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Supreme Court sets deadline for special counsel response in Trump immunity case for Feb. 20

The United States Supreme Court on Tuesday asked for special counsel Jack Smith to file his response in former President Donald Trump’s immunity case by the afternoon of Feb. 20. The former president has pleaded not guilty to charges of undertaking a “criminal scheme” to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

The high court’s request comes just one day after Trump filed an emergency application asking the justices to stay last week’s appeals court decision that rejected his claim of absolute immunity from prosecution in the election interference case. In Trump’s application to the Supreme Court his attorneys argued that the high court should allow the appellate process to play out — and effectively delay any possible trial indefinitely — given the magnitude of the issues and the stakes for the upcoming presidential election. His attorneys wrote: “allowing President Trump to pursue en banc review in the D.C. Circuit will provide an opportunity for similar thoughtful consideration in the lower court before this Court addresses the novel, complex, and momentous issues at stake in this appeal.”

Trump is seeking the dismissal of the case on the grounds that he has “absolute immunity” from prosecution for actions taken while serving in the nation’s highest office. Last week a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals rejected Trump’s claim of presidential immunity, clearing the way for Trump to seek to appeal the issue to the Supreme Court.

The appellate panel dismissed Trump’s claims last week to legal immunity, saying that affording him such protection “would collapse our system of separated powers by placing the President beyond the reach of all three Branches.” U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has postponed that start date of Trump’s trial while waiting for his immunity appeal to play out; it was originally scheduled to start on March 4.

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Pres. Biden says Trump’s NATO remarks ‘bow down to Vladimir Putin,’ are ‘un-American’

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden slammed former President Donald Trump for recently saying that he would encourage Russia to attack NATO nations that he thought had insufficiently spent on defense as part of the mutual protection agreement.

Biden said in remarks from the White House: “The former president has sent a dangerous, and shockingly, frankly, un-American signal to the world. Just a few days ago, Trump gave an invitation to Putin to invade some of our NATO allies. He said if an ally didn’t spend enough money on defense, he would encourage Russia to, ‘Do whatever the hell it wants.’ Can you imagine? A former president of the United States saying that. The whole world heard it, and the worst thing is he means it. No other president in history has ever bowed down to a Russian dictator. Let me say this as clearly as I can: I never will. For God’s sake, it’s shameful, it’s dangerous, it’s un-American.”

The NATO treaty requires that if one member nation is attacked, the other members will aid in their defense. The only time the clause has been invoked was after the 9/11 attack.  Biden said that Trump views NATO as a “burden, and doesn’t see the alliance that protects America and the world.”  He added that Russian leaders likely “cheered” when they heard Trump’s comments, saying:  “As long as I’m president, if Putin attacks a NATO ally, the United States will defend every inch of NATO territory.”

Since his remarks Saturday at a rally in South Carolina. Trump has faced backlash. The former president said he would urge Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” if it attacked a NATO country that didn’t contribute enough toward the alliance’s defense spending: “Let’s say that happened. No, I would not protect you. In fact, I would encourage them to do whatever the hell they want, you got to pay your bills.

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Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin cancels overseas trip to Brussels following hospitalization

U.S. defense officials said on Monday that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has canceled a trip to Brussels this week following his hospitalization on Sunday due to “an emergent bladder issue”. News of Austin’s hospitalization had raised questions as to whether Austin would be healthy enough to continue with that planned travel. U.S. defense officials said to multiple media outlets: “The secretary will no longer travel to Brussels and Wednesday’s Ukraine Defense Contact Group will now be held virtually.”

The Pentagon had announced last week that Austin would be traveling to Brussels to attend a monthly meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, the more than 50 countries providing military aid to Ukraine, and a separate meeting of NATO defense ministers. Austin’s latest hospitalization on Sunday was made public shortly after his security detail took him to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center seeking care for the new issue that appeared tied to his secret hospitalization in early January for complications resulting from a surgical procedure to treat his prostate cancer.

Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, said in a recent statement: “At approximately 4:55 pm today, Secretary Austin transferred the functions and duties of the office of the Secretary of Defense to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. The Deputy Secretary of Defense has assumed the functions and duties. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House, and Congress have been notified.”

Late Sunday night, Dr. John Maddox and Dr. Gregory Chesnut, Austin’s doctors at Walter Reed, said he had been admitted to the critical care unit.  Their statement read: “Earlier today, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III was transported by his security detail to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to be seen for symptoms suggesting an emergent bladder issue. Tonight, after a series of tests and evaluations, the Secretary was admitted into the critical care unit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for supportive care and close monitoring. At this time, it is not clear how long Secretary Austin will remain hospitalized. The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery. His cancer prognosis remains excellent. Updates on the Secretary’s condition will be provided as soon as possible.”

