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Judge Allows Mueller Case Against Russian Company to Proceed

A federal judge on Thursday refused to dismiss a special counsel indictment against a Russian company accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, an appointee of President Donald Trump, allows the criminal case against Concord Management to proceed.

The company and two other entities were indicted in February for participating in an effort to sway American public opinion through social media posts ahead of the election.

Thirteen Russians were also charged, accused of meddling in the election through bogus Facebook posts aimed at sowing discord on hot-button social issues.

The indictment argued that the Russian defendants conspired to break the law by conspiring “obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit,” including by failing to register as foreign agents and by making expenditures in connection with the election without proper disclosure.

Lawyers for the company argued, among other things, that the indictment failed to accuse the company of knowingly breaking the law. Friedrich rejected that analysis in a 32-page opinion Thursday, the latest legal conclusion by a judge to affirm charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The company, which has pleaded not guilty, had earlier asked for the indictment to be dismissed by challenging Mueller’s appointment as unlawful. That request was also denied. 

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Judge Allows Mueller Case Against Russian Company to Proceed

A federal judge on Thursday refused to dismiss a special counsel indictment against a Russian company accused of interfering in the 2016 presidential election.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Dabney Friedrich, an appointee of President Donald Trump, allows the criminal case against Concord Management to proceed.

The company and two other entities were indicted in February for participating in an effort to sway American public opinion through social media posts ahead of the election.

Thirteen Russians were also charged, accused of meddling in the election through bogus Facebook posts aimed at sowing discord on hot-button social issues.

The indictment argued that the Russian defendants conspired to break the law by conspiring “obstruct the lawful functions of the United States government through fraud and deceit,” including by failing to register as foreign agents and by making expenditures in connection with the election without proper disclosure.

Lawyers for the company argued, among other things, that the indictment failed to accuse the company of knowingly breaking the law. Friedrich rejected that analysis in a 32-page opinion Thursday, the latest legal conclusion by a judge to affirm charges brought by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The company, which has pleaded not guilty, had earlier asked for the indictment to be dismissed by challenging Mueller’s appointment as unlawful. That request was also denied. 

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White House Aide Ousted by First Lady Says Service Was ‘an Honor’ 

A White House aide pushed out by first lady Melania Trump said Thursday that it had been “an honor” to serve in President Donald Trump’s administration and that she admired the first family. 

Mira Ricardel, the deputy national security adviser, departed the White House on Wednesday, a day after the first lady’s office issued an extraordinary statement calling for her ouster. 

“I admire the president and first lady and have great respect for my colleagues who are dedicated to supporting the president’s policies, and I look forward to working with them in the months ahead,” Ricardel said in a statement to The Associated Press. 

Ricardel was said to have clashed with the first lady’s staff over her trip to Africa last month. Aides said Ricardel had pushed for a seat to be reserved on the first lady’s plane for a National Security Council representative to brief her during the trip. 

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ricardel never met the first lady. The official dismissed reports that Ricardel was trying to secure a seat for herself on the first lady’s trip.  

On Tuesday, Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman, released a statement saying: “It is the position of the office of the first lady that she [Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.” 

Officials surprised

The East Wing statement caught senior White House officials by surprise, and White House aides were frustrated with how Ricardel, a Trump loyalist and one of the highest-ranking women in the administration, was being treated. As the statement was issued, Ricardel was standing, smiling, alongside President Donald Trump at an event in the Roosevelt Room. 

An ally of national security adviser John Bolton, Ricardel began her service in the Trump administration as associate director in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, then moved to the Commerce Department last year. Bolton brought her into the West Wing shortly after he took the job in April. 

Bolton told staff in an email Thursday that he appreciated Ricardel’s service. He is traveling in Asia this week alongside Vice President Mike Pence. 

“I am deeply grateful for all Mira has done on behalf of the NSC, her deep knowledge of the national security issues we confront daily, and her unwavering commitment to the president,” Bolton told staff. 

Trump’s White House has set records for administration turnover. Ricardel was the third person to hold the post under Trump. 

Press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that Ricardel would “transition to a new role within the administration.” It was not yet clear what her new position would be. 

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White House Aide Ousted by First Lady Says Service Was ‘an Honor’ 

A White House aide pushed out by first lady Melania Trump said Thursday that it had been “an honor” to serve in President Donald Trump’s administration and that she admired the first family. 

