Spanish court summons prime minister’s wife in corruption probe

Legal Business 2024/06/04 11:54   Bookmark and Share
A Spanish investigative judge has summoned the wife of Spain’s prime minister to give testimony as part of a probe into allegations that she used her position to influence business deals, a Madrid-based court said Tuesday.

Begoña Gómez is to appear at court on July 5 to answer questions.

Gómez has yet to speak publicly on the case, but Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez has called it a “smear campaign” to damage Spain’s leftist coalition government led by his Socialist party.

The probe is based on allegations against Gómez made by a group called Manos Limpias, or “Clean Hands.” Manos Limpias describes itself as a union, but its main activity is as a platform pursuing legal cases. Many have been linked to right-wing causes targeting leftist politicians, and most of them never succeed.

After the probe was launched in April, Sánchez stunned the nation by saying he would contemplate stepping down for what he said was the “attack without precedent” against his wife. After five days of silence, Sánchez said he had decided to remain in office.

The summoning of Gómez comes before this week’s European Parliament election, with Spaniards voting on Sunday. Far-right parties across Europe aim for big gains.

“I want to express our surprise for the fact and coincidence that this news is coming out precisely this week,” said Pilar Alegría, spokeswoman for Spain’s government.

“We are absolutely calm because we know there is nothing (to the allegations),” Alegría said. “What does exist is a mudslinging campaign by the right and far right.”

Manos Limpias has said its allegations against Gómez were entirely based on media reports: “If they are not true, it would be up to those who published them to admit to their falsehood, but if they are true, then we believe that the legal case should continue forward.”

Spain’s public prosecutors’ office recommended the probe be thrown out, but a provincial court ruled that the lower-court judge could continue the investigation. The judge will either table the probe or recommend it go to trial.
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Trial turns testy as Trump lawyers try to pique fixer-turned-witness

Legal Business 2024/05/25 15:25   Bookmark and Share
After approximately five weeks, 19 witnesses, reams of documents and a dash of salacious testimony, the prosecution against Donald Trump rested its case Monday, handing over to the defense before closing arguments expected next week.

Trump’s team immediately sought to undermine key testimony against the former president, who is accused of covering up hush money paid to a porn star over an alleged encounter that could have derailed his successful 2016 White House bid.

His attorneys called lawyer Robert Costello — who once advised star prosecution witness Michael Cohen before falling out with him — in an apparent attempt to puncture Cohen’s credibility.

But Costello’s start on the stand was shaky at best, as his dismissive tone provoked an angry response from Judge Juan Merchan.

Merchan chided Costello for remarking “jeez” when he was cut off by a sustained objection and, at another point, “strike it.” Merchan told him: “I’m the only one that can strike testimony in the courtroom. Do you understand that?”

"And then if you don’t like my ruling, you don’t give me side eye and you don’t roll your eyes.”

Merchan was about to bring the jury back in when he asked Costello, “Are you staring me down right now?” and then kicked out the press to further admonish him.

"I’m putting you on notice that your conduct is contemptuous,” Merchan said, according to the transcript of the conversation that occurred when the press was out of the room. ”If you try to stare me down one more time, I will remove you from the stand.”

Costello didn’t return a message seeking comment Monday night.

Trump, speaking to reporters afterward, called the episode “an incredible display,” branding the proceedings “a show trial” and the judge “a tyrant.”

Extended quibbling among the two legal teams, along with the upcoming holiday weekend, means closing arguments that the judge had hoped could start Tuesday are now anticipated for next week.

It’s unlikely and risky, but the door remains open for Trump to take the stand in the criminal trial, the first ever of a former US president.

Experts doubt he will, as it would expose him to unnecessary legal jeopardy and forensic cross-examination by prosecutors — but his lawyer Todd Blanche has raised the prospect.

On Monday, Blanche finished his third day of questioning Cohen after hours of at times digressive, at other times bruising, exchanges.
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Trump faces prospect of additional sanctions for violating gag order

Legal Business 2024/05/03 16:30   Bookmark and Share
Jurors in the hush money trial of Donald Trump heard a recording Thursday of him discussing with his then-lawyer and personal fixer a plan to purchase the silence of a Playboy model who has said she had an affair with the former president.

