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By Allan Smith
The White House has beefed up its legal team in recent weeks, hiring 17 additional lawyers to help prevent President Donald Trump’s discussions with top advisers from being obtained House Democrats or revealed to special counsel Robert Mueller, The Washington Post reported.
The White House plan is to assert Trump’s executive privilege on both fronts. That strategy is being led by new White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and aides said the goal is to preserve a legal protection that past presidents have invoked.
But with Democrats planning to go as far as subpoenaing the administration for information, such a strategy could quickly inflame tensions between the two sides and may lead to lengthy legal battles.
Some Democrats have already pledged to subpoena a copy of Mueller’s full report should the White House seek to to block any portions of it from being made public.
If the White House moves to use executive privilege to keep parts of the report private, the special counsel’s rules allow for the attorney general to make a final determination on what can be shared with Congress and the public.
Next week, the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for Trump’s attorney general nominee, William Barr, gets underway. Barr had been critical of the Mueller probe — which is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russian officials — in a memo he authored and provided to the Justice Department last year.
Barr was specifically critical of Mueller probing Trump having possibly obstructed justice regarding the Russia investigation. As The Post reported, Democrats are concerned about the possibility of the White House invoking executive privilege to block portions of the Mueller report dealing with obstruction from being made public.
Though little is known about Mueller’s report, what it will encompass, and how lengthy it will be, NBC News reported last month that it could be submitted as soon as February, legal sources said. However, unforeseen developments could lengthen the timeline.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. NBC has not independently confirmed the hiring of additional lawyers.
Supreme Court declines to change double jeopardy rule in a case with Manafort implications
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined on Monday to change the longstanding rule that says putting someone on trial more than once for the same crime does not violate the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy — a case that drew attention because of its possible implications for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
The 7-2 ruling was a defeat for an Alabama man, Terance Gamble, convicted of robbery in 2008 and pulled over seven years later for a traffic violation. When police found a handgun in his car, he was prosecuted under Alabama’s law barring felons from possessing firearms. The local U.S. attorney then charged Gamble with violating a similar federal law. Because of the added federal conviction, his prison sentence was extended by nearly three years.
The Fifth Amendment says no person shall be “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” for the same offense. But for more than 160 years, the Supreme Court has ruled that being prosecuted once by a state and again in federal court, or the other way around, for the same crime doesn’t violate the protection against double jeopardy because the states and the federal government are “separate sovereigns.”
The case attracted more than the usual attention because of the prospect that Trump may pardon Manafort, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for violating federal fraud laws. A presidential pardon could free him from federal prison, but it would not protect him from being prosecuted on similar state charges, which were filed by New York. Overturning the rule allowing separate prosecutions for the same offenses would have worked in Manafort’s favor.
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. 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.
Chaiten also argued that the states and the federal government are not truly independent anyway and are instead part of a complete national system. He quoted Alexander Hamilton, who described them as “kindred systems, part of one whole.”
And Chaiten said Congress has made the problem worse by dramatically expanding the number and scope of federal laws in recent years, creating more duplication with state laws — something never envisioned in earlier court decisions that allowed double prosecutions.
But the Trump administration said the longstanding double jeopardy rule allows states and the federal government to pursue distinct interests without interfering with each other. Changing the current understanding by barring subsequent prosecutions would allow foreign court actions to preclude U.S. trials for crimes against Americans, the government said.
Civil liberties groups also said the rule has allowed the federal government to pursue notorious civil rights violations that states were unwilling or unable to pursue.
Gamble’s argument appealed to some of the court’s liberals and conservatives. Two years ago, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas joined liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in saying that the court’s past double jeopardy rulings were due for a “fresh examination.”
Supreme Court blocks suit over racially gerrymandered districts in Virginia
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday tossed out a lawsuit in Virginia over political boundaries for its state Legislature.
By a 5-4 vote — but not strictly along the usual conservative/liberal divide — the court said Virginia’s House of Delegates did not have the legal right to carry on a fight over the map once state officials bowed out.
The dispute arose after the last census when the Republican-controlled Legislature redrew the district lines for the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates. In response to a lawsuit, a federal court declared the map invalid, concluding that it unconstitutionally sorted voters based on race. A redrawn map was seen as more favorable to Democrats.
Virginia’s attorney general declined to appeal, and the House of Delegates picked up the fight. But the Supreme Court said a single house of the Legislature had no authority to do so.
“The House observes that Virginia gives redistricting authority to the ‘General Assembly.’ True enough,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote. But, she said, “One house of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process.”
She was joined by two of the court’s other liberals, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, but also by two of the court’s most conservative members, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called the ruling a big win for democracy.
“It’s unfortunate that House Republicans wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and months of litigation in a futile effort to protect racially gerrymandered districts, but the good news is that this fall’s elections will take place in constitutionally drawn districts,” Herring said.
Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general during the Obama administration, called the decision “an important victory for African Americans in Virginia who have been forced since 2011 to vote in racially gerrymandered districts that unfairly diluted their voting power.”
“With a new, fair map in place, all Virginians will now — finally — have the opportunity this fall to elect a House of Delegates that actually represents the will of the people,” Holder said.
Monday’s decision will have no practical effect, because the Supreme Court had earlier allowed elections to proceed using the redrawn map that the House of Delegates opposed.
Biden diagnosed the problem, but I’ve got the solution
When Joe Biden jumped into the presidential race in April, one of his competitors, Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio, said the former vice president gets the economic problems facing Americans in the middle of the country.
Ryan told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle the former vice president understands how blue collar workers are struggling, a problem Ryan said he gets as well. But, the congressman said he thinks he’s the one with answers for those problems, not Biden.
Referring to a clip of Biden speaking about the problems facing Rust Belt workers, Ryan said he’d be “talking about the issues that are important and talking about the anxiety the vice president just mentioned,” but would be the one who will have “innovative solutions,” including creating “an industrial policy in the United States.”
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