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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court appeared unlikely Thursday to change its long-standing rule that putting someone on trial more than once for the same crime does not violate the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy.

That outcome — keeping existing rules in place — would potentially be a blow to Paul Manafort, who faces prison time for violating federal fraud laws. A presidential pardon could keep him out of federal prison, but it would not free him from being prosecuted on similar state charges — unless the Supreme Court changes the rule. But that seemed did not seem possible after Thursday’s oral argument before the justices.

Neither Manafort’s case nor the work of Special Counsel Robert Mueller came up in the courtroom argument.

The Fifth Amendment provides that no person shall be “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” for the same offense. But for nearly two centuries, the Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that being prosecuted for the same crime once by a state and again in federal court, or the other way around, doesn’t violate the provision because the states and the federal government are “separate sovereigns.”

The lawyer for an Alabama man, Terance Gamble, urged the justices to overturn those earlier decisions. Convicted of robbery in 2008, Gamble was pulled over seven years later for a traffic violation. Police found a handgun in his car, and he was prosecuted under Alabama’s law barring felons from possessing firearms. The local U.S. attorney then charged him with violating a similar federal law. Because of the added federal conviction, Gamble’s prison sentence was extended by nearly three years.

“This is a 170-year-old rule that close to 30 justices have voted for,” said Justice Elena Kagan. “You’re asking us to throw it out because we think we can do better?”

Gamble’s lawyer, Louis Chaiten of Cleveland, said the nation’s founders understood the protection against double jeopardy to ban any second prosecution for the same offense. He said that under English common law, the roots of American law, there was no “separate sovereigns” exception. A person could not be put on trial in England if already tried for the same offense in another country.

But Justice Samuel Alito said changing the rule would block the U.S. government from prosecuting someone who attacked Americans overseas and was given only a light sentence by a foreign court.

“The logic of your position,” Justice Brett Kavanaugh told Chaiten, “is that the U.S. couldn’t prosecute someone like that even if it was important for national security.”

And Justice Stephen Breyer said changing the rule would prevent the federal government from bringing civil rights cases when the states decline to prosecute or do so only half-heartedly.

The Trump administration urged the court to keep the current rule, arguing the state and the federal governments should be able to pursue their own interests without interfering with each other.

The court was originally scheduled to hear the case Wednesday, but Chief Justice John Roberts issued an order closing the court that day in observance of the national day of mourning for George H. W. Bush. The justices will issue their decision by late June.



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Trump abruptly reverses Treasury’s North Korea-related sanctions on Chinese shippers

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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested Friday that he would lift sanctions his Treasury Department had just announced it would impose on two Chinese shipping companies for allegedly violating existing prohibitions on providing goods and transportation services to North Korea.

“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”

The sanctions — which the White House did not immediately confirm that the president’s tweet was in reference to — were actually announced Thursday by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is an agency under the Treasury Department.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders explained the president’s decision as a courtesy to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with whom Trump broke off denuclearization talks in Hanoi last month.

“President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” Sanders said.

Victor Cha, a former National Security Council official and an MSNBC contributor, said that Trump’s decision had undercut law enforcement and sent a message to Kim that he won’t ramp up sanctions. While it’s good that Trump wants to continue diplomatic discussions with Kim, Cha said, the tweet had also sent the wrong signal to other countries about U.S. policy.

For years, the U.S. has used the threat and imposition of sanctions to deter individuals, companies and foreign governments from doing business with the North Korean regime to squeeze that nation’s economy and pressure Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program.

At a time when Trump is eager to strike a trade deal with China, the relief from sanctions that Treasury officials imposed may also go over well in Beijing.

In announcing the sanctions Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. government wanted to make clear to shipping companies that they could not do business with North Korea.

“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related UN Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Mnuchin said. “Treasury will continue to enforce our sanctions, and we are making it explicitly clear that shipping companies employing deceptive tactics to mask illicit trade with North Korea expose themselves to great risk.”

However, senior Trump administration officials also said Thursday that “the door is wide open” to more talks with North Korea, telling reporters that President Trump remains “personally engaged” and also wants contacts to occur on the working level, although they wouldn’t disclose whether any such contacts have occurred since the summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Josh Lederman contributed.

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Gun rights groups try last-ditch move to stop Trump ban on rapid-fire bump stocks

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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — Owners of bump stocks — attachments that allow rifles to be fired rapidly — are hoping a federal appeals court will relieve them of the legal duty to destroy the devices by Monday.

The Trump administration ordered a ban on bump stocks after they figured prominently in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 58 people and wounded 500 others. A police investigation revealed that Stephen Paddock, who carried out the massacre, had 22 semi-automatic rifles with him in his hotel room overlooking an outdoor concert that he attacked, and 14 of the weapons were equipped with bump stocks.

Under a federal rule that took effect in December, owners must destroy their bump stocks, which are usually made of plastic, by Monday or risk prosecution for a felony. The rule suggests smashing them with a hammer, cutting them apart with a saw, or turning them over to a local ATF office. It applies to individual owners, dealers, wholesalers and manufacturers.

Federal authorities estimate that half a million of them have been sold in the U.S.

The devices are attached to a rifle in place of the normal stock, the end piece that sit next to a user’s shoulder. Once in place, the bump stock absorbs the weapon’s recoil and alters the relationship between the trigger finger and the weapon.

Without a bump stock, the rifle remains stationary, and the trigger finger must be moved to fire each round. With a bump stock, after the trigger is pulled once, the recoil begins moving the trigger against the finger, which remains stationary, resulting in rapid firing like a fully automatic rifle.

For that reason, the Trump administration concluded that bump stocks violate a federal law that bans machineguns, defined as weapons that automatically fire more than one shot “with a single function of the trigger.”

Gun rights groups sued, arguing that bump stocks are intended to be used with AR-15 style rifles which are mechanically incapable of firing more than once with a single function of the trigger, because it must be released and moved again to allow the weapon to fire. They say the words of the statute — single function of the trigger — refer to the movement of the trigger itself, not whether the trigger is pulled by a finger or actuated by a bump stock.

“The government is just wrong to focus to focus on the behavior of the person rather than the function of the trigger,” said Erik Jaffee, representing the gun owners. “Function of the trigger means the trigger, not the shooter.”

The Justice Department told the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Friday that the courts have interpreted the phrase “single function of the trigger” to mean “single pull of the trigger.” A bump stock, government lawyers argued, allows a rifle to fire automatically once the trigger is pulled once, and that qualifies it as a machinegun.

An ATF spokeswoman said some owners have already turned in their bump stocks. But gun owner groups said others were waiting to see whether the appeals court agrees to put the rule on hold.

The court did not indicate when it might rule.



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‘I will TELEPATHICALLY stop you!’ Uri Geller sends Theresa May BIZARRE Brexit warning

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PARANORMAL spoon bender Uri Geller has written a bizarre open letter to Theresa May, telling the Prime Minister he “loves” her but “will stop you telepathically” from carrying out Brexit.

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