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Man who spent his life helping young people is now donating a kidney

By Allison Klein
Man who spent his life helping young people is now donating a kidney
David Simpson, left, and Madeleine Hernandez, 20, share a high five during the weekly dinner for young men and women in Washington, D.C., on October 16, 2018. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Astrid Riecken. For use only with DC-KIDNEY

WASHINGTON - David Simpson is donating his kidney to a young woman today in Washington, D.C., because his tissue is a perfect match, and her kidneys are failing and slowly poisoning her.

Simpson didn't have to do it; he had an out. "They told me they'd write me a letter saying they rejected me if I wanted," Simpson said of his doctor.

But Simpson, 57, and his wife, Kathy Fletcher, 56, never take the easy way out. Their life's work has become pushing the boundaries of what it means to give to young people, many with dire life stories, who are just entering adulthood and are hungry or don't have a place to live or enough money for college or countless other needs.

It started around 2010 when they began helping friends of Fletcher's son, Santiago, while he was in middle and high school. But years later they had become so engrossed in helping young people that Simpson decided to quit his job working for a nonprofit that advocates for campaign finance reform to dedicate himself to it full time.

"We said yes - step by step by step - until we had eight kids living in our house," said Simpson, referring to last year, when all their beds were full. They convinced neighbors to take in another few young people they didn't have room to house.

In fact, the 20-year-old woman who is getting Simpson's kidney, Madeline Hernandez, lives with Simpson and Fletcher, one of four young people in their 20s, most of them artists, who are ​now part of their make-shift family.

But the couple also helps an extended family about 40 other young people through a nonprofit they created two years ago named, appropriately, All Our Kids, or AOK. And the world of people who assist and support the effort - with donated funds or tickets, time, an extra bed or a few dozen cookies - include friends, family and famous musicians like Yo-Yo Ma and Joshua Bell.

"What we're doing is insane," jokes Simpson, as he tries to explain the tribe of young people he and his wife have informally adopted.

For Simpson, giving his kidney to one of his "kids" was a simple decision once he realized he was a match - an almost miraculous coincidence given the odds of about one in 10,000.

"Of course I'm going to do it," he said.

The couple's mission started when Santiago, then a student at Alice Deal Middle School in the District of Columbia, brought home a friend who needed a meal. One friend in need led to another and another, until Santiago's house became the go-to hangout spot in high school.

"We started establishing relationships with these kids and we realized there were things they weren't getting, not because of love but because their family didn't have it - clothes, bikes, lots of things," Simpson said.

As Simpson and Fletcher listened to their life stories, they figured out they could help here and there.

If someone needed a shirt, they'd buy one or give one of their own. If someone needed help filling out financial aid forms, or finding a lawyer or counselor, they could depend on Simpson and Fletcher. The couple also tried to give them undivided attention and guidance, and regular family dinners, which many had never had before.

A few kids started spending the night. One didn't have a home after his mother lost her job and she went to stay with a sibling. Another had lived with his grandmother who passed away. Yet another wasn't getting along with her parents and was living on friends' couches after her parents kicked her out.

Simpson and Fletcher are financially comfortable but not wealthy; as her day job, Fletcher runs an arts educational program through the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Their three-bedroom home in the Crestwood neighborhood of D.C. is warm but not fancy. But compared to the young people they were helping launch into adulthood - kids who had been without a safety net as they coped with the fallout of sexual assaults, violence, homelessness and other trauma - they had more than enough to share.

Plus, Fletcher grew up with nine siblings, 14 aunts and uncles and 74 first cousins in an Irish Catholic family on Long Island. So a house is not a home for her without some foot stomping, singing and laughter. She also has a deep commitment to civil justice and looking out for those who are vulnerable.

"I feel like we all have a shared responsibility in this world to take care of people," she said.

As word got out in the friend group and D.C. artists community, more kids started showing up - and hanging out, and staying over in a spare room. In the summer of 2016, Fletcher and Simpson encouraged several of their "kids" to apply to college, and they all got in.

"We were like, 'We don't have any money,' " Simpson said. "They have some financial aid but that doesn't cover costs of college."

Fletcher and Simpson talked to a bunch of friends who committed to giving money if they formalized what they were doing. So the couple created a nonprofit and Simpson left his job. They held some local fundraisers and some in New York. Fletcher was able to get cellist Yo-Yo Ma to donate VIP tickets to an AOK auction, and violinist Joshua Bell has performed at three benefit concerts for them.

Generosity such as that is the financial backbone of AOK, as Simpson and Fletcher are now helping to support 15 kids in college with either tuition assistance, a monthly stipend or both - and they give various other young people things as needs become apparent: computers, toiletries, shoes, advice. They also have started an arts collective with donated space where the young artists can get together and show their work.

The four young people who reside with them now mostly live in a converted garage and partially finished basement. The house rules include respect, kindness and honesty. They rarely have problems. Once their car was stolen by a guy who was living with them - but he left it four blocks away and never came back.

"The peer component is the most important thing," Simpson said. "They challenge each other to make good choices."

While Fletcher and Simpson have opened their home and hearts to kids for years, a kidney donation is a new level of giving.

Fletcher loves Hernandez as a daughter, too, she said, but she was hoping somebody on the list of potential donors other than her husband would be a match because she was concerned about the medical risk.

But when the news came back, and Simpson was medically cleared to be a donor, she felt like it was meant to be. She didn't want to fight fate.

"When it turned out to be him, it was like grace," Fletcher said.

For years, the family has been hosting Thursday night dinners at their home for anywhere from 20 to 30 guests, mostly AOK kids, as well as a group of Simpson and Fletcher's neighbors and friends who both support them and enjoy their energy.

This time, they hosted a big, tearful pre-kidney donation dinner Tuesday night as a send-off before Simpson and Fletcher went to back-to-back five-hour surgeries at Georgetown University Hospital.

Sara Pratt, a civil rights attorney who regularly comes to weekly dinners to offer guidance and support, was among those who showed up.

"I feel like I'm an aunt," said Pratt.

Pratt was joined at the table by a few neighbors and about 15 AOK kids ranging in age from 17 to 24. Dinner rules are to put your napkin on your lap and take seconds of the food. They generally go around the table and talk about things they're thankful for, or anything that's on their mind. Emotions are often laid bare.

One by one, the guests each told a story of how a friend brought them to this home for dinner either years or months ago, and they've been coming back since. Several choked up about how much AOK means to them.

"Sometimes I feel like I don't deserve this," said Chynajah Lewis, 20, a student at Howard University as tears streamed down her face. She explained how she met James Drosin, 21, who is a part of AOK, and how he brought her for dinner. After that, Simpson and Fletcher started helping to pay for her college when her mother could no longer afford it.

Many said they were initially confused about what AOK is. One of the first things they noticed was that Fletcher and Simpson are white and that everyone they are helping is a person of color. Simpson is upfront about this, and says he does not purposely seek out people of color, but he also does not shy away from using his "white privilege" to help others.

