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Donald Trump trial opens with allegations he tried to ‘corrupt’ 2016 US election

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Donald Trump trial opens with allegations he tried to ‘corrupt’ 2016 US election

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Donald Trump attempted to “corrupt” the 2016 election when he directed his team to buy the silence of a porn actor who threatened to go public with claims of an extramarital affair, Manhattan prosecutors said during opening arguments in the first criminal trial against a former US president.

A lawyer for Trump, Todd Blanche, countered that his client was “cloaked in innocence” and had merely been trying to “protect his family, his reputation and his brand”. The 77-year-old former president was “not on the hook” for the way the payments were organised or recorded by his employees, with which he “had nothing to do”, Blanche added.

The competing narratives of the events that form the core of the “hush money” case against Trump came during the opening salvos of the first — and possibly only — criminal trial to proceed against the Republican nominee for president before November’s vote.

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As Trump sat feet away at the defence table in a cold Manhattan courtroom on Monday morning, silently glowering, the seven men and five women on the jury heard assistant district attorney Matthew Colangelo outline a “catch and kill” scheme allegedly orchestrated by the former president and his inner circle to buy the silence of porn actor Stormy Daniels.

Daniels had threatened to go to the press with her story of how she had a tryst with the then-reality television star in 2006, Colangelo said, a revelation that would have been all the more damaging to Trump’s campaign following the furore over the publication of an Access Hollywood tape, in which he was heard to be bragging about grabbing women’s genitals.

Trump went on to disguise the transactions behind the $130,000 payment, Colangelo added, because he “wanted to conceal his and others’ criminal conduct”. 

“This was a planned, co-ordinated, long-running conspiracy . . . to help Donald Trump get elected through illegal expenditures,” he said. “It was election fraud, pure and simple.”

Blanche said Trump was tackling a “sinister” attempt to embarrass him with false allegations, and had acted entirely lawfully in trying to suppress the story. “You will learn that companies do that all the time,” he told jurors, adding: “There is nothing wrong with trying to influence an election — it is called democracy.”

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The start of the six-week trial comes just over a year after Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg brought the first criminal charges against a former US president, indicting Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records.

Like any criminal defendant, Trump must be in attendance every day, a requirement that he has complained will limit his campaigning ahead of November’s election. The court will break on Wednesdays if the case is proceeding on schedule, Judge Juan Merchan said last week.

Trump railed against the court and prosecutors on social media and once again denounced the case as a witch hunt on his way into the courtroom on Monday morning. “This is done as election interference, everybody knows it,” the presumptive 2024 Republican nominee for the White House told reporters. 

After opening arguments concluded, the court briefly heard from the prosecution’s first witness, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, who was allegedly involved in the “catch and kill” scheme by purchasing exclusive rights to anti-Trump stories — and then preventing them from being published.

Merchan adjourned early for the day due to the Passover Jewish holiday and to allow a juror to attend an emergency dental appointment.

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Last week, 12 jurors and six alternates were chosen from a pool of almost 200 New Yorkers from the borough of Manhattan, who were carefully vetted to ensure they did not harbour insurmountable bias towards Trump. All said they could be impartial in deciding the facts of the case, although some expressed distaste for his policies and persona.

The former president still faces criminal charges in three different courts over his alleged attempts to thwart the peaceful transition of power after the 2020 election, and over his retention of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago mansion in Florida. It is unclear when the other criminal cases will go to trial.

Trump also faces a number of civil proceedings, and is appealing against a nearly half-billion dollar civil fraud judgment awarded to the New York attorney-general earlier this year. A judge on Monday declined to heed a request by the attorney-general to invalidate the $175mn bond Trump had posted in that case, in a reprieve for the former president.

Another milestone in Trump’s legal travails will be reached later this week, when the US Supreme Court will hear arguments over whether he can claim presidential immunity for acts that he has been charged with that took place while he was in office. The outcome of that challenge has no bearing over the New York case, which has been brought under state rather than federal law.

