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Student protesters begin dismantling some tents as negotiations with Columbia University progress

A man walks past Israeli and US flags alongside portraits of Israelis taken hostage by the militant Palestinian group Hamas in front of the pro-Palestinian encampment at Columbia University in New York on April 23, 2024. (CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) -- Columbia University has said they are making “important progress” with representatives of the student encampment on campus as protests calling for the divestment of college and university funds from Israeli military operations have continued to spread on campuses across the country.

The student protests -- some of which have turned into around-the-clock encampments and have led to hundreds of arrests -- have erupted throughout the nation following arrests and student removals at Columbia University in New York City.

“We are making important progress with representatives of the student encampment on the West lawn,” Columbia University said in a statement released early Wednesday, adding that student protesters have committed to dismantling and removing a significant number of tents and that protesters will ensure that those not affiliated with Columbia will leave.

Columbia University also said that student protesters in the encampment have agreed to comply with all requirements of the New York City Fire Department and that encampments have prohibited discriminatory or harassing language.

More than 100 protesters were arrested on April 18 at Columbia University, according to authorities, while others were suspended and removed from campus.

The protests on campus have been largely peaceful, according to school administrators, with some officials, including the NYPD, as well as protesters blaming unaffiliated individuals for instances of violence and offensive rhetoric.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Amid Boeing safety probe, clock ticks on effort to disclose details of 2021 DOJ deal over 737 Max crashes

Photo. Keith Draycott/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- An influential, deep-pocketed suspect under criminal investigation.

Secret negotiations with federal prosecutors to hammer out a deal.

A lack of consultation with victims of the crime.

Those are circumstances attorney Paul Cassell says motivate him into action.

A former federal judge who teaches law at the University of Utah, Cassell is hardly a household name. But his work pursuing justice for crime victims has achieved global notoriety.

In particular, Cassell was instrumental in pulling back the curtain on sex-offender Jeffrey Epstein's non-prosecution agreement, by persuading a federal judge to order the U.S. Department of Justice to turn over its correspondence with defense lawyers that preceded Epstein's so-called "sweetheart deal" in 2007.

"And then through years of litigation it became clear that it was just a monstrous deal giving immunity to all sorts of defendants and to a very significant sex trafficking organization," Cassell said.

Now, Cassell has set his attention on a different kind of case -- the DOJ's 2021 deferred prosecution agreement with Boeing, in a criminal conspiracy to defraud case tied to crashes of Boeing's 737 MAX aircraft. With just a few months remaining before that case could be dismissed, Cassell is pressing for public disclosure of prosecutors' negotiations with Boeing's attorneys.

"Here we are with another well-connected, powerful wealthy defendant who was cutting a sweetheart deal and keeping the victims out of the picture," Cassel said. "We think that the communications between Boeing and the Justice Department will show that Boeing got concessions from the department that nobody else would ever have gotten."

The troubled aerospace giant is facing intense scrutiny following the mid-air blowout of a door plug on an Alaskan Airways flight in January and allegations from whistleblowers, which Boeing has denied, that the company has taken shortcuts that compromised safety.

The Alaskan incident came almost three years to the day since Boeing was charged with conspiring to defraud the United States, for allegedly lying to the Federal Aviation Administration during its evaluation of the 737 MAX aircraft. More than 300 people perished in two MAX crashes, the first in Indonesia in October 2018; the second in Ethiopia five months later.

In the final days of the Trump administration, the DOJ quietly forged an agreement which fined Boeing $243.6 million and required the company to pay $1.77 billion in compensation to its airline customers and $500 million to the victims' beneficiaries. Boeing was also required to disclose any allegations of fraud, cooperate with the government, and avoid committing any felony offense. Subject to those conditions, the DOJ agreed to defer criminal prosecution for three years on the conspiracy charge.

In a "Statement of Facts" filed in the U.S. District Court in Fort Worth, Texas, the government and Boeing pinned the deception on two Boeing technical pilots. The only technical pilot criminally charged was later acquitted by a federal jury. In reaching the agreement with Boeing, the DOJ determined that "the misconduct was neither pervasive across the organization, nor undertaken by a large number of employees, nor facilitated by senior management."

The DOJ's conclusions were seemingly at odds with a report on the design, development and certification of the 737 Max, published four months earlier by a U.S. House committee, which found that "design flaws," "management failures," and a "culture of concealment" contributed to the "chain or errors that led to the crashes."

As with the Epstein deal, federal prosecutors neglected to consult with the victims' families before reaching a deal, a requirement under the Crime Victims' Rights Act.

"Epstein was a strikingly similar situation, so it was very surprising that they hadn't learned their lesson," Cassell said.

Michael Stumo, whose daughter Samya, 24, was killed in the Ethiopian crash, said families from around the world "exploded in outrage" when they learned of the deferred prosecution agreement (DPA). 

"When the corporation is fined, nobody's held accountable. It's just a check written by the corporation," Stumo said. "We need individual accountability."

When Cassell first appeared in December 2021 to assert the victims' statutory rights, the DOJ initially took the position that the families had no valid legal claim, because Boeing was not charged with negligent homicide and the government did not allege that the crashes were caused by the fraudulent conduct.

Attorneys for Boeing wrote that the company "acknowledges and profoundly regrets the inestimable impact of these tragic accidents," but agreed with the government that the victims' had no standing to intervene.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor disagreed, ruling after an evidentiary hearing that the DPA was negotiated in violation of the victims' rights and that Boeing's conspiracy was a direct and proximate cause of the crashes that led to their deaths. 

"In sum, but for Boeing's criminal conspiracy to defraud the FAA, 346 people would not have lost their lives in the crashes," O'Connor wrote.

The Department of Justice has since hosted two conferral sessions for families to express their views to prosecutors, including one meeting attended by Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Yet those positive developments for the families were tempered by Judge O'Connor's subsequent determination that he had no authority to grant any remedies for the government's violation of their rights, because charging decisions and DPA's are solely within the discretion of prosecutors.

An appellate court agreed that Judge O’Connor had no authority to alter or rescind the DPA, but clarified that O’Connor retains authority to ensure that the final outcome is in the public interest and protects victims' rights. The appropriate time for the families to object, the appellate court ruled, would be when, and if, the DOJ seeks to dismiss the case.

The government has until July 7 to decide whether to move to dismiss the criminal case, to extend the agreement, or to proceed with a prosecution.

"If they move on July 7 to dismiss the charges against Boeing, we need to be ready on July 8, to explain why that's not the proper outcome," Cassell said. "The families are pushing. They realize it's an uphill battle to undo a deal that's already been done."

Cassell and other victims' advocates are now engaged in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, trying another path to obtain the communications between the DOJ and Boeing on an expedited timeline. The government says it has so far turned up 184,000 potentially relevant emails and more than 30 terabytes of data related to its investigation of Boeing. But the DOJ says it needs another several weeks to review documents before it can make even an "initial determination" as to which records, if any, will be provided to the victims' families.

Separately, in Chicago federal court, families suing Boeing in connection with the crash in Ethiopia have petitioned a magistrate judge multiple times for permission to share with the DOJ confidential deposition testimony and exhibits they've obtained in discovery from Boeing. They are seeking to provide the documents to the DOJ and Judge O'Connor prior to a final decision on the DPA. Boeing opposed the families’ motion. The DOJ, which is not a party to the civil litigation, filed a letter in support.

"These materials bear directly on the issue of whether or not it is in the public interest to dismiss the pending criminal charge ... that has been filed against Boeing," attorneys for the families argued in a February court filing.

The magistrate has so far rejected the families’ request three times, but has not closed the door on another attempt.

Prosecutors are scheduled to meet with the families of the victims and their attorneys again on Wednesday, for what may be the final opportunity for the families to press their case for criminal prosecution.

Michael Stumo plans to be there, but he says he’s keeping his expectations in check.

"I do not have high hopes," Stumo said

Boeing and the Department of Justice declined ABC News' requests for comment.

The Justice Department launched a criminal investigation into the door plug blowout on the Alaska Airlines flight and is examining whether the company violated the 2021 deferred prosecution agreement, three sources familiar with the situation told ABC News in February.

Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun, who announced he would step down at the end of the year, said after the January incident, "Whatever final conclusions are reached, Boeing is accountable for what happened. An event like this must not happen on an airplane that leaves our factory."

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Dolphin found shot to death on beach with bullets lodged in its brain, spinal cord and heart

Audubon Aquarium Rescue

(NEW YORK) -- A juvenile bottlenose dolphin was found shot to death with bullets lodged in its brain, spinal cord and heart and now authorities are offering a handsome reward for information on who committed the gruesome act.

Authorities from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) received a report on March 13 that a juvenile bottlenose dolphin was found washed ashore on West Mae’s Beach in Cameron Parish, Louisiana, and that it had injuries consistent with being shot by a firearm.

“A member of the public reported the stranding to the Southeast Marine Mammal Stranding Hotline,” read a statement from the NOAA released on Tuesday. “NOAA’s stranding network partner, Audubon Aquarium Rescue, recovered the animal and transported it to the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans for a necropsy.”

The necropsy, or animal autopsy, revealed “multiple bullets lodged in the carcass, including in the brain, spinal cord, and heart of the dolphin,” according to the NOAA, and the animal appeared to have died from the trauma which occurred at, or near, the time of death.

NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement is now actively investigating the death and are asking the public for any information about who may have been involved in the death of the young dolphin with a reward of up to $20,000 for information leading to a criminal conviction or the assessment of a civil penalty.

“Harassing, harming, killing, or feeding wild dolphins is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act,” said the NOAA. “Violations can be prosecuted civilly or criminally and are punishable by up to $100,000 in fines and up to 1 year in jail per violation.”

Anyone with information about this incident should call the NOAA Enforcement Hotline at (800) 853-1964. People can leave tips anonymously but to be eligible for the reward you must include your name and contact information.

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District attorney files response opposing a motion by Scott Peterson’s defense team for DNA testing

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(NEW YORK) -- The district attorney in Stanislaus County, California, has filed new paperwork in court opposing a motion by Scott Peterson’s defense team -- the Los Angeles Innocence Project -- for DNA testing in the murder case of Laci Peterson and Conner Peterson.

In a more than 300-page filing on Monday, the DA’s office addresses the 14 items the defense is requesting DNA testing for and why they say these have already been tested, litigated, are unrelated, or the burden has not been met to retest them.

Last month, Scott Peterson, who was convicted of killing his wife and their unborn son 20 years ago, appeared in court virtually after the Los Angeles Innocence Project filed three motions in the murder case earlier this year, including one seeking evidence from the original trial.

Laci Peterson, who was 27 years old and eight months pregnant, disappeared on Christmas Eve in 2002. Her body was found in San Francisco Bay in April 2003.

Scott Peterson, 51, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder in the death of his wife and second-degree murder in the death of their unborn son. He was convicted in 2004 and sentenced to death in 2005. He was later sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Attorneys with the LA Innocence Project have claimed that Scott Peterson's state and federal constitutional rights were violated, including a "claim of actual innocence that is supported by newly discovered evidence," according to court documents filed in January.

The LA Innocence Project is also seeking DNA testing of more than a dozen items of evidence, including items from the burglary and van fire. A motion seeking a court order directing the testing of the evidence for the presence of DNA will be discussed on May 29.

Scott Peterson is serving a life sentence in San Mateo County’s Mule Creek State Prison.

Scott Peterson, who pleaded not guilty, has long maintained his innocence. His previous attempt for a new trial was denied in December 2022.

In 2020, the California Supreme Court overturned Scott Peterson's death sentence, citing that during the penalty phase, his jury was improperly screened for bias against the death penalty, according to court documents.

He was resentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole in December 2021 and moved off death row from San Quentin State Prison to Mule Creek State Prison in October 2022.

