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Trouble In Florida

The fate of the U.S. Embargo of Cuba rests on down and dirty campaigns in South Florida. by Ann Louise Bardach, The Daily Beast I have been covering the nexus of Miami—Havana-Washington politics for almost two decades. It is a scorched-earth terrain of gladiator combat between Cuban strongman Fidel Castro, a small, dedicated army of his would-be assassins, and the Cuban exile powerbrokers who have run Miami and dictated policy to the White House. I have reported on how this battleground has changed—from the mid 1970s, when bombs went off sometimes daily in Miami, to the post-9/11 era, when violence was shuttled to the side in deference to the ballot box. This election is the end game: on November 4 the fate of the US Embargo against Cuba will likely be decided by the outcome of the presidential race, along with the political future of its most ardent champions, two members of Congress who also happen to be nephews of Fidel Castro: Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart. Cuba hardliners Diaz-Balarts “will have to be crow-barred out of here,” says a Democratic rival. The stakes are huge and the campaign is as down and dirty as any in Florida’s colorful history as the brothers try to fight off challenges from their Democratic rivals, both Cuban-Americans. Dade and Broward counties, which include Miami and its surrounding suburbs, are the most populist in the state, with about a half million Cuban-American voters. The balloting there will likely determine which presidential candidate nails Florida’s 27 coveted electoral votes, along with the fate of the 48 year old U.S. Embargo against Cuba. During this election season, John McCain has morphed into a fierce hardliner on Cuba, aligning himself with the two Republican congressional incumbents. Barack Obama has said that he is open to diplomacy with Cuba, regardless of whether Fidel or Raul Castro are in power, and has vowed to rescind the Bush Administrations’ harsh restrictions on travel and remittances. That is heresy to the Diaz-Balarts, who are also the sons and grandsons of a famous Cuban politicians, which means that there is little sunlight between the personal and the political in Miami. Think of the Castro/Diaz-Balart saga as the House of Atreus, a Hispanic Hatfields and McCoys or simply as a five decade running telenovela. The Cuban-American community has undergone dramatic changes, with the majority now backing dialogue with Cuba. Still, hardliners control many of the major levers of power in Miami, their influence felt in media, law enforcement, even the courts. Determined to maintain their power, the Diaz-Balarts have aired a series of ferocious attacks against their opponents. Last week, a voting scam was uncovered that threatens to end up in the courts, joining a long list of incidents that have made Florida synonymous with dirty elections. “I don’t think any other place in the United States has had such a history of absentee ballot voter fraud,” said Kendall Coffey, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “Miami has a...

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Evidence Links Remains To Caylee’s House

The search for missing Caylee Anthony may be over. Orlando, Florida December 12, 2008 A medical examiner found evidence among a child’s remains that link them to the home of the missing toddler, the county sheriff said Friday, offering the strongest indication yet that the remains may be those of the 3-year-old girl who disappeared last summer. Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary said investigators searched the home early Friday after the medical examiner found “some clues that came out of the remains” that “linked it to the house.” He would not say what clues were found. “We took some things out of the house that the forensic people are very interested in,” he said. The remains were found Thursday by a utility worker on a wooded lot less than a half-mile from the house where 3-year-old Caylee lived with her grandparents and her mother, 22-year-old Casey Anthony. CBS News correspondent Mark Strassman reported that DNA testing of the remains is underway, and detectives hope to have a positive ID of the remains by this weekend. Beary said his investigators and the FBI would work around the clock and through the weekend to identify the child. Asked if he believed if the remains are Caylee, Beary said: “I think it’s a good possibility, but I have to wait seven to 14 days for the DNA analysis.” There are no other similar missing-child cases in the area. “I say my prayers every day and one of them is to solve this case,” said Beary, who is retiring in January. “I just hope that we solve the case on my watch.” A judge denied a motion Friday filed by the defense to inspect the remains, saying they must wait for a positive identification. “The investigation continues, and with this recent development, I believe that everybody is going to be probably re-interviewed and we’re going to talk to everybody,” Police Captain Angelo Nieves of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department told CBS Early Show anchor Julie Chen. The investigators’ focus now: the Anthonys’ home. Detectives searched it again overnight, with the family kept out. CBS affiliate WKMG reports that crime scene detectives removed materials, including seven large paper bags and four boxes of evidence. They also seized four vacuum cleaners and two pesticide tanks. CBS News legal analyst Lisa Bloom said investigators are likely searching for possible matches between trash bags and duct tape found at the crime scene and what is at the grandparents’ house. “If so, there is potentially a case against the grandparents,” Bloom told Chen. “I emphasize ‘potentially’ for accessory after the fact, although no charges are pending against them.” It’s the latest turn in a sad, six-month mystery in which a three-year-old girl disappeared one month before her mother reported the disappearance. Caylee’s mother, 22-year-old Casey Anthony, was indicted in October on first-degree murder and other charges, even though the toddler’s body hadn’t been found. She has insisted that she left the girl with a baby sitter in June, but...

