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Trump claims a wall made El Paso safe. Data shows otherwise.



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By Jane C. Timm

Days ahead of the deadline for Congress to hammer out a deal on border security, President Donald Trump will campaign in El Paso, Texas — the city he falsely claimed last week had been a hotbed of crime before a wall was built.

“The border city of El Paso, Texas, used to have extremely high rates of violent crime — one of the highest in the country, and considered one of our nation’s most dangerous cities,” Trump said in his State of the Union address Tuesday. “Now, with a powerful barrier in place, El Paso is one of our safest cities.”

But the statistics don’t back him up, even as he heads there on Monday to press his argument that walls work. According to law enforcement data, the city had low crime rates well before a border barrier was constructed between 2008 and mid-2009.

The facts

Violent crime has been dropping in El Paso since its modern-day peak in 1993 and was at historic lows before a fence was authorized by Congress in 2006. Violent crime actually ticked up during the border fence’s construction and after its completion, according to police data collected by the FBI.

Democratic officials immediately took issue with the picture Trump painted Tuesday night, saying the president was using their city to justify a pointless and unnecessary wall.

“The facts are clear. While it is true that El Paso is one of the safest cities in the nation, it has never been ‘…considered one of our Nation’s most dangerous cities,'” the city’s sheriff, Richard Wiles, an Democrat, said in a statement after Trump concluded his address. “And, El Paso was a safe city long before any wall was built.”

The city’s Republican mayor, Dee Margo, also sought to correct the record.

“I believe he was given some misinformation,” Margo told CNN in an interview, adding the idea that El Paso was a lawless and dangerous place before fencing was built is “not factually correct.”

Margo said he’d correct the president if he reiterated falsehoods about El Paso on Monday.

“The geography of Texas won’t allow a fence from El Paso to Brownsville even if you wanted to do it,” Margo said.

Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, who represents El Paso, called the president’s remarks about her district “troubling” in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” last week before writing Trump a letter asking him to apologize and correct the record.

“El Paso is and always has been a safe community — one of the safest in the country,” she told MSNBC.

Escobar and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who held the seat before her who is reportedly mulling a bid for president in 2020, will join an anti-wall march in the border city on Monday aimed to counter Trump’s rally.

When pressed on the inaccuracy of the president’s claims, the White House said the high rate of crime in the city directly across the border — Juarez — proved that the barrier was responsible for the low crime rate in El Paso.

“Well, just so you know, in Juarez, which is across the border in Mexico, the murder rate has gone up significantly. So the mere fact that you do have a physical barrier at that place as we [do], that does work and helps keep the crime out of El Paso because the crime rate has increased Juarez,” White House director for Strategic Communications Mercedes Schlapp told reporters last Wednesday.

El Paso does currently enjoy a relatively low rate of crime: There were 19 murders and 1,819 aggravated assaults in the city in 2017, according to FBI crime data. The city’s murder rate is about half that of the national average, and a fraction of more dangerous cities. In the similarly sized city of Detroit, there were 267 murders and 10,193 aggravated assaults, for instance.

“I’ve been here for 30 years now and before the wall, after the wall, it’s always been a safe town,” Western District of Texas Federal Public Defender Maureen Franco told NBC News. “There are many times that people will still not lock their doors because of the perception and reality that it’s a safe to live here.”

What drove down crime, if it wasn’t a border wall?

Big changes to border security did help El Paso — it just wasn’t the fence Trump is now hailing.

In 1993, Customs and Border Protection sector chief Silvestre Reyes tried something new.

Operation “Hold the Line” stationed 400 Border Patrol agents across the border and implemented new technologies, putting a show of force along the border that effectively sealed a porous border.

The New York Times reported at the time that the effort stopped thousands of people crossing every day, crime started dropping immediately and day laborers began obtaining permits to cross the border legally instead of crossing on foot. The newspaper also noted that Reyes was applauded for cleaning up the city with limited force. Previously, the Times reported, border agents had focused on apprehending and detaining immigrants — not simply deterring them — in a tactic that bolstered budgets. The operation gathered little immediate praise, but similar show of force tactics were eventually implemented in other areas.

Franco told NBC News that from a humanitarian perspective, Operation Hold the Line also deterred unsafe crossings.

Still, in 2006, Congress authorized 700 miles of border barrier. El Paso had a section of steel bollard fencing put up between 2008 and mid-2009.

“It had no effect on us whatsoever other than it diminished the natural beauty” of El Paso, she said. “It didn’t require a wall.”

Reyes, a Democrat, was later elected to represent the district in Congress. He served for 15 years until O’Rourke, now a potential 2020 contender, unseated him in the 2012 primary.

Last week, in an interview with NBC’s El Paso affiliate KTSM, Reyes acknowledged that the border has changed significantly since he was running the El Paso sector, but said he disagrees with the president’s calls for a border wall.

“There are better ways of doing it than putting up the president’s proposal,” Reyes said in the interview.

Reyes, 74, said technology and manpower are still the best way to police the border. “Anyone who says this border is in crisis doesn’t know what they’re talking about.”

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Mueller didn’t charge Trump — but his report is a brutal indictment



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By Jonathan Allen

President Donald Trump has evaded criminal charges — but special counsel Robert Mueller’s report is a brutal indictment of his campaign and his presidency.

