The Guardian 2024-03-20 10:01:16


Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial: verdict to be handed down on 4 April

Justice Michael Lee to hand down decision after considering 15,000 pages of transcript and hours of CCTV footage in case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson

  • Timeline of how the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case unfolded
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Justice Michael Lee will deliver his judgment in the federal court in Sydney at 10.15am on Thursday 4 April in the defamation case Bruce Lehrmann brought against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson.

The federal court announced the date for the decision on Wednesday, three months after the five-week trial ended on 22 December.

In a live oral summary Justice Lee will rule whether the former Liberal staffer was defamed by Wilkinson and Ten when The Project broadcast an interview with Brittany Higgins in 2021 in which she alleged she was raped in Parliament House. The full judgment will be published shortly afterwards.

In the Project interview Higgins told Wilkinson she was sexually assaulted on a couch in the office of then-boss, former defence industry minister Linda Reynolds, in the early hours of Saturday 23 March 2019.

The Project did not name Lehrmann as the Liberal staffer at the heart of the allegation but he claims he was identifiable in the broadcast.

If Justice Lee finds Lehrmann was identified he will then rule on whether the defendants, Ten and Wilkinson, have proven the defence of truth and or qualified privilege.

At the Sydney trial, attended almost every day by Lehrmann and Wilkinson who sat at opposite ends of the courtroom, the applicant denied raping Higgins or having any sexual relations with her at all.

“Did you sexually assault Brittany Higgins in that office on that evening?” his barrister Steven Whybrow SC asked.

“Absolutely not,” Lehrmann replied.

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Justice Lee, who said he would begin writing the judgment the day after the trial ended, had to consider more than 15,000 pages of transcript and 1,000 separate exhibits, including hours of CCTV footage as well as audio and video recordings.

He has already indicated there are “significant credit issues” with Lehrmann and Higgins.

“There are a number of significant differences they’ve given in court, a number of in-court representations and out-of-court representations,” he said during a two-day hearing of a cross-claim for legal fees made by Wilkinson against her employer Network Ten.

The TV presenter won the cross-claim and Ten was ordered to pay her costs, although the exact amount will be determined after the judgment is delivered.

In the witness box over five days Lehrmann admitted telling three different stories – including two that were lies – about the reason for his after-hours visit to Parliament House with Higgins after a night out in Canberra.

He told Justice Lee he must have been “mistaken” when he told the Australian federal police he did not have any alcohol in his office. Under cross-examination he conceded he had multiple bottles of whisky and gin at the time.

Justice Lee raised the example of credit in relation to evidence Higgins gave in her personal injury claim for compensation from the commonwealth, for which she received $1.9m.

When instructing the parties to address credit in their final submissions, Justice Lee said Higgins gave “a whole series of representations” under oath about liability “which are in contrast to the evidence that she’s given in some respects”.

When the defence presented its case, the court heard Higgins weighed 60kg at the time of the alleged rape and an expert testified that a woman of her size would have likely been five times over the legal limit with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.23% at the time of the alleged rape.

Higgins was in the witness box for four days during which she became emotional as she recounted in graphic detail her alleged rape, as well as the deterioration of her relationship with her employer after she reported the incident.

“As I was being raped, it wasn’t my primary concern where my dress was … I was deeply more concerned about the penis in my vagina that I didn’t want than I was about my dress,” Higgins said through angry tears.

The three legal teams made their final submissions this month: Dr Matt Collins KC for Ten; Sue Chrysanthou SC for Wilkinson and Whybrow for Lehrmann.

Lehrmann maintains his innocence. In a criminal trial in 2022 he pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, denying that any sexual activity had occurred.

In December of that year prosecutors dropped charges against him for the alleged rape of Higgins, saying a retrial would pose an “unacceptable risk” to her health.

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A rape allegation and a media storm: a timeline of how the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case unfolded

A date for the verdict to be handed down has now been set. Here’s what has happened so far in the former Liberal staffer’s case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson

  • Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial verdict to be handed down on 4 April
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In 2021, the Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins made an explosive allegation, claiming she had been raped two years earlier on a minister’s couch in Parliament House.

She made the claim in an interview with news.com.au and a television interview which was aired by Network Ten’s The Project on 15 February.

The media outlets did not name the alleged rapist, but Higgins’ colleague Bruce Lehrmann later claimed he was identifiable and sued news.com.au, Network Ten and its presenter Lisa Wilkinson for defamation.

Lehrmann maintains his innocence, and at his criminal trial in 2022 pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, denying that any sexual activity had occurred.

After his criminal trial was aborted in December 2022, prosecutors dropped charges against Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Higgins, saying a retrial would pose an “unacceptable risk” to her health. Lehrmann then pursued Ten and Wilkinson in the courts, resulting in a five-week defamation trial which ran until just before Christmas.

Justice Michael Lee is set to give his verdict in the defamation case on 4 April.

Here’s how the story has played out so far.

2019

Friday 22 March

  • Liberal staffers Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins drink at The Dock bar in Canberra with colleagues, where Higgins consumes multiple drinks. At the time, Lehrmann and Higgins worked for the then defence minister, Senator Linda Reynolds.

Video source: Federal Court of Australia

  • Lehrmann, Higgins and two other staffers kick on to another venue, the nightclub 88mph.

Saturday 23 March

  • Lehrmann and Higgins share an Uber to Parliament House, arriving about 1.40am. Lehrmann tells security he has been requested by the minister to pick up work documents.

Video source: Federal Court of Australia

  • Security guards escort the pair to Reynolds’ ministerial suite. Higgins can be seen in security footage carrying her high heels after struggling to put them on. There is no security camera footage of what happened inside the suite.

  • Higgins later alleges that Lehrmann raped her in the ministerial suite. Lehrmann has vehemently denied the allegation.

  • About 40 minutes later Lehrmann leaves parliament alone.

  • Eight hours later, at about 10am, security footage shows Higgins leaving parliament wearing a jacket she found in the suite.

Video source: Federal Court of Australia

Tuesday 26 March

  • The Department of Parliamentary Services provides a report to Reynolds’ chief of staff, Fiona Brown, about a “security breach” involving staff entering the office after hours and inebriated.

  • Higgins and Lehrmann are called into separate meetings with Brown and interviewed about the security breach. Lehrmann leaves the office shortly afterwards.

Friday 5 April

  • Lehrmann’s employment in Reynolds’ office is terminated over the security breach.

Monday 8 April

  • Higgins meets with Australian federal police (AFP) at Belconnen police station and says she was raped, but drops the complaint a week later.

2021

Wednesday 27 January

  • Higgins is working as an adviser for Senator Michaelia Cash when she and her partner, David Sharaz, meet with The Project journalist Lisa Wilkinson and producer Angus Llewellyn in Sydney.

Friday 29 January

  • Higgins resigns from her adviser position in Cash’s office.

Tuesday 2 February

  • Higgins records an interview with Wilkinson for The Project in which she alleges she was raped on a couch in the minister’s office.

Thursday 4 February

  • Higgins contacts the AFP to reopen her police complaint.

Monday 15 February

  • Higgins’ interviews with news.com.au’s Samantha Maiden and Ten’s Wilkinson are published by news.com.au in the morning and aired by The Project that evening.

Monday 19 April

  • Lehrmann is interviewed by police.

Wednesday 26 May

  • Higgins meets with the AFP and hands over her phone for extraction after the interview.

Thursday 16 September

  • Lehrmann pleads not guilty after being charged with sexual intercourse without consent.

2022

Tuesday 21 June

  • Lehrmann’s trial for the alleged rape of Higgins is delayed after Wilkinson’s Logies speech in which she thanked Higgins. Later the defamation trial hears the speech was approved by Ten’s legal team.

Tuesday 4 October

  • Lehrmann’s criminal trial begins in Canberra before the ACT Chief Justice Lucy McCallum. Higgins’ evidence is delayed after she is unavailable to attend court.

Wednesday 19 October

  • Jury begins deliberations after final instructions, but asks for more time.

Thursday 27 October

  • The chief justice dismisses the jury after it is discovered one juror obtained information outside the evidence presented in court.

Friday 2 December

  • The ACT prosecutor Shane Drumgold announces the case has been dropped, after receiving medical advice regarding Higgins.

2023

Tuesday 7 February

  • Lehrmann starts legal action against Network Ten and news.com.au in the federal court.

Wednesday 5 April

  • Lehrmann files defamation proceedings against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over its broadcast of an address to the National Press Club by Higgins and Grace Tame. He now has three defamation cases running against the media.

Tuesday 30 May

  • Lehrmann discontinues defamation proceedings against News Corp’s news.com.au after it pays $295,000 towards his legal fees as part of a settlement.

Sunday 4 June

  • Lehrmann appears on Seven’s Spotlight program for an exclusive, paid interview and says the alleged assault “simply didn’t happen”.

