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Former Rep. William Jefferson may soon get date to report to prison
Apr-19-2012 554 0


A court hearing Friday could determine whether former Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, will begin serving his 13-year corruption sentence before summer. Some legal experts expect federal prosecutors to ask Judge T.S. Ellis III, who presided over Jefferson's six-week 2009 trial, to revoke Jefferson's $50,000 bail and set a date for him to begin his sentence.

Ellis also could allow Jefferson to self report by a court-imposed deadline.

After sentencing Jefferson, Ellis rejected calls by prosecutors to imprison him immediately and instead allowed him to remain free with an electronic monitor pending resolution of his appeals.

Friday's hearing was scheduled after Jefferson's lawyers failed to meet last week's deadline for filing an appeal with the full 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Legal experts said the decision indicates his lawyers will go directly to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge a unanimous ruling last month by a three-judge 4th Circuit panel rejecting Jefferson's request for a new trial.

The high court probably won't decide whether to take the case -- and they accept only a tiny percentage -- until next fall.

University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias, who has been closely following the case, said it is possible prosecutors will argue the unanimous verdict by the 4th Circuit panel makes it unlikely he'll succeed with his Supreme Court appeal.

Ellis "has been pretty strict when it comes to corruption cases," Tobias said, "and if the prosecutors move to (set a date to report to prison) the judge may well grant it."

Kevin Thomas, a consultant with the MPM Group, which helps clients with sentence-mitigation efforts, said he thinks it's likely prosecutors will prevail.

"It was unusual for him (Jefferson) to stay out after sentencing and I would be shocked if the judge let him stay out now that the appellate court has ruled," Thomas said. "But then again his attorney (Robert Trout) is formidable and he could talk a starving dog off a meat wagon."

Jefferson, 65, isn't likely to be remanded into prison immediately, though. In a filing with Judge Ellis, lead prosecutor Mark Lytle expressed no objections if Jefferson chose not to attend Friday's session at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Va.

Neither Lytle nor Trout would comment Wednesday.

Tobias said it's no surprise Jefferson's lawyers decided not to file an appeal with the full 4th Circuit, given the unanimous ruling by the three-judge panel.

In a 64-page ruling issued March 26, the appellate judges rejected the legal arguments by Jefferson that Judge Ellis erroneously instructed the jury about what the accepted practice is for official acts by a member of Congress.

Jefferson's lawyers argued the government had dramatically expanded the definition -- taking it beyond what most consider official acts, such as casting votes, introducing bills and committee work -- to include influencing foreign officials in Western Africa on behalf of private business executives.

"The (judge's) instructions did not in any way supplant the statutory definition of what constitutes an official act; it simply explained to the jury that an official act need not be prescribed by statute, but rather may include acts that a congressman customarily performs," according to the three judges.

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Reuters Feb-23-2015 121 0
President Barack Obama will direct the Department of Labor on Monday to proceed with new rules that would rein in conflicts of interests among Wall Street brokers who advise clients on retirement investments, administration officials said.

The change would mandate that brokers follow a "fiduciary standard" to prioritize clients' interests over brokers' interests, they said. The proposal is opposed by many Republicans and financial firms, which are fearful that the plan will limit broker compensation.

The move would cut back on "hidden fees" that financial advisers can pocket when steering clients into more expensive products that may not be the best option for the investor, officials said. Such practices cost working- and middle-class families $17 billion a year, according to the White House.

“The president will call on the Department of Labor to establish updated rules of the road to make sure that responsible Americans who are saving for retirement are getting a fair share of returns on their savings,” Jeff Zients, Obama's top economic adviser, said in a conference call with reporters on Sunday.

The push for tighter rules fits into Obama's message of championing the middle class, a theme that is likely to dominate the 2016 presidential campaign. Obama will unveil his proposal during remarks hosted by the Association of American Retired Persons (AARP), which, along with labor and consumer advocacy groups, has lobbied for the rule change.

