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10 things you need to know today: April 26, 2023

Chief Justice John Roberts declines invitation to testify to Senate on ethics, the Taliban reportedly kills Kabul bombing mastermind, and more


Chief Justice John Roberts declines Senate invitation to testify on court ethics

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts said in a letter to Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Tuesday that he would "respectfully decline" a request to testify about ethics standards at the high court, citing "separation of powers concerns and the importance of preserving judicial independence." The panel invited Roberts to a May 2 hearing following a series of revelations involving Justice Clarence Thomas. Durbin said Roberts' reply ignores issues raised after "one justice" failed to disclose luxury travel he was gifted or his sale of property to the same benefactor. Separately, Politico reported Tuesday that Justice Neil Gorsuch and two partners sold property in Colorado to the chief executive of Greenberg Traurig, a law firm with frequent business before the Supreme Court.


Report: Taliban kills mastermind of Kabul airport bombing

The Taliban has killed the leader of the Islamic State cell that bombed the Kabul airport in August 2021, The New York Times and The Washington Post reported Tuesday, citing senior U.S. officials. The suicide bombing killed 13 U.S. troops and close to 170 civilians. The officials did not share the individual's name, only saying they had "high confidence" he was the mastermind of the airport attack, which took place as U.S. troops were evacuating people from Kabul following the Taliban's takeover. It isn't clear whether the Taliban purposely targeted the ISIS leader or if he was killed in a battle between the two groups, according to the Times reports. The U.S. was not involved in the operation, officials said.


Americans, civilians evacuate Sudan during cease-fire

More foreign aid workers and local civilians managed to escape Sudan's capital, Khartoum, on Tuesday as the two factions fighting for control of the northeast African nation largely respected the early hours of a shaky three-day cease-fire. The United States and other countries earlier evacuated staff at their embassies. "There were power cuts, no running water, no access to cash. So I left with only $20," Lakshmi Parthasarathy, a 32-year-old travel writer from Massachusetts who was among thousands of Americans trapped in Khartoum, told NBC News after hitchhiking out of the city. The World Health Organization warned that one of the warring sides had seized control of a national health facility that stores measles and cholera pathogens for vaccinations, creating a "high risk biological hazard."


Trump civil trial over rape allegation begins

The trial started Tuesday in a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump over a nearly 30-year-old rape claim. Lawyers for former President Trump and E. Jean Carroll, a former advice columnist who says Trump raped her in a changing room in an upscale New York department store in the mid-1990s, clashed in their opening arguments over Carroll's motivations for filing the suit. Carroll's attorney, Shawn Crowley, said the accuser wants to hold Trump accountable and "restore her good name." Trump lawyer Joseph Tacopina blasted Carroll's claims as untrue, saying she made the allegations against Trump seeking money and fame. "She became a celebrity and loved every minute of it," Tacopina said. 


Defense lawyer says Proud Boys motivated by Trump

A defense attorney for Proud Boys leader Enrique Tarrio said during closing arguments in a key trial over the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack that Trump's supporters are taking the fall for doing what he told them to do. "It was Donald Trump's words. It was his motivation. It was his anger that caused what occurred on Jan. 6 in your beautiful and amazing city," the lawyer, Nayib Hassan, said. Tarrio and four of his lieutenants in the right-wing group have been charged with seditious conspiracy. Prosecutors say they were part of a plot to stop the transfer of power from Trump to President Biden by storming the Capitol to stop Congress from certifying the 2020 election result.


Biden threatens to veto GOP proposal on debt-ceiling conditions

President Biden on Tuesday threatened to veto House Republicans' proposal to raise the debt ceiling in exchange for deep spending cuts. Biden said the GOP plan is "a reckless attempt to extract extreme concessions as a condition for the United States simply paying the bills it has already incurred." The Republican-controlled House Rules Committee started considering the "Limit, Save, Grow Act of 2023" Tuesday, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) aims to bring it to the floor on Wednesday. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said he had no plan for the Senate to consider McCarthy's plan, calling it "a partisan wish list masquerading as legislation."


More bodies found on farm of Kenyan cult leader

The number of bodies exhumed on the farm of a Kenyan cult leader rose to 89 on Tuesday, and authorities in Kenya now say the death toll could exceed 200, judging by the number of members of Paul Mackenzie's Good News International Church still missing. Mackenzie allegedly told his followers in the Christian cult to fast so they could "meet Jesus." Police arrested Mackenzie after receiving a tip that his farm in the Shakahola forest in eastern Kenya's Kilifi County contained mass graves. Authorities haven't charged Mackenzie but are holding him so he can't interfere with the investigation.


Cruz pushed for 2020 voter fraud commission in tape made by Fox News producer

Just before the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack, Sen. Ted Cruz (R) pushed for creating a congressionally appointed electoral commission to assess unsubstantiated claims of 2020 voter fraud, according to a recording made by former Fox News producer Abby Grossberg and obtained by The Washington Post. The recording, made on Jan. 2, 2021, confirms previous reports on Cruz's efforts, but also features a previously private conversation Cruz had with Grossberg and Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo that reveals the extent of his efforts to help then-President Donald Trump overturn his loss to President Biden. Cruz says in the conversation that he had lined up 11 senators to object to the certification of the election to support the push for a commission "investigative authority to consider the facts."


First Republic shares plunge after bank reveals huge deposit outflow

First Republic Bank's stock plummeted by 49 percent on Tuesday afternoon, a day after the company reported that customers withdrew $100 billion in deposits in the first quarter. Trading in First Republic shares was halted several times during the afternoon. Many regional banks have struggled in the aftermath of the collapse of two mid-size banks, but First Republic has been the focus of a lot of investors' anxiety due to a surge in withdrawals. The bank fell the most of any S&P 500 stock on Tuesday, and was the most actively traded, according to Dow Jones Market Data. First Republic said Monday that despite the outflows it had held onto 97 percent of its clients.


Harry Belafonte dies at 96

Singer, actor, and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte died Tuesday of congestive heart failure at his Manhattan home. He was 96. At a time when Black performers were rarely showcased on the big or small screen, Belafonte broke racial barriers with his music and almost single-handedly started a Caribbean music craze with songs like "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" and "Jamaica Farewell" on his album Calypso, which reached the top of the Billboard chart and stayed there 31 weeks. His good looks and charisma made him a big draw in concerts and the first Black actor to be a leading man in Hollywood films. He later made a mark during the civil rights era, marching alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.


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