Austin recently faced scrutiny and criticism after undergoing a surgical procedure for prostate cancer on Dec. 22, which led to a urinary tract infection and serious intestinal complications which led to his hospitalization on Jan. 1. However, the White House didn’t learn of Austin’s diagnosis or hospitalization  or three days, to which Austin recently apologized for: “I should have told the president about my cancer diagnosis, and should also have told my team and the American public. I take full responsibility. I apologize to my teammates and to the American people.”  Austin has said he directly apologized to Biden and told him he was “deeply sorry” for not letting him know of his diagnosis immediately.

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Rifle of shooter at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood megachurch had ‘Palestine’ written on it

According to senior law enforcement officials, the assault style-type rifle used by the woman shot and killed Sunday afternoon at Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston had “Palestine” written on it. Police have stated that two off-duty officers at the church returned fire, striking the shooter and killing her at about 1:50 p.m. The child, identified as the shooters’ son, was also struck during the incident and was in critical condition. Police Chief Troy Finner said at a news conference that the boy was approximately 5 years old.

Osteen said that the shooting happened between services as people were arriving for Spanish service. About 45,000 people attend services there every week, making it one of the largest megachurches in the country. In a statement on Facebook, Osteen urged his congregation to lean on their faith to cope with anguish: “Our community is devastated by today’s events and grateful for the swift actions of law enforcement. Together, we will rise above this tragedy and stand firm in our commitment to love and support one another.”

The shooter, identified as Genesse Ivonne Moreno, 36, also made several undisclosed statements during the course of the incident, and law enforcement officials added that Moreno previously went by another male name. Moreno also stated she had a bomb, but a search of the vehicle showed there were no explosive devices. Police Chief Finner  said that one of the off-duty officers involved the incident is an agent with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, and the other is a Houston police officer. Officials are investigating possible motives, but have not conclusively say what led to the shooting. They have not ruled out terrorism or hate crime-related motives.

Law enforcement records also revealed that Moreno had at least six prior arrests since 2005, including unlawful carrying of a weapon, which she pleaded guilty to; evading arrest; and assault on a public official, which was pleaded to a lesser charge.

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Kansas City Chiefs defeat San Francisco 49ers 25-22 in OT to win 2024 Super Bowl LVIII

The Kansas City Chiefs became back-to-back Super Bowl champions after beating the San Francisco 49ers with a score of 25-22 at Super Bowl LVIII on Sunday, February 11 in overtime. The Chiefs become the first team in 19 seasons to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

The Chiefs’ kicker Harrison Butker tied up the game with less than 10 seconds on the clock during regulation, with the 49ers getting the ball first in overtime. Jake Moody hit a 27-yard field goal in OT to give the Niners a 22-19 lead, but Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes drove the Chiefs down the field, and with 13 seconds left in overtime, connecting with receiver Mecole Hardman on a one-yard touchdown pass to give the Chiefs the victory, and their third Super Bowl in the past five seasons.

Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes took home his third career Super Bowl MVP award, becoming only the third player in NFL history to do so (alongside retired quarterbacks Tom Brady and Joe Montana).

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Nigerian bank CEO and family among 6 killed in helicopter crash in California

A helicopter carrying six people, including the CEO of a Nigerian bank, crashed in California’s Mojave Desert, killing all people on board.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the director-general of the World Trade Organization and former finance minister of Nigeria, said in a post on X that Lagos-based Access Bank CEO Herbert Wigwe, his wife and his son were on board. She did not include the names of Wigwe’s wife and son. A fourth passenger, Bimbo Ogunbanjo, also known as Abimbola Ogunbanjo, was among the dead, Okonjo-Iweala said. He is the former chair of NGX Group, the Nigerian stock exchange.  Access Bank also confirmed Wigwe’s death, posting on X: “Today, we bid farewell to a visionary leader, @HerbertOWigwe, whose passion and unwavering commitment to excellence transformed Access into a global powerhouse. His legacy of excellence and compassion will continue to inspire us all. Rest in peace, Herbert Wigwe. Your impact will forever be felt.”

The two crew members and four passengers departed from Palm Springs, California, at 8:45 p.m. Friday and were en route to Boulder City, Nevada, about 26 miles outside of Las Vegas, officials said. National Transportation Safety Board member Michael Graham said at a news conference Saturday night that the helicopter “impacted the ground” near Halloran Springs, California, at 10:08 p.m. All six people on board — the pilot-in-command, a safety pilot and four passengers — were killed, Graham said.  The Eurocopter EC-130 helicopter didn’t have a cockpit voice recorder or flight data recorder, nor was it required to, according to Graham.

