By Robert A. Vella
The news roundup to close out this week includes congressional testimony by former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in the impeachment inquiry, criminal investigation of President Trump’s “personal lawyer” Rudy Giuliani, how Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. troops from northern Syria – which enabled Turkey to attack the Kurdish people – is damaging America’s relations with Israel, several court rulings against Trump’s anti-immigration policy, yet another purge of a Trump administration official, the ouster of a longtime Fox News anchor just days after Trump’s consigliere – err, I mean Attorney General – William Barr met secretly with Rupert Murdoch, a series of new progressive laws passed in California, and some climate-related news.
WASHINGTON—President Trump for more than a year had pressured the State Department to remove the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, the envoy told lawmakers in more than nine hours of closed-door testimony that Democrats demanded as part of their rapidly expanding impeachment inquiry.
Marie Yovanovitch, a career diplomat whom Mr. Trump recalled from her post in May, said in a statement that she had experienced what she called a “concerted campaign” against her.
She said she didn’t know why she was targeted by Trump allies outside the administration, including by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. But she drew a link to the two Giuliani associates who were arrested this week on campaign-finance charges in the U.S., saying she suspected the men stood to benefit financially by sidetracking an ambassador who had spoken out against corruption in Ukraine.
WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are investigating whether President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani broke lobbying laws in his dealings in Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the inquiry.
The investigators are examining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one of the people said. She was recalled in the spring as part of Mr. Trump’s broader campaign to pressure Ukraine into helping his political prospects.
The investigation into Mr. Giuliani is tied to the case against two of his associates who were arrested this week on campaign finance-related charges, the people familiar with the inquiry said. The associates were charged with funneling illegal contributions to a congressman whose help they sought in removing Ms. Yovanovitch.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of the two Florida businessmen who helped U.S. President Donald Trump’s personal attorney investigate his political rival, Democrat Joe Biden, also has been working for the legal team of a Ukrainian oligarch who faces bribery charges in the United States, according to attorneys for the businessmen and the oligarch.
Lev Parnas, one of the two associates of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, served as a translator for lawyers representing oligarch Dmytro Firtash. Parnas was arrested on Thursday along with the other Florida businessman, Igor Fruman, on unrelated charges that included illegally funneling $325,000 to a political action committee supporting pro-Trump candidates.
JERUSALEM —The abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria and subsequent Turkish attacks on Kurdish fighters have badly rattled Israel’s national security experts, who decried President Trump’s action as a betrayal of loyal allies and evidence that Israel’s most vital supporter is a fickle friend at best.
Israeli officials reportedly had no warning of the withdrawal, which the White House announced Sunday after a call between Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Other than expressing support for the Kurds, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said little publicly about Trump’s move, which came just as Israel was marking the anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. But Israeli media have been dominated by critics from all parts of Israel’s fractious political spectrum worried that American dependability is cracking at a volatile moment in the region.
President Trump’s immigration agenda ran into legal blockades in courts around the country on Friday as judges in four states barred his administration from trying to withhold green cards from people who use public benefits and rejected his plan to divert funds to erect a border wall.
In three rulings, federal judges in New York, California and Washington State issued injunctions temporarily blocking the “public charge” rule, which would impose serious impediments to legal residency for those who use benefits such as Medicaid or those deemed likely to use them in the future.
The rule, widely seen as an attempt to keep out immigrants who are poor or in need of help, was one of the Trump administration’s signature immigration policies — and it ran into a legal brick wall in three corners of the country on a single day.
Another federal judge ruled against President Donald Trump’s unorthodox plan to use billions of dollars in federal funds to extend the wall on the Mexican border, despite Congress’ refusal to appropriate money for that purpose.
El Paso, Texas-based U.S. District Court Judge David Briones’ Friday decision not only rejected the funding scheme, but went further than past rulings by specifically declaring “unlawful” an emergency proclamation Trump issued in February seeking to unlock money to fulfill one of his key campaign promises.
Briones said Congress made clear in a January budget measure ending a partial government shutdown that border wall funding was being denied, beyond $1.3 billion for upgrades of existing barriers.