A visibly irritated Trump leaned forward at the defense table, and jurors appeared riveted as prosecutors played the September 2016 recording that attorney Michael Cohen secretly made of himself briefing his celebrity client on a plan to buy Karen McDougal’s story of an extramarital relationship.

Though the recording surfaced years ago, it is perhaps the most colorful piece of evidence presented to jurors so far to connect Trump to the hush money payments at the center of his criminal trial in Manhattan. It followed hours of testimony from a lawyer who negotiated the deal for McDougal’s silence and admitted to being stunned that his hidden-hand efforts might have contributed to Trump’s White House victory.

“What have we done?” attorney Keith Davidson texted the then-editor of the National Enquirer, which had buried stories of sexual encounters to prevent them surfacing in the final days of the bitterly contested presidential race. “Oh my god,” came the response from Dylan Howard.

“There was an understanding that our efforts may have in some way...our activities may have in some way assisted the presidential campaign of Donald Trump,” Davidson told jurors, though he acknowledged under cross-examination that he dealt directly with Cohen and never Trump.

The testimony from Davidson was designed to directly connect the hush money payments to Trump’s presidential ambitions and to bolster prosecutors’ argument that the case is about interference in the 2016 election rather than simply sex and money. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has sought to establish that link not just to secure a conviction but also to persuade the public of the significance of the case, which may be the only one of four Trump prosecutions to reach trial this year.

“This is sort of gallows humor. It was on election night as the results were coming in,” Davidson explained. “There was sort of surprise amongst the broadcasters and others that Mr. Trump was leading in the polls, and there was a growing sense that folks were about ready to call the election.”

Davidson is seen as a vital building block for the prosecution’s case that Trump and his allies schemed to bury unflattering stories in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. He represented both McDougal and porn actor Stormy Daniels in negotiations that resulted in the purchase of rights to their claims of sexual encounters with Trump and those stories getting squelched, a tabloid industry practice known as “catch-and-kill.”

Davidson is one of multiple key players testifying in advance of Cohen, the star prosecution witness who paid Daniels $130,000 for her silence and also recorded himself, weeks before the election, telling Trump about a plan to purchase the rights to McDougal’s story from the National Enquirer so it would never come out. The tabloid had previously bought McDougal’s story to bury it on Trump’s behalf.

At one point in the recording, Cohen revealed that he had spoken to then-Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg about “how to set the whole thing up with funding.” To which Trump can be heard responding: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?”

Trump can be heard suggesting that the payment be made with cash, prompting Cohen to object by saying “no” multiple times. Trump can then be heard saying “check” before the recording cuts off.

Trump’s lawyers sought earlier in the day to blunt the potential harm of Davidson’s testimony by getting him to acknowledge that he never had any interactions with Trump — only Cohen. In fact, Davidson said, he had never been in the same room as Trump until his testimony.

He also said he was unfamiliar with the Trump Organization’s record-keeping practices and that any impressions he had of Trump himself came through others.
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Top Europe rights court condemns Switzerland in landmark climate ruling

Legal Business 2024/04/11 15:08   Bookmark and Share
Europe’s highest human rights court ruled Tuesday that countries must better protect their people from the consequences of climate change, siding with a group of older Swiss women against their government in a landmark ruling that could have implications across the continent.

The European Court of Human Rights rejected two other, similar cases on procedural grounds — a high-profile one brought by Portuguese young people and another by a French mayor that sought to force governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But the Swiss case, nonetheless, sets a legal precedent in the Council of Europe’s 46 member states against which future lawsuits will be judged.

“This is a turning point,” said Corina Heri, an expert in climate change litigation at the University of Zurich.

Although activists have had success with lawsuits in domestic proceedings, this was the first time an international court ruled on climate change — and the first decision confirming that countries have an obligation to protect people from its effects, according to Heri.

She said it would open the door to more legal challenges in the countries that are members of the Council of Europe, which includes the 27 EU nations as well as many others from Britain to Turkey.

The Swiss ruling softened the blow for those who lost Tuesday.

