Democrats accuse Trump at impeachment trial of corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine

By Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats accused President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial on Wednesday of a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine to help him get re-elected and warned that America’s global prestige would suffer if the U.S. Senate acquits him.

The Republican Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, sounded a defiant note, telling reporters in Switzerland the Democrats did not have enough evidence to find him guilty and remove him from office.

In a two-hour opening argument for the prosecution after days of procedural wrangling, U.S. Representative Adam Schiff said Trump had pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son on unsubstantiated corruption charges last year.

“To implement this corrupt scheme, President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into two discredited allegations that would benefit President Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign,” said Schiff, leading the House Democrats’ prosecution team of “managers.”

The Democratic team pressed its case against Trump in eight hours of arguments, which will resume on Thursday.

They contend that Trump was trying to find dirt on Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination for the November election, and his son Hunter Biden who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, to help the president win a second term.

Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his dealings with Ukraine and impeding the inquiry into the matter.

Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the Republican-controlled 100-member Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office. But the trial’s effect on his re-election bid is unclear.

FOCUS ON JULY 25 CALL

His fellow Republicans in the Senate say his behavior does not fit the description of “high crimes and misdemeanors” outlined in the U.S. Constitution as a reason to oust a U.S. president.

“We believe without question that the president will be acquitted,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told reporters at the end of Wednesday’s session.

Democrats have two more days to make their case. Trump’s defense team will have three days after that for rebuttal in a trial that could potentially conclude next week.

The case against Trump is focused on a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Zelenskiy to open a corruption investigation into the Bidens as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. U.S. military aid to Ukraine was frozen for a period of time.

“We have the evidence to prove President Trump ordered the aid withheld, he did so to force Ukraine to help his re-election campaign … we can and will prove President Trump guilty of this conduct and of obstructing the investigation into his conduct,” Schiff said as the day concluded.

Making references to 18th century U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton and the late Republican President Ronald Reagan, Schiff said the world was watching.

“For how can any country trust the United States as a model of governance if it’s one that sanctions precisely the political corruption and invitation to foreign meddling that we have long sought to eradicate in burgeoning democracies around the world?”

He said senators would “also undermine our global standing” if they did not oust Trump three years into his tumultuous presidency.

Tuesday’s start of the impeachment trial drew about 11 million TV viewers, according to Nielsen ratings data, a figure that fell short of the roughly 13.8 million who watched last November for the first day of the House impeachment inquiry into Trump.

HISTORIC TRIAL

It is the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. The opening days have been dominated by arguments over Democratic requests for more witnesses and records.

The Trump administration has not complied with subpoenas for documents and has urged officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to participate in the impeachment investigation.

A Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found a bipartisan majority of Americans wanting to see new witnesses testify in the impeachment trial.

It said about 72% agreed that the trial “should allow witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the impeachment charges to testify,” including 84% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans.

In Davos, Switzerland, Trump told reporters at the World Economic Forum that he was happy with the way the trial was going.

“I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material,” Trump said.

Democratic U.S. Representative Val Demings, one of the House impeachment managers, said Trump’s comment amounted to boasting about obstruction of Congress.

“This morning, the president not only confessed to it, he bragged about it: ‘Honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material,'” she said.

But a senior administration official, asked to explain what Trump was referring to, said: “What he’s clearly saying is we have all the facts on our side, and those facts prove he’s done nothing wrong.”

Trump said allowing Bolton to testify at the trial would present national security concerns.

“He knows some of my thoughts, he knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it’s not very positive?” Trump said.

Bolton, a foreign policy hawk who was fired by Trump last year, has disdainfully described the Ukraine pressure campaign as a “drug deal” and testimony from him could be awkward for the president.

A parade of current and former officials spoke at House impeachment hearings last year of a coordinated Trump effort to pressure Ukraine.

But those televised hearings did little to change support for and against Trump’s impeachment. Reuters/Ipsos polling since the inquiry began shows Democrats and Republicans responding largely along party lines.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell and Steve Holland; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)

Coming out of the shadows: the U.S. chief justice who will preside over Trump’s trial

By Lawrence Hurley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts will be a central figure in the ongoing drama of the Donald Trump presidency in the coming months. He is due to preside over a Senate impeachment trial, while the Supreme Court he leads will rule on a titanic clash over the president’s attempts to keep his financial records secret.

The expected impeachment trial will focus on accusations that Trump abused his power by asking Ukraine to investigate former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden. The Democratic-led House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment on Dec. 18, paving the way for the trial in the Republican-led Senate.

