Israeli tanks reach central Rafah as strikes continue

Rushdi Abu Alouf,David GrittenShare

Reuters A man and a young boy walk among ruins in Rafah

Israeli forces have reportedly reached the centre of the southern Gaza city of Rafah and seized a strategically important hill overlooking the nearby border with Egypt.

Witnesses and local journalists said tanks were stationed at al-Awda roundabout, which is considered a key landmark.

They also said tanks were on Zoroub Hill, effectively giving Israel control of the Philadelphi Corridor – a narrow strip of land running along the border to the sea.

The Israeli military said its troops were continuing activities against “terror targets” in Rafah, three weeks after it launched the ground operation there.

Western areas of the city also came under intense bombardment overnight, residents said, despite international condemnation of an Israeli air strike and a resulting fire on Sunday that killed dozens of Palestinians at a tented camp for displaced people.

The Israeli military said it was investigating the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons stored by Hamas in the vicinity.

It also denied reports from local health and emergency services officials on Tuesday afternoon that tank shells had hit another camp in al-Mawasi, on the coast west of Rafah, killing at least 21 people.

Reuters news agency cited local health officials as saying the blast occurred after Israeli tank shells hit a cluster of tents in al-Mawasi on Tuesday. An official in the Hamas-run civil defence force also told AFP there had been a deadly Israeli strike on tents.

Videos posted to social media and analysed by BBC Verify showed multiple people with serious injuries, some lying motionless on the ground, near tents and other temporary structures.

There was no clear sign of a blast zone or crater, making it impossible to ascertain the cause of the incident. The location – verified through reference to surrounding buildings – is between Rafah and al-Mawasi, and lies south of the IDF’s designated humanitarian zone.

The IDF said in a statement: “Contrary to the reports from the last few hours, the IDF did not strike in the humanitarian area in al-Mawasi.”

Israel has insisted that victory in its seven-month war with Hamas in Gaza is impossible without taking Rafah and rejected warnings that it could have catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

The UN says around a million people have now fled the fighting in Rafah, but several hundred thousand more could still be sheltering there.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began what they called “targeted” ground operations against Hamas fighters and infrastructure in the east of Rafah on 6 May.

Since then, tanks and troops have gradually pushed into built-up eastern and central areas while also moving northwards along the 13km (8-mile) border with Egypt.

On Tuesday, they reportedly reached the city centre for the first time.

The al-Awda roundabout, which is only 800m (2,600 ft) from the border, is the location of major banks, government institutions, businesses, and shops.

One witness said they saw soldiers position themselves at the top of a building overlooking the roundabout and then begin to shoot at anyone who was moving.

Video posted online meanwhile showed tank track marks on a road about 3km west of al-Awda roundabout and 300m from the Indonesian field hospital, which was damaged overnight.

Reuters A Palestinian girl sits on top of possessions being transported by a cart in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip (28 May 2024)
The UN says around a million people have fled Rafah since the start of the Israeli ground operation in the city

Earlier, residents told the BBC that tanks seized Zoroub Hill, about 2.5km north-west of al-Awda roundabout, after gun battles with Hamas-led fighters.

The hill is highest point along the Egyptian border and its seizure means the entire Gazan side of the border is now effectively under Israeli control.

Zoroub Hill also overlooks western Rafah, where residents said there had been the heaviest air and artillery strikes overnight since the start of the Israeli operation.

A local journalist said the bombardment forced hundreds of families to seek temporary shelter in the courtyard of a hospital, while ambulances struggled to reach casualties in the affected areas.

At dawn, thousands of people were seen heading north, crammed into cars and lorries and onto carts pulled by donkeys and horses.

“The explosions are rattling our tent, my children are frightened, and my sick father makes it impossible for us to escape the darkness,” resident Khaled Mahmoud told the BBC.

“We are supposed to be in a safe zone according to the Israeli army, yet we have not received evacuation orders like those in the eastern [Rafah] region,” he added. “We fear for our lives if no-one steps in to protect us.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) did not comment on the various reports but put out a statement saying that “overnight troops operated on the Philadelphi Corridor while conducting precise operational activity based on intelligence indicating the presence of terror targets in the area”.

“The activity is being conducted as efforts are continuing to be made in order to prevent harm to uninvolved civilians in the area,” it added.

“The troops are engaging with terrorists in close-quarters combat and locating terror tunnel shafts, weapons, and additional terrorist infrastructure in the area.”

The IDF has told civilians in eastern Rafah to evacuate for their own safety to an “expanded humanitarian area” stretching from al-Mawasi, a coastal area just north of Rafah, to the central town of Deir al-Balah.

EPA A Palestinian woman reacts next to tents destroyed by a fire triggered by an Israeli air strike in western Rafah on Sunday, in the southern Gaza Strip (28 May 2024)
Israel’s prime minister said the killing of civilians in an air strike and resulting fire in Rafah on Sunday was a “tragedy”

On Sunday night, at least 45 people – more than half of them children, women and the elderly – were killed when an Israeli air strike triggered a huge fire in a camp for displaced people near a UN logistics base in the Tal al-Sultan area, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Hundreds more were treated for severe burns, fractures and shrapnel wounds.

The IDF said it was targeting two senior Hamas officials in the attack, which happened hours after Hamas fighters in south-eastern Rafah launched rockets towards the Israeli city of Tel Aviv for the first time in months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a “tragic incident” had occurred “despite our immense efforts to avoid harming non-combatants” and promised a thorough investigation.

IDF chief spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said on Tuesday that the strike had targeted a structure used by the Hamas commanders which was away from any tents, using “two munitions with small warheads”.

“Following this strike, a large fire ignited for reasons that are still being investigated. Our munitions alone could not have ignited a fire of this size,” he said.

Rear Adm Hagari added that investigators were looking into the possibility that the fire was caused by the explosion of weapons or ammunition stored in a nearby structure, and played what he said was an intercepted telephone conversation between two Gazans suggesting that. The audio recording could not immediately be verified.

Sam Rose of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, Unrwa, told the BBC from western Rafah that the killing of so many civilians could not be dismissed as an accident.

“Gaza was already one of the most overcrowded places on the planet. It is absolutely impossible to prosecute a military campaign involving large-scale munitions, strikes from the sky, the sea, the tanks, without exacting large-scale civilian casualties,” he said.

“It seems like we are plumbing new depths of horror, bloodshed and brutality with every single day. And if this isn’t a wake-up call, then it’s hard to see what will be.”

Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Israel to “immediately halt its military offensive, and any other action in the Rafah Governorate, which may inflict on the Palestinian group in Gaza conditions of life that could bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

Israel launched a military campaign in Gaza to destroy Hamas in response to the group’s cross-border attack on southern Israel on 7 October, during which about 1,200 people were killed and 252 others were taken hostage.

At least 36,090 people have been killed in Gaza since then, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

Russian plot to kill Zelensky foiled, Kyiv says

Telegram/SBU Footage shows a man being arrested
Ukraine said it arrested two Ukrainian officials who worked with the Russian security services

The Ukrainian security service (SBU) says it has foiled a Russian plot to assassinate President Volodymyr Zelensky and other high-ranking Ukrainian officials.

Two Ukrainian government protection unit colonels have been arrested.

The SBU said they were part of a network of agents belonging to the Russian state security service (FSB).

They had reportedly been searching for willing “executors” among Mr Zelensky’s bodyguards to kidnap and kill him.

Ever since Russian paratroopers attempted to land in Kyiv and assassinate President Zelensky in the early hours and days of the full-scale invasion, plots to assassinate him have been commonplace.

The Ukrainian leader said at the start of the invasion he was Russia’s “number one target”.

But this alleged plot stands out from the rest. It involves serving colonels, whose job it was to keep officials and institutions safe, allegedly hired as moles.

Other targets included military intelligence head Kyrylo Budanov and SBU chief Vasyl Malyuk, the agency added.

The group had reportedly planned to kill Mr Budanov before Orthodox Easter, which this year fell on 5 May.

According to the SBU, the plotters had aimed to use a mole to get information about his location, which they would then have attacked with rockets, drones and anti-tank grenades.

One of the officers who was later arrested had already bought drones and anti-personnel mines, the SBU said.

Telegram/SBU An anti-tank grenade
The SBU said it found various ordnance, including an anti-tank grenade, on the plotters

SBU head Vasyl Malyuk said the attack was supposed to be “a gift to Putin before the inauguration” – referring to Russia’s Vladimir Putin who was sworn in for a fifth term as president at the Kremlin on Tuesday.

The operation turned into a failure of the Russian special services, Mr Malyuk said.

“But we must not forget – the enemy is strong and experienced, he cannot be underestimated,” he added.

The two Ukrainian officials are being held on suspicion of treason and of preparing a terrorist act.

The SBU said three FSB employees oversaw the organisation and the attack.

One of them, named as Dmytro Perlin, had been recruiting “moles” since before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Another FSB employee, Oleksiy Kornev, reportedly held “conspiratorial” meetings “in neighbouring European states” before the invasion with one of the Ukrainian colonels arrested.

In a released interrogation with one of the suspects, they can be heard describing how they were paid thousands of dollars directly by parcels or indirectly through their relatives. It is not clear whether he was speaking under duress or not.

Investigators insist they monitored the men throughout. We are unlikely to know how close they came to carrying out their alleged plan.

The plot may read like a thriller but it is also a reminder of the risks Ukraine’s wartime leader faces.

Last month, a Polish man was arrested and charged with planning to co-operate with Russian intelligence services to aid a possible assassination of Mr Zelensky.

At the weekend Ukraine’s president appeared on the Russian interior ministry’s wanted list on unspecified charges.

The foreign ministry in Kyiv condemned the move as showing “the desperation of the Russian state machine and propaganda”, and pointed out that the International Criminal Court had issued a warrant for Vladimir Putin’s arrest.

Australian PM calls Elon Musk an ‘arrogant billionaire’ in row over attack footage

Reuters Elon MuskReutersElon Musk (pictured) has accused Anthony Albanese of censorship

Australia’s leader has called Elon Musk an “arrogant billionaire” in an escalating feud over X’s reluctance to remove footage of a church stabbing.

On Monday, an Australian court ordered Mr Musk’s social media firm – formerly called Twitter – to hide videos of last week’s attack in Sydney.

X previously said it would comply “pending a legal challenge”.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s criticism followed Mr Musk using a meme to accuse his government of censorship.

On Tuesday, Mr Albanese told ABC News that Mr Musk “thinks he’s above the law but also above common decency”.

Last week Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, an independent regulator, threatened X and other social media companies with hefty fines if they did not remove videos of the stabbing at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church, which police have called a terror attack.

X has argued the order is “not within the scope of Australian law”.

The commissioner sought a court injunction after saying it was clear that X was allowing users outside Australia to continue accessing footage.

“I find it extraordinary that X chose not to comply and are trying to argue their case,” Mr Albanese told a press briefing.

In a subsequent series of online posts, Mr Musk wrote: “I’d like to take a moment to thank the PM for informing the public that this platform is the only truthful one.” Another depicted a Wizard of Oz-style path to “freedom” leading to an X logo.

Earlier, he also criticised eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant personally, describing her as the “Australian censorship commissar”.

Mr Albanese defended Ms Inman Grant, saying she was protecting Australians.

“Social media needs to have social responsibility with it. Mr Musk is not showing any,” he said.

The platform will have 24 hours to comply with Monday evening’s injunction, with a further hearing into the matter expected in the coming days.

If the US bans TikTok, China will be getting a taste of its own medicine

TikTok's headquarters in Culver City, California

TikTok’s headquarters in Culver City, California Ringo Chiu/AP

Editor’s Note: Sign up for CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter which explores what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world.Hong KongCNN — 

TikTok is now facing a ban in the United States, a fate that has already befallen a string of American social media giants that tried to make it in China.

On Wednesday, the US House of Representatives passed a bill which could ban TikTok in the country if its Chinese owner ByteDance doesn’t sell the app to an entity that satisfies the US government.

“The bill passed by the US House of Representatives puts the US on the opposite side of the principle of fair competition and international economic and trade rules,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin said at a briefing Thursday.

But American apps have long been barred in China. Beijing currently blocks most US social media platforms — including Google, YouTube, X, Instagram and Meta — because they refuse to follow the Chinese government’s rules on data collection and the type of content shared.

In 2010, Google pulled out from mainland China after operating there for four years. It said at the time that it was no longer willing to continue censoring results on, citing Chinese-originated hacks on it and other US companies.

More than 10 years after that high-profile retreat, the shoe is on the other foot, even if the circumstances aren’t exactly the same.

“The TikTok bill appears likely to become law and China’s displeasure seems ironic, if not hypocritical, given its stance toward American social apps,” said Brock Silvers, managing director at Kaiyuan Capital.

Asked about China’s stance on US apps, Wang said “this is completely different” and “you can clearly see what is bullying and what is gangster logic.”

