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GOP tries to hamstring incoming Democratic attorneys general

Republicans pushing to hang on to power in Wisconsin and Michigan aren't stopping at curbing the authority of incoming Democratic governors. They're also trying to hamstring Democrats who are about to take over as attorneys general.

The moves underscore how attorneys general have become powerful partisan weapons on both the state and national levels.

Republicans in both states say they need to reduce the powers of their Democratic attorneys general and strengthen their own authority to preserve GOP initiatives such as voter ID and to prevent more litigation challenging President Donald Trump's policies. Democrats see the effort as a wanton power grab that defies the will of voters who put their candidates in office.

"This clearly is an indication of how polarized politics have become," University of Wisconsin-Madison political scientist David Canon said. "It's really not consistent with how we've had transfers of power in the past. We should be alarmed at this. I hope it's not the new normal."

The GOP has controlled the legislatures and the governor's offices in Wisconsin and Michigan since 2011. The party has used that power to pass conservative policies, including creating voter ID requirements, adopting right-to-work laws and stripping public workers in Wisconsin of nearly all their collective bargaining rights.

But that power structure changed last month, and Democrats rejoiced after their candidates seized the governor and attorney general offices in both states.

Wisconsin's attorney general-elect, Josh Kaul, campaigned on promises to pull the state out of a lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act and to get tougher on polluters. His counterpart in Michigan, Dana Nessel, vowed not to defend state laws she considers unconstitutional and pledged to sue the Trump administration "all day, every day."

Groups of Democratic attorneys general have filed dozens of multistate lawsuits against the Trump administration. This week Democratic attorneys general planned to file subpoenas seeking records from the Trump Organization and the Treasury Department as part of a lawsuit accusing Trump of profiting off the presidency.

The midterm election results put the GOP on the defensive. Within weeks, anxious Republican lawmakers started meeting to seek ways to weaken all four offices in lame-duck legislative sessions.

The bills they proposed followed the lead of North Carolina, where Republicans adopted similar legislation over the last two years. In 2016, state GOP lawmakers passed lame-duck measures reducing incoming Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's powers. Last year, they included language in the state budget that gives final decision-making in lawsuits challenging state laws to legislative leaders rather than Democratic Attorney General Josh Stein.

In an all-night floor session, Wisconsin Republicans this week approved sweeping legislation to eliminate the state Justice Department's solicitor general's office, a tool the defeated Republican attorney general, Brad Schimel, used to join highly partisan lawsuits such as the ACA challenge. The move ensures Kaul cannot use the office to attack Republican laws.

Lawmakers could intervene in any lawsuit, setting themselves up to defend their policies if Kaul does not. Kaul also would need legislative approval before settling cases. The bills await outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker's signature.

Kaul said this week that he would defend any state law that's constitutional regardless of his personal beliefs, "but the Legislature has just ignored all that."

Lawmakers are trying to put their "judgment in place of the judgment of the voters of Wisconsin," he said. "And this is fundamentally not how the process should be working in any functional democracy."

He predicted the Wisconsin legislation would spark lawsuits across multiple jurisdictions.

Wisconsin Republicans have not offered any defense of the attorney general provisions, except to say they need to curtail Evers' power to eliminate GOP laws.

In Michigan, Republicans are advancing their own measure that would also allow GOP lawmakers to intervene in lawsuits, ensuring they could step in if Nessel will not defend laws. The bill could win Senate approval as early as next week.

The bill "is an attack on the doctrine of separation of powers," Democratic state Rep. Brian Elder said. "Had last month's results been different, specifically in this particular race, I am confident that this legislation would not have been introduced."

Republicans denied that the bill undercuts Nessel or any future attorney general, calling it a response to increasing "legislation through litigation."

___

Eggert reported from Lansing, Michigan.

___

Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1 . Follow Dave Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00 .

