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Senate Confirms Chairman of Joint Chiefs

 The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, putting him in place to succeed Gen. Mark Milley when he retires at the end of the month.

Brown’s confirmation on an 83-11 vote, months after President Joe Biden nominated him for the post, comes as Democrats try to maneuver around holds placed on hundreds of nominations by Alabama Sen. Tommy Tuberville over the Pentagon’s abortion policy. The Senate is also expected to confirm Gen. Randy George to be Army Chief of Staff and Gen. Eric Smith as commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps this week.

Tuberville has been blocking the Senate from the routine process of approving military nominations in groups, frustrating Democrats who had said they would not go through the time-consuming process of bringing up individual nominations for a vote. More than 300 nominees are stalled amid Tuberville’s blockade and confirming them one-by-one would take months.

But Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, reversed course on Wednesday and moved to force votes on Brown, George and Smith.

“Senator Tuberville is forcing us to face his obstruction head on,” Schumer said. “I want to make clear to my Republican colleagues — this cannot continue.”

Tuberville did not object to the confirmation votes, saying he will maintain his holds but is fine with bringing up nominations individually for roll call votes.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said that Brown’s confirmation, along with expected votes on Smith and George, is positive news. But “we should have never been in this position,” he said.

“While good for these three officers, it doesn’t fix the problem or provide a path forward for the 316 other general and flag officers that are held up by this ridiculous hold,” Kirby told reporters.

Brown, a career fighter pilot, was the Air Force’s first Black commander of the Pacific Air Forces and most recently its first Black chief of staff, making him the first African American to lead any of the military branches. His confirmation will also mark the first time the Pentagon’s top two posts were held by African Americans, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin as the top civilian leader.

Brown, 60, replaces Joint Chiefs Chairman Army Gen. Mark Milley, who is retiring after four decades in military service. Milley’s four-year term as chairman ends on Sept. 30.

Tuberville said on Wednesday that he will continue to hold up the other nominations unless the Pentagon ends its policy of paying for travel when a service member has to go out of state to get an abortion or other reproductive care. The Biden administration instituted the policy after the Supreme Court overturned the nationwide right to an abortion and some states have limited or banned the procedure.

“Let’s do one at a time or change the policy back,” Tuberville said after Schumer put the three nominations up for a vote. “Let’s vote on it.”

The votes come as a host of military officers have spoken out about the damage of the delays for service members. While Tuberville’s holds are focused on all general and flag officers, they carry career impacts on the military’s younger rising officers. Until each general or admiral is confirmed, it blocks an opportunity for a more junior officer to rise.

That affects pay, retirement, lifestyle and future assignments — and in some fields where the private sector will pay more, it becomes harder to convince those highly trained young leaders to stay.

The blockade has frustrated members on both sides of the aisle, and it is still unclear how the larger standoff will be resolved. Schumer did not say if he will put additional nominations on the floor.

US House’s Bipartisan Measures Target Iran Over Woman’s Death, Missile Program

The U.S. House overwhelmingly approved measures Tuesday targeting Iran for its human rights record and placing restrictions on the country’s ability to import or export its expanding arsenal of weapons.

The measures would impose a series of sanctions on Iran’s supreme leader, president and other individuals as Washington seeks to further punish the Islamic Republic ahead of the one-year anniversary of nationwide protests. The resolutions will now go to the Senate, where it is unclear if the Democratic-controlled chamber will take them up.

The first bill takes aim at Iran’s production and exports of missiles and drones by sanctioning individuals involved in the process, while the second imposes sanctions on high-ranking government officials for “human rights abuses and support for terrorism.” The third resolution specifically condemns the government’s persecution of the Baha’i minority.

The near-unanimous passage of all three represents a renewed condemnation by Congress against Iran’s government, which engaged in a brutal crackdown of its citizenry after the September 2022 death of Mahsa Amini in police custody.

Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, the co-sponsor of the second bill, posted on social media that it was past time “to sanction those responsible for Mahsa’s murder and the repression of brave Iranian protestors.”

Amini had been detained for allegedly wearing her hijab too loosely in violation of strictures demanding women in public wear the Islamic headscarves. The 22-year-old died three days later in police custody. Authorities said she had a heart attack but hadn’t been harmed. Her family has disputed that, leading to the public outcry.

The protests that ensued represented one of the largest challenges to Iran’s theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. A security force crackdown that followed saw over 500 people killed and more than 22,000 people detained.

The unrest only further complicated any attempt by the Biden administration to restart negotiations between Washington and Tehran — after former President Donald Trump abruptly withdrew U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018.

And it has remained a point of contention for Republicans in Congress, who have sought to use the power of their majority in the House over the past several months to introduce or pass a series of binding and nonbinding resolutions related to the country’s abuse of human rights as well as its nuclear and missile programs.

The passage of the resolutions also comes a day after the Biden administration cleared the way for the release of five American citizens detained in Iran by issuing a blanket waiver for international banks to transfer $6 billion in frozen Iranian money without fear of U.S. sanctions.

In response, Rep, Michael McCaul, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said while he was relieved to see the hostages released, the deal sets a bad precedent.

“I remain deeply concerned that the administration’s decision to waive sanctions to facilitate the transfer of $6 billion in funds for Iran, the world’s top state sponsor of terrorism, creates a direct incentive for America’s adversaries to conduct future hostage-taking,” he said.

Vietnam, US Upgrade Partnership; Activists Critique Silence on Human Rights

Hanoi and Washington have announced an upgrade in bilateral ties to a comprehensive strategic partnership, the top designation in Vietnam’s diplomatic hierarchy. A U.S. strategy of noninterference into Vietnam’s domestic politics has been crucial to Hanoi agreeing to the deal, experts say, but activists and rights groups are frustrated by the lack of focus on human rights as the crackdown on civil society worsens in the Southeast Asian country.

U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Hanoi on Sunday to meet with General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong. That afternoon, Trong and Biden announced they had agreed to a comprehensive strategic partnership for peace, cooperation, and sustainable development. In a lengthy joint statement, a paragraph was dedicated to the “promotion and protection of human rights.”

Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson said human rights were treated as an “afterthought” during the visit.

“The White House statement afterwards was pathetic, flagging an ongoing U.S. – Vietnam human rights ‘dialogue’ that conveniently sequesters human rights issues to a symbolic, once a year meeting with mid-level officials who talk but don’t get anything concrete done,” Robertson wrote over email.

Singer and activist Do Nguyen Mai Khoi fled Vietnam for the United States in 2019 after being threatened with arrest. She is disappointed with Washington’s standpoint as she has seen authorities jail all of the country’s activists “who didn’t want to stay quiet or live in hiding” and the government has begun arresting environmentalists and NGO leaders, she told VOA.

