Live blog: Breitbart presser on Pigford
posted at 10:20 am on February 10, 2011 by Ed Morrissey
Andrew Breitbart held a press conference today on the Pigford controversy, and it began with high-profile Congresswoman Michele Bachman’s introduction. Bachmann asked why Eric Holder has yet to investigate the allegations of widespread fraud. Bachmann said that “people are milking the system for all it’s worth,” and that the money belongs to black farmers who actually suffered discrimination. “We have a tremendous story to tell today,” Bachmann said, calling it “a stunning story.”
Breitbart introduced a new video today by recapping his seven-month involvement in the case, and introduced a black farmer who was cut out of the settlement process that Breitbart claimed was a “fraud” that allowed a much larger group of people to claim damages than actually ever farmed. The “attempted to farm” standard was a deliberate structure that essentially became a redistribution scheme and a way for class-action attorneys to milk the US government.
Breitbart then described how he reached out to Lee Stranahan from the Huffington Post to check the story out for himself. Breitbart says that he was aware that his conservative background would tend to discredit his investigation of Pigford, and wanted Stranahan to pursue it independently. Stranahan, who jokingly described himself as “the worst-dressed person at CPAC,” introduced the video that will end up as part of his documentary on Pigford fraud. The video was released today at Big Government and lasts two hours.
Stranahan noted that Rep. Steve King (R-IA) was accused of being a racist for asserting that Pigford was set up as a Trojan horse for slavery reparations. King, coincidentally, joined the presser just as Stranahan mentioned this. The video vindicates King, Stranahan argues, and its attorneys set up the settlement specifically so that any attempt to refute a claim would require “proving a negative,” and sold that way to potential claimants.
Stranahan explained the release of the unedited video rather than just clips, which will follow later. Stranahan anticipated the “meme” that editing renders something invalid, which he says undermines the entire idea of journalism. “Fight that meme” whenever it arises, Stranahan argued, especially in the Live Action exposes on Planned Parenthood.
King then addressed the presser, starting by thanking Breitbart for bringing the issue to light. King started looking into Pigford when working on the 2008 farm bill. King says that discrimination did occur at the USDA, and its actual victims “should be made whole” through government action. The current settlement is fraudulent on its face; current claimants are four times as many black farmers than existed at the time. King tied the Pigford II settlement to Barack Obama during his tenure in the Senate. King wants hearings to start now, and says the problem reaches all the way to the President.
Stranahan then introduced clips from their undercover audio:
- Tom Burrell, president the Black Farmers and Agriculture Association, of tells potential claimants what happened when the checks hit the streets: “Where did you get that new truck from? Why is Sears Roebuck visiting your house? … Something’s up.
- “This lawsuit is not a farming lawsuit, it’s a discrimination lawsuit. … Who wants to go through the process today? Get paid?”
- On the four questions that supposedly act as a test for claims in Pigford: “Look at the four questions like a baseball game … When do you get a score?”
- Stranahan then says that Burrell gives them the correct — and allegedly unchallengeable — answers that will win them a Pigford score. “Did he own land? Let’s suppose the answer is no. The judge is going to give you three more shots at it. … Did he ATTEMPT to own? … How does the judge know if you tried? [Laughter] … Congress set up a system … “everyone who says they tried [unintelligible] then you have to give them credit for it.”
- “The issue is not whether you farmed in 1965, but whether you were discriminated against in 1981-1996. … My sister said my daddy went to the USDA office between 1981 and 1996. … The judge says you get paid.”
Stranahan notes that he contacted the judge’s staff about the Burrell audio, assuming that the Pigford jurist would be interested in Burrell’s claims that the judge wanted to see people get paid. They never heard back from the judge.
Breitbart then quickly introduced Eddie Slaughter, one of the black farmers who dealt with actual discrimination — and find themselves on the outside of Pigford’s settlements. Slaughter called it a “moral disgrace.” The real farmers, Slaughter says, are being “persecuted” since Pigford.
The presser ran out of time, but keep an eye on Big Government for more on this story. Quite obviously, there is a lot of meat in this story, and the only question will be whether Bachmann and King can raise a big enough stink in Congress to get the media to pay attention and start reporting it.