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New York lawmakers pass bill aimed at weakening Trump's pardon power

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President Donald Trump holds up his fist as he leaves after speaking during a Make America Great Again rally at Williamsport Regional Airport on May 20, 2019, in Montoursville, Pennsylvania.   -   Copyright  Brendan Smialowski AFP - Getty Images
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New York state lawmakers passed a measure Tuesday that would allow prosecutors to pursue state charges against certain individuals even if they have received a presidential pardon, a move seen as a direct shot at President Donald Trump.

New York's state Assembly passed the measure — which creates a narrow exception in the state's double-jeopardy law — by a 90-52 vote. New York state law currently prohibits the state from prosecuting a person who has already been tried for the same crime by the federal government. The bill would make it easier for prosecutors in certain circumstances to pursue a case against someone who has received a presidential pardon for the federal conviction.

The exception would allow state prosecutors to open or advance investigations into any pardoned individual who served in a president's administration or worked directly or indirectly to advance their campaign or transition. The president would also have to have a clear personal or political benefit from the pardon he issued.

The change was backed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is investigating Trump and his family members, who is probing and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has indicated he will sign the bill. Prosecutors and lawmakers who back the bill said the measure is necessary to ensure that investigations into the president, his associates and his business taking place at the state level are not derailed by pardons.

Joseph Lentol, the Democratic assemblyman sponsoring the legislation, said the bill "will confront any president, not just this one," who believes they "can wash away illegal behavior."

Politics

Ahead of the vote, Republican Assemblyman Andy Goodell questioned the constitutionality of the legislation.

"Today we're being asked to overturn nearly 100 years of New York state history where we as a state have recognized the fundamental unfairness of double jeopardy," Goodell said, adding that lawmakers were being asked to set aside the "concept of fairness and equity not because we're faced with any actual situation but on a hypothetical situation."

Both the state Senate and state Assembly are under Democratic control. Since the bill already passed the state Senate earlier this month, it is now headed to Cuomo's desk for his approval.

Democratic state Sen. Todd Kaminsky, the state senator who sponsored the bill and former federal prosecutor, said in a statement after the bill passed the Assembly Tuesday that the legislative effort was "crucial" to defend the justice system.

"With the President all but pledging to corruptly abuse his pardon power to allow friends and associates off the hook, it is crucial for us to close the double jeopardy loophole and preserve the rule of law in New York," Kaminsky said.