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DOJ Considers Next Move!

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DOJ Considers Next Move!

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon is facing sharp criticism following her decision this week to grant a request by former President Donald Trump’s legal team for an independent arbiter to review documents obtained during an FBI search of his Florida property last month.

Cannon on Monday authorized an outside legal expert to review the records taken during the Aug. 8 search of Mar-a-Lago as part of a probe into Trump’s inappropriate retention of sensitive material from the White House. The expert would have power to weed out any material that might be protected by claims of attorney-client privilege or executive privilege.

The order came over the strenuous objections of the Justice Department, which said a so-called special master was not necessary in part because officials had already completed their review of potentially privileged documents.

The move was cheered by Trump supporters seeking a check on the government’s probe. But others say Cannon gave undue deference to the former president and unnecessarily put on hold certain investigative work by the Justice Department. They say she has slowed the momentum of the federal investigation into possible Espionage Act violations.

The Justice Department has not indicated whether it will appeal, though there are reasons why it might not be eager to do so, including out of concern that it could delay the investigation further or produce case law that it finds unfavorable for future probes, said Brandon Fox, a Los Angeles defense attorney and former federal prosecutor.

Regardless, he said, Cannon’s opinion creates a perception of “two systems of justice.”

“The criminal justice system is set up to try to make sure that everybody is accountable in the same way for alleged crimes they have committed,” Fox said. “Here, it appears that Mr. Trump is getting special benefit” by virtue of being a former president.

Trump’s former attorney general, William Barr, told Fox News on Tuesday that the opinion was “deeply flawed in a number of ways.”

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A little-known federal judge appointed to the bench two years ago by Trump, Cannon delivered easily the most consequential move of her career on Monday. It thrust the Colombian-born former federal prosecutor to the center of a simmering legal debate about the confines of executive privilege and presidential power.

Cannon is the least senior federal judge for the Southern District of Florida, where five of the 16 active judges were appointed by Trump. According to court rules, cases like the special master request are “assigned on a blind rotation basis … to a judge assigned to hear cases in the division to which the case has been assigned.”

During her roughly seven years as an assistant U.S. attorney, Cannon worked mainly out of the U.S. attorney’s office in Fort Pierce, Florida, which is part of the same federal district as Miami but about 130 miles (209 kilometers) to the north. The cases there generally do not get the same kind of attention as those in the more densely populated, media-heavy areas around Miami.

Beginning in 2013, Cannon prosecuted 41 cases as part of the Major Crimes Division, later handling appeals of criminal convictions and sentences.

One of those involved a defendant in a major $800 million Ponzi scheme who unsuccessfully appealed his numerous fraud convictions to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Her opposing counsel in that case, longtime Miami defense attorney Richard Klugh, described Cannon as “very bright and talented” and fair to the defense.

“I didn’t see anything I could characterize as anything other than good lawyering, and no political bias whatsoever,” Klugh said, adding that he has worked on cases handled by Cannon as a federal judge although he has not appeared in her courtroom.

“She’s known for affording fair process and hearings. You like somebody who actually hears you out,” he said.

Born in Cali, Colombia, in 1981, as her father worked in advertising throughout South and Latin America, Cannon came to the United States as a child, ultimately graduating from Duke University in 2003.

During her college years, Cannon wrote a series of articles for El Nuevo Herald, a Spanish-language newspaper in southern Florida owned by the Miami Herald. According to a list of articles provided to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Cannon wrote primarily about health- and culture-related topics.

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After earning a degree from the University of Michigan in 2007, Cannon clerked for U.S. District Judge Steven M. Colloton on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. She next worked in private practice in Washington for three years with prominent international law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher.

The question of fealty to Trump surfaced during her 2020 Senate confirmation process, when Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California asked in written questions if Cannon had had “any discussions with anyone — including, but not limited to, individuals at the White House, at the Justice Department, or any outside groups — about loyalty to President Trump?”

“No,” was Cannon’s simple reply.

Of course, being a Trump-appointed judge in no way assures deciding cases in his favor.

In May, for instance, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Kelly — nominated by Trump in 2017 — permitted the House panel probing the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to obtain the Republican National Committee’s marketing email data leading up to the violence, turning aside claims that the committee’s practices weren’t appropriate. Other Trump-appointed judges have sided in favor of the panel’s work.

But Cannon’s opinion in this case, and her musings about the possibility of “reputational harm” caused to Trump in the event of an indictment, have focused fresh attention on her judicial background.

Cannon’s initial response to the special master request, in which she asked the Trump team for more clarity about what exactly they wanted her to do and why they thought she might have jurisdiction, suggested some skepticism. But days later, she followed up with a new order in which she said it was her “preliminary intent” to appoint a special master but would give the Justice Department an opportunity first to argue against it.

Since 2005, Cannon has been a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that has championed judges appointed by Trump, including Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.

During her July 2020 confirmation hearing, the then-prosecutor noted that her mother “had to flee the repressive Castro regime in search of freedom and security,” leaving Cuba at the age of 7.