The California Highway Patrol reported shortly after the crash that a “large band of snow” was moving through Halloran Springs, according to a log of traffic incidents. It said the snow was moderate and mixed with rain. The cause of the crash has not been determined; the NTSB said an investigation was underway.

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Senate advances $95B in aid to Ukraine and Israel after rejecting border deal

The Senate voted on Thursday to advance a $95 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine and Israel. The 67-32 vote came after hours of deliberation among Senate Republicans, who voted against passing the foreign aid along with a bipartisan border security deal on Wednesday.

Senate Republicans said they would only support the standalone foreign aid with assurances that they would have the chance to add new border provisions and others raised concerns with the distribution of aid. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor after the vote: “This is a good first step. This bill is essential for our national security. Failure to pass this bill would only embolden autocrats like Putin and Xi, who want nothing more than America’s decline. Now that we are on the bill, we hope to reach an amendment with our Republican colleagues on amendments.”nSchumer said the Senate would keep at it “until the job is done.”

The Thursday vote advances a bill that could send $60 billion to Ukraine, as well as appropriate $14 billion to Israel, $9 billion for humanitarian aid in Gaza and elsewhere, and nearly $5 billion for Taiwan. The package must face a final majority vote in the Senate chamber, and it is unclear how the package would fare in the House, where Republicans failed to pass standalone aid for Israel.

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Supreme Court hears arguments over Trump’s eligibility for 2024 ballot

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard argument on the historic case challenging Donald Trump’s ability to hold office again over his role in the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021. The legal battle centers on an obscure provision of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment — Section 3 — ratified shortly after the Civil War.

The High Court signaled skepticism that Colorado had the power to remove former President Donald Trump from the Republican primary ballot because of his actions trying to overturn the 2020 election results. Trump, who has long denied any wrongdoing, asked the justices to overturn an unprecedented Colorado Supreme Court decision deeming him ineligible to appear on the state’s GOP primary ballot because, it said, he “engaged in insurrection.”

A majority of the justices appeared during the two-hour argument alleging that states do not have a role in deciding whether a presidential candidate can be barred from running under a provision of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment that bars people who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office. While the justices raised concerns about states reaching different conclusions on whether a candidate could run, several indicated that only Congress could enforce the provision at issue.

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Search continues for 5 Marines after missing military helicopter found

The search still continues for five U.S. Marines who went missing early on Wednesday after rescuers found their military helicopter in Southern California. The 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing is managing search and rescue efforts near Pine Valley, California, in San Diego County. Officials did not say what condition the helicopter was in when it was found.

The helicopter, a Sikorsky CH-53E Super Stallion, was found about 40 miles from San Diego in Pine Valley at about 9 a.m., according to the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. The Marine Corps has been leading the search and rescue effort after it was reported overdue about 1:40 a.m. on Wednesday. The helicopter was traveling from the Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas to the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Deigo went it went missing, Marine Corps officials said. Rescue crews initially searched an area of the Cleveland National Forest east of San Diego.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and multiple federal, state and local agencies are assisting in locating the Marines.Firefighters were also dispatched, but due to low visibility search efforts were pulled back, Cal Fire said.

The search comes amid a winter storm in San Diego that dumped heavy rain on the area and caused flash flood warnings, hindering search efforts in the area.

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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu rejects Hamas ceasefire demand, vows to ‘fight until total victory’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he has rejected Hamas demands for a cease-fire, and is vowing to proceed with Israel’s military offensive in Gaza until achieving “absolute victory.” Despite warnings of the potential for dire consequences, Netanyahu said he had ordered the Israel Defense Forces to prepare to push into the southern Gaza city of Rafah, stating that the IDF’s operation in Gaza would last months, not years. The Israeli leader added: “We are on the way to an absolute victory. There is no other solution.”

Netanyahu’s comments came shortly after meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who has been traveling across the region while trying to securing a cease-fire agreement. The U.S. has been pushing Israel to adjust its tactics in Gaza. amid the rising death toll (with officials in the Hamas-run enclave stating the death toll is nearing 28,000, many of whom are women and children).  Additionally, roughly 1.5 million Palestinians have been displaced from their homes by the war in Gaza, and are living in squalid tent camps and U.N.-run shelters.

In his comments, Netanyahu added that agreeing to the terms proposed by Hamas would “invite another massacre,” and that Israel was the “only power” capable of guaranteeing security in the long term (Hamas has long been designated as a terror organization by Israel, Hamas and the European Union). Netanyahu ruled out any arrangement that leaves Hamas in full or partial control of Gaza, which the group’s latest proposal would have done.

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