More stories

  • in

    Ex-FBI informant charged with lying about Bidens arrested again

    The former FBI informant who is charged with lying about a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving Joe Biden’s family was again taken into custody in Las Vegas, two days after a judge released him, his attorneys said.Alexander Smirnov was arrested during a meeting on Thursday morning at his lawyers’ offices in downtown Las Vegas. The arrest came after prosecutors appealed the judge’s ruling allowing 43-year-old Smirnov, who holds dual US-Israeli citizenship, to be released with a GPS monitor ahead of trial. He is charged with making a false statement and creating a false and fictitious record.Attorneys David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld said in a statement that they have requested an immediate hearing on his detention and will again push for his release. They said Smirnov, who claims to have links to Russian intelligence, was taken into custody on a warrant issued in California for the same charges.Smirnov was first arrested last week in Las Vegas, where he now lives, while returning from overseas. A spokesman for justice department special counsel David Weiss, who is prosecuting Smirnov, confirmed that Smirnov had been arrested again, but did not have additional comment.Prosecutors say Smirnov falsely told his FBI handler that executives from the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid Joe and Hunter Biden $5m each around 2015. The claim became central to the Republican impeachment inquiry of President Biden in Congress.Smirnov has not entered a plea to the charges, but his lawyers have said their client is presumed innocent and they look forward to defending him at trial.As part of their push to keep him in custody, prosecutors said Smirnov told investigators after his arrest last week that “officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story” about Hunter Biden. They said Smirnov’s self-reported contact with Russian officials was recent and extensive, and said he had planned to meet with foreign intelligence contacts during an upcoming trip abroad.US magistrate judge Daniel Albregts said on Tuesday that he was concerned about Smirnov’s access to money that prosecutors estimated to be around $6m, but noted that federal guidelines required him to fashion “the least restrictive conditions” ahead of trial. Smirnov was also ordered to stay in the area and surrender his passports.“Do not make a mockery out of me,” Albregts said to Smirnov, warning that he’d be placed back into the federal government’s custody if he violated any of his conditions. His lawyers say he had been “fully compliant” with his release conditions.Prosecutors quickly appealed to US district judge Otis D Wright in California.“The circumstances of the offenses charged – that Smirnov lied to his FBI handler after a 10-year relationship where the two spoke nearly every day – means that Smirnov cannot be trusted to provide truthful information to pretrial services,” prosecutors wrote in court documents.“The effects of Smirnov’s false statements and fabricated information continue to be felt to this day. Now the personal stakes for Smirnov are even higher. His freedom is on the line.”Smirnov had been an informant for more than a decade when he made the explosive allegations about the Bidens in June 2020, after “expressing bias” about Joe Biden as a presidential candidate, prosecutors said.But Smirnov had only routine business dealings with Burisma starting in 2017, according to court documents. No evidence has emerged that Joe Biden acted corruptly or accepted bribes in his current role or previous office as vice president.While his identity wasn’t publicly known before the indictment, Smirnov’s claims have played a major part in the Republican effort in Congress to investigate the president and his family, and helped spark what is now a House impeachment inquiry into Biden. Republicans pursuing investigations of the Bidens demanded the FBI release the unredacted form documenting the unverified allegations, though they acknowledged they couldn’t confirm if they were true.Democrats called for an end to the investigation after the Smirnov indictment came down last week, while Republicans distanced the inquiry from his claims and said they would continue to “follow the facts.”Smirnov’s lawyers say he has been living in Las Vegas for two years with his longtime girlfriend and requires treatment and daily medications for “significant medical issues related to his eyes”. He lived in California for 16 years prior to moving to Nevada. More

  • in

    Progressives lambast Biden over potential move to restrict asylum

    Progressive lawmakers and advocates on Thursday pushed back strongly against Joe Biden amid reports that the White House is weighing unilateral action to sharply restrict access to claim asylum at the US-Mexico border – comparing the move to the hardline strategies of Donald Trump when he was president.The leading progressive congressional representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Pramila Jayapal criticized the US president for considering such executive action, while legislative efforts are stalled on Capitol Hill amid Republican resistance, after CNN first reported that Biden was considering the unilateral move.“Doing Trump impressions isn’t how we beat Trump,” Ocasio-Cortez said of Biden’s potential action, in a post to X, formerly known as Twitter.The White House is reportedly considering actions aside from congressional legislation to restrict migrants’ access to the right to ask for asylum in the US if they cross the border from Mexico between official ports of entry, usually without the right papers or an appointment with US authorities.“Seeking asylum is a legal right of all people. In the face of authoritarian threat, we should not buckle on our principles – we should commit to them. The mere suggestion is outrageous and the President should refuse to sign it,” Ocasio-Cortez, who represents a New York district, added.Jayapal, who is chair of Congressional Progressive Caucus and represents a district in Washington state, said that Biden would be making a “mistake” if he took such unilateral action to restrict asylum seekers.“This would be an extremely disappointing mistake,” Jayapal said on X of Biden’s potential executive action.“Democrats cannot continue to take pages out of Donald Trump and Stephen Miller’s playbook – we need to lead with dignity and humanity,” she added.A representative of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) told CBS News that Biden’s potential executive action could probably face legal challenges from the ACLU and other immigration rights groups.“An executive order denying asylum based on where one enters the country would just be another attempt at the exact policy Trump unsuccessfully tried and will undoubtedly end up in litigation,” ACLU lawyer Lee Gelernt told CBS.Amid more partisan takes, the South Carolina representative Jim Clyburn told CNN that he had concerns about Republicans “politicizing” the issue of immigration.Clyburn did not comment on Biden’s potential executive action during an interview with CNN on Thursday morning. But Clyburn said that House Republicans had caused a bipartisan immigration bill to fail earlier this month.“Why did they need this immigration issue as a political issue, rather than trying to solve the problem?” he added.Several officials familiar with the White House discussions said to CNN and the Associated Press that no final decisions had been made.In comments to CNN, a White House spokesperson did not address the potential executive action, but said that the White House was calling on Republicans to pass legislation that would address issues at the border.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotion“No executive action, no matter how aggressive, can deliver the significant policy reforms and additional resources Congress can provide and that Republicans rejected. We continue to call on Speaker Johnson and House Republicans to pass the bipartisan deal to secure the border,” White House spokesperson Angelo Fernández said in a statement.The latest news comes as the Biden administration failed to pass the negotiated border bill , after Senate Republicans rejected the legislation.Republicans complained that the bill did not go far enough to address undocumented migration at the border, which many want effectively shut down.The Biden administration has received criticism from both political parties and negative feedback from voters responding to opinion polls on its handling of immigration issues, especially at the southern border.Meanwhile, progressives have criticized the Biden administration for not fulfilling campaign promises from the 2020 presidential election to implement a more humane and streamlined immigration system.Many municipal leaders, including Democrats, have also demanded help from the Biden administration to address an increase of arriving migrants as US cities struggle to accommodate them.Immigration remains a central issue ahead of the 2024 presidential election, in which Biden and Trump are expected to be the nominees for their political parties.A poll from earlier this month by Associated Press-NORC found that Republican and Democratic voters are increasingly concerned about immigration, the Associated Press reported. More

