Trump lawyers try again to block financial records subpoena

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s effort to stonewall congressional subpoenas lands at a federal appeals court Friday, where House Democrats will once again defend their power to get years of his financial records from accounting firm Mazars USA.

The oral argument before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is one of the first lawsuits Trump filed to stymie House investigations. And it could be the first to reach the Supreme Court no matter what the panel decides, since neither the president nor Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California appears likely to back down.

In a sign of the high stakes and high interest, the D.C. Circuit set the argument for a ceremonial courtroom that is twice the size as other courtrooms and barred so-called “line standers” that hold a place in the public seating line for those willing to pay them.

The president’s lawyers will echo arguments they made at a lower court in May. They told U.S District Court Judge Amit Mehta that the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform overstepped its authority to ask for the Mazars records, mainly because the committee does not have a legitimate legislative purpose for the request.

But Mehta ultimately sided with Congress and ruled that “it is not for the court to question whether the Committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations.”

—CQ Roll Call

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Epstein wants to await trial at the $77 million Manhattan home where feds say he abused girls

MIAMI — Attorneys for accused serial sex predator Jeffrey Epstein have asked a New York judge to free him from jail and allow him to await a child sex trafficking trial from the comfort of the same $77 million Manhattan mansion where he’s accused of luring teenage girls into unwanted sex acts.

Epstein, currently holed up in a cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Lower Manhattan, offered ahead of a Monday bond hearing to waive extradition rights and put up his town home and private jet as collateral. His brother, Mark Epstein, also offered to put up his West Palm Beach home.

Epstein’s attorneys say the registered sex offender has kept a “spotless” record since prosecutors in South Florida set aside a 53-page indictment on similar allegations in Palm Beach a decade ago and allowed him to plead guilty to lesser state charges. They said Epstein, 66, would consent to GPS monitoring, ground his jet, “demobilize” all his cars in New York and have trustees live in his home.

But New York prosecutors — who say they found “an extraordinary volume of photographs of nude and partially nude young women and girls” while executing a search warrant at his Manhattan residence last weekend — have already argued that he’s likely to either flee the country or add to what they say are dozens of victims as young as 14 from New York to Palm Beach.

The hearing over whether to release Epstein, 66, will be the first in what should be a lengthy and highly watched trial.

—Miami Herald

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Oliver North claims NRA’s leader defamed him

NEW YORK — Former National Rifle Association President Oliver North accused the group’s leader, Wayne LaPierre, of defaming him, forcing him out of the gun rights group and retaliating after North raised questions about lavish spending and financial mismanagement.

In a court filing Thursday, North said the NRA falsely accused him of fomenting a failed “coup” to get LaPierre, once a “long-term, close personal friend,” to step down. Instead, North lost the power struggle and resigned in April after saying he had quietly tried to protect the NRA and its mission.

LaPierre, aided by the NRA’s outside counsel, William Brewer, has since used adverse publicity to “undermine North and his efforts to address allegations of financial misconduct at the NRA,” according to the filing.

North’s claims came in response to an NRA lawsuit filed last month in New York state court in which the gun group claims he is not entitled to legal fees.

—Bloomberg News

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Navy SEAL looking for others who have taken photos with enemy corpses, for last legal argument

SAN DIEGO — The Navy SEAL who raised nearly $750,000 from a community of supporters to successfully fight war crimes charges in a San Diego court-martial is again asking for the public’s help for one more round with the Navy.

Chief Eddie Gallagher, through an attorney, is asking the public to help him persuade a Navy admiral to reduce his jury-imposed punishment for posing with the body of a dead Islamic State fighter in 2017.

Specifically, he’s looking for other service members who have received punishment for taking photos with dead enemy combatants — and received a lesser sentence.

On July 2, a jury acquitted Gallagher of several war crimes allegedly committed during a deployment to Iraq in 2017. Seven members of Gallagher’s platoon testified during the two-week trial that they witnessed one or more of their chief’s alleged offenses, including that he stabbed a wounded teenage Islamic State fighter in the neck and shot civilians with his sniper rifle.

After the alleged stabbing, several members of the platoon posed for photos with the dead fighter’s body, including Gallagher, according to court testimony.

Although the jury acquitted Gallagher on all of the other charges, it found him guilty of posing for the photos. As punishment, the jury imposed a sentence of a reduction in rank one grade to E-6, docked his pay for two months and sentenced him to four months in jail — time Gallagher already served while on pretrial confinement.

—The San Diego Union-Tribune

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Angela Merkel opts to sit at ceremony after third bout of shaking

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel opted to sit through a ceremony welcoming Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen to Berlin on Thursday, a day after she suffered her third bout of shaking in less than a month during a similar event.

A visibly calm Merkel, who will turn 65 next week, was seated beside Frederiksen during the playing of both countries’ national anthems at Thursday’s event outside the chancellery. Normally she stands during such events.

On Wednesday, the German leader was noticeably trembling when she met her Finnish counterpart. She said after the incident that she was feeling fine and that there was no reason for concern.

Still, the repeated bouts of shivering renewed pressure on Merkel to open the books on her state of health and raised concerns about her ability to continue governing. She responded that she was very capable and that the ailment would go away one day just as it came.

—Bloomberg News

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Amid confusion and silence, Norway says Venezuelan political talks are continuing

BOGOTA, Colombia — Amid rumors and confusion about the status of talks aimed at ending Venezuela’s grinding political crisis, the government of Norway on Thursday said that negotiations in Barbados are ongoing and cautioned the parties from muddying the waters.

“We announce that the representatives of the main political actors in Venezuela are continuing the negotiations that were initiated in Oslo,” Norway’s foreign ministry said in a press release. “We emphasize the importance of the parties showing utmost caution in their comments and statements about the process.”

Late Wednesday, Venezuelan Communications Minister Jorge Rodríguez announced in a tweet that “this round of talks has finished,” casting doubt on whether they had ended altogether.

—Miami Herald

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