The focus is now on the US Senate, where many lawmakers said they are still evaluating the legislation. President Joe Biden has said he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

US officials and legislators have long expressed concerns about TikTok’s potential national security risks, including that it could share data with the Chinese government, or manipulate content displayed on the platform. But TikTok has rejected the claims.

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On Thursday, following the House vote, the Chinese Commerce Ministry pledged that the country would take “all necessary measures” to safeguard its interests regarding TikTok.

The Chinese government has said it strongly opposes a forced sale of TikTok, and it has the legal ability to do so. It views TikTok’s technology as highly valuable and has taken steps since 2020 to ensure it can veto any sale by ByteDance.

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U.S. House adopts bill that could ban TikTok amid Trump resistance

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Beijing’s next steps

In August 2020, following an attempt by the Trump administration to force the sale of TikTok, Beijing revised its export control rules to cover a variety of technologies it deemed sensitive, including technology that appears similar to TikTok’s personalized information recommendation services.

Years later, in March 2023, a Commerce Ministry spokeswoman said in the government’s first direct response to the matter that China would oppose any forced sale of TikTok, because a sale or divestiture of the app would involve exporting technology and had to be approved by the Chinese government. Beijing has not indicated any change to this position since then.

A man walks past the headquarters of ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, in Beijing.

A man walks past the headquarters of ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, in Beijing. Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images

TikTok’s algorithms, which keep users glued to the app, are believed to be key to its success. The algorithms give recommendations based on users’ behavior, thus pushing videos they actually like and want to watch.

“TikTok’s crown jewel, its AI algorithms, will put the company into a legal tug of war,” said Winston Ma, adjunct professor at New York University School of Law, adding that ByteDance is subject to Chinese laws that require it to seek Beijing’s approval before selling advanced technologies.

Silvers said it was possible that TikTok could seek a “middle ground” to try to meet US requirements for ownership, but it’s unclear whether American concerns can be mollified by cosmetic change.

He said the episode is likely to worsen relations between Beijing and Washington, which are already mired in an escalating battle over access to advanced technology such as computer chips and AI.

“Markets should expect [China to have] retaliatory actions against US firms as tech and trade issues continue on a negative trajectory,” he said.

Other apps?

If TikTok is eventually banned, more Chinese-owned apps in the US may be next in line, according to Alex Capri, a research fellow at the Hinrich Foundation and a lecturer at the National University of Singapore Business School.

“This latest episode with TikTok underscores the need for a much more robust regulatory framework in the US to address existential issues wrought by big-tech, in general,” he said.

Applications from Chinese developers popular in the US App Store or Google Play include budget retailers Temu and Shein, as well as short-form video editing app Capcut, which is also owned by ByteDance.

“This legislation marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing battle for control over emerging public opinion spaces, deepening the geopolitical contest between China and the US,” said Craig Singleton, senior China fellow at the non-partisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington, DC.

On Chinese social media site Weibo, hashtags related to TikTok being potentially banned in the US were trending on Thursday, generating 78 million views and thousands of discussion posts.

“Why can’t we just talk about business instead of elevating everything to the national [security] level?” said Weibo user “Mastering technology” in a post that was ranked “hot” by the platform. “Direct interference in business operations is inconsistent with the values of free market economy that the US has always advocated.”

“This is the US version of nationalism,” another user wrote.

Some online commentators urged Beijing to retaliate by taking action against US companies operating in China. But that was questioned by other users.

“We’ve already been unable to use Google, Twitter, and Facebook for more than a decade,” said one user. “I think we are way ahead of the US in blocking foreign news media [services].”

Capri said the saga exposes the “ironies and inequalities” of US-China commercial exchange.

“While China has completely banned [these] American apps, TikTok enjoys all the benefits of America’s free and open legal and political systems,” he said.

How Trump will seek to pit federal judges against each other to avoid trial

Former President Donald Trump onstage in Nashville on February 22, 2024.

Former President Donald Trump onstage in Nashville on February 22, 2024. Jon Cherry/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Former President Donald Trump’s lawyers see a major opportunity this week to use his criminal document mishandling case in Florida to create an impasse on his calendar for the two federal judges overseeing his major criminal cases.

Juggling his campaign and court calendar and playing his cases off one another is a key part of Trump’s legal strategy. The ultimate goal, his team has said openly, is to prevent Trump from being tried in federal court before voters cast their ballots in the 2024 general election.

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 19: The Supreme Court of the United States, on Wednesday, April 19, 2023 in Washington, DC. The High Court is expected to rule on whether or not to allow restrictions on the drugs mifepristone ordered by a lower court to take effect  as abortion opponents are seeking to roll back FDA approval of mifepristone, which is used in the most common method of abortion in the United States.

RELATED ARTICLEWhy isn’t the Supreme Court moving faster on Trump’s immunity challenge?

A primary aim for Trump’s legal team, according to people familiar with the strategy, is to put the judge in DC overseeing the 2020 federal election obstruction case, Tanya Chutkan, in a position where she can’t start a trial before Election Day.

“Meaning, ice her,” said a person familiar with Trump’s trial schedule strategy. “Making it impossible for her to jam a trial down before the election, by things that are out of her control.”

Chutkan set an initial trial date for March 4, which has been delayed indefinitely because of appeals. Yet if the Supreme Court returns the case to Chutkan, that trial could be back on the calendar within a month or two.

One way to hamper Chutkan is to convince the judge in Florida, Aileen Cannon, to move Trump’s Mar-a-Lago document mishandling trial from late May until the summer.

Then, as summer approaches, the Mar-a-Lago case may require Cannon to push the trial back again and again because of the legal complexities around classified documents that still have to be worked out, according to people familiar with the case.

Judges Aileen Canon and Tanya Chutkan

Judges Aileen Canon and Tanya Chutkan US Courts

Trump has already asked the federal judges and a state judge in a third criminal case he faces, the Georgia election subversion case, to delay any trials until after the November election. Both federal judges, Chutkan and Cannon, have said no. But a gradually shifting calendar could be just as effective at shielding Trump from other trials through the summer, multiple sources familiar with the former president’s legal strategy told CNN.

Cannon has signaled a willingness in recent months to considering pushing back the date. And the prosecutors and defense teams are engaged in protracted court fights over access to evidence – classified records and information from far corners of the federal government – that Cannon still has to resolve. Cannon is a Trump appointee in an area of Florida with many Trump voters in a potential jury pool. She drew bipartisan criticism in the legal world for how she handled an earlier part of the case and has moved slowly to resolve the pretrial issues.

