02-19-2017  10:53 am      •     

WASHINGTON (NNPA) -- ACORN is determined to clear its name. Through the launch of a self-investigation, the anti-poverty group hopes to overturn accusations of illegal methods used to benefit its clients. However, CEO Bertha Lewis is prepared for any possible outcome.
YouTube videos made by conservatives opposed to the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now show right-wing activists James O'Keefe and Hannah Giles dressed as a pimp and prostitute receiving tips from ACORN workers on how to hide money and falsify taxes for a prostitution operation. The investigation will examine all ACORN procedures the video calls into question.
"The public needs to know we take this very seriously," Lewis said. "If there is something wrong with this organization, it's my job to fix it which is why we wanted to bring in somebody who's tough."
That tough guy is Scott Harshbarger, who said he will use his skills as senior counsel to the office of Proskauer Rose LLP and former Massachusetts attorney general to lead a "transparent, complete and candid review" of ACORN's systems. The inquiry has not yet begun, but Harshbarger said he will work expeditiously and looks forward to beginning the challenging task.
"We have been asked to conduct an independent inquiry, a comprehensive review of a range of incidents and general review of management of ACORN as a whole," Harshbarger said. "Our job is to determine what the facts are, do what we can to offer solutions and make recommendations to the CEO and advisory board of ACORN. We intend to apply the same process, technique and skills to this that we do to any other investigation so that the leadership of the organization and the public has some consensus that we have offered our very best."
Calling the video tapes an "outrage and embarrassment," Lewis said she understands the criticism ACORN has received and is committed to an open collaboration with Harshbarger to unveil the truth.
Until the investigation is complete, Lewis implemented a freeze on client intake, suspended some of its services and eliminated its tax preparation assistance. She has also sued O'Keefe and Giles and fired the ACORN workers who dispensed the information.
While she does not anticipate a severe loss if the federal government chooses to cut its approximated financial contribution of 10 percent, Lewis fears the videos will negatively impact the impoverished Americans ACORN was founded to uplift. Nonetheless, she said the organization will continue striving to fulfill its mission.
"It does hurt all of the poor people we've helped over the years," Lewis said. "That's why I moved swiftly. I will not tolerate such behavior. We need to save people's homes, make sure people get proper health care, and that our children are getting proper education. We're going to continue to do our good work. We've done it for 40 years and we're going to do it for 40 more."
In conjunction with launching an internal investigation, ACORN has also taken an aggressive stand against the videographers that started this firestorm. According to a press release, the organization has filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City against O'Keefe, Giles and Breitbart.com LLC, seeking an injunction against further distribution of the video and compensatory and punitive damages.
Maryland law requires two way consent before taping of a conversation can occur. The person seeking to record must have the permission of all parties being taped to legally proceed. Violation of this law is a felony.
The Baltimore ACORN employees caught on tape have been released from the organization as their actions violated company policies. "Although we do not condone what our former employees did, no matter how entrapped they were," said Lewis in a statement, "we are also committed to our 500,000 members [and] we will hold the defendants civilly and criminally responsible for their violations of Maryland laws and for the damages inflicted upon ACORN's reputation."
ACORN's legal representation for this matter includes, Andy Freeman of Brown, Goldstein and Levy, Baltimore; A. Dwight Pettit, a 45-year civil rights lawyer, Baltimore; Arthur Schwartz, from Schwartz, Lichten & Bright, PC, New York, N.Y. and C. Justin Brown, Baltimore.
The defendant's acts, Schwartz said in a written statement, "[are] clear violations of Maryland law that were intended to inflict maximum damage to the reputation of ACORN, the nation's largest grassroots organizer of low-income and minority Americans. Unfortunately they succeeded."

