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Trial begins of Giuliani associate linked to Trump-Ukraine scandal

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independent– Jury selection began on Tuesday for the trial of Lev Parnas, a onetime associate of Rudy Giuliani who is accused along with a co-defendant of making illegal campaign contributions.

US prosecutors allege Mr Parnas, a Soviet-born Florida businessman, ingratiated himself with influential Republicans through big campaign contributions, including a $325,000 donation in 2018 to a super PAC supporting then-President Donald Trump.

An indictment said some of those donations were improperly funnelled through a company that Mr Parnas co-owned in ways that disguised the origin of the money and evaded limits on personal donations.

Mr Parnas initially came to public attention in 2019 as he assisted Giuliani’s effort to get the government of Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden, the son of then-presidential-candidate Joe Biden.

Mr Giuliani is not charged in the case and prosecutors haven’t alleged that he knew anything about illegal campaign contributions.

Mr Parnas and a co-defendant, Andrey Kukushkin, are also accused of arranging donations on behalf of a Russian financier, Andrey Muraviev, as part of an effort to expand his legal marijuana businesses in the United States. Prosecutors said Mr Muraviev put up $1 million dollars for the venture.

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The White House is tapping oil reserves to try to bring down high gas prices

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npr– The United States plans to draw 50 million barrels of oil from its emergency oil reserves in coming months, a widely anticipated step aimed at trying to take the edge off high gas prices that have been hurting consumers at the pump — and hurting President Biden in the polls.

Inflation has emerged as a top political concern with voters, who have seen prices for gasoline and other staples surge in recent months. U.S. gas prices are at their highest level since 2014.

Biden has been talking with other leaders about the problem, and other major consumers — China, India, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom — will take similar steps to release oil from their stockpiles, the White House said on Tuesday.

In a Tuesday news conference announcing the decision, Biden said, “We’re taking action.”

“The big part of the reason Americans are facing high gas prices is because oil-producing countries and large companies have not ramped up the supply of oil quickly enough to meet the demand. And the smaller supply means higher prices globally — globally — for oil,” he said.

Biden warned that actions by the U.S. and other nations wouldn’t fix problems at the pump “overnight,” but said Americans could soon expect relief.

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Myanmar election body charges Suu Kyi with electoral fraud

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independent– Myanmar’s state election commission announced it is prosecuting the country’s ousted leader, Aung San Suu Kyi and 15 other senior political figures for alleged fraud in last November’s general election.

The announcement was published Tuesday in the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper and other official media.

Allegations of widespread electoral fraud were the main reason cited by the military for its Feb. 1 seizure of power that toppled Suu Kyi’s government. Her National League for Democracy party was about to begin a second five-year term in office after its landslide victory in the polls. The army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party suffered unexpectedly heavy losses.

Independent observers, such as the Asian Network for Free Elections, found no evidence of substantive irregularities in the polls, though they criticized some aspects.

The action by the Union Election Commission could potentially result in Suu Kyi’s party being dissolved and unable to participate in a new election the military has promised will take place within two years of its takeover. However, the commission’s notice, dated Monday, did not specify which laws would be used to prosecute the accused.

In May, the military-appointed new head of the election commission said his agency would consider dissolving Suu Kyi’s former governing party for alleged involvement in electoral fraud and have its leaders charged with treason. Commission Chairman Thein Soe said an investigation had determined that the party had worked illegally with the government to give itself an advantage at the polls.

After taking power, the military dismissed the members of the election commission that had certified the results of last year’s poll and appointed new ones. It also detained members of the old commission, and, according to reports in independent Myanmar media, pressured them to state there had been election fraud.

The new commission declared last year’s election’s results invalid.

The new notice from the commission said Suu Kyi, former President Win Myint, other leading figures in her party and the commission’s former chairman were “involved in electoral processes, election fraud and lawless actions” related to the polls.

It accused 16 people of carrying out illegal actions, including compelling local election officials to obstruct military polling booths, threatening such officials in connection with advance voting for voters over 60 years old, forcing local officials to approve voting lists that included ineligible voters and interfering in campaigning to favor Suu Kyi’s party.

Suu Kyi is already on trial or charged in about a dozen criminal cases in which a conviction would almost certainly bar her from running for office again. Several of her top political allies also have been tried or are facing charges. Suu Kyi’s supporters as well as independent rights organizations contend that the cases are spurious and meant to discredit Suu Kyi and her party while legitimizing military rule.

Dissolving Suu Kyi’s party would follow a regional trend of dissolving popular political parties seen as a threat to governments in power.

Cambodia’s high court in 2017 dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party the sole credible opposition force, ahead of a 2018 general election.

Thailand’s Constitutional Court in 2020 dissolved the newly formed Future Forward Party, which had won the third highest number of seats in the lower house in the 2019 general election.

In both the Cambodian and Thai cases, the courts cited specific violations of the law for their rulings, but their actions were widely seen as reflecting political pressures.

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Capitol riot: Judge rejects Trump bid to withhold records

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bbc– A US judge has ruled a congressional committee investigating the Capitol riot can access some of ex-President Donald Trump’s White House records.

Mr Trump had argued the materials were covered by executive privilege, which protects the confidentiality of some White House communications.

The inquiry is trying to find out if Mr Trump had foreknowledge of the riot.

The ruling came on the day 10 Trump aides were issued with legal summonses to testify before lawmakers.

Hundreds of Mr Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol building and disrupted the official certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory on 6 January this year.

The House of Representatives Select Committee wants to see a trove of phone records, visitor logs and other White House documents that could shed some light on the events leading up to the attack on Congress.

The former president had requested an injunction to keep the documents under wraps.

But US District Judge Tanya Chutkan ruled on Tuesday that the National Archives, the federal agency that holds Mr Trump’s White House records, should comply with the panel’s request.

  • Capitol riots timeline: How the day unfolded
  • Capitol riots: What we have learned six months on
  • Who stormed the Capitol?

Judge Chutkan, an Obama appointee, ruled that Mr Trump’s request for a preliminary injunction seemed to rest “on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity'”.

“But Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President,” she added in the 39-page decision. The legal battle is likely to wind up at the Supreme Court.

Sixteen of Mr Trump’s closest aides have been subpoenaed in the past two days.

They include Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, Stephen Miller, who was Mr Trump’s senior adviser, Bill Stepien, campaign manager, Mark Meadows, former White House chief of staff, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser.

Bennie Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the House Select Committee, said in a statement he wants to know every detail about what happened on 6 January, and in the days leading up to it.

The committee expects the witnesses to “comply fully”, he added.

The panel has already subpoenaed Dan Scavino, former deputy chief of staff, and Steve Bannon, a former Trump strategist.

Mr Bannon refused to comply with the subpoena and was charged with contempt of Congress.

Following the Capitol riot, Mr Trump was impeached by Congress, but cleared by lawmakers of inciting an insurrection. More than 670 people have been arrested for the invasion of the Capitol complex.

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