What Could Be Coming Next In Robert Mueller's Russia Investigation

Feb 20, 2018
Originally published on February 23, 2018 9:29 pm

Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller seldom leaves any doubt about where he's been — as with the detailed investigative tale he told on Friday in the latest indictments brought by his office.

Each new move, however, always raises questions about where he might be headed next.

NPR Justice Correspondent Carrie Johnson sat down with the host of NPR's Embedded podcast, Kelly McEvers, to look at what Mueller's track record could reveal about the possible outcomes of the investigation. Listen to the full episode here.

A presidential interview

There's been considerable speculation over whether or not the special counsel will interview President Trump under oath. Lawyers inside the White House are negotiating terms with Mueller's office. Last month, the president told reporters he was "looking forward to it." As far as we know, it has not taken place so far.

There are several ways it might happen.

First, if the president sits for a voluntary interview, he could do so in the White House, with his lawyers already having struck a deal around permitted topics of questioning. Trump's lawyers could be present, issuing objections and guiding the conversation. This scenario, however, could still present pitfalls for Trump.

Even if he didn't do anything wrong — anything at all — if the president were to misstate something or make an intentionally false statement, he could create a legal problem for himself.

If the president refuses the voluntary sit-down option, the special counsel team could issue a grand jury subpoena in an effort to force Trump to appear at a federal courthouse – and that could be a historic spectacle.

There are numerous downsides for the president in this scenario. Trump would have to appear before the jury alone. The president also would have to take an oath before a jury, without any lawyers by his side. That has the potential to go south for any witness let alone the president of United States.

The president could, in fact, resist both options and simply refuse to talk.

Everybody has constitutional rights. One of them is the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Declining an interview might be political suicide for most politicians, but Donald Trump is not most politicians. It's not clear whether his base of supporters would be bothered if he decided to 'take five,' as courthouse insiders say — especially since Trump has said he wants to talk and might be in a position to blame his lawyers for the decision if he doesn't.

Mueller's findings

Regardless of what Mueller does or does not discover, it's not clear what might become of his findings. As a special counsel — not an independent counsel, which both Archibald Cox and Kenneth Starr both were when they investigated President Nixon and President Clinton — Mueller has "less formal independence," as NPR reported last year.

Mueller was appointed by and directly reports to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself in March from all matters relating to Russian election interference.

Whenever Mueller concludes his investigation, he will likely issue a report to Rosenstein, who will be the one to ultimately decide what the world learns of it. It's not clear whether that report would become public.

Rosenstein has had a lot of power since May 2017, when he appointed Mueller. He's going to continue to have a lot of power over what the public learns about what Mueller is doing until Mueller's work is done.

There are thorny legal issues around what from the report could go public. For instance, evidence obtained via a grand jury could be subject to grand jury secrecy rules.

And if Mueller were to uncover damning information about Trump or his staff but did not seek to bring charges against them, supporters would cry foul if Rosenstein revealed the findings anyway. That's what happened before: Rosenstein criticized former FBI Director James Comey's decision to discuss Hillary Clinton's email controversy without bringing charges.

"The director ignored another longstanding principle: we do not hold press conferences to release derogatory information about the subject of a declined criminal investigation," Rosenstein wrote in May in a memo released on the day of Comey's firing.

In trying to assess whether or not Rosenstein or Mueller are likely to make splashy disclosures, it is worth considering their temperaments.

They are careful guys. They're going to think about the Justice Department and the FBI as institutions and how to preserve the integrity of those institutions.

Congress, however, can do whatever it wants. Even if official disclosure from the Justice Department is limited, lawmakers on Capitol Hill may haul up senior DOJ leadership and maybe even Mueller to talk about what he did or didn't do and why.

Impeachment? Indictment? Not so fast

People on the left and the right have both asked – for different reasons – whether Mueller's investigation could lead to Trump's impeachment or even indictment.

Right now, no one knows the answer, and it could be months or years before one comes into focus. One thing that is clear now: the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel has determined that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

So for Trump to face indictment in the near term, he would need to face impeachment first. That would require the House of Representatives to receive material from Mueller via the Justice Department, accept it and act on it. The Senate would then have to try Trump and vote on whether to remove him from office.