One of the women at the table said the first time she showed up for dinner the racial differences made an impression on her. "I'm not going to lie, I was like, 'Is this a cult?' she said, getting big laughs. Lewis added she felt the same way, but thought: "' Okay, I've got this, I've been to summer camp.' "

Lewis said her mother wound up in a domestic violence shelter with her younger sister, unable to continue paying her college tuition.

A woman who would identify herself only as Tahrook, 24, shared how she grew up in the slums of the Philippines. "I know how it feels to have nothing," she said.

Shaughn Cooper, 23, said a friend brought him to dinner for the first time at Christmas and Simpson and Fletcher gave him a present ​ to unwrap. "I hadn't gotten a Christmas present in years," said Cooper, who is now a freelance photographer.

Hernandez's turn to talk

When it was Hernandez's turn to talk at the dinner, she said she was "having a weird day." She had just come back from dialysis.

Her medical problems started in 2016, when a few months after she moved in, Simpson took her to the dentist, who tested her blood pressure and told her to go right to the emergency room. At Children's National Medical Center, she was diagnosed with kidney disease, and was told at some point she'd need a new kidney.

Things got worse over time. "She was getting sicker and sicker in front of our eyes," Fletcher said.

Over the summer, her kidney function dropped so much that doctors said it was time for a transplant.

Simpson started working the phones to find possible donors. He had a list of eight people, including some of her family members. Also on the list was his neighbor Paul Budde, husband of Mariann Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese at the National Cathedral.

The Buddes are close friends of theirs who have taken in several AOK kids who Fletcher and Simpson did not have room for, including two who are currently living at the Budde home.

But Simpson got the call instead, and now he and the young woman he thinks of as a daughter were waiting for one of his vital organs to become hers.

Hernandez shared her own story of meeting Simpson and Fletcher.

She had been fighting with her parents and sleeping on friends' couches when she met the couple through friends, she said, and they gave her a room in their house.

"I was having a hard time, I wasn't fitting in anywhere," she said.

She had problems trusting, and at first stayed in her room, begging off from dinner often. As time went on, she started to come to dinner and open up. She would not have imagined she'd still be in their lives three years later, she said.

"If you invest a little of yourself into people, you can get that back," said Hernandez, a student at the University of the District of Columbia.

Now she said they're like her second family. And despite her anxieties, Hernandez told the group, she was ready for go time.

"I'm taking David's kidney with me," she said with a wide smile.

Democratic candidates for Congress have raised a record-shattering $1 billion this election

By Michelle Ye Hee Lee and Anu Narayanswamy
Democratic candidates for Congress have raised a record-shattering $1 billion this election
Senator Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, arrives on Capitol Hill on Oct. 5. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Aaron P. Bernstein

Democratic candidates running for Congress this year collectively raised more than $1 billion for their campaigns - a record-shattering sum that highlights the party's zeal to retake the House and Senate and underscores the enormous amount of money flowing into the midterm races.

The $1.06 billion raised through the end of September surpasses the nearly $900 million collected by Republican candidates for Congress in 2012 - previously the largest haul registered by a single party by this point in the election cycle, according to a Washington Post analysis of Federal Election Commission records.

And it is the first time since 2008 - when Democrats swept the White House and both chambers of Congress - that Democratic candidates for House and Senate have outraised Republicans in direct contributions to candidates' committees.

Republican candidates for Congress raised $709 million through September, FEC records show.

While the fundraising shows remarkable strength on the part of Democrats, it remains to be seen whether the financial advantage can translate to electoral success, said Brendan Glavin, researcher at the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute, which analyzes historical campaign finance records.

"Money provided the platform and provided the ability to get out in front of the voter," he said. "We'll see what happens in the final step."

The figures do not include candidates who are no longer on the ballot or fundraising by outside groups that raise and spend unlimited amounts to support or oppose candidates. Candidates will continue to raise money until, and beyond, the Nov. 6 election.

Sheila Krumholz, executive director of the Center for Responsive Politics, said in a statement Wednesday that this year's midterm election is on track to becoming the costliest congressional election cycle in U.S. history.

"We expected to see the numbers climb, as they typically do, but the astonishing spike in campaign donations is a solid indicator of the intensity driving this year's campaigns," she said.

Democrats are also raising more money than Republicans in donations of less than $200 typically viewed as a sign of grass-roots support. Democrats on the November ballot raised $205 million in such donations - more than three times the amount Republican campaigns pulled in, The Washington Post's analysis shows.

ActBlue, a fundraising platform for Democratic candidates and causes, has been key to the infusion of cash coming in smaller, recurring amounts this year. ActBlue allows donors to give on their smartphones, with the money transferred to the campaign committee the next day.

In the third quarter alone, Democratic candidates and liberal organizations raised more than $385 million from 8.2 million unique contributions through ActBlue, which is more than the amount of money donors gave through the platform in the entire 2014 midterms, the group said.

Since 2017, 4.6 million people have donated through ActBlue, and 60 percent of those donors were first-time contributors, most of whom then went on to give repeatedly, said Erin Hill, executive director of ActBlue. She said giving to political campaigns has become a way for people to express their displeasure over President Donald Trump.

"We're in this time of historic civic engagement," Hill said. "People are marching and taking all sorts of action - protesting, calling their representatives and making small-dollar donations."

Some of those who amassed the most were self-funded, meaning they gave a large amount of money to their own campaign.

The two Democratic candidates for Senate who have raised the most money so far this election are Rep. Beto O'Rourke, who raised a record-setting $61.7 million in his quest to unseat Texas incumbent GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who raised $28.6 million.

The two GOP Senate candidates who have amassed the most money are Gov. Rick Scott of Florida and Robert Hugin of New Jersey, who are both largely self-funding their campaigns.

On the House side, the candidates who have amassed the largest war chests so far are Democrat David Trone, in Maryland's 6th Congressional District - who gave himself most of the $16.5 million he raised - and Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., chairman of the House intelligence committee, who has raised $10.6 million so far for his reelection.

Democratic candidates who survived tough primary battles have received an infusion of cash in the third quarter as they stocked up for their general election fight.

This was especially the case in the most competitive House seats, where first-time challengers raised $3 million or more from July through September.

It is unusual for first-time House candidates to raise $3 million or more in one quarter, Glavin said. House candidates who raise such sums tend to be in House leadership, incumbents who are prolific in raising large amounts of money through mail solicitations, and those who self-funded their campaigns, according to a CFI analysis.

Yet in the third quarter of 2018 alone, several Democratic challengers in the most competitive House races posted remarkable hauls. Among them were $4.4 million from Scott Wallace in Pennsylvania's 1st Congressional District, $3.8 million by Katie Hill in California's 25th District, $3.8 million by Antonio Delgado in New York's 19th District and $3.7 million by Amy McGrath in Kentucky's 6th District.

The FEC data analyzed by The Post for this story included fundraising figures from some Democratic challengers to Democratic incumbents, mainly in a handful of congressional races in California and Louisiana. The Post's analysis focused on candidate committees' fundraising data as of Sept. 30 for those running for the House and Senate in the Nov. 6 general election.

