SRN - Political News

Trump’s history-making hush money trial starts Monday with jury selection

NEW YORK (AP) — In a singular moment for American history, the hush money trial of former President Donald Trump begins Monday with jury selection.

It’s the first criminal trial of a former commander in chief and the first of Trump’s four indictments to go to trial. Because Trump is the presumptive nominee for this year’s Republican ticket, the trial will also produce the head-spinning split-screen of a presidential candidate spending his days in court and, he has said, “campaigning during the night.”

And to some extent, it is a trial of the justice system itself as it grapples with a defendant who has used his enormous prominence to assail the judge, his daughter, the district attorney, some witnesses and the allegations — all while blasting the legitimacy of a legal structure that he insists has been appropriated by his political opponents.

Against that backdrop, scores of ordinary citizens are due to be called Monday into a cavernous room in a utilitarian courthouse to determine whether they can serve, fairly and impartially, on the jury.

“The ultimate issue is whether the prospective jurors can assure us that they will set aside any personal feelings or biases and render a decision that is based on the evidence and the law,” Judge Juan M. Merchan wrote in an April 8 filing.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records as part of an alleged effort to keep salacious — and, he says, bogus — stories about his sex life from emerging during his 2016 campaign.

The charges center on $130,000 in payments that Trump’s company made to his then-lawyer, Michael Cohen. He paid that sum on Trump’s behalf to keep porn actor Stormy Daniels from going public, a month before the election, with her claims of a sexual encounter with the married mogul a decade earlier.

Prosecutors say the payments to Cohen were falsely logged as legal fees in order to cloak their actual purpose. Trump’s lawyers say the disbursements indeed were legal expenses, not a cover-up.

Trump himself casts the case, and his other indictments elsewhere, as a broad “weaponization of law enforcement” by Democratic prosecutors and officials. He maintains they are orchestrating sham charges in hopes of impeding his presidential run.

After decades of fielding and initiating lawsuits, the businessman-turned-politician now faces a trial that could result in up to four years in prison if he’s convicted, though a no-jail sentence also would be possible.

Regardless of the eventual outcome, the trial of an ex-president and current candidate is a moment of extraordinary gravity for the American political system, as well as for Trump himself. Such a scenario would have once seemed unthinkable to many Americans, even for a president whose tenure left a trail of shattered norms, including twice being impeached and acquitted by the Senate.

The scene inside the courtroom may be greeted with a spectacle outside. When Trump was arraigned last year, police broke up small skirmishes between his supporters and protesters near the courthouse in a tiny park, where a local Republican group has planned a pro-Trump rally Monday.

Trump’s attorneys lost a bid to get the hush money case dismissed and have since repeatedly sought to delay it, prompting a flurry of last-minute appeals court hearings last week.

Among other things, Trump’s lawyers maintain that the jury pool in overwhelmingly Democratic Manhattan has been tainted by negative publicity about Trump and that the case should be moved elsewhere.

An appeals judge turned down an emergency request to delay the trial while the change-of-venue request goes to a group of appellate judges, who are set to consider it in the coming weeks.

Manhattan prosecutors have countered that a lot of the publicity stems from Trump’s own comments and that questioning will tease out whether prospective jurors can put aside any preconceptions they may have. There’s no reason, prosecutors said, to think that 12 fair and impartial people can’t be found amid Manhattan’s roughly 1.4 million adult residents.

The process of choosing those 12, plus six alternates, will begin with scores of people filing into Merchan’s courtroom. They will be known only by number, as he has ordered their names to be kept secret from everyone except prosecutors, Trump and their legal teams.

After hearing some basics about the case and jury service, the prospective jurors will be asked to raise hands if they believe they cannot serve or be fair and impartial. Those who do so will be excused, according to Merchan’s filing last week.

The rest will be eligible for questioning. The 42 preapproved, sometimes multi-pronged queries include background basics but also reflect the uniqueness of the case.

“Do you have any strong opinions or firmly held beliefs about former President Donald Trump, or the fact that he is a current candidate for president, that would interfere with your ability to be a fair and impartial juror?” asks one question.

Others ask about attendance at Trump or anti-Trump rallies, opinions on how he’s being treated in the case, news sources and more — including any “political, moral, intellectual, or religious beliefs or opinions” that might “slant” a prospective juror’s approach to the case.

Based on the answers, the attorneys can ask a judge to eliminate people “for cause” if they meet certain criteria for being unable to serve or be unbiased. The lawyers also can use “peremptory challenges” to nix 10 potential jurors and two prospective alternates without giving a reason.

“If you’re going to strike everybody who’s either a Republican or a Democrat,” the judge observed at a February hearing, “you’re going to run out of peremptory challenges very quickly.”


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U.S. news organizations urge Biden, Trump to commit to debates

(Reuters) – A dozen leading U.S. news organizations collectively urged U.S. President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump on Sunday to publicly commit to debating each other during the run-up to the November election.

