Florida editorial roundup
Recent editorials from Florida newspapers:
The St. Augustine Record on Donald Trump Jr.’s visit to the University of Florida:
Before we begin, let’s get something straight. This is not a conservative or progressive editorial. It’s not left or right. It’s not anti-University of Florida or Anti-Trump.
It’s just a plea for some common sense.
You’ve likely read about Donald Trump Jr.’s visit to UF in October. He gave a talk to students. We’re told by his folks it was not a campaign speech, more just a chat about a laundry list of his father’s accomplishments as President; and some less than kindly words about the party of his opponents.
And he was paid $50,000 by the university for his time.
In an odd twist of irony Michael Murphy, the student body president who set up the visit, now faces a formal resolution for his impeachment. The resolution reads in part, “Michael Murphy... is guilty of malfeasance and abuse of power warranting removal from office.” It is reportedly the second time in the school’s 115-year history this has happened.
It was Murphy who helped set up the Trump visit, along with Donald Trump campaign advisor Kimberly Guilfoyle — and Trump Jr.’s present girlfriend.
The Oct. 10 speech was attended by about 800 of the university’s 52,000-plus students. Generally speaking half were protesting the speech... or campaign stump.
We have to wonder what Murphy thought might be of $50,000 worth of interest to college kids. The speaking tab was picked up by the students’ activity fees – a $19 per credit fee that every student pays in addition to tuition. And laws prohibit public funds being used in support of political campaigns.
UF’s student newspaper, The Alligator, tracked down emails it says shows Murphy also worked with Caroline Wren, the national finance consultant for Trump Victory, a fundraising committee for the president’s campaign.
Since the initial story, The Alligator reports additional expenses for the visit, including $10,428 for security and $1,500 for custodial costs and overtime.
Murphy denies any conflict of interest. However photos on social media show him and UF Senate President Emily Dunson at Donald Trump events. UF is also in possession of campaign finance records showing Murphy’s father donated $5,600 to the Trump campaign this year.
News sources who contacted Wren following the speech were told she did not know Murphy. She later told reporters she had met him and he had expressed interest in bringing Trump Jr. to Gainesville. She said she followed up with him “via my private email in my personal capacity and mistakenly forgot to remove my Trump Victory signature.”
Adav Noti, senior director of the Campaign Legal Center and former legal counsel for the Federal Elections Commission, told the Tampa Bay Times he couldn’t say whether or not Trump Jr. violated campaign laws at UF because “the line between campaigning and sort of promoting an agenda is not always crystal clear.”
But he continued, “Campaign officials shouldn’t be giving paid speeches to charitable organizations... That shouldn’t be happening... So all the discussions about whether they broke the law or not shouldn’t obscure the bigger point that they just don’t care about the law.”
Murphy also told reporters he had tried to bring Sen. Bernie Sanders to campus, but was turned down by the candidate.
The issue remains open at UF. But, from where we sit, the 51,200 students who did not have an interest in attending the speech of the son of a president should push the issue to fruition. It’s their money, and the good name of their university, too.
The Palm Beach Post on Barry Krischer’s role in the Jeffrey Epstein case:
Barry Krischer, the former longtime Palm Beach County state attorney, didn’t like it in July when Alex Acosta -- under fire for the decade-old agreement that gave notorious serial offender Jeffrey Epstein the lightest of sentences -- pointed the finger back to Krischer, whose office handled the case first.
“The Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office was ready to let Epstein walk free, no jail time, nothing,” said Acosta, the former U.S. Attorney in Miami who was soon to lose his job as President Trump’s labor secretary.
Krischer snapped back that Acosta was “rewriting history” and maintained it was federal prosecutors, not he, who crafted the non-prosecution agreement that has become a national outrage.
“I can emphatically state that Mr. Acosta’s recollection of this matter is completely wrong,” Krischer said in a statement, adding: “The State Attorney’s Office was not a party to those meetings or negotiations, and definitely had no part in the federal Non-Prosecution Agreement.”
No, it’s Krischer who is wrong. It’s Krischer who is rewriting history.
Under pressure of a public records lawsuit from The Palm Beach Post, the State Attorney’s Office recently released 134 pages of documents and two videos never before made public.
And these documents leave no doubt that Krischer was key to federal prosecutors’ efforts in 2007 to end the case quietly. How? He helped broker the deal.
Krischer acted as a go-between for one of Epstein’s lawyers, Jack Goldberger, and the U.S. attorney’s office, even though Krischer had handed over the case to the feds a year earlier.
In the crucial weeks before the deal was signed in September 2007, Krischer received four calls from Goldberger -- one to confirm a meeting. And in a handwritten note, Goldberger gave Acosta’s private phone number to Krischer because the defense team needed to finalize the pact.
“Let me know what he has to say,” Goldberger told Krischer.
Acosta’s office needed Krischer’s help, too. Acosta’s lead negotiator, then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Marie Villafana, sent Krischer an email, warning that Epstein was having second thoughts about the deal they were crafting.
