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Georgia Politics

    A controversial change in the distribution of donated livers among patients in the U.S. for transplants will be undone this week, officials for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its nonprofit contractor said Monday — much sooner than the four weeks they initially said such action would take. That means that livers that may have been diverted away from patients in Georgia to patients in other states will once again be allocated closer to home, for the time being. The policy has prompted a legal challenge, and any changes are subject to court orders demanding the government hold off or allowing it set the policy in motion. Hospitals and transplant patients in Georgia and the Midwest have sued over the reallocation policy, saying the government rushed it through the legal consideration process and that it is also flawed. The stated idea behind the new policy is to get the few livers available for transplant to the sickest patients, regardless of state boundaries. The hospitals that are suing say that’s not what’s going to happen because the data the government used is flawed. Instead, they say, a scoring system used to determine the health of candidates for transplants will err in making patients in other states, such as New York, appear to be sicker than similar patients in Georgia. The plaintiffs say patients in rural Georgia who have worse medical support will die on the waiting list. Livers will then be sucked out of other states such as Georgia, they say, and directed toward those patients mistakenly identified as sicker. It’s impossible to know the specific impact to individual patients over the past week, but one Piedmont Hospital patient who was waiting for a liver spent a week on full life support without receiving one during the brief changeover to the new policy. Sunday night, he died. The government is implementing a national scoring system that is meant to smooth out scores across the states. That change will continue, the officials said at the hearing. The officials for the government and the contractor, the United Network for Organ Sharing, made their comments during a federal court hearing in Atlanta where they were defending themselves against suggestions they’ve been dealing in bad faith and showing a lack of candor in an effort to rush out the change. “We regret sincerely any misunderstanding,” Michael Drezner, a U.S. Department of Justice lawyer representing Health and Human Services, told U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg. “There was never any intent to evade a court order,” echoed Sara Anderson Frey, a lawyer for UNOS. What got them in hot water was their response last week to an order from Totenberg. After she directed the government and UNOS last week to stop the rollout that they had just started, they told her they were in compliance with her order — because the rollout was complete and there was now nothing to stop. They added that reverting to the original system would take four weeks. She responded with an order to show up in Atlanta on Monday and explain why they shouldn’t be cited with contempt of court. After that, they said it would take not four weeks but one. “I think it was a violation of the order, but I’m not going to impose sanctions at this point,” Totenberg said, provided they act in good faith and maintain the “fix it” mentality. “I appreciate the energy and resources dedicated … I appreciate the remorse expressed.” Totenberg added a warning in her signed order summing up the hearing: “The Defendants’ detour this past week was costly, disruptive, and unfortunate — and should not be repeated.” Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.
  • Several district attorneys in metro Atlanta are taking strong stances on Georgia’s new “heartbeat” abortion law, saying Friday that they would not prosecute women for getting an abortion. The abortion ban could be postponed while it makes its way to the nation’s highest court, but local prosecutors are preparing for the possibility that House Bill 481 will take effect. The district attorneys for Georgia’s four most populous counties — Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb — all told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that they would not, or could not, prosecute women under the new law. House Bill 481 outlaws abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, when a doctor can usually detect a fetus’ heartbeat. Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law May 7, and it is set to go into effect Jan. 1 — unless it is blocked by the courts. It is almost certain to face a legal challenge, due largely to the precedent set by Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing women to have abortions until about 24 weeks into pregnancy. » RELATED: Kemp signs anti-abortion ‘heartbeat’ legislation, sets up legal fight But even without such a challenge, four district attorneys in metro Atlanta say they don’t intend to prosecute women who violate the law. “As District Attorney with charging discretion, I will not prosecute individuals pursuant to HB 481 given its ambiguity and constitutional concerns,” DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said in a statement. “As a woman and mother, I am concerned about the passage and attempted passage of laws such as this one in Georgia, Alabama, and other states.” Due to the technical language of HB 481, district attorneys could potentially seek a murder charge against someone who violates the heartbeat law, the AJC reported Friday. But that was not the intent of the law, according to its lead sponsor, Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth. Rather, he said, women, doctors, nurses and pharmacists can be prosecuted under Georgia’s criminal abortion statute, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. » IN-DEPTH: Who could be prosecuted under Georgia’s ‘heartbeat’ law? “As a matter of law (as opposed to politics) this office will not be prosecuting any women under the new law as long as I’m district attorney,” Gwinnett County DA Danny Porter said in a statement. He specified that he does not think it would be possible to prosecute a woman for either murder or unlawful abortion if she got an abortion after six weeks. In Cobb County, Acting DA John Melvin took a similar approach. He interpreted the law to suggest that a woman would not be committing murder if she received an abortion. He said women could “absolutely not” be prosecuted under the unlawful abortion statute. Fulton County DA Paul Howard “has no intention of ever prosecuting a woman under this new law,” a spokesman said, adding that he would not prosecute abortion providers either. Melvin left open the possibility of charging doctors or nurses in Cobb under the heartbeat law, saying that cases would be looked at on an individual basis. “Of larger concern,” he said, “are prosecutors who indicate that they will selectively prosecute and/or ignore their oath to enforce the laws of the State of Georgia.” Boston, the DeKalb DA, said she is opposed to prosecuting under the law, in part because it is too ambiguous about who would be held criminally responsible for an illegal abortion. “There is no language outlined in HB 481 explicitly prohibiting a district attorney from bringing criminal charges against anyone and everyone involved in obtaining and performing what is otherwise currently a legal medical procedure,” she said. Since Georgia passed its heartbeat bill, a number of other Republican-run state governments passed similarly restrictive abortion measures, with supporters hoping to ultimately challenge the Roe v. Wade decision. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed legislation on Wednesday that would make performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases, and does not make an exception for cases of rape or incest. On Friday, Missouri lawmakers passed a bill banning abortions after eight weeks. More than a dozen other states have passed or are considering versions of Georgia’s law. The day Kemp signed Georgia’s heartbeat bill, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia vowed to sue. Many in the entertainment industry threatened to boycott Georgia. “We’re putting lawmakers on notice: Your votes are far outside the mainstream, and we will now spend our time and energy launching a campaign to replace you,” Staci Fox, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said at the time. In other news:
