This would have been a great time to point out to him that he was a scum bag. The one thing the proggies understand is social pressure and punishment. We need to apply more of it in defense of liberty.

      1. Yeah, because screaming at Trump is likely to work, particularly wearing your pink pussy hat!

        I’m not sure how to best reach Trump (or any president), but I figure there are other ways that have a better chance of succeeding.

        1. Oh, sorry, you were talking about the other guy, not Trump.

    2. Your ex-friend sounds like a real piece of shit. Like, literally a walking, talking giant piece of living excrement. I hope he gets Lou Gehrig’s disease and dies in a fire.

    3. Any private citizen with an airplane, overpowered boat, wads of cash must be a drug dealer. Law abiding people do not have those things.

      Do you not inderstsnd how tautologies eork?

  11. All those that want to slam Trump, here is your chance. Civil asset forfeiture is a wildly unconstitutional abomination. Slam away. It is unconscionable that anyone other than a criminal would support it.

    1. Slam for what? He hasn’t done anything yet.

      Now is the time to give constructive input to the WH, not to put on your pussy hats and shout at people.

      1. I think what Suthen is saying is that this issue is a legitimate reason to criticize Trump (his position on the issue or ignorance thereof) as opposed to the pearl-clutching histrionics that we’ve seen over immigration, Tweets, etc

    2. I’ve noticed in all the proggie caterwauling about Sessions, this subject never even comes up even though it is a genuinely valid objection. The only thing The Great Heroine Lizzie Warren wants to talk about is what some dead people said about Sessions 30 years ago. I’m inclined to think they either support this civil asset forfeiture horse shit, or else they just don’t care because they don’t perceive it as touching one of the groups in their Victim Hierarchy.

      1. I’d say “a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B.” I think this is where Reason makes a pretty gross miscalculation with their leftist virtue signaling; they assume progs actually care about civil liberties. Other than the tiny minority of principled ACLU types they only care enough to give it the occasional lip service. What they fail to understand is that progs are statists first and ‘liberal’ second.

  12. OK, so he doesn’t know.

    Useful reaction: let’s make sure the populist understands the popular view on this matter.

    Useless reaction: “the prez suxx, I has told u so”

    1. Trump: Do you even understand the other side of it?

      Participant: No.

      Can you imagine Hillary even caring about the other side of an argument? Or Obama? The fact that he is talking to a hack doesn’t mean he hasn’t asked the right question.

      So maybe if someone were to explain what is going on, he would listen.

      1. Maybe it is a bit disconcerting that the President seems so ignorant of what the abuses this issue entails, but thst does not mean he is not persuadable. If he co.es out and says that property that is not obviously contraband is subject to forfeiture without trial then we have a problem. Right now, it is a facepalming moment about what Trump does not know.

      2. Me thinks that Daylin Leach has reached out to Trump to try and explain it to him, although maybe calling him a shit-gibbon (whatever the hell that is) may not have been the best approach.

        1. I also don’t think Leach could see a civil liberty if it painted itself purple and danced naked on top of a harpsichord, singing “Civil liberties are here again!”

  13. at least he asked the attorney general about it. i guess the national security advisor wasn’t available this time.

  14. I just really hope he gets around to reading the Constitution one of these days, and not Sessions’ redacted copy. Especially the 5th amendment in this case.

  15. Overall I support Trump. But, I too think he is out to sea on civil asset forfeiture. Who should keep the drugs at not the issue. The drugs should be destroyed, period. As tax money tightens, and it will, local governments will turn to other sources. And they have. You can read reports now of asset forfeiture being ‘desirable’ from local government’s point of view. Let us assume that Sessions unsubstantiated 95% claim is roughly correct. So seizing 5% of ‘honest’ money is OK? What, 5% per year? 5% per week or day? Given the chance, governments are at least as corrupt as commoners. Example? The best, richest, safest paying jobs on earth, in large numbers, is working for US federal and State governments (spare me other nonsense). Why? A major reason is for politicians to ensure re:election. How? Buying votes.

    1. The drugs should be destroyed, period? Are the drugs your property? Who are you to decide, if not? Fuck off, slaver!

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