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“Thank you for teaching me about the blessing that is this country and the importance of securing the rule of law for generations to come,” Cannon said, addressing her mother.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.

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Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina and Tucker reported from Washington.

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More on Donald Trump-related investigations: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

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Israel hails ‘success’ after blocking unprecedented attack from Iran

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli leaders on Sunday credited an international military coalition with helping thwart a direct Iranian attack involving hundreds of drones and missiles, calling the coordinated response a starting point for a “strategic alliance” of regional opposition to Tehran.

But Israel’s War Cabinet met without making a decision on next steps, an official said, as a nervous world waited for any sign of further escalation of the former shadow war.

The military coalition, led by the United States, Britain and France and appearing to include a number of Middle Eastern countries, gave Israel support at a time when it finds itself isolated over its war against Hamas in Gaza. The coalition also could serve as a model for regional relations when that war ends.

“This was the first time that such a coalition worked together against the threat of Iran and its proxies in the Middle East,” said the Israeli military spokesman, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari.

One unknown is which of Israel’s neighbors participated in the shooting down of the vast majority of about 350 drones and missiles Iran launched. Israeli military officials and a key War Cabinet member noted additional “partners” without naming them. When pressed, White House national security spokesman John Kirby would not name them either.

But one appeared to be Jordan, which described its action as self-defense.

“There was an assessment that there was a real danger of Iranian marches and missiles falling on Jordan, and the armed forces dealt with this danger. And if this danger came from Israel, Jordan would take the same action,” Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi said in an interview on Al-Mamlaka state television. U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Jordan’s King Abdullah on Sunday.

The U.S. has long tried to forge a regionwide alliance against Iran as a way of integrating Israel and boosting ties with the Arab world. The effort has included the 2020 Abraham Accords, which established diplomatic relations between Israel and four Arab countries, and having Israel in the U.S. military’s Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and works closely with the armies of moderate Arab states.

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The U.S. had been working to establish full relations between Israel and regional heavyweight Saudi Arabia before the Oct. 7 Hamas attack sparked Israel’s war in Gaza. The war, which has claimed over 33,700 Palestinian lives, has frozen those efforts due to widespread outrage across the Arab world. But it appears that some behind-the-scenes cooperation has continued, and the White House has held out hopes of forging Israel-Saudi ties as part of a postwar plan.

Just ahead of Iran’s attack, the commander of CENTCOM, Gen. Erik Kurilla, visited Israel to map out a strategy.

Israel’s military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, on Sunday thanked CENTCOM for the joint defensive effort. Both Jordan and Saudi Arabia are under the CENTCOM umbrella. While neither acknowledged involvement in intercepting Iran’s launches, the Israeli military released a map showing missiles traveling through the airspace of both nations.

“Arab countries came to the aid of Israel in stopping the attack because they understand that regional organizing is required against Iran, otherwise they will be next in line,” Amos Yadlin, a former head of Israel’s military intelligence, wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said he had spoken with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and that the cooperation “highlighted the opportunity to establish an international coalition and strategic alliance to counter the threat posed by Iran.”

The White House signaled that it hopes to build on the partnerships and urged Israel to think twice before striking Iran. U.S. officials said Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Washington would not participate in any offensive action against Iran.

Israel’s War Cabinet met late Sunday to discuss a possible response, but an Israeli official familiar with the talks said no decisions had been made. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing confidential deliberations.

Asked about plans for retaliation, Hagari declined to comment directly. “We are at high readiness in all fronts,” he said.

“We will build a regional coalition and collect the price from Iran, in the way and at the time that suits us,” said a key War Cabinet member, Benny Gantz.

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Iran launched the attack in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel that hit an Iranian consular building in Syria this month and killed two Iranian generals.

By Sunday morning, Iran said the attack was over, and Israel reopened its airspace. Iran’s president, Ebrahim Raisi, claimed Iran had taught Israel a lesson and warned that “any new adventures against the interests of the Iranian nation would be met with a heavier and regretful response from the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

The foes have been engaged in a shadow war for years, but Sunday’s assault was the first time Iran launched a direct military assault on Israel, despite decades of enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran said it targeted Israeli facilities involved in the Damascus strike, and that it told the White House early Sunday that the operation would be “minimalistic.”

But U.S. officials said Iran’s intent was to “destroy and cause casualties” and that if successful, the strikes would have caused an “uncontrollable” escalation. At one point, at least 100 ballistic missiles were in the air with just minutes of flight time to Israel, the officials said.

Israel said more than 99% of what Iran fired was intercepted, with just a few missiles getting through. An Israeli airbase sustained minor damage.

Israel has over the years established — often with the help of the U.S. — a multilayered air-defense network that includes systems capable of intercepting a variety of threats, including long-range missiles, cruise missiles, drones and short-range rockets.

That system, along with collaboration with the U.S. and others, helped thwart what could have been a far more devastating assault at a time when Israel is already deeply engaged in Gaza as well as low-level fighting on its northern border with Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran.