Mira Ricardel, the deputy national security adviser, departed the White House on Wednesday, a day after the first lady’s office issued an extraordinary statement calling for her ouster. 

“I admire the president and first lady and have great respect for my colleagues who are dedicated to supporting the president’s policies, and I look forward to working with them in the months ahead,” Ricardel said in a statement to The Associated Press. 

Ricardel was said to have clashed with the first lady’s staff over her trip to Africa last month. Aides said Ricardel had pushed for a seat to be reserved on the first lady’s plane for a National Security Council representative to brief her during the trip. 

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Ricardel never met the first lady. The official dismissed reports that Ricardel was trying to secure a seat for herself on the first lady’s trip.  

On Tuesday, Stephanie Grisham, the first lady’s spokeswoman, released a statement saying: “It is the position of the office of the first lady that she [Ricardel] no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House.” 

Officials surprised

The East Wing statement caught senior White House officials by surprise, and White House aides were frustrated with how Ricardel, a Trump loyalist and one of the highest-ranking women in the administration, was being treated. As the statement was issued, Ricardel was standing, smiling, alongside President Donald Trump at an event in the Roosevelt Room. 

An ally of national security adviser John Bolton, Ricardel began her service in the Trump administration as associate director in the White House Office of Presidential Personnel, then moved to the Commerce Department last year. Bolton brought her into the West Wing shortly after he took the job in April. 

Bolton told staff in an email Thursday that he appreciated Ricardel’s service. He is traveling in Asia this week alongside Vice President Mike Pence. 

“I am deeply grateful for all Mira has done on behalf of the NSC, her deep knowledge of the national security issues we confront daily, and her unwavering commitment to the president,” Bolton told staff. 

Trump’s White House has set records for administration turnover. Ricardel was the third person to hold the post under Trump. 

Press secretary Sarah Sanders said Wednesday that Ricardel would “transition to a new role within the administration.” It was not yet clear what her new position would be. 

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Trump Unleashes New Attacks on Russia Probe

U.S. President Donald Trump unleashed new attacks Thursday on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, even as there are hints special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe could be nearing a conclusion.

Publicly at least, Mueller’s 18-month investigation was relatively quiet in the weeks leading up to the November 6 nation-wide congressional elections, partly because the Department of Justice tries to refrain from bringing politically sensitive cases forward around major elections. But legal analysts expect more developments soon.

Trump answering written questions

Trump this week, according to news accounts, has been weighing written answers to questions posed by Mueller’s investigators about whether Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russian interests to help him win, an allegation he has repeatedly rejected as unfounded.

Left open yet, however, is whether Trump will sit for an interview with Mueller for further questioning about the collusion allegations and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the probe. Meantime, Mueller could write a report about his findings, while possibly also filing more indictments against Trump associates, accusing them of criminal wrongdoing.

On Thursday, Trump returned to his long-running criticism of the Mueller probe, which he frequently calls a “witch hunt.”

The U.S. leader contended on Twitter, without evidence, that “the inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess.”

“They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts,” he said. “They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t care how many lives (they) ruin. These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, who worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts and crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!”

Mueller, a registered Republican, actually was first appointed as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for a 10-year term by Republican President George W. Bush in 2001, with his term then extended for two years by former Democratic President Barack Obama. The Senate approved the extension on a 100-0 vote.

Controversy over new US attorney general

Trump last week ousted Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whom Trump had long attacked for removing himself from oversight of the Mueller probe, adhering to Justice Department guidelines requiring officials to recuse themselves from involvement in cases to avoid conflicts of interests. Sessions was the first major political figure to support Trump in the 2016 election, but also had met with Russia’s then-ambassador to Washington in the run-up to the voting two years ago.

Trump named Matthew Whitaker, Sessions’s chief of staff, to be acting attorney general and he has now assumed oversight of the Mueller probe, taking control from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, whom Sessions chose to oversee Mueller’s investigation.

Whitaker, before joining the Justice Department more than a year ago, had disparaged the Mueller investigation and suggested that a replacement attorney general, such as he is now, could cut funding for the investigation so that it “grinds almost to a halt.”

