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Politics

It’s war: minister uses extraordinary powers to veto renewable energy project

$280 million in funding for a wind and battery hub in Queensland has been axed because it is ‘inconsistent’ with the Morrison government’s policies.

Resources Minister Keith Pitt (Image: AAP/Aaron Bunch)

Weeks after the government said it would not declare war on an industry in order to cut emissions, Resources Minister Keith Pitt has … declared war on an industry.

In an extraordinary intervention, Pitt used his veto powers to reject a decision by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to provide $280 million in government funding to a wind and battery hub in northern Queensland.

In a leaked letter obtained by The Courier-Mail, Pitt said the project would be “inconsistent” with the government’s objectives and policies but did not elaborate.

Why did Keith Pitt veto the funding? Read on.

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Emails Show Famed Prosecutor Linda Fairstein Intervening In Criminal Cases For NYC’s Elite

In 2015, when Harvey Weinstein had his first close shave with law enforcement, his legal team enlisted Linda Fairstein, the former New York City sex crimes prosecutor, to vouch for them with her old colleagues. 

It looks like they weren’t alone.

Emails released to HuffPost this week through a public records request show that Fairstein, who quit as head of the sex crimes unit in 2002, and her successor, Martha Bashford, maintained a close friendship that opened the door for Fairstein to weigh in on ongoing cases. Fairstein denies her involvement was ultimately meaningful. 

The emails, released by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, are heavily redacted. But they offer a rare glimpse of how well-connected New Yorkers try to minimize their exposure to the law, and the role adopted by Fairstein, one of New York law enforcement’s most famous alums.

In one episode, Fairstein tried to help a prestigious Mount Sinai doctor, Dr. Adam W. Levinson, avoid losing his medical license after he was arrested for filming up women’s skirts on the subway. In a recent interview, she said she was there to “get a fair resolution on both sides” and “present a picture of what was at stake for this young man” — his medical license, “which is what this guy cared about, really.” Bashford recalls she asked for “leniency.”

Fairstein got involved because Levinson’s godfather was a friend of “one of my vineyard best friends,” she told Bashford in a 2012 email.

“An fyi,” Fairstein wrote to Bashford on December 11, 2012. “I don’t know if [BLANK] used my name today, about [BLANK]. Got a call last weekend from one of my vineyard best friends [BLANK] … At whose home I have apparently met [BLANK’S] very lovely godfather. I promised nothing except that I would talk to [BLANK].”

Fairstein at the time was a New York City celebrity, a fixture of elite social circles who sat on the boards of charities and was a vaunted champion of women’s rights. Her prosecutorial work had served as the inspiration for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”; the show’s star, Mariska Hargitay, has called Fairstein her “fairy godmother.” Fairstein and Bashford were and are extremely good friends. The emails released to HuffPost form a picture of longtime confidants who constantly have each other’s ear.

The Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements, though, have prompted a reckoning with how the New York City district attorney’s office has perpetuated the worst inequalities of the criminal justice system.

Fairstein has become infamous for her role in overseeing the prosecution of the Central Park Five, five Black and Latino men who were falsely convicted of the 1989 rape of a white jogger in Central Park. In Ava DuVernay’s 2019 Netflix drama about the case, “When They See Us,” Fairstein is one of the central villains. (She denies playing a hands-on role in the original investigation and is suing DuVernay and Netflix for defamation.)

Got a call last weekend from one of my vineyard best friends [BLANK] … I promised nothing except that I would talk to [BLANK].”
Linda Fairstein, in an email to Martha Bashford

Bashford was the prosecutor who decided not to charge Weinstein over his alleged groping of the Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. Fairstein had been the one to introduce Bashford to Weinstein’s attorney, promising he was a person of great integrity. The main piece of evidence in that case — NYPD audio of Weinstein admitting that he groped Gutierrez — later served as the smoking gun in Ronan Farrow’s Weinstein exposé in The New Yorker. In the midst of Weinstein’s 2020 criminal rape trial, Bashford resigned, although she and the DA’s office denied the timing had anything to do with the case. 

Bashford’s boss, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., is still the district attorney but is not seeking reelection this November. Several candidates running for his seat have strafed Vance’s handling of high-profile sex assault cases, vowing to clean house in the sex crimes unit and criticizing Vance’s failure to pursue well-connected suspects. 

“The names are familiar to most Manhattanites and New Yorkers — Harvey Weinstein, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Jeffrey Epstein — individual failures by the office,” Dan Quart, a Manhattan assemblyman who is vying for the office, said recently.

The newly released documents raise questions about how many others — whose names the public doesn’t know — tried to leverage their connections with the district attorney’s office for more lenient treatment.

For her part, Fairstein does not think she played a meaningful role in the defense of the doctor, whom she met because she was mutual friends with his godfather on Martha’s Vineyard.

The case was an instant chew toy for the tabloids. They got a lot of mileage out of Levinson’s medical profession — urology — and the spectacle of a highly credentialed, privileged Manhattanite caught “upskirting” by a construction worker from the Bronx. And Levinson was privileged: His godfather was a “very well-known, well respected” political writer whom Fairstein had met at one of her friend’s “lovely dinner parties,” she told HuffPost. She referred to the godfather as “Mr. C.”

“[Mr. C] told me about a sad situation involving his godson, a medical doctor with a stunningly promising career,” Fairstein told HuffPost. “Because of the arrest, the medical board moves right away to retract the license, which is what this guy cared about, really.”

Fairstein explains her Levinson connection to Bashford.



Fairstein explains her Levinson connection to Bashford.

Fairstein declined to be Levinson’s lawyer, believing the accusations against him were fair and the evidence solid. But she accompanied his lawyer to a meeting with Bashford, the chief of the trial division, and another assistant district attorney. Fairstein asked for “leniency,” Bashford recalls.

“It’s a long time ago, I’m trying to think what my role was,” Fairstein said. “I guess to try to help negotiate a result, not me as a lawyer, but as a human, to help present a picture of what was at stake for this young man.” At the time, Levinson was in his 40s. “I was trying to talk through both sides, get a fair resolution on both sides.”

Fairstein roundly rejected the idea that she offers friends and acquaintances special access to her old unit. “I would never, never ask in the middle of an investigation, where was it going and what was happening,” she said.  

Levinson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in 2014. Fairstein noted that the law under which he pleaded guilty — unlawful surveillance — was one she personally fought to have passed. 

Levinson spoke very little at his sentencing, but his lawyer argued that he had reformed. So did the prosecutor; he vouched for Levinson’s “contrition and remorse.” The judge allowed Levinson to avoid serving jail time or registering as a sex offender. In a later proceeding, the New York state medical board allowed Levinson to keep his license after all, pending several years of suspension and probation. HuffPost tried to reach Levinson by phone and sent Levinson a request for comment through an attorney who represented him before the licensing board, but did not receive a response.

“I never heard from [BLANK] again after the day we saw you — and he called to thank me — and I told him never again to tell anyone that he could swear that the guy would never do it again. And [BLANK] was not a great test for recidivism on the subway,” Fairstein wrote to Bashford in 2013. Bashford’s reply is redacted, but they appear to be discussing some new twist in the case. Fairstein wrote back, “Takes my breath away … guess the ‘entirely my fault’ thing was a complete act!”

An email exchange between Bashford and Fairstein about the case of Dr. Levinson.



An email exchange between Bashford and Fairstein about the case of Dr. Levinson.

I made a public records request for emails between Fairstein and Bashford after The New York Times revealed that Fairstein had assisted Harvey Weinstein’s defense team in early 2015. Her role was to convey to Bashford that Weinstein’s attorney, Elkan Abramowitz, was a person of high moral character. “Calling Ms. Bashford to tell her who Elkan was and to ask her to consider meeting with him is the kind of thing I do four to six times every year,” she told the Times.

In 2015, Bashford’s office had an explosive recording of Weinstein admitting to Ambra Battilana Gutierrez that he had forcibly groped Gutierrez’s breasts. It was the first bona fide criminal case authorities had built against Weinstein —Gutierrez had made the recording with police help — and the closest he ever came to facing prosecution until the Times and The New Yorker unleashed a tidal wave of accusations. 

Weinstein assembled a top-of-the-line team of defense attorneys to hit back, and the team enlisted Fairstein, an acquaintance of Weinstein’s and longtime friend of Abramowitz, to introduce them to Bashford, which she did. (She told the Times in 2017 she did not think Gutierrez’s complaint was founded. In her interview with HuffPost, she refused to revisit the Gutierrez case on the record.) Over three subsequent meetings, Weinstein’s legal team convinced Bashford that Gutierrez was not credible, and Bashford dropped the case. 

As with Levinson, Fairstein also had a Martha’s Vineyard connection to this case: It is where she had first met Weinstein, “on a perfectly manicured lawn”; for years afterwards, she dreamed that Weinstein would launch her screenwriting career.

Fairstein’s reputation at the time was unimpeachable inside the sex crimes unit. Among the documents released to HuffPost was an invitation to the entire unit to attend a Q&A with Fairstein in the role of celebrity alum on April 2, 2015. (Eight days later, Bashford decided not to charge Weinstein.) The meet-and-greet has not been previously reported. At a similar event in 2017, Fairstein took questions and raffled off autographed novels from her successful second career as a mystery novelist.

Fairstein, though, does not think much of her role in the Weinstein case. She says she didn’t make any difference to the outcome and she introduced Bashford to Abramowitz with Vance’s approval. Abramowitz is also Vance’s former law partner. “I wanted to speak to the character and credibility of Elkan,” she said. “You can’t manipulate Martha Bashford.”

Actress Mariska Hargitay hugs Fairstein at the Bon Appetit Supper Club and Cafe on October 26, 2008, in New York City at the



Actress Mariska Hargitay hugs Fairstein at the Bon Appetit Supper Club and Cafe on October 26, 2008, in New York City at the annual Joyful Heart Foundation Dinner. Fairstein served on the board of Joyful Heart, which Hargitay founded.

While some public officials, like lawmakers in their relationships with lobbyists, are subject to formal rules about conflicts of interest, prosecutors typically aren’t. Many criminal defendants choose a defense team they believe has a friendly working relationship with the prosecutor’s office in the hopes of reduced charges or a favorable reading of the evidence. The American Bar Association charges prosecutors to avoid personal bias but leaves it up to individuals how they do so. And some do choose to avoid old friends.

When she was pursuing the Sackler family for their role in the opioid epidemic, Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, declined to meet face-to-face with certain members of their legal team “because some of them are people I have personal relationships with,” she told journalist Patrick Radden Keefe. 

But there are no strict prohibitions. “I don’t think it’s the communication or having those conversations that is as worrisome as, what’s the result of those conversations?” said Jane Anderson, an attorney advisor with AEquitas, a group that trains prosecutors in how to effectively pursue sex crimes.