Tuesday 21 November

  • The ABC settles with Lehrmann, paying $150,000 towards his legal fees the day before the trial starts.

Wednesday 22 November

  • The defamation trial against Ten and Wilkinson begins in Sydney’s federal court before Justice Michael Lee. Ten and Wilkinson rely on the defences of truth and qualified privilege. They argue the imputation that Lehrmann raped Higgins is substantially true and because defamation proceedings are civil matters, rather than criminal, the standard of proof is different. Under the qualified privilege defence, Ten and Wilkinson must prove the program was in the public interest and they acted reasonably.

  • In the interests of open justice, Lee makes the trial available to the public on the court’s YouTube channel.

  • Lehrmann is the first witness and he spends five days in the witness box.

Tuesday 28 November

  • Higgins begins her evidence, spending four full days in the witness box.

Tuesday 5 December

  • Documents released by the court suggest Lehrmann’s deal with Channel Seven for exclusive interviews was worth $104,000.

Tuesday 19 December

  • The forensic lip-reader Tim Reedy flies in from the UK and tells the court he believes CCTV footage from The Dock in Canberra showed Higgins being “plied with alcohol”. His expert report is accepted into evidence despite objections raised by Lehrmann’s barrister Steve Whybrow.

Thursday 21 December

  • In closing submissions Ten’s legal team say Lehrmann was “revealed to be a fundamentally dishonest man who was prepared to say or do anything he perceived to advance his interests”.

  • Wilkinson’s team say the presenter “had no decision-making power as to the final content of the broadcast”.

Friday 22 December

  • On the last day of the trial, Lehrmann’s lawyers say Higgins told “complete falsehoods” and her allegations were part of a “political hit job” fuelled by her partner, Sharaz.

  • Lee thanks the parties for their exemplary conduct in what could have been “an extraordinarily difficult case to control and manage in the courtroom given its controversy”.

  • Lee retires to consider more than 15,000 pages of transcript and 1,000 separate exhibits, including hours of CCTV footage as well as audio and video recordings.

2024

Friday 16 February

  • Court documents reveal Wilkinson blamed the network for failing to stop the bad press and that she was afraid she would lose her harbourside mansion if Ten didn’t pay her legal costs.

Friday 1 March

  • Lehrmann, Ten and Wilkinson make final submissions after additional evidence was heard in a cross-claim brought by Wilkinson against Ten for her legal fees. The former presenter on The Project won the case the previous month.

Thursday 4 April

  • Date judgment is set to be handed down.

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ABC journalists call for chief content officer to stand down over alleged Antoinette Lattouf mismanagement

Motion passed by 75 union members expresses outrage over way Chris Oliver-Taylor and senior executives ‘damaged the public’s trust in our capacity to report without fear or favour’

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A union meeting of ABC journalists has called for the broadcaster’s chief content officer, Chris Oliver-Taylor, to stand down after what they say is his mismanagement of the removal of casual radio presenter Antoinette Lattouf.

Lattouf claims she was sacked from the casual presenting role on Sydney’s Mornings radio program over her political views and her race.

In December she filed a submission to the Fair Work Commission for unlawful termination on the grounds of “political opinion or a reason that included political opinion”.

The motion passed by 75 members of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) on Wednesday expressed outrage at the way Oliver-Taylor and senior executives have “damaged the public’s trust in our capacity to report without fear or favour”.

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The ABC’s managing director, David Anderson, declined to comment on the motion because the ABC is defending the matter before the Fair Work Commission, but he backed Oliver-Taylor, the former director of production for Australia & New Zealand for Netflix, who joined the ABC last year. He held senior roles at ABC TV including head of television production before he left for the private sector in 2011.

“The commission has had the benefit of hearing the evidence of all witnesses in its entirety – not just selectively reported comments – and of hearing the legal submissions made by both parties,” Anderson said.

“I have continued confidence in Chris Oliver-Taylor to perform the role of ABC chief content officer. Chris has an outstanding record as a media executive and is widely respected across the media sector.”

The meeting reaffirmed its lack of confidence in Anderson, after a vote of no confidence in the managing director in January.

Lattouf was contracted as a casual presenter for five shifts in December. She maintains she was terminated after three shifts, after she reposted a video from Human Rights Watch on her personal Instagram page that said: “The Israeli government is using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war in Gaza”.

The ABC’s case is that Lattouf was not dismissed, but rather was told she would not be required to present the final two shifts of the Mornings program, which she was paid for.

The ABC strongly denied being influenced by lobbyists after revelations of a campaign by pro-Israel lobbyists to have her dismissed.

“The ABC rejects any claim that it has been influenced by any external pressure, whether it be an advocacy or lobby group, a political party, or commercial entity,” Anderson’s told staff in January.

The MEAA’s media director, Cassie Derrick, said the incident had been mishandled and had damaged the integrity and reputation of the ABC.

“Evidence provided in the Fair Work Commission hearing about the involvement of David Anderson and Chris Oliver-Taylor in her dismissal has further undermined the confidence of staff in the managing director and his senior managers to be able to protect the independence of the ABC from outside criticism,” Derrick said.

“The Lattouf case continues a pattern of ABC journalists lacking support from management when their work is criticised by lobby groups, business organisations and politicians.

Documents before the commission show that Oliver-Taylor asked radio executives to investigate whether Lattouf had breached the ABC’s editorial standards. Anderson asked him to act after the corporation received complaints that her social media activity was biased towards Palestine.

Oliver-Taylor asked: “Can we also advise why we selected Antoinette as stand in host?”

Lattouf has separately sued the ABC in the federal court for allegedly breaching its enterprise agreement.

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Artist behind Mona’s ladies-only lounge ‘absolutely delighted’ man is suing for gender discrimination

NSW man Jason Lau claims denying men entry is discriminatory, but artist Kirsha Kaechele says men’s ‘experience of rejection is the artwork’

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The creator of an art installation that has become the subject of a formal anti-discrimination complaint says she is “absolutely delighted” that the case has ended up in Tasmania’s civil and administrative tribunal.

Kirsha Kaechele’s installation Ladies Lounge opened in Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in 2020, and sees women who enter the space being pampered by male butlers and served champagne while being surrounded by some of the museum’s finest pieces of art. Those who do not identify as women are not permitted entry.

On Tuesday, the performance piece expanded beyond the subterranean halls of the museum on Tasmania’s Berriedale Peninsula, with New South Wales man Jason Lau seeking justice in the tribunal over the museum’s alleged discrimination against some visitors.

Lau, who visited Mona last April, claims he was denied entry into the Ladies Lounge because of his gender – a contravention of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act.

Kaechele, whose husband David Walsh owns Mona, said she was an “artist who works in the world and I tend to engage life as a medium”.

“So it was a dream come true for the work to leave the museum and enter the realm of the world – a completely new space,” Kaechele told Guardian Australia on Wednesday. “It was very interesting to have artwork come to life in a courtroom.”

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The opportunity to extend the performance aspect of Ladies Lounge was embraced by the artist and 25 female supporters, who entered Tuesday’s tribunal hearing wearing a uniform of navy business attire. Throughout the day’s proceedings, they engaged in discreet synchronised choreographed movements, including leg crossing, leaning forward together and peering over the top of their spectacles. Apart from the gentle swish of 25 pairs of nylon clad legs crossing in unison, the support party remained silent. When the proceedings concluded, the troupe exited the tribunal to the Robert Palmer song Simply Irresistible.

During her defence, Kaechele ran through a timeline of Australian women’s lived experience of discrimination and exclusion, including being barred from working in the public service sector once married, and receiving lower pay than men for the same work – something Mona’s own management had engaged in up until 10 years ago, the artist pointed out in her evidence.

Lau argued that denying men access to some of the museum’s most important works (there is a Sidney Nolan, a Pablo Picasso and a trove of antiquities from Mesopotamia, Central America and Africa in the women-only space) is discriminatory. Kaechele said that was the point.

“The men are experiencing Ladies Lounge, their experience of rejection is the artwork,” she said.

“OK, they experience the artwork differently than women, but men are certainly experiencing the artwork as it’s intended.”

An experience in a pub on Flinders Island several years ago, when Kaechele and a girlfriend were advised by male patrons that they would feel “more comfortable” retiring to the ladies lounge, inspired the work.

The Californian-born artist was not aware that ladies lounges are a feature of Australia’s recent social history, and that Australian women were not allowed to enter public bars until 1965.

Then during Covid restrictions, Kaechele and Walsh were forced to endure long periods of separation.

“I turned to the company of women, and I discovered how absolutely delightful it is to be in a women’s-only gathering,” she says.

“I don’t know what it is, but there’s just something wonderful about it, yet I discovered it so late in life. How did I miss that? It’s just an absolutely beautiful thing to do together with women.”