There are currently 191 activists in prison in Vietnam, according to the U.S.-based human rights group The 88 Project.

“Human rights and activism in Vietnam has gotten worse and worse since I left,” Mai Khoi wrote over the messaging app Signal. “[The U.S.] thinks they already have done enough for human rights by announcing some statements every time a famous activist gets arrested or giving a prize to a famous political prisoner. I think the U.S. could do better than that.”


Persuading Hanoi that the United States will steer clear of domestic politics has been a yearslong project.

In the past, Vietnamese leaders have been wary that an upgraded partnership with the U.S. would come with the agenda of shifting the country’s communist political system, said Le Hong Hiep, senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. By putting democratic values to the side, he said, Washington was able to persuade Hanoi to upgrade ties.

“There’s a kind of commitment on the U.S. side not to interfere in Vietnam’s politics,” Hiep said. “In recent years they also have become less critical of Vietnam’s human rights record and that also helped to ease the concern of Vietnam’s leadership.”

To quell anti-American resistance, the Biden administration softened its language regarding promoting democracy and made a distinction between “good communists and bad communists” in their National Security Strategy, said Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“When you look at the National Security Strategy, the language that was included was not that authoritarian states are a danger to the United States. It says that the administration will focus on opposing authoritarian states who export their authoritarianism,” Poling stated. “What the Biden administration did was steadily soften that language not exclusively for Vietnam, but for Vietnam more than any other country.”

General Secretary Trong spoke to the importance of noninterference while announcing the upgraded partnership Sunday.

“We value America’s stance of supporting a strong, independent, and self-reliant Vietnam,” Trong stated, as reported in the Vietnamese daily newspaper, Thanh Nien. “We also want to emphasize that the understanding of noninterference in each other’s internal affairs are basic principles that are very important.”

Civil society

Duy Hoang, executive director of Viet Tan, an unsanctioned pro-democracy political party in Vietnam, said there’s been a wave of activist arrests since 2017 and authorities are now cracking down on NGOs and environmentalists.

While he sees the potential benefits the upgraded U.S. partnership could have, he’d like Washington to speak more publicly on human rights.

“It’s important for the people of Vietnam to know that the United States is a friend of the people of Vietnam, not just the government,” he told VOA. “I want to see the U.S. government to be a little bit stronger on human rights.”

Further, he is concerned about how stated aims of the partnership, including addressing climate change, will be addressed considering the active crackdown on civil society.

Five prominent environmentalists have been jailed on tax evasion charges in the last two years, a charge Hoang describes as “trumped up financial charges.” Most recently, Hoang Thi Minh Hong, the former CEO of the environment-focused NGO Change, was arrested for tax evasion and remains in pre-trial detention.

“How can we talk about environmental protection without environmental activists,” Hoang said.

Mai Khoi is still hopeful the U.S. partnership could help human rights conditions in Vietnam but said she’d be disappointed if the deal goes through without the release of leading climate activists, including Hong.

“I will be very disappointed if the climate activists … are still in jail and the upgrade to the partnership still happens,” Mai Khoi said, noting activists she’d liked to see released but who remain jailed.

Can 14th Amendment Keep Trump From Seeking a Second Term?

A new lawsuit to bar former President Donald Trump from appearing on the 2024 Colorado primary ballot has revived a legal and political debate over an obscure provision of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, a progressive watchdog, filed the lawsuit on behalf of six Colorado voters on Wednesday. It claims that Trump is ineligible to run for the White House again because he supported an “insurrection” against the Constitution on Jan. 6, 2021, when a mob of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol to disrupt the Congressional certification of Joe Biden’s victory.

The lawsuit cites Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, which was ratified in 1868 to prevent former Confederate officials and soldiers from regaining power after the 1861-65 American Civil War.

The provision, known as the “disqualification clause” and “insurrection clause,” says that no one who has taken an oath to support the Constitution and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution or “given aid or comfort” to its enemies can hold any federal or state office unless given a waiver by Congress.

“Because Trump took these actions after he swore an oath to support the Constitution, Section 3 of the 14th Amendment prohibits him from being president and from qualifying for the Colorado ballot for president in 2024,” the CREW lawsuit says.

The lawsuit raises several questions, including whether Trump’s actions in the lead-up to Jan. 6 constituted a rebellion or insurrection, whether Section 3 applies to the presidency, and whether state election officials have the power to enforce it without an act of Congress.

CREW is not the only group seeking Trump’s disqualification. Two other liberal groups — Free Speech for People, and Mia Familia Vota Education Fund — recently asked top election officials in more than 10 states to bar Trump and have vowed to take legal action.

On his Truth Social platform, Trump claimed this week that “almost all legal scholars” agree that the 14th Amendment doesn’t apply to the 2024 presidential election.  He called the effort “election interference” and “just another ‘trick’ being used by the Radical Left Communists, Marxists, and Fascists, to again steal an election.”

But it’s not just those on the left making the case. In recent weeks, a growing number of conservative legal scholars have joined the calls for Trump’s removal from the ballot.

Among them are J. Michael Luttig, a conservative former federal appellate judge, and Steven Calabresi, a co-founder of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization. They contend that Trump’s actions constitute an insurrection against the Constitution, and that disqualifies him from holding office again.

Here is what you need to know about the Section 3 of the 14th Amendment and the push to kick Trump off the 2024 presidential ballot:

What is Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, and what does it say?

The 14th Amendment is one of three amendments to the U.S. Constitution that were enacted after the Civil War to extend civil and legal rights to formerly enslaved Black people.

The amendment is best known for its Section 1, which grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States” and guarantees citizens the “equal protection of the laws.”

The amendment’s less-well-known Section 3 states that no one who took an “oath … to support the Constitution of the United States” and then “engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the Constitution or gave “aid or comfort to [its] enemies” can serve as a senator, representative or presidential elector or hold any office — civil or military — unless approved by a supermajority vote of Congress.

How has the provision been used in the past?

In the years after the U.S. Civil War, a period known as the Reconstruction Era, the provision was used to prevent former Confederate officials from holding office.

But the measure remained largely dormant for more than 150 years until the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol.

Following that attack, liberal groups sought to use Section 3 to challenge the eligibility of several Congressional candidates who had opposed the 2020 election results. The effort failed to gain traction. The only successful application of Section 3 occurred last September, when a New Mexico judge removed from office a county commissioner who had been convicted in connection with Jan. 6.

Does the provision apply to the president?

Section 3 does not explicitly mention whether the president is subject to disqualification under the provision, leading some experts to argue that the presidency is exempt.

But that is a misreading of the text and history of the provision, said Gerard Magliocca, an Indiana University law professor who has written extensively about Section 3.

