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Supreme Court Term Dawns With Major Environmental And Race Cases

By Andrew Chung and Nate Raymond

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court's nine justices are poised on Monday to open a new nine-month term packed with major cases including disputes centered on race that give members of its conservative majority fresh opportunities to flex their muscles, with an environmental case up first.

The top U.S. judicial body annually kicks off its term on the first Monday of October, and the justices have important cases on the schedule right away. The court has a 6-3 conservative majority. President Joe Biden's appointee Ketanji Brown Jackson - America's first Black woman justice - joins the court's liberal bloc after being confirmed by the Senate in April to succeed now-retired Justice Stephen Breyer.

On the term's first day, the justices are set to hear arguments in a case that could limit the scope of a landmark federal environmental law, the Clean Water Act of 1972. The court issued a decision in June that constrained the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under a different anti-pollution law, the Clean Air Act.

The court will consider for a second time a bid by Chantell and Mike Sackett, a married couple from Idaho, to build a home on property that the EPA has deemed a protected wetland requiring a permit under the Clean Water Act, which they had failed to obtain.

There has been litigation and political debates over how much of a connection with a waterway a property must have in order to require a permit. The Supreme Court issued a ruling in 2006 that led to further uncertainty. The new case gives its conservatives an opportunity to embrace an approach favored by business groups, with a ruling due by the end of June.

In the biggest rulings from last term, the court ended the recognition of a woman's constitutional right to abortion and expanded gun rights.

On Tuesday, the justices are due to hear arguments in a case from Alabama that threatens to gut a landmark civil rights law. The 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting, was enacted at a time when Southern states including Alabama enforced policies blocking Black people from casting ballots.

Alabama is appealing a lower court's ruling invalidating a map approved by the state's Republican-controlled legislature drawing the boundaries of the state's seven U.S. House of Representatives districts. The lower court ordered a new map after finding that the Republican-drawn version diluted the electoral clout of Black voters in violation of the Voting Rights Act. Black voters tend to support Democratic candidates.

At Alabama's request, the Supreme Court froze that ruling, letting the contested map be used in elections while litigation proceeds.

The map concentrated the voting power of Black people in the state into a single district even though Alabama's population is 27% Black, while spreading out the rest of the Black population into other districts at levels too small to form a majority.

Conservative states and groups already have successfully prodded the Supreme Court to limit the Voting Rights Act's scope in rulings from 2013 and 2021. Alabama now argues that drawing a second district to give Black voters a better chance at electing their preferred candidate would itself be racially discriminatory by favoring them at the expense of other voters.

The Supreme Court tackles race again in a dispute to be heard on October 31 that might yield the most momentous ruling of the term, with the conservative majority in a position to end affirmative action admissions policies used by many colleges and universities to increase the number of Black and Hispanic students on their campuses.

A group called Students for Fair Admissions, founded by anti-affirmative action activist Edward Blum, is appealing lower court rulings that upheld race-conscious admissions programs used by two prestigious universities - Harvard University and the University of North Carolina - to foster student diversity.

The lawsuits accused the universities of discriminating against applicants on the basis of race in violation of federal law or the U.S. Constitution. Blum's group accused Harvard of discriminating against Asian American applicants. It accused UNC of discriminating against white and Asian American applicants.

The universities have said they use race as only one factor in a host of individualized evaluations for admission without quotas, and that curbing the consideration of race would result in a significant drop in the number of Black, Hispanic and other underrepresented students on campus.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Nate Raymond; editing by Will Dunham)

Trial Opens For ​​Oath Keepers Founder And Gang Over Capitol Riot

By Sarah N. Lynch and Chris Gallagher

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors will present their opening statements on Monday in the trial of Oath Keepers founder Elmer Stewart Rhodes and four others charged with conspiring to use force to stop the peaceful transfer of presidential power on January 6, 2021.

Rhodes and his co-defendants Kelly Meggs, Thomas Caldwell, Jessica Watkins, and Kenneth Harrelson are accused of plotting to forcefully prevent Congress from certifying Democratic President Joe Biden's 2020 election victory, in a failed bid to keep then-President Donald Trump, a Republican, in power.

Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to overturn his election loss to Biden after Trump falsely claimed the election had been stolen from him through widespread fraud. Five people died during and shortly after the riot, and about 140 police were injured.

The five on trial face numerous felony charges, including seditious conspiracy - a Civil War-era statute that is rarely prosecuted and carries a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Opening statements by prosecutors and the defense are expected to last for several hours.

Prosecutors have said the five defendants trained and planned for January 6 and stockpiled weapons at a northern Virginia hotel outside the capital for a so-called "quick reaction force" that would be ready if called upon to transport arms into Washington.

As lawmakers met on Januiary 6 to certify Biden's election victory, some Oath Keepers rushed into the Capitol building, clad in paramilitary gear. They are not accused of carrying firearms onto Capitol grounds.

The trial, which could last for six weeks or more, is expected to feature emotionally charged videos from the day of the attack, as well as text and audio voice messages exchanged between the group's members.

The government has characterized the Oath Keepers as a far-right anti-government group, some of whose members have ties to militias. Some of the members, who include current and former military and law enforcement personnel, believe the federal government "has been co-opted by a cabal of elites trying to strip American citizens of their rights," the indictment alleges.

Rhodes, a Yale-educated attorney and former U.S. Army paratrooper, has disputed that characterization, saying it's a non-partisan group whose members have pledged to defend the U.S. Constitution.

The trial is expected to feature testimony from as many as 11 FBI agents and possibly at least one informant. A full witness list has not been publicly released.

Although Trump's shadow will loom large over the trial, he is not expected to be a central figure in the case.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta, who is presiding over the trial, previously restricted the defendants from using a "public authority" defense, meaning they cannot claim they stormed the Capitol at Trump's direction.

