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Florida And Kentucky Judges Block States From Enforcing Abortion Bans

By Nate Raymond and Joseph Ax

(Reuters) -Judges in Florida and Kentucky on Thursday moved to block those states from enforcing bans or restrictions on abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court last week overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that had established a nationwide right to it.

In Tallahassee, Florida, Circuit Court Judge John Cooper said he would grant a petition from abortion rights groups to temporarily put on hold a state law that would bar abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

In Kentucky, Jefferson County Circuit Judge Mitch Perry issued a temporary restraining order preventing the state from enforcing a ban passed in 2019 and triggered by the Supreme Court's decision.

Also on Thursday, the high court threw out lower federal court rulings that had invalidated abortion limits in Arizona, Arkansas and Indiana based on Roe.

The Florida and Kentucky decisions came amid a flurry of litigation by abortion rights groups seeking to preserve the ability of women to terminate pregnancies after Friday's historic ruling by the conservative-majority Supreme Court.

That ruling gave states the authority to deny, limit or allow abortions. Bans and restrictions are now taking effect or are poised to do so in 22 states, including 13 like Kentucky with so-called "trigger" laws designed to take effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group.

State courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Utah have also temporarily blocked bans in those states since last week, and abortion providers are seeking similar relief in states including Idaho, Ohio, Mississippi, and West Virginia.

The injunctions have bought clinics time to continue providing services.

"Delay is still saving lives," said Seema Mohapatra, a professor of health law at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. "The longer safe and accessible abortion is available in those states, the more pregnant people seeking abortion care will be helped."

In the long term, however, abortion rights supporters face tough odds. The highest courts in many of those states are dominated by conservative or Republican justices who may be more sympathetic to restrictions on abortion access.

Florida's Ban Put On Hold

Florida's 15-week ban, which Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law in April, had been set to take effect on Friday. The law mirrors the Mississippi law at the heart of the Supreme Court case that reversed Roe.

In siding with Planned Parenthood affiliates and other abortion providers in Florida, Cooper concluded the law violates the state constitution's privacy rights guarantees, which the state's high court has said covers the right to abortion.

State law had previously restricted abortions after 24 weeks.

Cooper said his decision would only take effect after he signs a written order, which is not likely until Tuesday or later.

A spokesperson for Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, a Republican, said the state will appeal. The case could eventually reach Florida's high court, whose composition has changed and now includes all Republican-appointed justices.

Only about a fifth of state supreme courts have recognized a right to abortion independent of Roe v. Wade. The Iowa Supreme Court earlier this month reversed itself by finding that the state's constitution does not include a "fundamental right" to abortion.

In Kentucky, Perry sided with two abortion clinics, including a Planned Parenthood affiliate, which challenged a trigger ban as well as another law that bars abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, before some women know they are pregnant.

Abortion services had halted in the state since Friday, when the Supreme Court cleared the way for states to enact new bans. Kentucky's ban permits abortion only to protect women from death or serious injury.

"We're glad the court recognized the devastation happening in Kentucky and decided to block the commonwealth's cruel abortion bans," Planned Parenthood said in a statement.

The decision is temporary, though, and a further hearing is scheduled on Wednesday on the clinics' request for an injunction to block enforcement of the laws.

State Attorney General Daniel Cameron, a Republican, said in a statement that Perry had no basis under Kentucky's constitution to allow the clinics to resume performing abortions.

"We cannot let the same mistake that happened in Roe v. Wade, nearly 50 years ago, to be made again in Kentucky," he said. "We will be seeking relief from this order."

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston and Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey; editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jonathan Oatis)

Poll: Public Distrust Of Supreme Court Now Matches Disapproval Of Congress

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A majority of Americans hold a negative opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court following its decision last week to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that recognized a right to abortion, says a Reuters/Ipsos survey completed on Tuesday.

The two-day public opinion poll found 57 percent of Americans had an unfavorable view of the U.S. top court, while 43 percent viewed it favorably. That puts approval of the court, which is meant to be a nonpartisan entity, on a par with Americans' views of Congress, which has long been viewed negatively.

It also marks a significant shift from a June 6-7 Reuters/Ipsos poll that showed 48 percent had an unfavorable view and 52 percent a favorable view.

Some 27 percent of respondents had a very unfavorable view of the court, up from 14 percent who held that view earlier in the month.

The reversal was almost entirely because of increasingly dismal views of the court among Democrats, often more supportive of abortion rights than Republicans are.

Sixty percent of Democrats said they had a less favorable view of the Supreme Court than they had six months ago, compared to 23 percent of Republicans.

The conservative-dominated Supreme Court on Friday overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling recognizing women's constitutional right to abortion. The decision, hailed by conservative activists as a great victory, will dramatically change life for millions of women in America.

In a concurring opinion on Friday, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas, an appointee of Republican President George H.W. Bush, suggested that the same reasoning that led the court to overturn Roe could be used to rethink other rights, such as same-sex marriage and access to birth control.

President Joe Biden, a Democrat, has condemned the ruling. Democratic lawmakers hope the abortion rights setback will help drive Democrats to the polls in the November 8 midterm elections, when Republicans have good odds of winning control of one or both congressional chambers.

Some 55 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a separate Ipsos poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday.

Both polls were conducted online in English throughout the United States. Each gathered responses from 1,005 adults and had a credibility interval - a measure of precision - of four percentage points.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)

Former White House Aide Testifies Trump Knew Ellipse Mob Was Armed

By Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. congressional committee began a hastily called hearing into the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by then- President Donald Trump's supporters, summoning a former White House aide to testify with new evidence.

The House of Representatives committee, investigating the first attempt to prevent the peaceful transfer of power in U.S. history, took two hours of testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to Mark Meadows, then Trump's chief of staff.

