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Former Rep. William Jefferson may soon get date to report to prison
Apr-19-2012 575 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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ERIC TUCKER Apr-27-2015 15 0
Loretta Lynch was sworn in Monday as the 83rd U.S. attorney general, the first African-American woman to serve as the nation's top law enforcement official.

Speaking before an audience of family members, Justice Department lawyers and supporters, Lynch said her confirmation as attorney general showed that "we can do anything" and pledged that the agency would "use justice as our compass" in confronting terrorism, cyberattacks and other threats facing the country.

"We can imbue our criminal justice system with both strength and fairness, for the protection of both the needs of victims and the rights of all. We can restore trust and faith both in our laws and in those of us who enforce them," Lynch said, an apparent reference to ongoing efforts to repair relations between police departments and the minority communities that they serve.

Vice President Joe Biden administered the oath of office to Lynch at a Justice Department ceremony, calling Lynch an "incredibly qualified" selection for the position. He said Lynch had shown grace during the months-long confirmation process, in which her nomination became caught up in Congress in a dispute over human trafficking legislation.

"Ladies and gentlemen, it's about time — it's about time this woman is being sworn in," Biden said to applause.

The 55-year-old Lynch was confirmed by the Senate on Thursday. She replaces Eric Holder, who left the position Friday after serving as attorney general for six years.

Lynch met with President Barack Obama at the White House on Monday afternoon.

The two discussed the ongoing rioting in Baltimore, which came hours after the funeral for Freddie Gray — who died hours after suffering a severe spinal injury in Baltimore police custody. The Justice Department is investigating that death, and Lynch told the president that the agency would provide whatever help was needed.

She was previously the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, which encompasses much of New York City, and is expected to serve as the top federal law enforcement official for the remainder of the Obama administration.

Lynch isn't expected to make radical departures from Holder's agenda, but has said she hopes to have a productive relationship with Congress. Holder frequently clashed with Republicans on Capitol Hill and was held in contempt during a document dispute stemming from the Fast and Furious federal investigation into gun trafficking.

She also inherits a Justice Department that has been at the center of a national debate about police use of force and the role race plays in law enforcement.

"Obviously, the president believes it's an important priority, and I think there is the expectation that she could do some important work in this area," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Monday.

The Harvard-educated Lynch grew up in North Carolina during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the daughter of a retired teacher and a fourth-generation Baptist preacher who Biden said would take his child to the courthouse to observe important cases.

"I am here to tell you, if a little girl from North Carolina who used to tell her grandfather in the fields to lift her up on the back of his mule, so she could see 'way up high, Granddaddy,' can become the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, then we can do anything," Lynch said.

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JASON SILVERSTEIN Apr-08-2015 194 0
The months of racially charged protests in Ferguson, Mo., may have prompted a breakthrough or two at the ballot box.

An elevated voter turnout on Tuesday resulted in the election of two black candidates to Ferguson's City Council, giving the City Council an unprecedented three black members.

With the election of Ella Jones in the 1st Ward and Wesley Bell in the 3rd Ward, half of the city council will soon be black.

Previously, the only black member of the council was Dwayne James in the 2nd Ward, who was not running this year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Ferguson Mayor James Knowles III is white.

About 30% of registered voters braved heavy rains and lightning to get to the polls Tuesday, more than doubling the turnout in last April’s elections.

“This community came out in record numbers to make sure our voices were heard,” said Bell, who defeated another black candidate. “When you have a community engaged, the sky is the limit.”

This was Ferguson’s first municipal election since white police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot unarmed black teenager Michael Brown last August, sparking an explosion of protests in the St. Louis suburb, including one in which two officers were shot and injured outside police headquarters.

The shooting also caused upheaval in the city government when a scathing report by the U.S. Justice Department led to the resignations of several top officials, including the city manager and police chief.

The new city council will be tasked with replacing those who left after the report, which said Ferguson’s justice system was overrun with racial bias and corruption.

