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Washington’s top lawyer uses strategic streak to fight Trump

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at a news conference about a federal appeals court’s refusal to reinstate President Donald Trump’s ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim nations, in Seattle.

SEATTLE >> The legal challenge that would launch Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson into the vanguard of resistance against President Donald Trump’s travel ban was already in the works as Ferguson flew home from Florida the morning after Trump issued his executive order.

In fact, it had been planned for some time.

“We were having internal conversations about a potential action by the president along those lines,” Ferguson recalled in an interview. “It wasn’t like we were starting from ground zero.”

The legwork paid off. Within three days, the state’s lawsuit over the ban — a more sweeping challenge than other cases filed over Trump’s order — had been filed. The result? First a decision from a federal judge in Seattle that blocked nationwide enforcement of the ban, then a resounding win at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The strategic thinking that led to the victories is one of Ferguson’s hallmarks, say those who have observed his career. Ferguson attributes it to spending his formative years playing competitive chess. He was a two-time state champion by his early 20s.

“Chess teaches you to anticipate your opponent’s threats and moves,” he said. “If your opponent makes a move that surprises you, that’s a problem.”

Ferguson, a boyish 51-year-old Democrat, is serving his second term as Washington’s top lawyer after winning two-thirds of the vote against a Libertarian challenger last fall. The Republicans didn’t field a candidate.

His office has launched significant lawsuits during his tenure, including several that made national headlines.

He has filed consumer protection lawsuits against major computer technical support and student loan companies over what he described as predatory practices; sued President Barack Obama’s administration over cleanup of the Hanford nuclear reservation, where the government made plutonium for weapons; and took a florist to court for refusing to serve clients staging a gay wedding.

Last fall, Ferguson made Washington the first state to sue the agrochemical giant Monsanto over pervasive pollution from PCBs. An avid backpacker and mountain climber, he spoke of his anger that one of Washington’s major rivers, the Skagit, on which his great-grandparents homesteaded in the 19th century, is now contaminated.

None of those cases generated the interest of the one challenging Trump’s order halting refugees and citizens of seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the U.S. Ferguson called it unconstitutional and un-American.

Ferguson had been attending a meeting of Democratic attorneys general in Florida when the ban was announced late Friday, Jan. 27. When he landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on Saturday, his voicemail was full of messages alerting him to Gov. Jay Inslee’s plans for a news conference at the airport to condemn the ban.

Ferguson decided to skip it and headed north to Seattle, where his team, led by state Solicitor General Noah Purcell and the head of the office’s civil rights unit, Colleen Melody, was already putting together the state’s lawsuit.

They worked through the weekend. Where other lawsuits had sought the release of specific travelers who had been detained on arrival in the U.S., Washington sued on its own sake — citing widespread harm to its universities, businesses, tax collections and residents.

“He’s got this smartest-kid-in-your-high-school-class thing, but he’s a bulldog when he wants something,” Chris Vance, former head of the state Republican Party, said about Ferguson. “He’s extremely politically ambitious, and he’s unwilling to take no for an answer.”

Ferguson was 38 during his first campaign, virtually unknown and taking on the chairwoman of the King County Council, a 20-year incumbent from his own party. That didn’t sit well with the local Democratic honchos, but Ferguson says he knocked on 22,000 doors and won by 528 votes after 30,000 ballots were cast.

“I remember talking to him saying, ‘Hey, Bob, come down to the Seattle Chamber of Commerce for their interview panel because you might have a shot at getting their endorsement,’” said King County Councilman Rod Dembowski, who helped run Ferguson’s campaign. “He wouldn’t do it because it would have taken three hours away from doorbelling.”

Two years later, the council reduced its size from 13 members to nine — and the powers repaid Ferguson by eliminating his district, forcing him to run against another Democratic incumbent. He won again.

Ferguson has gone his own way as attorney general, too, perhaps no more so than in his 2013 hiring of Purcell, who’s been arguing the state’s case against the travel ban in court. The solicitor general position normally goes to a seasoned attorney. Purcell, a former clerk for Justice David Souter, was 33.