  • in

    Biden calls ‘disregard’ for reproductive rights in conservative push ‘outrageous’ – as it happened

    Joe Biden has issued a statement sharply criticizing the Alabama state supreme court’s decision declaring embryos kept for IVF as “children”, and saying that this and other restrictions from the right on reproductive choice are “a direct result of the overturning of Roe v Wade”.In a first-of-its-kind decision, the Alabama supreme court ruled last Friday that frozen embryos are “children”, allowing two wrongful death suits against a Mobile fertility clinic to proceed. The decision has sweeping implications for people seeking in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other assisted reproductive technology treatments and could increase criminalization of expectant people, my colleague Adria Walker reported earlier this week.The US president issued a statement from the White House on Thursday afternoon saying: “A court in Alabama put access to some fertility treatments at risk for families who are desperately trying to get pregnant. The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable.”Biden added: “Make no mistake: this is a direct result of the overturning of Roe v Wade.” The supreme court, as stacked to the right during Donald Trump’s presidency, in 2022 tossed out the national right to an abortion in the US, almost 50 years after the landmark federal right was granted by a previous court bench.There’s more, see next post.Democrats channeled their outrage over an Alabama supreme court ruling that has curbed IVF care in the state, with Joe Biden’s re-election campaign saying Donald Trump is to blame. Republican strategists are reportedly nervous about the decision targeting the procedure many people rely on to start families, and warn it could blow back on the party ahead of the November elections. Biden has meanwhile found himself in hot water with progressives after reports emerged that he is considering implementing policies to stop migrants from crossing the border with Mexico. The president spent the day in San Francisco, where he met with the wife and daughter of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny, and pledged new sanctions against Russian president Vladimir Putin.Here’s what else happened:
    A second Alabama IVF provider paused their treatments after the state supreme court ruling.
    Washington also plans to sanction Iran for selling weapons to Russia, which it has used in its invasion of Ukraine.
    Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican governor, said he has no problem with IVF.
    Byron Donalds, a rightwing Florida congressman, threatened to shut down the government if tougher immigration laws weren’t passed.
    Moscow received a warning from the US government amid reports that it is planning to launch a nuclear-armed anti-satellite weapon.
    Joe Biden spoke briefly to reporters in San Francisco about his meeting with Alexei Navalny’s family, and said the sanctions he will announce tomorrow will target Vladimir Putin.Biden noted that he blamed the Russian leader for Navalny’s death. Here’s more:Vladimir Putin was none too pleased with comments Joe Biden made about him while in San Francisco, the Guardian’s Pjotr Sauer reports:Vladimir Putin has described as “rude” Joe Biden’s comments in which the American president called the Russian leader a “crazy SOB”.Biden was talking about the climate crisis on Wednesday when he said: “We have a crazy SOB like Putin and others, and we always have to worry about nuclear conflict, but the existential threat to humanity is climate.”On Thursday, after a flight onboard a strategic bomber that is capable of carrying nuclear warheads, Putin responded “yes, rude” to a reporter who said Biden had made a rude remark about him.Referring to earlier remarks in which the Russian leader said Biden was a preferable president for Russia than Donald Trump, Putin joked: “It’s not like he can say to me, ‘Volodya, thank you, well done, you’ve helped me a lot’.”He added with a smile: “You asked me which is better for us. I said it then that, and I still think I can repeat it: Biden.”The Kremlin earlier in the day said Biden’s comments were a “disgrace” for the US.“The use of such language against the head of another state by the president of the United States is unlikely to infringe on our president, President Putin,” the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said. “But it debases those who use such vocabulary.” The remarks were “probably some kind of attempt to look like a Hollywood cowboy”, Peskov added.The Daily Mail reports that protesters demanding Joe Biden support a ceasefire in Israel’s invasion of Gaza have entered the hotel where the president is in San Francisco:Biden has repeatedly had his speeches and events interrupted by protesters upset over his administration’s policies towards Israel in the wake of Hamas’s 7 October attack:Joe Biden has released photos of his meeting with Alexei Navalny’s wife and daughter in San Francisco:Joe Biden offered his condolences to the wife and daughter of Russian opposition figure Aleksey Navalny in a meeting today, and pledged stricter sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s government in Moscow, the White House announced:
    President Biden met with Yulia and Dasha Navalnaya today in San Francisco to express his heartfelt condolences for their terrible loss following the death of Aleksey Navalny in a Russian prison. The President expressed his admiration for Aleksey Navalny’s extraordinary courage and his legacy of fighting against corruption and for a free and democratic Russia in which the rule of law applies equally to everyone. The President emphasized that Aleksey’s legacy will carry on through people across Russia and around the world mourning his loss and fighting for freedom, democracy, and human rights. He affirmed that his Administration will announce major new sanctions against Russia tomorrow in response to Aleksey’s death, Russia’s repression and aggression, and its brutal and illegal war in Ukraine.
    The White House is promising to unveil new sanctions on Iran in the coming days in retaliation for its arms sales that have bolstered Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and threatening a “swift” and “severe” response if Tehran moves forward with selling ballistic missiles to Moscow, the Associated Press reports.National security council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday that the US will be “imposing additional sanctions on Iran in the coming days” for its efforts to supply Russia with drones and other technology for the war against Ukraine.And he issued a new warning to Iran that providing ballistic missiles to Russia for use against Kyiv would be met with even more sanctions and actions at the United Nations.The US has been warning for months of Russia’s efforts to acquire ballistic missiles from Iran in return for providing Tehran with enhanced military cooperation.
    We have not seen any confirmation that missiles have actually moved from Iran to Russia … [but] we have no reason to believe that they will not follow through.”
    He said that if Iran moves forward:
    I can assure you that the response from the international community will be swift and it will be severe.”

