Donald Trump is demanding a new judge just days before the start of his hush-money criminal trial

Donald Trump is demanding a new judge just days before the start of his hush-money criminal trial
Former President Donald Trump wants a new judge in place of Juan M. Merchan, shown in this photo taken on March 14, 2024, in a long-shot, 11th-hour bid to disrupt and delay the case. (AP)
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Updated 06 April 2024
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Donald Trump is demanding a new judge just days before the start of his hush-money criminal trial

Donald Trump is demanding a new judge just days before the start of his hush-money criminal trial

NEW YORK: Former President Donald Trump is demanding a new judge just days before his hush-money criminal case is set to go to trial, rehashing longstanding grievances with the current judge in a long-shot, eleventh-hour bid to disrupt and delay the case.
Trump’s lawyers — echoing his recent social media complaints — urged Manhattan Judge Juan M. Merchan to step aside from the case, alleging a conflict of interest and bias because his daughter is a Democratic political consultant. The judge rejected a similar request last August.
In court papers made public Friday, Trump’s lawyers said it is improper for Merchan “to preside over these proceedings while Ms. Merchan benefits, financially and reputationally, from the manner in which this case is interfering” with Trump’s campaign as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
The trial is scheduled to begin April 15. It is the first of Trump’s four criminal cases scheduled to go to trial and would be the first-ever criminal trial of a former president.
Merchan did not immediately rule. The decision on recusal is entirely up to him. If he were to exit, it would throw the trial schedule into disarray, giving Trump a long-sought delay while a new judge gets up to speed.
Messages seeking comment were left for a court spokesperson and for Merchan’s daughter, Loren Merchan. The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which is prosecuting the case, has said it wants Merchan to remain.




Former President Donald Trump (R) and his accuser, adult film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels. (REUTERS/File Photo)

In a letter this week after Trump’s lawyers signaled they would seek Merchan’s recusal, prosecutors told him they saw no reason for him to step aside.
The defense’s claims that Loren Merchan is profiting from her father’s decisions in the hush-money case require “multiple attenuated factual leaps here that undercut any direct connection” between her firm and this case, prosecutor Matthew Colangelo wrote.
“This daisy chain of innuendos is a far cry from evidence” that Judge Merchan has a direct, personal or financial interest in reaching a particular conclusion, Colangelo wrote.
Loren Merchan is the president of Authentic Campaigns, a political consulting firm that has collected at least $70 million in payments from Democratic candidates and causes since she helped found the company in 2018, records show.
The firm’s past clients include President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Senate Majority PAC, a big-spending political committee affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer that works to elect Senate Democrats. Senate Majority PAC has paid Authentic Campaigns $15.2 million, according to campaign finance disclosures.
Also Friday, Merchan blocked Trump’s lawyers from forcing NBC to provide them with materials related to the TV network’s recent documentary about porn actor Stormy Daniels, a key prosecution witness.
Merchan ruled that the defense’s subpoena for NBC Universal was “the very definition of a fishing expedition” and did not meet a heavy legal burden for requiring a news organization to provide unfettered access to its privileged notes and documents.
On Wednesday, Merchan rejected the presumptive Republican nominee’s request to delay the trial until the Supreme Court rules on presidential immunity claims he raised in another of his criminal cases.
The hush money case centers on allegations that Trump falsified his company’s internal records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped Trump bury negative stories during the 2016 presidential campaign. Among other things, Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.
Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, and his lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any cover-up.
Trump previewed his lawyers’ renewed push to have Merchan exit the case with a series of posts assailing the judge and his daughter last week on his Truth Social platform.
Trump suggested, without evidence, that Merchan’s rulings — including his decision to place Trump under a gag order — were swayed by his daughter’s political consulting interests and wrongly claimed that she had posted a photo on social media showing him behind bars. Trump’s attacks on Lauren Merchan led the judge to expand the gag order to prohibit him from making public statements about his family.
“The Judge has to recuse himself immediately, and right the wrong committed by not doing so last year,” Trump wrote on March 27. “If the Biased and Conflicted Judge is allowed to stay on this Sham ‘Case,’ it will be another sad example of our Country becoming a Banana Republic, not the America we used to know and love.”
Trump’s lawyers put a similar focus on Merchan’s daugther when they called on him to leave the case last year. Merchan had also made several small donations totaling $35 to Democratic causes during the 2020 campaign, including $15 to Biden.
Merchan rejected that request, writing last August then that a state court ethics panel had found that Loren Merchan’s work had no bearing on his impartiality. The judge said he was certain of his “ability to be fair and impartial” and said Trump’s lawyers had “failed to demonstrate that there exists concrete, or even realistic reasons for recusal to be appropriate, much less required on these grounds.”
Trump’s lawyers contend that circumstances have now changed, with Trump locked in a rematch against President Joe Biden, and Democrats — including clients of Loren Merchan’s firm — seeking to capitalize on Trump’s legal troubles with fundraising emails and other materials framed around developments in the hush-money case.
“It would be completely unacceptable to most New Yorkers if the judge presiding over these proceedings had an adult child who worked at WinRed or MAGA Inc.,” Blanche and Necheles added, referring to a Republican fundraising platform and a pro-Trump fundraising committee.
Trump’s lawyers also took issue with Merchan’s decision to give an interview to The Associated Press last month, suggesting he may have violated judicial conduct rules, and they questioned his use of a court spokesperson last week to deny Trump’s claims that she had posted the image of Trump in jail.
In the interview, Merchan told the AP that he and his staff were working diligently to prepare for the historic first trial of a former president, saying: “There’s no agenda here. We want to follow the law. We want justice to be done.”
 