Chutkan’s court is an entirely different profile – where the Washington, DC, jury pool leans liberal and has convicted many January 6, 2021, rioters at trials. Chutkan is a Barack Obama appointee who ruled against Trump on the key issue of the case – presidential immunity – and also issued a limited gag order against the former president.

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 15: Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis testifies during a hearing in the case of the State of Georgia v. Donald John Trump at the Fulton County Courthouse on February 15, 2024 in Atlanta, Georgia. Judge Scott McAfee is hearing testimony as to whether Willis and Special Prosecutor Nathan Wade should be disqualified from the case for allegedly lying about a personal relationship. (Photo by Alyssa Pointer-Pool/Getty Images)

RELATED ARTICLEFulton County DA’s office rejects Trump claims that cell phone data undercuts Georgia prosecutors’ testimony

Chutkan “might have him on trial the day of the election. If she wants to do that, we might as well just make Trump president right now,” one of the sources said.

Trump often uses his court proceedings to draw attention to his prosecutions, calling them politically motivated. While he frequently makes campaign speeches outside courtrooms, Trump isn’t required to attend most pretrial hearings, and he isn’t even required to be in the courtroom as a defendant after a trial begins.

“The Special Counsel seeks urgently to force President Trump into a months-long criminal trial at the height of campaign season, effectively sidelining him and preventing him from campaigning against the current President,” Trump’s lawyers recently wrote to the Supreme Court, which has his 2020 election case on hold as it looks at questions he raised around presidential immunity.

Critical hearing in Florida on Friday

While the two federal cases remain in limbo, Trump will first go on trial in late March in Manhattan, in a fourth criminal case in which he is accused of falsifying business records to cover up hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels to protect his 2016 presidential campaign. That trial could last into May, according to the judge on the case.

That case is seen by Trump’s advisers as one that will try him on less serious charges than in his other three criminal indictments and raises less substantial issues about his fitness for office as he runs for president again. Americans who have responded to a Quinnipiac University poll last fall agreed the New York charges were less serious than his other charges.

“That’s the one that has the least consequence. He doesn’t face jail time even if convicted,” one person familiar with Trump’s legal approach told CNN.


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Trump reacts after judge orders him and companies to pay $355 million

The Florida documents case is scheduled to follow the New York trial, with a start date set for the end of May.

Trump, his team, his co-defendants and the special counsel’s office prosecutors are set to appear before Cannon in her Fort Pierce, Florida, courthouse Friday.

“We most certainly are going to ask to move that trial date,” Trump defense lawyer Todd Blanche said about the documents case schedule at a separate hearing in the New York case earlier this month.

Friday’s hearing is expected to grapple with scheduling issues but could last hours and delve into meatier tensions in the case. It is not expected to address all the legal questions Trump has mounted, such as his attempts to get access to more evidence or his arguments to dismiss his case.

The former president’s bid to claim presidential immunity in the Mar-a-Lago case – saying he was able to remove national security documents from the White House just before he left office because he deemed them “personal” records while he was still president – would likely be discussed later and could prompt another rare appeal before a trial.

Already, Trump’s team is considering asking Cannon to reschedule the trial in Florida for a month or two later, so that it would be reset for July, according to sources familiar with his strategy.

That would create a hole in Trump’s court schedule after the New York trial that no other case is positioned to fill. It would also block out his calendar for a crucial window from July into September.

Trump’s team believes the Mar-a-Lago case, if it’s moved July, could box out Chutkan from putting the federal election subversion case on the schedule once Supreme Court appeals are addressed. When July nears, Trump’s team or the special counsel’s office could ask Cannon again to move the Mar-a-Lago trial back, and she may consider it because of the complexities in the case.

Chutkan has made clear she believes Trump should be tried in her courtroom on a tight schedule.

The special counsel’s office has repeatedly argued that the public, too, deserves to have Trump’s federal election case before a jury quickly, potentially even before the next presidential election.

“[Trump’s] personal interest in postponing trial proceedings must be weighed against two powerful countervailing considerations: the government’s interest in fully presenting its case without undue delay; and the public’s compelling interest in a prompt disposition of the case,” the Justice Department wrote to the Supreme Court recently.

“The charges here involve applicant’s alleged efforts to disenfranchise tens of millions of voters,” the special counsel’s office added. “The national interest in resolving those charges without further delay is compelling.”

Of course, Chutkan could still set a court date that overlaps with other judges’ cases if the 2020 election case returns to her courtroom from the Supreme Court. While Trump couldn’t be on trial simultaneously in two different courts, judges could have overlapping schedules initially because trial dates can often move.

Judges may confer on timing

New York state Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan, who is overseeing Trump’s hush money criminal case, disclosed publicly he had been in touch with Chutkan as recently as this month. The two judges had initially both scheduled trials for March.

“There is a lot of moving parts in the DC case. Really nobody knows what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen,” Merchan said at a recent hearing, announcing his court would hold jury selection for Trump on March 25.

Blanche, who represents Trump in multiple criminal cases, called the quick trial a “grave injustice” and “election interference.”

“We have been faced with extremely compressed and expedited schedules in each and every one of those trials,” Blanche told Merchan at the hearing. He added that the legal team was swamped with work, and Trump, involved in his cases, was busy too.

Merchan previously called out Trump’s team for trying to play his New York trial date against his 2020 election case before Chutkan, so neither would move forward.

“We would have wound up adjourning our case only to see the DC case not start on March 4,” Merchan said. “That’s the problem with jock[ey]ing and moving when there are multiple parts, and we don’t all have control over each one of those parts.”

Merchan acknowledged Trump shouldn’t be on trial in more than one court at once.

“Mr. Trump does have an absolute right to be present in all of his criminal trials,” the judge said at the hearing. “It’s an important right, and one that he has every right to certainly take advantage of. He’s not going to be in more than one criminal trial at the same time.”

Takeaways from the $355 million civil fraud ruling against Donald Trump

Judge Arthur Engoron and former President Donald Trump.

Judge Arthur Engoron and former President Donald Trump. PoolCNN — 

Judge Arthur Engoron hit Donald Trump with his biggest punishment to date on Friday, in a ruling that fined the former president $355 million for fraudulently inflating the values of his properties.

