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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court seemed prepared Tuesday to reverse the convictions of two state officials behind the Bridgegate scandal that created monumental traffic jams in 2013 on the George Washington Bridge and tarnished the image of then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Several of the justices appeared to be skeptical of the prosecution’s theory of the case — that the two committed fraud by lying about their reason for closing the bridge. The officials said they needed to conduct a study of traffic patterns, but a jury found that the real reason was to punish the mayor of a community served by the bridge who refused to endorse the Republican governor’s re-election.

Christie was in the courtroom to hear Tuesday’s argument.

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A federal court jury returned guilty verdicts against Christie aide Bridget Anne Kelly and Bill Baroni, the deputy executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the bridge. The jury found that they shut down two of three bridge lanes coming out of Fort Lee, New Jersey, as political payback.

What made the case controversial is that fraud cases typically accuse public officials of diverting public resources to line their own pockets and there was no such claim in this case. That seemed to bother several of the justices.

“The object of this deception was not to obtain property. The object was to create a traffic jam. The object was to benefit people politically,” Justice Elena Kagan said.

Chief Justice John Roberts made the same point.

“The object of the scheme was not to commandeer lanes on the bridge,” he said. “The object was to cause a traffic jam in Fort Lee.”

And several justices seemed concerned that if the court upheld the convictions, it would open the door to charging any public official with fraud by asserting that he or she lied in claiming to act in the public interest. That might include a city official who orders potholes repaired to reward the mayor’s political base while justifying it on policy grounds.

“The government is filled with rules. And there are numerous instances where a person might say something untrue about something related to a rule that gives him authority for that,” Justice Stephen Breyer said. “I don’t see how this case works.”

The court’s announcement in July that it would hear the case signaled that at least some justices believe the government overreached in bringing the fraud charges. If the court throws out the convictions, it would further weaken the ability to prosecute public officials for fraud.

Both the former officials were sentenced to prison for their role in the Bridgegate scandal. Kelly was to report in the summer but has been allowed to remain free while the case is on appeal. Baroni began serving his sentence in April but was released on bond when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

A decision will be announced by late June.



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First 3 women to be impeachment managers say public will see trial as ‘rigged’ if Trump is acquitted

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The first three women to serve as presidential impeachment managers in U.S. history told NBC News in an exclusive interview on Thursday that if the Senate votes to acquit President Donald Trump, the American public will view it as a “rigged trial.”

Democratic Reps. Zoe Lofgren of California, Sylvia Garcia of Texas and Val Demings of Florida also spoke about the need for witnesses in the trial, and added that even an acquittal won’t amount to an exoneration of the president.

“It seems to me, if there’s not a full, fair trial with witnesses, he may get an acquittal, but he’s not going to get an exoneration,” Lofgren said in the interview, in response to a question about whether an acquittal would be touted by the administration as a victory. “It’s going to be seen for what it is, just a rubber stamp to get him off the hook.”

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“And so that’s yet unknown, whether we’ll have a full trial, but clearly, he engaged in serious misconduct that upended the Constitutional order, really threatens our freedom,” Lofgren said. “Because it’s the Constitution that has protected our freedom as Americans for over two centuries. That’s what the stakes really are.”

Garcia added that she felt it was “important that we emphasize that he’s been impeached. That is done. He can’t erase it. He will always be an impeached president.”

“If they don’t convict and they don’t decide to remove, then the public will see that it was rigged, that it wasn’t fair,” Garcia added. “Because everyday Americans know what a fair trial is. And that includes witnesses, it includes testimony, it includes both sides having a fair shot at presenting their case. And if they don’t see that, then they’ll say, well, yeah, he got off, but it’s because it was rigged. You know, it was a done deal. And I think that will also last forever, and it might hurt him in anything he does in the future.”

Full coverage of President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial

Lofgren said the aim of the trial isn’t to hurt Trump, but to “stop the misconduct.”

“It’s not just about hurting him, that’s not the object,” she said. “The object is to stop the misconduct, and to make sure future presidents don’t do this. It’s not about Donald Trump as a guy. It’s about our government. It’s about our Constitution.”

As the first of the three to appear on the Senate floor, Lofgren made history Tuesday when she became the first female manager of a presidential impeachment. Demings is the first African American to serve in the role. And Garcia is the only Latina among the seven impeachment managers prosecuting the case against Trump.



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SNP and Nicola Sturgeon savaged by Tory MP for ‘fatal flaws’ in Scottish independence plan

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NICOLA STURGEON has come under brutal attack for her demands to Boris Johnson for a second referendum on Scottish independence, with a Conservative MP warning of “fatal flaws” and accusing the SNP of “creating their own self-fulfilling prophecy”.

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Judge sets high bar for former Trump adviser Flynn to withdraw guilty plea

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Federal District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan made clear Friday that Michael Flynn, who served briefly as President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, has a high hurdle to overcome in persuading the judge to let Flynn withdraw his guilty plea.

Flynn pleaded guilty two years ago, admitting he lied to the FBI about his conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. during the Trump transition. A year ago, the government said he deserved credit for admitting his misconduct and cooperating with prosecutors in investigating Flynn’s former business partner. But prosecutors said recently that he failed to live up to the bargain and no longer deserves leniency.

Flynn’s lawyers have accused the FBI of misconduct in how it has handled his agreement. That culminated in a motion filed earlier this month seeking to withdraw his guilty plea, which has delayed his sentencing.

In a brief order Friday, Judge Sullivan said Flynn’s lawyers should file legal briefs addressing whether the court should hold a hearing “where the parties would present all testimony and evidence concerning the issue of whether Mr. Flynn can show that there is good cause to set aside his guilty pleas.”

Such a hearing, the judge said, might include “testimony from Mr. Flynn and other witnesses under oath, subject to cross-examination, to show any ‘fair and just reason’ for this court to grant his motion to withdraw.”

The judge’s order cited a 1995 ruling by the D.C. Court of Appeals that set a very high bar for withdrawing a plea. In that case, the appeals court said a defendant “must show either an error in the taking of his plea or some ‘more substantial’ reason he failed to press his case rather than plead guilty.”

If a judge refuses to allow a defendant to withdraw a guilty plea, the appeals court said it would be “extremely reluctant” to overrule such a ruling unless a defendant can show that the judge clearly made a mistake. A defendant “has to shoulder an extremely heavy burden if he is ultimately to prevail.”

Flynn’s sentencing is now set for Feb. 27. Under federal guidelines, he could face zero to six months in jail, and federal prosecutors have said his sentence should be in that range. Flynn’s lawyers have urged the judge to sentence him to probation with no jail time.



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