Mueller Report discussion Friday in Aspen a timely legal aid fundraiser
The timing of Friday’s fundraiser for a nonprofit that offers free civil legal advice to low-income residents of the Roaring Fork Valley couldn’t be better.
“The Mueller Report and Impeachment Perspectives,” a discussion between Colorado’s attorney general and a former U.S. solicitor general who helped draft the special counsel regulations comes on the heels of Robert Mueller’s first public comments Wednesday on the investigation he headed.
“The timing is crazy,” said Helen Obermeyer, a board member at Alpine Legal Services. “There’s a lot on the table right now.”
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser and Neal Katyal, who took over as U.S. solicitor general when President Barack Obama appointed Elena Kagan to the U.S. Supreme Court, will head what is billed as a bipartisan discussion about the Mueller Report as well as other topics affecting Colorado and the nation, according to statements and Obermeyer.
“We want an open discussion,” Obermeyer said. “We don’t want a bunch of Democrats asking for impeachment.”
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In a 10-minute news conference Wednesday, Mueller made his first public remarks and characterizations of his two-year investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said from the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C.
Mueller said he couldn’t charge a sitting president with a crime per Justice Department policy, though he noted that the Constitution authorizes Congress to formally accuse a president of wrongdoing.
Katyal — who has praised both Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh as worthy Supreme Court justices — seized on Mueller’s statement.
“Make no mistake: this is ultimately about violation of the most core duty a President has, to take care to faithfully execute laws,” he wrote Wednesday on Twitter. “This is about fitness for office and impeachment.
“Congress, your ball. Your duty.”
Katyal helped draft the regulations that “served as the blueprint for the recent Mueller investigation” in 1999 at the request of Congress after President Bill Clinton’s impeachment. He also argued successfully as solicitor general in front of the Supreme Court in favor of The Voting Rights Act and the Affordable Care Act, according to an Alpine Legal statement.
Obermeyer said Katyal and his wife are “big hikers” and have been coming to Aspen for the past couple years. She said he’s also a strong supporter of legal aid and readily agreed to participate in the fundraiser discussion for Alpine Legal.
“He’s adamant that everyone needs adequate legal representation,” she said.
Obermeyer said she’s done some fundraising for Weiser — a Democrat and former dean of The University of Colorado Law School elected last year — and asked him to join the discussion. It turned out that he and Katyal knew each other, and he also agreed to come to Aspen, she said.
The discussion may involve some of Weiser’s observations about how national issues like abortion and the environment are affecting Colorado’s judicial system, Obermeyer said.
Alpine Legal Services, which has offices in Aspen, Glenwood Springs and Rifle, offers free civil legal advice to low-income residents.
In the U.S., those charged with crimes can qualify for a free public defender lawyer. However, civil law — which governs everything from adoption to eviction to many situations that grow out of drugs, alcohol and domestic violence — comes with no such assistance.
“We get referrals of all shapes and sizes,” said Jennifer Wherry, Alpine Legal’s executive director. “We see people coming to us saying, ‘I got fired because I was pregnant.’”
One of the biggest things they help with lately is grandparents who need to gain custody of grandchildren because their children are hooked on drugs, Obermeyer said.
Alpine Legal helps about 2,000 Roaring Fork Valley residents every year, according to the statement. The group gets some of its $400,000 yearly budget from federal grants, while about 30% comes from private donations, Obermeyer said.
“There’s a lot of need,” she said. “We cannot even begin to handle enough of the cases we get.”
Friday’s discussion takes place from 5 to 7 p.m. at Paepcke Auditorium at the Aspen Institute. Tickets are $30 in advance at the Aspen Legal Services website, or $35 at the door. A ticket to the event and a post-discussion reception with Katyal costs $60.