Headlines: September 25, 2019
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The White House has released a rough transcript of a July 25th phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry over an intelligence whistleblower complaint. The transcript shows Trump clearly asking Mr. Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, who Trump presumably expects to face in the 2020 Presidential election. The President asked Ukraine’s leader to be in touch not only with Attorney General William Barr on the matter but also his own personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani had publicly boasted earlier this year that Ukraine was being asked to investigate Trump’s opponents and the transcript confirms that. A day earlier Trump was convinced that the transcript would absolve him, tweeting confidently, “You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call. No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo!”
Trump’s decision to release the rough transcript of his call with Zelensky came after the US Senate passed Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s non-binding resolution to make the contents of the whistleblower complaint available to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. In a surprise move, no Republican Senators objected to the passage of the resolution. The Washington Post reported that, “Several Senate Republicans were stunned Wednesday and questioned the White House’s judgment,” in releasing the transcript of the Ukraine phone call. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell met with top Republicans over lunch in a closed-door session to discuss responses to the developments.
It has now emerged that the Justice Department examined the whistleblower complaint and decided that no laws were broken. According to the New York Times, “The department’s criminal division reviewed the matters and concluded that there was no basis for a criminal investigation into Mr. Trump’s behavior. Law enforcement officials determined that the reconstructed transcript of the call did not show that Mr. Trump had violated campaign finance laws by soliciting from a foreign national a contribution, donation or thing of value.” House Judiciary Committee chair Jerrold Nadler has demanded that Attorney General William Barr recuse himself from any investigations that may result from Congressional scrutiny of the same issue.
Unfazed by how deeply he has been implicated in the Ukraine scandal is Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani, who decided to make an appearance on Fox News and continue to discuss the story. During his interview he said that he had been in contact with Ukrainian sources at the behest of the US State Department. Meanwhile Democrats had a completely different response calling the transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian President as equivalent to a “shake down.”
Less than 24 hours before the transcript was released House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a highly anticipated speech announcing an impeachment inquiry into Trump. Critics wondered what it meant for Pelosi to announce simply that the 6 committees investigating Trump would continue their investigations. CNN explained that in the past, “The two most recent presidential impeachments began with a vote in the full House. Pelosi has broken with this format.”
In other news, the man at the center of Trump’s scandal, Ukraine’s President Zelensky, addressed the United Nations at its New York headquarters on Tuesday, making no mention of his call with Trump. Instead he denounced inaction against Russian aggression at his border saying, “Nobody will feel safe while Russia is waging war against Ukraine in the center of Europe…The thought that this has nothing to do with you or will never touch your interests will be fatal.” Also at the UN, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan warned of a potential war with India over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to militarily lock down the state of Kashmir. Khan refused to meet with Modi and said, “Unfortunately India today is governed by a racist, a Hindu supremacist…They do not consider Muslims as equal citizens.” And on Syria UN officials made progress on a constitutional committee that the Syrian government and opposition forces had agreed to. A meeting organized by the European Union took place on the sidelines of the UN gathering and marked a step toward ending the years-long brutal conflict.
Also at the UN, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a devastating report on health of the world’s oceans and found that global warming has pushed them to the brink. Ms. K. Barrett, the Vice Chair of the IPCC summarized the report’s findings in a press conference. In other climate-related news, the 16-year old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has just won the Right Livlihood award for her work on the climate crisis. The Right Livlihood award is considered the alternative Nobel Prize. Thunberg was honored alongside Amazon indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa, a Chinese lawyer and women’s rights activist named Guo Jianmei and Western Sahara activist Aminatou Haidar.
Here in the US, a number of developments have taken place on the issue of e-cigarettes, coming under greater scrutiny than ever after a growing number of mysterious lung infections and deaths linked to “vaping.” The state of Massachusetts has just announced a public health emergency and temporarily banned e-cigarettes for 4 months. New York’s statewide ban on flavored tobacco used in e-cigarettes will go into effect next week. And public health officials in California are urging everyone to stop vaping immediately. Meanwhile Juul, the largest manufacturer of e-cigarettes is facing internal turmoil as its CEO steps down over the company’s aggressive marketing to teenagers. Studies conducted at Stanford University show how Juul exploited social media platforms to target teenagers to get hooked on vaping.
And finally in Britain, MPs returned to the House of Commons after the UK’s Supreme Court ruled that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s suspension of Parliament was unlawful. Mr. Johnson, returning early from the United Nations in New York, addressed angry MPs as the gathering devolved into recriminations from both sides of the aisle. Mr. Johnson is now facing a new scandal over the potential diverting of public money to an American woman he was allegedly having an affair with while he was Mayor of London.