  • If U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders is going to win Georgia’s Democratic presidential primary, as he vowed Saturday at his first campaign appearance in the state this cycle, he’s going to need voters like Wade Jackson. Jackson, 40, actually voted for Sanders in 2016 when he won just better than a quarter of the vote against Hillary Clinton. The lopsided result was due largely to Clinton’s overwhelming support from African-American residents. This time around, Jackson, a black Georgia voter, said he’s undecided for now about which Democrat he’ll support. He’s still considering a few of the nearly two dozen Democrats who have entered the presidential race. “People are waiting to see if he is who he says he is,” Jackson said. Coming to Augusta was a good start, he said. “He’s got to come to our communities and ask for our support,” Jackson said. Without them, Sanders doesn’t likely have a chance of winning any of the Southern states, where black voters make up the largest bloc of the Democratic electorate. “He’s done his homework this time,” said Kenneth Sullivan, a 25-year-old African-American voter. The Augusta resident said he noticed black faces everywhere behind the scenes, although there still weren’t many in the crowd of nearly 1,600 people who attended Sanders’ speech at the Jessye Norman Amphitheatre on the shore of the Savannah River. Sanders was introduced by black activist/author Cornel West, who has been front and center in Sanders’ outreach to African-American voters. “This goes far beyond skin pigmentation. It’s not about sexual orientation,” West told the crowd. “It’s about truth.” In his speech, Sanders quoted abolitionist Frederick Douglass and touted his new education plan named after Thurgood Marshall, America’s first black Supreme Court justice. But the centerpiece of his campaign pitch remains economic inequality. “You are living in the wealthiest country in the history of time and you have people working two or three jobs just to get by,” Sanders said. Some of the most expensive homes in Augusta loomed in the background. “For the first time, the younger generation will have a lower standard of living than their parents.” He said proposals he made four years ago that were considered radical at the time now have mainstream support. “I get accused of being radical and extreme. I am not,” he said. “The American people believe in Medicare for all. The American people believe if you work 40 hours a week you should not be living in poverty. The American people think the minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour.” In 2016, Sanders was criticized by some for focusing almost solely on economic matters at the exclusion of social issues tied to race and gender. But on Saturday, he denounced restrictive new abortion laws passed in Georgia, Alabama and elsewhere and “the broken and racist criminal justice system.” He also leveled sharp broadsides against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and President Donald Trump. “If you don’t have the guts to participate in fair, full and open elections get the hell out of politics,” he said, referencing Georgia’s governor. Then, appealing to a belief among some Democrats that the election was rigged in Kemp’s favor since he served as overseer of the state’s election system while he was campaigning against Democrat Stacey Abrams, Sanders drew his biggest applause of the afternoon when he said, “And I know that Gov. Abrams agrees with me.” Sanders also reached out to Trump voters, saying he understood why many found his message appealing. “You’re worried your job might go to China,” he said. “You’re worried your kid might not be able to afford college.” “Unfortunately, it turns out Donald Trump is a pathological liar and what he told the American people he had no intention of fulfilling,” he said. The choice in 2020, Sanders concluded, was between “an oligarchy, to an even more authoritarian government, with a president who holds the Constitution in disdain.” “I have a better alternative, to bring our people together with an agenda that works for all of us and not just our wealthy campaign contributors,” he said.
  • Thirty miles on I-285 separate them, but Democrats Brenda Lopez Romero and Michael Owens are hoping they can be united 650 miles away — in Congress. A passion for politics brought Lopez Romero and Owens together. Now it will put their relationship to the test as they compete in Democratic primaries in two separate congressional districts on opposite sides of Atlanta. Lopez Romero, a state legislator, is one of roughly a dozen candidates who have announced or are seriously considering a bid for the open seat representing the 7th Congressional District that covers parts of Forsyth and Gwinnett counties. Across town, Owens, the former chairman of the Cobb County Democratic Party and Lopez Romero’s boyfriend of several years, is seeking a primary rematch against U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, in the 13th District. The two may be the country’s only couple currently running for Congress simultaneously, though there’s no national organization that tracks such statistics. “We didn’t plan it that way,” Owens said with a laugh. “I just think we’re both very passionate and driven people who see an opportunity to go out and make a difference, and I think putting our skill sets to the best use.” Vetting it out Running for Congress is a stressful and time-consuming undertaking. Fundraising alone can take up the majority of a candidate’s days, not to mention canvassing events with volunteers and voter meet-and-greets that dominate most weekends. And then there’s the snarl of traffic that clogs the couple’s roughly 30-mile commute across I-285 between Owens’ Mableton address and Lopez Romero’s home base in Norcross. But the pair sees their relationship as a strength on the campaign trail. No one understands the demands of running for office quite like another candidate, and the two can give one another strategic and messaging advice. Lopez Romero, a Mexico-born attorney who was the first Latina elected to the state Legislature, has emerged as a go-to on immigration and voting rights, and Owens is a cybersecurity analyst with experience working on tech and national security issues. “I can kind of poke holes or take a contrarian approach just for the sake of it, and she can do the same with me and kind of ensure that our thoughts around these policies have been thoroughly vetted out,” Owens said. “Through both of our courses of experience we’ve been able to meld those in a way so that I just think it makes us stronger.” Lopez Romero sees their simultaneous runs for Congress as an opportunity for growth in their relationship. “When a significant other is not involved in the political world, it puts a strain on their relationship,” she said. “There’s a lot we can mutually share with each other” by running for office together. Similar politics, different districts The two met at a Democratic Party event in 2014. And although their decisions to run were made separately, the two announced their candidacies within days of each other and ultimately chose to run for similar reasons. Both plan to focus on workforce development and economic mobility, and they’re betting their unapologetically liberal platforms will appeal to suburban voters who for years have been represented by Republicans and centrist Democrats in the U.S. House. The majority-minority districts they’re running to represent, however, differ significantly in terms of politics and socioeconomics. The 7th stretches through most of Gwinnett and the southern half of Forsyth, and it is home to sizable Asian and Latino populations. It’s been represented by Republicans for the past 25 years and has a median household income of nearly $75,000 a year. The 13th spans from Powder Springs to southwest Atlanta to Stockbridge, and residents have struggled to recover from the recession. Nearly 13% of its residents live below the poverty line, and the median household income in the Democratic stronghold is roughly $55,000 a year. Beyond that, the duo faces divergent challenges. Owens is looking to topple a well-known incumbent who’s served in elected office for more than 40 years, while Lopez Romero is trying to distinguish herself in a diverse field that includes the Democrat who narrowly lost last year. The two are members of a tiny group in American politics: couples in which both members are candidates for federal office. There are 10 congresswomen who were married to fellow members of Congress, according to the U.S. House historian’s office, but most didn’t serve in Washington at the same time as their spouses. It’s even rarer to find couples — married or not — who were together while both were non-incumbent candidates. In fact, a search couldn’t find any examples. Both Owens and Lopez Romero are well aware that the road ahead will likely involve “a lot of calendaring and a lot of patience,” as Lopez Romero put it. “We understand that this will be a process and a time commitment,” she said. Owens framed it in slightly different terms. “Let’s just say we put a lot of miles on the car,” he said. Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.
