The Guardian 2024-02-28 22:31:52


Liberal senator has ‘fair idea’ of accused spy’s identity but says it ‘wouldn’t be appropriate’ to speculate publicly

Australia’s former treasurer and US ambassador Joe Hockey is FURIOUS Asio’s Mike Burgess has dropped his bombshell without saying who it is. He told ABC radio:

My first thought the former politician is a traitor. It wasn’t an allegation by the head of our intelligence agency. It was a statement of fact.

And in making that statement of fact, I can only think that the head of Asio was fully aware that there will be calls for that person to be named.

Because it is absolutely inconceivable that you would have a former politician representing their community representing the country who then goes and engages with a foreign adversary.

And somehow they’re allowed to walk off into the sunset without having their name or their reputation revealed. And that is absurd. It’s already raised questions here in Washington, DC. It raises questions for our Five Eyes relationship, and this sharing of intelligence particularly with existing members of parliament and former members of parliament for Australia.

And also, it makes us all question as representatives in the parliament, who we can trust who of our current and former colleagues can we trust? And that’s ridiculous.

AsioAustralian politician ‘sold out’ to foreign regime after being recruited by spies, Mike Burgess says

Australian politician ‘sold out’ to foreign regime after being recruited by spies, Asio boss says

Mike Burgess outlines activities of spy network dubbed ‘the A-team’ in annual threat assessment, without naming former politician nor the country involved

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A former Australian politician “sold out their country, party and former colleagues” after being recruited by spies for a foreign regime, according to Australia’s domestic intelligence agency.

The head of Asio, Mike Burgess, made the allegations as he outlined the prolific activities of a spy network he labelled “the A-team”, although he did not name the former politician nor the country involved.

Delivering his annual threat assessment on Wednesday evening, Burgess said Asio confronted the spy network last year and was now speaking publicly about it because “we want the A-team to know its cover is blown”.

He said more Australians were being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than ever before and people needed to understand the threat was “deeper and broader than you might think”.

Burgess alleged there was an “aggressive and experienced” team in a particular foreign intelligence service with a focus on Australia. “We are its priority target,” he said in a speech at Asio headquarters in Canberra.

“We will call them ‘the A-team’ – that’s not a compliment by the way – the Australia team.”

Burgess said members trawled professional networking sites looking for Australians with access to privileged information.

They looked to recruit students, academics, politicians, businesspeople, researchers, law enforcement officials and public servants at all levels of government, while using false, anglicised personae to approach their targets.

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“Some of the names they adopt include Sophy, Amy, Ben and Eric, but the team can and does use others,” Burgess said. “The spies pose as consultants, head-hunters, local government officials, academics and think tank researchers, claiming to be from fictional companies such as Data 31.

“Most commonly, they offer their targets consulting opportunities, promising to pay thousands of dollars for reports on Australian trade, politics, economics, foreign policy, defence and security.”

Burgess said the A-team was “offering Australian defence industry employees money in return for reports on Aukus, submarine technology, missile systems and many other sensitive topics”.

Former politician targeted

Without naming the individual, Burgess said the A-team “successfully cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician”. He said this occurred “several years ago”.

“This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime,” Burgess said. “At one point, the former politician even proposed bringing a prime minister’s family member into the spies’ orbit. Fortunately that plot did not go ahead but other schemes did.”

Burgess said that in one alleged plot, “leading Australian academics and political figures were invited to a conference in an overseas country, with the organisers covering all expenses including airfares”.

He said members of the A-team used the conference to build relationships with Australians, openly asking who had access to government documents.

Burgess said another Australian – described as an aspiring politician – “provided insights into the factional dynamics of his party, analysis of a recent election and the names of up-and-comers”.

Asio disrupted this scheme and confronted the Australians involved, he said.

“We helped the unaware ones extract themselves, and severed the links between the others and the foreign intelligence service. Several individuals should be grateful the espionage and foreign interference laws are not retrospective.”

This comment indicates the allegations span many years, as Australia’s tough new laws against espionage and foreign interference passed the parliament in 2018.

Burgess said his agency confronted the A-team directly late last year, when a team leader “thought he was grooming another Australian online” but was actually speaking with an Asio officer.

“You can imagine his horror when my officer revealed himself and declared, ‘we know who you are.’”

Burgess said he had declassified the case because Australians needed to understand what the threat of foreign interference “looks like so they can avoid it and report it”.

But he said this “real-world, real-time disruption” was also intended to signal that Asio would make foreign interference “as difficult, costly and painful as possible”.

Burgess said he was not naming the country involved because numerous countries conducted espionage and foreign interference and he wanted Australians to be alert to “red flags” regardless of the source.

Asked to explain the consequences for the former politician, Burgess said: “We’re a rule-of-law country and they’re not doing it now. If we see them go active again, I can guarantee they’ll get caught. Personally, I don’t think they’ll be stupid enough to repeat it.”

Threats to dissidents

Burgess said the counter foreign interference taskforce – led by Asio but also comprising the Australian federal police and other agencies – sought to “stop attempts to monitor and harass members of Australia’s diaspora communities”.

It had conducted more than 120 operations to mitigate threats against communities, political systems and classified information since mid-2020.

“In a sign of how the threat has grown, successful disruptions have increased by 265%, and continue to increase exponentially,” he said.

Burgess said the taskforce last year “uncovered and disrupted an individual working on behalf of a foreign government who wanted to physically harm an Australia-based critic of the regime”.

“The individual tried to identify his target’s home address and bank details, hired a subcontractor to take photos of the house and even asked how much money would be required to get the subcontractor to ‘take severe action’ against the dissident,” Burgess said.

“Even more recently, a foreign intelligence service tried to find an Australian who would be willing to make a different dissident quote ‘disappear’.”

Burgess said he was also “aware of one nation state conducting multiple attempts to scan critical infrastructure in Australia and other countries, targeting water, transport and energy networks” although it was not believed to be actively planning sabotage.

Australia’s terrorism threat level remained unchanged at “possible”, but Burgess said that did not mean “negligible”, with conflict in the Middle East “resonating” and Asio “carefully monitoring the implications for domestic security”.

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Sustainable miningChalmers to push for incentives amid concerns over Australian nickel

Jim Chalmers to push for incentives for sustainable mining amid concerns over Australian nickel

Speaking at the G20 in Brazil, treasurer will also warn that Australia easing into lower inflation without a recession is ‘not assured’

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The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, will call for incentives for producers of environmentally sustainable critical minerals in a major international speech.

Chalmers will speak to the G20 economic ministers in São Paulo overnight, warning that Australia’s growth in the last quarter was “quite weak” and the soft landing to reduce inflation without a recession is “assumed but not assured”.

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With growing concern about the Australian nickel industry due to growing international competition from Indonesian producers, Chalmers argues that “critical minerals industries and supply chains are not reliable enough or sustainable enough”.

“Right now, we don’t have the right market structures to reward global producers that improve their environmental and social footprint,” he says, in an advance copy of the speech.

“We should look to reward sellers that invest in improving the quality and sustainability of critical minerals.”

“This should include consideration of a differentiated international trading market for resources produced to higher [environmental, social and governance] standards.”

The comments appear to leave open international cooperation to impose tariffs on less environmentally sustainable minerals exports, along the lines of the European Union’s carbon tariffs.

In August the climate change and energy minister, Chris Bowen, said his department would begin consulting on whether Australia should adopt a so-called cross-border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) to avoid disadvantaging domestic companies. Steel and cement would be the first two products to be considered.

In his speech to the G20, Chalmers says that “inflation remains our major concern but for most of us the balance of risks in the economy has shifted, is shifting, or will shift before long from inflation to growth”.

Chalmers says that the Australian government expects “growth in next week’s December national accounts to be quite weak”.

This is “the inevitable consequence of global uncertainty, higher interest rates and cost of living pressures”, he says.

“Inflation has moderated substantially in Australia since its peaks in 2022 and the monthly inflation gauge that came out today is further evidence that inflation is moderating in welcome ways – but we’d like it to moderate further and faster.”

On Wednesday the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed the consumer price index was 3.4% in January, fuelling hopes of interest rate cuts from the current cash rate of 4.35%.

