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Biden Slammed for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

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Biden Slammed as Weak for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

US President Biden has been slammed as weak after Viktor Bout, the Russian arms dealer was exchanged for WNBA star Brittney Griner. Bout is widely known abroad as the “Merchant of Death,” fueling some of the world’s worst conflicts.

In Russia, however, he’s seen as a swashbuckling businessman who was unjustly imprisoned after an overly aggressive U.S. sting operation. In 2008, one of the world’s leading illegal arms dealers was apprehended in Thailand on suspicion of supplying weapons to a Colombian rebel group.

Victor Bout is a former Soviet air force officer who gained fame supposedly by supplying weapons for civil wars in South America, the Middle East and Africa.

The 41-year-old former Russian KGB officer allegedly sold weapons to anyone willing to pay, including Taliban forces and various warring factions in more than a dozen African countries.

Biden Slammed for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement the swap took place in Abu Dhabi, and Russian TV showed a video of Bout in a private jet, getting his blood pressure checked and speaking with his family by phone.

It later showed his arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, with his wife and mother hugging him.

“They simply woke me up and told me to gather my belongings,” Bout said, referring to U.S. prison officials. “They didn’t provide any special information, but I understood the unfolding situation.”

Tass reported that Bout’s mother, Raisa, thanked President Vladimir Putin and the Foreign Ministry for freeing her son.

Russia had pushed for Bout’s release for years, and as speculation about a deal grew, the upper house of parliament opened a display of paintings he created while imprisoned, ranging from Soviet dictator Josef Stalin to a kitten.

The show of his art underlined Bout’s complexities. Though in a bloody business, the 55-year-old was a vegetarian and classical music fan who is said to speak six languages.

Even the former federal judge who sentenced him in 2011 to 11 years in prison was sufficient punishment.

“He’s done enough time for what he did in this case,” Shira A. Scheindlin told The Associated Press in July as prospects for his release appeared to rise.

Biden Slammed for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

Griner, arrested in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport after vape canisters containing cannabis oil were discovered in her luggage, was sentenced to nine years in August.

Washington protested her sentence as disproportionate, and some observers suggested that trading an arms merchant for someone jailed for a small number of drugs would be a poor deal.

Bout was convicted in 2011 on terrorism charges. Prosecutors said he was willing to sell weapons worth up to $20 million, including surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down US helicopters. When they claimed at his sentencing in 2012, Bout yelled, “It’s a lie! ”

Bout has maintained his innocence throughout, describing himself as a legitimate businessman who did not sell weapons.

Bout’s case fits well into Moscow’s narrative that Washington sought to trap and oppress innocent Russians on flimsy grounds.

“From the resonant Bout case, a real ‘hunt’ by Americans for Russian citizens around the world has unfolded,” the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta wrote last year.

Biden Slammed for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

Russia has increasingly cited his case as a human rights issue. His wife and lawyer claimed his health deteriorated in the harsh prison environment where foreigners are not always eligible for breaks that Americans might receive.

Bout had not been scheduled to be released until 2029. He was held in a medium-security facility in Marion, Illinois.

“He got a hard deal,” said Scheindlin, the retired judge, noting the U.S. sting operatives “put words in his mouth” so he’d say he was aware Americans could die from weapons he sold to require a terrorism enhancement that would force a long prison sentence, if not a life term.

Scheindlin gave Bout the mandatory minimum 25-year sentence but said she did so only because it was required.

At the time, his defence lawyer claimed the U.S. targeted Bout vindictively because it was embarrassing that his companies helped deliver goods to American military contractors involved in the war in Iraq.

The deliveries took place despite UN sanctions imposed on Bout in 2001 due to his reputation as a notorious illegal arms dealer.

Prosecutors had urged Scheindlin to sentence Bout to life in prison, claiming that if he was right to call himself a businessman, “he was a businessman of the most dangerous order.”

Biden Slammed for Viktor Bout, Brittney Griner Exchange

When Bout was arrested in Bangkok, Thailand, in March 2008, his net worth was estimated to be around $6 billion. Authorities in the United States duped him into leaving Russia for what he thought was a business meeting to ship what prosecutors described as “a breathtaking arsenal of weapons — including hundreds of surface-to-air missiles, machine guns, and sniper rifles — 10 million rounds of ammunition, and five tons of plastic explosives.”

He was apprehended at a Bangkok luxury hotel following conversations with Drug Enforcement Administration informants posing as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, also known as the FARC. Washington had classified the group as a narco-terrorist group.

He was extradited to the U.S. in November 2010.

A high-ranking Foreign Office minister bestowed the moniker “Merchant of Death” on Bout. The nickname was mentioned in Bout’s indictment by the US government.

Biden was Slammed as weak on Twitter.

Critics slammed the Biden administration’s deal to bring WNBA player Brittney Griner back to the United States after she was sentenced to nine years in a Russian prison on drug-related charges.

In addition to critics claiming Russian President Vladimir Putin gained an advantage in this deal by regaining control of its “Merchant of Death,” they chastised Biden for failing to return U.S. Paul Whelan, a Marine veteran.

Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018 on espionage charges and is serving a 16-year sentence.

On Twitter, critics slammed the entire transaction, with some calling it the worst trade they’d ever seen.

In a Thursday morning tweet, Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy slammed the trade, writing, “This is great news until you Google Victor Bout and realizes Biden just got taken to the woodshed on this deal. This has to go down as the most lopsided trade in history. What happened to Griner was beyond f—-ed, but this feels like a short-sighted PR stunt.”

Sports journalist and conservative podcaster Jason Whitlock was not impressed with the trade either, commenting, “Help me wrap my mind around this Griner-for-Death trade.

Is this one of the lowest points in US foreign policy history, or am I exaggerating? Please provide some context: what compares? Bay of BIG 2.0?”

“While it’s nice that Griner is home,” former CIA member John Sipher tweeted, “we need to be honest. This is playing Putin’s game. Bout was an actual criminal charged through a credible legal process recognized worldwide. Griner was a hostage taken to extort us.”

RedState author Bonchie tweeted, “To accomplish this, you put a murderous arms dealer back on the street and left the US Marine who has been there three years out of the deal. Griner shouldn’t have been sentenced to nine years, but bragging like this? That’s pretty gross.”

National Review correspondent Jim Geraghty slammed President Biden’s tweet promoting the swap. He tweeted, “And all it cost the U.S. was putting the world’s most notorious arms dealer, with a near-ocean of blood on his hands, who equipped armies of child soldiers and sold weapons to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, back on the metaphorical streets.”

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Supreme Court Restores Trump To Ballot, Rejecting State Attempts To Ban Him Over Capitol Attack

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Trump Facing 37 Felony Charges, Indictment Unsealed

Washington — On Monday, the Supreme Court overwhelmingly reinstated Donald Trump on the 2024 presidential primary ballot, rejecting state attempts to bar the Republican former President over the Capitol brawl.

The judges concluded a day before the Super Tuesday primaries that states cannot use a post-Civil War constitutional provision to exclude presidential candidates from appearing on ballots. That authority rests with Congress, the court wrote in an unsigned ruling.

On his social media network, Trump said shortly after the ruling was announced, “BIG WIN FOR AMERICA!!!”

The case constituted the court’s first direct ruling on a presidential election issue in a generation, dating back to Bush v. Gore in 2000. However, it is unlikely to be the last, as Trump is facing four distinct criminal charges and has another Supreme Court appearance scheduled for April.

The verdict puts a stop to efforts in Colorado, Illinois, Maine, and other states to remove Trump, the front-runner for his party’s nomination, from the ballot due to his plans to recoup his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, culminating in the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold expressed dismay with the court’s judgment, noting that “Donald Trump is an eligible candidate in Colorado’s 2024 Presidential Primary.”

Trump’s case was the first before the Supreme Court to address a section of the 14th Amendment created after the Civil War to prohibit former officeholders who “engaged in insurrection” from holding office again.

Donald Trump is facing four criminal indictments and a civil suit. You can keep track of all the cases here.

Colorado’s Supreme Court ruled, in a first-of-its-kind decision, that the provision, Section 3, may be applied against Trump, whom the court said incited the Capitol attack. No court had before applied Section 3 to a presidential candidate.

In their judgments on Monday, the judges avoided the politically charged question of insurrection.

The court ruled that states can disqualify applicants for state office. “But States have no power under the Constitution to enforce Section 3 with respect to federal offices, especially the Presidency,” the court stated in its ruling.