“Debates have a rich tradition in our American democracy, having played a vital role in every presidential election of the past 50 years, dating to 1976,” the 12 news outlets said in a joint statement.

The statement suggested that debates for the current race be sponsored, as they have every election cycle since 1988, by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.

“Though it is too early for invitations to be extended to any candidates, it is not too early for candidates who expect to meet the eligibility criteria to publicly state their support for – and their intention to participate in – the commission’s debates planned for this fall.”

Network television outlets accounted for nine of the letter’s signatories – ABC News, CBS News and NBCUniversal News Group (encompassing NBC News and MSNBC), as well as Fox, CNN, C-SPAN, the PBS NewsHour, Nextstar’s NewsNation and Spanish-language Univision.

Rounding out the group were The Associated Press wire service, National Public Radio and Gannett’s national newspaper USA Today.

Trump, who refused to debate his rivals before winning the Republican primary race last month, has in recent weeks been challenging Biden to engage in a one-on-one matchup with him, offering to debate the incumbent Democrat “anytime, anywhere, anyplace.”

Last Thursday, Trump’s top two campaign advisers sent a letter to the debates commission calling for an accelerated debates timetable, holding more than the usual three events and starting them earlier in the campaign cycle than usual.

Biden has not committed to debate Trump but has not ruled it out either, saying last month it would depend on the former president’s behavior.

Biden’s camp has been concerned that once on stage Trump will not abide by rules set by the Commission, and some Biden advisers say they would prefer not to elevate Trump by putting him on the same stage with the Democratic incumbent.

Biden has a lead among registered voters of 41% to 37% over Trump, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found on Wednesday.

Asked during a trip to Las Vegas in early February about Trump calling for Biden to debate him, Biden said, “If I were him, I would want to debate me too. He’s got nothing to do.”

Biden and Trump faced each other in two televised presidential election debates during the 2020 campaign.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)


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House Speaker Mike Johnson says he will push for aid to Israel and Ukraine this week

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Mike Johnson said Sunday he will try to advance wartime aid for Israel this week as he attempts the difficult task of winning House approval for a national security package that also includes funding for Ukraine and allies in Asia.

Johnson, R-La., is already under immense political pressure from his fellow GOP lawmakers as he tries to stretch between the Republican Party’s divided support for helping Kyiv defend itself from Moscow’s invasion. The Republican speaker has sat for two months on a $95 billion supplemental package that would send support to the U.S. allies, as well as provide humanitarian aid for civilians in Ukraine and Gaza and funding to replenish U.S. weapons provided to Taiwan.

The attack by Iran on Israel early Sunday further ratcheted up the pressure on Johnson, but also gave him an opportunity to underscore the urgency of approving the funding.

Johnson told Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” that he and Republicans “understand the necessity of standing with Israel” and he would try this week to advance the aid.

“The details of that package are being put together right now,” he said. “We’re looking at the options and all these supplemental issues.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer at a news conference also said that President Joe Biden held a phone call Sunday with the top Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, including Johnson. The New York Democrat said there was consensus “among all the leaders that we had to help Israel and help Ukraine, and now hopefully we can work that out and get this done next week.”

“It’s vital for the future of Ukraine, for Israel and the West,” Schumer said.

The White House said Biden “discussed the urgent need for the House of Representatives to pass the national security supplemental as soon as possible.”

Johnson has also “made it clear” to fellow House Republicans that he will this week push to package together the aid for Israel, Ukraine and allies in Asia and pass it through the House, said GOP Rep. Mike Turner of Ohio, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The speaker has expressed support for legislation that would structure some of the funding for Kyiv as loans, pave the way for the U.S. to tap frozen Russian central bank assets and include other policy changes. Johnson has pushed for the Biden administration to lift a pause on approvals for Liquefied Natural Gas exports and at times has also demanded policy changes at the U.S. border with Mexico.

But currently, the only package with wide bipartisan support in Congress is the Senate-passed bill that includes roughly $60 billion for Ukraine and $14 billion for Israel.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby called on the speaker to put that package “on the floor as soon as possible.”

“We didn’t need any reminders in terms of what’s going on in Ukraine,” Kirby said on NBC. “But last night certainly underscores significantly the threat that Israel faces in a very, very tough neighborhood.”

As Johnson searches for a way to advance the funding for Ukraine, he has been in conversations with both the White House and former president Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

With his job under threat, Johnson traveled to Florida on Friday for an event with Trump at his Mar-a-Lago club. Trump expressed support for Johnson and said he had a “very good relationship” with him.

“He and I are 100% united on these big agenda items,” Johnson said. “When you talk about aid to Ukraine, he’s introduced the loan-lease concept which is a really important one and I think has a lot of consensus.”

But Trump, with his “America First” agenda, has inspired many Republicans to push for a more isolationist stance. Support for Ukraine has steadily eroded in the roughly two years since the war began, and a cause that once enjoyed wide support has become one of Johnson’s toughest problems.

