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The Guardian

Judge concludes hearing on Trump grand jury report without a decision – as it happened

By Chris Stein in Washington,

Donald Trump<br>FILE - In this Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks on the telephone with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington. In the background is a portrait of former President Andrew Jackson which Trump had installed in the first few days of his administration. President Donald Trump may have raised eyebrows over a series of racist tweets in July 2019 but it's not the first time a U.S. president has sparked attention for racist gestures. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) Photograph: Alex Brandon/AP

9.00pm GMT

Closing summary

A judge in Atlanta heard arguments over whether to release a special grand jury’s report into Donald Trump ’s attempt to overturn Joe Biden ’s election win in the state three years ago, but made no decision. In Washington, lawmakers are digesting news that classified documents turned up at former vice president Mike Pence ’s residence in Indiana, as they have at properties linked to Biden and Trump. Will attorney general Merrick Garland appoint yet another special counsel to investigate the matter? Will documents be discovered in the hands of even more former White House occupants? It’s too soon to say, but one thing’s for sure: this story won’t be going away anytime soon.

Here’s what else happened today:

8.58pm GMT

With not one, but three former White House occupants in hot water for having stashes of classified documents that they should not have, some in Washington think it’s time to take a look at how the government manages its secrets.

That includes the Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer , who said he supports a review of the government’s classification system. Here are his brief comments, from CNN:

8.43pm GMT

There has been much reacting on Capitol Hill to news that Mike Pence had classified documents at his home.

Republican lawmakers have generally defended Pence, saying they doubt he did anything wrong. Senator Lindsey Graham is among that group, but he also seemed to indicate that he believed Joe Biden made the same mistake with the secret materials found at his properties:

Meanwhile, the Senate intelligence committee is planning to meet on Wednesday with director of national intelligence Avril Haines , and Republican senator Marco Rubio said the classified document scandal is sure to come up:

Separately, attorney general Merrick Garland was asked about the affair, including whether he would name a special counsel to investigate the documents at Pence’s house, as he did for those found at Biden and Donald Trump ’s properties.

His answer was no surprise:

8.22pm GMT

As chair of the House oversight committee, James Comer is a leader of the Republican investigation campaign against the Biden administration – including the president’s possession of classified documents.

He has sent demands to multiple government agencies for more details about the documents found in the president’s residence and former office, and who may have had access to them. But when news broke that Republican former vice president Mike Pence also had classified material in his home, Comer released a statement displaying a softer touch. Here’s what he had to say:

Former Vice President Mike Pence reached out today about classified documents found at his home in Indiana. He has agreed to fully cooperate with congressional oversight and any questions we have about the matter. Former Vice President Pence’s transparency stands in stark contrast to Biden White House staff who continue to withhold information from Congress and the American people.

7.15pm GMT

The day so far

A judge in Atlanta heard arguments over whether to release a special grand jury’s report into Donald Trump ’s attempt to overturn Joe Biden ’s election win in the state three years ago, but made no decision. In Washington, lawmakers are digesting news that classified documents turned up at former vice president Mike Pence ’s residence in Indiana, as they have at properties linked to Biden and Trump. Will attorney general Merrick Garland appoint yet another special counsel to investigate the matter? Will documents be discovered in the hands of even more former White House occupants? It’s too soon to say, but one thing’s for sure: this story won’t be going away anytime soon.

Here’s what else has been going on today:

6.55pm GMT

No decision yet as judge concludes hearing on Trump grand jury report

At the conclusion of a 90-minute hearing, an Atlanta judge did not rule on whether to release a special grand jury’s report into the campaign from Donald Trump and his allies to overturn Joe Biden ’s election win in Georgia.

“This is not simple. I think the fact that we had to discuss this for 90 minutes shows that it is somewhat extraordinary,” Fulton county superior court judge Robert McBurney said. “Partly what’s extraordinary is what’s at issue here, the alleged interference with a presidential election.”

“My proposal is that I think about this a little bit and then contact both groups, the district attorney’s office and the intervenors, if I’ve got specific questions for which I’d like more input,” McBurney said, adding that if he does decide to make the report public, he will give notice before doing so. “No one’s going to wake up with the court having disclosed the report on the front page of the newspaper.”

Several media organizations had asked McBurney to release the document, which could lay out whether the jurors believe Trump and his allies committed crimes when they unsuccessfully pressured officials in Georgia to prevent Biden from winning the state’s electoral votes in the 2020 election.