Witness to a killing: Virginia man becomes target after testifying

By Wesley Lowery and Dalton Bennett
Witness to a killing: Virginia man becomes target after testifying
Kenneth Moore looks out the front door of his home in Virginia in September, 2018. He moved after witnessing a deadly crime. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Salwan Georges

RICHMOND, Va. - As his wife began taking the groceries into their apartment, Kenneth Moore stayed planted in the driver's seat of his car, turned up the music and lit a blunt.

Moore, 34, liked to imagine his dented, gray Ford Focus as an escape from everything he hated about Gilpin Court, the sprawling public housing complex where he'd lived for about two years, where gunfire often sent his family down onto their stomachs in fear, cheeks pressed against the cold linoleum floor.

As he relaxed this Sunday afternoon in October 2016, Moore noticed two men on bicycles roll up the street, passing his car. Then he heard a gunshot - glancing up in time to see one of the men fire four or five more times toward the high-rise about a block away.

Moore ran for the apartment, followed closely by his wife, who had been returning to the car for another armful of groceries when the shooting started. Later, they watched from behind a window shade as police put up yellow crime scene tape, and they wondered whether anyone was hurt.

Although he didn't know it at the time, Moore had just become a witness - possibly the only witness - to a homicide. Just up the street, a single bullet had shattered the front windshield of a Nissan Altima parked outside the high-rise. Carmella Winston, 52 - who went by her middle name, Diane - was struck in the head as she sat in the passenger seat. She died later that day.

Winston is one of more than 50,000 homicide victims in major American cities since 2007. The majority of those killings - more than 26,000 - have never resulted in an arrest, according to an ongoing Washington Post examination. In many, if not most, of the unsolved cases, police said investigators believe they know the killer's identity but can't persuade potential witnesses to cooperate.

While most of the departments surveyed by The Washington Post have struggled with low homicide arrest rates, Richmond police are one of the few exceptions.

Officers there have the highest homicide arrest rate of 50 major American cities surveyed, having made an arrest in 351 of 495 homicides - more than 70 percent of cases - since 2007. That outcome, police officials said, is the result of persistent community outreach that has helped encourage witnesses to cooperate.

"If I'm in the city, I'm at every scene," said Chief Alfred Durham, a former District of Columbia police officer who has led Richmond's department since early 2015. "People in the community need to see members of our command staff engaging and doing everything possible to close each case. . . . We're out there building relationships."

Detectives said they have worked hard to gain the confidence of potential witnesses by assuring that police will do all they can to protect them if they come forward.

The high homicide arrest rate is a marked turnaround from just 12 years ago, when Richmond was briefly considered the nation's murder capital because of its high rate of killings per capita. In the years since, current officials said, successive chiefs have overhauled the department, violence has fallen, and arrest rates have soared.

Richmond police acknowledge that they do not face the same challenges as their counterparts in other cities: Even in the mid-2000s, the amount of violent crime in Richmond was far below that in the nation's deadliest cities. For example, while detectives in Baltimore, Detroit and Philadelphia field about a homicide a day, Richmond police have one per week. Unlike their counterparts in Chicago or New Orleans, Richmond police grapple with almost no gang violence.

Still, police here have had success solving cases even in the city's most violent and impoverished neighborhoods, including Gilpin Court - the 780-unit public housing project named after Charles Sidney Gilpin, a Richmond native and famed black actor from the 1920s. There were 22 homicides in Gilpin and the surrounding blocks between 2007 and 2017. All but one of the victims were black. Police made an arrest in 18 of the cases.

Yet Diane Winston's death appeared to be the kind of killing police consider among the most difficult to solve: a bystander killed by an unknown stranger, the bullet most likely intended for someone else.

What the Richmond police needed to bring Winston's killer to justice was a willing witness. They needed Moore.

- - -

In a recent interview, Jean Redwood recalled that her family had just finished their Sunday dinner, about 3 p.m. that afternoon, and were en route to take a plate of food to Redwood's brother, who lived in the Gilpin high-rise. They'd parked on the street - Redwood, now 77, was in the driver's seat, and Winston, her daughter, was seated next to her. Three young grandchildren were in the back.

As Redwood began to pull out of the parking spot, she heard the gunfire.

She quickly ducked low in her seat, screaming for the children to get down. Looking up, she saw shattered glass inside the car. Then she glanced right and saw Winston slumped motionless against the passenger door. A single bullet had pierced the windshield and struck her in the left eye.

In a panic, Redwood jumped out of the car, hollering and crying in the middle of the street as two of her grandchildren, 4- and 6-year-old girls, hid horrified on the floor of the back seat.

"Nana, get back in the car!" her 8-year-old grandson screamed as he chased her into the roadway.

"Let's go to Ms. Debbie's house," the boy urged, as he guided his grandmother back to the driver's seat and directed her to a family friend's home around the corner, where they dialed 911.

Detective Jeff Crewell's shift wasn't supposed to start for another hour when he got the call at home and made his way to Gilpin.

A tall detective with black hair and sea-green eyes, Crewell joined the department in April 1999 after a stint in the Marines. He used to patrol neighborhoods like Gilpin and said assignments in the public housing projects are the most important part of his job. Out in the suburbs, policing often means breaking up high school parties and investigating car break-ins, he said. But in the public housing units of a big city, policing means saving lives and securing justice for victims of serious crimes.

Crewell recalled that by the time he arrived at Gilpin, a crowd had begun to gather around Redwood, who was still disheveled and distraught.

Crewell whisked Redwood away from the crowd and back to the police station, where he gave her a bottle of water and sat her in a conference room to be interviewed.

"I've got some news," Crewell told her after about two hours.

Redwood hung her head. She already knew what was coming. Her daughter hadn't made it.

Back at Gilpin, detectives had begun their canvass for clues and witnesses.

Richmond police had received multiple 911 calls about the shooting. Most were frantic requests for an ambulance - one with the desperate screams of Winston's mother audible in the background. But others offered crucial information.

"The dude that shot her, his name is Rabbit, his nickname is Rabbit," an anonymous caller told police minutes after the shooting. "Somebody is hiding him in one of them apartments."

Minutes later, the same tipster called with another lead: "His last name is Scott."

Within moments, detectives connected with the patrol officers whose beats include Gilpin. They knew Rabbit - George Trevon Watson Scott, 23, the middle of three children in a family well known in Gilpin. Court records show Watson Scott had prior drug-related convictions, but his family said he had no history of violence.

Now that police had a name, they needed to find a witness.

In Richmond, detectives' strategy when canvassing is to walk up to each home and ask whoever answers the door what, if anything, they saw. Because detectives go to every residence, they can assure anyone willing to provide information that their neighbors won't know it was them.

Sometimes the knocks elicit reluctant leads - a name whispered in a detective's ear or scribbled on a piece of paper. More often, they end with a simple insistence: "I don't know anything about that."

Then there are the times when a detective can tell that the person behind the door knows something, but isn't ready to talk.

That was Kenneth Moore the first time police approached his home on the night of the shooting. He and his wife told the detectives they hadn't really seen much. They were still relatively new in the neighborhood, and they wanted to avoid trouble - not insert themselves into the middle of it. Still, Moore made a suggestion.

