By Robert A. Vella
The top stories for this Thursday highlight William Barr’s rejection of a desperate request by President Trump for the Attorney General to publicly declare that his phone conversation with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky – which is now the focus of the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry – was perfectly legal. For Barr, who has been heavily criticized for leading the Department of Justice on Trump’s behalf instead of impartially upholding the rule of law, Trump’s request was apparently a step too far. Vice President Mike Pence’s role in the scandal is now fully in the crosshairs of the impeachment inquiry as one of his top advisors will give closed-door testimony before three House committees today. The testimony given by William Taylor (the then-acting head of the U.S. embassy in Ukraine), which he will publicly repeat next week, has unequivocally exposed Trump’s attempt to coerce Zelensky for personal political gain – clearly an illegal quid pro quo (i.e. bribery, as defined by the U.S. Constitution) and- for all practical purposes – criminal extortion as well. The trial of Roger Stone has begun, and prosecutors’ opening statement asserted that he worked closely and deliberately with others to obtain hacked Democratic Party emails from WikiLeaks in order to sway the 2016 presidential election towards Donald Trump.
President Trump wanted Attorney General William P. Barr to hold a news conference declaring that the commander in chief had broken no laws during a phone call in which he pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, though Barr ultimately declined to do so, people familiar with the matter said.
The request from Trump traveled from the president to other White House officials and eventually to the Justice Department. The president has mentioned Barr’s demurral to associates in recent weeks, saying he wished Barr would have held the news conference, Trump advisers say.
In recent weeks, the Justice Department has sought some distance from the White House, particularly on matters relating to the burgeoning controversy over Trump’s dealings on Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry they sparked.
WASHINGTON — U.S. congressional committees conducting an impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump met on Thursday for the first time with a top adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, one of the last witnesses to testify behind closed doors before public hearings start next week.
Jennifer Williams, a career foreign service officer and special adviser to Pence for Europe and Russia, arrived at the U.S. Capitol to testify behind closed doors on Thursday morning with members of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight committees. Lawmakers will look to Williams for information about how much Pence knew about efforts by Trump and those around him to pressure Ukrainian officials to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, and foreign interference in the 2016 U.S. election.
The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, told House impeachment investigators last month that President Donald Trump directed officials to tie military aid to Ukraine to demands that the country open political advantageous probes, according to a transcript of his testimony made public Wednesday.
The transcript of Taylor’s closed-door testimony before the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump — the latest in a series of witness transcripts made public — confirms NBC News’ reporting about his more than nine hours of testimony last month. It also contains new details about the language he used in describing the White House’s attempted quid pro quo with Ukraine that shed light on his level of concern about the matter.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats announced they will launch public impeachment hearings next week, intending to bring to life weeks of closed-door testimony and lay out a convincing narrative of presidential misconduct by Donald Trump.
First to testify will be William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, who has relayed in private his understanding that there was a blatant quid pro quo with Trump holding up military aid to a U.S. ally facing threats from its giant neighbor Russia.
Along with Taylor, the public will hear from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump fired after what she and others say was a smear campaign against her, and career State Department official George Kent. Taylor and Kent will appear Wednesday, Yovanovitch on Friday.
WASHINGTON — President Trump was more personally involved in his campaign’s effort to obtain Democratic emails stolen by Russian operatives in 2016 than was previously known, phone records introduced in federal court on Wednesday suggested.
Federal prosecutors disclosed the calls at the start of the criminal trial of Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s longtime friend, who faces charges of lying to federal investigators about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. Russian intelligence officers had funneled tens of thousands of emails they stole from Democratic computers to WikiLeaks, which released them at critical points during the presidential race.
The records suggest that Mr. Trump spoke to Mr. Stone repeatedly during the summer of 2016, at a time when Mr. Stone was aggressively seeking to obtain the stolen emails from Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks. The prosecutors noted that they did not know what Mr. Stone and Mr. Trump had discussed. But they stressed that the timing of their calls dovetailed with other key developments related to the theft and release of the Democratic emails.
Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper appealed to President Trump this week to allow the military justice system to proceed unfettered in a number of high-profile cases, officials said, as concern intensifies among Pentagon leaders that presidential intervention could damage military discipline and morale.
Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon, Esper said he had a “robust discussion” with Trump on Tuesday about the cases of three current or former service members charged with war crimes or other wrongdoing. Earlier in the week, Fox News reported that the president was likely to issue pardons or take other actions to assist them.
“I offered, as I do in all matters, the facts, the options, my advice, the recommendations, and we’ll see how things play out,” Esper said.
NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge on Wednesday struck down a new Trump administration rule that could open the way for more health care workers to refuse to participate in abortions or other procedures on moral or religious grounds.
U.S. District Judge Paul A. Engelmayer said the U.S. Health and Human Services Department overstepped its authority and went beyond existing law in issuing the rule. He also said that the measure could be costly, burdensome and damaging to emergency care and that the whole rationale for the rule was based on a lie.
He said the department’s claim that there was a significant increase in complaints about workers being forced to violate their conscience was “flatly untrue.” The HHS rule, he said, is a classic “solution in search of a problem.”
For police officers around the country, the genetic profiles that 20 million people have uploaded to consumer DNA sites represent a tantalizing resource that could be used to solve cases both new and cold. But for years, the vast majority of the data have been off limits to investigators. The two largest sites, Ancestry.com and 23andMe, have long pledged to keep their users’ genetic information private, and a smaller one, GEDmatch, severely restricted police access to its records this year.
Last week, however, a Florida detective announced at a police convention that he had obtained a warrant to penetrate GEDmatch and search its full database of nearly one million users. Legal experts said that this appeared to be the first time a judge had approved such a warrant, and that the development could have profound implications for genetic privacy.
WASHINGTON, Nov 6 (Reuters) – California is investigating Facebook Inc’s disclosure of user data to Cambridge Analytica and other partners, the state revealed on Wednesday in a court filing that demanded that the social media giant respond to its subpoena.
Revelation of the 18-month-old probe is the latest bad news for Facebook, which is already under investigation by 47 U.S. states. Some states, particularly New York and Nebraska, have raised concerns that Facebook and other big tech companies engage in anti-competitive practices, expose consumer data to potential data theft and push up advertising prices.
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — New Zealand lawmakers on Thursday joined forces across the aisle to pass a bill aimed at combating climate change.
The Zero Carbon bill aims to make New Zealand reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to the point the country becomes mostly carbon neutral by 2050. It gives some leeway to farmers, however, who bring in much of the country’s foreign income.
The bill was spearheaded by the liberal government but in the end was supported by the main conservative opposition party, which nevertheless promised changes if it wins the next election.