President Trump said late Friday that he was replacing Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, after a tenure in which McAleenan reduced border crossings but clashed with other senior immigration officials and struggled to earn the trust of the president.
McAleenan had been frustrated with a cadre of Trump’s appointments to senior immigration roles and recently told The Washington Post that he was struggling to control his department. More hard-line figures have attacked him as insufficiently committed to the president’s immigration agenda, while critics of those policies argue he has used conciliatory rhetoric to lend cover to harsh measures.
Trump in turn had questioned whether McAleenan was loyal to him.
Smith first joined Fox News in 1996 as one of its original hires, covering major breaking stories for the past two decades.
During the past few years, the anchor has repeatedly drawn the ire of President Trump after pushing back on various remarks from the president.
The president most recently criticized Smith in a tweet on Thursday while knocking a Fox News poll that showed growing support for his impeachment and removal from office.
Smith has also been at odds with some members of the opinion side of Fox News in recent weeks, most notably its 8 p.m. ET host Tucker Carlson.
SACRAMENTO — California will expand its landmark gun violence restraining order law, allowing co-workers and employers to ask a judge to take away someone’s firearms and extending the maximum length of the bans.
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed four bills Friday to bolster the restraining order program, which now allows police, immediate family members and roommates to request that a judge temporarily confiscate firearms and ammunition from people they believe pose a danger to themselves or others.
The measure restricting purchases, SB 61, prohibiting Californians from buying more than one semi-automatic rifle per month was one of three gun bills by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, D–La Cañada Flintridge. It also bans the sale of semi-automatic centerfire rifles to people under the age of 21, removing a provision of the law that allowed younger people to buy such guns if they have a hunting license.
California is cutting ties with the for-profit detainment sector. Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill Friday that will ban all new contracts and contract renewals with for-profit, private prisons starting January 1.
California is the first state to enact a bill banning prisons of this nature, which also includes civil and immigration detention centers. Under the legislation, all existing contracts with for-profit, private prisons and detention centers will be phased out by 2028.
Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill into law on Friday that makes California the first state in the U.S. to require public universities to offer medication abortion at on-campus student health centers.
The new law requires that “each student health care services clinic on a California State University or University of California campus to offer abortion by medication techniques.” The 34 University of California and California State University schools have until January 2023 to comply.
Eight months into the 18 month-long pilot project, which is being funded by a $1 million grant from the Economic Security Project, a network promoting UBI, along with other private funders – the first set of preliminary results has been released.
Of the 125 people taking part, 43% are working, 20% have disabilities and are not employed, and 11% care for children or elderly relatives. Fewer than 2% are unemployed.
Their $500 monthly stipend is loaded onto debit cards, which makes is possible for researchers to track how the money was spent. Researchers found that the biggest slice of the payouts (40%) was for food, 24% was spent on merchandise, including at places like Walmart and dollar stores, nearly 12% on utility bills and 9% on car-related expenses, such as fuel and repairs. Other money went toward insurance, medical expenses and recreation.
The Marshall Islands, a low-lying chain of atolls and key U.S. ally in the Central Pacific, has declared a national climate crisis because of the mounting risk of sea-level rise, the nation’s president announced this week.
The nation’s parliament, the Nitijela, overwhelmingly supported a measure that calls upon the international community to step up its efforts to mitigate global warming and provide aid to nations unable to finance safeguards against rising seas.
LOS ANGELES – A wildfire whipped by the treacherous Santa Ana winds jumped two freeways northwest of Los Angeles overnight Friday, consuming more than 11 square miles, damaging at least 31 homes and forcing the evacuation of more than 100,000 people, authorities said.
A red flag warning was in effect in Southern California through Saturday evening, with winds expected to reach as high as 60 mph and some gusts hitting 70 mph in the mountains. Red flag warnings are issued when warm temperatures, very low humidities, and stronger winds are expected to combine to produce an increased risk of fire danger.
The two fires burned as power was restored to most of the nearly 2 million residents in the northern part of the state who lost electricity after Pacific Gas & Electric Co. switched it off Wednesday to prevent a repeat of the past two years when its equipment sparked deadly, destructive wildfires during windy weather.