Headlines: January 22, 2020
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The Senate debate over the rules of the impeachment trial went late into the night on Tuesday with 12 grueling hours of acrimonious testimony by House impeachment managers and President Donald Trump’s legal team. Senators sat silently and watched the debate over their proposed rules unfold as required, while Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts presided. At one point after heated discussions between White House Counsel Pat Cippolone and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Justice Roberts admonished both sides.
In the end, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell won most of his demands on behalf of Trump, refusing to allow Democrats to subpoena the necessary documents from the White House, State Department and Office of Management and Budget. Republicans – including moderates and supposed critics of impeachment like Mitt Romney – also voted to refuse testimony from White House officials like Mick Mulvaney and former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Among the few concessions that McConnell made to moderates in his party, were, according to the Washington Post, “revisions that allowed both sides more time to present their cases, and for findings from the House impeachment probe to be automatically entered into evidence as part of the trial.” Right around midnight the leader of the House Impeachment team Adam Schiff speculated that Republicans were trying to sweep the impeachment under the rug and under cover of darkness.
Meanwhile the Office of Management and Budget late on Tuesday did release a massive trove of heavily redacted documents – to an ethics organization called American Oversight as the result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. Reporters analyzing the documents say that the White House was laying the groundwork to freeze US military aid to Ukraine even before President Trump’s controversial phone call to Ukrainian President Zelensky on July 25th, 2019. Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight said in a statement on Wednesday, “The public can now see even more evidence of the President’s corrupt scheme as it unfolded in real-time.” Meanwhile Trump speaking in Davos, Switzerland where he is attending the World Economic Forum, said he would like to sit in the Senate as the impeachment trial continues and also contradicted himself and his party in implying that he would like witnesses to testify after all.
While in Davos, Trump also continued his tradition of irking the US’s European allies, this time announcing new tariffs on cars as leverage for a new trade deal. A day after he boasted about his modest trade deal with China (that critics worry will be hard to enforce), and the newly passed USMCA deal that replaces NAFTA, Trump pivoted to Europe where he hopes to force trade negotiations. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin also warned European nations on the same day against imposing heavy taxes on tech companies like Facebook. Also from Davos Trump announced he would be adding more countries to his controversial travel ban including Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tanzania. And, as the rapidly spreading new coronavirus strain claims more lives and arrives on US shores, Trump claimed that he had the situation, “totally under control.”
In other news, Washington DC’s Attorney General is suing the Trump Inaugural Committee for spending more than a million dollars on booking a ballroom at Trump’s own hotel in 2017 in violation of its non-profit status. The space was rented for hundreds of thousands of dollars a day in what amounted to money in the President’s pocket – and then barely used.
As the trial of the alleged organizers of the 9/11 terrorist attack begins in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the first time ever, the CIA psychologist who designed the Bush-era US torture program faced his accusers. Dr. James E. Mitchell was the notorious creator of the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques that CIA officers used when extracting intelligence from detainees and included methods in violation of international standards such as waterboarding. Mitchell remained defiant about his role saying in the military courtroom on Tuesday, “I’d get up today and do it again.” He cast the torture in moral terms saying, “I thought my moral duty to protect American lives outweighed the feelings of discomfort of terrorists who voluntarily took up arms against us. To me it just seemed like it would be a dereliction of my moral responsibilities.” He added, “C.I.A. was never interested in prosecutions… They were going to go right up to the line of what was legal, put their toes on it and lean forward.”
In electoral news, just a day after Hillary Clinton’s comments about Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ supposed unpopularity went public, a new national poll by CNN shows the Vermont Senator leading all candidates. Mr. Sanders is favored by 27% of all respondents compared to 24% for former Vice President Joe Biden. CNN, which has a documented history of anti-Sanders bias, took pains to clarify that the difference between the two candidates was within the margin of error. After Clinton said, “nobody likes him,” the hashtag #ILikeBernie began trending all over social media. Another poll by Survey USA found that in a head-to-head matchup between Democratic candidates and Trump, Sanders fared best, beating the President by 9 points while Biden beat him by 7. Sanders’ lead in California has also widened as per the latest poll showing him at 28% compared to Biden at 24%. Meanwhile a video ad by Sanders targeting Biden’s record on Social Security has gone viral. In it Sanders plays Biden’s own words over ten years in government working to cut the program that seniors rely on.
And finally, Greece has chosen a new prime minister and for the first time in the country’s history, it is a woman. Sixty-three year old Ekaterini Sakellaropoulou is one of Greece’s top judges and specializes in environmental law and the constitution. She was nominated by the conservative party but backed by a majority of parliamentarians. The role of Prime Minister in Greece is largely ceremonial.