Because of his comments, opposition Democrats, and some Republicans, have called for Whitaker to recuse himself from oversight of the Mueller probe. But Whitaker has not said what he plans to do. The state of Maryland has filed suit to block Whitaker’s appointment, but the Justice Department said Trump was within his authority to name him without Senate confirmation, as would be normal for cabinet-level appointments.

Senate leader blocks Mueller protection

 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked consideration of bipartisan legislation that would guard against Trump ending Mueller’s investigation. McConnell says Trump, despite his vocal complaints against Mueller, has assured him he won’t fire Mueller and that his investigation will be allowed to reach its conclusion.

Mueller has won convictions or secured guilty pleas from several Trump campaign figures, who are cooperating with Mueller’s investigators while awaiting sentencing.

 

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Trump Ally McCarthy to Lead House Republicans

Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy easily won an internal party election Wednesday to take over the shrunken House GOP caucus, handing the seven-term Californian a familiar role of building the party back to a majority as well as protecting President Donald Trump’s agenda. 

With current speaker Paul Ryan retiring and the House majority gone, the race for minority leader was McCarthy’s to lose. But rarely has a leader of a party that suffered a major defeat — Democrats wiped out Republicans in GOP-held suburban districts from New York to McCarthy’s own backyard — been so handily rewarded. 

After pushing past a longshot challenge from Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, McCarthy will be tested by Republicans on and off Capitol Hill who remain angry and divided after their midterm losses and split over how best to move forward. 

“We’ll be back,” McCarthy promised, claiming a unified front for the Republican leadership team. He won by 159-43 among House Republicans. 

McCarthy, who has been majority leader under Ryan, acknowledged Republicans “took a beating” in the suburbs in last week’s national elections, especially as the ranks of GOP female lawmakers plummeted from 23 to 13. The GOP side of the aisle will be made up of 90 percent white men in the new Congress — an imbalance he blamed on billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s election spending to help Democrats. 

Bloomberg spent more than $110 million in the midterms. Two Republican women were defeated by candidates he supported, and both were replaced by Democratic women, said spokeswoman Rachel Nagler. 

Experienced

McCarthy has been here before, having helped pick up the party after Republicans last lost control of the House in 2006, leading them to the 2010 tea party wave that pushed them back into the majority. 

Trump, who is close to McCarthy but also friendly with Jordan, largely stayed on the sidelines in the intraparty House contest. The outcome gives the president two allies positioned to help him. 

While McCarthy provides an affable face for the GOP, Jordan, the former Ohio wrestling champ and a Fox News regular, will be fighting Democrats’ investigations into Trump’s businesses and administration. 

GOP Whip Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who was badly wounded in last year’s congressional baseball practice shooting and unanimously won his position Wednesday, said McCarthy “knows what he needs to do.” 

Rounding out the GOP leadership team as House Republican conference chairwoman will be Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was on hand to watch his daughter take over the same No. 3 spot that he held decades ago. “He told me not to screw it up,” she said. 

House Democrats put off until after Thanksgiving their more prominent contest, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid to regain the speaker’s gavel she held when the Democrats last had the majority. 

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky won another term leading Republicans and Chuck Schumer of New York won for Democrats. Both were selected by acclamation. 

Senate Republicans also welcomed the first woman to their leadership team in years, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, as they sought to address the optics of the GOP side of the aisle being dominated by men. Ernst called her selection as vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference, “a great honor.” 

In the House, Jordan and McCarthy shook hands after a testy two days of closed-door sessions, according to lawmakers in the room for Wednesday’s voting. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the Freedom Caucus chairman, called it a “gentlemanly” debate. 

But the friendly talk papers over the infighting between the GOP’s conservative and moderate flanks as lawmakers dole out blame after the midterm election losses that handed House Democrats the majority. 

Many Republicans side with Jordan’s theory, which is that Republicans, despite a GOP monopoly on power in Washington, lost because they didn’t “do what we said” — including delivering Trump’s priority to build the border wall with Mexico. 

Staying on message

McCarthy made that argument, too, lawmakers said, suggesting that those who lost their races — or came close to losing — didn’t work hard enough to sell the GOP’s message. At one point, ads featuring McCarthy were running promoting Trump’s border wall. 

GOP Rep. Peter King of New York rose to object, saying his view was that Republicans lost ground over the GOP tax cuts that reduced deductions for some filers. The harsh immigration rhetoric that turned off suburban voters didn’t help, he said. 