Surveying conditions around the world, Chalmers notes that “global inflation has peaked, issues in the banking system have been well-contained and growth in some major economies like the United States has defied expectations”.

“But since we last met we’ve seen technical recessions confirmed in Japan and the United Kingdom, two good friends and two big and important economies.

“Around a quarter of the G20 has recorded a recession or just narrowly avoided one.

“This is before the lagged effect of the synchronised tightening of monetary policy is fully-felt.”

In a separate G20 speech about inequality, Chalmers argues that the global financial crisis, pandemic and spike in inflation “all risk turbocharging the inequalities and vulnerabilities which threaten our communities and our economies and diminish our politics”.

Chalmers notes “five big shifts” around the world: from hydrocarbons to renewables; from information technology to artificial intelligence; from younger populations to older; the changing composition of our industrial bases; and from globalisation to fragmentation.

Chalmers argues governments must do “everything we can to ensure our people are the beneficiaries of this change rather than victims of change” including by allowing people to “earn more and keep more of what they earn”.

“Our agenda needs to be middle-out and bottom-up, not top-down.”

On Tuesday evening the Australian parliament passed Labor’s $359bn tax cut package, delivering bigger savings to low and middle-income earners earning less than $146,486.

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CovidWhat does Queensland’s mandates ruling mean for other vaccines and other states?

Explainer

What does Queensland’s Covid-19 mandates ruling mean for other vaccines and other states?

The state’s supreme court found the vaccine rules for police were unlawful and those for paramedics were ineffective. Here’s what the judgment means

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The Queensland supreme court has thrown out the state’s Covid-19 vaccination mandate for paramedics and police, on the basis of the Human Rights Act.

Guardian Australia spoke to a range of human rights experts to understand the ramifications of Tuesday’s decision.

What does the decision mean?

It means 74 named applicants to the court, who are current employees of the ambulance and police services, cannot be fired or otherwise disciplined as a result of not following the vaccine mandate.

What was the basis for the decision?

There were essentially two different reasons for the decision, depending on whether applicants worked for the police force or Queensland health.

Senior judge administrator Glenn Martin ruled that police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, didn’t follow the right process under the Human Rights Act and “failed to give proper consideration to human rights relevant to those decisions. As a result, those decisions were unlawful”.

The court’s decision was even more technical with regard to the ambulance service. That application succeeded because the health service was unable to provide sufficient evidence to show that the order was a power contained in an employment contract. The ambulance service order was not unlawful, just ineffective.

Griffith University human rights law professor Sarah Joseph described it as a “procedural” rather than “substantive” breach of the act, and a narrow decision.

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Is the decision final?

Not necessarily. It could be appealed in the supreme court of appeal. Both Queensland health and the Queensland police said on Tuesday they were considering their legal options.

How did this happen in the first place?

The applicants challenged two decisions in 2021 and 2022 by the commissioner of police, and the then director general of Queensland health, Dr John Wakefield, that staff must be vaccinated against Covid-19 or else face disciplinary action or even sacking. Both mandates were quashed, in December 2022 and September 2023, respectively.

After a 21-month wait, a joint judgment was handed down on Tuesday at the Queensland supreme court. It’s the first time a vaccine mandate has failed in court in Australia.

What does this mean for other states?

The decision is very narrow and based on the state Human Rights Act, which only applies in Queensland. It is also based entirely on the way Queensland decision-makers issued that specific mandate.

The only other state with a Human Rights Act is Victoria, which has a similar requirement for government to consider human rights when making decisions. The ACT also has a Human Rights Act.

Theoretically, lawyers in those jurisdictions could make out a similar case that their state decision-makers failed to consider human rights properly before imposing vaccination mandates.

Does it mean all vaccine mandates are illegal?

Definitely not.

In fact the court has explicitly ruled otherwise.

Queensland health has imposed all sorts of vaccine mandates on its staff for a very long time. Nurses, doctors, paramedics and even health volunteers have to be vaccinated against various diseases, ranging from tuberculosis to whooping cough, to keep their job. They still do and these rules are all still legal.

On Tuesday, the health minister, Shannon Fentiman, told media the decision did not affect the health directive imposed on the broader community of employees of Queensland health, including doctors and nurses, only employees of the ambulance service.

Martin was asked to rule that the mandate violated rights against discrimination, to equality before the law, against torture, to freedom of political thought and belief, to privacy, to life, to take part in public life and the right to liberty and security, among others. He ruled none of these rights were limited at all.

The only right that was impeded, he found, was the right not to be subjected to medical treatment without consent. Martin found public servants were coerced into vaccination because they feared loss of employment and income.

However, the state’s Human Rights Act does allow rights to be limited, the limits just need to be “demonstrably reasonable”.

Martin ruled that the restriction of that right was reasonable given the circumstances of the pandemic.

However, the act doesn’t just require a decision-maker to come to the right decision – they also have to do it the correct way, and document this process.

Some lawyers say if the police commissioner had done so, the court might have ruled a different way on the police element of the case.

Does it mean sacked police and paramedics can sue for compensation?

Billionaire businessman Clive Palmer – who says he provided millions for the successful case – said he would be “happy” to fund future legal action, potentially a class action lawsuit.

Lawyers for the police applicants also hinted at civil litigation in the future.

Human rights professor Sarah Joseph said she couldn’t predict how compensation claims would play out, but said “the chances of winning a litigation lawsuit against the government today are much bigger than they were yesterday”.

Benedict Coyne, who acted for many of the police service employees in the case, said the case would have a “significant impact” on others outside the group of litigants, including officers who were sacked as a result of the mandates.

What does this mean for the state Human Rights Act?

Human rights advocates have celebrated the outcome.

In a state without an upper house, Queensland has often been said to have an accountability deficit in its government.

It’s now clear the act is capable of acting as a check on the actions of governments.

Michael Cope, the president of the Queensland Council for Civil Liberties, said some elements of the judgment represented the first time sections of the Human Rights Act had been tested in the supreme court, blazing a precedent for future cases.

“This is a reminder to everybody that that is the law in this state and if you don’t do it, you can have your decision declared to be in breach of the Human Rights Act,” Cope said.

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Labor frontbencher hits back at Lidia Thorpe for ‘native police’ attack in Senate

Malarndirri McCarthy hits back at Lidia Thorpe for ‘native police’ attack in Senate

Labor frontbencher accuses Thorpe of using ‘reprehensible’ language and making her feel ‘culturally unsafe’

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The Labor frontbencher Malarndirri McCarthy has accused Lidia Thorpe of using “reprehensible” language and making her feel “culturally unsafe” in the Senate after the independent senator referred to her as being a member of the “native police” in the government’s ranks.

Thorpe, an independent senator for Victoria, made the comments in the Senate on Monday in a speech about the policing of First Nations people and the incarceration of Indigenous children.

“We know increased punitive measures do nothing to address the underlying social issues, yet this so-called progressive Labor government have a few native police officers in their ranks,” Thorpe said.

“Your own Marion Scrymgour is making disgusting calls to treat our kids even more harshly, when they are already being openly hunted, locked up and tortured, and then Senator McCarthy is giving black money to the police dogs, adding to the billions of dollars being spent on this racist system every single year. Native police in your own ranks. Shame.”

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Native police were specialised units of Indigenous troopers commanded by white colonial officers to police Indigenous communities in the 19th and into the 20th centuries. They often doled out brutal punishments and the use of native police had a devastating effect on Indigenous communities.

McCarthy, a senator for the Northern Territory, sought leave to make a personal statement in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon in order to address Thorpe’s comments, which she called “derogatory words designed to damage me personally and professionally”.

Some of McCarthy’s family members, including her uncle and her cousin, have served with the police.

“Comments by Senator Thorpe referring to me as ‘native police’ carry negative historic stereotypes to increase hatred towards me and by extension my family,” she told the Senate.

“I am very proud of my uncle, one of the longest serving police officers, liaison officers and police trackers in the Northern Territory and I am proud of his daughter who has followed in his footsteps. My family welcomed Senator Thorpe to Yanyuwa country and embraced her … The communication and dialogue in this Senate towards me and my families is reprehensible.

“Senator Thorpe’s use of ‘native police’, I view, as lateral violence. It makes me feel culturally unsafe in the Senate and with Senator Thorpe.