When he returns to Washington on Monday, Johnson also will be facing a contingent of conservatives already angry with how he has led the House in maintaining much of the status quo both on government spending and more recently, a U.S. government surveillance tool.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a right-wing Republican from Georgia, has called for Johnson’s ouster. She departed the Capitol on Friday telling reporters that support for her effort was growing. And as Johnson on Sunday readied to advance the aid, Greene said on X that it was “antisemitic to make Israeli aid contingent” on aid for Ukraine.

While no other Republicans have openly joined Greene in calling to oust Johnson, a growing number of hardline conservatives are openly disparaging Johnson and defying his leadership.

Meanwhile, senior GOP lawmakers who support aid to Ukraine are growing frustrated with the months-long wait to bring it to the House floor. Kyiv’s troops have been running low on ammunition and Russia is becoming emboldened as it looks to gain ground in a spring and summer offensive. A massive missile and drone attack destroyed one of Ukraine’s largest power plants and damaged others last week.

“What happened in Israel last night happens in Ukraine every night,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, the Republican chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

The divided dynamic has forced Johnson to try to stitch together a package that has some policy wins for Republicans while also keeping Democrats on board. Democrats, however, have repeatedly called on the speaker to put the $95 billion package passed by the Senate in February on the floor.

Although progressive Democrats have resisted supporting the aid to Israel over concerns it would support its campaign into Gaza that has killed thousands of civilians, most House Democrats have gotten behind supporting the Senate package.

“The reason why the Senate bill is the only bill is because of the urgency,” Rep. Gregory Meeks, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said last week. “We pass the Senate bill, it goes straight to the president’s desk and you start getting the aid to Ukraine immediately. That’s the only option.”

Many Democrats also have signaled they would likely be willing to help Johnson defeat an effort to remove him from the speaker’s office if he puts the Senate bill on the floor.

“I’m one of those who would save him if we can do Israel, Taiwan, Ukraine and some reasonable border security,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat.

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Kevin Freking contributed.


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US House speaker Mike Johnson will try to pass Israel aid this week

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson said on Sunday he would try to pass aid to Israel this week after Iran’s mass drone and missile attack, but he did not say whether the legislation would also include assistance for Ukraine and other allies.

Johnson, who is struggling to unify his fractious Republican majority and avoid an ouster threat, recounted two failed attempts to pass standalone aid for Israel.

“We’re going to try again this week, and the details of that package are being put together right now. We’re looking at the options, and all these supplemental issues,” Johnson told Fox News’ “Sunday Morning Futures” program.

Johnson’s office declined to provide further details.

Johnson spoke after House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, the chamber’s No.2 Republican, said the House will respond to Iran’s attack with “legislation that supports our ally Israel and holds Iran and its terrorist proxies accountable,” without offering specifics.

Johnson was expected to meet later on Sunday with lawmakers focused on national security issues, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Michael McCaul.

McCaul said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that it was Johnson’s decision on when and how to bring Ukraine aid up for a vote, but that it needed to be done. “We don’t have time on our side here,” McCaul said. “We have to get this done.”

The House remains deeply divided over providing further assistance to Ukraine. No major aid package has passed for Kyiv since Republicans took control of the chamber in January 2023.

While some House members strongly support the aid and predict it would pass with 70% support in the chamber if Johnson allowed a vote, many of Trump’s House allies oppose aid to Ukraine, favoring spending on domestic issues.

Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has threatened to oust Johnson as speaker over issues including his support for Ukraine.

Representative Mike Turner, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he expected the House would pass a broad aid bill this week.

“I think it will have overwhelming support both the Ukraine, Israel and Asia packages, not just because of what’s happened with Iran escalating the conflict in the Middle East, but because these are allies that need and deserve our support,” Turner said.

Iran launched hundreds of drones and missiles in its first-ever direct attack on Israeli territory this weekend, raising the threat of open warfare between the two Middle East foes that could drag in the United States.

The White House and top Democrats and Republicans in the Senate called on Johnson to approve a $95 billion bipartisan Senate-passed package that would provide $14.1 billion in aid to Israel and $60 billion to Ukraine.

“They should put it on the floor as soon as possible,” White House national security spokesperson John Kirby told NBC’s “Meet the Press” program.

Johnson has refused to take up the Senate bill. Instead, he has sought to craft his own legislation, with Ukraine aid structured as a loan at the behest of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

“He and I are 100% united on these bigger items,” Johnson said of Trump, after meeting with the former president on Friday in Florida.

(Reporting by David Morgan, additional reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Leslie Adler and Lisa Shumaker)


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A Pittsburgh congressional race could test Democrats who have criticized Israel’s handling of war

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — An election this month in Pittsburgh and some of its suburbs is emerging as an early test of whether Israel’s war with Hamas poses political threats to progressive Democrats in Congress who have criticized how the conflict has been handled.

U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, a first-term lawmaker who has aligned herself with the “ squad,” is facing a primary challenge from Bhavini Patel and the war has become a flashpoint in the race.

