Skip to content

AP News in Brief at 12:04 a.m. EDT

Judge in Trump's hush money trial threatened to remove witness from court for behavior on stand NEW YORK (AP) — The judge in Donald Trump's hush money trial cleared the courtroom of reporters Monday and then threatened to remove the defense's witness

Judge in Trump's hush money trial threatened to remove witness from court for behavior on stand

NEW YORK (AP) — The judge in Donald Trump's hush money trial cleared the courtroom of reporters Monday and then threatened to remove the defense's witness from the trial altogether because of his behavior on the stand, which included making comments under his breath and rolling his eyes, a court transcript showed.

Judge Juan M. Merchan told Robert Costello, a former federal prosecutor, that his conduct during testimony was contemptuous. Costello aggravated Merchan repeatedly in part by continuing to speak after objections were sustained — a signal to witnesses to stop talking. At one point, Costello remarked “jeez” when he was cut off by an objection. He also called the whole exercise “ridiculous.”

The exchange came toward the end of a heated day that included the prosecution’s star witness admitting to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from Trump’s company. Trump’s lawyers also pressed Merchan to dismiss the case after prosecutors concluded their presentation of evidence. The judge didn’t immediately rule on that request.

But the most tense moments happened with Costello on the witness stand. Merchan first sent the jury out of the courtroom to discuss proper decorum. He chided Costello for remarking “jeez” when he was cut off by a sustained objection and, at another point, “strike it." Merchan told him: "I’m the only one that can strike testimony in the courtroom. Do you understand that?”

“And then if you don’t like my ruling, you don’t give me side eye and you don’t roll your eyes.”

___

War crimes prosecutor seeks arrest of Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Netanyahu

JERUSALEM (AP) — The chief prosecutor of the world's top war crimes court sought arrest warrants Monday for leaders of Israel and Hamas, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, over actions taken during their seven-month war.

While Netanyahu and his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, do not face imminent arrest, the announcement by the International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor was a symbolic blow that deepened Israel’s isolation over the war in Gaza.

The court's prosecutor, Karim Khan, accused Netanyahu, Gallant, and three Hamas leaders — Yehya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders condemned the move as disgraceful and antisemitic. U.S. President Joe Biden also lambasted the prosecutor and supported Israel's right to defend itself against Hamas.

A panel of three judges will decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow a case to proceed. The judges typically take two months to make such decisions.

___

What is the ICC and why it is considering arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court could soon issue arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, more than seven months into the war between the two sides, based on a request by the court’s chief prosecutor.

Karim Khan said that he believes Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel.

The ICC was established in 2002 as the permanent court of last resort to prosecute individuals responsible for the world’s most heinous atrocities — war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression.

The Rome Statute creating the ICC was adopted in 1998 and took effect when it got 60 ratifications on July 1, 2002. The U.N. General Assembly endorsed the ICC, but the court is independent.

Without a police force, the ICC relies on member states to arrest suspects, which has proven to be a major obstacle to prosecutions.

___

What's next for Iran's government after death of its president in helicopter crash?

JERUSALEM (AP) — The death of Iran's president is unlikely to lead to any immediate changes in Iran's ruling system or to its overarching policies, which are decided by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash Sunday, was seen as a prime candidate to succeed the 85-year-old supreme leader, and his death makes it more likely that the job could eventually go to Khamenei's son.

A hereditary succession would pose a potential crisis of legitimacy for the Islamic Republic, which was established as an alternative to monarchy but which many Iranians already see as a corrupt and dictatorial regime.

Here's a look at what comes next.

Iran holds regular elections for president and parliament with universal suffrage.

___

Australia and New Zealand sending planes to evacuate nationals from New Caledonia's unrest

SYDNEY (AP) — The Australian and New Zealand governments announced Tuesday they were sending planes to evacuate their nationals from violence-wracked New Caledonia.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong confirmed Australia had received clearance from French authorities for two flights to evacuate citizens and other tourists from New Caledonia amid violent unrest that has beset the French Pacific archipelago where indigenous people have long sought independence from France.

“We continue to work on further flights,” Wong wrote on the social media platform X on Tuesday.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said 300 Australians were in New Caledonia.

New Zealand also announced it was sending a plane Tuesday to evacuate 50 of its nationals from Noumea, the Pacific island's capital, in the first in a series of proposed flights to bring its citizens home.

___

Judge blocks Biden administration from enforcing new gun sales background check rule in Texas

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A federal judge has blocked the Biden administration from enforcing a new rule in Texas that would require firearms dealers to run background checks on buyers at gun shows or other places outside brick-and-mortar stores.

The decision by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk, an appointee of former President Donald Trump, came before the rule had been set to take effect Monday. The order also prevents the federal government from enforcing the rule against several gun-rights groups, including Gun Owners of America. It does not apply to Louisiana, Mississippi and Utah, which were also part of the lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs understandably fear that these presumptions will trigger civil or criminal penalties for conduct deemed lawful just yesterday,” Kacsmaryk said in his ruling.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives declined to comment. The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twenty-six Republican attorneys general filed lawsuits in federal court in Arkansas, Florida and Texas aiming to block enforcement of the rule earlier this month. The plaintiffs argued that the rule violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and that President Joe Biden, a Democrat, doesn’t have the authority to implement it.