    He said the US would take the matter to the UN security council, where Russia has a veto.We will implement additional sanctions against Iran and we will coordinate further response options with our allies and partners in Europe and elsewhere. We have demonstrated our ability to take action in response to the military partnership between Russia and Iran in the past. We will do so in the future. In response to Iran’s ongoing support for Russia’s brutal war. We will be imposing additional sanctions on Iran in the coming days. And we are prepared to go further if Iran sells ballistic missiles to Russia.”
    The US is set to announce a new set of sanctions Friday against Russia.The United States has directly warned Russia against launching a new nuclear armed anti-satellite weapon, a US official said on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity, Reuters reported.The US official’s comments came two days after a source familiar with the matter told Reuters that the United States believes Russia is developing such a weapon.The detonation of a weapon of this kind, the source said, could disrupt everything from military communications to phone-based ride services.The US official said that Washington had cautioned Russia against launching such a weapon.The Wall Street Journal first reported the warning, saying that the United States told Russia that such a weapon would violate the Outer Space Treaty and jeopardize U.S. national security interests.Earlier, the Biden-Harris re-election campaign issued a statement slamming the Alabama court decision over frozen embryos for IVF. Now there’s more from Joe Biden as he weighs in directly from the White House.Here is the full statement from the US president moments ago:
    Today, in 2024 in America, women are being turned away from emergency rooms and forced to travel hundreds of miles for health care, while doctors fear prosecution for providing an abortion. And now, a court in Alabama put access to some fertility treatments at risk for families who are desperately trying to get pregnant. The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable.Make no mistake: this is a direct result of the overturning of Roe v Wade.I know that folks are worried about what they’re seeing happening to women all across America. I am too. I hear about it everywhere I go. My message is: The Vice President and I are fighting for your rights. We’re fighting for the freedom of women, for families, and for doctors who care for these women. And we won’t stop until we restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in federal law for all women in every state.”
    Vice-president Kamala Harris is campaigning heavily for reproductive rights and against Republicans’ determined crusade against those right. Harris is visiting Grand Rapids, Michigan, today, where the White House said she will continue her nationwide “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour by convening a roundtable conversation with medical providers, patients, reproductive rights advocates, and state and local leaders. Expect remarks later.Joe Biden has issued a statement sharply criticizing the Alabama state supreme court’s decision declaring embryos kept for IVF as “children”, and saying that this and other restrictions from the right on reproductive choice are “a direct result of the overturning of Roe v Wade”.In a first-of-its-kind decision, the Alabama supreme court ruled last Friday that frozen embryos are “children”, allowing two wrongful death suits against a Mobile fertility clinic to proceed. The decision has sweeping implications for people seeking in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other assisted reproductive technology treatments and could increase criminalization of expectant people, my colleague Adria Walker reported earlier this week.The US president issued a statement from the White House on Thursday afternoon saying: “A court in Alabama put access to some fertility treatments at risk for families who are desperately trying to get pregnant. The disregard for women’s ability to make these decisions for themselves and their families is outrageous and unacceptable.”Biden added: “Make no mistake: this is a direct result of the overturning of Roe v Wade.” The supreme court, as stacked to the right during Donald Trump’s presidency, in 2022 tossed out the national right to an abortion in the US, almost 50 years after the landmark federal right was granted by a previous court bench.There’s more, see next post.Democrats are channeling their outrage over an Alabama supreme court ruling that has curbed IVF care in the state, with Joe Biden’s re-election campaign saying Donald Trump is to blame. Indeed, Republican strategists are nervous about the decision against the procedure many people have used to start families, and warn it could blow back on the party ahead of the November elections. Biden has meanwhile found himself in hot water with progressives after reports emerged that he is considering implementing policies to stop migrants from crossing the border with Mexico. Republican House speaker Mike Johnson, who has repeatedly demanded tougher immigration policies, called Biden’s proposals “election year gimmicks”.Here’s what else is going on:
    A second Alabama IVF provider paused their treatments after the state supreme court ruling.
    Brian Kemp, Georgia’s Republican governor, said he has no problem with IVF.
    Byron Donalds, a rightwing Florida congressman, threatened to shut down the government if tougher immigration laws weren’t passed.
    Republican House speaker Mike Johnson is none too impressed by reports that Joe Biden is considering using his powers under existing law to curb migrants crossing into the United States from Mexico.In a statement, Johnson demanded Biden take tougher actions, such as forcing asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while their claims are processed. He also said the reports that the president is wiling to act unilaterally prove that there’s no need for Congress to pass new laws to curb undocumented migrants:
    Americans have lost faith in this President and won’t be fooled by election year gimmicks that don’t actually secure the border. Nor will they forget that the President created this catastrophe and, until now, has refused to use his executive power to fix it.
    These reports also underscore just how brazenly and intentionally President Biden misled the public when he claimed he had done everything in his power to secure the border. Specifically, the President’s alleged desire to invoke Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which the White House dismissed using for months, is particularly telling.
    If these reports are true and the President intends to take action, he can show he’s serious by changing more than asylum policy. He should begin by reinstituting the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy and ending his administration’s abuse of the parole system, along with other critical reforms.
    Earlier this month, Johnson and his fellow House Republicans torpedoed a bipartisan Senate deal that would have authorized another round of military assistance to Ukraine as well as Israel, while also imposing hardline immigration policies. Among Johnson’s objections were his belief that Biden didn’t need any new legislation to stop people from entering from Mexico – but Donald Trump also encouraged him to reject the deal, reportedly so he can use frustration with migrants in his campaign.Republican strategists are growing worried the Alabama supreme court’s decision that greatly complicates access to IVF care in the state could harm the party’s candidates nationwide, Politico reports.“It certainly intersects, badly, with general election politics for Republicans,” said Stan Barnes, a former Republican state senator from Arizona who is now a political consultant.“When a state, any state, takes an aggressive action on this particular topic, people are once again made aware of it and many think: ‘Maybe I can’t support a Republican in the general election.’”Former Donald Trump White House official Kellyanne Conway in December shared polling with congressional Republicans that found IVF care to be widely popular, including with evangelicals, a group that is traditionally anti-abortion.“Candidates for Congress – and certainly those already serving there – can bank significant political currency by advocating for increased access to and availability of contraception and fertility treatments,” Conway’s team told lawmakers.According to Politico, “The survey found that 86 percent of all respondents supported access to IVF, with 78 percent support among self-identified ‘pro-life advocates’ and 83 percent among Evangelical Christians.”While he refrained from commenting on the Alabama ruling, Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, said he supported IVF, noting many people “wouldn’t have children if it weren’t for that”.From an interview with Politico:Besides Joe Biden, other Democrats are piling on Alabama’s supreme court for its decision that curbed IVF care by finding embryos are “extrauterine children”.Here’s Illinois senator Tammy Duckworth:And her colleague from Virginia, Tim Kaine:Democrats have campaigned on restoring nationwide abortion access ever since Roe v Wade was overturned two years ago, and voters appear receptive. The party has performed well in special elections and in state legislative races, and limited its losses in Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. More