Fairstein told HuffPost that she has called lots of old colleagues — not just Bashford — for all kinds of different reasons, including to connect crime victims directly with prosecutors. One email released to HuffPost shows just that: Fairstein emailing Bashford with the names of four acquaintances who had witnessed the aftermath of a crime and were willing to help the prosecution.

I guess to try to help negotiate a result, not me as a lawyer, but as a human, to help present a picture of what was at stake for this young man.
Fairstein, on her involvement in the Levinson case

She did not represent Weinstein nor Levinson, and in neither case did her involvement make any difference, she claimed. In the case of Levinson, she said, “I didn’t add any dignity to that [situation] and I couldn’t open my mouth about minimizing what this guy had done.”

Bashford, likewise, said Fairstein’s request for leniency for Levinson “fell on deaf ears.” “Your characterization that she had an open door for input on cases is inaccurate,” Bashford wrote in an email to HuffPost.

Emily Tuttle, a spokeswoman for Vance’s office, said, “Our prosecutors’ investigations and charging decisions are based on the facts and the law alone.”

The district attorney’s office ignored my public records request for three-plus years until April, when the general counsel for BuzzFeed, which now owns HuffPost, threatened to sue.

This week, the district attorney’s office released 147 pages of heavily redacted emails. One of the explanations it gave for all the redactions is the same reason someone like Weinstein would seek Fairstein’s help in the first place: some of the cases being discussed ended with Bashford’s unit bringing no criminal charges.

For every page of emails that the DA released to HuffPost, it withheld nearly twice as many: 224 pages that were “of a strictly personal nature, discussing events such as vacation, dinner plans, or discussions about family and mutual acquaintances,” the district attorney’s office said. 

Not all of their emails discuss live cases. Over the years, Bashford and Fairstein swapped gossip about other prosecutors, jogged each other’s memories about old case files, and complained about the NYPD. (“File under stupid cops,” Bashford wrote in one email.) They exchange confidences, and Fairstein offers to place nice press coverage for Vance and Bashford. 

The various playgrounds of the East Coast elite are a constant backdrop for their conversations, with Fairstein scheduling around her flights to Martha’s Vineyard and asking Bashford if they could meet up on Martha’s Vineyard to discuss work. 

One email from Fairstein to Bashford begins, “So on our rainy cruise to Montauk … ” 

The entire rest of her message was redacted.

Categories
Politics

Can a Trump-Loving Republican Win in CO Next Year?

Before we get too worked up about next year’s elections in Colorado, how about we talk about whether a Trump-loving Republican has any hope of winning statewide here at all in 2022.

GOP pollster David Flaherty answers that question, in part, by saying it depends on Trump’s impact on Unaffiliated voters, who represent about 40% of the electorate, versus Democrats (29% of registered voters) and Republicans (at 28%).

With Republicans and Democrats unlikely to vote for the opposing party, Unaffiliated voters will likely decide the election. Again.

Flaherty, who runs Magellan Strategies, expects the anti-Trump intensity, which made Unaffiliated voters so excited to vote for Democrats last year, to lessen. The question, he says, is by how much.

Scenario One: a subdued Trump may zap the inspiration of unaffiliated voters, who were hell-bent on dumping Trump last year, to turn in their ballots, says Flaherty.

Scenario Two: Trump is “loud and pushing all those buttons like he loves to do,” says Flaherty, which would motivate Unaffiliated voters to 1) cast their ballots and 2) do so for Democrats.

A loud Trump would make it even easier for Democrats to link Trump-supporting Republicans not just to the former president, Flaherty continues, but to unsavory stuff like the insurrection, the election conspiracies, and the larger Trump agenda (climate-change denial, health care destruction, general chaos, etc.).

How could you not bet on Scenario Two–or at least enough of Scenario Two to knock out GOP candidates in statewide races?

And the consensus is, there’s almost no chance that anyone but a Trump-adoring, Boebert-like Republican can win Colorado’s statewide GOP primaries next year.

“You want to win a Republican primary in Colorado? You question the election results and you say Donald Trump is the greatest president ever,” Flaherty told me. “There is no room for a center-right Republican in this state at this time. It’s Trump 24-7. It’s Lauren Boebert, unfortunately.”

And, says Democratic pollster Chris Keating, “if you have a candidate who supports Trump and has to believe all the conspiracies, he will get his ass handed to him by Governor Polis.”

Keating says the other statewide officeholders, like Attorney General Phil Weiser, Secretary of State Jena Griswold, and Treasurer Dave Young, would also be expected to prevail.

But what if… what if… a Trump-hesitant Republican candidate somehow, someway won the GOP primary in Colorado?

“Yes, a GOP nominee who is critical of Trump would probably stand a decent chance in a Colorado election,” University of Colorado Political Science Professor Seth Masket wrote in response to that question, “but it’s hard to imagine how such a person could become a GOP nominee as long as they have a primary to get through.”

It’s particularly hard to imagine because not a single Republican elected to a state office in Colorado said they opposed Trump prior to the last election!

State Sen. Kevin Priola (R-Adams County)

Just a handful didn’t chest-thump their support for Trump. One was state Sen. Kevin Priola (R-Adams County), who is one of the few Republicans who will sometimes vote with Democrats at the Capitol. He never divulged his stance on Trump last year, despite repeated requests to do so. And Priola won.

And the Republicans mentioned as possible statewide candidates, like former Arapahoe County-area District Attorney George Brauchler and CU Regent Heidi Ganahl, are on record as pro-Trump.

Keating makes a larger point about the Republican problem in Colorado that rings true when you look at polling of our state’s unaffiliated voters.

Not only are most unaffiliated voters younger and don’t believe the Trump-related conspiracies, says Keating, but they are also “very progressive” when it comes to voting rights, climate change, abortion, and more.

“You put all that together and it’s not happening for Republicans,” says Keating bluntly.

So even if you somehow cancel Trump completely from the picture next year, you’ve got major problems, if you’re a Colorado Republican who likes to win.

If you like to lose, which seems to be the overwhelming desire of Colorado Republicans, you’re golden.

Categories
Politics

Emails Show Famed Prosecutor Linda Fairstein Intervening In Criminal Cases For NYC’s Elite

In 2015, when Harvey Weinstein had his first close shave with law enforcement, his legal team enlisted Linda Fairstein, the former New York City sex crimes prosecutor, to vouch for them with her old colleagues. 

It looks like they weren’t alone.

Emails released to HuffPost this week through a public records request show that Fairstein, who quit as head of the sex crimes unit in 2002, and her successor, Martha Bashford, maintained a close friendship that opened the door for Fairstein to weigh in on ongoing cases. Fairstein denies her involvement was ultimately meaningful. 

The emails, released by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, are heavily redacted. But they offer a rare glimpse of how well-connected New Yorkers try to minimize their exposure to the law, and the role adopted by Fairstein, one of New York law enforcement’s most famous alums.

In one episode, Fairstein tried to help a prestigious Mount Sinai doctor, Dr. Adam W. Levinson, avoid losing his medical license after he was arrested for filming up women’s skirts on the subway. In a recent interview, she said she was there to “get a fair resolution on both sides” and “present a picture of what was at stake for this young man” — his medical license, “which is what this guy cared about, really.” Bashford recalls she asked for “leniency.”

Fairstein got involved because Levinson’s godfather was a friend of “one of my vineyard best friends,” she told Bashford in a 2012 email.

“An fyi,” Fairstein wrote to Bashford on December 11, 2012. “I don’t know if [BLANK] used my name today, about [BLANK]. Got a call last weekend from one of my vineyard best friends [BLANK] … At whose home I have apparently met [BLANK’S] very lovely godfather. I promised nothing except that I would talk to [BLANK].”

Fairstein at the time was a New York City celebrity, a fixture of elite social circles who sat on the boards of charities and was a vaunted champion of women’s rights. Her prosecutorial work had served as the inspiration for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”; the show’s star, Mariska Hargitay, has called Fairstein her “fairy godmother.” Fairstein and Bashford were and are extremely good friends. The emails released to HuffPost form a picture of longtime confidants who constantly have each other’s ear.

The Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements, though, have prompted a reckoning with how the New York City district attorney’s office has perpetuated the worst inequalities of the criminal justice system.

Fairstein has become infamous for her role in overseeing the prosecution of the Central Park Five, five Black and Latino men who were falsely convicted of the 1989 rape of a white jogger in Central Park. In Ava DuVernay’s 2019 Netflix drama about the case, “When They See Us,” Fairstein is one of the central villains. (She denies playing a hands-on role in the original investigation and is suing DuVernay and Netflix for defamation.)

Got a call last weekend from one of my vineyard best friends [BLANK] … I promised nothing except that I would talk to [BLANK].”
Linda Fairstein, in an email to Martha Bashford

Bashford was the prosecutor who decided not to charge Weinstein over his alleged groping of the Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. Fairstein had been the one to introduce Bashford to Weinstein’s attorney, promising he was a person of great integrity. The main piece of evidence in that case — NYPD audio of Weinstein admitting that he groped Gutierrez — later served as the smoking gun in Ronan Farrow’s Weinstein exposé in The New Yorker. In the midst of Weinstein’s 2020 criminal rape trial, Bashford resigned, although she and the DA’s office denied the timing had anything to do with the case. 

Bashford’s boss, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., is still the district attorney but is not seeking reelection this November. Several candidates running for his seat have strafed Vance’s handling of high-profile sex assault cases, vowing to clean house in the sex crimes unit and criticizing Vance’s failure to pursue well-connected suspects. 

“The names are familiar to most Manhattanites and New Yorkers — Harvey Weinstein, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Jeffrey Epstein — individual failures by the office,” Dan Quart, a Manhattan assemblyman who is vying for the office, said recently.

The newly released documents raise questions about how many others — whose names the public doesn’t know — tried to leverage their connections with the district attorney’s office for more lenient treatment.

For her part, Fairstein does not think she played a meaningful role in the defense of the doctor, whom she met because she was mutual friends with his godfather on Martha’s Vineyard.

The case was an instant chew toy for the tabloids. They got a lot of mileage out of Levinson’s medical profession — urology — and the spectacle of a highly credentialed, privileged Manhattanite caught “upskirting” by a construction worker from the Bronx. And Levinson was privileged: His godfather was a “very well-known, well respected” political writer whom Fairstein had met at one of her friend’s “lovely dinner parties,” she told HuffPost. She referred to the godfather as “Mr. C.”

“[Mr. C] told me about a sad situation involving his godson, a medical doctor with a stunningly promising career,” Fairstein told HuffPost. “Because of the arrest, the medical board moves right away to retract the license, which is what this guy cared about, really.”

Fairstein explains her Levinson connection to Bashford.



