Lawmakers in New York have struck an agreement on legislation that would close the so-called double jeopardy loophole, a section of state law that currently precludes state prosecutors from bringing the same charges against an individual who’s received a presidential pardon of federal crimes.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, a main proponent of the legislation, confirmed the agreement in a conversation with reporters at the state capitol Tuesday, saying lawmakers are expected to pass the bill at some point over the next two to three weeks.
“We do have an agreement with both houses. We anticipate that the bill will be passed in the coming weeks,” James said. “We would urge the state Legislature to move the bill.”
The legislation would be particularly important if future associates or family members of President Donald Trump are indicted as a result of the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, which is expected to be transmitted to U.S. Attorney General William Barr sometime soon.
The law would not apply to individuals already tried and convicted, such as former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort Jr., because the so-called double jeopardy clause attaches at the start of a trial.
Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, had told reporters in Albany earlier Tuesday that James would be sending lawmakers the final language of the bill and that the Assembly is expected to pass it.
“I think the attorney general is sending up a program bill, which I believe we will pass,” Heastie said.
Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, confirmed Heastie’s statement Tuesday morning and said she would be meeting with James later in the day.
“I believe we have been told that,” Stewart-Cousins said. “I think the attorney general will be coming by later today, so at that point we’ll have a little more discussion.”
The bill is sponsored in the state Senate by Sen. Todd Kaminsky, D-Nassau, who confirmed that lawmakers were putting the finishing touches on the legislation, which James said is expected to pass as a standalone bill rather than part of an omnibus bill enacting the state budget later this month.
“We have the language of the bill and are working to make sure everything is ready to go public. That is our understanding,” Kaminsky said. “An amended double jeopardy bill is coming.”
The new version of the bill addresses concerns from some lawmakers who thought the original legislation was too vague, Kaminsky said. Some officials wanted it to be more targeted toward pardoned individuals with a connection to the president. The amended version will reflect those concerns, according to Kaminsky.
“Instead of it being about any crime that any random person [has] committed that has nothing to do with the president, this much more narrowly focuses on somebody in the president’s employment or family, really trying to flout the rule of law on the president’s behalf,” Kaminsky said. “I think it really gets at these issues, not just for this president but for any president.”
The bill is expected to be introduced and passed sometime in the next three weeks, James said. Kaminsky has pushed in recent months for lawmakers to expedite negotiations, citing instances such as the conviction of Manafort as an example. The longer lawmakers wait, the more opportunities individuals will have to evade the new statute, he said.
“I do think there should be a ticking clock in the back of our heads that there certainly may be other targets out there,” Kaminsky said.
The legislation was first proposed last year by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman as a way to allow state prosecutors to bring charges against individuals who may be pardoned of federal crimes by Trump. State law prevents the state attorney general’s office and local district attorneys from bringing charges against individuals who receive presidential pardons based on the same set of facts.
Kaminsky and Assemblyman Joseph Lentol, D-North Brooklyn, signed on to sponsor the bill, though both have said it’s intended to keep presidents of both parties accountable, not just Trump. Discussions stalled last year while the state Senate was still controlled by Republicans, who opposed the measure.
Democrats won a firm majority in the Senate during last year’s election, making the bill’s chances more likely to pass. Since it was reintroduced by Kaminsky in January, Democrats from both chambers have been engaged in discussions to fine-tune the bill for passage.
Legislative sources had said the bill particularly gained momentum in recent weeks as discussions continued between the Senate and Assembly. Heastie said James would be sending the legislation as a “program bill,” which is when either the governor or the attorney general sends a proposal to the Legislature for approval.
Kaminsky said it may end up being introduced as a regular bill with the finalized language and the attorney general’s blessing, but that it’s expected to get done either way.