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Capitol Retort: Mueller impressions, funding interpreters, GoScamMe.

Byline: Kevin Featherly

Editor's note: Welcome to Capitol Retort, our weekly review of issues in state and national news, with a rotating cast of legal and political people in the know. Answers are edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.

Question 1: April 18 was quite a news day. Attorney General William Barr convened a press conference to summarize Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russian probe report and then the actual report came out. What impressions have you formed from what you learned after Thursday's events?

Peter Bell, conservative think tank fellow: The number one impression that I have formed is that all things that are dishonorable and bad are not illegal. I think that what we're going to find is that President Trump did many unsavory things, but that they didn't reach the level of being illegal. I think that is what generally is going to be the takeaway that many people have from the report.

Bob Gunther, GOP House member: I don't think there's any new news, because I knew what was going to happen. They can't get the president on collusion and they're going to try to impeach him, I guess. I think he's doing a great job.

Everybody on the liberal side of the ledger was all enthralled with Muelleruntil he said the president did not collude. There was no collusion. And naturally when the attorney general came out publicly, he basically said the same thing. That was very disappointing to these people. Now all the Democrats are not liking Mueller or Barr. They're trying to get Barr out of there.

Sue Zumberge, bookstore proprietor, lifelong independent: I don't want to know another goddamned thing about the Mueller report. I mean, sure, there are these little things like new little quotes from Trump in there. But you know what? This guy's got to be impeached for what he's doing every day, in my opinion. The abuse that is happening to us via the Chinese water torture that is this presidency is more damaging than anything, to my mind, that could be in the Mueller report.

Erick Kaardal, populist government watchdog attorney: That Attorney General Barr's report was consistent with the Mueller findings. Chief Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was behind Barr. Everything with respect to the publication of the report was on the up and up.

[Editor's note: These interviews were all conducted on April 18, so none of the panelists had yet time to read the 400-plus-page Mueller report.]

Question 2: The Minnesota Court of Appeals denied the Public Defenders' Office funds to pay interpretersa reversal of longstanding court practice under the Minnesota law. Now cash-strapped defenders must finance these mandated services from their own budget. What would you like to see happen here?

Bell: I think that that's a difficult question and a close call. I mean, clearly people do need legal counsel. And if they don't speak English, they should be able to have an interpreter do that.

But there's a commonsense limit that I think comes into play here. So I guess I don't have an objection to the public defenders having to spend those funds out of their budget. I don't know why they don't have to prioritize that service along with a whole range of other services that they provide and really find the most cost-effective way of delivering that. So I probably would allow the denial of those funds. But I also probably would increase their budget.

Gunther: I think the Legislature should grant them some more money. If they need to, the public defenders should go to the Taxes Committee to get the money.

Zumberge: I would like to see this reversed. It has to be. You cannot have a case you cannot do a trial if the accused can't understand the language. That seems pretty basic to me. I think they have got to find funds. If the public defenders don't have it with the budget they have now, they should go back to the Legislature have them give them the money. Because it's not justice if you can't understand the language.

Kaardal: The funding should be restored. The public defenders are a necessary, important part of the system and those interpreters need to be there so that their clients get fair hearings.

Question 3: A couple's GoFundMe drive to raise funds for an allegedly homeless vethe supposedly gave his last $20 after the woman ran out of gasturned out to be a scam. It unraveled when the "homeless" man filed suit because the couple stiffed him on the donations. Two of the three have pleaded guilty to criminal charges and GoFundMe has agreed to refund the money. What's the moral of this story?

Bell: I think the moral of the story is that people need to be very cautious of philanthropic things that they give to. The whole GoFundMe effort is very appealing on one level I think that they raised a half a million dollars for that 5-year-old who was thrown off the terrace at the Mall of America. And of course that's very appropriate and our hearts go out to that child. But it's also rife for scams. Because people can't check who this is actually going to, there's no verification that the funds are going to the designated source. So I think people need to be very, very cautious of that. I think that the web page perhaps needs to put some more guidelines, restrictions or checks to help make sure that the public isn't getting scammed.

[Editor's note: As of the morning of April 22, the GoFundMe site had raised $951,000 for the 5-year-old boy, identified only as "Landen," who was injured in the Mall of America attack.]

Gunther: Don't renege on a promise. Because the person who is being stiffed by reneging on that promise can come back in the courts and get you.

Zumberge: You can't believe everything on the Internet. Not everything that happens online is true.

Kaardal: Caveat emptor. Buyer beware.

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Publication:Minnesota Lawyer
Date:Apr 24, 2019
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