  • There has been widespread speculation and confusion as to what punishment awaits someone who violates the strict six-week abortion ban recently signed by Gov. Brian Kemp. Could a woman who aborts an embryo with a detectable heartbeat be charged with murder? Could murder charges be filed against the doctor who performed the abortion, the nurse who assisted or a pharmacist who prescribed the drugs? Could the law trigger a death penalty prosecution? What if someone drives a pregnant woman across state lines to get an abortion elsewhere? Is that conspiracy to commit murder? The so-called heartbeat law, which is to take effect Jan. 1, is certain to face legal challenges. It could also provoke a dizzying array of possible outcomes and, perhaps, unintended consequences. That’s because House Bill 481 recognizes an embryo or fetus with a detectable heartbeat as a “natural person” who must be included in the state’s population figures, who can trigger child support obligations and who can be named as a dependent in tax filings. The new law also says a natural person “means any human being.” The addition of those two words — human being — has sent legal scholars into a frenzy, poring over court precedents and re-reading Georgia’s criminal code. One code section sticks out like a sore thumb: A person commits the offense of murder when he or she “with malice aforethought … causes the death of another human being.” For this reason, it appears that district attorneys could seek murder charges against those who can be found criminally liable under the heartbeat law — a mother as well as the doctor, nurse or pharmacist who assist in an illegal abortion. But whether a DA would actually choose to seek a murder charge and whether that charge would stick are entirely different questions. “It’s not a black-and-white issue to me, but what complicates matters is that declaration of personhood,” said Ron Carlson, a University of Georgia law professor. “If this bill is upheld, there could conceivably be a test case that will have to be decided by the Georgia Supreme Court.” The Georgia law is one of a number of restrictive abortion measures adopted recently by legislators in conservative states. On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that went even farther than Georgia’s, outlawing nearly all abortions at any stage of pregnancy. One of the laws will almost certainly rise to the U.S. Supreme Court which could reconsider its historic 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade allowing access to abortion. New Legal Landscape The new laws are running headlong into uncharted legal territory. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said the Georgia measure could lead to all sorts of criminal charges that could not have been brought before. For example, a person who attacks a pregnant woman could be subject to assault charges against the embryo.  What if a man left his unborn grandson a trust fund? A person who stole money from the fund could now be charged with defrauding the unborn child, because the fetus would have a property interest under the new law, Porter said. If murder charges can indeed be brought, what about someone who knowingly kills a pregnant woman with a fetus with a detectable heartbeat? the DA asked. Conceivably, that person could be eligible for a death-penalty prosecution because he met one of the 10 criteria that allow prosecutors to seek it: committing a double murder. Porter said he is still on the fence as to whether a woman who has an abortion or self-induces a miscarriage could be actually charged with murder under the new law. “I think the law raises legal issues beyond whether or not it is constitutional,” Porter said. “There will be a significant amount of litigation before this is all ironed out.” The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth, said he doesn’t support charging a woman who has an abortion with murder and insists the law doesn’t allow that. He cites the legal doctrine known as the rule of lenity. That is, when two statutes can be used for the same criminal conduct, any ambiguity is resolved in the defendant’s favor. In other words, the provision with the lesser punishment applies. For this reason, women can be prosecuted under Georgia’s criminal abortion statute,which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, as opposed to murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence, Setzler said. “This was all part of the debate on the bill,” the lawmaker said. “It was settled then and it’s settled now. All of this is a political distraction.” But both prosecutors and defense lawyers say Setzler’s reliance on the rule of lenity is misguided. That’s because defendants can invoke it only at the time of sentencing, after a conviction has been obtained. In other words, it doesn’t necessarily bar a district attorney from seeking a murder charge. ‘A Frankenstein Law’ The ACLU of Georgia has vowed to file a challenge to the law before it takes effect in January. Sean Young, its legal director, said the Legislature “created a Frankenstein law with far-reaching consequences that its creators can no longer control.” If Setzler is serious about protecting women from murder prosecutions, “he should obtain a written commitment from the district attorneys of all 159 counties not to bring murder charges against women, doctors, nurses and pharmacists,” Young said. “If he can’t, then he shouldn’t have passed this law in the first place.” With some exceptions, HB 481 expressly makes it a crime for a woman to have an abortion after a fetus’ heartbeat is detected — usually at about six weeks into a pregnancy and before some women know they are pregnant. Charges cannot be brought if was a medical emergency, if the woman’s life was threatened or if she was the victim of rape or incest — and had reported it to the police. Atlanta criminal defense attorney Brian Steel, who has studied the law, believes there are a number of reasons prosecutors will not be able to obtain murder convictions against those who violate HB 481. One factor is a 2011 opinion by the Georgia Supreme Court involving a Columbia County man convicted of killing four people on Thanksgiving in 1998. His victims included a pregnant woman and her unborn child. In a unanimous opinion, the state high court threw out the murder conviction on grounds the unborn child “never had an independent circulation or … independent existence.” wrote former Chief Justice Harris Hines, explaining why the murder conviction couldn’t stand. “Our case law tells us that you can’t have a murder of an unborn child,” Steel said. “In order to commit the murder of a human being, in this case a child, the child has to be outside the mother and living on its own. Does that change with the new law? We’ll have to wait and see.” There is also a 2016 ruling in which the state Supreme Court said it defers to specific statutes as opposed to more general ones. This would favor the criminal abortion statute being used to prosecute offenders of HB 481 as opposed to the murder statute, Steel said. Prosecutorial Discretion Finally, Steel notes, someone can still be charged in Georgia with feticide, which carries a life sentence, by causing the death of an unborn child inside a mother’s womb. If so, then why did lawmakers leave that statute intact if they intended for prosecutors to pursue a murder charge for the abortion of a fetus with a detectable hearbeat? the attorney asked. Further complicating the issue is a 1998 Georgia Court of Appeals decision that found the criminal abortion statute “does not criminalize a pregnant woman’s actions in securing an abortion, regardless of the means utilized.” While this appears to clear women from being prosecuted under that statute, HB 481 specifically amends the criminal abortion law. And because it says a woman cannot be prosecuted if she reasonably believed an abortion was the only way to prevent a medical emergency, it seems to suggest she could be prosecuted under other circumstances. Criminal defense attorney Andrew Fleischman, who’s also reviewed the law, said he believes it’s possible a DA could bring a murder charge under the new law and get it upheld on appeal. The same could be true for a conspiracy charge of someone taking a pregnant woman to another state to get an abortion, he said. Setzler said he believes a conspiracy charge could not be brought because the woman would presumably be having an abortion in a state where’s it’s legal. But Fleischman noted that someone who tries to send a kilogram of marijuana from Georgia to Colorado, where pot is legal, could still face criminal charges here. Fleischman said he hopes prosecutors will use their discretion and not seek murder charges under the new law. “But they could, and they’re elected,” he said. “Still, we can’t allow an overly broad statute to stand simply because the state promises to use it responsibly,” he said, then drawing from a James Madison passage in the Federalist Papers. “If we were governed by angels, we wouldn’t need these safeguards. But we’re not governed by angels.”