However, attorneys for some of the defendants are expected to argue that their clients believed they could be called to action if Trump invoked the Insurrection Act, a law that empowers the president to deploy troops to suppress civil disorder.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Chris Gallagher, editing by Ross Colvin and Cynthia Osterman)

NATO Urges World To Reject Russia's "Sham" Referendums In Ukraine

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO on Thursday condemned Moscow's plans to hold referendums in Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine and called on all states to reject what it called "Russia's blatant attempts at territorial conquest".

"Sham referenda in the Donetsk, Luhansk, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions of Ukraine have no legitimacy and will be a blatant violation of the UN Charter," the North Atlantic Council, grouping the member states of the alliance, said in a statement.

"NATO allies will not recognize their illegal and illegitimate annexation. These lands are Ukraine," it added.

Referendums on joining Russia are due to take place from Friday until Tuesday in several largely Russian-held regions in eastern and southern Ukraine, which comprise around 15 percent of the country's territory.

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold and Bart Meijer)

At UN, Biden Deplores Russia's 'Irresponsible' Nuclear Threats

By Steve Holland and Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - President Joe Biden accused Russia on Wednesday of making "reckless" and "irresponsible" threats to use nuclear weapons and said Moscow had violated the core tenets of United Nations membership by invading Ukraine.

Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Biden slammed Russian President Vladimir Putin for starting an unprovoked war that some 40 U.N. members were helping Ukraine fight through funding and weapons.

Earlier on Wednesday, Putin ordered a Russian mobilization to fight in Ukraine and made a thinly veiled threat to use nuclear weapons, in what NATO called a "reckless" act of desperation in the face of a looming Russian defeat.

Biden echoed that sentiment.

"Again, just today, President Putin has made overt nuclear threats against Europe, in a reckless disregard for the responsibilities of the nonproliferation regime," Biden said.

"A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought," he said.

Biden said no one had threatened Russia, despite its claims to the contrary, and that only Russia had sought conflict, and he used the U.N. setting to underscore his view that Moscow had violated the body's values.

"A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council invaded its neighbor, attempted to erase a sovereign state from the map. Russia has shamelessly violated the core tenets of the United Nations Charter,” Biden said.

"This war is about extinguishing Ukraine's right to exist as a state, plain and simple, and Ukraine's right to exist as a people. Wherever you are, wherever you live, whatever you believe, that should ... make your blood run cold."

Russia's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Biden's remarks. While Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was in New York for the U.N. gathering, a deputy Russian U.N. ambassador was in the chamber for Biden's speech.

Competing For Influence

The United States and Western allies are competing with Russia for diplomatic influence. The United States has acknowledged that some countries are concerned the Ukraine war had drawn global attention away from other crises.

Washington has also long been vying for sway with Beijing.

"Let me be direct about the competition between the United States and China. As we manage shifting geopolitical trends, the United States will conduct itself as a reasonable leader," Biden said.

"We do not seek conflict. We do not seek a Cold War. We do not ask any nation to choose between the United States or any other partner," he said.

Biden also called out China for suspending bilateral cooperation with the United States on climate talks after U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan.

"The United States will work with every nation, including our competitors, to solve global problems like climate change. Climate diplomacy is not a favor to the United States or any other nation and walking away hurts the entire world," he said.

Biden announced $2.9 billion in additional U.S. funding to combat global food insecurity, building on $6.9 billion in U.S. food security funding already committed this year.

The United States has strengthened its focus on food security since Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine worsened a global food crisis that was already fueled by climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic. Russia and Ukraine are major grain and fertilizer exporters and shipments were disrupted by the war.

Biden pushed back against Russian complaints that Western sanctions are harming its exports, stressing that U.S. sanctions explicitly allow Russia to export food and fertilizer and that it was "Russia's war that is worsening food insecurity."

He also urged countries not to hoard grain while so many people are suffering: "In every country in the world, no matter what else divides us, if parents cannot feed their children, nothing, nothing else matters."

The United States has accused China of stockpiling grain. China's grain stocks at the end of the 2021/22 season were estimated by the International Grains Council to be 323.5 million tons, more than half the global total of 602.9 million. They dwarf those of the United States, the world's top grain exporter, which were estimated at 57.5 million tons.

Biden also pushed for the extension of a deal, brokered in July by the United Nations and Turkey, that allowed Ukraine to resume Black Sea food and fertilizer exports. Russia has cast a shadow over whether the initial 120-day deal should continue.

(Reporting by Steve Holland and Michelle Nichols; additional reporting by Nandita Bose and Andrea Shalal; writing by Jeff Mason; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

New York Attorney General Sues Trump, Adult Children For Massive Fraud

By Karen Freifeld, Jonathan Stempel and Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Donald Trump and his adult children were sued for "numerous acts of fraud and misrepresentation" on Wednesday by New York state's attorney general in a civil investigation into the former U.S. president's business practices, court records showed.

The lawsuit, filed in a New York state court in Manhattan, accused the Trump Organization of wrongdoing in preparing Trump's annual statements of financial condition from 2011 to 2021. It also named the Trump Organization, the former president's son Donald Trump Jr,. and his daughter Ivanka Trump as defendants.

Attorney General Letitia James said Trump and the Trump Organization misstated the values of its real estate properties to obtain favorable loans and tax benefits. She said she was referring allegations of criminal wrongdoing to federal prosecutors in Manhattan and the Internal Revenue Service.

"With the help of his children and senior executives at the Trump Organization, Donald Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and cheat the system," James said in a statement.

The lawsuit marks one of the biggest legal blows for Trump since he left office in January 2021. Trump is considering running again for president in 2024.

James told reporters she is seeking to have the defendants give up all the benefits he obtained from fraud, estimated at $250 million. The lawsuit also seeks to bar Trump and his children from running companies in New York, and to bar the Trump Organization from engaging in real estate transactions. James has been conducting a civil investigation into Trump's business practices for more than three years.