“This issue was raised in Congress when the proposal was under consideration,” Magliocca told VOA. “Someone said, does this apply to the presidency or the vice presidency? And the answer given was yes, it does.”

What is more, Magliocca said, the phrase “officer of the United States,” as used in Section 3, refers to the president, making him subject to the disqualification provision.

“Andrew Johnson, who was president at the time, repeatedly referred to himself as the chief executive officer of the United States in asserting his authority to pursue Reconstruction in the aftermath of the Civil War in 1865,” Magliocca said.

What are the legal arguments for and against applying Section 3 to Trump?

Though initially designed to punish rebellious Southerners, most legal scholars agree that Section 3 may apply to any act of rebellion or insurrection. The debate now is whether Jan. 6 qualifies as such an act.

Proponents of Trump’s disqualification say that it does and that the case against the former president is straightforward: Trump swore to uphold the Constitution as president but then broke that vow when he instigated the Jan. 6 “insurrection,” making him unfit for office under Section 3.

The provision doesn’t require a criminal conviction, said U.S. Representative Adam Schiff, a Democrat and a staunch Trump critic.

“It just requires that you engage in these [insurrection] acts,” Schiff said recently on MSNBC. “It’s a disqualification from holding office again. And it fits Donald Trump to a T.”

Opponents disagree that Jan. 6 rises to the level of an insurrection. They note Section 3 was added in response to a real rebellion.

“But it is notable that Trump has not been charged even with incitement, let alone rebellion or insurrection,” said Jonathan Turley, a conservative law professor at The George Washington University, Wednesday on Fox News.

Derek Muller, a law professor and election law expert at University of Notre Dame, said the dispute in part hinges on what acts count as insurrection.

“If you’re making a comparison to the Civil War, what happened on January 6th was certainly not at that level, but are there lesser acts that could fit this?” Muller said.

Another question concerns the role of Congress in disqualifying individuals. Some scholars have argued that Section 3 is not “self-executing,” meaning it needs an act of Congress to be implemented.  But others say no such action is needed.

“I don’t have strong thoughts on those questions, but I think they’re the things that people are wondering about, whether or not it applies in the context of what happened today,” Muller said.

The courts will decide

The legal challenges to Trump’s candidacy are just beginning to make their way through the courts and eventually may end up before the Supreme Court.

Secretaries of state from Democratic-leaning states such as Colorado and Michigan say they’ll await court guidance before taking action. But the courts may not weigh in soon.

“I think a lot of state courts will be very reluctant to hear these claims early,” Muller said.

This is not the first time a major presidential candidate has faced legal challenges over his eligibility.

Barack Obama in 2008 and Ted Cruz in 2016 faced lawsuits over questions regarding whether they were “natural born citizens,” a requirement for presidency.

Obama was born in Hawaii to a Kenyan father and American mother. Cruz was born in Canada to a Cuban father and American mother.

But the lawsuits didn’t reach the “merits” stage to address the key question — was the candidate a natural born citizen? — as they ground through procedural hurdles.

A similar fate may await the legal challenges to Trump’s candidacy, Muller said.

“Many of these cases will continue the same way, hitting all those barriers before they get to the heart of the question: Did you participate in an insurrection or rebellion?” Muller said. 

US Lawmakers Have 10 Working Days to Keep the Government Open

US lawmakers face a long list of priorities as they return to work this week after their monthlong August recess. With battles looming over U.S. aid to Ukraine and a possible impeachment of President Joe Biden, the top concern remains funding the U.S. government to keep it from shutting down on Oct. 1. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more.

Prosecutors Seeking New Indictment for Hunter Biden

Federal prosecutors plan to seek a grand jury indictment of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter before the end of the month, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

The filing came in a gun possession case in which Hunter Biden was accused of having a firearm while being a drug user, though prosecutors did not name exactly which charges they will seek. He has also been under investigation by federal prosecutors for his business dealings.

Prosecutors under U.S. Attorney for Delaware David Weiss, newly named a special counsel in the case, said they expect an indictment before Sept. 29.

Hunter Biden’s lawyers, though, argued that prosecutors are barred from filing additional charges under an agreement the two sides previously reached in the gun case. It contains an immunity clause against federal prosecutions for some other potential crimes. Defense attorney Abbe Lowell said Hunter Biden has kept to the terms of the deal, including regular visits by the probation office.

“We expect a fair resolution of the sprawling, five-year investigation into Mr. Biden that was based on the evidence and the law, not outside political pressure, and we’ll do what is necessary on behalf of Mr. Biden to achieve that,” he said in a statement.

Prosecutors have said that the gun agreement is dead along with the rest of the plea agreement that called for Hunter Biden to plead guilty to misdemeanor tax offenses. It fell apart after U.S. District Judge Maryellen Noreika raised questions about it during a court appearance in July.

The Justice Department did not have immediate comment.

News of a possible new indictment comes as House Republicans are preparing for a likely impeachment inquiry of President Biden over unsubstantiated claims that he played a role in his son’s foreign business affairs during his time as vice president.

“If you look at all the information we have been able to gather so far, it is a natural step forward that you would have to go to an impeachment inquiry,” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., told Fox News recently.

The younger Biden has been the target of congressional investigations since Republicans gained control of the House in January, with lawmakers obtaining thousands of pages of financial records from various members of the Biden family through subpoenas to the Treasury Department and various financial institutions. Three powerful House committees are now pursuing several lines of inquiry related to the president and his son.

And while Republicans have sought to connect Hunter Biden’s financial affairs directly to his father, they have failed to produce evidence that the president directly participated in his son’s work, though he sometimes had dinner with Hunter Biden’s clients or said hello to them on calls.

In recent months, Republicans have also shifted their focus to delving into the Justice Department’s investigation of Hunter Biden after whistleblower testimony claimed he has received special treatment throughout the yearslong case.

Hunter Biden was charged in June with two misdemeanor crimes of failure to pay more than $100,000 in taxes from over $1.5 million in income in both 2017 and 2018. He had been expected to plead guilty in July, after he made an agreement with prosecutors, who were planning to recommend two years of probation. The case fell apart during the hearing after Noreika, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, raised multiple concerns about the specifics of the deal and her role in the proceedings.

If prosecutors file a new gun possession charge, it could run into court challenges. A federal appeals court in Louisiana ruled against the ban on gun possession by drug users last month, citing a 2022 gun ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court.

News of another indictment comes after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland named Weiss a special counsel, giving him broad authority to investigate and report out his findings and intensifying the investigation into the president’s son ahead of the 2024 election.

The White House Counsel’s office referred questions to Hunter Biden’s personal attorneys. 

