Todd Ruger

Barr assures senators of his independence
AG nominee says Mueller investigation isn’t a ‘witch hunt,’ Sessions ‘probably did right thing’ in recusing himself

Updated 5:59 p.m. | William Barr appeared to be on a path to confirmation as the next attorney general Tuesday, after he gave senators key assurances about the special counsel probe into the 2016 elections and distanced himself from some of President Donald Trump’s comments about the investigation.

During more than seven hours of testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr avoided the kind of missteps that might cost him votes of Republicans, who have a 53-47 advantage in the chamber. But some Democrats say he did not do enough to reassure them that he would protect Robert S. Mueller III’s probe and make the results public.

Six things William Barr will tell senators at his AG confirmation hearing

Attorney general nominee William Barr will tell the Senate Judiciary Committee at a confirmation hearing Tuesday that he did not pursue the position and was reluctant to be considered for his second stint as the nation’s top law enforcement official.

Barr, 68, plans to say he put off his partial retirement because he believes he can do a good job leading the department during a time when the country is “deeply divided” and the American people must know there are places in government where the rule of law holds sway over politics.

Health law appeal paused as shutdown affects federal courts
Justice Department also asks for pause in suit concerning acting AG Whitaker

The partial government shutdown halted a major challenge to the 2010 health care law among other civil litigation on Friday, as Justice Department lawyers sought the same in a challenge from three Senate Democrats to the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit issued a two-page order granting the Trump administration’s request to halt the 2010 health care law case “in light of lapse of appropriations.”

Senate Sends Criminal Justice Bill to the House
Action comes after years of debate, bipartisan support

The Senate voted 87-12 to pass an amended criminal justice overhaul bill on Tuesday, sending a bipartisan measure that almost did not make it to the floor to what backers said was a clear and swift path to becoming law.

The bill, which was brought to the floor as an amendment to an unrelated measure, survived initial indifference from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., a series of amendments from Republican opponents, and the addition of some other amendments before ultimately earning an overwhelming bipartisan final vote.

For Stripped-Down Criminal Justice Bill, Less Could Be More
Sen. Kamala Harris: It’s a ‘compromise of a compromise‘

The bipartisan criminal justice overhaul bill that advanced Monday evening falls short of what lawmakers and advocates had sought to do with the measure more than four years ago — but now that’s the key to enacting the most sweeping changes to prison and sentencing laws in decades.

The latest version, on the floor via an unrelated bill, is whittled down to the provisions with the broadest support, bulked up with measures demanded by law enforcement and tough-on-crime Republicans, and tweaked to get the backing of President Donald Trump.

FBI Details Intelligence Staffer Probe Ahead of Sentencing
Sentencing hearing for James Wolfe scheduled on Dec. 20

The FBI faced a dilemma and had to take “extraordinary” actions when it realized in 2017 that the former director of security for the Senate Intelligence Committee appeared compromised in his role safeguarding information and had a clandestine relationship with a national security journalist.

Had James Wolfe been an executive branch employee, the FBI would have notified intelligence agencies if a Top Secret clearance holder was compromised so they could protect national security, federal prosecutors wrote in a court filing Tuesday.

Criminal Justice Bill Could Bring Out Drama in Senate
Tom Cotton threatens Christmas showdown, throws gauntlet at colleagues

The Senate is poised to vote on a bipartisan criminal justice bill as soon as this week, the culmination of behind-the-scenes negotiations and a public campaign by lawmakers, the White House and advocates to press Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to bring it to the floor this year. But that does not mean the debate will be free of drama. 

McConnell announced Tuesday that the revised bill would be put on the floor agenda this month “following improvements to the legislation that [have] been secured by several members.” That ended weeks of uncertainty about whether the Senate would have a chance to vote on prison and sentencing changes that would be the first in a generation and could become a signature accomplishment right before the end of the 115th Congress.

Senate Could Work Between Holidays for Criminal Justice Bill
More GOP support cited by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

The Senate will take up a bipartisan criminal justice bill this month after changes to the text secured more support from Republicans, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced Tuesday.

Senators could turn to the new text as early as the end of this week, he said.

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Administrative Power
At heart of case is deference courts have given to federal agencies

The Supreme Court will decide whether federal agencies should stop getting such a strong voice when interpreting their own regulations, in a case that could significantly influence how judges decide challenges to environmental, health care, immigration, veterans benefits and other rules.

The justices on Monday agreed to hear arguments about overturning two Supreme Court rulings at the heart of administrative law, Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co. in 1945 and Auer v. Robbins in 1997. In the case, the court could accomplish part of what some conservative members of Congress have sought to do legislatively.

