Cicilline: From public defender to prosecuting a president

Posted 2/17/21

U.S. Rep. David Cicilline has gone from working as a public defender in Washington, D.C., to prosecuting an impeachment case against the former president of the United States, Donald Trump. Although he was recruited by a well-known Wall Street law firm

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Cicilline: From public defender to prosecuting a president


U.S. Rep. David Cicilline has gone from working as a public defender in Washington, D.C., to prosecuting an impeachment case against the former president of the United States, Donald Trump.

Although he was recruited by a well-known Wall Street law firm after graduating with honors from Georgetown Law School in 1986, Cicilline pursued the lower-paying public defender work because he found it more fulfilling. “I got to defend people who never had anything,” Cicilline told Jim Taricani for a story in The Providence Phoenix.

More than 20 years later, Cicilline worked with fellow Democratic impeachment managers last week to create a visceral sense of the threat posed by Trump supporters on Jan. 6.

“Armed insurrectionists with guns, weapons, zip ties, brass knuckles – they were coming for us,” the congressman said. “They were inside the United States Capitol, trying to stop the certification process. The police were outnumbered. And but for the grace of God, they would have gotten us, all of us. And our commander-in-chief makes a call about an hour after the siege began, not to preserve, protect and defend you and our country and the Capitol, but to join forces with the mob and pressure a senator to stop certification.”

While the Senate acquitted convict Trump, Democrats describe their prosecution as a matter of necessity, to draw a line, take a stand against a possible repeat of similar events (and hurt Trump’s future prospects). All this hasn’t come without some personal cost for Cicilline; as The Boston Globe notes, three U.S. marshals are providing security for the congressman, and he’s long had his share of critics. Nonetheless, Cicilline and his supporters would probably draw an idealistic line between his long-ago work as a public defender and his zeal in trying to dispatch the former lead of the free world.




The ProJo’s Patrick Anderson and WPRI’s Kim Kalunian caught up with Gov. Gina Raimondo as she was leaving the State House last week, marking the first time in more than a month when she’s taken questions from reporters.

Raimondo said the Biden administration did not ask her to clam up. “I thought that was appropriate in this transition to let Lt. Gov. McKee step out in front,” she told Kalunian. “By the way, he’s doing a great job. We talk every day, if not more than once a day, his team and my team are in contact all day long.”

While acknowledging that McKee will soon be governor is unavoidable, Raimondo’s praise contrasts sharply with how she gave him the cold shoulder for a long part of her current term.

Elsewhere in GinaWorld, Chinese telecom company Huawei – an issue in Raimondo’s confirmation as U.S. Commerce secretary – is extending an olive branch to the Biden administration. Some of the governor’s lame duck appointments are drawing opposition, both for the CRMC and the Public Utilities Commission. And Warwick Mayor Frank Picozzi and some other municipal leaders say they think Raimondo should step down.


Change in the RI Senate?

A time will come when Rhode Island Senate President Dominick Ruggerio will yield the leadership of the chamber. Could it be as soon as the spring of 2022?

Ruggerio, 72, said he’s just hitting his stride as president and plans to seek reelection next year. (“I look forward to earning the continued support of the residents in the Fourth Senatorial District and my colleagues in the Senate by enacting a bold agenda that ensures Rhode Island and its citizens emerge from the COIVD-19 pandemic stronger and more resilient,” he said in a statement.)

The question of succession nonetheless became a topic this week, with Ruggerio’s chief of staff, Stephen Iannazzi, departing for a job with Cox Communications, and Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey’s top staffer, Jake Bissaillon, getting the nod to succeed Iannazzi.

Speaking last week on The Public’s Radio Political Roundtable, McCaffrey downplayed differences with progressives on policy issues in the Senate, saying that Democrats agree on most issues. But there clearly remains a divide between the chamber’s different ideological elements, raising the question of whether progressives can make a successful claim to the presidency when Ruggerio decides to call it a day.