Much of the initial search had been focused near the high-rise, where police suspected the shots had originated.

But Moore directed detectives to an alleyway. There, they found four shell casings, from a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun.

Moore, the detectives realized, knew more than he was letting on.

One night after the shooting, detectives returned to his apartment. This time, Crewell told Moore and his wife that the victim, an innocent bystander, had died. Was there anything else they could tell him?

Shameek Massey, Moore's wife, had answered the door. When Crewell was done speaking, she glanced back at her husband, who was standing behind her on the apartment stairs. If he was going to say something, they both knew now was the time.

For a decision that would change his life, Moore said he doesn't recall much of a complicated debate. His gut told him not to talk, to stay out of it and to mind his own business. But his conscience tugged at him. Talking to the police could put him in danger - especially if anyone in the neighborhood found out - but it was the right thing to do.

Yeah, he had seen the shooter, Moore reluctantly admitted. It was a man on a bike, in a black hoodie with a big white symbol on the back. He said he didn't know the guy but would recognize him if he saw him again.

It was a major breakthrough for Crewell, who said each case is like a set of building blocks. The tips and whispers are the first block, and finding and winning over a witness is the second. Now, he asked Moore to give him the third - come down to the station and look at a lineup.

Unlike some who lived in Gilpin, Moore said he didn't particularly dislike the police. Sure, there were bad cops, he said, and the department seemed to rally around their own anytime an officer was accused of wrongdoing. But was that really so different from the mind-set in the projects?

"They have their code, and we have ours," Moore explained.

Still, Moore said, he wasn't eager to visit the police station.

In the early 2000s, he was arrested after he helped his manager steal $5,000 from the McDonald's where they worked. Moore, who was a cook, said his manager had told him she needed the money because she was about to be evicted, so he had his brother pretend to rob the restaurant as the manager closed up for the night. It was a half-baked plan that Moore's brother confessed to as soon as police took him into custody.

All three were prosecuted and sent to prison, where Moore spent eight months behind bars. The felony "theft by an employee" conviction on his record has kept him out of work for the decade since. After five years on probation, Moore said, he took pride in no longer having to submit himself to the monthly check-ins.

Still, as Crewell stood in the doorway, Moore thought to himself: He hated all of these shootings. How would they ever stop if no one was willing to snitch on the shooters?

"I've got a mother; that could have been my mom. Or anyone I know," Moore said. "If something like this hit home, I would want somebody to talk."

Sure, Moore told Crewell, he'd come down to the station.

- - -

When asking a witness to identify a suspect from a photo lineup, Richmond police employ a "double blind" strategy - the detective showing the photos doesn't know which person in the photo lineup is under suspicion. Crewell said this is to ensure that witnesses truly identify the people they believe committed the crimes without any help, intentional or inadvertent, from the officers conducting the lineups.

At Richmond police headquarters, a detective showed Moore eight photos. Immediately, he narrowed it down to two who could have been the shooter.

"All of the dudes they were showing me were chubby, but (the shooter's) face wasn't fat," Moore recalled. "It was an oval shape."

He looked again, closer this time. The shooter was the man in photo No. 5, Moore told the police. The man he had identified was George Trevon Watson Scott.

The identification, from a direct witness, was what police needed to make an arrest. Watson Scott was taken into custody and charged with second-degree murder.

Although the high-rise apartments had security cameras, none captured the shooting itself, and investigators never recovered the murder weapon.

Police said they do not believe Winston was the intended target, but they have never publicly stated who was. Winston's family members said the rumors around Gilpin are that Watson Scott was shooting at another man - possibly the other man riding a bicycle - after an argument.

Watson Scott pleaded not guilty - he hadn't done it, his attorneys argued. Without the murder weapon or video of the shooting, how could prosecutors prove he did?

"In certain neighborhoods, everybody knows the people who are involved in criminal activity," said Capt. James Laino, who oversees the major crimes unit in Richmond. "The challenging part is taking that information, building a case and then having that witness be willing to testify in court."

Although Richmond police officials said they tightly safeguard the identities of witnesses who come forward before trial, if a case goes to court, any testimony becomes a matter of public record.

Moore and Massey were both asked by police to testify. And no, police told them, they couldn't do so anonymously. They would be in open court, sworn in under their real names, sitting across from the man they were accusing of murder.

They began to think about all of the ways their lives could change. Moore said he wondered, as he walked home from a nearby convenience store, whether the neighbors knew he was the witness. Massey said she spent late nights on the phone with her mother debating the pros and cons - what if they were threatened and had to move? They'd have to pull the kids out of school. Was it worth it?

"It wasn't that I didn't want to do the right thing," Massey said. "It was what could come afterward - having to move, my kids having to move."

Still, they found Crewell humble and attentive. They said they felt like his questions showed he truly wanted to solve the case. He always made sure their meetings were away from their home so they wouldn't be seen talking with police. And the department had agreed to cover Moore's phone bill, $60 a month, to make sure they could stay in touch with him until the trial.

When the case finally made it to court eight months later, Moore and Massey showed up.

- - -

On the morning of the bench trial, Redwood worried about the witnesses.

Redwood had felt joy when she got the call from Crewell two weeks after the shooting, telling her that he had found witnesses. But now she was scared for Moore and Massey - they had kids, too, didn't they? Would testifying put them at risk? Would it shatter their family the way the shooting had hers?

Winston had been the center of their universe, practically a mother to her 17 nieces and nephews and a best friend to her own mother. Born and raised in Gilpin, Winston had been living with Redwood in Henrico County, about 10 miles south.

She brought in modest wages as a nurse's assistant and a cook at McDonald's, but family members said Winston had fine tastes - her first love was her pearl white Thunderbird with red interior. She rarely drank, but when she did, it was sips of coffee-flavored brandy, never beer.

Outspoken and confident, she could be mean as a snake, her family members said. Her boyfriend recalls that most of their courtship consisted of him carefully calibrating each word to avoid a sharp, biting response.

In the days after the shooting, family members had gotten phone calls, texts and Facebook messages from people they had long known. It seemed everyone in Gilpin had heard gossip about the shooting and the suspect, but no one was willing to speak with police.

Now, settled into a seat near the front of the courtroom, Redwood eagerly waited to hear from the only people willing to cooperate with police.

Moore was the second person to take the stand. He told the judge he'd been sitting in his car, smoking marijuana, when he saw two men bike past him. When he heard gunfire, he looked up - there was only one man there now, the one in the black hoodie, and he was shooting toward the high-rise.

"Do you see the person that you saw firing those four or five shots down St. James Street in the courtroom today?" the prosecutor asked.

"Yes," Moore replied, before raising his hand and pointing to Watson Scott, who sat in a blue prison jumpsuit, sandwiched between his attorneys, just a few feet away.

Watson Scott's defense attorneys tore into Moore's credibility on cross examination. Could he really be sure of whom he saw? Wasn't he high at the time? And hadn't he hesitated during the photo lineup?

"He was definitely trying to play with my brain," Moore recalled of the defense attorney's questioning. "I did get upset but didn't want to show it."

