- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Blackwater case moving to trial

A federal judge ruled Tuesday that the manslaughter case against five former Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of attacking innocent Iraqis with machine-gun fire can continue.

U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina denied two motions to dismiss the case against the five men accused in a September 2007 shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead and 20 others wounded in a busy Baghdad intersection.

The five argued that they are not subject to U.S. civilian criminal laws because they were working overseas under a contract with the State Department to help provide security for diplomats. A legal loophole says only contractors who work for or support the Defense Department can be prosecuted in U.S. courts for crimes committed overseas.

Defense attorney Mark Hulkower pointed out that President Obama, who now overseas the Justice Department, which is prosecuting the case, sponsored a bill while a senator to close the loophole so State Department contractors could be prosecuted in U.S. courts. “But that hasn’t occurred yet,” Mr. Hulkower said.

Federal prosecutors argued the men were supporting the work of the Defense Department by helping to create a stable, self-governing Iraq. They said they would offer evidence at trial that their employment supported the Defense Department.

Judge Urbina, a 1994 appointee of President Clinton, sided with prosecutors and agreed that the issue should be heard at trial. But he said the “defendants’ points on this issue are rather strong” and predicted it would be an issue that either he or a jury would decide later.


Aide to trade foes likely to be enforcer

A top aide to Democratic lawmakers who have long called for tougher enforcement of U.S. trade agreements is expected to join President Obama’s trade office as the chief enforcement lawyer, a congressional aide said Tuesday.

Tim Reif’s last day as trade staff director on the House Ways and Means Committee was Friday, the aide said, speaking on the condition he not be identified.

Mr. Reif left to join the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as general counsel, the congressional aide said.

An assistant in USTR’s press office said she could not confirm that Mr. Reif had been tapped to become USTR general counsel, a job that does not require Senate confirmation.

Mr. Obama’s choice for U.S. trade representative, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, is still waiting to be confirmed by the Senate. There is still no date for a hearing on his nomination.

Mr. Reif is closely associated with two lawmakers - Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel of New York and Ways and Means trade subcommittee Chairman Sander M. Levin of Michigan - who regularly criticized President Bush’s administration for not filing more trade cases against China and other U.S. trading partners.

Concerns raised by the two lawmakers also blocked approval of free-trade agreements the Bush administration negotiated with Colombia and South Korea.


Prosecutors quit Stevens case

The Justice Department is assigning the corruption case of former Sen. Ted Stevens to a different legal team to handle charges of prosecutorial misconduct.

Four days after being found in contempt, the two lawyers who won the October conviction of Stevens told U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan in court filings Monday that they will no longer handle post-trial litigation relating to misconduct charges.

The lawyers are William Welch, chief of the public-integrity section, and his principal deputy, Brenda Morris. Judge Sullivan took the rare step of holding the two in contempt Friday for failing to deliver documents to Stevens’ attorneys as he had ordered.

The documents pertained to a whistleblower complaint brought by FBI agent Chad Joy, an investigator on the case who said prosecutors mishandled evidence, covered up information and tried to keep a subpoenaed witness from testifying.

Stevens was convicted in October of lying on Senate disclosure documents about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations from Alaska businessman Bill Allen. In November, Stevens lost his bid for re-election to the Senate seat he had held since 1968. He has asked Judge Sullivan to throw out the conviction.


Gas price rises to 3-month high

The retail price of gasoline climbed an additional 3.8 cents to a three-month high, nearing $2 a gallon despite declining crude-oil prices, the Energy Department said Tuesday.

The national price for regular unleaded gasoline rose to $1.96 a gallon, still down $1.08 from a year ago, the department’s Energy Information Administration said in its weekly survey of service stations.

It was the highest pump price since Nov. 17, when a gallon of gasoline last surpassed $2.

Higher pump prices reflect oil refineries operating at lower capacity rates, which reduces gasoline production, according to the EIA. Lower supply raises wholesale fuel prices, which eventually are passed on to consumers at the pump.

The price of crude oil, which accounts for more than half the cost of making gasoline, fell $2.58 a barrel Tuesday to below $35 in futures trading at the New York Mercantile Exchange.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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