Fairstein explains her Levinson connection to Bashford.

Fairstein declined to be Levinson’s lawyer, believing the accusations against him were fair and the evidence solid. But she accompanied his lawyer to a meeting with Bashford, the chief of the trial division, and another assistant district attorney. Fairstein asked for “leniency,” Bashford recalls.

“It’s a long time ago, I’m trying to think what my role was,” Fairstein said. “I guess to try to help negotiate a result, not me as a lawyer, but as a human, to help present a picture of what was at stake for this young man.” At the time, Levinson was in his 40s. “I was trying to talk through both sides, get a fair resolution on both sides.”

Fairstein roundly rejected the idea that she offers friends and acquaintances special access to her old unit. “I would never, never ask in the middle of an investigation, where was it going and what was happening,” she said.  

Levinson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in 2014. Fairstein noted that the law under which he pleaded guilty — unlawful surveillance — was one she personally fought to have passed. 

Levinson spoke very little at his sentencing, but his lawyer argued that he had reformed. So did the prosecutor; he vouched for Levinson’s “contrition and remorse.” The judge allowed Levinson to avoid serving jail time or registering as a sex offender. In a later proceeding, the New York state medical board allowed Levinson to keep his license after all, pending several years of suspension and probation. HuffPost tried to reach Levinson by phone and sent Levinson a request for comment through an attorney who represented him before the licensing board, but did not receive a response.

“I never heard from [BLANK] again after the day we saw you — and he called to thank me — and I told him never again to tell anyone that he could swear that the guy would never do it again. And [BLANK] was not a great test for recidivism on the subway,” Fairstein wrote to Bashford in 2013. Bashford’s reply is redacted, but they appear to be discussing some new twist in the case. Fairstein wrote back, “Takes my breath away … guess the ‘entirely my fault’ thing was a complete act!”

An email exchange between Bashford and Fairstein about the case of Dr. Levinson.



An email exchange between Bashford and Fairstein about the case of Dr. Levinson.

I made a public records request for emails between Fairstein and Bashford after The New York Times revealed that Fairstein had assisted Harvey Weinstein’s defense team in early 2015. Her role was to convey to Bashford that Weinstein’s attorney, Elkan Abramowitz, was a person of high moral character. “Calling Ms. Bashford to tell her who Elkan was and to ask her to consider meeting with him is the kind of thing I do four to six times every year,” she told the Times.

In 2015, Bashford’s office had an explosive recording of Weinstein admitting to Ambra Battilana Gutierrez that he had forcibly groped Gutierrez’s breasts. It was the first bona fide criminal case authorities had built against Weinstein —Gutierrez had made the recording with police help — and the closest he ever came to facing prosecution until the Times and The New Yorker unleashed a tidal wave of accusations. 

Weinstein assembled a top-of-the-line team of defense attorneys to hit back, and the team enlisted Fairstein, an acquaintance of Weinstein’s and longtime friend of Abramowitz, to introduce them to Bashford, which she did. (She told the Times in 2017 she did not think Gutierrez’s complaint was founded. In her interview with HuffPost, she refused to revisit the Gutierrez case on the record.) Over three subsequent meetings, Weinstein’s legal team convinced Bashford that Gutierrez was not credible, and Bashford dropped the case. 

As with Levinson, Fairstein also had a Martha’s Vineyard connection to this case: It is where she had first met Weinstein, “on a perfectly manicured lawn”; for years afterwards, she dreamed that Weinstein would launch her screenwriting career.

Fairstein’s reputation at the time was unimpeachable inside the sex crimes unit. Among the documents released to HuffPost was an invitation to the entire unit to attend a Q&A with Fairstein in the role of celebrity alum on April 2, 2015. (Eight days later, Bashford decided not to charge Weinstein.) The meet-and-greet has not been previously reported. At a similar event in 2017, Fairstein took questions and raffled off autographed novels from her successful second career as a mystery novelist.

Fairstein, though, does not think much of her role in the Weinstein case. She says she didn’t make any difference to the outcome and she introduced Bashford to Abramowitz with Vance’s approval. Abramowitz is also Vance’s former law partner. “I wanted to speak to the character and credibility of Elkan,” she said. “You can’t manipulate Martha Bashford.”

Actress Mariska Hargitay hugs Fairstein at the Bon Appetit Supper Club and Cafe on October 26, 2008, in New York City at the



Actress Mariska Hargitay hugs Fairstein at the Bon Appetit Supper Club and Cafe on October 26, 2008, in New York City at the annual Joyful Heart Foundation Dinner. Fairstein served on the board of Joyful Heart, which Hargitay founded.

While some public officials, like lawmakers in their relationships with lobbyists, are subject to formal rules about conflicts of interest, prosecutors typically aren’t. Many criminal defendants choose a defense team they believe has a friendly working relationship with the prosecutor’s office in the hopes of reduced charges or a favorable reading of the evidence. The American Bar Association charges prosecutors to avoid personal bias but leaves it up to individuals how they do so. And some do choose to avoid old friends.

When she was pursuing the Sackler family for their role in the opioid epidemic, Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, declined to meet face-to-face with certain members of their legal team “because some of them are people I have personal relationships with,” she told journalist Patrick Radden Keefe. 

But there are no strict prohibitions. “I don’t think it’s the communication or having those conversations that is as worrisome as, what’s the result of those conversations?” said Jane Anderson, an attorney advisor with AEquitas, a group that trains prosecutors in how to effectively pursue sex crimes.

Fairstein told HuffPost that she has called lots of old colleagues — not just Bashford — for all kinds of different reasons, including to connect crime victims directly with prosecutors. One email released to HuffPost shows just that: Fairstein emailing Bashford with the names of four acquaintances who had witnessed the aftermath of a crime and were willing to help the prosecution.

I guess to try to help negotiate a result, not me as a lawyer, but as a human, to help present a picture of what was at stake for this young man.
Fairstein, on her involvement in the Levinson case

She did not represent Weinstein nor Levinson, and in neither case did her involvement make any difference, she claimed. In the case of Levinson, she said, “I didn’t add any dignity to that [situation] and I couldn’t open my mouth about minimizing what this guy had done.”

Bashford, likewise, said Fairstein’s request for leniency for Levinson “fell on deaf ears.” “Your characterization that she had an open door for input on cases is inaccurate,” Bashford wrote in an email to HuffPost.

Emily Tuttle, a spokeswoman for Vance’s office, said, “Our prosecutors’ investigations and charging decisions are based on the facts and the law alone.”

The district attorney’s office ignored my public records request for three-plus years until April, when the general counsel for BuzzFeed, which now owns HuffPost, threatened to sue.

This week, the district attorney’s office released 147 pages of heavily redacted emails. One of the explanations it gave for all the redactions is the same reason someone like Weinstein would seek Fairstein’s help in the first place: some of the cases being discussed ended with Bashford’s unit bringing no criminal charges.

For every page of emails that the DA released to HuffPost, it withheld nearly twice as many: 224 pages that were “of a strictly personal nature, discussing events such as vacation, dinner plans, or discussions about family and mutual acquaintances,” the district attorney’s office said. 

Not all of their emails discuss live cases. Over the years, Bashford and Fairstein swapped gossip about other prosecutors, jogged each other’s memories about old case files, and complained about the NYPD. (“File under stupid cops,” Bashford wrote in one email.) They exchange confidences, and Fairstein offers to place nice press coverage for Vance and Bashford. 

The various playgrounds of the East Coast elite are a constant backdrop for their conversations, with Fairstein scheduling around her flights to Martha’s Vineyard and asking Bashford if they could meet up on Martha’s Vineyard to discuss work. 

One email from Fairstein to Bashford begins, “So on our rainy cruise to Montauk … ” 

The entire rest of her message was redacted.

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Politics

They Went Back to India to Care for Parents Dying of COVID-19. Now, They’re Stranded.

Medical staff attend to COVID-19 patients in the emergency ward at the Holy Family hospital in New Delhi on May 06, 2021.Rebecca Conway/Getty Images

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In early April, Ashu Mahajan and his wife, Neha, got the bad news: Ashu’s father in India was sick with COVID-19. For days, Ashu and Neha kept tabs on him from New Jersey, but when he took a turn for the worse, Ashu decided to fly to India to see him one last time.

Nearly two weeks ago, Ashu arrived in India, and rushed to his father’s bedside to say goodbye. His father passed away a few days later. Ashu was consumed by grief, yet he was also eager to get back to Neha and their nine- and 15-year-old daughters in the United States. But there’s a problem: He can’t. President Biden’s ban on travel from India began Tuesday night, so Ashu is effectively stranded.

Even before Ashu left, Neha said she knew in her heart that her husband may have bought a one way ticket to India.

“We both knew that this can get really, really bad for us,” she said. “Immigrant workers here in the United States of America, we’re all going through this dilemma—to take care of our sick parents in India, or to stay here just to make sure that our visa stamping doesn’t expire, so that we don’t lose what we’ve built with all the hard work that we’ve done.”

Technically, Ashu should be able to come home. President Biden’s travel ban, instituted amid skyrocketing cases of COVID-19 in India, isn’t supposed to include US citizens, permanent residents, international students on visas, or Indians on non-immigrant work visas such as H-1B who have children in the United States.

Ashu and Neha Mahajan with their two daughters in New Jersey

Neha and Ashu Mahajan

Ashu is in that last category, but a bureaucratic hurdle stands in his way: H-1B workers, whenever they leave the United States, have to get their visas stamped at a US consulate in their home country before they can return. But right now, all the consulates in India are closed because of the pandemic. “I heard about the travel exemption, but it doesn’t do anything for us,” said Neha, who is an advocate for skilled visa workers and an outreach manager at a law firm.

Neha and Ashu aren’t the only ones whose family has been separated by the travel ban. While it’s hard to estimate the actual number of Indian H-1B visa holders stuck in India, my reporting turned up dozens of stories. Earlier this week, I joined a Telegram group on Indian visa holders with 20,000 members and asked how many were in this situation. More than 200 people replied to my message on the same day, though Indian advocates say the number is likely to be in the higher hundreds or thousands.

On Telegram, the heart-wrenching stories just kept coming: a father separated from his toddler son. Children on dependent visas of H-1B holders unable to get their visas stamped and return to school. Pregnant women who couldn’t get their visa on time and had to deliver in India in the middle of a pandemic. A fiancé who flew for his wedding and is stuck. Many left the United States to take care of sick parents during the pandemic. My phone is continuously pinging with replies such as these (responses very lightly edited for clarity):

“Both me and my husband are stuck here. My husband is going to lose his job with a reputed employer as they don’t allow working from India.”

“My wife and US born kid are stuck. Cannot get stamping.”

