Cohen says Trump told him to pay hush money

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Tuesday, 14th May 2024.

Star witness Michael Cohen on Monday appeared at a New York criminal court to testify at former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial and told jurors that Trump personally approved a hush-money payment to bury a porn star’s story of a sexual encounter before it could derail his 2016 campaign. “Just do it,” Cohen said Trump told him, instructing him to figure out the best way to pay adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 (€120,000) to keep quiet about an alleged 2006 liaison, which he denies.

Cohen worked as an executive and lawyer at Trump’s New York-based real estate company and also served as the former president’s personal lawyer after the start of Trump’s term in 2017. He has since become an outspoken critic of Trump. At the start of his testimony Cohen said it was “fair” to describe him as Trump’s “fixer” throughout his tenure at the Trump Organization.

Cohen testified that Trump was angry that adult actress Stormy Daniels was planning to sell a story about an alleged sexual encounter she had with him. “He said to me, ‘This is a disaster, a total disaster. Women are going to hate me,’ Cohen testified, citing what he said were Trump’s remarks at the time. “‘Guys, they think it’s cool, but this is going to be a disaster for the campaign.’” Cohen said that he learned that Daniels was considering selling the story after an audio recording surfaced of Trump bragging about grabbing women’s genitals.

He said that Trump told him that there would be “a lot of women coming forward” after he announced his campaign for president. Asked whether he had lied and bullied people on behalf of Trump, Cohen told the court:  “Yes… It was what was needed in order to accomplish the task.” He said that his duties included renegotiating bills from business partners, threatening to sue people and planting positive stories in the press.

In his testimony, Cohen said that Trump had approved payments made to buy and then suppress news stories, including allegations he had had an affair with Playboy model Karen McDougal and a separate false claim that he had fathered a child out of wedlock. Cohen spent just over 13 months in jail and another 18 months under house arrest after he was handed a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and financial crimes.

The lawyer says that he made a $130,000 payment to Daniels before the 2016 election to prevent her from speaking publicly about a sexual encounter she had with Trump in 2006. Prosecutors have accused Trump of falsely labelling reimbursement payments to Cohen as legal expanses in his real estate company’s books. Trump’s defence lawyers have argued that Cohen acted alone when paying Daniels.

Angry Trump blasts judge after Cohen testimony

Trump laced into the New York judge handling his hush money trial after his former attorney, Michael Cohen, spent hours on the witness stand. The former presaident was asked, as he exited the courtroom, why a handful of senators joined him at the courthouse, including the attorney general of Iowa. “They think it’s a terrible thing that is happening to democracy in this country,” Trump responded. “We have a lot of them, they want to come. I say, just stay back and pass lots of laws to stop things like this.” Trump proceeded to read from a document for roughly five minutes that contained commentary from Republican lawmakers, legal pundits and commentators on cable television who expressed skepticism about the case or otherwise defended the former president. “It’s really a very sad day for the country. It’s sad for New York,” Trump said. “We have a corrupt judge, and we have a judge who’s highly conflicted, and he’s keeping me from campaigning. He’s an appointed New York judge. He’s appointed.”

Trump has been hit with 34 counts of misdemeanors and felonies over allegedly altering business records, which could land him up to four years in prison if he is convicted. The former president has pleaded not guilty to all the charges and denies having had a sexual encounter with Daniels.

Trump leads Biden in 5 major battleground states

A new poll released on Monday shows former President Donald Trump leading President Joe Biden in five of the six major battleground states as the two prospective nominees face an inevitable rematch. The poll by The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Siena College was conducted between April 28 and May 9. It asked voters to consider their choice of candidates in a head-to-head matchup between Trump and Biden, as well as their choice with four third-party candidates included. In a head-to-head race, President Trump leads President Biden among registered voters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania. President Biden, however, leads in Wisconsin. Between seven per cent and 13 per cent of voters selected “don’t know/refused” in each of the six key battleground states.

Israel steps up attacks on Gaza’s Jabalia camp, Rafah

Israeli tanks, under cover from heavy fire from air and ground, pushed further into Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday while airstrikes hammered Rafah in the south. In Jabalia, tanks were trying to advance towards the heart of the camp, the biggest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps. Residents said tank shells were landing at the centre of the camp and that air strikes had destroyed clusters of houses.