Politicians, Officials Reflect on Death of Bill Richardson

Politicians and officials are sharing memories and reflections on the life of Bill Richardson following news of his death on Saturday.

The two-term governor of the U.S. state of New Mexico, who served as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and worked to free detained Americans, died in his sleep at his home in Chatham, Massachusetts. He was 75.

In a statement Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden said Richardson wore many weighty titles during his life – member of Congress, governor, ambassador, Cabinet secretary.

“He seized every chance to serve and met every new challenge with joy, determined to do the most good for his country, his beloved New Mexico, and Americans around the world,” Biden said in the statement. “Few have served our nation in as many capacities or with as much relentlessness, creativity, and good cheer. He will be deeply missed.”

Richardson, the son of a Mexican mother and an American father, attempted to become the first Hispanic American U.S. president but dropped out of the 2008 race when it became clear that he did not have a chance of winning. He then endorsed Barack Obama.

“As a member of Congress, a Cabinet member, a Governor, and as an Ambassador, Bill Richardson was one of the most distinguished public servants of our time,” Obama posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.  “He was a tireless diplomat, the type of advocate who brought a glimmer of hope – and in many cases freedom – to those Americans detained abroad under the most trying circumstances.”

Richardson represented northern New Mexico in Congress for 14 years and served as the U.S. energy secretary under President Bill Clinton.

“He was a masterful and persistent negotiator who helped make our world more secure and won the release of many individuals held unjustly abroad,” Clinton said in a statement. “He was also a trailblazer whose career helped pave the path for other Latino Americans to serve at the highest levels of American government.”

In 2002, he was elected governor of New Mexico, a post he held for two terms, from 2003 to 2011.

During his congressional tenure and afterward, Richardson earned a reputation as a skilled negotiator, after gaining the release of a number of Americans after meeting at different times with foreign leaders that included Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro and officials in North Korea and Myanmar.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said, “Governor Richardson dedicated his life to public service and worked tirelessly to release Americans held hostage overseas.”

Texas AG’s Impeachment Trial Rests With Fellow Republicans

Billionaires, burner phones, alleged bribes: The impeachment trial of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is going to test the will of Republicans senators to oust not only one of their own, but a firebrand who has helped drive the state’s hard turn to the right for years. 

The historic proceedings set to start in the state Senate Tuesday are the most serious threat yet to one of Texas’ most powerful figures after nine years engulfed by criminal charges, scandal and accusations of corruption. If convicted, Paxton — just the third official in Texas’ nearly 200-year history to be impeached — could be removed from office. 

Witnesses called to testify could include Paxton and a woman with whom he has acknowledged having an extramarital affair. Members of the public hoping to watch from the gallery will have to line up for passes. And conservative activists have already bought up TV airtime and billboards, pressuring senators to acquit one of former President Donald Trump’s biggest defenders. 

“It’s a very serious event but it’s a big-time show,” said Bill Miller, a longtime Austin lobbyist and a friend of Paxton. “Any way you cut it, it’s going to have the attention of anyone and everyone.” 

Deepens division in party

The build-up to the trial has widened divisions among Texas Republicans that reflect the wider fissures roiling the party nationally heading into the 2024 election. 

At the fore of recent Texas policies are hardline measures to stop migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, battles over what is taught in public schools, and restrictions on LGBTQ+ rights — many of which are championed loudest in the Senate, where Republicans hold a dominant 19-12 majority and have Paxton’s fate in their hands. 

The Senate has long been a welcoming place for Paxton. His wife, Angela, is a state senator, although she is barred from voting in the trial. Paxton also was a state senator before becoming attorney general in 2015 and still has entanglements in the chamber, including with Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, who will preside over the trial and loaned $125,000 to Paxton’s reelection campaign. 

If all 12 Democrats vote to convict Paxton, they would still need at least nine Republicans on their side. Or the Senate could vote by a simple majority to dismiss the charges altogether. It was a GOP-dominated House that decided by an overwhelming majority that Paxton should be impeached. 

“You’re seeing a fracture within the party right now,” said Matt Langston, a Republican political consultant in Texas. “This is going to impact the leadership and the party for a long time.” 

The trial also appears to have heightened Paxton’s legal risks. The case against him largely centers on his relationship with Nate Paul, an Austin real estate developer who was indicted this summer after being accused of making false statements to banks to secure $170 million in loans. 

Last month, federal prosecutors in Washington kicked a long-running investigation of Paxton into a higher gear when they began using a grand jury in San Antonio to examine his dealings with Paul, according to two people with knowledge of the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of secrecy rules around grand jury proceedings. The grand jury’s role was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman. 

Chris Toth, the former executive director of the National Association of Attorneys General, said Paxton has for years weathered scandals unique among top state lawyers. He said the outcome of the trial will send a message about what is acceptable to elected officials across the country. 

Impeachment managers in the GOP-controlled Texas House filed nearly 4,000 pages of exhibits ahead of the trial, including accusations that Paxton hid the use of multiple cellphones and reveled in other perks of office. 

“There’s very much a vile and insidious level of influence that Ken Paxton exerts through continuing to get away with his conduct,” Toth said. 

Comparison to Trump

Part of Paxton’s political durability is his alignment with Trump, and this was never more apparent than when Paxton joined efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Like Trump, Paxton says he is a victim of politically motivated investigations. 

But James Dickey, a former chairman of the Republican Party of Texas, said the base of the GOP sees Paxton’s impeachment as different from legal troubles facing Trump. 

“Exclusively, the actions against President Trump are from Democrat elected officials and so it can’t avoid having more of a partisan tone,” he said. “Therefore, Republican voters have more concern and frustration with it.” 

Patrick, in a rare television interview last month, was explicit in what the trial is and is not. 

“It’s not a criminal trial. It’s not a civil trial,” he told Houston television station KRIV. “It’s a political trial.” 

US Election Workers Getting Death Threats, Warnings They Will Be Lynched, Officials Say

More than a dozen people nationally have been charged with threatening election workers by a Justice Department unit trying to stem the tide of violent and graphic threats against people who count and secure the vote.

Government employees are being bombarded with threats even in normally quiet periods between elections, secretaries of state and experts warn. Some point to former President Donald Trump and his allies repeatedly and falsely claiming the 2020 election was stolen and spreading conspiracy theories about election workers. Experts fear the 2024 election could be worse and want the federal government to do more to protect election workers.

The Justice Department created the Election Threats Task Force in 2021 led by its public integrity section, which investigates election crimes. John Keller, the unit’s second in command, said in an interview with The Associated Press that the department hoped its prosecutions would deter others from threatening election workers.

“This isn’t going to be taken lightly. It’s not going to be trivialized,” he said. “Federal judges, the courts are taking misconduct seriously and the punishments are going to be commensurate with the seriousness of the conduct.”

