In his Checkers Speech that doubled as a news conference, Democrat Gov. John Bel Edwards tap-danced and misdirected, straining credulity to convince the public that he hasn’t done the same regarding his actions associated with a needless death at the hands of the Louisiana State Police.
In the nearly hour-long session comparable to a dentist’s visit for Edwards, he tried to explain away an Associated Press article that showed he knew immediately about the events surrounding the death of black motorist Ronald Greene in LSP custody but whose few statements about it, added to his inaction in addressing clear signs that the LSP wasn’t forthcoming about that death, created and sustained for a lengthy period the impression that there wasn’t LSP misconduct associated with it. His defense rested largely on unprovable assertions and suspension of disbelief.
Not that he spent even a majority of his remarks actually addressing the piece. Much of the time he rhetorically built straw men and traversed blind alleys. He kept insisting there was no evidence that he “obstructed” justice or engaged in a “coverup,” but no politician, news media or widely-read blog site ever accused him of that. What appeared in this space is typical of what was disseminated: by his actions and inactions that allowed a narrative that Greene died in a crash that omitted the savage treatment Greene received in custody, he misled in a way that served to impede oversight and investigation of the incident, at least initially for political purposes.
He also kept injecting lacuna into his defense filed by wandering virtue signaling – repeated hand-wringing over race prejudice and pleading exculpatory substitutes about how things had changed for the better in policing practices – if not emotive appeals about how incapable he could be of doing such a thing and for political reasons that came off as positively Player Queen. Given his manner, tone, and language, viewers wouldn’t have registered surprise at all had at some point Edwards thrusted his arms skyward, two fingers extended on each in a victory proclamation, intoning “I am not a crook.” (Clearly nervous and uncomfortable, twice he erroneously spoke of his ”2016” reelection attempt.)
Nonetheless, he attempted to counter the information in the AP story, and unconvincingly so even upon the briefest of analyses. That piece indicated a belief that Edwards had since the incident, in the early-morning hours of May 10, 2019, played along with the narrative omitting police misconduct, potentially from a desire to avoid bad publicity that would imperil his chances at reelection in October and November, when he narrowly succeeded.
Edwards kept protesting that it wasn’t in him to behave that way, his understanding of the event precluded from his using it for political reasons, and it showed he wasn’t using it for that reason when he let the federal government begin investigating the matter prior to the election, divulging information that hadn’t yet reached the public domain. He kept asserting having this information forwarded to the “Trump” Justice Department for review ineluctably meant campaign considerations didn’t come into play while ironically insinuating under Republican former Pres. Donald Trump that the DOJ would have tried to find a way to use the incident politically against him if possible.
The implausibility of that interpretation becomes obvious when reviewing the events within days of Greene’s death. The AP piece displayed the text message Edwards received informing him of Greene’s death, telling him Greene survived the (low-speed it was) crash of his vehicle after a lengthy chase that began in Monroe but then engaged in a struggle, became responsive, and died in custody. It didn’t mention Greene’s name nor that for minutes troopers beat him and restrained him even though he offered little resistance.
Thus, it was on Edwards’ radar, and within hours of that knew it was Greene, as Monroe media reported on the LSP release of the incident that mirrored the text message (that release at present does not appear any more on the LSP site). He would know, because Governor’s Offices monitor, among other sources (hi, guys!), the state’s television news on a daily basis.
And that’s why Edwards should have suspected somewhat was amiss by May 15, when Monroe media reported about vigil held by Greene’s family where they questioned whether the LSP told the whole story to the public. In particular, they relayed accounts of earwitnesses hearing Greene beg for his life that seriously questioned the “struggle” narrative and omission of use of force. And Edwards would have known of this because his staff would have informed him, and any chief executive who had a search for the truth rather than politics on his brain would have begun to ask questions.
Instead, Edwards would have us believe he was in the dark as the matter didn’t come to his attention until Union Parish District Atty. John Belton began poking into it, leading to the eventual referral to the federal government. More plausibly, Edwards didn’t know because he didn’t want to know more, because to know more and then in dealing with it risking attendant publicity would add yet one more incident – and at exactly the wrong time for his political aspirations – to a long list of allegations against the LSP for use of excess force and disproportionately against blacks, highlighting that Edwards did nothing to stop these in his three years in office that wouldn’t exactly encourage black turnout for his reelection.
In his own mind, Edwards actually might convince himself he didn’t act politically, but it strains credulity to the breaking point to believe that he didn’t know the LSP assertions about Greene’s death were in trouble only days after Greene’s death, and Edwards did nothing to get at the truth. He just let the LSP go on its merry way in one direction and Belton in another and washed his hands of it. Whether he can admit it to himself, this strategic indifference came from political considerations.
Plus, he certainly knew that any investigation would take far longer than the looming election; it’s still ongoing two-and-half years later. Referral was just another way of avoidance in dealing with or having to account for his policy inaction over the larger question of alleged systematic trooper brutality under his watch. It doesn’t prove he had nothing to hide out of political necessity; quite the opposite.