Combined with the $83 million judgment issued against Trump for defaming E. Jean Carroll, that means Trump has been fined roughly $438 million over the past four weeks.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JANUARY 11: Former U.S. President Donald Trump sits in New York State Supreme Court during his civil fraud trial on January 11, 2024 in New York City. Trump won't make his own closing arguments after his lawyers objected to  Judge Arthur Engoron insistence that Trump stay within the bounds of "relevant, material facts that are in evidence" of the case. Trump faces a permanent ban from running a business in New York state and $370 million in penalties in the case brought by state Attorney General Letitia James. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

RELATED LIVE-STORYJudge orders Trump to pay nearly $355 million in civil fraud trial

Friday’s ruling underscored how the civil cases against Trump are still significantly damaging to the former president, endangering his business empire even as he faces four criminal trials, the first of which is set to begin next month.

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Engoron found Trump liable for fraud, conspiracy and issuing false financial statements and false business records, and he barred him from serving as director of a company in New York for three years. But while he stopped short of dissolving the Trump Organization altogether, Engoron issued a blistering 93-page opinion that painted the former president as unremorseful and highly likely to commit fraud again.

“Their complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological,” Engoron wrote of Trump and his co-defendants.

Here’s what to know from the decision:

Engoron’s fines are the biggest yet against Trump

The fines Engoron levied in his ruling against Trump – known as “disgorgement,” or the return of ill-gotten gains – are higher in terms of magnitude than any previous fine levied against the former president and his company.

New York Attorney General Letitia James had asked Engoron to fine Trump and other defendants $370 million, accusing them of engaging in a long-running fraud scheme of inflating Trump’s assets on his financial statements.

It came pretty close. Engoron found that the defendants’ fraud saved them about $168 million in interest, fining Trump and his companies that amount.

Judge Engoron and former President Donald Trump.

RELATED ARTICLEREAD: Ruling ordering Trump and his companies to pay nearly $355M in New York civil fraud case

Engoron ruled that Trump and his companies were liable for $126 million in ill-gotten profits from the sale of the Old Post Office in Washington, DC, a contract the judge says “was obtained through the use of false SFC (statements of financial condition).”

And the judge ruled that Trump and his companies were liable for $60 million in profits from the sale of Ferry Point in the Bronx.

Engoron also wrote that Trump would be required for interest on those payments, which could potentially add as much as $100 million to the total he’s ultimately required to pay.

In addition, Trump was barred from serving as an officer or director of any New York corporation or other legal entity in New York for a period of three years.

Engoron gets the last word, and then some

Trump repeatedly attacked Engoron and the case throughout the 11-week trial on social media, outside the courtroom – and even to the judge’s face while he testified.

On Friday, Engoron got the last word, painting Trump as a “pathological” fraudster who would not stop unless forced.

“Defendants’ refusal to admit error – indeed, to continue it, according to the Independent Monitor – constrains this Court to conclude that they will engage in it going forward unless judicially restrained,” Engoron wrote.

Engoron acknowledged that the sins Trump committed – which his lawyers frequently argued had no victim because banks were repaid and often eager to do business with Trump’s company – were not as serious as some crimes. But he faulted Trump and his co-defendants for a complete lack of contrition.

“This is a venial sin, not a mortal sin. Defendants did not commit murder or arson. They did not rob a bank at gunpoint. Donald Trump is not Bernard Madoff. Yet, defendants are incapable of admitting the error of their ways. Instead, they adopt a ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ posture that the evidence belies,” the judge wrote.

Engoron even turned to poetry to make his point: “The English poet Alexander Pope (1688-1744) first declared, ‘To err is human, to forgive is divine.’ Defendants apparently are of a different mind.”

Engoron was critical of Trump’s testimony on the stand, when the former president mostly ignored questions and took the opportunity instead to give political speeches attacking the case, the attorney general and the judge. At first, Engoron tried to rein Trump in – even threatening to remove him as a witness at one point – but he eventually gave up and let Trump rant in response to the questions from the attorney general’s lawyer.

“Overall, Donald Trump rarely responded to the questions asked, and he frequently interjected long, irrelevant speeches on issues far beyond the scope of the trial,” Engoron wrote. “His refusal to answer the questions directly, or in some cases, at all, severely compromised his credibility.”

No corporate death penalty as judge backs off dissolving Trump Org.

Believe it or not, it could have been worse for Trump.

The judge banned him from serving as an officer or director of a New York corporation for three years, but did not issue the so-called corporate death penalty.

In September, Engoron issued a summary judgment dissolving Trump’s business certificates in finding that Trump and his co-defendants were liable for persistent and repeated fraud.

But he pulled back from that decision – which had been put on hold pending appeal – on Friday, writing that he no longer felt it was necessary because he was putting in place two different independent monitors to oversee the company going forward.

The independent monitor installed last fall will stay in place for at least three years, Engoron ruled. In addition, he ordered an independent director of compliance should be installed at the Trump Org. at the company’s expense.

“As going forward there will be two-tiered oversight, an Independent Monitor and an Independent Director of Compliance, of the major activities that could lead to fraud, cancellation of the business licenses is no longer necessary,” Engoron wrote.

Trump’s former lawyer and fixer ‘told the truth’

Engoron recapped Michael Cohen’s theatrical trial testimony, acknowledging the credibility issues with Trump’s former lawyer and fixer.

But ultimately, Engoron said, he believed Cohen.

“Although the animosity between the witness and the defendant is palpable, providing Cohen with an incentive to lie, the Court found his testimony credible, based on the relaxed manner in which he testified, the general plausibility of his statements, and, most importantly, the way his testimony was corroborated by other trial evidence,” Engoron wrote.

Engoron pushed back on Trump’s narrative that Cohen was a star witness for the attorney general on whose credibility the case could teeter.

“Michael Cohen was an important witness on behalf of the plaintiff, although hardly the linchpin that defendants have attempted to portray him to be,” Engoron said.

While the testimony from Trump’s former fixer was compromised by his previous perjury plea in another case and some “seeming contradictions” in what he said at this trial, the judge said he believed Cohen when he testified that “Trump did not expressly direct him to reverse engineer financial statements, he ordered him to do so indirectly, in his ‘mob voice.’”

“A less-forgiving factfinder might have concluded differently, might not have believed a single word of a convicted perjurer,” Engoron also wrote. “This factfinder does not believe that pleading guilty to perjury means that you can never tell the truth. Michael Cohen told the truth.”

Trump’s adult sons banned for 2 years

Trump’s eldest sons – who’ve essentially run the Trump Organization since 2017 – are barred from serving as executives in New York for two years, according to Engoron’s order.

