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Argentina's president promises to quash corruption then shocks with his Supreme Court pick

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Argentina's president promises to quash corruption then shocks with his Supreme Court pick
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Argentina's president promises to quash corruption then shocks with his Supreme Court pick

2024-06-21 12:07 Last Updated At:12:21

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Campaigning last year as a libertarian outsider, Javier Milei electrified rallies with his vows to destroy Argentina’s corrupt political elite. But the eccentric economist-turned-president now faces accusations of hypocrisy over his Supreme Court nomination.

What makes his choice of Ariel Lijo, 55, so extraordinary is not just the judge's lack of appellate experience or scant scholarly publications, but that he has been accused of conspiracy, money laundering and illicit enrichment, and has come under scrutiny for more ethics violations than almost any other judge in his court’s history.

“This is a massive regression, an effort to undermine the judiciary and the fight against corruption,” said Juan Pappier, deputy director of the Americas at Human Rights Watch. “This is Milei’s biggest contradiction.”

The backlash to Lijo's May 28 nomination was swift. Protestors rallied outside the Supreme Court. Legal watchdogs, business groups and newspapers castigated Milei for elevating an exemplar of the class that he had vowed to disrupt.

But Lijo has allies across the political spectrum, and Milei predicts an easy confirmation, even though the president's political isolation has frustrated his efforts to get a single bill passed in six months. After an explosion of violent protests, Milei’s radical state overhaul, a 232-article bill that grants the president enlarged powers over the economy, squeaked through the Senate last week.

“Lijo is special in that he can get the votes,” said Alberto Garay, president of the Buenos Aires Bar Association. “It’s not about getting respected jurists in the court, it’s about friends."

An aide to Lijo told The Associated Press that the judge would not speak to reporters until after his Senate confirmation hearing, expected in the coming weeks.

As soon as he took office, Milei — who raffled his monthly salary as a lawmaker — launched what he labeled a shock economic adjustment to address Argentina's failing finances, but its success hangs on a wave of court challenges.

Without allies in Congress, the president relied on a controversial emergency decree to deregulate the labor market. Judges suspended major sections of the measure after unions complained it was unconstitutional. Milei argues that as annual inflation nears 300%, Argentina’s economic crisis constitutes an emergency that justifies the sweeping decree under Argentina's constitution. Lawyers disagree.

“Every constitutional democracy is based on the notion of limited executive power,” said Ricardo Gil Lavedra, a constitutional lawyer and former justice minister. “If Milei can get the judges he wants through the Senate, he'll have a court that won't unravel his reforms.”

Milei says that Lijo's investigations into top officials have shown his anti-corruption credentials. But otherwise, his tepid defense of Lijo against the fusillade of attacks has done little to quell speculation.

Asked by a Buenos Aires radio station why Lijo was a good choice, Milei paused before saying, “There is a relative advantage in that Lijo knows how the justice system works."

Even Milei's allies have fought back. Libertarian economist Alberto Benegas Lynch, Milei’s intellectual mentor, said he is “alarmed.” Vice President Victoria Villarruel expressed disappointment.

The Argentine-American Chamber of Commerce warned the nomination could damage Milei's efforts to secure international investment.

Lijo is beset with accusations of misconduct.

Perhaps most unnerving, critics say, is a 2018 criminal case accusing Lijo and his millionaire brother, Alfredo, of conspiring to perform official favors for wealthy businessmen in exchange for money and shell companies. Prosecutors accused them of amassing a fortune by disrupting judicial proceedings against tycoons and officials.

Argentina’s anti-money laundering agency investigated the brothers' business associations and properties, saying their “inexplicable increase in assets" raised suspicions. But in 2021, with investigations in full swing, the case was dropped for lack of evidence at the request of Mariano Cúneo Libarona, Lijo's then-lawyer, who is now Argentina's justice minister.

For years, political commentators have joked about Lijo's talent for throwing out sensitive corruption cases against powerful officials, dubbing him the “court anesthesiologist." Legal experts say his record of shelved cases epitomizes what is wrong with sluggish judiciaries regionwide.

“We see a pattern in autocracies all over Latin America, where the first thing that leaders do is undermine the independence and integrity of the judiciary,” said María Eugenia Talerico, the former deputy director of the Financial Investigations Unit. “To protect democracy, you need trained, honest and sound judges.”

Since its formation in 1999, the magistrates council, Argentina's top judicial watchdog, has encountered just two Buenos Aires federal judges dogged by more complaints of misconduct than Lijo, who has faced 32 formal denunciations in his 20-year career, Argentina’s Civic Association for Equality and Justice (ACIJ) found. In the past year, Lijo has faced five impeachment requests, unrivaled in his court.

