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Democracy In Crisis?

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CREDIT: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Above: President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2020, in Washington.

President Trump's comments that he will not commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election raises alarms, a man dies after contracting COVID-19 while in federal jail in downtown San Diego, and the fallout continues over San Diego's disastrous purchase of 101 Ash Street building.

Speaker 1: 00:01 President Trump claims male and voting as a scam pulled by Democrats. He says, he'll contest a loss before the Supreme court. Why a COVID-19 outbreak here is among the worst in any federal prison in the entire us system. And another top city leader resigns amid the ongoing one Oh one Ash street, building debacle I'm Mark Sauer, and the KPBS Roundtable starts. Now

Speaker 2: 00:30 [inaudible]

Speaker 1: 00:34 Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories. I'm Mark Sauer and joining me on our remote KPBS round table today. Columnists Michael Smolins of the San Diego union Tribune reporter max rebel, and nether of KPBS news and Andrew Bowen, Metro reporter for KPBS, responding to reporters at the white house. President Trump said this week, he will not commit to a peaceful transfer of power. If he loses the election, the only way he can lose Trump says is because of fraudulent mail in voting. He claims an election relying on mail in ballots during the pandemic is rigged a hoax, a quote scam being pulled by Democrats. Joining me is Michael Smolins columnist for the San Diego union Tribune. Michael, welcome back to the round table.

Speaker 3: 01:17 Thanks for having me on Mark.

Speaker 1: 01:19 Now, Trump twice told reporters so far this week, he will not accept a feat, but he's Telegraph that for months backed by attorney general William Barr, that voting by mail is rife with fraud and mail and balloting is long been scrutinized and Michael, whatever researchers found

Speaker 3: 01:34 Well, they just haven't found any widespread fraud. There, there have been instances, frankly, on both sides of the aisle, if you will. Uh, but it's, you know, fairly secure about a secure as voting in person it's been happening in California, like three quarters of voters vote by mail. And in other States, it a few other States it's total mail ballots, and there's been no huge issue. So it's really a bogus, uh, uh, concern. Yes.

Speaker 1: 02:02 Now Trump raised this issue and the 2016 campaign, when it appeared Hillary Clinton would win the popular vote, which she did, but it was moot following the electoral college results. Now Democrat Joe Biden leads Trump from about seven to 10 points in polls released this week. What's the impact of an incumbent president casting aspersions on the validity of the vote in election, where he's trailing by large margins?

Speaker 3: 02:25 Well, he, he always has, even when he won, as you point out, I mean, he has said flatly that 3 million votes in California were, were, were illegal or not happening. Cause that's what he lost, uh, you know, California by about three or 4 million votes. So it's really nonsense. Um, but the issue here is, you know, you mentioned the polls, those are nationwide polls. The key swing States is where the issue is. And what's frankly, even more concerning than what the president said to reporters yesterday is that, uh, I think the Atlantic month, they did a story about how, you know, Republicans have told this reporter that there's strategy going on in key States where if Trump loses the popular vote, but there's a Republican legislature that tried to get them to declare this vote was fraudulent. So the legislature will, will, uh, select the electors in the electoral college. And frankly they may have the power to do that. Uh, going back to the Bush Gore, uh, legal case that went before the Supreme court. So the Supreme court says States have the rights to figure out how they choose their electors, but it's just been done by popular vote. Uh, for, you know, almost from the beginning.

Speaker 1: 03:37 Now what's been the response so far from a democratic candidate, Joe Biden and also from some leading Republicans,

Speaker 3: 03:44 Well, Joe Biden sort of almost kind of shrugged and just said, what country are we in? And he just, Trump says irrational stuff all the time. Uh, one of his campaigns spokesman said the federal government knows how to deal with trespasses at the white house. So, um, you know, they've kind of responded in a pretty low key way because again, it's Trump, I think trying to, uh, you know, divert attention from other things such as the COVID-19 crisis, that's still racking the country

Speaker 1: 04:13 And some of the Republicans, Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio,

Speaker 3: 04:18 It's been pretty quiet on the Republican side except for a Mitt Romney tweeted out saying that it's just unacceptable for president to say that he won't accept the results of a loss and go up peacefully. So that's sort of the standard does situation we've been facing for four years. Uh, the president will say something more and more outrageous and most Republicans, uh, uh, try to avoid dealing with it.