The LA Innocence Project -- which provides pro bono legal services to people incarcerated in Central and Southern California who may have been wrongfully convicted -- previously said in a statement that it is representing Scott Peterson and "investigating his claim of actual innocence."

Scott Peterson's attorney, Pat Harris, previously said in a statement to ABC News that they are "thrilled to have the incredibly skilled attorneys at the LA Innocence project and their expertise becoming involved in the efforts to prove Scott's innocence."

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Ex-cop suspected of killing ex-wife, girlfriend dies from self-inflicted gunshot wound, police say

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(WEST RICHLAND, Wash.) -- A former police officer suspected in the killings of his ex-wife and girlfriend has died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, officials said Tuesday night. The child he was accused of abducting was "uninjured" and taken "safely" into custody, the police added.

Oregon State Police Captain Kyle Kennedy said the suspect -- Elias Huizar -- led Troopers on a chase after a failed traffic stop on the I-5 in Eugene around 2:40 p.m. PT.

There was a gunfire exchange between the suspect and officers, he said. No troopers were hurt in the incident, according to Kennedy.

The suspect continued on, crashed into a commercial vehicle and spun into the median. Huizar then shot himself, authorities said Tuesday night.

The abducted 1-year-old child, Roman Santos, who was previously identified by the authorities as Roman Huizar, was taken "uninjured" and "safely" into custody by OSP troopers, police said.

As police searched for the suspect throughout the day on Tuesday, he was charged with first-degree premeditated murder for allegedly shooting and killing his ex-wife, 31-year-old Amber Rodriguez, outside Wiley Elementary School on Monday afternoon, officials said.

Authorities allege Huizar shot and killed Rodriguez during school dismissal and was waiting behind a portable area where he knew she would be.

Hours later, authorities said they found another homicide victim, "a known associate of the suspect," while serving a search warrant at Huizar's residence. Authorities said in the amber alert for the then-missing child that Huizar was also suspected of killing his girlfriend.

The Amber Alert was issued Monday following the alleged abduction of the 1-year-old. It was canceled late Tuesday afternoon.

On Tuesday morning, police said there was a possible sighting of Huizar in Portland, Oregon, overnight, driving a black sedan. A clerk at a convenience store in the city called 911 just before 1 a.m. to report he believed Huizar had stopped to purchase a drink and had a child in the backseat of the car, Portland police told ABC News. Officers responded but did not locate Huizar, the child or the vehicle until Tuesday afternoon.

Huizar was previously employed by Richland School District as a substitute teacher from Nov. 2021 to June 2023, an official confirmed.

Huizar served as a police officer in Yakima, Washington, from June 2013 to February 2022, the department said. He resigned "immediately following discipline," a spokesperson for the department told ABC News. 

The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the circumstances of the discipline.

"The tragedies we are learning about in West Richland are heartbreaking. Words cannot express the deep sympathy we feel for all affected by these terrible acts of violence," Yakima Police Chief Matt Murray said in a statement. "We remain ready to assist in any way we are able."

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Douglas C-54 plane crashes near river in Fairbanks, Alaska

Oliver Helbig/Getty Images

(FAIRBANKS, Alaska) -- A Douglas C-54 aircraft transporting fuel crashed into a frozen river shortly after takeoff Tuesday in Fairbanks, Alaska, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

Two people were on board the plane, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which is also investigating the incident.

Preliminary information showed that the Part 91 fuel transport flight operated by Alaska Air Fuel crashed into the Tanana River after taking off from Fairbanks International Airport around 10 a.m. local time, officials said.

"The aircraft slid into a steep hill on the bank of the river where it caught fire. No survivors have been located," the Alaska Department of Public Safety said in a statement shortly before 2 p.m. local time.

The NTSB deployed agents to the scene of the crash and will recover the plane, the agency said.

The airport said in a statement that it is cooperating with the investigation.

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Students at NYU, Yale, others face arrests, protests amid calls for Israel divestment

NYPD officers detain pro-Palestinian students and protesters who had set up an encampment on the campus of New York University to protest the Israel-Hamas war, in New York on April 22, 2024. (Alex Kent/AFP via Getty Images)

(NEW YORK) -- Protests calling for the divestment of college and university funds from Israeli military operations have continued to spread on campuses across the country, including Yale University, New York University, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Tufts University and more.

The student protests -- some of which have turned into around-the-clock encampments and have led to hundreds of arrests -- have erupted throughout the nation following arrests and student removals at Columbia University.

More than 100 protesters were arrested on April 18 at Columbia University, according to authorities, while others were suspended and removed from campus.

At New York University, more than 150 pro-Palestinian protesters were arrested on April 22, police said. At Yale, about 45 protesters were charged with misdemeanor criminal trespassing and were arrested on April 22.

The protests on campuses have been largely peaceful, according to school administrators, with some officials and protesters including the NYPD blaming unaffiliated individuals for instances of violence and offensive rhetoric.

Some students have said the on-campus tension have created concerns about safety, which some universities have responded by opting for remote or hybrid learning options.

"Students across an array of communities have conveyed fears for their safety and we have announced additional actions we are taking to address security concerns," said Columbia University President Minouche Shafik. "The decibel of our disagreements has only increased in recent days. These tensions have been exploited and amplified by individuals who are not affiliated with Columbia who have come to campus to pursue their own agendas. We need a reset."

Tensions have been high on college campuses nationwide since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on Oct. 7, when Hamas terrorists invaded Israel. The Israeli military then began its bombardment of the Gaza Strip.

Since Oct. 7, Israeli forces have killed at least 34,183 people and injured 77,143 others in Gaza, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.

In Israel, at least 1,700 people have been killed and 8,700 others injured, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Here's a look at what's happening elsewhere across the country:

Yale University

For the past week, hundreds of student protesters have been advocating for Yale’s divestment from military weapons manufacturers.

"We do have this opportunity as students at an institution like this, that if we can sway our institution to stop investing in weapons manufacturing that is contributing to the deaths of Palestinians, then we can maybe sway a lot of universities -- or at least be a part of a movement, the tide turning against war and for peace," Zoe Kanter, a student protester with Yale Jews For Ceasefire, told ABC News.

The university has policies against occupying outdoor spaces and warned students about the use of law enforcement and disciplinary action, including reprimand, probation, or suspension to clear the space.

University administrators said in a statement to ABC News that it "spent several hours in discussion with student protesters yesterday, offering them the opportunity to meet with trustees" in exchange for clearing the encampment.

Students declined their offer, telling ABC News that their demands are clear: disclose investments and divest money from Israeli weapons manufacturers. Students pointed to successful movements that motivated Yale University to divest from the fossil fuel industry and its holdings in U.S. companies conducting business in South Africa due to the South African government’s apartheid policy.

"It's easy to look back at history and look back at the moral and political conflicts that have gripped the country and the world throughout history and discern what side you would have liked to have been on," said student Elijah Bacal, another member of Yale Jews for Ceasefire. "But the hard thing is to, in the moment, seize on those opportunities to do the right thing and have the courage to stand up for what you think and know is right. I think we are on the right side of history here."

University officials said that many of the students participating in the protests have done so peacefully, but are "aware of reports of egregious behavior, such as intimidation and harassment, pushing those in crowds, removal of the plaza flag, and other harmful acts."

The statement continued: "Yale does not tolerate actions, including remarks, that threaten, harass, or intimidate members of the university’s Jewish, Muslim, and other communities."

Early Monday at 6:30 a.m., almost 50 students were removed and arrested, according to the New Haven Police Department. A group of over 200 protesters later took their place, and the department told ABC News it has no plans to arrest any non-violent protesters.

In a letter to students from President Peter Salovey, he said the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility decided to not recommend a policy of divestment from military weapons manufacturers. The university school did not disclose if or how much the school invests in Israeli military forces.

"The ACIR—a committee of faculty, students, staff, and alumni—arrived at this conclusion after hearing from student presenters and engaging in careful deliberation," Salovey said in the letter. "This is part of a formal process and relies on the university’s guide to ethical investing that has served Yale well for decades. Any member of the Yale community is invited to write to the ACIR or to attend future open meetings. There are available pathways to continue this discussion with openness and civility, and I urge those with suggestions to follow them."

Yale Jews for Ceasefire told ABC News that they would like to see more openness from the administration: "It is impossible for us as a community to make a decision about divestment without transparency and disclosure .. and they weren't open to that," said student Gabriel Colburn, a member of Yale Jews for Ceasefire.

New York University

More than 150 people were arrested at New York University on Monday night, police said.

Students, faculty and others were arrested after school officials asked the New York Police Department for help clearing a plaza on NYU's Manhattan campus, police said. Many of those arrested were "still being processed through the night and most, if not all, will be released," the department said.

"There is a pattern of behavior occurring on campuses across our nation, in which individuals attempt to occupy a space in defiance of school policy," Kaz Daughtry, the NYPD's deputy commissioner for operations, said in a social media post. "Rest assured, in NYC the NYPD stands ready to address these prohibited and subsequently illegal actions whenever we are called upon."

The NYU Palestine Solidarity Coalition -- a group that launched an encampment on campus Monday said -- they were met with "violent arrests of NYU students and faculty members by the NYPD directly facilitated by NYU President Linda Mills," and over 130 students and faculty were arrested, the group said in a statement Tuesday.

The group said over 100 NYU students faculty and community members were released as of 8 a.m. on Tuesday.

"We want to underscore how this event demonstrated on a smaller scale the globalized violence of an institution like NYU," NYU PSC said. "We recognize that this violence reflects institutional desperation to suppress the student movement, resistance and the truth."

According to the university, protesters at NYU on Monday broke through barriers that had been set up around Gould Plaza, a square outside the Stern School of Business, the school's Global Campus Safety department said in a statement.

Protesters began a demonstration in front of the business school "without notice to the university, and without authorization," NYU spokesperson John Beckman said in a statement.

Officials warned those who'd entered the square on Monday that they needed to clear the plaza by 4 p.m.

"If you leave now, no one will face any consequences for today’s actions—no discipline, no police," safety officials said in a message delivered to those in the plaza. That message was also shared on the university's official social media channels.

"The one safety requirement we made was that no additional protesters could enter Gould Plaza," the message said. "With the breach of the barricades early this afternoon, that requirement was violated, and we witnessed disorderly, disruptive, and antagonizing behavior that has interfered with the safety and security of our community."

The university said additional protesters suddenly breached the barriers that had been put in place and joined protesters in the plaza and that "many refused to leave" after being told to disband within an hour.

NYU officials appealed to the NYPD for help, according to a letter shared by Daughtry, the NYPD deputy commissioner.

The NYU PSC said its demands are for NYU to end all war profiteering and investment in what protesters are calling a "genocide," a complete academic boycott of Israel, IOF-trained cops off of campus and that NYU protect free speech on campus and provide full amnesty to all students and faculty penalized for their pro-Palestine activism.

It is unclear if or how much the school invests in the Israeli military.

Harvard suspends Palestine Solidarity Committee

Harvard University suspended the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee, a student group that has been under a spotlight, as debate raged on college campuses around the country.

The group said in a statement that it has faced "unprecedented repression" over the past six months, including doxxing, racist harassment and targeted administrative crackdowns.

"Harvard has shown us time and again that Palestine remains the exception to free speech. After standing idly by as pro-Palestine students faced physical and cyber harassment, death threats and rape threats and racist doxxing, Harvard has now decided to dismantle the only official student group dedicated to the task of representing the Palestinian cause," the group said in a statement to ABC News.

Harvard University has not immediately responded to ABC News' request for comment.

In January, top Harvard officials implemented new guidelines and restrictions for protests on campus amid heightened scrutiny regarding on-campus debate around the Israel-Gaza war, according to student newspaper the Harvard Crimson.

"Harvard can suspend our organization, but it cannot suspend our movement," PSC said.

The group became the center of debates on college campuses after it released a statement on the conflict after the Hamas attack, saying the Israeli regime is "entirely responsible for all unfolding violence" -- the group announced in a post on Instagram Monday.