A 2016 audit by the magistrates council revealed that Lijo caused “unjustified,” delays in 29 cases, some dragging on for 14 years. Of 89 corruption cases in his court, just over 15% went to trial, one of the lowest proportions for Argentine judges, the ACIJ reported.

Lijo has denied holding up the proceedings, blaming the complexity of the court cases for the delays.

Some of the cases still languishing entangle Milei’s political foe, former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

A case accusing the left-wing icon of defrauding the state by seizing Argentine oil company YPF from Spanish energy company Repsol has stalled since Lijo opened it in 2006. His inquiry into alleged money laundering by Kirchner’s 2007 presidential campaign hit a dead end just before going to trial in 2018.

Kirchner has been investigated on roughly a dozen charges, mostly related to corruption, and was sentenced to six years in prison in 2022 for a scheme involving rigged public works contracts.

She has appealed, calling the allegations a political witch hunt. The case will eventually appear before Argentina’s Supreme Court.

The reticence of the typically outspoken ex-president to condemn Milei's top court pick has made local headlines, as has the silence of former center-right President Mauricio Macri. Lijo served as judge in a case alleging that Macri's family company benefited from favoritism in negotiations over the repayment of a multimillion-dollar debt to the state. Lijo never summoned Macri to testify, and the case remains unresolved, the debt unpaid.

A spokesperson for Macri did not respond to a request for comment.

Whether Milei can speed Lijo's nomination through the Senate hinges on the votes of lawmakers aligned with the powerful former leaders, particularly Kirchner, whose coalition holds 33 of 72 seats. In recent weeks, feverish reports of a pact between Milei and Kirchner have captivated Argentine media.

“It’s impossible for her to cast those votes if she doesn’t get a guarantee of impunity in her cases," said leading Argentine political commentator Carlos Pagni.

A spokesperson for Milei did not respond to a request for comment. A Kirchner aide rejected the suggestion that Lijo’s confirmation could ease her legal burdens.

As the confirmation hearing approaches, some senators have pushed the magistrates council to hasten its inquiries into the complaints and impeachment requests still pending against Lijo.

Council President Héctor Recalde denied their petitions in April, indefinitely postponing the probes into Lijo's conduct.

“Judge Lijo is a candidate for the Supreme Court,” Recalde said. “It is not appropriate at this time."

Argentine Supreme Court justices pose for a photo during the opening of a legislative session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, March 1, 2024. From left are Justices Ricardo Lorenzetti, Juan Carlos Maqueda, Carlos Rosenkrantz and Horacio Rosatti. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Argentine Supreme Court justices pose for a photo during the opening of a legislative session in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Friday, March 1, 2024. From left are Justices Ricardo Lorenzetti, Juan Carlos Maqueda, Carlos Rosenkrantz and Horacio Rosatti. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Argentine Judge Ariel Lijo leaves court in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, May 15, 2012. President Javier Milei nominated Lijo as a Supreme Court justice on May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Enrique Garcia Medina)

Argentine Judge Ariel Lijo leaves court in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tuesday, May 15, 2012. President Javier Milei nominated Lijo as a Supreme Court justice on May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Enrique Garcia Medina)

FILE - Judge Ariel Lijo presides over a trial of former military officers being tried for human rights abuses in Buenos Aires, Dec. 18, 2007. President Javier Milei nominated Lijo as a Supreme Court justice on May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

FILE - Judge Ariel Lijo presides over a trial of former military officers being tried for human rights abuses in Buenos Aires, Dec. 18, 2007. President Javier Milei nominated Lijo as a Supreme Court justice on May 28, 2024. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko, File)

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The Latest: Trump is expected to announce his VP pick as RNC begins

2024-07-16 01:06 Last Updated At:01:10

The Republican National Convention kicks off this week, with delegates and officials descending on Wisconsin amid the tumult that follows a Saturday assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump as he prepares to become the GOP’s official nominee.

The quadrennial event takes place not only as Trump leads a party in lockstep behind him, but also as Democrats roil over President Joe Biden’s viability and if they should replace him as their nominee.

Follow the AP’s Election-2024 coverage at: https://apnews.com/hub/election-2024

Here's the Latest:

After being hurt in a weekend assassination attempt, former President Donald Trump is calling for another presidential candidate to get Secret Service protection.

“In light of what is going on in the world today, I believe it is imperative that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. receive Secret Service protection — immediately,” Trump wrote in a post on Truth Social. “Given the history of the Kennedy Family, this is the obvious right thing to do!”

Kennedy’s father, Robert F. Kennedy, was shot and killed while campaigning for president and his uncle, President John F. Kennedy, was assassinated while in office.

Donald Trump is expected to announce his vice presidential pick on the first day of the Republican National Convention, he said in an interview Monday.

It remains unclear whether the shooting Saturday at his Pennsylvania rally has changed the former president’s thinking about his potential second-in-command. But he told Fox News Channel host Bret Baier in a call that he planned to make his pick Monday.