Speaker 1: 04:43 And I think your point about what Romney said that was kind of parroted by McConnell and Rubia too a couple of things I've seen. So they're not mentioning Trump's yeah. They're not mentioning Trump specifically, but they are saying, as you say, no, we'll have a peaceful transfer of power, which is fairly tepid. Now, Thursday morning, Trump's

Speaker 3: 05:00 Mark that, that, you know, Trump keeps voicing about voter fraud yet he keeps advocating it. He's advocated voters trying to vote twice to test the system, both male and in person. And then just the other day he talked about we'll get rid of the ballot. I mean, you know, that's just a pretty remarkable thing. I'm sure he's talking about, we'll get rid of what he thinks are fraudulent ballots, but he's talking about getting rid of a male ballots that are not favorable,

Speaker 1: 05:23 Right. And we bought, we've seen in San Diego and in California and many other places in the primaries that this could take days, weeks to count every vote and you can see how they're, they're lining up and maybe will interfere with that process and go to the court.

Speaker 3: 05:39 Yes. And a very interestingly, the FBI the other day put out a public warning, uh, uh, cyber, uh, concerns in the post election era, people trying to foment, uh, problems and, and unrest, uh, which is really remarkable. Of course, it, it sort of stems back to the whole Russian interference in 2016 and what, uh, intelligence agencies are seeing happening, uh, to this day.

Speaker 1: 06:05 Now I should note that on Thursday morning, Trump seemed to soften his remarks a bit and a friendly interview on Fox news. It told Brian Kilmeade that, uh, he would of course agree with whatever the Supreme court ultimately says. Then he went off again, casting doubt on the, uh, the result in the mail in ballots. But that raises, of course, this issue. We had the death of justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Last week, we have, uh, eight soon to be nine apparently justices on the Supreme court here. And Trump is really pushing to get that ninth justice there and basically saying, um, she'll cast her vote in my favor. I believe.

Speaker 3: 06:40 Well, that's what he's saying. We'll just have to see. I mean, I think that there seems to be little doubt that they, if they push it forward, that they will get that, that nominee confirmed, uh, by the end of the year, certainly before any transition might take place, we'll have to see, uh, you know, we've seen some justices appointed by both Republican and democratic presidents, uh, kind of surprised folks figuring they're appointed on philosophic grounds, but, uh, they, in most cases follow the law, but they're their legal understanding I think, and perspective does, uh, is rooted in sort of a philosophic.

Speaker 1: 07:16 And then of course, Bush V Gore in 2000 is looming behind all of it. I wanted to bring this back to a local level. So a Trump refusal to concede the election, the validity of Malin voting would affect hundreds of races across the nation 435 in the Congress alone. And we've got the 50th district here in East County. What if Republican Daryl ice narrowly lost to Democrat Amar competent? A could I say who claims to be a Trump conservative parrot the president and refuse to concede?

Speaker 3: 07:44 Yeah, he could, but in California, that's not gonna work because as I mentioned that, you know, there's this notion of, you're talking about conspiracies, the president's people working towards Republican legislatures in swing States. It's a very democratic state here. Uh, you know, that would be, the legislature would have to deal with that. It would go to the courts. I'm sure. I mean, I used to couldn't Sue, but I don't know exactly what the president could do to reach into San Diego County and Riverside County. Um, you know, the two areas that are in the 50th district to affect that vote his, his, uh, you know, his role here really is potentially with the electors of the electoral college.

Speaker 1: 08:25 Of course, a lot of this is just what happens with public opinion. We've got people out in the streets again in Louisville, following the violence there and the killing of, uh, Rihanna Taylor, um, just any crystal ball for us here. We're all on edge. What's going to happen in the next five weeks?

Speaker 3: 08:42 Well, no, I mean, nobody knows. And, and, uh, I think, you know, not just with what the dynamics would be with the sort of civil unrest and civil concern and social justice, but

Speaker 4: 08:56 Just how the voting will go with the whole, uh, uh, coronavirus pandemic. So, no, I think that that violence, you know, does work to Trump's favor. Uh, you know, he's been accused of, and I think was, I don't want to say some justification, but, uh, with, with, uh, interest, any way of fomenting, uh, certain reactions and so forth, but it's clear that it's happened on both sides and some of these protests have become violent. We've all seen the video on TV. And, uh, I think that, uh, that that's something that doesn't really help Democrats, but it's, you know, not as widespread as you might see on Fox news,

Speaker 1: 09:37 Well, uh, stay tuned to KPBS and the union Tribune and, uh, every reliable source of news. Cause it's going to be a wild five weeks. I've been speaking with Michael Small wins columnist with the San Diego union Tribune. Thanks Michael. Thanks Bart. Since the pandemic began outbreaks of COVID-19 in San Diego and across the nation have been common in confined places where people are not free to come and go like nursing homes and Navy ships and in jails and prisons, but not all victims garner the same level of sympathy. My guest is KPBS reporter max Rivlin, Nadler, whose story this week highlights that fact, max, welcome back to the round table.

