Headlines: October 9, 2019
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White House Counsel Pat Cipollone sent an 8-page letter to the Democratic leaders of House committees who are pursuing an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. The letter calls the inquiry “unconstitutional,” despite the fact that the US Constitution clearly lays out that the power of introducing articles of Impeachment lies with the House of Representatives. The letter also states that the White House will simply not cooperate, saying, “Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it.” Trump, through the letter, accused Democrats of seeking, “to overturn the results of the 2016 election.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded in a statement saying, “The White House letter is only the latest attempt to cover up his betrayal of our democracy, and to insist that the President is above the law. The letter is manifestly wrong, and is simply another unlawful attempt to hide the facts of the Trump Administration’s brazen efforts to pressure foreign powers to intervene in the 2020 elections.” House leaders had already put Trump on notice saying that a refusal to comply with the inquiry would amount to obstruction. Representative Raja Krishnamurthy of Illinois who sits on the House Intelligence Committee said this on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow show. Multiple analysts and media pundits are now declaring we are in a state of constitutional crisis.
The Trump administration has specifically blocked the testimony of Gordon Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union and former hotelier. Wisconsin’s Democratic Representative Mark Pocan has now suggested that Congress withhold State Secretary Mike Pompeo’s salary until Sondland is allowed to testify. Meanwhile top Republican Senator and ardent Trump fan Lindsey Graham has said that he found nothing in Trump’s controversial phone call to Ukraine’s President to be “impeachable.” Graham is apparently gathering signatures for a letter to Pelosi that will say, “We do not believe the transcript of the phone call between the president and the Ukraine is an impeachable offense.” While Graham apparently supports the White House decision to prevent Sondland from testifying, he has expressed interest in Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani testifying to the Senate Judiciary Committee which he heads. Giuliani is deeply implicated in the scandal involving Ukraine and has indicated he too will defy House Committee subpoenas.
House Democrats are also demanding access to grand jury evidence gathered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in its investigation into the 2016 election. The Trump Justice Department has blocked access to the material and earlier this week a federal judge expressed shock that the DOJ questioned legal precedent in the similar case around Richard Nixon’s 1974 impeachment. Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell denounced several of the Trump administration’s positions as “extreme,” and said that it was, “taking extraordinary positions in this case.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee this week released its report on Russian efforts to thwart the 2016 election and came to an unsurprising conclusion – that an online disinformation campaign originating from the Russian government-affiliated Internet Research Agency overwhelmingly favored Trump over Hillary Clinton. The report specifically said, “The Committee found that the IRA sought to influence the 2016 US presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton’s chances of success and supporting Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin.” African Americans were the demographic most strongly targeted and the report confirmed that, “By far, race and related issues were the preferred target of the information warfare campaign designed to divide the country in 2016.” Senators on the committee warned that Russia would continue such efforts.
In other news the Trump administration is considering loosening the already-modest laws on offshore tax havens for corporations. Bloomberg reports that “Treasury Department officials are considering rolling back a tax rule aimed at preventing American companies from moving money offshore to avoid U.S. taxes.” Additionally the outlet reports, “The move could make it easier for companies to use accounting tactics to minimize their U.S. earnings and inflate their foreign profits, which are frequently taxed at rates lower than the current 21% domestic corporate levy.” Meanwhile a new report from the University of California at Berkeley has arrived at the shocking conclusion that, “for the first time in history, America’s richest billionaires paid a lower effective tax rate than the working class.” According to the Washington Post, study’s authors show that, “in 2018 the average effective tax rate paid by the richest 400 families in the country was 23 percent, a full percentage point lower than the 24.2 percent rate paid by the bottom half of American households.” The study has been published in the form of a book called “The Triumph of Injustice: How the Rich Dodge Taxes and How to Make Them Pay.” Among the wealthy elites that have benefitted from lower tax rates is the President’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who was found to have made $4 million from her stake in the Trump hotel in Washington DC as per new White House disclosures. In fact the entire Trump family minted more than $40 million from that hotel alone.
In international news, Turkey has begun an expected attack on Northern Syria aimed at the Kurdish controlled autonomous region. Kurdish forces had been considered US allies until 3 days ago when President Trump abruptly announced the withdrawal of US forces from the region after a phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan has not wasted any time as reports emerged on Wednesday morning of fighter jets dropping bombs on the region. Numerous state officials from Egypt to Germany condemned Turkey’s actions. The NATO Secretary General warned that air strikes would, “further destabilize the region” Trump reacted to the criticism that his actions unleashed Turkey by defensively tweeting in all caps, “GOING INTO THE MIDDLE EAST IS THE WORST DECISION EVER MADE IN THE HISTORY OF OUR COUNTRY!” Trump is facing the wrath of some of his closest allies in Congress with Senators Lindsey Graham, Liz Cheney, and Marco Rubio denouncing his decision as “sickening,” “a disaster in the making,” and, “a terrible mistake.”
Trump has not applied his distaste for “endless” US wars to the longest official war in US history – Afghanistan. October 7th marked the 18th anniversary of the war and on Wednesday the United Nations reported that US airstrikes against Taliban targets had instead killed 30 Afghan civilians. The US has denied the killings saying that all the victims were members of the Taliban.
And finally in Ecuador, the government of Lenin Moreno has been so crippled by a week-long protest against the end of fuel subsidies that it has announced it will leave the capital Quito. The dramatic news came late on Tuesday when more than 50 military officials were rescued from protesters who were apparently holding them hostage. Indigenous groups have been leading the protests that are now in their 6th day. There have been nearly 500 arrests. During a televised address President Moreno implied there were outside forces fomenting the protests saying, “These incidents of vandalism and violence demonstrate there is some organized political intention to destabilize the government and break constitutional law, break democratic order.” Moreno and several of his Latin American allies are accusing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of sparking the angry protests. A statement signed by 7 nations – Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala and Paraguay – said they offered, “firm backing for actions taken by President Lenin Moreno,” and that they, “reject any action aimed at destabilizing our democracies by the regime of Nicolas Maduro.” So far there appears to be no evidence to support claims of Maduro’s interference.