Trump hush-money trial | Michael Cohen says former U.S. president was intimately involved in scheme

Former U.S. President Donald Trump was intimately involved with all aspects of a scheme to stifle stories about sex that threatened to torpedo his 2016 campaign, his former lawyer said Monday in matter-of-fact testimony that went to the heart of the former president’s hush money trial.

“Everything required Mr. Trump’s sign-off,” said Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s fixer-turned-foe and the prosecution’s star witness in a case now entering its final, pivotal stretch.

In hours of highly anticipated testimony, Mr. Cohen placed Mr. Trump at the centre of the hush money plot, saying the then-candidate had promised to reimburse the lawyer for the money he fronted and was constantly updated about behind-the-scenes efforts to bury stories feared to be harmful to the campaign.


ALSO READ | A respite: On the Trump case 

“We need to stop this from getting out,” Mr. Cohen quoted Mr. Trump as telling him in reference to porn actor Stormy Daniels’ account of a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump a decade earlier. The then-candidate was especially anxious about how the story would affect his standing with female voters.

A similar episode occurred when Mr. Cohen alerted Mr. Trump that a Playboy model was alleging that she and Mr. Trump had an extramarital affair. “Make sure it doesn’t get released,” was Mr. Cohen’s message to Mr. Trump, the lawyer said. The woman, Karen McDougal, was paid $150,000 in an arrangement that was made after Mr. Trump received a “complete and total update on everything that transpired.”

“What I was doing, I was doing at the direction of and benefit of Mr. Trump,” Mr. Cohen testified.

Mr. Trump has pleaded not guilty and denied having sexual encounters with the two women.

Mr. Cohen is by far the prosecution’s most important witness, and though his testimony lacked the electricity that defined Ms. Daniels’ turn on the stand last week, he nonetheless linked Mr. Trump directly to the payments and helped illuminate some of the drier evidence such as text messages and phone logs that jurors had previously seen.

The testimony of a witness with such intimate knowledge of Mr. Trump’s activities could heighten the legal exposure of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee if jurors deem him sufficiently credible. But prosecutors’ reliance on a witness with such a checkered past — Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the payments — also carries sizable risks with a jury and could be a boon to Mr. Trump politically as he fundraises off his legal woes and paints the case as the product of a tainted criminal justice system.

The men, once so close that Mr. Cohen boasted that he would “take a bullet” for Mr. Trump, had no visible interaction inside the courtroom. The sedate atmosphere was a marked contrast from their last courtroom faceoff, when Mr. Trump walked out of the courtroom in October after his lawyer finished questioning Mr. Cohen during his civil fraud trial.

This time around, Mr. Trump sat at the defence table with his eyes closed for long stretches of testimony as Mr. Cohen recounted his decade-long career as a senior Trump Organization executive, doing work that by his own admission sometimes involved lying and bullying others on his boss’s behalf.

Jurors had previously heard from others about the tabloid industry practice of “catch-and-kill,” in which rights to a story are purchased so that it can then be quashed. But Mr. Cohen’s testimony, which continues Tuesday, is crucial to prosecutors because of his direct communication with the then-candidate about embarrassing stories he was scrambling to suppress.

Mr. Cohen also matters because the reimbursements he received from a $130,000 hush money payment to Ms. Daniels, which prosecutors say was meant to buy her silence in advance of the election, form the basis of 34 felony counts charging Trump with falsifying business records. Prosecutors say the reimbursements were logged, falsely, as legal expenses to conceal the payments’ true purpose. Defence lawyers say the payments to Mr. Cohen were properly categorised as legal expenses.

Under questioning from a prosecutor, Mr. Cohen detailed the steps he took to mask the payments. When he opened a bank account to pay Ms. Daniels, an action he said he told Mr. Trump he was taking, he told the bank it was for a new limited liability corporation but withheld the actual purpose.

“I’m not sure they would’ve opened it,” he said, if they knew it was ”to pay off an adult film star for a nondisclosure agreement.”

To establish Mr. Trump’s familiarity with the payments,Mr. Cohen told the jury that Mr. Trump had promised to reimburse him. The two men even discussed with Allen Weisselberg, a former Trump Organization chief financial officer, how the reimbursements would be paid as legal services over monthly instalments, Mr. Cohen testified.

And though Mr. Trump’s lawyers have said he acted to protect his family from salacious stories, Mr. Cohen described Mr. Trump as preoccupied instead by the impact they would have on the campaign.

He said Mr. Trump even sought to delay finalising the Ms. Daniels transaction until after Election Day so he wouldn’t have to pay her.

“Because,” Mr. Cohen testified, “after the election it wouldn’t matter” to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Cohen also gave jurors an insider account of his negotiations with David Pecker, the then-publisher of the National Enquirer, who was such a close Mr. Trump ally that Mr. Pecker told Mr. Cohen his publication maintained a “file drawer or a locked drawer” where files related to Mr. Trump were kept.

That effort took on added urgency following the October 2016 disclosure of an “Access Hollywood” recording in which Mr. Trump was heard boasting about grabbing women sexually.

The Daniels payment was finalised several weeks after that revelation, but Monday’s testimony also centred on a deal earlier that fall with Ms. McDougal.

Mr. Cohen testified that he went to Mr. Trump immediately after the National Enquirer alerted him to a story about the alleged Ms. McDougal affair. “Make sure it doesn’t get released,” he said Mr. Trump told him.

Mr. Trump checked in with Mr. Pecker about the matter, asking him how “things were going” with it, Mr. Cohen said. Mr. Pecker responded, ‘We have this under control, and we’ll take care of this,” Mr. Cohen testified.

Mr. Cohen also said he was with Mr. Trump as he spoke to Mr. Pecker on a speakerphone in his Trump Tower office.

“David had stated that it’s going to cost them $150,000 to control the story,” Mr. Cohen said. He quoted Mr. Trump as saying: “No problem, I will take care of it,” which Mr. Cohen interpreted to mean that the payment would be reimbursed.

To lay the foundation that the deals were done with Mr. Trump’s endorsement, prosecutors elicited testimony from Mr. Cohen designed to show Trump as a hands-on manager. Acting on Trump’s behalf, Cohen said, he sometimes lied and bullied others, including reporters.

“When he would task you with something, he would then say, ‘Keep me informed. Let me know what’s going on,’” Mr. Cohen testified. He said that was especially true “if there was a matter that was troubling to him.”

Defence lawyers have teed up a bruising cross-examination of Mr. Cohen, telling jurors during opening statements that he’s an “admitted liar” with an “obsession to get President Trump.”

Prosecutors aim to blunt those attacks by acknowledging Mr. Cohen’s past crimes to jurors and by relying on other witnesses whose accounts, they hope, will buttress Mr. Cohen’s testimony. They include a lawyer who negotiated the hush money payments on behalf of Ms. Daniels and Ms. McDougal, as well as Mr. Pecker and Ms. Daniels.

After Mr. Cohen’s home and office were raided by the FBI in 2018, Mr. Trump showered him with affection on social media and predicted that Mr. Cohen would not “flip.” Months later, Mr. Cohen did exactly that, pleading guilty to federal campaign-finance charges.