The AP also emphasized that Edwards allowed the death-by-crash narrative to stay alive well over a year, and even after first audio then video evidence came into the public domain that corroborated that physical abuse of Greene had occurred Edwards continued to back the idea that Greene had died as a result of a crash. His first line of defense to this he said was because he couldn’t talk about the incident because of ongoing legalities, such as a lawsuit from May, 2020 by the Greene family and the federal investigation.
However, the LSP refused to release camera evidence to the Greene family for use in its suit, nor in response to media public records requests concerning the incident, allowed the Greene family to view the relevant video only after audio of it had found its way into the public domain (which Edwards alleges was the first time he knew of it and saw it), and more video only after it also went public in May, 2021, which then for the first time Edwards strongly condemned LSP actions and appeared to shelve the death-by-crash narrative. No reason as to why providing about an hour of video would compromise legal and investigatory efforts ever has been forwarded, much less denied to plaintiffs against the state in an active legal action.
Instead, Edwards at the news conference alleged unspecified investigators asked him not to speak out, implying he would have critically had he. Yet that claim never has been corroborated, and if they didn’t want him giving an opinion when asked, why did all that change after the video release last May? He simply asks us to take his word about that.
Which, when evaluating other statements he has made publicly and apparently in private since that revelation, asks a lot. The most damaging part of the AP article concerns a conversation relayed about GOP House Speaker Clay Schexnayder notifying Edwards, a month after the video reveal, that he intended to launch a legislative investigation of Greene’s death and the aftermath, only to have Edwards discourage him from doing so by saying “Greene died in a wreck.”
At the news conference, Edwards up and down denied ever saying that, turning the matter into a he said/he said controversy. However, Edwards’ assertion appears far more dubious than that attributed to Schexnayder because Schexnayder’s attributed statement didn’t come out of the ethos, it had to have come from somewhere.
Consider that in its reporting of that, the AP could have come to that information only one of three ways. First, and most unbelievably, it simply made it up. For whatever reason, former New Orleans Advocate reporter Jim Mustian decided to write a hit piece on Edwards and conjured this. Uh, no.
Second, and at least as unlikely, Schexnayder wanted to smear Edwards with false information. So, he calls up Mustian at the AP and says, “Hey, you want a story? Back in June ….” Maybe not.
Third, the AP got it because in digging around the story they had a credible source tell them an investigation gathered that information from Schexnayder, who would have had no reason to go public with it otherwise since Edwards had told him “Greene died in a wreck” and that seemed to be that (and as Schexnayder only now has come into the controversy, this provides construct validation that Edwards effectively had allowed the death-by-crash narrative to dominate the discussion as even the House Speaker didn’t question that). The AP says it got that information from sources familiar with a federal investigation in part looking into Edwards’ awareness about the Greene incident.
In other words, given the extraordinary improbability that the AP or Schexnayder created a story on their own, the story started elsewhere with a federal government agency thinking Edwards’ actions questionable enough to start an inquiry who in the course of it discovered Schexnayder’s anecdote. At some point, the AP got wind of it.
Edwards denied it up and down and pointed to an unusual statement by federal prosecutors and the Federal Bureau of Investigation that claimed no such investigation was underway. However, the AP responded to the federal agencies with simply, “AP stands by the accuracy of its reporting and has documentation to show such questioning took place.”
And bolstering the attributed Schexnayder statement was Edwards’ comments on a Sep. 15, 2021 (around the 37:00 mark) radio show where the host asked him about the incident, and Edwards replied that he didn’t want to “quibble” about it but “Obviously he didn’t die in the accident itself because he was still alive when the troopers were engaging with him. But what was the cause of death? I don’t know that that was falsely portrayed.” It seems inconceivable that Edwards could say that months after viewing the video, but that he did lends credence to what the AP reported Schexnayder said, as opposed to Edwards calling Schexnayder a liar.
Finally, if it were a Schexnayder lie, why didn’t he go public with it? If designed for some political purpose, not making the accusation accomplishes nothing. Conceivably, he could have come up with something like that on the spur of the moment with an investigator’s microphone in his face, but then that means there has been an investigation, and that means other actions by Edwards raised suspicions that would give an assertion like Schexnayder’s more credibility.
Additionally, there’s rich irony in that Edwards could imply the DOJ under Trump would act politically, yet to him its statement refusing to corroborate the AP’s story doesn’t betray a hint of that. After all, this is the same Democrat Pres. Joe Biden DOJ that equated parental free speech at school board meetings with domestic terrorism and advocated measures to suppress it because exercising it ran counter to leftist political narratives. Throw in the Russia hoax, and the record shows the DOJ in recent times will go to some political lengths to preserve the fortunes of Democrats like Edwards.
All in all, the AP reporting seems much more credible than Edwards’ protestations. His news conference, when analyzed against what is known, reasonable to expect, and logical, displays the same characteristics of evasiveness and unsubstantiated claims that have marked both the LSP’s and Edwards’ interventions at getting at the truth of Greene’s tragic death. This indifference by Edwards, if not supplemented with active attempts to deceive that together form a pattern of deceit, is commission of gross misconduct and merits, at the very least, his impeachment.