Committee chairman Bennie Thompson previewed th new evidence "dealing with what was going on in the White House on January 6 and the days prior" to the riot at the Capitol.

Thompson praised Hutchinson's "courage" in coming forth to testify to the committee.

Hutchinson said Tuesday that Trump knew his supporters were armed while heading to the Capitol, but seemed unconcerned about his own safety.

“I was part of a conversation — I was in, I was in the vicinity of a conversation — where I overheard the president say something to the effect of: ‘You know, I don’t even care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me,’” she recalled.

Sbe said Trump repeatedly expressed a desire to go to the Capitol after his speech on January 6. Hutchinson testified she first heard Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani raise the idea and was part of several conversations about it leading up to January 6. Among those who were opposed, she said, was White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who told her on January 3 or 4 that it would be a bad idea and that he had legal concerns about it.

As she set out to hear Trump’s speech on the Ellipse on January 6, Cipollone pulled her aside, Hutchinson recalled. “We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen,” she said Cipollone told her. She testified that he feared the possibility of charges such as obstruction and inciting a riot.

In video testimony during the last hearing last week, Hutchinson told the committee that Republican allies of Trump had sought White House pardons after supporting his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

Testimony at the committee's five prior hearings has shown how Trump, a Republican, riled thousands of supporters with false claims that he lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden because of massive voter fraud.

The committee had said last week it would only reconvene publicly in July but announced a change of plans on Monday, a mere 24 hours before the start of Tuesday's hearing.

British filmmaker Alex Holder, who spent time filming Trump and his family in the weeks after the election, has in recent days testified before the committee behind closed doors and shared video of interviews he did with Trump and his family.

The committee has said it intends at some point to interview Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, following reports she may have been involved in efforts to stop Biden's victory certification at the Capitol on Jan. 6. She has said she intends to speak to the panel.

Law enforcement agents last week raided the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official, who was an enthusiastic supporter of Trump's false fraud claims.

This month's hearings featured videotaped testimony from figures including Trump's oldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, and his former attorney general, Bill Barr. They and other witnesses testified that they did not believe Trump's false claims of widespread fraud and tried to dissuade him of them.

Dozens of courts, election officials and reviews by Trump's own administration rejected his claims of fraud, including outlandish stories about an Italian security firm and the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tampering with U.S. ballots.

Trump, who is publicly flirting with another White House run in 2024, denies wrongdoing and accuses the committee of engaging in a political witch hunt. He has leveled harsh criticism particularly at Representative Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the nine-member committee.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll early this month found that about two-thirds of U.S. Republicans believed Trump's false election fraud claims.

The committee, sometime next month, is expected to hold one or two hearings on possible coordination of the Jan. 6 attack by right-wing extremist groups.

During the assault on the Capitol, thousands of Trump supporters smashed windows, fought with police and sent lawmakers, including Trump's vice president, Mike Pence, fleeing for their lives.

Four people died the day of the attack, one fatally shot by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, and one died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan and Moira Warburton, additional reporting by Doinad Chiacu and Rose Horowitch; editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)

Trump Coup Lawyer John Eastman Says FBI Seized His Cellphone

By Kanishka Singh

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The FBI seized the phone of former U.S. President Donald Trump's election attorney, John Eastman, last week, the lawyer said in a court filing on Monday.

Eastman disclosed the search and seizure in a lawsuit he filed in federal court in New Mexico. In the lawsuit, Eastman asked a federal judge to tell the Justice Department to return his property, destroy records it had obtained and block investigators from being allowed to access the phone.

The FBI and the Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

"On the evening of June 22, 2022, federal agents served a search on movant while movant was exiting a restaurant," the filing said. "Movant's phone — an iPhone Pro 12 — was seized."

The filing claimed that Eastman was "forced" to provide biometric data to open the phone.

He was not provided a copy of the warrant until after his phone was seized, according to the filing, which also claimed that the FBI agents appeared to be executing the warrant "issued at the behest" of the Justice Department.

Eastman in particular has been under intense scrutiny in relation to the probes into the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters after the former president falsely claimed that he had won the 2020 election.

Eastman spoke at the January 6, 2021 rally where Trump gave a fiery speech alleging election fraud and urging supporters to march on the Capitol.

Eastman also wrote a memo outlining how, in his view, then-Vice President Mike Pence could thwart formal congressional certification of Trump's re-election loss. Pence ultimately declined to follow Eastman's advice.

The House Select Committee has held five hearings on last year's deadly attack and will hold a sixth one on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington; editing by Tim Ahmann and Sandra Maler)

Rescuers Seek Survivors Of Russian Strike On Ukraine Mall

By Simon Lewis

KREMENCHUK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Firefighters and soldiers searched for survivors in the rubble of a shopping mall in central Ukraine on Tuesday after a Russian missile strike killed at least 16 people in an attack condemned by the United Nations and the West.

Family members of the missing lined up at a hotel across the street where rescue workers had set up a base after Monday's strike on the busy mall in Kremenchuk, southeast of Kyiv.

More than a 1,000 people were inside when two Russian missiles slammed into the mall, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said. At least 16 people were killed and 59 injured, Ukraine's emergency services said.

"This is not an accidental hit, this is a calculated Russian strike exactly onto this shopping centre," Zelenskiy said in an evening video address. He said the death count could rise.

More than 40 people had been reported missing, Ukraine's prosecutor general's office said.

A survivor receiving treatment at Kremenchuk's public hospital, Ludmyla Mykhailets, 43, said she was shopping with her husband when the blast threw her into the air.

"I flew head first and splinters hit my body. The whole place was collapsing," she said.

"It was hell," added her husband, Mykola, 45, blood seeping through a bandage wrapped around his head.

Russia has not commented on the strike but its deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Dmitry Polyanskiy, accused Ukraine of using the incident to gain sympathy ahead of a June 28-30 summit of the NATO military alliance.