Besides pleading guilty to the hush money payments, Mr. Cohen later admitted lying to Congress about a Moscow real estate project that he had pursued on Mr. Trump’s behalf during the heat of the 2016 campaign. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but spent much of it in home confinement.

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Mike Pence: Russian aggression poses ‘serious threat’ to Europe

Former Vice President of the US, Mike Pence, joins Euronews Correspondent Stefan Grobe on the Global Conversation to discuss military support for Ukraine, transatlantic relations and collective challenges.

On Saturday, the US House of Representatives approved a long-stalled €89 billion foreign aid package with €57 billion earmarked for Ukraine.

The outcome has restored hopes of a late-summer counteroffensive following a lag in weapons deliveries to the war-ravaged country.

The aid package is expected to get the green light from the US Senate and President Joe Biden in the coming days but experts argue it might be weeks before fresh stocks of munitions arrive on the frontline.

Saturday’s result (311 votes for and 112 against) signals renewed bipartisan support for Ukraine despite months of resistance from the hard-right MAGA (Make America Great Again) wing.

Ahead of the landmark vote, Former US Vice President Mike Pence, who served under President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2021, sat down with Euronews Correspondent Stefan Grobe at the German Marshall Fund’s Brussels Forum.

To watch this episode of the Global Conversation, click on the video in the media player above or read the full interview below.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: Mr Vice President, this is not your first visit to Brussels. I hope you got a warmer reception than the first one…

Mike Pence, Former Vice President of the United States: I did, but the first one was a little cold. It was right after we were elected. There was, I understand, a lot of concern in Europe that we were going to embrace a new form of isolationism, economic isolationism, in particular. 

And, what I made clear at that very first conference in Munich in 2017, was that America First did not mean America alone. And I’m proud of the way (through some stops and starts), we strengthened our NATO alliance. We strengthened our relationship with our European allies. And I think we set the table, for the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom to provide the kind of support that we’ve all been providing, to the courageous fighters in Ukraine.

What about long-term support for Ukraine?

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: Let me start with the topic that has taken centre stage in Brussels, the global threats that affect the security of both the European Union and the United States. Now, congressional support packages for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan have been hanging in the balance for quite some time. What message does that send to America’s allies?

Mike Pence, Former Vice President of the United States: Well, I think the message is that a majority of Republicans and Democrats and a majority of the American people, embrace our role as leader of the free world. I think you’ll see the Congress send to President Biden’s desk, the historic package of support for Ukraine, for Israel, for Taiwan, as well as take strong steps, to stand up to China by forcing the sale of TikTok in the United States. So, we have very close majorities in Congress. I served there for 12 years. I understand the difficulty of moving legislation.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: On that note, how confident are you that there will be long-term US support for Ukraine?

Mike Pence, Former Vice President of the United States: Well, I must tell you that we’re entering a presidential year, but the package will provide President Zelenskyy and his soldiers with the lethal support that they need to continue to take the fight to the Russians. And then at the end of the day, I have great confidence in the American people. 

Everywhere I went as vice president, and then over the last year, as a candidate for president, I had one person after another stopping me and thanking me for the strong stand that we’d made to stand with our military, to stand with our allies, to stand up to authoritarian aggression, whether that be in Ukraine or whether it be the terrorist attack by Hamas, against Israel or even China’s, provocations in the Asia Pacific. 

I and the majority of the American people know and understand our unique role in the history of the free world. And I’m confident the American people will demand, that whoever occupies the Oval Office in the next administration will live out that American ideal.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: I think that, nevertheless, people have noticed a little shift. Standing up to Russia used to be a mainstay of Republican Party principles. You know, the party of Ronald Reagan, George Bush, John McCain and others. What happened? And why isn’t that the case anymore?

Mike Pence, Former Vice President of the United States: Stefan, I think there is a rising tide of Republican isolationism, in my party. I’ve spoken out against it boldly and will continue to. We learned hard lessons in the 1930s, didn’t we? You in Europe, paid a very dear price. But, I would submit to you that those who believe that we have to choose between solving our domestic problems, our crisis at our southern border, inflation, crime in our cities, and being the leader of the free world, have a fairly small view of the greatest nation on earth. 

But I do believe the majority of the American people in both political parties, support our allies and American leadership, in Eastern Europe, the Middle East and the Asia-Pacific region.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: What would you say, looking at transatlantic relations, going forward, what is the biggest challenge that we both face on both sides of the pond?

Mike Pence, Former Vice President of the United States: I think in the short term, Russian aggression represents a very serious threat to the peace and stability of Europe. I do not doubt in my mind if the West were to falter and Vladimir Putin were to overrun Ukraine, it would just be a matter of time before he crossed a border that under Article five, we as NATO allies would have to go and fight him. That’s one of the arguments I’ve made in my country. 

I think it’s important that we support the courageous Ukrainian soldiers who are fighting for their freedom so that our soldiers don’t have to make that fight. So, in the short term, I think Russian aggression represents a very real threat. In the long term, there’s no question, that China represents the greatest strategic and economic threat, not just to the United States, but, to the West. And I think only in combination, with free nations around the world, will we meet that moment.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: On Ukraine. Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he would end the war within 24 hours. Do you share that assessment?

Mike Pence, Former Vice President of the United States: I think the only way you could end the war in 24 hours is if you gave Vladimir Putin what he wants. And I served with the president for four years. And, I know he has a way of making statements that express an aspiration. But I remain hopeful that the American people, regardless of the outcome of the election, will continue to understand and demand that our leadership in the White House and our leadership in Congress, meet this moment and stand up to Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

Stefan Grobe, Euronews: You have been a member of the House of Representatives in the United States. You have been governor of Indiana. You have been the Vice President of the United States. You’ve written your memoirs. I wonder what the world can expect from Mike Pence, looking ahead.

Mike Pence, Former Vice President of the United States: Well, Stefan, we like to say we don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future. What people can expect is that I’ll continue to advocate the values and ideals that have characterised my public life for more than 40 years. 

I’m someone who joined the Republican Party during the Reagan years. I’m someone who believes in a strong national defence and that America is the leader of the free world. I believe in balanced budgets and a limited federal government. 

I believe in traditional values, the right to life. And so, the work that I’m committed to for the rest of my life is to hold up those ideals and values. And if opportunities come our way to make a greater service to America, I promise to keep you posted.

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US Supreme Court hears arguments in abortion pill case

U.S. Supreme Court justices on Tuesday did not appear ready to limit access to the abortion pill mifepristone, in a case that could have far-reaching implications for millions of American women and for scores of drugs regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. 

It’s the first abortion-related case the court has taken since a majority of the current justices struck down the constitutional right to abortion in 2022.

A group of anti-abortion doctors had asked the court to restrict access to mifepristone and to limit when in a pregnancy it could be used. 

Key moments from the arguments:

The FDA approved mifepristone in 2000 as a safe and effective way to end early pregnancies. Last year the pill was used in more than six in 10 of the abortions in the U.S.

The central argument of the conservative group challenging mifepristone is that the Food and Drug Administration overlooked serious problems with the drug when it eased restrictions on the drug, including making it available via mail in 2021. 

Erin Hawley, who represented the doctors suing the agency, argued the FDA “failed to consider or explain … its wholesale removal of safeguards” on the pill.

