Headlines: October 23, 2019
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The testimony of a Defense Department official named Laura Cooper to House committees was delayed on Wednesday after a number of Republican supporters of President Donald Trump staged a bizarre act of civil disobedience and refused to vacate the room that the hearing was to be held in. Of the more than 2 dozen House Republicans only a handful were actually members of the House Committees holding the hearings. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida led the insurrection. He later said this to reporters, explaining why he and other Republicans delayed the start of a closed-door hearing with the Pentagon official. A day earlier a damning testimony by Acting US Ambassador to Ukraine, William Taylor, consumed the news cycle as details emerged about how he confirmed that President Trump had indeed engaged in a quid pro quo with Ukraine to demand political dirt in exchange for military aid. Several lawmakers said they were stunned by what appeared to be a “smoking gun.” In Mr. Taylor’s opening remarks, which were obtained by press, he said, “I became increasingly concerned that our relationship with Ukraine was being fundamentally undermined by an irregular, informal channel of US policymaking and by the withholding of vital security assistance for domestic political reasons.”
In other impeachment related news, two men linked to Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, appeared in court to enter “not guilty” pleas to charges of campaign finance violations. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were charged with funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars of donations from foreign sources into Republican political committees and President Trump’s election campaign.
Meanwhile the anonymous writer of a New York Times op-ed last September by someone claiming to be part of “the resistance” to Trump’s agenda from the inside, has reportedly written a book. The book is to be titled, “A Warning” and will be published by Hachette. According to the Washington Post, “the author did not receive an advance, and would be donating any royalties to nonprofit organizations that focus on government accountability and press freedom.”
Two new polls on impeachment continue to show very high levels of public support for impeachment and removal of Trump from office. A Quinnipiac poll found that, “55 percent approve of the inquiry,” up from 51% found by the same polling company just a week ago. Additionally, the new poll found that, “Nearly half of registered voters, 48 percent, say President Trump should be impeached and removed from office.” And, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that “46% of Americans said they supported impeachment.” However, according to the same poll, “Support for impeachment was relatively steady among Republicans and Democrats over the past week but it surged among independents.”
Meanwhile Senate Majority Leader and staunch Trump backer Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that a phone call Trump claimed to have had with him about the Ukraine scandal never took place. In early October Trump said that McConnell spoke with him after reading the rough transcript of his call with Ukraine’s President and that, per Trump, it was, “the most innocent phone call that I’ve ever read.” This is McConnell’s exchange with a reporter about the phone call on Tuesday.
In other news, two men who are members of the pro-Trump hate group Proud Boys, were sentenced to four years in prison for a violent clash with anti-fascist activists outside the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan a year ago. According to the New York Times, “Justice Mark Dwyer said the punishment was meant in part to deter others who seek to resolve political differences through partisan violence.” The New York state supreme court judge said, “In cities across America these two groups have repeatedly engaged in violence against one another…It became clear during this trial that violence is very much ingrained in the Proud Boys ethos.” The judge added, ““I know enough about history to know what happened in Europe in the 30s when political street brawls were allowed to go ahead without any type of check from the criminal justice system…We don’t want that to happen in New York.”
Former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appears to be trying to make over her image as an enforcer of Trump’s brutal and traumatizing mass family separation policy aimed at immigrants. Nielsen spoke at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit and said that she, “didn’t regret enforcing the law.” Nielsen had been caught lying to Congress about the issue. She had said there was no official Trump Administration policy to separate parents from children but it later emerged she had signed a memo specifying the policy. According to Nielsen she resigned from her position at Homeland Security when it, “became clear that saying no” to the president’s demands “was not going to be enough.” Her appearance at the summit this week was so controversial that it prompted other high-profile women to cancel appearances in protest.
In international news, the New York Times is reporting on the fate of Islamic State prisoners being held in Northern Syria. On Wednesday the paper published a damning report on hundreds of children who were brought to the war zone by parents who joined ISIS and are now either incarcerated or dead. The roughly 150 children are aged 9 through 14 and are being held in crowded sunless cells. Their fate is increasingly unclear as Turkey and Russia agree to control the land previously controlled by US-backed Kurdish fighters. On Wednesday morning President Trump announced he was lifting US sanctions on Turkey and that the temporary ceasefire in Northern Syria would now be permanent. Although Turkey and Russia, who now control that swath of Syrian territory, have pummeled Kurdish fighters, Trump claimed without evidence that his policy would be saving Kurdish lives.
Defense Secretary Mark Esper has arrived in Baghdad as US troops leaving Northern Syria head to neighboring Iraq. The Iraqi government has refused to allow the troops to remain for the long haul saying they must leave within weeks. Iraq’s government has itself been struggling with quelling growing resistance among Iraqis. An inquiry launched to examine the government’s response to protests concluded that Iraqi forces had killed 149 people and wounded more than 3,000. A mass protest, possibly the biggest of the last few weeks, has been planned for this Friday.
Meanwhile in Tunisia, newly elected President Kais Saied was sworn in and promised to uphold the freedoms that so many Tunisians fought for starting several years ago as part of the “Arab Spring” pro-democracy movements. He said, “We will support women to gain more rights, especially economic and social rights…The dignity of a nation comes from the dignity of its citizens, men and women equally.” President Saied addressed people’s concerns over corruption saying, “there will be no tolerance in wasting any cent of the money of our people,” and said he would be a strong advocate for, “the Palestinian cause.”
And finally in Britain, embattled Prime Minister Boris Johnson won a vote in Parliament for preliminary approval of his Brexit deal with the European Union, only to lose a major vote 15 minutes later on specific legislation to enact his deal. According to the New York Times, “By blocking Mr. Johnson, Parliament has thrown the whole process into a legislative netherworld that could mean months of further delays to a process that the nation has long since wearied of and just wants to see end.”