“We’ve been stuck in India for the last six months. I got my visa stamped, but my son who is not a citizen and is on a dependent visa had his appointment cancelled. He’s very upset and depressed.”

“I traveled while pregnant as my mom and dad were both diagnosed with COVID and were admitted to hospital. My son needs an H4 visa which he can’t get because the consulates are closed. Husband is also here and can’t work remotely for very long. Our future has become uncertain.”

“I am stuck in India and two-year-old son and wife are alone in San Francisco.”

“We came since my father passed away, but our appointments were canceled last week We can travel with a US born kid, but how can we travel without a valid visa? My elder son studies there and his education has also gone for a toss.”

“We are stuck in India because of stamping and our company can’t hold the job for long…we could lose our jobs. We have mortgages.”

According to a 2020 report from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are around 500,000 workers on H-1B visas in the United States Most of them work in the technology sector, though there are also many doctors, pharmacists, consultants, and marketing professionals. Around 70 percent of these visas are held by Indians.

Because of a Trump administration policy, many H-1B workers were already in India before the ban went into effect. In 2020, during the last year of his presidency, Trump ordered a temporary suspension on all new H-1B visas. For many months last year, US consulates in India were also closed due to the pandemic. Both of these things together made it difficult for H-1B visa holders to travel back and forth to India.

The Trump-era ban expired at the end of March, and the situation was supposed to improve. The Covid situation in India improved for a little bit earlier this year, and consulates opened for a short while and resumed processing visas, but with this new travel ban and an escalating pandemic, those who have been stuck since last year have no way of getting back anytime soon.

Another complicating factor is the absurdly long waitlist for green cards: over to 50 years, according to estimates from the CATO institute. Every year, thousands of H-1B holders qualify for green cards, yet there’s a cap on how many green cards can be issued to each nationality. As of May 2018, nearly 600,000 workers and their families were waiting for employment-based green cards. More than 90 percent are Indians, who receive about 10,000 employment-based green cards a year. Meanwhile, they have to rely on visa renewals and stamping of the visa at consulates at regular intervals.

“Without a green card, there is always an invisible sword hanging over my head,” said Neha, who has been stuck in the green card backlog since 2012.

Immigration advocates believe the travel ban isn’t worth the stress it’s causing families. Cyrus Mehta, a New York based attorney who specializes in immigration law, said that the ban isn’t very useful in stopping the spread of the virus since citizens, permanent residents, and others are still allowed to travel. But the ban disproportionately affects those who are working on temporary visas such as the H-1B visa.

“Representing H1B visa holders, I know what they’ve gone through,” he said. “Each time they go to India, there’s a ban imposed on them. In the Trump administration, they were subject to bans. Then they wait patiently. They’ve now scheduled a visa appointment. And their appointment for later this week has been cancelled because of this latest COVID ban on India. So they’ve got a double whammy.”

Mehta suggests stricter controls and protocols such as rigorous testing, quarantining, and vaccination requirements as a better approach to controlling the spread of the virus.

Neha has a full-time job, two kids and is recovering from surgery. For the past few weeks, Neha has spent all her free time calling consulates, politicians and speaking with journalists to find a way to get her husband back into the country.

“I haven’t slept a wink,” she said. “I am not a religious person, but these days I am praying to god everyday.”

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Politics

Enjoy it While it Lasts: Jen Psaki Says She Will Step Down in 2021 After Serving Around One Year

After years of Sean Spicer, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kayleigh McEnany, Jen Psaki has been a breath of fresh air. The Biden Press Secretary has frequently gone viral for her snappy comebacks to stupid questions.

But Americans who have delighted in Psaki’s performance will have to enjoy it while it lasts. She announced recently that she plans on stepping down in 2021 after serving around a year.

Psaki made the comments during an podcast appearance with CNN’s David Axelrod. She told the host, “I think it’s going to be time for somebody else to have this job, in a year from now or about a year from now.”

The Press Secretary also answered others questions about the challenges of her job. As for access, she explained, “We’re never going to satisfy the White House press corps and their desires for access. And I think there have been mistakes made in the past of trying to do that.”

Psaki also addressed critics of Biden who say he should be doing more at the US border. “We’re often asked, ‘Why doesn’t he go to the border?’ Important issue. We’re focused on it. What percentage of the public is focused on the border? A much smaller percentage than who’s focused on the pandemic and the economy. So that may be maddening, but, you know, that’s what we try to do.”

 

 

Todd Neikirk is a New Jersey based politics and technology writer. His work has been featured in psfk.com, foxsports.com and hillreporter.com. He enjoys sports, politics, comic books and spending time at the shore with his family.

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Politics

Caitlyn Jenner Is Right about Two of California’s Most Pressing Problems

FOX News Channel’s Sean Hannity conducts interviews with Caitlyn Jenner near Malibu, Calif., May 5, 2021. (FOX News Channel/Handout via Reuters )

Caitlyn Jenner sat down for an Oprah-style interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity last night in which the athlete turned reality star turned transgender activist turned Republican candidate for governor of California pondered what St. Peter would say when Jenner arrived at the “pearly gates.” What a world.

Jenner has received some criticism for the following portion of the interview:

Now, if I were a highly paid political consultant for Jenner, I might recommend that private airplane hangars be omitted from the stump-speech anecdote bank. But there’s nothing wrong with a candidate for governor acknowledging two of the most pressing problems the Golden State faces: a homelessness epidemic and flight.

With more than 160,000 homeless, California paces the nation, and it’s not particularly close. Worse, that number is on an upward trajectory. That has implications on public safety, on economic development, and on the desirability of living in the state. It may for some reason or another be considered uncouth in certain circles to acknowledge that people don’t wish to live where the streets are flooded with the destitute, but it’s nevertheless true. To note this aloud is not to dismiss the plight of the homeless, but rather to recognize it. Who wants to live somewhere where so many people are allowed to suffer, and suffer so publicly?

Moreover, Jenner is right that it’s a problem for a state to be losing people, as California did in 2020. This is particularly problematic if the well-off — people like Jenner’s friend — are doing so, since they both stimulate the economy and make up a hefty portion of the tax base. The trouble is compounded even further if more people — including the homeless — are relying on government programs.

Take issue with Jenner’s method of explaining them if you’d like, but the candidate correctly identifies two monumental challenges facing the state. It speaks ill of progressives — and perhaps helps to explain California’s decline — that they have chosen to mock Jenner instead of grappling with the issues at hand.

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Politics

Danny Moore, Still Lying About “The Big Lie”

Danny Moore cannot not tell a lie.

The first step to recovery in a typical 12-step program is to admit that you have a problem. In that case, Republican Danny Moore only has 12 more steps to go!

As you may recall, Moore spent one week as the Chair of Colorado’s Independent Congressional Redistricting Committee before his fellow members voted unanimously to oust him from the position because he didn’t bother to disclose the fact that he is a full-on election fraud truther. For a commission with a goal of redrawing Congressional district maps in a transparent manner, it didn’t make a lot of sense to be led by someone who believes that the 2020 Presidential election was fraudulent.

Moore has been unrepentant about the impact of his his election conspiracy theories. He has offered the lame defense that he was just trying to “start a conversation” and even suggested that the real reason he was being ousted as Chair of the Commission was because he is a “black conservative” (an accusation that did not go over well with his fellow Commissioners).

On Sunday, Moore spoke again about his removal as Chair in an interview on something called The Deborah Flora Show on KNUS radio. He didn’t exactly own up to his past comments:

“When things happen to you, you have two choices: You can lay down and take it or you can stand up and and learn from it.”

Moore must have read this off of an inspirational calendar or something, because he didn’t internalize the message. Instead, he decided to go a third route: Lie and pretend that you said something different than what you actually said…

“I never questioned the election. What I did was I had a conversation with a group of friends surrounding the election itself, no different than Bush v. Gore, no different than the Clinton vote, no different than any election that we’ve had in my lifetime. So I…for that…the commissioners voted overwhelmingly to remove me as chair, but I’m still on the commission and serving.

There is absolutely no ambiguity about what Moore said — repeatedly — concerning the 2020 Presidential election. 9News reported on Moore’s own social media posts, as did The Colorado Springs Gazette. Here is but one example:

Facebook post by Danny Moore on January 7, 2021.

 

It’s almost comical that Moore would say, as he repeated on KNUS radio, that “I never questioned the election.” The VERY FIRST SENTENCE of the Facebook post above, which was posted the day after the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, reads: “By any account, the election of 2020 will go down as the most questioned election in our country’s history.”

Danny Moore doesn’t even believe the words that come out of the mouth of Danny Moore. On that, at least, he has finally found common ground with the other members of the Redistricting Commission.

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Politics

Emails Show Famed Prosecutor Linda Fairstein Intervening In Criminal Cases For NYC’s Elite

In 2015, when Harvey Weinstein had his first close shave with law enforcement, his legal team enlisted Linda Fairstein, the former New York City sex crimes prosecutor, to vouch for them with her old colleagues. 

It looks like they weren’t alone.

Emails released to HuffPost this week through a public records request show that Fairstein, who quit as head of the sex crimes unit in 2002, and her successor, Martha Bashford, maintained a close friendship that opened the door for Fairstein to weigh in on ongoing cases. Fairstein denies her involvement was ultimately meaningful. 

The emails, released by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, are heavily redacted. But they offer a rare glimpse of how well-connected New Yorkers try to minimize their exposure to the law, and the role adopted by Fairstein, one of New York law enforcement’s most famous alums.

In one episode, Fairstein tried to help a prestigious Mount Sinai doctor, Dr. Adam W. Levinson, avoid losing his medical license after he was arrested for filming up women’s skirts on the subway. In a recent interview, she said she was there to “get a fair resolution on both sides” and “present a picture of what was at stake for this young man” — his medical license, “which is what this guy cared about, really.” Bashford recalls she asked for “leniency.”

Fairstein got involved because Levinson’s godfather was a friend of “one of my vineyard best friends,” she told Bashford in a 2012 email.

“An fyi,” Fairstein wrote to Bashford on December 11, 2012. “I don’t know if [BLANK] used my name today, about [BLANK]. Got a call last weekend from one of my vineyard best friends [BLANK] … At whose home I have apparently met [BLANK’S] very lovely godfather. I promised nothing except that I would talk to [BLANK].”

Fairstein at the time was a New York City celebrity, a fixture of elite social circles who sat on the boards of charities and was a vaunted champion of women’s rights. Her prosecutorial work had served as the inspiration for “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”; the show’s star, Mariska Hargitay, has called Fairstein her “fairy godmother.” Fairstein and Bashford were and are extremely good friends. The emails released to HuffPost form a picture of longtime confidants who constantly have each other’s ear.

The Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements, though, have prompted a reckoning with how the New York City district attorney’s office has perpetuated the worst inequalities of the criminal justice system.