“That Noah was so young and had never argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court — or even the state Supreme Court — did not go unnoticed by many folks in my office,” Ferguson said.

Once his staff saw Purcell in action, though, any concerns evaporated.

Questioned about whether he’s comfortable in the national spotlight, Ferguson demurred. The attention comes with the territory, he said. And though he’s frequently mentioned as a possible governor, that’s not on his mind right now.

“When I ran for attorney general, I used to say I felt that it was the most consequential position in state government, and people often looked at me with a strange expression,” Ferguson said. “I can tell you, when I say that now, nobody gives me a funny look.”

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      • Well, the congress is supposed to work together. It’s why they have the “whips”, both sides.
        It is not really the same thing. Judges are supposed to abandon their personal inclinations.

        From what I have read the judge was wrong.
        A 1952 statute clearly gives the President the authority.

        In the ruling that I watched, Judge Robard explicitly denied offering protection to the persecuted religious minorities, on the basis that it would be discrimination based on religion.
        The Executive Order had sought to give special protection to Jews, Christians and Yazidi, etc. who were being slaughtered by Muslim extremists, as per their interpretation of the Koran.

        Some people are claiming that if we keep out the Syrian refugees we are doing the same thing as when we kept out the Jews in the Second World War.
        From what I have seen, it is is the exact opposite. Robard is making argument that would have kept the Jews out.
        The analogy would be that we cannot let in the Jews unless we also let in the Nazis.

        From what I have read, the Christians and Yazidi etc. have nowhere to go. They are safer in the wilderness than going into the UN and other sponsored refugee camps.

  • This is Not Washington states top Atty
    He’s a hack using his office for political agenda
    He will leave soon as he runs for dog catcher
    Almost all of his work is overturned

  • Be careful my friend. It seems like putin’$ “dissappearing” foes policies are likely to be implemented here. Once the sanctions are lifted with Russia, the operatives will do his biddings. Very scary scenerio.

    • I take it you believe in little green men, the great pumpkin, that the Russians invented everything except cheese

      This is one if the funniest DEM attempts to make their party relevant The election has No proof none of this supposed Russian tampering

      • Localcitizen, Putin as head of the Russian KGB aND now the FSB, and the GMU, both intelligence & security agencies of the Russian State and military, have been conducting cyberwarfare against everyone in their country and elsewhere around the world, have so much dirt and information, that Trump is terrified to contradict Putin. Trump’s and his Administration would be devastated if Putin released Trump’s business dealings and intimate details of Trump’s personal life and obsessions

        • vector: where can I find the facts supporting your allegations that President Trump could be blackmailed? I can’t find them posted anywhere.

        • From what I have read, everyone’s doing it.
          All of your Google searches, all your FaceBook activity, it seems it is all being watched by someone.
          The sin has now become not protecting your information.
          If Putin has more on us than we have on him, then that does not say much for our capabilities.

          I recall the US was listening in on Angela Merkel’s cellphone.
          I wonder what kind of “dirt and information” we picked up there.

  • IMO, this AG sounds like a go-getter as opposed to our wanna be revelevant Hawaii State AG. I would advocate for Hawaii to elect their State AG but hedge as our elected City Prosecutor continues to disappoint. For an elected AG to work, we need a vibrant two party system.

  • It’s a good thing that checks and balances are in place in our nation’s government. Now, with a Congress handcuffed to their party dominance of the Republicans, we must find a champion of ethics. Trump’s unethical practices and conflict of interest must be brought up and fought. The fact that this president chooses to use his office to give financial advantage to his business through bullying tactics through Twitter as in the case of Nordstram, is simply WRONG. Someone must step up to him and hope that attorneys general will stand up for what is right.

  • Our Founding Fathers have put into place checks and balances. Trump’s use of his office for financial gain for his businesses such as his daughter’s through Twitter to pressure Nordstram is simply wrong. With Congress sitting idly by as this conflict of interest goes on is not right. We need our attorneys general to step up to the plate.

  • Trump’s use of his office to garner business advantage is wrong as it is unethical and a conflict of interest. Our Congress is just standing by as their political allegiance is more important to them. Something must be done.

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