Both legal teams recognized that the case rested solely on Moore. Massey testified, too, taking the stand right after her husband. But she hadn't actually seen the gunman's face - Moore was the only person who placed Watson Scott at the scene of the shooting, firing the gun.

Watson Scott's defense team insisted that Moore's view of the shooter had been obstructed and that he had identified the wrong person.

In court filings, they argued that eyewitness testimony is "the leading cause of wrongful convictions" and cited data showing that at least 602 people were later exonerated because witnesses were mistaken in their identification.

"We wholeheartedly believe that Mr. Watson is innocent, and it's a case of mistaken identity," Catherine Lawler, one of Watson Scott's defense attorneys, said in an interview with The Washington Post. She also said that she believes police pressured Moore to identify someone from the photo lineup and that he may have previously seen Watson Scott in Gilpin.

"They got the wrong guy," she said.

Watson Scott never testified, and his attorneys offered no alibi that would prove he was not the shooter.

"The entire case hinges upon this one witness, a convicted felon who's smoking marijuana, who's making an identification across the street with another person in between them, and that person has their hoodie drawn," Ali Amirshahi, Watson Scott's lead public defender, said in his closing argument. "That in and of itself is reasonable doubt to convict somebody of murder."

The judge ruled almost immediately, concluding that Moore's testimony was credible and that the prosecution had proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Watson Scott had been the shooter. Finding Watson Scott guilty of second-degree murder, the judge sentenced him to 40 years in prison, with 16 suspended. An appeal is pending, and Watson Scott's family and attorneys still insist he is innocent.

Moore said he felt proud of himself as he gazed over to Winston's family, who had been present for the entire trial wearing T-shirts with her face printed on them.

Then he felt the fear rise up from his stomach. How would things change now that everyone knew he was the witness?

- - -

Moore's first impulse was to run - for his family to pack up and drive back to New York, where he'd grown up, where he knew he'd be safe.

He spent hours replaying the short trial in his head, scanning the faces of each person he remembered from the courtroom. As he walked the cracked sidewalks of Gilpin, he kept his head low, hoping to avoid eye contact with the people he passed.

But he had moved here to be closer to his mother, who lived in Richmond. Moving back to New York would mean abandoning her. And besides, he thought to himself, there was time to make up his mind. If someone was going to retaliate, it probably wouldn't be for at least a few months, right?

It took just two weeks.

That afternoon, Moore had driven to Tiger Market, a convenience store with a kitchen that fries takeout chicken and where many Gilpin residents paid their rent.

He had just gotten back into his car, a bottle of Dr Pepper and a bag of salt and vinegar chips in his hands, when a brick smashed into his driver's side window.

Moore looked up and saw three men approaching his car with more bricks and sticks.

He threw it in reverse and sped away.

"You didn't run them over?!" Massey exclaimed minutes later, as her husband relayed what happened.

"We've got to get out of here," Moore replied.

They called Crewell that day to tell him what happened and began the process of applying for housing elsewhere. They pulled their four kids out of school and started packing. By the next month, they had left Gilpin for good.

Today, Moore and Massey live elsewhere in Virginia, in a nondescript, sparsely furnished apartment with no air conditioning, no longer near his mother in Richmond.

The Richmond Police Department helped pay for their moving costs, but uprooting and relocating so quickly set them back financially. Several of the bedrooms lack dressers, and for the past few months, Moore has struggled to pay his phone bill.

He is still convinced that he did the right thing, even if he's frustrated with having to start over in a new city. But at least, he notes, his new neighborhood is quiet. He doesn't have to sit in his car anymore because there is nothing to escape - there are rarely any shootings.

- - -

The Washington Post's Kimbriell Kelly, Steven Rich and Ted Mellnik contributed to this report.


Video Embed Code

Video: Diane Winston was struck and killed by a stray bullet meant for someone else in Richmond One man witnessed the shooting and helped lead police to her killer.(Dalton Bennett/The Washington Post)

Embed code: <iframe src="" width="480" height="290" data-aspect-ratio="0.5621" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

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If Trump never fails to infuriate, Clinton consistently disappoints

By ruth marcus
If Trump never fails to infuriate, Clinton consistently disappoints


(Advance for Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time. Normally advance for Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018.)

(For Marcus clients only)

WRITETHRU: Tweaking quotes from Clinton's CBS interview in 8th-13th grafs.


WASHINGTON -- Between the man who is president and the woman who ran against him, there is, for me, no contest; Hillary Clinton would have been a far better president than Donald Trump. But both Trump and Clinton, in their own trademark ways, stepped in it again this week when it comes to women.

Trump's comments -- describing Stormy Daniels as "Horseface" -- are the more offensive if for no other reason than that he is the president, and presidential words carry extra weight. Yet Clinton's comments -- insisting that her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky did not constitute an abuse of power because Lewinsky, then 22, "was an adult" -- are the more painful because she could have, should have done better.

Trump played to piggish type with his comment about Daniels, the porn actress who was paid $130,000 to keep quiet about a sexual encounter she says she had with Trump. This was not a spur-of-the-moment utterance, it was a tweet about a judge's ruling in Trump's favor in a defamation suit filed by Daniels: "Great, now I can go after Horseface and her 3rd rate lawyer," Trump wrote.

"Horseface" now joins the panoply of Trump's greatest sexist hits: "Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?" (Carly Fiorina). "Face of a pig" (Gail Collins). "Fat ugly face" (Rosie O'Donnell). "Blood coming out of her wherever" (Megyn Kelly). That this is not anywhere near the complete list tells you everything you need to know about Trump's unrelenting offensiveness.

This far into the administration, it is folly to expect some version of presidential Trump to emerge. Indeed, just two days before "Horseface," there was Trump on "60 Minutes," behaving in a way that is more subtle but also more chilling. At one point in the interview, Leslie Stahl recounts Christine Blasey Ford's searing testimony about the indelible laughter of Brett Kavanaugh and his friend. Trump shrugs it off, literally. His shoulders rise. He tilts his head in one direction, then another. "OK fine," he says. Whatever.

"I watched you mimic her and thousands of people were laughing at her," Stahl told Trump. She invited regret; the president responded with unadulterated callousness. "The way now-Justice Kavanaugh was treated has become a big factor in the midterms. Have you seen what's gone on with the polls?" And, the ultimate in Trumpian instrumentalism: "It doesn't matter. We won."

Once we scoffed at Bill Clinton for being the feel-your-pain president. Now we have a president who is only capable of feeling the pain of those who are similarly aggrieved.

Speaking of Bill Clinton, there was his wife on CBS' "Sunday Morning," being asked about workplace conduct in the clarifying light of the #MeToo movement. "In retrospect, do you think Bill should've resigned in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal?" asked correspondent Tony Dokoupil.

Clinton, without hesitation: "Absolutely not."

Dokoupil: "It wasn't an abuse of power?"

Clinton: "No, no."

Dokoupil: "There are people who look at the incidents of the '90s and they say, a president of the United States cannot have a consensual relationship with an intern, the power imbalance is too great."