Fairstein has become infamous for her role in overseeing the prosecution of the Central Park Five, five Black and Latino men who were falsely convicted of the 1989 rape of a white jogger in Central Park. In Ava DuVernay’s 2019 Netflix drama about the case, “When They See Us,” Fairstein is one of the central villains. (She denies playing a hands-on role in the original investigation and is suing DuVernay and Netflix for defamation.)

Got a call last weekend from one of my vineyard best friends [BLANK] … I promised nothing except that I would talk to [BLANK].”
Linda Fairstein, in an email to Martha Bashford

Bashford was the prosecutor who decided not to charge Weinstein over his alleged groping of the Filipina-Italian model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. Fairstein had been the one to introduce Bashford to Weinstein’s attorney, promising he was a person of great integrity. The main piece of evidence in that case — NYPD audio of Weinstein admitting that he groped Gutierrez — later served as the smoking gun in Ronan Farrow’s Weinstein exposé in The New Yorker. In the midst of Weinstein’s 2020 criminal rape trial, Bashford resigned, although she and the DA’s office denied the timing had anything to do with the case. 

Bashford’s boss, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., is still the district attorney but is not seeking reelection this November. Several candidates running for his seat have strafed Vance’s handling of high-profile sex assault cases, vowing to clean house in the sex crimes unit and criticizing Vance’s failure to pursue well-connected suspects. 

“The names are familiar to most Manhattanites and New Yorkers — Harvey Weinstein, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Jeffrey Epstein — individual failures by the office,” Dan Quart, a Manhattan assemblyman who is vying for the office, said recently.

The newly released documents raise questions about how many others — whose names the public doesn’t know — tried to leverage their connections with the district attorney’s office for more lenient treatment.

For her part, Fairstein does not think she played a meaningful role in the defense of the doctor, whom she met because she was mutual friends with his godfather on Martha’s Vineyard.

The case was an instant chew toy for the tabloids. They got a lot of mileage out of Levinson’s medical profession — urology — and the spectacle of a highly credentialed, privileged Manhattanite caught “upskirting” by a construction worker from the Bronx. And Levinson was privileged: His godfather was a “very well-known, well respected” political writer whom Fairstein had met at one of her friend’s “lovely dinner parties,” she told HuffPost. She referred to the godfather as “Mr. C.”

“[Mr. C] told me about a sad situation involving his godson, a medical doctor with a stunningly promising career,” Fairstein told HuffPost. “Because of the arrest, the medical board moves right away to retract the license, which is what this guy cared about, really.”

Fairstein explains her Levinson connection to Bashford.



Fairstein explains her Levinson connection to Bashford.

Fairstein declined to be Levinson’s lawyer, believing the accusations against him were fair and the evidence solid. But she accompanied his lawyer to a meeting with Bashford, the chief of the trial division, and another assistant district attorney. Fairstein asked for “leniency,” Bashford recalls.

“It’s a long time ago, I’m trying to think what my role was,” Fairstein said. “I guess to try to help negotiate a result, not me as a lawyer, but as a human, to help present a picture of what was at stake for this young man.” At the time, Levinson was in his 40s. “I was trying to talk through both sides, get a fair resolution on both sides.”

Fairstein roundly rejected the idea that she offers friends and acquaintances special access to her old unit. “I would never, never ask in the middle of an investigation, where was it going and what was happening,” she said.  

Levinson pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor in 2014. Fairstein noted that the law under which he pleaded guilty — unlawful surveillance — was one she personally fought to have passed. 

Levinson spoke very little at his sentencing, but his lawyer argued that he had reformed. So did the prosecutor; he vouched for Levinson’s “contrition and remorse.” The judge allowed Levinson to avoid serving jail time or registering as a sex offender. In a later proceeding, the New York state medical board allowed Levinson to keep his license after all, pending several years of suspension and probation. HuffPost tried to reach Levinson by phone and sent Levinson a request for comment through an attorney who represented him before the licensing board, but did not receive a response.

“I never heard from [BLANK] again after the day we saw you — and he called to thank me — and I told him never again to tell anyone that he could swear that the guy would never do it again. And [BLANK] was not a great test for recidivism on the subway,” Fairstein wrote to Bashford in 2013. Bashford’s reply is redacted, but they appear to be discussing some new twist in the case. Fairstein wrote back, “Takes my breath away … guess the ‘entirely my fault’ thing was a complete act!”

An email exchange between Bashford and Fairstein about the case of Dr. Levinson.



An email exchange between Bashford and Fairstein about the case of Dr. Levinson.

I made a public records request for emails between Fairstein and Bashford after The New York Times revealed that Fairstein had assisted Harvey Weinstein’s defense team in early 2015. Her role was to convey to Bashford that Weinstein’s attorney, Elkan Abramowitz, was a person of high moral character. “Calling Ms. Bashford to tell her who Elkan was and to ask her to consider meeting with him is the kind of thing I do four to six times every year,” she told the Times.

In 2015, Bashford’s office had an explosive recording of Weinstein admitting to Ambra Battilana Gutierrez that he had forcibly groped Gutierrez’s breasts. It was the first bona fide criminal case authorities had built against Weinstein —Gutierrez had made the recording with police help — and the closest he ever came to facing prosecution until the Times and The New Yorker unleashed a tidal wave of accusations. 

Weinstein assembled a top-of-the-line team of defense attorneys to hit back, and the team enlisted Fairstein, an acquaintance of Weinstein’s and longtime friend of Abramowitz, to introduce them to Bashford, which she did. (She told the Times in 2017 she did not think Gutierrez’s complaint was founded. In her interview with HuffPost, she refused to revisit the Gutierrez case on the record.) Over three subsequent meetings, Weinstein’s legal team convinced Bashford that Gutierrez was not credible, and Bashford dropped the case. 

As with Levinson, Fairstein also had a Martha’s Vineyard connection to this case: It is where she had first met Weinstein, “on a perfectly manicured lawn”; for years afterwards, she dreamed that Weinstein would launch her screenwriting career.

Fairstein’s reputation at the time was unimpeachable inside the sex crimes unit. Among the documents released to HuffPost was an invitation to the entire unit to attend a Q&A with Fairstein in the role of celebrity alum on April 2, 2015. (Eight days later, Bashford decided not to charge Weinstein.) The meet-and-greet has not been previously reported. At a similar event in 2017, Fairstein took questions and raffled off autographed novels from her successful second career as a mystery novelist.

Fairstein, though, does not think much of her role in the Weinstein case. She says she didn’t make any difference to the outcome and she introduced Bashford to Abramowitz with Vance’s approval. Abramowitz is also Vance’s former law partner. “I wanted to speak to the character and credibility of Elkan,” she said. “You can’t manipulate Martha Bashford.”

Actress Mariska Hargitay hugs Fairstein at the Bon Appetit Supper Club and Cafe on October 26, 2008, in New York City at the



Actress Mariska Hargitay hugs Fairstein at the Bon Appetit Supper Club and Cafe on October 26, 2008, in New York City at the annual Joyful Heart Foundation Dinner. Fairstein served on the board of Joyful Heart, which Hargitay founded.

While some public officials, like lawmakers in their relationships with lobbyists, are subject to formal rules about conflicts of interest, prosecutors typically aren’t. Many criminal defendants choose a defense team they believe has a friendly working relationship with the prosecutor’s office in the hopes of reduced charges or a favorable reading of the evidence. The American Bar Association charges prosecutors to avoid personal bias but leaves it up to individuals how they do so. And some do choose to avoid old friends.

When she was pursuing the Sackler family for their role in the opioid epidemic, Maura Healey, the Massachusetts attorney general, declined to meet face-to-face with certain members of their legal team “because some of them are people I have personal relationships with,” she told journalist Patrick Radden Keefe. 

But there are no strict prohibitions. “I don’t think it’s the communication or having those conversations that is as worrisome as, what’s the result of those conversations?” said Jane Anderson, an attorney advisor with AEquitas, a group that trains prosecutors in how to effectively pursue sex crimes.

Fairstein told HuffPost that she has called lots of old colleagues — not just Bashford — for all kinds of different reasons, including to connect crime victims directly with prosecutors. One email released to HuffPost shows just that: Fairstein emailing Bashford with the names of four acquaintances who had witnessed the aftermath of a crime and were willing to help the prosecution.

I guess to try to help negotiate a result, not me as a lawyer, but as a human, to help present a picture of what was at stake for this young man.
Fairstein, on her involvement in the Levinson case

She did not represent Weinstein nor Levinson, and in neither case did her involvement make any difference, she claimed. In the case of Levinson, she said, “I didn’t add any dignity to that [situation] and I couldn’t open my mouth about minimizing what this guy had done.”

Bashford, likewise, said Fairstein’s request for leniency for Levinson “fell on deaf ears.” “Your characterization that she had an open door for input on cases is inaccurate,” Bashford wrote in an email to HuffPost.

Emily Tuttle, a spokeswoman for Vance’s office, said, “Our prosecutors’ investigations and charging decisions are based on the facts and the law alone.”

The district attorney’s office ignored my public records request for three-plus years until April, when the general counsel for BuzzFeed, which now owns HuffPost, threatened to sue.

This week, the district attorney’s office released 147 pages of heavily redacted emails. One of the explanations it gave for all the redactions is the same reason someone like Weinstein would seek Fairstein’s help in the first place: some of the cases being discussed ended with Bashford’s unit bringing no criminal charges.

For every page of emails that the DA released to HuffPost, it withheld nearly twice as many: 224 pages that were “of a strictly personal nature, discussing events such as vacation, dinner plans, or discussions about family and mutual acquaintances,” the district attorney’s office said. 

Not all of their emails discuss live cases. Over the years, Bashford and Fairstein swapped gossip about other prosecutors, jogged each other’s memories about old case files, and complained about the NYPD. (“File under stupid cops,” Bashford wrote in one email.) They exchange confidences, and Fairstein offers to place nice press coverage for Vance and Bashford. 

The various playgrounds of the East Coast elite are a constant backdrop for their conversations, with Fairstein scheduling around her flights to Martha’s Vineyard and asking Bashford if they could meet up on Martha’s Vineyard to discuss work. 

One email from Fairstein to Bashford begins, “So on our rainy cruise to Montauk … ” 

The entire rest of her message was redacted.

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Doctor, Lawyer, Insurrectionist: The Radicalization of Simone Gold

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When rioters broke into the US Capitol on January 6, chants of “Fuck the police!” “USA!” or “Treason!” echoed in the marble halls. When Dr. Simone Gold got inside the rotunda, she stepped over a velvet rope and announced to anyone who would listen, “I am a Stanford-educated attorney!”

