US Supreme Court’s move to hear Trump’s immunity claim gives him gift of delay

US Supreme Court’s move to hear Trump’s immunity claim gives him gift of delay
A view of the US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. (REUTERS)
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Updated 01 March 2024
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US Supreme Court’s move to hear Trump’s immunity claim gives him gift of delay

US Supreme Court’s move to hear Trump’s immunity claim gives him gift of delay
  • Trump’s lawyers have argued that he should be shielded from prosecution for his effort to reverse President Joe Biden’s election victory over him because he was president when he took those actions
  • Some legal experts criticized the Supreme Court, whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three Trump appointees, for undue delay

WASHINGTON: The US Supreme Court appears likely to reject Donald Trump’s claim of immunity from prosecution for trying to undo his 2020 election loss, according to legal experts, but its decision to spend months on the matter could aid his quest to regain the presidency by further delaying a monumental criminal trial.
Trump’s lawyers have argued that he should be shielded from prosecution for his effort to reverse President Joe Biden’s election victory over him because he was president when he took those actions, a sweeping assertion of immunity firmly rejected by lower courts.
But the Supreme Court’s decision not to schedule its arguments on the issue until late April reduces the chances that a trial on election subversion charges brought by Special Counsel Jack Smith could be finished before the Nov. 5 US election. Trump is cruising toward the Republican nomination to challenge Biden, a Democrat.
Some legal experts criticized the Supreme Court, whose 6-3 conservative majority includes three Trump appointees, for undue delay.
“They could have set a more aggressive briefing and argument schedule, as Smith requested,” University of Michigan law professor Leah Litman said. “The immunity claims are also outlandish. They could have been rejected on the papers (legal briefs) if they wanted to be the one to decide it.”
“They’ll reject his immunity bid,” Litman added, but forecast that the soonest a decision would come is May.
Legal experts said the justices would need to rule by about June 1 to leave enough time for Trump’s trial on the charges to wrap up before Election Day.
Smith, seeking to avoid trial delays, had asked the justices on Dec. 11 to launch a fast-track review of the immunity claim. Trump asked the justices to not expedite the review, and on Dec. 22 they did what he requested, opting to let the matter play out in a lower court rather than resolving it right away.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Feb. 6 upheld US District Judge Tanya Chutkan’s Dec. 1 ruling rejecting the immunity claim. Trump on Feb. 12 asked the Supreme Court to freeze the D.C. Circuit ruling. On Feb. 14, Smith asked the justices to reject Trump’s bid to further delay the matter. It took the court two more weeks before it announced it would hear arguments in the matter, which it scheduled for the week of April 22.
The trial had been scheduled to start on March 4 before the delays over the immunity issue. Now no trial date is set.

Four prosecutions
The case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces. A March 25 trial date has been set on charges in state court in New York involving hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. It is unclear when the other criminal cases will go to trial.
Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four cases, seeking to portray them as politically motivated.
“I should not have to go through any fake prosecutions before the election,” Trump wrote on social media on Feb. 19.
A criminal conviction could harm Trump’s election chances. In Reuters/Ipsos opinion polls, a quarter of Republicans and half of independents said they would not vote for Trump if a jury convicted him of a felony.
If he is elected and becomes president again next January, he could order an end to this case and a second brought by Smith concerning Trump’s handling of classified documents — or seek to pardon himself for any federal convictions.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who worked with Trump during the 2020 campaign, said of the delays in the trial timeline as the Supreme Court resolves the immunity matter: “It’s hard to overstate what a victory this is politically for the Trump legal team and for Donald Trump.”
“This is a great benefit to Trump in terms of the timeline of these cases, and how they may interact with the election, particularly in the fall,” O’Connell said.

Slowing things down
University of Michigan law professor Barbara McQuade, a former senior federal prosecutor appointed by President Barack Obama, said that a time frame for the election subversion trial “is manageable as long as the Supreme Court acts promptly, and remains mindful of the public’s right to a speedy trial.”
McQuade added that “it seems likely that the court will uphold the D.C. Circuit ruling against Trump.”
“I think that Trump’s arguments are pretty thin,” added Georgetown University law professor Erica Hashimoto.
Chutkan has promised to give Trump about 90 days to prepare for trial once the case returns to her courtroom, with a trial expected to last six to eight weeks. For a verdict to come before the election, the trial would need to start by around Sept. 1, McQuade said.
UCLA School of Law elections expert Richard Hasen said that if the Supreme Court’s ruling comes in late June, “it is not at all clear that there could be a trial before the election.”
“I’m also skeptical the judge would make Trump go to trial if he’s the general election candidate on the Republican side,” Hasen added.
Hasen forecast that the Supreme Court “is likely to reject Trump’s immunity argument on the merits.”
Delaying the trial gives Trump more time to rally supporters around his claim that the charges were politically motivated, an assertion that Reuters/Ipsos polls show is broadly held by Republican voters.
Some experts cite Trump’s long-established record of making strategic use of court delays for legal and political advantage.
Hasen noted that “given the weakness of Trump’s position, it’s reasonable to ask whether this is simply an attempt, now more likely to be successful, to run out the clock.”