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Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s Role in Blagojevich Probe; First Meeting of Illinois Impeachment Panel; A Financial Murder

A Segment from CNN’s The Situation Room Aired December 16, 2008 5:00 EST THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. WOLF BLITZER, HOST: I’m Wolf Blitzer. You’re in THE SITUATION ROOM. ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Headline News breaking news. BLITZER: But first, the breaking news we’re following right now on Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. I want to bring in Gary Tuchman. He’s working this story in Springfield, Illinois — the Illinois capital — the state capital. What are we learning precisely, because it’s a very, very sensitive subject as all of our viewers know — Gary? GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Quite a surprising story, Wolf. But two sources who are close to Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. say that the congressman, for at least 10 years, has been an informant with the U.S. attorney’s offices and has actually informed against Governor Rod Blagojevich — but not in this current investigation. And that’s very important to emphasize. He hasn’t been an informant in this investigation. But according to these sources, back in 2002, when Blagojevich was running for governor, it was made known to Congressman Jackson that the governor wanted $25,000 donation from local congressmen for his campaign. At this point, Jesse Jackson’s wife Sandi was up for a job as the director of the lottery commission. Well, according to our sources, Jesse Jackson, Jr. did not give the $25,000 donation and his wife did not get the job and that after Blagojevich took office as the governor of the State of Illinois in early 2003, according to these sources, the governor came up to Jesse Jackson, Jr. and said something to the effect of, “you see what $25,000 would have done?” Well, it took three years, but Jesse Jackson, ultimately, in 2006 — the summer of 2006 — told the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Illinois that he believed that this was an attempted shakedown — that because he didn’t give the $25,000, his wife no longer got the job. The reason, according to these sources, that Jesse Jackson said this three years later, not right, away is because during the trial — it’s complicated. But during the trial of developer Tony Rezko — the fraud and corruption trial against Rezko — it came up that there were $25,000 donations repeatedly made to the governor. And that’s what Jesse Jackson’s sources say reminded Jesse Jackson to bring this up to authorities. But, nevertheless, Wolf, over the last 10 years, according to these sources, Jessie Jackson, Jr. has talked to the U.S. attorney’s office, given them information about all kinds of investigations, mostly local investigations in his district. But what’s clear to say, the headline of the story is it basically marks out this current governor, who is in so much trouble right now, the governor of Illinois, Governor Blagojevich — Wolf. BLITZER: All right, Gary, stand by, because I want to get back to you. I...

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Senator Obama’s Personal Info Breached