Two more men pleaded guilty Thursday to threatening election workers in Arizona and Georgia in separate cases. Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department would keep up the investigations, adding, “A functioning democracy requires that the public servants who administer our elections are able to do their jobs without fearing for their lives.”

The unit has filed 14 cases and two have resulted in yearslong prison sentences, including a 2 1/2-year sentence Monday for Mark Rissi, an Iowa man charged with leaving a message threatening to “lynch” and “hang” an Arizona election official. He had been “inundated with misinformation” and now “feels horrible” about the messages he left, his lawyer Anthony Knowles said.

A Texas man was given 3 1/2 years earlier this month after suggesting a “mass shooting of poll workers and election officials” last year, charges stated. In one message, the Justice Department said, the man wrote: “Someone needs to get these people AND their children. The children are the most important message to send.” His lawyer did not return a message seeking comment.

One indictment unveiled in August was against a man accused of leaving an expletive-filled voicemail after the 2020 election for Tina Barton, a Republican who formerly was the clerk in Rochester Hills, Michigan, outside Detroit. According to the indictment, the person vowed that “a million plus patriots will surround you when you least expect it” and “we’ll … kill you.”

Barton said it was just one of many threats that left her feeling deeply anxious.

“I’m really hopeful the charges will send a strong message, and we won’t find ourselves in the same position after the next election,” she said.

Normally, the periods between elections are quiet for the workers who run voting systems around the U.S. But for many, that’s no longer true, said Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, a Democrat who has pushed back against conspiracy theories surrounding elections.

“I anticipate it will get worse as we end this year and go into the presidential election next year,” Griswold said.

Griswold said the threats come in “waves,” usually following social media posts by prominent figures about false claims the 2020 election was stolen or blog posts on far-right websites. While the nation is more informed about the threats to election workers, she worries that there haven’t been enough prosecutions and states haven’t taken enough action to protect workers.

“Do we have the best tools to get through the next period of time? Absolutely not,” Griswold said.

Election officials note that there have been thousands of threats nationwide yet relatively few prosecutions. They say they understand the high bar to actually prosecute a case but that more could be done.

Liz Howard, a former Virginia election official now at the Brennan Center for Justice’s elections and government program, called on the Justice Department to hire a senior adviser with existing relationships with election officials to improve outreach.

About 1 in 5 election workers know someone who left their election job for safety reasons and 73% of local election officials said harassment has increased, according to a Brennan Center survey published in April.

The task force has reviewed more than 2,000 reports of threats and harassment across the country since its inception, though most of those cases haven’t brought charges from prosecutors who point to the high legal bar set by the Supreme Court for criminal prosecution. Communication must be considered a “true threat,” one that crosses a line to a serious intent to hurt someone, in order to be a potential crime rather than free speech, Keller said.

“We are not criminalizing or frankly discouraging free speech by actions that we’re taking from a law enforcement perspective,” he said.

The task force’s work is unfolding at a time when Trump and other Republicans have accused the Biden administration of using the Justice Department to target political opponents, although the task force itself hasn’t been targeted publicly by Republicans.

Many GOP leaders have sharply criticized the federal prosecutions of Trump and of rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and Trump himself faces a federal indictment in Washington, D.C., and a state indictment in Georgia over his efforts to overturn 2020 election results. He has denied wrongdoing and said he was acting within the law. A series of federal and state investigations and dozens of lawsuits have not uncovered any evidence the election was rigged.

Trump is the front-runner for the GOP nomination for president in 2024 and continues in his speeches and online posts to argue the 2020 election was rigged.

For many election workers, the threats have been a major driving factor to leave the job, hollowing out the ranks of experience ahead of 2024, said Dokhi Fassihian, the deputy chief of strategy and program at Issue One, a nonpartisan reform group representing election officials.

About 1 in 5 election officials in 2024 will have begun service after the 2020 election, the Brennan Center survey found.

“Many are deciding it’s just not worth it to stay,” Fassihian said. 

Biden Heads to Florida to Survey Storm Damage; No DeSantis Meeting Set

U.S. President Joe Biden heads to Florida on Saturday to survey damage caused by Hurricane Idalia and comfort people affected by the storm, but he will not be meeting Ron DeSantis, the state’s Republican governor and a potential presidential rival.

Biden, a Democrat, told reporters on Friday he would see the governor during the trip, but DeSantis’s spokesman Jeremy Redfern said later that no meeting was planned and that “the security preparations alone that would go into setting up such a meeting would shut down ongoing recovery efforts.”

DeSantis, 44, is running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination to oust Biden from the White House but trails former President Donald Trump in polls. Biden, 80, is running for re-election.

Biden and DeSantis have spoken regularly through the week about the storm, which pummeled Florida’s Big Bend region with Category 3 winds of nearly 200 kph (125 mph). On Wednesday the president said politics had not crept into their conversations. “I think he trusts my judgment and my desire to help,” Biden said.

The White House said that Biden, who is traveling with his wife, Jill, informed DeSantis about the visit during a conversation on Thursday, and that the governor did not raise concerns then. 

“Their visit to Florida has been planned in close coordination with FEMA as well as state and local leaders to ensure there is no impact on response operations,” White House spokesperson Emilie Simons said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

DeSantis has been a sharp critic of Biden, and the two have clashed over COVID-19 vaccines, abortion and LGBTQ rights. But they met last year when Biden went to Florida to assess the devastation from Hurricane Ian. Biden said at the time that they had worked together “hand-in-glove.”

DeSantis may not want to be photographed with Biden overlooking storm damage now as the Republican presidential primary race intensifies. Although he trails Trump, DeSantis leads the other Republican candidates in the race.

Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is also running for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, drew criticism for his praise of President Barack Obama in 2012 when the Democrat visited his state in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

Biden visited Hawaii last week in the aftermath of deadly fires there and said on Wednesday that no one could deny the climate crisis in light of the extreme weather. He is slated to travel to his home state of Delaware for the weekend after concluding the Florida trip.

Proud Boy Convicted of Helping Spearhead Jan. 6 Attack Sentenced to 18 Years

A one-time leader in the Proud Boys far-right extremist group has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, tying the record for the longest sentence in the attack. 

Ethan Nordean was one of several members convicted of spearheading an attack on the U.S. Capitol to try to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 presidential election. 

Nordean was “the undisputed leader on the ground on January 6,” said prosecutor Jason McCullough. Prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence the Seattle-area chapter president to 27 years. 

He was one of two Proud Boys sentenced Friday. Dominic Pezzola was convicted of smashing a window at the U.S. Capitol in the building’s first breach on January 6, 2021. As he walked out of the courtroom after being sentenced to 10 years in prison, Pezzola defiantly declared “Trump won!”