 


Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft

Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft
Updated 7 sec ago
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Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft

Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft
  • The median line bisects the Taiwan Strait, a narrow 180-kilometer waterway separating the island from mainland China
TAIPEI: Taipei’s defense ministry said it had detected 21 Chinese military aircraft around the self-ruled island since 8:15 am (0015 GMT) on Saturday, a month before Taiwan’s May 20 inauguration of incoming president Lai Ching-te.
“17 aircraft (of the 21) crossed the median line and its extension, entered our northern, central, and southwestern (air defense identification zone), and joined PLA vessels for joint combat patrol,” it said in a statement posted on X around 11:30 am.
Taiwan’s armed forces “are monitoring the activities with our joint surveillance systems, and have dispatched appropriate assets to respond accordingly.”
The median line bisects the Taiwan Strait, a narrow 180-kilometer waterway separating the island from mainland China.
Beijing does not recognize the line as it claims democratic Taiwan as part of its territory. It has also never renounced the use of force to bring the island under its control.
China sends warplanes and naval vessels around Taiwan on a near daily basis — a move experts say is a form of “grey-zone harassment,” stopping short of an outright act of war but enough to exhaust Taipei’s armed forces.
According to the defense ministry, the 21 aerial objects detected Saturday included J-16 fighter jets and Y-8 medium-range transport aircraft, as well as drones.
The highest number around Taiwan so far this year was in March, when the ministry said 36 Chinese aircraft were detected in a single 24-hour period.
Last year’s record was in September when Beijing’s military sent 103 aircraft — 40 of which crossed the median line — in a 24-hour period.
Saturday’s show of force comes a day after China activated two aviation routes that run close to Taiwan’s outlying islands of Kinmen and Matsu.
Taipei’s Civil Aviation Administration expressed “solemn protest against China’s unilateral measures without consultation” on Friday.
The new routes make the airspace separation between the two sides “very narrow,” it said, increasing flight safety risks during bad weather or abnormal flight operations.
China’s aviation authority also said Friday the airspace around Fuzhou Changle Airport — 30 kilometers from the closest outlying Taiwanese island — would be “further optimized and adjusted” on May 16, four days before the inauguration.
Under the administration of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, tensions between Beijing and Taipei have ramped up, as she and her government do not acknowledge China’s claim.
Her deputy, Vice President Lai, won elections in January despite warnings from Beijing that he would be the cause of “war and decline” for Taiwan.
China regards Lai — who used to be outspoken about Taiwan independence — as a “dangerous separatist,” though he has moderated his views in recent years.

Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia

Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia
Updated 20 April 2024
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Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia

Hundreds of people evacuated as volcano spews clouds of ash in Indonesia
  • Local authorities combed the villages surrounding the volcano and evacuated residents to safer areas by boat
  • Officials worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami, as happened in an eruption there in 1871

MANADO, Indonesia: More than 2,100 people living near an erupting volcano on Indonesia’s Sulawesi Island were evacuated Friday due to the dangers of spreading ash, falling rocks, hot volcanic clouds and the possibility of a tsunami.
Indonesia’s Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation recorded at least three eruptions since Friday afternoon, with the maximum height of the eruption column reaching 1,200 meters (3,900 feet).
An international airport in Manado city, less than 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the erupting Mount Ruang, is still temporarily closed as volcanic ash was spewed into the air.

This photo provided by the Indonesian National Search and Rescue Agency shows a part of a village on Tagulandang island covered by ash from eruptions of Mount Ruang on April 19, 2024. (National Search and Rescue Agency via AP)

Satellite imagery from the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency shows the ash has spread to the west, northwest, northeast and southeast, covering Manado and North Minahasa, according to a statement from Indonesia’s Transportation Ministry.
“We are still monitoring developments in the eruption of Mount Ruang and coordinating with relevant stakeholders … to anticipate the necessary actions to ensure flight safety, security and comfort,” said Ambar Suryoko, head of the regional airport authority.
More than 11,000 people were told to leave their homes that were located in the affected area. A joint team from the local authorities combed the villages surrounding the volcano and evacuated residents to safer areas by boat.
Officials worry that part of the volcano could collapse into the sea and cause a tsunami, as happened in an eruption there in 1871.
Houses, roads and other buildings were covered by gray volcanic ash, and many roofs were broken by debris spewed from the eruption.