  • in

    Russia-linked Biden accuser charged with lying? Who cares, Republicans say

    Congress should publicly investigate the case of Alexander Smirnov, the FBI informant charged with lying about corruption involving Joe Biden and linked to Russian intelligence, a leading lawyer said, adding that senior Republicans who pushed Smirnov’s claims should be forced to testify.“The Senate should open an immediate investigation into the Alexander Smirnov scandal – with public hearings,“ said Tristan Snell, formerly a prosecutor on the Trump University fraud case, now author of Taking Down Trump, a book on the former president’s many legal challenges.“Bring Smirnov in to testify,” Snell added. “And then bring Jim Jordan, James Comer and Elise Stefanik in right behind him. This is a national security breach of the highest order.”Stefanik, from New York, is the Republican House conference chair and a prominent supporter of Donald Trump, the probable presidential nominee whose desire for revenge for his own impeachments is widely held to motivate Republican attempts to impeach Joe Biden in return.Jordan, from Ohio, is the House judiciary chair. On Wednesday, his committee and the oversight panel, chaired by Comer of Kentucky, interviewed James Biden about his business affairs and links to his older brother, the president. Hunter Biden, Joe Biden’s son, is due to be interviewed next week.The bombshell news of Smirnov’s ties to Russian intelligence exploded the night before, in filings related to his arrest in Nevada. After James Biden’s interview, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the oversight committee, told Republicans it was time to bring to an end the “circus” of attempts to impeach the president.Republicans were not listening. Charges against Smirnov and news of his links with Russian intelligence did not “change the fundamental facts” of the case, Jordan told reporters, rehashing claims about Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian energy company and the supposed involvement of his father.One reporter, Manu Raju of CNN, pushed back, referring to an FBI document containing claims Smirnov is now charged with making up, possibly in connection with Russian intelligence, a document senior Republicans used eagerly as they pushed their claims.“You said the 1023 is the most corroborating piece of information you have,” Raju said to Jordan. “But it’s not true!”Comer, the leader of the impeachment effort, also showed little sign of concern with the truth. Reaching for Trump-like language, he told the rightwing Newsmax network Democrats were “going to play the Russia card again”, a reference to investigations of Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow which dogged Trump’s term in office.skip past newsletter promotionafter newsletter promotion“That’s what Dan Goldman’s done, that’s what Jamie Raskin’s done,” Comer said, referring to prominent Democratic voices calling for impeachment efforts to end.Goldman, from New York, told CNN: “Wittingly or unwittingly, House Republicans have been acting as an agent or an asset of Russian intelligence.”Raskin said Republicans “just say, ‘Russia hoax Russia hoax.’ What part of it is the hoax? Is it the war in Ukraine? Is it the death of [Alexander] Navalny? What is hoax-like about it?“The hoax is that there’s a Russian hoax. There’s not a Russian hoax. There has been a series of efforts by Vladimir Putin to destabilize and undermine American political democracy.” More

  • in

    James Biden reportedly says his brother was never involved in his business ventures – as it hapened