The normally reserved and mild-mannered Roberts, 64, will have the largely symbolic role of presiding officer, with senators casting the crucial votes.

But it is in the marble-lined corridors of the Supreme Court across the street from the Capitol Building, hidden from the TV cameras, where Roberts wields real power. Known for his cautious approach to major cases, he holds one of just nine votes that will decide by the end of June whether Trump’s financial records can be disclosed to Democratic-led congressional committees and a New York prosecutor.

The court’s rulings in those cases – on the power of Congress and local prosecutors to investigate a sitting president – will set precedents that may affect not just Trump but also future presidents.

The impeachment trial will be an unusual and potentially uncomfortable period for the low-key Roberts, who prefers to fly under the radar even while he has navigated the conservative-majority court in a rightward direction over the last decade and a half.

“My sense is that the chief doesn’t want to make himself the story,” said Sarah Binder, a scholar at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution.

Roberts declined to comment. During a rare public appearance in New York in September, Roberts appeared concerned about the hyperpartisan politics of Washington under Trump.

“When you live in a polarized political environment, people tend to see everything in those terms. That’s not how we at the court function,” he said.

Those who know Roberts, including former law clerks, say that he would take his role seriously and, as a history buff, he is likely reading up on the previous impeachment trials of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.

WASHINGTON INSIDER

Roberts, a conservative appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, has a reputation in Washington as a traditional conservative and a strong defender of the Supreme Court as an independent branch of government.

In a frictionless rise to prominence, he served in the administration of Republican President Ronald Reagan before becoming one of the most prominent Supreme Court advocates in town. Bush appointed him to the federal appeals court in Washington in 2003 before tapping him for the chief justice post two years later.

Roberts is often viewed as an incrementalist in his judicial philosophy, conscious of the fact that the Supreme Court risks its legitimacy if its 5-4 conservative majority is characterized as being too aggressive in moving the law to the right.

He has nonetheless voted consistently with his conservative colleagues on such issues as gay rights, abortion, religious liberty and gun rights. But in 2012, he broke ranks and cast the deciding vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement.

Earlier this year, he again sided with the court’s liberals as the court ruled 5-4 against the Trump administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Roberts clashed with Trump more directly in November 2018 when he took the unusual step of issuing a statement defending the federal judiciary after Trump repeatedly criticized judges who had ruled against his administration.

The cases concerning Trump’s financial records, with rulings due by the end of June, puts the sober Roberts and bombastic Trump on another collision course.

Legal experts have said Trump, who unlike previous presidents has refused to release his tax returns, is making broad assertions of presidential power that could place new limits on the ability of Congress to enforce subpoenas seeking information about the president.

If it is a close call, Roberts could cast the deciding vote.

In the Senate trial set to take place in January, Roberts’ role as presiding officer is limited mainly to keeping the process on track. Roberts could, however, be asked to rule on whether certain witnesses should be called.

If a majority of senators disagree with a ruling he makes, they can vote to overturn his decision.

In the Clinton impeachment trial in 1999, Chief Justice William Rehnquist had “relatively little to do,” said Neil Richards, who was present as one of Rehnquist’s law clerks and is now a professor at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis.

“I think Chief Justice Roberts is likely to approach his role… the way he has approached his judicial career to date: Doing his best to be impartial, doing his best to preserve the dignity of his judicial office,” Richards added.

(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley. Additional reporting by Jan Wolfe and Andrew Chung, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

U.S. House impeachment of Trump sets stage for trial in Senate

U.S. House impeachment of Trump sets stage for trial in Senate
By Amanda Becker and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The impeachment of President Donald Trump in the U.S. House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress sets the stage for a historic trial next month in the Republican-controlled Senate on whether he should be removed from office.

But it was unclear on Thursday how or when that trial would play out after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she might delay sending over the articles of impeachment to the Senate in order to pressure that chamber to conduct what she viewed as a fair trial.

Trump said the ball was now in the Senate’s court.

“Now the Do Nothing Party want to Do Nothing with the Articles & not deliver them to the Senate, but it’s Senate’s call!” Trump said on Twitter. “If the Do Nothing Democrats decide, in their great wisdom, not to show up, they would lose by Default!”

 

Representative Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, said on MSNBC that Democrats would like the Senate to first approve a $1.4 trillion spending plan and a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico before turning to impeachment.