Patel frames Lee’s criticism of Israel as part of a broader pattern of left-wing politics that are extreme for the district and potentially damaging to Democratic President Joe Biden in a state crucial to his reelection bid against Republican Donald Trump. Lee counters that she has helped move calls for a cease-fire in Gaza more into the mainstream of the Democratic Party.

The war has scrambled Democratic politics across the United States. It’s dividing traditionally progressive groups, including Pittsburgh’s sizable Jewish community, in ways that don’t always fall neatly along ethnic or cultural lines. But it’s an especially potent issue in Lee’s district, which is home to the synagogue where a gunman in 2018 killed 11 congregants in the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history.

The April 23 primary could shed light on whether the war alone is enough to turn a critical mass of Democrats against Lee.

“It clearly is big enough with a certain group in this district,” said Sam Hens-Greco, the party chair in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh. “Whether it is big enough for the entire populace, we’re going to find out.”

If Lee is defeated, she would be the first Democratic incumbent in Congress to lose a primary this year. Other progressive Democrats, including Reps. Cori Bush of Missouri, Jamaal Bowman of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, face primary challengers this summer.

Lee has raised far more money than Patel and has backing from Pennsylvania’s Democratic establishment, including Sen. Bob Casey, and a constellation of progressive groups that include both Jewish and Muslim organizations.

The first Black woman elected to Congress from Pennsylvania, the 36-year-old Lee is a Howard University law school graduate and community activist who began her political career in 2018 with a successful challenge from the left to an entrenched Pittsburgh-area state lawmaker.

In this year’s campaign, Lee has promoted herself as a hardworking representative who delivers for constituents and speaks in Congress for marginalized communities on issues from fighting inequality to climate change and bigotry, including antisemitism and Islamophobia.

On the Israel-Hamas war, Lee has condemned Hamas’ attack, but has also accused Israel of committing “war crimes” in Gaza, demanded an end to U.S. military aid to Israel and called for a cease-fire within days of the war starting as the best way to end the cycle of violence and work toward peace.

That set her apart from Biden’s stance and that of most House Democrats, although now dozens more have joined her in calling for a cease-fire. At Biden’s State of the Union speech, Lee donned a kaffiyeh, a checkered scarf that has come to symbolize solidarity with Palestinians.

Patel, 30, a small-town municipal councilwoman who worked in former Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s administration, declared her candidacy a few days before Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. Patel, who is Hindu and of Indian heritage, has cultivated the Jewish community, opening a campaign office in the Jewish enclave in Squirrel Hill, attended post-Oct. 7 vigils and bussed with community members to a pro-Israel rally in Washington in November.

Most recently, Patel has hammered Lee for being aligned with backers of the “ uncommitted ” campaign that is encouraging Democrats to protest Biden’s handling of the war voting “uncommitted” in primaries.

That, Patel suggested, is dangerous.

“I would say that every Democrat in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District should take notice that my opponent is equivocating on her support for President Biden and failed to denounce the ‘uncommitted’ movement,” Patel said in an interview. “I think that is the issue that is a big concern for Democrats in this district.”

Lee defended the “uncommitted” movement, saying it’s wrong to discourage people from voting and potentially lose a crucial part of the electorate that Democrats want to persuade to support Biden in November’s presidential contest. Biden recognizes that, as well, Lee said.

Lee said she has met with people on all sides of the war, including families of hostages and families of Palestinian civilians killed in Gaza, and that her calls for a cease-fire reflect the district’s majority.

Lee also accused Patel of aligning herself more with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu than with Biden.

“Joe Biden is now coming more into alignment with us, which means that, no, we were not wrong to come out early and to come out strong, because as we’re seeing now this was always where we needed to get,” Lee said in an interview. “This was always the only pathway to peace.”

For now, the sharpest questions about the war have largely been limited to debate exchanges between Lee and Patel.

The issue has barely registered on the airwaves, and pro-Israel groups that spent heavily to try to defeat Lee in the 2022 primary — Democratic Majority for Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs committee, better known as AIPAC — haven’t waded into the race.

In Pennsylvania, one potential boost for Lee could come from college students who, unlike in 2022’s primary, will be on campus this time. At the University of Pittsburgh, the war has had a “commanding presence” on campus, with most students for a cease-fire, said Will Allison, president of Pitt’s College Democrats.

The group endorsed Lee unanimously, despite the war causing some division among members, and the College Democrats are campaigning for Lee.

In one possible sign of shifting politics around the war, the 14th Ward Independent Democratic Club, a nonparty organization based around Squirrel Hill, voted to endorse Patel after backing Lee in 2022.

Sue Berman Kress, a Patel supporter who is Jewish, said she knows some Jewish Democrats who won’t vote for Lee again. They feel she’s abandoned the Jewish community and that her politics could open the door to a Trump victory and a surge in antisemitism.

“Those things feel very divisive in a way that’s very scary,” Kress said.

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Follow Marc Levy at twitter.com/timelywriter.


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Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham are again at odds, now over abortion. The strife could help both men

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The long and occasionally quixotic relationship between Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham has again turned negative after the South Carolina senator criticized the former president for refusing to support a federal abortion ban.