    In his opening statement to the House lawmakers leading the impeachment charge against Joe Biden, his brother James Biden said the president has never been involved in his business dealings, the Washington Post reports.The testimony rebuts Republican claims that Joe Biden has used his official positions to assist his relatives and profit corruptly from their business dealings.“I have had a 50-year career in a variety of business ventures,” James Biden told the House oversight committee at his behind-closed-doors deposition today. “Joe Biden has never had any involvement or any direct or indirect financial interest in those activities. None.”Here’s more, from the Washington Post:House Republicans’ long-running effort to impeach Joe Biden was rocked by news of the arrest of a former FBI informant whose claims about Hunter Biden’s business with a Ukrainian gas firm were a key part of the GOP’s case against the president. Alexander Smirnov is accused of lying to the government, and yesterday, prosecutors revealed that he said he received information from Russian intelligence. Republican investigators are pressing on, and today interviewed the president’s brother James Biden, who denied that Joe Biden had ever been involved in his business. Jamie Raskin, a top House Democrat, called on Republicans to end the impeachment amid the Smirnov affair.Here’s a rundown of what happened:
    The US supreme court released two opinions, neither of which dealt with the challenges to Donald Trump’s ballot eligibility, or whether he is immune from prosecution for his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
    Nikki Haley said she supports an Alabama supreme court decision that could curb access to IVF care.
    David Weiss, the special counsel prosecuting Hunter Biden, reportedly asked a judge to detain Smirnov, a day after a different judge allowed him to be released as he awaited trial.
    John Avlon, a former CNN anchor and Daily Beast editor, is running as a Democrat for a congressional seat in New York.
    House Democrats called on the Republican speaker, Mike Johnson, to bring the chamber back into session to vote on Ukraine aid.
    As for Joe Biden, he’s in Los Angeles, and just popped into the Mexican restaurant CJ’s Cafe along with the city’s Democratic mayor, Karen Bass.According to the reporters accompanying him on the jaunt, the president was taking a picture with a customer, and switched their phone to selfie mode. The person was surprised Biden knew how to do that, to which the president responded: “After the last guy, the bar’s on the floor.”The last guy, and potentially the next guy.Besides the House oversight and judiciary committees’ interview with James Biden, Congress hasn’t been up to much today.That’s because the House and Senate are both out of session. But a group of House Democrats, including Ohio’s Marcy Kaptur, want the Republican speaker, Mike Johnson, to call lawmakers back into session to vote on legislation that will send military aid to Ukraine:Lawmakers departed the Capitol last week after failing to agree on new aid for Kyiv as well as Israel and Taiwan, despite weeks of negotiating over a proposal that would have paired that aid with hardline immigration policies.It’s unclear whether, and how, the aid package will now be approved. The Senate returns next Monday, and the House on Wednesday.Here’s video from NBC News’s interview with Nikki Haley, in which the former South Carolina governor says she supports the Alabama supreme court ruling that could complicate access to IVF care:Notice it’s being shared on X by Joe Biden’s re-election campaign. Ever since the US supreme court’s conservative majority overturned Roe v Wade in 2022, the president has promised to protect abortion access, and now seems set to make the same vow for IVF.The Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley announced her support for an Alabama supreme court ruling that could complicate access to in vitro fertilization procedures, telling NBC News in an interview: “Embryos, to me, are babies.“When you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that’s a life. And so I do see where that’s coming from when they talk about that,” said the former South Carolina governor, who is the last major challenger to Donald Trump for the GOP’s presidential nomination.The Alabama supreme court last week ruled that frozen embryos are “children” and allowed two wrongful death suits to proceed against a fertility clinic where several embryos were destroyed in 2021, a decision that could complicate access to IVF treatment more widely.Here’s more from NBC on what Haley’s comments mean:
    Classifying embryos as children under state law raises significant questions about whether the practice, used by families having trouble conceiving, could continue in states like Alabama. Unused embryos are often destroyed, which could open families or clinics up to wrongful death lawsuits under this policy. Storing frozen embryos, meanwhile, is expensive.
    Asked if legislation and rulings like the one in Alabama could have a chilling effect on families using IVF to become parents, Haley said, “This is one where we need to be incredibly respectful and sensitive about it.”
    “I know that when my doctor came in, we knew what was possible and what wasn’t,” Haley continued, adding: “Every woman needs to know, with her partner, what she’s looking at. And then when you look at that, then you make the decision that’s best for your family.”
    Haley has sought to find a rhetorical middle ground on reproductive health policy as a 2024 presidential candidate. She has repeatedly calling for national “consensus” on abortion in debates instead of the bans and restrictions favored by some of her primary opponents.
    After the state supreme court’s decision, Alabama’s largest healthcare provider paused IVF treatments:The governor of Illinois, JB Pritzker, has announced that he is proposing the elimination of medical debt across the state.In a statement on Wednesday, Pritzker, a Democrat, said that he proposes that the state eliminate $4m of medical debt for more than 1 million Illinoisans over the next four years.He also said that he intends to “break down bureaucratic barriers in state government” by increasing coordination across agencies to improve reproductive healthcare services.Pritzker added that the Illinois department of human services will invest $1m in a pilot program to ensure new moms and babies have clean diapers, as well as an additional $5m into home visiting for the state’s most vulnerable families.Donald Trump has compared the $350m fine he received in his New York financial fraud case to “a form of Navalny”.Speaking at a Fox News town hall on Tuesday night, Trump hit back at the New York judge Arthur Engoron’s ruling. He also compared his case to that of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny whose death last week at a Russian penal colony has been largely blamed on the Kremlin.The ex president said:
    “It is a form of Navalny. It is a form of communism or fascism. The guy [Arthur Engoron] is a nut job, I’ve known this for a long time and I’ve said it openly.”
    Also on Tuesday evening, the New York attorney general, Letitia James, said that she will seize Trump’s assets if he does not pay the fine.
    If he does not have funds to pay off the judgment, then we will seek judgment enforcement mechanisms in court, and we will ask the judge to seize his assets,” James said.
    In the political reproductive rights war, with its real life repercussions, another new and consequential twist.Less than a week after the unprecedented decision from the Alabama supreme court that frozen embryos are “children”, a key medical school in the state has paused in vitro fertilization procedures.The court decision has been widely seen as one that would have serious implications for people seeking in vitro fertilization (IVF) or other assisted reproductive technology treatments.On Wednesday, AL.com reported, a spokesperson, Hannah Echols, said on behalf of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a research university and academic medical center that is also the largest healthcare provider in the state, that the institution is “saddened” for patients who hope to have babies through IVF.“We must evaluate the potential that our patients and our physicians could be prosecuted criminally or face punitive damages for following the standard of care for IVF treatments,” Echols wrote in the email, obtained by AL.com.In the decision released on Friday, two wrongful death suits were allowed to proceed against a Mobile fertility clinic, effectively ruling that fertilized eggs and embryos are “children”.The University of Alabama at Birmingham health system suspended in vitro fertilization procedures because of the risk of criminal prosecution and lawsuits, a spokeswoman told AL.com.House Republicans’ long-running effort to impeach Joe Biden has been rocked by news of the arrest of a former FBI informant whose claims about Hunter Biden’s business with a Ukrainian gas firm were a key part of the GOP’s case against the president. Alexander Smirnov is accused of lying to the government, and yesterday, prosecutors revealed that he said he received information from Russian intelligence. Republican investigators are pressing on, and today interviewed the president’s brother James Biden, who denied that Joe Biden had ever been involved in his business. Jamie Raskin, a top House Democrat, called on Republicans to end the impeachment amid the Smirnov affair.Here’s what else happened today:
    The US supreme court released two opinions, neither of which dealt with the challenges to Donald Trump’s ballot eligibility, or whether he is immune from prosecution for his attempt to overturn the 2020 election.
    David Weiss, the special counsel prosecuting Hunter Biden, reportedly asked a judge to detain Smirnov, a day after a different judge allowed him to be released as he awaited trial.
    John Avlon, a former CNN anchor and Daily Beast editor, is running as a Democrat for a congressional seat in New York.
    Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee, which is leading the push to impeach Joe Biden, called on Republicans to drop their investigation after prosecutors accused a former FBI informant of lying about Hunter Biden’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company.“I’m restating to chairman Comer, to speaker Johnson, to fold up the tent to this circus show. It’s really over at this point,” Raskin said, referring to the oversight committee chair, James Comer, and the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, both Republicans:Raskin’s demand came after Alexander Smirnov was arrested last week and accused of lying to the government about the president’s son’s work with Ukrainian firm Burisma, which has formed the basis for the GOP’s unproven allegations that Joe Biden is corrupt. Yesterday, prosecutors revealed that Smirnov told investigators that Russian intelligence had passed him “a story” about Hunter Biden, but it’s unclear what that was.Republicans have fixated on financial records showing Joe Biden received money from his relatives, including a payment of $200,000 from his brother James Biden.In his behind-closed-doors testimony today, James Biden said he would occasionally borrow money from his brother when necessary to pay the bills, and then repay him, the Washington Post reports.Here’s more: More