With Orrin Hatch Retiring, Supreme Court Loses an Active ’Friend’
Utah Republican is one of the more frequent authors of amicus briefs

One of this year’s highest-profile Supreme Court cases gave retiring Sen. Orrin G. Hatch a final chance to broadcast his views beyond the Capitol building to the nine justices across the street.

In a criminal law case set for oral arguments Thursday, the Utah Republican filed a brief known as an amicus curiae — or a “friend of the court” who is not a party in a case. He gave them what he called “an experienced legislator’s perspective on the constitutional and practical issues at play.”

Cohen Among Select Few Charged With Lying to Congress
House Democrats poised to use ex-Trump lawyer’s plea as basis to target others

President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer pleaded guilty Thursday to lying to Congress in violation of a law known for ensnaring celebrities, sports figures and other defendants in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s probe — but this time in a way that could reverberate in congressional investigations next year.

Those convicted or who pleaded guilty to violating the criminal statute, Section 1001 of Title 18, include television personality Martha Stewart, politicians such as former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, and, in the Russia probe, Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.

Racial Concerns Fuel Opposition to Judicial Nominee
Thomas Farr under scrutiny for issues traced back to North Carolina politics

To grasp how the long partisan war over the Senate’s judicial confirmation process shapes the nation’s legal landscape, look no further than this week’s floor vote on Thomas Farr to sit on a federal district court in North Carolina.

If confirmed — something that appears uncertain in a narrowly divided Senate — Farr would fill the oldest judicial vacancy in the country in a part of North Carolina with a significant black population. The Eastern District of North Carolina seat has been open for nearly 13 years — and three presidents — because of the Tar Heel State’s contentious politics and the way senators have used traditions to block nominees.

Democratic Senators Sue Trump Over Whitaker Appointment
Blumenthal, Whitehouse, Hirono say move violates Appointments Clause

Three Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee filed a lawsuit Monday challenging the appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, asking a federal court to stop him from leading the Justice Department.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii argue in the case that President Donald Trump’s move to name Whitaker temporarily as the nation’s top law enforcement official violates the Appointments Clause of the Constitution.

Grassley Gave McConnell Judges. Now He Wants His Criminal Justice Bill
‘I look at this in a very personal way,’ Grassley said

Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles E. Grassley is leaning on his track record of processing judicial nominations to get a floor vote on a bipartisan bill he spearheaded to overhaul the nation’s criminal justice system.

In an unusual personal plea, the 85-year-old Iowa Republican on Thursday said he wanted “reciprocity” from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for “what I’ve done in our unified effort on judges” during President Donald Trump’s administration.

Political Drama Converges at Supreme Court Ceremony
Kavanaugh investiture event features Trump, acting AG, Ken Starr and more

A Supreme Court sitting Thursday for the ceremonial investiture of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh took only 10 minutes, but it concentrated Washington's political and legal drama in one room.

Matthew Whitaker made his first public appearance as acting attorney general, reading a presidential commission from the courtroom podium less than 24 hours after President Donald Trump forced the resignation of Jeff Sessions as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.

Court Orders New Maryland Map in Partisan Gerrymandering Case
State officials expected to appeal decision to Supreme Court

A federal court on Wednesday ordered Maryland to adopt a new congressional map for the 2020 elections, ruling that the state’s current map unconstitutionally diminished the value of Republican voters in the 6th District in the western neck of the state.

The three-judge panel’s ruling in the partisan gerrymandering case, which has gone twice to the Supreme Court on preliminary procedural issues, means the Maryland map once again will be before the high court if state officials appeal, as expected. 

Three Reasons House Democrats Likely Won’t Impeach Trump
Key leaders aren’t supporting calls for proceedings

House Democrats will be hesitant to use their newly regained majority to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump unless investigations uncover such major misdeeds that even Republicans would support the effort.

A vocal portion of House Democrats still are expected to call for Trump’s impeachment over allegations he has misused the office or committed crimes, and dozens backed an effort to force the House to consider articles of impeachment within the past year.

Trump Administration Asks Supreme Court to Consider DACA Program
President has made immigration a major issue before midterms

The Trump administration again asked the Supreme Court to step into the legal fight over the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Monday, urging the justices to decide this term whether the government has the power to end the Obama-era immigration policy.

In three petitions from three appeals courts, the Department of Homeland Security and other Trump officials want a speedy high court review of whether the administration’s September 2017 decision to revoke the discretionary program was lawful, and whether the federal courts can review that decision at all.

Senators Press Supreme Court to Lift State Uranium Mining Ban
Domestic production at historic low

Three Republican members of the Senate Armed Services Committee contend that a case now before the Supreme Court could undermine federal policy about uranium and other assets that are critical to national security and defense.

The justices heard arguments Monday in an environmental case about a three-decades-old Virginia law that prevents mining of the largest deposit of uranium in the United States, in Pittsylvania County, in the southwest region of the state.