Fani Willis , the Fulton county district attorney who began the investigation, argued against the report’s release, saying, “We want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly, and we think for future defendants to be treated fairly, it is not appropriate at this time to have this report released.”

She also added that “decision are imminent” on the report’s findings.

Updated at 7.00pm GMT

6.25pm GMT

Just two weeks ago, Mike Pence told CBS news he was “confident” no classified materials were taken when he left the White House in January 2021:

Updated at 6.26pm GMT

6.08pm GMT

CBS News reports Mike Pence discovered he had classified documents after an aide found the materials “in recent weeks”:

5.53pm GMT

Politico has obtained more details of the classified documents discovered at Mike Pence’s residence in Indiana.

According to a letter from Pence’s attorney Greg Jacobs to the National Archives, the FBI sent agents to the former vice president’s home on the night of 19 January to collect classified documents found in his safe. Pence wasn’t in town at that time – he was in Washington DC for the anti-abortion March for Life.

Jacobs also said he would turn over four boxes containing “copies of Administration papers” to the Archives on 23 January for them to review for secret material:

5.34pm GMT

Back in Georgia, Fulton county district attorney Fani Willis told the court she does not want the special grand jury’s report released.

“We want to make sure that everyone is treated fairly and we think for future defendants to be treated fairly, it is not appropriate at this time to have this report released,” Willis said in arguments before judge Robert McBurney .

Willis is expected to use the report to decide whether to bring charges against Donald Trump ’s allies or perhaps the former president himself over the attempts to overturn Joe Biden ’s election win in Georgia. She told McBurney that “decisions are imminent.”

5.14pm GMT

Classified documents found at former VP Mike Pence's house

A lawyer for former vice-president Mike Pence found classified documents at his residence in Indiana, CNN reports .

The discovery at Pence’s Carmel, Indiana, home comes as the justice department investigates government secrets found at Joe Biden ’s former office in Washington DC and residence in Delaware, as well as Donald Trump ’s possession of similar material at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Attorney general Merrick Garland has appointed special counsels to handle both men’s cases.

Citing multiple sources, CNN reports that the attorney for Pence, who served as Trump’s vice-president from 2017 to 2021, gave the documents found at his residence to the FBI.

Updated at 5.19pm GMT

5.04pm GMT

Judge Robert McBurney has convened the Fulton county superior court hearing that will decide whether to release the report of the special grand jury that investigated Trump’s election meddling campaign in Georgia.

Follow this blog for the latest, or you can watch the live feed embedded above.

4.47pm GMT

Republican senator Lindsey Graham was one of the witnesses called by the special grand jury investigating the election meddling effort in Georgia.

Georgia’s top election official Brad Raffensperger said that shortly after the 2020 election, the South Carolina lawmaker called him to ask if it was possible to throw out absentee ballots. Graham waged an unsuccessful court battle to avoid testifying before the special grand jury, before finally appearing in November.

CNN reports he does not have much to say about the potential release of the panel’s report:

4.28pm GMT

Atlanta judge to rule on making Trump grand jury report public

A judge in Atlanta will at 12 pm eastern time convene a hearing to determine whether to release a special grand jury’s report into attempts by Donald Trump and his allies to meddle in the outcome of the 2020 presidential election in Georgia.

The jurors have recommended making the report public, and Fani Willis , the district attorney in Fulton county, which encompasses Georgia’s capital, is using its findings to determine whether to bring charges in the investigation, which has centered on the attempts by top Trump allies like attorney Rudy Giuliani and senator Lindsey Graham to convince state officials to overturn Joe Biden ’s victory in the state. It’s unclear if Willis is considering charges against Trump in the case. Attorneys for the former president said yesterday they will not attend the hearing, and that Trump has not committed any crimes.

Follow this blog for the latest from the hearing.

4.17pm GMT

US considering providing tanks to Ukraine

The United States is leaning towards sending its Abrams M1 tank to Ukraine, both in a bid to bolster its government’s fight against Russia and to convince Germany to send its own Leopard 2 tanks, the Wall Street Journal reports .

The weapons delivery represents an attempt by Washington to resolve the question of sending tanks to Ukraine, one of the few issues splitting the coalition of western countries that came to Kyiv’s defense since Russia invaded last year. Despite pressure from its allies, Germany has yet to commit to send the Leopard 2, and so the Biden administration is considering sending the Abrams M1 tank in hopes of convincing them. The Pentagon has previously demurred on delivering the massive armored vehicle, arguing its needs for fuel and other logistics will hamper its effectiveness.