He said Democrats were also concerned that Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell may not allow a full trial. McConnell has predicted there is “no chance” his chamber will convict Trump.

“It’s very hard to believe that Mitch McConnell can raise his right hand and pledge to be impartial,” Hoyer said.

The mostly party-line votes on Wednesday in the Democratic-led House came after long hours of bitter debate that reflected the partisan tensions in a divided America, and made Trump the third U.S. president to be impeached.

Republicans argued that Democrats were using a rigged process to nullify the 2016 election and influence Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign, while Democrats said Trump’s actions in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential contender, were a threat to democracy.

Trump is certain to face more friendly terrain during a trial in the 100-member Senate, where a vote to remove him would require a two-thirds majority. That means at least 20 Republicans would have to join Democrats in voting against Trump – and none have indicated they will.

Pelosi said after the vote she would wait to name the House managers, who will prosecute the case, until she knew more about the Senate trial procedures. She did not specify when she would send the impeachment articles to the Senate.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz said it would not bother him if Pelosi did not send over the impeachment articles.

“My attitude is OK, throw us in that briar patch, don’t send them, that’s all right,” he said on Fox News. “We actually have work to do.”

Trump, 73, is accused of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden, a former U.S. vice president, as well as a discredited theory that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to meddle in the 2016 election.

Democrats said Trump held back $391 million in security aid intended to combat Russia-backed separatists and a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as leverage to coerce Kiev into interfering in the 2020 election by smearing Biden.

Trump is also accused of obstruction of Congress by directing administration officials and agencies not to comply with lawful House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to impeachment.

Trump, who is seeking another four-year term in the November 2020 presidential election, has denied wrongdoing and called the impeachment inquiry launched by Pelosi in September a “witch hunt.”

At a raucous rally for his re-election in Battle Creek, Michigan, as the House voted, Trump said the impeachment would be a “mark of shame” for Democrats and Pelosi, and cost them in the 2020 election.

“This lawless, partisan impeachment is a political suicide march for the Democrat Party,” Trump said. “They’re the ones who should be impeached, every one of them.”

DEEP DIVISIONS

Trump’s election has polarized the United States, dividing families and friends and making it more difficult for politicians in Washington to find middle ground as they try to confront pressing challenges like the rise of China and climate change.

The impeachment vote comes ahead of Trump’s re-election campaign, which will pit him against the winner among a field of Democratic contenders, including Biden, who have repeatedly criticized Trump’s conduct in office and promised to make it a key issue.

Reuters/Ipsos polls show that while most Democrats wanted to see him impeached, most Republicans did not. Televised hearings last month that were meant to build public support for impeachment appear to have pushed the two sides further apart.

(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell, Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Lisa Lambert; Writing by John Whitesides and Lisa Lambert; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

As the U.S. House marches toward impeachment, Senate questions next move

By Andy Sullivan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the U.S. House of Representatives moves closer to impeaching President Donald Trump, larger questions loom in the Senate, where Trump’s Republican allies may not give him the extended trial he would like.

Democrats who control the House unveiled formal charges on Tuesday that accuse Trump of abusing his power by trying to force Ukraine to investigate a political rival and obstructing Congress when lawmakers tried to look into the matter.

The House Judiciary Committee is due to begin considering those charges at 7 p.m. on Wednesday (0000 GMT) and is expected to approve them on Thursday. A vote by the full chamber next week is likely to make Trump the third U.S. president to be impeached by the House.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Democrats had to take action because Trump had endangered the U.S. Constitution, jeopardized national security and undermined the integrity of the 2020 election.

The articles of impeachment do not draw on other, more contentious aspects of the Republican president’s tenure, such as his efforts to impede former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe. Democratic lawmakers who represent more conservative districts have argued that the focus should stay on Ukraine.

“I think you’ll see virtually all the Democrats support these articles,” said Representative David Cicilline, who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee.

Republicans say Democrats have yet to prove that Trump tried to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 telephone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

“It’s just as likely the president had good reasons to say what he did on the phone call as nefarious reasons that the Democrats think,” said Republican Representative Debbie Lesko.

Trump has maintained that he did nothing wrong and that Democrats are trying to undo his victory in the 2016 election.

He will be on friendlier terrain in the Republican-controlled Senate, which will likely consider the matter in January in a trial presided over by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts.

QUICK TRIAL?

Democrats are not expected to pick up the 20 Republican votes they need at a minimum in the Senate to drive Trump from office with a two-thirds super majority. But Republicans have yet to decide how to handle the matter.