The Trumps will have to navigate the two-year penalty as they sort out the future of the family-run real estate company that also hasn’t filled the chief financial officer or controller positions vacated by former Trump Org. execs Allen Weisselberg and Jeff McConney.

During closing arguments last month, Engoron questioned whether the attorney general presented any evidence that Trump’s eldest sons knew that there was fraud going on at the company — but ultimately found them liable for issuing false financial statements, falsifying business records and conspiracy claims.

“They also served as co-executives running the company from January 2017 to today, in which they had intimate knowledge of the Trump Organization’s business, assets, and were provided with financial updates upon request,” Engoron wrote Friday.

The judge knocked Eric Trump’s credibility in his ruling, pointing out inconsistent testimony he gave at trial.

“Eric Trump’s credibility was severely damaged when he repeatedly denied knowing that his father ever even compiled an SFC that valued his assets and showed his net worth ‘until this case came into fruition.’”

He “begrudgingly” conceded at trial that he actually knew about his father’s statements as early as 2013 “upon being confronted with copious documentary evidence conclusively demonstrating otherwise,” the judge wrote.

Engoron also said Eric Trump unconvincingly tried to distance himself from some appraisals of Trump Org. properties that offered a much lower valuation than reported on Donald Trump’s financial statements.

Eric and Donald Trump Jr. were both ordered to pay more than $4 million in disgorgement, or “ill-gotten” profits, they personally received from the 2022 sale of Trump’s hotel at the Old Post Office building in Washington DC.

Ivanka Trump gets to keep her profits on the building sale because she was dismissed as a defendant in the case by an appeals court ahead of trial. But that didn’t stop Engoron from weighing in on her trial testimony, calling it “suspect.”

“Ivanka Trump was a thoughtful, articulate, and poised witness, but the Court found her inconsistent recall, depending on whether she was questioned by OAG or the defense, suspect,” Engoron wrote. “In any event, what Ms. Trump cannot recall is memorialized in contemporaneous emails and documents; in the absence of her memory, the documents speak for themselves.”

Next steps: Trump will appeal the ruling

Trump’s attorneys have already appealed Engoron’s summary judgment last year that found the former president liable for fraud – and Trump’s attorneys are already planning to appeal this decision, too.

Trump attorney Christopher Kise responded to Engoron’s ruling in a statement on Friday, saying the court “ignored the law, ignored the facts.”

Kise added Trump will appeal and “remains confident the Appellate Division will ultimately correct the innumerable and catastrophic errors made.”

During the 11-week trial, Trump’s attorneys repeatedly criticized Engoron’s handling of the case and raised objections “for the record” and a potential appeal.

Engoron often acknowledged the likelihood of an appeal during the trial, raising his concerns with a reversal with the attorney general’s lawyers when he allowed the testimony of certain witnesses the AG objected to as part of Trump’s defense.

The reality is that the ruling is likely to be tied up in the courts on appeal for a long time, and Engoron’s ruling Friday was written with an eye toward surviving an appellate challenge.

Trump makes final pitch to Supreme Court in fraught immunity case

The Supreme Court on February 8, 2024 in Washington, DC.

The Supreme Court on February 8, 2024 in Washington, DC. Julia Nikhinson/Getty ImagesCNN — 

Former President Donald Trump made his final pitch Thursday to the Supreme Court in his effort to pause a trial over the election subversion charges brought by special counsel Jack Smith.

“There are overwhelming reasons why the case should not go to trial ‘in three months or less,’” Trump told the Supreme Court in a 16-page filing. “With any other defendant, it would be virtually unthinkable for the case to go to trial so soon, and ‘wildly unfair’ to do so.”

Trump claims former presidents must have immunity from such charges to avoid political reprisals when they leave office. So far, two lower federal courts have balked at that argument.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide on Trump’s request within a few days.

With Trump’s final brief in hand, a question of timing is now squarely before the high court. The justices could deny Trump’s emergency request to temporarily block a DC Circuit ruling against him on the immunity issue or they could agree to further consider his case.

A view of the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday morning January 4, 2024 in Washington, DC.

RELATED ARTICLESpecial counsel urges Supreme Court to deny Trump’s request for delay in immunity case

The first outcome would clear the way for a US District court in Washington, DC, to schedule a trial on the underlying election charges, which Smith is eager to resolve before the November election. The second could signal the justices may schedule oral arguments in the case later this year, potentially pushing a trial back several months.

On Monday, Trump asked the Supreme Court to block a unanimous decision from the DC Circuit handed down last week that rejected his claims of immunity from the election subversion charges.

“Without immunity from criminal prosecution, the presidency as we know it will cease to exist,” Trump told the Supreme Court.

Two days later – ahead of deadline – Smith argued in his own brief that Trump had not met the standard to pause proceedings in his case. It generally takes support from five justices to secure such a pause.

“The charged crimes strike at the heart of our democracy,” Smith wrote in a filing Wednesday. “The public interest in a prompt trial is at its zenith where, as here, a former president is charged with conspiring to subvert the electoral process so that he could remain in office.”

Inside the US Navy’s frontline fight against the Houthis in the Red Sea

An F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet parked on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the Red Sea.

An F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter jet parked on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the Red Sea. Scott Pisczek/CNNOn board the USS Dwight D. EisenhowerCNN — 

Alarms blared on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the Red Sea at 4 a.m. on Tuesday morning, warning personnel to prepare for potential flight operations against a Houthi drone that was flying over nearby ships.

That drone was ultimately deemed not to be a threat. But the incident demonstrated how the crew of the carrier are constantly on a heightened alert for incoming threats from the Iran-backed militants in Yemen, who have been routinely targeting commercial ships as well as US and coalition forces in the key waterway with missiles and drones.

On board two vessels spearheading the US response to Houthi attacks, the Eisenhower and the US destroyer the USS Gravely in the southern Red Sea, CNN gained unique access and spoke to sailors and pilots who said the Houthi threat remains both unpredictable and unprecedented.

The US Navy is working at a frenetic pace, deploying Jets and firing missiles at a moment’s notice to try to destroy the Houthis’ weapons and infrastructure.

But after dozens of strikes over the last month against Houthi targets both over the Red Sea and inside Yemen, CNN was told that the US military still does not know exactly how much of the Houthis’ capabilities have been destroyed—or how long it will take to deter them for good.

“It’s a wicked problem set that we don’t have a lot of great fidelity on,” said Rear Admiral Marc Miguez, the commander of Carrier Strike Group Two, told CNN on Tuesday.