The highest ranking Proud Boy convicted after a monthslong trial earlier this year, Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio, is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday. 

Prosecutors said Nordean’s words and online postings grew increasingly violent leading up to January 6, 2021. On that day, he led a group of nearly 200 men toward the Capitol, then moved to the front of the mob and helped tear down a fence, allowing rioters to enter the grounds, according to court documents. 

Defense attorneys have argued there was no plan to storm the Capitol that day and pushed back against the idea that Nordean tore down the fence or that his rhetoric was specifically about Jan. 6. Nordean, 33, of Auburn, Washington, says he now sees Jan. 6 as a “complete and utter tragedy.” 

“There is no rally or political protest that should hold value over human life,” he said. “To anyone who I directly or even indirectly wronged, I’m sorry.” 

The sentence was handed down by U.S. District Judge Timothy Kelly, who also sentenced Pezzola earlier in the day. 

Pezzola, 46, took a police officer’s riot shield and used it to smash the window, allowing rioters to make the first breach into the Capitol, and later filmed a “celebratory video” with a cigar inside the building, prosecutors said. He was a recent Proud Boys recruit, however, and a jury acquitted him of the most high-profile charge, seditious conspiracy, a rarely brought Civil War-era offense. He was convicted of other serious charges, and prosecutors had asked for 20 years in prison. 

“He was an enthusiastic foot soldier,” prosecutor Erik Kenerson said. 

Kelly noted that Pezzola, of Rochester, New York, was a newcomer to the group who didn’t write the kind of increasingly violent online messages that his co-defendants did leading up to the Jan. 6 attack. Still, he was in some ways a “tip of the spear” in allowing rioters to get into the Capitol, said the judge, who decided to apply a terrorism enhancement to the sentence. 

“The reality is you smashed that window in and let people begin to stream into the Capitol building and threaten the lives of our lawmakers,” the judge told Pezzola. “It’s not something that I ever dreamed I would have seen in our country.” 

‘Caught up in the craziness’

Defense attorneys had asked for five years for Pezzola, saying that he got “caught up in the craziness” that day. 

Pezzola testified at trial that he originally grabbed the officer’s shield to protect himself from police riot control measures, and his lawyers argued that he broke only one pane of glass and that other rioters smashed out the rest of the window. 

He told the judge that he wished he’d never crossed into a restricted area on January 6, and he apologized to the officer whose shield he took. “There is no place in my future for groups or politics whatsoever,” he said. 

But later, as he left the courtroom, he raised a fist and said, “Trump won!” 

Former President Donald Trump and his allies have repeatedly and falsely claimed the 2020 election was stolen. A series of federal and state investigations and dozens of lawsuits have not uncovered any evidence the election was rigged. 

More than 600 convicted

Two other Proud Boys convicted at trial were sentenced Thursday. Joseph Biggs, an organizer from Ormond Beach, Florida, got 17 years, the second-longest sentence so far in the January 6 attack. Zachary Rehl, a leader of the Philadelphia chapter, got 15 years, the third longest. The sentencings come after the Proud Boys trial that laid bare far-right extremists’ embrace of lies by Trump, a Republican, that the 2020 election was stolen from him. 

More than 1,100 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. More than 600 of them have been convicted and sentenced. 

The longest January 6-related prison sentence so far is 18 years for Stewart Rhodes, founder of another far-right extremist group, the Oath Keepers. Six members of that anti-government group also were convicted of seditious conspiracy after a separate trial last year. 

US Senate Republican Leader McConnell Briefly Freezes at Event

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell appeared to briefly freeze and be unable to answer a reporter’s question during an event in Kentucky on Wednesday, weeks after he had a similar episode in Washington. 

According to video from a local news station, the 81-year-old was asked whether he would run for reelection in 2026. The senator asked the reporter to repeat the question before trailing off and staring straight ahead for about 10 seconds. 

A woman standing at the front of the room with McConnell asked him whether he heard the question, and she repeated it. When McConnell did not answer, she announced to the room that “we’re going to need a minute.” McConnell eventually answered two additional questions — though not the one about a 2026 campaign — and was halting and appeared to have some difficulty speaking. The woman then ended the news conference and McConnell left the room, walking slowly. 

McConnell’s reaction was similar to an earlier incident when he froze for about 20 seconds at a news conference in the Capitol in late July. He went back to his office with aides and then returned to answer more questions. 

The latest incident in Covington, Kentucky, on Wednesday adds to the questions in recent months about McConnell’s health and whether the Kentucky Republican, who was first elected to the Senate in 1984 and has served as Republican leader since 2007, will remain in his leadership post. 

His office said afterward that McConnell was feeling “momentarily lightheaded” and would see a physician before his next event. Similarly, after the July episode, aides said McConnell was lightheaded. McConnell told reporters several hours later that he was “fine.” Neither McConnell nor his aides have given any further details about what happened. 

In March, McConnell suffered a concussion and a broken rib after falling and hitting his head after a dinner event at a hotel. He did not return to the Senate for almost six weeks. He has been using a wheelchair in the airport while commuting back and forth to Kentucky. Since then, he has appeared to walk more slowly and his speech has sounded more halting. 

McConnell had polio in his early childhood, and he has long acknowledged some difficulty as an adult in climbing stairs. In addition to his fall in March, he also tripped and fell four years ago at his home in Kentucky, causing a shoulder fracture that required surgery. 

Judge Holds Giuliani Liable in Georgia Election Worker Defamation Case; Orders Him To Pay Fees

A federal judge on Wednesday held Rudy Giuliani liable in a defamation lawsuit brought by two Georgia election workers who say they were falsely accused of fraud, entering a default judgment against the former New York City mayor and ordering him to pay tens of thousands of dollars in lawyers’ fees.

U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell said the punishment was necessary because Giuliani had ignored his duty as a defendant to turn over information requested by election workers Ruby Freeman and her daughter, Wandrea’ ArShaye Moss, as part of their lawsuit.

Their complaint from December 2021 accused Giuliani, one of Donald Trump’s lawyers and a confidant of the former Republican president, of defaming them by falsely stating that they had engaged in fraud while counting ballots at State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

The ruling enables the case to move forward to a trial in federal court in Washington to determine any damages that Giuliani must pay. He will have a “final opportunity” to produce the requested information, known under the law as discovery, or face additional sanctions if he fails to do so.

In the meantime, Howell said, Giuliani and his business entities must pay more than $130,000 in attorneys’ fees and other costs.

“Donning a cloak of victimization may play well on a public stage to certain audiences, but in a court of law this performance has served only to subvert the normal process of discovery in a straight-forward defamation case, with the concomitant necessity of repeated court intervention,” Howell wrote.

