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Leland, we hardly knew Yee, newspaper profile suggests

Leland Yee, campaigning for San Francisco mayor, is now in legal trouble.
Leland Yee, campaigning for San Francisco mayor, is now in legal trouble.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Yesterday’s San Jose Mercury News profile of California State Sen. Leland Yee — arrested last week on charges that include alleged gun trafficking — paints a portrait of a man consumed by professional politics and its biggest single demand: Money.

Yee is one of 26 people named in the federal complaint that caused an eruption of arrests and accusations, on the senator’s part, anyway, of political hypocrisy so grotesque that, according to the Mercury News, many people still find it hard to believe. Yee has been one of the Golden State’s most aggressive gun control proponents, pushing legislation to make it ever more difficult for law-abiding citizens to exercise their Second Amendment rights. He now is alleged to have been also pushing in the opposite direction — the illegal trafficking of firearms — for his own political and monetary gain.

It is not until six paragraphs into the Mercury News story that reporters Julia Prodix Sulek and Aaron Kinney raise the question that anyone reading between pages 90 and 104 of the federal complaint might have as well: “Maybe Yee, a child psychologist whose first elected office was on the school board, was just bluffing about knowing arms dealers. Wouldn't it be something if a fake arms dealer was meeting with a fake mobster to set up a fake arms sale?”

“The FBI doesn't think so,” the story quickly adds, and neither do gun rights activists discussing the still-unfolding case here and here.

Whether Yee was trying to scam the undercover federal agent, identified only as “UCE 4599,” with an alleged arms deal just to get money to pay off a $70,000 debt from his unsuccessful 2011 run for San Francisco mayor and build a campaign fund for this year’s try for the Secretary of State’s (SOS) office will eventually be sorted out. Yee dropped out of the SOS race last week.

The Mercury News piece is not the only newspaper article that appears to be dropping suggestions that Yee is not such a bad guy, or may be something of a victim of the political profession. Friday’s San Francisco Chronicle went to great lengths to detail “how the undercover FBI agent broke Calif. state Sen. Yee case.” In paragraph 8 of that story, reporter Henry K. Lee says this:

“The agent’s aggressiveness, while not unusual in federal probes of organized crime and terrorism, may become a target for defense attorneys, who often argue in such cases that none of the alleged crimes would have occurred if they weren’t initiated by the FBI.”

Examiner covered the Yee arrest and reactions here, here and here. Yee is out on $500,000 bond and his office hasn’t talked. On Friday, he was suspended, with pay, on a 28-1 vote in the State Senate.

The 137-page affidavit stretches back to 2010 in its narrative of alleged criminal activity involving various individuals connected either with San Francisco politics or Chinatown, or both.

If the allegations against Yee and the others are proven in court, Bellevue gun rights advocate Alan Gottlieb, chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, said it would make Yee the biggest hypocrite to ever walk the halls of the legislature in Sacramento.

Yee’s misfortune has created considerable embarrassment in the gun prohibition camp, and no small amount of glee among Second Amendment activists. There were suggestions last week that his arrest has created a setback for California gun control advocates, and the subject is poison for the moment in Sacramento.

It will likely be a short-lived situation.


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