"Today's events did not occur in a vacuum. For the last two decades, millions of Palestinians in Gaza have been forced to live in an open-air prison. Israeli officials promise to 'open the gates of hell,' and the massacres in Gaza have already commenced. Palestinians in Gaza have no shelters for refuge and nowhere to escape. In the coming days, Palestinians will be forced to bear the full brunt of Israel's violence," the Harvard student groups said in their statement last October, after the Hamas attack.

Tuesday evening, Harvard announced the closure of the Harvard Yard through the end of the week. "Harvard Yard is closed to the public through Friday, April 26," a Harvard web page for visitors read. "During this time no tour groups are permitted in the Yard." The Harvard Crimson noted that the decision was made in anticipation of further protests

Massachusetts universities camp out

Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are also camping out in protest, calling for an end to the university's funding to the Israeli Ministry of Defense that has been captured in past university financial reports, including projects such as "autonomous robotic swarms."

"These are really direct ways in which MIT is complicit in this genocide that's going on," said student protester Quinn Perian, referring to Israel's war in Gaza.

Perian is a member of the MIT Jews for Ceasefire group that is among those protesting on campus: "What we've seen is this community that's formed around our demands that basic human dignity be recognized, as this community of fighting for liberation for all."

In a statement to local news outlet WGBH, MIT said it is "aware of the tents, and are determining next steps with a focus on ensuring the campus is physically safe and fully functioning. MIT Police were on scene throughout the night and will continue to be present.”

MIT has yet to respond to ABC News's request for comment.

Similar encampments have also taken over Tufts University.

In a statement, Tufts spokesperson Patrick Collins told ABC News that officials are "actively and closely monitoring the situation."

"While students are permitted to express their views, including demonstrating on campus, we will hold accountable any community members who engage in conduct that violates university policy," Collins said. "Regarding the students’ demands, our position on this has been clear and consistent for several years: We do not support the BDS movement."

The BDS movement refers to a pro-Palestinian "Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions" movement against Israel's policy in Palestinian territories.

Sanya Desai, a Tufts student and protester, pointed to Tufts's celebration of former student activists who fought for Tuft to withdraw investments related to South African apartheid: "It's very two-faced, and it's very, very much painting an image of being on the right side of history."

The movement against apartheid investments began in 1977 at Tufts and ended in 1989 when the university divested, according to the Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History.

Desai told ABC News she hopes Tufts won't take 12 years to divest in Israeli military operations.

ABC News' Alexandra Faul and Matt Foster contributed to this story.

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Top three takeaways from Day 6 of Trump's hush money trial

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(NEW YORK) -- Day 6 of former President Trump's criminal hush money trial featured testimony from David Pecker, the veteran tabloid editor, who described in detail the "catch-and-kill" arrangement he struck with Trump and his then-attorney Michael Cohen during the 2016 presidential election.

The former president is on trial in New York on felony charges of falsifying business records to hide the reimbursement of a hush money payment Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in order to boost his electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

Here are the top takeaways from Day 6 of Trump's criminal trial.

Pecker delves into 'catch-and-kill' arrangement

David Pecker on Tuesday let jurors in on the secret "catch-and-kill" arrangement at the heart of prosecutors' case, describing the very first story he "caught and killed" pursuant to his agreement with Trump and Cohen: a false story from a Trump Tower doorman in 2015.

The former National Enquirer publisher described the allegation: that "Donald Trump fathered an illegitimate girl with a maid at Trump Tower."

Pecker testified that he "immediately called Michael Cohen" when his team got wind of those allegations being shopped by the doorman, Dino Sajudin.

Cohen told him it was "absolutely not true" -- but Pecker testified that he ultimately moved forward with buying the exclusive rights to the story for $30,000 so he could "lock it up."

Pecker also revealed that his tabloid had never had a "catch-and-kill" agreement with Trump prior to his candidacy for president -- a key piece of testimony as prosecutors seek to connect Trump's efforts to bury negative stories to his electoral ambitions.

Judge weighs whether to hold Trump in contempt

Before trial proceedings got underway Tuesday, Judge Juan Merchan convened a hearing to address whether Trump had violated the judge's limited gag order by targeting prospective witnesses, including Cohen and Daniels.

Judge Merchan expressed skepticism when Trump attorney Todd Blanche defended Trump's social media posts by saying Trump was only responding to attacks.

"You have presented nothing," Merchan said. "I have asked eight or nine times; show me the exact post he was responding to."

"You're losing all credibility with the court," the judge said.

During and after court on Tuesday, Trump assailed Merchan as a "conflicted judge" who is stripping him of his free-speech rights.

It is not clear when Merchan will rule on prosecutors' contempt motion. If Merchan rules against Trump, the former president would likely face a fine.

But if Trump continues to flout the court's orders, Trump could conceivably be sent to short-term confinement -- a scenario that sources told ABC News the U.S. Secret Service has started making contingency plans for.

Karen McDougal will be addressed next

"Karen McDougal was a Playboy model," Pecker said, recalling how he learned in June 2016 "that there's a Playboy model who is trying to sell a story about a relationship that she had with Donald Trump for a year."

Pecker testified that he immediately called Cohen to inform him, and that "Michael was very agitated."

The former publisher then recounted a phone conversation he himself had with Trump.

"I said I think the story should be purchased and we should buy it," Pecker recalled telling Trump. "Mr. Trump said to me, 'I don't buy stories. Anytime you do anything like this, it always gets out.'"

Ultimately, McDougal was paid $150,000 and promised a series of exercise articles in the publication.

The jury was expected to hear more about McDougal upon Pecker's return to the witness stand Thursday.

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Secret Service prepares for potential Trump contempt order in hush money case

Brendan McDermid-Pool/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- The U.S. Secret Service held meetings and started planning for what to do if former President Donald Trump were to be held in contempt in his criminal hush money trial and Judge Juan Merchan opted to send him to short-term confinement, officials familiar with the situation told ABC News.

Merchan on Tuesday reserved decision on the matter after a contentious hearing. Prosecutors said at this point they are seeking a fine.

“We are not yet seeking an incarceratory penalty," assistant district attorney Chris Conroy said, "But the defendant seems to be angling for that."

Officials do not necessarily believe Merchan would put Trump in a holding cell in the courthouse but they are planning for contingencies, the officials said.

There have not been discussions yet about what to do if Trump is convicted and sentenced to prison.

The former president is on trial on felony charges of falsifying business records to hide the reimbursement of a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election.

The Secret Service declined to comment on specific plans in the matter.

"Under federal law, the United States Secret Service must provide protection for current government leaders, former Presidents and First Ladies, visiting heads of state and other individuals designated by the President of the United States," the agency said in a statement. "For all settings around the world, we study locations and develop comprehensive and layered protective models that incorporate state of the art technology, protective intelligence and advanced security tactics to safeguard our protectees. Beyond that, we do not comment on specific protective operations."

Prosecutors argued that Trump violated the limited gag order -- which prohibits statements about witnesses, jurors, and lawyers in the case other than Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg -- on at least 10 separate occasions this month.

Trump's lawyers said prosecutors have not proven that posts Trump made on social media criticizing Cohen and Daniels were willful violations of the gag order, telling Merchan that the former president was defending himself from attacks by the likely witnesses.

Defense lawyers also argued that the gag order is vague and allows Trump to make "political" statements.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


36-year-old rows alone from Hawaii to Australia

Kelli with an Eye Photography

(NEW YORK) -- A Colorado man has completed a four-month rowing journey that saw him travel from Hawaii to Australia alone.

Tez Steinberg of Boulder arrived on the shores of Australia on Monday after taking off from Hawaii on Dec. 19, 2023.

Steinberg, 36, was greeted in Australia by a crowd of supporters, who handed him the first bottle of fresh, cold water he'd had since December.

Steinberg described the solo rowing journey as a "challenging expedition" in a statement to ABC News. He said he tried to beat the conditions and the solitude of the journey by focusing on his own reaction.

"I try to focus on what's in my control," he told ABC News. "I can't change the wind and the waves. All I can change is how I react to it."

Steinberg used his rowing challenge to raise awareness for ocean conservation.

His solo trip from Hawaii to Australia was the second leg of an adventure that began in 2020 when he rowed solo for 71 days from Monterey, California, to Oahu, Hawaii.

In an interview prior to his departure in December, Steinberg told ABC News his journey while at sea during the first expedition inspired him to "go back out again" for his second expedition.

"I was so surprised by the experience of being on the ocean, by how beautiful the ocean is, and also how much plastic I saw," he said at the time.

Embracing endurance after mental health struggles

Steinberg told ABC News he began rowing as a way to help his battle with depression, which he said he began experiencing while in college.  At the time, he said, he found a solution by participating in endurance sports.

"And it helped me feel better, which isn't a surprise," he explained. "But as I went farther and farther, pushing myself through marathons and triathlons, I discovered this belief in myself that I'm so much stronger than I thought I was."

However, in 2016, his life took a big turn after the sudden death of his father, who died by suicide. The tragedy prompted him to challenge himself even more by solo rowing across an ocean. After successfully completing the task without any prior professional experience, Steinberg said he realized he could use his story to "inspire other people to believe in themselves and their potential to change and grow."

He subsequently created United World Challenge, a nonprofit organization with a mission to "accelerate solutions for the ocean plastic crisis and inspire a more courageous world," according to its website. The nonprofit was also born out of Steinberg's lifelong passion for the environment, having grown up surrounded by forests in upstate New York.

Embarking on the second expedition with a new goal

Inspired by his first expedition, Steinberg said his new mission was intended to focus on "ocean conservation, and specifically ocean plastic," adding, "All the plastic I saw at sea was just heartbreaking."

"And I couldn't come back and ignore it, and [I] needed to find some way to make a difference," he continued. "And so with [the] next expedition, [we] launched a crowdfund. And we're raising funds to build river barriers in some of the most polluted rivers of the world, stopping plastic before it flows to sea."

In the previous interview with ABC News, Steinberg said the voyage from Hawaii to Australia would also be part of an attempt to break a Guinness World Record in combination with his first trip from California to Hawaii. Nevertheless, he said, breaking records wasn't his priority.

"If I complete this next leg [from Hawaii to Australia] in under 120 days, then I have a world record for solo rowing the entire Pacific Ocean, from east to west," Steinberg said at the time. "Personally, although a world record is exciting, that's not why I'm in it. World record is fun for media attention, but really the media attention is just so that we can get more donations and support and action for ocean plastics."

Training and overcoming setbacks

As preparation for the journey, Steinberg said he ensured he was as equipped mentally as he was physically.

"Things as simple as meditation, gratitude, journaling, just developing more emotional awareness," he said prior to the expedition. "Because while I'm at sea, eventually my muscles will get tired, but nobody quits an ocean row because their muscles get tired, they quit because it gets too hard ... and so a lot of my training and preparation for this comes back to mindset."

Despite having trained for his first expedition, Steinberg said he had to start from the beginning to prepare for his second expedition after experiencing a heart attack in July 2022, an event he said occurred "out of nowhere, out of the blue," given his good health record at the time.

"And after that event, I had to completely rest, no exercise, no movement for three months. And I was already planning this expedition," he said. "I was starting from zero ... I could do, like, three curls, I could walk for one minute before I needed to rest. And then five months after my heart attack, my doctors had cleared me to resume training, green light across the board, they gave me their blessing for me to do the expedition."

When discussing his feelings prior to his second expedition, he said "I'm scared again, for sure."

"This is a very risky and challenging endeavor. And courage is not the absence of fear. It's choosing to take that step even when you're afraid," he added at the time.

Using rowing as a metaphor in his message to the public, Steinberg noted, "We all have waves washing overboard. I like to say we all have an ocean to cross, something in our life that seems too daunting, too bold or impossible to even consider attempting. And I hope that this can be an example for people to find their ocean and the courage to cross it."

