Headlines: October 11, 2019
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The US’s former Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch testified to House committees on Friday behind closed doors as part of the on-going impeachment inquiry. Yovanovitch was abruptly fired from her position earlier this year but remains on staff at the State Department. Her decision to testify to Congress defies orders by the Trump Administration to refuse all cooperation with the impeachment inquiry. The Washington Post obtained her 10-page opening remarks to the committees in which the former Ambassador said that she was removed, “based, as far as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.” She implicated President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani saying, “I do not know Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me. But individuals who have been named in the press as contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine.” She reflected on the poor morale within the State Department, saying, “Today, we see the State Department attacked and hollowed out from within. State Department leadership, with Congress, needs to take action now to defend this great institution, and its thousands of loyal and effective employees.” Associated Press reported that, “Yovanovitch was removed from her post after insisting that Giuliani’s requests to Ukrainian officials for investigations be relayed through official channels, according to a former diplomat who has spoken with her.” On the same day as Yovanovitch’s testimony, a senior advisor to State Secretary Mike Pompeo, Michael McKinley has announced his resignation.
In other impeachment-related news, Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union and Trump loyalist now says he will testify to Congress, just days after he failed to show up for his scheduled hearing. Sondland’s lawyers announced, “Notwithstanding the State Department’s current direction to not testify, Ambassador Sondland will honor the Committees’ subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying on Thursday.” The lawyers also said that Sondland would not be able to provide Congress with the documents they have subpoenaed. And, news emerged that at least 4 national security officials had expressed concerns to a White House lawyer over the US’s Ukraine policy before and after the infamous July 25th phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s President Zelensky.
A day after two of Mr. Giuliani’s associates were arrested, reports have emerged of Giuliani being directly in touch with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman as they were about to leave the country. Giuliani had lunch with the two men at Trump International Hotel on Wednesday, the same day that Parnas and Fruman were scheduled to depart the US with one-way tickets. They were arrested hours after their lunch with Giuliani at Dulles International Airport. Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd is now representing the two men and had earlier told Congress that they were helping Giuliani, “in connection with his representation of President Trump.” Trump has claimed that he does not know Parnas and Fruman even though there are photographs of him with the two men and in particular, a picture of Parnas with Trump at the White House.
House Democrats also issued a subpoena for Energy Secretary Rick Perry just hours after Parnas and Fruman were arrested. The New York Times explained that Perry was asked, “to turn over by next Friday any records that would shed light on President Trump’s attempts to pressure the Ukrainian government to open corruption investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son. Investigators also want answers on whether Mr. Perry tried to influence the management of Ukraine’s state-owned gas company.”
At the heart of the Ukraine scandal is Trump’s determination to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden’s role in the Ukraine. The Los Angeles Times pointed out that just as Biden’s son Hunter may have profited financially because of his father’s position in the government, Trump’s own children have reaped tens of millions of dollars around the world through their position as the President’s family members. In the latest on the battle to obtain Trump’s tax returns, the President suffered another court loss after a federal appeals court on Friday ruled against him. The court ruled that Trump’s former accounting firm Mazars USA had to turn over his tax returns to Congress. Trump cannot refuse the request since those documents are not in his control. Mazars USA has said it will turn over the files if required to do so. The court’s ruling is the second one this week affirming Congress’s right to access the records.
Trump on Thursday night held his first political rally since the impeachment inquiry began, speaking to a crowd of adoring supporters in Minneapolis. During his address he tossed around insults at numerous political enemies, unleashing what is being considered the coarsest and most vulgar attacks of his tenure. He slammed Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota who is a former refugee and Somali American, calling her, “an America-hating socialist.” He stoked the racial resentment of his supporters saying, “Leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers.” He also went after Joe Biden’s son Hunter calling him a “loser.” And then he directly attacked Biden himself. Outside the rally thousands of people protested the President and his politics.
In other news Democratic Presidential candidates gathered in Los Angeles on Thursday night for a forum on LGBTQ issues. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Corey Booker were joined by Mayor Pete Buttigeig and Beto O’Rourke. Among the issues that audience members raised was the epidemic of murders of transgender women of color around the US.
Elsewhere in California wildfires raged, fed by hot dry conditions. A fast-moving fire in the San Fernando Valley has destroyed at least 25 homes and spread to 4,700 acres north of downtown Los Angeles. The Saddleridge fire as it’s being called, has prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands of Californians. It is only one of several fires raging across Southern California and the state. CNN reports that “Another blaze — the Sandalwood Fire in Calimesa, some 70 miles east of Los Angeles — has destroyed at least 74 structures since it began Thursday afternoon.”
In international news the US is deploying 1,500 new troops to Saudi Arabia apparently to counter Iranian aggression. A Pentagon spokesperson announced Friday morning that, “Secretary [Mark] Esper informed Saudi Crown Prince and Minister of Defense Muhammad bin Salman this morning of the additional troop deployment to assure and enhance the defense of Saudi Arabia.” Meanwhile Iran says that one of its oil tankers off the coast of Saudi Arabia was struck by missiles.
And finally on the third day of Turkey’s incursion into Northern Syria there are news reports of death and destruction at the hands of Turkish forces. According to the New York Times, “Hospitals have been abandoned, displacement camps relocated and major roads blocked as residents flee an advance of Turkey’s forces.” Al Jazeera reports that “Turkish forces have killed at least 342 Kurdish fighters,” and tens of thousands have been displaced.