Trump repeatedly disparaged Graham on his social media site and said he regretted endorsing the senator during his last reelection campaign. Graham, a staunch abortion opponent who has pushed for a national ban, did not back down from his criticism, saying Trump’s view was an “error.”

But some observers of the Trump-Graham dynamic think both Republicans benefit from their public strife.

For Trump, they say, creating public distance from anti-abortion advocates might help him blunt President Joe Biden’s attacks on an issue that Democrats have long credited for electoral victories since the U.S. Supreme Court, with three justices Trump nominated, overturned Roe v. Wade. Graham, meanwhile, gets to burnish his conservative bona fides against years of home-state criticism that he is too liberal.

State Rep. John McCravy, a Republican who sponsored South Carolina’s new law that bans most abortions at six weeks, said he could not see how the back-and-forth really harmed either Trump or Graham with voters.

Trump “wants to get elected, and I think that appearing to be moderate helps him to get elected,” McCravy said. “Regardless of what they say, I think he’s taking the practical side of this. He’s pointing out something that’s true and using that to show that he’s not an extremist.”

Spokespeople for Trump’s campaign and Graham’s Senate office did not immediately comment when asked Friday about the squabble.

The two have been at odds before.

They started off that way in the 2016 campaign when both sought the presidential nomination. Shortly after Trump launched his bid, Graham questioned Trump’s mental fitness for office, calling him a “jackass” who “shouldn’t be commander in chief” for making disparaging remarks about then-Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of Graham’s closest allies.

Campaigning in Graham’s home state a day later, Trump opened a rally by calling Graham a “lightweight” and “idiot” before reading out the senator’s private cellphone number to the crowd’s delight and disbelief. That move led Graham to poke fun at destroying the device after being deluged with angry messages.

Graham ultimately abandoned his own presidential effort and did not attend the 2016 convention, saying he would back neither Trump nor Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and that the Republican Party had been “conned.”

But after Trump’s election, Graham was all in. He became one of the president’s top Senate confidants and a frequent golf partner. Saying there was “an obligation” to help a president, especially a fellow Republican, Graham told The Associated Press in a 2018 interview that he had warmed to Trump and suggested he had used that relationship to shape decisions. Graham did not cite specifics.

“I’ve tried to be helpful where I could because I think he needs all the help he can get,” Graham said. “You can be a better critic when people understand that you’re trying to help them be successful.”

Graham helped shepherd the three Supreme Court nominees who were in the conservative majority that overturned Roe in 2022. That included Brett Kavanaugh, whom Graham defended against allegations of sexual assault. Graham called the Senate Judiciary Committee proceedings in which they unfolded “the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics.”

That pivot toward Trump paid off when Graham ran for reelection in 2020. The senator’s popularity among Republicans in his home state grew as he developed a relationship with Trump.

In the days after that election, when Trump lost to Biden, Graham would be drawn into Trump’s legal woes. Graham was ordered to testify before a special grand jury investigating whether Trump and others illegally tried to influence the vote in Georgia. Trump and others eventually faced charges of trying to interfere in the outcome.

Not long after, Graham would take to the Senate floor to deliver an emotional farewell to Trump’s term, saying he felt the then-president must accept his own role in the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol and that the whole matter had been a disappointing “self-inflicted wound” in the administration’s closing days.

“Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way. Oh my God, I hate it,” he said. “From my point of view, he’s been a consequential president, but today, first thing you’ll see. All I can say is count me out, enough is enough.”

Just weeks later, Graham visited Trump at his Florida home. And Graham stood by Trump as the former president launched latest White House campaign and faced a succession of criminal indictments.

Dating back more than a decade, Graham has been criticized by South Carolina conservatives who have accused him of kowtowing to Democrats on issues from immigration and bank bailouts to gun restrictions and climate change. But he also hews to Republican priorities on national security and a strong defense of allies against Russia and China, defending Trump when he is criticized for suggesting he would encourage Russia to attack NATO allies he considers delinquent.

Trump’s backing helped blunt some conservative backlash in 2020, when Graham vanquished both primary challenges from the right and the best-funded Democratic opponent in history — Jaime Harrison, now the Democratic National Committee chairman — sailing to victory by double digits, even as Trump lost.

Graham joined Trump’s leadership team in South Carolina for the 2024 campaign, and Trump easily won the first-in-the-South primary.

But the anti-Graham voices among Trump’s supporters have grown louder.

Campaigning for Trump across the early-voting states, Graham drew boos at rallies in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where Trump supporters jeered Graham for more than five minutes during his remarks in July. After Trump’s South Carolina victory in February, Trump introduced his ally as someone who “happens to be a little bit further left” than his other backers, adding, “I always say, when I’m in trouble on the left, I call up Lindsey Graham.”

With his seat up in 2026, Graham may be thinking of the discontented conservative voices he will likely face while campaigning, conservative strategist Dave Wilson said.

