By Robert A. Vella
The House of Representatives has delayed sending articles of impeachment to the Senate until tomorrow, so President Trump’s trial might not begin until next week. In the meantime, the political situation has become a lot more intriguing. I caution readers not to place too much significance on these new developments because Republican senators up for reelection typically sound more independent than they actually are. However, it does appear that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell‘s quick sham trial to exonerate Trump without calling any witnesses won’t be as easy as he wanted.
According to reports, the White House is preparing for at least four Republican defectors regarding votes to call individual witnesses including former National Security Advisor John Bolton. Provided that all Democrats also vote “yes,” that would be enough votes to compel such testimony. Shortly after the news broke, Trump said he would invoke executive privilege to prevent Bolton’s testimony. Since Bolton is no longer a government official, and that the use of executive privilege in impeachment cases is legally very weak, Trump’s statement is really more of a personal warning to Bolton not to obey any congressional subpoena (which Bolton recently said he would comply with). Then, Trump urged McConnell to dismiss the impeachment charges in order to stop the trial. Facing criticism on Fox News, a Trump surrogate insisted that the president is not afraid of witness testimony. If that was true (it isn’t), then why did he threaten to invoke executive privilege and try to stop the trial?
We now know that Russia hacked into the Ukrainian gas company Burisma last fall assuredly to dig up dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden. The illegally clandestine act is reminiscent of its hacking of Democratic emails in 2016 to damage Hillary Clinton‘s presidential campaign. This new incident confirms that Vladimir Putin is determined to get Donald Trump reelected through whatever means necessary. No collusion? Ha!
There’s more news to cover today including several court rulings.
Impeachment trial preview
Washington — The White House is preparing for some Republican senators to join Democrats in voting to call witnesses in President Trump’s impeachment trial, which could get underway in the coming days.
Senior White House officials tell CBS News they increasingly believe that at least four Republicans, and likely more, will vote to call witnesses. In addition to Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah and possibly Cory Gardner of Colorado, the White House also views Rand Paul of Kentucky as a “wild card” and Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee as an “institutionalist” who might vote to call witnesses, as one official put it.
Last week, Collins said she was working with a “fairly small group” of GOP senators to allow new testimony, adding that her colleagues “should be completely open to calling witnesses.” Romney has expressed an interest in hearing from former national security adviser John Bolton, who has said he would testify under subpoena. Murkowski said last week that the Senate should proceed as it did during the 1999 Clinton impeachment trial.
(CNN) – The White House is urging Senate Republicans to preserve the option of moving to swiftly dismiss the charges against President Donald Trump after opening arguments in his impeachment trial, as GOP leaders and Trump’s team look for a quick end to the proceedings, according to sources familiar with the discussions.
Republicans are debating including in the Senate resolution, which would govern the rules of the trial, a provision to dismiss the charges, something that would require 51 votes and would stop the trial in its tracks.
(WASHINGTON) — Senate Republicans signaled they would reject the idea of simply voting to dismiss the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump as the House prepares to send the charges to the chamber for the historic trial. “I think our members, generally are not interested in the motion to dismiss. They think both sides need to be heard,” Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., who is part of GOP leadership, said Monday.
Russia still hacking to help elect Trump
The hacking attempts against Burisma, the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden served, began in early November, as talk of the Bidens, Ukraine and impeachment was dominating the news in the United States.
It is not yet clear what the hackers found, or precisely what they were searching for. But the experts say the timing and scale of the attacks suggest that the Russians could be searching for potentially embarrassing material on the Bidens — the same kind of information that Mr. Trump wanted from Ukraine when he pressed for an investigation of the Bidens and Burisma, setting off a chain of events that led to his impeachment.
The Russian tactics are strikingly similar to what American intelligence agencies say was Russia’s hacking of emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman and the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential campaign. In that case, once they had the emails, the Russians used trolls to spread and spin the material, and built an echo chamber to widen its effect.
(Bloomberg) — Russian and Turkish sponsored cease-fire talks to end Libya’s civil war appeared to collapse after eastern military commander Khalifa Haftar left Moscow without signing the agreement.
The country’s UN-recognized prime minister, Fayez al-Sarraj, had signed the deal after a day of negotiations in Moscow brokered by Russia and Turkey, which seized the initiative from the west in attempting to end nine months of fighting around the Libyan capital, Tripoli.
Haftar asked for a delay until Tuesday to consider signing, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference on Monday. Hours later, however, Haftar and his entourage left Moscow without agreeing the deal.
Israel’s left-wing Meretz and Labor-Gesher parties announced Monday they have joined forces ahead of March 2 elections to boost their chances against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing base.
Israel’s political scene is in turmoil ahead of the third national vote in less than a year after neither Netanyahu nor his centrist rival Benny Gantz were able to form a coalition following two polls last year.
With Israel’s two major political blocs almost neck-and-neck, smaller parties and coalitions could emerge as potential kingmakers after the upcoming elections.
President Trump is preparing to divert an additional $7.2 billion in Pentagon funding for border wall construction this year, five times what Congress authorized him to spend on the project in the 2020 budget, according to internal planning figures obtained by The Washington Post.
A federal-district court in El Paso ruled last month that the White House broke the law when it commandeered funds for the border wall that had been authorized by Congress for another purpose. The court froze $3.6 billion the administration budgeted for new barriers.
But the Trump administration appealed that ruling, and last week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, in New Orleans, lifted the injunction, saying work could proceed while legal challenges to the government are pending.
(Reuters) – A federal judge has ruled that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is acting within its authority when it comes to separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border without any violation of the “rights to family integrity”.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday threw out a lower court ruling that revived a $1.68 billion lawsuit against Iran’s central bank by families of troops killed in the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon in light of a new federal law that could help the plaintiffs recover damages.
WASHINGTON, Jan 14 (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a lower court ruling that allowed a lawsuit to proceed against managers of a retirement fund for IBM Corp employees centering on allegations that officials failed to disclose that IBM’s microelectronics business was over-valued.