“The most important thing is that the court has said in the Swiss women’s case that governments must cut their emissions more to protect human rights,” said 19-year-od Sofia Oliveira, one of the Portuguese plaintiffs. “Their win is a win for us, too, and a win for everyone!”

The court — which is unrelated to the European Union — ruled that Switzerland “had failed to comply with its duties” to combat climate change and meet emissions targets.
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Trump wants N.Y. hush money trial to wait for Supreme Court immunity ruling

Legal Business 2024/03/12 16:45   Bookmark and Share
Donald Trump is seeking to delay his March 25 hush money trial until the Supreme Court rules on the presidential immunity claims he raised in another of his criminal cases.

The Republican former president’s lawyers on Monday asked Manhattan Judge Juan Manuel Merchan to adjourn the New York criminal trial indefinitely until Trump’s immunity claim in his Washington, D.C., election interference case is resolved. Merchan did not immediately rule.

Trump contends he is immune for prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office. His lawyers argue some of the evidence and alleged acts in the hush money case overlap with his time in the White House and constitute official acts.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments April 25, a month after the scheduled start of jury selection in Trump’s hush money case. It is the first of his four criminal cases slated to go to trial as he closes in on the Republican presidential nomination in his quest to retake the White House.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment. Prosecutors are expected to respond to Trump’s delay request in court papers later this week.

Trump first raised the immunity issue in his Washington, D.C., criminal case, which involves allegations that he worked to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the run-up to the violent riot by his supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The hush money case centers on allegations that Trump falsified his company’s internal records to hide the true nature of payments to his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who helped Trump bury negative stories during his 2016 presidential campaign. Among other things, Cohen paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Trump’s lawyers argue that some evidence Manhattan prosecutors plan to introduce at the hush money trial, including messages he posted on social media in 2018 about money paid to Cohen, were from his time as president and constituted official acts.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records. He has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels, and his lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and not part of any cover-up.

A federal judge last year rejected Trump’s claim that allegations in the hush money indictment involved official duties, nixing his bid to move the case from state court to federal court. Had the case been moved to federal court, Trump’s lawyers could’ve tried to get the charges dismissed on the grounds that federal officials have immunity from prosecution over actions taken as part of their official duties.
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Supreme Court restores Trump to ballot, rejecting state attempts to ban him

Legal Business 2024/03/05 12:50   Bookmark and Share
The Supreme Court on Monday unanimously restored Donald Trump to 2024 presidential primary ballots, rejecting state attempts to ban the Republican former president over the Capitol riot.

The justices ruled a day before the Super Tuesday primaries that states cannot invoke a post-Civil War constitutional provision to keep presidential candidates from appearing on ballots. That power resides with Congress, the court wrote in an unsigned opinion.

Trump posted on his social media network shortly after the decision was released: “BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!”

The outcome ends efforts in Colorado, Illinois, Maine and elsewhere to kick Trump, the front-runner for his party’s nomination, off the ballot because of his attempts to undo his loss in the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden, culminating in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

The justices sidestepped the politically fraught issue of insurrection in their opinions Monday.

The court held that states may bar candidates from state office. “But States have no power under the Constitution to enforce Section 3 with respect to federal offices, especially the Presidency,” the court wrote.

While all nine justices agreed that Trump should be on the ballot, there was sharp disagreement from the three liberal members of the court and a milder disagreement from conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett that their colleagues went too far in determining what Congress must do to disqualify someone from federal office.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Ketanji Brown Jackson said they agreed that allowing the Colorado decision to stand could create a “chaotic state by state patchwork” but said they disagreed with the majority’s finding a disqualification for insurrection can only happen when Congress enacts legislation. “Today, the majority goes beyond the necessities of this case to limit how Section 3 can bar an oathbreaking insurrectionist from becoming President,” the three justices wrote in a joint opinion.

It’s unclear whether the ruling leaves open the possibility that Congress could refuse to certify the election of Trump or any other presidential candidate it sees as having violated Section 3.

Derek Muller, a law professor at Notre Dame University, said “it seems no,” noting that the liberals complained that the majority ruling forecloses any other ways for Congress to enforce the provision. Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, wrote that it’s frustratingly unclear what the bounds might be on Congress.
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