“You know when you have two people who have never danced before, but they both know how to do the salsa, and the music starts playing, and they just know how to do the dance?” Wilson asked. “It’s like that. Trump and Graham know how to do the dance of Washington, and they’re doing it effectively. They know what they’re doing, and they’re doing it on purpose.”

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Associated Press writer Farnoush Amiri in Washington contributed to this report.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP


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News organizations urge Biden and Trump to commit to presidential debates during the 2024 campaign

NEW YORK (AP) — Twelve news organizations on Sunday urged presumptive presidential nominees Joe Biden and Donald Trump to agree to debates, saying they were a “rich tradition” that have been part of every general election campaign since 1976.

While Trump, who did not participate in debates for the Republican nomination, has indicated a willingness to take on his 2020 rival, the Democratic president has not committed to debating him again.

Although invitations have not been formally issued, the news organizations said it was not too early for each campaign to say publicly that it will participate in the three presidential and one vice presidential forums set by the nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates.

“If there is one thing Americans can agree on during this polarized time, it is that the stakes of this election are exceptionally high,” the organizations said in a joint statement. “Amidst that backdrop, there is simply no substitute for the candidates debating with each other, and before the American people, their visions for the future of our nation.”

ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox, PBS, NBC, NPR and The Associated Press all signed on to the letter.

Biden and Trump debated twice in 2020. A third debate was canceled after Trump, then president, tested positive for COVID-19 and would not debate remotely.

Asked on March 8 whether he would commit to a debate with Trump, Biden said, “it depends on his behavior.” The president was visibly miffed by his opponent in the freewheeling first 2020 debate, at one point saying, “will you shut up?”

Trump campaign managers Susie Wiles and Chris LaCivita said in a letter this past week that “we have already indicated President Trump is willing to debate anytime, any place and anywhere — and the time to start these debates is now.”

They cited the seven 1858 Illinois Senate debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, saying “certainly today’s America deserves as much.”

The Republican National Committee voted in 2022 to no longer participate in forums sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates. The Trump campaign has not indicated it would adhere to that, but did have some conditions. The campaign managers said the commission selected a “demonstrably anti-Trump moderator” in then-Fox News host Chris Wallace in 2020 and wants assurances the commission debates are fair and impartial.

The Trump campaign also wants the timetable moved up, saying that many Americans will have already voted by Sept. 16, Oct. 1 and Oct. 9, the dates of the three debates set by the commission.

The Biden campaign declined comment on the news organizations’ letter, pointing to the president’s earlier statement. There was no immediate response from the Trump campaign.

But on Saturday, Trump held a rally in northeast Pennsylvania with two lecterns set up on the stage: one for him to give a speech, the other to symbolize what he said was Biden’s refusal to debate him. The second lectern had a placard that read, “Anytime. Anywhere. Anyplace.”

Midway through his campaign speech, Trump turned to his right and pointed to the second lectern.

“We have a little, look at this, it’s for him,” he said. “See the podium? I’m calling on Crooked Joe Biden to debate anytime, anywhere, any place. Right there. And we have to debate because our country is going in the wrong direction so badly and while it’s a little bit typically early we have to debate. We have to explain to the American people what the hell is going on,” Trump said.

C-SPAN, NewsNation and Univision also joined the letter calling for debates. Only one newspaper, USA Today, added its voice. The Washington Post declined a request to join.

Certainly the broadcasters could use the juice that debates may bring. Television news ratings are down significantly compared with the 2020 campaign, although there are other factors involved, such as cord-cutting and the pandemic, that increased interest in news four years ago.

There were no Democratic debates this presidential cycle, and Trump’s refusal to participate in the GOP forums depressed interest in them.

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Associated Press writer Josh Boak in Schnecksville, Pennsylvania, contributed to this report.


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Love him or loathe him – can jurors be fair to Donald Trump?

By Jack Queen

NEW YORK (Reuters) – When prospective New York City jurors gather for Donald Trump’s hush money criminal trial on Monday, it may be tough to find ones who don’t have an opinion about the brash businessman-turned-politician who began building his real estate empire in Manhattan decades ago.

They will be questioned by lawyers for the Republican presidential candidate and the state of New York seeking to uncover biases and possible political agendas before impaneling 12 jurors to hear what could be the only criminal case Trump faces before the November U.S. election.

“There is almost nobody in New York who doesn’t have an opinion about Donald Trump,” said trial lawyer Paul Applebaum, who is not involved in the case. “A lot of people think he’s either Satan incarnate or the second coming of Jesus.”

But even if Trump is a polarizing figure and Manhattan is a Democratic stronghold, having an opinion will not be enough to disqualify a potential juror. Justice Juan Merchan, overseeing the case, has indicated he will not disqualify people based solely on whether they lean Republican or Democratic.

“Political orientation is not necessarily a cause for bias,” said jury consultant Melissa Gomez of IMS Legal Strategies. “But if it’s so strong that the person will be motivated to convict, that’s a problem.”

At a press conference on Friday, Trump was asked about the start of his trial.