“We used to own the suburbs,” King said. “Now we’re down to rural voters.” 

McCarthy relishes an underdog role. “We think he’s absolutely our best political strategist, our best fundraiser, our best recruiter,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. “And that’s job No. 1 in getting back to the majority.” 

But after eight years of GOP control, the tea party class of 2010 is long gone. So too are the “Young Guns” — former leader Eric Cantor and outgoing Speaker Ryan — who penned that strategy. Voters largely panned the party’s latest signature accomplishment, Trump’s tax cuts, and Republicans have all but abandoned the tea party promises to cut the deficit and repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law. 

Among those who opposed McCarthy, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky summed up his view of the Californian’s strengths and weaknesses. “He’s a savant at making friends,” Massie said. “Running the country, probably not so much.” 

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Trump Ally McCarthy to Lead House Republicans

Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy easily won an internal party election Wednesday to take over the shrunken House GOP caucus, handing the seven-term Californian a familiar role of building the party back to a majority as well as protecting President Donald Trump’s agenda. 

With current speaker Paul Ryan retiring and the House majority gone, the race for minority leader was McCarthy’s to lose. But rarely has a leader of a party that suffered a major defeat — Democrats wiped out Republicans in GOP-held suburban districts from New York to McCarthy’s own backyard — been so handily rewarded. 

After pushing past a longshot challenge from Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, the co-founder of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, McCarthy will be tested by Republicans on and off Capitol Hill who remain angry and divided after their midterm losses and split over how best to move forward. 

“We’ll be back,” McCarthy promised, claiming a unified front for the Republican leadership team. He won by 159-43 among House Republicans. 

McCarthy, who has been majority leader under Ryan, acknowledged Republicans “took a beating” in the suburbs in last week’s national elections, especially as the ranks of GOP female lawmakers plummeted from 23 to 13. The GOP side of the aisle will be made up of 90 percent white men in the new Congress — an imbalance he blamed on billionaire former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s election spending to help Democrats. 

Bloomberg spent more than $110 million in the midterms. Two Republican women were defeated by candidates he supported, and both were replaced by Democratic women, said spokeswoman Rachel Nagler. 

Experienced

McCarthy has been here before, having helped pick up the party after Republicans last lost control of the House in 2006, leading them to the 2010 tea party wave that pushed them back into the majority. 

Trump, who is close to McCarthy but also friendly with Jordan, largely stayed on the sidelines in the intraparty House contest. The outcome gives the president two allies positioned to help him. 

While McCarthy provides an affable face for the GOP, Jordan, the former Ohio wrestling champ and a Fox News regular, will be fighting Democrats’ investigations into Trump’s businesses and administration. 

GOP Whip Steve Scalise, the Louisiana Republican who was badly wounded in last year’s congressional baseball practice shooting and unanimously won his position Wednesday, said McCarthy “knows what he needs to do.” 

Rounding out the GOP leadership team as House Republican conference chairwoman will be Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, who was on hand to watch his daughter take over the same No. 3 spot that he held decades ago. “He told me not to screw it up,” she said. 

House Democrats put off until after Thanksgiving their more prominent contest, California Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid to regain the speaker’s gavel she held when the Democrats last had the majority. 

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky won another term leading Republicans and Chuck Schumer of New York won for Democrats. Both were selected by acclamation. 

Senate Republicans also welcomed the first woman to their leadership team in years, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, as they sought to address the optics of the GOP side of the aisle being dominated by men. Ernst called her selection as vice chairwoman of the Senate Republican Conference, “a great honor.” 

In the House, Jordan and McCarthy shook hands after a testy two days of closed-door sessions, according to lawmakers in the room for Wednesday’s voting. Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the Freedom Caucus chairman, called it a “gentlemanly” debate. 

But the friendly talk papers over the infighting between the GOP’s conservative and moderate flanks as lawmakers dole out blame after the midterm election losses that handed House Democrats the majority. 

Many Republicans side with Jordan’s theory, which is that Republicans, despite a GOP monopoly on power in Washington, lost because they didn’t “do what we said” — including delivering Trump’s priority to build the border wall with Mexico. 

Staying on message

McCarthy made that argument, too, lawmakers said, suggesting that those who lost their races — or came close to losing — didn’t work hard enough to sell the GOP’s message. At one point, ads featuring McCarthy were running promoting Trump’s border wall. 

