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Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis took the witness stand Thursday and forcefully pushed back against what she described as “lies” about her romantic relationship with a special prosecutor during an extraordinary hearing over misconduct allegations that threaten to upend one of four criminal cases against Donald Trump.

A visibly upset Willis, who originally fought to stay off the witness stand, agreed to testify after a previous witness said her relationship with special prosecutor Nathan Wade began earlier than they had claimed. The district attorney’s testimony grew heated under questioning from a defense attorney who’s trying to remove Willis from Trump’s 2020 election interference case, with the prosecutor at one point raising papers in front of her and shouting: “It’s a lie!”

“Do you think I’m on trial? These people are on trial for trying to steal an election in 2020. I’m not on trial no matter how hard you try to put me on trial,” Willis told defense attorney Ashleigh Merchant. At another point, Willis said, “Merchant’s interests are contrary to democracy.”

Willis is expected to return to the witness stand on Friday to continue answer questions. The probing questions for Willis and for Wade, who testified before her, underscored the extent to which the prosecutors who pledged to hold Trump accountable are themselves now under a public microscope, with revelations about their personal lives diverting attention away from Trump’s own conduct and raising questions about the future of the case as Trump vies to reclaim the White House.

The revelation of Willis and Wade’s romantic relationship has provided an opening for Trump and his Republican allies to try to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Willis’ case, which the former president has characterized as politically motivated. Other Republicans have cited them in calling for investigations into Willis, a Democrat who’s up for re-election this year.


A verdict is expected Friday in Donald Trump’s New York civil fraud trial, adding to a consequential week on the former president’s legal calendar.

Trump could be hit with millions of dollars in penalties and other sanctions in the decision by Judge Arthur Engoron, who has already ruled that the former president inflated his wealth on financial statements that were given to banks, insurers and others to make deals and secure loans.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking $370 million and a ban on Trump and other defendants from doing business in the state. A penalty like that could potentially wound the real estate empire that helped Trump craft his image as a savvy billionaire businessman and vaulted him to fame and the White House.

Engoron is set to rule after 2½ months of testimony from 40 witnesses, including Trump. Closing arguments were held Jan. 11. The judge is deciding the case because juries are not allowed in this type of lawsuit and neither James’ office nor Trump’s lawyers asked for one.

Engoron is expected to release his decision Friday, barring unforeseen circumstances that would necessitate a delay, court officials said.

It has already been a big week in court for Trump. On Thursday, a different New York judge ruled that Trump will stand trial March 25 on charges that he falsified his company’s records as part of an effort to buy the silence of people with potentially embarrassing stories about alleged infidelity. Trump says he is innocent.

If the schedule holds, it will be the first of his four criminal cases to go to trial.

Also Thursday, a judge in Atlanta heard arguments on whether to remove Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis from Trump’s Georgia election interference case because she had a personal relationship with a special prosecutor she hired.

James’ office has estimated that Trump exaggerated his wealth by as much as $3.6 billion. State lawyers contend Trump used the inflated numbers to get lower insurance premiums and favorable loan terms, saving at least $168 million on interest alone.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and his lawyers have said they’ll appeal if Engoron rules against him.

The Republican presidential front-runner testified Nov. 6 that his financial statements actually understated his net worth and that banks did their own research and were happy with his business. During closing arguments in January, he decried the case as a “fraud on me.”

Engoron is deciding six claims in James’ lawsuit, including allegations of conspiracy, falsifying business records and insurance fraud. State lawyers alleged that Trump exaggerated his wealth by as much as $3.6 billion one year.

Before the trial, Engoron ruled on James’ top claim, finding that Trump’s financial statements were fraudulent. As punishment, the judge ordered some of his companies removed from his control and dissolved. An appeals court has put that on hold.


The Nevada Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a defamation lawsuit brought by casino mogul Steve Wynn against The Associated Press over a story about two women’s accounts to police alleging he engaged in sexual misconduct.

The court cited state anti-SLAPP law in rejecting Wynn’s claim that he was defamed in the February 2018 AP article, which cited police documents. SLAPP, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, refers to court filings made to intimidate or silence critics.

“Nevada’s anti-SLAPP statutes were designed to limit precisely the type of claim at issue here, which involves a news organization publishing an article in a good faith effort to inform their readers regarding an issue of clear public interest,” the three-justice panel said in a unanimous opinion.

Wynn had argued that the documents failed to fully describe elements of a woman’s account that would have cast doubt on her allegation that he raped her in the 1970s in Chicago and that she gave birth to their daughter in a gas station restroom.

Lauren Easton, AP vice president of corporate communications said in a statement that the news organization is pleased with the ruling.