“Jury selection is largely luck. It depends who you get,” he said.

The criminal case is one of four Trump faces and the first ever for a past or present U.S. president. While a conviction would not bar Trump from retaking office should he defeat Democratic President Joe Biden, a Reuters/Ipsos poll this week showed it could be a critical factor for voters.

Some 64% of registered voters in the five-day poll, which closed on Monday, described the charges as at least “somewhat serious,” compared to 34% who said the charges lacked seriousness. 

Trump has pleaded not guilty to falsifying business records to cover up a sexual encounter that porn star Stormy Daniels says they had. Trump denies having had the encounter with Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Jury selection is likely to take roughly a week in a case expected to last six to eight weeks. Potential jurors are randomly selected from voter rolls and other state records.

Trump has routinely used his legal troubles to rally political support and raise funds. 

He frequently takes to his social media platform to lash out at Merchan and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat who brought the case. Trump accuses them of carrying out a plot to thwart his election campaign. 

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT DONALD TRUMP?

There are more than a dozen questions about Trump in the list of 42 Merchan approved last week for an initial jury questionnaire. 

The questions include whether prospective jurors have attended a rally or campaign event for Trump, whether they follow Trump on social media and whether they have feelings about how he has been treated in the hush money case.

Other questions cover broader topics such as people’s professions, educational backgrounds and hobbies. Potential jurors will also be asked where they get their news and whether they have ever supported extremist groups that include the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and Antifa. 

Lawyers will winnow the jury pool down in a process known as voir dire. Questioning will taken place in open court, but jurors will be able to speak to the lawyers and judge separately if they want to keep certain answers private.

Merchan has ruled the jury pool will remain anonymous, citing potential harassment. But prosecutors, defense lawyers and jury consultants will be given the names of potential jurors, allowing them to trawl the internet and social media for signs of potential bias. 

The prosecution and defense will each be able to disqualify 10 people without giving a reason using peremptory strikes. To dismiss any other potential juror, lawyers must convince Merchan there is reason to believe they cannot be impartial.    

Trump’s lawyers sought to move the case to a different jurisdiction, arguing he could not get a fair trial in Manhattan, where Biden defeated Trump with nearly 85% of the vote in the 2020 election. An appeals court on April 8 denied Trump’s bid to delay the trial. 

Both sides will need to be on guard for stealth jurors who have an agenda but pretend to be neutral. That risk is especially high in Trump’s case given its implications for the election, according to legal experts.

“The political climate in Manhattan seems to favor the government, but it only takes one juror to prevent a conviction, so that’s the challenge for prosecutors,” said trial consultant Jeff Frederick.

Trump’s legal team could use his campaign’s polling data, mailing lists and voter databases to find individuals or precise demographic attributes likely to be sympathetic to Trump, Frederick said.

“They know who’s receptive to Trump’s message and who isn’t,” Frederick said. 

Trump’s camp will likely target less educated, working-class men who have negative views of law enforcement and get their news from more conservative media outlets, legal experts said. 

Conversely, prosecutors will likely search for people with college degrees and white collar jobs who get their news from more liberal news outlets like MSNBC. They are likely to prioritize getting women on the jury, according to legal experts.

Asking people the right questions, reading their demeanor and researching their backgrounds ahead of time can go a long way, but jury selection ultimately involves a bit of luck, Applebaum said. 

“Picking one in this case is going to feel like going over Niagara Falls in a barrel,” Applebaum said.

(Reporting by Jack Queen in New York; Editing by Howard Goller and Noeleen Walder)


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Fallout from Trump’s bid to overturn election loss heads to Supreme Court

By John Kruzel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The actions of Donald Trump and his supporters following his 2020 election loss top the U.S. Supreme Court’s agenda in the next two weeks in cases involving his bid to avoid prosecution for trying to undo his defeat and an attempt by a man indicted in the Capitol attack to escape a charge that Trump also faces.

The two cases assume even greater prominence as Trump campaigns to return to the White House as the Republican candidate challenging Democratic President Joe Biden in the Nov. 5 U.S. election.

The justices on Tuesday hear arguments in an appeal by Joseph Fischer, who was indicted on seven charges following the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot including corruptly obstructing an official proceeding – congressional certification of Biden’s victory over Trump. They then hear arguments on April 25 in Trump’s assertion of presidential immunity from prosecution.

“The court has not yet directly addressed issues related to Jan. 6,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. “But Fischer and Trump so clearly raise issues arising from Jan. 6.”

Trump took numerous steps to try to reverse his 2020 loss. His false claims of widespread voting fraud helped fuel the attack on the Capitol as Congress met to certify Biden’s victory. Trump and his allies also devised a plan to use false electors from key states to thwart certification.

Federal prosecutors brought obstruction charges against about 350 of the roughly 1,400 people charged in the Capitol attack including Fischer and Trump. A Supreme Court ruling dismissing the charge against Fischer could make it more complicated – but not impossible – to make the charge stick against Trump, according to experts. The charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, though Jan. 6 defendants convicted of obstruction have received far lesser sentences.