The Republicans who control Congress today appear unlikely to go along with any of this. But some of them – and allies such as former White House chief strategy Steve Bannon – have picked up the impeachment thread in their own campaigning.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz invoked the I-word in warning about what he called an immigration proposal that was too liberal for most Republicans.

"Mark my words, if Republican majorities in Congress pass citizenship for millions of people, an amnesty, I think it is quite likely we will lose both houses of Congress and Speaker Nancy Pelosi will impeach President Trump," Cruz said.

Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer have downplayed the impeachment storyline, saying they'd have more urgent priorities if Democrats retake control of Congress. Meanwhile, however, billionaire Democratic backer Tom Steyer is running his own public campaign on behalf of impeachment.

Whatever happens, Mueller's team has demonstrated an amazing ability to hold information tightly. His attorneys and investigators may be the only people who have a complete sense of what's coming next in this story.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Number 25 Dorothy Tabb Bucknor, and she is here.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

It's 2011 in a hearing room inside the Florida state Capitol - brown walls, fluorescent lights. And at the front of the room is Rick Scott, the governor of Florida.

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RICK SCOTT: Good morning.

MCEVERS: There's also Pam Bondi, the attorney general, and there's the agricultural commissioner and the chief financial officer. And standing in front of them is a woman named Dorothy Tabb Bucknor. She's driven seven hours to get here to tell this board that a long time ago, she made a mistake.

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DOROTHY TABB BUCKNOR: I got involved into a bad life with criminal activity and...

MCEVERS: In 1993, Dorothy introduced one woman to another woman who sold drugs. The buyer got caught, and Dorothy pleaded guilty to federal drug charges. She did 18 months in prison, several years probation and started a new life - became a home health care worker, opened an ice-cream parlor.

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BUCKNOR: And I'm here to say that I am truly sorry. I'm a born-again Christian. I'll be 66 years old on my birthday.

MCEVERS: Florida is the only state that has hearings like this. And they are part of a process that goes all the way back to the time of Jim Crow - because in Florida, if you're convicted of a felony, any felony, you lose the right to vote for life even after you do your time. And the only way to get the right to vote back is to ask the governor and members of his cabinet, sometimes in person. And that's what Dorothy's doing.

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BUCKNOR: I've went to God and have asked him to forgive me for the things that I have done in my lifetime. I could've done better, but I didn't. But I found out over the years that you got to do what you got to do in order to make things right. And I'm here to ask forgiveness for what I've done.

MCEVERS: If Governor Rick Scott is affected by Dorthy's testimony, he doesn't show it.

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SCOTT: Thank you. Can you talk about your traffic citations?

BUCKNOR: There's really no excuse. Just speeding, like, five miles or 10 miles over the speed, and I've been trying hard not to get any more citations.

MCEVERS: Then Attorney General Pam Bondi asks a question.

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PAM BONDI: This says you voted in '08. Can you tell us about that?

BUCKNOR: Well, I...

MCEVERS: Dorothy says she didn't realize at the time that because of her felony, she wasn't allowed to vote.

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BUCKNOR: I really didn't know, but I did vote.

BONDI: Thank you.

SCOTT: Any other questions?

MCEVERS: And then her hearing ends after just a few minutes.

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SCOTT: I appreciate your candidness. But at this point, I'm going to deny restoration of civil rights.

BUCKNOR: OK, thank you.

SCOTT: Thank you.

BUCKNOR: When they denied me, I was quiet all the way home. I was like, wow, I expected it too much. I was disappointed. I was hurt. I work. I pay taxes. I'm a good person. I'm not a bad person. Why can't they let me get my right to vote?

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MCEVERS: One of the big stories of this election is who gets to vote and who doesn't. Just in the last decade, two dozen states have put restrictions on voting - stuff like new voter ID laws, use it or lose it laws where if you haven't voted in a certain number of years, you're taken off the voter list, cutting back on early voting and closing polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that a big part of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional. So the feds don't have as much oversight when it comes to potential civil rights abuses. And this hearing process that you just heard a little bit of in Florida, voting rights activists say it is part of one of the most effective ways to suppress the vote in the United States right now. Those who support the process say people who commit felonies have to show they deserve the right to vote.

