Headlines: November 4, 2019
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House Democrats released the first two transcripts of closed-door testimonies gathered as part of their impeachment probe of President Donald Trump. The transcripts are those of former US Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch and high-level State Department official Michael McKinley. In a statement the heads of the three committees overseeing the probe said, “the American public will begin to see for themselves the evidence that the committees have collected. With each new interview, we learn more about the President’s attempt to manipulate the levers of power to his personal political benefit.” But Republicans, who also have seats on the committees denounced the release of the transcripts just days after denouncing their secrecy. Representative Mark Meadows, a Trump loyalist, said, “I don’t think that’s fair, transparent, and certainly we need to make sure that there are no select edits.”
Meanwhile the whistleblower whose complaint about President Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky first triggered the inquiry, has reportedly agreed to answer written questions from Republicans. CNN explained that, “The whistleblower previously offered to answer lawmakers’ questions under oath and in writing if they were submitted by the House Intelligence Committee as a whole. This new offer would be a direct channel of communication with the Republicans who are in the minority on that committee.” President Trump’s response was to request that the media expose the identity of the whistleblower. Trump also demanded that the whistleblower testify in person, saying on Twitter, “He must be brought forward to testify. Written answers not acceptable!” Incidentally, Trump had refused to be interviewed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and insisted on submitting written answers in that probe.
Trump on Sunday made a claim that even if he engaged in a quid pro quo, it was not an impeachable offense. He wrote, “False stories are being reported that a few Republican Senators are saying that President Trump may have done a quid pro quo, but it doesn’t matter, there is nothing wrong with that, it is not an impeachable event. Perhaps so, but read the transcript, there is no quid pro quo!” Meanwhile a slew of White House current and former officials who had been subpoenaed for testimonies before House Committees have refused to turn up. A number of associates of Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney have announced intentions to defy subpoenas including Russell Vought, who leads the White House Office of Budget and Management. A top national security aide named Robert Blair who is also an associate of Mulvaney’s and was on the July 25th phone call, has objected to appear before committees. And, National Security Council lawyers John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis will also not testify. Eisenberg has been implicated by a former member of the National Security Council Alexander Vindman for hiding the actual transcript of the call on a secret server after Vindman expressed his concerns.
Meanwhile the Special Counsel’s investigation is back in the news after Buzzfeed and CNN obtained a trove of evidentiary documents from FBI witness interviews after winning a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit. On Saturday Buzzfeed published the first set of documents showing, among other things, that then Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was peddling a conspiracy theory as early as 2016 that Ukraine was involved in the hacking of the DNC’s email servers. The documents have been heavily redacted.
In a separate case President Trump once more lost a legal bid to keep his tax returns secret. The state of New York has demanded that Trump’s former accounting firm Mazars International turn over to prosecutors 8 years of his tax returns. A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that the state did have the right. It is expected that Trump will appeal the case all the way to the Supreme Court where he enjoys a conservative majority that he hopes will protect him.
Trump is finding he is less than popular at public events that do not consist of self-selected crowds of supporters. In less than a week he was booed for a second time when he showed up to a Mixed Martial Arts sporting event at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Here is one video of many that have been circulating in social media. Trump and his family ignored the booes and then dismissed them as “fake news.”
Trump’s EPA this week plans to seriously scale back regulations on coal fired power plants that were enacted by the Obama administration in 2015. The regulations protected waterways from contamination by toxic chemicals released during the burning process including mercury, arsenic, and other heavy metals. They also regulated how coal ash waste would be stored. Trump, who has claimed to be a champion of clean air and water has overseen exactly the opposite.
A new poll by the New York Times and Siena College one year before the Presidential race, has found that despite his high rates of disapproval, Trump still retains a slim edge in some key swing states. In the states of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona, registered voters picked former Vice President Joe Biden over Trump by small margins. In Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has the edge. And only in Arizona does Senator Elizabeth Warren win in a hypothetical matchup with Trump. In North Carolina Trump is polled as beating all top three Democratic front runners. Polls are notoriously inaccurate at predicting wins however, given that in 2016 almost all major polls had Trump losing to Clinton. Meanwhile, the Washington Post’s analysis of Labor Department data concludes that unemployment is increasing in swing states such as Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, and North Carolina. And, three governors races this month – two of them taking place in Mississippi and Kentucky on Tuesday, and one in Louisiana on November 16th – are being seen as a test of Trump’s popularity. Trump held a rally for the Mississippi Republican candidate on Friday and will rally for the Kentucky one on Monday night.
In immigration news, a federal judge placed a hold on a Trump rule requiring that immigrants applying for visas to the US have to prove that they have health insurance or that they are financially able to pay for it. The immigrant rights group Justice Action Center, together with 7 US citizens filed a lawsuit to stop the rule from going into effect on Sunday. The ban is temporary however. And, on Trump’s much vaunted border wall, news emerged over the weekend that people were using store-bought equipment to slice through a part of the US-Mexico border that Trump had claimed just days earlier was “impenetrable.” At a rally in Mississippi Trump had said this. Trump admitted on Sunday after the news of smugglers cutting through the wall, “You can cut through anything.”