The roll call vote to nominate Trump’s pick is expected Monday, according to a person with direct knowledge of the schedule who spoke on condition of anonymity. The person cautioned that Trump could always change his mind.

— Jill Colvin and Steve Peoples

Vivek Ramaswamy, a pharmaceutical entrepreneur and political novice who ran in the GOP presidential primary, has distinguished himself as an aggressive voice on the right, saying often that the country is already at war with itself.

So it was notable that in remarks at an event run by the conservative Heritage Institute at the RNC on Monday he was toning down his rhetoric and urging the country to come together.

“The enemy is not the Democrats, it is an ideology,” Ramaswamy told the crowd at the Heritage Institute’s “Policy Fest” event.

Ramaswamy compared the assassination attempt on Donald Trump to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, telling reporters after his speech that “Donald Trump, in some ways, has been given the chance now, the second chance that Abraham Lincoln didn’t have to unite a country that, this time, didn’t have to fight a civil war but avoids one.”

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are getting an updated briefing from homeland security and law enforcement officials on the investigation into the attempted assassination of Donald Trump.

The briefing is taking place in the Situation Room, the White House says.

The attorney general, homeland security secretary, FBI director and the director and deputy director of the U.S. Secret Service are among those briefing Biden and Harris.

When U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon dismissed the classified documents case against former President Donald Trump, she pointed several times to a concurrence written by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

The concurrence was part of the high court’s ruling that former presidents have broad immunity from criminal prosecution, a finding that all but ended the prospects Trump could be tried on election-interference charges in Washington before the election.

No other justice signed onto Thomas’s concurrence. He questioned whether special counsel Jack Smith had been legally appointed and called on lower court judges to weigh the question.

The federal judge presiding over the classified documents case of former President Donald Trump in Florida has dismissed the prosecution because of concerns over the appointment of the prosecutor who brought the case.

U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon granted the defense motion to dismiss the case Monday.

Lawyers for Trump had argued that special counsel Jack Smith was illicitly appointed and that his office was improperly funded by the Justice Department.

First lady Jill Biden has spoken to Melania Trump following an attempted assassination of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

The first lady’s office confirmed they spoke Sunday afternoon but have not released any details on the conversation. President Joe Biden spoke with Donald Trump following the attack at a rally in Pennsylvania.

Donald Trump is attending the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee this week.

Milwaukee’s mayor says he knows Americans will have questions about security at the Republican National Convention after Saturday’s assassination attempt against former President Donald Trump, but the event has the highest security level possible “so I feel pretty confident.”

“The folks on the ground here have confidence in the work that they’ve put in over the last 18 months,” Mayor Cavalier Johnson said at a Monday morning briefing. “And I have faith and confidence as well in the Secret Service and the police and fire departments and other agencies providing security today.”

The director of the U.S. Secret Service says she’s confident in the plan to secure the Republican National Convention that begins Monday in the wake of an attempt on the life of presidential candidate Donald Trump.

In a statement, Kim Cheatle said Monday the security plans for the event are “designed to be flexible.”

“The Secret Service will continuously adapt our operations as necessary to ensure the highest level of safety,” she said.

Cheatle says the plan will change as necessary to ensure the continued safety of attendees at the Milwaukee event.

A man shot at Trump from a rooftop near a Pennsylvania rally on Saturday. Trump is recovering and will attend the convention. President Joe Biden ordered a national security review of the incident over the weekend.

King Charles III has written to Donald Trump after the assassination attempt at a rally in Pennsylvania, Buckingham Palace said.

The palace did not disclose the contents of the monarch’s private message, which was delivered on Sunday through the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.

The message follows a call to Trump on Sunday by British Prime Minister Keir Starmer, who condemned the violence, expressed condolences for the victims and their families and wished a quick recovery for the former president and those injured.

Donald Trump spent much of Sunday on the phone with friends, news hosts and local and foreign officials the day after he was injured in an assassination attempt.

Ohio Pastor Darrell Scott, a longtime ally, said Trump “was in great spirits” when they spoke Sunday morning, hours after the shooting.

“He was great, like he always is. He didn’t even make a big deal of it,” Scott said. “He was actually trying to downplay it somewhat, asking how I was doing.”

Former RNC chair Reince Priebus, who also served as Trump’s White House chief of staff, told ABC’s “This Week” that Trump was “grateful for the miracle of what happened, in his case. ... One quarter inch turned the other direction and we’re obviously talking about something very different this morning.”

Tony Perkins, among the most influential Christian conservatives in the Republican Party, was preparing to mount a confrontation with convention planners over his disdain for how debate during the RNC’s platform committee was shut down on Monday, all but eliminating objections to the Trump campaign’s desire to soften language on abortion.

