Headlines: January 28, 2020
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The political fallout from former National Security Advisor John Bolton’s new book continues to reverberate in Washington DC and the Senate Impeachment trial of President Donald Trump. Leaked sections of Bolton’s book about his time in the White House were first reported by the New York Times on Sunday during the period that Trump’s legal defense team was presenting its opening arguments. It has given impetus for a Democratic call for witnesses like Bolton to testify before Senators. Maine’s Republican Senator Susan Collins echoed her colleague Mitt Romney’s words in saying that reports of Bolton’s book “strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues.” Mr. Trump has accused Bolton of lying and said that he never told his former National Security Advisor that he wanted to leverage US military aid to Ukraine for an investigation into Joe Biden. In addition to the Ukraine story, Bolton’s book shows that he was also deeply concerned that Trump was offering personal favors to autocratic rulers. He apparently shared those concerns with Attorney General William Barr. The Justice Department has countered that Bolton’s account is not true.
Meanwhile Trump’s legal defense team continued its arguments on Monday with plans to wrap up before the end of Tuesday. But the President’s lawyers have been contradicting one another as they attempt to make the case for acquittal. On Saturday lawyer Jay Sekulow claimed that there were no direct witnesses. Then, on Sunday the story of Bolton’s book broke, making clear that Bolton did indeed witness Trump’s Ukraine misdeeds. On Monday, Trump’s lawyer Alan Dershowitz then claimed that if Bolton’s account was true, it still wasn’t impeachable. On Monday attorney Pam Bondi addressed Senators focusing on the same premise that drove Trump’s Ukraine plan to withhold aid – that Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s appointment to a Ukrainian gas company was an act of corruption. The line of arguments focusing on Biden contradicted the loud claims by Republicans that there was no evidence showing Trump leveraged US military aid for investigations into Biden. Trump’s team also spent a surprising amount of time defending Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who has become a political liability for the Republican Party. In spite of the fact that Mr. Trump repeatedly referenced Giuliani in his phone call with another head of state – President Zelensky of Ukraine – Trump’s impeachment defense team claimed contrary to irrefutable evidence that Giuliani played a very minimal role in the administration’s Ukraine policy.
An NPR reporter named Michele Kelemen has been barred from traveling with the State Department’s press corps on Secretary Mike Pompeo’s upcoming foreign visits. Pompeo lost his cool during a weekend interview with another NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly repeatedly screaming at her using profanity after which he published a statement maligning the journalist and the media in general. An NPR spokesperson said in a statement about the action to bar Kelemen, “we find it unacceptable to punish an individual member of our association.”
Meanwhile President Trump is holding yet another political rally for reelection, this time in the solidly blue state of New Jersey where he has not spoken since taking office. He is scheduled to speak in the conservative leaning district of Wildwood in a state that Hillary Clinton easily won in 2016. Despite the excitement among his base, some former Republicans have finally begun speaking out on social media about why they left their party. The hashtag #ILeftTheGOP is trending this week and chief among most voters’ reasons is President Trump and the related rise in white supremacy and corruption associated with his tenure. Huffington Post quoted one person, Sophia A. Nelson, an author, opinion writer and political strategist, who left the party last month and said, “I left the GOP January 2020 because I am appalled at the GOP Senators lack of courage and excuses to Convict & Remove TRUMP.”
In immigration news, House Democrats say they will soon pass legislation to overturn President Trump’s Muslim ban, which he has referred to as a “travel ban,” that bars visitors from primarily Muslim-population nations from entering the US. The announcement comes days after Trump promised to expand the ban to include many more nations. On Tuesday an appeals court will hear a legal challenge to the ban. And, New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Monday slammed the Supreme Court’s decision to lift an injunction on another of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies – the so-called “public charge” rule which bars immigrants from obtaining green cards if they use government assistance programs. Ocasio-Cortez wrote, “America shouldn’t have a wealth test for admission…The American Dream isn’t a private club with a cover charge – it’s the possibility of remaking your future.” Lawsuits against the public charge rule continue to wend through the courts.
President Trump on Tuesday unveiled his version of a Middle East Peace plan for Israelis and Palestinians a day after meeting with only Israeli leaders. Announcing his plan alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Trump lauded his idea in grand terms. Even the strongly pro-Israel New York Times headlined the news saying, “Trump Outlines Mideast Peace Plan That Strongly Favors Israel.” According to the Times the plan, “would guarantee that Israel would control a unified Jerusalem as its capital and not require it to uproot any of the settlements in the West Bank that have provoked Palestinian outrage.” A new report this week found that Israeli settlements in the West Bank grew even faster in 2019 than population growth inside Israel. A Palestinian spokesperson, echoing international law and United Nations resolutions said, “All settlements are illegal and the settler presence on Palestinian land is illegal.” Meanwhile Israel’s Netanyahu was formally indicted on corruption charges just before the announcement of Trump’s peace plan.
In electoral news, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has surged ahead in several states according to new polls. Just about a week before the Iowa caucuses and a month before the Super Tuesday primary elections, Sanders is now polling at 26% in California compared to Senator Elizabeth Warren at 20% and Joe Biden at only 15%. Both Warren and Biden’s numbers have been trending downward while Sanders has surged. Sanders is also up 13 points in Utah becoming the top candidate in that state, and in New Hampshire a new poll showed similar results with him taking the lead at 29%. The Democratic Party establishment apparently rattled over Sanders’ momentum has appointed members to those committees overseeing critical rules at the nominating convention in July that are openly hostile to Sanders.
And finally the new coronavirus strain spreading from China through many countries continues to rack up a disturbing death toll. More than 100 people have succumbed to the mystery disease as cases of the infection jumped by nearly 60% overnight. There are now more than 4,500 confirmed cases of the disease and the US and other nations are evacuating their citizens from the Chinese city of Wuhan where the disease is thought to have originated.