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Political Scene

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 14, 2010

ILLINOIS

Blagojevich asks for nullification

CHICAGO | Former Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich has asked a judge to nullify the lone conviction in his mostly deadlocked corruption trial, saying the jury's decision was underpinned by errors at trial and misconduct by prosecutors.

Trial Judge James Zagel should override jurors' verdict and acquit Blagojevich of lying to the FBI or set it aside and try him again on that charge, defense attorneys said in a motion filed at the U.S. District Court in Chicago.

"The fact is that the government knew - and knows - that Blagojevich was not lying to the FBI," says the motion, filed late Monday. "The conviction in this case is not legally sound."

At the end of a 2 1/2-month trial, jurors convicted the impeached governor on just one of 24 counts against him. Prosecutors told the judge they will try Blagojevich again on the deadlocked charges, a retrial that is expected to start in January.

Among the charges jurors couldn't agree on was that Blagojevich attempted to sell or trade an appointment to the U.S. Senate seat President Obama was vacating in exchange for a lucrative job or campaign donation.

The charge of lying to the FBI was considered the least serious, carrying a prison sentence of up to five years. Other charges, including racketeering, could lead to a 20-year prison term. Blagojevich, 53, has denied any wrongdoing.

ALASKA

Senator to mull a write-in bid

JUNEAU | Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who conceded the GOP primary to "tea-party"-backed Joe Miller last month, said she will decide by Friday whether to mount a write-in candidacy.

It's the only option remaining for Mrs. Murkowski if she wants to hold onto her seat. On Monday, Libertarian candidate David Haase said he wouldn't step aside to clear a spot on that party's ticket. And Mrs. Murkowski, in a statement released Tuesday, said she couldn't have sought the Libertarian nomination in good conscience, anyway.

"As disappointed as I am in the outcome of the primary and my belief that the Alaska Republican Party was hijacked by the Tea Party Express, an outside extremist group, I am not going to quit my party," Mrs. Murkowski said.

She met with Mr. Haase, she said, as a courtesy to friends who approached the Libertarians, without her direction, about the potential of her appearing on their ballot.

"I will not wrap myself in the flag of another political party for the sake of election at any cost," she said.

COMMERCE

August retail sales up 0.4 percent

Retail sales rose in August by the largest amount in five months, suggesting a late-spring economic swoon was temporary and not the start of another recession.

The Commerce Department says retail sales rose 0.4 percent last month, the best advance since March. Excluding a big decline in autos, retail sales increased 0.6 percent. That's double the amount economists had expected.

The strength came in a number of areas from department stores to clothing stores and sporting-goods outlets. The advance was the latest indication that the economy is regaining its footing after a dismal spring.

SUPREME COURT

Scalia gives tobacco firms a reprieve

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has temporarily blocked a state court order requiring tobacco companies to pay $270 million for a smoking-cessation program in Louisiana.

Justice Scalia granted a request from the companies on Tuesday, but said he would reconsider his order later this month after hearing from Louisiana plaintiffs who won a class-action lawsuit against the cigarette makers.

The companies lost their bid in state court to throw out the award or at least delay the payment. They want the high court to throw out the judgment against them and relieve them of having to pay out the money while the case is being appealed.

ENERGY

Oil industry: Fee hike could cost jobs

The oil and gas industry says an Obama administration plan to double fees charged for inspections of offshore operations could cost jobs.

American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard says the industry recognizes the need for improved inspections and oversight following the BP oil spill. But he says doubling the fees isn't appropriate.

The White House has asked Congress to approve the higher fees as part of a request for $80 million in new spending for the agency that oversees offshore drilling.

The proposal would more double the amount collected from oil and gas companies, to $45 million next year from about $20 million this year.

NTSB

Board seeks cause of in-flight collision

A yearlong probe of an in-flight collision between a small plane and a tour helicopter over the Hudson River that claimed nine lives is culminating with a federal safety panel meeting to decide the cause of the accident.

The National Transportation Safety Board already has released much of the evidence gathered during its investigation. But investigators have not provided their conclusions on the direct cause of the collision and what other factors, if any, contributed to the disaster. They plan to make that material public Tuesday.

All three people in the plane, the helicopter's pilot and five tourists from Italy were killed in the Aug. 8, 2009, collision.

MONTANA

Ex-officer remains part of 'tea party'

HELENA | The chairman of the Big Sky Tea Party Association says its former president is still a member of the party despite his online comments about gays.

Chairman Jim Walker tells the Independent Record that the Montana group's board met Monday to confirm Tim Ravndal's removal from his leadership post. However, a lengthier process is required to strip membership, and Mr. Walker says the board may not revisit the issue.

Mr. Ravndal made a Facebook post that appeared to joke about the death of Matthew Shepard. The gay man was beaten, tied to a fence and left to die in Wyoming in 1998.

But some party members protested Mr. Ravndal's ouster and threatened to resign. Mr. Ravndal apologized for the July 23 post.

FDA

Panel: Cough medicines should stay put

A panel of medical experts says cough medicines like Robitussin should continue to be sold over the counter, despite increasing abuse among teenagers that has prompted calls to restrict the products.

The Food and Drug Administration panel voted 15-9 against a proposal that would require a doctor's note to buy medicines containing dextromethorphan, an ingredient found in more than 100 over-the-counter medications.

Abuse of the products, dubbed "robotripping," is on the rise, with more than 8,000 emergency-room visits linked to the practice in 2008. Law enforcement officials asked the FDA to reconsider how it regulates the products.

But experts at Tuesday's meeting said making the products prescription-only would be overly burdensome.

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