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MCEVERS: Either way, more than 1 1/2 million people in Florida right now cannot vote. Florida or presidential elections are decided, and this process disproportionately affects black people. About 1 in 5 black adults in Florida cannot vote because of felony convictions.

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MCEVERS: So we decided to follow two people through this process...

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MCEVERS: ...Two people who have worked for years to be able to vote again and who hope to vote in the next election. All of this while there is a measure on the ballot in Florida in the midterm elections that could upend this whole process forever.

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MCEVERS: OK, we are back. And we had two reporters on this story, Chris Benderev...

CHRIS BENDEREV, BYLINE: Check, check, check.

MCEVERS: ...And Olivia Natt.

OLIVIA NATT, BYLINE: OK, how am I here?

MCEVERS: You ready? Do you need more levels?

NATT: I'm good. We're good.

BENDEREV: OK.

MCEVERS: Cool. So could you guys just explain how Florida stops people with felony convictions from voting?

NATT: Yeah. So let's say you commit a felony. A lot of us think of really severe crimes when we think felonies - robbery, assault, that kind of thing.

BENDEREV: But a felony could also include buying weed or stealing a $300 TV. And once you're convicted, you're right to vote is revoked.

NATT: And to get that right back, you have to finish your sentencing requirements, wait several years and then you can ask for your voting rights back. That's what these hearings are.

MCEVERS: OK. So how does it work in other states?

NATT: Every state has its own rules. But the main difference is in most states, you serve your time and then you're eligible to vote. You don't have to ask. It just happens.

BENDEREV: But in Florida, it's all up to the governor to decide. And different governors have applied the rules in a lot of different ways.

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CHARLIE CRIST: Good morning.

NATT: For example, Charlie Crist, then a Republican...

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CRIST: I want to welcome everyone here today. Thank you for being here.

NATT: ...He made the process easier for people convicted of nonviolent felonies to get their voting rights back.

MCEVERS: This is in 2007 - right? - after he took office.

NATT: Right.

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CRIST: I believe in simple human justice and that when somebody has paid their debt to society, it is paid in full.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yes, sir.

CRIST: Punishment should never be confused with revenge.

(APPLAUSE)

NATT: But then the current governor...

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SCOTT: We have amended rules of executive clemency for our consideration.

NATT: ...Republican Rick Scott came into office and made the process a lot more restrictive.

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SCOTT: The proposed changes are intended to emphasize public safety, ensure that all applicants deserve clemency and demonstrate they're unlikely to reoffend.

NATT: He made it so once people with felony convictions did their time, they then had to wait five to seven years before they could even apply to be eligible to vote.

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SCOTT: Restoration of civil rights will not be granted automatically for any offenses.

NATT: Under Crist, more than 150,000 people got back the right to vote in Florida. Under Scott, just over 3,000 did, and he's been in office twice as long.

MCEVERS: Chris and Olivia, you guys went to one of these hearings.

NATT: Yeah. It was the last hearing scheduled before the midterm elections. They're held in the basement of the state Capitol building.

Zero three - LL zero three.

It's kind of a weird vibe. It's like somewhere between court and the DMV. And you have to get there early, at 8 a.m.

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SCOTT: All right. The executive clemency board meeting is now called to order. I want to welcome everyone here today.

NATT: There was about a hundred people on the agenda. And they've all been convicted of a felony at some point in their lives - lots of drug-related stuff, some domestic violence, check fraud. There was a guy who shot and wounded his bully when he was a teen and two elderly women who'd gotten involved in a real estate scam. And most of the convictions are decades old. The people are now in their 40s, 50s, 60s. It usually starts with a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

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UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: With liberty and justice for all.

NATT: And then Governor Scott explains how, unlike a court that makes a legal ruling, this board makes what he calls judgments of conscience.

