BBC 2024-02-28 22:32:21

Top US court will rule on Trump immunity claims

The Supreme Court will decide if ex-President Donald Trump is immune from being prosecuted on charges of trying to overturn the 2020 election.

The 6-3 conservative majority court decided on Wednesday to hear Mr Trump’s claims that he should be shielded from criminal liability.

The ruling marks the first time the court has weighed in on such a case.

A US Court of Appeals panel has already rejected Mr Trump’s argument that he enjoys presidential immunity.

Mr Trump had claimed in the landmark legal case that he was immune from all criminal charges for acts he said fell within his duties as president.

But the court ruled unanimously against the 77-year-old, writing that: “We cannot accept former President Trump’s claim that a president has unbounded authority to commit crimes that would neutralise the most fundamental check on executive power – the recognition and implementation of election results.”

He appealed the case to the Supreme Court and asked to put that decision on hold.

Mr Trump was charged last year with witness tampering and conspiracy to defraud the US in federal court in Washington DC over his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.

That trial was originally scheduled for March.

The Supreme Court has scheduled arguments in the case for the week of April 22, meaning the Washington DC trial date will be delayed while the high court considers the case.

In its brief order, the Supreme Court said it will weigh: “Whether and if so to what extent does a former president enjoy presidential immunity from criminal prosecution for conduct alleged to involve official acts during his tenure in office.”

Mr Trump has claimed in the election subversion case that he was immune from criminal charges for acts he said fell within his duties as president.

The Republican front-runner candidate for president is facing a host of other federal and state criminal charges.

Mitch McConnell to step down as Senate Republican leader in November

Mitch McConnell, the US Senate’s longest-serving Republican leader, has announced he is stepping down from his leadership position in November.

The Kentucky politician said it was “time to move on” in his address to the Senate on Wednesday.

Mr McConnell has proven key to passing conservative priorities and electing Republicans to Capitol Hill.

But he has fallen out with Donald Trump in recent years and feuded with him over his election falsehoods.

Mr McConnell, 82, has suffered several health scares in the past year though his staff say that has nothing to do with his decision. He twice froze when speaking during press conferences in the past year, and he suffered a concussion after falling at a hotel in Washington.

The Kentucky senator said in his speech that he would serve out his term, which ends in January 2027, but he would work “from a different seat in the chamber”.

“I still have enough gas in my tank to thoroughly disappoint my critics,” he said.

Over his long career, Mitch McConnell proved himself to be one of the most effective Republican leaders in the Senate in part because he could alternate between bare-knuckle political hardball and a willingness to compromise when he saw fit.

  • Mitch McConnell: From polio victim to political titan

In his speech, Mr McConnell reflected on his decades in the Senate, his age, and his family.

But he dedicated a large portion of his speech to the importance of US global leadership despite the ideological shift his party has undergone under former President Donald Trump’s isolationist and populist rhetoric.

“I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults, but misunderstanding politics is not one,” he said.

“That said, I believe more strongly than ever that America’s global leadership is essential to preserving the shining city on a hill that Ronald Reagan discussed,” he added, referring to the Republican president who proactively fostered US alliances at the end of the Cold War.

Mr Trump’s leadership has changed those views among many Republicans.

The former president has pushed the party further to the right, and he has regularly questioned the value of American military alliances and international trade.

He has also repeated false claims that he won the 2020 election – a point of contention between him and Mr McConnell – and emphasised his desire to crackdown on immigration.

The Kentucky senator’s willingness to compromise on some of those issues, his support of foreign military aid, and his rejection of Mr Trump’s falsehoods made him a villain for many on the right, who at conservative gatherings would regularly jeer at the mention of his name.

This also led to Mr McConnell’s ongoing feud with Mr Trump – on political strategy and on personal comportment – culminating in a definitive break between the two after the 6 January attack on the US Capitol by Trump supporters.

During Mr Biden’s term, the political shifts in the Republican Party have caused Mr McConnell to face increasing pressures from his Republican colleagues in the Senate who have remained loyal to the former president.

Mr McConnell remains the last member of the congressional Republican leadership not to endorse Mr Trump’s re-election bid, although there were recent reports that a reconciliation was being brokered.

His Wednesday’s announcement may put an end to those discussions. It may also be viewed as a decision by the veteran politician that mending fences with the man who frequently belittled him was a step too far.