"One should wait for what our Ministry of Defence will say, but there are too many striking discrepancies already," Polyanskiy wrote on Twitter.

The United Nations Security Council will meet Tuesday at Ukraine's request following the attack. U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said the missile strike was "deplorable".

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, at a summit in Germany, said the attack was "abominable".

"Russian President Putin and those responsible will be held to account," they wrote in a joint statement tweeted by the German government spokesperson.

Battle For Lyschansk

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukraine endured another difficult day following the loss of the now-ruined city of Sievierodonetsk after weeks of bombardment and street fighting.

Russian artillery pounded Lysychansk, Sievierodonetsk's twin city across the Siverskyi Donets River.

Lysychansk is the last big city still held by Ukraine in eastern Luhansk province, a main target for the Kremlin after Russian troops failed to take the capital Kyiv early in the war.

A Russian missile strike killed eight and wounded 21 others in Lysychansk on Monday, the area's regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said. There was no immediate Russian comment.

Ukraine's military said Russia's forces were trying to cut off Lysychansk from the south.

Rodion Miroshnik, ambassador to Moscow of the Luhansk People's Republic, said Russian troops and their Luhansk Republic allies were advancing westward into Lysychansk and street battles had erupted around the city's stadium.

Fighting was on in several villages around the city, and Russian and allied troops had entered the Lysychansk oil refinery where Ukrainian troops were concentrated, Miroshnik said on his Telegram channel.

Reuters could not confirm Russian reports that Moscow's troops had already entered the city.

Russia also shelled the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine on Monday, hitting apartment buildings and a primary school, the regional governor said.

The shelling killed five people and wounded 22. There were children among those wounded, the governor said.

'As Long As It Takes'

Moscow denies targeting civilians in what it calls a "special military operation" in Ukraine, but Kyiv and the West have accused Russian forces of war crimes.

The war has killed thousands, sent millions fleeing, and triggered spikes in global food and energy prices.

During their summit in Germany, G7 leaders, including President Joe Biden, said they would keep sanctions on Russia for as long as necessary and intensify pressure on President Vladimir Putin's government and its ally Belarus.

The United States also said it was finalizing another weapons package for Ukraine that would include long-range air-defence systems.

Zelenskiy asked for more arms in a video address to the G7 leaders, U.S. and European officials said. He requested help to export grain from Ukraine and for more sanctions on Russia.

The G7 nations promised to squeeze Russia's finances further - including a cap on the price of Russian oil that a U.S. official said was "close" - and pledged up to $29.5 billion more for Ukraine.

The White House said Russia had defaulted on its external debt for the first time in more than a century as sanctions have effectively cut the country off from global finance.

Russia rejected the claims, telling investors to go to Western financial agents for the cash which was sent but bondholders did not receive.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; writing by Stephen Coates; editing by Himani Sarkar)

Russia Driven​​ Into Historic Bond Default By Western Sanctions

By Karin Strohecker, Andrea Shalal and Emily Chan

LONDON (Reuters) -Russia defaulted on its international bonds for the first time in more than a century, the White House said, as sweeping sanctions have effectively cut the country off from the global financial system, rendering its assets untouchable.

The Kremlin, which has the money to make payments thanks to oil and gas revenues, swiftly rejected the claims, and has accused the West of driving it into an artificial default.

Earlier, some bondholders said they had not received overdue interest on Monday following the expiry of a key payment deadline on Sunday.

Russia has struggled to keep up payments on $40 billion of outstanding bonds since its invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.

"This morning's news around the finding of Russia's default, for the first time in more than a century, situates just how strong the actions are that the U.S., along with allies and partners have taken, as well as how dramatic the impact has been on Russia's economy," the U.S. official said on the sidelines of a G7 summit in Germany.

Russia's efforts to avoid what would be its first major default on international bonds since the Bolshevik revolution more than a century ago hit a roadblock in late May when the U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) effectively blocked Moscow from making payments.

"Since March we thought that a Russian default is probably inevitable, and the question was just when," Dennis Hranitzky, head of sovereign litigation at law firm Quinn Emanuel, told Reuters ahead of the Sunday deadline.

"OFAC has intervened to answer that question for us, and the default is now upon us."

A formal default would be largely symbolic given Russia cannot borrow internationally at the moment and doesn't need to thanks to plentiful oil and gas export revenues. But the stigma would probably raise its borrowing costs in future.

The payments in question are $100 million in interest on two bonds, one denominated in U.S. dollars and another in euros, that Russia was due to pay on May 27. The payments had a grace period of 30 days, which expired on Sunday.

Russia's finance ministry said it made the payments to its onshore National Settlement Depository (NSD) in euros and dollars, adding it had fulfilled obligations.

In a call with reporters, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the fact that payments had been blocked by Euroclear because of Western sanctions on Russia was "not our problem".

Clearing house Euroclear did not respond to a request for comment.

Some Taiwanese holders of the bonds had not received payments on Monday, sources told Reuters.

With no exact deadline specified in the prospectus, lawyers say Russia might have until the end of the following business day to pay these bondholders.

Credit ratings agencies usually formally downgrade a country's credit rating to reflect default, but this does not apply in case of Russia as most agencies no longer rate the country.


The legal situation surrounding the bonds looks complex.

Russia's bonds have been issued with an unusual variety of terms, and an increasing level of ambiguities for those sold more recently, when Moscow was already facing sanctions over its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and a poisoning incident in Britain in 2018.

Rodrigo Olivares-Caminal, chair in banking and finance law at Queen Mary University in London, said clarity was needed on what constituted a discharge for Russia on its obligation, or the difference between receiving and recovering payments.

"All these issues are subject to interpretation by a court of law," Olivares-Caminal told Reuters.

In some ways, Russia has been in default already.