“I ask all senators to be respectful in debate. We each come with our lived experiences. There is no place for harmful language against one another.”

Thorpe has been a vocal critic of the government on Indigenous issues, particularly since the voice to parliament referendum, calling for further urgent action to implement the recommendations of the royal commission into Indigenous deaths in custody and the Bringing Them Home report on the forced removal of Aboriginal children.

Her speech on Monday included criticism of the government for not making further progress on the deaths in custody report.

The episode comes after an explosive end to Wednesday’s sitting of the Senate, involving Thorpe, which led to the Senate shutting down early.

Confusion about the procedure of the debate meant that several senators who had been waiting more than an hour to speak were prevented from doing so.

Thorpe had been prevented from delivering a speech on the death of Yorta Yorta and Gunnaikurnai man Joshua Kerr, who died while in remand at Victoria’s Port Phillip prison. She said the rules had not been observed and proceeded to read her speech, despite being told she could not, which led to the Senate adjourning early.

Thorpe’s office has been contacted for comment.

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Lidia ThorpeSenator says she was trying to speak about cousin’s death in custody during Senate chaos

Lidia Thorpe says she was trying to speak about cousin’s death in custody during Senate chaos

Independent senator told to ‘sit down’ by Louise Pratt after repeated interjections that saw the chamber adjourn early

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The independent senator Lidia Thorpe says she was trying to deliver a statement from the mother of an Indigenous man who died in custody when she was barred from speaking for yelling over other senators, prompting the chamber to shut down early.

On Tuesday night the upper house erupted over which senators were granted the right to speak and how much time they were given to conclude their remarks.

Thorpe had been seeking the call and had furiously interjected a number of times while other senators delivered their speeches, prompting the acting deputy president, Louise Pratt, to demand she “sit down now”.

Thorpe continued to interject as the Labor senator Helen Polley delivered a speech on dementia and concussion, accusing Pratt of being asleep in the chair.

“Wake up, because you’ve been asleep in that chair and I have a mother who lost a son to your system,” Thorpe said.

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Pratt denied the accusation, saying she had been “listening intently” to the speeches.

Thorpe continued interjecting even after the Senate president, Sue Lines, returned to the chair, attempting to defuse the situation. Thorpe was eventually barred from raising points of order, as is usually a parliamentarian’s right.

Ultimately, the chamber’s proceedings were adjourned to prevent further escalation.

On Wednesday morning, Thorpe said she had been trying to deliver a statement from the mother of her first cousin, Josh Kerr. She added she would be talking to the government to prevent the issue around speaking times in the Senate from happening again.

Kerr, a 32-year-old Yorta Yorta and Gunnaikurnai man whose coronial inquest finished last week, died in custody in 2022.

A state coroner’s court has heard Kerr was “visibly unresponsive” for 17 minutes before receiving medical treatment, after having earlier called out “I’m dying” with no action from prison staff.

Lines labelled Thorpe’s conduct on Tuesday night as “appalling” in a statement before question time on Wednesday.

“It is never in order to yell at the chair or yell over the chair when the chair is attempting to maintain order,” she said. “It is never in order to yell at other senators.”

Thorpe delivered the speech on Wednesday shortly after midday. She called on the Albanese government to do more about Indigenous deaths in custody by implementing in full the recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report and the 1997 Bringing Them Home report.

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Supreme court to hear Trump immunity claim in election interference case

Supreme court to hear Trump immunity claim in election interference case

Justices to consider whether former president is immune from prosecution over effort to overturn election loss to Biden

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The US supreme court will decide if Donald Trump can be prosecuted on election interference charges, indicating it will move quickly in the immunity case.

Trump’s appeal to the nation’s highest court marks the final challenge the former US president can make on the immunity issue related to his federal criminal case.

Trump’s team had viewed for months that the appeal would probably fall short on the law but would be an effective way to delay the impending trial, which had been due to begin in early March.

The court on Wednesday agreed to decide Trump’s claim of immunity on charges brought by a special counsel involving his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss, again thrusting the nation’s top judicial body into the election fray as Trump seeks to regain the presidency.

The justices put on hold the criminal case being pursued by special counsel Jack Smith and will review a lower court’s rejection of Trump’s claim of immunity from prosecution because he was president when he took actions aimed at reversing Joe Biden’s election victory over him.

Trump’s lawyers had requested a stay of that ruling, warning of dire consequences for the presidency absent such immunity.

Trump has made it no secret that his overarching legal strategy is to seek delays, ideally beyond the 2024 election in November, in the hopes that winning re-election could enable him to potentially pardon himself or direct his attorney general to drop the charges.

More details soon …

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Donald TrumpJudge denies request to access secret filing in Mar-a-Lago case

Judge denies Trump request to access secret filing in Mar-a-Lago case

US district judge Aileen Cannon rejects Trump’s motion to access filing explaining reasons for withholding classified information

A federal judge on Tuesday rejected an attempt by Donald Trump to review a sensitive court filing submitted by special counsel prosecutors that detailed their reasons for wanting to redact some of the classified documents which would be turned over to the former president in discovery.

The attempt by Trump to access the filing was a brazen move that would have defeated the purpose of rules to protect national security in Espionage Act prosecutions and potentially thrown into disarray the scope and viability of continuing the case against Trump.

But in a nine-page order, the presiding US district judge Aileen Cannon ruled that Trump should not gain access to the secret filing because his legal team could still prepare a defense without it, even as she took issue with prosecutors’ reasoning for why access should be withheld.

The secret filing – known as a section 4 motion under the Classified Information Procedures Act, or Cipa – has long been treated as inaccessible to defendants because it discusses the very classified information that prosecutors want to redact, as well as their reasons for the redactions.

If defendants were given access to the section 4 motion, including the referenced classified documents in unredacted form and the accompanying declarations from the US intelligence community, it would effectively defeat the purpose of the motion and the Cipa statute more generally.

Trump was charged last year in federal district court in Florida with retaining national defense information by the special counsel Jack Smith, which turned the case into an Espionage Act prosecution governed by the rules laid out under Cipa.

The Cipa statute was passed in the 1980s to protect the government from the “graymail” problem, a tactic where defendants threaten to reveal classified information at trial, betting that the government would prefer to drop the charges rather than risk public disclosure of intelligence secrets.

There are seven sections to Cipa. At section 4, where the Trump case currently stands, prosecutors can ask to redact parts of the classified documents that defendants are entitled to receive in discovery that would not be “relevant” or “helpful” in constructing defense arguments for trial.

The basic goal of section 4, according to national security law experts, is to protect classified information from unnecessary exposure and graymail.

Trump was entitled to challenge the government’s section 4 motion and ask that the amount of redactions be minimized, though a wholesale rejection by Cannon would have almost certainly triggered an immediate appeal by prosecutors to the US court of appeals for the 11th circuit.

Cannon has previously drawn scrutiny from the 11th circuit. Before Trump was indicted, she upended the underlying criminal investigation by issuing a series of favorable rulings to Trump before the appeals court ruled she never had legitimate legal authority to intervene.

But it was highly brazen, even by Trump’s standards, to ask the judge not only to reject prosecutors’ request to redact the documents but also to see the underlying section 4 motion: it amounted to Trump’s lawyers asking to see the information prosecutors wanted hidden from Trump’s lawyers.

Trump’s lawyers argued they should be able to see the section 4 motion because the case involved a former president – once the chief classification authority – and in two terrorist cases, their lawyers with security clearances had ultimately been able to see some of the government’s motion.

The Trump team also argued that prosecutors were wrong to suggest section 4 proceedings must occur “ex parte”, here meaning only the government would be involved in the litigation, because the statute suggested it was up to the judge to decide how to proceed.

Cannon wrote in her order that she agreed with Trump that it was in her gift to decide whether to proceed ex parte, and at times took on a chastising tone towards prosecutors for suggesting otherwise. But Cannon ultimately decided not to create new precedent and rejected Trump’s motion.

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New YorkNew York appeals judge denies Trump bid to pay US$100m of US$454m judgment

New York appeals judge denies Trump bid to pay $100m of $454m judgment

Ex-president’s lawyers had asked court to halt collection of rest of amount plus ban on securing new loans from New York banks

A New York appeals judge has denied Donald Trump’s request to pay just $100m of the $454m judgment for his New York fraud trial.