Filippi’s pursuit

Rhode Island House Minority Leader Blake Filippi is pursuing his lawsuit regarding the Joint Committee on Legislative Services (JCLS), the hiring and spending arm of the legislature. Filippi wants to individually sue a series of defendants, including House Speaker Joe Shekarchi, House Majority Leader Chris Blazejewski, former speaker Nicholas Mattiello, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, Senate Minority Leader Dennis Algiere and incoming JCLS executive director Henry Kinch.

While Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein recently ruled that state courts lack say over legislative spending and operations, Filippi is seeking to assert federal claims through state court, arguing that his rights to free speech, due process and equal protection have been violated by how JCLS has operated. The GOP lawmaker is seeking a jury trial and damages of $50 from each of the defendants. (Silverstein will consider arguments from both sides and decide whether the action can move ahead; Filippi said the case could potentially go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court).

In a joint statement, Shekarchi and Ruggerio said: “We will commence regular meetings of the JCLS at the conclusion of litigation. We are not going to comment on the specifics of any pending legal complaints. However, we thought last week’s decision by Judge Silverstein was well thought-out, on point and legally sound.”



As the ProJo turns

Brian Amaral’s move from the ProJo to The Boston Globe’s Rhode Island office raises the question of whether the Journal will do any hiring to replace Amaral and the two other reporters who were hired around the time he began a few years ago, Madeline List and Kevin Andrade. As it turns out, the ProJo is advertising to hire a city reporter and a watchdog reporter.



McCaffrey on the issues

Here are some of the issues we discussed with Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey on Political Roundtable.

The IGT-Bally’s proposal: while critics say there’s a better deal to be struck on gambling, McCaffrey takes the view that a bird in hand is better than two in the bush.

The three-year charter school moratorium passed this week by the Senate: “Charter schools serve a purpose, charter schools help certain people. However, we have to do a balancing test to see what are they going to provide, how are they going to provide it. And one of the things that I continually hear from the superintendent in Warwick about the different charter schools is, if a student goes to a charter school and then they return to the district, whether it’s a week later, half a year later, the school district doesn’t get any of that money back.”

Legalizing recreational marijuana: McCaffrey said the Senate’s proposed legislation could emerge as soon as the coming week, so interested parties can begin reviewing it.

Raising taxes on upper-income Rhode Islanders: “Right now, it’s not fair to the people who are at the lower end of the spectrum – they’re paying at much as 12.1 percent and at the higher end of the spectrum, they’re paying 7.9 percent.” If $475,000 is the threshold for a tax increase, “there’s approximately 5,000 taxpayers in the state of Rhode Island who fall in that category.” Would raising this tax hurt perceptions of the state’s business climate? “Obviously, that’s a balancing test that we have to make … The economy, obviously, is important.”



Fighting UI fraud

When even the colonel of the State Police is the subject of a fraudulent unemployment insurance claim, that gives you an idea of the scope of the problem. Yet using technology to weed out fraudsters isn’t a cure-all.

As RI DLT spokeswoman Margaux Fontaine told me: “All UI claims undergo a screening process in which we check for a multitude of factors that are indicative of potential fraud. We began working with a cybersecurity vendor in May 2020 and are using advanced artificial intelligence models that are continuously refined to detect signs of fraudulent claims. If a claim is flagged for suspected fraud, the claimant must authenticate their identity via an identity verification tool that we launched in spring 2020 with the help of Amazon Web Services and Lexis Nexis. Because of these efforts, most of the fraudulent claims that are reported to us (i.e. when someone gets a letter from DLT in the mail), have already been detected and stopped before that letter even reaches the victim. We do not currently require two-factor authentication, but multi-factor authentication will be part of our revamped UI application and dashboard, which will launch later this year. It’s important to note, though, that two-factor authentication alone would not prevent fraudulent claims from being filed, since fraudsters also have phone numbers and email addresses to use when they file fraudulent claims. Fraudsters are not hacking into DLT accounts; they are using real, stolen information (obtained from other sources) to file applications for benefits.”

Ian Donnis is the political reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at For more of his coverage, visit and follow him on Twitter (@IanDon).


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