Speaker 4: 10:15 Good to be here.

Speaker 1: 10:16 Well, your story focused on the outbreak in federal jail here in San Diego, explain what's going on there.

Speaker 4: 10:23 So this is the metropolitan correctional complex. This is downtown in San Diego and it's connected to the federal court building. There's the Brown building and there's the newer building. Uh, that's pretty sleek looking and behind that is this large Brown building that is MCC over the past few weeks, 400 out of the 562 people being held there have tested positive for coronavirus. That's really only in the past couple of weeks. So for the first few weeks of the pandemic for the first few months, this, uh, facility was on lockdown and basically skirted a large coronavirus outbreak. Unlike that you saw at other places like the OTI Misa detention center, which is an immigration detention facility out in, um, South the South Bay. So this is a really, um, explosive situation that's been going on there.

Speaker 1: 11:12 And do they have any idea what caused this a relatively sudden outbreak after, as you say, months where, uh, where they had escaped the virus?

Speaker 4: 11:20 So I spoke with a person being held there yesterday and basically he said, you know, listen for, for months, we, as inmates had warned that they were as lax procedures, that people were being mixed in different pods who had been coming from the outside, that people have been infected, that people were basically just being given Tylenol and told to lay down, uh, when they felt sick. But the most recent outbreak has to do with basically the moving of the pods from one floor of another. Uh, basically if somebody is sick, okay, we're going to move them into basically this quarantined area. Um, but then we're going to move them out. And after a little bit of time and something we know about coronavirus is that you can stay, you know, fairly, um, contagious for a good amount of time. So, uh, you know, one thing you hear from advocates and lawyers and, and, and made themselves that you can't really quarantine anybody in these facilities because social distancing is impossible. Uh, so you know what one thing that I have heard about the most recent outbreak is that it lacks a quarantine for people who are coming into the facility from outside, or I've spent time outside of the facility.

Speaker 1: 12:32 What do we know about the procedures and protections inside the federal jails here? How forthcoming are the official,

Speaker 4: 12:40 Not at all, uh, you know, you reach out to, uh, the, the lawyer at MCC and they don't respond. Uh, you go to the Bureau of prisons, which runs it out, uh, in DC and they kind of give you a boiler plate. They can't, uh, talk about very specific, uh, cases or individuals who might have, uh, contracted COVID-19 while in custody. And, um, you know, they just basically give you the boiler plate, if this is what we're doing, this is how we're sanitizing spaces, but given the immensity of this outbreak, I mean, 400 out of 562 people, obviously these aren't working, um, and any kind of a declaration from the Bureau of prisons about exactly what they're doing, you know, would have to be taken with a grain of salt.

Speaker 1: 13:22 No, your story centered on one inmate who since died of COVID-19 tell us about him.

Speaker 4: 13:28 Yeah, this was 47 year old, Victor Cruz, Victor Cruz, uh, have a checkered criminal history. Uh, but the most recent offense was drug possession, um, that he was in for, he was serving an eight year sentence and he was fairly early in that sentence. Um, when he came down with COVID-19, he believes that, um, you know, well, his lawyer believes that basically, uh, this was entirely preventable, especially because he had several underlying conditions. I actually spoke with his mother, Victor Cruz's mother shortly before he passed away, you know, about who he was and what he was essentially trying to get his life together a few months before he re-offended and with drug possession, um, his daughter actually passed away. Um, and this is something that kinda centered him on sent him on this downward spiral. Um, and ultimately, you know, uh, ended up with his death.

Speaker 1: 14:26 And of course, as you say, a checkered past, but he didn't have a death sentence and that's what happened in this case. Right?