Trump’s lawyers had asked the appeals court to halt the collection of the rest of the amount, along with the judgment’s ban on Trump securing new loans from New York banks, until the appeal goes through.

On Wednesday, Judge Anil Singh appeared to have some sympathy for Trump, staying the ban over Trump from taking out loans from New York banks and another ban on him serving as an officer of a New York company, both for the next three years.

“The exorbitant and punitive amount of the judgment, coupled with an unlawful and unconstitutional blanket prohibition on lending transactions, would make it impossible to secure and post a complete bond,” Trump’s lawyers Clifford Robert, Alina Habba and Michael Farina wrote.

The New York attorney general’s office said the appeals court should deny Trump’s request as Trump has not said he does not have the assets to fulfil the judgment’s full amount.

“Defendants all but concede that Trump has insufficient liquid assets to satisfy the judgment; defendants would need ‘to raise capital’,” prosecutors told the court in a filing. “A prevailing plaintiff is entitled to have her award secured, and defendants have never demonstrated that Mr Trump’s liquid assets could satisfy the full amount of the judgment.”

Judge Arthur Engoron found that Trump, his company and top executives, including his sons Eric and Donald Jr, schemed for years to deceive banks and insurers by inflating his wealth on financial statements used to secure loans and make deals. Among other penalties, the judge put strict limitations on the ability of Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, to do business.

Engoron ordered Trump to pay $355m plus interest – pushing the penalty to more than $450m at the time of the ruling, with another $112,000 in interest accruing each day.

Trump filed his appeal on Monday. His lawyers are asking the appellate division of the state’s trial court to decide whether Engoron “committed errors of law and/or fact” and whether he abused his discretion or “acted in excess” of his jurisdiction.

Trump was not required to pay his penalty or post a bond in order to appeal, and filing the appeal did not automatically halt enforcement of the judgment.

The Republican presidential frontrunner has until 25 March to secure a stay – a legal mechanism pausing collection while he appeals.

Trump would receive an automatic stay if he were to put up money, assets or an appeal bond covering what he owes. He also had the option, which he has now exercised, to ask the appeals court to grant a stay with a bond for a lower amount.

Trump lawyers said Trump’s vast real estate assets and oversight mandated by Engoron’s ruling, including supervision of his company by an independent monitor, “would alone be sufficient to adequately secure any judgment affirmed”.

The $100m bond, they said, “would simply serve as further security”.

Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, maintains that he is worth several billion dollars and testified last year that he had about $400m in cash, in addition to properties and other investments.

In all, Trump has at least $543.4m in personal legal liabilities from Engoron’s ruling and two other civil court judgments in the last year.

In January, a jury ordered Trump to pay $83.3m to writer E Jean Carroll for defaming her after she accused him in 2019 of sexually assaulting her in a Manhattan department store in the 1990s. That is on top of the $5m a jury awarded Carroll in a related trial last year.

Associated Press contributed to this report

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New Zealand v Australia: first Test, day one

6th over: Australia 17-0 (Smith 13, Khawaja 2) Matt Henry works Khawaja over once again, pitching the ball on a postage stamp outside off stump. Usman is watchful, only playing when he really has to. A maiden ensues – proper criggit.

New Zealand v Australia: first Test, day one

6th over: Australia 17-0 (Smith 13, Khawaja 2) Matt Henry works Khawaja over once again, pitching the ball on a postage stamp outside off stump. Usman is watchful, only playing when he really has to. A maiden ensues – proper criggit.

CricketUnchanged Australia look to rebound in New Zealand

Unchanged Australia look to rebound in rare trans-Tasman Test

  • Pat Cummins names same XI that lost to West Indies last month
  • Steve Smith to open against New Zealand in Wellington

It is not often the highlight of the Australian summer of cricket happens outside Australia. However, the tasty prospect of the first Test tour to New Zealand in eight years, with the Black Caps at a historically high-water mark, means high anticipation on both sides of the Tasman.

It is also a battle of the two World Test Championship winners to date; holders Australia against inaugural champions New Zealand.

The great shame, given the limited hit-outs between the two, is the series is only two Test matches, beginning at Wellington’s Basin Reserve on Thursday and concluding in Christchurch next week.

Pat Cummins is one of several to have never played a Test in New Zealand, relying on advice from Australia’s bowling coach – the great Kiwi spinner Daniel Vettori. “He’s always got good insights. He’s played a lot here,” Cummins said.

The Test skipper – eager to bounce back from a shock Test loss to West Indies in Australia’s last outing – said Australia would run out with the same XI for that Test.

“No surprises and it’s always nice to have a full contingent to pick from,” Cummins said. “There’s a real calmness around the group. Everyone’s played enough Test cricket so it doesn’t feel like we ever need to reinvent the wheel.”

In contrast, the hosts have an unsettled side, knocked around by injury and form. Devon Conway will miss the Test, and possibly the series, after failing to recover from a thumb injury suffered in the T20 series last week.

He joins spearhead paceman Kyle Jamieson on the sidelines, who has a stress fracture in his back, as well as Neil Wagner. Wagner had troubled Australia, and particularly Steve Smith, on recent tours but chose to retire this week after being informed by coach Gary Stead he would not be picked.

Kiwi skipper Tim Southee confirmed on Wednesday that young quick Will O’Rourke would play, fresh from a nine-wicket haul on Test debut a fortnight earlier. Southee confirmed Will Young would replace Conway, with the final selection – seam v spin battle between Scott Kuggeleijn and Mitchell Santner – to be decided before the toss.

That decision will hinge on the pitch, which both sides were not able to train on due to persistent rain in the capital on Wednesday.

While pitches in New Zealand are commonly more grassy than in other Test-playing nations, the Basin was sporting an especially green-topped wicket on last glimpse on Tuesday.

Cummins said, should he win the toss, bowling was “a live option”.

“Coming from Australia, it’s rare to turn on TV and see a green wicket that looks like the turf here, but over here, it’s pretty normal,” he said. “I don’t think it’s as scary as perhaps what it looks. Seems like there’s been plenty of first inning scores that have been big.”

Australia have dominated recent clashes with the Black Caps, who have one Test victory in the last 31 years: a 2011 win in Hobart. Nathan Lyon, who played in that clash, said he too had leaned on Vettori for advice.

“He’s been able to get us some really good insights in the way the New Zealand batters think which is amazing,” he said of the fellow spinner. “As someone who did have similar craft himself, he’s been incredibly valuable for my career since he’s jumped on board the last last couple of years or so.

“It’s amazing to have a Kiwi legend in our change room handing out all the secrets.”

Australia: Steve Smith, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Cameron Green, Travis Head, Mitchell Marsh, Alex Carey, Mitchell Starc, Pat Cummins, Nathan Lyon, Josh Hazlewood.

New Zealand: Tom Latham, Will Young, Kane Williamson, Rachin Ravindra, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell, Glenn Phillips, Matt Henry, Mitch Santner/Scott Kuggeleijn, Tim Southee, Will O’Rourke.

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Labor MP calls for honour to be stripped from undeserving dead recipients

Labor MP calls for Order of Australia to be stripped from undeserving dead recipients

Graham Perrett says it is ‘unjust’ deceased high school teacher Maxwell Howell, who is accused of failing to investigate child sex abuse, retains the honour

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Labor MP Graham Perrett has condemned “unjust” rules that mean the Order of Australia cannot be stripped from dead recipients, even if they are found to have committed serious wrongdoing.

Perrett has taken up the cause of a constituent, Chris Stoker, who is a victim of child sexual abuse lobbying for the honour to be taken off Maxwell Howell, a deceased headteacher of Brisbane Grammar who was found to have failed to investigate complaints against the school councillor.

The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse found that Howell, who was headteacher from 1965 to 1989, was warned in 1981 that Kevin Lynch had abused a boy.

He was appointed as a member of the Order of Australia for services to education in 1986. Howell died in 2011 and denied any knowledge of abuse.

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The royal commission said: “Dr Howell did not investigate the allegations and did not report the matter to the police or the board of trustees.

“In not doing so, he failed in his obligations to protect the safety and wellbeing of the students.”