Israeli troops had forced hundreds of Palestinians housed in shelters to leave. The United Nations’ agency for Palestinian refugees said 360,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah over the past week, out of 1.3 million who were sheltering there before the operation began. Most had already fled fighting elsewhere during the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas. The Associated Press quotes UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq saying another 100,000 Palestinians have been displaced in northern Gaza following recent Israeli evacuation orders there. That would mean that around a fifth of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people have been displaced over the past week.

In Rafah, near the border with Egypt, Israel stepped up aerial and ground bombardments on the eastern areas of the city, killing people in an air strike on a house. The Palestinian news agency Wafa says at least 14 people, including several children, died and dozens were injured in an Israeli air strike that hit a three-storey  residential building in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the centre of the Gaza Strip. Hamas armed wing said their fighters were engaged in gun battles with Israeli forces in one of the streets east of Rafah, and in the east of Jabalia.

US senator suggests ‘Israel should nuke Gaza’

Senator Lindsey Graham has come under fire for drawing comparisons between Israel’s war on Gaza and the US’s decision to drop atomic bombs on Japan during World War II – urging Israel to “do whatever you have to do”. Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, the South Carolina Republican appeared to justify Israel’s Rafah offensive – something that President Joe Biden has warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against – and called the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 the “right decision” for the US. “When we were faced with destruction as a nation after Pearl Harbor, fighting the Germans and the Japanese, we decided to end the war by bombing Hiroshima, Nagasaki with nuclear weapons,” Graham said. “That was the right decision. Give Israel the bombs they need to end the war they can’t afford to lose and work with them to minimise casualties,” adding, “To Israel, do whatever you have to do to survive as a Jewish state. Whatever you have to do!” The two atomic blasts and the radiation  that ensued on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are estimated to have killed between 129,000 and 226,000 people – most of them civilians.

EU draws up long-term security commitments to Ukraine

The European Union has drawn up pledges of long-term security support for Ukraine, assuring Kyiv of more weapons, military training and other aid for years to come, according to a draft document. The draft, first reported by Germany’s Welt am Sonntag newspaper over the weekend, sets out EU security commitments to Ukraine, which officials hope to conclude in June or July. In the event of “future aggression”, the document, seen by Reuters, says the EU and Ukraine intend to consult within 24 hours on Kyiv’s needs and “swiftly determine” next steps in line with the commitments. The document is part of a broader effort by Ukraine’s partners to provide assurances that they will stand by Kyiv for the long haul, with no end in sight to the war against Russia’s invasion and no immediate prospect of EU or Nato membership. Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 member countries discussed the text in Brussels last month, which is now the basis of discussions with Ukraine, according to diplomats. Eight of Kyiv’s allies, including Britain, Germany and France, have signed their own security assurances with Ukraine in recent months.

Blinken on surprise visit to Ukraine

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made a surprise visit to Ukraine. The head of US diplomacy arrived in Kyiv this morning on a night train from Poland. A meeting with Ukrainian President Zelensky is planned, according to journalists following Blinken. This is the US secretary of state’s fourth trip to Ukraine since the Russian invasion began in February 2022. The visit is intended to reassure Kyiv of continued US support and promise a flow of weapons at a time when Moscow is leading a heavy offensive in the north-eastern Ukrainian region of Kharkiv.

Scholz and Nordic leaders discuss security threats

The leaders of Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland and Iceland discussed deepening their security alliances and further supporting Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion. Underscoring his support for Ukraine, Scholz said in Stockholm, “We stand united in our support for Ukraine in its defence against the ongoing Russian aggression. We will continue to provide our support to Ukraine for as long as it takes.”