In his continued efforts to create awareness about his environmental mission, Steinberg shared a reminder that "we all have a role to play in creating clean oceans and a prosperous future and we can take action," even something as seemingly small as carrying a reusable water bottle or cutlery.

"And it's really through that level of engagement from a little bit from everyone that we can make a huge difference," he added.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, free, confidential help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Call or text the national lifeline at 988. Even if you feel like it, you are not alone.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Researchers working to save whitebark pine, a declining keystone tree species in the greater Yellowstone area

Grand Teton National Park and NRCC

(NEW YORK) -- This Earth Day, ABC News is taking a look at solutions for issues related to climate change and the environment with the series, “The Power of Us: People, The Climate, and Our Future.”

A critical tree species found in some of America's most revered national parks is in decline, leading researchers to embark on a race to prevent more from dying off.

Whitebark pine, or Pinus albicaulis, is a keystone tree species found in the greater Yellowstone area, play a critical role in the ecosystem in the greater Yellowstone area, Laura Jones, branch chief of vegetation ecology at Grand Teton National Park, told ABC News.

But the already few whitebark pine trees that exist on the rooftops of the Teton mountain range are dwindling quickly, and the impacts -- while still unknown -- could be a major disruption to the ecosystem, experts said.

"If we lose the keystone species, we don't totally know what's going to happen," Nancy Bockino, research associate at the Northern Rockies Conservation Cooperative, told ABC News. "It's like losing the roof of your house."

Protections for whitebark pine under the Endangered Species Act were enacted in 2022 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service concluded that the species was likely to become endangered in the foreseeable future.

White pine blister rust, a non-native invasive fungus that slowly kills the tree, has wiped out more than 325 million whitebark pine trees and remain the primary threat to the species, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Conservationists have seen a high mortality rate among trees that become infected with blister rust, Jones said.

The species is typically found across western North America, from northern California to British Columbia, Canada. Because these high-elevation and high-latitude environments that house whitebark pine typically have a cold and windy climate, the increase of global temperatures is likely affecting survival rates for the trees, the experts said.

Since the forest is no longer freezing as often during the fall and spring, a native pine beetle has been able to spread its population and further weaken the trees, Jones and Bockino said.

Higher temperatures could also cause the plants to become water stress, further exposing the trees to invasion from the expanding number of beetles, Jones said.

Whitebark pine are critical to the local ecosystem because they provide high-energy food source for animals and also plays an essential role in slowing runoff from snowmelt and reducing soil erosion, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They can grow to up to 60 feet and live well past 1,000 years old, according to the National Park Service.

One of the key steps to conserving the species is identifying the trees that are resistant to the pine rust and promoting those trees on the landscape, Jones said.

Researchers are also working on protecting seed source trees from the mountain pine beetles, which involves hanging pouches with synthetic version of the beetles on the tree, Bockino said. This signals to other beetles that the tree is "too full" and that there is "not enough for everyone," she said.

Bockino described the current status of species as being in a "precarious situation."

"If we aren't mindful of how we take care of them, they could become extinct," she said.

Some initiatives from the Inflation Reduction Act and bipartisan infrastructure law are enabling multiple agencies to work together to obtain more seed from cones to grow out plants Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, Jones said.

"As a keystone species of the West, extending ESA protections to whitebark pine is critical to not only the tree itself, but also the numerous plants, animals, and watersheds that it supports,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director Matt Hogan said in a statement in December 2022.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Plastic bags from Walmart US recycling bins tracked to controversial plastic facilities in Southeast Asia

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- Pua Lay Peng lives on the front lines of the global plastic pollution crisis. The 52-year-old's hometown of Jenjarom, Malaysia has been transformed in recent years by thousands of tons of imported plastic waste from the U.S. and other wealthy nations. As a result, the once quiet agricultural town she grew up in is now surrounded by dumpsites and smokestacks from plastic factories that she says pose dire health risks for her and her loved ones.

"We want to let people who send their waste to Malaysia know that we need your help," she told ABC News. "Your waste is harmful and threatens the health of my family, my children, and also destroys the future of my people, my generation."

Hidden among the tsunami of plastic waste America sent to Southeast Asia last year were three of the 19 tracking devices ABC News secured to plastic bags and dropped off at Walmart store recycling bins across the U.S. Two of those trackers ended up at plastic facilities outside of Port Klang, Malaysia, not far from Pua Lay Peng's hometown, while a third landed in Indonesia.

"No responsible waste company in the United States, no responsible local government should be exporting plastic waste to other countries," Judith Enck, a former Environmental Protection Agency administrator and current president of the anti-plastic pollution project Beyond Plastics, told ABC News. "It's causing real damage, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia," Enck said.

Probing the international plastic waste trade

Originally deployed as part of a groundbreaking investigation into America's plastic recycling system, these three trackers now offer a rare glimpse into the mysterious and controversial inner workings of the international plastic waste trade.

The investigation began more than 18 months ago, when ABC News and nine of its affiliated and owned stations secured 46 digital tracking devices to plastic bags and deployed them at Walmart and Target store drop-off recycling bins across 10 states. ABC News closely monitored the trackers for months and checked each facility they pinged from to ensure that the trackers likely had not been detected as contamination along their journey. Ultimately, the vast majority of trackers never pinged from a plastic bag recycling facility, with many ending up in landfills or incinerators.

Only four trackers last pinged from a U.S. facility that said it was involved in plastic bag recycling. However, subsequent public records requests and additional research have revealed that all four of these facilities likely either trashed the plastic bags in the U.S. or exported them abroad, though none of the facilities would divulge to ABC News specifically where the bags were sent.

Exporting plastic waste, particularly to poorer nations, is a controversial practice. Often decried by critics as "waste colonialism," the United Nations has described it as "highly prone to corruption," and the international community has tried to curb the trade through the 2019 Basel Convention's Amendments on Plastic Waste, which set strict regulations for international plastic waste shipments.

The U.S, however, one of the world's biggest plastic producers, is among five U.N.-recognized countries that refused to join the agreement and which continues to send plastic waste abroad with little oversight. Since 2020, more than 600,000 metric tons of plastic waste has been shipped from U.S. ports to countries around the world under the premise of "recycling," according to an ABC News analysis of data provided by S&P Global Market Intelligence.

A plastic bag's journey from New York to Indonesia

The first ABC News plastic bag tracker to travel overseas was dropped into a plastic bag recycling bin at a Walmart in Kingston, New York. It later pinged from a recycling facility in New Jersey known to export plastic waste abroad. The tracker then went dark for nearly three months, until it finally pinged more than 9,000 miles away, directly outside three affiliated plastic facilities in Batam, Indonesia. After that, it was never heard from again.

The plastic facilities near the location of ABC News' plastic bag tracker's last pings have been the subject of numerous controversies, according to local media reports. As of 2020, two of the facilities, were reportedly under investigation by Indonesian authorities for illegally dumping plastic-laden wastewater into the drainage ditches directly behind them. More recently, the facilities have been the subject of numerous reports regarding allegedly unsafe and exploitative labor conditions.

ABC News visited the ditches last month where the alleged dumping had occurred and found shredded plastic there coating countless leaves and blades of grass.

The Indonesian facilities did not respond to ABC News' request for comment.

The Malaysia trackers

Two other plastic bag trackers deployed by ABC News last pinged from Malaysia, which has been among the top destinations for exported plastic waste ever since China banned the material in 2018.

"A lot of recyclers from China – they came here. And they found Malaysia is such a haven to run this illegal factory," Pua Lay Peng said.

Pua and her team at the Kuala Langat Environmental Action Association have extensive experience monitoring and filing complaints against polluting plastic facilities. Over the years, they've gotten hundreds of illegal recycling centers shut down, and have also received death threats.

"I decided to fight until death, okay?," she said. "If I don't stand up to fight, the consequences will allow my family members, my friends will be killed. Just a matter of time, okay? But if I stand up to fight, I have [a] chance then."

One of the ABC News trackers was originally deployed at a Walmart in Wichita, Kansas and last pinged from a plastics facility located directly beside the Langat River, not far from Pua Lay Peng's Malaysian hometown. The facility does not appear to have a license to import plastic waste, according to a 2023 list provided to ABC News by a Malaysian parliament member.

"I believe that the trackers that [were] put in by ABC is evidence of smuggling," said Pua Lay Peng. "They don't have an import permit but they're able to get waste from overseas."

A recent U.N. report on illegal waste trading in Southeast Asia says in part that "Missing licenses or permits, smuggling" and "lack of valid documentation" were among "the primary tactics for the illegal shipments." There's no way of knowing exactly how the ABC News tracker ended up at the facility, but Pua says there's reason for concern.

"This is a proof of what I worry, that this [is] actually happening, and it's quite serious," she said.

The Malaysian riverside plastics facility where the tracker pinged from manufactures plastic bags, sometimes using recycled content. Though the company advertises itself as a responsible corporation committed to protecting the environment, ABC News documented several discharge canals emanating from the facility that appear to be dumping plastic-laden wastewater directly into the adjacent Langat River.

"We used to see them discharge it every two days," Saravanan Kumar, whose family has been fishing along the Langat for generations, told ABC News. "Sometimes we can see it all, the plastics and everything. Lots of plastic floating around. It has obviously harmed the source of the food for the fish," he said.

Kumar says the facility's pollution has devastated the river that fishermen like him once depended on for their livelihood.

"It is sad because the life in the water died and we are now afraid to eat fish that used to be delicious. We are afraid that we may hurt our kids by eating it," he told ABC News.

"The river is broken. Indeed, there is nothing left here," Kumar said.

The facility did not respond to ABC News' repeated requests for comment.

Another tracker last pinged from a Malaysian plastics facility located in an urban area outside of Port Klang that does have an import license, according to the government list obtained by ABC News. However, Pua Lay Peng says even if a facility is properly licensed, it's still no guarantee against harmful pollution to her community, claiming Malaysia's government does not adequately monitor the factories or regularly enforce existing regulations to ensure harmful pollution does not occur.

"We have a broken system. We are not as capable as your people think that we can handle your waste," she told ABC News.

In response to ABC News reporting, the Malaysian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment wrote in a preliminary statement that they take "the illegal plastic waste trade issue raised by ABC News very seriously," and committed to "analyse and investigate" the information ABC News provided.

"Following the conclusion of the investigation, any misbehaviour will face severe consequences," they wrote.

Tracking the plastics highways of the high seas

Beyond contributing to plastics pollution, the act of shipping plastic waste itself is also a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. An ABC News analysis of shipping data provided by the trade analytics company S&P Global Market Intelligence estimates that the fuel used for the transportation of plastic waste alone has pumped more than 100,000 metric tons of CO2-equivalent climate-warming emissions into the atmosphere over the past three years.

That's the equivalent of the annual emissions of more than 23,000 passenger vehicles. It would take more than 1.7 million tree seedlings grown for 10 years to sequester that volume of emissions from the atmosphere.

"We need the cooperation of commercial shipping companies, because they can turn off the tap of these plastic exports," Judith Enck of Beyond Plastics told ABC News. Her group was among a chorus of environmental organizations that put out a call in 2021 for shipping companies to ban plastic waste exports.

Only one major shipping company, CMA-CGM, heeded that call with a voluntary public pledge to stop carrying plastic waste aboard their ships entirely, beginning in June 2022.

"We have 12 million tons of plastic waste floating around in the oceans," Peter Levesque, the former president of CMA-CGM North America, told ABC News. "So we have a problem. And the question was, are we enabling that problem in any way? And the answer was: possibly," Levesque said.

Despite the ban, however, shipping data provided to ABC News by S&P Global Market Intelligence shows that, since their pledge to stop, CMA-CGM has transported hundreds of shipments carrying thousands of tons of material that S&P identified as plastic waste.

"That's something we'd have to look into," Levesque said when ABC News provided him the data. "There's no physical inspection of what's inside the container unless customs happens to hold it up for some reason. So there is a level of trust that's there and there's a level of documentation that has to be trusted."