Perrett said he did not think it was “a just outcome” that the award was “interred with someone not deserving of honour”.

“I understand the legal logic – but it is not just,” he said.

Perrett said he would look at options including a private member’s bill to seek a rule change.

Stoker said that while the effects of child sexual abuse “can never be fully extinguished” he has taken up the cause of lobbying to remove Howell’s membership of the order to help “safeguard children”.

“If he had done his job when he was told years before I went to the school and suffered abuse, none of this would have happened,” Stoker said.

In a statement on Tuesday the Council for the Order of Australia said it “is not an investigative body and is unable to make a determination of guilt or innocence”.

“Had the council known of serious adverse findings at the time of considering a nomination, an appointment may not have been recommended to the governor-general,” it said.

Where recipients are still alive the council may decide “to commence proceedings for cancellation and termination” but “different circumstances apply” when they are no longer living.

It noted that after death “individuals cannot be afforded a right of reply as required by the terminations and cancellation ordinance”.

“The order of Australia is a living society of honour. As such, upon death, individuals are no longer members.

“The council acknowledges that the hurtful legacy of such awards cannot be taken away.”

Stoker said it was “horrifying” that in death un-meritorious recipients retained honours meant for “exceptional achievement and selfless acts”.

“It’s pretty disgusting they won’t remove his order,” he said. “There is nothing to stop them from doing it.”

Stoker disputed the council’s interpretation of its rules, arguing it is open to the council to “terminate his appointment” and this is distinct from removing Howell from its membership.

Stoker noted that the governor general has the power to change the ordinances, as had been done during “childish fights” adding and then removing the new honours of knights and dames in 2015 during the Abbott government.

In June, Patrick Gorman, the assistant minister to the prime minister, wrote to Perrett noting that he had committed to Stoker to consider “this matter and any actions available, either through amendments to the constitution or outside the constitution”.

Asked if this is still the government’s position, a spokesperson for Gorman said: “I refer you to the Council for the Order of Australia statement published 27 February 2024.”

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News Corp journalist offered to write article defending Zachary Rolfe two days after he shot Indigenous man dead, inquest hears

News Corp journalist offered to write article defending Zachary Rolfe two days after he shot Kumanjayi Walker dead, court hears

Kristin Shorten from the Australian told former police officer to ‘ignore the leftist reporting’, inquest into Indigenous man’s death hears

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A journalist at the Australian told Zachary Rolfe only two days after he shot and killed Kumanjayi Walker that she could “write an article in your defence” because “I know what you did was totally warranted”, a court has heard.

Journalist Kristin Shorten, who Rolfe said was a friend because her partner was a fellow police officer, texted Rolfe in November 2019 asking if he was OK after the incident and telling him to “ignore the leftist reporting”, the inquest into Walker’s death heard on Wednesday.

Rolfe shot Walker three times while trying to arrest him in Yuendumu, about 300km from Alice Springs. The 19-year-old Warlpiri man stabbed Rolfe with a pair of scissors shortly before he was shot by the then constable three times.

Rolfe was found not guilty in March 2022 of charges of murder and manslaughter relating to Walker’s death.

Rolfe is giving evidence in Alice Springs this week as part of the inquest.

The counsel assisting, Peggy Dwyer SC, asked Rolfe questions on Wednesday afternoon about why he had not mentioned in multiple accounts to people prior to his murder trial that Walker had put his hand on his police handgun shortly before he was shot and killed.

Shorten first sent a text to Rolfe after the shooting at 10.34pm on 11 November 2019 – two days after the shooting.

“Hey mate heard the news, hope you and the shoulder are ok. Ignore the leftist reporting in the media, hopefully catch up soon,” she wrote.

Rolfe replied that his shoulder was OK, and that he didn’t “pay attention to the losers anyway”.

Shorten responded: “So glad you’re ok, could have been much worse, I know what you did was totally warranted. If you ever want me to write an article in your defence, with or without naming you, say the word.”

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Rolfe replied that he had already thought about if he wanted to put his side out there, and that he would come to her if he decided to do so.

Shorten said: “Ps if or when you want I can name it without naming you or quoting you so it sounds like we never spoke.”

Rolfe said he was “down for that”, to which Shorten responded she could do it any time.

Rolfe agreed with Dwyer that he knew Shorten would be a “very sympathetic journalist” when he sat down for an interview with her on 5 December 2019.

The story based on the interview was published in March 2022, at the completion of his trial.

Shorten is believed to no longer work at the Australian.

Dwyer put it to Rolfe that in the interview with Shorten, in entries Rolfe had made in a police notebook, and conversations he had with colleagues, he had failed to mention that Walker attempted to grab his gun shortly before he was shot.

She put it to Rolfe that he had made up that evidence at trial to make it appear more credible that he had shot Walker a second and third time, the incidents which formed the basis of the murder charge.

When directly asked if it was a lie, Rolfe responded: “It’s definitely not.”

He added that he had recalled that Walker attempted to grab the gun after the instances referred to by Dwyer, adding that there had not been any evidence called during the inquest in relation to how memory works in critical incidents.

Earlier on Wednesday, Rolfe failed in a last-ditch bid to avoid answering questions about the night he shot dead Walker.

Lawyers for the former police officer applied for Coroner Elisabeth Armitage not to be able compel Rolfe to answer questions regarding the shooting.

Michael Abbott KC, for Rolfe, argued that his client should not be forced to answer questions about the shooting on several grounds, including that he may be prosecuted in relation to the first shot, which had previously been ruled by the director of public prosecutions as fired in self-defence, and that there was a possibility of ongoing civil claims against his client.

Patrick Coleridge, counsel assisting, said that while Abbott had foreshadowed an objection against Rolfe answering questions, he had given no prior notice of the application to be made to Armitage.

He told the inquest that there was only a remote possibility that Rolfe would be prosecuted. He noted that Rolfe was not protected from giving evidence in the inquest because of the possibility it could be used in civil claims under Northern Territory law.

Armitage granted Rolfe a certificate which protects him from criminal prosecution based on his evidence but meant he must answer the questions.

She said the possibility of Rolfe being charged was remote, and that even if he was the certificate meant his evidence at the inquest could not be used against him.

The inquest had been expected to be completed in three months but has now stretched on for almost 18 months since it started in September 2022.

The hearing continues.

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Mitch McConnell to step down as party leader in US Senate

Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate

Kentucky senator, 82 and the longest-serving Senate leader in history, will step aside as minority leader at end of this year

  • Mitch McConnell announcement – follow live

Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will step down as Republican leader in the US Senate at the end of this year, a move that will shake up US politics yet more in a tumultuous election cycle.

McConnell is 82 and the longest-serving Senate leader in history. He is also a highly divisive figure in a bitterly divided America and the subject of fierce speculation about his health after recent scares in public.

Aides said the decision to step aside, which McConnell announced on the Senate floor on Wednesday, was not related to his health.

“One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter,” McConnell said. “So I stand before you today … to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”

From the White House, Joe Biden, who was a senator alongside McConnell for more than 20 years, said: “I’ve trusted him and we have a great relationship. We fight like hell. But he has never, never, never misrepresented anything. I’m sorry to hear he’s stepping down.”

McConnell was concurrently the subject of reporting about when he will endorse Donald Trump for president in his expected rematch with Biden this year.

McConnell and Trump have been at odds since 6 January 2021, when Trump incited supporters to attack Congress in an attempt to stop certification of Biden’s win. McConnell voted to acquit the former president in his resulting impeachment trial, reasoning he had already left office, but excoriated him nonetheless. Trump responded with attacks on McConnell and racist invective about his wife, the former transportation secretary Elaine Chao.

Nor did Trump leave the scene, as McConnell apparently thought he would. Withstanding 91 criminal charges, assorted civil defeats and attempts to remove him from the ballot for inciting an insurrection, Trump stands on the verge of a third successive nomination.

On Wednesday, Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and House impeachment manager, told reporters: “I have a lot of feelings about Mitch McConnell from the second impeachment trial because I felt that he was appalled by what Donald Trump had done, he knew the truth about what Donald Trump had done, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to vote to convict along with seven other Republican colleagues who joined the Democrats.”