GOP Rep. Peter King of New York rose to object, saying his view was that Republicans lost ground over the GOP tax cuts that reduced deductions for some filers. The harsh immigration rhetoric that turned off suburban voters didn’t help, he said. 

“We used to own the suburbs,” King said. “Now we’re down to rural voters.” 

McCarthy relishes an underdog role. “We think he’s absolutely our best political strategist, our best fundraiser, our best recruiter,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. “And that’s job No. 1 in getting back to the majority.” 

But after eight years of GOP control, the tea party class of 2010 is long gone. So too are the “Young Guns” — former leader Eric Cantor and outgoing Speaker Ryan — who penned that strategy. Voters largely panned the party’s latest signature accomplishment, Trump’s tax cuts, and Republicans have all but abandoned the tea party promises to cut the deficit and repeal and replace former President Barack Obama’s health care law. 

Among those who opposed McCarthy, Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky summed up his view of the Californian’s strengths and weaknesses. “He’s a savant at making friends,” Massie said. “Running the country, probably not so much.” 

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Trump Backs 1st Major Rewrite of Sentencing Laws in Decades

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his support for the first major rewrite of the nation’s criminal justice sentencing laws in a generation, but it remains to be seen whether the proposal can pass Congress.

Trump said the bill “will make our communities safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time.” Trump hailed the deal as proof that “true bipartisanship is possible” — though no Democrats attended the White House announcement. 

Senators reached an agreement this week on bipartisan legislation that would boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug offenses. The House approved a prison reform bill in May, but the proposed Senate package makes additional changes and adds the sentencing component. That means the House would need to revote on anything the Senate passes.

Criminal justice reform has been a priority of Trump’s son-in-law, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who has been working on the issue for months. Trump pushed for swift passage of the legislation, potentially during the lame-duck session of Congress.

“I’ll be waiting with a pen,” he said.

But members still haven’t seen the details, and time is running short.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. was cautious about the bill’s prospects Wednesday. He told reporters that GOP leaders would do a whip count to gauge the bill’s support once they have a final proposal in hand.

Still, he noted the Senate has other things it needs to accomplish in the final weeks of the year, including funding the government and passing a farm bill. He said Republicans would have to see how the criminal justice bill “stacks up against our other priorities” once a final agreement is reached.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called Trump’s announcement “an encouraging sign that we can achieve substantive reforms to our criminal justice system in this Congress.”

“Redemption is at the heart of the American Idea, and that’s what this is about,” he said.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking, said they hoped McConnell would hold a whip count after the Thanksgiving break. They also argued Trump’s support would move lawmakers to back the compromise and that more would sign on once legislative text is released.

The bill is a rare bipartisan endeavor in a typically log-jammed Congress and has attracted support from a coalition of liberal and conservative groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and groups backed by the political donors Charles and David Koch. Critics say current sentencing guidelines are unfair and have had a lopsided impact on minority communities.

“Did I hear the word bipartisan?” Trump joked during a Roosevelt Room event announcing his backing for the deal. “Did I hear that word? That’s a nice word.”

But even as he hailed the cooperation, Trump couldn’t resist a swipe at his former political opponents, saying the “Clinton crime law” disproportionality affected black Americans.

The Senate package overhauls some of the mandatory sentencing guidelines that have been in place since 1994 legislation approved by Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.

Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa released a joint statement, calling the endorsement “an important step in our shared effort to promote safe communities and improve justice.”

Grassley had said Tuesday the bill would be easier to pass after the departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was ousted by Trump last week. Sessions was a longtime opponent of criminal justice reform and had been especially wary of efforts to overhaul sentencing laws.

“I think we have a commitment from the Justice Department now to work with us on it,” Grassley said.

The White House official called the timing coincidental.

The Senate approach would allow thousands of federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty. It would also lower mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. The life sentence for some drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” would be reduced to 25 years

But roughly 90 percent of prison inmates are held in state facilities and would not be affected by the legislation.

All but two Republicans voted for the House bill when it was overwhelmingly approved in May, 360-59. Democratic lawmakers supported the bill by about a 2-to-1 margin, but opponents voiced concerns that it did not go far enough in giving judges more discretion to make the punishment fit the crime.