  • in

    Biden brother testifies as key witness’s Russia links cloud impeachment push

    Joe Biden’s younger brother, James Biden, testified to the House oversight and judiciary committees on Wednesday, a closed-door session held even as Republican attempts to impeach the president for alleged corruption teetered on the edge of collapse.In a combative opening statement, released to the press, James Biden denied that his brother had ever been involved in his financial affairs and called anyone alleging otherwise “mistaken, ill-informed or flat-out lying”.Hunter Biden, the president’s son whose troubled personal life, legal jeopardy and complex business affairs provide the chief fuel for Republican allegations, is due to be interviewed in private next week.All the while, Washington will continue to digest and debate the news that a former FBI informant charged with making up a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving the Bidens and Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, had contacts with officials affiliated with Russian intelligence.Prosecutors revealed the alleged contact on Tuesday, as they urged a judge to keep Alexander Smirnov in custody before trial.Smirnov is charged with falsely reporting to the FBI in June 2020 that executives associated with Burisma paid Hunter Biden and Joe Biden $5m each in 2015 or 2016, when Joe Biden was vice-president to Barack Obama.Donald Trump’s first impeachment was fueled by his search for dirt on the Bidens related to Ukraine. Smirnov’s claim has been central to Republican attempts to impeach Biden in return, and was therefore eagerly promoted by senior Republicans and their rightwing media allies, particularly on Fox News.Smirnov was taken into custody at a facility in rural Pahrump, Nevada, west of Las Vegas, last week. Prosecutors said that before his arrest, Smirnov admitted “officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story” about Hunter Biden. They said Smirnov’s contacts with Russian officials were recent and extensive and Smirnov had planned to meet one official on a future trip.They said Smirnov had numerous contacts with a person he described as the “son of a former high-ranking government official” and “someone with ties to a particular Russian intelligence service”.Prosecutors also said there was a serious risk Smirnov could flee. David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld, defense attorneys, said they were asking for Smirnov’s release “so he can effectively fight the power of the government”. The judge ruled that Smirnov should be released on bond.The White House did not immediately comment. But Politico quoted “a person close to Joe Biden” as saying: “Obviously there’s a case that’ll have to play out here. But based on the indictment and filing, it lays bare how unscrupulous the entire [Republican party] and their enablers in rightwing media have become.“Republicans in Congress ought to be facing the crushing burden of a massive scandal of their own making right now: an impeachment based on what might be a Russian intelligence operation. If nothing else, a criminal lie, based on the indictment.”According to prosecutors, Smirnov had only routine business dealings with Burisma, starting in 2017, when Joe Biden was out of office. Smirnov made the bribery allegations, prosecutors said, after “express[ing] bias” against Biden while he was a presidential candidate in 2020, against Trump.After Smirnov was indicted, Democrats called for an end to the impeachment inquiry. Republicans dsaid they would continue to “follow the facts”. However, James Comer, the oversight chair, is reportedly considering whether it to stage a vote on a Biden impeachment – particularly after the impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, first failed then squeaked through by a single vote.On Wednesday, two far-right Republicans, Jim Jordan and Andy Biggs, told CNN the Smirnov revelations did not change their determination to push on. Biggs claimed: “We have lots of evidence.”CNN also quoted an aide to the impeachment inquiry as saying the inclusion then deletion of a reference to Smirnov in a letter to a potential witness, first reported by the Huffington Post, was simply a clerical error.James Biden, Republicans’ target on Wednesday, is a businessman long linked to his brother’s political career.Now 74, and known in the family as Jimmy, recent duties have included overseeing Oval Office decorations including a bust of the labour organiser Cesar Chavez, sketches of the anti-slavery campaigner Frederick Douglass, and a rugby ball from Rob and Dave Kearney, Biden cousins and international players for Ireland.Republicans allege personal cheques, addressed by James Biden to Joe Biden when the latter was out of office, represent evidence of corruption. Multiple news outlets have said the cheques simply repaid personal loans.In 2022, James Biden used a rare interview to say: “I’m the guy who assists in everything. When it comes to my family, I try to be as supportive as I can. But this notion of ‘fixer’, or any reference that has a negative connotation, is offensive.”According to the Washington Post, James Biden repeatedly said he should not be talking to a reporter while his wife, Sara, advised him to put down the phone.“Talk to a real person who knows me,” James Biden said. “Guess what? There’s not many who do.”On Wednesday, in his opening statement to the Republican-led committees, he outlined “four critical points.“One: I have had a 50-year career in a variety of business ventures. Joe Biden has never had any involvement or any direct or indirect financial interest in those activities. None.“Two: Because of my intimate knowledge of my brother’s personal integrity and character, as well as my own strong ethics, I have always kept my professional life separate from our close personal relationship.“Three: I never asked my brother to take any official action on behalf of me, my business associates or anyone else.“Four: In every business venture in which I have been involved, I have relied on my own talent, judgment, skill and personal relationships and never my status as Joe Biden’s brother. Those who have said or thought otherwise were either mistaken, ill-informed or flat-out lying.”Associated Press contributed to this report More