Thus she distinguished herself among the motley crew of Proud Boys, MAGA types, and the QAnon shaman who paraded through the Capitol to overturn the 2020 presidential election, an event that left five people dead. Not only is Gold a Stanford-educated lawyer, she’s also a board-certified emergency room physician. Neither qualification prevented the FBI from coming to her Beverly Hills house on January 18 and arresting her. Nor did it make a federal grand jury think twice in early February before indicting her on five criminal counts, including entering a restricted building and obstructing an official proceeding.

The arrest marked the end of one chapter in her Icarian trajectory into right-wing fame. Before April 2020, Gold had been just another over-achieving Beverly Hills doctor. But with the arrival of the pandemic, she donned her white lab coat to protest lockdowns and promote President Donald Trump’s favorite unproven COVID treatment, the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. It seems that’s all it took to find an enthusiastic audience among the MAGA faithful, putting her on a glide path to a certain kind of right-wing stardom. Conservatives who love to bash educated, liberal elites as out of touch quickly embraced Gold and gleefully touted her impressive credentials to support their attacks on public health measures designed to combat the pandemic. She sailed into their well-funded ecosystem, snagging speaking gigs, appearances on cable talk shows, and robust opportunities to fundraise.

Simone Gold, with John Strand (left) uses a bullhorn to address protesters in the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

Within days of her first media hit, she had teamed up with tea party groups working with the Trump reelection campaign to demand that governors reopen the economy. Fox News put her on national TV to publicly denounce lockdowns and mask mandates as overblown responses to a disease she insisted wasn’t fatal to most people. In July, her new right-wing friends ushered her to meetings with members of Congress and Vice President Mike Pence. The sudden fame seems to have propelled her right up the steps and into the Capitol on January 6.

Her arrest highlights the role of conservative media in fomenting an insurrection, but Gold’s personal experience also illustrates what experts on extremism have long known: Education is no defense against radicalization. “If you think of who is susceptible of extremist ideology, people tend to think it’s people who don’t have much education,” says Don Haider-Markel, a University of Kansas political science professor who has studied extremism and radicalization. “That’s not the case at all. It tends to be more middle class and upper class. Those who have spent more time educating themselves tend to think they know better than other people.”

In fact, much like the tea partiers of the Obama era, the Capitol insurrectionists were by and large an aging, middle-class mob. Researchers at the Chicago Project on Security and Threats at the University of Chicago have dug into the demographic profiles of hundreds of people charged with crimes related to the Capitol incursion. They’ve found that about 30 percent of the arrested rioters are white-collar professionals like Gold. Only about 13 percent were affiliated with traditional far-right militias or extremist groups like the Proud Boys, and only 7 percent were unemployed.

Even so, Gold still stands out from that well-heeled crowd, and not just because she’s a woman. (Women make up only about 15 percent of the Capitol defendants.) Of the more than 420 defendants the Chicago researchers studied, she is one of only two lawyers and the only doctor. That’s why it’s hard not to look at Gold’s CV and wonder: How does someone go from medical school to Stanford Law School to an FBI wanted poster?

Gold’s resume doesn’t scream budding far-right revolutionary as much as it reflects unusual precocity and ambition. Raised in a wealthy section of Long Island, New York, Gold, 55, likes to say that she trained as a physician at her father’s knee. Reuben Tizes, her father, was a doctor, a medical school professor, and even served as the Orange County, New York, health commissioner in the early 1970s. Her mother, Carol Tizes, was an elementary school teacher.

After graduating from the City College of New York at 19, she claims she was the youngest person in her graduating class at the Chicago Medical School in 1989. She obtained a California medical license in 1990 but then enrolled in Stanford Law School, graduating in 1993. “That was my idea of rebellion,” she told a religious broadcaster in August, explaining that her father had wanted all his children to be doctors. (They are.) Her legal prowess didn’t stand out much in Palo Alto, however. I reached out to a host of her Stanford Law classmates, but none of those who responded could recall much about Gold aside from her red hair.

Stanford Law School class photo

The intervening decades between law school and her indictment were unconventional only in the ambition of her professional endeavors. In January 1997, she was admitted to the New York bar and then completed a residency in emergency medicine at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University. That same year, according to her LinkedIn profile, she served as a congressional fellow in DC and wrote speeches for the late Vermont senator James Jeffords, who famously left the Republican Party to become an Independent in 2001. (Susan Boardman Russ, who served as Jeffords’ chief of staff for 25 years before retiring in 2004, does not remember Gold.)

Over the past three decades, Gold has practiced emergency medicine at various hospitals in the LA area, but the lure of Washington seems to have endured. According to her LinkedIn page, in 2009, she worked in DC as an assistant to Michael Oren, then Israel’s ambassador to the US, who credited her in print for stories she helped him research for the Wall Street Journal and New Republic. Oren told Mother Jones that he had no memory of her working for him, nor did anyone on his staff.

In Los Angeles, Gold married businessman Larry Gold and had two children. Active in the Los Angeles Jewish community, she and her husband once provided a glowing testimonial for a local mohel for the bris he performed for their son. A 2003 Jewish Journal article featured Gold and her then two-year-old son in a story about “Shalom Time” at a local bookstore. She and her husband donated thousands of dollars to their children’s private, conservative Jewish day school in Beverly Hills, where Gold volunteered on the PTA, managing the shabbat swap one year.

But by 2010, Gold had filed for divorce. Los Angeles County court records suggest that her relationship with her ex-husband was somewhat contentious. In 2017, a judge ordered them to attend mediation over child custody and visitation issues. (Larry Gold declined to comment for this story other than to say that he was “shocked” to learn about his ex-wife’s participation in the events at the Capitol.)

In her October 2020 book I Do Not Consent: My Fight Against Medical Cancel Culture Gold writes, “I have always worked with the poor and underserved,” treating ER patients in places like Inglewood, California, which she describes as a “low-income, gang-ridden majority-minority city that provided the setting for the tough 1991 drama Boyz N the Hood.” She does not, however, include any mention of her services as a pricey “concierge physician,” which she advertised on her now-defunct personal website: “As a C-Suite Physician, Dr. Gold works the same way as a highly effective Fortune 100 CEO…all with an eye toward fixing her client’s exact problem.” Gold charged $5,000 for an initial appointment and between $25,000 and $50,000 for ongoing consultations.

The concierge medical practice is just one of several business enterprises she attempted to launch over the years—including MedicaLife, a short-lived lifestyle magazine for doctors that launched in 2006 and folded in 2008. (“Confessions of a Hospital Fundraiser,” teased one cover mockup.) In 2017, Gold started a company called Gold Healthcare Solutions that advertises assistance to hospitals facing government audits. Until recently, the company website listed as CEO the venture capitalist Howard Sherman, who’s married to the actress Sela Ward and who ran in the Mississippi Democratic primary for the US Senate in 2018.

When I asked Sherman about his role at the company, he replied in an email: “I have ZERO relationship with Dr. Simone Gold’s company. I work in the medical device world and at one time she approached me with an idea she had that I vetted with some of my contacts. I was not able to achieve the kind of interest she wanted so we stopped talking about the project.” His name and photo were subsequently removed from the company website.

Lots of people flame out in business, get divorced, and don’t end up storming the Capitol. But Haider-Markel says that those who do become radicalized are searching for broader meaning in their lives or a sense of identity. “Oftentimes there is a precipitating event. They lose a partner. They have a financial crisis,” he says. “They develop some grievance around that and connect that to a broader social movement.” If Gold was looking for a mid-life reboot, the heady mix of the pandemic, President Trump, and right-wing media provided the perfect catalyst.

The moment that “changed my life completely,” she told a California KGET TV reporter in January, took place in April 2020. She had been treating COVID patients in Los Angeles emergency rooms with President Donald Trump’s favorite unproven COVID cure, hydroxychloroquine, just a few weeks after the president had announced that the FDA would be fast-tracking emergency use authorization for the drug for COVID treatment. Trump called it “a game changer,” despite warnings from the FDA that the anti-malaria drug may cause heart rhythm problems in some people. 

Gold was enthusiastic about the drug’s treatment possibilities. In her book, she describes how, after extensive research, she had used hydroxychloroquine to cure a woman suffering from mild COVID. “I had expected to get kudos,” she writes. “Instead I was met with hostility.” The hospital medical director challenged her independence and dressed her down for prescribing a drug that wasn’t indicated for outpatients. Gold argued she had science to back her up, and cited the drug’s long safety profile. Unpersuaded, the medical director threatened to fire her if she ever prescribed the drug to an outpatient again. 

For most of her life, Gold doesn’t seem to have been politically active. She donated $1,000 to the campaign of Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) in 2019, but before that, the only other federal candidate to whom she gave money was a Democrat—California Rep. Raul Ruiz—in 2011. “I have never considered myself a political person. I’ve supported both parties at various times in my life,” she says in her book. “I’d fall in the middle of any partisan test. I don’t believe in the right-left distinction…That’s the trouble with being in the middle of the road. Sometimes you get run over.”

But after the hospital threatened to fire her over her prescribing practices, Gold picked a lane. On April 14, she called Dennis Prager’s radio show. Prager has been broadcasting in LA since 1982, but he has become an important though underappreciated part of the modern right-wing infrastructure thanks to his online Prager University. Popular with young people and the alt-right, Prager U publishes five-minute tutorials on everything from climate change to economics. The videos are designed to promote “Judeo-Christian values.” (A sampling: “The Dangers of Islam” and “Just Say Merry Christmas.”)

Identifying herself as an ER doctor, Gold described her success at treating patients with hydroxychloroquine and voiced dismay that medicine was becoming so politicized that a perfectly safe drug could not be dispensed by doctors without controversy. “The science has taken a backseat to the hatred of the president,” Prager commiserated.

A week later, Gold made a series of Twitter videos, a platform that she had rarely before used, to share her experience “practicing emergency medicine in this era of the COVID-19 crisis.” Standing in her white lab coat in front of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center—a hospital she didn’t work at—Gold panned the camera over the quiet grounds. “It’s really quite empty. The emergency department volume is down,” she says. “The patient census is down.” 

Gold wasn’t entirely wrong about the hospital census but her causality was off. Hospitals all over the country, including in California at that time, were relatively empty because elective surgeries were canceled and fear of the virus kept people out of the ER. Doctors and nurses would soon be laid off. In her book she describes how her own hospital hours were cut by 30 percent. She doesn’t say how much this may have hurt her bottom line, but in June, her medical practice received more than $150,000 in federal bailout loans, suggesting the lockdowns caused a personal budget deficit large enough to turn many a doctor into an activist.