Jones is the chairwoman of the city’s Human Rights commission. Bell is a municipal court judge who will represent the district in which Brown was killed.

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reuters Mar-30-2015 222 0
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear a new challenge to President Barack Obama's healthcare law that took aim at a bureaucratic board labeled by some Republicans as a "death panel" because it was designed to cut Medicare costs.

The high court left intact a ruling by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that threw out the lawsuit.

The court's action in an unsigned order was a victory for Obama administration, which has faced a barrage of legal challenges to the 2010 Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. The court is currently weighing a separate case challenging health insurance subsidies that are key to Obamacare's implementation. A ruling is due by the end of June.

In the case that the justices rejected on Monday, Arizona-based business owner Nick Coons and Dr. Eric Novack, an orthopedic surgeon, sued in 2011 in litigation backed by a conservative legal group.

Among other things, they challenged the Independent Payment Advisory Board, or IPAB, a 15-member government panel dubbed by some Republicans as a "death panel" because of its intended role in trimming costs within Medicare, the government healthcare program for the elderly and disabled.

Lower courts threw out the lawsuit. In its August 2014 ruling, the appeals court said that the plaintiffs had not shown they had suffered any harm that they could sue over.

On the IPAB claim, the court noted that under the terms of the healthcare law, the board acts only if Medicare spending increases at a certain level. The earliest it could ever take any action that could potentially reduce Novack's Medicare reimbursements would be in 2019.

The plaintiffs, represented by the Phoenix, Arizona-based conservative Goldwater Institute, also challenged a provision of the law, known as the individual mandate, that requires Americans to obtain health insurance. Those claims were also rejected.

The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the individual mandate in 2012.

The case on which the court acted on is Coons v. Lew, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 14-525. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Will Dunham)

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AP Mar-26-2015 169 0
The Rev. Jesse Jackson says his son, former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., has been released from an Alabama prison after serving a year and a half for illegally spending $750,000 in cpaign funds.

Rev. Jackson confirmed around 5:30 a.m. Thursday that his son has been released from the Montgomery, Alabama, facility, calling it a "joyous reunion." He says his son is doing "very well."

The 50-year-old Jackson will serve the remainder of his sentence at a Washington, D.C., halfway house. Jackson began his 2 1/2-year sentence in 2013. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons lists his release date as Sept. 20, 2015.

The Illinois Democrat pleaded guilty to misspending the money on items including furs and vacations.

Jackson's wife must serve a related, year-long term after her husband completes his sentence.

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DAN FRIEDMAN Mar-22-2015 254 0
As the fight over confirming Loretta Lynch as Attorney General turned increasingly ugly amid charges of racism, Sen. John McCain demanded Thursday that Sen. Dick Durbin apologize for saying Republicans put Lynch at the "back of the bus."

Durbin was reacting to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's refusal to allow a vote on Lynch, who is African American, before finishing work on a human trafficking bill stalled by a fight over a provision blocking funding for abortions.

McCain said it was "offensive and unnecessary” for Durbin to "use that imagery and suggest that racist tactics are being employed to delay Ms. Lynch's confirmation vote."

"I deeply regret that the senator from Illinois chose to come here yesterday and question the integrity and motivation, mine and my Republican colleagues," McCain said. "It was offensive and unnecessary and I think he owes this body, Ms. Lynch, and all Americans an apology."

Durbin declined to apologize.

Several black Democrats went further than Durbin, flatly accusing Senate Republicans of racism during a news conference Thursday.

"If it look like a duck, walk a duck and quack like a duck, it's a duck," said Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) "It's clear to me that there is hidden racism rampant in the House and the Senate.”

Faulting Republicans treatment of President Obama and Holder as well as Lynch, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem) said that "if late Dr. Martin Luther King was up for confirmation in the United States Senate he too would have a difficult, difficult time."