Ted Goodman, a political adviser to Giuliani, said in a statement that the judge’s ruling “is a prime example of the weaponization of our justice system, where the process is the punishment. This decision should be reversed, as Mayor Giuliani is wrongly accused of not preserving electronic evidence that was seized and held by the FBI.”

Last month, Giuliani conceded that he made public comments falsely claiming the election workers committed ballot fraud during the 2020 election, but he contended that the statements were protected by the First Amendment.

Viral Singer Scoffs at Republicans Who ‘Act Like We’re Buddies’

Oliver Anthony, the previously unknown singer whose Rich Men North of Richmond went viral and topped the charts over the past week, hit out Friday at politicians, particularly on the right, for co-opting his message.

In a more than 10-minute clip posted on YouTube, the songwriter from Virginia reflected on his breakout success, and said that “the one thing that has bothered me is seeing people wrap politics up in this.”

“It’s aggravating seeing people on conservative news try to identify with me like I’m one of them,” he said. “It’s aggravating seeing certain musicians and politicians act like we’re buddies and act like we’re fighting the same struggle here, like we’re trying to present the same message.”

Rich Men North of Richmond overtook megastars Taylor Swift, Morgan Wallen and Olivia Rodrigo to snag the top spot on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, with 17.5 million streams and nearly 150,000 downloads in less than a week.

The track invokes the argument that Americans in the south and rural areas have been left behind by rich elites farther north.

In his lyrics Anthony leans into issues of long hours for little pay with high taxes.

He also picks up talking points that have persisted since the business-friendly, pro-austerity Ronald Reagan years, namely against the welfare state.

Anthony had previously insisted that his political views are down the middle.

In his clip posted Friday he scoffed that his song was used during the opening of this week’s debate between Republican presidential hopefuls.

“I wrote that song about those people. So for [the Republican candidates] to have to sit there and listen to that, that cracks me up,” he says.

“That song has nothing to do with Joe Biden. It’s a lot bigger than Joe Biden. That song was written about the people on that stage — and a lot more, not just them, but definitely them.”

Anthony also spoke to critics on the left who accused him of ridiculing welfare and the poor.

He said his stanza about the “obese milking welfare” spoke to an article he read about individual food subsidies going toward snack foods.

“If we can fuel a proxy war in a foreign land, but we can’t take care of our own, that’s all the song is trying to say,” Anthony said. “That the government takes people who are needy and dependent and makes them needy and dependent.”

In the video he choked up while saying he cares about connecting with people, not topping charts.

He also promised more music to come: “I’m going to write, produce and distribute authentic music that represents people and not politics.” 

Republican Candidates Sharply Divided on Support for Ukraine

Republican hopefuls in the 2024 presidential race held their first debate Wednesday evening, vying to appear the toughest on China and sharply divided over US support for Ukraine in its war against Russian invaders. The GOP nomination front-runner, former President Donald Trump, was not onstage, but experts told VOA that he still left his imprint on foreign policy issues. VOA’s Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Cindy Saine reports.

Republican Presidential Candidates, Minus Trump, Spar Sharply

Eight Republicans who want to be president of the United States shared a stage Wednesday night in Wisconsin for their party’s first debate ahead of next year’s election. VOA’s chief national correspondent Steve Herman was on the scene and has more from Milwaukee.
Camera: Adam Greenbaum

Trump Likely to Upstage Opponents Even If Absent From Debate

The first big event of the 2024 presidential election campaign in the United States will be held Wednesday when candidates of the Republican Party meet on a debate stage. The story from VOA’s chief national correspondent Steve Herman in Milwaukee. VOA footage by  Adam Greenbaum and Steve Herman

Trump to Skip Republican Debate, NY Times Says

Former U.S. President Donald Trump plans to skip the first Republican primary debate next week and instead sit for an online interview with former Fox News host Tucker Carlson, The New York Times reported, citing people briefed on the matter.

Trump has for months suggested that he would likely pass on Wednesday night’s debate in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, arguing that it did not make sense to give others a change to attack him given his sizeable lead among Republicans in national polls.

Trump has also criticized Fox, which is hosting the debate, over its recent coverage of him.

Trump’s absence could mean Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a distant second in the polls, will become the focus of attacks from other candidates looking to position themselves as the primary alternative to the former president.

Trump campaign spokesperson Steven Cheung said nothing had been confirmed on the candidate’s debate plans, without elaborating.

Representatives for Fox, which parted ways earlier this year with Carlson, and the Republican National Committee could not immediately be reached for comment. Carlson, who now is starting his own media company, also could not be reached.

In the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll released this month, Trump held 47% of the Republican vote nationally, with DeSantis dropping 6 percentage points from July down to just 13%. None of the other candidates due to attend the debate have broken out of single digits.

Trump’s rivals for the Republican presidential nomination ahead of the 2024 election will gather at the debate to tout their candidacies, but so far only a few have aggressively criticized Trump despite his mounting legal troubles.

Trump has an Aug. 25 deadline to voluntarily surrender in Fulton County, Georgia, after being charged this week in a fourth criminal indictment, for an alleged scheme intended to reverse his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

Most self-identified Republicans polled in June said they saw politics behind the indictments of Trump up to that point.

Trump also faces two federal indictments over his handling of classified documents after leaving office in January 2021 and over his alleged role in efforts to overturn his election loss.

He also faces charges in New York over alleged hush money payments to a pornographic film star ahead of the 2016 election.

Trump Cancels Press Conference on Election Fraud Claims

Former U.S. President Donald Trump now says he won’t be holding a press conference next week to unveil what he claims is new evidence of fraud in the 2020 election in Georgia, citing the advice of his lawyers.

No compelling evidence of the wide-scale fraud Trump alleges has emerged in the 2½ years since the election. Republican officials in the state — where three recounts confirmed Trump’s loss to President Joe Biden — have long said he lost legitimately.

“Rather than releasing the Report on the Rigged & Stolen Georgia 2020 Presidential Election on Monday, my lawyers would prefer putting this, I believe, Irrefutable & Overwhelming evidence of Election Fraud & Irregularities in formal Legal Filings as we fight to dismiss this disgraceful Indictment,” he wrote on his social media site Thursday evening. He added, “Therefore, the News Conference is no longer necessary!”

Trump had announced that he would be holding the event hours after a grand jury voted to charge him and others in a sweeping alleged conspiracy to illegally overturn the results of the 2020 election and stop the peaceful transition of power.

He had said he would use the “major News Conference” at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club Monday morning to release what he claimed was an “almost complete” report, adding, “Based on the results of this CONCLUSIVE Report, all charges should be dropped against me & others – There will be a complete EXONERATION!”