“I understand [McConnell has] been in a tough situation with Donald Trump taking over his party and I think he’s tried to do what he can but he didn’t show the ultimate courage, which would have been to vote to convict him, to find enough other senators so that we wouldn’t be back in this nightmare again with Donald Trump.”

Amid gathering warnings of the threat Trump poses to American democracy, all bar one of McConnell’s leadership team have endorsed Trump regardless. The holdout, Joni Ernst of Iowa, has indicated that she could still do so.

“Believe me,” McConnell said in the Senate chamber, “I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them. 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. As long as I am drawing breath on this earth, I will defend American exceptionalism.”

McConnell entered the Senate in 1985, when Reagan was in the White House.

“When I got here,” McConnell said, “I was just happy if anybody remembered my name. President Reagan called me Mitch O’Donnell. Close enough, I thought.”

McConnell was elected to lead Senate Republicans in 2006. He was majority leader from 2015 to 2021, a momentous term in which he not only coped with Trump but secured three supreme court justices, tilting the court decisively right.

He did so by upending Senate rules. First, McConnell refused even a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the conservative Antonin Scalia, saying the switch would come too close to an election and voters should indicate the sort of justice they wanted. After Trump won the White House, McConnell filled the seat with the Catholic, corporately aligned Neil Gorsuch.

McConnell next oversaw the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, an anti-Clinton operative and aide to George W Bush, to replace Anthony Kennedy. A staunch conservative replaced a frequent swing vote, even after a tempestuous confirmation.

McConnell was memorably reported to have said he stood “stronger than mule piss” behind Kavanaugh, despite the claim by Christine Blasey Ford, a college professor, that the nominee sexually assaulted her at a high-school party, an allegation Kavanaugh denied.

Finally, at the very end of Trump’s term, McConnell abandoned the argument he used to block Garland and rammed the hardline Catholic Amy Coney Barrett on to the court in place of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a hero to progressives.

On Wednesday, Adam Parkhomenko, a Democratic strategist, told followers they should “never forget” what McConnell “did to the supreme court and this country”.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia, said McConnell would “enjoy a tremendous legacy”, not only through his supreme court work, which led to epochal decisions including Dobbs v Jackson, which removed the federal right to abortion, and rulings on gun control and affirmative action every bit as divisive.

“McConnell also contributed substantially to Trump’s nomination and confirmation of 54 ideologically conservative appeals court judges and the filling of all 179 appeals court judgeships at one point in Trump’s tenure,” Tobias said. “The last time that the courts had all of the active judges was in the mid-1980s.”

McConnell said he still had “enough gas in my tank to thoroughly disappoint my critics. And I intend to do so with all the enthusiasm with which they have become accustomed.”

His desire to win back the majority – in a chamber skewed in Republicans’ favour – will fuel his final months as leader. A new leader will be elected in November to take over in January, he said.

Leading contenders to succeed McConnell – and to attempt to match his ruthless politicking and powerful fundraising – include his No 2, John Thune of South Dakota, and two more leadership figures, John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming. Last November, McConnell defeated a challenge from Rick Scott of Florida.

Among Republican tributes, Thune said simply: “He leaves really big shoes to fill.”

Among Democrats, Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate majority leader, said he and McConnell “rarely saw eye to eye … but I am very proud that we both came together in the last few years to lead the Senate forward at critical moments when our country needed us, like passing the Cares Act in the early days of the Covid pandemic, finishing our work to certify the election on January 6, and more recently working together to fund the fight for Ukraine”.

Americans, it seems sure, will remember Addison Mitchell McConnell III in very different ways.

The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group founded by former Republican operatives, said McConnell would “go down in history as a spineless follower who cowered to a wannabe dictator clown. He chose the power of a tyrant over protecting democracy.”

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Mitch McConnell to step down as party leader in US Senate

Mitch McConnell to step down as Republican leader in US Senate

Kentucky senator, 82 and the longest-serving Senate leader in history, will step aside as minority leader at end of this year

  • Mitch McConnell announcement – follow live

Mitch McConnell of Kentucky will step down as Republican leader in the US Senate at the end of this year, a move that will shake up US politics yet more in a tumultuous election cycle.

McConnell is 82 and the longest-serving Senate leader in history. He is also a highly divisive figure in a bitterly divided America and the subject of fierce speculation about his health after recent scares in public.

Aides said the decision to step aside, which McConnell announced on the Senate floor on Wednesday, was not related to his health.

“One of life’s most underappreciated talents is to know when it’s time to move on to life’s next chapter,” McConnell said. “So I stand before you today … to say that this will be my last term as Republican leader of the Senate.”

From the White House, Joe Biden, who was a senator alongside McConnell for more than 20 years, said: “I’ve trusted him and we have a great relationship. We fight like hell. But he has never, never, never misrepresented anything. I’m sorry to hear he’s stepping down.”

McConnell was concurrently the subject of reporting about when he will endorse Donald Trump for president in his expected rematch with Biden this year.

McConnell and Trump have been at odds since 6 January 2021, when Trump incited supporters to attack Congress in an attempt to stop certification of Biden’s win. McConnell voted to acquit the former president in his resulting impeachment trial, reasoning he had already left office, but excoriated him nonetheless. Trump responded with attacks on McConnell and racist invective about his wife, the former transportation secretary Elaine Chao.

Nor did Trump leave the scene, as McConnell apparently thought he would. Withstanding 91 criminal charges, assorted civil defeats and attempts to remove him from the ballot for inciting an insurrection, Trump stands on the verge of a third successive nomination.

On Wednesday, Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and House impeachment manager, told reporters: “I have a lot of feelings about Mitch McConnell from the second impeachment trial because I felt that he was appalled by what Donald Trump had done, he knew the truth about what Donald Trump had done, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to vote to convict along with seven other Republican colleagues who joined the Democrats.”

“I understand [McConnell has] been in a tough situation with Donald Trump taking over his party and I think he’s tried to do what he can but he didn’t show the ultimate courage, which would have been to vote to convict him, to find enough other senators so that we wouldn’t be back in this nightmare again with Donald Trump.”

Amid gathering warnings of the threat Trump poses to American democracy, all bar one of McConnell’s leadership team have endorsed Trump regardless. The holdout, Joni Ernst of Iowa, has indicated that she could still do so.

“Believe me,” McConnell said in the Senate chamber, “I know the politics within my party at this particular moment in time. I have many faults. Misunderstanding politics is not one of them. 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. As long as I am drawing breath on this earth, I will defend American exceptionalism.”

McConnell entered the Senate in 1985, when Reagan was in the White House.

“When I got here,” McConnell said, “I was just happy if anybody remembered my name. President Reagan called me Mitch O’Donnell. Close enough, I thought.”

McConnell was elected to lead Senate Republicans in 2006. He was majority leader from 2015 to 2021, a momentous term in which he not only coped with Trump but secured three supreme court justices, tilting the court decisively right.

He did so by upending Senate rules. First, McConnell refused even a hearing for Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the conservative Antonin Scalia, saying the switch would come too close to an election and voters should indicate the sort of justice they wanted. After Trump won the White House, McConnell filled the seat with the Catholic, corporately aligned Neil Gorsuch.

McConnell next oversaw the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, an anti-Clinton operative and aide to George W Bush, to replace Anthony Kennedy. A staunch conservative replaced a frequent swing vote, even after a tempestuous confirmation.

McConnell was memorably reported to have said he stood “stronger than mule piss” behind Kavanaugh, despite the claim by Christine Blasey Ford, a college professor, that the nominee sexually assaulted her at a high-school party, an allegation Kavanaugh denied.

Finally, at the very end of Trump’s term, McConnell abandoned the argument he used to block Garland and rammed the hardline Catholic Amy Coney Barrett on to the court in place of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a hero to progressives.

On Wednesday, Adam Parkhomenko, a Democratic strategist, told followers they should “never forget” what McConnell “did to the supreme court and this country”.

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, Virginia, said McConnell would “enjoy a tremendous legacy”, not only through his supreme court work, which led to epochal decisions including Dobbs v Jackson, which removed the federal right to abortion, and rulings on gun control and affirmative action every bit as divisive.

“McConnell also contributed substantially to Trump’s nomination and confirmation of 54 ideologically conservative appeals court judges and the filling of all 179 appeals court judgeships at one point in Trump’s tenure,” Tobias said. “The last time that the courts had all of the active judges was in the mid-1980s.”