The Republican former president has denied any wrongdoing and described James' probe as a politically motivated witch hunt. James is a Democrat. The Trump Organization has called James' allegations "baseless."

Wednesday's lawsuit followed a contentious investigation in which James accused Trump, his company, and some family members of using delay tactics to ignore subpoenas and avoid testifying.

Trump on August 10 declined to answer questions in a lengthy, closed-door deposition at the office of the attorney general, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination more than 400 times.

Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump agreed to sit for depositions only after court decisions required it.

Another of Trump's children, Eric Trump, invoked the right against self-incrimination more than 500 times in a 2020 deposition.

Trump has been beset with legal troubles since leaving the White House.

The FBI conducted a search of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida on Aug. 8 as part of a criminal investigation into his handling of presidential records including classified material.

Trump also faces a criminal investigation in Georgia over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results.

He has denied wrongdoing in the various probes.

James' civil probe is separate from a criminal tax fraud probe against the Trump Organization by Manhattan's district attorney, Alvin Bragg.

The company is scheduled to stand trial in October, accused of paying off-the-books benefits to employees. Its former longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, has pleaded guilty and will testify against the company.

James is assisting Bragg in his criminal probe.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, Karen Freifeld and Luc Cohen in New York; editing by Will Dunham and Alistair Bell)

Trump Lawyers Refuse Special Master Order On Documents He 'Declassified'

By Karen Freifeld and Sarah N. Lynch

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Former President Donald Trump's lawyers resisted revealing whether he declassified materials seized in an August FBI search of his Florida home as the U.S. judge appointed to review the documents planned his first conference on the matter on Tuesday.

Judge Raymond Dearie on Monday circulated a draft plan to both sides that sought details on documents Trump allegedly declassified, as he claimed publicly and without evidence, though his lawyers have not asserted that in court filings.

In a letter filed ahead of Tuesday's hearing, Trump's lawyers argued it is not time and would force him to reveal a defense to any subsequent indictment - an acknowledgement that the investigation could lead to criminal charges.

Dearie, a senior federal judge in Brooklyn, was selected as an independent arbiter known as a special master. He will help decide which of the more than 11,000 documents seized in the August 8 search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago home should be kept from the Justice Department's criminal investigation into the alleged mishandling of the documents.

Dearie will recommend to U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon which documents may fall under attorney-client privilege or an assertion of executive privilege, which allows a president to withhold certain documents or information.

It is unclear whether the review would go forward as instructed by Cannon, the Florida judge appointed to the bench by Trump in 2020 who ordered the review.

Trump is under investigation for retaining government records, some marked as highly classified, at the resort in Palm Beach, his home after leaving office in January 2021. He has denied wrongdoing, and said without providing evidence that he believes the investigation is a partisan attack.

The Justice Department on Friday appealed a portion of Cannon's ruling, seeking to stay the review of roughly 100 documents with classified markings and the judge's restricting FBI access to them.

Federal prosecutors said the special master review ordered by the judge would hinder the government from addressing national security risks and force the disclosure of "highly sensitive materials."

On Tuesday, Trump's legal team filed its response to the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, opposing the government's request and calling the Justice Department's investigation "unprecedented and misguided."

In their 40-page filing, Trump's attorneys said the court should not take the Justice Department at its word that the roughly 100 documents in question are in fact still classified, and said the special master should be permitted to review them as a step towards "restoring order from chaos."

In Cannon's order appointing Dearie as special master, she asked him to conclude his review by the end of November. She instructed him to prioritize the documents marked classified, though her process calls for Trump's counsel to review the documents, and Trump's lawyers may not have the necessary security clearance.

The Justice Department has described the special master process as unnecessary, as it has already conducted its own attorney-client privilege review and set aside about 500 pages that could qualify. It opposes an executive privilege review, saying any such assertion over the records would fail.

The August FBI search came after Trump left office with documents that belong to the government and did not return them, despite numerous requests by the government and a subpoena.

It is still unclear whether the government has all the records. The Justice Department has said some classified material still could be missing after the FBI recovered empty folders with classification markings from Mar-a-Lago.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld, additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham, David Gregorio and Chizu Nomiyama)

Biden Urges 'Dark Money' Disclosure Bill​​ Despite Certain GOP Filibuster

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- President Joe Biden spoke on Tuesday afternoon about a bill that would require super PACs and certain other groups to disclose donors who contributed $10,000 or more during an election cycle, a measure doomed to fail due to lack of Republican support.

“Ultimately this comes down to public trust. Dark money erodes public trust. We need to protect public trust and I’m determined to do that,” the president said.

The bill is slated for a Senate vote this week, top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer said on Monday, as Democrats seek to boost election transparency ahead of the November midterms after failing to pass more ambitious voting rights legislation earlier this year.

The vote does not have the support of 60 senators necessary to overcome the Senate's vote threshold for ending debate.

Republicans, including Texas senator Ted Cruz, have argued that companies have the right to express themselves through anonymous donations. Democrats say such 'dark money' donations have warped the political system, resulting in laws that do not reflect the majority of Americans' views.

"There is no justification under heaven for keeping such massive contributions hidden from the public," Schumer said.

The measure, known as the DISCLOSE Act, was initially included in Democrats' voting rights bill that sought to counteract voting restrictions in Republican-led states. That package passed the House in January but died in the Senate under Republican opposition.

Proponents of the restrictive state measures said they were necessary to counter fraud. Republican former President Donald Trump has falsely claimed that widespread voter fraud led to his 2020 election defeat.

Democrats have accused Republicans at the state level of enacting policies to make it harder for racial minorities who tend to support Democratic candidates to cast ballots.

"In state after state, Republican state legislatures are engaged in an unprecedented effort to suppress the sacred right to vote and subvert the American bedrock of free and fair elections," Biden said when Senate Republicans voted to block the broader voting rights effort in January.