Kaechele admits the museum has amassed a “large file” of complaints over Ladies Lounge. But apart from the current case, only one other complainant has sought formal redress.

“Like Jason, he felt it was sexual discrimination and wanted access for men. And when I said, ‘well, men can’t come in’, he said ‘then why should I have to pay the same amount if I don’t get to experience the artwork?’ And I said, ‘you do experience the artwork, because the rejection is the artwork’. And he understood that and he appreciated it and he dropped the case.”

Mona’s lawyer Catherine Scott told Guardian Australia the case was an unusual one because the artwork was both a physical entity – a lounge – and a piece of performance art.

“There is the participatory element of allowing women and denying men,” she says.

“So we’re looking at the role that art can play in promoting equal opportunity, and the law doesn’t deal well with that. Mona’s case is that art can be a really powerful medium in promoting equal opportunity by not just experience, but by conversation, and specifically redressing the past exclusion of women.”

Mona’s legal team will be relying on the tribunal’s interpretation of section 26 of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act, under which a person is permitted to discriminate against another person in a situation designed to promote equal opportunity for a group of people who are disadvantaged or have a special need because of a prescribed attribute – in this case gender.

It is under clauses like this in most of Australia’s anti-discrimination legislation that organisations such as male-only clubs and women-only gyms are able to operate.

Scott said Lau’s decision to pursue the museum through the tribunal was not vexatious and he was not seeking compensation.

“It seems that Mr Lau and his complaint are genuine – he wants everyone to be allowed entry,” Scott says. “But if Mona agreed to that it would fundamentally undermine the work.”

Guardian Australia was unable to contact Lau for comment on Wednesday.

The tribunal is expected to hand down its decision within a month.

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Trump’s latest campaign strategy: co-opt Biden’s claims about the threat to democracy

A month-by-month look at Trump’s evolving language as he attempts to assert it’s Biden who will endanger the nation – and not him

On the cusp of the election year, Donald Trump made a decision: knowing Joe Biden would structure his campaign around the threat Trump poses to US democracy, Trump would use the same line back at Biden.

It was an unlikely bet, given that Trump is facing 88 criminal charges for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. But Trump started laying out that message last summer, sprinkling into his speeches the idea that the US president was “grossly incompetent” and that such incompetence posed a threat to democracy. As charges rolled in against the former president, none of them lodged by Biden himself, he added the claim that Biden was also using his power to shut down his opponent, threatening democracy by engaging in “election interference”.

As 6 January 2024 approached, three years after the insurrection, Trump ramped up his attempt to turn one of his liabilities against his opponent. On the 2024 campaign trail, Trump falsely claims to be a savior of democracy and, with increasing harshness, says Biden is the threat.

At a rally in Ohio this month, Trump predicted an end to US democracy if he doesn’t win the race.

“I don’t think you’re going to have another election in this country, if we don’t win this election … certainly not an election that’s meaningful,” he said.

The “threat to democracy” retort was Trump’s latest attempt at rebranding the truth, a practiced part of his effort to create an alternate reality for his disciples. In that mirror world, Trump is both the victim and the strongman, the only person who can drive out an underworld of deep-staters who control the country and have unjustly targeted him because he threatens their supposed dominance. The wealthy businessman casts himself as an everyman, the guy willing to say what others are thinking, no matter how uncouth.

“Someone on his staff has made it clear that criticisms that he is anti-democratic are hurting his image,” Edward Schiappa, a humanities professor who researches argumentation, media influence and rhetorical theory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an email. “Rather than fix the image, or otherwise moderate any of his lies, he has resorted to the Pee-wee Herman strategy of: ‘I know you are but what am I?’” (Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.)

Trump’s previous efforts to shift blame by warping criticisms of himself are legion. Fake news, which once referred to untrue articles online that fooled readers, became a retort to media critical of Trump. Not paying taxes makes him “smart”. Efforts to hold him accountable are “witch-hunts” or a “hoax”. After being called out for racist words and actions, he claimed to be “the least racist person anywhere in the world” – this, despite a track record of dehumanizing language aimed at immigrants. “Believe me,” a man whose political career runs on a stack of falsehoods often tells his audiences.

The seeds of these falsehoods culminated in the biggest lie he has attempted to get his followers, and in turn the American public, to believe: that he won an election he lost. That claim reverberates in all he does on the campaign trail in his attempt to return to the White House.

Trump’s attempt to cast himself as pro-democracy also coincides with more authoritarian language, saying he would be a dictator for a day and vowing to go after his political opponents, whom he called “vermin”. He called those arrested for storming the US Capitol “hostages” rather than acknowledging the crimes they committed.

Jennifer R Mercieca, a professor specializing in political rhetoric at Texas A&M University, said she would have expected Trump to double down on his “dictator for a day” messaging rather than fall into this back-and-forth with Biden over who’s better for democracy.

“It’s very interesting and, in fact, a sign of weakness that Donald Trump is allowing Joe Biden to define this election as democracy versus autocracy,” Mercieca said.

Trump’s consistent base doesn’t need his new line about threats to democracy in order to vote for him; in fact, the far right of the Republican party, Trump’s most ardent followers, favor some degree of authoritarianism. This inclination was on display at CPAC in February, where the far-right activist Jack Posobiec praised the insurrection and called for overthrowing democracy, though he later attempted to walk back the comments as partly satirical.

“Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely,” Posobiec said. “We didn’t get all the way there on January 6, but we will endeavor to get rid of it.”

For that Trump-loving core group, being a Trump supporter is part of their core identity, Schiappa said. When Trump repeats a claim over and over, like that the 2020 election was stolen, it becomes part of that self-identity, making their beliefs and attitudes hard to charge, he said.

It’s an argument technique called “tu quoque”, essentially attacking an opponent’s argument by pointing out a hypocrisy, but it’s more understandable as the kind of language you’d hear in a match of playground finger-pointing, not in a presidential election.

“Through sheer repetition, aided by conservative news media, he has persuaded a group of devoted followers that what he speaks is true,” Schiappa said. “It is similar to how a cult works in the sense that his followers are deeply invested in him – emotionally and for their own sense of identity. This combination leads a minority of Americans, who are sufficiently unmotivated or unable to consider alternative sources, to believe claims that rational adults know are false.”

Beyond that group for whom Trump is a part of their identity, his ability to sway beliefs is weaker. So who is this argument for? Given the democracy message’s lack of needed appeal to his base, it would seem Trump is seeking out a less radical voter by starting to proclaim himself a savior of democracy.

But, Schiappa noted, “outside of self-identified conservatives, no, I do not think Trump’s assertions that Biden represents a threat to democracy has much influence”.

Mercieca said it could be for donors, some of whom eschew Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric.

“I think they don’t want to give money to somebody who says they’re going to end democracy,” she said. “They still probably legitimately recognize that democracy is actually a better environment for business than autocracy.”

A timeline of key moments for Trump’s “threat to democracy”

March 2023

In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump calls on the audience to “complete the job” by sending him back to the White House so he can “reclaim our democracy”.

April 2023

Biden launches his re-election campaign with a video that frames his bid around freedom, equality and democracy. It includes imagery from the insurrection and calls out “Maga extremists”.

A few days later, Trump speaks to a crowd at a rally in New Hampshire and references the launch video: “He states he’s running because Trump and Maga pose a threat to democracy. Can you believe it? Maga is Make America Great Again, right? No threat there. No.

“It’s Biden who poses the threat to democracy because he is grossly incompetent, has no idea what he’s doing, and basically he doesn’t have a clue and that’s a very bad position to put our country in. Our country’s in a very dangerous position right now.”

June 2023

The US justice department charges Trump with 37 felonies related to keeping classified documents after he left the White House (more charges are later added). At an arraignment in Miami on 13 June, Trump pleads not guilty.

That night, he rails against the charges and Biden, outside Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.

“This day will go down in infamy,” Trump says. “And Joe Biden will forever be remembered as not only the most corrupt president in the history of our country, but perhaps even more importantly, the president who together with a band of his closest thugs, misfits and Marxists tried to destroy American democracy. But they will fail and we will win bigger and better than ever before.”

August 2023

The special counsel Jack Smith spends much of 2023 working on an investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, culminating in a grand jury indicting Trump on 1 August 2023.

At an Alabama Republican dinner on 4 August, Trump calls the indictment a “sham” with “fake charges”.

“We’re not the ones trying to undermine American democracy,” Trump says. “We are the ones fighting to save our democracy. We’re fighting to save our democracy. This ridiculous indictment against us, it’s not a legal case. It’s an act of desperation by a failed and disgraced crooked Joe Biden and his radical-left thugs to preserve their grip on power.”

Elsewhere, in Fulton county, Georgia, a grand jury hands up an indictment of Trump on 14 August in another election subversion case, centered on the swing state in 2020. The sprawling case includes Trump and many of his allies and involves state racketeering and conspiracy charges.