Speaker 4: 14:32 Right. So that's, that's one thing that his attorney center Lachman told me was that basically there are federal guidelines that you could argue day and night about whether they're fair or not, especially when it comes to drug possession and an eight year sentence for drug possession is, you know, people have opinions, both sides of that. But again, that sentence in death and as something she was pointing out was that, you know, there's this idea in America that, well, if you go to prison, you've done something bad and whatever happens to you happens to you. And this of course is extended to illness that healthcare, prison, rape, things like that. Um, but in no way, should that punishment, you know, be death. That's why we have the actual punishment. That's what she was arguing. And that's what, you know, the judge would say as well, was that, of course, you know, you have the specific as she put adult timeout where you're cut off from society, but no, in no way, did they sentence you to death for that, for that crime,

Speaker 1: 15:29 I wanted to shift the conversation to the person ultimately in charge of the federal prison system and the nation's response overall to the pandemic president, Donald Trump, he said to the Corona virus at a campaign rally in Ohio this week, that quote at affects virtually nobody. It's an amazing thing. Now, the families of the 200,000 plus Americans who've died so far might beg to differ including, uh, mr. Cruz's family.

Speaker 4: 15:53 Yeah. I mean, you know, take again, everything he's saying as, as kind of a political cudgel at this point, right? Cause he's, he's campaigning for reelection. And I think obviously he's trying to highlight that a lot of people have this virus and don't die. Um, but that's a very low bar, right? Because we know there's a ton of hospitalizations lingering effects we're we don't even understand the longterm impact. This has not only on people's, um, you know, uh, respiratory health, but also mental health. And on top of that neurological health, because we know this has neurological implications as well. Of course, we know that cases are also beginning to go back up across the country, as we enter that second wave, as much as we escape that first wave. So for people who have preexisting conditions, which are, you know, more than half of the U S population, if you add older people as well, um, that doesn't really come as, as any bomb, but for the healthiest among us, it doesn't really affect them. And again, we don't know that yet.

Speaker 1: 16:55 And of course, we're going to see how this all plays out as a major issue in this current campaign, leading up to the election on November 3rd, I've been speaking with KPBS reporter max Rivlin, Adler. Thanks max. Thank you. A third top San Diego official has resigned covered in residue from the scandal enveloping. The city's now infamous deal to take over the old Sempra energy building at one Oh one Ash street downtown. Joining me with the latest is KPBS Metro reporter, Andrew Bowen. Hi Andrew. I'm Mark. We'll start with the news this week. The latest to resign in the wake of the one Oh one Ash street had a top job, a real city hall veteran. Right? Tell us about her.

Speaker 4: 17:34 Sure. Her name is Chris Michelle. She was, or rather still is the chief operating officer in the city. So she's responsible for kind of the day to day operations at the city oversees all of the city staffers. And she previously worked at city as the chief

Speaker 5: 17:50 Of staff under mayor, former mayor, Jerry Sanders later, she moved to the downtown San Diego partnership and worked in the private sector for awhile. Um, and then she was hired by mayor Kevin Faulkner about three years ago as a deputy COO for special projects. And a few months later, she was moved up to the COO position after her predecessor took another job. We should mention that. Um, she didn't really give a reason for her resignation and the city hasn't really, uh, says that, you know, it's not related to the one Oh one Ash street deal. However, uh, the timing, you know, leaves, most people who are watching this pretty closely assuming that, uh, one Oh one Ash street at least had something to do with her decision

Speaker 1: 18:36 Right now and give us the thumbnail on this. Now infamous deal. As I say, well, why did the city want this building? How much money is down the drain? What's the status of it. Now

Speaker 5: 18:46 The city wanted the building as a way to consolidate a lot of it's office space. Currently, a lot of different city departments are spread out. A lot of the offices that workers are in are in very poor condition. They also wanted to own this space longterm because the city has basically been, uh, renting a lot of office space burning through all of that cash. Uh, and as far as how much the city has spent on it, um, you know, city officials haven't really made it easy to determine a doll, a full dollar figure. Um, but it's safe to say that the rent payments alone, uh, throughout all this time, which, you know, the city hasn't ever really been occupied by city workers for more than a month or a couple of weeks or so. Um, the rent payments alone have cost taxpayers more than $20 million in 2018.