Interview with Kendall Coffey MSNBC Live March 3, 2008 8:47 am EST ALEX WITT: The Secretary of State has had to send a personal apology to Barack Obama for security breaches involving the Senator’s personal information. Condoleeza Rice addressed that issue just about an hour ago: Condoleeza Rice: I told him that I was sorry and I told him that I myself would be very disturbed if I learned that somebody looked into my passport file and therefore I will stay on top of it until I get to the bottom of it. ALEX WITT: Staying on top of it indeed. We understand that Senator Obama’s office will be briefed by the State Department’s Ambassador Patrick Kennedy as well as at least one person from Senator Joe Biden’s staff, of course Senator Joe Biden being the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Still on the heels of that, let’s bring in Kendall Coffey, the man you just saw there, he’s a former U.S. Attorney, a partner in the law firm of Coffey and Burlington as well as being a Hillary Clinton supporter. Good morning to you. KENDALL COFFEY: Good morning Alex. ALEX WITT: When you think about this case, what are some of the unanswered questions that are jumping right out at you. KENDALL COFFEY: Well they come at two levels. The more serious potential criminal investigation, the issues are going to be why and where. Why were these three different individuals, in three separate months, looking into the matter? And where, if anywhere, did the information go outside the State Department? On the purely administrative level, the question is: Does the State Department know what its own people are doing? How did this happen three times and it took literally weeks before anybody became aware of it? ALEX WITT: Three times of late but we certainly remember of course Secretary Rice saying every effort will be made to make sure this doesn’t happen again. That was probably uttered – or similar statement – with the incident involving Clinton’s passport. That happened back in 1992 so what kind of safeguards need to be put in place that may not be there already? KENDALL COFFEY: Yeah, as you pointed out as Yogi Berra would say, “It’s déjà vu all over again”, very similar to what happened in ’92. If anything, that was a pretty clear partisan effort to get the goods on Bill Clinton and maybe whether there some kind of efforts he made with respect to his citizenship in order to dodge the draft. They supposedly put systems in place so that when high profile individual’s passport information is accessed notifications happen. It didn’t happen here. A footnote on the last investigation was – nobody was criminally charged but there were plenty of embarrassments, plenty of criticisms made and apparently a problem that still has not been completely solved. ALEX WITT: Okay, Kendall, we are just getting word from the Associated Press that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice...

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Arrest of Prominent Lawyer Troubles Defense

An opinion letter on a drug kingpin’s finances lands a lawyer in hot water. By Curt Anderson, Associated Press March 23, 2008 MIAMI — Ben Kuehne is a top-tier Miami defense lawyer, the type other attorneys rely on for legal advice. Member of the Florida Bar’s Board of Governors. Ex-president of the Dade County Bar Association. Counsel to former Vice President Al Gore during the 2000 vote recount. Now, Kuehne stands accused of a crime for the advice he gave to a defense team headed by another high-profile Miami lawyer, Roy Black, in a Medellin cocaine cartel smuggling case. And his unprecedented indictment on money-laundering and obstruction of justice charges as part of a U.S. sting operation is sending shivers down the spines of defense attorneys nationwide. “I tell you frankly it scares the life and soul out of me, and to all others,” said defense attorney Milton Hirsch. Some defense attorneys say lawyers will stop taking cases involving defendants whose financial situations are murky because of fears they could someday face charges themselves. “This will affect many types of white-collar criminal cases, not just drug kingpin cases, and may well impact the ability of defendants to hire talented and zealous lawyers,” said Miami defense attorney Neal Sonnett, who recently represented former Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff in a fraud case. Kuehne, 53, is accused of writing opinion letters that Colombian drug kingpin Fabio Ochoa had enough money free from the taint of drug trafficking to pay some $5.2 million in legal fees. For his advice, Kuehne was paid just under $200,000 by Black’s firm and others involved in Ochoa’s defense. A sizable chunk of the supposedly legitimate money was traced to a businessman named Hernando Saravia, who supposedly ran reputable gem and flower businesses. Saravia’s role was to transfer some of this purportedly legitimate cash from Ochoa to Black. What Kuehne did not know is that Saravia is cooperating with federal prosecutors — he is facing federal drug money laundering charges in New York — and some of that money was in reality illegal drug proceeds being handled by undercover U.S. agents. Prosecutors also say Saravia’s businesses were actually run by U.S. agents and that a letter from him contained a forged signature. Other South Florida criminal lawyers who represented drug kingpins have found themselves on the wrong side of the law. Sam Burstyn, who once represented a top lieutenant to former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, pleaded guilty to obstruction conspiracy charges in October 2005 after prosecutors said he essentially acted as “house counsel” to drug organizations. In 1995, six lawyers were indicted by a Miami grand jury on charges of helping Colombia’s Cali cartel by delivering hush money and sometimes threats to associates. March23,2008 But no one has been charged before for giving advice about legal fees to another attorney, said former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey. “The shocker here is that a lawyer was charged who is not acting as a criminal accomplice,” said Coffey, who is now...

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