Seniors are an important voting bloc for both parties.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, a consumer advocate who some Democrats hope will challenge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the party's presidential nomination, is expected to attend.

The industry fears a rule change would curb compensation for brokers and would limit the types of investment products investors can get. Fierce lobbying by the industry forced the Labor Department to scrap its original proposal a few years ago.

"This re-proposal could make it harder to save for retirement by cutting access to affordable advice and limiting options for savers," said Ken Bentsen, president of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, which represents banks and assets managers.

Daniel Gallagher, a Republican member of the Securities and Exchange Commission, chided the White House last week for circulating baseless "propaganda" to rally support for the change.

The Labor Department has been working for several years to overhaul its rules governing how advisers provide advice to clients in workplace retirement plans such as 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts.

The department wants to hold these advisers to the high "fiduciary" standard that would put clients' interests first. Currently, many advisers on Wall Street are only required to suggest products that are "suitable" to investors.

A first draft of the plan generated stiff opposition from Wall Street and prompted the U.S. House of Representatives to pass bills trying to delay or kill the rule-making.

The department was forced to scrap the draft and come up with a new one.

Secretary of Labor Tom Perez said the proposal would be published in the coming months and be open to a comment period. He said feedback from the previous failed attempt at reform had informed the process.

"We expect that the proposed rule will not ban commissions or any common compensation practices, and it will allow financial advisers to continue providing general education on retirement savings," he said, citing some of the differences with the previous proposal.

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Jan-18-2015 271 0
President Obama plans to propose raising $320 billion over the next 10 years in new taxes targeting wealthy individuals and big financial institutions to pay for new programs designed to help lower- and middle-income families, senior administration officials said Saturday.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama will propose raising the capital gains and dividend tax rates to 28?percent for high earners; imposing a fee on the liabilities of about 100 big financial institutions; and greatly broadening the amount of inherited money subject to taxes.

Obama will also seek to boost private retirement savings by requiring employers without 401(k) plans to make it easier for full-time and part-time workers to save in individual retirement accounts, which could assist as many as 30?million people. The administration would provide small employers tax credits to cover costs.

Senior administration officials said that the package would highlight the president’s desire to boost taxes on the nation’s wealthy households and help lower- and middle-class families. New tax credits would help those in need of child care and households with two earners, they said, while other proposals — such as covering community college tuition — would help students.

The moves would “eliminate the biggest tax loopholes and use the savings to let the middle class get ahead,” said one of the senior administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity during a conference call with reporters to describe the plan before the president’s speech. This person also said that 99?percent of the impact of the tax increases would fall on the top 1?percent of earners.

The ambitious — and controversial — proposals demonstrate the White House’s increasing confidence about the trajectory of the U.S. economy. For the past year and a half, it has debated how much it could trumpet the recovery when so many Americans have not felt any change in their own economic outlook.

But the plan drew immediate fire from Republican — and could face criticism from some Democrats — who have in the past increased the amount of money exempt from inheritance taxes they branded “death taxes.” Most Republicans have long opposed increases in capital gains rates, and many favor eliminating the tax altogether.

“This is not a serious proposal,” wrote Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in an e-mail late Saturday. “We lift families up and grow the economy with a simpler, flatter tax code, not big tax increases to pay for more Washington spending.”

“Slapping American small businesses, savers, and investors with more tax hikes only negates the benefits of the tax policies that have been successful in helping to expand the economy, promote savings, and create jobs,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said in a statement Saturday night.

“The president needs to stop listening to his liberal allies who want to raise taxes at all costs and start working with Congress to fix our broken tax code.”

The administration tried to head off some of that attack by asserting that elements of the package resembled proposals endorsed by Republicans. Officials also said that the capital gains tax rate was 28?percent during President Ronald Reagan’s terms in office. The Obama administration would also seek to limit the impact of the tax increases by saying the higher capital gains and dividend rates would apply only to couples earning more than $500,000 a year.

Officials said that the relatively low capital gains tax rate with a top rate of 20?percent has enabled the 400 highest-earning taxpayers — with $139?million or more of income — to pay an average rate of 17?percent when the top income tax rate is 35?percent.