  • After years of major road construction across metro Atlanta, state officials are preparing for their biggest project yet: the $4.6 billion expansion of the top end of the Perimeter. The Georgia Department of Transportation says building new toll lanes along I-285 could ease traffic on one of the busiest stretches of highway in the Southeast. It also would link the region’s growing network of toll lanes — allowing motorists to drive from Acworth to Buford at the height of rush hour while avoiding the worst traffic. “This is a project of regional impact,” Georgia Department of Transportation spokeswoman Natalie Dale said. “A quarter of a million people use this roadway.” The expansion may be good news if you live in Acworth or Buford. But some residents along I-285 fear the project will encroach on their communities, displacing homes and increasing noise and local traffic. “This project isn’t really to benefit us,” said Scott Gillispie of Chamblee. “It’s to benefit people from outside the Perimeter.” Residents like Gillispie got a glimpse of GDOT’s plans at public meetings along the route this week. The agency gave an overview of the project, but details — including how many and which properties GDOT might acquire to make way for the new lanes — won’t come for months. GDOT plans to build two toll lanes in each direction along the Perimeter between Paces Ferry Road in Cobb County and Henderson Road in DeKalb County. It also will build new toll lanes along Ga. 400 from I-285 to the North Springs MARTA station. Such toll lanes have become a key part of Georgia’s effort to address metro Atlanta’s traffic mess. GDOT officials say building more free lanes doesn’t work because they quickly fill up with traffic. Instead, the state uses fluctuating tolls — the worse the traffic, the higher the toll — to keep traffic moving in the new “express” lanes. Those lanes also could become the backbone of a regional bus rapid transit network. The proposed lanes on the top end of the Perimeter would be the lynchpin of a 120-mile network of toll lanes. Two years ago GDOT completed the I-75 South Metro Express Lanes ($226 million) in Clayton and Henry counties. Last year it opened the Northwest Corridor Express Lanes ($834 million) on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties, as well as a 10-mile extension of the I-85 express lanes in Gwinnett County ($140 million). Still to come are toll lanes on the east and west sides of the Perimeter and on Ga. 400. Eventually, toll lanes could be added to I-20 outside the Perimeter east and west of Atlanta and on I-75 south of the city from the end of the existing lanes to the Perimeter. It’s a massive investment in highway infrastructure — made possible in part by a gas-tax hike the General Assembly approved in 2015. The toll lanes on the top end of the Perimeter will be paid for in part with that money. Construction of the top-end Perimeter lanes would begin in 2023 and end in 2028. In the meantime, GDOT must draft specific plans, conduct environmental studies and get public feedback to qualify for federal funding. If this week’s public meetings are an indication, the new lanes may divide communities in more ways than one. Doraville City Council member Stephe Koontz worries some affordable apartments may be displaced by the new lanes. But she supports the project. Doraville is one of several cities studying transit along the Perimeter — including possible bus rapid transit service in the new lanes. “I realize this is very early in the project. We don’t know everything, what it’s going to be like,” Koontz said. “But this is a necessary project.” Dunwoody City Council member Lynn Deutsch is no fan of the proposal. She worries about the impact on surrounding neighborhoods — GDOT expects to acquire or obtain easements for about 300 parcels to make way for the new lanes. And she thinks more transit — not roads — is a better long-term traffic solution. “Our communities are suffering because of people who have chosen to live far out and do these massive commutes,” Deutsch said. “When you make commuting easier, more people will want to live far out.” GDOT officials are listening to comments like that as they begin to move the project forward. In September they’ll issue an official notice that they intend to proceed with the project. Then they’ll start the environmental review process and draft preliminary plans — including details such as which properties they expect to acquire. They’ll roll those plans out next year and solicit more public comment. With that feedback, GDOT will draft final plans. Pleasing everyone will be difficult as the state seeks to expand highways in highly developed areas. GDOT’s Dale said the agency will do what it can. “We want (people) to come to these meetings,” she said. “We want to hear from them. In the end, as we design this project, our goal is to mitigate those concerns, where possible.”