Read moreThe long and winding history of the war on abortion drugs

But the FDA has long argued its decision to drop in-person appointments to get mifepristone, among other requirements, came after 20 years of monitoring its safety. In that period the agency reviewed dozens of studies in thousands of women in which serious problems — including hospitalization — occurred less than 0.3% of the time.

Hawley pointed out that FDA’s own prescribing label mentions that 2.9% to 4.6% of women taking the drug go to the emergency room. But Solicitor General Elizabeth Prelogar pointed to studies showing that half of women who go to the emergency room don’t get any treatment at all.

“Many women might go because they’re experiencing heavy bleeding, which mimics a miscarriage, and they might just need to know whether or not they’re having a complication, ” Prelogar said.

Because of the highly technical nature of reviewing drug data and research, courts have long deferred to FDA’s scientific judgements on safety and effectiveness.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson pressed Hawley on the legal basis for second-guessing the agency’s regulators.

“So what deference do we owe them at all with respect to their assessment that these studies establish what it is that they say they do about safety and efficacy?”

Hawley ran into questions as she argued that a nationwide rule curtailing mifepristone use was needed. 

She was repeatedly interrupted by Justice Neil Gorsuch, who voiced objections to such sweeping injunctions.

The case “seems like a prime example of turning what could be a small lawsuit into a nationwide legislative assembly on an FDA rule or any other federal government action,” said Gorsuch.

Normally when a court issues an injunction about a government policy it only applies to the individuals or groups in the case. But in recent years a growing number of justices on lower courts have issued “universal injunctions,” blocking federal regulations nationwide.

Gorsuch noted that there have been roughly 60 such rulings in the last four years.

Chief Justice John Roberts also seemed skeptical that a ruling reversing the FDA’s scientific judgments was necessary.

“Why can’t the court specify that this relief runs to precisely the parties before the court as opposed to looking to the agency in general and saying, ‘Agency, you can’t do this anywhere?’”

The Biden administration argued that the plaintiffs — a group called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine — didn’t have the right to challenge the FDA’s actions on mifepristone. 

The doctors who brought the suit argued that they might have to treat emergency room patients who experience serious complications after taking the drug. 

But Prelogar told the court that the doctors don’t have to prescribe mifepristone and they can abstain from treating patients who have taken the pill if they oppose abortion.

“They don’t prescribe mifepristone,” Prelogar said. “They don’t take mifepristone, obviously. The FDA is not requiring them to do or refrain from doing anything. They aren’t required to treat women who take mifepristone.”

Justice Samuel Alito, however, repeatedly pressed the government on who did have the right to sue over FDA’s decisions. 

“Is there anybody who can sue and get a judicial ruling on whether what FDA did was lawful?” Alito, who wrote the 2022 ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade, asked. 

Several justices pressed Hawley to provide real-life examples of doctors who oppose abortion being forced to treat patients who had suffered from abortion pill complications.

They also took issue with how many hypothetical problems Hawley raised in her argument against the FDA’s loosening of abortion pill restrictions.

“I don’t want to hypothesize,” Jackson said to Hawley, asking her to provide an example of a doctor who was unable to object to providing an abortion.

At one point, Justice Amy Coney Barrett also questioned an example one of the doctors provided of a colleague who had to perform a “dilation and curettage” procedure on a patient with complications. Barrett pointed out that those procedures are not just performed in cases of abortions but for miscarriages as well. 

Some of the justices also pointed out that doctors are already protected from performing abortions when they don’t want to by voicing conscience objection. 

Justice Brett Kavanaugh raised that point early on: “Under federal law, no doctors can be forced against their consciences to perform or assist in an abortion, correct?”

For more than a century, the FDA has had sole authority over assessing the safety of drugs and approving their sale in the U.S.

The agency first approved mifepristone in 2000 following a four-year review, including detailed safety studies submitted by the French manufacturer. In 2016, FDA loosened restrictions on the drug to allow it to be prescribed up to 10 weeks of pregnancy and allowed nurses and other medical professionals to prescribe it. In 2021, the agency said the drug could be sent through the mail, doing away with a longstanding requirement that women to pick the drug up in person.

Jessica Ellsworth, an attorney representing the New York-based Danco Laboratories, which makes mifepristone, asked the justices to consider how the case could upend the FDA’s decades-old system for regulating drugs, vaccines and other life-saving medicines.

“I think this court should think hard about the mischief it would invite if it allowed agencies to start taking action based on statutory responsibilities that Congress has assigned to other agencies,” she said.

U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s decision last year marked the first time a court had issued a decision to revoke approval of a drug FDA had deemed safe. An open letter signed by nearly 300 biotech and pharmaceutical company leaders last year slammed the ruling as undermining Congress’ delegated authority to the FDA to approve and regulate drugs. If justices can unilaterally overturn drug approvals, they said “any medicine is at risk.”

(AP) 

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‘Haiti is a country that’s drowning’: Migrants recount trauma of fleeing home

Thousands of people have fled Haiti’s capital in recent weeks as gangs continue to run riot in a country plunged into political chaos. More than 2,000 thousand kilometres from Port-au-Prince, a community centre in New York’s Rockland County is welcoming Haitians who have fled the violence. But while they have finally reached the safety of the US, they also bear traumatic memories. 

The Konbit Neg Lakay community centre is one of the first stops that many Haitian migrants make after arriving in New York. The centre’s name means “Together for a Stronger Community” in Creole and it’s a welcoming place for people who have just fled the unrest and gang violence wracking Haiti.

The mural on the centre’s exterior wall brings a splash of colour to the Spring Valley neighbourhood in New York’s Rockland County.


Mural on the wall of Konbit Neg Lakay Haitian Community Centre in Spring Valley, Rockland County, New York on 20 March 2024. © Jessica Le Masurier

It depicts an idyllic scene of rural life in Haiti but the centre’s director Renold Julien experienced some tough times in the country of his birth.

He was an activist in Haiti during what has come to be called the Papa/Baby Doc dictatorship years. From the late 1950s to the mid-1980s, François “Papa Doc” Duvalier was succeeded by son, Jean-Claude, “Baby Doc”, the Haitian regime became synonymous with torture and killings.

Julian left his homeland almost four decades ago for a new life in the US. He opened his community centre, to help other Haitians navigate their arrival in New York, 37 years ago.

The centre receives grants from foundations and NGOs but it struggles to raise enough funds to meet ever increasing demands. For Julien, Konbit Neg Lakay is a work of devotion. 

Konbit Neg Lakay provides newly arrived Haitians with immigration and job services, professional training and language classes. “Everything that an immigrant needs, we have it here,” Julien explains. It struggles to raise enough funds to meet ever increasing demands but for Julien: “It’s a privilege for me to help my brothers and sisters.”

‘We ran to escape from them’

Several Haitians migrants come through a US humanitarian programme but they need a sponsor, Julien explains. Others travel through Mexico and then claim asylum in the US.

A dozen new arrivals from Haiti walk through the centre’s doors every week – many have lost family members to the gang violence back home.

“It has been extremely busy here due to the situation in Haiti because thousands of Haitians have been forced to leave,” says Julien as he  introduces three women who need advice on how to get a job and other essential information.

One of them is a soft-spoken medical student who arrived in the US in November 2023. Kartika Sari Rene, 22, did not want to leave Haiti. She was in her third year of medical school, when her studies were cut short. 