The proposal to impose a 7 basis point fee on financial institutions with assets of more than $50?billion will also run smack into opposition from big banks and insurance companies. The administration compared the fee with a proposal by former House Ways and Means Committee chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) for an excise tax on large financial institutions. And last week, the House Budget Committee’s ranking Democrat, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), proposed a 0.1?percent surcharge on financial market transactions.

One of the senior administration officials Saturday said that the goal of the proposed fee from the White House was to discourage big financial institutions from excessive borrowing. He said that despite banking revisions after the 2008-2009 financial crisis, highly leveraged financial institutions “still pose risks to the broader economy,” adding that “this fee is designed to make that activity more costly.”

The economic recovery has freed the president to push for more ambitious domestic policies, many designed to help those in the poor and middle class who are still lagging behind. In the past week alone, Obama has announced new proposals on paid sick leave, free community college tuition and expanded broadband access. And while he might have trouble pushing those through the GOP-controlled Congress, Obama could still end up defining key issues for the elections in 2016.

“The battle for the next American agenda is already on,” said Donald A. Baer, chief executive of Burson-Marsteller and formerly chief speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. “There’s this effort to define a new growth and share agenda — growth but not only growth alone, and sharing the growth but not just sharing the wealth.” He said Obama’s college and broadband access are examples of proposals that could add to growth and give poor and middle-class people the tools to increase their share in it.

But Obama has to balance his rhetoric — between optimism and caution — by talking up the strong recovery while acknowledging that wage growth remains weak.

“There’s always been a tension between things are in fact getting better and people are not feeling great,” said Wade Randlett, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and major Democratic donor. “One is economic fact, and the other is polling, which always catches up over time.”

Now the president is so comfortable with the idea of talking up the economic recovery that his advisers have branded it — “America’s resurgence” — and made it a regular talking point in Obama’s stump speeches and weekly radio addresses. And it is likely to be a centerpiece of the State of the Union address.

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Leslie Larson Jan-16-2015 215 0
President Obama is picking up where the Academy Awards dropped the ball.

The White House will host a “Selma” screening on Friday night, after the Martin Luther King, Jr. biopic was snubbed in the acting and directing categories of the Oscar nominations.

The screening was announced late Thursday, just hours after the Academy revealed the 20 all-white acting nominees and the nearly all-white list for best director, with the exception of Alejandro Inarritu for “Birdman.”

Rev. Al Sharpton called the nominations “appallingly insulting” and is planning an emergency meeting in Hollywood to discuss the issue.

“Selma” was included among the eight films nominated for Best Picture.

Director Ava DuVerna and star David Oyelowo are among the cast and crew of the Oprah Winfrey-produced film that have been invited to Pennsylvania Ave. on Friday, ahead of the Martin Luther King holiday on Monday.

DuVerna was widely expected to be the first African-American woman to be nominated for best director. Before the announcement she said a nomination wasn’t “important to me but I know it's important to other people,” in a Rolling Stone interview.

Among the seven other films nominated for Best Picture ("American Sniper," "Boyhood," "Birdman," "The Grand Budapest Hotel," "The Imitation Game," "The Theory of Everything" and "Whiplash"), “Selma” is the only movie to be selected for a White House screening.

Obama did reveal to People magazine in December that “Boyhood” was his favorite film of 2014.

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Jan-13-2015 214 0
California Attorney General Kamala Harris plans to become the first prominent Democrat to enter what's expected to be a full field in the 2016 race to replace Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate.

Harris, the first woman and the first minority to serve as California's top prosecutor, planned to announce the move Tuesday morning, according to an adviser not authorized to discuss her plans who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Harris, 50, a former two-term San Francisco district attorney, is a friend of President Barack Obama's and attracted national attention when she helped negotiate a settlement with major mortgage lenders and secured extra funding for California. She has been widely viewed as an eventual candidate for governor or U.S. senator.