Clinton, interjecting mid-sentence: "Who was an adult. But let me ask you this, where's the investigation of the current incumbent against whom numerous allegations have been made and which he dismisses denies and ridicules?"

(BEG ITAL)Who was an adult(END ITAL). How can she say that, as if that is relevant in any way? Lewinsky's technical adulthood is no defense for Bill Clinton's behavior -- in the workplace, as her superior (not to mention president), as a man old enough to be her father. And whatever the reasons for Hillary Clinton's instinctive defense of her husband's behavior then, her summary dismissal of it now diminishes her claim to feminism.

Would it not be possible for her to choke out something like: "We've all had some time to think about this and, yes, this was unacceptable workplace behavior. I don't think a president who was elected by the country should have resigned over it, but I also think this conduct was seriously wrong."

But this is not, it never has been, in Hillary Clinton's emotional repertoire. She does not cede a millimeter; like Trump, she is allergic to apology. Like Trump, she is prone to whataboutism. If what Bill Clinton did was wrong, why does it matter if what Trump has done is wronger, if indeed it was? Whataboutism is an argument for losers, whichever side deploys it.

And so we are left with this depressing juxtaposition: A president who never hesitates to stoop in demeaning women. And a should've-been-president who is a champion for women except those mistreated by her husband. If Trump never fails to infuriate, Clinton consistently disappoints.

Ruth Marcus' email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

What did U.S. spy agencies know about threats on Khashoggi, and when?

By david ignatius
What did U.S. spy agencies know about threats on Khashoggi, and when?



(For Ignatius clients only)

WRITETHRU: 2nd to last graf, 1st sentence: "King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud" sted "King Abdel-Aziz"


WASHINGTON -- Saudi Arabia must conduct a serious, no-holds-barred investigation of the apparent gruesome murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi. The kingdom's relationship with America, and its access to global financial markets, hangs in the balance.

But in the meantime, the Senate and House intelligence committees should begin an urgent oversight investigation of what U.S. spy agencies knew about threats against Khashoggi -- and also into their broader reporting and analysis on Saudi Arabia and its headstrong Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

This congressional probe should focus first on the intelligence agencies' "duty to warn" Khashoggi about any lethal threat, because his American residency qualified him as a "U.S. person" for whom such a warning was required. The inquiry should look, too, for any hint that American intelligence about MBS has been skewed by the Trump White House for political reasons. And the probe should examine the larger problem of American visibility into the kingdom, which has too often been a black hole for our spy agencies.

A congressional inquiry would blunt an apparent White House effort to put a lid on Saudi-related information. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., complained Wednesday: "I suppose they don't want us to see the intel."

The bottom line: Saudi Arabia is at an existential tipping point. The U.S. urgently needs to understand how the kingdom got into this grisly mess, and where it's going.

A Saudi friend tells me that we're at an unanticipated fulcrum of history, a bit like the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in June 1914, or the failed plot by German officers to assassinate Adolf Hitler in 1944. Khashoggi's apparent death may seem unimportant by comparison, but it has begun a chain of events that could alter the Middle East.

This congressional probe should be secret, because it would involve highly sensitive information. The committees should review every Saudi-related item included in the President's Daily Brief since Trump took office. If the PDB missed important developments, why? Did the CIA prepare a psychological profile of MBS? What did it say? Did the intelligence community augment its collection as reports emerged about Khashoggi's death? Did the White House or National Security Council make any special tasking requests? Did Trump or his aides ignore or dismiss any vital intelligence?

Here are some specific questions I hope would guide the committees' inquiry:

-- From King Salman's accession in January 2015, what was the role of the Allegiance Council, the body that supposedly oversees Saudi political transitions? What did the CIA know about the council's quick ratification of MBS' elevation to deputy crown prince in April 2015 and to crown prince in June 2017? How do the analysts assess the council's potential role now, with MBS under a dark cloud of suspicion?

-- When MBS replaced Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince, did U.S. intelligence have advance warning? Did the close personal relationship between MBS and Trump's son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner affect U.S. assessment of the putsch against MBN, a longtime CIA partner? Did the pro-MBS tilt affect U.S. intelligence collection or analysis in any other ways?

-- When MBS ordered the arrest in November 2017 of more than 200 Saudis, including many princes, what assessment did the intelligence community offer? When Gen. Ali Qahtani, an aide to one of the sons of the late King Abdullah, died in captivity, did the CIA try to discover what happened?

-- When the Saudis tried to arrest and kidnap from overseas a prominent businessman critical of MBS in the summer of 2016, was U.S. intelligence aware? Gen. Yousuf bin Ali al-Idrissi, the deputy chief of intelligence who allegedly had been sent to organize this "rendition," was reportedly fired after he returned home empty-handed. Did the CIA ask why?

-- When Maj. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri became deputy chief of intelligence last year, replacing Idrissi, he moved into MBS' inner circle. What did U.S. intelligence do after it learned last month that Assiri was organizing a "tiger team" for covert special operations? What does the intelligence community know about reported Saudi plans this week to identify Assiri as the culprit in Khashoggi's death?

-- Saudis tell me that those who oppose MBS are quietly rallying around Prince Ahmed, the last remaining son of the founding King Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud. Have U.S. intelligence agencies provided the White House any assessments about Ahmed's views and political prospects? Would he stabilize the kingdom after the MBS earthquake, or produce greater instability?

These are intrusive questions, but that's the essence of good oversight. The congressional intelligence committees were created for moments like this. The committees need to do their job, urgently. A U.S. person appears to have been brutally murdered in Istanbul. What did U.S. intelligence know, and when did it know it?

David Ignatius' email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

How not to modernize Saudi Arabia

By marc a. thiessen
How not to modernize Saudi Arabia


(Advance for Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Thiessen clients only)


WASHINGTON -- If, as appears increasingly likely, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, then he has joined Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un among the ranks of rogue leaders who assassinate their critics on foreign soil. The only difference is that the Russian president and North Korean leader weren't reckless and stupid enough to kill their opponents inside their own consulates.

The disappearance of Khashoggi, a Post contributing columnist, is a horrific crime. His loss will be felt deeply for those who cherish freedom of expression and believe that all people, including those in the Arab world, deserve to be free.

Khashoggi's disappearance is also a betrayal of President Trump. Upon taking office, Trump made Saudi Arabia his first foreign trip and put his new administration's reputation and prestige behind the crown prince and his reforms. The crown prince, or MBS, as he is widely known, has possibly repaid those efforts by brutally killing a permanent U.S. resident. His betrayal has now put Trump in an impossible bind. The president must now find a way to reconcile three sets of irreconcilable facts:

Fact No. 1: The United States can't simply ignore or sweep Khashoggi's death under the table. Even if Trump wants to do so, Congress won't let him -- nor should it. There must be consequences.

Fact No. 2: MBS is not going anywhere. Saudi Arabia is a monarchy. He is the son of the king. He has spent the past few years systematically eliminating his rivals and consolidating power. The idea that a new leader is going to emerge to replace him is not realistic. And if, by chance, such a leader did emerge, it would likely be someone who wants to roll back the crown prince's efforts to rein in the religious establishment, clean up corruption and open up Saudi society. Be careful what you wish for.