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SCOTT: Clemency is an act of mercy. This is not an opportunity to challenge the evidence of a past crime. It's the chance to present the evidence of the steps you've taken to move forward past criminal conduct and the improvements you've made to yourself and your community.

NATT: There are no written standards for who gets a yes and who gets a no, which can make the whole thing seem really subjective. It's like gut-level decision-making. Rick Scott recognized this in a December 2016 hearing.

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SCOTT: There's absolutely no standards, so we can make any decisions we want.

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NATT: That lack of standards has made this board controversial. It also led to a recent lawsuit. And I have to say the whole thing seems almost medieval. People are incredibly nervous. They've got, like, five minutes to try to convince the state that they've turned their lives around, that they deserve the right to vote. Some people bring friends and spouses, even their children to testify on their behalf. And a lot of people cry. They keep a box of tissues at the front.

SHEILA: I knew it was going to be this rough.

NATT: That's Sheila. She's 54. She's white. And she asked us not to use her last name because it could affect her work. She applied to get her voting rights back 10 years ago, and only now has she been able to appear before the governor. Crazily, that's actually a pretty average wait time. There's a huge backlog. And the state only does four of these hearings a year. Sheila brought this binder full of court records and photos and news articles, even her credit score, to show how hard she's tried to follow the rules and change her life since the conviction. But she's still really scared.

SHEILA: This is a bad idea. I should've just left it be. As that tick tock gets closer, the more and more I think about just getting in my car and going home.

MCEVERS: In 1993, Sheila was working for the U.S. Postal Service delivering mail. An indictment against her at the time alleges that she bought or helped someone else buy about $1,500 worth of stuff with a credit card that wasn't hers, a card that was addressed to someone else in the mail. Sheila pleaded guilty to a third-degree felony.

NATT: No jail time, but three years of probation and about a thousand dollars restitution - she felt so much shame that for years, she told no one about what had happened.

SHEILA: And then I started my own company and was able to avoid having to check that box.

NATT: The box on a job application that asks, have you ever been convicted of a felony?

SHEILA: I had not spoken of it, talked about it - buried it under the carpet in the corner of the litter box. I mean, it just - it was - I was horrified.

NATT: But Sheila wants her rights back. She says she works hard, pays taxes, contributes to her community. But she feels like she won't be a full citizen until she gets back the right to vote, serve on a jury and run for public office. So today she has to stand before the governor and the attorney general at a public hearing, talk about her crime and hope she can convince them.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Number 17.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Good morning.

MCEVERS: Another woman who's scheduled to appear at this hearing and ask for her voting rights back is Marian Skaggs (ph). And our producer, Chris Benderev, talked to her.

BENDEREV: Marian is 57. She's black. She grew up north of Miami. Back right after finishing high school, she joined the military. And when she was stationed on a base in New Jersey, she started doing drugs - in particular, crack. And from there, she wound up in this decades-long cycle of being in and out of jail, almost all on drug charges. Then in 2007, she was in jail when she got the news that her oldest son had been murdered. Because she hadn't finished her sentence, she couldn't even go to his funeral.

MARIAN SKAGGS: That was the biggest loss I ever had in my life was my son. But that was the catalyst for me to get clean because that was a big loss.

BENDEREV: Marian says she hasn't used drugs since.

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BENDEREV: When she got out in 2007, she went to school. She was in her early 50s when she attended college for the first time. She eventually got a masters specializing in addiction. She wants to be a counselor. For now, though, she's a supervisor in the housekeeping division of a hotel in Tampa. By all accounts, Marian's tried really hard. And for her, after everything she's been through, it's hard to understand why she doesn't have her civil rights back. At 57 years old, it's embarrassing, she says. And she's reminded of it every election, like in 2016.

SKAGGS: We were in the break room. And one of my coworkers was like, who did you vote for? And I just said, I'm keeping it a secret. And that way, I avoided the whole conversation.

BENDEREV: But she may not need to avoid that conversation again if this hearing goes well and she gets her rights back.

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MCEVERS: After the break, the governor decides if Marian and Sheila can vote.