Unlike state actors like Iran, Russia and China that the US has prioritized for intelligence collection for years, the US was not paying close attention to the Houthis before they started regularly lobbing missiles into the Red Sea, Miguez said. So the US does not know for sure how much the Houthis have stockpiled, particularly when it comes to what they have buried underground.

Learning in real time

The Houthis’ attacks, moreover, mark the first time anti-ship ballistic missiles have been used in combat, and the personnel on board the warships are learning in real time how to respond.

“This isn’t exactly where we expected to be on this deployment,” said Captain James Huddleston, the deputy commander of Carrier Air Wing 3 who regularly flies missions over the Red Sea and Yemen. “Whenever you are doing something for the first time in a region, that’s not without risk,” Huddleston said. “But we have managed that risk to our strike group and our air crew through the management of combat power.”

Dozens of fighter jets take off every day from the Ike carrier to circle the skies over the Red Sea in case they are tasked at a moment’s notice with carrying out a strike against a Houthi target.

An F/A-18 with afterburner prepares to launch from the deck of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the Red Sea.

An F/A-18 with afterburner prepares to launch from the deck of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier in the Red Sea. Scott Pisczek/CNN

All of the jets carry air to ground missiles so they can respond immediately to a threat, Miguez said.

“Unfortunately, we don’t get a lot of heads up on most of this stuff—especially the ballistic missiles,” he said. The Houthis have also changed their tactics in recent weeks, using drones more regularly to target and attack ships.

“They have tried to target coalition forces, US forces, through swarm attacks, using multiple UAVs, using multiple anti-ship ballistic cruise missiles,” said Captain Marvin Scott, the commanding officer of Carrier Air Wing 3. “They are trying everything that they can, but we are prepared for anything they may throw our way.”

In many cases the Houthis have been using the Samad-3 drone, Miguez said, which is long-range and carries an explosive payload. The Houthis have also been using Iranian-made drones, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

“We know for a fact that they are a threat, so we have been taking them down more and more frequently,” he said.

CNN previously reported that the US intelligence community has picked up signs that the Iranians are getting nervous about the Houthis’ attacks because of the impact they have had on some of Iran’s only allies, including China and India.

Officials believe Iran was at one point using one of its suspected spy ships which has long been parked in the southern Red Sea, the Behshad, to help the Houthis target vessels there. But in a notable shift, Iran moved the ship to the coast of Djibouti earlier this month for the first time in over two years, Miguez said. That has reduced the Houthis’ capability to track ships in the Gulf of Aden, Miguez said.

Seconds or minutes to respond

Meanwhile, the crew on board the USS Gravely destroyer in the Red Sea are the tip of the spear against inbound Houthi missiles and drones. The sailors often only have seconds to respond to an inbound missile.

“We could have seconds, or we could have minutes,” said Navy Lieutenant JG James Rodney, who works in the Gravely’s Combat Information Center. “I wouldn’t say much more than minutes.”

The Gravely is equipped with long-range Tomahawk missiles that are capable of reaching targets inside Yemen. But more often, the ship is deploying its anti-air and anti-surface missiles at closer ranges as Houthi missiles and drones close in. Last month, however, a Houthi missile got so close to the Gravely—within one mile of it—that the ship had to use its last line of defense, known as the Phalanx, to take it down. That incident is now being investigated, Miguez said.

The Houthis barrages have been so relentless that the Ike carrier and the destroyers deployed nearby have not made a port call in months, which is highly unusual. Sailors said the environment is stressful, but that it has helped to have a mission.

“It’s definitely not what we expected, to be out here,” said FC1 Michael Zito, who helps to operate the Gravely’s 54-caliber Mark 45 gun and other weapons systems on board. “We expected to have a more relaxed and chill deployment. But this is what we’ve been training for constantly, day in and day out for years, and we’re ready for whatever else comes through.  We’ll do what needs to be done.”

What happens if a presidential candidate dies or has to leave the race?

A presidential candidate's podium is seen on the stage in 2016.

A presidential candidate’s podium is seen on the stage in 2016. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

A version of this story appeared in CNN’s What Matters newsletter. To get it in your inbox, sign up for free here.CNN — 

While the 2024 presidential race seems set in stone as a rematch between President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, it’s also true that things happen.

Back in November 1872, for instance, the newspaper publisher and Democratic presidential candidate Horace Greeley died after Election Day but before the casting of Electoral College votes. While it did not affect the outcome – President Ulysses S. Grant easily won reelection – Greeley’s death created the difficult question of what to do with the 66 Electoral College votes he had won.

Most electors, meeting in state capitols, did not cast votes for the deceased Greeley, but rather split them among four other candidates. Congress did not count the three votes that were cast for a dead man.

Pictured is American abolitionist, journalist and politician Horace Greeley, who edited the New York Tribune.

Pictured is American abolitionist, journalist and politician Horace Greeley, who edited the New York Tribune. MPI/Getty Images

In the more than 150 years since Greeley’s death, there have been two constitutional amendments related to presidential succession, but there is still some gray area when it comes to an unforeseen event that strikes a presidential nominee or candidate.

Today, polling suggests voters are worried that both Trump and Biden are too old for the job. Trump will be 78 on Election Day in November, and Biden will turn 82 later that month. Without being macabre, it’s worth knowing what would happen if, for whatever reason, either man was unable to continue with the race.

Replacing either man on the ballot – not that anyone is seriously talking about it – would be a messy and chaotic process that would uncover divisions and disagreements within the political parties. No one knows for sure what would happen if a candidate died or for some reason needed to withdraw from the race.

Here’s a look at the rules for Republicans and Democrats as they currently stand.

What happens if a candidate cannot continue his or her campaign?

The process of replacing a presidential candidate very much depends on when the vacancy occurs – during the primary process and before the party convention; during the convention or after the convention; or before or after people vote in November.

What happens if a vacancy occurs during the primary process?

While Trump and Biden are in total command of the respective races to be the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, that process will play out between now and June as states conduct primaries and caucuses and assign delegates based on the results.

If a vacancy on either side happens before most of those primaries were to occur, it’s possible that another candidate could emerge and rack up some delegates. But since filing deadlines have already passed for many primaries, it’s unlikely any single candidate, other than Trump or Biden, could rack up enough delegates to win the nomination before party conventions this summer.

It is, however, possible that states could decide to delay their primaries, according to Elaine Kamarck, a member of the Democratic National Committee rules committee and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has studied the issue. Republicans will hold their convention in Milwaukee in July, and Democrats will hold theirs just to the south in Chicago in August.