  • in

    Biden visited East Palestine a year after Trump. This doesn’t bode well | Ben Davis

    Joe Biden visited East Palestine, Ohio, the site of a massive train derailment and ecological disaster, for the first time last week. The problem, of course, is that the accident happened over a year ago. Donald Trump visited while out of office, only two weeks after the initial disaster.The mismatch encapsulates a major problem for the Democrats’ messaging. They have allowed Trump and the Republican party to position themselves more and more as representing workers and victims of corporate negligence and malfeasance. Biden and the Democrats must change their positioning and economic messaging to reassert that they will fight for workers.Changing strategy is crucial. Biden’s poll numbers are weak, particularly with working-class voters, allowing Trump to put himself in the pole position in the election. Contrary to what Trump and his allies would have voters believe, a Trump victory would be a disaster for workers, safety regulations on corporations, and environmental protections.Much has been made of Trump and the Republicans’ strengthening position among working-class voters. If anything, the trend has been overstated: Biden won low-income voters in 2020 by double digits. When accounting for other factors like age, gender, and education level, higher income is still, statistically, a particularly clear driver of more conservative politics. Trump’s actual economic policies in office were a massive upward transfer of wealth, not appreciably different from any establishment Republican.But the perception is becoming more and more the reality. Biden’s sagging approval numbers are driven almost entirely by middle- and lower-income voters. Unlike in 2016, the losses among working-class voters can’t be attributed to white racial resentment; these new losses are concentrated among voters of color.Voters do not think the government is working for their economic interests. Even among Democratic-leaning voters, perception of the economy among younger, lower-income, and non-white voters is drastically lower than among other voters.The Democratic strategy has been to point out that the economy, by most metrics, is doing very well, and argue that the media drives poor perception of the economy. This may be true, but it’s also not a solution. Politics doesn’t have rules or referees you can complain to. Perception is reality.Allowing Trump to brand himself as the supporter of the downtrodden – visiting East Palestine, posing with Teamsters, and more – without challenge will only further alienate Democrats from the voters they need. Biden needed to be in East Palestine last year, and he needs to be in places like that as much as possible going forward, particularly while Trump is in court for crimes that show that he is a wealthy elite only in it for himself.The Democratic messaging strategy has leaned heavily on correcting voters and denying their feelings – telling people “actually … ” Actually, the economy is great. Actually, Biden’s age is not an issue. This strategy doesn’t work. Democrats need to empathize with voters. They need to show up and listen. They need to point out the actual material harm caused by Trump.Trump will gut regulations that protect people from disasters like East Palestine, and worse. His role in politics is fundamentally to transfer wealth upwards and make workers less safe and secure. Voters struggle to conceptualize abstract threats to democratic norms, but they understand real threats to their standard of living.Going forward, Biden must be front and center on issues affecting working people. He must publicly show he cares about people. The perception that he empathized with ordinary Americans was a driving factor in his victory in 2020, in contrast with Hillary Clinton in 2016, and it’s one of the critical issues on which he has lost ground.Showing up may not materially change things, but not showing up allows the perceptions of incompetence and lack of empathy to grow. Democrats need to show up if they are going to win in November.
    Ben Davis works in political data in Washington. He worked on the data team for the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign More

  • in

    ‘I wish the media would knock it off’: Guardian readers on how to cover Biden’s age