This is one of four criminal cases against Trump, whose first trial gets underway on Monday in New York on charges involving hush money paid to a porn star. Trump has pleaded not guilty in all of the cases and called them politically motivated.

The Supreme Court on March 4 reversed a ruling by Colorado’s top court to exclude Trump from the state’s ballot under a constitutional provision involving insurrection. But the justices did not address the lower court’s finding that Trump had created “an atmosphere of political violence” before the Jan. 6 attack and “engaged in insurrection.”

IMMUNITY CLAIM

Until Trump, no former president had faced criminal charges.

Trump has asserted that he has “absolute immunity” because he was serving as president when he took the actions that triggered Smith’s election subversion indictment. Smith has urged the Supreme Court to reject that claim on the principle that “no person is above the law.”

In August 2023, Smith brought four federal criminal counts against Trump in the election subversion case: conspiring to defraud the United States, corruptly obstructing an official proceeding and conspiring to do so, and conspiring against the right of Americans to vote.

Fischer is awaiting trial on six criminal counts, including assaulting or impeding officers and civil disorder, while he challenges his obstruction charge at the Supreme Court.

According to prosecutors, Fischer charged at police officers guarding a Capitol entrance during the attack. Fischer, at the time a member of the North Cornwall Township police in Pennsylvania, got inside and pressed up against an officer’s riot shield as police attempted to clear rioters. He remained in the building for four minutes before police pushed him out.

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, dismissed Fischer’s obstruction charge, ruling that it applies only to defendants who tampered with evidence. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed that decision, ruling that the law broadly covers “all forms of corrupt obstruction of an official proceeding.”

A Supreme Court decision favoring Fischer could mean that hundreds of other defendants who faced the same charge could seek to be re-sentenced, withdraw their guilty pleas or request new trials.

“It may not make a lot of practical difference in most cases because if defendants were convicted of multiple charges the judge might decide not to alter the sentence even if the obstruction charge is gone,” said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches at the George Washington University Law School.

About two-thirds of the Jan. 6 defendants charged with obstruction also were charged with other felonies.

Eliason said that a win for Fischer might not deter Smith from pursuing the obstruction charges against Trump, despite the higher bar that the Supreme Court might set.

“The charges against Trump can probably survive because Smith will be able to argue that his case did involve evidence-based obstruction, based on the slates of phony electors,” Eliason said.

Legal experts have said the Supreme Court would need to rule by about June 1 for Trump’s trial on the election-related charges to finish before Nov. 5. If Trump regains the presidency, he could seek to force an end to the prosecution or potentially pardon himself of any federal crimes. Trump has pledged to pardon Jan. 6 defendants.

(Reporting by John Kruzel; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone)


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McCormick gets Trump’s endorsement in Pennsylvania’s Senate race despite awkward history

Former President Donald Trump endorsed U.S. Senate candidate David McCormick of Pennsylvania on Saturday, urging his supporters in the state to “go out and vote for him” in one of the year’s most hotly contested Senate races.

Trump’s endorsement came two years after he successfully helped sink McCormick in Pennsylvania’s Senate GOP primary, creating an awkward dynamic between the two men who will share the ticket in a state that is critical to control of the White House and Senate.

“He’s a good man. He wants to run a good ship,” Trump said during a rally in the eastern Pennsylvania town of Schnecksville. “He’s a smart guy. He was a very successful guy. He’s given up a lot to do this.”

McCormick — who splits his time in Connecticut, where he has a home — did not attend the rally. He was at a parents’ weekend with his daughter, a campaign spokesperson said.

McCormick responded on social media, writing on the X platform: “Thank you, President Trump! Together we will deliver a big win for Pennsylvania and America in November.”

McCormick, ex-CEO of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, is trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, who is seeking his fourth term and is perhaps Pennsylvania’s best-known politician.

Many would-be Republican nominees in Senate battlegrounds had endorsed Trump early in the GOP presidential primary, campaigned for him or otherwise sought his approval.

McCormick didn’t, and he only endorsed Trump after Nikki Haley suspended her presidential campaign following her Super Tuesday defeats, leaving Trump as the last remaining major candidate for the 2024 Republican nomination.

In 2022, McCormick — like others in the seven-way GOP primary to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey — had sought Trump’s endorsement.

According to McCormick’s telling of it, Trump told McCormick during their meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida that to win the primary McCormick would need to say the 2020 election was stolen.

McCormick said he refused. Three days later, Trump endorsed Dr. Mehmet Oz and then savaged McCormick repeatedly on the campaign trail.

In one setting, a rally in western Pennsylvania days before the 2022 primary, Trump told the crowd that McCormick is “not MAGA,” using the acronym for his Make America Great Again campaign slogan.

Then he derided McCormick as having been with a company — the hedge fund — that “managed money for communist China,” describing him in the next breath as “the candidate of special interests and globalists and the Washington establishment.”

___

Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/timelywriter.


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