NOT REAL NEWS: A look at what didn't happen this week

A roundup of some of the most popular but completely untrue stories and visuals of the week. None of these are legit, even though they were shared widely on social media. The Associated Press checked them out.

Judge in Trump’s hush money trial did not bar campaign finance expert from testifying for defense

CLAIM: New York Judge Juan M. Merchan wouldn’t let the defense call campaign finance expert Bradley A. Smith to testify in former President Donald Trump’s hush money trial.

THE FACTS: Merchan did not bar Smith from testifying. Trump’s legal team chose to not call on him after the judge on Monday declined to broaden the scope of questioning the defense could pursue. The ruling echoed his pretrial ruling on the matter. Social media users misrepresented Merchan's ruling, repeating a statement Trump made that Smith, a law professor and former Republican member of the Federal Election Commission, was not being allowed to take the stand.

“The expert witness that we have, the best there is in election law, Brad Smith, he’s considered the Rolls Royce, or we’ll bring it back to an American car, Cadillac, but the best there is,” Trump said on his way out of court on Monday. “He can’t testify. He’s not being allowed to testify.”

The former president reiterated this falsehood several more times in his post-trial comments, claiming that Merchan was blocking Smith’s testimony “because he’s going to say we did nothing wrong.” He also posted about it on his social media platform Truth Social later that evening, calling Merchan’s decision “election interference.”

Other social media users then repeated Trump’s claim.

“Biden-Donor Judge Merchan won’t allow the former FEC Commissioner to testify on behalf of Trump because he would have said that Trump did not violate any federal election laws!” reads one X post that had received more than 8,600 likes and shares as of Thursday. “This trial is totally rigged!”

But Smith was permitted to testify. The defense decided not to call him after Merchan reaffirmed a pretrial ruling that limited what he could have spoken about. The defense rested its case on Tuesday after calling two witnesses to testify — Daniel Sitko, a paralegal who works in the law office of Trump attorney Todd Blanche, and Robert Costello, a former federal prosecutor in New York.

Merchan said that, if called, Smith could give general background about the FEC — for example, it’s purpose and the laws it enforces — and provide definitions for terms such as “campaign contribution.” He rejected the Trump team’s renewed efforts to have Smith define three terms in federal election law on the basis that doing so would breach rules preventing expert witnesses from interpreting the law. Nor could Smith opine on whether the former president’s alleged actions violate those laws.

The judge said if Smith did testify, the prosecution would then be permitted to call an expert of its own, resulting in a “battle of the experts” that “would only serve to confuse and not assist the jury.”

Smith, who was appointed to the FEC by former President Bill Clinton, acknowledged in an X post on Monday that he did not testify because of a decision made by the defense. He added that he had intended to testify about complicated background knowledge necessary to understanding the case, rather than about the law.

“Judge Merchan has so restricted my testimony that defense has decided not to call me,” Smith wrote.

Trump distorts use of ‘deadly force’ language in FBI document for Mar-a-Lago search

CLAIM: The Biden administration authorized the use of “deadly force” against former President Donald Trump during an FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago estate in 2022.

The policy statement on the “use of deadly force,” which appeared in an operations order for the Mar-a-Lago search, is not evidence of a plot to kill Trump. It is a Department of Justice policy that is standard to include in such documents.
“The FBI followed standard protocol in this search as we do for all search warrants, which includes a standard policy statement limiting the use of deadly force,” the agency said in a statement. “No one ordered additional steps to be taken and there was no departure from the norm in this matter.”

As it appears in the operations order, the policy stipulates in part that Department of Justice officers “may use deadly force only when necessary, that is, when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

The policy is in the department’s Justice Manual with only minor differences in wording to what is included in the order and is summarized on the FBI’s website. It is meant to limit the use of deadly force.

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, reiterated in an X post what the agency said in its statement.

“Yep, every FBI operations order contains a reminder of FBI deadly force policy,” he wrote. “Even for a search warrant. Deadly force is always authorized if the required threat presents itself.”