Republicans in turn accuse Democrats of attempting a federal takeover of election laws.

The DISCLOSE ACT, if approved, would also require groups spending money on judicial nominees to disclose their donors.

The House of Representatives is separately considering a proposal by Republican Liz Cheney and Democrat Zoe Lofgren clarifying a 135-year-old law to show that the vice president's role in certifying elections is purely symbolic.

The proposal is a response to the January 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, who were trying to stop certification of Joe Biden's victory, and to pressure from Trump himself on Vice President Mike Pence to overturn Joe Biden's election win by decertifying certain slates of electors.

Biden is scheduled to make the remarks at 1:45 p.m. in the Roosevelt Room of the White House before heading to New York to participate in the United Nations General Assembly this week.

(Reporting by Alexandra Alper and Moira Warbuton; editing by Heather Timmons, Edmund Klamann and Bill Berkrot)

Russian War Crimes 'Cannot Be Hidden,' Says Milley At NATO Meeting

By Phil Stewart

TALLINN (Reuters) -The top U.S. general on Friday said war crimes in Ukraine cannot be hidden, as Kyiv leveled fresh accusations against Russia following the discovery of a mass burial site in northeastern territory recaptured from Russian forces.

U.S. Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he would reserve judgment as media reports emerged indicating that at the site in Izium, some bodies were found with hands tied behind their backs.

"In terms of the totality of the scale (of potential war crimes), I don't know. But I would tell you that the world will discover that. War crimes cannot be hidden, especially things like mass graves," Milley told reporters traveling with him after arriving in Estonia for a NATO gathering.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Reuters in an interview that the mass burial site in Izium was proof of Russian war crimes and evidence was being collected.

"There is some evidence, and assessments are being conducted, Ukrainian and international, and this is very important for us, for the world to recognize this," he said.

Moscow has not commented on the mass burial site in Izium, which was a Russian frontline stronghold before Ukraine's counter-offensive forced its forces to flee.

The head of the pro-Russian administration which abandoned the area last week dismissed the accounts and accused Ukrainians of stage-managing atrocities.

Milley's visit to Estonia followed a trip to Israel, where, earlier in the day he visited Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust memorial to the six million European Jews murdered in World War Two.

Milley said he was not comparing the Holocaust, in all of its enormity, to events unfolding in Ukraine.

"But having said that, war crimes, if the evidence is there, then that's necessary to discover. And it's just a poignant reminder to us, because all of us were on a trip to Israel that I don't forget -- and no one should," he said.

Kyiv's biggest European supporters, such as Baltic states like Estonia which have long called for more military aid for Ukraine, say Ukraine's battlefield successes in its counter-offensive have demonstrated the case for more support.

But the mass burial site has also raised questioned about what other discoveries may await Ukrainian troops, who hope to seize more Russian-held Ukrainian territory.

Milley lauded Ukraine's military for seizing the "strategic initiative" from Russia -- terminology suggesting that Ukraine had momentum in a war now well into its seventh month.

But Milley was cautious about making predictions. Asked whether Ukraine would be able to retake all its territory, Milley said: "The offensives are in the early stages. We're only looking at probably about two weeks so far."

"And it remains to be seen how far the Ukrainians can press this fight. So I think we'll have to wait and see how the fighting develops," he said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Mark Porter and David Gregorio)

Abortion May Help Democrats To Oust Ron Johnson From Senate

By James Oliphant

GREEN BAY, Wis. (Reuters) - Nicole Slavin was a reliable Democratic voter in a conservative region of Wisconsin, but she realized casting a ballot was no longer enough after the state's abortion access vanished almost overnight.

Slavin, a business development director, called upon her network of contacts to mobilize a group of women across party lines in support of U.S. Senate candidate Mandela Barnes, a Democrat who backs abortion rights. She knocked on doors for Barnes and organized an event for him last week that drew more than 100 women to a Green Bay brewery.

"There's no option of staying quiet and sitting down anymore," said Slavin, 48.

Evidence is building that a wave of women voters might make the difference if Democrats are to keep their Senate majority and stem their expected losses in the House of Representatives in the November 8 midterm elections.

Wisconsin is one of several states where voter registrations among women have surged since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. That decision gutted national protections for abortion and left an 1849 law outlawing most abortions in Wisconsin on the books, prompting the state's four abortion clinics to end the procedure.

Women have outpaced men in new registrations in Wisconsin by almost 10 percent, according to an analysis by the Democratic data firm TargetSmart. Women vote at a greater rate than men in presidential elections, but that gap usually narrows in midterms.

The battleground state is critical to Democrats' hopes of holding onto their slim majority in the Senate. If Barnes can defeat incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson, it would provide a cushion should the party lose a seat in a state such as Nevada or Georgia.

The Senate Majority PAC, an outside group that supports Democratic candidates, made Johnson the target of the first abortion-centered TV ad it aired after the Supreme Court's ruling. On Friday, the group launched a new abortion ad aimed at Johnson as part of a $1.6 million buy. The ad will run in Green Bay, among other markets.

Tom Bonier, chief executive officer of TargetSmart, theorizes many new registrants are young women who took abortion rights for granted.

"We are seeing these voters now pivoting to some level of action," Bonier said.

Adrianna Pokela, 23, said she cried after Roe's overturn. She will vote in her first midterm election this November and is trying to convince others of her generation to do the same.

In July, she helped plan a protest march in Green Bay that drew several hundred people.

"I am working my butt off to find ways to express the importance of this election," Pokela said.

Motivated Voters

Opinion surveys show the issue of abortion is rising in importance for Democratic voters in an election cycle dominated by concerns over inflation.

A Wall Street Journal poll released last week found support for legal abortion had grown nationwide since the court's decision and that more than half of voters surveyed said the issue had made them more motivated to vote in November.