The House bill directs the Bureau of Prisons to conduct assessments for every offender once he or she is sentenced and to offer rehabilitation plans designed to lower the chance of recidivism. The plans would include vocational training, education, counseling and substance abuse treatment.

The federal inmate population has been on the decline since 2013, when it peaked at just more than 219,000. The total now stands at about 181,400, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Still, that’s about triple the number of inmates in federal detention 30 years ago.

 

 

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Trump Backs 1st Major Rewrite of Sentencing Laws in Decades

President Donald Trump on Wednesday announced his support for the first major rewrite of the nation’s criminal justice sentencing laws in a generation, but it remains to be seen whether the proposal can pass Congress.

Trump said the bill “will make our communities safer and give former inmates a second chance at life after they have served their time.” Trump hailed the deal as proof that “true bipartisanship is possible” — though no Democrats attended the White House announcement. 

Senators reached an agreement this week on bipartisan legislation that would boost rehabilitation efforts for federal prisoners and give judges more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders, particularly for drug offenses. The House approved a prison reform bill in May, but the proposed Senate package makes additional changes and adds the sentencing component. That means the House would need to revote on anything the Senate passes.

Criminal justice reform has been a priority of Trump’s son-in-law, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, who has been working on the issue for months. Trump pushed for swift passage of the legislation, potentially during the lame-duck session of Congress.

“I’ll be waiting with a pen,” he said.

But members still haven’t seen the details, and time is running short.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. was cautious about the bill’s prospects Wednesday. He told reporters that GOP leaders would do a whip count to gauge the bill’s support once they have a final proposal in hand.

Still, he noted the Senate has other things it needs to accomplish in the final weeks of the year, including funding the government and passing a farm bill. He said Republicans would have to see how the criminal justice bill “stacks up against our other priorities” once a final agreement is reached.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called Trump’s announcement “an encouraging sign that we can achieve substantive reforms to our criminal justice system in this Congress.”

“Redemption is at the heart of the American Idea, and that’s what this is about,” he said.

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal thinking, said they hoped McConnell would hold a whip count after the Thanksgiving break. They also argued Trump’s support would move lawmakers to back the compromise and that more would sign on once legislative text is released.

The bill is a rare bipartisan endeavor in a typically log-jammed Congress and has attracted support from a coalition of liberal and conservative groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and groups backed by the political donors Charles and David Koch. Critics say current sentencing guidelines are unfair and have had a lopsided impact on minority communities.

“Did I hear the word bipartisan?” Trump joked during a Roosevelt Room event announcing his backing for the deal. “Did I hear that word? That’s a nice word.”

But even as he hailed the cooperation, Trump couldn’t resist a swipe at his former political opponents, saying the “Clinton crime law” disproportionality affected black Americans.

The Senate package overhauls some of the mandatory sentencing guidelines that have been in place since 1994 legislation approved by Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.

Democrat Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa released a joint statement, calling the endorsement “an important step in our shared effort to promote safe communities and improve justice.”

Grassley had said Tuesday the bill would be easier to pass after the departure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was ousted by Trump last week. Sessions was a longtime opponent of criminal justice reform and had been especially wary of efforts to overhaul sentencing laws.

“I think we have a commitment from the Justice Department now to work with us on it,” Grassley said.

The White House official called the timing coincidental.

The Senate approach would allow thousands of federal prisoners sentenced for crack cocaine offenses before August 2010 the opportunity to petition for a reduced penalty. It would also lower mandatory minimum sentences for some drug offenses. The life sentence for some drug offenders with three convictions, or “three strikes,” would be reduced to 25 years

But roughly 90 percent of prison inmates are held in state facilities and would not be affected by the legislation.

All but two Republicans voted for the House bill when it was overwhelmingly approved in May, 360-59. Democratic lawmakers supported the bill by about a 2-to-1 margin, but opponents voiced concerns that it did not go far enough in giving judges more discretion to make the punishment fit the crime.

The House bill directs the Bureau of Prisons to conduct assessments for every offender once he or she is sentenced and to offer rehabilitation plans designed to lower the chance of recidivism. The plans would include vocational training, education, counseling and substance abuse treatment.

The federal inmate population has been on the decline since 2013, when it peaked at just more than 219,000. The total now stands at about 181,400, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Still, that’s about triple the number of inmates in federal detention 30 years ago.

 

 

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