The disclosure of her plans came just a few hours after a potential rival, California Lt. Gov. and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, said he would not run for the open seat created by Boxer's retirement next year.

Former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Tom Steyer, a retired San Francisco hedge fund billionaire who sought to make climate change an issue in the midterm elections, are also considering bids for the seat that Boxer has held for over two decades. Democrats are well-positioned to retain the seat in a state where the party controls every statewide office and both chambers in the Legislature.

As the state's chief law enforcement officer, Harris has focused her crime-fighting efforts on cross-border gangs that she says are increasingly engaged in high-tech crimes such as digital piracy and computer hacking to target businesses and financial institutions.

Harris, the daughter of an Indian mother and black father, was elected California attorney general in 2010.

Newsom's exit provided encouragement for others contemplating a Senate run, and his statement did nothing to dampen the idea he would run for governor in 2018 — when Gov. Jerry Brown's term ends.

"I know that my head and my heart, my young family's future, and our unfinished work all remain firmly in the state of California — not Washington, D.C. Therefore I will not seek election to the U.S. Senate in 2016," said Newsom, who has three young children.

Newsom launched a brief campaign for governor before dropping out in 2009. He is best known for ordering the San Francisco city clerk in 2004 to ignore state law at the time and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

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Jan-09-2015 262 0
President Barack Obama on Friday proposed to bring the cost of two years of community college "down to zero" for all Americans, an ambitious nationwide plan based on a popular Tennessee program signed into law by that state's Republican governor.

However, the idea and its $60 billion federal price tag over 10 years would have to make the grade with a Republican Congress that is showing little appetite for big new spending programs. Obama, who plans to push the issue in his Jan. 20 State of the Union address, argued that providing educational opportunity and creating a more skilled U.S. workforce shouldn't be a partisan issue.

"Community college should be free for those willing to work for it because, in America, a quality education should not be a privilege that is reserved for a few," he said in a speech at Pellissippi State Community College. He said a high school diploma is no longer enough for American workers to compete in the global economy and that a college degree is "the surest ticket to the middle class."

The White House estimated that 9 million students could eventually participate and save an average of $3,800 in tuition per year if they attend fulltime. Students would qualify if they attend at least halftime, maintain a 2.5 grade point average and make progress toward completing a degree or certificate program. Participating schools would have to meet certain academic requirements.

At North Lake College, part of the Dallas County Community College system, student Courtney Banks said such a program would help her and also allow others to enroll in classes.

The White House said the federal government would pick up 75 percent of the cost and the final quarter would come from states that opt into the program — a cost of $20 billion over 10 years. Spokesman Eric Schultz said Obama will propose new programs to pay for the federal portion in his budget next month.

Obama is calling the idea America's College Promise, modeled after Tennessee Promise, which Republican Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law last year to provide free community and technical college tuition for two years. It has drawn 58,000 applicants, almost 90 percent of the state's high school seniors. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's former White House chief of staff, has a similar program for students in his city.

"If a state with Republican leadership is doing this and a city with Democratic leadership is doing this, how about we all do it," Obama said.

Obama brought Tennessee's two Republican senators, Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander, with him on Air Force One for the event. But both said they thought states, not the federal government, should follow Tennessee's lead.

"Creating a federal program to me is not the way to get good things to happen in education," Corker told reporters from his seat in the third row of the speech. "You're always better off letting states mimic each other."

Alexander, a former education secretary who is set to take over the Senate committee that oversees education, said Washington's role should be to reduce paperwork for student aid applications. Obama said he agrees and wants to see that happen this year.

Obama also was joined on the trip by Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, who drew applause when she told the audience she's been teaching English at community college for 20 years and still does as second lady. "This is the moment for community colleges to shine," she said.

The president and vice president also were visiting a manufacturing facility, Techmer PM in Clinton, Tennessee, to promote a second proposal to create a fund to help low-wage workers with high potential get training in growing fields such as energy, information technology and advanced manufacturing.

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Dec-31-2014 263 0
A Chicago-area 13-year-old's letter to Santa Claus received a personal response from President Obama.