CMA-CGM later told ABC News that nearly all the shipments marked as plastic waste by S&P Global Market Intelligence were coded by their customers in CMA-CGM's internal booking system as items other than plastic waste. S&P Global Market Intelligence analyzes raw descriptions pulled from customs authorities to assign a code.

After speaking with multiple experts and closely reviewing the S&P data, ABC News found some of CMA-CGM's customers or their agents may be misleading the company, and that it likely transported at least 350 shipments of plastic waste in the 18 months since their pledge to stop. Most of those shipments went to Malaysia.

After cross-referencing the times and locations provided by two of our plastic bag trackers, an ABC News analysis determined that it was highly likely that the two trackers were among those shipments.

Still, the data does show a significant drop in CMA-CGM's plastic waste shipments compared to before their pledge, but it's still far from the total stoppage the company promised in promotional materials.

CMA-CGM declined to comment on the ABC News analysis, but has promised in the past that any misdeclarations regarding its plastic waste ban "will lead to a blacklisting of the incriminated entity."

A U.N. report released this month on the waste trade found a pattern of waste exporters lying to shipping companies about the items being shipped, in order to bypass regulations, compounded by governments often turning a blind eye to the issue and allowing plastic waste to be smuggled into countries that have lax border enforcement.

Seeking answers from America's largest retailer

Despite months of attempting to arrange an interview with a Walmart representative for this report, the company declined. However, when approached at the Reuter's Responsible Business U.S.A. Conference, a gathering of senior leaders from some of America's largest corporations, Kathleen McLaughlin, Walmart's chief sustainability officer, told ABC News that "if you want to get into it, I'm happy to meet with you and go through what we're doing."

After setting a date to be interviewed, however, the company canceled and declined to answer any questions in writing. Walmart instead delivered the following statement:

"We strive to do the right thing, and while our bag recycling program isn't perfect, it does provide access to recycling for millions of customers across the country. The companies we contract with report that the overwhelming majority of the mixed recycling materials we provide (including thousands of tons of plastic bags) are fit to be recycled and by contract sent on for that purpose, though contaminated materials cannot be recycled (for example, ABC's trackers could themselves be considered bag contaminants)."

"We have high expectations of the companies we contract with and are committed to continuously improving our recycling and waste reduction programs," the statement continued. "For example, last year we negotiated enhanced contracts that explicitly require these companies to ensure and prove that eligible materials collected through our program are recycled to the maximum extent practicable."

Kate Holland, Jared Kofsky and Alex Myers, as well as ABC affiliate stations KAKE, WFTV and WLS, contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Nine more couples sue IVF clinic, alleging staff implanted 'dead' embryos: Lawsuit

Jason Marz/Getty Images

(NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.) -- Nine more couples are suing an in vitro fertilization provider saying it destroyed their embryos, but still implanted the nonviable embryos despite knowing they were not viable.

In a joint lawsuit filed Tuesday, the couples allege that workers at Ovation Fertility in Newport Beach, California, exposed the embryos to lethal amounts of "poison." The couples underwent implantations of the nonviable embryos between Jan. 18, 2024, and Jan. 30. 2024, none of which were successful.

The suit alleges the couples blamed themselves and their bodies in the days and weeks after their failed pregnancies -- some even undergoing medical procedures to find out what went wrong -- until late February and early March when Ovation Fertility started to reveal to their physicians that something had gone wrong at the labs.

The suit alleged that Ovation Fertility only disclosed something had gone wrong when several fertility doctors questioned why there was a 0% success rate for the embryos that had been thawed over a two-week period, when the success rate is normally 75%.

Two other couples had announced a similar lawsuit last week saying their embryos were destroyed when a lab employee wrongly used hydrogen peroxide instead of a sterile solution in an incubator.

The nine couples who came forward Tuesday are suing on multiple grounds, including negligence; medical battery; concealment; intentional misrepresentation; negligent misrepresentation; negligent hiring, retention and supervision; and loss of consortium, and are seeking a jury trial.

Ovation Fertility did not respond to ABC News' request for a comment on Tuesday's suit but said last week that it has protocols in place to protect the "health and integrity of every embryo under our care."

"This was an isolated incident that impacted a very small number of patients, and we have been in close contact with those patients since this issue was discovered. We are grateful for the opportunity to help patients build a family and will continue to implement and enforce rigorous protocols to safeguard that process," Ovation Fertility said in a statement.

The suit alleges that Ovation Fertility gave physicians various reasons for the 0% success rate, including blaming temperature levels, pH levels, carbon dioxide and other gas levels and incubator equipment failure -- but the patients were told and believe that hydrogen peroxide was used instead of distilled water.

Plaintiffs were allegedly told that Ovation's operations were riddled with incompetence, including hiring inexperienced, cheap, unqualified and untrained employees to cut corners and maximize profits at the expense of patients, according to the suit.

The couples allege that one of Ovation's embryologists has previously frozen the wrong embryos on the wrong device, lost embryos during the biopsy process and conducted biopsies of embryos incorrectly, leading to the harm and/or degeneration of embryos -- and that Ovation was aware of mistakes that had led to the loss or destruction of embryos, the lawsuit alleges.

The couples also accuse Ovation of actively trying to conceal mistakes made from patients and fertility physicians, according to the lawsuit. The suit alleges Ovation tried to "trick" patients into signing waivers of their claims and non-disparagement agreements.

The plaintiffs are asking for an unspecified amount of damages.

'I was completely shocked'

Brooke Berger, 37, and her husband, Bennett Hardy, 33, are among the couples named in the new lawsuit. Berger told ABC News Monday that she and Hardy had struggled with fertility issues and began IVF in Colorado, where they were living at the time, in summer 2022.

The first transfer resulted in an ectopic pregnancy, according to Berger. She said she needed to have surgery and one of her fallopian tubes had to be removed, so the rest of their embryos were frozen.

When Hardy got a job in Orange County, he and Berger moved to Fullerton -- 25 miles southeast of Los Angeles -- where they currently reside, in July 2023. They moved their embryos to Ovation Fertility because it is the clinic their new doctor works with, in November 2023, Berger said.

"Our last provider, he was a small practice. They stored everything on site, but they took really good care of our embryos," Berger said. "And we just sort of assumed that when we went to the big corporation that had all these resources that they would be probably even safer there, and I've just now learned how sort of naïve that assumption was."

In the lawsuit, Berger and Bennett, along with the other couples, allege that Ovation Fertility "recklessly and wrongfully ... exposed these embryos to lethal amounts of hydrogen peroxide (or some other caustic agent), which killed them." The lawsuit alleges the clinic knew the embryos were nonviable but did not disclose this to the couples.

Berger said she and her husband did a transfer of their last two embryos in January and were allegedly told by their doctors there was a greater than 50% success rate. However, the implantation was unsuccessful.

The lawsuit alleges that Ovation Fertility did not reveal what happened to the patients' fertility physicians until late February and early March. Berger said her fertility doctor contacted the couple to tell them what happened about a month and a half after the failed implantation.

"I was just completely shocked,' she said. "I really couldn't believe it. ... Hearing what actually happened was just completely shocking. I mean, I don't understand how that kind of mistake could be made."

Robert Marcereau, the couple's attorney and the attorney of three other couples in the lawsuit, said he hopes the filing encourages other couples who may have been victims to come forward and share their stories.

"Families put their trust in Ovation, who bill themselves as a leader in the fertility industry," he told ABC News. "We have found out tragically, that that's not the case ... and it's important for us to bring this lawsuit not only to try to help these families and get recoveries for them, but also to shine a light on what Ovation is doing and hopefully get some changes made."

Berger said after the last transfer was unsuccessful -- before they learned what happened -- both she and her husband were devastated. She said she did not want her husband to see how upset she was.

"I went in the very back part of our house I thought was quiet and just cried and cried and cried, and pulled myself together and I came out to the kitchen and saw him sitting there with just a devastated look on his face like he felt he was the cause of all of this," she said. "He wasn't. This is on Ovation's head, and I just don't know if I could forgive them for making my husband look like that."

The couple is still planning to try to have children and are currently undergoing ovarian stimulation to try and retrieve more eggs and, subsequently, produce more embryos, according to Berger. They are also looking for a doctor who does not work with Ovation Fertility.

By sharing her and Hardy's story, Berger said she hopes this forces Ovation Fertility to make changes to its lab practices to prevent a similar situation from occurring.

"I really hope that this draws attention to Ovation's lab practices and that it forces them to make very concrete changes so that this does not happen again," she said. "These are entirely preventable errors, and there's really no excuse for it, and they need to fix this. And if we don't put pressure on them to do this, I don't think anyone else will."

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Trump trial live updates: Publisher describes secret catch-and-kill arrangement for 2016 election

SimpleImages/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Former President Donald Trump is on trial in New York City, where he is facing felony charges related to a 2016 hush money payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. It marks the first time in history that a former U.S. president has been tried on criminal charges.

Trump last April pleaded not guilty to a 34-count indictment charging him with falsifying business records in connection with a hush money payment his then-attorney Michael Cohen made to Daniels in order to boost his electoral prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

Here's how the news is developing:

Apr 23, 2:34 PM
Trump again assails judge for limited gag order

Former President Trump, addressing reporters after court was adjourned for the day, angrily criticized Judge Merchan and the limited gag order that was the topic of this morning's contempt hearing.

"We have a gag order, which to me is totally unconstitutional. I'm not allowed to talk but people are allowed to talk about me," Trump said. "So, they can talk about me, they can say whatever they want, they can lie. But I'm not allowed to say that. I just have to sit back and look at why a conflicted judge has ordered for me to have a gag order. I don't think anybody's ever seen anything like this."

Shuffling through a thick stack of papers, which Trump said were news articles from the past day and a half, the former president continued his criticism.

"So, I put an article on it and then somebody's name is mentioned somewhere deep in the article and I ended up in violation of the gag order," he said. "I think it's a disgrace. It's totally unconstitutional."

Prosecutors this morning asked the judge to fine Trump $10,000 for what the say are 10 recent violations of the limited gag order, which prohibits Trump from making statements about witnesses, jurors, and lawyers in the case other than Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

The judge has yet to issue a ruling.

-Michael Pappano

Apr 23, 2:16 PM
Pecker testifies about Karen McDougal before court ends for day

"Karen McDougal was a Playboy model," former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker said, recalling how he learned in June 2016 "that there's a Playboy model who is trying to sell a story about a relationship that she had with Donald Trump for a year."

Pecker said he immediately called Trump's then-attorney Michael Cohen to inform him. By then, he was speaking to Cohen "a couple times a week," but that soon changed. Pecker said he and Cohen spoke "much more frequently" about McDougal's claims.

"Michael was very agitated. It looked like he was getting a lot of pressure to get the answer right away," Pecker said. "He kept on calling, and each time he called he seemed more anxious."

Pecker said he assumed "Mr. Trump was asking Michael Cohen, 'Did we hear anything yet?'" Pecker said.

"Did you ever come to believe that Michael Cohen had spoken with Mr. Trump about McDougal's claims?" prosecutor Josh Steinglass asked.

"Yes I did," Pecker responded before recounting a phone conversation Pecker said he himself had with Trump.

"I said I think the story should be purchased and we should buy it," Pecker recalled telling Trump. "Mr. Trump said to me, 'I don't buy stories. Anytime you do anything like this, it always gets out.'"

Ultimately, McDougal was paid $150,000 and promised a series of exercise articles in the publication.

Following that testimony, court was adjourned.

It's expected the jury will hear more on McDougal upon Pecker's return to the witness stand, when court resumes on Thursday.

Apr 23, 2:05 PM
Pecker kept doorman under contract until after election

According to former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, Michael Cohen pushed for the National Enquirer to keep doorman Dino Sajudin locked into a contract until after the 2016 election, even though the story Sajudin was shopping about Trump having a love child were untrue.