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Supreme Court Restores Trump To Ballot, Rejecting State Attempts To Ban Him Over Capitol Attack

While all nine justices agreed that Trump should be on the ballot, the three liberal members of the court and conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett disagreed that their colleagues went too far in determining what Congress must do to disqualify someone from federal office.

Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Ketanji Brown Jackson agreed that upholding the Colorado decision could result in a “chaotic state-by-state patchwork,” but disagreed with the majority’s conclusion that a disqualification for insurrection can only occur when Congress enacts legislation. “Today, the majority goes beyond the necessities of this case to limit how Section 3 can bar an oathbreaking insurrectionist from becoming President,” the three justices wrote in a unanimous judgment.

It is still being determined whether the verdict allows Congress to refuse to certify Trump’s or any other presidential candidate’s election if it believes they violated Section 3.

Derek Muller, a legal professor at the University of Notre Dame, said, “It appears no,” noting that the liberals objected to the majority opinion eliminating any other options for Congress to implement the rule. Rick Hasen, a legal professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, said that Congress’s boundaries could be clearer.

Hasen was among those who urged the court to resolve the issue so that Congress would not reject Trump under Section 3 when electoral votes are counted on January 6, 2025.

“We may well have a nasty, nasty post-election period in which Congress tries to disqualify Trump but the Supreme Court says Congress exceeded its powers,” he warned in an email.

Both sides had asked for quick action from the court, which heard arguments less than a month ago, on February 8. The justices were preparing to decide in Trump’s favour.

Trump had been removed from the ballots in Colorado, Maine, and Illinois, but all three verdicts were on hold until a Supreme Court decision.

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Supreme Court Restores Trump To Ballot, Rejecting State Attempts To Ban Him Over Capitol Attack

The lawsuit is the court’s most direct participation in a presidential election since Bush v. Gore, which effectively gave the 2000 election to Republican George W. Bush. And it’s just one of several cases involving Trump that could affect his chances of reelection, including a late April hearing on whether he can be criminally prosecuted on election interference charges, including his role in the January 6 Capitol attack. Trump has claimed ultimate protection from prosecution. The timing of the high court’s intervention has sparked speculation that Trump will be tried before the November election.

The hearings in February marked the first time the high court heard a case utilizing Section 3. The two-sentence rule, intended to prevent some Confederates from gaining office again, states that those who breach oaths to support the Constitution are forbidden from holding different posts, including congressional seats or acting as presidential electors. However, it makes no specific reference to the presidency.

Both conservative and liberal judges questioned the case against Trump. Their primary worry was whether Congress should intervene before states could invoke the 14th Amendment. There were also disputes over whether the provision covers the President.

The lawyers for Republican and independent voters who sued to remove Trump’s name from the Colorado ballot argued that there is ample evidence that the events of January 6 constituted an insurrection, which was incited by Trump, who had urged a crowd of his supporters at a rally outside the White House to “fight like hell.” They claimed it would be ludicrous to apply Section 3 to everything except the presidency or that Trump is somehow exempt. They contended that the provision does not require any enabling legislation.

Following the verdict, the President of the liberal-leaning organization that represented the voters cited the court’s silence on whether Trump incited the revolt. “They had the opportunity to exonerate Donald Trump, but they did not do so,” said Noah Bookbinder of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

trump

Supreme Court Restores Trump To Ballot, Rejecting State Attempts To Ban Him Over Capitol Attack

Trump’s lawyers made various points on why the Amendment cannot be used to take him off the ballot. They claimed the January 6 disturbance was not an insurrection and that, even if it was, Trump did not go to the Capitol or join the rioters. They further stated that the Amendment’s text excludes the presidency and presidential contenders. They asserted that even if all of those reasons failed, Congress must approve legislation to resurrect Section 3.

The case was resolved by a court that included three Justices Trump chose as President. They have considered other Trump-related issues in recent years, rejecting his spurious accusations of fraud in the 2020 election and refusing to protect tax information from Congress and New York prosecutors.

The 5-4 judgment in Bush v. Gore, issued more than 23 years ago, was the last time the court became so involved in presidential politics. Only Justice Clarence Thomas remains on the bench from that time. Thomas has rebuffed requests from several Democratic senators to withdraw from the Trump lawsuit since his wife, Ginni, supported Trump’s effort to reverse the 2020 election results and attended the rally preceding Trump supporters’ assault of the Capitol.