"All I ask for is for safety," Malik Bryant asked in a Christmas letter addressed to St. Nick posted by the Chicago Sun-Times.

The teen lives in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Englewood with his mother and two sisters.

Bryant's letter was among those written by 8,500 Chicago Public Schools students, who sent letters to Santa through a program run by Direct Effect Charities. According to the program's website, the letters are collected, sent throughout the country to donors and ask that that they send a wrapped gift in the $25 range to the student's school.

Michelle DiGiacomo, CEO of the charity, told the Sun-Times that she could not stop reading the letter.

"All this kid was asking for was safety. I was floored," DiGiacomo said.

She decided to send the letter needed to go to someone "bigger than Santa" and aimed to get the letter to Obama. She reached out to her Congressman, Rep. Michael Quigley (D-Illinois), who agreed to send the letter to the White House.

Obama told Bryant in the letter to work hard to achieve anything he could imagine, and that he is rooting for him.

Bryant read Obama's response in a video posted to the Sun-Times Youtube channel.

"Please know your security is our priority for me and everything I do as President," Obama said in the letter. The President told Bryant to work hard to achieve anything he could imagine, and that he is rooting for him.

Bryant was surprised his letter made it all the way to the White House, and felt that it sends a message that it is not safe in Chicago. He described that playing outside is hazardous, and said that he saw a man that was killed near where he lived.

"I'm surprised like he wrote it but it's not going to solve safety reasons out here, it's still dangerous," Bryant said.

The charity wrote on their Facebook Page on Dec. 21 that they are searching for a three bedroom apartment for his family to move into in a safer neighborhood. - See more at: http://www.blacklegalissues.com/Article_Details.ASPX?ARTCLID=a02b0305a4&cat=Legal#sthash.rRHh8Cz1.dpuf

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AP Dec-23-2014 306 0
The White House has issued a strong statement of support for Sony Pictures’ decision to release “The Interview” on Christmas Day.

“The president applauds Sony’s decision to authorize screenings of the film,” the statement said. “As the President made clear, we’re a country that believes in free speech and the right of artistic expression. The decision made by Sony and participating theaters allows people to make their own choices about the film and we welcome that outcome.”

The statement came a few hours after the studio reversed its Dec. 17 announcement to withdraw “The Interview” and opted instead for a limited release to independent theaters — and four days after the president said Sony had “made a mistake” by pulling the Seth Rogen-James Franco satire out of theaters.

“Yes, I think they made a mistake,” he said at a press conference, in response to a question about whether he agreed with Sony’s decision. He cited what the effect could be on distribution of other types of films, like documentaries, that certain foreign regimes don’t like.

“We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship in the United States, because if somebody is able to intimidate us out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing once they see a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like,” Obama said. “That’s now who we are. That’s not what America is about.”

He added, “We cannot start changing our patterns of behavior any more than we stop going to a football game because there may be a possibility of a terrorist attack.” He cited the case of the running of the Boston Marathon this year after a terrorist attack a year earlier.

“I wish they had spoken to me first,” Obama also said, referring to Sony. “I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.’”

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AP Dec-19-2014 381 0
President Obama said Friday he thinks Sony "made a mistake" in choosing not to release "The Interview" in the wake of the devastating hacking attack which he blamed on North Korea, while vowing that the U.S. "will respond."

The president addressed the breach, at a year-end press conference, for the first time since Sony Pictures Entertainment canceled its high-profile movie release. He also spoke shortly after the FBI formally blamed Kim Jong Un's regime for the cyber-attack.

"We will respond," Obama vowed, while offering no details on what that response might entail.

He mocked the North Korean regime for launching an "all-out assault" over a satirical movie, but he also chided Sony for responding by shutting down the movie's release.

"I think they made a mistake," Obama said.

While saying he sympathizes with their situation and the concerns they faced, he said: "We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States."