"I told Michael Cohen the story was not true. I told him that the doorman is very difficult to deal with," Pecker testified.

Cohen had earlier encouraged Pecker to add a $1 million penalty to Sajudin's contract if he broke the agreement and tried to shop around the story.

"He would breach this agreement and owe American Media a million dollars," Pecker said. "It was basically a lever over him to make sure that wouldn't happen."

Cohen encouraged Pecker to keep Sajudin locked in, according to the former publisher.

"I am going release him one way or the other," Pecker said he told Cohen regarding Sajudin. "He said, 'No, release him after the election.'"

"When was he released?" prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked Pecker.

"December 9, 2016," Pecker said.

"After the presidential election?" Steinglass asked.

"Yes," Pecker responded.

Apr 23, 1:48 PM
Pecker details catch-and-kill deal with Trump Tower doorman

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker described the very first story he "caught and killed" pursuant to his agreement with Donald Trump and his then-attorney Michael Cohen: a false story from a Trump Tower doorman in 2015.

Trump, sitting at the defense table, shook his head when Pecker laid out the allegation: that "Donald Trump fathered an illegitimate girl with a maid at Trump Tower."

Pecker testified that he "immediately called Michael Cohen" when his team got wind of those allegations being shopped by the doorman, Dino Sajudin. Cohen told him it was "absolutely not true" -- but Pecker testified he ultimately moved forward with buying the story to the tune of $30,000.

"This could be a very big story. I believe that it's important that it should be removed from the market," Pecker said he told Cohen.

Asked about Cohen's response, Pecker said: "He said the boss would be very pleased," saying he understood "the boss" to mean Donald Trump.

Pecker testified that Cohen later called back to say the story is "absolutely not true" and that Trump "would take a DNA test" -- an apparently new revelation -- but Pecker said it wouldn't be necessary.

Pecker conceded that if the story turned out to be true, it "probably would be the biggest sale" for the paper since the death of Elvis Presley.

Still, Pecker testified he would have held it until after the campaign was over.

"I would have published it after the election," Pecker said. "That was the conversation I had with Michael Cohen, and that's what we agreed to."

Ultimately, the story turned out to be untrue -- but Pecker still paid for it.

"Why are you paying $30,000 for an untrue story?" prosecutor Joshua Steinglass asked while displaying the contract Pecker had with Sajudan to the jury.

"Because if the story got out to another publication, it would have been embarrassing for the campaign," Pecker said.

"So this was a way to lock it up?" Steinglass asked.

"That's correct," Pecker responded.

Apr 23, 12:57 PM
Pecker testifies that he strategized with Steve Bannon

Donald Trump introduced David Pecker to Steve Bannon to strategize future stories about Trump's opponents, the former National Enquirer publisher testified.

"[Trump] thought both of us could work very well together," Pecker said of Bannon, who would go on to become chief strategist in the Trump White House.

Pecker said Bannon liked some of the National Enquirer's past coverage and had ideas for the future.

"He liked them very much. He had some other ideas," Pecker said, mentioning a proposed plan to book one of Pecker's reporters on Sean Hannity's Fox News show to talk about the National Enquirer's reporting about Hillary Clinton.

Apr 23, 12:40 PM
Plan to boost Trump was hatched in 2015, Pecker says

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker's "secret arrangement" with Donald Trump and his then-attorney Michael Cohen was hatched during a "20-25 minute meeting" at Trump Tower in August of 2015, Pecker testified.

Under the arrangement, the National Enquirer would become a trumpet for Trump's presidential ambition and a megaphone for Michael Cohen's opposition research on Trump's opponents, he said.

"He would send me information about Ted Cruz or Ben Carson or Marco Rubio, and that was the basis for our story, and we would embellish," Pecker testified.

He said that he kept the arrangement from all but his top people.

"I told them we were going to try and help the campaign, and to do that we would keep it as quiet as possible," Pecker recalled telling his East and West Coast bureau chiefs.

Prosecutors showed the jury a collection of Enquirer headlines that lauded Trump and disparaged his opponents.

"Bungling Surgeon Ben Carson Left Sponge in Patient's Brain," one article said. "Donald Trump blasts Ted Cruz's Dad for Photo with JFK Assassin," said another, recounting classic fare from the 2016 campaign.

"After the Republican debates and based on the success that some of the other candidates had, I would receive a call from Michael Cohen and he would direct me and direct Dylan Howard which candidate and which direction we should go," Pecker said, referring to the National Enquirer.s chief content officer.

Apr 23, 12:24 PM
Pecker says he didn't catch-and-kill any Trump stories before 2016

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified that he suspected that multiple women would come forward to shop stories about Trump during Trump's run for president.

"In a presidential campaign, I was the person that thought there would be a lot of women who came out to sell their stories because Mr. Trump was well known as the most eligible bachelor and dated the most beautiful woman," Pecker testified. "It is very common for these women to call up a magazine like the National Enquirer to try and sell their stories. I would hear it in the marketplace through other sources that stories were being marketed."

If those stories emerged, Pecker said he vowed that he would notify Michael Cohen, Trump's then-personal attorney, per their agreement.

According to Pecker, most elements of their agreement -- including running positive stories about Trump and negative stories about his opponents -- were "mutually beneficial" to Trump and Pecker.

"Hillary running for president and Bill Clinton's womanizing was one of the biggest sales ... for the National Enquirer," Pecker said. " It was easy for me to say I was going to continue running those kinds of stories for the National Enquirer."

"It would help his campaign, but it would also help me," Pecker said.

"As I recollect, [Trump] was pleased. Michael Cohen was pleased [about] the way I was going to handle these issues," Pecker said.

Pecker said that prior to the 2016 election, his magazines never caught and killed any stories for Trump.

When pressed by prosecutor Joshua Steinglass, Pecker acknowledged that the catch-and-kill element of the agreement -- buying negative information about Trump then killing the story -- was not beneficial for the National Enquirer.

"How was that going to boost sales of the National Enquirer?" Steinglass asked.

"No, that part didn't help," Pecker said.

Apr 23, 11:57 AM
Pecker says he was in regular contact with Cohen

Despite first meeting Michael Cohen by chance in 2000 at a bar mitzvah, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified that Donald Trump first introduced him to Cohen as his personal lawyer in 2007.

Pecker said Trump asked him to begin coordinating with Cohen about any stories or rumors related to Trump or his family.

"All of the contacts that I had with Mr. Trump -- now my contact should go through Michael Cohen," Pecker said about Trump's directive after meeting Cohen.

Pecker and Cohen would touch base monthly over the following decade, but communications ramped up after Trump announced his candidacy for president in 2015, Pecker said.

"I would say a minimum of every week, and if there was an issue, it could be daily," Pecker said about his contact with Cohen during the campaign.

Apr 23, 11:52 AM
Pecker describes 'great relationship' with Trump

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, back on the witness stand, pointed at Donald Trump and flashed a smile when he was asked to identify the defendant. Trump turned his chin up and grinned at his longtime friend.

"I met Mr. Trump at Mar-a-Lago," Pecker said. "I've had a great relationship with Mr. Trump over the years."

That relationship started in 1989 when Pecker wanted to start a magazine called Trump Style.

"He was very helpful in introducing me to other executives in New York. He would always advise me of parties or events that I would go to," Pecker said, adding that Trump was among the first to congratulate him upon acquiring the National Enquirer.

Pecker described how Trump became a "major celebrity" after launching The Apprentice and later Celebrity Apprentice, and how the National Enquirer was there to juice Trump's profile.

"He was always kind enough to send me the content showing the ratings and I was able to publish that," Pecker said of their "great mutual beneficially relationship.

Pecker said he considered Trump a friend from 2015 to 2017, calling him by the familiar "Donald," as he pursued the White House for the first time.

"After he announced his run for the presidency I saw Mr. Trump more frequently, maybe once a month," Pecker said. The two spoke "maybe once every couple of weeks."

Pecker recalled meeting Trump in his office when his assistant brought a batch of invoices and checks to sign.

"As I recollect the entire package was stapled together," Pecker said.

"So you observed him reviewing an invoice and signing a check?" prosecutor Josh Steinglass asked. "That's correct," Pecker responded.

"I would describe him as very knowledgeable, very detail-oriented, almost as a micromanager," Pecker said.

When Steinglass asked how Trump was with money, Pecker responded, "He was very cautious and very frugal."

Apr 23, 11:43 AM
Secret Service has plans if Trump is confined for contempt: Sources

The U.S. Secret Service has held meetings and started planning for what to do if former President Trump were to be held in contempt and Judge Juan Merchan opted to send him to short-term confinement, officials familiar with the situation tell ABC News.

Prosecutors said at this point they are seeking a fine.

"We are not yet seeking an incarceratory penalty," assistant district attorney Chris Conroy said, "But the defendant seems to be angling for that."

Officials do not necessarily believe Merchan would put Trump in a holding cell in the courthouse but they are planning for contingencies, the officials said.

There have be no discussion about what to do if Trump is convicted and sentenced to prison, they said.

"Under federal law, the United States Secret Service must provide protection for current government leaders, former Presidents and First Ladies, visiting heads of state and other individuals designated by the President of the United States," the Secret Service said in an official statement. "For all settings around the world, we study locations and develop comprehensive and layered protective models that incorporate state of the art technology, protective intelligence and advanced security tactics to safeguard our protectees. Beyond that, we do not comment on specific protective operations."

-Josh Margolin and Luke Barr

Apr 23, 10:56 AM
Contempt hearing ends without a ruling

The combative hearing on Trump's alleged violations of the judge's limited gag order ended with the judge saying he will not rule from bench on the district attorney's motion to hold Trump in contempt, so a ruling will come later.

Before concluding the hearing, Judge Merchan told Trump attorney Todd Blanche, "You're not offering me anything … to hang my hat on."

The trial will resume shortly with the return of former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker to the witness stand.

Apr 23, 10:48 AM
'You’re losing all credibility,' judge admonishes defense

Judge Juan Merchan is visibly irritated with the lack of evidence presented by defense attorney Todd Blanche.

“You have presented nothing,” Merchan said. “I have asked eight or nine times; show me the exact post he was responding to.”

“You’re losing all credibility with the court,” Merchan said after Blanche suggested Trump has been careful to comply with the gag order.

Blanche attempted to represent that Trump did not intend to violate the gag order, but Merchan did not appear satisfied by the response.

“Are you testifying under oath that this is his position?” Merchan asked.

“Do you want me to put him on the stand?” Blanche asked, though Trump did not take the stand.

Merchan strongly reacted earlier when Blanche suggested there were two tiers of justice in the courtroom.

“There are two systems of justice. Mr. Weisselberg is in prison, and Mr. Cohen is a witness," Blanche said, in reference to the former Trump Organization CFO who was sentenced to jail time for perjury.

“There are two systems of justice in this courtroom -- is that what you are saying?” Merchan responded.

Apr 23, 10:41 AM
'It's just common sense,' defense argues regarding Trump's posts

The contempt hearing has turned tense as Trump attorney Todd Blanche tries to defend Trump's posts as mere responses to attacks -- but isn't giving clear examples of how Trump was being attacked.

Instead, Blanche asked the judge why the timing of the posts mattered -- prompting a strong rebuke from the judge.

"I'm asking the questions, OK?" Judge Merchan told Blanche. "Please don't turn it around."

Merchan continued to reprimand Blanche: "I'm asking a specific question over and over and I'm not getting an answer."

Merchan then lamented that nearly an hour into the hearing they are still only up to reviewing post NO. 2 of 10, and the jury is set to arrive at 11 a.m. ET to resume trial proceedings.

"The people got to speak as long as they want to," Blanche said regarding the prosecutors.

"The people were answering my questions," Merchan retorted.