Fact No. 3: We need Saudi Arabia, less as a source of oil -- the fracking revolution has dramatically expanded our energy independence -- than as a counterweight to Iran, which is the main strategic menace to U.S. interests in the region. Saudi Arabia is our most important ally in countering that threat. No other country in the Middle East can play that role. A permanent breach with Saudi Arabia is not an acceptable outcome.

How does Trump reconcile these three irreconcilable realities? The answer is: He can't. The result is going to be unpleasant and unsatisfying.

Many Democrats taking shots at the president as he tries to figure out a path forward need to check their hypocrisy. As my American Enterprise Institute colleague Danielle Pletka pointed out, "if you can't restrain yourself from blaming Trump, spare a moment to blame [President Barack] Obama for the war in Syria," where more than 470,000 men, women and children have died while the United States has stood by and done nothing. If you had a role in Middle East policy in the past eight years, that finger you are pointing at the Trump administration has blood dripping off it.

So, what is going to happen? While we do need Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabia also needs us. Trump said that he has told King Salman that Saudi Arabia would not last "two weeks" without U.S. military support. He's right. We saved the Saudis from Saddam Hussein's aggression and now protect them from Iran's.

Moreover, the United States has other leverage. Trump should make clear that Saudi Arabia's actions have squandered the once bipartisan support in Congress for the kingdom -- and that, unlike Saudi Arabia, the United States is not a monarchy. Congress has a say in our Middle East policy. It can impose costs on Saudi Arabia, by blocking military aid and arms sales. A bipartisan group of senators sent a letter to Trump calling for an investigation under the Magnitsky Act -- a U.S. law that mandates sanctions, including travel restrictions and freezing assets, of foreign individuals who have committed gross violations of human rights.

Magnitsky sanctions would have real teeth, because members of the royal family love to travel outside the Arabian Peninsula, where they can do things they cannot do at home. If MBS wants to avoid a rupture in relations, then he must accept responsibility and make restitution. He must acknowledge that he understands the gravity of this mistake -- that he has made Saudi Arabia an international pariah, and is willing to do what is necessary to dig himself out of that hole through steps such as the release of political prisoners. And he must commit to stopping this kind of brutal behavior. Because his professed desire to modernize Saudi Arabia is incompatible with the medieval horrors that apparently took place in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Follow Marc A. Thiessen on Twitter, @marcthiessen.

(c) 2018, The Washington Post Writers Group

What Khashoggi's apparent murder says about Saudi Arabia -- and America

By fareed zakaria
What Khashoggi's apparent murder says about Saudi Arabia -- and America


(Advance for Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Zakaria clients only)


NEW YORK -- The apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi tells us something important about Saudi Arabia. But it also tells us something important about America.

First Saudi Arabia. As has been often noted, Jamal Khashoggi used to be part of the Saudi establishment. Although not a member of the House of Saud, he was well-born and well-connected. He edited an important Saudi newspaper and worked for senior royals. I first met him 14 years ago; he was one of the people who assisted me when I spent a week in Riyadh and Jeddah. Khashoggi was working for Prince Turki al-Faisal, the longtime head of Saudi intelligence who was at that time ambassador to Britain and would later become ambassador to the United States. Turki is one of the sons of King Faisal -- in other words, as senior a royal as you can get, other than the monarch.

Khashoggi was, even in those days, a liberal and a reformer but always moderate and incremental in his approach. He worried that too much reform would be disruptive. "I would like to see my government taking harsher measures against [extremist elements]," he told me in 2005 on my PBS show, "Foreign Exchange." But at the same time, he warned about going too fast. "We do not want to break the society," he said.

Watching Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's approach today, a mix of authoritarianism and real reforms, Khashoggi became more critical but was never a radical. So why was he apparently seen as so threatening? Perhaps because he was respected within the Saudi establishment. Harvard's Tarek Masoud suggests that the Khashoggi affair might signal that there is greater dissent within the Saudi establishment than we had believed. If so, this is significant. When the scholar Samuel Huntington studied the breakdown of authoritarian regimes in the 1970s and 1980s, he noted that a schism within the ruling elite was almost always the precursor to a broader breakdown of the regime.

Historically, Saudi Arabia has maintained stability because it was really a patronage state, not a police state. The kingdom has typically dealt with its critics and dissenters by buying them off -- most importantly in the case of hardline clerics. It employed this strategy again most recently after the Arab Spring, when it massively increased subsidies to the people and gave bonuses to government employees. It worked. In fact, a lesson of the Arab Spring seems to be that repression doesn't work as well -- consider Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Syria's Bashar Assad -- as bribery does.

Yet MBS, as the Saudi crown prince is known, appears to be changing the patronage model, bringing it closer to the police-state one. He has mixed economic, social and religious reforms with an ever-tighter grip on power, shaking down businessmen, imprisoning activists, targeting news platforms -- and now, it would seem, executing a columnist.

Leaving aside their immorality, ruthless actions such as these tend to produce instability in the long run. Mubarak couldn't hold on, and Assad's survival has come at a staggering cost, with his territory diminished and mostly in ruins. Ironically, for someone so ferociously anti-Iranian, MBS resembles no Middle Eastern ruler as much as the shah of Iran, a reformer and also a despot, who was much loved by Western elites.

Mohammed bin Salman is a complicated figure. He has moved Saudi Arabia forward in some areas while moving it toward greater repression in others. But the larger issue is that America's foreign policy should not be based on personalities. Donald Trump's worldview seems utterly rooted in his likes and dislikes of other leaders -- from Kim Jong Un to Angela Merkel to MBS. In the Middle East, this has led to the blind subcontracting of American foreign policy to Saudi Arabia. Washington has watched and de facto endorsed the kingdom as it ramped up its war in Yemen, blockaded Qatar, quarreled with Turkey, and essentially kidnapped the prime minister of Lebanon. All these moves have, in large measure, failed.

America's Middle East policy should be based on its interests and values in the region, and these will never be perfectly aligned with any one country. Historically, this has meant being an honest broker, respected by all major powers. It is what allowed Henry Kissinger to practice shuttle diplomacy and pull Egypt away from the Soviet camp, and it is what helped Jimmy Carter forge the Camp David accords. This is why, from Bill Clinton to George W. Bush to Barack Obama, the U.S. government has urged even its Arab allies to undertake serious political reforms.

All this requires nuance, sophistication and ceaseless high-quality diplomacy. This is the price of being the leader of the free world, a job that we appear of late to have vacated.

Fareed Zakaria's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

Trump has abdicated moral leadership on what should be core issues for America

By eugene robinson
Trump has abdicated moral leadership on what should be core issues for America


(Advance for Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Robinson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- When the United States does not stand up for human rights and freedom of expression, there are tragic consequences. The apparent torture and murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi is one of them.

From the beginning, President Trump and his advisers have given Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a green light to do whatever he wants. Now Trump complains, against all evidence and logic, that the prince is unfairly being judged "guilty until proven innocent" of Khashoggi's disappearance and almost certain demise. There have been more shameful episodes in American foreign policy, but not in a long, long time.