How cockroaches spread around the globe to become the pest we know today

How cockroaches spread around the globe to become the pest we know today
Updated 21 May 2024
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How cockroaches spread around the globe to become the pest we know today

How cockroaches spread around the globe to become the pest we know today
  • Study confirms German cockroach species found worldwide actually originated in southeast Asia
  • Cockroaches may have stowed away with people to travel to Middle East, Europe, says study

DALLAS: They’re six-legged, hairy home invaders that just won’t die, no matter how hard you try.

Cockroaches are experts at surviving indoors, hiding in kitchen pipes or musty drawers. But they didn’t start out that way.

A new study uses genetics to chart cockroaches’ spread across the globe, from humble beginnings in southeast Asia to Europe and beyond. The findings span thousands of years of cockroach history and suggest the pests may have scuttled across the globe by hitching a ride with another species: people.

“It’s not just an insect story,” said Stephen Richards, an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine who studies insect genes and was not involved with the study. “It’s an insect and humanity story.”

Researchers analyzed the genes of over 280 cockroaches from 17 countries and six continents. They confirmed that the German cockroach — a species found worldwide — actually originated in southeast Asia, likely evolving from the Asian cockroach around 2,100 years ago. Scientists have long suspected the German cockroach’s Asian origins since similar species still live there.

The research was published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The cockroaches then globe-trotted via two major routes. They traveled west to the Middle East about 1,200 years ago, perhaps hitchhiking in soldiers’ breadbaskets. And they may have stowed away on Dutch and British East India Company trade routes to get to Europe about 270 years ago, according to scientists’ reconstruction and historical records.

Once they arrived, inventions like the steam engine and indoor plumbing likely helped the insects travel further and get cozy living indoors, where they are most commonly found today.

Researchers said exploring how cockroaches conquered past environments may lead to better pest control.

Modern-day cockroaches are tough to keep at bay because they evolve quickly to resist pesticides, according to study author Qian Tang, a postdoctoral researcher studying insects at Harvard University.
 