Trump wants a full trial, featuring testimony from witnesses, including Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others, that would flesh out the case for and against impeachment and eat up weeks of time just as the Democratic Party holds its first presidential nominating contests in Iowa and New Hampshire in February.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell suggested on Tuesday that his chamber may opt for a quicker trial that would allow lawmakers to return to their regular business, however.

McConnell will need a majority of the Senate’s 100 members to agree to either plan. That could put a handful of Republican moderates, like Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, in the position of deciding how much time the chamber would devote to the proceedings.

McConnell said on the Senate floor on Wednesday the trial would be the “first order of business in January” if the House approves the articles of impeachment in December as expected.

During Democratic President Bill Clinton’s 1999 impeachment trial, no witnesses testified on the Senate floor. Instead, videotaped depositions were conducted with just a few witnesses, which senators screened behind closed doors. Clinton was acquitted in the Senate on charges arising from his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan and Susan Cornwell; Writing by Sonya Hepinstall; Editing by Peter Henderson, Peter Cooney and Jonathan Oatis)

Explainer: How impeachment works and why Trump is unlikely to be removed

By Jan Wolfe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday instructed the House Judiciary Committee to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump for pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival.

What happens next and why Trump is unlikely to be removed from office are both explained here.

WHY IMPEACHMENT?

The founders of the United States feared presidents abusing their powers, so they included in the Constitution a process for removing one from office.

The president, under the Constitution, can be removed from office for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

High crimes and misdemeanors have historically encompassed corruption and abuses of the public trust, as opposed to indictable violations of criminal statutes.

Former President Gerald Ford, while in Congress, famously said: “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

No president has ever been removed as a direct result of impeachment. One, Richard Nixon, resigned before he could be removed. Two, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached by the House but not convicted by the Senate.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Impeachment begins in the House, the lower chamber, which debates and votes on whether to bring charges against the president via approval of an impeachment resolution, or “articles of impeachment,” by a simple majority of the body’s members.

The Constitution gives House leaders wide latitude in deciding how to conduct impeachment proceedings, legal experts said.

The House Intelligence Committee has conducted an investigation into whether Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations that would benefit him politically, holding weeks of closed-door testimony and televised hearings before issuing a formal evidence report.

The Judiciary panel will use the report to consider formal charges that could form the basis of a full House impeachment vote by the end of December.

If the House approves articles of impeachment, a trial is then held in the Senate. House members act as the prosecutors; the senators as jurors; the chief justice of the United States presides. Historically, the president has been allowed to have defense lawyers call witnesses and request documents.

CAN THE SENATE REFUSE TO HOLD A TRIAL?

There is debate about whether the Constitution requires a Senate trial. But Senate rules in effect require a trial, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has publicly stated that he will allow one to proceed.

Republicans could seek to amend those rules, but such a move is politically risky and considered unlikely, legal experts said.

WHAT ABOUT OPENING A TRIAL AND QUICKLY ENDING IT?

The Senate rules allow members to file, before the conclusion of the trial, motions to dismiss the charges against the president. If such a motion passes by a simple majority the impeachment proceedings effectively end.

Clinton’s Senate impeachment trial, which did not end in a conviction, lasted five weeks. Halfway through the proceedings, a Democratic senator introduced a motion to dismiss, which was voted down.

WHAT’S THE PARTY BREAKDOWN IN CONGRESS?

Democrats control the House. The House comprises 431 members at present, 233 of whom are Democrats. As a result, the Democrats could impeach the Republican Trump with no Republican support.

In 1998, when Republicans had a House majority, the chamber voted largely along party lines to impeach Clinton, a Democrat.

The Senate now has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with the Democrats. Conviction and removal of a president would require a two-thirds majority. A conviction seems unlikely. Should all 100 senators vote, at least 20 Republicans and all the Democrats and independents would have to vote against him.

WHO BECOMES PRESIDENT IF TRUMP IS REMOVED?

In the unlikely event the Senate convicted Trump, Vice President Mike Pence would become president for the remainder of Trump’s term, which ends on Jan. 20, 2021.

(Reporting by Jan Wolfe, editing by Ross Colvin and Howard Goller)

Deployment of second Ebola vaccine would not be quick fix, experts warn

FILE PHOTO: Congolese health workers collect data before administering ebola vaccines to civilians at the Himbi Health Centre in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo, July 17, 2019. REUTERS/Olivia Acland/File Photo

By Fiston Mahamba, Kate Kelland and Aaron Ross

GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – The resignation of Congo’s health minister in the midst of the country’s worst Ebola outbreak could clear the way for a second experimental vaccine to be deployed. But the new shot would likely take months to win the trust of frightened locals and show results, health officials say.