Mount Ruang saw at least five large eruptions Wednesday, causing the Center for Volcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation to issue its highest level of alert. People were ordered to stay at least 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) from the 725-meter (2,378-foot) mountain.
The observation from the agency on Friday said white smoke was rising from the main crater with medium to thick intensity.
East of the volcano, Tagulandang Island could be at risk if a collapse occurred. Its residents were among those being told to evacuate. Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency said residents would be relocated to Manado, a journey of 6 hours by boat.
Indonesia, an archipelago of 270 million people, has 120 active volcanoes. It is prone to volcanic activity because it sits along the “Ring of Fire,” a horseshoe-shaped series of seismic fault lines around the Pacific Ocean.
 


Finance firms urge ambitious action on plastic pollution

Finance firms urge ambitious action on plastic pollution
Updated 19 April 2024
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Finance firms urge ambitious action on plastic pollution

Finance firms urge ambitious action on plastic pollution
  • Curtailing the estimated 400 million metric tonnes of waste produced every year is a crucial part of efforts to protect biodiversity, with microplastics found everywhere from the mountainous Himalayas to staple foods and even human blood

LONDON: A group of 160 financial companies on Friday urged governments to agree a treaty to end plastic pollution that would help spur private sector action, ahead of the next round of global talks in Canada.
The fourth meeting of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee on Plastic Pollution (INC-4) is due to be held in Ottawa next week to lay the groundwork for an eventual deal before the end of the year.
Curtailing the estimated 400 million metric tonnes of waste produced every year is a crucial part of efforts to protect biodiversity, with microplastics found everywhere from the mountainous Himalayas to staple foods and even human blood.
To help fix the problem, the finance firms, which include Britain’s biggest investor Legal & General Investment Management and Canadian pension investor CDPQ, called for a policy framework backed up by binding rules.
Among specific steps, the group called for the treaty to set an objective for all public and private finance to be consistent with the goal of eliminating plastic pollution, similar to that in the Paris climate agreement and the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework.
It also called for companies to assess and disclose plastic-related risks and opportunities; clearer plastic-related policies and targets from governments in areas like waste creating and recycling; and for further private investment to be directed to ending plastic pollution.
“A clear transition pathway laid out in the Treaty will help leverage finance at scale for this massive task of ending plastic pollution worldwide,” said Anne-Sophie Castelnau, global head of sustainability at ING, one of the signatories.
Steve Hardman, CEO of Plastic Collective, an NGO which designed the world’s first plastic waste reduction bond alongside Citi and the World Bank, welcomed the support but called for business to provide more financial solutions.
In January, the World Bank issued the $100 million bond to finance plastic-reduction projects in Ghana and Indonesia. Investors will be paid a rate linked to plastic removal credits generated by the projects.

 


Finnish PM: EU should help end migrant influx from Russia

Finnish PM: EU should help end migrant influx from Russia
Updated 19 April 2024
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Finnish PM: EU should help end migrant influx from Russia

Finnish PM: EU should help end migrant influx from Russia
  • European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen visits the border to assess security situation

HELSINKI: The EU should take measures to help Finland stop an influx of migrants via Russia, Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo said.

Finland last year shut its long border with Russia amid a growing number of arrivals from countries including Syria and Somalia.
It accused Moscow of weaponizing migration against the Nordic nation and the EU, an assertion the Kremlin denies.
Finland’s government has closed eight of its nine checkpoints with Russia.
The only one that remains open is dedicated to rail travel and cargo trains mainly run through it.
“We are preparing our legislation, but we also need EU measures,” Orpo said, without elaborating, after visiting the Nordic country’s border with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
Von der Leyen told the same press conference that the EU Commission was working closely with the migrants’ countries of origin, agreeing with Finland’s position.
“What we see is that a state is instrumentalizing poor people to put pressure on another state, so that is a clear security issue,” she said.
She said that the measures taken to deal with migrants from Russia must balance protecting the security of borders and international obligations.
Following Poland and Lithuania’s example on their borders with Belarus, the Finnish government is drafting legislation allowing border guards to block asylum seekers entering the country from Russia.
“We all know how (Russian President Vladimir) Putin and his allies instrumentalize migrants to test our defenses and to try to destabilize us,” von der Leyen told officials.
“Now Putin is focusing on Finland, and this is no doubt in response to your firm support of Ukraine and your accession to NATO.”
Von der Leyen and Orpo flew in a Finnish helicopter over the landscape of forests and towns on the border.
Von der Leyen is campaigning as a conservative European People’s Party bloc member for a second term in office as head of the EU’s powerful executive branch.
Security is a top EPP theme before the June 6-9 European Parliament elections.
Most of the migrants hail from the Middle East and Africa.
Most of them have sought asylum in Finland, a member of the EU and NATO with a population of 5.6 million.
Finland joined NATO in April 2023, ending decades of neutrality after the country’s defeat by the Soviet Union in the Second World War.
In March, Sweden also became a member of the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The move dealt a major blow to Putin, with a historic realignment of Europe’s post-Cold War security landscape triggered by Moscow’s offensive against Ukraine.