9 Egyptians go on trial in Greece over deadly shipwreck, as rights groups question process

9 Egyptians go on trial in Greece over deadly shipwreck, as rights groups question process
Updated 58 min 29 sec ago
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9 Egyptians go on trial in Greece over deadly shipwreck, as rights groups question process

9 Egyptians go on trial in Greece over deadly shipwreck, as rights groups question process
  • International human rights groups argue the defendants’ right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgment before an investigation is concluded

KALAMATA: Nine Egyptian men go on trial in southern Greece on Tuesday, accused of causing a shipwreck that killed hundreds of migrants and sent shockwaves through the European Union’s border protection and asylum operations.
The defendants, most in their 20s, face up to life in prison if convicted on multiple criminal charges over the sinking of the “Adriana” fishing trawler on June 14 last year.
International human rights groups argue that their right to a fair trial is being compromised as they face judgment before an investigation is concluded into claims the Greek coast guard may have botched the rescue attempt.
More than 500 people are believed to have gone down with the fishing trawler, which had been traveling from Libya to Italy. Following the sinking, 104 people were rescued — mostly migrants from Syria, Pakistan and Egypt — and 82 bodies were recovered.
Early Tuesday, police in riot gear clashed with members of a small group of protesters gathered in front of the courthouse and detained two people.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described the shipwreck off the southern coast of Greece as “horrific.”
The sinking renewed pressure on European governments to protect the lives of migrants and asylum seekers trying to reach the continent, as the annual number of people traveling illegally across the Mediterranean continues to rise.
Lawyers from Greek human rights groups are representing the nine Egyptians, who deny the smuggling charges.
“There’s a real risk that these nine survivors could be found ‘guilty’ on the basis of incomplete and questionable evidence given that the official investigation into the role of the coast guard has not yet been completed,” said Judith Sunderland, an associate director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.
Authorities say the defendants were identified by other survivors and the indictments are based on their testimonies.
The European border protection agency Frontex says illegal border detections at EU frontiers increased for three consecutive years through 2023, reaching the highest level since the 2015-2016 migration crisis — driven largely by arrivals at the sea borders.


France begins its first war crime trial of Syrian officials

France begins its first war crime trial of Syrian officials
Updated 21 May 2024
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France begins its first war crime trial of Syrian officials

France begins its first war crime trial of Syrian officials
  • The Paris Criminal Court will try the three officials for their role in the deaths of two French Syrian men

PARIS: The first trial in France of officials of the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad is to begin on Tuesday, with three top security officers to be tried in absentia for complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The Paris Criminal Court will try the three officials for their role in the deaths of two French Syrian men, Mazzen Dabbagh and his son Patrick, arrested in Damascus in 2013.
“For the first time, French courts will address the crimes of the Syrian authorities, and will try the most senior members of the authorities to ever be prosecuted since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution in March 2011,” said the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).
The war between Assad’s regime and armed opposition groups, including Daesh, erupted after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.
The conflict has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions, and ravaged Syria’s economy and infrastructure.
Trials into the abuses of the Syrian regime have taken place elsewhere in Europe, notably in Germany.
But in those cases, the people prosecuted held lower ranks and were present at the hearings.
Ali Mamlouk, former head of the National Security Bureau, Jamil Hassan, former director of the Air Force intelligence service, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, former head of investigations for the service in Damascus, are subject to international arrest warrants and will be tried in absentia.
Scheduled to last four days, the hearings will be filmed.
War crimes
At the time of the arrest, Patrick Dabbagh was a 20-year-old student in his second year of arts and humanities at the University of Damascus. His father Mazzen worked as a senior education adviser at the French high school in Damascus.
The two were arrested in November 2013 by officers who claimed to belong to the Syrian Air Force intelligence service.
“Witness testimony confirms that Mazzen and Patrick Abdelkader were both taken to a detention center at Mezzeh Military Airport, which is run by Syrian Air Force Intelligence and notorious for the use of brutal torture,” the International Federation for Human Rights said, stressing that the pair were not involved in protests against the Assad regime.
They were declared dead in 2018. The family was formally notified that Patrick died on 21 January 2014. His father Mazzen died nearly four years later, on 25 November 2017.
In the committal order, the investigating judges said that it was “sufficiently established” that the two men “like thousands of detainees of the Air Force intelligence suffered torture of such intensity that they died.”
During the probe, French investigators and the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA), a non-governmental organization, collected accounts of torture and mistreatment at the Mezzeh prison, including the use of electric shocks and sexual violence, from dozens of witnesses including former detainees.
Lawyer Clemence Bectarte, who represents the Dabbagh family and the International Federation for Human Rights, said the trial was a new reminder that “under no circumstances” should relations with the Assad regime be normalized.
“We tend to forget that the regime’s crimes are still being committed today,” she said.


