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The House Version of ‘Law and Order’

A sentencing, some commutations and other House news

Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson speaks with New York Rep. Louise M. Slaughter during a press conference by House Democrats in November 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson speaks with New York Rep. Louise M. Slaughter during a press conference by House Democrats in November 2014. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Rep. Bennie Thompson’s chief of staff was sentenced Tuesday to four months in prison for failing to file income tax returns.

Issac Lanier Avant was also ordered to pay $149,962 to the IRS for failing to file tax returns from 2009 to 2013 after he had assumed the role of Democratic director for the House Homeland Security Committee, earning more than $165,000, the Justice Department said in a statement.

Prosecutors said Avant did not have federal taxes withheld from his paychecks from the House until the IRS contacted his employer. They also said Avant did not file tax returns until after he was interviewed by federal agents.

Avant had worked with Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, since 2002. His work on the committee began in 2006.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s latest round of commutations drew varied responses from the House chamber.

New York Democratic Rep. Nydia M. Velazquez hailed the president’s decision to pardon Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist sometimes pegged as the commonwealth’s Nelson Mandela. He has been in federal prison since 1981.

Lopez Rivera was considered the leader of the nationalist group FALN, which claimed responsibility for bombings across the U.S. in the 1970s.

But advocates, including several lawmakers, had pushed to have Lopez Rivera released because, despite the group claiming responsibility, he was never convicted of personally hurting anyone, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

Velazquez called Lopez-Rivera’s release “momentous for all Puerto Ricans.”

“At this time, when our beloved island has endured so much economic turmoil and hardship, the release of this gentle man is an important step of justice,” Velazquez said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Speaker Paul D. Ryan slammed Obama’s decision to commute the sentencing of Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, calling it “outrageous.”

“Chelsea Manning’s treachery put American lives at risk and exposed some of our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” the Wisconsin Republican said in a statement. “President Obama now leaves in place a dangerous precedent that those who compromise our national security won’t be held accountable for their crimes.”

In other news, not all confirmation business is pegged to the incoming Trump administration. In California, Rep. Xavier Becerra will face a state Senate panel on Wednesday for a second hearing on his nomination to become the Golden State’s attorney general.

Becerra, who represents an area that includes northeast and south central Los Angeles, was first elected to Congress in 1992. California Gov. Jerry Brown announced Becerra’s appointment in December. If confirmed, the congressman would replace Kamala Harris, the newly elected junior senator who was elected to succeed Democrat Barbara Boxer.

Lastly, Future Forum, a group of young House Democrats focused on issues and opportunities for millennials, announced an expanded leadership team for the 115th Congress.

The group chose Rep. Eric Swalwell to be chairman for a second term and Reps. Stephanie Murphy of Florida, Ruben Gallego of Arizona and Seth Moulton of Massachusetts as vice-chairmen.

The 26-member group is holding listening tours to connect with millennials on college campuses, start-ups and other companies.

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