By Robert A. Vella
After yesterday’s damning congressional testimony by U.S. ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, the news today is going to get even more intriguing with two more important developments which are transpiring as I write this. The first is testimony in the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry by Department of Defense official Laura Cooper. The second is an imminent decision by a federal appellate court panel regarding the release of Donald Trump’s tax returns; however, the pending ruling could have far greater consequences than just that particular issue. The reason is because Trump has argued in the case that as President of the U.S. he should be completely immune from any criminal investigation or prosecution. In other words, he is asking the court to declare that he is above the law in all circumstances!
There’s lots to cover today, so let’s get right to it. I’ve split the following links into two categories, domestic news and international news. Pay close attention to the Rudy Giuliani story involving a fugitive Ukrainian oligarch with ties to Russia, and the story detailing how the geopolitics of the Middle East is rapidly and dramatically changing in the wake of Trump’s withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Syria.
A lawyer for President Donald Trump on Wednesday argued to a federal appeals court that a subpoena for information to Trump’s accountants — including a demand for his personal and corporate tax returns — issued by a grand jury at the behest of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is “an inappropriate fishing expedition.”
The lawyer, William Consovoy, under questioning by a three-judge panel at the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan, said, “We are objecting to the entire subpoena.”
Consovoy argued during 50-minute-long hearing that Trump cannot be criminally investigated by any law enforcement organization while in office, which is a much broader claim than previous statements in internal Justice Department memos that a sitting president cannot be criminally charged by a federal prosecutor while still in office.
NEW YORK (AP) — Three judges on a federal appeals panel appeared inclined Wednesday to reject arguments that President Donald Trump’s tax returns can’t be given to a state grand jury, with Trump’s lawyers suggesting that local authorities should even let the president get away with shooting someone.
WASHINGTON – Defense Department official Laura Cooper is scheduled to testify Wednesday in the House impeachment inquiry about the U.S. withholding military aid from Ukraine while President Donald Trump sought the investigation of his political rival.
Cooper, who serves as the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, was set to appear behind closed doors before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight and Reform committees. Her testimony had been scheduled for Friday, but was moved to Wednesday.
House Democrats threatened Republican lawyers with rarely used ethics violations for trying to enter closed-door impeachment proceedings.
The threat came after Republican members of the House Armed Services Committee were ejected from the room after entering without authorization.
They wanted access, arguing the witness, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper, is under the Armed Services panel’s jurisdiction.
In testimony to impeachment investigators delivered in defiance of State Department orders, the diplomat, William B. Taylor Jr., sketched out in remarkable detail a quid pro quo pressure campaign on Ukraine that Mr. Trump and his allies have long denied. He said the president sought to condition the entire United States relationship with Ukraine — including a $391 million aid package whose delay put Ukrainian lives in danger — on a promise that the country would publicly investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his family, along with other Democrats, in an effort to incriminate his adversaries.
His account implicated Mr. Trump personally in the effort, citing multiple sources inside the government. Those include a budget official who said during a secure National Security Council conference call in July that she had been instructed not to approve the security assistance for Ukraine, and that, Mr. Taylor said, “the directive had come from the president.”
President Donald Trump claimed earlier this month that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told him that his phone call with the Ukrainian president was “the most innocent phone call that I’ve ever read.”
But McConnell said Tuesday he’s never had a conversation about the phone call with the president.
“We’ve not had any conversations on that subject,” McConnell told reporters about the transcript of the call between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Trump.
Two Rudy Giuliani associates scored a rare meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr earlier this year after joining the legal team of a Ukrainian oligarch facing extradition to the United States.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday on Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova’s unusual meeting with the attorney general, citing three unnamed people familiar with the meeting. The Post reported that, in the meeting, Toensing and diGenova argued against the bribery charges that the oligarch is facing in the Northern District of Illinois for years.
The oligarch, Dmitry Firtash, has fought a lengthy battle against extradition to the United States in various courts in Austria, where he was arrested in 2014.
Barr “declined to intercede” in Firtash’s case, in the Post’s words. A Justice Department spokesperson told the Post that the Firtash case “has the support of the department leadership” and that “we continue to work closely with the Austrian Ministry of Justice to extradite Mr. Firtash.”
A California financier and donor to Trump’s inauguration agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of falsifying records to hide his work as foreign agent when lobbying “high-level U.S. government officials,” the Justice Department said in a release Tuesday.
Imaad Shah Zuberi, 49, used millions of dollars from clients intending to influence the American government for his personal use. Zuberi also agreed he would plead guilty to charges of tax evasion and making nearly $1 million in illegal campaign contributions, according to the release. He faces a maximum of 15 years in federal prison.