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MCEVERS: All right, we're back. So a majority of people with felony convictions in Florida these days are white. But this process in Florida actually goes all the way back to Jim Crow and keeping black people from voting. It started after the Civil War when southern states had to rewrite their constitutions to allow freed slaves to become citizens.

But what they did was pass things known as black codes - basically, ways to keep freed slaves from really being free, things like allowing the governor of a state to appoint who was the sheriff or the chief judge in a county, then creating new crimes like vagrancy, allowing these sheriffs to arrest people for these crimes and charge them with felonies and then deciding that anyone who has committed a felony would lose their voting rights for life. This voting part was actually added to Florida's constitution in 1868, and it is still there.

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MCEVERS: But remember at the beginning when I said there was a measure in Florida that could upend this entire process? It's a constitutional amendment. It's called Amendment 4, and it is on the ballot in the midterm election. The idea is it would pretty much do away with this process for people with felony convictions to wait, then apply to get their voting rights back, then make their case at one of these hearings.

Instead, it would automatically restore voting rights to something like 1 1/2 million people with felony convictions in Florida, people who have done their time and paid their dues. Howard Simon worked for years to get this amendment on the ballot. He heads the ACLU in Florida. And he says the amendment is important in a way that's bigger than Florida.

HOWARD SIMON: Well, (laughter) a close election in Florida in the year 2000 changed world history, if people remember that. That's one reason it matters. But I think it mainly matters because this is the unfinished business of the civil rights movement here. This is a moral problem about people in our democracy being denied the right to vote for, really, no good reason.

MCEVERS: But for now, if you're someone with a felony conviction who wants to vote in the midterm elections in Florida, that hearing that Chris and Olivia went to is your last chance to get your right to vote.

NATT: So the hearing we went to was about five hours long. And a few different things happen at these hearings. Some people with felony convictions come to ask for full pardons. Others ask for the right to own a firearm. The voting right part happens at the very end.

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NATT: If the governor is a no, that's it. And if he's a yes, you've still got to get two other yeses from the board. Sometimes, the answer is pretty immediate. But other times, they really grill someone. And it seems like the cabinet members can ask pretty much whatever they want.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Sixty-seven traffic infractions.

NATT: Why do you have so many traffic tickets?

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: And how about alcoholism?

NATT: How much do you drink?

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: How long has he been sitting in a church pew?

NATT: Do you go to church?

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: How long have you been married?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Three years.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Three years. Do you have kids?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Yes, sir, five.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Five in three years.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I have an adopted son. I was previously married, so I have a daughter with her and an adopted son. And then she has...

NATT: And every once in a while, they'll congratulate someone.

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BONDI: You've done great, by the way. You were a group of thugs when you were kids. And you've totally turned your life around. Congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Thank you so much.

BONDI: It's - I love seeing that.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Congratulations.

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MCEVERS: OK. So, Olivia, you're sitting in this hearing room. You're watching all this happen. And you're with Sheila. How's she doing at this point?

NATT: She is not doing great. She's having a really hard time controlling her nerves. She's shaking a lot. And while we're watching other people make their cases, Sheila's taking notes, writing down who's getting their rights back, who isn't. And then...

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Number 77 is here.

NATT: It's her turn.

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SCOTT: Good afternoon.

SHEILA: Hi. Good afternoon.

SCOTT: OK. So you were convicted of embezzling a letter and taking a Discover credit card. OK.

SHEILA: Yes.

SCOTT: And did you do it?

SHEILA: Yes.

NATT: Sheila had decided that the best thing to do was take full responsibility for the original crime. Then she has to answer questions about a fender bender from 2012.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHEILA: It was no big deal. I said, I'm sorry. I paid for his truck repairs. And...

NATT: Then Rick Scott and Pam Bondi go back to 1994.

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SCOTT: You stole credit cards.

SHEILA: One. I'm not even sure how that came into my possession.

NATT: Even though her plan was to take responsibility, when they keep asking about it, she gets defensive and tries to explain herself.

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SHEILA: I...

BONDI: You're a postal worker.

SHEILA: I was a postal worker. But I did not remove that letter from the mail that was entrusted to me.