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • A 31-year-old man was arrested Friday in connection with the fatal shooting of his grandfather at a home near Ocoee. Deputies said the victim was shot shortly before 7:15 a.m. in the Lake Florence subdivision near Good Homes Road.  Relatives said the victim was boxing icon Lucious 'Lou' Harris.  Deputies said they arrested Lucien Harris in connection with the shooting.  “My father was, like, an icon in the boxing world,' said Steve Harris, the victim's son and the suspect's uncle. 'Everybody knew him -- all across the world.'  He said he and his family almost expected something bad to happen.  'It's not a complete surprise. Not to me,' Harris said. 'It could have been me. It could have been my other brother in the car, my sister. We all knew something was going to happen eventually, but not my dad.'  Lou Harris owned Harris Boxing on Ivey Lane in Orlando and trained hundreds of fighters, including his grandson, relatives said.  'He took people from the street and took them right to the Olympics -- and (they won) gold medals, bronze medals. He did it all,' Steve Harris said of his father.  He said the suspect was living with his grandfather at his Florence Vista Boulevard home.  He said Lucien Harris was once a boxer, too, but was not successful and had resentment and jealousy because of it.  Records said Lucien Harris was arrested in October after he was accused of threatening to kill his uncle with a hammer and knife.  His uncle told investigators at the time that Lucien Harris has 'schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and does not take medications for his issues,' records said.  Lucien Harris was not prosecuted in that case.  Records said his arrest history dates back to 2004, when he was arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon.  Since then, he has also been arrested on charges of possessing a gun as a convicted felon, armed burglary and grand theft.  'His grandson had issues for many years,' Steve Harris said. 'He did time at an early age.'  Lucien Harris was booked into the Orange County Jail on charges of first-degree murder.
  • Who doesn't love food and drinks, especially when it comes to trying out a variety of kinds all in one visit? Thankfully, if you don't have any weekend plans, you can check out the annual Downtown Food and Wine Fest located in the heart of downtown Orlando at Lake Eola.  This year's celebration on Robinson Street features over 30 dishes from Orlando's premier restaurants, over 50 domestic and international wines, and of course, LIVE entertainment.  However, before you set out to enjoy the festival there's a few things you need to know:  - You can't bring any outside food or drink to the event.  - Pets are not allowed inside due to food health laws set by the City of Orlando.  - You can bring your own blanket and chairs to sit and enjoy the live music.  - Since its on the weekend, you can expect road closures. Here they are:  Southbound Eola Drive from Robinson Street to Washington Street at 10am  Northbound Eola Drive from Robinson Street to Washington Street until 2pm.  Broadway, Cathcart, Hillman from Ridgewood Street to Robinson Street until 2pm.  Robinson Street from Rosalind Avenue to Summerlin Avenue at 6am.   Ticket prices for the event vary, depending on what you want to do. You can check them out here:  https://downtownfoodandwinefest.radio.com/ticket-info  The events starts on Saturday, February 23rd from 12pm to 9pm and Sunday, February 24th from 12pm to 7pm.
  • Southeastern Grocers announced the closing of another eight Florida stores in coming months. Jacksonville based Southeastern Grocers, is the parent company to Winn-Dixie, Harveys, Bi-Lo and Fresco y Mas grocery stores.  The company owns more than 550 stores throughout the southeast and declared bankruptcy last spring. The bankruptcy restructuring included closing 94 stores to help lower debt by about $600 million.  In addition to the eight stores closing in Florida, two of which are in Central Florida, another 14 are closing throughout the South.  The two in Central Florida include the Winn-Dixie at 7840 W. Irlo Bronson Memorial Hwy in Kissimmee and the Winn-Dixie at 5732 N. Hiawassee Road in Orlando.
  • Prosecutors in Illinois have filed 10 counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse against R&B musician R. Kelly, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said Friday at a news conference. Foxx said the charges were related to incidents alleged to have occurred between 1998 and 2010 with four separate victims. >> Read more trending news Update 9:20 p.m. EST Feb. 22: R. Kelly turned himself in to Chicago police after being charged with 10 counts of aggravated sexual abuse. The 52-year-old singer, whose real name is Robert Kelly, arrived at the precinct in a van about 8:15 p.m. Friday. If taken into custody, he is expected to be held overnight and appear Saturday in bond court. Kelly’s attorney Steve Greenberg said he maintains his innocence and looks forward to being acquitted at trial. Update 6:30 p.m. EST Feb. 22: R. Kelly’s attorney said the singer is “shell-shocked” by the aggravated sexual abuse indictment against him and plans to turn himself in to authorities Friday night. Steve Greenberg told The Associated Press that his client is “extraordinarily disappointed and depressed” by the 10 counts Chicago prosecutors filed against him. Update 3:15 p.m. EST Feb. 22: Authorities held a brief news conference Friday to announce the charges against Kelly. Foxx said the charges brought against Kelly involve four victims, three of which were under the age of 17 at the time of the alleged sexual abuse. The alleged sexual abuse took place between 1998 and 2010, she said. The charges are class 2 felonies which carry maximum sentences of seven years per charge, Foxx said. She added that they were “also probationable.” “We anticipate that Mr. Kelly will appear in bond court tomorrow afternoon,” Foxx said. Update 2:50 p.m. EST Feb. 22: The Chicago Tribune reported that the charges against Kelly involve four victims, at least three of which are underage. The incidents were alleged to have occurred between 1998 and 2010 with minors between the ages of 13 and 16, according to the Tribune. A judge