So far, Merchan has appeared skeptical of what Blanche has been arguing in defense of the posts. Blanche at times has been struggling to answer Merchan's questions, at one point saying, "I don't have any case law to support that. It's just common sense."

Apr 23, 10:31 AM
Prosecutors warn about seeking potential jail time

Donald Trump's lawyer Todd Blanche, during the contempt hearing on the limited gag order in the case, defended the former president's comments by arguing that Trump was responding to political attacks.

"President Trump does in fact know what the gag order allows him to do and not allow him to do," Blanche said. "There is no dispute that President Trump is facing a barrage of political attacks from all sides."

According to Blanche, while the limited gag order prohibits statements about a witness' potential participation in a case, Trump is allowed to make comments in response to political attacks from potential witnesses like Michael Cohen and Stormy Daniels.

"They are talking about their very strong dislike of President Trump," Blanche said about a post related to former Daniels attorney Michael Avenatti's comments on Michael Cohen.

Judge Juan Merchan questioned Blanche about what exactly made Trump's response "political" in nature.

"You believe that everything Mr. Avenatti said does not relate to the trial, but the use of the word 'pardon' makes it political and in a sense authorizes your client to respond?" Merchan asked.

"It's everything. It can't just be a single word," Blanche responded.

"When your client is violating the gag, I expect more than one word," Merchan said.

Conroy asked Merchan to advise Trump that for future violations of the gag order, “incarceration is an option should it be necessary.”

Apr 23, 10:08 AM
Trump's remarks 'pose a very real threat,' prosecutors say

Donald Trump's alleged violations of the court-imposed limited gag order "pose a very real threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings," prosecutor Christopher Conroy said during the hearing on whether Trump should be held in contempt.

In addition to the ten alleged gag order violations, Conroy said the district attorney's office would file an additional contempt motion later today about comments Trump made to cameras on Monday about Michael Cohen.

Among Trump's comments: "Because as you know, Cohen is a lawyer -- represented a lot of people over the years -- now, I'm not the only one. And he wasn't very good in a lot of ways, in terms of his representation, but he represented a lot of people."

"And also, the things he got in trouble for were things that had nothing to do with me. He got in trouble and went to jail. This had nothing to do with me. This had to do with the taxi-cab company that he owned, which is something -- and medallions and borrow money and a lot of things but had nothing to do with me. He represented a lot of people over the years."

"And when are they going to look at all the lies that Cohen -- did -- in the last straw he got caught lying in the last trial. So he got caught lying -- pure lying. And when are they going to look at that?"

Conroy told the judge that Trump has "violated this order repeatedly and hasn't stopped."

Conroy said Trump's conduct is "all part of his plan for this trial," accusing the former president of "conditioning his followers" by making derogatory remarks about potential witnesses.

Apr 23, 9:59 AM
Trump falsely claims his supporters can't protest

On his way into the courtroom, Trump continued to falsely claim that his supporters were being barred from protesting outside the courthouse.

“Great Americans -- people that want to come down and they want to protest at the court. And they want to protest peacefully,” he told reporters. “We have more police presence here than anyone's ever seen for blocks. You can't get near this courthouse.”

But as the day's proceedings began, the park across from the New York criminal courthouse was open and nearly empty, and the area around the courthouse is not closed off.

-Mike Pappano and Brian Hartman

Apr 23, 9:37 AM
Trump arrives in court

Donald Trump has arrived in court with his usual entourage of lawyers, staff, and secret service agents.

Trump promptly took his seat alone at the counsel table as his lawyers and paralegals worked around him set up electronics for this morning's contempt hearing, in which prosecutors will seek to have Trump held in contempt of court for repeatedly violating the case's limited gag order.

Three prosecutors -- Joshua Steinglass, Christopher Conroy, and Matthew Colangelo -- are seated at the counsel table, with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and about eight members of his office seated in the first two rows of the gallery.

Bragg appears to have two security agents seated behind him, while a dozen court officers and secret service agents surround the courtroom and former president.

Apr 23, 8:20 AM
Day 6 of trial to start with contempt hearing

Day 6 of Donald Trump's criminal trial will begin with a hearing in front of Judge Juan Merchan in which prosecutors will seek to have the former president held in contempt for repeatedly violating the limited gag order in the case.

Prosecutors have argued that Trump violated the limited gag order -- which prohibits statements about witnesses, jurors, and lawyers in the case other than Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg -- on at least 10 separate occasions this month, and have asked the judge to hold him in contempt of court and fine him $10,000.

Trump's lawyers have argued that prosecutors have not proven the posts in question were willful violations of the gag order, telling Merchan that the former president was defending himself from attacks by the likely witnesses.

Following the hearing, testimony in the hush money trial is scheduled to resume with former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker on the stand. Prosecutors believe he is key to understanding Trump’s motivation for paying off Stormy Daniels so damaging information did not seep into the 2016 campaign.

Apr 22, 1:28 PM
Trump, after court, says payments were correctly labeled

Moments after his criminal trial adjourned for the day, Donald Trump exited the courtroom and told reporters that his payments to Michael Cohen were appropriately labeled as legal expenses.

"Actually, nobody's been able to say what you're supposed to call it," Trump told the media. "If the lawyer puts in a bill or an invoice and you pay the bill ... that's a very small little line ... it's not like you could tell a life story."

"They marked it down for a legal expense. This is what I got indicted over," Trump said.

The former president also attempted to paint his former attorney Michael Cohen as an unreliable witness and said he "wasn't very good in a lot of ways" as an attorney.

Trump's motorcade then departed the courthouse.

-Michael Pappano

Apr 22, 12:52 PM
Court wraps for day, Pecker to return tomorrow

David Pecker stepped off the witness stand after his initial testimony. He is scheduled to return to the witness stand tomorrow at 11 a.m. ET.

During his brief testimony, Pecker suggested that former National Enquirer Chief Content Officer Dylan Howard -- an alleged participant in the catch-and-kill scheme alleged by prosecutors -- will be unable to testify due to a medical condition.

Pecker appeared to greet Trump and his lawyers as he exited the courtroom.

Court subsequently wrapped for the day.

Trump left the courtroom flanked by Secret Service agents and staffers, as well as Trump Organization General Counsel Alan Garten.

Judge Merchan is scheduled to hold a contempt hearing about Trump’s alleged violations of the case’s limited gag order tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Apr 22, 12:27 PM
David Pecker takes the stand for prosecution

David Pecker, who once called Donald Trump "a personal friend of mine," flashed a big smile as he took the stand as the trial's first witness, belying the gravity of the moment.

Pecker cackled loudly into the microphone, jolting the room, when prosecutor Josh Steinglass, asked him about his various phone numbers that he struggled to remember.

Pecker, 72, was the publisher of the National Enquirer but prosecutors said he was "acting as a co-conspirator" in helping buy and bury damaging stories about Trump, including a doorman's false claim that Trump had fathered a love child and a Playboy model's claim of a sexual relationship with Trump, who has denied both allegations.

Trump, who once said Pecker would make a "brilliant" choice as editor of Time magazine, listened while leaning forward in his chair, arms crossed on the table, an unhappy look on his face.

Pecker testified that he had final say whether to publish any story involving a famous person.

"I had the final say of the celebrity side of the magazine," Pecker said. "We used checkbook journalism. We paid for stories."

Pecker is testifying pursuant to a subpoena. He has also secured a non-prosecution agreement with the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Apr 22, 12:10 PM
Prosecutors call David Pecker as 1st witness

Prosecutors have called former American Media Inc. executive David Pecker as their first witness.

The DA alleges that Pecker, who oversaw the National Enquirer, engaged in a conspiracy with Trump to help influence the 2016 election by killing negative stories about Trump.

Apr 22, 11:50 AM
Michael Cohen obsessed with 'getting Trump,' defense claims

In his opening statement, defense attorney Todd Blanche sought to eviscerate Michael Cohen's credibility, saying Cohen is obsessed with Donald Trump, has a desire to see Trump incarcerated and has a propensity to lie.

"He has a goal, an obsession, with getting Trump. I submit to you he cannot be trusted," Blanche said.

On Sunday night, Cohen publicly posted online that he had a "mental excitement about this trial" and the testimony he would deliver, Blanche said.

"His entire financial livelihood depends on President Trump's destruction," Blanche said. "You cannot make a serious decision about President Trump by relying on the words of Michael Cohen.

Apr 22, 11:47 AM
Trump had 'nothing to do,' with invoices, defense says

"I have a spoiler alert," defense attorney Todd Blanche told jurors during his opening statement. "There is nothing wrong with trying to influence an election. It's called democracy."

Amid frequent objections from prosecutors, Blanche argued that the Manhattan district attorney has attempted to make the payments and non-disclosure agreements between Trump and Stormy Daniels "sinister" to the jury.

Judge Merchan had to interrupt Blanche's opening after multiple objections from prosecutors, then he met the parties at a sidebar conference, after which he struck a line from Blanche's opening.

"There is nothing illegal about entering into a non-disclosure agreement. Period," Blanche restated after the portion of his opening was struck from the record.

Blanche's opening has come off more casual and off-the-cuff than the state's opening, with Blanche improvising and posing hypotheticals to argue that accountants at the Trump Organization did not run the invoices by Trump as he was "running the country."

"'Hey, we got this invoice. I know we are trying to cover it up here,'" Blanche said sarcastically about how prosecutors described how accountants received invoices from Cohen. "Absolutely not."

According to Blanche, Trump was unaware of how the invoices were processed by his employees.

"President Trump has nothing to do -- nothing to do -- with the invoice, with the check being generated, or with the entry on the ledger," Blanche said, arguing that Trump was busy "in the White House while he was running the country."

"The reality is that President Trump is not on the hook -- criminally responsible -- for something Michael Cohen might have done years after the fact. The evidence will prove otherwise," Blanche said.

Apr 22, 11:38 AM
'None of this was a crime,' defense attorney says

Donald Trump is "not just our former president, he's not just Donald Trump that you've seen on TV," said defense attorney Todd Blanche in his opening statement.

"He's also a man. He's a husband," Blanche said. "He's a father."

Blanche pushed back on the DA's overall allegation that the payments to Trump's attorney Michael Cohen were weren't only payback for Stormy Daniels by using the prosecutor's own words against him.

Blanche noted that Cohen paid $130,000 to Daniels, but that Trump paid back Cohen a total of $420,000. If Trump really was a frugal businessman, as prosecutors said, why would he overpay that money, Blanche asked.

"Ask yourself, would a frugal businessman, a man who pinched his pennies, repay a $130,000 debt to the tune of $420,000?" Blanche asked.

Blanche repeatedly reiterated that Cohen truly was an attorney for Trump and was doing legal work for him, pointing out that Michael Cohen's own email signature noted he was Trump's attorney.

"None of this was a crime," Blanche said, saying the 34 counts against Trump "are really just 34 pieces of paper."

Apr 22, 11:30 AM
Trump 'did not commit any crimes,' defense tells jury

"President Trump is innocent. President Trump did not commit any crimes," defense attorney Todd Blanche said to begin the defense's opening statements.

"The Manhattan district attorney's office should never have brought this case," Blanche said.

"You will hear me and others refer to him as President Trump. That is a title he has earned because he was our 45th President," Blanche added.
 

Apr 22, 11:26 AM
Prosecutor says jury can believe Cohen despite mistakes

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told the jury, during his opening statement, "During this trial you're going to hear a lot about Michael Cohen.”

Trump's former personal attorney, Cohen is a key witness -- perhaps the only one that will testify to Donald Trump’s intent when he agreed to pay Stormy Daniels hush money.

The defense “will go to great lengths” to convince the jury Cohen is not credible, Colangelo said.

He acknowledged that Cohen had earlier lied regarding the matter. “He lied about it to protect his boss,” Colangelo said. “You will also learn that Michael Cohen has a criminal record.”

Colangelo told jurors they can believe Cohen despite his past mistakes.

