Headlines: November 15, 2019
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The former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testified to House committees in a televised hearing related to the House impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Friday morning. Yovanovitch was removed from her position earlier this year after pressure from Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. In her opening statement, Yovanovitch, who spent decades as a career diplomat, said she was told that “there had been a concerted campaign against me, that the president no longer wished me to serve as Ambassador to Ukraine, and that in fact, the President had been pushing for my removal since the prior summer.” Later, Democratic Counsel Daniel Goldman quoted from the rough transcript of President Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s President Zelensky and asked Yovanovitch to respond. House Intelligence Chief Adam Schiff paused the questioning to quote Trump’s tweets that the President was posting during the actual hearing.
President Trump chose to release a rough transcript of a prior phone call he had with Zelensky in April on the same day as the Yovanovitch hearing. House Republican representative and Trump loyalist Devin Nunes, who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, read the transcript in his opening remarks at the hearing and Trump posted images of the document on his Twitter feed. That phone call did not mention corruption in Ukraine, which may be why Trump and his allies are attempting to focus on it.
Meanwhile Trump’s close associate Roger Stone has been found guilty on all charges in a major federal case that emerged as an offshoot of the Special Counsel’s investigation into 2016 election wrongdoing. A federal jury convicted him on charges of witness tampering related to the leaking of DNC emails by the group Wikileaks. Stone has also been convicted of lying to Congress. A sentencing trial has been set for February. Stone faces up to 50 years in prison. The Washington Post offered this context for Stone’s conviction: “Stone joins a long line of Trump advisers and confidantes either convicted or who have pleaded guilty in connection with the special counsel probe, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former Trump deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen and former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos.”
In other news Trump on Thursday asked the Supreme Court to block the release of his tax returns from a former accounting firm to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow called the demand for the returns as “Politically motivated subpoenas,” and said they are, “a perfect illustration of why a sitting president should be categorically immune from state criminal process.”
The US State Department’s internal watchdog group released a long-anticipated report on Thursday into the mistreatment of one of its staffers, Sahar Nowrouzzadeh, who was an Iran expert in the Office of Policy Planning during former State Secretary Rex Tillerson’s tenure. The report concluded that Trump appointees to the Department acted against her, as per CNN, “due to false perceptions about her political views and her ethnicity.” The case is one of five that is being investigated. Democrats are demanding that current Secretary Mike Pompeo discipline those involved in the wrong doing.
In Southern California, the local community in Santa Clarita is still reeling from a school shooting at Saugus High School early on Thursday morning that left two teenagers dead, a 16-year old girl and a 14-year old boy. A 16-year old boy named Nathaniel Berhow is the suspected shooter and he shot himself in the head after a 16-second firing spree aimed at his fellow students. He remains in critical condition at the hospital. One student survivor of the attack blamed political inaction and President Trump for the continued proliferation of guns in the country.
In an acknowledgement of how serious a concern healthcare is to the American electorate, the Trump administration has announced a new rule to force healthcare providers and medical insurers to reveal the actual prices they set for routine procedures. It will also force health plans that are offered through employers to share the rates that they negotiate with healthcare providers. The goal is to enable people to better shop for insurance plans if they have more information. It does nothing to actually lower costs of healthcare however.
The Supreme Court’s most controversial Justice, Brett Kavanaugh spoke at the Federalist Society’s annual event on Thursday night in an event that was targeted by protesters. Kavanaugh won a very narrow Senate confirmation vote last year after a high-profile public hearing by Christine Blasey Ford who accused him of attempted rape while in high school. Facebook, which has increasingly allied itself with rightwing figures, sponsored the gala prompting the activist group Demand Justice to urge the social media company’s employees to speak out. Outside the event on Thursday night, members of the Center for Popular Democracy Action played Blasey Ford’s testimony on repeat on a giant video screen as the gala attendees waited to enter.
In electoral politics news, a runoff Governor’s race in Louisiana is taking place on Saturday as incumbent Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat fights to keep his seat against Trump-backed Republican businessman Eddie Rispone. Polls show an extremely tight race. And in Kentucky, incumbent Republican Governor and Trump loyalist Matt Bevin has finally conceded his loss to Democratic challenger Andrew Beshear after days of digging his heels in. In California, progressive online television host Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks has announced a surprise bid for the seat vacated by freshman Congresswoman Katie Hill, who was forced to resign after being the target of a rightwing misogynist campaign.
Seventy five House Democrats have signed on to a letter demanding the resignation of White House advisor Stephen Miller after leaked emails showed his penchant for white supremacist literature and ideas. Miller has been the architect of Trump’s cruel anti-immigrant policies including the detention and separation of children from their parents. Representative Ted Lieu of California said, “flaming white nationalists should have no place in the White House, the halls of Congress or anywhere, for that matter.”
And finally a federal judge has affirmed a lower court ruling that a US-born woman was not a citizen of this country. Associated Press explained that, “Hoda Muthana was born in New Jersey in October 1994 to a diplomat from Yemen and grew up in Alabama. In 2014, she left the U.S. to join IS apparently after becoming radicalized online. While she was overseas the government determined she was not a U.S. citizen because her father was a diplomat at the time of her birth and revoked her passport.”