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Video: Severe Storms and Tornadoes Cause Destruction in Several States

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Video: Severe Storms and Tornadoes Cause Destruction in Several States

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Severe Storms and Tornadoes Cause Destruction in Several States

Severe weather hit several parts of the United States over the weekend, killing more than 20 people and leaving hundreds of thousands without power.

[NO SPEECH]

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Persuading Europeans to work more hours misses the point

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Persuading Europeans to work more hours misses the point

Europeans are spending less time at work, and governments would like them to get back to the grindstone. That is the thrust of measures German, Dutch and British ministers have been examining to persuade part-timers to take on more hours, and full-timers to embrace overtime.

But the evidence suggests it will be an uphill battle — and that authorities worrying about a shrinking workforce would do better to help people who might otherwise not want a job at all to work a little.

Rising prosperity is the main reason the working week has shortened over time, as higher productivity and wages have allowed people to afford more leisure. In Germany, for example, it has roughly halved between 1870 and 2000. Across the OECD, people are working about 50 fewer hours each year on average than in 2010, at 1,752.

Average hours have fallen more in recent years because the mix of people in employment has changed, with more young people studying, more mothers working, older people phasing their retirement and flexible service sector jobs replacing roles in the long-hours manufacturing industry.

The latest post-pandemic drop in European working hours is more of a puzzle. The European Central Bank estimated that at the end of 2023, Eurozone employees were on average working five hours less per quarter than before 2020 — equivalent to the loss of 2mn full-time workers.

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There has been a similar shift in the UK, where average weekly hours are 20 minutes shorter than in 2019 at the end of 2022. The Office for National Statistics says this was driven by lower full-time hours among prime-age men and was equivalent to having 310,000 fewer people in employment.

The trend appears to be a European one — there has been no such recent change seen in the US, which simply laid people off during the pandemic rather than putting them on furlough.

One explanation is that employers have been “hoarding” labour — keeping staff on in slack periods while cutting hours, because they are worried they will not be able to hire easily when demand picks up. The ECB thinks this has been a factor, along with a rise in sick leave and rapid growth in public sector jobs.

But Megan Greene, a BoE policymaker, said earlier this month that while there was some evidence of labour hoarding, it was also “plausible that . . . workers may just want a better work-life balance”.

Researchers at the IMF who examined the puzzle reached a similar conclusion. They said the post-Covid drop in working hours was in fact an extension of the long-term trend seen over the past 20 years, which reflected workers’ preferences — with young people and fathers of young children driving the decline. The biggest change was in countries where incomes were catching up with richer neighbours.

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Some economists, however, believe the experience of lockdowns has made people more willing to trade pay for a less pressured lifestyle, and more able to walk away from jobs with antisocial hours.

“A lot of people started to pay more attention to their health,” said one Frankfurt-based economist, noting that Germany, with one of the sharpest drops in working hours, suffered from high rates of depression and other mental health conditions, along with the UK.

Spain has traditionally been at the other extreme. It has some of the longest working hours in Europe — combined with a long lunch break that means many employees cannot clock off till late in the evening, with family life, leisure and sleep patterns all suffering as a result.  

But even here, habits are changing. Ignacio de la Torre, chief economist at Madrid-based investment bank Arcano Partners, thinks Spanish bars and restaurants have struggled to fill vacancies since the pandemic because former waiters have begun training for better jobs.

In many countries, unions have made shorter hours a focus of collective bargaining, and some employers are experimenting with offering four-day weeks — or more flexible working patterns — as a way of attracting staff.

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The shift in habits is a challenge for European policymakers. Since productivity growth has been weak, they fear that shorter hours will exacerbate labour shortages, fuel inflationary pressures, hold back growth and make it harder to fund welfare systems.

Unless productivity growth improves, de la Torre argues, the only way to boost economic growth is to bring more people into the workforce, embrace immigration or work longer. It is unrealistic to earn the same while working less: the outcome would be “a lower salary at the end of the month”.

But Anna Ginès i Fabrellas, director of the Labor Studies Institute at the Esade law school, cites evidence that young people are willing to accept this trade-off, valuing free time “when they assess the quality of a job”.

Some policymakers think shorter hours and greater wellbeing should be the goal. Spain’s minister of labour, Yolanda Díaz, caused uproar earlier this year by suggesting restaurants should no longer open into the small hours, and the governing coalition has pledged gradual cuts to the legal maximum working week.

The IMF’s researchers made a more pragmatic argument.

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Governments can and should do more to help people who want longer hours, they said, including supporting retraining, job-hunting and childcare, as well as promoting flexible work and removing perverse incentives in tax and benefit systems.

This will have only a small effect, the IMF estimates. Some policies will simply “reshuffle hours” between mothers and fathers. But in general, most people will want to work slightly less provided their living standards advance. That means there’s a limit to what policymakers can do. 

A more realistic goal, the IMF reckons, is to raise the total number of hours worked across the economy, not least through better parental leave policies that could bring more people into work in the first place. Recent trends in the EU are promising: participation in the workforce has risen since 2020.

This feels like the better approach. If employers offer better part-time and flexible roles, people who might otherwise stay outside the labour force entirely might at least work a little — and be happier for it. That would be more productive for governments than pushing against the tide.

delphine.strauss@ft.com

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After severe weather across the South, East Coast braces for potential flooding, tornadoes

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After severe weather across the South, East Coast braces for potential flooding, tornadoes

A man looks at a damaged car after a tornado hit the day before, Sunday, May 26, 2024, in Valley View, Texas. Powerful storms left a wide trail of destruction Sunday across Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas after obliterating homes and destroying a truck stop where drivers took shelter during the latest deadly weather to strike the central U.S.

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Julio Cortez/AP

A large swath of the eastern U.S. was bracing for severe weather as the Memorial Day weekend came to a close. Deadly storms over the long weekend also knocked out power to hundreds of thousands across the South and disrupted holiday travel at busy airports in the northeast.

Severe storms were expected to stretch from Alabama to upstate New York on Monday evening, according to the National Weather Service. Forecasters said the storms could lead to intense rainfall in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, with flash flooding possible. Hail, heavy winds and tornadoes were also possible from northeast Maryland to the Catskill Mountains of New York, according to the NWS.

The threat of severe weather Monday followed a string of powerful and deadly storms that swept through the South and parts of the Midwest over the holiday weekend. At least 23 people were killed in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Alabama and Kentucky as a result of severe weather.

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Earlier in the week, a deadly tornado also hit Iowa.

In a news conference Monday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said four people were killed in four different counties after storms ripped through most of the state Sunday. Later Monday, Beshear confirmed a fifth storm-related death.

The tiny southwestern Kentucky community of Charleston took a direct hit from a tornado, officials said.

Beshear said the twister appeared to have been on the ground for 40 miles.

“It could have been much worse,” Beshear said of this weekend’s storms. “The people of Kentucky are very weather aware with everything we’ve been through.”

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To the east of Charleston, parts of Hopkins County, Kentucky, also saw damage Sunday night. Western Kentucky, including a number of communities in Hopkins County, endured a series of devastating tornadoes in 2021 that killed 81 people.

“There were a lot of people that were just getting their lives put back together and then this,” Hopkins County emergency management director Nick Bailey was quoted by The Associated Press as saying. “Almost the same spot, the same houses and everything.”

The website Poweroutage.us reported hundreds of thousands without power on Monday. More than 120,000 customers in Kentucky were without power as of 5:30 p.m. ET, according to the website. Data showed Arkansas and West Virginia each had more than 40,000 customers without electricity.

The White House said the Federal Emergency Management Agency was on the ground conducting damage assessments with state and local authorities. President Biden has directed federal agencies to provide support as needed.

Holiday travel had also been disrupted as a result of the weekend storms.

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According to the flight-tracking website Flight Aware, more than 400 flights in the U.S. had been canceled as of 5:30 p.m. Monday — and another 5,200-plus flights had been delayed. New York’s LaGuardia Airport and Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey were most affected by delays and cancellations.

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