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How do prosecutors get witnesses to turn?

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The choice to use a cooperating witness is not an easy decision; it can blow up in a prosecutor’s face. If prosecutors believe Cohen has committed crimes, for instance, and they want him to help in the prosecution of other targets, they can potentially flip him — but there are some general rules they should adhere to.

Prosecutors should give serious thought before using non-prosecution agreements, and offer them only when cooperation appears to be necessary for the public good, and there’s no other way to obtain cooperation. Prosecutors often prefer methods such as seeking cooperation after trial and conviction of a witness, or bargaining for future cooperation as part of a plea agreement.

U.S. Attorneys’ Manual takes the view that an offender should be required to incur at least some liability for his crimes, which means letting someone completely off the hook in exchange for testimony is generally not desired. So even if Cohen were a cooperating witness, he would probably have to be convicted of some crime, no matter how much information he gives up.

Prosecutors should also generally look upstream for evidence against a “bigger fish” when turning witnesses. Juries don’t like to see a kingpin get a sweet deal and then testify against a few lackeys or underlings.

Prosecutors must also be careful to vet the story as completely as they can. A cooperating witness has a tremendous incentive to say anything, truthful or not, that might help the government’s case and secure lower sentence. As helpful as their testimony may be to the government’s case, if it’s not truthful, or even not credible, the jury might blame a prosecutor for putting an perceived liar on the stand.

That’s the problem with cooperating witnesses. They may be telling the truth about their friends and colleagues. But they may also be exaggerating, lying under oath, and even fabricating evidence. In return, they hope for favorable treatment at sentencing, or even immunity from prosecution.

That’s why Trump should be concerned about Cohen.

He fits the profile of a cooperator. He knows a lot about the activities of several big fish, including Trump. And no matter how loyal someone thinks they are, once a person is looking at decades in federal prison, he is likely to start thinking less about his colleague/co-defendant/target — and more about his wife, his children, and, most importantly, himself.

Danny Cevallos is an MSNBC legal analyst. Follow @CevallosLaw on Twitter.



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Puerto Rico sees more pain and little progress three years after Hurricane Maria

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Angel Perez was on his way to visit his parents in his native Arecibo, a coastal town about an hour west of where he now lives in Trujillo Alto, when an unexpected flash flood blocked his route last Sunday.

“There was some rain, but there was no indication that they were dangerous. All the neighbors were at home. No one expected this,” said Perez, 35. Despite his efforts to gather neighbors and clean up clogged sewers, community members say they have long lacked proper maintenance. Several families lost everything after six feet of water rushed into their homes, he said.

The scene reminded him of Hurricane Maria’s aftermath.

“As a community social worker, I can tell you that Puerto Rico’s recovery, if it can be called that, didn’t come thanks to the government. It came from non-profit associations, it came from the neighbors themselves, it came from foundations, it came from the hands of other people who supported the families that suffered the most,” Perez said in Spanish.

Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory on Sept. 20, 2017, ultimately killing at least 2,975 people; it was the deadliest U.S.-based natural disaster in 100 years.

Buildings damaged by Hurricane Maria in Lares, Puerto Rico, on Oct. 6, 2017.Lucas Jackson / Reuters

Over 200,000 Puerto Ricans left for the mainland, many temporarily and some permanently. Island residents had no full power for almost a year. The health system was overwhelmed and an understaffed forensics sciences department couldn’t keep up with the bodies piling up during the hurricane’s aftermath.

Three years later, there’s frustration that crises have only compounded — there’s been a series of destructive earthquakes and more recently the coronavirus pandemic — while the Trump administration and island officials haven’t made any real progress when it comes to updating the island’s antiquated electrical grid and rebuilding destroyed houses.

“If you put somebody in power, here in Puerto Rico or in the U.S., that’s not prepared to lead, it’s going to cost you lives and it’s going to cost you progress,” Miguel Soto-Class, founder and president of the Center for a New Economy, a nonpartisan think tank, told NBC News. “I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to talk about this as a life or death issue because that’s exactly what we’re seeing.”

Hurricane Maria resulted in about $90 billion in damages, making it the third costliest hurricane in U.S. history. Last December, Puerto Rico was hit by a sequence of seismic events that triggered multiple strong earthquakes that brought down hundreds of homes and schools in January. Well over 9,800 tremors have been registered on the island since then.

Coronavirus cases and deaths are also rising in Puerto Rico as the island continues to grapple with austerity measures as it works to get out of the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.

A man walks pass by downed electricity poles in the Punta Santiago beachfront neighborhood in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Dec. 8, 2017.Ricardo Arduengo / for NBC News

The federal government has allocated nearly $50 billion to help the island with multiple disasters. But most of the money, specifically funds for housing and infrastructure relief, haven’t made their way to communities on the island. Puerto Rico has received $16.7 billion, according to Puerto Rico’s Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resilience.