“Cohen's testimony will be backed up by testimony from other witnesses you will hear from, including David Pecker, Keith Davidson. It will be backed up by an extensive paper trail. And it will be backed up by Donald Trump’s own words,” the prosecutor said.

Colangelo concluded by saying, “This case is about a criminal conspiracy and a cover-up, an illegal conspiracy to undermine the integrity of a presidential election and then the steps that Donald Trump took to conceal that election fraud. At the end of the case we are confident you will have no reasonable doubt that Donald Trump is guilty of falsifying business records.”

Apr 22, 11:16 AM
'It was election fraud, pure and simple,' prosecutor says

"It was election fraud, pure and simple," prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told the jury during opening statements as he outlined the hush payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and how it was logged by the Trump Organization

Dylan Howard, then editor of the National Enquirer, had called Trump attorney Michael Cohen to inform him about Daniels and the story that she had of a sexual liaison with Trump, which the former president has long denied.

"Cohen then discussed the situation with Trump who is adamant that he did not want the story to come out," Colangelo said. "it could have been devastating to his campaign."

At the time, Trump and the campaign were "deeply concerned" about the "Access Hollywood" video, the prosecutor said. Cohen wired the $130,000 to Daniels' lawyer to keep her quiet.

"Cohen made that payment at Donald Trump's direction and for his benefit and he did it with the special goal of influencing the election
This was not spin or communications strategy. This was a planned, coordinated long-running conspiracy to influence the 2016 election to help DT get elected through illegal expenditures to silence people who had something bad about his behavior. It was election fraud, pure and simple," Colangelo said.

Apr 22, 11:10 AM
'Access Hollywood' tape was 'explosive,' prosecutors claim

Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo read aloud part of the transcript of the infamous "Access Hollywood" tape to jurors.

"You can do anything," Colangelo slowly read to the jurors, quoting Trump from the tape. "Grab them by the p----. You can do anything."

According to Colangelo, the October 2016 release of the tape had an "immediate and explosive" impact on Donald Trump's presidential campaign.

"Seeing and hearing a candidate in his own words, in his own voice, with his own body language ... has a much greater impact on voters than words on paper," Colangelo said. "The campaign went on immediate damage control mode to blunt the impact of the tape."

The campaign was concerned about the impact it might have on Trump voters or even the possibility that Trump could lose the Republican nomination one month out from the election, according to Colangelo.

"The Republican National Committee even considered whether it was too late to replace their own nominee," Colangelo said.

Apr 22, 11:04 AM
Trump, listening to openings, shakes his head

Former President Trump, sitting at the defense table, softly shook his head "no" when prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told the jurors that Trump formed a "conspiracy" with Michael Cohen and David Pecker to "help him get elected."

It was one of the most notable reactions from Trump as he sits and listens to prosecutors lay out their story of the case.

Colangelo then brought up the "Access Hollywood" tape and said it showed Trump "bragging about sexual assault," Trump shook his head no again, pursing his lips. He did not react when Colangelo, quoting Trump on the tape, said, "grab them by the p----."

Earlier, as Colangelo brought up a former Trump doorman who was he said was paid off as part of the alleged catch-and-kill scheme, Trump -- looking annoyed -- leaned over and tapped his lawyer Todd Blanche. When Colangelo said the doorman was paid $30,000 to bury his story, Trump raised his eyebrows and grabbed onto a pen.

The former president has been passing notes and sliding papers between Blanche and attorney Emil Bove, and leaning side-to-side, whispering to them. Blanche at one point pulled out his own sticky note and slid a note back to Trump.

At other times he has hardly seemed engaged at all, slumping in his red leather chair looking straight forward with no facial expression, or fidgeting with his head tilting back and forth. At one point during jury instructions he let out a yawn.

Apr 22, 10:48 AM
Prosecutor alleges 3-prong conspiracy

"It starts with that August 2015 meeting in Trump Tower," prosecutor Matthew Colangelo told jurors about the alleged conspiracy, in his opening statement.

Following a meeting between Donald Trump, his then-lawyer Michael Cohen, and AMI executive David Pecker, the three engaged in a three-prong conspiracy to help influence the 2016 election, according to Colangelo.

First, the National Enquirer would run "headline after headline that extolled the defendant's virtues," according to Colangelo.

"Pecker had the ultimate say over publication decisions," Colangelo said, adding that Trump edited, killed, and suggested the cover of the magazine.

Second, the National Enquirer would run negative stories attacking Trump's opponents in the 2016 Republican primary, such as attacks on Ben Caron or Marco Rubio.

Third, the "core of the conspiracy" was killing negative stories about Trump -- evolving into the catch-and kill scheme, Colangelo said.

"The National Enquirer ran these stories as part of the conspiracy launched after the Trump Tower meeting," he said.

Apr 22, 10:40 AM
'This case is about a criminal conspiracy,' prosecutor says

"This case is about a criminal conspiracy," prosecutor Matthew Colangelo began his opening statement in Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York.

"The defendant, Donald Trump, orchestrated a criminal scheme to corrupt the 2016 presidential election," the prosecutor said.

The utterance represents the first time a prosecutor has sought to implicate a former president in a crime at his trial.

Colangelo said Trump schemed with his attorney Michael Cohen and National Enquirer publisher David Pecker "to influence the presidential election by concealing negative information about former President Trump."

Trump slouched in his seat the defense table, listening.

"The defendant said in his business records that he was paying Cohen for legal services pursuant to a retainer agreement. But those were lies," Colangelo said. "The defendant was paying him back for an illegal payment to Stormy Daniels on the eve of the election."

Apr 22, 10:21 AM
Trump is 'presumed to be innocent,' judge tells jury

Donald Trump faced forward and did not appear to make eye contact with any jurors as they entered the courtroom and took their seats in the jury box.

Before any of the lawyers in the case could speak a word, Judge Merchan launched into a lengthy speech outlining how the trial will work.

“We are about to begin the trial of People of the State of New York v. Donald Trump,” Merchan told the 12 jurors and six alternates.

Merchan emphasized that the burden of proof rests on the prosecutors and that jurors should presume that Trump is innocent. A guilty verdict requires that each juror determines that the state proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt, Merchan said.

“The defendant is presumed to be innocent,” Merchan said. “It is not sufficient to prove that the defendant is probably guilty.”

Merchan attempted to set expectations for the jurors, only two of which have ever served on a jury before. For example, Merchan told the jurors not to expect the lawyers to launch into lengthy speeches outside of the opening and closing statements.

“That happens in TV and in movies, but it doesn’t happen in real trials,” Merchan said.

Apr 22, 10:09 AM
Judge issues mixed ruling on cross-examination of Trump

Judge Juan Merchan ruled that if Trump takes the stand, prosecutors can question him about a number of previous legal issues -- but the judge limited the scope of the cases and the extent to which prosecutors can question him about the facts of those cases.

The ruling is a mixed bag for Trump, who had sought to entirely block questioning on these previous issues if he takes the stand.

Judge Merchan ruled that Trump can be questioned by the DA's office on six determinations from four previous proceedings, including aspects of his New York civil fraud case and the gag order violations there, as well as both E. Jean Carrol verdicts and the Trump foundation case.

Prosecutors had originally asked to question Trump about six different proceedings with 13 total determinations.

Merchan said with his ruling, he has "greatly curtailed" how much prosecutors can discuss the underlying facts of those cases.

"The court cautions the defendant that this Sandoval ruling is a shield, not a sword," Merchan said.

Apr 22, 9:59 AM
Schedule set for today's proceedings

Prosecutors told Judge Merchan that they need 40 minutes for their opening statements.

Defense attorneys told the judge they need 25 minutes.

The judge also announced that court will break at 12:30 p.m. ET today, after a juror had a toothache and got an emergency appointment this afternoon.

Court had already been scheduled to end early today, at 2 p.m. ET, due to the Passover holiday.

Apr 22, 9:52 AM
Issue with Juror No. 9 is resolved

Judge Juan Merchan announced there is an issue with Juror No. 9 -- who, according to Merchan, "was concerned about media attention" of the case. According to Merchan, the juror "wasn't 100% sure" they could serve.

Merchan said they would speak to the juror in chambers to "find out what the issue is and see if this juror can continue to serve."

After a brief sidebar, the judge announced: “Juror No. 9 is going to remain with us.”

There are six alternate jurors seated in case any of the 12 jurors cannot serve.

Apr 22, 9:44 AM
Trump tells reporters it's a 'sad day in America'

On his way into the courtroom for the day's proceedings, Trump once again alleged that the trial constitutes election interference, claiming that the proceedings are unfairly keeping him off the campaign trail.

"Everybody knows that I'm here instead of being able to be in Pennsylvania and Georgia and lots of other places campaigning, and it's very unfair," he told reporters.

"It's a very, very sad day in America," he said. "I can tell you that."

The former president is seated at the defense table between his lawyers Todd Blanche and Emil Bove.

Apr 22, 9:37 AM
Proceedings are underway

The proceedings are underway in former President Donald Trump's hush money trial. Trump and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg are both in the courtroom.

Three prosecutors -- Joshua Steinglass, Matthew Colangelo, and Susan Hoffinger -- are seated at the counsel table.

Bragg is seated in the front row of the gallery with approximately a dozen lawyers and staff from his office.

Apr 22, 9:26 AM
Ex-National Enquirer publisher to be 1st witness, say sources

The first witness prosecutors with the Manhattan DA's office plan to call is former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

ABC News previously reported that prosecutors planned to call Pecker as a witness, but sources now say he's expected to be the first witness to take the stand.

Pecker served as the longtime chief executive of American Media Inc., which published the National Enquirer.

Shortly after Trump announced his 2016 presidential campaign, Pecker met with Trump and agreed to act as the "eyes and ears" of the campaign by looking out for and killing negative stories about Trump, according to the Manhattan DA.

As part of the arrangement, Pecker allegedly directed a deal to pay $30,000 to a former Trump Tower doorman regarding the false allegation that Trump allegedly fathered a child out of wedlock, prosecutors say. Then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen allegedly insisted that the deal stay in place even after AMI discovered the allegation was false, and AMI paid the doorman, according to the Manhattan DA.

Apr 22, 5:55 AM
Attorneys to present opening statements in historic trial

After a week-long selection process, the jurors in Donald Trump's New York hush money case will hear opening statements Monday in the first criminal trial of a former United States president.

To prove their case, lawyers for Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg need to convince 12 jurors beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump repeatedly falsified records related to unlawfully influencing the 2016 presidential election.

"This case has nothing to do with your personal politics or your feelings about a particular political issue," prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told potential jurors on Thursday. "It's not a referendum on the Trump Presidency, a popularity contest, or any indication of who you plan to vote for this fall. This case is about whether this man broke the law."

Trump's lawyers are expected to focus their efforts on going after the credibility of prosecution witnesses, suggesting the case itself is politically motivated and arguing the former president never intended to commit a crime.

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Woman charged after allegedly crashing car into birthday party, killing 2 young kids

WXYZ

(NEWPORT, Mich.) -- A woman is facing second-degree murder charges after she allegedly drove into a child's birthday party in Michigan, killing two children and injuring several others, officials said.

Marshella Chidester, 66, allegedly struck a building at the Swan Creek Boat Club in Newport Saturday afternoon, and her car came to rest about 25 feet inside the building, according to the sheriff and prosecutors.

An 8-year-old girl and her 4-year-old brother were killed, Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Jeffery Yorkey said.

The victims' mother and 11-year-old brother suffered serious injuries, Yorkey said.

A 14-year-old boy and an 18-year-old woman also suffered serious injuries, the prosecutor said.

Childester is charged with two counts of second-degree murder, two counts of operating while intoxicated causing death and four counts of operating while intoxicated causing serious injury, Yorkey said.

Chidester was arraigned on Tuesday and is due to return to court on April 30.

ABC News' Victoria Arancio contributed to this report.

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