McConnell said he still had “enough gas in my tank to thoroughly disappoint my critics. And I intend to do so with all the enthusiasm with which they have become accustomed.”

His desire to win back the majority – in a chamber skewed in Republicans’ favour – will fuel his final months as leader. A new leader will be elected in November to take over in January, he said.

Leading contenders to succeed McConnell – and to attempt to match his ruthless politicking and powerful fundraising – include his No 2, John Thune of South Dakota, and two more leadership figures, John Cornyn of Texas and John Barrasso of Wyoming. Last November, McConnell defeated a challenge from Rick Scott of Florida.

Among Republican tributes, Thune said simply: “He leaves really big shoes to fill.”

Among Democrats, Chuck Schumer of New York, the Senate majority leader, said he and McConnell “rarely saw eye to eye … but I am very proud that we both came together in the last few years to lead the Senate forward at critical moments when our country needed us, like passing the Cares Act in the early days of the Covid pandemic, finishing our work to certify the election on January 6, and more recently working together to fund the fight for Ukraine”.

Americans, it seems sure, will remember Addison Mitchell McConnell III in very different ways.

The Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group founded by former Republican operatives, said McConnell would “go down in history as a spineless follower who cowered to a wannabe dictator clown. He chose the power of a tyrant over protecting democracy.”

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Inside the lab that may be fighting the next pandemic

Killer fungi detectives: inside the lab that may be fighting the next pandemic

Researchers in Adelaide are at the forefront of finding new fungal pathogens, which are spreading more because of climate change and can be deadly without effective drugs

The first tray of yellow-lidded specimen jars holds chunks of flesh – lung, perhaps, or muscle – some cerebrospinal fluid and another liquid, possibly from a brain abscess. The second holds a rainbow of colourful fungi, cultivated from those specimens.

One growth is green and fluffy, like something you would find in a sharehouse fridge – penicillium, maybe. Another is a dark grey or brown, like animal fur. There are bright white fuzzballs and blackish blobs. One growth leaches red into the medium it sits in.

Fungal pathogens come from all over Australia to this Adelaide laboratory, the National Mycological Reference Centre, for identification. Mycologists are on the lookout for new pathogens, which are starting to spread more because of climate change, and which can be deadly in the absence of effective antifungal drugs.

They work under biohazard signs, sorting specimens and growing colonies on petri dishes, to slice off and put under the microscope. There’s a weird, wonderful library of mycology books, a DNA sequencer and a reference collection with boxes and boxes full of vials, from azole-resistant Aspergillus to Zygomycetes.

Dr Sarah Kidd is the centre’s head. She was interested in Cryptococcus gattii, which live in eucalyptus trees and infect koalas, before she moved to Canada in 2006. And, serendipitously, there was a C gatti outbreak in Vancouver while she was there. It was a mystery how that fungus associated with Australia cropped up over there, but the theories are that it was something to do with changing global temperatures, perhaps some mutations.

Asked if those mutations scare her, Kidd says it’s “certainly not a good thing … but it keeps things interesting”.

The fascination with fungal pathogens has recently been piqued by the Netflix series The Last of Us, which stars Pedro Pascal, Bella Ramsey and a host of humans turned into zombies by a parasitic fungal infection.

“The fungus in The Last of Us, Cordyceps, it certainly does cause infection and sort of zombifies, if you will, insects,” Kidd says.

“But insects have a much cooler body temperature than humans … The vast majority of fungi cannot grow at 37C. So it’s unlikely we’ll see a human brain fungus zombification.

“Shows like The Last of Us have been really fantastic for drawing attention to mycology … Before that, I think people considered mycology to be about mushrooms, and foraging … or they knew that fungi can cause infections on skin, on toenails.

“But I think very few people, even now, really appreciate that fungi cause life-threatening infections.”

There are hundreds of fungi that can affect humans.

Almost 4m global deaths a year are associated with fungal infections, according to research published earlier this year in the Lancet – and it’s likely that this figure is massively underreported.

A pathogen of much more concern than Cordyceps at the moment is Candida auris.

It affects immunocompromised patients, people in intensive care and people with cancer or HIV/Aids.

Kidd says it can live on people, happily coexisting, until it finds its way into the bloodstream. It is resistant to many of the existing therapies and can spread easily from person to person – not unlike superbugs, bacterial infections that have grown resistant to antibiotics.

“They’re calling this the first fungal superbug,” Kidd says, “because it behaves like any of those resistant bacteria.”

Another pathogen starting to crop up in Australia is Trichophyton indotineae. It’s a superficial rash, but it never goes away. People try to self-treat it with ointments, but they don’t work and its resistance grows.

“You can have whole families affected by these essentially incurable rashes,” Kidd says. “We’re starting to see those come into Australia as well.”

Kidd returned to Australia from Canada to take over at the centre from emeritus mycologist David Ellis, a legend in the field. Ellis is quick to point to Kidd’s impressive achievements, including a paper on fungal name changes that was listed in the Infectious Diseases Society of America’s top 10 papers for the year, and the book Descriptions of Medical Fungi, on which she was the first author.

A lack of treatments

In 2022 the World Health Organization identified four fungal pathogens as “critical” among 19 fungi that pose the biggest threat to public health: Cryptococcus neoformans, Candida auris, Aspergillus fumigatus and Candida albicans.

The WHO emphasised the danger of having only a few antifungal medicines, the expansion of fungal diseases due to global warming and international travel and trade, and their increasing resistance to treatment.

Dr Megan Lenardon, a microbiologist at the University of New South Wales, warned just a few weeks ago that fungi had historically been overlooked in infectious disease research. She has been studying the Candida species, which cause thrush infections in tens of millions of people each year. While thrush itself – an overgrowth of Candida often in the mouth or genital area – is generally not dangerous, Candida can become invasive and spread through the organs and bloodstream.

“We call them ‘opportunistic invasive’ fungal pathogens because they don’t kill healthy people,” Lenardon says.

“But if they find themselves in a host who is susceptible, then they can kill.”

Lenardon warns that fungi may evolve to resist higher temperatures, meaning they can survive in human bodies but says the likelihood of a pandemic is “probably still relatively low”.

Still, she says, there are no vaccines imminent and few preventive treatments in the pipeline.

At the centre in Adelaide they can screen for infections and implement extra precautions with infected patients. They are working on specialised tests and treatments, and hope they will have enough to tackle what comes.

Kidd says we “don’t have a huge problem” with Candida auris in Australia – “yet”.

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Idaho halts man’s execution after eight attempts to find vein for lethal injection

Idaho halts man’s execution after eight attempts to find vein for lethal injection

Warden calls off execution of convicted murderer Thomas Creech, 73, minutes after he was wheeled into execution chamber

Idaho on Wednesday halted the execution of serial killer Thomas Eugene Creech, one of the longest-serving death row inmates in the US, after a medical team repeatedly failed to find a vein where they could establish an intravenous line to carry out the lethal injection.

Creech, 73, was imprisoned in 1974 and has been convicted of five murders in three states and suspected of several more. He was already serving life in prison when he beat a fellow inmate, 22-year-old David Dale Jensen, to death in 1981 – the crime for which Creech was to be executed more than four decades later.

Creech was wheeled into the execution chamber at the Idaho Maximum Security Institution on a gurney at 10am.

Three medical team members tried eight times to establish an IV, Josh Tewalt, the corrections director, told a news conference afterward. In some cases, they could not access the vein, and in others they could but had concerns about vein quality. They attempted sites in his arms, legs, hands and feet. At one point, a medical team member left to gather more supplies.

The warden announced he was halting the execution at 10.58am.

The Idaho department of corrections said its death warrant for Creech would expire, and that it was considering next steps. Creech’s attorneys immediately filed a new motion for a stay in US district court, saying “the badly botched execution attempt” proves the department’s “inability to carry out a humane and constitutional execution”.

“This is what happens when unknown individuals with unknown training are assigned to carry out an execution,” the Federal Defender Services of Idaho said in a written statement.

Six Idaho officials, including the attorney general, Raul Labrador, and four news media representatives, including an Associated Press reporter, were on hand to witness the attempt – which was to be Idaho’s first execution in 12 years.