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Support for impeaching U.S. President Donald Trump surged among political independents and rose by 3 three percentage points overall since last week, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Tuesday.
Support for impeachment was relatively steady among Republicans and Democrats over the past week but it surged among independents, a group that includes people who neither identify as Democrats nor Republicans and do not favor either party when they vote.
Among independents, 45% said in the latest poll they supported impeachment and 32% said they opposed it, the strongest level of support recorded in more than a year.
Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) blocked passage of the Honest Ads Act, sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), saying work was needed to make the measure more bipartisan.
Klobuchar’s bill, whose lone GOP co-sponsor is Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), would require online platforms to make “all reasonable efforts” to ensure foreign entities are not buying political ads. It also would require public disclosure of who paid for the ad.
Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) later came to the floor and attempted to pass the Election Security Act, a measure with 40 Democratic co-sponsors that would give states $1 billion for election security efforts and require backup paper ballots.
Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) blocked its passage, arguing the bill had “more red flags than the Chinese Embassy.” He added that the level of funding was excessive when considering the $380 million appropriated to states last year for election security.
At the time, the Trump administration asserted that people who had already been caught up in the older Trump policy — asylum-seekers who were in Mexico only because the U.S. had already sent them back there to wait — wouldn’t be subject to the new ban. (Asylum-seekers who were still waiting at official border crossings to present themselves legally were barred, as ProPublica reported at the time, but the administration said that those who already had court dates were not.)
But ProPublica has learned that in at least one court where these asylum-seekers’ cases are being heard, judges and prosecutors are treating their status as an open question. The uncertainty in the courtroom shows that — despite what the Trump administration said at the time — officials haven’t been instructed to exempt returned asylum-seekers from the new rule.
Nearly 900 women’s health clinics nationwide have lost federal funds after the Trump administration implemented a “domestic gag rule” to a federal family planning program known as Title X, according to an estimate by Power to Decide, an organization that works to prevent unplanned pregnancies.
A U.S. appeals court on Monday ruled in favor of the government in a lawsuit over the secretive criteria it uses for its no-fly list.
In the Monday ruling, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the government has already gone as far as legally required in explaining the placement of the four plaintiffs on the list.
The plaintiffs are all U.S. citizens without criminal records. They argued the government offered only vague reasons for their inclusion. The government said one man was listed due to “concerns” regarding a trip to Yemen in 2010, and another reportedly told the FBI he had “distributed speeches” from a now-dead terrorist, according to the Los Angeles Times.
NEW YORK (AP) — Two members of the far-right Proud Boys were sentenced Tuesday to four years in prison for their roles in a street fight after a speech last year at New York’s Metropolitan Republican Club.
Judge Mark Dwyer said the lengthy sentences should deter people from engaging in what he called “political street brawls.”
Maxwell Hare, 27, and John Kinsman, 40, were convicted in August on charges stemming from the October 2018 fight between members of the Proud Boys and the loosely organized anti-fascist group known as Antifa after a speech by Proud Boys founder Gavin McInnes .
SOCHI, Russia — His jets patrol Syrian skies. His military is expanding operations at the main naval base in Syria. He is forging closer ties to Turkey. He and his Syrian allies are moving into territory vacated by the United States.
And on Tuesday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia played host to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey for more than six hours of talks on how they and other regional players will divide control of Syria, devastated by eight years of civil war.
The negotiations cemented Mr. Putin’s strategic advantage: Russian and Turkish troops will take joint control over a vast swath of formerly Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria. The change strengthens the rapid expansion of Russian influence in Syria at the expense of the United States and its Kurdish former allies.
Mr. Erdogan also got most of what he wanted — a buffer zone free of a militia that Turkey regards as a terrorist threat — but it came at the expense of sharing control of the area with Mr. Putin and the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, whose rule Mr. Erdogan has long opposed.
LONDON—Boris Johnson’s “do or die” pledge to take Britain out of the European Union by Oct. 31 was quashed by Parliament on Tuesday night, handing the initiative to the EU to trigger a British election.
Johnson said he would call for a general election if British lawmakers refused to allow him to rush through his deal and the EU proposed a new extension of three months or more. Under a law passed in Westminster last month, Johnson is not allowed to negotiate to shorten whatever extension the EU chooses.
Rather than seek to compromise with opponents who want proper time to scrutinize the Brexit deal, Johnson responded to the 322 to 308 vote defeat on fast-tracking it by halting the passage of his deal altogether while Britain waits to see what extension the EU will grant.