It is true that Saudi Arabia's corrupt ruling family has never respected its citizens' basic human rights. It is also true that the oil-rich kingdom is a longstanding U.S. ally -- and that any president, faced with an incident such as Khashoggi's apparent killing, would have the tough job of balancing competing geopolitical interests.

But I have to wonder if Salman would not have ordered the hit job -- and it is utterly implausible that Khashoggi was accosted without Salman's go-ahead -- unless he had confidence that the Trump administration would let him get away with it.

And why would Salman think otherwise?

There has been hardly a peep out of Washington about the brutal war Salman is conducting in Yemen, with U.S. assistance -- and with no apparent qualms about civilian casualties. In August, a Saudi air strike killed at least 40 children. The Pentagon sent a fact-finding mission, and then the facts -- dead children -- were ignored.

The Trump administration also offered no real objection when Salman orchestrated a punishing diplomatic and economic embargo against Qatar, which is also a U.S. ally and hosts thousands of American troops. One of the Saudi regime's complaints was about aggressive news coverage by the Al Jazeera network, which is based in Qatar and funded by the nation's rulers -- and which seeks, as Khashoggi did, to hold governments accountable.

On the plus side, Salman has made it possible for Saudi women to drive automobiles for the first time. On the minus side, he has jailed several prominent advocates for women's rights. Salman wants to be seen as a brash reformer, but he also acts like a goonish thug.

There is a strategy behind the administration's see-no-evil indulgence. Trump and his aides want a rich, powerful, well-armed Saudi Arabia to lead a coalition of Arab nations in confronting and constraining Iran and forging new, less hostile relationships with Israel. Trump is also fixated on the benefit to U.S. industry of increased arms purchases by the Saudis.

These reasonable-sounding goals have been shown to be naive and unrealistic. The Saudis are throwing their weight around in ways that make the region more unstable, not less. Salman has done nothing to make it politically feasible for other Arab governments to publicly come to terms with Israel. And the "$110 billion" in arms sales that Trump boasts about is largely a mirage.

Worst of all, Trump has abdicated moral leadership on what should be core issues for any U.S. administration. For at least a century, we have -- at least publicly -- stood for universal human rights. We have stood for democracy. We have stood for freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

We have not always lived up to those ideals -- I covered Chile under dictator Augusto Pinochet, who took power in a U.S.-backed coup -- but no president has refused to even pay lip service to human rights principles, as Trump does. And when governments have killed innocent civilians or imprisoned dissidents or squelched independent media voices, U.S. administrations have reacted forcefully with both words and deeds.

The United States is more than a set of national interests. It is a set of ideas that have inspired seekers of freedom throughout the world. Ronald Reagan made a difference when he went to Berlin and demanded that Mikhail Gorbachev "tear down this wall." Trump, apparently, would have offered to sell the Soviet leader more concrete and barbed wire.

Trump's reaction to Khashoggi's apparent assassination has been stomach-turning and disgraceful, but we have heard admirably honest and tough words from Republican senators such as Bob Corker of Tennessee, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. Now we'll see if they -- for once -- take any meaningful action to uphold American ideals. I'm not holding my breath.

I don't know if the president could have said or done anything that would have kept the Saudis from horrifically taking Jamal Khashoggi's life. But I do know that Trump didn't even try.

Eugene Robinson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

What does Trump's ascendance mean about America?

By michael gerson
What does Trump's ascendance mean about America?


(Advance for Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, and thereafter. Web release Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018, at 8 p.m. Eastern time.)

(For Gerson clients only)


WASHINGTON -- It is a sign of the times -- the kind involving the seven-horned beast, and the rain of fire, and the end of days -- that recent news has been dominated by Kanye, Stormy and the misogynist boor who is president of these United States. It would be a circus if it were not a crime scene, complete with credible accusations of financial corruption, obstruction of justice and campaign collusion with a hostile foreign power.

But in the dark, scary basement of our politics, more basic questions lurk concerning what Donald Trump's ascendance means about America. Is Trump ultimately an aberration or the forerunner of a new, degraded politics involving a racially divisive, ethno-nationalist populism? And is it alarmist to go all the way and call Trump a fascist?

With due respect to my leftist friends, the charge goes too far at this point. In an email exchange, one conservative leader told me: "I do think it's basically mere alarmism, yes. We have a president whose shallow malevolence is matched only by his bottomless incompetence. But that's not fascism. It's more weakness than strength."

In day-to-day policy matters -- tax cuts and court appointments -- Trump has generally hewn to Republican orthodoxy. (The exception is immigration policy, in which Trump has normalized great abuses.) The president has not changed the libel laws to cripple the news business -- which he has repeatedly promised. He has not directly defied court orders -- though he has publicly attacked judges. He has not destroyed the independence of federal law enforcement -- though he has tried to undermine its credibility.

This represents the minimal political achievement -- like using a jump rope as a hurdle. But the accusation of fascism must clear a high hurdle, so that the term has content when it is necessary to employ.

And yet. It is impossible to listen closely to Trump without hearing echoes of fascist language and arguments. He describes a form of national unity based on deference to a single leader. He claims to lead a movement that speaks exclusively for American values. He defines this movement primarily through exclusion, by directing bigotry and contempt toward outsiders. He paints the picture of an idealized past, involving pride, ethnic solidarity and national greatness.

Fascism may not describe what Trump has done, as opposed to what he says. But what he says matters and can create its own dangerous dynamic. It is possible for a leader to be incompetent and still profoundly corrupt the people who follow him, undermining the virtues -- tolerance, civility and compromise -- that make democratic self-government work. It is possible for a foolish leader to leave the imprint of fascism on a portion of his followers. And the language used by Trump -- particularly a certain racially tinged nostalgia and a tribal resentment for the other -- strikes me as at a higher level of prominence and acceptance than at any time I can remember. So maybe, rather than fearing a fascist dictator, we should fear the legitimacy of fascist modes of thought in the Republican Party.

This is a more complex danger than most talk of fascism generally suggests. But it is a danger nonetheless.

And one event in particular could quickly heighten that danger. Consider what American politics would look like if Republicans -- against all odds and expectations -- were to keep the Senate and House. There might be many explanations for such a result -- exceptional economic conditions, bad Democratic strategy, the rallying effect of Brett Kavanaugh among Republicans -- but we know how the president would interpret it. He would regard such a victory as the complete vindication -- the stamp of national approval -- on his entire approach to politics.

All the last remaining opposition in the GOP would melt, and many of his supporters would be calling for retribution against enemies and traitors. The whole leadership of the FBI and Justice Department -- anyone who ever displeased him -- would be at immediate risk of replacement. Trump would take his victory as permission for even more brutal treatment of migrants. More generally, a leader with no commitment to the separation of powers, with no respect for the traditional self-restraints of the presidency, with savage disdain for the free press, with an admiration for authoritarians, with a history of menacing individuals and companies by name and with a talent for division and dehumanization would feel unbound.

The boor, the bluffer, the bully would be a political colossus. Then the language of fascism might become less theoretical. Then alarmism would be realism.

Michael Gerson's email address is

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

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