10 things you need to know today: March 31, 2023
A New York grand jury indicts Trump over his role in hush money payment to porn star, Finland clears the last hurdle to join NATO, and more
Grand jury votes to indict Trump
A Manhattan grand jury has voted to indict former President Donald Trump over his role in hush money payments to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign. Trump, who is expected to surrender Tuesday, is the first former president to face criminal charges. Trump's then-fixer Michael Cohen says he arranged a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, who claimed she had an affair years earlier with Trump, which he denies. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's investigation has focused on whether Trump's company falsified records to cover up checks reimbursing Cohen. Trump, now running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, said he is "a completely innocent person," and accused Bragg, a Democrat, of a "Political Persecution and Election Interference at the highest level in history."
Finland clears final hurdle for NATO membership
Turkey's parliament on Thursday approved letting Finland join NATO. Turkey was the last of NATO's 30 members to ratify Finland's membership, so the vote cleared the final obstacle for the Nordic country to join the Western defense alliance. Hungary approved Finland's bid earlier this week. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that Finland clinched his country's backing by following through with promises to take measures against groups Turkey considers terrorists. Sweden, like Finland, applied to join NATO in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, but Turkey and Hungary are holding up its bid. Finland said NATO membership will "strengthen Finland's security and improve stability and security in the Baltic Sea region and Northern Europe."
Diehard Trump fans rally near his Florida home
Dozens of former President Donald Trump's supporters gathered near his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida, on Thursday in a show of solidarity after a New York grand jury indicted him over his role in hush money payments to porn actress Stormy Daniels. Waving pro-Trump flags and wearing MAGA gear, the demonstrators said they were there to "rally behind Trump." Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a likely Trump rival in the 2024 presidential primaries, said his state's government would not cooperate with any request by New York to extradite Trump to face charges, accusing prosecutors of "the weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda," which he said was "un-American." Other Republican leaders also rushed to Trump's defense.
White House condemns Russia for detaining U.S. journalist
The Biden administration on Thursday condemned Russia's arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. Russian authorities detained the 31-year-old Gershkovich, a Russian speaker whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from the Soviet Union, on espionage charges, making him the first American journalist Moscow has accused of spying since the Cold War. The two countries have butted heads several times recently about the arrests of each other's citizens, and over Russia's invasion of Ukraine. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeated the Biden administration's warning against Americans traveling to Russia. "It is not safe," she said. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned Kremlin efforts to "intimidate, repress, and punish journalists and civil society voices."
Judge rejects ObamaCare preventive health coverage requirement
A federal judge in Texas on Thursday struck down an ObamaCare requirement that insurance plans cover preventive health care such as cancer and diabetes screenings and pregnancy care. The provision also called for insurance plans to cover certain drugs, like those for HIV prevention. The ruling could mark a major setback for President Biden's so-called cancer moonshot goal of using early screenings to sharply reduce cancer rates. Judge Reed O'Connor of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas said the Affordable Care Act mandate violated the Constitution's appointments clause, because the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force's members were not presidential appointees confirmed by the Senate.
Las Vegas mass shooting investigation finds no clear motive
The FBI and the Las Vegas police department have concluded their investigation into the deadliest mass shooting by a single gunman in modern U.S. history without identifying a definitive motive for the 2017 massacre, which left 60 people dead and hundreds injured. A fellow gambler told the FBI that gunman Stephen Paddock, who killed himself after shooting people at a Las Vegas music festival from his hotel room window, had expressed anger at the casino, which he felt wasn't showing him the respect he deserved as a high roller. After releasing documents in response to a Wall Street Journal open-records request, Las Vegas police defended the inconclusive report, saying speculating about Paddock's motive would cause "more harm" to the victims.
Train carrying ethanol derails, sparking fire
A train carrying ethanol and corn syrup derailed early Thursday in rural Minnesota, forcing residents of the small city of Raymond to evacuate their homes as a precaution after several cars caught fire. "The fireman woke us pounding on the door to evacuate," said Christine O'Leary, 44, who lives three blocks from the crash site. "We saw the cars on fire and smelled the smoke. It was crazy. Fire trucks came from everywhere." No injuries were immediately reported. The main track remained blocked through the day and BNSF railroad said it didn't know when the line would be reopened.
Virgin Orbit halts operations after failing to secure funding
Virgin Orbit, which developed a system to put satellites into orbit using a modified 747 jet that drops rockets mid-flight, is halting operations "for the foreseeable future," CEO Dan Hart told employees Thursday. "Unfortunately, we've not been able to secure the funding to provide a clear path for this company," Hart said, according to CNBC, which obtained a recording of his remarks. "We have no choice but to implement immediate, dramatic, and extremely painful changes." The company plans to eliminate about 90 percent of its staff, leaving it with 100 workers. Hart said people who are laid off will get severance and extended health benefits, and a "direct pipeline" to available jobs at sister company Virgin Galactic.
9 soldiers killed when 2 Army helicopters crash during training
Nine soldiers were killed when two Army Black Hawk helicopters crashed during a training exercise in Kentucky, the Fort Campbell Army base said early Thursday. All nine soldiers were members of the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell. The HH-60 Black Hawks, which were used for medical evacuation, were being flown with night vision goggles. The Army did not immediately identify the soldiers publicly. Tim Gore, a church pastor in North Carolina, said his son, 25-year-old Staff Sgt. Caleb Gore, was one of the soldiers killed. He described his son as a "gentle giant" who was training to be a registered nurse. "His passion was search and rescue," he said.
Gwyneth Paltrow found not liable for ski collision
A jury in Park City, Utah, on Thursday found actress Gwyneth Paltrow not liable for a 2016 ski collision at the upscale Deer Valley Resort, assigning 100 percent of the blame to retired optometrist Terry Sanderson, who had sued her for $300,000. The jury awarded Paltrow the symbolic $1 in damages she had requested in a countersuit, and Judge Kent Holmberg, who presided over the high-profile civil trial, will decide later if Sanderson, 76, has to pay for any of her legal fees. The two-week trial was "the biggest celebrity court case since actors Johnny Depp and Amber Heard faced off last year," The Associated Press reported.