Headlines: November 19, 2019
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Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman and Vice Presidential aide Jennifer Williams testified in public hearings as part of the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday. The two spoke side-by-side on the issue of whether President Donald Trump withheld US military aid to Ukraine in exchange for launching investigations into his political rival. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff led the questioning asking Vindman why he was concerned by Trump’s conduct. Ranking Republican Devin Nunes led his party’s questioning asking Pence’s aide Jennifer Williams about various right-wing conspiracy theories that have been brewing online and on Fox News. President Trump took questions from reporters at the White House as the hearing was taking place and, like his allies and supporters, called Vindman’s reputation into question. Here he referred to an exchange where Nunes called Vindman “Mr.” rather than using his military title.
Also on Tuesday Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, the top Russia adviser on the White House National Security Council testified in the afternoon. On Wednesday, US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland will give a public hearing followed by Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian Affairs, and David Hale, the undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. Then on Thursday, Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia will testify alongside David Holmes who was a staffer at the US Embassy in Kiev. Holmes already testified in a closed-door deposition about what he overheard Sondland saying on a phone call to President Trump about Ukraine. Politico reports that, “Holmes said Trump’s voice was so loud that it caused Sondland to wince and hold the phone away from his ear. He said he heard Trump say ‘So he’s going to do the investigation.’ And Sondland replied, ‘Oh yeah, he’s going to do it.’” Holmes also said there was a risk of such a call being monitored by Russian officials.
Amid the impeachment hearings lawyers for House Democrats told a federal appeals court on Monday that they were exploring an investigation into whether Trump lied to former Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his written testimony in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump’s answers to Mueller’s questions were part of the Special Counsel report appendix and in them the President said he did not know of any communications between Wikileaks and his election campaign. But that testimony is contradicted by several of his former associates including Rick Gates and Michael Cohen who say they witnessed Trump discussing Wikileaks’ release of incriminating DNC emails over the phone. If the President lied under oath it may form the basis of another article of impeachment. And, in the case around the House pursuit of Trump’s tax returns, Supreme Court chief Justice John Roberts ordered an indefinite delay while the court decides whether to take up the case or let a lower court ruling stand that allows the returns to be turned over.
In news from the electoral front, Democratic supporting groups are launching a spending effort in swing states to try to counter Trump’s flood of money. According to the Washington Post, “pro-Trump committees have spent more than $500 million on his reelection — far more than previous incumbents at this point in the election. As a result, more than a dozen groups backed by high-dollar Democratic donors have pledged to spend at least $420 million through the primary season, focused largely on general-election swing states.” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign says it has reached 4 million donors – a benchmark that was reached far later in his 2016 campaign. Sanders’ campaign says donors are chipping in small dollar amounts from across the country. Meanwhile, former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick – a latecomer to the Democratic race has said he would not turn down big money donors giving through super PACs. Mr. Patrick has also centered his candidacy around defending corporations and capitalism, saying in an interview with Associated Press, “There’s a lot of good that gets done by private interests investing in the country.” AP pointed out that, “He served as counsel to an oil and gas company, on the board of a subprime lending company and most recently worked for Bain Capital, the private equity company that became an albatross around Republican Mitt Romney’s neck during his presidential campaign in 2012 after President Barack Obama painted the company as ruthless toward middle-class workers.”
As a deadline looms to fund the federal government in order to avoid another shutdown House Representatives have introduced a temporary funding measure known as a “continuing resolution” to fund the government through December 20th. It would be the second such resolution after Trump signed one extending funding through November 21st.
A supporter of President Trump who threatened to kill freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, has pled guilty in a federal court. Fifty five year old Patrick Carlineo Jr called Omar’s office this past May and demanded to know if Omar worked for the Muslim Brotherhood. He called her a “terrorist” and threatened to “put a bullet in her skull.” Carlineo, who has amassed a trove of deadly weapons, faces up to 10 years and a quarter of a million dollars in fines.
Two prison guards at the Manhattan jail where Jeffrey Epstein was held have been indicted on charges of conspiracy and falsifying records. The two were apparently supposed to be closely watching Epstein who was on suicide watch, when he was found unresponsive in his cell. Although Epstein’s death has been ruled a suicide, there is speculation that there may have been other wrongdoing.
A United Nations report on the global treatment of children has found that the US locks up more kids than any country on the planet. The author of the report found that Trump’s immigrant family separation policy is “absolutely prohibited” under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and that it was a, “inhuman” policy. That convention marks its 30th anniversary of passage this week.
Israeli settlers are celebrating the recently announced reversal of US policy on illegal settlements in Palestinian territories. Leaders of settlements gathered in a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to mark what they see as an international recognition of their right to build settlements on Palestinian lands even though those settlements are in clear violation of United Nations accords. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday reversed long-standing US policy on the issue.
And finally investigators in Sweden say they are dropping rape charges against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange nearly a decade after they were first raised. Assange is being held in the UK and fighting an extradition order to the US.