“I was walking with some friends and then some kidnappers were passing by,” she says. “We ran to escape from them. We hid from them. It was really awful.”

Rene’s father was terrified for her safety and forced her to leave the country. She came to the US with her mother, sponsored by family members living in New York. She has started learning English and has obtained a certificate to work as a personal care aide. 

For now, her dream of becoming a pediatrician is on hold. “I love to help people. I can’t stand to see people suffer,” she explains. 

Her friends at medical school in Haiti have also had to pause their studies. It is too dangerous for them to leave their homes.

‘Long, difficult and uncomfortable journey’

Haitian beautician Josette Bienaise also had to flee the country after a traumatic experience. She was shopping in the market when armed gang members started shooting at vendors. “Pap, pap pap,” she says, recounting her experience that day. “I lay down on the ground terrified and prayed. I can still feel the fear in my body.”

In the Konbit Neg Lakay hallway, Jean Marc Mathurin leans against a wall as he recounts the arduous journey that he made to walk through these doors to safety.

“They killed my father,” he confides in a low voice. “He was leaving work at the airport, and they wanted to take his money. He said no, and they murdered him. Then they came and burnt our home. My mother suffered so much she became ill, her sickness killed her.” 

Haitian migrant Jean Marc Mathurin at Konbit Neg Lakay Community Centre in Spring Valley, Rockland Country, New York 20 March 2024.
Haitian migrant Jean Marc Mathurin at Konbit Neg Lakay Community Centre in Spring Valley, Rockland Country, New York 20 March 2024. © Jessica Le Masurier

Mathurin finds a photo of his mother in a hospital bed on his phone and videos of his two young children and the three sisters he left behind in Haiti. He arrived in New York with nothing. He is claiming asylum in the US, but it will be many months before he can legally work here and start sending money back home to his loved ones.

Each time he eats, he thinks of his family going hungry. “People in Haiti sell their homes to make the journey here thinking they will arrive in the US with something but they spend every penny along the way, or thieves steal their money and they get here with nothing, if they even make it here. Some of them get sent back home,” he explains.

There were many times along his escape from Haiti when Mathurin thought he would not make it. He took a flight from Port-au-Prince to Nicaragua, where he travelled mainly on foot to Honduras, Guatemala and into Mexico. “It was a long, difficult and uncomfortable journey.”

When he got to the Rio Grande, in Mexico, he thought it might be impossible to cross. He describes the buoys, erected by the local authorities to thwart migrants, anchored to the riverbed. The buoys have blades that cut you if you try to climb over them, he said.

Mathurin is unable to forget the horrors he witnessed. “There are those who know how to swim, and those who don’t,” he says. “In front of me were two men, a Venezuelan and a Haitian, and they drowned right in front of me.” 

It’s a trauma he likened to his ancestral land. “Haiti is a country that’s drowning. It’s a child without a mother or father. When you have a mum and dad, they tell you not to go out late, not to fall in with the wrong crowd. Haiti is an orphan.”

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Trump unable to pay $464m bond in New York fraud case, his lawyers say

Donald Trump’s lawyers told a New York appellate court Monday that it’s impossible for him to post a bond covering the full amount of a $454 million civil fraud judgment while he appeals, suggesting the former president’s legal losses have put him in a serious cash crunch.

Trump‘s lawyers wrote in a court filing that “obtaining an appeal bond in the full amount” of the judgment “is not possible under the circumstances presented.” Trump claimed last year that he has “fairly substantially over $400 million in cash,” but back-to-back courtroom defeats have pushed his legal debt north of a half-billion dollars.

Citing rejections from more than 30 bond underwriters, Trump’s lawyers asked the state’s intermediate appeals court to reverse a prior ruling requiring that he post a bond covering the full amount in order to halt enforcement while he appeals the judgment in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit.

Trump’s financial constraints are being laid bare as he appeals Judge Arthur Engoron’s Feb. 16 ruling that he and his co-defendants schemed for years to deceive banks and insurers by inflating his wealth on financial statements used to secure loans and make deals.

If the appeals court does not intervene, James can seek to enforce the judgment starting March 25. James, a Democrat, has said she will seek to seize some of Trump’s assets if he is unable to pay.

With interest, Trump owes the state $456.8 million. That amount is increasing nearly $112,000 each day. In all, he and co-defendants, including his company, sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. and other executives, owe $467.3 million. To obtain a bond, they would be required to post collateral covering 120% of the judgment, or about $557.5 million, Trump’s lawyers said.

Trump maintains that he is worth several billion dollars, but much of his wealth is tied up in his skyscrapers, golf courses and other properties. Few underwriters were willing to issue such a large bond and none would accept Trump’s real estate assets as collateral, instead requiring cash or cash equivalents, such as stocks or bonds, his lawyers said.

Trump’s lawyers said freeing up cash by offloading some of Trump’s properties in a “fire sale” would be impractical because such cut-rate deals would result in massive, irrecoverable losses.

Not mentioned in Trump’s court filings Monday was the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s potential financial windfall from a looming deal to put his social media company, Trump Media & Technology Group, on the stock market under the ticker symbol DJT.

A shareholder meeting is scheduled for Friday. If the deal is approved, Trump would own at least 58% of shares in the company, which runs his Truth Social platform. Depending on share price, that could be worth several billion dollars.

Trump is asking a full panel of the intermediate appeals court, the Appellate Division of the state’s trial court, to stay the Engoron judgment while he appeals. His lawyers previously proposed a $100 million bond, but Appellate Division Judge Anil C. Singh rejected that after an emergency hearing on Feb. 28. A stay is a legal mechanism pausing collection of a judgment during an appeal.

In a court filing last week, Senior Assistant Solicitor General Dennis Fan urged the full appellate panel to reject what he dubbed the defense’s “trust us” argument, contending that without a bond to secure the judgment Trump may attempt to evade enforcement at a later date and force the state to “expend substantial public resources” to collect the money owed.

A full bond is necessary, Fan wrote, in part because Trump’s lawyers “have never demonstrated that Mr. Trump’s liquid assets — which may fluctuate over time — will be enough to satisfy the full amount of this judgment following appeal.”

Trump’s lawyers asked the Appellate Division panel to consider oral arguments on its request, and preemptively sought permission to appeal a losing result to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Singh did grant some of Trump’s requests, including pausing a three-year ban on him seeking loans from New York banks. In their court filing Monday, Trump’s lawyers did not address whether they have sought a bank loan to cover the cost of the judgment or obtain cash for use as bond collateral.

Trump appealed on Feb. 26, a few days after Engoron’s judgment was made official. His lawyers have asked the Appellate Division to decide whether Engoron “committed errors of law and/or fact” and whether he abused his discretion or “acted in excess” of his jurisdiction.

Trump wasn’t required to pay his penalty or post a bond in order to appeal, and filing the appeal did not automatically halt enforcement of the judgment. Trump would receive an automatic stay if he were to put up money, assets or an appeal bond covering what he owes.

Gary Giulietti, an insurance broker friend enlisted by Trump to help obtain an appeal bond, wrote in an affidavit Monday: “A bond of this size is rarely, if ever, seen. In the unusual circumstance that a bond of this size is issued, it is provided to the largest public companies in the world, not to individuals or privately held businesses.”

