By Robert A. Vella
Amid the rising death toll and refugee crisis caused by Turkey’s military invasion of northern Syria against the Kurdish people, today’s focus is on the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives with new developments and testimonies, President Trump’s “personal lawyer” Rudy Giuliani who appears to be getting into serious legal trouble, and Trump himself whose torrent of self-inflicted wounds is turning his presidency into a rotting political corpse.
WASHINGTON—The White House gave a politically appointed official the authority to keep aid to Ukraine on hold after career budget staff members questioned the legality of delaying the funds, according to people familiar with the matter, a shift that House Democrats are probing in their impeachment inquiry.
President Trump’s order to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in mid-July is at the center of House Democratic efforts to investigate allegations that Mr. Trump used U.S. foreign policy powers to benefit himself politically. The hold came days before Mr. Trump’s request, on a July 25 call, that the Ukrainian president work with Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr to conduct investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic presidential hopeful.
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, will testify to House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, defying the State Department’s direction not to cooperate.
“Notwithstanding the State Department’s current direction to not testify, Ambassador Sondland will honor the Committees’ subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying on Thursday,” Sondland’s attorneys, Robert Luskin and Kwame Manley, said in a statement.
Sondland’s joint deposition before the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees is scheduled for Oct. 17. Axios was first to report that Sondland would appear next week.
WASHINGTON — Fiona Hill, who was until recently President Donald Trump’s top aide on Russia and Europe, plans to tell Congress that Rudy Giuliani and E.U. ambassador Gordon Sondland circumvented the National Security Council and the normal White House process to pursue a shadow policy on Ukraine, a person familiar with her expected testimony told NBC News.
Hill’s appearance next week before Congress has stoked fear among people close to the president, said a former senior White House official, given her central role overseeing Russia and Ukraine policy throughout most of the Trump administration.
Her plans to testify also pose a key test for whether congressional committees pursuing an impeachment inquiry can obtain testimony from other former officials who have left the administration, given the possibility that the White House may try to assert executive privilege to stop them from testifying.
From: The Mystery of Rudy Giuliani’s Vienna Trip by Elaina Plott of The Atlantic
Last night, when Rudy Giuliani told me he couldn’t get together for an interview, his reason made sense: As with many nights of late, he was due to appear on Hannity. When I suggested this evening instead, his response was a bit more curious. We would have to aim for lunch, Giuliani told me, because he was planning to fly to Vienna, Austria, at night. He didn’t offer any details beyond that.
Giuliani called me at 6:22 p.m. last night—around the same time that two of his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested at Dulles Airport while waiting to board an international flight with one-way tickets. As The Wall Street Journal reported this afternoon, the two men were bound for Vienna. The Florida businessmen, who are reported to have assisted Giuliani in his alleged efforts to investigate Joe Biden and his family ahead of the 2020 election, were charged with campaign-finance violations, with prosecutors alleging that they had conspired to funnel money from a Russian donor into Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
During a contentious Oval Office meeting with President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in 2017, Rudolph W. Giuliani pressed for help in securing the release of a jailed client, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, as part of a potential prisoner swap with Turkey.
The request by Mr. Giuliani provoked an immediate objection from Mr. Tillerson, who argued that it would be highly inappropriate to interfere in an open criminal case, according to two people briefed on the meeting.
The gold trader, Reza Zarrab, had been accused by federal prosecutors of playing a central role in an effort by a state-owned Turkish bank to funnel more than $10 billion worth of gold and cash to Iran, in defiance of United States sanctions designed to curb Iran’s nuclear program.
What is this “bank case”? It appears to be a reference to a criminal case in the United States focused on a man named Reza Zarrab. Zarrab was at the center of an effort to help Iran evade international sanctions by masking money transfers into the country as sales of gold. After being arrested in the United States in 2016, Zarrab agreed to work with prosecutors, providing testimony against an official from a Turkish state bank, Halkbank. That official was found guilty in January 2018.
In late 2017, Zarrab also directly implicated Erdogan, suggesting that the then-prime minister had approved the scheme. Shortly after Zarrab was arrested, Erdogan pressured the Obama administration to release him — and to fire the U.S. attorney who brought charges against Zarrab, Preet Bharara. Trump fired Bharara in March 2017.
The corruption case surrounding Zarrab prompted a dramatic split between Erdogan and a cleric named Fethullah Gulen, who had been an Erdogan ally. Gulen was blamed for playing a leading role in the probe that brought the sanctions-evasion scheme to light and was eventually blamed for a 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan. By then, Gulen had left Turkey and was living in a compound in Pennsylvania.
President Trump has come under increasing pressure, from within and outside his administration, to take action in response to Turkey’s escalating offensive and reports of significant casualties in northern Syria, amid apparent differences of opinion about what should be done.
Separately, a senior Trump adviser described the president as indecisive and said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney had warned him that he was getting “boxed into a complete corner” by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. People discussing the sensitive situation did so on the condition of anonymity.
At the United Nations Security Council, both the United States and Russia, for different reasons, refused to approve a European-proposed resolution condemning Turkey’s action. Russia, whose air power has been decisive in helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad all but vanquish opposition rebels, has formed a close relationship with Turkey.
The subpoena was issued earlier this year to Trump’s accountants at Mazars USA by the House Committee on Oversight and Reform for his tax returns.
A federal judge in Manhattan had denied Trump’s effort to block the subpoena.
Trump then appealed that ruling to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
That appeals court, in a 2-1 decision, upheld the lower court’s ruling on Friday.
Trump could seek to challenge that decision by asking the full set of judges in the 2nd Circuit to re-hear the case. Or he could ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take his appeal.
Attorney General William P. Barr met privately Wednesday evening with Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who is one of President Trump’s frequent confidants but whose Fox News is viewed by the president as more hostile toward him than it used to be.
The meeting was held at Mr. Murdoch’s home in New York, according to someone familiar with it. It was unclear if anyone else attended or what was discussed. Aides to both Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Barr declined requests for comment on the meeting.
A letter sent Thursday from the chair of the House Science Committee to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reveals that it was the Commerce Department, not the leadership of its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that drafted a controversial NOAA statement on Sept. 6 that backed President Trump’s false statement about the path of Hurricane Dorian. That statement contradicted NOAA’s own meteorologists at a weather forecast office in Birmingham, Ala.
Michael Pillsbury, one of President Trump’s China advisers, publicly contradicted himself on whether he had received information on Hunter Biden during a visit to Beijing shortly after Trump called on China to investigate the son of former vice president Joe Biden.
Oct. 10–WASHINGTON — Nearly 600 former Environmental Protection Agency officials have called for an investigation into the Trump administration in response to threats from the EPA targeting California.
In a letter to the House committees on Oversight and Government Reform and Energy and Commerce, 593 signatories asked for a probe to determine whether EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler’s “recent actions in California were intended as retaliation for the state’s failure to support President Trump’s political agenda.”