None of her videos garnered more than 12,000 views but they hit a certain zeitgeist, as conservatives and conspiracy theorists alike pushed the idea that virus cases were overblown and some people in the government were using COVID to take away individual freedom and undermine President Trump. Three weeks earlier, Fox News radio host Todd Starnes had gone to a Brooklyn hospital and made a video claiming that the emergency room was empty. “I’m afraid that the mainstream media has been overblowing the coverage here,” he narrated. “There’s been a lot of fear mongering going on.” With help from a QAnon enthusiast, the video spawned the hashtag #filmyourhospital and prompted a host of right-wing figures like failed California congressional candidate DeAnna Lorraine Tesoriero to rush to their nearest hospitals to make their own “empty hospital” videos weeks before Gold did.

Even in such a climate, Gold’s white coat stood out, and she managed to catch the attention of one particularly influential audience member: Jenny Beth Martin, the co-founder of Tea Party Patriots. One of the largest of the original tea party groups that arose to oppose President Barack Obama, Tea Party Patriots encompasses a trio of nonprofit groups funded by wealthy conservatives and conservative foundations like Donors Trust. A Tea Party Patriots superpac also raised $1.2 to help reelect Trump in 2020.

Martin was dialed into the Trump White House—so much so that she would later join Trump’s Georgia legal team to help overturn the 2020 presidential election, even though she’s not a lawyer. Early in the pandemic, she was working with a newly formed Save Our Country Coalition to help oppose lockdowns and defend Trump’s handling of the pandemic, along with powerful conservative organizations such as the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council. She is also the executive committee secretary of the Council for National Policy, a secretive but powerful religious-right organization that was working with the Trump reelection campaign to find doctors to help burnish the president’s approval ratings.

Gold was just the sort of surrogate they had been looking for. “I reached out to her and said, ‘Hey, I’m working on this effort and I’d like to talk to doctors,’ and we started emailing and talking, and as things have developed and she watched the virus, things have evolved,” Martin later explained to Yahoo News. The pair met in April, and Gold asked Martin to deliver a letter she’d written to Trump, calling the lockdowns a “mass casualty event,” which she’d been urging other doctors to sign. More than 400 had.

With lightning speed, Martin put Gold on the ready-made conservative media grievance circuit. On May 19, Tea Party Patriots hosted a conference call with conservative media luminaries, including Fox News’ Ed Henry and Breitbart News, featuring Gold and a handful of other doctors who had signed Gold’s letter to Trump. On the call, Gold described the hidden victims of the lockdowns, including a woman she’d treated who’d fallen and broken her hip and shoulder while trying to color her own hair because she couldn’t go to a salon. “I just feel that’s there’s a very big disconnect between what the average American thinks is going on and what’s actually going on,” Gold said.

The call sent Gold on a grand round of media hits with all of the biggest names in the MAGA firmament—former Trump White House adviser Sebastian Gorka, Glenn Beck, Turning Points USA founder Charlie Kirk—and ultimately with some of the major stars of Fox News. In early July, Fox host Laura Ingraham had Gold on her show to promote her favorite drug as an over-the-counter COVID cure. “This is like a medical cancel culture applied to this particular medication,” Ingraham said sympathetically, conflating some cherished conservative points of fury.

It’s probably hard to overstate just how much of a role conservative media played in nudging Gold towards insurrection. University of Maryland psychology professor Arie W. Kruglanski is a co-author of the book The Three Pillars of Radicalization. In his research on extremist networks across the globe, he identified three crucial factors in political radicalization: a need to feel significant, a narrative to follow, and a network that supports and validates that narrative. “It’s difficult to become very glamorous or glorious as an emergency room doctor,” Kruglanski told me. Gold’s splash into right-wing media, he says, probably fulfilled all three of the pillars. “This is sort of an overnight stardom. She has the narrative, and she now has the network that supports her.”

Gold really hit the big time in July. After brainstorming with Martin, Gold helped Tea Party Patriots convene an “America’s Frontline Doctors” summit in DC, an event that resembled the “white coat” protests Martin had organized back in the tea party heyday to oppose the Affordable Care Act. The two-day summit garnered almost no media attention until the very end, when Gold and about a dozen white-coated physicians appeared on the steps of the Supreme Court to talk about “medical cancel culture” and spent nearly 45 minutes making misleading claims suggesting that COVID can be prevented and cured with, no surprise here, hydroxychloroquine. Most of them had never treated a COVID patient; ophthalmologists were overrepresented in the group. And one was really out there: Stella Immanuel, a Houston doctor who believes that some gynecological problems are caused by having sex with demons. “You don’t need masks. There is a cure,” she said. “Nobody needs to get sick.”

President Trump and his son Don Jr. retweeted a video of the event and it went viral, receiving more than 16 million views in a matter of hours before Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter took it down for spreading misinformation. Twitter even blocked Don Jr. from using his account for most of the day.

Simone Gold’s summer media splash included big names: Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Ed Henry, plus Turning Points USA founder Charlie Kirk, Glenn Beck and conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager.

Gold has claimed that the California hospital she worked for promptly fired her for appearing in the video, and says she hasn’t practiced medicine since. But the episode provided her with instant celebrity as a victim of Big Tech censorship, a credential even more beloved by conservative media than her white coat and fancy law degree. The next day, Gold accompanied Martin to meet with Vice President Mike Pence to press for emergency-use authorization for hydroxychloroquine and talk censorship. The day after that, she appeared on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show, one of the most watched prime-time cable news shows, with more than 3 million regular viewers.

On the show, Carlson expressed outrage that Gold’s hospital had fired her. “Shouldn’t you as a practicing physician with a medical degree be allowed to express your views on science as you practice it without being censored?” he asked.

Gold agreed and then seized the opportunity to make her case for hydroxychloroquine to Carlson’s millions of viewers. “Look, I majored in Russian History. I don’t know anything about hydroxychloroquine,” he told her in response. “I do know about the way the country is supposed to work, and physicians should be allowed to explain their experiences, their clinical experiences, treating patients and you’re not allowed to because Joe Biden getting elected is more important, and that’s scary.”

In a sign of how far down the far-right rabbit hole she’d already gone by then, Gold told Carlson that because of “some negative things” people had said since the video aired, she had retained attorney and conspiracy theorist L. Lin Wood to put “to rest anything people want to say that’s defamatory.” Wood would later join with Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani to file a host of baseless lawsuits to try to overturn the presidential election.

By early fall, it was clear that Gold’s original analysis of the pandemic was mostly wrong. The virus spiked across the country and researchers declared hydroxychloroquine useless for treating COVID. Even Trump didn’t take it when he got sick. As her prospects in medicine dimmed, Gold seems to have become too toxic even for Fox News, which hasn’t had her on the air since July. She had turned America’s Frontline Doctors into a more traditional nonprofit organization, complete with website, spokesperson, and white papers decrying various alleged flip-flops by Anthony Fauci. But in her quest for publicity, Gold had to dive even deeper into the far-right fever swamp.

For the next few months, Gold gave interviews to or public speeches with QAnon conspiracy theorists, white nationalists, B-list talk show luminaries, and a few politicians, including Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), a “stop the steal” movement promoter affiliated with far-right militia groups that were part of the Capitol riots. She even went on the Patriot Radio show hosted by Matt Shea, a former Washington State legislator who has been involved in a number of armed federal standoffs, including the takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in 2016 led by Ammon Bundy. Associated with Christian nationalists, Shea has written a manifesto calling for a fundamentalist holy war, in which non-Christian males would be killed if they didn’t submit to Biblical law.

The Jewish doctor chatted happily with him about vitamins and the value of exercise in preventing COVID. “Before I was called a quack and a fraud, people used to clap for me for working out there on the front lines,” Gold lamented, before encouraging people to give up masks and to freely gather for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

But Gold found her most loyal audience among evangelical Christian prosperity preachers, many of whom had refused to close their church doors during the lockdowns and were vaccine skeptics. After big tech companies pulled down the doctors’ video in July, it was rebroadcast by Daystar, the second-largest Christian TV network in the country. Since then, Gold has made at least six different appearances on the network founded by televangelists Marcus and Joni Lamb—and those visits have paid off.

In mid-August, when she headlined the Lambs’ program “Ministry Now,” along with the anti-vaccine activist Robert Kennedy Jr, Marcus Lamb made a surprise announcement: He was issuing a $10,000 matching challenge from Daystar for donations on Gold’s behalf. “I know that you lost your job and now it may be that God has placed something else in your heart to where you’re gonna make a stand,” Joni Lamb told Gold. “It’s going to take money to do that.” In October, Gold returned to chat with the ladies of “Joni Table Talk,” Daystar’s televangelical version of “The View.” Over coffee with the hosts, Gold thanked “the whole Daystar family for being so generous,” and talked about the small donations from viewers she’d received. “It really adds up,” she said gratefully. “It gave me some breathing room to keep fighting for advocacy.”

Evangelical churches were especially receptive to Gold’s anti-vaccine advocacy, which she pivoted to as hydroxychloroquine faded as a right-wing cause célèbre. Three days before the Capitol riot, Gold appeared at a religious revival event in Tampa, Florida, billed as an “open air mass healing and miracle service,” run by Rodney Howard-Browne. A conspiracy theorist, Howard-Browne has appeared on Alex Jones’ far-right site InfoWars and has called the mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand, a “false flag” operation. He was arrested in March for holding religious services in violation of a stay at home order. Gold took the stage before a room full of people without masks and gave an hour-long speech, where she decried the evils of the “experimental biological agent,” better known as the COVID vaccine. She said it’s being tested on minority communities that have been prioritized for vaccines, which she dubbed “pure racism.”

“They are making an overt and covert attempt to push this heavily on Blacks and browns,” she warned. “If you take the vaccine, you’re signing up to be in a pharmacovigilance tracking system.”

For most of 2020, the formerly apolitical Dr. Gold was able to separate her personal crusade for “health freedom” from the presidential election that provided the backdrop to the fight over lockdowns and hydroxychloroquine. She rarely touched on the subject in public other than to suggest that “Orange Man bad” and not science drove opposition to the anti-malaria drug. But whether Gold realized it or not, the battle over the drug was less about health care policy and more of a proxy war over Trump and the future of democracy.

Trump’s loss to Joe Biden in November was a blow to Gold’s cause, as polls showed voters resoundingly rejected his handling of the pandemic, which embraced much of what Gold advocated. It also put her on a collision course with the “stop the steal” movement that metastasized after the presidential election, as her tea party and evangelical benefactors quickly backed Trump’s effort to brand the election as illegitimate and overturn the results. Gold’s Stanford law degree suggests she is smart enough to know a big lie when she sees one, but “stop the steal” was where the action was, not to mention the speaking gigs and fundraising ops she now relied on for her livelihood since her medical career cratered. Once she started down the MAGA path, there was no turning back.

