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AG James: Legislation would close 'double jeopardy loophole'

Bill would allow state prosecutors to pursue charges against a person who's received a federal pardon for the same alleged crimes.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Feb.

New York Attorney General Letitia James on Feb. 26 in Island Park. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

 ALBANY – With the Trump campaign probes continuing, state Attorney General Letitia James and legislative leaders on Tuesday said they have an agreement to close a so-called double jeopardy loophole to allow state prosecutors to pursue charges against someone who’s received a federal pardon for the same alleged crimes.

Such a bill would preserve the state’s right to file charges related to ongoing federal investigations into President Donald Trump and his associates. But it wouldn’t apply to someone such as former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort because he’s already been convicted at the federal level, James’ staff said.

 “We do have an agreement with both houses,” James told reporters at a State Capitol news conference Tuesday afternoon. “We anticipate that the bill will be passed in the coming weeks.”

 Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) confirmed his house would approve the legislation. The Senate is expected to as well, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers) said.

James, who took office in January, said she had no particular case or target in mind in urging the Legislature to act. But she has launched investigations into the Trump Foundation and the Trump Organization. Back in December, she cited “this federal administration's efforts to thwart our basic judicial processes -- dangling pardons and attacking prosecutors” -- as justification for taking state action.

Some Democrats and activists have seen New York's attorney general's office as a backup if Trump were to pardon any associates convicted of federal crimes — because the president (whose organization is based in New York) can’t pardon people for state crimes.

James’ predecessors also pushed to close the double-jeopardy loophole. But previous versions were opposed as too broad, saying it could impact otherwise anonymous citizens convicted and pardoned of, say, low-level drug crimes. Even more noteworthy, until January, the state Senate was controlled by Republicans who said they would oppose such legislation. The bill gained momentum when Democrats won the Senate in last year’s elections.

James said a new version of the state bill would be drawn more narrowly to focus on people who have worked for the White House, the Trump Organization, the Trump campaign or Trump family members.

 Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach), the Senate sponsor of the bill, said he was concerned about the “President’s use of the pardon power to undermine the investigations surrounding the administration” and Trump’s “flouting the law through use of the pardon power.”

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