Giulietti, who acts as an insurance broker for Trump’s company, testified at the civil fraud trial as an expert witness called by Trump’s lawyers. In his ruling, Engoron observed that some of Giulietti’s testimony was contradicted by other witnesses, including a different defense expert. He noted that Giulietti’s company collected $1.2 million in commissions on its Trump accounts in 2022.

In all, Trump has more than $543 million in personal legal liabilities from three civil court judgments in the past year. Bonding requirements could add at least $100 million to that total.

In January, a jury ordered Trump to pay $83.3 million to writer E. Jean Carroll for defaming her after she accused him in 2019 of sexually assaulting her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s. Earlier this month, after his lawyers made similar arguments that he be excused from posting a bond, Trump did secure a $91.6 million bond to cover 110% of the Carroll judgment while he appeals.

Last year, a jury ordered Trump to pay Carroll $5 million in a related trial. In that case, rather than post a bond, Trump put more than $5.5 million in cash in an escrow account while he appeals.

(REUTERS)

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Biden backs Schumer after U.S. Senator calls for new elections in Israel

President Joe Biden expressed support on March 15 for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer after the senator called for new elections in Israel, the latest sign that the U.S. relationship with its closest Middle East ally is careening toward fracture over the war in Gaza.

Mr Schumer, a Jewish Democrat from New York, sent tremors through both countries this week when he said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “lost his way” and warned that “Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah” as the Palestinian death toll continues to grow.

“He made a good speech,” Mr. Biden said in the Oval Office during a meeting with Ireland’s prime minister. “I think he expressed serious concerns shared not only by him but by many Americans.”

The Democratic president did not repeat Mr. Schumer’s appeal for Israel to hold elections, a step that would likely end Netanyahu’s tenure because of mounting discontent with his leadership. But Biden’s comments reflect his own frustration with an Israeli prime minister who has hindered efforts to expand humanitarian assistance in Gaza and opposed the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The latest point of friction has been Israel’s goal of pursuing Hamas into Rafah, a city in southern Gaza where 1.4 million displaced Palestinians have fled to avoid fighting in the north. Netanyahu’s office said Friday that it approved a military operation that would involve evacuating civilians, but U.S. officials are concerned about the potential for a new wave of bloodshed.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking from Vienna, said, “We have to see a clear and implementable plan” to safeguard innocent people from an Israeli incursion.

“We have not seen such a plan,” he said.

However, Mr. Blinken said tough conversations between Israeli and American leaders do not mean the alliance is fraying.

“That’s actually the strength of the relationship, to be able to speak clearly, candidly and directly,” he said.

It’s possible that an attack on Rafah could be avoided. Negotiations over a cease-fire and the release of hostages are underway in Qatar, where Netanyahu agreed to send a delegation to continue talks.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. would not have its own team at the negotiations but will remain engaged in the process.

He also said it’s “up to the Israeli people to decide” whether there should be elections. Asked about why Biden praised Schumer’s speech, Kirby said the president appreciated the senator’s “passion.”

Biden’s rhetoric on the war has evolved since the conflict began on Oct. 7, when Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis in a surprise attack. The president immediately embraced Netanyahu and Israel while also warning against being “consumed” by rage.

Since then, Israel has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza. And while Mr. Biden continues to back Israel’s right to defend itself, he’s increased his criticisms of Mr. Netanyahu.

After his State of the Union speech earlier this month, Mr. Biden said that he needed to have a “come to Jesus” conversation with Netanyahu. He also accused Netanyahu of “hurting Israel more than helping Israel” with his leadership of the war.

Mr. Biden is trying to navigate between a Republican Party with an “Israel right or wrong” mindset and a deeply divided Democratic Party, said Aaron David Miller, who has advised administrations from both parties on the Middle East.

He described the U.S. approach to Israel as “passive aggressive,” with escalating rhetoric but no concrete steps like withholding military assistance.

“I haven’t seen it,” Miller said. “And we’re six months into the war.”

Americans have increasingly soured on Israel’s military operation in Gaza, according to surveys from The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. In January, 50% of U.S. adults said the military response from Israel in the Gaza Strip had gone too far, up from 40% in November. It’s a sentiment even more common among Democrats, with about 6 in 10 saying the same thing in both surveys.

Reckoning with shifts in Israeli and American politics has been challenging for Mr. Biden. A self-described Zionist, Mr. Biden’s political career began several decades ago when Israel was led by liberal leaders and the country enjoyed broad bipartisan support in its battle for survival against its Arab neighbors.

Since then, the failure of peace talks with Palestinians and the growing power of conservative Israeli politicians has led to a growing tension.

Biden’s praise for Schumer could upset Mr. Netanyahu, who has already chafed at what he sees as American meddling in Israeli politics.

“One would expect Sen. Schumer to respect Israel’s elected government and not undermine it,” said a statement from Likud, Netanyahu’s political party. “This is always true, and even more so in wartime.”

Mr. Netanyahu has a long history of defying U.S. presidents, particularly Democratic ones. He fought President Barack Obama’s push for a nuclear deal with Iran, and he accepted a Republican invitation to address Congress to demonstrate his opposition. Before that, he clashed with President Bill Clinton over efforts to create an independent state for Palestinians, who have lived for decades under Israeli military occupation.

Democratic anger over Israel’s siege of Gaza has focused on Mr. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister who leads a right-wing coalition that includes ultranationalist politicians. He also faces corruption charges in a long-delayed trial and declining popularity over his failure to prevent Hamas’ attack or secure the return of all Israeli hostages being held in Gaza.

Public opinion surveys suggest that, if elections were held now, Mr. Netanyahu would likely lose to Benny Gantz, a former military leader who is a centrist member of Israel’s war cabinet.

“Netanyahu has an interest in buying time,” said Gideon Rahat, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute and professor of political science at Hebrew University. “That’s always his interest, not to have elections, to stay in power.”

Rahat also said a different Israeli leader might approach the war differently, causing less strain with Washington.

“Another government would pursue not only a military but also a diplomatic and foreign affairs solution, one involving the PA,” a reference to the Palestinian Authority that operates in the West Bank, Rahat said. “Another government would give more aid to Gaza and would run the war with a better distinction between Hamas and the Palestinians.”

However, replacing Mr. Netanyahu would not necessarily end the war or stop the rightward shift that has been underway in Israel for years.

Jewish Israelis believe by a slim majority that their leaders’ judgment should be prioritized over coordinating with the U.S., according to a January poll from the Israel Democracy Institute. In addition, the Israeli Defense Forces receive wide support for their performance in Gaza.

Gantz also criticized Mr. Schumer’s remarks, although not as harshly as Likud did. He wrote on social media that the senator is “a friend of Israel” who “erred in his remarks.”

“Israel is a robust democracy, and only its citizens will decide its future and leadership,” Gantz said. “Any external interference on the matter is counter-productive and unacceptable.”

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How charity ship Open Arms is delivering humanitarian aid to Gaza

The ship Opens Arms left Cyprus for the Gaza coast on October 12 with 200 tonnes of food supplies, the first ship to sail as part of a maritime aid corridor initiated by Cyprus, with the support of the European Union, the UK and the US. Given the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the charities leading the effort felt they couldn’t wait for the US military to complete a pier to deliver aid.