When Trump supporters first converged in DC on November 14 at the “Million MAGA march” to contest the election results, Gold was right there with them, along with other Trump die-hards like Mike Lindell, the MyPillow guy who helped bankroll the march; Sebastian Gorka, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, the Georgia congresswoman who’d expressed support for the QAnon conspiracy theory. “You do not give up your inalienable rights just because there’s an epidemic,” Gold shouted from the Supreme Court steps, warning that the government was using an “age-old tactic” to seize power by scaring people with a disease that she said causes mostly mild illness. “Do not live in fear. Be joyful, be happy, go forward!”

The event was advertised on the neo-Nazi website, the Daily Stormer, and drew hordes of militia outfits and white nationalist groups like the Proud Boys and Nick Fuentes’ Groypers. The rally descended into violence; 21 people were arrested on assault and gun charges, and one person was stabbed.

That didn’t stop Gold from coming back to DC to speak with many of the same people at the January 5 “stop the steal” rally at Freedom Plaza—the warmup to the main event at the Capitol, organized by Ali Alexander, a convicted felon and conspiracy theorist. Speakers represented a parade of far-right figures ranging from anti-abortion activists to former Trump adviser Roger Stone. Standing under an umbrella held by a man in a “Baby Lives Matter” shirt, Gold said to the crowd, “I’m here to ask you a personal question: Why are you here?…I believe the reason you are here is the same reason I am choosing to be here. Because we all have recognized a blatant assault on the rule of law… We are sick and tired of being lied to.”

Kruglanski isn’t surprised that Gold would move from promoting a bogus COVID cure to joining with people who thought the election had been stolen. “In many cases the radical groups first shower you with love without you even accepting their ideology,” he explains. “But once you are accepted by the group, to maintain your good standing in that community you’ve got to accept their narrative.”

The next day Gold was scheduled to speak again at the “Wild Protest” organized by Alexander near the White House, along with Tea Party Patriots’ Jenny Beth Martin and Brandon Straka, founder of the Walkaway Campaign that urges Democrats to quit the party. (Straka was also later arrested for entering the Capitol.) But the speeches were inexplicably canceled, and instead, protesters heeded Trump’s call to march on the Capitol while Congress and the vice president were certifying the results of the 2020 election. Gold joined them.

She was accompanied by John Strand—an international underwear model who serves as the communications director for America’s Frontline Doctors. Strand, 38, had been part of regular Beverly Hills “freedom protests” against the lockdowns over the summer and now lives with Gold. On the steps of the Capitol, he tweeted, “I am incredibly proud to be a patriot today, to stand up tall in defense of liberty & the Constitution, to support Trump & #MAGAforever, & to send the message: WE ARE NEVER CONCEDING A STOLEN ELECTION.”

Lawyers generally know that after engaging in a potentially criminal act, it’s best to stop talking publicly about it. But Gold apparently couldn’t resist the siren call of an interview with the Washington Post. In a January 12 story, Gold admitted to being inside the Capitol on January 6. “I can certainly speak to the place that I was, and it most emphatically was not a riot,” she said, explaining dubiously that she thought it was legal to go inside. “Where I was, was incredibly peaceful.”

Simone Gold (top left), on the FBI poster that became fodder for internet sleuths, who quickly ID her and posted videos like these online.  

“Peaceful” is not a word the FBI used in court filings to describe where Gold was that day. According to an FBI agent, Gold and Strand were photographed “in a large crowd attempting to push past multiple officers blocking the entrance to the Capitol, which had visibly broken windows at the time. One of the officers, who had been pinned near the doors to the Capitol, appears to be pulled down by someone in the crowd and lands near where Strand and Gold were standing.” Videos and still photos also show the pair pressed up against the door to the House chamber where law enforcement was trying to block them. Gold told the Post that she worried that those photos and videos would impact her ability to advocate the America’s Frontline Doctors. “I do regret being there,” Gold admitted.

Her regret is understandable. For days, an image of her standing in the Capitol Rotunda with a bullhorn appeared on an FBI wanted poster seeking help identifying people who participated in the insurrection. Five days after her interview with KGET, FBI agents went to her Beverly Hills house and arrested her and Strand. A DC federal grand jury indicted her on February 5. By then, L. Lin Wood was facing disbarment efforts in Georgia, where authorities have demanded a mental health evaluation after he called for Vice President Mike Pence to be executed. He was thus unavailable to defend Gold.

So why did she do it? It’s impossible to know what combination of impulse, exhilaration, and conviction led Gold to follow a mob into the US Capitol. She did not respond to multiple requests for an interview, but there are a few likely dynamics at work. Let’s start with her own reflections on what happened, which were surprisingly uncomplicated: “When you’re crossing the street and the light turns green, you go,” she said in an interview with KGET. Shaking her head somewhat ruefully, she added that she came up with the “genius” idea to give the speech she had planned to deliver at the canceled rally. “I…I just wanted to,” she stammered. “Someone had a bullhorn. I asked to use it. Those of us who were there believe the election is completely fraudulent. We just kind of wanted to be heard.”

Several months before her arrest, she foreshadowed her new militancy. “Not everyone can, or should, turn to political activism. I fully understand those who point out the negative consequences this approach can have for one’s career and personal life,” she wrote in her book. “Going along with the crowd in times of fear and uncertainty present their own pitfalls, as we have seen. In Judaism we often ask ourselves, ‘What does God expect of me in this situation?’ It’s this emphasis on action that is essential to the Jewish faith. Trust in God, believe in yourself, and courageous conduct will follow.”

It is always perilous to engage in psychoanalyzing a relatively public figure, even one who seems to be having a midlife crisis in plain sight. And yet, Haider-Markel says that while most people don’t react to personal existential crisis by storming the Capitol, it might not be that surprising that Gold did. Many people who’ve spent a long time investing in their own education and status tend to socialize with others—like, say, in the PTA of an exclusive Beverly Hills private school—who have the same or similar credentials. In these circles, they discover that the very qualities that once made them special, all those degrees and awards they worked so hard to attain, are just the ticket to admission. Where will their prestigious resume still stand out?

Simone Gold poses as a hostage for a video she made framing her as victim of government persecution. With co-defendant John Strand (left) and former professional boxer and current Nevada cannabis lawyer Joey Gilbert, a member of the “legal eagle dream team” at Gold’s America’s Frontline Doctors. 

Few paths to fame are as reliable as switching sides. Conservatives claiming to represent “we the people” love to dump on professional expertise and fancy pedigrees in latte liberals—just listen to Fox’s Tucker Carlson repeatedly mock MSNBC host Joy Reid for having gone to Harvard. But when someone with fancy degrees and professional credentials abandons their over-educated tribe and converts, the right-wing superstructure will shower them with love—and money.

Others in right-wing politics share similar credentials as Gold’s—think Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (Princeton, Harvard Law), or Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley (Stanford, Yale Law), both of whom worked to overturn the election of President Joe Biden. But as senators, Cruz and Hawley are still very much part of the establishment. Their extremism is checked by their need to fundraise and get reelected.

Experts say that far-right radicalism of the sort on display on January 6 and elsewhere over the past year has strong parallels not in Cruz’s “defund the IRS” agenda but in Islamic radicalism, which studies have shown is full of doctors, engineers, and other professionals, even in the United States. In 2017, the Chicago Project on Security and Threats studied more than 100 people in the US, mostly American citizens, who’d been prosecuted for perpetrating a domestic attack on behalf of ISIS or going to fight for the Islamic State in Syria. They discovered that, like the Capitol rioters, two-thirds of the defendants had a college education.

Kruglanski notes, too, that many of the leaders of the neo-Nazi “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017, which left one woman dead and scores injured, were college educated, including Richard Spencer, who has a BA from the University of Virginia, a masters from the University of Chicago, and spent two years working on a PhD in modern European intellectual history at Duke University before leaving to “pursue a life of thought-crime.”

“You do not have to be poor and left behind to embrace these theories,” Kruglanski told me.

When it comes to real extremism, as opposed to political grandstanding, Gold much more resembles Stewart Rhodes than Ted Cruz. Rhodes is the founder of the Oath Keepers, the far-right militia group of which about a dozen members have been charged with crimes related to the Capitol riot. Rhodes was there that day, too, but unlike Gold, he was smart enough to stay out of the building. If he had gone in, he could have joined her in the rotunda and announced, “I am a Yale-educated attorney.”

Gold’s initial regret about her actions at the Capitol has given way to defiance as she returned to the lecture circuit, where she has reframed herself as a victim, and her prosecution as an assault on free speech. On their podcast recently, she told sympathetic Newsmax hosts Diamond and Silk that she looks forward to making her case to a jury. The vaccine rollout has also provided fresh opportunities for spreading misinformation in her ongoing crusade against “medical discrimination” through America’s Frontline Doctors.

Evangelical groups have continued to shower her with Biblical hospitality. At the end of March, Gold took her anti-vaccine schtick to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, a hotbed of far-right extremism, where she spoke at the “Steeling the Mind” conference put on by Compass International, a Christian ministry founded by Bill Perkins. Perkins is part of the “young earth” creationist movement, ties reflected in the conference lineup, where Gold’s fellow speakers explored such topics as whether “When God created the earth in six, 24-hour days, was that 7-day creation week God’s template for 7,000 years of humans on earth?”

The evangelical anti-vaccine circuit has put Gold back in close quarters with people who helped set the stage for the siege at the Capitol. In mid-April, Gold appeared at a two-day “health and freedom” conference in Oklahoma at the Rhema Bible College that ended with a mask-burning ceremony. There, she took the stage along with many others who’d been involved in the “stop the steal” efforts after the election, including Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, and L. Lin Wood.

In her speech, Gold announced that her America’s Frontline Doctors was setting up a legal task force to help people fight pandemic-related restrictions and vaccine passports. The audience cheered when she introduced her “legal eagle dream team” member Leigh Dundas. A Scientologist, an anti-vaccine activist, and far-right agitator from Orange County, California, Dundas also happened to be at the Capitol on January 6. She can be seen in videos not far from the QAnon shaman, yelling “Traitor! Traitor! Traitor!” at the police. After getting tear gassed outside, she went back to a nearby stage where she implored people to “stand the hell up! Because you are far better off fighting on your feet and being prepared to die on your feet than living a life on your damned knees. Fight on.”

Like any good victim of cancel culture, Gold is also fundraising. For weeks after her arrest, the America’s Frontline Doctors website featured a popup box that said, “Dr. Gold and her Communications Director were arrested by the FBI in an extremely aggressive manner. They need your support. This fight is not just for them, but for you. Clearly this political persecution of a law-abiding emergency physician is designed to threaten and intimidate any American who dares to exercise their 1st Amendment rights. The legal pressures mounting against Dr. Gold require your urgent and generous donations to withstand such aggressive assaults from the ruthless enemies of free speech.”

As of May 5, she’d raked in $392,000.
 
Top image credit: Mother Jones illustration; Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia; Getty