But the Senate minority leader did not suggest his party’s ideological changes or Mr Trump were the reasons for his decision to leave the leadership post, nor did he give any other motivating factor beyond a passing reference to the death of his wife’s sister.

“To serve Kentucky has been the honour of my life, and to lead my Republican colleagues has been the highest privilege,” he said. “But one of life’s most under appreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter.”

President Joe Biden, meanwhile, told reporters that he had maintained “a great relationship” with Mr McConnell, though they often “fight like hell”.

“I’m sorry to hear he’s stepping down,” he added.

It is uncertain who might next lead Senate Republicans, but there are three successors commonly mentioned in Washington: John Cornyn of Texas, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Mr McConnell’s second-in-command – John Thune of South Dakota.

One dead and two missing after Channel crossing rescue

A woman has died and two people are missing after a migrant boat had to be rescued in the English Channel.

According to French maritime authorities, the boat had 50 migrants on board when it got into difficulty off the French coast on Wednesday.

Passengers told rescuers three people had gone overboard.

The woman was recovered from the water but was unable to be resuscitated, the French maritime prefecture said. Two others could not be found.

Two French naval vessels and a helicopter were deployed.

The body was retrieved but two other people reported missing could not be located and are presumed dead, according to the French authorities.

The other passengers on board were taken to safety.

A spokesperson for the UK government confirmed they had been notified about the incident “involving a small boat in French waters”.

“French authorities are leading the response and investigation. We will not be commenting further at this stage”, they said.

It was one of several rescues that took place on Wednesday – a total of 180 people had been rescued throughout the day.

Approximately 10 groups of people have tried to make the journey since Tuesday evening.

One of the boats reportedly split in half but it was close enough to where it had set off that the people on board were able to get back to dry land.

Overall, the number of attempted crossing last year fell by a third compared with 2022, but nearly 30,000 migrants still reached the UK coast.

Home Office figures show that more than 2,000 migrants have arrived in the UK so far this year.

The mathematical muddle created by leap years

Every four years we have a 29 February – apart from those that fall at the turn of a century, unless the year is divisible by 400. This is the messy story of how leap years work.

I have a friend at work – in the mathematics department of the University of Bath in the UK – who is turning 11 this year. He’s not a child prodigy (although we definitely do get some of those in maths). He just has a very special birthday: February the 29th.

As 2024 is a leap year, it means he gets to celebrate on the actual date of his birth instead of one of the surrounding days. Although for my colleague it is undoubtedly tedious to have people like me joke about how old he is (and spare a thought for the 100 year old “leaplings” who have had to endure 25 such occasions), for the rest of us the leap year has a special, almost mystical, aura about it.

This exceptional day has been associated with all sorts of weird and wonderful traditions over the years: from the wildly outdated notion that 29 February is the only day when women can propose to men, to the Leap Year Festival held in Anthony, New Mexico, which sees people born on this special day gather to celebrate their rare birthdays together.

As a rule of thumb, leap days come around every four years. But there are exceptions to this rule. For example, at the turn of every century we miss a leap year. Even though the year is divisible by four, we don’t add a leap day in the years that end in 00. But there’s an exception to this rule too. If the year is a multiple of 400 then we do add in an extra leap day again. At the turn of the millennium, despite being divisible by 100, the year 2000 did, in fact, have a 29 February because it was also divisible by 400.

So far so complicated. But why do we have leap years at all? And why are the rules that govern them so convoluted? As you probably know, the answer is something to do with keeping things in sync.

The French newspaper La Bougie du Sapeur is only published on 29 February every four years (Credit: Getty Images)

There are only two fundamentally determined units of time for our planet. One of them is the day: the time it takes for the earth to spin once on its axis, from facing the Sun, to facing away and then back again. The other is the year: the time it takes the Earth to complete one orbit of the sun.

Annoyingly it takes the earth 365.24219… (roughly 365 and one quarter) days to rotate around the sun and return to its starting position. So, a true solar year is not actually 365 days long. This is very inconvenient. We can’t celebrate New Year at midnight one year and then at 6AM the next and midday the year after that – getting further and further out of sync.

Way back in 46 BCE, Julius Caesar recognised this problem and with his advisors decided on a clever solution to improve the running of his Julian calendar – which included adding the extra quarter days accumulated every four years to create a whole extra day. (Read about how the leap year was invented under Caesar, and refined by Pope Gregory in the 16th Century.)