After voters in Kansas last month defeated Republican efforts to ban abortion in that state, Democrats have zeroed in on women as the voters most likely to help prevent a Republican takeover of Congress.

The advocacy group Galvanize Action released nine digital ads about abortion rights in Wisconsin aimed at moderate white women, one of the state's largest voting blocs. The group has survey data that says those women, many of whom are not traditional Democratic voters, can be persuaded to vote for a candidate who supports abortion rights.

Jackie Payne, the group's executive director, said the ads' messages revolve around compassion for women and keeping government out of personal healthcare decisions.

"You have to connect to voters at their values," Payne said. "And then get them to turn out."

Another group, Democratic Messaging Project, has posted a billboard off a major highway in downtown Milwaukee that reads, "ABORTION GONE, IS BIRTH CONTROL NEXT?," one of 10 billboards the group will have in the state by week's end.

Nationally, Priorities USA Action, which targets swing voters in battleground states, said half the ads it's running in states such as Arizona and Pennsylvania mention abortion rights.

'Fired Up'

Barnes, Wisconsin's lieutenant governor, released a TV ad in which his mother spoke of having an abortion due to medical complications that put her health at risk.

"It's about personal freedom that has been taken away by the Supreme Court," Barnes said in an interview. "People are fired up."

His campaign believes Johnson, a two-term incumbent, is vulnerable on the issue.

Johnson has said he supports making abortion illegal, with exceptions for rape, incest, and to protect the mother's health. He has said he does not favor a federal abortion ban.

But Johnson's campaign rarely talks about abortion. Instead, it has tried to pin Barnes to the high crime rate in Milwaukee, branding him a supporter of liberal criminal justice policies.

Analysts say Johnson may be more in danger than in past years because of his support for former President Donald Trump's bogus election fraud claims, which could alienate moderate voters. Polls show a tight race.

Peggy Phillips, 66, who came out to see Barnes in Green Bay and described herself as an independent, said she was leaning toward backing the Democratic candidate. The main reason, she said, was abortion.

"I believe very strongly that it's an individual issue," Phillips said.

(Reporting by James Oliphant; editing by Colleen Jenkins and Daniel Wallis)

White House: Republicans Using Migrants As 'Political Pawns'

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican governors are using migrants as "political pawns," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on Thursday, when asked about a decision by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to fly migrants to Martha's Vineyard.

She also described the move as a "premeditated political stunt."

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Chris Reese)

Russian Grip On Northeast Ukraine Collapses As Kyiv Offensive Gains Strength

By Max Hunder and Vitalii Hnidyi

KYIV/HRAKOVE, Ukraine (Reuters) -Moscow abandoned its main bastion in northeastern Ukraine on Saturday, in a sudden collapse of one of the war's principal front lines after surging Ukrainian forces threatened to encircle the area in a shock advance.

The swift fall of Izium in Kharkiv province was Moscow's worst defeat since its troops were forced back from the capital Kyiv in March, and could prove a decisive turning point in the six-month-old war, with thousands of Russian soldiers abandoning ammunition stockpiles and equipment as they fled.

The state-run TASS news agency quoted Russia's defence ministry as saying it had ordered troops to leave the vicinity to reinforce operations elsewhere in neighbouring Donetsk.

The head of Russia's administration in areas in Kharkiv it controls told all residents to evacuate the province and flee to Russia to "save lives", TASS reported. Witnesses described traffic jams of cars with people departing Russian-held territory.

Ukrainian officials stopped short of confirming they had recaptured Izium, but President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, posted a photo of troops on its outskirts. Earlier, he tweeted an emoji of grapes. The city's name means "raisin".

The Russian withdrawal announcement came hours after Ukrainian troops captured the city of Kupiansk farther north, the sole railway hub supplying Russia's entire frontline across northeastern Ukraine. That left thousands of Russian troops abruptly cut off from supplies across a stretch of front that has seen some of the most intense battles of the war.

There were signs of trouble for Russia elsewhere along its remaining positions at the eastern front, with pro-Russian officials acknowledging difficulties at other locations and Ukrainians hinting at more advances to come.

Mechanized Assault

Days ago, Kyiv's forces burst through the frontline and have since recaptured dozens of towns and villages in a swift mechanized assault, surging forward dozens of kilometres a day.

Early on Saturday, Ukrainian officials posted photos of their troops raising the country's blue and yellow flag in front of city hall in Kupiansk, dealing a blow that appeared to prove decisive for Russian garrisons supplied by the city's railways.

"To achieve the stated goals of the Special Military Operation for the liberation of Donbas, it was decided to regroup the Russian troops located in the districts of Balakliia and Izyum for the purpose of increasing efforts in the Donetsk direction," TASS quoted Russia's defense ministry as saying.

Russian forces had already abandoned Balakliia days ago.

In Hrakove, one of dozens of villages recaptured in the Ukrainian advance, Reuters saw burnt-out vehicles bearing the "Z" symbol of Russia's invasion. Boxes still full of ammunition were scattered with strewn rubbish in positions the Russians had abandoned in evident haste.

"Hello everyone, we are from Russia," was spray-painted on a wall. Three bodies lay in white body bags in a yard.

The regional chief of police, Volodymyr Tymoshenko, said Ukrainian police moved in the previous day, and checked the identities of local residents who had lived under Russian occupation since the invasion's second day.

"The first function is to provide help that they need. The next job is to document the crimes committed by Russian invaders on the territories which they temporarily occupied."

'Russia Is Retreating'

A witness in Valuyki, a town in Russia's Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine, told Reuters she saw scores of people from Kupiansk, with families eating and sleeping in their cars along roads.

"I was at the market today and saw a lot of people from Kupiansk. They say half of the city was taken by the Ukrainian army and Russia is retreating... the fighting is getting closer," the witness said.

Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said officials were giving food and medical aid to people queuing at a crossing into Russia. Senator Andrey Turchak, from the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, reported more than 400 vehicles at the frontier.