“We believe the Nevada Supreme Court made the right decision,” Easton said. Attorney Todd Bice, representing Wynn, said he was “surprised that the Court would change Nevada law and disregard the Nevada Legislature in order to extend legal protections to a news report that was determined to be false.”

He said Wynn’s legal team now is “considering all options.”

Wynn, the 82-year-old developer of a decadeslong casino empire, filed the lawsuit in April 2018 against AP, one of its reporters and Halina Kuta, the woman who made the claim. Two months earlier he had resigned as chairman and chief executive of Wynn Resorts.

Wynn has consistently denied sexual misconduct allegations, which were first reported in January 2018 by the Wall Street Journal.  

The case went to the state high court twice, after Clark County District Court Judge Ronald Israel first dismissed AP from the case in August 2018 on the grounds that it “fairly reported” information based on an official document, a police complaint by Kuta, even though authorities never investigated the allegation.

Las Vegas police said too much time had elapsed since Kuta said the events occurred in 1973 or 1974.

Neither accuser was identified in the AP report. Their names and other identifying information were blacked out in documents obtained by AP under a public records request. Las Vegas police refused to provide additional details.



Alabama executed a convicted murderer with nitrogen gas Thursday, putting him to death with a first-of-its-kind method that once again placed the U.S. at the forefront of the debate over capital punishment. The state said the method would be humane, but critics called it cruel and experimental.

Officials said Kenneth Eugene Smith, 58, was pronounced dead at 8:25 p.m. at an Alabama prison after breathing pure nitrogen gas through a face mask to cause oxygen deprivation. It marked the first time that a new execution method has been used in the United States since lethal injection, now the most commonly used method, was introduced in 1982.

The execution took about 22 minutes from the time between the opening and closing of the curtains to the viewing room. Smith appeared to remain conscious for several minutes. For at least two minutes, he appeared to shake and writhe on the gurney, sometimes pulling against the restraints. That was followed by several minutes of heavy breathing, until breathing was no longer perceptible.

In a final statement, Smith said, “Tonight Alabama causes humanity to take a step backwards. ... I’m leaving with love, peace and light.”

He made the “I love you sign” with his hands toward family members who were witnesses. “Thank you for supporting me. Love, love all of you,” Smith said. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the execution was justice for the murder-for-hire killing of 45-year-old Elizabeth Sennett in 1988.

“After more than 30 years and attempt after attempt to game the system, Mr. Smith has answered for his horrendous crimes,” Ivey said in a statement. “I pray that Elizabeth Sennett’s family can receive closure after all these years dealing with that great loss.”

Mike Sennett, the victim’s son, said Thursday night that Smith “had been incarcerated almost twice as long as I knew my mom.”

“Nothing happened here today is going to bring Mom back. It’s kind of a bittersweet day. We are not going to be jumping around, whooping and holler, hooray and all that,” he said. “I’ll end by saying Elizabeth Dorlene Sennett got her justice tonight.”

The state had previously attempted to execute Smith in 2022, but the lethal injection was called off at the last minute because authorities couldn’t connect an IV line. The execution came after a last-minute legal battle in which his attorneys contended the state was making him the test subject for an experimental execution method that could violate the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Federal courts rejected Smith’s bid to block it, with the latest ruling coming Thursday night from the U.S. Supreme Court.


The longtime head of the National Rifle Association said Friday he is resigning, just days before the start of a civil trial over allegations he treated himself to millions of dollars in private jet flights, yacht trips, African safaris and other extravagant perks at the powerful gun rights organization’s expense.

Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president and chief executive officer, said his departure is effective Jan. 31. The trial is scheduled to start Monday in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit against him, the NRA and two others who’ve served as executives. LaPierre was in court this week for jury selection and is expected to testify at the trial. The NRA said it will continue to fight the lawsuit, which could result in a further shakeup of its leadership and the appointment of an independent monitor to oversee its finances.

“With pride in all that we have accomplished, I am announcing my resignation from the NRA,” LaPierre said in a statement released by the organization, which said he was exiting for health reasons. “I’ve been a card-carrying member of this organization for most of my adult life, and I will never stop supporting the NRA and its fight to defend Second Amendment freedom. My passion for our cause burns as deeply as ever.”

James, a Democrat, heralded LaPierre’s resignation as an “important victory in our case” and confirmed the trial will go on as scheduled. His exit “validates our claims against him, but it will not insulate him or the NRA from accountability,” James said in a statement.

Andrew Arulanandam, a top NRA lieutenant who has served as LaPierre’s spokesperson, will assume his roles on an interim basis, the organization said.