France and Belgium support ICC request for arrest warrants of Israel and Hamas leaders

France and Belgium support ICC request for arrest warrants of Israel and Hamas leaders
Updated 11 min 22 sec ago
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France and Belgium support ICC request for arrest warrants of Israel and Hamas leaders

France and Belgium support ICC request for arrest warrants of Israel and Hamas leaders
  • If such warrants are issued, members of the court, could be put in a diplomatically difficult position

PARIS: France and Belgium released statements supporting the world’s top war crimes court’s request for arrest warrants for leaders of Israel and Hamas, after Israel and the United States both harshly condemned the effort.
On Monday, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said he had requested arrest warrants for Netanyahu, his defense chief Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders, including its chief, Yahya Sinwar.
If such warrants are issued, however, members of the court, which includes nearly all countries of the European Union, could be put in a diplomatically difficult position.
“France supports the International Criminal Court, its independence and the fight against impunity in all situations,” the foreign ministry said in a statement late on Monday.
While US President Joe Biden called the legal step against Israeli officials “outrageous,” the French foreign ministry took a different stance.
It reiterated both its condemnation of Hamas’s ‘anti-Semitic massacres’ on Oct. 7 as well as its warnings over possible violations of international humanitarian law by Israel’s invasion of the Gaza strip.
“As far as Israel is concerned, it will be up to the court’s pre-trial chamber to decide whether to issue these warrants, after examining the evidence put forward by the prosecutor ... ,” the ministry said.


Protest at Greek parliament before trial of shipwreck that killed several migrants, including Pakistanis

Protest at Greek parliament before trial of shipwreck that killed several migrants, including Pakistanis
Updated 21 May 2024
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Protest at Greek parliament before trial of shipwreck that killed several migrants, including Pakistanis

Protest at Greek parliament before trial of shipwreck that killed several migrants, including Pakistanis
  • Adriana fishing trawler sank off a Greek coast in June 2023 carrying hundreds of migrants from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt
  • Protest held in support of nine Egyptian survivors on board migrant boat who are charged with causing incident, human smuggling

Dozens gathered outside the Greek parliament on Monday (May 20) for a protest ahead of the trial of nine Egyptian men facing smuggling charges in connection with the migrant shipwreck last year.

On June 14, 2023, the Adriana fishing trawler, carrying between 500 and 700 migrants from Pakistan, Syria and Egypt sank off the southern town of Pylos, in international waters, on its way from Libya to Italy. Some 104 men survived and only 82 bodies have been recovered.

The protest was held in support of the nine Egyptian survivors who were on board the migrant boat and who have been charged with causing the incident, participating in a criminal organization, and migrant smuggling.

They have denied any wrongdoing.

The circumstances of the sinking of the Adriana in June remain a source of dispute between the Greek authorities and groups supporting the rights of survivors and migrants — meaning the trial could be the first opportunity to officially hear the accounts of some of those present at the time.

Survivors have accused the Greek coast guard of capsizing the boat. The authorities, which monitored Adriana for hours, say it overturned when a coast guard vessel was about 70 meters away. The coast guard service has denied any wrongdoing.

It remains unclear what happened in the time between the coast guard being alerted to the presence of the vessel and when it capsized.