After his booking in Fulton county, Trump brings up his common line that the charges are “election interference” but doesn’t mention Biden by name – the case is not brought by the US justice department, but by the local prosecutor Fani Willis.

“What they’re doing is election interference. They’re trying to interfere with an election. There’s never been anything like it in our country before,” he says. “This is their way of campaigning, and this is one instance, but you have three other instances. It’s election interference.”

September 2023

Biden makes remarks a couple times that call out Trump as a threat to democracy and pins his re-election campaign on preserving US democracy, just as his 2020 election was.

“Let there be no question: Donald Trump and his Maga Republicans are determined to destroy American democracy,” Biden says at a New York fundraiser. “And I will always defend, protect and fight for our democracy.”

In an Arizona speech framed around democracy issues later that month, Biden calls out the Maga agenda but doesn’t mention Trump by name much. He doesn’t mention the charges against Trump, which come in part from Biden’s justice department.

“This Maga threat is a threat to the brick and mortar of our democratic institutions,” Biden says in Arizona.

In response to the speech, Trump’s campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung gives NBC News a now familiar response: “The radical-left Democrats, now led by crooked Joe Biden, are the greatest threat to democracy the United States of America has ever faced.”

November 2023

In Colorado, a trial is under way that seeks to boot Trump from the ballot there, citing the 14th amendment as its basis. The amendment’s third clause disqualifies Trump from holding the White House again, the filers argue, because he engaged in insurrection while he was an officer of the US. The case will eventually end up in the US supreme court, after Colorado becomes the first state to decide Trump is disqualified from appearing on the state’s ballot, based on the amendment.

In a speech in Iowa on 18 November, Trump brings up the cases now in several states that seek to keep him from returning to high office, calling them an “election-rigging ballot-qualification scam”.

“Our opponents are showing every day that they hate democracy,” he says. “They’re trying every illegal move they can to try and steal this election because they know that in a free and fair fight against President Trump and crooked Joe Biden, Biden doesn’t have a shot. He’s going to be going down into his basement again. He’s going to be hiding.”

December 2023

On the campaign trail throughout the US, Trump keeps bringing up the democracy argument, solidifying its place in this election’s stump speech for the former president.

The third anniversary of 6 January is on the horizon, a date that Biden is expected to use to drive home his points that his re-election protects democracy from the threat posed by Trump and his followers.

In Iowa on 2 December, Trump says: “Biden and his radical left allies like to pose as standing up as allies of democracy. Joe Biden is not the defender of American democracy, Joe Biden is the destroyer of American democracy.”

His speech to the New York Young Republicans on 9 December is perhaps his most extensive broadside at Biden over democracy issues yet. He’s not a threat to democracy, he says – he will “save democracy”. Biden is the threat, and the claims that Trump is the threat are a “hoax”. The media is part of the hoax, too, and is using it to deflect from the left’s “monstrous abuses of power”.

“We call it now the threat-to-democracy hoax because that’s what it is. These guys are so good with misinformation, disinformation, it’s a slight difference,” Trump says.

The lines Trump uses to attack Biden on democracy issues come out with a bit more clarity after a few months of him using them here and there while campaigning: “Biden is the real threat to democracy for two simple reasons. He’s corrupt, and he’s incompetent, grossly competent. But we have to fight Democrat misinformation at every corner if the Republican party is to survive.”

Back on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, on 16 December: “We’re engaged in a righteous crusade to liberate this nation from a corrupt political class that is waging war on American democracy like never before.”

On 17 December, in Nevada: “Joe Biden is a threat to democracy. They’re weaponizing law enforcement for high-level election interference because we’re beating them so badly in the polls.”

In the Nevada speech, Trump brings up one of the terms he has effectively turned on its head, depriving it of its previous meaning: fake news. It used to refer to stories published by sham outlets that were patently fake, but for years now, Trump has been using it to refer to media he doesn’t like. “We have some great journalists and reporters, but mostly, for the most part, they’re corrupt and fake. Hence the term fake news. That was a good one. We have a lot of good ones,” he says.

On 19 December, the Colorado supreme court rules that Trump is disqualified from the ballot because of the 14th amendment.

In an Iowa speech that same day, Trump again calls Biden a threat to democracy.

“It’s no wonder crooked Joe Biden and the far-left lunatics are desperate to stop us by any means necessary,” he says. “They’re willing to violate the US constitution at levels never seen before in order to win this election. Joe Biden is a threat to democracy. It’s a threat.”

January 2024

On the eve of the insurrection’s anniversary, Biden delivers a speech going deep on democracy issues, saying a “determined minority” is doing all it can to “destroy our democracy”. Trump won’t condemn political violence, Biden says. He pledges that democracy is our “sacred cause” that he will protect.

“This is the first national election since [the] January 6 insurrection placed a dagger at the throat of American democracy,” Biden says.

In a response to Fox News Digital after the speech, Trump uses his practiced line: “Because of his gross incompetence, Joe Biden is a true threat to democracy.”

In the weeks following the 6 January anniversary, Trump keeps up his rhetoric about democracy.

Back on the campaign trail, Trump tells supporters at an Iowa rally that a vote for him is a vote to “reclaim our democracy from crooked Joe Biden and the entire criminal class in our nation’s capital”.

“It’s never happened, the weaponization of justice like they’re doing right now,” Trump says. “The DoJ is very corrupt. What they’re doing is very corrupt. People aren’t going to take it. Joe Biden is a threat to democracy. He’s weaponizing law enforcement for a high-level election interference.”

After a court hearing about his claim of presidential immunity from prosecution, he says that the justice department’s cases against him, playing out now during an election year where he’s a candidate, are the “real threat to democracy”.

At a New Hampshire rally again later that month, he says the prosecutions of his actions are more akin to what happens in “banana republics, third-world countries”.

“Joe Biden is a threat to democracy. That’s what it is. He’s a threat to democracy,” Trump tells the crowd. “What he’s doing there is so bad, it’s a Pandora’s box. It can happen the other way. And when it happens the other way, it’s going to be a terrible thing, too. And that’s not a threat. That’s just the way life is. That’s the way life works. It doesn’t have to be me. It could be anybody else.”

He closes out the month in Las Vegas, reciting his stump speech about Biden being a threat to democracy because he’s both incompetent and also interfering with Trump’s re-election.

“Incompetence is a gross threat to democracy,” Trump says.

March 2024

At a 2 March rally in Richmond, Virginia, days before Biden’s planned State of the Union address, Trump brings up the democracy line again, saying he’s no threat.

“Joe Biden and his fascists that control him are the real threat to democracy in this country,” Trump says. “They are a big threat, and they are corrupt. They are a big threat. He is the one. They have the standard line: ‘Donald Trump is a threat to democracy.’ Some advertising agency wrote that down. I’m not a threat. I’m the one that’s ending the threat to democracy.”

Biden issues his State of the Union address on 7 March, an energetic defense of Democratic values, where he never uses Trump’s name, instead referring to him as Biden’s “predecessor”.

As expected, democracy is a cornerstone of the speech: Biden notes how democracy is under threat both in the US and around the world.

“January 6 and the lies about the 2020 election, and the plots to steal the election, posed the gravest threat to our democracy since the civil war,” he says. “But they failed. America stood strong and democracy prevailed. But we must be honest, the threat remains and democracy must be defended.”

Trump and his allies in Congress “seek to bury the truth about January 6”, the president says. But the moment calls for speaking the truth.

“And here’s the simplest truth: you can’t love your country only when you win,” Biden says. “As I’ve done ever since being elected to office, I ask you all, without regard to party, to join together and defend our democracy.”

On 9 March, both Biden and Trump hold rallies in Georgia. There, Trump responds to the State of the Union, calling it an “angry, dark, hate-filled rant” that wouldn’t bring the country together.

“I’m going to bring it together,” Trump says. “He’s a threat to democracy. I will tell you, he’s a threat to democracy. Weaponize government. Weaponize the FBI. Weaponize the DoJ. He’s a threat to democracy for other reasons also. No 1, he’s grossly incompetent.”

In a 16 March speech in Ohio, Trump derides the court cases he faces and again calls the January 6 rioters “patriots” and “hostages”.

He warns that there will be a “bloodbath” if he loses the race, though his campaign later claims Trump was talking about the effects on the auto industry and the economy. Biden’s campaign says the comment was another sign of Trump’s threats of political violence, saying :“He wants another January 6.”

In the speech, Trump starkly lays out what he thinks will happen if he loses the election: US democracy will end.

“I don’t think you’re going to have another election in this country, if we don’t win this election … certainly not an election that’s meaningful,” he says.

Trump’s latest campaign strategy: co-opt Biden’s claims about the threat to democracy

A month-by-month look at Trump’s evolving language as he attempts to assert it’s Biden who will endanger the nation – and not him

On the cusp of the election year, Donald Trump made a decision: knowing Joe Biden would structure his campaign around the threat Trump poses to US democracy, Trump would use the same line back at Biden.