Russian rocket fire hit Kharkiv city on Saturday evening, killing at least one person and damaging several homes, part of a surge in shelling since Kyiv's counter-offensive, Ukrainian officials said.

Reuters could not confirm the battlefield accounts independently.

The abrupt abandonment of Russia's front line south of Kharkiv city brought a swift and sudden end to a period during which the war had been fought as a relentless grind on a static front, favoring Moscow's advantage in raw firepower.

Russian forces had fought hard to capture Izium early in the war, and then used the city as the logistics base for one of their main campaigns - a months-long assault from the north on the adjacent Donbas region.

There were signs that Ukraine could capitalize on the disarray with assaults along other areas of the eastern front. Denis Pushilin, head of the Russian-installed separatist administration in Donetsk province, said the situation in Liman, east of Izium, "remains quite difficult - as in a series of settlements in the north of the republic".

A bit further east, Ukrainian officials hinted at a possible attempt to recapture Lysychansk, which Moscow seized in July after weeks of fighting in one of the war's bloodiest battles.

Ukrainian regional governor Serhiy Gaidai was quoted in Ukrainian media as saying Ukrainian troops had been spotted on the city's outskirts. The city's name means "fox", and after his tweet of grapes, Yermak tweeted a fox emoji.

(Reporting by Reuters reporters; writing by Peter Graff and Andrew Heavens; editing by Cynthia Osterman)

Supreme Court Will Reopen To Public After Pandemic Shutdown

By Andrew Chung

(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court will allow the public to hear arguments in person for the first time in about 2-1/2 years following a closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Chief Justice John Roberts said late on Friday, according to media reports.

The court's nine justices - all of whom have been vaccinated against COVID-19 - will begin hearing a new round of cases when the court's next term kicks off on October 3.

Roberts announced the public reopening while speaking at the 10th Circuit Bench and Bar Conference in Colorado Springs, CNN and local media outlet Colorado Politics reported.

Court spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

No members of the public have been allowed in the white marble court building across the street from the U.S. Capitol since pandemic-related curbs were implemented in March 2020, even as the rest of official Washington relaxed restrictions months ago.

The Capitol began a phased reopening for visitors and tourists in March while the White House reopened a month later.

The court further walled itself off from the public in May after the leak of a draft opinion showing that the court's conservative bloc was set to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

It erected an eight-foot tall security fence amid concern about protests that followed the publication of the leaked opinion. The ruling was made the following month. The fence was removed in August.

After the start of the pandemic, the court changed the way it operated. In May 2020, it began hearing oral arguments by teleconference, instead of in person, with a live audio feed provided to the public for the first time.

Justices resumed in-person oral arguments in October 2021. They were joined in a sparsely populated courtroom by lawyers, court staff and journalists, but members of the public were still not permitted.

The tenor of oral arguments also changed, with some of the prior free-for-all questioning of arguing attorneys replaced by more orderly justice-by-justice questioning.

Justice Clarence Thomas, who famously almost never spoke during arguments in the past, became a vocal presence on the bench using the new format, regularly asking questions.

The court's new term promises to be momentous, as was its prior term.

Fresh off landmark decisions ending the recognition of a constitutional right to abortion and embracing a constitutional right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense, the justices will decide several contentious cases involving race.

One of them includes a bid to end affirmative action policies used by colleges and universities to increase their numbers of Black and Hispanic students.

(Reporting by Andrew Chung and Nate Raymond; editing by Scott Malone and Helen Popper)

Bannon Expected To Surrender Thursday To Face New Indictment

By Karen Freifeld

(Reuters) - Steve Bannon, a onetime top strategist for former President Donald Trump and recipient of a presidential pardon, is expected to surrender to New York authorities on Thursday to face a new indictment, a person familiar with the matter said.

Bannon in 2020 was accused in federal court of defrauding donors to a fund to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but that indictment was dismissed after he was pardoned in the final hours of Trump's presidency.

The new indictment is for state criminal charges that may mirror parts of the earlier federal case, though it is unclear because the indictment is still sealed, the person said.

A spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney's Office declined to comment.

Bannon himself issued a statement Tuesday night, after the Washington Post first reported the new indictment.

"This is nothing more than a partisan political weaponization of the criminal justice system," Bannon said in the statement.

He said Manhattan federal prosecutors did the same thing in August 2020 to try to take him out of that year's election.

"It didn't work then; it certainly won't work now," Bannon said.

Bannon is expected to appear in state court in Manhattan on Thursday and then be released pending trial, the person said.

A president can pardon people for federal crimes but not state crimes.

Bannon is not the first Trump ally to be charged in state court. In 2019, the Manhattan District Attorney's Office attempted to pursue former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on felony charges, including mortgage fraud, that were similar to crimes for which Manafort had been convicted in federal court.

But the charges were dismissed after rulings that they amounted to double jeopardy, or trying someone twice for the same conduct. Manafort was pardoned by Trump in 2020.

Bannon had pleaded not guilty in the federal case, but double jeopardy may not apply because he was never tried.

Brian Kolfage and Andrew Badolato, who were charged alongside Bannon in the federal “We Build the Wall” case, pleaded guilty to fraud charges in April.

Bannon runs a popular hard-right podcast, "War Room," where he regularly promotes pro-Trump information and hosts guests who deny that Trump lost the 2020 election.

In July, Bannon was convicted of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating last year's attack on the U.S. Capitol, a verdict the panel called a "victory for the rule of law."

Bannon was a main adviser to Trump's 2016 Republican presidential campaign, then served as his chief White House strategist during 2017 before a falling out that was later patched up.

