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US Supreme Court justice rejects Trump case recusal demands

By AFP

May 30, 2024 10:27 AM


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A conservative Supreme Court justice on Wednesday rejected calls to recuse himself from cases involving Donald Trump after flags linked to the former president's false election fraud claims were flown outside his home and vacation property.

Justice Samuel Alito, in a letter to the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the flags were flown by his wife and did not meet the conditions for recusal in the court's code of conduct.

Alito has been facing recusal calls since The New York Times reported this month that an inverted American flag was flown outside his home in the weeks following the January 6, 2021 storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters.

A similarly provocative "Appeal to Heaven" flag featuring a pine tree on a white background was flown outside the Alito vacation home in New Jersey last summer, according to the newspaper.

Both flags have been associated with Trump's false claims that he won the 2020 election over Democrat Joe Biden.

Alito, in his letter, said he had "nothing whatsoever" to do with the flying of the upside down American flag outside his Virginia home.

"As soon as I saw it, I asked my wife to take it down, but for several days, she refused," he said.

He said his wife flew the flag in response to a neighbor who had "displayed a sign attacking her personally."

As for the flag flown outside their vacation home, Alito said he "had no involvement in the decision to fly that flag" and neither he nor his wife was aware that it was associated with Trump's so-called "Stop the Steal Movement."

"My wife is fond of flying flags. I am not," he said.

"A reasonable person who is not motivated by political or ideological considerations or a desire to affect the outcome of Supreme Court cases would conclude that this event does not meet the applicable standard for recusal," he added.

- 'Appearance of bias' -

Trump, in a post on Truth Social, praised Alito for "showing the INTELLIGENCE, COURAGE, and 'GUTS' to refuse stepping aside from making a decision on anything January 6th related."

Alito, 74, who was nominated by Republican president George W. Bush, is considered one of the most conservative justices on the nine-member court and was the author of the June 2022 opinion overturning the constitutional right to abortion.

Dick Durbin, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a number of other Democratic lawmakers had called for Alito to recuse himself from cases involving Trump and the 2020 election.

"Flying an upside-down American flag -- a symbol of the so-called 'Stop the Steal' movement -- clearly creates the appearance of bias," Durbin said.

The high court is currently weighing two cases which address January 6, including a Trump claim of presidential immunity in his election interference case. Rulings are due in late June or early July.

Another conservative justice on the court, Clarence Thomas, 75, has ignored calls to recuse himself on grounds that his wife took part in the drive to keep Trump in power even after he lost the election.

The Supreme Court adopted an ethics code in November of last year following a series of scandals over lavish gifts and luxury vacations received by Thomas and Alito, both of whom have denied any impropriety.

Criminal trial jury ends first day of deliberations

Jurors completed opening deliberations Wednesday on whether to convict Donald Trump in the first criminal trial of a former US president -- a decision that could upend the November's election, in which the Republican seeks to return to power.

The 12-strong New York jury huddled for almost five hours before the judge sent them home for the night, ready to resume on Thursday.

Jurors -- whose identities have been kept anonymous for their own safety -- worked in a separate room, leaving 77-year-old Trump and the rest of the court to wait and guess at any developments.

Before being dismissed, the jury asked to reexamine testimony from two witnesses and also to hear again the judge's instructions on how to interpret the law.

After weeks of testimony from more than 20 witnesses, the piercing glare of the legal spotlight is now entirely on the dozen ordinary New Yorkers.

"You must set aside any personal opinions you have in favor or against the defendant," said Judge Juan Merchan, before sending them to their work.

No time limit is placed on the deliberations, but an acquittal or conviction would require unanimity. If just one juror refuses to join the others, the judge would have to declare a mistrial.

Trump is accused of falsifying business records to reimburse a $130,000 payment to silence adult film star Stormy Daniels, when her account of an alleged sexual encounter could have imperiled his 2016 presidential campaign. Prosecutors say the fraud was motivated by a plot to prevent voters from knowing about his behavior.

If Trump is found guilty, the political repercussions would far outweigh the seriousness of the charges as, barely five months before the November 5 presidential election, the candidate would also become a convicted criminal.

The judge instructed Trump that he will have to remain in the courthouse while awaiting the verdict. Trump responded by stepping outside the courtroom to launch an angry statement to journalists, calling it a "very disgraceful situation."

"These charges are rigged," Trump said, claiming that "Mother Teresa could not beat these charges."

- 'Hatred for Trump' -

In closing arguments on Tuesday, Trump's defense team insisted the evidence for a conviction simply did not exist, while the prosecution countered that it was voluminous and inescapable.

"The defendant's intent to defraud could not be any clearer," said prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, urging the jurors to use their "common sense" and return a guilty verdict.

If convicted, Trump faces up to four years in prison on each of 34 counts, but legal experts say that as a first-time offender he is unlikely to get jail time.

A conviction would not bar him from the November ballot and he would almost certainly appeal. In the case of a mistrial, prosecutors could seek a new trial.

Trump has been required to attend every day of the trial.

However, he has used his trips to court and the huge media presence to spread his claim that the trial is a Democratic ploy to keep him off the campaign trail.

Polls show Trump neck and neck against President Joe Biden, and the verdict will inflame passions as the White House race intensifies.

In addition to the New York case, Trump has been indicted in Washington and Georgia on charges of conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

He also faces charges in Florida of hoarding huge quantities of classified documents after leaving the White House.

The New York case is the only one likely to come to trial by election day.


AFP


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