  • A Muslim woman has filed a discrimination complaint against the Georgia Department of Corrections, alleging the agency violated her religious beliefs by not allowing her to wear a hijab at work. In the complaint filed with the Georgia Commission on Equal Opportunity, Jalanda Calhoun, a 25-year-old corrections officer at Rogers State Prison in Reidsville and a recent convert to Islam, says she told her supervisors earlier this year that she would start wearing the hijab, a scarf that would cover her hair, ears and neck, and asked to be able to take a 10-minute break to pray. “Both my job and my religion are very important to me,” said Calhoun, who lives in Tattnall County, where the all-male prison is located. “I never thought I would have to choose between” the two. She said she knows what “God has asked me to do and what the U.S. Constitution allows me to do. My hope is that as a government agency, the Georgia Department of Corrections will do the right thing.” » RELATED: Muslims in America, by the numbers When Calhoun, who has worked for the Corrections Department for three years, first started wearing the hijab, she got a few “funny” stares and inappropriate comments, but no one asked her to remove her hijab until a month later. Calhoun recently discussed her experience during a news conference at CAIR-Georgia offices in Atlanta. CAIR (also known as the Council on American-Islamic Relations) is a Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. Standing with her in solidarity were the Rev. Corey Brown, of the Bridge Interfaith Alliance; Gulbarg Singh “Gogi” Basi, from the Sikh community; and Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director for Project South. “If you are a Muslim woman who wears a hijab, a Sikh man who wears a turban, an Orthodox Jew who wears a kippah or a Catholic nun who wears a habit, you can serve in the U.S. military while wearing your religious clothing,” said Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director of CAIR-Georgia. ” You can patrol the streets of the city as a police officer. You can perform heart surgery. You can fly a plane. You can do any number of things, but according to the state of Georgia, you cannot wear your religious clothing while you work in the Department of Corrections.” Then, at the end of February, Calhoun received a letter from Warden Linton Deloach advising that regulations allowed her to wear a cap issued by the department, a non-Department of Corrections cap bearing the agency’s logo or emblem or a blue or black toboggan. Otherwise, the “head coverings that you have asked to wear do not conform” to standards. Deloach cited several safety concerns, including the ability to readily identify her as a GDC employee “while wearing alternative headwear.” He also said contraband could be easily concealed in such a garment or that “alternative headwear” could be used by an inmate to conceal his identity in an attempt to escape. Such reasoning, said Mitchell, “makes no sense,” in part because her face would still be visible. According to Mitchell, prison officials said they could not set aside time for Calhoun to pray because they were understaffed. One of the tenets of Islam requires Muslims to pray five times a day. With her schedule, Calhoun would have to pray once during her shift. » RELATED: 5 things you should know about Ramadan, Islam’s holy month of fasting On April 29, CAIR-Georgia sent a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp asking him to intervene. Mitchell said the governor is known as a strong defender of the First Amendment and religious liberty and the organization asked that he issue a directive ordering all state agencies to allow employees to wear symbols of their faith. Cody Hall, a spokesman for Kemp’s office, said press questions are being referred to the Georgia Department of Corrections. The Corrections Department could not be reached for comment. CAIR’s Mitchell said the issue, at one point, came close to a resolution. Calhoun was told she could wear a cap and a turtleneck but could not cover her earlobes. If a resolution is not reached, he said, the matter could go to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Shahshahani called such practices “discriminatory.” “Project South rejects any attempt to demonize or stigmatize the Muslim community,” she said. That includes a policy that in effect prohibits employees like Calhoun from practicing her religion and wearing the hijab. Project South is a social justice organization focused on social, economic and political issues in the South. Before the hijab issue arose, Calhoun said she was treated like everyone else. “I just feel uncomfortable because I’m so used to being covered,” she said. “When I’m not covered, it makes me feel naked or something. I just feel uncomfortable.” Calhoun hopes to stay at the Department of Corrections. In fact, she says she loves her job. “I just don’t like how they disrespected me and disrespected my religion the way they did.”
  • Four months after state auditors said Georgia’s universities had been shortchanging the teacher pension fund, the retirement system’s board is considering whether to send the colleges a rather hefty bill. Teachers and retirees in the 400,000-member Teachers Retirement System have expressed outrage over the auditors’ findings that hundreds of millions of dollars never made it into the fund. They say the $600 million auditors say TRS was shortchanged helped back up state lawmakers who argued that the fund is financially unsustainable. But University System officials dispute the auditors’ conclusion and say the system pays more than its fair share. They say forcing them to make new payments could have serious consequences, including major spending cuts at colleges and higher tuition or fees for students. A retirement board committee voted recently to bill the University System $180 million for fiscal 2019 — which ends June 30 — and to bill the system again for the upcoming fiscal year. It said TRS could put the system on a payment plan, if necessary. The full retirement system board is set to take up the matter on Wednesday. The Attorney General’s Office has weighed in, saying the system didn’t owe the money for this year and next, in part because the General Assembly didn’t allocate the money in the state budget. Marion Fedrick, a member of the TRS board and president of Albany State University, said the retirement system needs more time to figure out if colleges actually owe the money. “I don’t think we’re being responsible, I don’t think we are being rational,” she said. “There are still too many question to do that (bill the system) at this point, especially 45 days before the end of the fiscal year.” But State Auditor Greg Griffin, also a member of the TRS board, said the payments are mandated by law because the $78 billion pension system has a liability. In other words, it does not have enough money to fund all future pensions that are owed. He said the pension system’s failure to collect the funds in the past amounted to “an administrative error. “Now that the error has been discovered, I believe the board has a fiduciary responsibility to collect the transfer payments from USG,” Griffin said. “To not do so is to continue to require local school systems and other TRS employers to shoulder a disproportionate portion of the legacy costs of USG retirees in TRS.” Lawmakers budgeted $2.5 billion for the University System in fiscal 2020, which begins July 1. The system probably couldn’t absorb a $180 million hit without serious budget cuts or getting more money from students in the form of tuition or fees. The system’s Board of Regents set tuition for the upcoming school year last month. But the issue is a sensitive one for teachers, university personnel and retirees because they have lived with the fear in recent years that lawmakers want to make changes to the system, which currently provides benefits to 124,000 pensioners, averaging about $37,000 a year. Several bills have been filed to change benefits for future teachers and university staffers, and lawmakers have, among other things, talked about altering the way annual cost-of-living raises are given. Under some of the bills, future teachers and university staffers would get a hybrid 401(k) and smaller pension. That discussion heated up after lawmakers had to pour nearly an extra $600 million into the retirement system over two years to shore up its finances. “I can’t see that it’s a coincidence that USG failed to pay around the same amount that the Legislature has had to contribute to TRS over the same amount of time,” said John Palmer, a Cobb County educator and spokesman for the teacher group TRAGIC. University System officials say the money auditors argue that they owe and the extra $600 million the General Assembly paid into TRS are unrelated. Scott Reynolds Nelson, a member of the United Campus Workers of Georgia and a UGA history professor, was critical of the University System’s handling of the issue. “Between 2008 and 2018, the state gave University System of Georgia over $250 million to pay into state employees’ pensions. USG took that state money but never paid it. “Now our pension fund is in