It was an unlikely bet, given that Trump is facing 88 criminal charges for his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. But Trump started laying out that message last summer, sprinkling into his speeches the idea that the US president was “grossly incompetent” and that such incompetence posed a threat to democracy. As charges rolled in against the former president, none of them lodged by Biden himself, he added the claim that Biden was also using his power to shut down his opponent, threatening democracy by engaging in “election interference”.

As 6 January 2024 approached, three years after the insurrection, Trump ramped up his attempt to turn one of his liabilities against his opponent. On the 2024 campaign trail, Trump falsely claims to be a savior of democracy and, with increasing harshness, says Biden is the threat.

At a rally in Ohio this month, Trump predicted an end to US democracy if he doesn’t win the race.

“I don’t think you’re going to have another election in this country, if we don’t win this election … certainly not an election that’s meaningful,” he said.

The “threat to democracy” retort was Trump’s latest attempt at rebranding the truth, a practiced part of his effort to create an alternate reality for his disciples. In that mirror world, Trump is both the victim and the strongman, the only person who can drive out an underworld of deep-staters who control the country and have unjustly targeted him because he threatens their supposed dominance. The wealthy businessman casts himself as an everyman, the guy willing to say what others are thinking, no matter how uncouth.

“Someone on his staff has made it clear that criticisms that he is anti-democratic are hurting his image,” Edward Schiappa, a humanities professor who researches argumentation, media influence and rhetorical theory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said in an email. “Rather than fix the image, or otherwise moderate any of his lies, he has resorted to the Pee-wee Herman strategy of: ‘I know you are but what am I?’” (Trump’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment for this story.)

Trump’s previous efforts to shift blame by warping criticisms of himself are legion. Fake news, which once referred to untrue articles online that fooled readers, became a retort to media critical of Trump. Not paying taxes makes him “smart”. Efforts to hold him accountable are “witch-hunts” or a “hoax”. After being called out for racist words and actions, he claimed to be “the least racist person anywhere in the world” – this, despite a track record of dehumanizing language aimed at immigrants. “Believe me,” a man whose political career runs on a stack of falsehoods often tells his audiences.

The seeds of these falsehoods culminated in the biggest lie he has attempted to get his followers, and in turn the American public, to believe: that he won an election he lost. That claim reverberates in all he does on the campaign trail in his attempt to return to the White House.

Trump’s attempt to cast himself as pro-democracy also coincides with more authoritarian language, saying he would be a dictator for a day and vowing to go after his political opponents, whom he called “vermin”. He called those arrested for storming the US Capitol “hostages” rather than acknowledging the crimes they committed.

Jennifer R Mercieca, a professor specializing in political rhetoric at Texas A&M University, said she would have expected Trump to double down on his “dictator for a day” messaging rather than fall into this back-and-forth with Biden over who’s better for democracy.

“It’s very interesting and, in fact, a sign of weakness that Donald Trump is allowing Joe Biden to define this election as democracy versus autocracy,” Mercieca said.

Trump’s consistent base doesn’t need his new line about threats to democracy in order to vote for him; in fact, the far right of the Republican party, Trump’s most ardent followers, favor some degree of authoritarianism. This inclination was on display at CPAC in February, where the far-right activist Jack Posobiec praised the insurrection and called for overthrowing democracy, though he later attempted to walk back the comments as partly satirical.

“Welcome to the end of democracy. We are here to overthrow it completely,” Posobiec said. “We didn’t get all the way there on January 6, but we will endeavor to get rid of it.”

For that Trump-loving core group, being a Trump supporter is part of their core identity, Schiappa said. When Trump repeats a claim over and over, like that the 2020 election was stolen, it becomes part of that self-identity, making their beliefs and attitudes hard to charge, he said.

It’s an argument technique called “tu quoque”, essentially attacking an opponent’s argument by pointing out a hypocrisy, but it’s more understandable as the kind of language you’d hear in a match of playground finger-pointing, not in a presidential election.

“Through sheer repetition, aided by conservative news media, he has persuaded a group of devoted followers that what he speaks is true,” Schiappa said. “It is similar to how a cult works in the sense that his followers are deeply invested in him – emotionally and for their own sense of identity. This combination leads a minority of Americans, who are sufficiently unmotivated or unable to consider alternative sources, to believe claims that rational adults know are false.”

Beyond that group for whom Trump is a part of their identity, his ability to sway beliefs is weaker. So who is this argument for? Given the democracy message’s lack of needed appeal to his base, it would seem Trump is seeking out a less radical voter by starting to proclaim himself a savior of democracy.

But, Schiappa noted, “outside of self-identified conservatives, no, I do not think Trump’s assertions that Biden represents a threat to democracy has much influence”.

Mercieca said it could be for donors, some of whom eschew Trump’s authoritarian rhetoric.

“I think they don’t want to give money to somebody who says they’re going to end democracy,” she said. “They still probably legitimately recognize that democracy is actually a better environment for business than autocracy.”

A timeline of key moments for Trump’s “threat to democracy”

March 2023

In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Trump calls on the audience to “complete the job” by sending him back to the White House so he can “reclaim our democracy”.

April 2023

Biden launches his re-election campaign with a video that frames his bid around freedom, equality and democracy. It includes imagery from the insurrection and calls out “Maga extremists”.

A few days later, Trump speaks to a crowd at a rally in New Hampshire and references the launch video: “He states he’s running because Trump and Maga pose a threat to democracy. Can you believe it? Maga is Make America Great Again, right? No threat there. No.

“It’s Biden who poses the threat to democracy because he is grossly incompetent, has no idea what he’s doing, and basically he doesn’t have a clue and that’s a very bad position to put our country in. Our country’s in a very dangerous position right now.”

June 2023

The US justice department charges Trump with 37 felonies related to keeping classified documents after he left the White House (more charges are later added). At an arraignment in Miami on 13 June, Trump pleads not guilty.

That night, he rails against the charges and Biden, outside Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey.

“This day will go down in infamy,” Trump says. “And Joe Biden will forever be remembered as not only the most corrupt president in the history of our country, but perhaps even more importantly, the president who together with a band of his closest thugs, misfits and Marxists tried to destroy American democracy. But they will fail and we will win bigger and better than ever before.”

August 2023

The special counsel Jack Smith spends much of 2023 working on an investigation into Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, culminating in a grand jury indicting Trump on 1 August 2023.

At an Alabama Republican dinner on 4 August, Trump calls the indictment a “sham” with “fake charges”.

“We’re not the ones trying to undermine American democracy,” Trump says. “We are the ones fighting to save our democracy. We’re fighting to save our democracy. This ridiculous indictment against us, it’s not a legal case. It’s an act of desperation by a failed and disgraced crooked Joe Biden and his radical-left thugs to preserve their grip on power.”

Elsewhere, in Fulton county, Georgia, a grand jury hands up an indictment of Trump on 14 August in another election subversion case, centered on the swing state in 2020. The sprawling case includes Trump and many of his allies and involves state racketeering and conspiracy charges.

After his booking in Fulton county, Trump brings up his common line that the charges are “election interference” but doesn’t mention Biden by name – the case is not brought by the US justice department, but by the local prosecutor Fani Willis.

“What they’re doing is election interference. They’re trying to interfere with an election. There’s never been anything like it in our country before,” he says. “This is their way of campaigning, and this is one instance, but you have three other instances. It’s election interference.”

September 2023

Biden makes remarks a couple times that call out Trump as a threat to democracy and pins his re-election campaign on preserving US democracy, just as his 2020 election was.

“Let there be no question: Donald Trump and his Maga Republicans are determined to destroy American democracy,” Biden says at a New York fundraiser. “And I will always defend, protect and fight for our democracy.”

In an Arizona speech framed around democracy issues later that month, Biden calls out the Maga agenda but doesn’t mention Trump by name much. He doesn’t mention the charges against Trump, which come in part from Biden’s justice department.

“This Maga threat is a threat to the brick and mortar of our democratic institutions,” Biden says in Arizona.

In response to the speech, Trump’s campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung gives NBC News a now familiar response: “The radical-left Democrats, now led by crooked Joe Biden, are the greatest threat to democracy the United States of America has ever faced.”

November 2023

In Colorado, a trial is under way that seeks to boot Trump from the ballot there, citing the 14th amendment as its basis. The amendment’s third clause disqualifies Trump from holding the White House again, the filers argue, because he engaged in insurrection while he was an officer of the US. The case will eventually end up in the US supreme court, after Colorado becomes the first state to decide Trump is disqualified from appearing on the state’s ballot, based on the amendment.

In a speech in Iowa on 18 November, Trump brings up the cases now in several states that seek to keep him from returning to high office, calling them an “election-rigging ballot-qualification scam”.