Obama said that if somebody can "intimidate" a company out of releasing a satirical movie -- in this case, one about a plot to execute North Korea's leader, starring Seth Rogen and James Franco -- "imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don't like or news reports that they don't like."

Obama warned against "self-censorship," adding: "That's not who we are."

Sony has faced criticism not only from Washington but numerous actors and members of the Hollywood elite for its decision to nix the release under threats and pressure. At the same time, lawmakers and others have described the hack as a major attack with immense national security implications.

Obama, addressing those concerns, said Friday the U.S. will respond "proportionally," in a "place and time and manner" of their choosing. He also called for improvements in cybersecurity.

The president held his last major press conference of the year following a whirlwind of major developments affecting U.S. security, diplomatic and economic interests.

Aside from the developments with the Sony cyber-attack, earlier in the week, Obama announced a push to normalize relations with Cuba following the release of American Alan Gross from Cuban custody after five years.

Obama has faced heavy criticism from Republicans and Cuban-American lawmakers of both parties for that decision. On Friday, he claimed he has no illusions about the nature of the Castro regime. "This is still a regime that represses its people," he said.

But he defended his decision, saying that nothing has changed after 50 years of the same policy, and it's time to try something different. He claimed Cuba will be "open to the world" in ways it hasn't been before. His State Department plans to open an embassy in Havana for the first time in decades, though Congress could try to block the move.

Obama also wants Congress to lift the embargo on Cuba, though he acknowledged Friday there would be a "healthy debate" on that in Congress.

Obama and his family plan to leave next for their annual holiday vacation in Hawaii. He's due back in Washington in early January.

The president faces big obstacles on Capitol Hill next year, when Republicans will take over the Senate and return with a bigger majority in the House. Foreign policy problems also persist in the Middle East and between Russia and Ukraine.

Obama said Friday he thinks there are "real opportunities" next year to "get things done."

"I'm energized," Obama said. "Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter."

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DEVIN DWYER Dec-17-2014 382 0
President and Michelle Obama personally identify with everyday experiences of racial bias in America that have underpinned recent protests across the country, they told People magazine in an interview to be released Friday.

“Barack Obama was a black man that lived on the South Side of Chicago, who had his share of troubles catching cabs," Michelle Obama told the magazine.

On one occasion, she said, her husband “was wearing a tuxedo at a black-tie dinner, and somebody asked him to get coffee.”

President Obama said he's even been mistakenly treated as a valet.

“There’s no black male my age, who’s a professional, who hasn’t come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn’t hand them their car keys," he said, according to excerpts of the interview released today.

The first lady also described being mistreated at a Target store in suburban Washington, during a shopping trip she took in 2011.

"Even as the first lady," she told the magazine, "during the wonderfully publicized trip I took to Target, not highly disguised, the only person who came up to me in the store was a woman who asked me to help her take something off a shelf."

She said the incidents are "the regular course of life" for African-Americans and a "challenge" for the country to overcome.

Though they've lived inside the White House bubble for six years, the Obamas have been making the point that they are still in touch with the experience of minority communities.

President Obama has pushed back against criticism that he has not been aggressive enough in talking about issues of race and justice, particularly involving African-American men.

"If you look at after what happened with Michael Brown, if you looked at what happened after Trayvon, if you looked at the decision after Eric Garner, I'm being pretty explicit about my concern, and being pretty explicit about the fact that this is a systemic problem, that black folks and Latinos and others are not just making this up," Obama told BET in an interview earlier this month. "I describe it in very personal terms."

The president told People that he applauds the efforts of other prominent African-American athletes and celebrities to speak out against police brutality using the "I Can't Breathe" slogan, inspired by the case of Eric Garner, the Staten Island man who died after he was put in a choke hold by a New York City police officer. President Obama has not directly weighed in on the case.

“I think LeBron did the right thing," Obama said of Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James, who wore a shirt with the slogan on the court. "We forget the role that Muhammad Ali, Arthur Ashe, and Bill Russell played in raising consciousness. I’d like to see more athletes do that -- not just around this issue, but around a range of issues.”

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