The execution team was made up entirely of volunteers, the corrections department said. Those tasked with inserting the IVs and administering the lethal drug had medical training, but their identities were kept secret. They wore white balaclava-style face coverings and navy scrub caps to conceal their faces.

The IV sites appeared to be in the crook of his arms, his hands, near his ankles and in his feet. At one point, the medical cart holding supplies was moved in front of the media witness viewing window, partially obscuring the view of the medical team’s efforts.

With each of the attempts to insert an IV, the medical team would clean the skin with alcohol, inject a numbing solution, clean the skin again and then attempt to successfully place the IV catheter in a vein. Each attempt took several minutes, with medical team members palpating the skin around the IV site and looking closely while trying to position the needles.

Creech frequently looked toward his family members and representatives, who were sitting in a separate witness room. His arms were strapped to the table, but he often extended his fingers toward them.

He appeared to mouth “I love you” to someone in the room on occasion.

After the execution was halted, the warden approached Creech and whispered to him for several minutes, giving his arm a squeeze.

An Ohio native, Creech has spent the vast majority of his life behind bars in Idaho, though his crimes occurred in several western states. He was first imprisoned in Idaho in 1974 for the shooting deaths of John Wayne Bradford and Edward Thomas Arnold, two house painters who had picked up Creech and his girlfriend while they were hitchhiking. He was serving a life sentence for those murders in 1981 when he beat Jensen to death. Jensen was disabled and serving time for car theft.

Creech’s supporters have pushed to have his sentence converted to life without parole, saying he is a deeply changed man. Several years ago he married the mother of a correctional officer, and former prison staffers said he was known for writing poetry and frequently expressing gratitude for their work.

During his clemency hearing, the Ada county deputy prosecuting attorney, Jill Longhorst ,did not dispute that Creech can be charming. But she said he was nevertheless a psychopath – lacking remorse and empathy.

In addition to the Idaho murders, Creech was convicted of killing both William Joseph Dean in Oregon and Vivian Grant Robinson in California in 1974. He was also charged with killing Sandra Jane Ramsamooj in Oregon that year, but the charge was later dropped in light of his other murder sentences.

In 1973, Creech was tried for the murder of 70-year-old Paul Schrader in Tucson, Arizona, but was acquitted of the crime. Authorities still believe he was responsible for Schrader’s death, and say that Creech provided information that led them to the bodies of two people near Las Vegas and one person near Baggs, Wyoming.

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Side effect from long Covid may mean IQ deficit of six points, study suggests

‘Brain fog’ from long Covid has measurable impact, study suggests

Researchers found that deficits equivalent to six IQ points were detectable a year or more after infection

People experiencing long Covid have measurable memory and cognitive deficits equivalent to a difference of about six IQ points, a study suggests.

The study, which assessed more than 140,000 people in summer 2022, revealed that Covid-19 may have an impact on cognitive and memory abilities that lasts a year or more after infection. People with unresolved symptoms that had persisted for more than 12 weeks had more significant deficits in performance on tasks involving memory, reasoning and executive function. Scientist said this showed that “brain fog” had a quantifiable impact.

Prof Adam Hampshire, a cognitive neuroscientist at Imperial College London and first author of the study, said: “It’s not been at all clear what brain fog actually is. As a symptom it’s been reported on quite extensively, but what our study shows is that brain fog can correlate with objectively measurable deficits. That is quite an important finding.”

Last year the Office for National Statistics estimated about 2 million people in the UK were experiencing self-reported long Covid. Previous Imperial College analysis found tens of thousands of people in England may have symptoms that had lasted a year or more after infection.

The latest study recruited more than 140,000 participants from the original React cohort, which launched in April 2020 as one of the world’s largest and most comprehensive Covid surveillance studies. Between August and September 2022, participants were given online cognitive tests designed to test memory, attention, reasoning and other aspects of brain function.

About 3.5% of the cohort had experienced symptoms that persisted beyond 12 weeks, and of these about two-thirds still had symptoms at the time of the assessment.

The analysis found small deficits that were still detectable a year or more after infection, for those who had been infected and no longer had symptoms. The difference in test scores between those who had been infected and those who had not was equivalent to about three IQ points, had they been given an IQ test.

For an individual, this size of change is unlikely to be noticeable, scientists said, although some may have experienced more pronounced effects.

Those patients with unresolved symptoms that had persisted for more than 12 weeks were found to have a larger deficit, equivalent to six IQ points.

Dr Maxime Taquet, a psychiatrist and researcher at the University of Oxford who was not involved in the study, said: “Even if cognitive deficits after Covid-19 are of small magnitude on average, a substantial minority of people have more significant deficits which are likely to affect their ability to work and function. Given the scale of the pandemic and the number of people affected, this is particularly worrisome.”

More encouragingly, those who had longer-lasting symptoms that had resolved showed comparable deficits to those who had experienced mild, short duration illness.

Prof Paul Elliott, a senior author and director of the React programme, from Imperial College London, said: “It is reassuring that people with persistent symptoms after Covid-19 that had resolved may expect to experience some improvement in their cognitive functions to similar levels as those who experienced short illness.”

They were larger differences for people who had unresolved symptoms lasting 12 weeks or more (consistent with long Covid) and those who had been to hospital for their illness, who had the most noticeable deficits and ones that extended to a broader range of cognitive functions. The differences were also bigger for those who were infected with one of the early variants of the virus, but it was not possible to say whether this was due to the introduction of vaccines and better treatment as the pandemic unfolded.

The findings are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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Comedian and Curb Your Enthusiasm star dies aged 76

Richard Lewis, comedian and Curb Your Enthusiasm star, dies aged 76

Comedian said last year he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and retiring from standup

Richard Lewis, Larry David’s co-star in Curb Your Enthusiasm and a beloved standup comedian has died at the age of 76.

Lewis said last year that he was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and was stepping off the standup stage. Despite that partial retirement, he was in the currently airing Season 12 of the Curb Your Enthusiasm show on HBO.

Lewis died peacefully at his home in Los Angeles last night after suffering a heart attack, according to his publicist Jeff Abraham of Jonas Public Relations.

“His wife, Joyce Lapinsky, thanks everyone for all the love, friendship and support and asks for privacy at this time,” Abraham said in a statement.

“Richard and I were born three days apart in the same hospital and for most of my life he’s been like a brother to me,” David said in a statement shared by HBO. “He had that rare combination of being the funniest person and also the sweetest. But today he made me sob and for that I’ll never forgive him.”

Jamie Lee Curtis, the romantic co-lead opposite Lewis in the ABC series Anything But Love, paid tribute to him on Instagram, writing: “He also is the reason I am sober. He helped me. I am forever grateful for him for that act of grace alone. He found love with Joyce and that, of course, besides his sobriety, is what mattered most to him. I’m weeping as I write this. Strange way of saying thank you to a sweet and funny man. Rest in laughter, Richard.”

The acclaimed comedian was known for exploring his neuroses in frantic, stream-of-consciousness diatribes while dressed in all black, leading to his nickname The Prince of Pain.

A regular performer in clubs and on late-night TV for decades, Lewis also played the reliably neurotic Prince John in Mel Brooks’s Robin Hood: Men In Tights.

He reintroduced himself to a new generation opposite Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm, kvetching regularly.

“I’m paranoid about everything in my life. Even at home. On my stationary bike, I have a rear-view mirror, which I’m not thrilled about,” he once joked onstage.

To TV host and fellow comedian Jimmy Kimmel, Lewis said: “This morning, I tried to go to bed. I couldn’t sleep. I counted sheep but I only had six of them and they all had hip replacements.”

The Comedy Central channel named Lewis one of the top 50 standup comedians of all time and he earned a berth in GQ magazine’s list of the “20th Century’s Most Influential Humorists”. He also lent his humor for charity causes, including Comic Relief and Comedy Gives Back.

“Watching his stand-up is like sitting in on a very funny and often dark therapy session,” the Los Angeles Times said in 2014. Philadelphia’s City Paper called him “the Jimi Hendrix of monologists”. Mel Brooks once said he “may just be the Franz Kafka of modern-day comedy”.

  • The Associated Press contributed reporting

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