Asked about McCain's comment's, Rangel, 84, suggested "we take into consideration his age and his past contributions that he's made to this country and ignore his remarks."


Democrat: GOP Putting Lynch at 'back of the Bus'
AP

Democrats noted that Lynch, who President Obama nominated on Nov. 8 to replace Eric Holder, has waited longer for a vote than any nominee for the post in more than 30 years.

McConnell's stance will delay a vote until at least next week and potentially into April, after an upcoming Senate recess.

Lynch currently has enough backing to win confirmation, but opponents, including the National Rifle Association and other gun rights groups, are using the wait to try to stiffen GOP opposition.

"As the nation's top law enforcement officer, Lynch would almost certainly have an impact on our Second Amendment rights," the NRA's lobbying arm said in an alert asking its members to email and calls undecided senators to ask them to oppose Lynch.

Another gun group, the National Association for Gun Rights, said it is delivering a petition signed by 170,000 gun owners opposing Lynch's confirmation.

"Make no mistake, Obama is determined to ram through his gun-control agenda and has hand-picked Loretta Lynch," the group said.

Democrats worked to counter the attacks with pressure to confirm Lynch.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), along with Rep. Carolyn Maloney and Jerold Nadler of New York attended the news conference but stopped short of blaming race for Lynch's delay.

"I hate to think that Charlie is right, but maybe he is that that's a reason," Nadler said.

McConnell spokesman Don Stewart blamed Democratsfor delaying Lynch.

“The Lynch nomination is next on the schedule,” Stewart said. “The only thing holding up that vote is the Democrats' filibuster of a bill that would help prevent kids from being sold into sex slavery.”

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Mar-19-2015 221 0
The president whose major policy achievement is mandatory health insurance thinks maybe voting should be mandatory, too.

Asked how to offset the influence of big money in politics, President Barack Obama suggested it's time to make voting a requirement.

"Other countries have mandatory voting," Obama said Wednesday in Cleveland, where he spoke about the importance of middle class economics, and was asked about the issue during a town hall.

"It would be transformative if everybody voted -- that would counteract money more than anything," he said, adding it was the first time he had shared the idea publicly.

The clout of millionaires and billionaires in campaign funding has been enormous, and many claim the uber wealthy have undue leverage in politics.

"The people who tend not to vote are young, they're lower income, they're skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups," Obama said. "There's a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls."

At least 26 countries have compulsory voting, according to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Failure to vote is punishable by a fine in countries such as Australia and Belgium; if you fail to pay your fine in Belgium, you could go to prison.

Aside from campaign finance issues, the United States also grapples with one of the lowest voter turnout rates among developed countries.

Less than 37% of eligible voters actually voted in the 2014 midterm elections, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts. That means about 144 million Americans -- more than the population of Russia -- skipped out.

But mandatory voting could bring its own set of problems. Haydon Manning, associate professor at Flinders University in Australia, said that country's rules can backfire.

"Turning the vote out might not be a problem, but wooing disengaged citizens now requires banal sloganeering and crass misleading negative advertising," Manning wrote. "To me, this can diminish the democratic experience for those who take the time to think through the issues."

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AP Mar-07-2015 213 0
President Barack Obama says America's racial history "still casts its long shadow" despite a half-century of progress toward a more perfect union.

In Selma, Alabama, Obama stood in solidarity and remembrance Saturday with survivors of a civil rights era that he was too young to know.

He joined civil rights marchers of 50 years ago at the bridge where police brutality on "Bloody Sunday" galvanized America's opposition to racial oppression in the South and hastened passage of historic voting rights for minorities.

Thousands from across the U.S. packed the riverside town for commemorations of the march on March 7, 1965.

Obama said in his prepared remarks that police discrimination against blacks is not confined to Ferguson, Missouri — but that it's also no longer endemic or sanctioned by law in America.

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Reuters Feb-23-2015 305 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 398 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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