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Kendall Coffey

Kendall Coffey Discusses MO. Prosecutor on Hardball

Attorney Kendall Coffey Discusses Ferguson Prosecutor McCullough on Hardball

Attorney Kendall Coffey speaks with Chris Matthews on Hardball regarding Missouri Governor's Nixon and Prosecutor McCullouch

Attorney Kendall Coffey speaks with Chris Matthews on Hardball regarding Missouri Governor’s Nixon and Prosecutor McCullouch

Chris Matthews:

Back to HardBall. On a day-to-day basis, right now, Ferguson MO has seen a dramatic de-escalation of violence. That’s for the good. Following Attorney General Eric Holder’s visit there yesterday, there was a relative sense of calm in the streets. And there were no violent confrontations last night, as you can see. Only six people were arrested down from 78 just two nights earlier. Well, the National Guard is beginning to pull out of the area. And as there is calm on the streets, as you can see, we are seeing a focus now on the investigation itself into Michael Brown’s death. Local leaders are ramping-up calls for St. Louis County Prosecutor, Robert McCullouch, a Democrat, to step aside from the case. A group of activists out there say they have a petition with over 70,000 signatures calling for a Special Prosecutor to be named. McCullouch has served as the county’s top lawman since he was elected to the position in 1991. It was his deep ties to the police force, which is common for prosecutors, of course. McCulloch is calling on Governor Nixon to make a choice: Either, place his support behind him, or remove him from the case. In a statement today McCullouch was defiant saying:

The declaration of emergency by Governor Nixon grant the governor exclusive power to remove me, and my office, from any further involvement in this matter… Only the governor can answer this question. We have begun presentation of evidence to the grand jury and will continue to do so in a fair, full, and impartial manner. However, the Governor must settle this issue now. To leave this issue unresolved now leaves the possibility of exercising this power at a later date, which will cause a significant and unwarranted delay in the resolution of the investigation and the resolution of the case.

Kendall Coffey is a former US Attorney and Michael Steele was the RNC Chairman and Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. Gentlemen go in order. First Kendall and then Michael: a simple question. Is the demand here by McCullouch, the DA who has been in office all these years, elected all these years, every four years, that the Governor stand-up here and make a decision. Does he have faith in him or not? And if he doesn’t; take me out of the case. Is that or is that not a reasonable demand on the part of McCullouch?

 

Kendall Coffey:

Well, I think it’s appropriate. I think it’s appropriate in part because the Governor knows as much as he needs to know about whether McCullouch can handle the case. He has plenty of information about this prosecutor’s background. And McCullouch is right when he says, ‘That if you remove me two, three, four weeks from now that’s just going to delay everything.” So, I think it’s appropriate for the Governor to decide one way or the other whether this prosecutor should stay on the job.

 

Chris Matthews:

Michael, the Governor has the authority, should he be forced to use it one way or the other and stop talking? Act or shut-up?

 

Michael Steele:

I think he should act or shut-up. Exactly. And I think that is exactly what the prosecutor is doing here. He is calling his bluff. He wants to see exactly: are you going to have my back so I can do this trial the right way or are you going to participate in a circus atmosphere and let this thing go on only to cut me later on. So, I think the prosecutor’s got it right. I think he’s playing the Governor hard, and now the Governor has to step up and decide whether or not he wants to keep this prosecutor in place; given how the community distrusts this individual and distrusts this process.

 

Chris Matthews:

Well, as you mentioned there, there is a growing cry among local leaders in Ferguson to see McCullouch removed from this case. Citing his ties to the police, his personal history, as well as his history in office. McCullouch’s father was a police officer who was killed on the job by an African American man back in 1964 when McCullouch was a kid. McCullouch’s brother, uncle, and cousin all served with the St Louis Police Department. His mother served as a long-time clerk with the St Louis Police, and McCullouch has pushed for legislation that would require criminals serve longer portions of their sentences. So, let me get back to you, Kendall. Is that prima face? We all know, we all watch television, prosecutors work with police. They gather the evidence. They put together what they need to make a prosecution; they work hand-in-glove. Is this extraordinary, this case? Any reason to move him out? Can You see that?

