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In restarting the federal death penalty, AG William Barr looks to Texas

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The federal death penalty hasn’t been carried out since 2003. Now the U.S. attorney general wants to adopt the method used in Texas executions to put five men to death.

In reviving the rarely used federal death penalty, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday it would use the same lethal drug Texas uses in its executions.

Ordering five executions in December and January, U.S. Attorney General William Barr told the federal prisons bureau to adopt an execution method “which closely mirrors” the protocol used in Texas, Georgia and Missouri. A federal death sentence has not been carried out since 2003, when an unofficial moratorium began as questions arose over the constitutionality of lethal injection. There have only been three federal executions in the modern era.

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The new protocol replaces the controversial three-drug lethal injection combinationwith the method that Texas has had since 2012 — using only pentobarbital, a sedative. Texas purchases the drug from compounding pharmacies kept secret from the public, where drugs are mixed without federal regulation. The state has used pentobarbital in 79 executions.

Lethal drugs have become hard for states to obtain in the last decade. In 2011, drug manufacturers began blocking their products from being used in lethal injections, making states across the country, including Texas, scramble to find new execution drugs. In recent years, states have either stopped executions because they can’t obtain lethal doses or tried untested, controversial mixtures — sometimes resulting in gruesome deaths.

Compounding pharmacies, whose identities have been shielded from the public recently under Texas law, have allowed the state to continue carrying out by far the most executions in the country. Thirteen men were put to death in Texas last year; the state with the second most executions, Tennessee, had three, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

After purchasing several new batches of pentobarbital in recent years — as well as pushing back expiration dates of doses in stock — the Texas prison system has 27 lethal doses, more than enough to cover the 10 executions on the schedule this year, according to records obtained by The Texas Tribune. Its supply puts Texas in contrast with most other states, which still struggle to obtain the drugs.

Barr’s announcement did not indicate how the federal government would obtain lethal drugs or from where, but it said the new protocol is “clearing the way for the federal government to resume capital punishment after a nearly two decade lapse, and bringing justice to victims of the most horrific crimes.”

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Since the federal death penalty was reinstated in 1988, only three men have been executed, according to the Death Penalty Information Center: Timothy McVeigh in 2001 for the Oklahoma City bombing, Juan Raul Garza about a week later for the Texas murders of three drug traffickers and Louis Jones in 2003 for the Texas murder of a female soldier.

On Thursday, Barr ordered executions in five cases in which children and elderly people were killed — including a Texas case. Alfred Bourgeois was federally sentenced to death in 2004, after being convicted in the torture, sexual molestation and death of his 2-year-old daughter at the Corpus Christi Naval Air Station. His execution is scheduled for Jan. 13.

The four other men set for execution are Daniel Lewis Lee, Lezmond Mitchell, Wesley Ira Purkey and Dustin Lee Honken. They all were found guilty in the killings of minors, with all but Bourgeois convicted in multiple deaths.

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BY JOLIE MCCULLOUGH

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Report typos and corrections to: [email protected].
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Carl Bernstein: There are 7-9 ‘wobbly’ Republicans who want witnesses but Mitch McConnell is trying to block them

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In a CNN panel discussion Wednesday, notorious Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein revealed that there are seven to nine Republican senators who are wavering after the compelling argument that the House has provided for the impeachment. The problem, however, is that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is refusing to allow any break from the party line.

"I think this is a hugely damaging narrative that was laid out today, and that Mitch McConnell understands, and has understood for a while that this hugely damaging narrative was going to affect his members," said Bernstein. "And that his strategy -- I've talked to some Republicans about this -- #MidnightMitch is to wear out his own members so that they don't vote for more witnesses because there are six, seven, eight, nine wobbly Republicans."

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Republican Kevin McCarthy gets taken down by former top GOP colleague

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Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was attacked by a former Republican colleague who alleged McCarthy and his fellow members of Congress have allowed the House GOP to become the official shill for the White House.

In a profile for the New York Times, former Oversight Committee Chairman Tom Davis (R-VA) shamed the GOP House for the way that a once-respectable institution has fallen.

“Congress no longer operates as an independent branch of government, but as an appendage of the executive branch,” said Davis. “He is made for that role.”

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Former senator reveals to Maddow how one brave Democrat can reveal key document in impeachment trial

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Near the end of Wednesday's impeachment trial, Chief Justice John Roberts announced that an agreement had been made to allow senators to read supplemental testimony from Vice President Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams.

The document will remain classified, despite claims that there is no classified material in the document, only evidence that is damning to the president.

"In terms of this document potentially being improperly classified, which is something that has been raised in writing by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and raised on the floor of the Senate tonight by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)," MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow noted. "Obviously, it was the vice president's office that said it was classified, they are getting publicly criticized for that. If it has been improperly classified and it should be something that the public can see, who adjudicates that?"

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