Headlines: November 8, 2019
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President Donald Trump has said he has the transcript of a second phone call he had with Ukraine’s newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky from April of this year – several months before the controversial July 25th phone call that is the subject of the House impeachment inquiry. Trump says he has no problem turning over the transcript to the committee investigators. He raised the call to reporters on Friday morning saying, “I have a second call, which nobody knew about, and I guess they want that call to be produced as well. So I had a second call, which actually I believe came before that call. If they want it, I’ll give it to them. I haven’t seen it recently. I understand they’d like it. I have no problem giving it to them.”
Meanwhile Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney defied a House subpoena to appear for a deposition on Friday which was expected. Mulvaney is a central figure in the impeachment scandal and famously admitted to reporters that Trump engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine’s President. Now, among the Republican Party’s attempts to protect Trump from being removed as President, Mulvaney, along with two others, may turn into political scapegoats. The Washington Post on Thursday pointed out that, “House Republicans’ latest plan to shield President Trump from impeachment is to focus on at least three deputies — U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, and possibly … Mulvaney — who they say could have acted on their own to influence Ukraine policy.”
Meanwhile House Committees continued their publication of closed-door deposition transcripts with the release on Friday of testimonies by Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and the National Security Council’s Russia expert, Fiona Hill. In a statement Committee chairs said, Vindman and Hill, “testified despite pressure by the White House to silence their testimony…Their superiors in the White House have declined to cooperate with the inquiry, but transcripts released today show clearly that individuals close to the President were alarmed by a presidential scheme as illicit and corrupt as a ‘drug deal.’”
A day earlier the transcript of senior State Department official George Kent was released. The transcript reveals that Kent was deeply concerned about Trump’s insistence that Ukraine, “initiate politically motivated prosecutions,” and that the move was, “injurious to the rule of law.” Kent also apparently testified that he made his concerns apparent in a memo he wrote during the summer. He also cited a briefing on Ukraine where he was apparently told, “POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden and Clinton.” By Clinton, Trump apparently meant the email leaks from the Democratic National Committee that foreshadowed Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
Meanwhile Trump’s daughter and White House advisor Ivanka Trump spoke with Associated Press about the impeachment inquiry and predictably defended her father. She did however, take a different approach on the identity of the original whistleblower whose complaint sparked the inquiry. Ivanka Trump speaking with Associated Press, echoing a Republican talking point that the whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry was politically motivated. Ms. Trump ignored the multiple high-level officials and diplomats who have repeatedly confirmed the whistleblower’s complaint and painted a much more detailed and damning picture.
In other news, the Trump Foundation in New York settled a lawsuit on the illegal use of funds from a charitable organization with an agreement to close down the foundation and distribute the remaining funds totaling $1.7 million to non-profits. The settlement was the result of a suit brought by New York’s Attorney General over how the President and three of his children used the foundation, “as little more than a checkbook to serve Mr Trump’s business and political interests.” The complaint contended that there was, “a shocking pattern of illegality involving the Trump Foundation – including unlawful coordination with the Trump presidential campaign, repeated and willful self-dealing, and much more.” Meanwhile a former White House ethics lawyer, Richard Painter, is calling out the Trump campaign’s repeated advertisement for donations using the lure of raffling off a meal with the President. So far investigations have showed that no one has ever won and it appears that Trump may be holding fake lotteries to raise money – which is of course illegal.
A book purportedly written by “A Senior Trump Administration Official,” remaining nameless has just been released. The book, called simply, “A Warning,” is authored by the same person who wrote an anonymous op-ed in the New York Times last year. The Times’ book review on Friday slammed the author for their, “conspicuous failures of judgment thus far,” and caustically writes how the “mildly chastened,” anonymous author, “now seems to recognize, somewhat belatedly, that President Trump’s peddling of birtherism conspiracy theories and his boasts about grabbing women’s genitals might have constituted their own kind of warning — plausible evidence that Mr. Trump might not magically transform into the dignified statesman Anonymous so desperately wanted him to be.” The Washington Post was more generous, characterizing the book as, “a chilling portrait of the president as cruel, inept and a danger to the nation he was elected to lead.”
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has indicated he is throwing his hat into the ring for President. The billionaire businessman is likely to echo many of the centrist policies of former Vice President Joe Biden and there is speculation that his Presidential bid is the result of billionaire panic at the prospect of a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren Presidency. Warren responded to the news by sarcastically pointing Bloomberg to her tax calculator for billionaires under a proposed plan she has championed. She tweeted, “If you’re looking for policy plans that will make a huge difference for working people and which are very popular, start here.”
In international news, State Secretary Mike Pompeo has traveled to Germany this week to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Mr. Pompeo, who is a veteran, served as a US soldier under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) patrolling the area near the wall. His presence as Trump’s State Secretary however, has caused tension in Europe where the fate of NATO remains tenuous. Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull the US out of the agreement claiming that European nations are not paying their share of military expenditures. A day earlier French President Emmanuel Macron used strong words to describe Trump’s impact, saying that NATO was experiencing a collective “brain death” because of the US.
And finally in Hong Kong, anger is mounting among protesters after a university student died from injuries that took place during a clash with police. Alex Chow Tsz-lok was a student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology when he fell from a parking garage and died later from his injuries. Protesters wore black to mourn his death and demanded an investigation. Hong Kong protesters have demanded a reform of police practices as part of their on-going pro-democracy protests and cite the thousands of people who have been injured by police brutality.