“Our opponents are showing every day that they hate democracy,” he says. “They’re trying every illegal move they can to try and steal this election because they know that in a free and fair fight against President Trump and crooked Joe Biden, Biden doesn’t have a shot. He’s going to be going down into his basement again. He’s going to be hiding.”

December 2023

On the campaign trail throughout the US, Trump keeps bringing up the democracy argument, solidifying its place in this election’s stump speech for the former president.

The third anniversary of 6 January is on the horizon, a date that Biden is expected to use to drive home his points that his re-election protects democracy from the threat posed by Trump and his followers.

In Iowa on 2 December, Trump says: “Biden and his radical left allies like to pose as standing up as allies of democracy. Joe Biden is not the defender of American democracy, Joe Biden is the destroyer of American democracy.”

His speech to the New York Young Republicans on 9 December is perhaps his most extensive broadside at Biden over democracy issues yet. He’s not a threat to democracy, he says – he will “save democracy”. Biden is the threat, and the claims that Trump is the threat are a “hoax”. The media is part of the hoax, too, and is using it to deflect from the left’s “monstrous abuses of power”.

“We call it now the threat-to-democracy hoax because that’s what it is. These guys are so good with misinformation, disinformation, it’s a slight difference,” Trump says.

The lines Trump uses to attack Biden on democracy issues come out with a bit more clarity after a few months of him using them here and there while campaigning: “Biden is the real threat to democracy for two simple reasons. He’s corrupt, and he’s incompetent, grossly competent. But we have to fight Democrat misinformation at every corner if the Republican party is to survive.”

Back on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, on 16 December: “We’re engaged in a righteous crusade to liberate this nation from a corrupt political class that is waging war on American democracy like never before.”

On 17 December, in Nevada: “Joe Biden is a threat to democracy. They’re weaponizing law enforcement for high-level election interference because we’re beating them so badly in the polls.”

In the Nevada speech, Trump brings up one of the terms he has effectively turned on its head, depriving it of its previous meaning: fake news. It used to refer to stories published by sham outlets that were patently fake, but for years now, Trump has been using it to refer to media he doesn’t like. “We have some great journalists and reporters, but mostly, for the most part, they’re corrupt and fake. Hence the term fake news. That was a good one. We have a lot of good ones,” he says.

On 19 December, the Colorado supreme court rules that Trump is disqualified from the ballot because of the 14th amendment.

In an Iowa speech that same day, Trump again calls Biden a threat to democracy.

“It’s no wonder crooked Joe Biden and the far-left lunatics are desperate to stop us by any means necessary,” he says. “They’re willing to violate the US constitution at levels never seen before in order to win this election. Joe Biden is a threat to democracy. It’s a threat.”

January 2024

On the eve of the insurrection’s anniversary, Biden delivers a speech going deep on democracy issues, saying a “determined minority” is doing all it can to “destroy our democracy”. Trump won’t condemn political violence, Biden says. He pledges that democracy is our “sacred cause” that he will protect.

“This is the first national election since [the] January 6 insurrection placed a dagger at the throat of American democracy,” Biden says.

In a response to Fox News Digital after the speech, Trump uses his practiced line: “Because of his gross incompetence, Joe Biden is a true threat to democracy.”

In the weeks following the 6 January anniversary, Trump keeps up his rhetoric about democracy.

Back on the campaign trail, Trump tells supporters at an Iowa rally that a vote for him is a vote to “reclaim our democracy from crooked Joe Biden and the entire criminal class in our nation’s capital”.

“It’s never happened, the weaponization of justice like they’re doing right now,” Trump says. “The DoJ is very corrupt. What they’re doing is very corrupt. People aren’t going to take it. Joe Biden is a threat to democracy. He’s weaponizing law enforcement for a high-level election interference.”

After a court hearing about his claim of presidential immunity from prosecution, he says that the justice department’s cases against him, playing out now during an election year where he’s a candidate, are the “real threat to democracy”.

At a New Hampshire rally again later that month, he says the prosecutions of his actions are more akin to what happens in “banana republics, third-world countries”.

“Joe Biden is a threat to democracy. That’s what it is. He’s a threat to democracy,” Trump tells the crowd. “What he’s doing there is so bad, it’s a Pandora’s box. It can happen the other way. And when it happens the other way, it’s going to be a terrible thing, too. And that’s not a threat. That’s just the way life is. That’s the way life works. It doesn’t have to be me. It could be anybody else.”

He closes out the month in Las Vegas, reciting his stump speech about Biden being a threat to democracy because he’s both incompetent and also interfering with Trump’s re-election.

“Incompetence is a gross threat to democracy,” Trump says.

March 2024

At a 2 March rally in Richmond, Virginia, days before Biden’s planned State of the Union address, Trump brings up the democracy line again, saying he’s no threat.

“Joe Biden and his fascists that control him are the real threat to democracy in this country,” Trump says. “They are a big threat, and they are corrupt. They are a big threat. He is the one. They have the standard line: ‘Donald Trump is a threat to democracy.’ Some advertising agency wrote that down. I’m not a threat. I’m the one that’s ending the threat to democracy.”

Biden issues his State of the Union address on 7 March, an energetic defense of Democratic values, where he never uses Trump’s name, instead referring to him as Biden’s “predecessor”.

As expected, democracy is a cornerstone of the speech: Biden notes how democracy is under threat both in the US and around the world.

“January 6 and the lies about the 2020 election, and the plots to steal the election, posed the gravest threat to our democracy since the civil war,” he says. “But they failed. America stood strong and democracy prevailed. But we must be honest, the threat remains and democracy must be defended.”

Trump and his allies in Congress “seek to bury the truth about January 6”, the president says. But the moment calls for speaking the truth.

“And here’s the simplest truth: you can’t love your country only when you win,” Biden says. “As I’ve done ever since being elected to office, I ask you all, without regard to party, to join together and defend our democracy.”

On 9 March, both Biden and Trump hold rallies in Georgia. There, Trump responds to the State of the Union, calling it an “angry, dark, hate-filled rant” that wouldn’t bring the country together.

“I’m going to bring it together,” Trump says. “He’s a threat to democracy. I will tell you, he’s a threat to democracy. Weaponize government. Weaponize the FBI. Weaponize the DoJ. He’s a threat to democracy for other reasons also. No 1, he’s grossly incompetent.”

In a 16 March speech in Ohio, Trump derides the court cases he faces and again calls the January 6 rioters “patriots” and “hostages”.

He warns that there will be a “bloodbath” if he loses the race, though his campaign later claims Trump was talking about the effects on the auto industry and the economy. Biden’s campaign says the comment was another sign of Trump’s threats of political violence, saying :“He wants another January 6.”

In the speech, Trump starkly lays out what he thinks will happen if he loses the election: US democracy will end.

“I don’t think you’re going to have another election in this country, if we don’t win this election … certainly not an election that’s meaningful,” he says.

Hospital staff could be prosecuted if Kate’s medical notes accessed, says minister

Maria Caulfield warns of enforcement action after London Clinic launches investigation into security breach

Staff at the London Clinic could face enforcement action, including fines and prosecutions, if they are found to have accessed the Princess of Wales’s medical records, a government minister has said.

Health minister Maria Caulfield told Sky News it was “pretty severe and serious stuff to be accessing notes that you don’t have permission to”.

She was speaking after the private hospital reportedly launched an investigation over claims first reported in the Mirror that at least one member of staff tried to access Kate’s private medical records while she was being treated there in January.

The Mirror quoted a source who said senior hospital managers had “contacted Kensington Palace immediately after the incident was brought to their attention and assured the palace there would be a full investigation”.

Caulfield said: “The [privacy and data watchdog] information commissioner would take enforcement action against trusts or primary care practices, but also, as individual practitioners, your regulatory body … would take action as well.

She said it would be “very disappointing” if the notes had been accessed, but added that the public should be reassured that “there are very strict rules about which patient notes you can access”, restricting health workers to the patient notes that they are caring for, and with their permission.

She added: “From a health perspective, it’s not acceptable to be looking at people’s notes, but it has been spotted and action has been taken so people can be reassured that if it does happen – particularly with electronic notes these days, it’s spotted pretty quickly if someone’s accessing notes that they shouldn’t be.”

Speaking later to LBC, Caulfield added: “The information commissioner can also take prosecutions, can also issue fines, the NMC [Nursing and Midwifery Council], other health regulators can strike you off the register if the breach is serious enough.

“So there are particularly hefty implications if you are looking at notes for medical records that you should not be looking at.”

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office said on Tuesday: “We can confirm that we have received a breach report and are assessing the information provided.”

Kensington Palace said: “This is a matter for the London Clinic.”

In a statement to the Mirror, the London Clinic said: “We firmly believe that all our patients, no matter their status, deserve total privacy and confidentiality regarding their medical information.”

