Headlines: January 27, 2020
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Just one day after President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team claimed to the Senate that no witnesses with direct knowledge of the Ukraine scandal testified about his involvement, former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s book draft contradicts the story. The draft of a manuscript that Bolton has been circulating privately includes an account of his direct knowledge that the President withheld US military aid to Ukraine in order to force an investigation into his political rival Joe Biden. According to the New York Times, “Over dozens of pages, Mr. Bolton described how the Ukraine affair unfolded over several months until he departed the White House in September. He described not only the president’s private disparagement of Ukraine but also new details about senior cabinet officials who have publicly tried to sidestep involvement.” Those key officials include State Secretary Mike Pompeo, Attorney General William Barr and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Democratic Party leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi released a statement saying, “There can be no doubt now that Mr. Bolton directly contradicts the heart of the president’s defense.” The report of the book draft has prompted renewed calls for Mr. Bolton to testify to Congress even as the White House is busy doing damage control. President Trump and his team have indicated that they would exercise executive privilege over Bolton’s testimony. There are also reports that the White House review process of Bolton’s book, titled, “The Room Where It Happened; A White House Memoir,” would result in censorship of the most damning parts. Bolton’s lawyer is accusing the White House of leaking the draft to press. Republican Senator Mitt Romney on Monday morning spoke to reporters indicating that he was willing to push for Bolton’s testimony in a Senate vote later this week. A number of law professors on Monday wrote an op-ed in the New York Times suggesting that Chief Justice John Roberts who is presiding over the Senate impeachment trial, could call witnesses himself, undercutting the need for a vote.
Before the news of Bolton’s book, came a secret audio recording of Trump provided by Rudy Giuliani’s associate Lev Parnas. A lengthy 80-minute recording of a meeting between Trump and Parnas – who Trump claims to not know – included a damning reference to then-US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. Trump is heard saying about the veteran diplomat, “Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.” Trump is also heard asking how long Ukraine would last against Russian aggression without US military help to which Parnas said, “30 seconds.” Parnas’ attorney Joe Bondy has said his client has more recordings.
President Trump and his colleagues are getting increasingly testy and vocal about the impeachment. Representative Adam Schiff who is leading the House impeachment team over the weekend accused the President of threatening him on Twitter. Trump, who has repeatedly blasted Schiff said, “”he has not paid the price, yet, for what he has done to our Country!” And State Secretary Mike Pompeo faces accusations by a veteran NPR foreign policy journalist of screaming at her and calling her a liar. After reporter Mary Louise Kelly asked him why he did not support Ambassador Yovanovitch, Pompeo said she violated the terms of their interview even though Kelly has written proof to the contrary. He also apparently asked Kelly to show him Ukraine on an unmarked map which she did. The State Department issued a bizarre official statement by Pompeo saying, “NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly lied to me, twice.”
Meanwhile President Trump’s legal defense team began its arguments on Saturday to the Senate, using only 2 hours out of the allotted 24 hours. Among the falsehoods that the lawyers repeated was that alongside Russia, Ukraine had also interfered in the 2016 US election. The defense team resumed their arguments on Monday having to contend with the story of Bolton’s knowledge of the President’s wrongdoing. Attorney Jay Sekulow began his arguments claiming that Trump’s actions in withholding military aid for personal political gain represented a policy change and that Democrats were simply impeaching him over differences in policy.
In other news, sports legend Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday along with his 13-year old daughter Gianna and seven others. The Los Angeles Lakers star was traveling in his own helicopter near the Calabasas area of Southern California in foggy conditions. Authorities are still determining the cause of the crash. Meanwhile fans across Southern California and the country are in mourning for a player who was considered among the best in the NBA’s history. Bryant was not without controversy however. In 2003 he was arrested for the rape of a 19-year old hotel worker. The case was settled out of court and Bryant apologized saying he thought the encounter was consensual.
The US Supreme Court just ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Trump administration can apply its “Public charge” rule preventing immigrants from obtaining legal status if they cannot prove they are financially independent of government assistance. There had been a nationwide legal injunction in place preventing the rule from being implemented. That injunction has just been lifted.
The dangerous new strain of coronavirus sweeping across several countries continues to spread with a death toll now above 80. Associated Press is reporting that China, where the virus originated, has confirmed more than 2,700 cases. The mayor of Wuhan, the city considered to be the epicenter of the disease – has offered to resign. US officials have confirmed at least 5 new cases of the coronavirus strain. The disease can spread before symptoms show up.
The US Embassy in Iraq has been attacked for a third time within the same month. This time, protesters angry about US troops occupying Iraq launched rockets, some of which directly hit the embassy. So far there are no confirmed reports of injuries or deaths. The US State Department issued a statement saying, “We call on the Government of Iraq to fulfill its obligations to protect our diplomatic facilities.”
In Afghanistan a US army plane has reportedly crashed with no reports yet of injuries or fatalities. Meanwhile the US-backed Afghan government has carried out air strikes in the Northern Balkh province to tamp down anti-government protests. The air raids killed several civilians including women and children.
And finally President Trump is meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week ahead of a Tuesday release of his Middle East peace plan. “It’s a great plan,” said Trump. He added, “I love doing deals.”