Adding a day every four years, however, gives the average length of a year to be 365.25 days – a little bit too long.

When the Gregorian calendar was introduced, it was decided to improve the approximation by striking out one of the leap days in years divisible by 100. Under this system, over the course of a century we would add 24 extra days not 25, making the average year 365.24 days long – an (even smaller) bit too short.

Not satisfied with this better approximation, it was decided to add back in an extra leap day every 400 years. Over the course of one 400 year period, this entails adding in 97 extra days in total, making the average year length 365.2425 days – near enough that no-one could be bothered going further.

Leap years are a mathematical trick to overcome the rather inconvenient time it takes the Earth to make a complete orbit around the Sun (Credit: Alamy)

It took several attempts and false starts to get to our present-day calendar accuracy. To get to the next level of accuracy we’d need to remove leap days on years that were multiples of 3200. That would give us an extra 775 days over the course of 3200 years making the average year 365.2421875 days long – an even greater level of accuracy.

This seems like a lot of trouble to go to, just to make sure that days align with years. Why instead don’t we just change our definition of the year to make it exactly 365 days? This seems like a sensible solution, and indeed it would be, were it not for the axial tilt of the earth.

The “Big Whack” theory suggests that about 4.5 billion years ago, a huge collision between proto-Earth and another, Mars-sized, planet sent enough debris flying to create the Moon, but also caused the Earth’s axis to tilt. Although that tilt is thought to have varied over the years, the fact that we have a tilt at all gives rise to the seasons familiar at higher latitudes – summer when your part of the Earth is tilted towards the Sun and winter when it’s tilted away, with spring and autumn in between.

If we didn’t make adjustments for the leap days then our calendars would get out of sync with our seasons. After 100 years the calendar would be off by about 25 days. After about 750 years, those living in the northern hemisphere would be celebrating Christmas in the middle of summer and Valentine’s day in the autumn. And that just wouldn’t do. Indeed, this lack of alignment between the civic and solar calendars was what prompted Caesar to add in the leap day in the first place, as well as introducing a 445-day year in 46BC to correct the months-long lag that had built up. (Read more about the longest year in history.)

If we didn’t make adjustments for the leap days then our calendars would get out of sync with our seasons. After 100 years the calendar would be off by about 25 days

You may well have heard of leap seconds. You might well ask why we can’t just add in a few leap seconds every day so that we end up with the right number of extra hours by the end of each year? It’s a nice idea, but of course it would mean that, by extending the day, our clocks would get out of sync with our daylight, which would be an even worse problem. Halfway through the year we might end up eating breakfast at dusk or going to bed at sunrise. In fact, leap seconds are used to avoid exactly this problem – small variations in the period of Earth’s rotation on its axis that would otherwise throw our time out of kilter.

So it seems we are stuck with leap days. But this year, on this most unusual of dates why not take the opportunity to embrace the rarity. You could read along with the French by picking up a copy of the world’s least frequently publish newspaper, La Bougie du Sapeur, published every leap day since 1980 (this will be the 12th edition). Or you could test your culinary skills by making pig’s trotter noodles, like the people of Taiwan, who serve it to their elderly on leap day, viewing the speciality as a harbinger of good luck and longevity. Or you could just sit back and enjoy your evening with a “Leap Year” cocktail. A combination of gin, Grand Marnier, vermouth and lemon juice, its unusual combination of flavours are the perfect tonic for this unusual day. Who knows, you could even be inventive and try making up your own unique tradition to capture the spirit of the rarest day of the year.

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FA Cup: Danns double for Liverpool as Man Utd & Chelsea also progress


Southampton manager Russell Martin talking to ITV: “I don’t think it was a fair reflection, we had the better chances and we could have been 2-0 up before they even got close to our goal. It was more than promise, we showed some real bravery and they should have ended up in goals.

“The big frustration is that we lost and especially 3-0. The difference is the quality and finishing. It is composure and their keeper made some amazing chances.

“I’ve said the players should be really proud of themselves but we’ve got to score in those moments. I’m incredibly proud, I am frustrated that we lost and I thought it was an amazing chance to progress, but we haven’t done it.

“I’ll take that performance and if we are to lose, I want to lose playing our way. If we play like that for the rest of the season we’ll be more than fine.”