the red. Taxpayers and employees must now foot the bill. At best this is incompetence, at worse it is corruption.” The issue arose earlier this year when state auditors — whose agency is under the General Assembly - released an audit saying the University System had not paid enough into the fund for more than a decade, something college officials strongly denied At issue are payments auditors said the University System was supposed to make after it created something called an Optional Retirement Plan in 1990. Essentially, the plan allowed University System staffers to choose a 401(k) over a pension. In a 401(k), the employer and employee put money into a retirement investment fund, which the staffer can take with him when he leaves. In a pension, the employee who works for a certain number of years receives a regular payment from the TRS when he or she retires. When the optional plan was created, state law required the University System to make payments into the TRS to fund the long-term liability of retirees. The purpose of the payments was to prevent the long-term pension costs of retirees from being borne by the state or school districts by balancing the ratio of active employees paying into the TRS and retirees drawing money out of the TRS, auditors said. The University System made the payments through 2001, when the pension system had the money to meet its future responsibility to retirees and TRS - going on the report of its actuary - determined it no longer had to make the payments. Auditors said the law requiring the payments was never repealed, and that they should have resumed in 2008, when the Great Recession started hammering investments in the retirement system and it once again had a pension liability. They said the University System requested funding for the payments from the General Assembly that were in turn never made to the TRS. University System officials say that is not true, and that, in fact, colleges pay more than their fair share into the fund. Delaying the issue could help the University System for at least two reasons. With the new fiscal year fast approaching, it would be unlikely that the system would be back-billed for fiscal 2019 and 2020, even if it is eventually found to owe the money. And it would allow the General Assembly time to consider legislation, sponsored by House Retirement Chairman Tommy Benton, R-Jefferson, to codify the University System’s position that it doesn’t owe future payments. Benton’s bill will be considered by the House Retirement Committee over the summer and likely be voted on during the 2020 session, which begins in January.
  • Two women have filed complaints with the State Bar of Georgia accusing House Speaker David Ralston of misleading judges when he used his legislative privileges to delay hearings for clients of his legal practice. On several occasions when the powerful lawmaker cited his “legislative duties and obligations” to keep criminal cases from moving forward, he was actually campaigning, according to the complaints obtained by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. In 2015 Ralston used legislative leave to put off a pre-trial conference in a domestic violence case. But he then attended a golf tournament fundraiser for himself in a North Georgia mountain resort, with a supporter presenting him with a $289 box of cigars, campaign finance records show. A listing on the Medical Association of Georgia’s website described it as an all-day event with a suggested minimum donation of $500. A month later Ralston bowed out of another court appearance in the case, telling a judge by letter, “My duties and obligations will require that I be elsewhere each and every date during that week.” But according to a South Georgia newspaper article from 2015, on the date of the scheduled pre-trial conference Ralston was at a fundraiser for a GOP House colleague, Mike Cheokas, at a Best Western hotel in Americus. Asked about the new allegations on Monday, Ralston referred the AJC to a private attorney, James Balli. In an email, Balli called the accusations “either absolutely false, incorrect or misleading by omission.” The bar complaints, both filed by women who say Ralston finagled unfair advantages for the men charged with shattering their lives, accuse him of violating bar rules about honesty before courts, purposefully stalling cases, and being unfair to opposing parties. The complaints also accuse him of violating a state law against making false statements to a government body. “He’s out there promoting himself, and leaving my case just hanging, like it’s nothing, like it’s no big deal,” said Jydon Carpenter, whose ex-fiancé is charged with choking, biting and head-butting her in 2013, a case Ralston delayed at least seven times. “I mean, he has totally abused and misused his authority and position as speaker of the House to manipulate people and situations and court cases to get what he wants for his client.” Carpenter and Amanda Mosher both sent their written grievances last week to the state bar, which confirmed receiving Mosher’s already but not Carpenter’s. Mosher has been an outspoken critic of Ralston for years, after he filed for 13 delays in the vehicular homicide case of the man who killed her husband and 4-year-old daughter. The case ended in a plea that gave the man a year on probation and a $1,000 fine. Her complaint cites instances where Ralston invoked legislative leave in the case, but campaign finance records place him at political dinners and fundraisers around the times of nixed hearings and trial dates. She said Monday that she was livid to hear that that Ralston’s private attorney told Channel 2 Action News last week that her complaint has no merit. Balli told the AJC that the former Gilmer County district attorney delayed the case against the driver for several years before Ralston even entered the case. “Any mother who has to stand over her daughter and watch her daughter die,” Mosher told the AJC, “and has to wait eight years for justice, I deserve every merit, and everything about my bar complaint is facts.” Mosher said she filed a bar grievance against Ralston in 2013 but didn’t pursue it after Ralston filed a rebuttal. Carpenter said she had given up hope that the case against her ex-fiancé, David Shell, would ever move forward. But after an investigation by the AJC and Channel 2 earlier this year revealed Ralston’s extensive case delays, she and other alleged victims have been networking with activists who say they want to hold the speaker accountable. The two women had help assembling their complaints from three attorneys working pro bono, as well as Derek Somerville, the ex-FBI agent who said his research in eight North Georgia courthouses documented 966 delays in 266 civil and criminal cases since Ralston became House speaker. Balli, Ralston’s attorney, called the bar complaints “a coordinated effort by persons who care not one iota about either alleged grievant, but simply have a political vendetta against the Speaker.” Both of the women’s complaints hinge on a legal assertion that’s never been tested in the courts: that the legislative leave law doesn’t cover campaign activities. On some of the dates cited in Carpenter’s letter to the bar, Ralston filed for per diem payments with the state, indicating he was doing official business at some point during the day. But no per diem payments correspond to the dates of the golf tournament or event in Americus. Catherine Bernard, one of the attorneys helping the two women, said that even a generous view of what constitutes “duties with the General Assembly” wouldn’t cover fundraising to get re-elected. “On days when he is certifying to the court that his legislative duties require him to be elsewhere, his campaign finance disclosures show that he’s out renting storage units, meeting with campaign consultants, having dinner with lobbyists and consultants,” Bernard said. Ralston has faced a previous bar complaint that led to a public reprimand. After a former client complained that the speaker repeatedly delayed his auto accident injury case using legislative leave, an investigation accused Ralston of loaning the client money for living expenses. In a 2016 settlement, Ralston admitted that he inadvertently violated two State Bar rules. The Bar dropped more serious charges. Carpenter’s complaint takes issue with something Ralston recently has done in her case. Last month, he filed court documents seeking to drop Shell as a client. Bernard said that could tie up the case even further because Ralston didn’t give the man proper notice. Shell was quoted in the AJC’s first story on the delays saying he hired Ralston to stall and weaken the case against him. “That’s why I gave him 20,000 bucks,” Shell said. “He’s worth every penny of it.” Asked about dropping the case, Ralston told WSB Radio and Channel 2 in an April interview that “one of the things in any attorney-client relationship that is needed is trust and is the ability to know that you are speaking truth one to another, and sometimes if that breaks down you have to seek other avenues.” Shell declined to comment and hung up on an AJC reporter. Staff Writer Chris Joyner contributed to this story.