LaPierre, 74, has led the NRA ’s day-to-day operations since 1991, acting as the face and vehement voice of its gun-rights agenda and becoming one of the most influential figures in shaping U.S. gun policy. He once warned of “jack-booted government thugs” seizing guns, brought in movie star Charlton Heston to serve as the organization’s president, and condemned gun control advocates as “opportunists” who “exploit tragedy for gain.”

In one example of the NRA’s evolution under LaPierre, after the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado, in 1998, the NRA signaled support for expanded background checks for gun purchases. But after a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, LaPierre repudiated background checks and called for armed guards in every school. He blamed video games, lawmakers and the media for the carnage, remarking: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

“The post-Sandy Hook apocalyptic speech was kind of the talismanic moment when, for him and the NRA, there was no going back,” Robert Spitzer, a political science professor at the State University of New York-Cortland and author of several books on gun politics.

The NRA remains a strong political force, with Republican presidential hopefuls flocking to its annual convention last year. In recent years, though, the organization has been beset by financial troubles, dwindling membership, and infighting among its 76-member board along with lingering questions about LaPierre’s leadership and spending.

After reporting a $36 million deficit in 2018, fueled mostly by misspending, the NRA cut back on longstanding programs that had for decades been core to its mission, including training and education, recreational shooting and law enforcement initiatives. In 2021, the organization filed for bankruptcy and sought to incorporate in Texas instead of New York, where it was founded as a nonprofit charity in 1871 — but a judge rejected the move, saying it was a transparent attempt to duck James’ lawsuit.


Former President Donald Trump on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a ruling barring him from the Colorado ballot, setting up a high-stakes showdown over whether a constitutional provision prohibiting those who “engaged in insurrection” will end his political career.

Trump appealed a 4-3 ruling in December by the Colorado Supreme Court that marked the first time in history that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment was used to bar a presidential contender from the ballot. The court found that Trump’s role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol disqualified him under the clause.

The provision has been used so sparingly in American history that the U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled on it. Wednesday’s development came a day after Trump’s legal team filed an appeal against a ruling by Maine’s Democratic Secretary of State, Shenna Bellows, that Trump was ineligible to appear on that state’s ballot over his role in the Capitol attack. Both the Colorado Supreme Court and the Maine secretary of state’s rulings are on hold until the appeals play out.

Trump’s critics have filed dozens of lawsuits seeking to disqualify him in multiple states. He lost Colorado by 13 percentage points in 2020 and does not need to win the state to gain either the Republican presidential nomination or the presidency. But the Colorado ruling has the potential to prompt courts or secretaries of state to remove him from the ballot in other, must-win states.

None had succeeded until a slim majority of Colorado’s seven justices — all appointed by Democratic governors — ruled last month against Trump. Critics warned that it was an overreach and that the court could not simply declare that the Jan. 6 attack was an “insurrection” without a judicial process.

“The Colorado Supreme Court decision would unconstitutionally disenfranchise millions of voters in Colorado and likely be used as a template to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters nationwide,” Trump’s lawyers wrote in their appeal to the nation’s highest court, noting that Maine has already followed Colorado’s lead.


A federal appeals court in Washington largely upheld a gag order on Donald Trump in his 2020 election interference case on Friday, but narrowed the restrictions on his speech to allow the former president to criticize the special counsel who brought the case.

The three-judge panel’s ruling modifies the gag order, permitting the Republican 2024 presidential front-runner to make disparaging comments about special counsel Jack Smith, but it reimposes limits on what he can say about known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses in the case and about court staff and other lawyers.

The unanimous ruling is mostly a win for Smith’s team, with the judges agreeing with prosecutors that Trump’s often-incendiary comments about participants in the case can have a damaging practical impact and rejecting claims by defense attorneys that restrictions on the ex-president’s speech amount to an unconstitutional muzzling. It lays out fresh parameters about what Trump can and cannot say about the case as he both prepares for a March trial and campaigns to reclaim the White House.

“Mr. Trump’s documented pattern of speech and its demonstrated real-time, real-world consequences pose a significant and imminent threat to the functioning of the criminal trial process in this case,” Judge Patricia Millett wrote for the court. She noted that many of the targets of Trump’s verbal jabs “have been subjected to a torrent of threats and intimidation from his supporters.”

The case accuses Trump of plotting with his Republican allies to subvert the will of voters in a desperate bid to stay in power in the run-up to the Capitol riot by his supporters on Jan. 6, 2021. It is scheduled to go to trial in March in Washington’s federal court, just blocks away from the Capitol.

Friday’s opinion says that though Trump has a constitutional right to free speech and is a former president and current candidate, “he is also is also an indicted criminal defendant, and he must stand trial in a courtroom under the same procedures that govern all other criminal defendants.

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