SOURCE – (AP)

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Haiti Declares State Of Emergency After Mass Prison Escape

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Haiti’s government announced a state of emergency on Sunday after thousands of inmates reportedly escaped from the country’s largest jail during a spike of gang violence that has rocked the Caribbean nation for months.

According to a statement from Finance Minister Patrick Boisvert, who is acting prime minister, the government cited “deterioration of security,” particularly in the capital Port-au-Prince, and “increasingly violent criminal acts perpetrated by armed gangs,” including kidnappings and killings of citizens, violence against women and children, and looting.

haiti

Haiti Declares State Of Emergency After Mass Prison Escape

It also referenced Saturday’s attacks by armed groups on the country’s two major prisons, one in Port-au-Prince and one in Croix des Bouquets, which resulted in the escape of “dangerous prisoners” and the deaths and injuries of police and prison workers.

According to a United Nations source, some 3,500 detainees fled Haiti’s National Penitentiary in Port-au-Prince over the weekend.

The source stated that there were 3,687 convicts in prison. The UN mission in Haiti monitors the country’s jailed population and the humanitarian conditions in its prisons.

According to Haitian lawyer Arnel Remy, who heads the Collective of Lawyers for the Defense of Human Rights in Haiti (CADDHO), 3,597 convicts escaped from the National Penitentiary. CNN cannot independently verify CADDHO’s data.

Remy claimed his team visited the prison on Sunday and told CNN that the remaining convicts are being sent to other facilities, and the prison is now vacant and encircled by police cars.

The Haitian Ministry of Communication claimed in a statement Sunday that police confronted “heavily armed criminals seeking at any cost to free people from custody” and were “unable to prevent the criminals from freeing a large number of prisoners.” The violence damaged multiple inmates and prison officials, according to the report.

On Friday, Haitian gang leader Jimmy Cherizier, popularly known as Barbecue, stated that he will continue to try to remove Prime Minister Ariel Henry.

“We urge the Haitian National Police and military to accept accountability and arrest Ariel Henry. Once again, the population is not our adversary, and armed groups are not your enemy. You capture Ariel Henry for the sake of the country’s liberation,” Cherizier stated, adding, “With these weapons, we will liberate the country and alter the country.”

Cherizier is a former police officer who now controls a gang alliance. The United Nations and the US Department of Treasury have sanctioned him.

Public dissatisfaction with Henry’s inability to quell the unrest reached a boiling point when he refused to resign last month, citing the rising violence.

According to an earlier agreement, he agreed to hold elections and relinquish authority by February 7.

haiti

Haiti Declares State Of Emergency After Mass Prison Escape

Caribbean leaders announced Wednesday that Henry has decided to hold general elections by August 31, 2025.

Earlier, in a post on X, one of Haiti’s police unions appealed for all officers in the capital to have access to automobiles and guns to support authorities in their efforts to keep control of the prison. It warned that if the attacks succeeded, “we’re done.” According to the statement, no one will be spared in the capital since there will be an additional 3,000 bandits.

Multiple security sources in Port-au-Prince told CNN that the most recent rise in violence, which began on Thursday and has targeted police stations, the international airport, and the prison, is unprecedented in recent memory.

The recent fighting occurred while Henry was visiting Kenya to discuss plans with Kenyan President William Ruto for the expected deployment of a multinational security support force to Haiti.

A Haitian law enforcement source told CNN that gangs have targeted various police stations throughout the city since Thursday, murdering at least four people and burning some of them down.

Meanwhile, a shooting near the airport on Thursday caused airlines to cancel flights.

The US Embassy in Haiti issued a security notice Friday, warning of gunfire and traffic interruptions between the domestic and international terminals, as well as other sites such as a hotel and the Central Directorate of the Judicial Police.

haiti

Haiti Declares State Of Emergency After Mass Prison Escape

In a statement sent Sunday, the embassy asked US people to leave the country due to violence and stated that it would operate on a restricted basis on Monday. The French Embassy in Haiti suspended visa and administration services on Monday.

In recent years, Haiti has experienced widespread turmoil and gang violence.

Warring gangs dominate much of Port-au-Prince, cutting off essential supplies to the rest of the country. Gang members have also tormented the urban area, forcing over 300,000 residents to evacuate their homes amid waves of indiscriminate slaughter, kidnapping, arson, and rape.

In January alone, about 1,100 people were killed, injured, or kidnapped, making it the most violent month in two years, according to the UN.

SOURCE – (CNN)

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LeBron James Reaches 40,000 Points To Extend His NBA Career Scoring Record

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Los Angeles (AP) — LeBron James scored 40,000 points on Saturday night, continuing to dominate in his 21st NBA season as he strives to break the career scoring record.

With 10:39 remaining in the second quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers’ 124-114 loss to the Denver Nuggets, James drove past Michael Porter Jr. and hit the historic layup.

“Being the first player to do something, it’s pretty cool in this league, just knowing the history, the greats that’s come through the league, and then you see some of the greats on the floor tonight, it was great to compete,” he added. “But for me, the main thing, as always, is to win, and I hated that it had to happen in a defeat.”

james

LeBron James Reaches 40,000 Points To Extend His NBA Career Scoring Record

James did it in 1,475 regular-season games, scoring double digits in the last 1,205. He has largely avoided major injuries while also playing another 3 1/2 seasons’ worth of playoff games on his way to four titles in ten NBA Finals appearances, all while under unfathomable pressure to be the next transcendent player before ever stepping on the court as a professional.

“For the first time in a long time, I’ve seen the commercial played before my first game,” he stated. “I believe they mentioned all of the greatest basketball players of all time, including Big O, Michael, Kareem, and Kobe, and then forgot who else was in the commercial. And then it was like, “Next one, LeBron James.”

“I didn’t see that commercial when it aired, but when I saw it today, I was like, what the hell? That expectation for an 18-year-old kid was absurd to consider.”

Despite these expectations, James worked hard and accomplished something almost unattainable.

James’ unrelenting march saw him break Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s record of 38,387 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder on February 7, 2023.

All of that scoring occurred without James intending it to be his hallmark. He is fourth in career assists with 10,847, including nine against Denver, and his average of 7.35 per game is among the top 25.

Nuggets coach Michael Malone, who worked with James as an assistant for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 2005 to 2010, noted James’ early focus in all areas. It was already a priority for James to be in prime physical shape, even if the run to the scoring title was unexpected for them.

“I remember being in Cleveland, him being in the weight room with our weight and strength coaches, and there’s no way he’s doing what he’s doing at this stage of his career if he is not putting a ton of time into his body, his diet, his sleep, all those things that really matter,” Malone told reporters before the game.

James’ endurance and continued excellence make it quite possible that he will be the only player to attain 40,000 points.

To put the accomplishment into context, Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic will need to average 25 points over his next 1,057 appearances to join James at 40,000 points. That would be nearly 13 full seasons without an injury or other unforeseen scenario, and the two-time MVP would have continued to produce far until the age of 41.

james

LeBron James Reaches 40,000 Points To Extend His NBA Career Scoring Record

Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic is the most likely contender to make a major run since his career average of 28.51 points per game ranks third in league history behind Michael Jordan (30.12) and Wilt Chamberlain (30.07). However, Doncic will need to keep it up for 1,022 more games to match James, which, assuming no interruptions, will push the timeframe into the 2036-37 season.

“There’s just certain things that you just don’t think will happen,” he remarked. For years, many said Kareem’s record couldn’t be broken. I was able to outperform it. But, as I previously stated, you must have extremely good luck, play the game at a high level for an extended period, and then we will see.

As for whether James will ever join the 50,000-point club, a conservative estimate of 25 points per game from now on — essentially matching what he has been producing in his 21st professional season at 39 years old — while playing 55 games each season would put him there in 2031-32.

Malone would not rule anything out.

james

LeBron James Reaches 40,000 Points To Extend His NBA Career Scoring Record

“When you step back, you can’t help but wonder at the longevity. However, he is not having fun with this. “He is playing well,” Malone remarked. “I’m confident he’ll make that decision in five or six years. ‘Do I still play effectively?’ “And he is.”

If anyone would dare to take on the impossible, it could only be King James.

“I come to work and prepare and prep, mentally, physically, spiritually every night when it’s time to play, and I just try to go out and contribute,” he said. “I’ve been able to do that for over 20 years, including this year. When I get on the floor and feel good, I can make plays.

“I can still accomplish the same things I did ten years ago. And other things I was doing 20 years ago, which is strange to admit.”

SOURCE – (AP)

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