Bannon, 68, championed "America First" right-wing populism and fierce opposition to immigration that became hallmarks of Trump's presidency.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; additional reporting by Luc Cohen; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Finding Special Master In Trump Documents Case Is Stiff Challenge

By Sarah N. Lynch, Jacqueline Thomsen and Karen Freifeld

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge has given the Justice Department and Donald Trump's lawyers until Friday to come up with a list of potential candidates to serve as a special master to review records the FBI seized from the former president's Florida estate.

But finding people who have the necessary experience and security clearances to handle the highly classified documents -- and the willingness to enter the political brushfire surrounding the probe -- will be no small task, legal experts said.

"If we're talking about highly classified material, there's only a relatively small number of individuals who would satisfy the requirements of the job," said attorney Kenneth Feinberg, who served as a special master for the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.

"It would have to be somebody willing to take on the hurricane. It's not purely a security issue. It's become a political issue," he said.

One illustration of the challenge: the nonprofit law firm National Security Counselors last week provided the court with a list of four potential candidates with expertise on executive privilege. All four have since made public comments that either suggest they don't want the job or that could be used to argue against them by lawyers for the Justice Department or Trump.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon on Monday ruled that a special master should review the records seized from Trump's Palm Beach home to weed out anything that should be kept from prosecutors, either due to attorney-client privilege or executive privilege - a legal doctrine that shields some White House communications from disclosure.

The Supreme Court last year side-stepped the question of how far a former president's privilege claims can go in rejecting Trump's bid to keep White House records from the January 6 select committee.

However, the National Archives, after conferring with the Justice Department, told Trump's lawyers earlier this year that he cannot assert privilege against the executive branch to shield the records from the FBI.

Special Master

A special master is an independent outside expert who is sometimes tapped to review records seized by the government in sensitive cases where some of the material might be privileged.

Whoever is picked will likely need to have a top-level security clearance because more than 100 of the 11,000-plus documents are marked as top secret, secret or confidential.

A special master has never before been called on to determine whether records are covered by executive privilege, particularly in the unique circumstance of a former president asserting the right over the prerogative of the current president, Joe Biden.

"Appointing a special master I think may be harder than people think," said John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser who previously also served at the Justice Department. "How many people with TS/SCI clearance are out there? And how many of them are experts on executive privilege?"

Potential Candidates Opt Out

None of the four potential candidates identified by National Security Counselors in a court filing last week have openly embraced the idea.

One of them, Mark Rozell, the dean of the public policy school at George Mason University, has asked for his name to be removed from the list, telling Reuters: "Flattered that someone thinks I’m qualified, but I prefer analyzing from the outside of events."

A second, former Justice Department attorney Jonathan Shaub, has not said whether he would take the job, but criticized Cannon's order in an interview with Reuters on Monday, saying it was "filled with inaccuracies about the law" and that the judge seemed to be "bending over backwards to help Trump."

Northwestern University law professor Heidi Kitrosser, the third, told Reuters that she believes she is unlikely to be selected, after some conservative media outlets and Trump supporters on social media pointed to her prior political comments.

The fourth person, Mitchel Sollenberger of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, said he does not have a security clearance.

A Justice Department spokesman on Monday said the government is reviewing Cannon's order without commenting on next steps. Attorneys for Trump did not respond to requests for comment.

Most prior cases involving special masters related to practicing attorneys who had a duty to keep their clients' records confidential.

A special master was appointed, for instance, after the FBI searched the homes and offices of former Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Michael Cohen.

Some legal experts said the best bet is to look for recently retired judges from Washington, D.C., or Florida who have handled national security cases and could easily get their clearance restored.

Robert Costello, an attorney for Giuliani, said that after the FBI seized items from his client's home and office, the government and the defense team were able to quickly agree on a special master candidate: retired judge Barbara Jones.

"They will try to whittle it down to one," he said, noting that they will look for someone who can be "neutral and fair."

If they can't agree, he said, the judge can pick someone herself.

"The judge would be wise to make sure that it's a consensus candidate," said Feinberg. "She may end up appointing somebody over the objection of one side or the other, but at least she's made an effort to determine and calibrate the degree of opposition."

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jacqueline Thomsen in Washington and Karen Freifeld in New York; editing by Scott Malone and Mark Porter)

Exclusive: Trump's Truth Social Financier Can't Get Approval For  Deal Extension

By Svea Herbst-Bayliss

(Reuters) - The blank-check acquisition firm that agreed to merge with Donald Trump's social media company failed to secure enough shareholder support for a one-year extension to complete the deal, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

At stake is a $1.3 billion cash infusion that Trump Media & Technology Group (TMTG), which operates the former U.S. president's Truth Social app, stands to receive from Digital World Acquisition Corp, the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) that inked a deal last October to take TMTG public.

The transaction has been on ice amid civil and criminal probes into the circumstances around the deal. Digital World had been hoping that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), which is reviewing its disclosures on the deal, would have given its blessing by now for the transaction to proceed.

Most of Digital World's shareholders are individual investors and getting them to vote through their brokers has been challenging, Digital World Chief Executive Patrick Orlando said last week.

Digital World needs 65 percent of its shareholders to vote in favor of the proposal to extend its life by 12 months for the move to become effective. By Monday evening, far fewer Digital World shareholders than those required had voted in favor, the sources said.

The outcome of the vote is set to be announced at a special meeting of Digital World shareholders on Tuesday. Digital World executives do not believe they will be able to muster enough shareholder support in time and have started to consider alternative options, according to the sources.

The sources requested anonymity because the vote tally figures have not been publicly announced. Representatives for Digital World and TMTG did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

One option being considered by Digital World is to postpone the vote deadline in a final bid to boost more shareholder support, the sources said. Without further action, the SPAC is set to liquidate on Thursday and return the money it raised in its September 2021 initial public offering.

Were Digital World to fail in its bid to get its shareholders to back the one-year extension, its management has the right to extend its life without shareholder approval by up to six months. It is unclear whether Digital World will pursue this option and if it would provide enough time for regulators to reach a conclusion on whether to allow the deal to proceed.