on Friday approved of a no-bail arrest warrant for Kelly, the Sun-Times reported. Authorities are expected to provide more information on the case at a news conference Friday afternoon. Original report: Tandra Simonton, spokeswoman for the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, confirmed to The Associated Press that charges had been filed against the 52-year-old Grammy winner but declined to say the specific number. Media reports said there were 10 counts, all involving underage victims. >> New sex tape allegedly shows R. Kelly having sex with underage girl, according to reports The charges are felonies that carry maximum sentences of seven years each, if Kelly is convicted, WGN-TV reported. Kelly, one of the top-selling recording artists of all time, has several times over the years been accused of sexual misconduct, allegations that he’s consistently denied. Jurors acquitted Kelly of child pornography charges at a 2008 trial. Those charges stemmed from a video prosecutors alleged showed of Kelly having sex with a girl as young as 13. >> Report: R. Kelly being investigated by Atlanta-area DA after docuseries abuse allegations The latest charges were filed nearly two weeks after a man gave authorities new footage that purportedly showed Kelly engaging in sexual acts with an underage girl. The man's attorney, Michael Avenatti, told CNN last week that the man was a whistleblower. Avenatti said his client “worked for and has known R. Kelly for decades and he met the girl on a number of occasions.” On Friday, Avenatti seemed to announce the charges against Kelly with a two word tweet: “It’s over.” >> Who is R. Kelly? 7 things to know  “After 25 years of serial sexual abuse and assault of underage girls, the day of reckoning for R. Kelly has arrived,” he wrote in a subsequent tweet. Avenatti said he will provide more information about the case at a press conference Friday afternoon. Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx is also expected to hold a news conference Friday. The Associated Press contributed to this report. Check back for updates to this developing story.
  • The midnight deadline for special counsel Robert Mueller’s office to make recommendations about the sentencing for Paul Manafort passed Friday night, but the report was not publicly released as of Saturday morning. Manafort, President Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, pleaded guilty to several charges last year.  >> Read more trending news Prosecutors may have sent the document to Judge Amy Berman Jackson under seal, with proposed redactions, CNN reported Saturday. It would then be up to Jackson to decide what happens next. Prosecutors were expected to file the sentencing memo in federal court in Washington, where Manafort pleaded guilty in September to charges including conspiracy against the United States and conspiracy to obstruct justice through witness tampering. >> More on Robert Mueller's investigation  Manafort agreed to fully cooperate with Mueller’s team as part of a plea agreement with prosecutors; however, authorities later said Manafort lied to investigators. Prosecutors are not expected to recommend leniency for him. Manafort’s attorneys will have until midnight Monday to file their own sentencing memo. A judge is expected to hand down Manafort’s sentence March 13 at a 9:30 a.m. hearing before U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson. >> Judge rules Paul Manafort intentionally lied after agreeing to cooperate In a separate case that also stemmed from Mueller’s investigation, a jury in Virginia found Manafort guilty last summer of tax and bank fraud charges in a case related to work he and an associate did for pro-Russia political forces in Ukraine. Prosecutors last week recommended Manafort serve between 19.5 and 24.5 years in prison and be fined as much as $24 million for those crimes. Manafort is scheduled to be sentenced in that case during a 9 a.m. hearing March 8 before U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis, according to a court filing. >> Mueller recommends Paul Manafort be sentenced to 19.5-24.5 years in prison and $24M fine Last month, defense attorneys said Manafort has been kept in solitary confinement for his own safety. He’s had severe gout for several months of his incarceration, according to his attorneys, and it’s sometimes been severe enough to require him to use a wheelchair. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Washington Insider

  • Democrats in the House of Representatives unveiled their one page plan on Friday to overturn President Donald Trump's bid to funnel more money to a border wall by declaring a national emergency, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters said the House would vote next Tuesday to block the President's executive actions on funding for the wall. 'Members of Congress all swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution,' the Speaker said. 'The President’s decision to go outside the bounds of the law to try to get what he failed to achieve in the constitutional legislative process violates the Constitution and must be terminated,' Pelosi wrote earlier this week in a letter to fellow Democrats. Democrats said they already have more than a majority of members signed on to the one page resolution to reject the Trump national emergency. 'We hope that enough of our normal Republican enablers will join us to stand up for the Constitution,' said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX). 'If not, we’re ready to turn to the courthouse.' As of Friday, only one Republican in the House had signed on to the plan to reject the President’s national emergency, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI). “Trump’s absurd declaration of a “national emergency” undercuts the Constitution,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR), as approval in the House would send the plan to the Senate. Under special rules governing this process, GOP leaders would not be able to ignore the House action, as a vote must take place on the resolution. But even if it passes in the Senate, a veto is likely by President Trump, and at this point - it seems unlikely that Democrats could muster enough GOP votes for a two-thirds supermajority to override a veto.