BONDI: Did you use the credit card? Was it not in your - it wasn't in your name.

MCEVERS: And here's where Sheila tells the board her theory about what happened. She says it was actually someone else who used the credit card, the man she was shopping with that day. She says she thinks he took it from mail that she was supposed to deliver.

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SHEILA: I'm pretty convinced that he took it out of my - out of the mail vehicle.

NATT: She's talking a lot, and it doesn't seem like it's going how she wanted.

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SHEILA: I left the Postal Service. You check my record right now. I was an exemplary employee.

NATT: And then Pam Bondi says she believes her.

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BONDI: She walked up here and admitted her guilt because she knew that's what we wanted to hear. And she didn't want to. You could tell. I just - I don't know. I just - I believe her.

NATT: You can tell Scott's also a yes but that the two other cabinet members are on the fence. Sheila needs Scott plus two others. And right now she's only got Bondi.

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SHEILA: I'll take it all. I did it. I just want it to be away - be part of my past. And I plead guilty, like I said, because the postal inspector said no matter what, because I was the one entrusted, it's my fault.

NATT: It has taken Sheila 10 years to get to this moment. It feels like everyone in the room is leaning forward, waiting for the governor to say something.

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SCOTT: OK. I move to grant.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Agree.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Agree.

BONDI: Agree.

SCOTT: Good luck.

SHEILA: Thank you. I appreciate that. Thank you very much.

NATT: As she walks back to her seat, people give her high fives. Then...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NATT: Back the way we came.

Sheila and I walk out.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BENDEREV: So I'm still inside the hearing room waiting for Marian's case to come up.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Number 80, Jerry Mulkey (ph)...

BENDEREV: And the thing is Marian is not here. She says she only got the call to appear five days before the hearing. The state says that they sent a letter to her earlier, but Marian didn't get it. She thinks it went to an old address. Either way, she couldn't get off work to make the long drive from Tampa to be here. So now the clemency board meeting is almost over. It's been more than 4 1/2 hours since it started. And Marian is one of the last names to be called. And by the way, in the hearing, they call her Mary Katherine.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Number 83, Mary Katherine Skaggs, is not here. She indicated that she had not received her notifications until just recently but indicated to go ahead with your decision today.

SCOTT: I deny.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Number 84, Charles Todd Sprague (ph)...

BENDEREV: It's kind of all over before it even starts. I did not edit that tape at all.

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BENDEREV: Sometimes, you don't know why the board has made its decision. Was it because she wasn't there? It is true that most of the no-shows today didn't get their rights restored. But there were exceptions - no-shows who got them. Why did those people get it? The board doesn't have to give a reason.

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NATT: And I should say so many people don't even make it as far as Marian did, even if they really want to vote. If you want your rights back, you are responsible for navigating the process on your own. There are filing fees and original documents to find and then years of waiting, intensive background checks and interviews. It can feel impossible when you factor in the backlog of 10,000 people. And Sheila was skeptical of the process before she ever went through it. But then after seeing just how complicated and arbitrary it was, even for someone who could afford to take the day off and drive to Tallahassee and rent a hotel room, then she really thought it was unfair.

SHEILA: You know, I'm a white chick. And I have a fairly comfortable lifestyle. I work hard for it. I work really hard. But there's so many people that don't have those advantages and are looked at differently. And it bothers me greatly.

MCEVERS: The state of Florida does not release data on the race of people who apply to get their voting rights back. But The Palm Beach Post recently did a lot of reporting to find out people's race. They found that under Governor Rick Scott, this process of asking for your rights back does discriminate against black people. For example, three times as many white men got their voting rights back as black men.

We should say we asked to talk to Rick Scott, Pam Bondi and the other two members of the board - who, by the way, are all white - about this and about the rest of our story. Spokespeople for Scott, Bondi and one other member declined. And the fourth member did not get back to us. Scott's spokesperson did tell The Palm Beach Post that race is not a factor in these hearings.

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MCEVERS: And so again, all of this could be undone if Amendment 4 passes in Florida. And to do that the amendment would need 60 percent of the vote because it's a constitutional amendment. And, Olivia, you have been covering this, too. I guess my question is, what are the chances that that many people will vote for this amendment?

NATT: The polls look good for Amendment 4. Andrew Gillum, he's the Democratic candidate for governor. He's in favor. There's also strong bipartisan support. Both the ACLU and the Koch brothers have backed it. But it's also on the longest Florida ballot in decades. There are 12 other amendments, so just making people aware of it has been a big challenge.

MCEVERS: Who's against Amendment 4? And why?

NATT: The speaker of the Florida House is against it. He's a Republican. His press person told me that too many felonies would be included for restoration of voting rights and that people who commit heinous crimes shouldn't be allowed to write the laws. And here's how the Republican candidate for governor, Ron DeSantis, responded when he was asked about Amendment 4 in a recent debate.

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RON DESANTIS: You've got to prove that you're getting back with the law. You've got to prove. Many felons reoffend. And I think it's wrong to automatically give them a free pass to be able to vote without them showing that they can be back in our community. I also think it's very...

NATT: Just to be clear, if Amendment 4 passes, people convicted of a felony won't get their right to vote back until they do their time, pay their fines and finish probation first. And it would also exclude people who were convicted of murder or sexual crimes.

MCEVERS: And then for somebody like Sheila - right? She already got her right to vote back at her hearing. Is she planning to vote in the upcoming election?

NATT: She's hoping to. She's still waiting on her voter card. And actually, when she sent in her registration form, she checked independent for the first time in her life. She'd been registered as a Republican before all this. She also told me that if she does get to vote, she will definitely be voting for Amendment 4.

MCEVERS: And then there's Marian Skaggs. Remember; she couldn't even make it to her hearing.

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BENDEREV: So Marian and I had agreed that after the hearing, I would call her at the hotel where she works and tell her what happened.

SKAGGS: Hello.

BENDEREV: Hello, Marian.

SKAGGS: Yes, this is Marian.

BENDEREV: Hey. It's Chris Benderev, the reporter you talked to yesterday.

SKAGGS: Yeah. How are you?

BENDEREV: OK, so here's what happened. When they got to your name, a woman came up to a podium and she said that Mary Katherine Skaggs indicated that she received notification just recently and could not be here but said that you should go ahead with your decision. And honestly, very quickly, the governor said, I deny. So...

SKAGGS: See; this is what I'm talking about. You know, they don't care. So, you know, I don't know what else to say about it, you know? I mean, so what do they do from here? I have to resubmit or whatever.

BENDEREV: I asked a woman afterward. I just said, if someone was denied, what do they do? And she said that you can wait. You have to wait two years and then you can apply.

SKAGGS: (Laughter) That's crazy. I mean, I just don't know. And I'm not being a pessimist about it. I'm just being honest about it. You know, this is what happens. Stuff like that breaks a person's spirit. It's disheartening. It really breaks you down, you know? OK, hold on. My - they're calling me over the radio. Hey, Chris, I'll call you back after work, OK? - because I'm almost finished.

BENDEREV: OK. Thanks, Marian. Take care.

SKAGGS: OK. We're here, Eula (ph).

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MCEVERS: And so of the two people we met and followed through this process, the one who would benefit the most from Amendment 4 is the one who won't be able to vote for it.

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MCEVERS: This episode was reported by Olivia Natt and Chris Benderev and produced by Tom Dreisbach. It was edited by Lisa Pollak and Eric Mennel with help from Karen Grigsby Bates, Mark Memmott and Arnie Seipel. Thanks also to Greg Allen. And big thanks to Natisha June (ph), James Ollens (ph), Osio Harris (ph), Larry Hopkins (ph), Reggie Garcia (ph), Randy Berg (ph), Myrna Perez (ph), Mark Schlakman (ph), Art Rosenthal (ph), Kimberly Simon (ph) and David Ayala (ph). Our fact-checker is Greta Pittenger. Our lawyer is Ashley Messenger. Our theme music is by Colin Wambsgans. Other original music is by Ramtin Arablouei.

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(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.