Details of the princess’s condition and surgery have not been disclosed. Kensington Palace previously said it was not cancer-related and that she wished for her personal medical information to remain private.

The investigation comes after a difficult time for the Princess of Wales, following the fallout from her first official photo released to the media since she underwent surgery.

The image, released on Mother’s Day, was later withdrawn from circulation by photo agencies after concerns were raised over image manipulation.

The princess later issued a public apology and said she was responsible for digitally editing the photograph.

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Shrinkflation: hot cross buns, chips and cereals among products being downsized for the same price, Choice report finds

Australian supermarkets blame hidden price hikes on changing manufacturing facilities, shortages of raw materials and rising supplier costs

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Hot cross buns, chips and breakfast cereals are being downsized even as supermarkets retain or lift prices for the shrunken products, new research shows.

The practice, known as “shrinkflation”, reduces costs for producers but leaves consumers paying more for less during a cost-of-living crisis.

Research from consumer advocacy group Choice has called out Woolworths and Coles for reducing the size of some home-brand cereal packs from 560g to 495g but keeping the price at $4.50.

The size reduction is equivalent to a 13% price hike per serve for Coles’ Mighty Grain and Woolworths’ Max Charge.

Coles also lifted the price of its home-brand cornflakes product by 20 cents to $2.10, while cutting the package size from 475g to 440g, amounting to an effective price hike of almost 20%.

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Last October, Woolworths reduced its home-brand corn chips packs from 200g to 175g without cutting the price, representing a 14% increase to the cost per serve.

Hot cross buns from Community Co have also shrunk by almost 23%. The IGA in-house brand has hiked prices for traditional and chocolate buns to $4.50, from $4 last year, while servings have reduced from 480g to 450g.

But the supermarket giants said they were victims of shrinkflation just like Australian consumers and any profits from size changes went straight to suppliers.

“There was no financial benefit to Woolworths by changing the size of these products, as the cost from the supplier to us did not decrease,” a spokesperson said.

Woolworths blamed the hidden price hikes on changing manufacturing facilities, shortages of raw materials and increased supplier costs.

Coles similarly said their suppliers had cut pack sizes to “simplify production and supply chain”.

Meanwhile, Community Co said a shift to a different supplier forced the pack size reduction of its hot cross buns, and rising ingredient costs pushed up the retail price.

Other goods found to have shrunk without an equivalent price reduction included Red Rock Deli’s dips range, McVitie’s digestive biscuits and Go Ahead slices.

Jif’s Power & Shine Bathroom cleaner more than doubled in effective price, after shrinking to 500ml from 700ml while selling for $4, up from $2.50.

Obela, which makes Red Rock Deli dips, said the size reduction was a result of rising costs of production.

Deakin University’s Christina Zorbas said the cost-saving tactics were hard to pin down without research.

“We don’t really know what’s happening until you really have a close look at the data because it’s not advertised or flagged to a consumer when shrinkflation is happening,” she said.

Consumer advocates have called for stronger regulation to ensure supermarkets and producers can’t hide the product changes.

“Supermarkets should be required to be upfront with their customers about products that have decreased in size but not in price, so consumers can make informed decisions,” Choice journalist Liam Kennedy said.

The clandestine size cuts are more proof of the need for oversight in the supermarket sector, according to the Greens.

“It’s not just supermarket corporations taking their customers for a ride – it’s their corporate suppliers too,” the party’s economic justice spokesperson, Nick McKim, said.

The Greens are this week introducing a bill to enable Australia’s competition regulator to force the breakup of big supermarket chains.

“We need to break the duopoly’s power and hold them to account,” McKim said.

A string of inquiries into supermarket profits have put pressure on supermarkets. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission encouraged shoppers to share their concerns in a survey for its inquiry into supermarket pricing behaviour.

McVities and Unilever, which manufactures Jif, were contacted for comment.

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Almost 1,700 illegally sacked Qantas workers would have been retrenched following year, court hears

Former chief executive says there would have been strong commercial reasons in ‘the context of the pandemic’ for choosing to outsource the roles

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Legal proceedings to determine compensation for almost 1,700 workers illegally sacked by Qantas have heard the airline would have still outsourced the jobs the following year due to financial targets and Australia’s tight Covid restrictions.

Compensation hearings continued on Wednesday to resolve the years-long legal battle between the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and Qantas over its decision to outsource jobs across 10 airports in late 2020. The federal court found the move to be illegal because it acted against protections in the Fair Work Act, and was in part driven by a desire to avoid industrial action.

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Qantas unsuccessfully appealed against the decision to the full bench of the court, and later the high court. The matter has now returned to the federal court where Justice Michael Lee will determine compensation entitlements for the 1,683 outsourced ground handlers and penalties the airline must pay.

Each side is presenting counterfactuals as to what would have occurred if the illegal outsourcing did not occur in 2020, with three test cases of retrenched workers also heard.

Qantas, in making the argument the workers would have been retrenched regardless the following year, is seeking to downplay the amount of money its workers would have earned had the unlawful outsourcing not occurred. Meanwhile, the TWU has suggested total compensation could exceed $100m.

On Wednesday, Colin Hughes, who was executive general manager of airports at Qantas at the time of the outsourcing decision and later went on to serve as the airline’s chief operating officer, continued giving evidence before Lee.

Hughes said if he had been in the decision-making position in 2021 and the ground-handling jobs had remained in-house, there would still have been strong commercial reasons in “the context of the pandemic” for choosing to outsource the roles.

He said he interpreted legal advice on the outsourcing decision as carrying a low legal risk, but still expected a legal challenge from the TWU.

Hughes also acknowledged there was a high level of political and reputational risk in proceeding with the outsourcing, whether that be in 2020 when it occurred or in a counterfactual scenario in 2021, but he said the airline would still have been in a tough financial position.

“Australia had amongst the most restrictive controls [in] the world, and that’s not a comment on whether they were right or wrong, but it’s a fact that they were there and internationally Victoria had the highest lockdown of anywhere in the world, I believe, so these are all factors that weighed upon, and ultimately are a direct response [to the decision],” Hughes said.

Hughes said “it was government action that was causing such a haemorrhaging of the aviation position”.

Speaking to whether he would have taken the same outsourcing decision in 2021, Hughes said: “My position would have been, I would have recommended that we proceed with a proposal to outsource. That would have been almost illogical for me not to have that position.”

“The business had financial targets, those financial targets were set with regard to how the business needed to recover coming out of the pandemic with an expectation that it would be competing with a leaner and meaner domestic competitor,” he said, referring to Virgin Australia, which underwent administration during the pandemic.

“The reality was, the targets were real, they were significant and we had a proposal that effectively said you can save $100m, avoid $80m in capital [costs] … I can’t think of any Qantas manager that wouldn’t have recommended consideration of that proposal,” Hughes said.

Earlier in the compensation hearings, the court heard some of the workers suffered significant psychological distress after losing their jobs and had to take medication to cope. One worker was taking four doses of Valium a day, the court heard, while another was prescribed antidepressants.

In addition to a mammoth compensation bill, Qantas also faces the prospect of being issued multimillion-dollar penalties for breaching the law.

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Almost 1,700 illegally sacked Qantas workers would have been retrenched following year, court hears

Former chief executive says there would have been strong commercial reasons in ‘the context of the pandemic’ for choosing to outsource the roles

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Legal proceedings to determine compensation for almost 1,700 workers illegally sacked by Qantas have heard the airline would have still outsourced the jobs the following year due to financial targets and Australia’s tight Covid restrictions.

Compensation hearings continued on Wednesday to resolve the years-long legal battle between the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and Qantas over its decision to outsource jobs across 10 airports in late 2020. The federal court found the move to be illegal because it acted against protections in the Fair Work Act, and was in part driven by a desire to avoid industrial action.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

Qantas unsuccessfully appealed against the decision to the full bench of the court, and later the high court. The matter has now returned to the federal court where Justice Michael Lee will determine compensation entitlements for the 1,683 outsourced ground handlers and penalties the airline must pay.

Each side is presenting counterfactuals as to what would have occurred if the illegal outsourcing did not occur in 2020, with three test cases of retrenched workers also heard.

Qantas, in making the argument the workers would have been retrenched regardless the following year, is seeking to downplay the amount of money its workers would have earned had the unlawful outsourcing not occurred. Meanwhile, the TWU has suggested total compensation could exceed $100m.

On Wednesday, Colin Hughes, who was executive general manager of airports at Qantas at the time of the outsourcing decision and later went on to serve as the airline’s chief operating officer, continued giving evidence before Lee.

Hughes said if he had been in the decision-making position in 2021 and the ground-handling jobs had remained in-house, there would still have been strong commercial reasons in “the context of the pandemic” for choosing to outsource the roles.