  • While leaving to go turkey hunting Monday morning, former President Jimmy Carter fell at his home in Plains. He is recovering comfortably from surgery to repair a broken hip at Phoebe Sumter Medical Center in Americus, according to information from Deanna Congileo, the press secretary for the Carters. » UPDATE: Carter returns home from hospital, will teach Sunday school The  surgeon stated that the surgery was successful. His wife Rosalynn is with him.  President Carter, 94, said his main concern is that turkey season ends this week, and he has not reached his limit, according to Congileo.  RELATED CONTENT: LATEST NEWS Carter’s newest title: Oldest living former president Carter: I’d change Trump’s policies if I were in office Carter bags wild turkey at age 94 Both of the Carters have had health scares in the last few years. President Carter announced in August of 2015 that he had melanoma, a skin cancer, that had spread to his liver and brain. Surgeons removed part of his liver, and cutting edge immunotherapy was used to treat the small brain lesions. At last report, Carter showed no signs of cancer. In February of 2018, Rosalyn Carter had serious surgery on her bowels that left the former president “deathly afraid.” But the former first lady of the U.S. and Georgia pulled out and continues to do well. President Carter, well-known for teaching Sunday school in his home church of Plains,  was scheduled to teach Sunday. Congileo said that seems unlikely after the accident. Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted: “We are praying that President Carter has a quick and total recovery after today’s hip surgery. Gotta appreciate his positive spirit...and commitment to turkey hunting!” President Donald Trump tweeted: “Wishing former President Jimmy Carter a speedy recovery from his hip surgery earlier today. He was in such good spirits when we spoke last month - he will be fine!” RELATED CONTENT: PHOTOS The Carters’ 70-year marriage Carter through the years Jimmy Carter’s family Read The Atlanta Journal-Constitutions story about Carter’s successful turkey hunt earlier here.

News

  • The annual Barbacoa & Big Red Festival is a food festival in San Antonio, but organizers are happier when visitors leave their knives at home. >> Read more trending news  Along with stun guns and other weapons, KSAT reported. Officials said they collected more than 600 weapons Sunday during the event, according to the festival’s Facebook page. 'Safety for our patrons is our number one priority. We are very proud to say that not a single altercation or arrest occurred at our festival,' a spokesman for the festival wrote on its Facebook page. Vigilance by festival organizers resulted in no arrests, KENS reported. Event founder DJTONYC said the delays caused by searching bags for weapons were worth it. 'Fast forward to the end of the night, if you want to know how many arrests we had, how many altercations, how many intoxicated people that we had to arrest and kick out, the answer was zero. So I mean, to me, that's successful,' DJTONYC told Spectrum News.
  • Little Caesars is making the Impossible possible for pizza lovers.  The pizza chain announced on Monday it is launching the Impossible Foods’ Supreme pizza, topped with Impossible sausage made from plants, caramelized onions, mushrooms and green peppers. >> Read more trending news  “Little Caesars has a long history of innovation aimed at providing our customers with value, quality, and convenience. Any product we introduce must deliver on those brand pillars while appealing to our loyal, mostly carnivorous, fans,' Little Caesars President and CEO David Scrivano said in a Monday news release. “I’m confident that the Impossible Supreme Pizza will go down as one of the most surprising and satisfying menu sensations of 2019. This is likely just the beginning of plant-based menu items from Little Caesars.” Burger King announced in April it is adding the Impossible Whopper to its menu nationwide. Related: Burger King to offer plant-based Impossible Whopper at US restaurants The plant-based vegan patty, made of water, plant proteins, coconut oil and heme, a natural molecule that gives burgers their distinctive taste and is found in plants, is designed to look and taste like a traditional red meat burger. The same technology used for the Impossible Burgers makes the Impossible sausage possible. “Customers have been asking for Impossible Sausage for years — and when Little Caesars said they wanted a unique, delicious pizza topping, our team developed more than 50 prototypes,” Impossible Foods’ CEO and founder Patrick O. Brown said in a statement. “One product stood out from the rest. You need to taste it to believe it.” The Impossible Supreme Pizza is currently available in three Little Caesars test markets in Ft. Meyers, Florida, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Yakima, Washington. It is $12, not including tax.
  • An Indiana family is calling for the end of lunch shaming after they said their kindergarten student was a victim of the trend. Dwight Howard told WISH is granddaughter, Anya Howard, 6, had to return a tray of hot food after her cafeteria account came up short of the $2.25 total on Friday. At the time, she had 10 cents according to a note sent home that same day. >>Read: Cafeteria worker fired for giving food to student who couldn't pay refuses offer to be rehired The student told the television station she had to walk past about 20 students to get to the back of the line as some students commented on the financial woe. When she got there, she received a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead. But the elder Howard believes that what he called, the “cafeteria walk of shame” was not necessary and humiliated his granddaughter. >> Read more trending news  “They waited until there was a dime left, denied her the opportunity to eat the lunch that she had [been served and tried to pay for] and then she had to go to the end of the line to wait for a PB&J,” Howard told WISH. School officials told the station that other students do get the alternate lunches when they do not have the funds to pay for the hot meal, and that there are payment reminders sent once accounts drop to $5. >>Read: Chef José Andrés hears plight of lunch lady fired after giving lunch to student who couldn’t pay “Any time this happens, our staff looks to handle all of these as discreetly as possible. We do allow elementary students to charge two hot meals before receiving the alternate meal,” Greenwood Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Kent DeKonnick told WISH. DeKonnick said the Howard family has not contacted district officials and didn’t specifically speak about Anya’s case. But a note attached to the balance slip Anya received said her school, Southwest Elementary, would not allow debts. According to the letter, “Starting Monday, 5/13/2019 we are no longer allowing any Café accounts to go into the negative. If there is not enough money in your child’s account to cover the entire meal, they will be receiving a peanut butter sandwich and milk,” WISH reported. >>Read: Fired lunch lady was 'dishonest,' didn't follow rules, food vendor says Howard told WISH he wasn’t informed of his granddaughter’s account balance, or of the policy change prior to Friday’s incident.