Tusk vows to strengthen security at border with Belarus

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk pledged to do more to strengthen security along its entire eastern frontier when he travelled to the border with Belarus. Tusk accused Belarus, Russia’s ally, of intensifying what he called a “hybrid war” against the West by encouraging migrants to try to cross into the EU.  He vowed that Poland would spare no expense on its border security. “I know that there are more and more illegal crossings every day,” Tusk told reporters at the border, where he met with Polish army soldiers, border guard officers and police. He also cited “the growing threat resulting from the Russian-Ukrainian war, Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the uncertain geopolitical situation.” The visit to the border is Tusk’s first since he took office in December and comes after a Polish judge defected to Belarus this month. Officials have denounced the judge as a traitor, and he is being investigated on suspicion of espionage.

UK faces ‘most dangerous time for generations’ warns Sunak

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has set out his plans for the UK’s future, claiming “more will change in the next five years than the last 30” in what is widely considered a pre-election pitch to voters. In a 30-minute speech on Monday, Mr Sunak set out his vision for the next government, addressing issues including, the Rwanda scheme, the environment, the education system and the economy. On the latter, he promised his government would “always be there” for voters at times of economic difficulty. He said: “People have been struggling to make ends meet. I know that. In the last few years we have seen rising energy bills, mortgage rates, the cost of the weekly shop. And I hope I have shown that through my time in office, that from furlough to support with your energy bills, the government I lead will always be there for you.”

The UK economy came out of recession last month, growing by 0.6 per cent in the last quarter, boosted by retail, public transport, and car manufacturing. However, many people are not feeling any better off financially, with GDP per head crucially down to levels lower than they were before the pandemic, and before the PM came into office.

Notorious human trafficker arrested in Iraq

One of Europe’s most notorious people smugglers has been arrested in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, British security officials said. Barzan Majeed, known as “the Scorpion”, was detained on Monday by Kurdish regional security forces after a request from Interpol. Majeed, who previously lived in Nottingham, was wanted by the National Crime Agency after he was convicted of human trafficking crimes in absentia in Belgium in 2022 following a joint UK-Belgian investigation. The agency said he had attempted to smuggle 100 migrants to the UK in small boats and trucks. The number of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats has soared in recent years.

King Charles gives unsettling health update

King Charles III shared a rare glimpse into his battle with cancer. While visiting the Army Flying Museum in Middle Wallop, Hampshire, to officially handover one of his military titles to Prince William on Monday, the king described a rather unpleasant experience he’s also had to overcome, which he’s credited as nothing more than a side effect from treatment of the disease. While undergoing treatment for an unspecified type of cancer, the 75-year-old monarch has reportedly lost his sense of taste, The Daily Mail reports. He declined to explain whether or not experts have told him to expect this to be a temporary issue or a permanent by-product of the medical care.

Baltimore bridge blown up in controlled demolition

Part of a collapsed bridge in Baltimore has been deliberately destroyed, clearing the way for the eventual full return of shipping through one of the busiest sea routes in the US. A ship struck the Francis Scott Key Bridge on  March 26, causing it to collapse and killing six construction workers. Monday’s demolition broke apart chunks of the collapsed bridge. The operation was delayed over the weekend due to bad weather. The Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed after it was hit by a cargo ship, the Dali, which lost power and veered off course. The collision sent around 4,000 tonnes of debris into the Patapsco River.

Brussels demands answers over ban on EU flags at Eurovision

The European Commission has expressed anger over a ban on EU flags at the Eurovision Song Contest and demanded explanations. The allegations, made by several spectators who attended the final on Saturday and were told off for carrying the flags, quickly turned viral and prompted a stern rebuke from Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas. “Eurovision is first and foremost a celebration of European spirit, of our European diversity and talent. The EU flag is a symbol of this,” Schinas said on X. He sent a letter on Monday asking EBU bosses to explain the “rationale” behind the ban and attribute “responsibility where it is due”. In a statement to Euronews, the EBU said the flag policy had been agreed with SVT, the Swedish broadcaster and host of this year’s contest, but stressed this did not feature an explicit provision to prohibit EU flags.

Tennis: Djokovic requires medical attention

Novak Djokovic needs medical attention after getting knocked on the head by a water bottle following a win at the Italian Open. A child was leaning over the railing to hand Djokovic a notebook for a signature and an aluminum-type water bottle fell out of the child’s backpack and hit the player on the top of his head. Djokovic said he had struggled with balance and coordination ever since.

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