The 200 tonnes of food supplies transported by the Open Arms is already bringing hope to the people of Gaza. Some Gazans even rushed to the beach near Gaza City on Sunday, hoping to see the ship and its desperately needed cargo arrive, AFP reported.

Aid agencies have warned of looming famine in the Palestinian territory of 2.4 million inhabitants.

Israel has imposed a near-total blockade on Gaza since the start of its war with Hamas five months ago.  Given the humanitarian emergency that has resulted, the EU decided to push for a maritime aid route via Cyprus, the EU country closest to Gaza.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday said it was the first time a ship had been authorized to deliver aid directly to Gaza since 2005 and that the EU would work with “smaller ships” until the US military completes work on its floating port off the Gazan coast.

Open Arms, a Spanish charity, is partnered by the US charity World Central Kitchen (WCK), founded by the Spanish-American restaurateur José Andrés. Open Arms spokeswoman Laura Lanuza said that WCK’s teams in Gaza were “constructing a dock” to unload the Open Arms’s cargo. The charities have kept the location of the landing point secret for security reasons.

Under Israeli land, air, and sea blockade for sixteen years, Gaza has no functioning port.

“We have been working on this technical project for several weeks,” explained Lanuza.  

“We had to be imaginative and find a way to overcome all these obstacles related to the landing site that will be done from the platform we are transporting,” she said.

The barge, a floating platform carrying 200 tonnes of food, is currently being towed by the humanitarian ship in the middle of the Mediterranean. In a video filmed before the fleet’s departure from Cyprus and posted on X, the NGO WCK explains: “You can see behind me, we have this barge. It’s about 200 tonnes that we are currently loading with all kinds of food aid. Once it reaches its destination, it will be lifted by a crane. Then we will transport the supplies to the northern part of the Gaza Strip to help those in need at this time.”

Construction of a jetty in Gaza

WCK says its teams in Gaza are working “day and night” on the construction of a pier, leveraging the extensive experience it has providing humanitarian aid worldwide. “In Gaza, it already manages around 60 kitchens run by local residents, mainly women, who cook and prepare meals for those in need,” reports the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

However, “the influx of large quantities of goods will require special preparations –  warehouses, transportation, security, and supervision of distribution – which have not yet been organized”,  Haaretz points out.

Security is of the uppermost in people’s minds, after the tragedy on March 1 in which over 115 Palestinians were killed during a humanitarian aid delivery, crushed in a stampede and also hit by Israeli gunfire.

“We have to be careful. We have every guarantee that everything will be fine, but the reality in Gaza is changing all the time,” admits Lanuza. “We’re trying to avoid any danger to the population, of course.”

Approved by Israel

The aid corridor, supported by Cyprus and the United Arab Emirates, has received approval from Israel. The ship’s cargo was inspected in advance by Israeli military personnel in Larnaca to ensure it did not contain any military equipment, weapons, or materials that could be used for military purposes, according to Haaretz.

Israel has also committed to participating in the construction project of a pier promised by the United States on the Gaza coast. The Pentagon specified that building this structure will take up to 60 days and likely involve over 1,000 soldiers. The temporary port “could provide over two million meals per day to the citizens of Gaza”, according to Pentagon spokesperson Pat Ryde.

A US Navy ship has departed from the United States with the necessary equipment for the construction of the pier. The Israeli military spokesperson, Rear Admiral  Daniel Hagari, stated that Israel is “coordinating the establishment” of this infrastructure.

Israel’s Minister of Defence Yoav Gallant, posting on X, said that aid from the maritime corridor “will help to achieve one of the main goals of the war: The collapse of Hamas rule. We will make sure that the aid goes to those who need it, and not to those who don’t.”

Israel accuses the Palestinian movement, which took control in Gaza in 2007, of diverting humanitarian aid within the territory.

A second humanitarian cargo ship in the starting blocks

The construction of a safe, temporary port should help ensure the arrival of aid by sea.

According to Gaza’s ministry of health, 25 people, mostly children, have already died from malnutrition and dehydration, as massive shortages leave the enclave on the brink of famine.

Open Arms is already preparing a second humanitarian aid ship from Cyprus with a much larger cargo.  Cypriot Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos said Tuesday that “if all goes according to plan… we have already put in place the mechanism for a second and much bigger cargo.

“And then we’ll be working towards making this a more systematic exercise with increased volumes,” he added.

The UN believes that sending aid by sea and increasing airdrops of food cannot replace the need for access to Gaza by road. While welcoming the news of the first humanitarian ship, Jens Laerke, the spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, reiterated on Tuesday that it was “not a substitute for the overland transport of food and other emergency aid into Gaza and particularly northern Gaza. It cannot make up for that”.

The airdrop of parcels over the city of Gaza on March 9 resulted in the death of five people and the injury of 10, according to a hospital source. The Jordanian and American militaries denied that their aircraft were involved in the incident. Belgium, Egypt, France, and the Netherlands are also conducting aid drops in the territory.

(With AFP)

This article has been translated from the original in French.  

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Haitian Prime Minister Ariel Henry to resign in bid to restore calm

Haiti’s unelected prime minister, Ariel Henry, will step down once a transition council and temporary replacement have been appointed, he said on Monday, after leading the Caribbean country since the 2021 assassination of its last president.

Armed gangs massively grew their wealth, influence and territory under his administration, prompting Henry to travel to Kenya in late February to secure its support for a United Nations-backed security mission to help police.

However, the conflict dramatically escalated in his absence and left the 74-year-old neurosurgeon stranded in the US territory of Puerto Rico while regional leaders called for a swift transition.

“The government that I am leading will resign immediately after the installation of (a transition) council,” Henry said in a video address. “I want to thank the Haitian people for the opportunity I had been granted.”

“I’m asking all Haitians to remain calm and do everything they can for peace and stability to come back as fast as possible,” he added.

‘Unclear’ if Haiti PM Ariel Henry will return after resignation



Videos distributed on Haitian social media appeared to show celebrations in the street, with people dancing to music in a party atmosphere and fireworks launched into the night sky.

A senior US official said Henry was free to remain in Puerto Rico or travel elsewhere, though security in Haiti would need to improve for him to feel comfortable returning home. The official said the resignation had been decided on Friday.

Presidential council

Henry is set to be replaced by a presidential council that will have two observers and seven voting members, including representatives from a number of coalitions, the private sector, civil society and one religious leader.

The council has been mandated to quickly appoint an interim prime minister; anyone who intends to run in Haiti’s next elections will not be able participate.

Read moreHow a lack of leadership allowed gangs to take over Haiti

Haiti has lacked elected representatives since early 2023 and its next elections will be the first since 2016. Henry, who many Haitians consider corrupt, had repeatedly postponed elections, saying security must first be restored.

Regional leaders met on Monday in nearby Jamaica to discuss the framework for a political transition, which the US had urged last week to be “expedited” as armed gangs sought to topple his government.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had earlier Monday said the council would be tasked with meeting the “immediate needs” of Haitians, enabling the security mission’s deployment and creating security conditions necessary for free elections.

Haiti declared a state of emergency early this month as clashes damaged communications and led to two prison breaks after Jimmy “Barbeque” Cherizier, a leader of an alliance of armed groups, said they would unite and overthrow Henry.

