Headlines: November 5, 2019
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One of President Trump’s lawyer’s associates arrested on charges of campaign finance violations has decided to cooperate with the House impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. Lev Parnas, who was arrested along with Igor Fruman at the airport ready to the leave the country on one-way tickets, has apparently had a change of heart. Parnas and Fruman had lunch with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani right before their arrest and are implicated in his search for political dirt on Trump’s potential reelection rival Joe Biden. A lawyer for Parnas told Reuters, “We will honor and not avoid the committee’s requests to the extent they are legally proper, while scrupulously protecting Mr. Parnas’ privileges including that of the Fifth Amendment.”
Meanwhile, Roger Stone, a close associate of President Trump is facing a trial this week. Jury selection began on Tuesday for Stone’s trial in charges that were an offshoot of the Special Counsel’s investigation. Associated Press explained that, “Stone is accused of lying to lawmakers about WikiLeaks, tampering with witnesses and obstructing a House intelligence committee probe into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.”
Two new transcripts were released on Tuesday from depositions conducted by three House committees overseeing the impeachment trial. Transcripts of closed-door hearings with Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union, and former special envoy Kurt Volker were made public with redactions. Sondland had been called in last week to revise his testimony given earlier and 4 new pages of interview transcripts shows the Trump loyalist now admitting that the President had engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine. A day earlier transcripts of testimonies from former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and ex-State Department adviser Michael McKinley were released. Analysis of those transcripts reveals that Ms. Yovanovitch felt “threatened” by President Trump in the days before she was fired from her position, and that she still feared retaliation. She was deeply concerned about the transcript of Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s President in which Trump called her “bad news” and said that she would “go through some things.” She said, “I didn’t know what it meant…I was very concerned. I still am.” She also used the word “shocked” multiple times during her testimony in reference to the phone call.
The transcript of McKinley’s testimony raises specific concerns about State Secretary Mike Pompeo. McKinley told lawmakers that he raised concerns about the treatment of Yovanovitch at least three times to Pompeo. But in news interviews, Mr. Pompeo said McKinley never raised the issue. McKinley also told lawmakers that he resigned from his position because he was disturbed by the White House’s use of Ambassadors, “to advance domestic political objective.”
The transcripts also reveal the Republican Party’s disorganized strategy to oppose impeachment in the early days of depositions, which was to publicly demand the hearings be held out in the open, but during the hearings insist on secrecy. As House committees attempt to bring more officials in to testify, the White House has ordered witnesses to refuse all requests and even subpoenas. House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff has responded saying, “This will only add to the body of evidence on a potential obstruction of Congress charge against the president.” Politico reports that Trump’s new strategy is to simply throw up so many roadblocks that the legal responses through court cases will drag on so long that he will be able to simply run out the clock. But legal experts including former federal prosecutors, examining the clear case of Trump’s demand for political dirt in exchange for US military aid amounts to extortion under the Hobbs Act.
Meanwhile Trump, who claimed he was only interested in uncovering corruption related behavior by Biden to financially benefit his son Hunter in Ukraine, has tweeted to his millions of followers that they should buy his son Donald Jr.’s new book. Liz Hempowicz, the director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight told Associated Press, “Frankly he’s using his Twitter account to try to financially benefit his son…That’s not only distasteful, but it’s a misuse of public office and it would be an official misuse of public office if it was anyone other than the president.”
Virginians went to the polls on Tuesday to vote in General Assembly elections. All 140 seats on the Assembly are up for election. The Washington Post summarized what is at stake: “Republicans are defending thin majorities of 20 to 19 in the state Senate and 51 to 48 in the House of Delegates, with one vacancy in each chamber. If Democrats can take control, they could consolidate power for the first time in 26 years and work with Gov. Ralph Northam to pass measures long blocked by Republicans.” The Virginia elections are also being seen as a test of Trump’s popularity or lack thereof in next year’s Presidential race. Additionally, “the party that controls the General Assembly will oversee redistricting after next year’s census — influencing politics for a decade to come.”
The FBI has arrested a 27-year old white supremacist of trying to blow up a synagogue in Pueblo, Colorado. The man, named Richard Holzer, had knives and masks and was considering using pipe bombs. Federal prosecutors said that he wrote violent anti-Semitic messages on social media such as, “”I wish the Holocaust really did happen …. they need to die.” And, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, a man named Mahud Villalaz suffered an acid attack to his face by a 61-year old white man who told him to “go back to your country,” accused him of invading the US, and being an “illegal.” Mr. Villalaz is a US citizen of Peruvian descent. And in other news on racism, the well-known white supremacist Richard Spencer has been outed by a fellow hate-monger Milo Yiannopoulos. Infighting between the two racists led Yiannopoulos to release a secret recording of Spencer insulting Blacks and Jews using language too vulgar and offensive to say on the air.
And a new study has been published of the online hate and Islamophobia facing Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first two Muslim women in Congress. The study’s authors explained in the New York Times that most of the hateful and false narratives, “largely originated with a handful of bigoted activists and was then amplified by vast bot networks whose alleged owners never existed.” They added, “the manufactured outrage produced by this anti-Muslim cabal turned what was supposed to be Twitter’s venue for social discourse into a one-way digital highway of harassment and hate.”
In California, a number of mayors have joined forces to consider buying out Pacific Gas and Electric, the embattled private corporation that delivers power to a majority of the state and whose aging infrastructure has been linked to a number of major deadly wildfires that are then fueled by unusually hot, dry, and windy conditions signifying climate change. The mayors of Oakland and Sacramento are backing the campaign led by San Jose. Meanwhile more than 11,000 scientists from 153 countries have signed on to a report concluding that the planet, “clearly and unequivocally faces a climate emergency,” and recommend 6 policies that need to be immediately taken up. It marks the first time that so many scientists have used the term “emergency” to describe climate change.
And finally in Mexico, 9 members of a prominent Mormon family were gunned down in northern Mexico, the majority of them children. The 3 women and 6 children were dual US and Mexican citizens and were part of the Le Barón family, living near the border for years in what was considered a fundamentalist Mormon community. The perpetrators are suspected of being part of an organized crime network. President Trump responded by offering Mexico help – without specifying exactly what kind of help – to combat cartels. He tweeted, “This is the time for Mexico, with the help of the United States, to wage WAR on the drug cartels and wipe them off the face of the earth. We merely await a call from your great new president!”