 

Kendall Coffey:

It doesn’t meet the legal standard, which requires a personal interest on the part of the prosecutor in the parties or in the particulars of the case. I don’t think we see that. Sure, he’s very, very close to the police, maybe more so than most prosecutors. But that’s part of their job and that’s very common. A different question is whether it would be appropriate for the Governor to go one step further than the legal standard and go: ‘Look, I care about this community, I want to make sure that the perception is something, whatever it is, is accepted by this community.’ And that is a different basis. There are plenty of measures taken by Governors; that are taken by prosecutors themselves to step down, based on public perception. That’s a separate consideration here. And if the Governor wants to do on that basis, I don’t think he should be criticized either.

 

Chris Matthews:

Well let me start with Michael on the political thing here: We’ve all grown up with special prosecutors. And I just want to say, because evidence supports this: When you name a special prosecutor, they prosecute. They come in because that’s why they’re there. Whether it’s Ken Starr, they file like Jovaire, it goes on and on and on. And they do not leave. They do not stop the case. Because; they are there for that reason. Is it fair? We’re talking about fairness here. Is it fair to the possible defendant here, Officer Wilson, if you bring in somebody with the explicit purpose, it seems, of prosecuting a case. And that is why you brought the person in. Can you get a fair hearing from someone called in for this purpose? I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like you can. But I want to hear your thoughts.

 

Michael Steele:

I think you can. At the end of the day, you’re right; a special prosecutor is being brought in under the insistence of the Governor. Yeah, that seems to connote a different approach to the case. But, that prosecutor is going to follow the facts. He’s going to follow where the case takes him, where the evidence takes him. And he’s going to prosecute the Officer to the fullest extent of the law.

 

Chris Matthews:

Have you ever heard of a special prosecutor who didn’t prosecute. He said: ‘There’s no case there.’

 

Michael Steele:

I don’t think that this would be a situation where a “Special Prosecutor” as we know a special prosecutor here in Washington. I think this would be a matter of putting in place another prosecutor, maybe out of the same office, maybe from a neighboring jurisdiction, to prosecute this case. So, it would be someone who is relatively close to the neighborhood. But I think Kendall has got the right measure here, this is… you can do the right thing, or your can do the legal thing. And the legal thing is to just let this thing unfold, keep the prosecutor in place. The right thing is to deal with the suspicions of you’ve already seen: the arrests, the violence, the looting and that has been going on. And all that’s driving this. And you can dissipate this, Governor, by doing the right thing and bringing in a team of prosecutors that the people trust.

 

Chris Matthews:

Well said. Let me ask you, Kendall: do you think a special prosecutors or someone brought in especially for this matter, can offer a fair judgment because they have been given this commission.

 

Kendall Coffey:

I absolutely do. This case is going to define whatever that prosecutor does for the rest of his or her career. The eyes of the nation, as has been pointed out, are on this case. I think the prosecutor is going to want to get it right. And keep in mind Chris, whoever this prosecutor is, also has to live with the police community wherever it is in the state of Missouri. Police care about this case too. So, there are feelings on both sides of this divide. And I think the prosecutor will try to call it down the middle.

 

Chris Matthews:

Okay. Let’s just finish it up here tonight: Michael, you first. Do you think the Governor feels enough heat to make a call here and stop hiding behind words?

 

Michael Steele:

I think the Governor is going to have to make a call one way or the other and he’s going to have to do it before the week is out.

 

Chris Matthews:

Kendall, will he make the move?

 

Kendall Coffey:

I think the Governor should. I’d be surprised if he does.

 

Chris Matthews:

Surprised if he does what?

 

Kendall Coffey:

If he pulls his prosecutor and brings in someone else.

 

Chris Matthews:

You think he’s going to keep his guy McCullouch in anyway. McCullouch was elected. I say this to people watching, whom I love because you watch this show: Vote. If you don’t like guys like this in there for all these years; it’s a minority community, this guy’s a white guy, whether he should be there or not is your call: if you vote. If you don’t vote, then it’s somebody else’s call. I’m going to talk more about that tonight. Do you want to give up your rights? Give them up. Don’t vote. Anyway, Kendall Coffey thanks for joining us, as always. And as always, Michael, my friend, thank you.

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