A committee on derivatives has ruled a "credit event" had occurred on some of Russia's securities, which triggered a payout on some of Russia's credit default swaps - instruments used by investors to insure against debt default.

This was triggered by Russia failing to make a $1.9 million payment in accrued interest on a payment that had been due in early April.

Until the Ukraine invasion, a sovereign default had seemed unthinkable, with Russia having an investment grade rating shortly before that point. A default would also be unusual as Moscow has the funds to service its debt.

The U.S. Treasury's OFAC had issued a temporary waiver, known as a general licence 9A, in early March to allow Moscow to keep paying investors. The U.S. let the waiver expire on May 25 as Washington tightened sanctions on Russia, effectively cutting off payments to U.S. investors and entities.

The lapsed OFAC licence is not Russia's only obstacle. In early June, the European Union imposed sanctions on the NSD, Russia's appointed agent for its Eurobonds.

Moscow has tried in the past few days to find ways of dealing with upcoming payments and avoid a default.

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree last Wednesday to launch temporary procedures and give the government 10 days to choose banks to handle payments under a new scheme, suggesting Russia will consider its debt obligations fulfilled when it pays bondholders in roubles and onshore in Russia.

"Russia saying it's complying with obligations under the terms of the bond is not the whole story," Zia Ullah, partner and head of corporate crime and investigations at law firm Eversheds Sutherland told Reuters.

"If you as an investor are not satisfied, for instance, if you know the money is stuck in an escrow account, which effectively would be the practical impact of what Russia is saying, the answer would be, until you discharge the obligation, you have not satisfied the conditions of the bond."

(Reporting by Karin Strohecker in London, Andrea Shalal in Elmau and Emily Chan in Taipei and Sujata Rao in London; editing by David Holmes, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, Simon Cameron-Moore and Jane Merriman)

Democratic Women Demand Biden, Congress Move To Protect Abortion Rights

By David Morgan and David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Leading Democratic women called on President Joe Biden and Congress on Sunday to protect abortion rights nationwide after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, in a ruling that has heightened political tensions between the federal government and states.

Two Democratic progressives, Senator Elizabeth Warren and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, urged Biden to use federal land as a safe haven for abortion in states that ban or severely restrict the practice, after the high court on Friday overturned the landmark 1973 ruling that had recognized women's constitutional right to abortion.

"Forcing women to carry pregnancies against their will, will kill them," Ocasio-Cortez said on NBC's Meet the Press program.

Georgia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams urged Democrats in Congress to codify Roe v. Wade into law by casting aside the U.S. Senate filibuster rule that enabled Republicans to block such an effort last month.

"We know that the rights to choose should not be divvied up amongst states, and that the sinister practice of taking constitutional rights and allowing each state to decide the quality of your citizenship is wrong," Abrams told CNN's State of the Union.

"I would reject the notion that this is the will of the people," she said in a separate interview on Fox News Sunday.

Democrats also urged Biden to defend women's access to a pill used for medical abortion, against state efforts to ban its availability, a major new legal fight that his administration indicated it would take on.

Republican South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem said her state, one of 13 conservative states with "trigger" abortion bans now in effect or soon to activate, will stick to its prohibition on mailed abortion pills.

"What the Supreme Court said was that the Constitution does not give a woman the right to have an abortion. That means that at each state they will make the decision how they handle these situations," Noem told CBS' Face the Nation. "I love that about this country, that we have a very limited federal government," she said.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who has filed a lawsuit to stop a severe 1931 state abortion ban from being enforced after the fall of Roe v. Wade, called on the Biden administration to take every possible step to preserve reproductive rights.

"I am urging every pro-choice leader to use every tool in their toolbox. So I'm hopeful and I believe that the Biden administration is going to do that," Whitmer told CBS.

Earlier in June, some 25 Senate Democrats called on Biden to issue an executive order to preserve reproductive rights at the federal level, including making abortion pills more accessible, enabling agencies to provide financial assistance for women to seek abortions in other states and exploring the use of federal lands to provide abortion services in restrictive states.

Ballot Box Battle

About 71 percent of Americans - including majorities of Democrats and Republicans - say decisions about terminating a pregnancy should be left to a woman and her doctor, rather than regulated by the government, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling.

On Friday, Biden and leading Democrats in Congress sought to use the Supreme Court ruling as a rallying cry for the November midterm elections that will determine the balance of power in the Senate and House of Representatives in the run-up to the 2024 presidential election.

Democrats hope that anger among women voters will allow them to expand their razor-thin majority in the Senate, so that they can reform the 60-vote margin required for most legislation.

But Republican Senator Lindsey Graham predicted the Supreme Court ruling would not impact Senate rules nor November's elections, saying voters are more concerned about inflation, crime and immigration.

"This was won through the ballot box by conservatives, and we're not going to let liberals intimidate the rule of law system to take it away from us," Graham told Fox News Sunday.

"The Senate will hold here. The Senate will not change. The 60 vote requirement for legislation will hold," he said.

(Reporting by David Morgan, David Lawder and Katharine Jackson; Editing by Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis)

Biden Signs Bipartisan Gun Safety Bill Into Law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden on Saturday signed a bipartisan gun safety bill into law, the first major federal gun reform in three decades, days after the Supreme Court expanded gun rights.

"This is a monumental day," Biden said at the White House.

The bill includes provisions to help states keep guns out of the hands of those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others and blocks gun sales to those convicted of abusing unmarried intimate partners.

It does not ban sales of assault-style rifles or high-capacity magazines.

(Reportng by Trevor Hunnicutt; writing by Lucia Mutikani; editing by John Stonestreet)

Trump Fundraiser Tom Barrack Fails In Bid To Dismiss Illegal Lobbying Indictment

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A billionaire fundraiser for former President Donald Trump on Wednesday lost a bid to dismiss criminal charges he lobbied the U.S. government on behalf of the United Arab Emirates without disclosing his affiliation.

