Headlines: October 31, 2019
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The House moved to pass an impeachment resolution on Thursday morning along almost strictly partisan lines with 231 Democrats voting for it, and 194 Republicans against. No Republicans voted for the resolution but two Democrats, Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey voted no. Independent Justin Amash who left the Republican Party voted alongside Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who spearheaded the effort prefaced the vote announcing the impeachment resolution that passed. Among the things that the resolution requires is the public release of transcripts of witness testimonies to the House Intelligence Committee.
On the same day that the impeachment resolution passed, former White House National Security Advisor Tim Morrison testified to House Committees. Morrison was the top Russia and Europe expert and a senior member of the NSC and announced his resignation on the eve of his testimony after the White House directed him to defy the House request to testify. According to CNN, Morrison is, “expected to corroborate key elements of a top US diplomat’s account that Trump pressed for Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, using military aid.” The diplomat in question is Acting Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor. Meanwhile John Bolton, Trump’s former National Security Advisor has also been requested to give testimony next week. But Bolton says he would not appear without a subpoena.
Meanwhile the Washington Post reported on Wednesday that a White House lawyer moved to restrict access to the infamous phone call transcript between Trump and Ukraine’s president to a secret server after concerns were raised. Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who is the top Ukraine adviser at the White House and who had testified to House Committees earlier this week apparently raised alarms about Trump’s attempts at extortion to White House lawyer John Eisenberg. Eisenberg’s response was to move the call records to a secret server.
In the Senate, where an impeachment trial would take place, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has cemented his loyalty to Trump ensuring that Trump’s Presidency would remain safe under his watch. But McConnell has apparently quietly told Trump to stop attacking senators who are critical of him or who remain on the fence regarding impeachment. Trump appears to be moving toward using a carrot rather than a stick to rally Republican Senators with reports of fundraising support for his loyalists. According to Politico, “Trump is tapping his vast fundraising network for a handful of loyal senators facing tough reelection bids in 2020. Each of them has signed onto a Republican-backed resolution condemning the inquiry as ‘unprecedented and undemocratic.’”
In other news, the Pentagon has released photos and videos of the raid in Northern Syria that led to the suicide of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. Gen. Kenneth “Frank” McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command described the raid as it happened. According to Associated Press, “Although the raid was successful, McKenzie said it would be a mistake to conclude that the Islamic State has been defeated.” Meanwhile the Islamic State released an audio recording announcing its new leader Ibrahim al-Hashimi and warned Americans, “Don’t rejoice.”
A bipartisan group called Issue One, has sent an open letter to US Senators urging them to take action on election interference. The letter, signed by nearly 100 former members of Congress and other officials says, “China, Iran, Russia, and nonstate actors are utilizing every means possible to manipulate our elections and undermine the faith Americans have in our democracy. These efforts pose severe threats to our national security.” They urge the Senate to pass a number of bills strengthening the US’s election security including the Honest Ads Act which tackles Facebook’s practice of profiting off of political ads containing false claims. Meanwhile filmmaker Aaron Sorkin who made the 2010 film The Social Network about Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times challenging Zuckerberg on the false ad. Sorkin writes, “right now, on your website, is an ad claiming that Joe Biden gave the Ukrainian attorney general a billion dollars not to investigate his son. Every square inch of that is a lie and it’s under your logo. That’s not defending free speech, Mark, that’s assaulting truth.” A day earlier the social media platform Twitter announced it was banning all political ads worldwide. Twitter Founder Jack Dorsey explained that, “political message reach should be earned, not bought.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Wednesday for Lawrence VanDyke – a Trump appointee – to the US 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. But Mr. VanDyke is apparently so unqualified for the post that the American Bar Association wrote a scathing letter denouncing him as, “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice.” More importantly the letter asserted that VanDyke, “would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community.” When confronted by this part of the letter VanDyke broke down in tears.
Fires continued to burn around California with two new fires being sparked as of Thursday morning in the southern part of the state. The “Hillside” fire in San Bernardino spread quickly to hundreds of acres fed by gusts of winds and burned at least 6 homes, forcing about 1,300 people to be evacuated. The National Weather Service announced that extreme fire threats would remain in effect until 6 pm Thursday.
And finally Human Rights Watch released a major new report on Thursday exposing atrocities in Afghanistan at the hands of US CIA backed forces. The report, titled, “They’ve Shot Many Like This’: Abusive Night Raids by CIA-Backed Afghan Strike Forces,” details how, “These troops include Afghan strike forces who have been responsible for extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, indiscriminate airstrikes, attacks on medical facilities, and other violations of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war.” The organization said, “The US should work with the Afghan government to immediately disband and disarm all paramilitary forces that operate outside the ordinary military chain of command and cooperate with independent investigations of all allegations of war crimes and other human rights abuses.”