While thwarting the Iranian onslaught could help restore Israel’s image after the Hamas attack in October, what the Middle East’s best-equipped army does next will be closely watched in the region and in Western capitals — especially as Israel seeks to develop the coalition it praised Sunday.

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In Washington, Biden pledged to convene allies to develop a unified response. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would hold talks with allies. After an urgent meeting, the Group of Seven countries unanimously condemned Iran’s attack and said they stood ready to take “further measures.”

Israel and Iran have been on a collision course throughout Israel’s war in Gaza. In the Oct. 7 attack, militants from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, also backed by Iran, killed 1,200 people in Israel and kidnapped 250 others. Israel’s offensive in Gaza has killed over 33,000 people, according to local health officials.

Hamas welcomed Iran’s attack, saying it was “a natural right and a deserved response” to the strike in Syria. It urged the Iran-backed groups in the region to continue to support Hamas in the war.

Hezbollah also welcomed the attack. Almost immediately after the war in Gaza erupted, Hezbollah began attacking Israel’s northern border. The two sides have been involved in daily exchanges of fire, while Iranian-backed groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen have launched rockets and missiles toward Israel.

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Federman reported from Jerusalem. Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Michelle L. Price in Washington; Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran; Samy Magdy in Cairo; Omar Akour in Amman, Jordan; and Giada Zampano in Rome contributed to this report.

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

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How to get rid of NYC rats without brutality? Birth control is one idea

New York lawmakers are proposing rules to humanely drive down the population of rats and other rodents, eyeing contraception and a ban on glue traps as alternatives to poison or a slow, brutal death.

Politicians have long come up with creative ways to battle the rodents, but some lawmakers are now proposing city and statewide measures to do more.

In New York City, the idea to distribute rat contraceptives got fresh attention in city government Thursday following the death of an escaped zoo owl, known as Flaco, who was found dead with rat poison in his system.

City Council Member Shaun Abreu proposed a city ordinance Thursday that would establish a pilot program for controlling the millions of rats lurking in subway stations and empty lots by using birth control instead of lethal chemicals. Abreu, chair of the Committee on Sanitation and Solid Waste Management, said the contraceptives also are more ethical and humane than other methods.

The contraceptive, called ContraPest, is contained in salty, fatty pellets that are scattered in rat-infested areas as bait. It works by targeting ovarian function in female rats and disrupting sperm cell production in males, The New York Times reported.

New York exterminators currently kill rats using snap and glue traps, poisons that make them bleed internally, and carbon monoxide gas that can suffocate them in burrows. Some hobbyists have even trained their dogs to hunt them.

Rashad Edwards, a film and television actor who runs pest management company Scurry Inc. in New York City with his wife, said the best method he has found when dealing with rodents is carbon monoxide.

He tries to use the most humane method possible, and carbon monoxide euthanizes the rats slowly, putting them to sleep and killing them. Edwards avoids using rat poison whenever possible because it is dangerous and torturous to the rodents, he said.

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Some lawmakers in Albany are considering a statewide ban on glue boards under a bill moving through the Legislature. The traps, usually made from a slab of cardboard or plastic coated in a sticky material, can also ensnare small animals that land on its surface.

Edwards opposes a ban on sticky traps, because he uses them on other pests, such as ants, to reduce overall pesticide use. When ants get into a house, he uses sticky traps to figure out where they’re most often passing by. It helps him narrow zones of pesticide use “so that you don’t go spray the entire place.”

“This is not a problem we can kill our way out of,” said Jakob Shaw, a special project manager for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “It’s time to embrace these more common sense and humane methods.”

Two cities in California have passed bans on glue traps in recent years. On the federal level, a bill currently in committee would ban the traps nationwide.

“It ends a really inhumane practice of managing rat populations,” said Jabari Brisport, the New York state senator who represents part of Brooklyn and sponsored the bill proposing the new guidelines. “There are more effective and more humane ways to deal with rats.”

Every generation of New Yorkers has struggled to control rat populations. Mayor Eric Adams hired a “rat czar” last year tasked with battling the detested rodents. Last month, New York City reduced the amount of food served up to rats by mandating all businesses to put trash out in boxes.

While the war on rats has no end in sight, the exterminator Edwards said we can learn a lot from their resilience. The rodents, he said, can never be eradicated, only managed.

“They’re very smart, and they’re very wise,” he said. “It’s very inspiring but just — not in my house.”

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

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Coachella: Earthquake shakes SoCal desert during music fest

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (AP) — A small earthquake shook the Southern California desert Saturday near Coachella, where the famous music festival is being held this weekend. No damage or injuries were reported.

The quake, with a preliminary magnitude of 3.8, hit at 9:08 a.m. about 8 miles (13 kilometers) northeast of Borrego Springs in Riverside County, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The epicenter was about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Coachella. It struck at a depth of about 7 miles (11 kilometers), the USGS said.

A dispatcher with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department said there were no calls reporting any problems from the quake.

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