The New York Times has vindicated the news sense of Andrew Breitbart and years of Breitbart News coverage of the Pigford scandal with a front page, above the fold blockbuster of investigative journalism that adds new details about the fraud in the USDA farmer settlements and the key role that Barack Obama has played in Pigford dating back to his days as a Senator.
Andrew Breitbart worked tirelessly to expose the Pigford fraud scheme only to have the clear evidence of manipulation by politicians and plaintiff lawyers ignored by the mainstream media. The story involved politicians and lawyers hijacking a lawsuit by black farmers against the USDA designed to make up for years of discrimination and turning it into a multi-billion dollar fraud where people claiming to have ‘attempted to farm’ were able to collect $50,000 checks with no proof. The Obama administration expanded the program for Native Americans, Hispanics, and women, using the same low “attempted to farm” standard that invited massive, undetectable fraud.
The Times piece was written by a team led by Sharon LaFraniere, who worked on the story for months and according to the article “was based on thousands of pages of court and confidential government documents, as well as interviews with dozens of claimants, lawyers, former and current government officials and others involved in the cases over the past 14 years.”
Here are some highlights from the article, including a number of details not previously reported:
Questionable Legal Moves
The Times story gives a great deal of detail about how the Obama administration certified its own settlement in the cases of the Native American, women, and Hispanic farmer settlements, sidestepping both the legal system ad Congress. Breitbart News has reported on the Obama administration’s expansion of Pigford previously, but the Times brought shocking new information to light.
For one thing, there were only a total of 91 plaintiffs actually filing suit; 10 women and 81 Latinos. This is a very small number and it certainly would have been possible to handle any actual discrimination claims on a case-by-case basis. However, the Times points out that the government was very skeptical even about those cases.
“Some of these folks have never made a loan payment in their entire history with U.S.D.A.,” Lisa A. Olson, the lead government litigator against the 81 Hispanic plaintiffs, told Judge Robertson in August 2009. “There may even be folks who are under criminal investigation.”
The Obama Administration made a choice to create a settlement mechanism on their own. The Times says “the Obama administration’s political appointees at the Justice and Agriculture Departments engineered a stunning turnabout: they committed $1.33 billion to compensate not just the 91 plaintiffs but thousands of Hispanic and female farmers who had never claimed bias in court.”
With pressure mounting from some in Congress, “The Obama administration made the ‘legally questionable’ decision to sidestep Congress and pay the woman and Hispanic farmer claims out of a special Treasury Department fund known as The Judgment Fund. “
The small number of actual cases is also significant because of the disparity in the number of actual suits and the number of claims filed so far in the cases; only ten women were actually filing suit but an incredible 24,000 have filed to get $50,000 under the settlement still active at the FarmerClaims.gov website.
Pigford Was About Buying Votes
Even the New York Times has trouble getting Department of Justice officials to speak on record on the story. The Times says, “Acting Associate Attorney General Tony West, who supervised the civil division and oversaw the handling of the cases, canceled an interview. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. also declined to comment.”
This 2008 article from the San Francisco Chronicle profiles Tony West, who was then the California finance co-chair for the Obama campaign and is described as an “Obama power broker.” West, a deep Obama campaign insider, oversaw the settlements for the Obama administration.
This is another indication that the Pigford scandal was about vote buying and elections for the politicians involved. Much of the original Pigford corruption traces to Arkansas. That was no accident but was at the behest of the man who was President when the first Pigford settlement was designed, Bill Clinton. From the Times:
Mr. Clinton asked Carol Willis, then a senior adviser to the Democratic National Committee who was known for his expertise in black voter turnout, to get involved. Mr. Willis said the president wanted to make sure his home state, Arkansas, benefited.
During the 2008 elections, the Times details how the Obama administration used Pigford for election purposes. From the Times:
..legislators from both parties, including Mr. Obama as a senator in 2007, sponsored bills to grant the late filers relief.
Mr. Boyd said Mr. Obama’s support led him to throw the backing of his 109,000-member black farmers’ association behind the Obama presidential primary campaign. Hilary Shelton, the N.A.A.C.P.’s chief lobbyist, said Mr. Obama’s stance helped establish him as a defender of the concerns of rural African-American communities.
And the Times makes it clear that others felt the settlements were buying off special interests. A professor from U.C. Berkley testified for the government that there was no pattern of discrimination by the USDA against Native American farmers.
Professor Rausser was astounded when, with both sides gearing up for trial in late 2009, the government began settlement negotiations. “If they had gone to trial, the government would have prevailed,” he said.
“It was just a joke,” he added. “I was so disgusted. It was simply buying the support of the Native-Americans.”