Most delegates will have been awarded by the end of March. Biden has not faced serious opposition in the Democratic primary, has won every delegate at stake so far and needs to win at least 1,968 of 3,934 to secure the nomination on the first ballot of voting.

On the Republican side, Trump has won every contest so far and ultimately needs 1,215 of 2,429 delegates. His top rival, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, is far behind Trump in the delegate race.

What if a vacancy occurs after the primaries and before or during the convention?

If the leading candidate was to drop out of the campaign after most primaries or even during the convention, individual delegates would likely decide the party’s nominee on the convention floor.

That would shine a spotlight on the normally niche question of who those actual delegates are.

There would be a messy political battle in every state over who would get to be a delegate (if the vacancy happened before many of those people were chosen) and then who they would ultimately support. Even people who did not run primary campaigns could ultimately be considered.

You can assume, for instance, that Vice President Kamala Harris would be a top contender to be on the ballot if, for some reason, Biden left the race. At the same time, given Haley’s weakness in primaries, it seems unlikely that Republicans would coalesce around her if Trump was unable to run.

On the Democratic side, there would also be another group to consider: the “superdelegates,” a group of about 700 senior party leaders and elected officials who are automatically delegates to the convention based on their position. Under normal party rules, they can’t vote on the first ballot if they could swing the nomination, but they’re free to vote on subsequent ballots.

Has anything like this ever happened before?

The modern primary and caucus system evolved only in recent generations as voters demanded more involvement in the nominating process.

The election that sparked change was in 1968, when President Lyndon B. Johnson decided not to run after an embarrassing finish in New Hampshire’s primary. Johnson won, but just barely.

When he dropped out of the presidential race, it set off a chaotic dash to replace him. One candidate who jumped in the race, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Los Angeles just after winning the California primary, creating the difficult question of who his delegates should support.

The ultimate Democratic winner that year, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, amassed his delegates in states that did not conduct primaries, securing enough support to win the nomination.

Violence on the streets of Chicago around the convention marred the event and helped inspire the system of primaries and caucuses we have today where voters pick presidential candidates through delegates bound to support a specific candidate.

What if a candidate left the race after the convention?

It would take a drastic event for a candidate to leave the race in the few months between a party’s nominating convention in the summer and the general election in November.

Democrats and Republicans have slightly different methods of dealing with this possibility. You can imagine the end result would probably be that the running mate stepped up to be on the general election ballot, but that is not necessarily guaranteed.

Democrats – The Democratic National Committee is empowered to fill a vacancy on the national ticket after the convention under party rules, after the party chair consults with Democratic governors and congressional leadership.

Republicans – If a vacancy occurs on the Republican side, the Republican National Committee can either reconvene the national convention or select a new candidate itself.

Would the running mate automatically become the nominee?

An in-depth Congressional Research Service memo also notes that if an incumbent president becomes incapacitated after winning the party’s nomination, the 25th Amendment would elevate the vice president to the presidency, but party rules would determine who rises to become the party’s nominee.

Neither party, according to CRS, requires that the presidential candidate’s running mate be elevated to the top of the ticket, but that would obviously be the most likely scenario.

Has a candidate ever left the race after the convention?

In modern times, per CRS, the Democrat running for vice president in 1972, Sen. Thomas Eagleton, was forced to step aside after the convention after it was discovered that he was treated for mental illness (1972 was a very different time! Today, thankfully, there is not nearly the stigma attached to mental health).

The DNC actually needed to convene a meeting to affirm Sargent Shriver as Democratic nominee George McGovern’s second-choice running mate.

What if a president-elect was incapacitated after the election?

If a president-elect was to die, timing is again important.

Under the Constitution, it is electors meeting in state capitols who technically cast votes for the presidency. While some states require that they vote for the winner of the election in their state, in others they have leeway.

The CRS memo, which cites several congressional hearings on the subject, suggests it would clearly make sense for a vice president-elect to simply assume the role of president-elect, but the law itself is murky.

Under the 20th Amendment, if a president-elect dies, his or her running mate, the vice president-elect, becomes president.

There could be some question, for instance, about when exactly a person becomes president-elect. Is it after the electors meet in December, or after Congress meets to count Electoral College votes on January 6?

Top sports court doesn’t believe Russian skater’s strawberry dessert defense

Russia's Kamila Valieva competes in the women's single skating free skating of the figure skating event during the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing on February 17, 2022. (Photo by Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP) (Photo by MANAN VATSYAYANA/AFP via Getty Images)

Kamila Valieva has been banned for four years. Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty ImagesCNN — 

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled on Wednesday that Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva did not meet the burden of proof to overturn her four-year ban for testing positive for trimetazidine.

Valieva had suggested the prohibited substance was in her body because she ate a strawberry dessert her grandfather made for her on the same chopping board on which he crushed up his heart medication.

Kamila Valieva of ROC performs during the figure skating team event women's single skating short program match at Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing, capital of China, Feb. 6, 2022.

RELATED ARTICLETrimetazidine: What is the competition-banned drug that Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva tested positive for?

Trimetazidine is listed as a “metabolic modulator” and its use by athletes is banned, both in and out of competition.

Though it would not increase heart rate, unlike other performance-enhancing drugs that are classed as stimulants, it is believed that trimetazidine can help with endurance in physical activity.

Valieva’s lawyers presented multiple possible explanations for why she tested positive prior to the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, the 129-page CAS report outlined.

One scenario dubbed the “Grandfather explanation” in the CAS report was that Valieva’s grandfather, Mr. Solovyov, made her a strawberry dessert on a chopping board that was contaminated with his trimetazidine medication.

But the court determined there were “too many shortcomings in the evidence, and too many unanswered questions,” adding that the “panel has decided that the athlete did not discharge her burden of proving … that her ADRV [Anti-Doping Rule Violations] was not intentional.”

CNN Sport contributor Christine Brennan, who is also a national sports columnist for USA Today, reported: “In a nutshell, here’s what we learned: Valieva claimed the banned substance that was in her body got there because she ate her grandfather’s strawberry dessert.

CAS didn’t fall for it. Little more than a week ago, a three-member CAS panel threw the book at Valieva, suspending her for four years and disqualifying her Olympic results.

As a result of Valieva’s four-year ban and subsequent disqualification of results, backdated to Christmas Day 2021, the US Figure Skating team will receive a gold medal for its 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic performance, after the then 15-year-old’s Russian Olympic Committee was knocked down to third with the re-ranking of results. Japan will receive the silver medal, while Canada – which was left “extremely disappointed” after not being awarded the bronze – remained in fourth place.