By Robert A. Vella
We kickoff this Monday with several impeachment developments and related news, President Trump’s authoritarian turf war against the U.S. Navy, a big election result in Hong Kong, a story on rising social unrest across the globe, an unfolding election in Uruguay marking further political change throughout South America, and a climate change update on atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.
Also, an important court ruling is expected today on former White House Counsel Don McGahn‘s refusal to comply with a congressional subpoena which had ordered him to appear before a House committee for testimony. This case may affect other such witnesses as well.
A confidential White House review of President Trump’s decision to place a hold on military aid to Ukraine has turned up hundreds of documents that reveal extensive efforts to generate an after-the-fact justification for the decision and a debate over whether the delay was legal, according to three people familiar with the records.
The research by the White House Counsel’s Office, which was triggered by a congressional impeachment inquiry announced in September, includes early August email exchanges between acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House budget officials seeking to provide an explanation for withholding the funds after the president had already ordered a hold in mid-July on the nearly $400 million in security assistance, according to the three people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal White House deliberations.
One person briefed on the records examination said White House lawyers are expressing concern that the review has turned up some unflattering exchanges and facts that could at a minimum embarrass the president. It’s unclear whether the Mulvaney discussions or other records pose any legal problems for Trump in the impeachment inquiry, but some fear they could pose political problems if revealed publicly.
WASHINGTON — Internal State Department emails and documents released late Friday further implicate Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a campaign orchestrated this year by President Trump and his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to pressure Ukraine for political favors.
The emails indicate that Mr. Pompeo spoke at least twice by telephone with Mr. Giuliani in March as Mr. Giuliani was urging Ukraine to investigate Mr. Trump’s rivals, and trying to oust a respected American ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, who had been promoting anticorruption efforts in the country. Mr. Pompeo ordered Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal the next month. One call between Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Pompeo was arranged with guidance from Mr. Trump’s personal assistant, the documents suggest.
The documents also show that the State Department sent members of Congress a deliberately misleading reply about Ms. Yovanovitch’s departure after they asked about pressure on her. As part of the effort to oust her, Mr. Giuliani and his associates encouraged news outlets favorable to the president to publicize unsubstantiated claims about Ms. Yovanovitch’s disloyalty to Mr. Trump.
The House Intelligence Committee is in possession of audio and video recordings and photographs provided to the committee by Lev Parnas, an associate of President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who reportedly played a key role in assisting him in his efforts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Ukraine, multiple sources familiar with the matter tell ABC News.
The material submitted to the committee includes audio, video and photos that include Giuliani and Trump. It was unclear what the content depicts and the committees only began accessing the material last week.
Two associates of Rudy Giuliani tried to recruit a top Ukrainian energy official in March in a proposed takeover of the state oil-and-gas company, describing the company’s chief executive and the then-U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch as part of “this Soros cartel” working against President Trump.
“You’re a Republican, right?” Andrew Favorov, the head of natural gas for state-run Naftogaz, recalled the men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, asking him, after their reference to investor and Democratic donor George Soros. “We want you to be our guy.”
Mr. Favorov said he met voluntarily this week with New York federal prosecutors as part of an investigation into the activities of Messrs. Fruman, Parnas and Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney. Prosecutors last month arrested Messrs. Fruman and Parnas on campaign-finance charges stemming from alleged efforts to leverage political connections and campaign donations—some from foreign donors—to benefit their own business interests and to assist Mr. Giuliani in efforts to oust Ms. Yovanovitch.
Trump versus the U.S. Navy
WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper demanded the resignation of the Navy’s top civilian leader [Navy secretary Richard V. Spencer] on Sunday, an abrupt move aimed at ending an extraordinary dispute between President Trump and his own senior military leadership over the fate of a SEAL commando in a war crimes case.
A senior Defense Department official and a senior White House official said on Sunday night that Mr. Spencer was trying to cut a side deal with the White House to let the commando remain in the elite unit, even as he pushed both publicly and with Pentagon officials for a disciplinary hearing.
But Mr. Spencer had also provoked Mr. Trump’s ire by threatening to resign over the case and by publicly saying he disagreed with the president’s decision to intervene in favor of the commando, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, Defense Department officials said.
Big Hong Kong vote
HONG KONG —Pro-democracy parties scored stunning gains in the Hong Kong district council elections Sunday, sweeping aside pro-Beijing parties in a significant endorsement of the protest movement and an indictment of the political establishment seen as responsible for months of unrest in the city.
Voters took to the polls in record numbers to cast ballots in the only fully democratic election in the Chinese territory, an early sign that they wanted to send a strong message to their government and to the Communist Party in Beijing.
Early results compiled by the South China Morning Post showed pro-democracy parties winning 278 of the first 344 seats to be declared, pro-Beijing parties taking 42, and independents 24. Many prominent figures in the protest movement won, and many leading pro-establishment figures were unseated. Pro-democrats look to be able to secure 12 of 18 district councils available in Hong Kong — before this vote, they did not have a majority in any.
HONG KONG —Millions took to Hong Kong streets on Sunday in record numbers to vote in the only fully democratic election in the Chinese territory, a turnout that could deliver a reckoning for the pro-Beijing establishment viewed by some as responsible for sparking the months-long unrest in the city.
The turnout — more than 69 percent of the 4.13 million eligible voters had cast ballots for representatives to their local district councils an hour before polls closed — was significantly higher than the 1.4 million who voted in local elections in 2015. Voter registration was also a record high, driven in part by 390,000 first-time voters.
Many waited in hours-long lines that snaked around city blocks, another unusual experience for Hong Kong residents. Almost every neighborhood in the city has seen violent unrest at some point over the six-month long protest movement, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets and protesters countering with molotov cocktails and projectiles.
In June, hundreds of thousands of young protesters connected by messaging apps took to the streets of Hong Kong to protest the encroachment of China’s central authorities on life in their city.
Four months on, antigovernment demonstrations have swept more than a dozen countries. From Chile and Bolivia to Lebanon and Spain, millions have taken to the streets—sometimes peacefully, often not.
Thousands have been injured and scores killed. Protesters have blocked roads, closed airports and attacked institutions that have become objects of their ire.
Iran shut down the internet Saturday and resorted to lethal force to crush antigovernment protests across the authoritarian state. Recently, Colombia became the fifth country facing mass demonstrations that have spread through South America.
It is impossible to draw neat lines connecting the unrest that is spanning the globe. But the fact that people have poured into the streets in so many places—often sharing tactics and even slogans—has given the turmoil the contours of a new social movement, echoing past upheavals such as the Arab Spring and the student protests of 1968.
The immediate sparks vary from country to country. But underlying the unrest are an often similar mix of social and economic discord helping fuel demands for sweeping changes to the existing political order.