Over the same time period, President Donald Trump has doubled down multiple times on previous comments opposing disaster funding for Puerto Rico, while also disputing the hurricane’s death toll and failing to acknowledge such deaths.

“We’ve seen so much fanfare around these federal funds in the past that never actually get here or once you look at the fine print, there are so many restrictions, it’s almost as if you haven’t been giving them,” said Soto-Class.

The Trump administration said Friday that FEMA will award almost $13 billion to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid and education system in the next five to seven years, “the largest obligations of funding ever awarded.” But Congress had approved such aid in 2018. Trump and members of his administration made it available to Puerto Rico two years later and 43 days before November’s presidential elections.

“It’s very ironic that it happened so close to the elections,” said Soto-Class.



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Boris Johnson to avoid furious nationwide Tory rebellion if he fulfils key Brexit promise

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BORIS JOHNSON may be able to completely avoid a rebellion on Brexit if he sticks to one integral promise.

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Biden challenges Senate Republicans in blistering Supreme Court speech

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Joe Biden on Sunday made an explicit plea to Senate Republicans not to vote on President Donald Trump’s forthcoming Supreme Court nominee ahead of the November election.

In a speech from the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee accused Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., of trying to engage in a “constitutional abuse” following Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on Friday.

“To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise in raw political power,” Biden said. “I don’t believe the people of this nation will stand for it.”

Noting that voters “have already begun casting ballots” in some states, Biden said that “their voice should be heard.”

“I believe voters are going to make it clear they will not stand for this abuse of power,” he said. “Constitutional abuse.”

Biden said that should Trump submit a nominee, the Senate should not act until the November election is resolved.

“If Donald Trump wins the election — then the Senate should move on his selection — and weigh that nominee fairly,” Biden said. “But if I win the election, President Trump’s nomination should be withdrawn.”

He called on Senate Republicans to help “de-escalate” tensions in the country and to follow their “conscious,” saying they should “cool the flames that have been engulfing our country.”

“I’m speaking to those Republicans out there, Senate Republicans, who know deep down what is right for the country and consistent with the Constitution,” he said. “Not just what’s best for their party.”

While Biden said he would not be releasing a list of potential nominees he would put forward, like Trump, the former vice president again hinted that his nominee would be a Black woman. He said however that by releasing a list of potential picks, he could give the appearance of improperly influencing their decision-making while exposing them to political attacks.

Biden said he would make his Supreme Court choice “based on what prior presidents have done” and pledged to consult with both Democratic and Republican senators.

Biden spoke after Trump earlier this weekend pledged to quickly fill Ginsburg’s seat with a female nominee. An early frontrunner is Amy Coney Barrett, a 48-year-old federal appeals court judge who was also on Trump’s list to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy in 2018.

McConnell, meanwhile, has pledged a swift confirmation process amid criticism from Biden and other leading Democrats that he is being hypocritical in light of his 2016 efforts to thwart then-President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court pick Merrick Garland, a federal appeals court judge. McConnell then refused to hold any hearings related to Garland’s nomination, saying months ahead of that year’s election that the voters should have a voice in the selection.

McConnell and other Republicans defended the change of tone, pointing to Republican control of both the White House and Senate — one-party control was not the case in 2016.

“In the last midterm election before Justice Scalia’s death in 2016, Americans elected a Republican Senate majority because we pledged to check and balance the last days of a lame-duck president’s second term,” he said in a statement. “We kept our promise. Since the 1880s, no Senate has confirmed an opposite-party president’s Supreme Court nominee in a presidential election year.”

Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh echoed McConnell in a Sunday statement.

“Voters elected Donald J. Trump president in 2016 and gave Republicans an expanded majority in 2018, so the people already have spoken,” he said. “The president has placed two well-qualified justices on the court so far and he is about to select a third.”

With just over a month until the election, Democrats are scrambling to figure out how they can prevent the president from filling the seat before Nov. 3. With Republicans holding a 53-47 majority in the Senate, four Republicans will need to voice opposition to a pre-election confirmation in order to thwart it — so long as no Democrats break ranks.

Two Republican senators — Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, have already come out against voting on a nominee before the election. But Republicans could still confirm such a pick during a lame-duck session of Congress, should Biden win.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., on Sunday would not rule out impeaching Trump or Attorney General William Barr if the Senate seeks to push through such a nomination during a lame-duck session. And in a call with Democratic senators Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested an openness to expanding the court if Trump’s upcoming pick is seated to the bench and Democrats retake the White House and Senate in the November election

While judicial activism has moved Republican voters to the polls for years, recent polling shows the judiciary is an issue that is galvanizing Democrats in 2020.

On Sunday, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 62 percent of American adults believe the vacancy should be filled by the winner of the fall election while 23 percent disagreed. Split into party affiliation, eight of 10 Democrats and five in 10 Republicans agreed with that statement.



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