More mission funds

Henry’s resignation comes alongside regional talks over participation in an international force, which he had requested to help police fight the gangs, whose brutal turf wars have fueled a humanitarian crisis, cut off food supplies and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said earlier Monday the United States would contribute an additional $100 million to this force and $33 million in humanitarian aid, bringing the US’ total pledge to the force to $300 million.

Read moreEmergency summit in Jamaica to address spiraling instability in Haiti

It was however unclear how long it will take the funding to be approved by lawmakers and transferred. A UN spokesperson said that as of Monday, less than $11 million had been deposited into the UN’s dedicated trust fund – with no new contributions since Haiti declared its state of emergency on March 3.

Mexico’s foreign minister added that the country had contributed an unspecified amount of funds, and called for more action to stem the trafficking of arms to Haiti.

The UN believes Haitian gangs have amassed large arsenals of weapons trafficked largely from the United States.

The United Nations estimates over 362,000 people have been internally displaced, half of whom are children, and thousands have been killed in the overall conflict, with widespread reports of rape, torture and ransom kidnappings since 2021.

‘A bloody revolution’

In Haiti, gang leader Cherizier has threatened to go after hotel owners hiding politicians or collaborating with Henry. He demanded that the country’s next leader be chosen by the people and live in Haiti, alongside their families.

Many influential Haitian political figures live abroad.

“We’re not in a peaceful revolution. We are making a bloody revolution in the country because this system is an apartheid system, a wicked system,” Cherizier said.

Residents in the capital saw heavy gunfire over the weekend as armed men downtown surrounded the National Palace on Friday night and by Sunday the United States airlifted staff from its embassy. On Monday, authorities extended a nightly curfew until Thursday.

Washington said it was looking to expedite the deployment of the planned security mission.

Henry first requested an international security force in 2022, but countries have been slow to offer support, with some raising doubts over the legitimacy of Henry’s unelected government amid widespread protests.

Many in Haitian communities and abroad are wary of international interventions after previous UN missions left behind a devastating cholera epidemic and sex abuse scandals, for which reparations were never made.

Mike Ballard, intelligence director at security firm Global Guardian, said if gangs take control of ports and airports, they would be in charge of humanitarian aid to the country, adding that he did not believe Kenyan forces would effectively police or maintain peace.

“Countries with actual stakes in the region will need to step up and help shore up security,” he said, pointing to the United States, neighboring Dominican Republic and other CARICOM members.

(REUTERS)

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Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ wins best picture at the Oscars

“Oppenheimer,” a solemn three-hour biopic that became an unlikely billion-dollar box-office sensation, was crowned best picture at a 96th Academy Awards that doubled as a coronation for Christopher Nolan.

After passing over arguably Hollywood’s foremost big-screen auteur for years, the Oscars made up for lost time by heaping seven awards on Nolan’s blockbuster biopic, including best actor for Cillian Murphy, best supporting actor for Robert Downey Jr. and best director for Nolan.

In anointing “Oppenheimer,” the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences did something it hasn’t done for more than a decade: hand its top prize to a widely seen, big-budget studio film.

In a film industry where a cape, dinosaur or Tom Cruise has often been a requirement for such box office, “Oppenheimer” brought droves of moviegoers to theaters with a complex, fission-filled drama about J. Robert Oppenheimer and the creation of the atomic bomb.

“For better or worse, we’re all living in Robert Oppenheimer’s world,” said Murphy in his acceptance speech. “I’d like to dedicate this to the peacemakers.”

As a film heavy with unease for human capacity for mass destruction, “Oppenheimer” also emerged – even over its partner in cultural phenomenon, “Barbie” – as a fittingly foreboding film for times rife with cataclysm, man-made or not.

Sunday’s Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles unfolded against the backdrop of wars in Gaza and Ukraine, and with a potentially momentous US election on the horizon.

The most closely watched contest of the Academy Awards went to Emma Stone, who won best best actress for her performance as Bella Baxter in “Poor Things.”

In what was seen as the night’s most nail-biting category, Stone won over Lily Gladstone of “Killers of the Flower Moon.” Gladstone would have become the first Native American to win an Academy Award.

Instead, Oscar voters couldn’t resist the full-bodied extremes of Stone’s “Poor Things” performance.

The win for Stone, her second best actress Oscar following her 2017 win for “La La Land,” confirmed the 35-year-old as arguably the preeminent big-screen actress of her generation.

The list of women to win best actress two or more times is illustrious, including Katharine Hepburn, Frances McDormand, Ingrid Bergman and Bette Davis.

“Oh, boy, this is really overwhelming,” said Stone, who fought back tears and a broken dress during her speech.

Sunday’s broadcast had razzle dazzle, including a sprawling song-and-dance rendition of the “Barbie” hit “I’m Just Ken” by Ryan Gosling, with an assist on guitar by Slash and a sea of Kens who swarmed the stage.

But protest and politics intruded on an election-year Academy Awards, where demonstrations for Gaza raged outside the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles.

Late during the show, host Jimmy Kimmel read a critical social media post from former president Donald Trump.

“Thank you for watching,” said Kimmel. “Isn’t it past your jail time?”

Nolan has had many movies in the Oscar mix before, including “Inception,” “Dunkirk” and “The Dark Knight.”

But his win Sunday for direction is the first Academy Award for the 53-year-old filmmaker. Addressing the crowd, Nolan noted cinema is just over a hundred years old.

“We don’t know where this incredible journey is going from here,” said Nolan. “But to think that I’m a meaningful part of it means the world to me.”

Downey, nominated twice before (for “Chaplin” and “Tropic Thunder”), also notched his first Oscar, crowning the illustrious second act of his up-and-down career.

“I’d like to thank my terrible childhood and the academy, in that order,” said Downey, the son of filmmaker Robert Downey Sr.

“Barbie,” last year’s biggest box-office hit with more than $1.4 billion in ticket sales, ultimately won just one award: best song (sorry, Ken) for Billie Eilish and Finneas’ “What Was I Made For?” It’s their second Oscar, two years after winning for their James Bond theme, “No Time to Die.”

But after an awards season that stayed largely inside a Hollywood bubble, geopolitics played a prominent role.

Protests over Israel’s war in Gaza snarled traffic around the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, slowing stars’ arrival on the red carpet and turning the Oscar spotlight toward the ongoing conflict. Some protesters shouted “Shame!” at those trying to reach the awards.

Jonathan Glazer, the British filmmaker whose chilling Auschwitz drama “The Zone of Interest” won best international film, drew connections between the dehumanisation depicted in his film and today.

“Right now, we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October the 7th in Israel, or the ongoing attack on Gaza, all the victims, this dehumanisation, how do we resist?”

The war in Gaza was on the minds of many attendees, as was the war in Ukraine. A year after “Navalny” won the same award, Mstyslav Chernov’s “20 Days in Mariupol,” a harrowing chronicle of the early days of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, won best documentary.

The win, a first for The Associated Press and PBS’ “Frontline,” came as the war in Ukraine passed the two-year mark with no signs of abating.

Mstyslav Chernov, the Ukrainian filmmaker and AP journalist whose hometown was bombed the day he learned of his Oscar nomination, spoke forcefully about Russia’s invasion.