Thomas Barrack, the former head of investment management firm Colony Capital and chair of Trump's inaugural committee, had pleaded not guilty to charges of illegal lobbying and lying to U.S. law enforcement, and faces a September trial.

His lawyers had asked U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan in Brooklyn to dismiss the indictment, arguing prosecutors did not allege that Barrack owed a duty to or had a formal agreement with the UAE.

But in a 55-page decision, Cogan said the relationship between Barrack and the UAE "need not rise to the level of a formalized employer-employee relationship" to justify the charge.

Lawyers for Barrack did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last month, prosecutors unveiled new charges accusing Barrack of having sought investment from the UAE at the same time he was lobbying for the Gulf country.

Barrack has stepped down as chairman and chief executive of DigitalBridge Group Inc, as Colony Capital is now known.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; editing by Matthew Lewis)

Texas Official: Police Response To Uvalde Shooting Was ​​'Abject Failure'

By Kanishka Singh and Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) -The law enforcement response to the Uvalde school shooting that killed 19 children and two teachers was "an abject failure" in which a commander put the lives of officers over those of the children, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw said on Tuesday.

The onsite commander made "terrible decisions" and officers at the scene lacked sufficient training, costing valuable time during which lives may have been saved, McCraw told lawmakers during a Texas Senate hearing into the May 24 mass shooting.

"There is compelling evidence that the law enforcement response to the attack at Robb Elementary was an abject failure and antithetical to everything we've learned," McCraw said.

Many parents and relatives of the schoolchildren and staff have expressed deep anger over police actions after the gunman entered Robb Elementary School and began shooting.

One delay McCraw discussed was the search for a key to the classroom where the shooting occurred. He noted that the door was not locked and there was no evidence officers tried to see if it was secured while others searched for a key.

"There's no way ... for the subject to lock the door from the inside," McCraw said.

Days after the shooting, the Texas DPS said as many as 19 officers waited over an hour in a hallway outside classrooms 111 and 112 before a U.S. Border Patrol-led tactical team finally made entry. McCraw reiterated that in the hearing on Tuesday.

"The officers had weapons, the children had none. The officers had body armor, the children had none. The officers had training, the subject had none. One hour, 14 minutes, and eight seconds - that is how long the children waited, and the teachers waited, in Room 111 to be rescued," the DPS director said.

"Three minutes after the subject entered the west building, there was a sufficient number of armed officers wearing body armor to isolate, distract and neutralize the subject," McCraw added.

"The only thing stopping a hallway of dedicated officers from entering Room 111, and 112, was the on-scene commander, who decided to place the lives of officers before the lives of children," the director said in the hearing.

McCraw said the scene commander, Uvalde schools police chief Pete Arredondo, "waited for radio and rifles, and he waited for shields and he waited for SWAT. Lastly, he waited for a key that was never needed."

The Uvalde district attorney has asked the city not to release records related to the DA's probe into the school shooting, Mayor Don McLaughlin said in a statement. He added that to date the DA and the Department of Public Safety have not provided the city with any information on their probes.

Greg Abbott, Texas's Republican governor, said in a statement he wants all facts regarding the shooting released to the victims' families and the public as quickly as possible.

Later on Tuesday, the Uvalde City Council will consider imposing a leave of absence on Arredondo, according to the agenda for a council meeting scheduled in the evening.

Earlier this month, Arredondo said he never considered himself incident commander at the scene of the shooting, and that he did not order police to hold back on breaching the building.

Arredondo told the Texas Tribune he left his two radios outside the school because he wanted his hands free to hold his gun. He had said he called for tactical gear, a sniper and keys to get inside, holding back from the doors for 40 minutes to avoid provoking sprays of gunfire.

Community members along with parents of the victims urged Arredondo to resign during an impassioned school board meeting on Monday, ABC News reported.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Washington and Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles. Editing by Doina Chiacu, Paul Thomasch, Mark Porter, David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)

Moving Toward Vote, Senators Release Bipartisan Gun Legislation ​​

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Tuesday released new legislation to address mass shootings, setting the stage for the U.S. Senate to vote on passage of the bill later this week with support from the chamber's top Republican.

Lawmakers said they were likely to take their first procedural vote on the package on Tuesday evening, after bridging differences on issues involving abortion, red flag laws and domestic violence.

"I believe that this week, we will pass legislation that will become the most significant piece of anti-gun-violence legislation Congress will have passed in 30 years. This is a breakthrough. And more importantly, it is a bipartisan breakthrough," Senator Chris Murphy, the lead Democrat in the talks, said on the Senate floor.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer pledged to move forward as soon as possible, with an expected motion to proceed on a bill from the House of Representatives that would serve as the Senate's legislative vehicle.

"This bipartisan gun-safety legislation is progress and will save lives. While it is not everything we want, this legislation is urgently needed," Schumer said in a statement.

Schumer's Republican counterpart, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, described the legislation as "a commonsense package" in a statement pledging his own support.

With the 100-seat Senate split evenly, the legislation will need support from at least 10 Republicans to pass.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Additional reporting by Moira Warburton; Editing by Scott Malone, Jonathan Oatis, David Gregorio and Cynthia Osterman)

House Select Panel Will Implicate Trump In Fake Elector Plot

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House panel investigating the January 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol will present evidence this week that former President Donald Trump was involved in a failed bit to submit slates of fake electors to overturn the 2020 election, a key lawmaker said on Sunday.

"We will show evidence of the president's involvement in this scheme," said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, a member of the House Select Committee, on CNN's State of the Union.

"We will also again show evidence about what his own lawyers came to think about this scheme, and we'll show courageous state officials who stood up and said they wouldn't go along with this plan to either call legislatures back into session or decertify the results for Joe Biden," he said.