A motion that Trump’s lawyers filed in his federal classified documents case, also unsealed Tuesday, asserted that the August 2022 search was unconstitutional and “illegal,” omitting “only” in the portion of the policy that says “law enforcement officers of the Department of Justice may use deadly force when necessary.”

Trump wasn’t at Mar-a-Lago, which was shuttered for the season, at the time of the search. The Associated Press reported at the time that the FBI reached out to the Secret Service detail that provides protection to the former president and his homes shortly before serving the warrant.

The facts did not stop Trump and his allies from spreading the erroneous allegation.
A Trump campaign fundraising email with the subject line, “They were authorized to shoot me!” was sent soon after he posted about the document on social media, making outrageous claims.

“I nearly escaped death,” it reads. “You know they’re just itching to do the unthinkable. ... Joe Biden was locked & loaded ready to take me out & put my family in danger.”

Asked if Trump stands by the false claims, campaign press secretary Karoline Leavitt wrote in an email: “This is a sickening attempt to run cover for Joe Biden who is the most corrupt president in history and a threat to our democracy.”

Hard-right Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican, wrote in an X post that “the Biden DOJ and FBI were planning to assassinate Pres Trump and gave the green light.”

Kari Lake, a Republican Senate candidate in Arizona, wrote in her own X post: “The sicko Biden FBI were ready to use deadly force during the Mar-a-Lago BS raid. That tells you everything you need to know about this criminal Biden admin.”

Trump was charged in June 2023 with illegally retaining classified documents taken with him from the White House to Mar-a-Lago after he left office in January 2021, and then obstructing government demands to give them back. Additional related charges were filed a month later. The FBI searched Mar-a-Lago as part of a probe that led to the indictment.

A warrant for Netanyahu’s arrest was requested. But no decision was made about whether to issue it

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

THE FACTS: ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan announced Monday that he is seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Israeli Minister of Defense Yoav Gallant, as well as three Hamas leaders, over actions taken during the Israel-Hamas war. A panel of three judges will now decide whether to issue the warrants and allow a case to proceed. Such decisions typically take two months.

Social media users misrepresented the warrants’ status, claiming that they have already been approved by the ICC.

“BREAKING: The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu,” reads one X post that had received more than 12,100 likes and shares as of Thursday.

Another X post, referring to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, states: “Let me get this straight: the ICC just issued arrest warrants against Israeli officials, but has never issued an arrest warrant against say, Bashar al-Assad?! ICC is now completely illegitimate.”

But no warrants have been issued.

Khan said on Monday that he was seeking arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Gallant and three Hamas leaders — Yehia Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh — who he believes are responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip and Israel. This means that a panel of three judges will now decide whether to issue the arrest warrants and allow the case to proceed.

The judges typically take two months to make such decisions. A warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, for example, was issued in March 2023 after nearly a month of deliberations. Ousted Sudanese autocrat Omar al-Bashir faced his first of two ICC warrants eight months after it was requested. Neither has been arrested.

Israel is not a member of the ICC, so even if the arrest warrants are issued, Netanyahu and Gallant do not face any immediate risk of prosecution, The Associated Press has reported. But the threat of arrest could make it difficult for the Israeli leaders to travel abroad.

Netanyahu called Khan’s move a “disgrace” and accused the prosecution of antisemitism, vowing to press ahead with Israel’s war against Hamas militants. Hamas has also denounced the ICC prosecutor’s request to arrest its leaders, saying it “equates the victim with the executioner.”

The ICC was established in 2002 as the permanent court of last resort to prosecute individuals responsible for the world’s most heinous atrocities — war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression. The U.N. General Assembly endorsed the ICC, but the court is independent. Dozens of countries don’t accept the court’s jurisdiction over war crimes, genocide and other crimes. They include Israel, the United States, Russia and China.

Israel is also facing a South African case in the International Court of Justice, the U.N.’s top court, accusing Israel of genocide. It denies those charges.
Find AP Fact Checks here: