By Robert A. Vella
The House of Representatives voted today to pass rules for the upcoming public phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s attempt to coerce the Ukrainian government for personal political gain. The rules are very similar to those employed by Republicans during the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998; and, as such, are highly partisan. This vote should be assessed for what it is (i.e. a procedural issue) and not for what it isn’t (i.e. a judgment on Trump’s guilt).
Developments in the impeachment inquiry include today’s testimony by a top Russia expert who recently resigned from his White House post, the State Department reversing its decision to not comply with a congressional subpoena for documents after a federal judge ordered it to do so, and new focus on a White House lawyer who concealed the transcript of Trump’s now infamous call with Ukraine’s president immediately after National Security Council official Alexander Vindman voiced concerns about the corrupt nature of the conversation.
In the Senate, confirmation hearings for Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Russia – John Sullivan – quite understandably caused consternation among Democrats, but he did state that using the federal government to dig up dirt on a political rival – what Trump is being impeached for – is “inconsistent with our values.”
In other domestic news, we now know that General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, and Toyota were pressured by the White House to publicly oppose a deal between California and other automakers to reinstate higher vehicle emission standards revoked by the Trump administration. Twitter has announced it won’t allow any more political ads on its social media platform, and the Federal Reserve has announced another interest rate cut.
In international news, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro is furious over a report that assassins who killed a prominent left-wing politician in 2018 had met on his residential property, and farmers in Germany have filed a climate change lawsuit against the government.
WASHINGTON — A bitterly divided House of Representatives voted on Thursday to endorse the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry into President Trump, in a historic action that set up a critical new public phase of the process and underscored the toxic political polarization that serves as its backdrop.
The vote was 232-196 to approve a resolution that sets out rules for an impeachment process for which there are few precedents, and which promises to consume the country a little more than a year before the 2020 elections. It was only the third time in modern history that the House had taken a vote on an impeachment inquiry into a sitting president.
Tim Morrison, a top White House Russia expert, arrived Thursday to testify behind closed-doors about President Trump’s contacts with Ukraine, the latest in a growing string of witnesses to buck the president and appear as part of the Democrats’ impeachment investigation.
Morrison is expected to be asked about whether the president and other officials sought to withhold nearly $400 million in financial aid to Ukraine in exchange for a public commitment from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open two investigations that would benefit Trump politically.
WASHINGTON — The State Department has agreed to release documents related to President Trump’s handling of aid to Ukraine, potentially providing ammunition to the impeachment probe now being conducted by Democrats in the House of Representatives.
The decision comes in response to a lawsuit filed by American Oversight, a watchdog group affiliated with progressive causes. That lawsuit was initially filed in the spring, after Trump dismissed U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie L. Yovanovitch. Since that firing, a whistleblower complaint and other developments have led to allegations Trump used $400 million in aid to Ukraine as leverage on authorities there to investigate Hunter Biden.
Last week, a district court judge in Washington, D.C., told the State Department it had to turn over Ukraine-related documents, citing “public interest” that he said tilted “heavily in favor of disclosure.”
Moments after President Trump ended his phone call with Ukraine’s president on July 25, an unsettled national security aide rushed to the office of White House lawyer John Eisenberg.
Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the top Ukraine adviser at the White House, had been listening to the call and was disturbed by the pressure Trump had applied to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his political rivals, according to people familiar with Vindman’s testimony to lawmakers this week.
Vindman told Eisenberg, the White House’s legal adviser on national security issues, that what the president did was wrong, said the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad, Eisenberg proposed a step that other officials have said is at odds with long-standing White House protocol: moving a transcript of the call to a highly classified server and restricting access to it, according to two people familiar with Vindman’s account.
Other domestic news
Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan appeared headed toward Senate approval Wednesday as U.S. ambassador to Russia, even as Democratic lawmakers questioned his professed lack of curiosity or pushback against policies on Ukraine he indicated he opposed.
At a confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sullivan deftly offered benign responses to questions on what he knew about President Trump’s conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin. In his current job, Sullivan said, he was in charge of shepherding U.S.-Russia dialogues on counterterrorism and strategic security.
Andrew Olmem, a top policy aide to Mr. Trump, began calling car companies to push them to sign on to the administration’s effort in the courts to eliminate California’s right to set its own auto emissions rules on planet warming pollution, a power granted under the Clean Air Act of 1970. He was joined on the phone in some cases by Justice Department officials, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The auto industry was already divided. In July four other major companies — Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and BMW — publicly sided with California.
Carmakers have long feared that Mr. Trump might retaliate, either with tariffs or trade restrictions, if they didn’t support his effort to dismantle the rules, which were designed to fight climate change. After California struck its deal with the four automakers, the administration and Justice Department pushed a series of unusual legal and policy moves against the state and those companies — including an antitrust investigation — that were widely perceived as retaliatory.
“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” Dorsey tweeted, along with a number of additional tweets explaining the reasons why.
“While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions,” Dorsey wrote. “Internet political ads present entirely new challenges to civic discourse: machine learning-based optimization of messaging and micro-targeting, unchecked misleading information, and deep fakes. All at increasing velocity, sophistication, and overwhelming scale.”
“We considered stopping only candidate ads, but issue ads present a way to circumvent. Additionally, it isn’t fair for everyone but candidates to buy ads for issues they want to push. So we’re stopping these too,” Dorsey added.
The Federal Reserve on Wednesday cut interest rates for the third time this year to help sustain U.S. growth despite a slowdown in other parts of the world, but signaled there would be no further reductions unless the economy takes a turn for the worse.
“We believe that monetary policy is in a good place,” Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in a news conference after the U.S. central bank announced its decision to cut its key overnight lending rate by a quarter of a percentage point to a target range of between 1.50% and 1.75%.
Bolsonaro’s eruption was a response to a politically explosive investigative report by Jornal Nacional, Brazil’s answer to the Nine O’Clock News, on Tuesday night.
The report revealed that the suspected killers of Marielle Franco – the leftist politician who was gunned down in March 2018 – had met at Bolsonaro’s seaside compound in Rio de Janeiro in the hours before her murder.
One of those men, Élcio Queiroz, reportedly gained entry to the compound at about 5.10pm by telling a security guard he was visiting Bolsonaro, the owner of house No 58.
Bolsonaro was, in fact, hundreds of miles away in Brasília on that day. But an unidentified person at his house – who the security guard identified as “Jair” – reportedly authorized Queiroz’s entry.
Instead of heading to Bolsonaro’s property, Queiroz reportedly went to another residence – No 66 – which was the home of Ronnie Lessa, a special forces police officer turned contract killer currently being held on suspicion of Franco’s murder.
Citing anonymous sources, Globo claimed that minutes after Queiroz’s arrival, he and Lessa left the compound in the latter’s car and then changed vehicles nearby before – it is alleged – proceeding to central Rio where Franco was later killed.
BERLIN (Reuters) – A family of farmers worried that their windswept North Sea island will be engulfed by rising sea-levels is among a Greenpeace-led group of plaintiffs seeking a court ruling that Germany must act faster on climate change.
At a hearing in Berlin on Thursday, the Backsens and two other farming families will argue that their fundamental rights are being infringed by the government’s failure to cut emissions at the pace it had promised.
The lawsuit mirrors a similar case in the Netherlands where a group of around 900 citizens last year forced the Dutch government to accelerate its plans to cut emissions of the greenhouse gases that drive climate change.
Berlin’s Administrative Court is expected to deliver a ruling on Thursday on whether the case is justiciable. If it is, a further ruling is expected on whether the rights of the farming families are being infringed. In either event, appeals are all but certain.