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  • WASHINGTON (AP) — One month after the inauguration, the stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of Donald Trump's White House still is a hard-hat zone. Skeletal remains of the inaugural reviewing stands poke skyward. Random piles of plywood and cables are heaped on the ground inside crooked lines of metal fencing. The disarray outside the president's front door, though not his fault, serves as a metaphor for the tumult still unfolding inside. Four weeks in, the man who says he inherited "a mess" at home and abroad is presiding over a White House that is widely described as itself being a mess. At a stunning pace, Trump has riled world leaders and frustrated allies. He was dealt a bruising legal blow on one of his signature policies. He lost his national security adviser and his pick for labor secretary to scandal. He's seen forces within his government push back against his policies and leak confidential information. All of this has played out amid a steady drip of revelations about an FBI investigation into his campaign's contacts with Russian intelligence officials. Trump says his administration is running like a "fine-tuned machine." He points to the rising stock market and the devotion of his still-loyal supporters as evidence that all is well, although his job approval rating is much lower than that for prior presidents in their first weeks in office. Stung by the unrelenting criticism coming his way, Trump dismisses much of it as "fake news" delivered by "the enemy of the people" — aka the press. Daily denunciations of the media are just one of the new White House fixtures Americans are adjusting to. Most days start (and end) with presidential tweets riffing off of whatever's on TV talk shows or teasing coming events or hurling insults at the media. At some point in the day, count on Trump to cast back to the marvels of his upset of Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November election and quite possibly overstate his margins of support. Expect more denunciations of the "dishonest" press and its "fake news." From there, things can veer in unexpected directions as Trump offers up policy pronouncements or offhand remarks that leave even White House aides struggling to interpret them. The long-standing U.S. policy of seeking a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Trump this past week offered this cryptic pronouncement: "I'm looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one." His U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, the next day insisted, "We absolutely support a two-state solution." Trump's days are busy. Outside groups troop in for "listening sessions." Foreign leaders call or come to visit. (Or, in the case of Mexico's president, cancel out in pique over Trump's talk about the planned border wall.) After the president signed two dozen executive actions, the White House was awaiting a rush order of more of the gold-plated Cross pens that Trump prefers to the chrome-plated ones used by his predecessor. Trump hands them out as souvenirs at the signing ceremonies that he points to as evidence of his ambitious pace. "This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country," Trump said at a Thursday news conference. "Again, I say it. There has never been a presidency that's done so much in such a short period of time." That's all music to the ears of his followers, who sent him to Washington to upend the established order and play the role of disrupter. "I can't believe there's actually a politician doing what he says he would do," says an approving Scott Hiltgen, a 66-year-old office furniture sales broker from River Falls, Wisconsin. "That never happens." Disrupt Trump has. But there may be more sound and fury than substance to many of his early actions. Trump did select Judge Neil Gorsuch to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, a nomination that has drawn strong reviews from conservatives. But the president is regrouping on immigration after federal judges blocked his order to suspend the United States' refugee program and ban visitors from seven Muslim-majority countries, which had caused chaos for travelers around the globe. Some other orders on issues such as the U.S.-Mexico border wall and former President Barack Obama's health care law are of limited effect. Trump says his early actions show he means to deliver on the promises he made during the campaign. "A lot of people say, 'Oh, oh, Trump was only kidding with the wall,'" the president told a group of police chiefs recently. "I wasn't kidding. I don't kid." But the Republican-led Congress is still waiting to see specifics on how Trump wants to proceed legislatively on top initiatives such as replacing the health care law, enacting tax cuts and revising trade deals. The messy rollout of the travel ban and tumult over the ouster of national security adviser Michael Flynn for misrepresenting his contacts with Russia are part of a broader state of disarray as different figures in Trump's White House jockey for power and leaks reveal internal discord in the machinations of the presidency. "I thought by now you'd at least hear the outlines of domestic legislation like tax cuts," says Princeton historian Julian Zelizer. "But a lot of that has slowed. Trump shouldn't mistake the fact that some of his supporters like his style with the fact that a lot of Republicans just want the policies he promised them. He has to deliver that." Put Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in the camp of those more interested in substance than style. "I'm not a great fan of daily tweets," McConnell said Friday, referring to the "extra discussion" that Trump likes to engage in. But McConnell was quick to add: "What I am a fan of is what he's been actually doing." He credits Trump with assembling a conservative Cabinet and taking steps to reduce government regulation, and promised: "We like his positions and we're going to pursue them as vigorously as we can." The challenge may be to tease out exactly what Trump wants in the way of a health care plan, tax changes and trade policy. At his long and defiant news conference on Thursday, Trump tried to dispel the impression of a White House in crisis, squarely blaming the press for keeping him from moving forward more decisively on his agenda. Pointing to his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, Trump said, "You take a look at Reince, he's working so hard just putting out fires that are fake fires. I mean, they're fake. They're not true. And isn't that a shame because he'd rather be working on health care, he'd rather be working on tax reform." For all the frustrations of his early days as president, Trump still seems tickled by the trappings of his office. When New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie visited the White House last week to discuss the national opioid epidemic over lunch, the governor said Trump informed him: "Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.'" Trump added: "I'm telling you, the meatloaf is fabulous." ___Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nbenac
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