“If we cannot reach such an agreement, then I need to indict the case on Tuesday and I will not budge from that date,” Villafana wrote.
Krischer delivered: “Glad we could get this worked out for reasons I won’t put in writing. After this is resolved I would love to buy you a cup at Starbucks and have a conversation.”
Epstein’s victims and county taxpayers must wonder what parts of the story Krischer was uncomfortable putting in writing. Because the then-state attorney may not have carried the ball in putting the cozy agreement together, but he was certainly key to getting it across the goal line.
These details are reported in a remarkable investigation into Krischer’s handling of the case published in Sunday’s (Nov. 17) Post. It’s based on 10,000 pages of documents and interviews with people who were close to the secret grand jury proceeding -- which appears to have been Krischer’s vehicle for dispensing with the case with as little inconvenience to the wealthy, well-connected Epstein as possible.
The record uncovered by The Post establishes that instead of treating the string of teen girls abused by Epstein as victims -- vulnerable girls often from troubled homes -- Krischer’s office regarded them as prostitutes, girls who willingly accepted money to give “massages” in which they would be molested or sexually assaulted by the much older man.
The result of Krischer’s sandbagging of what should have been a powerful case: Epstein could plead guilty to felony aggravated assault, wouldn’t be jailed and, if he fulfilled the terms of his probation, would have his criminal record erased.
So, it was just as Acosta said: Krischer had been ready to let Epstein go with no jail time. Palm Beach police were so incensed at the extreme leniency, they referred the case to the FBI; a year later came the almost-as-soft non-prosecution pact.
The Post investigation reveals a lot about how Krischer produced so lame a prosecution. But to learn more, the newspaper filed a lawsuit last week seeking to pry open the grand jury transcripts.
And on Monday (Nov. 18), a state attorney appointed by Gov. Ron DeSantis said he was looking into Krischer’s handling of the case; earlier, that criminal probe had been known to focus primarily on Epstein’s cushy stay in the Palm Beach County Jail and Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.
Epstein died in August in a Manhattan jail cell, a pariah at 66. But his victims, who were mostly girls from local high schools, are alive. They, along with county taxpayers, deserve answers. And Krischer’s apology.
The Tampa Bay Times on discovering cemeteries underneath developments:
Cemeteries are vital histories, snapshots of time and place that pass a community’s story on to later generations. That’s why discovering a lost cemetery carries an obligation for any community. As Tampa Bay works to recover more of its lost souls, residents should honor these lives and our collective history by committing to document these final resting places as thoroughly as possible.
The latest mystery surrounding the fate of human remains has emerged in the former African-American neighborhood of Clearwater Heights. As 74-year-old Essie Rayner-Jones recounted recently to the Tampa Bay Times’ Paul Guzzo, the land near the corner of Madison Avenue and Gould Street had housed a 1-acre African-American cemetery, which was moved in the 1950s. “They took the graves with headstones,” said Rayner-Jones, who grew up on Gould Street. “They left the unmarked ones, and there were plenty. Go thumping around, you’ll find skeletons.”
Others who grew up in that since-razed neighborhood also remember being told as children that the field remained a burial ground after the headstones disappeared. They now want to know whether graves are there or if the retelling was only a neighborhood ghost story. “Let’s find archaeologists who will help,” said 64-year-old Muhammad Abdur-Rahim, who grew up in Clearwater Heights.
A group of former Clearwater Heights residents has reached out to the property’s owner, Frank Crum Jr., but he does not support their investigation. The former cemetery land is now part of a 2-acre vacant lot on FrankCrum Staffing’s Clearwater campus at 100 S. Missouri Ave. “We have every reason to believe that the funeral directors who moved the cemetery back in the 1950s did a thoughtful and thorough job,” Crum wrote in an email to the Times.
The effort in Clearwater Heights comes as two lost local cemeteries have been discovered recently in Tampa. In the past year, the 1830s-era Fort Brooke Estuary Cemetery was found during development of the Water Street Tampa project in downtown’s channel district. Then a special report by the Times led to the discovery of the segregation-era all-black Zion Cemetery under a portion of the Robles Park Village housing project in Tampa. Researchers are also exploring whether the mid-20th century Ridgewood Cemetery for paupers was built on what is now the campus of King High School in Hillsborough County.
The discoveries in Tampa have come about thanks to sustained public pressure and the willingness of the Tampa Housing Authority and the Hillsborough County School District to do the right thing. Documenting these finds is not easy; historic records can be spotty or non-existent, and residents’ memories can understandably fade. That’s why it’s key that government and private property owners cooperate in a spirit of public mindedness to document this local history.
The experience in Tampa shows that all involved can work collaboratively and handle these investigations with the sensitivity and professionalism they deserve. That should give communities across the Tampa Bay area the comfort of moving forward in bringing these lost cemeteries back into public view.