Oly Ilunga, who opposed using the vaccine developed by U.S. pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson, resigned as minister on Monday after being bumped off the Ebola response team.

The World Health Organization recommended the two-dose shot to complement a vaccine by U.S. drugmaker Merck, which has proved highly protective but is in relatively short supply.

Proponents, including medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) and the Wellcome Trust, said the new vaccine could be deployed to areas not yet affected by Ebola to create a firewall against the virus, which the WHO declared an international health emergency last week.

But Ilunga said the J&J vaccine had not been proven effective and could confuse people in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, where wild rumors are hampering the response.

“Congolese have the right to have the gold standard, the best vaccine,” he told Reuters on Thursday, in his first public comments since resigning. “They don’t need to be the subject of experimentation.”

“You can’t have a group of promoters, producers of the vaccine (and) university researchers wanting to introduce the vaccine without contacting the health authorities,” he said, without elaborating further.

Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer, denied there were any efforts to secretly introduce the vaccine and said the company had been in full communication with Congolese authorities.

But skepticism about new medicines can resonate strongly on a continent where some pharmaceutical trials have faced accusations in the past of failing to obtain informed consent and providing sub-par care to participants.

For example, some U.S. government-funded trials of HIV drugs in the 1990s were accused of double standards for giving placebos to women in Africa when effective therapies existed, a practice that is not generally allowed in the United States and other Western nations on ethical grounds. Researchers defended the use of placebos as scientifically necessary.

Jean-Jacques Muyembe, an epidemiologist and Ebola expert named to lead Congo’s response team, dismissed Ilunga’s concerns and said authorities would revisit whether to deploy a second vaccine. However, he downplayed the importance of the decision.

“I don’t think that a vaccine is what’s holding back the response,” he told Reuters, noting that previous Ebola outbreaks had been contained quickly without a vaccine.

“We could use or not use. It won’t change the evolution of the epidemic,” he said.

“NOT ETHICAL”

The nearly year-long outbreak has infected more than 2,500 people and killed more than 1,700, numbers topped only by a 2014-16 outbreak in West Africa that killed more than 11,300. This month, a case was detected in Goma, a city of 2 million on the border with Rwanda, heightening fears about the spread of the hemorrhagic fever.

Efforts to contain it have been undermined by mistrust of health workers and violence by armed militias. Treatment centers have been attacked. Local campaigners say people are scared and confused about the various medicines being used. In addition to the vaccine, four experimental treatments are being given to Ebola patients.

All are still unlicensed, which means they can only be used in clinical trials overseen by Congo’s health ministry. “It is not ethical to test vaccines on people,” said Matina Mwanack, the administrator of an advocacy group in the eastern Congo city of Butembo called Families United Against Ebola.

“(We) have suffered a lot from the lack of needed information about the vaccines and treatments being tested.”

Omar Kavota, who heads a group of religious and political leaders in eastern Congo, said “introducing a second vaccine would amplify rumors”, including over why some patients got one while others received the second.

Muyembe said communicators had been appointed to make the process more transparent.

STOCKPILES

Proponents of a second vaccine argue it can only be tested in a live outbreak since it would be unethical to deliberately infect trial volunteers. They propose deploying it where the disease has not yet spread, while the Merck vaccine continues to be used to protect contacts of suspected cases.

“Both vaccines should work hand in hand,” said Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and one of the scientists who first discovered the Ebola virus.

Since the West African outbreak, J&J has tested its vaccine on more than 6,000 volunteers in a dozen trials, confirming its safety and ability to generate an immune response.

It requires two injections 56 days apart – another obstacle cited by Ilunga – in an area where fighting causes frequent displacement but should last longer.

“The goal is to give a long-term safe profile for people who may never be exposed to Ebola,” said J&J’s Stoffels, adding that 1.5 million doses were available.

Josie Golding, head of epidemics at the Wellcome Trust, said “we could run out of Merck vaccines” if the outbreak extends into a second year. Health authorities have already begun using smaller doses to ration supplies.

Congo’s health ministry disputes there is a shortage of the Merck vaccine. The company said it expects to produce about 900,000 doses over the next six to 18 months, in addition to 440,000 doses that have already been donated or are available.