Here’s more from the Journal’s report:

The shift in the U.S. position follows a call on Jan. 17 between President Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in which Mr. Biden agreed to look into providing the Abrams tanks against the judgment of the Pentagon. A senior German official said that the issue had been the subject of intense negotiation between Washington and Berlin for more than a week and appeared to be on the way to resolution.

Military officials have argued publicly that the Abrams tanks require a substantial amount of training and logistics support and therefore aren’t appropriate for this moment in the conflict.

In a contentious meeting last week at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, the U.S. and its allies failed to persuade Germany to allow other nations to send German-made tanks, exposing the first serious rift in the alliance that has supported Kyiv.

Previously, the Pentagon had ruled out providing the tanks to Ukraine, saying they were too complicated for the Ukrainians to maintain and operate. But White House and State Department officials were described as being more open to providing Abrams to break the diplomatic logjam holding up Leopard deliveries.

3.57pm GMT

Live Nation’s chief financial officer apologized for the Taylor Swift ticket fiasco, which he blamed on bots:

Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar meanwhile cited her love for music as the reason she pushed for the hearing on the ticket companies’ business practices:

3.40pm GMT

Free Britney America was formed to raise awareness about pop singer Britney Spears’ battle with her now-ended conservatorship . The group now has a new target: Ticketmaster.

Free Britney America will today be protesting outside the US Capitol as the Senate judiciary committee holds its hearing into Ticketmaster and its parents company Live Nation’s business practices.

“Britney Spears regained her freedom on November 12, 2021, yet the question remained: how could one of the world’s most famous artists be forced to perform for audiences of thousands of fans? Our research into Britney’s conservatorship found that Live Nation was a central player in monetizing her abusive conservatorship. Furthermore, we assert that the inordinate power that Live Nation has across the music industry secures a culture of silence around the abuse of Britney Spears and other artists,” the group said in a statement that announced today’s “Fans Unite to Fight Ticketmaster” protest.

3.20pm GMT

Senate opens hearing into ticketing industry after Taylor Swift fiasco

The Senate judiciary committee has begun a hearing on the live event ticketing industry, after Ticketmaster last year bungled sales of tickets to megastar Taylor Swfit ’s latest tour.

“The issues within America’s ticketing industry were made painfully obvious when Ticketmaster’s website failed hundreds of thousands of fans hoping to purchase tickets for Taylor Swift’s new tour, but these problems are not new,” Democratic senator Amy Klobuchar said in a statement last week announcing the hearing. “For too long, consumers have faced high fees, long waits, and website failures, and Ticketmaster’s dominant market position means the company faces inadequate pressure to innovate and improve.”

“American consumers deserve the benefit of competition in every market, from grocery chains to concert venues,” her Republican counterpart senator Mike Lee said.

When ticket's for Swift’s first tour in five years went on sale in November, Ticketmaster’s website crashed , leaving customers for “presale” tickets stranded in line and forcing the cancellation of its public sale. The justice department is reportedly investigating the company in an inquiry that started before the problems with the Swift tour. Ticketmaster meanwhile spent nearly $1.3m on lobbying in 2021, targeting the justice department and Congress’s efforts to regulate its business.

You can watch the hearing live here .

2.56pm GMT

Donald Trump’s foe today – and potentially for many months to come – is an Atlanta prosecutor with a history of taking on organized crime, the Guardian’s Carlisa N. Johnson reports:

An Atlanta prosecutor appears ready to use the same Georgia statute to prosecute Donald Trump that she used last year to charge dozens of gang members and well-known rappers who allegedly conspired to commit violent crime.

Fani Willis was elected Fulton county district attorney just days before the conclusion of the 2020 presidential election. But as she celebrated her promotion, Trump and his allies set in motion a flurry of unfounded claims of voter fraud in Georgia , the state long hailed as a Republican stronghold for local and national elections.

Willis assumed office on 1 January 2021, becoming the first Black woman in the position. The next day, according to reports, Trump called rad Raffensperger, the Georgia secretary of state, urging him to “find” the nearly 12,000 votes he needed to secure a victory and overturn the election results.

The following month, Willis launched an investigation into Trump’s interference in the state’s general election. Now, in a hearing on Tuesday , the special purpose grand jury and the presiding judge will decide whether to release to the public the final report and findings of the grand jury that was seated to investigate Trump and his allies.

