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SRN News- Some Democrats have said the party should consider increasing the number of Justices on the Supreme Court which opponents say is a way to pack the Supreme Court with sympathetic justices. 

Apparently Secretary of State Tony Blinken is not among their ranks. During a visit to Quito, Blinken, spoke about the “challenges facing democracies and how we can overcome them.”

Blinken asked an audience to imagine a hypothetical “country where a leader is elected in a free and fair election, and then sets about chipping away slowly but surely at the pillars of democracy – attacking the free press, undermining the independence of the courts, threatening political opponents.”

“Now, imagine that leader then seeks to use the levers of democracy to pass anti-democratic reforms,” said Blinken before listing off a few examples of anti-democratic reforms: “eliminating term limits, packing courts, firing legislators.”


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By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats are closing in on a deal on President Joe Biden’s social and climate-change agenda by narrowing their differences over healthcare and other issues, U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after a White House meeting on Friday.

“We had a very positive meeting this morning. I’m very optimistic,” Pelosi told reporters on her return to the Capitol.

Democrats in the House, Senate and White House hope for an agreement on a framework of $2 trillion or less will allow the House to move forward next week on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and set the stage for passage of Biden’s larger “Build Back Better” social package.

Pelosi said there were only a few outstanding issues on the legislation’s healthcare provisions and that decisions also remained on which revenue provisions to include.

“There are many decisions that have to be made, but more than 90% of everything is agreed to and written,” Pelosi said. “We’re narrowing the differences.”

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal sounded less optimistic about getting an agreement soon, after Biden said the social spending and climate change legislation was unlikely to include a higher U.S. corporate tax rate. Omitting the tax hike would require alternative revenue sources to pay for the legislation.

“One of the complicating factors here is that if you take up some of these new revenue measures, they’re going to have to be vetted,” Neal, whose panel oversees tax policy, told reporters. “Right now, it’s hard to go back and revisit all of that.”

The “Build Back Better” and infrastructure bills are at the heart of Biden’s domestic agenda and could provide signature legislation to bolster both his presidency and Democratic hopes of retaining control of the House and Senate in the 2022 elections. Democrats hold razor-thin majorities in both chambers.

Biden, who took office nine months ago, said at a CNN town hall event in Baltimore on Thursday that he was close to striking a deal to pass both bills, after weeks of bickering among his fellow Democrats.

“I do think I’ll get a deal,” the president said.

Disagreements over the scale of the larger package have held up Biden’s domestic agenda, with progressive Democrats in the House refusing to vote for the infrastructure bill, which has already been passed by the Senate, until a deal is reached on social programs and climate change.

Moderate Democrats, most notably senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, had objected to the original $3.5 trillion price tag and some provisions of the latter bill. Republicans oppose the measure, but 19 in the Senate voted in support of the infrastructure legislation.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Doina Chiacu; additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Scott Malone and Jonathan Oatis)

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By Jody Godoy and Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -A federal jury on Friday convicted Lev Parnas, a one-time associate of Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, of violating U.S. campaign finance laws during the 2018 elections.

Parnas, a Ukraine-born American businessman and his former associate Igor Fruman were accused of soliciting funds from Russian businessman Andrey Muraviev to donate to candidates in states where the group was seeking licenses to operate cannabis businesses in 2018.

Parnas concealed that he and Fruman, who pleaded guilty in September, were the true source of a donation to a group supporting then-President Trump, prosecutors said. Giuliani’s attorney has said the Parnas case is separate from a probe into whether he violated lobbying laws while representing Trump.

Giuliani, a U.S. prosecutor in the 1980s before he became New York mayor in 1994, has not been charged with any crimes and denies wrongdoing.

Parnas was charged with violating federal laws prohibiting foreigners from contributing to U.S. election campaigns and barring donors from making contributions in the names of others.

Andrey Kukushkin, a Muraviev associate and California resident who was tried alongside Parnas, was found guilty on Friday of campaign finance violations.

The trial has drawn attention because of the role Parnas and Belarus-born U.S. citizen Fruman played in helping Giuliani, who was Republican Trump’s personal attorney while he held office, to investigate Democrat Joe Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign. Biden won the election, denying Trump a second term.

Parnas, wearing a blue suit, stared straight at the jury as the verdict was read. Kukushkin shook his head after he was pronounced guilty on the second count.

“I’ve never hid from nobody,” said Parnas as he left court wearing a black “Combat COVID” mask. “I’ve always stood and tried to tell the truth.”

His attorney Joseph Bondy said they would be filing a motion to vacate the verdict “in the interest of justice.”

“It’s obviously a very difficulty time for Mr. Parnas and his wife and his children,” Bondy said.

U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken denied a request from prosecutors to detain Parnas and Kukushkin. “The defendants have sufficiently established that they’re not a risk of flight,” Oetken said after the jury had left.

Oetken sent a sentencing date of Feb. 16 for Kukushkin, and did not set a sentencing date for Parnas given that he faces another possible trial on separate fraud charges.

The case in federal court in Manhattan provided a glimpse into the inner workings of political fundraising in the United States.

“You saw the wires from Muraviev,” Assistant U.S Attorney Hagan Scotten told the jury during closing arguments on Thursday. “You saw how that money came out on the other side, finding its way into American elections, where the defendants thought they had bought influence to further their business.”

Parnas’ defense lawyers countered that Muraviev’s funds went toward business investments, not campaign contributions, and that the donation to the pro-Trump group was from a company founded by Parnas and broke no laws.

In his closing statement Parnas attorney Bondy characterized his client as a passionate proponent of marijuana legalization who was “in well over his head.” He argued that Muraviev’s money funded business operations, not campaign contributions.

Deliberations in the trial began on Friday morning.

Fruman, who lives in Florida, pleaded guilty to one count of soliciting campaign contributions from a foreign national. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 21.

Parnas and Kukushkin faced two counts of conspiring to make donations from a foreign national, and making the donations. Parnas also faced four other counts, including making false statements to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC).

Prosecutors also accused Parnas of making two contributions through a shell company to conceal that Fruman was the true source of the funds, and of lying to the FEC about the funds.

(Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware, Editing by Franklin Paul and Grant McCool)

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