The attempted assassination changed all that, Perkins told The Associated Press after a prayer service in suburban Milwaukee Sunday evening.

“We live in a violent society. And we run the risk of becoming callous to it. And if we become callous to it, we’re going to have more of it,” Perkins said. “I’m hoping and praying it’s a wake-up call in many ways.”

“So, as a result, I’m stepping back from forcing the issue on the platform,” he added. “More divisiveness would not be healthy.”

Perkins called social media “a contagion” for toxic rhetoric passed along by people who do not feel that they’re heard by their government or leaders, and attributed the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol in part to the notion of overheated online rage.

“We need to stop,” he said.

And while thanking God during the service for Trump’s survival, Perkins told more than 100 in the Pewaukee church, “Lord, I believe that our nation is at such a volatile moment that yesterday could have torn this nation right in half.”

The 20-year-old man who tried to assassinate former President Donald Trump first came to law enforcement’s attention at Saturday’s rally when spectators noticed him acting strangely outside the campaign event. The tip sparked a frantic search, but officers were unable to find him before he managed to get on a roof, where he opened fire.

In the wake of the shooting that killed one spectator, investigators are hunting for any clues about what may have drove Thomas Matthew Crooks, of Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, to carry out the shocking attack. The FBI said they were investigating it as a potential act of domestic terrorism, but the absence of a clear ideological motive by the man shot dead by Secret Service allowed conspiracy theories to flourish.

The FBI said it believes Crooks, who had bomb-making materials in the car he drove to the rally, acted alone. Investigators have found no threatening comments on social media accounts or ideological positions that could help explain what led him to target Trump.

Crooks graduated from Bethel Park High School in 2022. His senior year, Crooks was among several students given an award for math and science, according to a Tribune-Review story at the time.

He tried out for the school’s rifle team but was turned away because he was a bad shooter, said Frederick Mach, a current captain of the team who was a few years behind Crooks at the school.

Jason Kohler, who said he attended the same high school but did not share any classes with Crooks, said Crooks was bullied at school and sat alone at lunch time. Other students mocked him for the clothes he wore, which included hunting outfits, Kohler said.

Former President Donald Trump told The Washington Examiner that he has rewritten the speech he was set to deliver at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee on Thursday after being the target of an attempted assassination at his rally Saturday.

“The speech I was going to give on Thursday was going to be a humdinger,” he told the news outlet in an article posted Sunday evening.

In the interview, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee says he will now call for a new effort at national unity, noting that people from different political views have called him.

“This is a chance to bring the whole country, even the whole world, together. The speech will be a lot different, a lot different than it would’ve been two days ago,” he said.

Trump also reflected on the moment a bullet pierced the upper part of his right ear. He said he was saved from death because he turned from the crowd to look at a screen showing off a chart he was referring to.

“That reality is just setting in,” he told the news outlet as he boarded his plane in Bedminster, New Jersey, for Milwaukee. “I rarely look away from the crowd. Had I not done that in that moment, well, we would not be talking today, would we?”

Law enforcement officers gather at campaign rally site for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is empty Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. Trump's campaign said in a statement that the former president was "fine" after a shooting at his rally in Butler (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Law enforcement officers gather at campaign rally site for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is empty Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. Trump's campaign said in a statement that the former president was "fine" after a shooting at his rally in Butler (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump waves from the stage as he is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump waves from the stage as he is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

President Joe Biden speaks, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Rehoboth Beach, Del., addressing news that gunshots rang out at Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump's Pennsylvania campaign rally. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

President Joe Biden speaks, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Rehoboth Beach, Del., addressing news that gunshots rang out at Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump's Pennsylvania campaign rally. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

A person watches news in a local bar near the Fiserv Forum watching news ahead of the 2024 Republican National Convention, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Milwaukee. Former president Donald Trump was whisked off the stage at a rally in Butler, Pennsylvania after apparent gunshots rang through the crowd.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A person watches news in a local bar near the Fiserv Forum watching news ahead of the 2024 Republican National Convention, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Milwaukee. Former president Donald Trump was whisked off the stage at a rally in Butler, Pennsylvania after apparent gunshots rang through the crowd.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Police snipers return fire after shots were fired while Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump was speaking at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Police snipers return fire after shots were fired while Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump was speaking at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is covered by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is covered by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is covered by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is covered by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surround by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surround by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Missouri State Trooper Cpl. Piccinino, right, is reflected in a mylar wall as he stands his post at the 2024 Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Missouri State Trooper Cpl. Piccinino, right, is reflected in a mylar wall as he stands his post at the 2024 Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

An exterior general view at the 2024 Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

An exterior general view at the 2024 Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

A general view during rehearsals at the 2024 Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

A general view during rehearsals at the 2024 Republican National Convention at the Fiserv Forum, Sunday, July 14, 2024, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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