Related: Could Trump be charged for racketeering? A Georgia prosecutor thinks so

2.37pm GMT

Today may be a big day for Donald Trump, and not in a good way, the Guardian’s Chris McGreal reports:

A judge in Atlanta will hear legal arguments today to determine if he should make public a Georgia grand jury’s report into whether former president Donald Trump committed criminal offences when he tried to overturn the results of the 2020 election in the state.

Before the special purpose grand jury was dissolved two weeks ago after months of hearings, its members recommended releasing its findings while the Fulton county district attorney who launched the investigation, Fani Willis, decides whether to press charges against Trump.

Legal scholars have said they believe Trump is “ at substantial risk of prosecution ” in Georgia over his attempts to strong-arm officials into fixing the election in his favour when it looked as if the state might decide the outcome of the presidential election. At least 18 other people have been told they also potentially face prosecution, including Trump’s close ally and lawyer, the former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The Fulton county superior court judge who oversaw the grand jury, Robert McBurney, will hear from Willis but not lawyers for Trump, who said on Monday that they will not participate in the hearing. They said that Willis had not sought to interview the former president for the investigation.

“Therefore, we can assume that the grand jury did their job and looked at the facts and the law, as we have, and concluded there were no violations of the law by President Trump,” the lawyers said in a statement.

Related: Trump and allies face legal jeopardy in Georgia over 2020 election interference

2.21pm GMT

While mass shootings such as those that occurred over the past days in California may generate headlines and calls for action, the Guardian’s Oliver Holmes reports gun violence is distressingly common in the United States:

Two horrific killings separated by just a few days have shaken California, but such nightmarish mass shootings cannot be considered abnormal in the US. With a week still left in January, this year there have already been 39 mass shootings across the country, five of them in California.

Reports from the Gun Violence Archive , a not-for-profit research group, show the predictability of American mass shootings. Nearly 70 people have been shot dead in them so far in 2023, according to their data – which classifies a mass shooting as any armed attack in which at least four people are injured or killed, not including the perpetrator.

Broadened out to include all deaths from gun violence, not including suicides, 1,214 people have been killed before the end of the first month of this year, including 120 children. That is likely to increase to tens of thousands by the end of 2023 – the figure for 2022 is 20,200.

In comparison, the latest data from the UK showed that in the course of an entire year ending in March 2022, 31 people were killed by firearms. The UK’s population is 67 million to the US’s 333 million.

Related: ‘Tragedy upon tragedy’: why 39 US mass shootings already this year is just the start

2.04pm GMT

A familiar cycle occurs after American mass shootings, and by all appearances, it’s happening again after the twin massacres in California.

It goes something like this: multiple people are killed by a gunman, as happened in California’s Monterey Park on Saturday and Half Moon Bay on Monday. Joe Biden calls for new restrictions on gun ownership, arguing they could have prevented the killer from getting their hands on a weapon. He’s backed by most, if not all Democrats in Congress, but rejected by most, if not all, Republicans. The demand goes nowhere.

The one exception to that came after last year’s shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, when Democrats managed to win enough Republican votes to get a package of modest gun control measures through Congress. But the legislation was not the ban on assault weapons Biden called on Congress pass, a demand he repeated in the months since , as mass shootings continued. With Republicans now controlling the House of Representatives, it seems even less likely such a measure will get approved.

Updated at 2.08pm GMT

1.44pm GMT

Biden calls to renew assault weapons ban after second mass shooting

Good morning, US politics blog readers. Joe Biden has called for Congress to again pass a ban on assault weapons, after seven people were killed in a mass shooting on Monday on the outskirts of the California town of Half Moon Bay. That was just days after a separate shooter killed 11 people in Monterey Park, a suburb of Los Angeles. Congress passed an assault weapons ban in 1994 that expired 10 years later, and Biden has repeatedly called for renewing it, including after the massacre at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas last year . But many Republicans in Congress oppose such a measure, and just as in the aftermath of previous mass shootings, it seems unlikely to pass.

Here’s what we can expect to happen today:

  • A judge in Atlanta will at 12 pm eastern time convene a hearing to determine whether a special grand jury’s report into Donald Trump ’s campaign to meddle in Georgia’s 2020 election outcome will be made public, upping the legal stakes for the former president.

  • Biden will hold a White House meeting with Democratic congressional leaders at 3 pm, and a reception for new lawmakers at 5:20 pm.

  • White House press secretary Karine Jean Pierre will brief reporters at 1:30 pm, who will likely ask her questions abut the Biden classified document scandal that she will not answer.

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