The ministry has also considered potential vaccines developed by China’s CanSino Biologics and the Russian research institutes Rospotrebnadzor and Gamaleya, but those discussions are less advanced.

(Mahamba reported from Goma, Kelland from London and Ross from Dakar; Additional reporting by Stanis Bujakera in Kinshasa and Manas Mishra in New York; Editing by Tim Cocks, Alexandra Zavis and Giles Elgood)

Outpouring of support in Russia for sisters who killed abusive father

A woman holds a placard during a rally in support of three Khachaturyan sisters, who accused of killing their father, in Moscow, Russia July 6, 2019. Picture taken July 6, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva

By Anna Rzhevkina

MOSCOW (Reuters) – One summer night last year, sisters Krestina, Angelina and Maria Khachaturyan went into the room where their 57-year-old father Mikhail was sleeping and attacked him with pepper spray, a knife and a hammer.

The sisters are now on trial for his murder, but thousands of people have come out in support of them, saying the sisters were defending themselves from an abusive father after being failed by a Russian legal system that, critics say, turns a blind eye to domestic abuse.

The outpouring of support – over 230,000 people signed a petition asking to free the sisters from criminal charges – was in part because many women believe unless the system is changed, anyone could end up in their same situation.

“I feel solidarity with the sisters,” said Anna Sinyatkina, a translator who was in a Moscow nightclub last week when about 200 people, mostly young women, gathered for a poetry evening in support of the sisters.

“I feel that like them I can at any moment be put in a situation when there will be no one but me to protect my life, and I won’t get protection or a fair trial afterwards.”

After killing their father in their Moscow apartment on the night of July 27, the Khachaturyan sisters, now aged 18, 19, and 20, called the police. Initially, they said they killed their father in self-defense when he was attacking them.

YEARS OF ABUSE

Later, the investigation found that was not true, but that they had been subject to years of abuse by their father, including systematic beatings and violent sexual abuse, according to investigators’ documents seen by Reuters.

The case has emerged at a time when many Russians believe protections for women abused in the home are being weakened.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday Russia failed to protect another victim of domestic violence – a woman, who was assaulted, kidnapped and stalked by her former partner.

In 2017 Russia decriminalized some forms of domestic violence. Under the new rules, the maximum punishment for someone who beats a member of their own family, causing bleeding or bruising, is a fine, as long as they do not repeat the offense more than once a year.

The sisters’ lawyer, Alexei Parshin, said they were not demanding anonymity as victims of sexual abuse because the allegations about abuse were already in the public domain.

The lawyer said the sisters, at the time of the killing, were suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. He said they considered running away but feared his retribution if they were caught. Their mother and father were separated.

“NOT AN ISOLATED CASE”

Parshin said the girls’ neighbors went to the police several times to report his violence against the sisters, but no criminal prosecution was ever brought against him.

Moscow police and Russia’s Investigative Committee did not immediately reply to Reuters request for comments.

“The situation in which the girls found themselves living with a father for a rapist is familiar and scary,” Alyona Popova, a lawyer and organizer of the petition told Reuters.  

“Many people, not only women but also men in the Russian Federation realize that this is not an isolated case.”

On July 6, activists staged protests in a square in the center of Moscow, holding posters with the tag “I/We are the Khachaturyan sisters”.

“In any civilized country, these girls would be in a psychotherapy clinic… but not in prison, no way,” said one of the protesters, Zara Mkhitaryan.

Nearby there were counter-protesters. A handful of men standing with posters that read “Killers have no gender” and “Men’s state” the name of a nationalist movement whose members believe men should dominate society.

 

(Reporting by Anna Rzhevkina, Editing by William Maclean)

Has ‘the sacrificial lamb’ arrived?: U.N. cites new recordings in Khashoggi murder

FILE PHOTO: Participants take photos next to a picture of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo

RIYADH (Reuters) – Moments before Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed and dismembered last October, two of his suspected murderers laying in wait at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate fretted about the task at hand, according to a U.N. report published on Wednesday.

Will it “be possible to put the trunk in a bag?” asked Maher Mutreb, a Saudi intelligence officer who worked for a senior advisor to Saudi crown prince, according to a report from the U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions.

“No. Too heavy,” responded Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensic doctor from the Interior Ministry who would dismember and dispose of the body. He expressed hope his task would “be easy”.

Tubaiqy continued: “Joints will be separated. It is not a problem. The body is heavy. First time I cut on the ground. If we take plastic bags and cut it into pieces, it will be finished. We will wrap each of them.”

