Headlines: October 30, 2019
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The House Impeachment inquiry continued on Wednesday with two mid-level State Department officials giving depositions to Congressional committees. Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson reportedly testified about the negative view that President Donald Trump and some members of his cabinet had of Ukraine – in contrast to the traditional foreign policy perspective of seeing Ukraine as an ally and a useful bulwark to Russian expansionism. That negative view of Ukraine has apparently been fueled by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. Mr. Anderson in particular testified about how the White House stopped the State Department from issuing a condemnation of a Russian attack against Ukrainian naval vessels. Ms. Croft’s testimony bolstered Anderson’s. In her written remarks she said that as early as 2017, “I heard — directly and indirectly — President Trump describe Ukraine as a corrupt country.”
Meanwhile, more details have emerged from Tuesday’s testimony of the top Ukraine Expert on the National Security Council Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman. Vindman told House committee members that on multiple occasions he attempted to correct the rough transcript of President Trump’s now-famous July 25th phone call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Vindman was one of the people listening in on the call and while some of his corrections were made, some were not. According to the New York Times, “The omissions, Colonel Vindman said, included Mr. Trump’s assertion that there were recordings of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. discussing Ukraine corruption, and an explicit mention by Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, of Burisma Holdings, the energy company whose board employed Mr. Biden’s son Hunter.” Also emerging from Vindman’s deposition was the story of how two critical meetings on Ukraine took place at the White House on July 10th where former National Security Advisor John Bolton expressed concern about Trump’s desire to use the US-Ukraine relationship for personal political gain. Bolton was apparently fiercely opposed to this.
House Democrats on Tuesday unveiled the text of their impeachment-related resolution which will face a vote on Thursday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi explained that the resolution was intended, “to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives.” The resolution also explains how the House Intelligence Committee expects to hold public impeachment hearings and how the House Judiciary Committee could send articles of impeachment to the full House. Meanwhile, Republicans are fighting the impeachment relentlessly and have now aimed their focus on unveiling the originator of the complaint that led to the impeachment inquiry. But Democrats argued that public testimony from the original whistleblower was unnecessary as his claims had already been confirmed by several other witnesses. Democratic representative Eric Swalwell said, “We have a long-standing concern that the president and his allies in Congress aren’t interested in the underlying act but are interested in risking the life of the whistleblower.” And, a federal appeals court has just put on hold the recent decision by a judge requiring the Justice Department to turn over all grand jury evidentiary materials from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to House committees.
In other news the Federal Reserve on Wednesday was expected to cut interest rates once more. It will be the third, and apparently final time, this year. The news comes as reports show economic growth as having slowed down. Gross Domestic Product in the third quarter of this year grew by 1.9%, down from 2% previously.
High winds in California that are reaching above hurricane levels are expected to further fuel the wildfires plaguing the area. A new fire in the Simi Valley near Ventura in Southern California grew in the early hours of Wednesday morning, threatening thousands of homes and requiring mandatory evacuations. Meanwhile in other climate-change-related news, scientists have revised their estimates of how many people would be impacted by rising sea levels and the figures are terribly grim. An estimated 110 million people in low-lying coastal areas would be impacted by the year 2050. The figure could be as high as 340 million. And, former US State Department Secretary who used to be CEO of Exxon Mobil, defended his former private employer in a New York court. Rex Tillerson testified in a case brought by the state of New York about how much Exxon Mobil knew about the dangers of climate change years ago and whether it deceived its shareholders. Tillerson says he did nothing wrong as CEO of Exxon. According to AP, “The lawsuit claims Exxon essentially kept two sets of books — telling the public that it was taking into account the costs of potential future climate regulations, while underestimating those costs behind the scenes as it made investment decisions and assessed the value of its oil and gas reserves.”
In immigration news, Acting commissioner of Customs and Border Patrol Mark Morgan appealed to lawmakers to pass the Trump administration’s harsh proposed anti-immigrant laws. Morgan said that 970,000 people had been apprehended at the border over the past year, which was more than double the total from the year before. Morgan made his announcement during a press conference at the border where he emphasized that Trump’s policies have reduced border crossings. Meanwhile the White House is reportedly looking to exploit a legal loophole to confirm Ken Cucinelli as Acting Homeland Security Secretary without the Senate’s approval. CPB’s acting head Mark Morgan is also being considered for the post which has seen incredibly high turnover during Trump’s Presidency.
And the House just passed a resolution recognizing Turkey’s mass killing of Armenians at the beginning of the 20th century as a “genocide.” The vote was held on Turkey’s national day and passed by an overwhelming 405 to 11. The resolution was taken up by the full House for the first time in decades. Although it needs to be voted on by the Senate next there is currently no vote scheduled. President Trump has cozied up to Turkey in recent months. Turkish president Erdogan dismissed the House vote as “worthless.”
Saudi Arabia is hosting its glitzy pro-business gathering dubbed Davos in the Desert. Davos is the Swiss location for the yearly World Economic Forum. Last year, in light of the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Al Khashoggi, the forum was widely boycotted. But this year attendees appear to have no compunction. Among the US delegates attending the Saudi forum are White House advisor Jared Kushner, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Also attending is Brazil’s right wing president Jair Bolsonaro who launched a fierce defense of his controversial rule. Bolsonaro praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman whose close associates murdered Khashoggi, and US President Trump. He dismissed criticism of his rule as “fake news.”
Finally in Britain’s latest Brexit-themed chapter there is now a formal consensus that there will be a general election on December 12. And, a think tank has just estimated that the cost to Britain’s economy of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal would be almost $100 billion.