___

Top US drug agency a notable holdout in Biden's push to loosen federal marijuana restrictions

In an isolated part of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration headquarters known as the 12th-floor “bubble,” chief Anne Milgram made an unusual request of top deputies summoned in March for what she called the “Marijuana Meeting”: Nobody could take notes.

Over the next half hour, she broke the news that the Biden administration would soon be issuing a long-awaited order reclassifying pot as a less-dangerous drug, a major hurdle toward federal legalization that DEA has long resisted. And Milgram went on to reveal another twist, according to two people familiar with the private meeting who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, that the process normally steered by the DEA had been taken over by the U.S. Justice Department and the action would not be signed by her but by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Milgram didn't give aides a reason for the unprecedented omission and neither she nor the DEA has explained since. But it unfolded this past week exactly as laid out in that meeting two months ago, with the most significant drug policy change in 50 years launched without the support of the nation’s premier narcotics agency.

“DEA has not yet made a determination as to its views of the appropriate schedule for marijuana,” reads a sentence tucked 13 pages into Garland’s 92-page order last Thursday outlining the Biden administration proposal to shift pot from its current Schedule I alongside heroin and LSD to the less tightly regulated Schedule III with such drugs as ketamine and some anabolic steroids.

Internal records accompanying the order indicate the DEA sent a memo to the Justice Department in late January seeking additional scientific input to determine whether marijuana has an accepted medical use, a key requirement for reclassification. But those concerns were overruled by Justice Department attorneys, who deemed the DEA’s criteria “impermissibly narrow.”

___

Corn, millet and ... rooftop solar? Farm family’s newest crop shows China’s solar ascendancy

JINAN, China (AP) — Shi Mei and her husband earn a decent enough living by growing corn and millet on their small farm in eastern China's Shandong province. In 2021, they diversified by investing in solar energy — signing a contract to mount some 40 panels on their roof to feed energy to the grid.

Now, the couple get paid for every watt of electricity they generate, harvesting the equivalent of $10,000 per year that Shi can track through an app on her phone.

“When the sun comes out, you make money,” Shi said.

The Shi family is on the leading edge of a solar boom in China, which has long dominated global solar manufacturing but didn't always install a lot of it at home. That's changing as the government focuses on the urgency of cutting its worst-in-the-world greenhouse gas emissions at the same time it grows its green economy. China wants one-fifth of its power to come from renewables by 2025, and it's offered a wide range of subsidies to local governments and businesses.

The push — in both industrial solar and in rooftop installations like Shi's — is working so well that the grid now has more power than it can handle. Shi was fortunate to get in early; some cities across Shandong province, including her village, are halting new rooftop solar installations.

___

US says cyberattacks against water supplies are rising, and utilities need to do more to stop them

WASHINGTON (AP) — Cyberattacks against water utilities across the country are becoming more frequent and more severe, the Environmental Protection Agency warned Monday as it issued an enforcement alert urging water systems to take immediate actions to protect the nation's drinking water.

About 70% of utilities inspected by federal officials over the last year violated standards meant to prevent breaches or other intrusions, the agency said. Officials urged even small water systems to improve protections against hacks. Recent cyberattacks by groups affiliated with Russia and Iran have targeted smaller communities.

Some water systems are falling short in basic ways, the alert said, including failure to change default passwords or cut off system access to former employees. Because water utilities often rely on computer software to operate treatment plants and distribution systems, protecting information technology and process controls is crucial, the EPA said. Possible impacts of cyberattacks include interruptions to water treatment and storage; damage to pumps and valves; and alteration of chemical levels to hazardous amounts, the agency said.

“In many cases, systems are not doing what they are supposed to be doing, which is to have completed a risk assessment of their vulnerabilities that includes cybersecurity and to make sure that plan is available and informing the way they do business,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe.

Attempts by private groups or individuals to get into a water provider’s network and take down or deface websites aren’t new. More recently, however, attackers haven’t just gone after websites, they’ve targeted utilities’ operations instead.

___

Scarlett Johansson says a ChatGPT voice is 'eerily similar' to hers and OpenAI is halting its use

NEW YORK (AP) — OpenAI on Monday said it plans to halt the use of one of its ChatGPT voices that “Her” actor Scarlett Johansson says sounds “eerily similar" to her own.

In a post on the social media platform X, OpenAI said it is “working to pause” Sky — the name of one of five voices that ChatGPT users can chose to speak with. The company said it had “heard questions” about how it selects the lifelike audio options available for its flagship artificial intelligence chatbot, particularly Sky, and wanted to address them.

Among those raising questions was Johansson, who famously voiced a fictional, and at the time futuristic, AI assistant in the 2013 film “Her.”

Johansson issued a statement saying that OpenAI CEO Sam Altman had approached her in September asking her if she would lend her voice to the system, saying he felt it would be “comforting to people” not at ease with the technology. She said she declined the offer.

“When I heard the released demo, I was shocked, angered and in disbelief that Mr. Altman would pursue a voice that sounded so eerily similar to mine that my closest friends and news outlets could not tell the difference,” Johansson said.

The Associated Press