“This is the first Oscar in Ukrainian history,” said Chernov. “And I’m honored. Probably I will be the first director on this stage to say I wish I’d never made this film. I wish to be able to exchange this (for) Russia never attacking Ukraine.”

In the early going, Yorgos Lanthimos’ Frankenstein-riff “Poor Things” ran away with three prizes for its sumptuous craft, including awards for production design, makeup and hairstyling and costume design.

Kimmel, hosting the ABC telecast for the fourth time, opened the awards with an monologue that emphasised Hollywood as “a union town” following 2023’s actor and writer strikes, drew a standing ovation for bringing out teamsters and behind-the-scenes workers — who are now entering their own labor negotiations.

The night’s first award was one of its most predictable: Da’Vine Joy Randolph for best supporting actress, for her performance in Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers.” An emotional Randolph was accompanied to the stage by her “Holdovers” co-star Paul Giamatti.

“For so long I’ve always wanted to be different,” said Randolph. “And now I realise I just need to be myself.”

Though Randolph’s win was widely expected, an upset quickly followed. Hayao Miyazaki’s “The Boy and the Heron” won for best animated feature, a surprise over the slightly favored “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.”

Miyazaki, the 83-year-old Japanese anime master who came out of retirement to make “The Boy and the Heron,” didn’t attend the ceremony. He also didn’t attend the 2003 Oscars when his “Spirited Away” won the same award.

Best original screenplay went to “Anatomy of a Fall,” which, like “Barbie,” was penned by a couple: director Justine Triet and Arthur Harari. “This will help me through my midlife crisis, I think,” said Triet.

In adapted screenplay, where “Barbie” was nominated — and where some suspected Greta Gerwig would win after being overlooked for director — the Oscar went to Cord Jefferson, who wrote and directed his feature film debut “American Fiction.”

He pleaded for executives to take risks on young filmmakers like himself.

“Instead of making a $200 million movie, try making 20 $10 million movies,” said Jefferson, previously an award-winning TV writer.

The Oscars belonged largely to theatrical-first films. Though it came into the awards with 19 nominations, Netflix was a bit player.

Its lone win came for live action short: Wes Anderson’s “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar,” based on the story by Roald Dahl.

Historically, having big movies in the mix for the Oscars’ top awards has been good for broadcast ratings.

The Academy Awards’ largest audience ever came when James Cameron’s “Titanic” swept the 1998 Oscars.

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Biden warns ‘freedom and democracy under assault’ in State of the Union addresss

President Joe Biden declared democracy under threat at home and abroad and called former President Donald Trump’s position on NATO unacceptable on Thursday in a State of the Union speech designed to contrast visions with his 2024 Republican opponent.

Biden, speaking before a joint session of the House of Representatives and the Senate, opened his remarks with a direct criticism of Trump for comments inviting Russian President Vladimir Putin to invade other NATO nations if they did not spend more on defense.

“Now my predecessor, a former Republican president, tells Putin, quote, ‘Do whatever you want,'” Biden said. “I think it’s outrageous, it’s dangerous and it’s unacceptable.”

Biden, who has been pushing Congress to provide additional funding to Ukraine for its war with Russia, also had a message for Putin: “We will not walk away,” he said.

The president drew a contrast with Trump, his Republican challenger in the Nov 5 election, over democracy, abortion rights and the economy during a speech that Democrats see as a high profile chance for Biden to press his case for a second term in front of a rare TV audience of millions of Americans.

Biden, suffering from low approval ratings, faces discontent among progressives in his party about his support for Israel in its war against Hamas and from Republicans over his stance on immigration.

Some lawmakers wore ceasefire pins to signal their protest, but many chanted, “Four more years!” as he entered the chamber.

Multiple women lawmakers in the audience wore white to promote reproductive rights.

Biden highlighted the threats to democracy he argues Trump poses as the former president repeats false claims about his 2020 election loss and proposes jailing political enemies.

“My lifetime has taught me to embrace freedom and democracy. A future based on the core values that have defined America: honesty, decency, dignity, equality,” Biden will say, according to speech excerpts released ahead of time. “Now some other people my age see a different story: an American story of resentment, revenge, and retribution. That’s not me.”

Trump, who is facing multiple criminal charges as he fights for re-election, says he plans to punish political foes and deport millions of migrants if he wins a second White House term. Representative Troy Nehls, a Republican, wore a shirt with Trump’s face and the words “Never surrender” on it.

Age, economy at issue 

Opinion polls show Biden, 81, and Trump, 77, closely matched in the race. Most American voters are unenthusiastic about the rematch after Biden defeated Trump four years ago.

The president’s reference to “other people my age” is an attempt to underscore that the two men are both old. Biden, who has faced concerns about his mental acuity, was not expected to mention Trump, who also makes regular gaffes and verbal slip-ups, by name.

The speech may be the Democratic president’s biggest stage to reach voters weighing whether to vote for him, choose Trump, or sit out the election. Nikki Haley, Trump’s last remaining rival for his party’s presidential nomination, dropped out on Wednesday.

Biden sought to burnish his reputation with Americans about the strength of the US economy and renew his quest to make wealthy Americans and corporations pay more in taxes, unveiling proposals including higher minimum taxes for companies and Americans with wealth over $100 million.

Any such tax reform is unlikely to pass unless Democrats win strong majorities in both houses of Congress in the November vote, which is not forecast.

Biden also proposed new measures to lower housing costs, including a $10,000 tax credit for first-time homebuyers – an acknowledgement of consumers’ distress over high mortgage interest rates – while boasting of U.S economic progress under his tenure.

“I came to office determined to get us through one of the toughest periods in our nation’s history. And we have. It doesn’t make the news, but in thousands of cities and towns the American people are writing the greatest comeback story never told,” Biden will say of his economic record since 2021, according to excerpts.

The US economy is performing better than most high-income countries, with continued job growth and consumer spending.

However, Republican voters tell pollsters they are deeply dissatisfied with the economy, and Americans overall give Trump better marks in polls for economic issues.

“Joe Biden is on the run from his record … to escape accountability for the horrific devastation he and his party have created,” Trump posted before the speech on his Truth Social platform.

Gaza port, Ukraine funds 

Biden was expected to try to cool anger among many Democrats over his support for Israel’s offensive in Gaza following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. He will announce during the speech that the US military will build a port on Gaza’s Mediterranean coast to receive humanitarian assistance by sea, US officials told reporters.

Biden used the speech to push, again, for a $95 billion aid package for weapons to Ukraine and aid to Israel that has been blocked by Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson.

The president’s wife’s guests for the speech include Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson, who was in Washington as Sweden formally joins NATO on Thursday, two years after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – indicating Biden will speak on his support for the security alliance, another contrast with Trump.

Other White House guests included people affected by in vitro fertilisation or abortion restrictions, a veteran of the 1965 Bloody Sunday attack on Black marchers in Selma, Alabama, United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain and others.

U.S. Senator Katie Britt of Alabama, who will deliver Republicans’ formal response to Biden’s speech, planned to attack him over immigration and the economy.

“The true, unvarnished State of our Union begins and ends with this: Our families are hurting. Our country can do better,” she will say, according to excerpts. “President Biden’s border crisis is a disgrace. It’s despicable. And it’s almost entirely preventable.”

(FRANCE 24 with Reuters)

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