Mutreb and 10 others are now standing trial in closed hearings in Saudi Arabia for their role in the crime.

Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, rejected the investigator’s report as “nothing new”.

He added in a tweet: “The report of the rapporteur in the human rights council contains clear contradictions and baseless allegations which challenge its credibility.”

The report, which calls for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other senior Saudi officials to be investigated over their liability for Khashoggi’s death, relies on recordings and forensic work conducted by Turkish investigators and information from the trials of the suspects in Saudi Arabia.

Khashoggi, a critic of the prince and a Washington Post columnist, was last seen at the consulate where he was to receive papers ahead of his wedding.

TEXT MESSAGE

The report concludes that his murder was deliberate and premeditated. The CIA and some Western countries believe the crown prince ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny.

Media reports have published the contents of some recordings obtained from inside the consulate, but the U.N. report discloses chilling new details.

At the end of the exchange with Tobaigy, Mutreb asks if “the sacrificial lamb” has arrived. At no point is Khashoggi’s name mentioned, but two minutes later he enters the building.

Khashoggi is ushered to the consul general’s office on the second floor where he meets Mutreb, whom he knew from when they worked together at the Saudi Embassy in London years earlier.

Mutreb tells Khashoggi to send his son a mobile text message.

“What should I say? See you soon? I can’t say kidnapping,” Khashoggi responds.

“Cut it short,” comes the reply. “Take off your jacket.”

“How could this happen in an embassy?” Khashoggi says. “I will not write anything.”

“Type it, Mr. Jamal. Hurry up. Help us so that we can help you because at the end we will take you back to Saudi Arabia and if you don’t help us you know what will happen at the end; let this issue find a good end,” Mutreb says.

The report says the rest of the recordings contain sounds of movement, heavy panting and plastic sheets being wrapped, which Turkish intelligence concluded came after Khashoggi’s death as Saudi officials dismembered his body.

(Reporting By Stephen Kalin, Editing by William Maclean)

U.N. investigator calls on Saudi Arabia to open Khashoggi murder trial

FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a poster with a picture of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi outside the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/File Photo

GENEVA (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s secretive hearings for 11 suspects accused in the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi fall short of international standards and should be open to the public and trial observers, a U.N. human rights expert said on Thursday.

Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, who leads an international inquiry into the murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, called on the kingdom to reveal the defendants’ names and the fate of 10 others initially arrested.

“The Government of Saudi Arabia is grievously mistaken if it believes that these proceedings, as currently constituted, will satisfy the international community, either in terms of procedural fairness under international standards or in terms of the validity of their conclusions,” she said in a statement.

The Saudi public prosecutor indicted 11 unnamed suspects in November, including five who could face the death penalty on charges of ordering and committing the crime.

The CIA and some Western countries believe Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, which Saudi officials deny.

Saud al-Qahtani, a top aide to Prince Mohammed fired over the killing, is not among the 11 suspects on trial at secretive hearings in Riyadh despite Saudi pledges to bring those responsible to justice, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Sunday.

Callamard, referring to diplomats from world powers on the U.N. Security Council who have attended some of the four hearings thusfar warned: “They risk being participants in a potential miscarriage of justice, possibly complicit should it be shown that the trials are marred by violations of human rights law”.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

‘El Chapo’ trial reveals drug lord’s love life, business dealings

Accused Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and his wife Emma Coronel Aispuro looks on in this courtroom sketch, during closing arguments at his trial in Brooklyn federal court in New York City, U.S., January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Jane Rosenberg

By Brendan Pierson and Daina Beth Solomon

(Reuters) – On a typical day, Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman would wake at noon and make calls while strolling under the trees in the mountains of his native Sinaloa state, where he was in hiding, a witness recently testified at the kingpin’s trial.

The infamous gangster’s personal life and business dealings have gone on public display since mid-November at a courthouse in New York, where Guzman faces 10 criminal counts and a possible life sentence.

The jury will begin deliberations on Monday, after attorneys for the prosecution and defense gave closing statements this week.

U.S. prosecutors, who say Guzman amassed a $14 billion fortune through bribery, murder and drug smuggling, supported their case by calling to the stand Guzman’s former associates, including one who says she was his lover and another whose brother was among his top allies, as well as law enforcement officers.

“Do not let him escape responsibility,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Goldbarg told jurors on Wednesday, standing at a table displaying AK-47 rifles and bricks of cocaine as evidence.

Defense lawyers claim the 61-year-old Guzman, whose nickname means “Shorty,” was set up as a scapegoat. They attacked the credibility of witnesses, many of whom have extensive criminal histories.