    One of the benefits of being a regular Guardian supporter is that you get a weekly email with a direct line to the newsroom, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at how we report on the big news stories of the day.Last week, we wrote about our approach to covering Joe Biden’s age and asked our supporters for their feedback. Our inbox was deluged, and below you can find a cross-section of the replies we received – the good, the bad and the funny.The Guardian is a reader-funded news organization committed to keeping our global journalism free for all. You can help keep it that way by supporting us here. Every dollar helps. Thanks for engaging with serious journalism.Over to the readers:‘Age is not the most dangerous concern’“When you weigh Biden’s age against Trump’s selfish and unhinged craziness, age is not the most dangerous concern. Biden has never threatened to give our allies over to Putin or cure a virus by drinking bleach.” Suann S, choral music educator, Virginia‘We put too much emphasis on the individual’“I can’t help but think that it’s not one man we are electing as president, but an entire administration, staff, advisors, judges, and executive orders that will really make or break our nation and its fragile laws. I trust Biden to choose the people that will carry out the democratic principles I care about and to respect and defend the US constitution. I don’t expect perfection, but we are already better off with Biden as president. I can’t bear the thought of another Trump presidency. It’s a no-brainer. We put too much emphasis on the individual and not enough on the people who surround them.” Anonymous female Guardian supporter, 69, Montana‘I wish Biden had run as a single-term candidate’“I’m a true Independent. I vote for Democrats and Republicans. Trump is vile in so many ways. I would have no problem voting for Nikki Haley if she was on the ballot. I truly wish Biden had run as a single-term candidate. Shame on him. He does not inspire confidence in his physical and mental abilities. I think his administration has done as well as anyone could have, better than most. That sincere old man has done an excellent job despite his appearance of incompetency. In an election between Biden v Trump, I would vote for Biden even if he were institutionalized in a memory care unit of a nursing home.” Anonymous female Guardian supporter, Wisconsin‘He has sure gotten a lot done’“While I might share in some … voters’ wish to have a younger choice on the Democrat ballot, the bottom line is that I would take Biden any day over the horrifying prospect of another Trump presidency. I would take a senile Biden. I would take a dead Biden presiding from the grave over Donald Trump. If Biden is so mentally impaired he has sure gotten a lot done in the last four years.” Linda Lester, Boise, Idaho‘I see real, substantive merit and progress’“Biden does indeed have a history of gaffes and even plagiarism. I, a registered Republican, however, look at the issues Biden and his team focus on and the merits of their efforts and successes, and I see real, substantive merit and progress for the nation. Biden’s gaffes are merely innocent misstatements, not boldface intentional Trumpist lies. The choice is crystal clear. We cannot allow Trump to have the presidential platform to wreak self-aggrandizing havoc for our country and the world.” Paul Francis, 75, retired attorney, Houston, Texas‘Whatever happened to respecting our elders?’“I’m a blue collar worker in the construction trade in my late 60s and still climbing ladders, carrying heavy loads and making difficult decisions. I work beside people half my age and am better for my years of experience. If 60 is the new 40 then 80 is the new 60. Whatever happened to respecting our elders? Age brings wisdom and leaders should be wise.” Tobias R, late 60s, low voltage electrical installer/service technician, Ojai, California‘While Biden may forget a name, he has not forgotten the values’“I taught school for 30 years, was a master teacher who spent five days a week with 30 youngsters. The next year, invariably I would forget their names, reduced to: “Hi, sweetie!” when seeing these kids in the hall.We all have selective memories. Musician friends of mine are masters at memorizing music. Reader friends remember the plots of every book they’ve read. My husband can’t remember what I told him 10 minutes ago.While Biden may forget a name, he has not forgotten the values that truly make America great. It’s those actions and qualities that the media should focus on, reminding us all what’s at stake in this election.” Anne Anderson, retired teacher, 75, Santa Barbara, California‘I wish the media would knock it off’“I wish the media would knock it off. Until and unless there is some actual proof of Biden’s declining cognitive ability, you should stop talking about it. His age does not concern me, but I’m glad that he has the wisdom and experience that we used to respect. I think we should go back to respecting wisdom and experience. Please do.” Loree St Claire, 68, part-time home caregiver, Oregon‘A red herring’“Biden’s sure walking more stiffly and looking a tad more vacant at times than those days I used to run into him on the train between Wilmington and Washington. (As you know, he commuted every day.)But other than that, he’s the same damn guy. All the defects and flaws. But those flaws never then interfered with his judgment. (Though it sure wasn’t perfect, as he sometimes over-promised as he does now.) Why has the perception so radically changed? I’m afraid that you, the media, but less the print than the broadcast media, are on the hook for a lot of this.Every little jot and tiddle. And the GOP is ever so good as capitalizing on this rapt attention to Joe’s gaffes. The whole memory thing is, especially, a red herring. It’s about judgment, devotion to family and duty, and ability to pick good people arrayed around him. Talk about that, won’t you?” Dr Russ Maulitz, former family physician, US citizen in Tuscany, Italy‘No one mentioned Biden’s age’“I do weary of the news media’s harping on Biden’s age, certainly having the effect of campaigning against him. Age brings wisdom. I look forward to voting for Biden.Also, I spent a couple hours today canvassing door-to-door for the Democrats locally. I was cheered by how fervent Democrats are about voting, even in the primary. One swing voter told me that we all have to be Democrats now. No one mentioned Biden’s age.” Lynne Small, Del Mar, California‘I think that Harris would be a fine president’“There is a subtext to the ‘Biden’s age’ issue that the media will not acknowledge or engage. Nikki Haley has been quite explicit about it and that subtext is Kamala Harris. Vice-president Harris has been a tireless partner to the president and has been routinely vilified by the right. The focus on Biden’s age is not just about whether he can do the job (he has and will continue to do so) but whether Harris is an acceptable alternative. I, for one, think that Harris would be a fine president. The fact that she is a woman of color is apparently abhorrent to a large number of people who use Biden’s age as a cowardly surrogate for their actual fear. I have every confidence that Joe Biden will be able to capably execute his duties through the entirety of his next term building an unassailable legacy of competence and achievement. In the unfortunate event that VP Harris is required to ascend to the presidency, I have no fear of that whatsoever.” Kevin Judge, 67, retired physician, Riverwoods, Illinois‘You’re playing into the Republican strategy’“You talk about being careful about information being weaponized against Biden, but you’re helping to weaponize it. You’re playing into the Republican strategy of letting the media spread their lies for them. Did you learn absolutely nothing from Comey’s smearing of Hillary Clinton and how the mass media helped amplify those smears?” Roy W, 74, former senior director for AI and data science at a biotech company, Massachusetts More