Speaker 5: 19:34 The council also authorized spending $30 million in repairs to the electrical system, the HVA C C system, a lot of other things. Um, those repairs ultimately dislodged asbestos into the air. The city was cited by the County air pollution control district for that. Um, city workers were in the building briefly, but evacuated shortly thereafter because of the asbestos deal. Now the city estimates, the building needs $115 million in repairs to make it, you know, a suitable office space for city workers. So, uh, the city officials are basically evaluating their options right now. They're looking at whether the city can just walk away from this deal. Uh, that of course involves a lot of legal risks because the city signed the contract and agreed to lease and then purchase the deal as is, um, they are looking at whether they can buy the building early, uh, demolish it and build something brand new. But the bottom line is all of these options are, are really bad deal for taxpayers. Uh, another sort of update recently, it was that mayor Faulkner stopped paying the rent on the building and the landlords are now, um, look like they're they be preparing to Sue the city to get that rent payment that they feel they're entitled to?

Speaker 1: 20:52 Yeah. The lawyers look to get a big payday. However, this plays out in a Christmas shell had previously apologized for her role in the one Oh one Ash street deal a when was that? And what was the apology for?

Speaker 5: 21:03 So the vote for the lease to own deal at the city council was in October, 2016 and the building was supposed to be moving ready at that time. They said, uh, officials said all it needed was a power washing. The council didn't really hear much about the status of the building for another year and a half, even though, you know, city employees never moved into it, uh, until they were asked to approve those $30 million in repairs. And they were very upset with the fact by the fact that they weren't kept apprised of the building status. And, uh, it appeared that city officials were making decisions without consulting the council. Uh, so Michelle in, in, uh, the summer of 2017 Paul or sorry, summer of 2018, apologize to the council for not keeping them apprised and for not, you know, commuting, communicating with him, with them as she should have

Speaker 1: 21:55 A real complicated story. We've got a couple of minutes left. There was another recent development, a political intrigue. We ain't really haven't discussed that on the round table plays into the mayor's race between council, woman, Barbara, Brie, and her opponent, former Councilman Todd, Gloria, as well as the city attorney, Mario Elliott, her opponent, Corey Briggs, give us the quick summary of what happened there.

Speaker 5: 22:15 Oh, okay. Well buckle up. Um, NBC seven, then local news outlet obtained. What it thought was a memo from outside lawyers hired by the city to investigate this deal. The memo showed that the building had appraised significantly lower than the purchase price that the city had negotiated. And, uh, perhaps for this reason, the city was unable to just get a straight mortgage and purchase the building. Uh, and instead had to move to this, uh, lease to own deal, which is ultimately a costs more for the city. Um, the headline and the lead of this story at NBC seven focused on something else. However, um, not that appraisal issue, but rather a footnote in the memo that said the investigators tried to interview Todd Gloria, who was a councilmen member at the time to determine whether he perhaps knew more about this appraisal issue than he had lied on.

Speaker 5: 23:08 Uh, and th the, this footnote said that city attorney Mara Elliott had blocked them from interviewing, uh, Gloria. This didn't really make sense because Gloria didn't work at the city. So how would Elliot be able to block the investigators from interviewing him and within hours after this story came out, the city attorney and the outside lawyers who wrote this memo said that this footnote was fabricated. Um, Barbara Brie, the council woman, who's running for mayor against Gloria, um, grabbed this NBC seven story and put it on, uh, some Facebook ads attacking Gloria. And it wasn't for another week that NBC seven acknowledged that this document in fact been forged and, uh, and they retracted the story. They also admitted they didn't even know who gave them the memo. So someone, uh, and we don't know who at this point, forged a document, planted it with a news outlet in an apparent tempt to smear, to public officials who are running for the two highest positions in city government. And this happened just two months before the election. So whoever did this is a real villain and was trying to deceive voters.

Speaker 1: 24:13 Well, we're almost out of time, but, uh, we're going to stay tuned for that one. I know that, uh, Todd Gloria has denounced this Mara Elliot says she's going to get to the bottom of it. So we'll see what happens going forward, but just more intrigued as surrounding this Ash street building. And we're looking forward to more reporting on it. I've been speaking with Andrew Bowen KPBS, Metro reporter. Thanks Andrew. Thank you, Mark. That wraps up another week of stories on the KPBS round table. I'd like to thank my guests, Michael Smolins of the San Diego union Tribune and max Ritalin Nadler and Andrew Bowen of KPBS news with this critical political season underway, go to kpbs.org for all the stories and rundowns on local state and national races and issues. I'm Mark Sauer. Thanks for listening today and join us again next week on the round table.

Speaker 5: 25:54 [inaudible].

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KPBS Roundtable

Mark Sauer hosts KPBS Roundtable, a lively discussion of the week's top stories. Local journalists join Sauer to provide insight into how these stories affect residents of the San Diego region.