Digital World has disclosed that the SEC, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and federal prosecutors have been investigating the deal with TMTG, though the exact scope of the probes is unclear.

Among the information sought by regulators are Digital World documents on due diligence of potential targets other than TMTG, relationships between Digital World and other entities, meetings of Digital World's board, policies and procedures relating to trading, and the identities of certain investors, Digital World has said.

Indebebtedness Capped

Were the deal to be completed, TMTG would receive $293 million that Digital World has on hand plus $1 billion committed from a group of investors in the form of a private investment in public equity (PIPE).

The PIPE is scheduled to expire on September 20 unless the deal is completed. Investment bankers for Digital World have been reaching out to investors in the last few weeks to gauge their interest in extending the PIPE, a person familiar with the matter said.

It is unclear how TMTG is getting by without having access to Digital World's funding. It raised $22.6 million through convertible promissory notes last year and an additional $15.4 million through bridge financing in the first quarter of this year. The agreement with Digital World caps the indebtedness that TMTG can assume prior to the deal closing at $50 million.

Digital World has said it believes TMTG will have "sufficient funds" until April 2023. TMTG said last week that Truth Social is "on strong financial footing" and would begin running advertisements soon.

Trump started using Truth Social in April, two months after it launched on Apple Inc's app store. He currently has more than 4 million followers -- a fraction of the 89 million he had on Twitter before he was banned over his role in the January 2021 U.S. Capitol riots.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in Rhode Island; additional reporting by Echo Wang and Krystal Hu in New York; editing by Greg Roumeliotis and Edwina Gibbs)

Prosecutors: Mar-a-Lago Trove May Include A Few 'Privileged' Documents

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Justice Department's search of former President Donald Trump's home this month turned up a "limited" number of documents potentially subject to attorney-client privilege, federal prosecutors said in a court filing on Monday.

The new disclosure by the Justice Department could bolster a request by Trump's legal team to appoint a special master to conduct a privilege review of the items the FBI seized from Trump's Florida estate during its unprecedented August 8 search.

At the same time, however, the department also revealed that its filter team has already completed its review of the materials - a sign that Trump's request for a special master could be too late.

A special master is an independent third-party sometimes appointed by a court in sensitive cases to review materials potentially covered by attorney-client privilege to ensure investigators do not improperly view them.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon of the Southern District of Florida over the weekend issued an order saying she was inclined to appoint a special master.

She ordered the Justice Department to respond to Trump's request, and also to provide under seal a more detailed list of the items seized from Trump's home.

On Monday, the Justice Department said it will comply with the request and file the information under seal by Tuesday.

In the department's filing, prosecutors said the filter team was following procedures it set forth in the warrant for addressing any materials that may be covered by attorney-client privilege, which includes showing them to the court for a determination.

The department along with Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) are currently conducting a classification review of the materials seized, it said, adding that ODNI is separately spearheading an "intelligence community assessment of the potential risk to national security" that could arise if they were ever exposed.

The search at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, which was ordered by Attorney General Merrick Garland, marked a significant escalation of one of several federal and state investigations Trump is facing involving his time in office and in private business.

The department is investigating Trump for the unlawful retention of national defense information, a violation of the Espionage Act, and it is also investigating whether he tried to obstruct the criminal probe.

In an unusual move last week, the Justice Department unsealed a redacted copy of the legal document that outlined the evidence it used to convince Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart to authorize a search warrant.

It revealed that Trump had retained records pertaining to the country's most closely-guarded secrets, including those involving intelligence-gathering and clandestine human sources.

The U.S. National Archives first discovered Trump had retained classified materials in January, after he returned 15 boxes of presidential records he had kept at Mar-a-Lago.

After the FBI searched his home this month, it carted away additional material, including 11 more sets of classified records.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; editing by Scott Malone and Bill Berkrot)

U.S. Intelligence Conducting Risk Assessment Of Recovered Mar-a-Lago Papers

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. intelligence community will assess the potential risk to national security of disclosure of materials recovered during the August 8 search of former President Donald Trump's Florida residence, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

The letter dated Friday from Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Avril Haines to House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff and Oversight Committee chair Carolyn Maloney also said the Justice Department and DNI "are working together to facilitate a classification review" of materials including those recovered during the search.

Schiff and Maloney said in a joint statement they were pleased the government was "assessing the damage caused by the improper storage of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago." Politico reported the letter earlier.

The Justice Department on Friday disclosed that it was investigating Trump for removing White House records because it believed he illegally held documents including some involving intelligence-gathering and clandestine human sources - among America's most closely held secrets.

Haines said DNI "will also lead an Intelligence Community (IC) assessment of the potential risk to national security that would result from the disclosure of the relevant documents" including those seized.

The Justice Department on Friday released a heavily redacted affidavit that underpinned the FBI's extraordinary search of Mar-a-Lago in which agents seized 11 sets of classified records including some labeled "top secret" as documents that could gravely threaten national security if exposed.

In the affidavit, an unidentified FBI agent said the agency reviewed and identified 184 documents "bearing classification markings" containing "national defense information" after Trump in January returned 15 boxes of government records sought by the U.S. National Archives. Other records in those boxes, according to the affidavit, bore handwritten notes by Trump.

Schiff and Maloney said the Justice Department release Friday "affirms our grave concern that among the documents stored at Mar-a-Lago were those that could endanger human sources. It is critical that the IC move swiftly to assess and, if necessary, to mitigate the damage done."

The search was part of a federal investigation into whether Trump illegally removed and kept documents when he left office in January 2021 after losing the 2020 election to President Joe Biden and whether Trump tried to obstruct the probe.

Trump, a Republican who is considering another presidential run in 2024, has described the court-approved search at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach as politically motivated, and on Friday again described it as a "break-in."

(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Daniel Wallis and Chizu Nomiyama)