  • House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, warned former White House counsel Don McGahn Tuesday that he will be held in contempt of Congress if he does not testify about special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. >>Former White House counsel Don McGahn ignores subpoena, skips Congressional hearingThe warning came Tuesday after McGahn failed to appear before the committee for a scheduled hearing. >> Read more trending news McGahn will be the second Trump official – U.S. Attorney General William Barr was the first – to be held in contempt by Nadler’s committee if he continues to refuse to testify.What happens when someone is held in contempt of Congress? Here’s a look at the process. What is contempt of Congress?  Congress can hold a person in contempt if that person's conduct obstructs congressional proceedings or obstructs an inquiry by a congressional committee. Refusing to testify or refusing to turn over documents can constitute contempt. Where in the Constitution does it say Congress can bring contempt charges?  There is nothing in the Constitution that gives Congress the specific authority to hold someone in contempt. However, the Supreme Court has ruled on several occasions that Congress has the right under some circumstances to compel people to comply with its requests when it is legitimately overseeing an inquiry. What law governs Congress’ ability to hold someone in contempt?  A law enacted in 1938 – 2 USCA § 192 – says that any person who is summoned before Congress who 'willfully makes default, or who, having appeared, refuses to answer any question pertinent to the question under inquiry' shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and subject to a maximum $1,000 fine and 12 month imprisonment. So Congress can convict anyone of contempt for any matter?  While its power is broad, there are limits to what Congress can do. Before a congressional witness can be convicted of contempt, it must be established that the person being charged has something to do with a subject that Congress has the constitutional power to legislate. In other words, Congress cannot just go after anyone for anything. Congress must have the authority to look into a matter in order to bring contempt charges against someone who is preventing them from getting information on that matter. Also, a person cannot be made to answer questions if there is a legal basis that allows them not to answer – such as the right against incriminating yourself guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment. What is the process of finding someone in contempt?  Once a contempt citation is issued, a vote must be taken. The vote can take place in a House or Senate committee or on the floor of either the House or Senate.   A simple majority of the body is needed to support a finding of contempt. Then what happens?  After the vote is taken and if the matter passes the full House, the speaker of the House turns the matter over to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. It’s the same process for the Senate – if a vote passes, the matter is turned over to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. The U.S. attorney could then decide if the matter is to be pursued and would bring the issue before a grand jury.  If prosecuted and convicted of contempt of Congress, a person could be fined up to $1,000 and sentenced to a year in jail.  Is there anything else Congress could do?  There is a method that has not been used for many years but is an option for the leadership in Congress. A method called “inherent contempt” would allow a person to be arrested by the sergeant-at-arms of the House or Senate and brought before the accusing legislative body for a trial.  If convicted, the person could be imprisoned until they agree to comply with what Congress wants from them. They can be held in jail until the end of the current congressional session – that would be Jan. 3, 2021 – or they could be released whenever Congress decides to let them go before Jan. 3, 2021. If the House were to invoke inherent contempt charges, technically the person could be imprisoned in a spare room at the Capitol, a Capitol Police holding cell or a nearby hotel. However, this is not likely to happen. Inherent contempt has not been used since 1935. What is likely to happen?  If a deal cannot be worked out, Congress is likely to bring a civil lawsuit asking a judge to get involved. If the judge rules that a person must answer questions or surrender documents, then the person must do so or face contempt of court charges. Contempt of court is usually enforced with daily fines or imprisonment.  
  • A Michigan man was hospitalized and later arrested after police said he swallowed baggies of cocaine while resisting officers. The Detroit News reported that Michigan State Police said 38-year-old Paul Wagner was stopped for an equipment malfunction around 1 a.m. May 12. >> Read more trending news  Police said they saw a baggie of white powder believed to be cocaine inside the vehicle as they approached. When they asked Wagner to hand them the bag, he put it in his mouth and tried to swallow it. WNEM reported that when police tried to physically stop Wagner from swallowing the substance, he revved his vehicle’s engine and tried to put it in gear, according to officials. When police sensed danger to Wagner and the public, they stunned him. Wagner still managed to swallow the baggie. He was taken into custody and admitted to  the hospital for several days. He later passed three small baggies, which police said was determined to be cocaine, based on a preliminary field test, WXYZ reported. Once released from the hospital, MLive reported Wagner was charged with possession of cocaine and resisting and obstructing. WJRT reported Wagner remained in haul Monday under $100,000 bond.
  • Actor Robert De Niro honored longtime friend Al Pacino on Sunday at the American Icon Awards, and then took a shot at President Donald Trump, noting that impeachment and imprisonment would “make America great again,” Variety reported. >> Read more trending news  During the ceremony, De Niro praised Pacino, his “lifelong compatriot,” along with the program’s other inductees -- music producer Quincy Jones and former pro boxer Evander Holyfield. The pair have starred in four movies together, most famously in “The Godfather, Part 2,” in which Pacino uttered the line, “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” On Sunday night, De Niro kept Trump close in his thoughts. “You didn’t think you were going to completely get away without a ‘(expletive) Trump’ moment, did you?” De Niro said during his speech. In a video obtained by TMZ, De Niro is heard praising the night’s honorees, saying “They’ve earned our respect and admiration, and they deserve this tribute.” “On the other hand, the individual who currently purports to lead America is not worthy of any tribute,” De Niro said, to a mixture of cheers and boos. “Unless you think of his impeachment and imprisonment as a sort of tribute. Now that’s how you can make America great again.”