The first volume of the two-part, 448-page report details how Trump and his allies solicited, encouraged, accepted and benefited from the assistance provided by America’s most storied foreign adversary as part of a multi-front assault on American democracy.

The other lays out comprehensive evidence that the president may have obstructed justice through what Mueller described as a “pattern of conduct” that included firing FBI Director Jim Comey, trying to remove Mueller, publicly praising and condemning witnesses, and seeking to limit the scope of the probe.

Taken in sum, Mueller’s findings reveal three years of actions by Trump and his subordinates that critics say rattle the very foundations of the American system of governance, from the sacrosanct nature of democratic elections to the idea that no man, not even the president, is above the law.

Download the NBC News app for full coverage of the Mueller report

The story, in even its most sympathetic telling, is one of a president who used nearly every power vested in his office and his persona — including hiring and firing, the bully pulpit, party loyalty, private intimidation, and disinformation — to cover up ties between his campaign and Russia so that he could spare himself the public humiliation of having won an election that wasn’t entirely on the level.

Of the marquee reports written for Congress over the decades about presidential scandals, the Mueller report will stand out for the brazenness of the chief executive — and for the degree to which insubordination among his underlings reined him in, if only at the margins.

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” Mueller wrote. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

Only an hour or so before the report was rolled out, Attorney General William Barr, who was picked for his job after writing that a president cannot obstruct justice, said that the report found “no collusion” between Trump and Russia — an expression that Mueller painstakingly explained in the report is of no legal consequence. It is, however, a favorite term of art of one Donald J. Trump.

Some of Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill were satisfied, without reading the report, that Trump came out a clear winner — exonerated because he was not prosecuted.

“We know the conclusions of the #MuellerReport: No collusion, no further indictments,” Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, tweeted. “It’s over. We also know the spin, and we know that many people will still claim the President is guilty. I’ll be reading the report in its entirety. No spin, just facts.”

But Democrats saw in Mueller’s report a delineation between the powers afforded the executive and legislative branches when it comes to judging the actions of a president.

Trump’s own employees, including Barr and Mueller, did not move forward with a prosecution — indeed, Mueller wrote that he determined Justice Department guidance precluded him from doing so. But he also noted that Congress, which does not report to the president, has its own set of powers.

“The acts of obstruction of justice, whether they are criminal or not, are deeply alarming in the president of the United States,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Thursday. “And it’s clear that special counsel Mueller wanted the Congress to consider the repercussions and the consequences.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Mueller had laid out a “roadmap” for Congress.

It’s hard to fathom how a lengthy report in the public domain is better for Trump than the top-line declaration of a clean bill of health he got from Attorney General William Barr a few weeks ago. And there will be plenty more public discussion of the details of Mueller’s findings. Already, the special counsel has been invited to Capitol Hill to testify about his conclusions.

Democrats will no doubt use their power in the House to extract as much political pain from Trump as possible and do so while making the case that they are simply standing up for small-“d” democratic values.

And while the political bar for removing Trump is likely insurmountable — it would take 20 Republicans and all 47 Senate Democrats to oust him — the behavior chronicled by Mueller towers over that of the standard set by the House for impeachment of President Bill Clinton on obstruction articles, according to experts.

Kim Wehle, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who investigated Clinton as part of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s team, said beyond that the Trump case is “infinitely more serious” than the one she worked on.

“Here we’ve got a hostile foreign power and the evidence is overwhelming that their objective was to attack our free and fair process,” she said.

Frank O. Bowman III, a professor at the University of Missouri School of Law and author of the forthcoming book “High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump” said the Mueller report suggests the president committed impeachable offenses.

“The issue for impeachment is not whether a criminal statute was violated but whether a president engaged in a pattern of activity inconsistent with his obligation to take care that the law be faithfully executed and instead sought to use his authority to undercut the institutions and norms of the justice system to benefit himself,” he said. “The second half of the Mueller report strongly supports such a conclusion as to Trump.”

Bowman said Trump’s conduct tracked with that of President Richard Nixon, but that the refusal of Trump’s subordinates to follow his orders — very likely with the Nixon example in mind — may end up saving the president politically.

“The fact that they refused doesn’t change the constitutional impeachment calculus at all,” he said. “Still, the fact that he was so often restrained will make it easy for Republicans in Congress to wave off his otherwise impeachable behavior.”

If that’s the case, the question of whether Mueller’s findings render Trump unfit for office will rest with the jury he’s always wanted: the voters. But the special counsel’s report is an indelible testament to the president’s weakness in seeking Russian aid and in deceiving the nation about it.

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Brexiteer Conservatives go ON STRIKE as Tories boycott campaigning in European elections 



GRASSROOTS Tories are protesting Prime Minister Theresa May’s delay of Brexit by refusing to take part in next month’s European elections.

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No proof in Mueller’s report of Russian meddling, Kremlin says



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 / Updated 

By Associated Press

MOSCOW — The Kremlin argued Friday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s 400-page report has not offered any credible evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The redacted report presented on Thursday said that there was no collusion between the Donald Trump campaign and Russian officials but it did document Russian efforts to meddle in the presidential vote.

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