He said he interpreted legal advice on the outsourcing decision as carrying a low legal risk, but still expected a legal challenge from the TWU.

Hughes also acknowledged there was a high level of political and reputational risk in proceeding with the outsourcing, whether that be in 2020 when it occurred or in a counterfactual scenario in 2021, but he said the airline would still have been in a tough financial position.

“Australia had amongst the most restrictive controls [in] the world, and that’s not a comment on whether they were right or wrong, but it’s a fact that they were there and internationally Victoria had the highest lockdown of anywhere in the world, I believe, so these are all factors that weighed upon, and ultimately are a direct response [to the decision],” Hughes said.

Hughes said “it was government action that was causing such a haemorrhaging of the aviation position”.

Speaking to whether he would have taken the same outsourcing decision in 2021, Hughes said: “My position would have been, I would have recommended that we proceed with a proposal to outsource. That would have been almost illogical for me not to have that position.”

“The business had financial targets, those financial targets were set with regard to how the business needed to recover coming out of the pandemic with an expectation that it would be competing with a leaner and meaner domestic competitor,” he said, referring to Virgin Australia, which underwent administration during the pandemic.

“The reality was, the targets were real, they were significant and we had a proposal that effectively said you can save $100m, avoid $80m in capital [costs] … I can’t think of any Qantas manager that wouldn’t have recommended consideration of that proposal,” Hughes said.

Earlier in the compensation hearings, the court heard some of the workers suffered significant psychological distress after losing their jobs and had to take medication to cope. One worker was taking four doses of Valium a day, the court heard, while another was prescribed antidepressants.

In addition to a mammoth compensation bill, Qantas also faces the prospect of being issued multimillion-dollar penalties for breaching the law.

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Queensland money laundering laws to restrict cash gambling at casinos

Laws include mandatory pre-commitment requirements, gambling breaks and an enforceable casino code of conduct

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Queenslanders will be banned from gambling more than a few hundred dollars in cash at the state’s casinos in a single day after money laundering legislation passed the state parliament on Wednesday.

The new legislation also implements rules designed to protect problem gamblers, including mandatory pre-commitment requirements, gambling breaks and an enforceable casino code of conduct.

Former judge Robert Gotterson recommended the reforms in 2022, in a report into casino operator Star Entertainment. He ruled the ASX-listed company behind a huge new casino in the Brisbane CBD had exploited a loophole to allow people banned from gambling interstate due to their alleged criminal links to gamble in Queensland, among other damning findings.

“It is no exaggeration to say that the reforms presented in this bill are among the most significant steps taken to reduce gambling harm in any jurisdiction in this country in the history of gambling regulation,” the attorney general, Yvette D’Ath, told parliament on Wednesday.

D’Ath said, when introducing the bill: “To address money laundering, casinos will be restricted from accepting more than a prescribed amount of cash from a person for gambling related transactions in a 24-hour period.”

The cash limit will be set through regulation but is likely to be about $1,000, in line with Gotterson’s recommendations.

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The legislation also places controls on direct marketing by casino operators.

It will also allow the government to collect information about gamblers’ losses “to assist in identifying gambling related harm and potential money laundering activity” and for research purposes, according to D’Ath.

The Queensland crackdown reflects a nationwide shift towards greater regulation of the industry.

Tasmania was the first to introduce mandatory pre-commitment rules, which are due to take force at the end of the year.

Both parties of government in New South Wales backed reform for their state’s gambling sector before the last election.

The state will kick off a trial of cashless gambling in the first quarter this year, with about 4,500 poker machines across 24 local government areas covered, including in pubs and clubs outside casinos. NSW has among the world’s largest poker machine industries. An independent review on the trial will report back in November.

In Victoria, legislation introduced by the premier, Jacinta Allen, went further than Queensland’s reforms, including pre-commitment limits and carded play, but also setting opening hours for poker machine venues, setting slower spin times and smaller spending limits.

Queensland’s LNP opposition said the state’s gambling industry was worth $56.5bn but the state government spent just $11.9m on harm minimisation. Gambling losses have climbed 63% since 2018-19, Tim Nicholls told parliament.

The legislation passed unanimously on Wednesday morning. It will take effect within all casinos at the end of 2025.

The Wesley Mission general manager, Jim Wackett, said the reforms were “a good start”, calling for the government to make the regulations “standard across the board – not just for casinos.”

“The bipartisan support for these reforms in the Queensland parliament is indicative of the huge shift in the public mood towards the known harms caused by gambling,” he said.

“What two years ago was a gambling industry-led debate about so-called ‘problem gamblers’ has now shifted to become a community-led debate about a problem industry.”

Star Entertainment was fined $100m by the government two years ago and was found unfit to hold its two gambling licences for three months after an inquiry.

The Gotterson review showed it had neglected anti-money laundering and responsible gaming duties, and deliberately misled the regulator in pursuit of profit.

With Australian Associated Press

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Samantha Murphy: police conclude fresh bushland search for body of missing Ballarat woman

No body was found during a search near Buninyong where alleged murder victim’s mobile phone was last detected

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A renewed search for missing Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy that zeroed in on bushland south of Ballarat has concluded without finding the alleged murder victim.

Victoria police on Wednesday announced they would focus on combing bushland in the Buninyong area based on new intelligence. The “significant” search focused on the area where Murphy’s mobile phone was last detected on the day she went missing last month.

But police on Wednesday afternoon said they had concluded the search without locating the mother of three. No search was planned for Thursday but police said they expected to continue trying to locate Murphy in the coming weeks.

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Earlier this month, police charged 22-year-old Patrick Stephenson, from the nearby farming town Scotsburn, with Murphy’s murder.

Police said the search area was based on “intelligence derived from a number of sources”.

Police said the search included the dog squad and that members of the public were requested not to take part.

Acting Det Supt Mark Hatt said investigators remained committed to finding Murphy so she could be returned to her family.

“We will also look at further searches in the Ballarat area as the investigation progresses,” he said.

Police allege Stephenson murdered Murphy, 51, in a deliberate attack on the day she vanished.

After Stephenson was charged on 6 March, Victoria’s chief police commissioner, Shane Patton, said the accused had not disclosed the location of Murphy’s body.

Murphy’s husband, Michael, issued an emotional plea after police charged Stephenson, saying he hoped the 22-year-old had information that would help police find the body.

Police have not disclosed how Murphy was allegedly murdered but Patton alleged it was an “intentional act”. He said Stephenson was not known to Murphy’s family and was believed to have acted alone.

Stephenson remains in custody and is scheduled to reappear in court for a committal mention hearing on 8 August.

Murphy’s family reported the mother of three missing when she did not return home from a run on Sunday 4 February. She had told family and friends she planned to go for a 14km run.

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Delay in court case for man accused of vandalising Woolworths over Australia Day stance

Six-week adjournment granted for Travis Profke, 40, who is accused of spray-painting graffiti on Queensland Woolworths store

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A man accused of an Australia Day-related graffiti attack on a Queensland Woolworths faces a six-week delay to the matter due to medical records and other information not being disclosed.

Travis Profke, of Ormiston, is accused of spray painting graffiti outside Woolworths Metro in Teneriffe on 15 January. The 40-year-old has also been charged with vandalising supermarkets at Victoria Point, Cleveland and Teneriffe on 13 January.

The alleged vandalism came after the supermarket chain confirmed it would not stock Australia Day merchandise.

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Hugh Stitt, a lawyer representing Profke at a Brisbane court on Wednesday, successfully requested a six-week adjournment for the next court mention.

Stitt said his client had not yet received hospital records and other information from a disclosure request.

Last month Profke was granted bail on the condition that he not to step foot within 50 metres of any Woolworths store.

Profke has been charged with two counts of willful damage and two counts of wilful damage by graffiti.

Profke is next scheduled to appear at Brisbane arrests court on 1 May.

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Man dies after being bitten by snake in north Queensland

Ambulance officers treated the man, believed to have been bitten by an eastern brown snake, but he died later in Townsville hospital

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A man has died in hospital after being bitten multiple times by a snake in north Queensland.

Queensland ambulance service paramedics were called to a Deeragun property after 3pm on Tuesday. The man was in a critical condition and had sustained “multiple” snake bites at a separate address. He was taken to Townsville hospital but later died.

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It is believed the man was bitten by an eastern brown snake but QAS was unable to confirm this.

Eastern brown snakes are highly venomous, with their populations thriving thanks to broad-scale clearing of land for agriculture. They are medium-sized snakes, found across eastern Australia in a wide stretch from northern Queensland to South Australia.

Although brown snakes are the most common cause of fatal snake bites in the country, it is rare for bites to be fatal.

About 3,000 snake bites are reported each year, with 41% from brown snakes. Two deaths are reported each year from bites.

More than half of the snakebite fatalities in Australia between 2000 and 2016 occurred in or around the victim’s home, according to a nationwide review.

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