Headlines: October 29, 2019
Listen to story:
Download: mp3 (Duration: 8:19 — 7.6MB)
Lieutenant Colonel Alexander S. Vindman, a top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council gave his deposition to House committees overseeing the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday. Vindman’s testimony was just as devastating as that of Acting Ukraine Ambassador William Taylor and confirmed Taylor’s assertion that President Donald Trump was withholding military aid from Ukraine in exchange for politically damaging information on his election opponent. Vindman became the first witness to the incriminating July phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s leader to testify to the House, saying he raised alarms twice about the President’s behavior. In his opening statement obtained by the press, Vindman said, referring to the US’s European Union Ambassador, “Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma. I stated to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate, that the request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the NSC was going to get involved in or push.” He added, “I was concerned by the call. I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen… This would all undermine U.S. national security.” Meanwhile, Fox News, President Trump’s favorite media outlet, has already jumped on the fact that Vindman is a Ukrainian born immigrant and has begun smearing him in an effort to defend the President.
In related news, House committees are requesting a deposition from a man named Robert Blair, an aide to White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who has emerged as one of the key figures in the Ukraine scandal. Like Mr. Vindman, Blair was on the July phone call between Trump and Zelensky. And, Charles Kupperman, another witness called by House committees, has asked a court to decide whether he is required to testify or not. Kupperman is the former Deputy National Security Adviser and was also on the Ukraine call. He failed to show up for a House hearing on Monday and a federal judge has now called him to court on Thursday alongside lawyers for the Trump administration and House committees. Meanwhile, Democrats plan to cement their procedures legislatively rather than fight refusals to testify in court. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the first vote would be held this Thursday to pass procedures to start public testimonies. According to the New York Times, “That vote would establish rules for the public presentation of evidence and outline due process rights for Mr. Trump.” But Republicans, who have vociferously denounced the secrecy of the hearings are now reportedly shifting their strategy to defending the President on the merits of the impeachment case rather than process.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have asked Attorney General William Barr to recuse himself from Ukraine-related investigations in the Justice Department. Barr, who is also implicated in the Ukraine scandal has faced accusations of turning the Justice Department into Trump’s political tool. Barr has refused to recuse himself and insisted that he is acting on behalf of the country rather than the President.
President Trump was met by mass protests during his Monday visit to Chicago. Thousands of people marched and rallied, including in front of the city’s Trump Tower. It was Trump’s first visit as President, to a city he has repeatedly denigrated as a haven for crime. He addressed the Conference of Police Chiefs and slammed Chicago Police Chief Eddie Johnson. Trump also promised to crack down on crime saying there would be a “surge” in police officers, using the same terminology used to describe increased troop deployments in war zones. Chicago Police chief Johnson slammed back at Trump saying that the President was making up facts about a mythical police officer who claimed to be able to solve Chicago’s problems in a day.
In other news, General Motors, Toyota, and Fiat Chrysler have decided to break ranks with other automakers on emissions standards by siding with the Trump Administration. Trump has challenged the state of California over its forward-thinking standard to reduce climate-change-fueling-emissions. Honda, Ford, and other companies have remained aligned with California on retaining stricter standards. Meanwhile, GM, which was just the target of a lengthy strike by autoworkers announced a nearly $3 billion loss as a result of the UAW’s 40-day action.
The Washington Post reported on a secret audio recording of business leaders from the Payday industry discussing campaign donations to Trump’s reelection efforts in order to win weaker regulations. Michael Hodges, founder of Advance Financial, which is a top company in the predatory lending business, was caught clearly stating how donors to Trump could access the President’s ear. Meanwhile the Center for Responsive Politics has analyzed Trump’s federal election spending records and determined that since 2016, $16.8 million worth of donations to his political campaign has been directly spent at Trump properties, which of course personally benefit the President.
Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg testified to Congress on Tuesday about what executives knew about a faulty steering system called MCAS which played a role in two major plane crashes that led to the deaths of 345 people. Muilenburg admitted that he “unknowingly lied” to Congress at an earlier hearing.
In international news, mass protests continue in Chile over austerity measures even after embattled President Sebastián Piñera replaced 8 cabinet members to assuage the public. According to Associated Press, “Thousands of protesters crowded again into central Santiago, and one group set fire to a building that houses a fast-food restaurant and stores. Firefighters were battling the blaze.” One protester said, “A new Cabinet isn’t enough, we need real changes in health care, education, pensions.”
In the Middle East, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has announced he and his cabinet are stepping down after two weeks of mass protests that brought the entire country to a standstill. Mr. Hariri in a televised address on Tuesday said, “I’m at a dead end…Jobs come and go, but what’s important is the country…No one’s bigger than the nation.” Still, Hariri’s departure is unlikely to appease protesters who are demanding a completely clean government slate.
And finally in Iraq masked armed men attacked protesters in the city of Karbala killing at least 18 people and injuring hundreds of others. The Washington Post explained that, “The overnight attack came as Iraqis took to the streets for a fifth straight day after a hiatus in the demonstrations that began earlier this month to protest government corruption, a lack of jobs and municipal services and other grievances. The earlier protests also saw violence against protesters, and a total of 240 people have been killed since the unrest began.”