Schiff's comments came as the Democratically-led committee prepares to hold its fourth public hearing on Tuesday on their investigation into the January 6, 2021, attack and Trump's role in trying to block Congress from certifying Biden's election victory.

Evidence against Trump could potentially be crucial in an ongoing criminal investigation by the Department of Justice (DOJ) into the alleged fake elector plot.

In an interview with CNN earlier this year, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco confirmed the department had received referrals about slates of alternative fake electors that were sent to the National Archives, and said prosecutors were reviewing them.

In March, the non-profit watchdog group American Oversight published copies of the phony electoral slates, which had been assembled by groups of Trump supporters in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Since then, the DOJ has convened a grand jury to subpoena witnesses and documents as part of the probe, multiple media outlets have reported.

Last week, the DOJ renewed a demand that the House Select Committee turn over transcripts of its interviews with witnesses, saying in a letter those transcripts could be relevant to ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions.

The committee's failure to turn them over "complicates the department's ability to investigate and prosecute those who engaged in criminal conduct," the letter said.

Asked about the letter on Sunday, Schiff said that usually the two separate branches of government don't allow one another to "rifle through" each others' files.

However, he added: "When the Justice Department asks for things specifically... We work with them, and we will work with them here."

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Heather Timmons and Daniel Wallis)

NATO Warns Of Long War Amid Russian Assaults, EU Boost For Ukraine

By Pavel Polityuk and Max Hunder

KYIV (Reuters) - The head of NATO said on Sunday the war in Ukraine could last years and Ukrainian forces faced intensified Russian assaults after the EU executive recommended that Kyiv should be granted the status of a candidate to join the bloc.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was cited by Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper as saying the supply of state-of-the-art weaponry to Ukrainian troops would increase the chance of liberating the eastern Donbas region from Russian control.

"We must prepare for the fact that it could take years. We must not let up in supporting Ukraine," he said. "Even if the costs are high, not only for military support, also because of rising energy and food prices."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who visited Kyiv on Friday, made similar comments about the need to prepare for a long war in an op-ed for London's Sunday Times newspaper.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday he stressed the need to avoid "Ukraine fatigue" and with Russian forces "grinding forward inch by inch", for allies to show the Ukrainians they were there to support them for a long time.

In the op-ed, he said this meant ensuring "Ukraine receives weapons, equipment, ammunition and training more rapidly than the invader."

"Time is the vital factor," Johnson said. "Everything will depend on whether Ukraine can strengthen its ability to defend its soil faster than Russia can renew its capacity to attack."

Ukraine received a significant boost on Friday when the European Commission recommended that it be granted EU candidate status - something European Union countries are expected to endorse at a summit this week.

This would put Ukraine on course to realise an aspiration seen as out of reach before Russia's Feb. 24 invasion, even if actual membership could take years.

Intensified Russian Attacks

On Ukraine's battlefields Russian attacks intensified.

Sievierodonetsk, a prime target in Moscow's offensive to seize full control of the eastern region of Luhansk, was again under heavy artillery and rocket fire as Russian forces attacked areas outside the industrial city, the Ukrainian military said.

The Ukrainian armed forces' general staff admitted its forces had suffered a military setback in the settlement of Metolkine, just to the southeast of Sievierodonetsk.

"As a result of artillery fire and an assault, the enemy has partial success in the village of Metolkine, trying to gain a foothold," it said in a Facebook post late on Saturday.

Serhiy Gaidai, the Ukrainian-appointed governor of Luhansk, referred in a separate online post to "tough battles" in Metolkine.

Russia's Tass news agency, citing a source working for Russian-backed separatists, said many Ukrainian fighters had surrendered in Metolkine.

To the northwest, several Russian missiles hit a gasworks in Izium district, and Russian rockets rained down on a suburb of Kharkiv, Ukraine's second-largest city, hitting a municipal building and starting a fire in a block of flats, but causing no casualties, Ukrainian authorities said.

Ukrainian authorities also reported shelling of locations further west in Poltava and Dnipropetrovsk, and on Saturday they said three Russian missiles destroyed a fuel storage depot in the town of Novomoskovsk, wounding 11 people, one critically.

The Ukrainian armed forces' general staff said Russian troops on a reconnaissance mission near the town of Krasnopillya had been beaten back with heavy casualties on Saturday.

Reuters could not independently confirm the battlefield accounts.

Zelensky Defiant

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, whose defiance has inspired Ukrainians and won him global respect, said in a Telegram post on Saturday he had visited soldiers on the southern front line in the Mykolaiv region, about 340 miles south of Kyiv.

"Our brave men and women. Each one of them is working flat out," he said. "We will definitely hold out! We will definitely win!"

A video showed Zelensky in his trademark khaki t-shirt handing out medals and posing for selfies with servicemen.

Zelensky's office said he had also visited National Guard positions in the southern region of Odesa to the west of Mykolaiv. Neither he nor his office said when the trips took place, but he did not deliver his customary nighttime address on Saturday.

Zelensky has remained mostly in Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine, although in recent weeks he has made unannounced visits to Kharkiv, and two eastern cities close to where battles are being fought.

One of Russian President Vladimir Putin's stated goals when he ordered his troops into Ukraine was to halt the eastward expansion of the NATO military alliance and keep Moscow's southern neighbor outside of the West's sphere of influence.

But the war, which has killed thousands of people, turned cities into rubble and sent millions fleeing, has had the opposite effect - convincing Finland and Sweden to seek to join NATO - and helping to pave the way for Ukraine's EU membership bid.

(Reporting by Reuters bureaus; writing by Tomasz Janowski and David Brunnstrom; editing by Grant McCool)

WikiLeaks' Assange To Be Extradited From UK To United States

By Michael Holden

LONDON (Reuters) -The wife of Julian Assange vowed to fight using every possible legal avenue after British Home Secretary Priti Patel on Friday approved the WikiLeaks' founder's extradition to the United States to face criminal charges.