Federal and state election officials and Trump’s own attorney general have said there is no credible evidence that the election was tainted. The former president’s allegations of fraud were also roundly rejected by courts, including by judges Trump appointed.

In Georgia, the state at the center of his latest indictment, three recounts were conducted after the election — each of which confirmed his loss to Biden.

Trump advisers had long urged him to spend less time airing his grievances about the 2020 election and more time focused on his plans for the future.

Trump also has been warned to watch his public comments. The federal judge overseeing the election conspiracy case brought against him in Washington last week warned the former president that there are limits to what he can publicly say about evidence in the investigation as he campaigns for a second term in the White House.

The judge said that the more “inflammatory” statements are made about the case, the greater her urgency will be to move quickly to trial to prevent witness intimidation or jury pool contamination.

“I will take whatever measures are necessary to safeguard the integrity of the case,” she said.

Trump’s continued claims of fraud in Georgia had drawn criticism from state’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, whom Trump had tried to lobby as part of his efforts to overturn his loss in the battleground state.

“The 2020 election in Georgia was not stolen. For nearly three years now, anyone with evidence of fraud has failed to come forward – under oath – and prove anything in a court of law,” Kemp wrote on X, the site formerly known as Twitter.

Former Vice President Mike Pence, whom Trump had tried to pressure to unilaterally overturn the results of the election and is now challenging Trump for the Republican nomination, echoed that message.

“The Georgia election was not stolen, and I had no right to overturn the election on January 6th,” he said this week.

Explaining Four Trump Indictments

Former President Donald Trump’s legal woes keep mounting.

On Monday, prosecutors in the southern U.S. state of Georgia unveiled a new indictment, charging Trump and 18 others in connection with efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.

This is the fourth indictment against Trump in less than five months — two at the state level and two at the federal level. The former president is now facing 91 criminal charges, ranging from falsifying business records in New York to seeking to subvert the 2020 presidential election.

Many of the charges carry hefty prison sentences of 10 to 20 years if convicted. Trump, who is 77, could spend the rest of his life in prison if found guilty of one or more of the charges and sentenced.

“At his age, any conviction of any count could be a terminal sentence,” Jonathan Turley, a Washington University law professor, said in a recent interview with VOA.

But a conviction is not a foregone conclusion. And even if he is, he could receive a presidential pardon or have his sentence commuted to some lesser form of punishment.

He has pleaded not guilty in the three earlier cases in New York, Florida, and Washington, D.C., and has until August 25 to surrender to authorities in Georgia.

Trump’s legal troubles have not dented his dominance as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. But with at least two criminal trials looming next year, the criminal cases will likely cast a long shadow over the presidential race, as well as the news headlines.

Here is a look at the four indictments against Trump.

Hush money payment

Announced in March, this case made Trump the first and only former American president to be charged with crimes.

On March 30, a Manhattan grand jury indicted him on 34 counts of falsifying business records in connection with paying off an adult film star in 2016.

In an unprecedented scene, Trump surrendered to authorities five days later and was arraigned in a Manhattan courthouse.

His lawyers sought to move the case from New York state court to federal court, arguing that his alleged conduct in the case was related to his official duties as president. But in July, a federal judge rejected the argument, setting the stage for a trial in a state court. It is scheduled for March 25, 2024.

Classified documents

Brought by special counsel Jack Smith, this case marked the first federal indictment of an American president, sitting or former.

The case grew out of Smith’s monthslong investigation of Trump’s handling of government secrets after he left the White House in January 2021.

On June 8, a grand jury in Miami indicted Trump on 37 felony counts, including 31 counts of illegally retaining national defense information, and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice. Trump’s valet, Walt Nauta, was also charged. Trump was arraigned on June 13.

In late July, prosecutors unveiled three additional charges and added another co-defendant to the case — Mar-a-Lago maintenance worker Carlos De Oliveira. 

Among the new charges, Trump and his two aides are accused of asking another employee to “delete security camera footage at the Mar-a-Lago Club to prevent the footage from being provided to a federal grand jury.”

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the new charges.

The trial in the case is set to begin May 20, 2024, in Fort Pierce, Florida. 

The trial date, set by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon, was a compromise between a request by prosecutors to schedule the trial for December and Trump’s request to put it off until after the presidential election.

2020 election

In what many see as historically the most significant case against Trump, this federal indictment is focused on the former president’s alleged efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election.

On August 1, Smith issued a four-count indictment charging Trump with three conspiracy counts and one obstruction count in connection with the scheme.

The indictment stemmed from the Justice Department’s massive investigation of the January 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol by a mob of Trump supporters.

On August 3, the former president appeared in Washington, D.C., before a federal magistrate judge, who gave prosecutors one week to propose a trial date. In a subsequent filing, prosecutors proposed January 2, 2024, as the start date of Trump’s trial.

Last week, the federal judge overseeing the case, Tanya Chutkan, issued a protective order forbidding Trump from publicly discussing “sensitive” materials turned over to the defense. She set a hearing for August 28 to set a trial date.

Trump has complained that he can’t get a fair trial in Washington, a Democratic-leaning city.

A judge would have to approve a change of venue request, and it remains unclear if it will be granted.

Georgia election interference

Announced on Monday, the charges in this case grew out of a yearslong investigation by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis into efforts by Trump and his allies to reverse Georgia’s 2020 election results.

The investigation was triggered by a now-infamous January 2, 2021, phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which Trump asked Raffensperger to help “find” the votes he needed to win the state.

But the probe expanded as investigations examined alleged efforts by Trump supporters to appoint a slate of fake presidential electors, make baseless claims about election fraud before the Georgia legislature, harass election workers and steal election equipment data.

The 41-count indictment stands out from the other three against Trump, as it names 19 co-defendants, including the former president, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, lawyers Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, and 30 unindicted co-conspirators.

The 97-page indictment accuses the group of conspiring to participate in a “criminal organization” to keep Trump in power.

Trump is charged with 13 counts. And while not every defendant faces the same charges, they all stand accused of violating one count of Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO.

If convicted of the racketeering charge, Trump and his co-defendants could face five to 20 years in prison.

Willis said Monday that she’ll seek to try all 19 defendants together.

Implications for presidential bid

Although the outcome of the charges remains uncertain, there is a consensus among legal experts that even if convicted, Trump can still run for president. 

The U.S. Constitution sets forth three key requirements for presidential candidates: They must be natural-born American citizens, at least 35 years old and residents of the United States for no less than 14 years. However, the Constitution is silent on the question of criminal records or convictions of candidates.

That means Trump could run for president as a convicted felon or even from behind bars, as Eugene V. Debs, a presidential candidate representing the Socialist Party, did more than a century ago.