Here are some of the most colorful tales from recent weeks in the courtroom:

HIS OWN WORDS

** Guzman’s voice was “sing-songy” with a “nasally undertone,” said FBI agent Steven Marston. In one recorded call, Guzman tells an associate, “Don’t be so harsh… take it easy with the police.” The partner responds: “You taught us to be a wolf.”

** Text messages between Guzman and his wife, Emma Coronel, often turned to family matters. “Our Kiki is fearless,” Guzman wrote in one, referring to one of their daughters. “I’m going to give her an AK-47 so she can hang with me.”

** After Coronel said she saw a suspicious car, Guzman wrote to her, “You go ahead and lead a normal life. That’s it.” Later he reminds her: “Make sure you delete everything after we’re done chatting.”

** In one of the trial’s final days, Guzman told the judge he would not testify in his own defense. The same day, he grinned broadly at audience member Alejandro Edda, the Mexican actor who plays Guzman in the Netflix television drama “Narcos.”

LOVERS AND BUSINESS

** Multiple “wives” visited Guzman when he was hiding in Sinaloa, said Alex Cifuentes, a former close partner.

** Lucero Sanchez Lopez, a former Mexican lawmaker, told jurors she once had a romantic relationship with Guzman, who sent her to buy and ship marijuana. “I didn’t want for him to mistrust me because I thought he could also hurt me,” she said. “I was confused about my own feelings over him. Sometimes I loved him and sometimes I didn’t.”

** Agustina Cabanillas, a partner of Guzman who called him “love,” set up drug deals by passing information between Guzman and others. In one message, Cabinillas called Guzman a “jerk” who was trying to spy on her. “Guess what? I’m smarter than him,” she wrote.

HIGH LEVELS OF CORRUPTION

** Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel paid bribes, some in the millions of dollars, to Mexican officials at every level, said Jesus Zambada, the brother of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who worked alongside El Chapo and is still at large.

** Beneficiaries included a high-ranking police official who fed Guzman information on police activities “every day,” said Miguel Angel Martinez, a former cartel manager.

** Guzman once paid $100 million to former President Enrique Pena Nieto, Cifuentes said. Pena Nieto has denied taking any bribes.

** When imprisoned in Mexico in 2016, Guzman bribed a national prison official $2 million to be transferred to a different facility, but the move was unsuccessful.

MURDER

** After a rival cartel member declined to shake Guzman’s hand, he ordered the man killed, fueling a war between the cartels, Zambada said.

** When assassins reporting to Guzman killed a police official who worked for a rival, Zambada said, they lured him out of his house by pretending they had hit his son with a car.

** Guzman ordered Cifuentes to kill the cartel’s communications expert after learning he was cooperating with the FBI. But Cifuentes said he was unable to carry out the hit because he did not know the man’s last name.

** When Damazo Lopez Nunez, a top lieutenant to Guzman, told his boss that a Mexican mayor wanted them to “remove” a troublesome police officer, Guzman told him they should do her the favor because the mayor was a favorite for an upcoming state election, Lopez testified. He said Guzman told him to make the killing look like revenge from a gang member.

** Lopez also said Guzman’s sons killed a prominent reporter in Sinaloa because he published an article about cartel infighting against their wishes.

** One of Guzman’s former bodyguards, Isaias Valdez Rios, said he watched his boss personally kill three rival cartel members. Guzman shot one of them and ordered his underlings to bury the man while he was gasping for air. On another occasion, Guzman tortured two men for hours before shooting them each in the head and ordering their bodies tossed into a flaming pit.

SAFE HOUSES AND ESCAPES

** For a period of Guzman’s time as a fugitive in Sinaloa, in northern Mexico, his posse lived in “humble pine huts” with tinted windows, satellite televisions and washer-dryers, Cifuentes said. About 50 guards formed three rings around the homes to keep watch.

** Guzman escaped into a tunnel hidden beneath a bathtub when U.S. agents raided one of his homes in 2014, said Sanchez, his lover. She followed Guzman, who was completely naked, into the passage, feeling water trickle down her legs. “It was very dark and I was very scared,” she said.

** Guzman’s wife helped her husband tunnel out of a Mexican prison in 2015 by passing messages to his associates, Lopez testified. She unsuccessfully tried to help him duplicate the escape when he was captured the next year.

(Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; Additional reporting and writing by Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; Editing by Tom Brown and Dan Grebler)