Headlines: November 27, 2019
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The New York Times dropped a bombshell story on Tuesday interviewing two people who confirmed that President Donald Trump was aware of the original whistleblower complaint against his decision to use military aid to Ukraine for political leverage. According to the exposé, Trump was made aware in late August, weeks before he then decided to release the aid in early September. The news sheds light on what may have prompted Trump to release the aid and suggests that he realized its seriousness. It also has implications for the President’s hysterical reaction to the news in early October that House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff knew about the whistleblower’s concerns before it became public. Trump had made wild claims that because Schiff learned about the complaint before it was public that he coordinated with the whistleblower to write it. Additionally House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday released the transcripts of testimonies from two more government officials, one of them Mark Sandy, deputy associate director for national security programs at the Office of Management and Budget. Mr. Sandy’s testimony included the revelation that two officials at OMB resigned over the withholding of aid to Ukraine. It is not known yet who they were. The other person whose testimony was released was Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs. Reeker confirmed that US Ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland had a “script” for his interactions with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky in order to stay on message in line with Trump’s desires.
The House Judiciary Committee will now take over the impeachment process and this week announced the first of its public hearings taking place on December 4th. According to Associated Press, the hearings, “will feature legal experts who will examine questions of constitutional grounds as the panel decides whether to write articles of impeachment against Trump — and if so what those articles will be.” Judiciary Committee chair Jerrold Nadler has invited the President and his lawyers to attend the hearings and question witnesses and given the White House a deadline of this Sunday to inform them. Meanwhile the judge who ordered former White House Counsel Don McGahn to comply with House subpoenas has agreed to delay the implementation of her ruling to give McGahn time to decide whether he is going to appeal.
President Trump held a rally in Sunrise, Florida near Miami on Tuesday night where he was met with thunderous support from his backers. Trump has relocated to Florida from New York where he remains deeply unpopular. During his rally he predictably railed against the impeachment inquiry, leading his backers to repeatedly chant profanities in support. He also continued his practice of making up poll numbers in order to suit his needs, saying that support for impeachment was dropping. In fact, polls show they are holding steady. The President of the United States also boasted about his “gorgeous chest.” On Wednesday morning he tweeted a doctored photo of his own head attached to the bare-chested body of a wrestler.
The New York Times, in a lengthy exposé has found that hurricane relief funds to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands has stalled in favor of recovery projects on the US mainland. For example, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has funded only 190 recovery projects in Puerto Rico out of more than 9,000 requests.
Federal prosecutors have opened up a criminal investigation into whether opioid manufacturers broke the law when they promoted and sold massive amounts of addictive pain pills to Americans. The law in question is the Controlled Substances Act. The Wall Street Journal, which broke the story explains that, “The investigation, if it results in criminal charges, could become the largest prosecution yet of drug companies alleged to have contributed to the opioid epidemic, escalating the legal troubles of businesses that already face complex, multibillion-dollar civil litigation in courts across the country.” Meanwhile First Lady Melania Trump attended an opioid awareness youth summit in Baltimore, Maryland, a city that her husband denigrated in vicious terms. Without any hint of irony, she gave a speech that was part of her anti-bullying campaign but faced loud booes and heckling from the audience.
In election-related news, Senator Bernie Sanders is leading in a new poll of New Hampshire voters. The Emerson poll found support for him at 26% followed by Pete Buttigieg, Joe Biden, and Elizabeth Warren. And Politico reported that former President Barack Obama, who has pledged to remain above the fray on the very crowded Democratic candidate field had privately said he would speak up only against one candidate – Bernie Sanders. According to the article, “Obama said privately that if Bernie were running away with the nomination, Obama would speak up to stop him.” In other electoral news, New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has officially endorsed Sanders, has raised more money for her reelection in the third quarter of 2019 than any other House Democrat – all without pandering to big donors or corporate lobbyists. Mayor Pete is also in the news amid reports that his campaign took money from the top lawyers representing conservative Supreme Court justice and accused sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh. His campaign has said taking the money was a mistake and that it will be returned.
In immigration news, a federal judge just halted a Trump administration rule requiring immigrants show they are capable of buying into the US’s expensive healthcare system before being allowed into the country. And, Trump has announced that his administration plans to classify Mexican drug cartels as foreign terrorist organizations. He made the revelation during an interview but did not specify which organizations would be designated. Mexico’s government has slammed the idea as infringing on their nation’s territorial sovereignty.
The retail giant Walmart has decided that store discounts are better than overtime pay for its workers. The Guardian reported that Walmart, whose owners are among the wealthiest people on the planet, are giving their workers store discounts rather than time and a half pay for their to work full time on Thanksgiving and Black Friday – the busiest shopping days of the year. The discount is between 10 and 15% and only kicks in if workers work certain days, and can only be used on two specific days.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has publicly criticized the Chinese government over revelations made in leaked documents about mistreatment of Muslim minorities in the nation. Recent troves of documents show widespread abuses in concentration camp-like conditions run by the government. Mr. Pompeo, who seemed to not see the parallels with the US’s immigrant family separation policy said, “We call on the Chinese government to immediately release all those who are arbitrarily detained and to end its draconian policies that have terrorized its own citizens in Xinjiang.”
And finally in the UK, Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn says he has a 451-page dossier showing that the country’s revered National Health Service (NHS) would be part of trade talks and face potential privatization. The dossier confirms fears that Britain’s conservative parties want to sell of the NHS and turn the UK healthcare system into a reflection of the US’s failed system.