Assange is wanted by U.S. authorities on 18 counts, including a spying charge, relating to WikiLeaks' release of vast troves of confidential U.S. military records and diplomatic cables which Washington said had put lives in danger.

His supporters say he is an anti-establishment hero who has been victimized because he exposed U.S. wrongdoing in conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that his prosecution is a politically motivated assault on journalism and free speech.

His wife Stella said Assange would appeal after the Home Office said his extradition had been approved as British courts had concluded it would not be unjust or an abuse of process.

"We're going to fight this. We're going to use every appeal avenue," Stella Assange told reporters, calling the decision a "travesty". "I'm going to spend every waking hour fighting for Julian until he is free, until justice is served."

Originally, a British judge ruled Assange, 50, should not be deported, saying his mental health meant he would be at risk of suicide if convicted and held in a maximum security prison.

But this was overturned on an appeal after the United States gave a package of assurances, including a pledge he could be transferred to Australia to serve any sentence.

The Home Office said the courts had not found that extradition would be incompatible with his human rights, including his right to a fair trial and to freedom of expression, and that he would be treated appropriately.

The Australian-born Assange has been involved in a legal fight in Britain for more than a decade and it could now go on for many more months.

He has 14 days to appeal to London's High Court, which must give its approval for a challenge, and he could ultimately seek to take his case to the United Kingdom Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

'Chilling Message'

"We're not at the end of the road here," Stella Assange said, calling Patel's decision "a dark day for press freedom and for British democracy".

Nick Vamos, the former head of extradition at Britain's Crown Prosecution Service, said verdicts were regularly overturned by the High Court. Assange would be able to claim again it was politically motivated and use new evidence, such as his allegations the CIA had plotted to assassinate him.

The CIA has declined to comment on his claims.

"I think he might get some traction," Vamos told Reuters.

WikiLeaks first came to prominence when it published a U.S. military video in 2010 showing a 2007 attack by Apache helicopters in Baghdad that killed a dozen people, including two Reuters news staff.

It then released hundreds of thousands of secret classified files and diplomatic cables in what was the largest security breach of its kind in U.S. military history.

U.S. prosecutors and Western security officials regard Assange as a reckless enemy of the state whose actions imperilled the lives of agents named in the leaked material.

He and his supporters argue that he is being punished for embarrassing those in power and faces 175 years in prison if found guilty, although the U.S. lawyers have said it would be more like four to six years.

"Allowing Julian Assange to be extradited to the U.S. would put him at great risk and sends a chilling message to journalists the world over," said Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary general.

The Australian government said it would continue to tell London and Washington that the case had "dragged on for too long and should be brought to a close".

The legal saga began at the end of 2010 when Sweden sought Assange's extradition from Britain over allegations of sex crimes. When he lost that case in 2012, he fled to the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he spent seven years.

When he was finally dragged out in April 2019, he was jailed for breaching British bail conditions although the Swedish case against him had been dropped. He has been fighting extradition to the United States since June 2019 and remains in jail.

During his time in the Ecuadorian embassy he fathered two children with his now wife, who he married in Belmarsh high-security prison in London in March at a ceremony attended by just four guests, two official witnesses and two guards.

(Additional reporting by Kirtsy Needham in Sydney; editing by Kate Holton and Alison Williams)

Europe Steps Up Support For Ukraine Amid Russian Offensive

By Natalia Zinets and Simon Lewis

KYIV/IRPIN, Ukraine (Reuters) - Britain will host talks on rebuilding key infrastructure in Kyiv on Friday, a day after the leaders of Germany, France and Italy visited Ukraine and offered it the hope of EU membership as it battles a ferocious Russian offensive in the east.

Air raid sirens blared as French President Emmanuel Macron, Germany's Olaf Scholz and Italy's Mario Draghi visited the Ukrainian capital and a nearby town wrecked early in the war.

After holding talks with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the leaders signalled that Ukraine should be granted European Union candidate status, a symbolic gesture that would draw Kyiv closer to the economic bloc.

Scholz said Germany had taken in 800,000 Ukrainian refugees and would continue to support Ukraine as long as it needed.

"Ukraine belongs to the European family," he said.

Britain will welcome representatives from Ukraine and business leaders on Friday to discuss how British companies can help rebuild key infrastructure in Kyiv.

Britain will promote collaboration between its companies in infrastructure, energy and transport, and Ukrainian public and private organisations to help repair damaged and destroyed infrastructure.

On the battlefield, Ukrainian officials said their troops were holding out against massive Russian bombardment in the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, and described new progress in a counteroffensive in the south.

But they said battles on both main fronts depended on receiving more aid from the West, especially artillery to counter Russia's big advantage in firepower.

"We appreciate the support already provided by partners, we expect new deliveries, primarily heavy weapons, modern rocket artillery, anti-missile defence systems," Zelenskiy said on Thursday after the talks with his European counterparts.

Macron said France would step up arms deliveries to Kyiv, while NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels pledged more weapons for Ukraine while making plans to bolster the U.S.-led military alliance's eastern flank.

'Make Europe, Not War'

The visit to Ukraine by the three most powerful EU leaders had taken weeks to organise while they fended off criticism over positions described as too deferential to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The leaders, who were joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannis, toured Irpin, devastated soon after the invasion began on Feb. 24.

Noting graffiti on a wall that read "Make Europe, not war", Macron said: "It's very moving to see that. This is the right message."

Putin has repeatedly said the main immediate reason for what he casts as a "special military operation" was to protect Russian-speakers in east Ukraine from persecution and attack.

Scholz, Macron and Draghi all say they are strong supporters of Ukraine who have taken practical steps to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian energy and find weapons to help Kyiv.