 


US sanctions ally of Israeli minister, entities backing ‘extremist’ settlers

US sanctions ally of Israeli minister, entities backing ‘extremist’ settlers
Updated 20 April 2024
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US sanctions ally of Israeli minister, entities backing ‘extremist’ settlers

US sanctions ally of Israeli minister, entities backing ‘extremist’ settlers
  • Move comes as West Bank sees some of its worst violence perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians since Gaza war

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on an ally of Israel’s far-right national security minister and two entities that raised money for Israeli men accused of settler violence, the latest actions aimed against those Washington blames for an escalation of violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The sanctions, in addition to those already imposed on five settlers and two unauthorized outposts already this year, are the latest sign of growing US frustration with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The moves on Friday, which freeze any US assets held by those targeted and generally bar Americans from dealing with them, hit two organizations that launched fundraising campaigns to support settlers accused of violence and targeted by previous sanctions, the Department of the Treasury said in a statement.
The Biden administration’s moves against Israeli settlers have upset right-wing members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition who support the expansion of Jewish settlements and ultimately the annexation of the West Bank, where Palestinians envisage a future state.
They come as the complex relationship between Washington and its ally Israel is tested by the war in Gaza and as the Biden administration urges Israel to show restraint in responding to retaliatory strikes by Iran.
Washington sanctioned Ben-Zion Gopstein, founder and leader of the right-wing group Lehava, which opposes Jewish assimilation with non-Jews and agitates against Arabs in the name of religion and national security. Gopstein has said Lehava has 5,000 members.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said members of the group had engaged in “destabilizing violence affecting the West Bank.”
“Under Gopstein’s leadership, Lehava and its members have been involved in acts or threats of violence against Palestinians, often targeting sensitive or volatile areas,” Miller said in a statement, warning of additional steps if Israel does not take measures to prevent extremist attacks amid an escalation of violence in the West Bank in recent days.
The European Union also said on Friday it had agreed to take sanctions against Lehava and other groups linked to violent settlers.
A spokesperson for Israel’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gopstein, the most prominent Israeli figure targeted by US sanctions, is a close associate of and has family ties to National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who himself lives in a West Bank settlement.
Ben-Gvir, like Gopstein, was a disciple of the late Meir Kahane, an ultranationalist rabbi whose Kach movement was listed by Washington as a specially designated global terrorist organization.
Ben-Gvir on Friday slammed what he called harassment against Lehava and “our dear settlers who have never engaged in terrorism or hurt anyone,” labeling the allegations against them a “blood libel” by Palestinian groups and anarchists.
“I call on Western countries to stop cooperating with these antisemites and end this campaign of persecution against the pioneering Zionist settlers,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement released by his office.
CROWDFUNDING
Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries deem illegal. Israel disputes this and cites historical and Biblical ties to the land.
The Biden administration in February said settlements were inconsistent with international law, signaling a return to long-standing US policy on the issue that had been reversed by the previous administration of Donald Trump.
One entity targeted on Friday, Mount Hebron Fund, launched an online fundraising campaign that raised $140,000 for settler Yinon Levi, the Treasury said, after he was sanctioned on Feb. 1 for leading a group of settlers that assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, burned their fields and destroyed their property.
It said the second entity, Shlom Asiraich, raised $31,000 on a crowdfunding website for David Chai Chasdai, who the United States sanctioned for initiating and leading a riot that included setting vehicles and buildings on fire and causing damage to property in the Palestinian town of Hawara, resulting in the death of a Palestinian civilian.
“These types of enforcement actions against entities helping violent settlers evade US sanctions are what give sanctions teeth,” said Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, director of research for Israel-Palestine at Democracy for the Arab World Now, a human rights group that has highlighted efforts by supporters to evade sanctions against settlers.