Headlines: November 20, 2019
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The US Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland delivered devastating testimony on Wednesday morning at a public impeachment hearing, saying in the clearest terms that there had been a “quid pro quo” in President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. This is the critical part of Sondland’s opening remarks. Sondland’s testimony deeply implicated the President’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. In his questioning of Sondland, House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff asked him about Vice President Mike Pence. Schiff also asked Sondland about Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and State Secretary Mike Pompeo and other State Department staff.
President Trump reacted to the testimony in remarks to reporters outside the White House. While he stood holding a sheaf of papers, photographers captured two pages of clumsily written notes in large lettering that were shared across social media. Among the notes were the lines, “I keep hearing all these different ideas and theories,” and “I want no quid pro quo, tell Zelensky to do the right thing.” Here are some of Trump’s verbal remarks. Although Trump says he didn’t know Sondland very well, just a few weeks ago, when Sondland appeared to be backing him, Trump tweeted, “I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify…” Meanwhile Vice President Mike Pence’s office issued a statement denying Sondland’s claim that he was informed about pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations into the Bidens.
The White House has prohibited a number of other witnesses from testifying in public or private to Congress in the impeachment inquiry. Two witnesses in particular, who have been subpoenaed by the House have asked the courts to determine whose directive they should follow. In the case of former White House Counsel Don McGahn, a federal judge has just announced she would be making a ruling no later than Monday on the issue. We’ll be bringing you in-depth analysis of testimonies from Sondland and other witnesses to come.
In other news, CBS has uncovered another potentially explosive story regarding the Trump administration and the Republican Party. A billionaire donor to the party based in San Diego, named Doug Manchester had been angling for a position as US Ambassador to the Bahamas. Manchester had donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration fund and after years of his nomination for the Ambassadorship stalling in the Senate, the Republican National Committee requested a $500,000 donation. Manchester said he could not technically do it but directed his wife to make a $100,000 donation and said his family would respond once his confirmation vote passed out of a committee. Manchester denies that his documented actions amounted to a bribe for the Ambassador position.
The latest Democratic Party Presidential candidate debate is taking place Wednesday evening with ten people having qualified to participate. Although two prominent candidates will be absent – Julian Castro who failed to make the cut, and Beto O’Rourke, who bowed out – two other candidates who are latecomers to the race will also not participate – former New York Major Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee just passed a sweeping ban on flavored tobacco products that went much further than the one that President Trump had endorsed and then backed off from. The bill now goes to the floor of the House where it is expected to pass and the Senate is then expected to vote it down. Meanwhile lawmakers in Massachusetts are voting on Wednesday in what is considered the strictest flavored tobacco ban in the nation.
In international news Bolivia’s exiled leader Evo Morales has denounced military-led violence in his home country and accused the US of being involved. Morales tweeted that the newly installed “dictatorship,” have “caused 6 deaths of fellow brothers in a coordinated operation with the US.” Morales in an interview with the Wall Street Journal offered a way out of the political morass in Bolivia saying he would refrain from running in a future election if he was allowed to complete his current term and coordinate new elections with the opposition political forces.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper in a speech in Vietnam has accused China of intimidating and coercing smaller Asian nations. He said, ““The United States firmly opposes intimidation by any claimant to assert its territorial or maritime claims, and we call for an end to the bullying and unlawful activities.” Meanwhile Simon Cheng, a former employee of the British Consulate in Hong Kong has described being tortured by Chinese authorities. Cheng says the Chinese government has accused him of encouraging the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. And universities and schools in Hong Kong have finally opened after 6 days of being shut down due to on-going protests and police responses.
Israel says it has bombed targets in Syria that it says are Iranian. Nearly 2 dozen people were killed including Iranians. Israelis are also moving to hold an unprecedented third election this year after winning parties from the second election failed to form a coalition. Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he would move to annex the Jordan Valley if he can remain in power.