But Ukraine has long criticised Scholz over what it regards as Germany's slow delivery of weapons and reluctance to sever economic ties with Moscow, and was furious this month at Macron for saying in an interview that Russia must not be "humiliated".

Italy has also proposed a peace plan which Ukrainians fear could lead to pressure on them to give up territory. After the talks in Kyiv, Macron said some sort of communication channel was still needed with Putin.

'Ghost Villages'

In the south, Ukraine says its forces have been making inroads into Kherson province, which Russia occupied early in its invasion. There has been little independent reporting to confirm battlefield positions in the area.

Zelenskiy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, wrote on Twitter that he had visited an area some 3 to 4 km (about 2 miles) from Russian positions, where dozens of "ghost villages" were depopulated by the combat.

"Our guys on the ground - the mood is fighting. Even with limited resources, we are pushing back the enemy. One thing is missing - long-range weapons. In any case, we will throw them out of the south," he wrote.

The main battle in recent weeks has been over the eastern city of Sievierodonetsk, where Ukrainian forces are holed up in a chemical factory with hundreds of civilians.

"Every day it becomes more and more difficult because the Russians are pulling more and more weapons into the city," Sievierodonetsk mayor Oleksandr Stryuk said.

An air strike on Thursday hit a building sheltering civilians in Lysychansk across the river, killing at least four and wounding seven, regional governor Serhiy Gaidai said.

The Dutch intelligence service, meanwhile, said it had uncovered an elaborate Russian plot to place a military agent using a false Brazilian identity in the International Criminal Court, which is investigating suspected war crimes.

"This was a long-term, multi-year GRU operation that cost a lot of time, energy and money," said Dutch intelligence agency chief Erik Akerboom, using the acronym for Russia's military intelligence service. There was no comment on the case from the Russian government or the ICC.

(Additional reporting by Reuters bureaux; writing by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Coates; editing by Angus MacSwan, Alex Richardson and Rosalba O'Brien)

Ginni Thomas 'Can't Wait' To Meet With House Select Committee

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, is eager to appear before the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, she told the Daily Caller news website on Thursday.

Thomas was responding to comments by House Select Committee chairman, Democrat Bennie Thompson, that suggested the panel would seek her testimony.

"I can't wait to clear up misconceptions. I look forward to talking to them," Thomas told the Daily Caller.

The Washington Post reported earlier this week that the committee had obtained emails between Thomas and attorney John Eastman, who was involved in efforts to block the certification of President Joe Biden's defeat of Donald Trump in the November 2020 election.

"It's time for us to invite her to come talk," Thompson told reporters at the Capitol earlier on Thursday.

Eastman said in a statement posted to Substack that the emails obtained by the Post amounted to "false innuendo based on selective leaks" and were irrelevant to the committee hearings.

"I can categorically confirm that at no time did I discuss with Mrs. Thomas or Justice Thomas any matters pending or likely to come before the Court," Eastman said. "We have never engaged in such discussions, would not engage in such discussions, and did not do so in December 2020 or anytime else."

Thomas' comments were reported as the committee was holding a public hearing on the events of Jan. 6, 2021, at the Capitol. Thompson said he first learned of her interest in participating in the investigation from a reporter as he left the hearing room.

"We look forward to her coming," Thompson said, adding that the committee had sent Thomas a letter.

Thomas is active in conservative political circles and said she attended a rally Trump held before the Capitol riot. At the rally, Trump made a fiery speech repeating his unfounded allegations that his election defeat was due to widespread fraud and urged his supporters to march on Congress.

Her political involvement has raised questions about whether her husband should recuse himself from cases involving Trump and the Capitol riot.

In January, her husband was the lone dissenting voice when the Supreme Court rejected Trump's request to block the release of White House records sought by the January 6 select committee.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Additional reporting by Katharine Jackson and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Stephen Coates)

Select Committee Pressures Loudermilk With Tour Video Release

By Susan Heavey and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - - The congressional panel investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol took aim at a fellow lawmaker on Wednesday as it released video footage showing him giving a tour of the building the previous day to a man who participated in the riot.

The video shows the man in question, who was not named, taking pictures of tunnels and security checkpoints the day before the attack while participating in a guided tour by Republican Representative Barry Loudermilk.

Separate footage released by the House of Representatives panel shows the man issuing threats to prominent Democrats as he approached the Capitol on January 6 with thousands of other supporters of then-president Donald Trump.

Loudermilk's office accused the House Select Committee of a "smear campaign" in a statement and cited a letter from the Capitol Police saying that the activity of the tour group was not suspicious.

That letter said the group was not seen in tunnels that led to the Capitol and there is no evidence that Loudermilk entered the Capitol with them during their visit.

The committee's chairperson, Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, said the behavior of the group raised questions because they photographed security checkpoints and other areas that were not typically of interest to tourists on a day when the Capitol complex was closed to the public.

The committee said it had repeated a request to Loudermilk to provide information.

The request comes amid heightened tension between the Democratic-led committee and most Republican House members, who have removed the top Republican on the committee, Liz Cheney, from a leadership post.

Committee members said at a hearing last week that more than one congressional Republican had asked Trump for a pardon, drawing a sharp denial from Representative Scott Perry, the only one named.

The video shown on Wednesday includes clips apparently taken on the man's mobile phone as he narrated, as well as surveillance footage from the Capitol complex on Jan. 5 showing him taking pictures of staircases, security checkpoints and tunnels not normally of interest to tourists.

In the video, the man's heard threatening high-profile Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. '

"They are swarming and converging... from all routes in. There's no escape... We're coming for you," the man said as he approached the Capitol according to a video released by the House of Representatives committee.

It was not clear if the man was among the more than 840 people charged with taking part in the riot.

The committee is holding a series of at least six public hearings this month on the findings of its nearly year-long probe.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell)