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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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Politics

Pentagon says visits to Trump’s Scotland resort cost nearly $200,000

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. military spent almost $200,000 at Trump Turnberry between 2017 to 2019, according to documents that the Pentagon sent to Congress.

In a letter dated Sept. 12 to the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating military spending at Turnberry, the Pentagon acknowledged it had spent just over $184,000 at the president’s Scottish resort. That sum included $124,579 in lodging and $59,730 in unidentified additional expenditures between August 9, 2017 to July 26, 2019. The average cost of a room was $189 a night, the Pentagon said.

In the two years prior, the Air Force spent about $64,000 at the hotel, according to the Pentagon.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., responded to the revelations in a statement on Wednesday, saying “it appears that U.S. taxpayer funds were used to purchase the equivalent of more than 650 rooms at the Trump Turnberry just since August 2017— or the equivalent of one room every night for more than one-and-a-half years.”

The lawmakers called the Pentagon’s disclosures “woefully inadequate,” noting they failed to produce “any underlying invoices or travel records relating to spending” at the resort or at the local airport.

The committee first asked for the information in June. News of Air Force stays at the resort were first reported by Politico earlier this month.

According to the Washington Post, Trump’s Scottish resort lost around $4.5 million in 2017. But as Politico reported, the resort’s revenue increased by $3.1 million the following year.

The Pentagon also acknowledged that the Air Force had spent $16 million on fuel expenditures at Prestwick Airport between Jan. 20, 2017 and June 21, 2019.

“Although the Department asserted that it paid $3.38 per gallon for fuel, it did not provide any information on contemporaneous fuel rates at non-commercial sites, such as military bases elsewhere in Europe,” Cummings and Raskin said.

The Democratic lawmakers have said that the airport has lost millions of dollars in revenue in recent years, and its existence is crucial to the golf resort’s survival. The airport has also offered discounts and free rounds of golf to members of the U.S. military, they said, citing the Guardian.

The Oversight Committee is investigating whether the arrangement violates a clause in the Constitution which bars an office holder from profiting from their positions. The panel set a new deadline of Sept. 27 for the Pentagon to produce all invoices, contracts, agreements, and internal and external communications involving the arrangement.



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Politics

Election 2019 polls tracker: Tories hold strong lead as Lib Dems take out Labour

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TORIES hold a strong lead as the Liberal Democrats take out Labour as the second biggest party, a voting intention poll has revealed.

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Trump’s border visit draws few spectators, for or against his wall

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SAN DIEGO – President Donald Trump’s visit to the border with Mexico here was attended by only a handful of supporters and protesters, some saying a border wall would protect the nation and others that it won’t address the area’s real problem of smuggling tunnels.

Trump’s stop in the Otay Mesa community was announced Monday night, leaving little time to plan organized events for his 3 p.m. arrival. The first time he came to this neighborhood, in early 2018, dozens of anti-Trump protesters shouted at the president from both sides of the border.

A few die-hard Trump fans were there Wednesday wearing red and donning “Make America Great Again” and “USA” baseball caps.

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Supporter Danny Duran had an American flag draped over his shoulders as the president’s motorcade of armored Chevrolet Suburban SUVs rolled by en route to a dirt road that would take him to a section of upgraded border barriers, unveiled last month.

The wall, Duran said, is “good for his campaign, but it’s good for America.”

Though the barrier is part of a long-planned fence replacement, Duran was convinced this was Trump’s wall.

“We need the wall,” he said. “Why not protect our country? I got a fence on my property.”

The Trump well-wishers were confined to a neighborhood of industrial parks about a half mile from the president’s appearance at the border.

Some of the Trump supporters there didn’t want to talk to reporters for fear of having their words misconstrued — one called a reporter “fake news” — or because they believed it would endanger their families.

Duran, a Latino who speaks Spanish, was proud to speak out. “I don’g agree with everything Trump says,” he said, “but he’s doing a good job.”

Luis Garcia, who owns a packaging supplies business nearby, wasn’t as enthused. He said the president’s past threats to shut down the border and place tariffs on some Mexican goods has been bad news for a border economy dependent on trade between both nations.

“I’m from the border,” he said. “I deal with both countries. People here don’t like the president.”

A border wall won’t stop legitimate trade, he said, but neither would it protect the Otay Mesa community from its true scourge — tunnels that run from Mexico to warehouses here and attract cartel traffic — he said. They’ve been used to ship drugs wholesale into the United States.

“It makes no sense,” Garcia said of Trump’s wall. “The wall doesn’t work. It’s a campaign tactic.”

Trump wrapped up a two-day trip to California that included campaign fundraisers in San Francisco, Beverly Hills and San Diego.

The $147-million replacement barrier he observed Wednesday runs for 14 miles from Imperial Beach to Otay Mesa.

Trump plans to use $3.6 billion earmarked for the Pentagon to help construct 175 miles of wall along the southern border.

Last year Trump vowed that a new border wall would stop 99 percent of unauthorized crossings along the border at San Diego.

“Now we have a world class security system at the border,” Trump said Wednesday.

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