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    The Dutch government is lowering the top speed limit on highways in a bid to put the brakes on emissions of the pollutant nitrogen oxide. Prime Minister Mark Rutte announced Wednesday that the maximum speed limit will be cut from 130 kilometers per hour to 100 km/h (81-62 miles per hour) on many of the country's highways. It was a climbdown for Rutte, whose conservative party is known as the 'vroom vroom' party because of its support of motorists. Rutte says he is 'unbelievably unhappy that the 130 is disappearing.' The measure follows a Dutch Supreme Court decision in May that said the government's rules for granting permits to projects that emit nitrogen oxide breach European Union environmental law. That led to a freeze on permits for many construction projects.
  • France is commemorating the fourth anniversary of the Islamic State attacks in Paris. The attacks on Nov. 13, 2015, left 131 people dead at the country's national stadium, the Bataclan concert hall and bars and restaurants in the city center. They were carried out largely by French fighters for the Islamic State who were sent home by the extremist group. Wednesday's commemorations are clouded by the possibility that more European recruits for Islamic State may return home soon. Turkey's president has promised to deport foreigners who fought for the group. Since 2015, Turkey has already returned around 250 French citizens, including many children born in Iraq and Syria. French officials say adults are immediately taken into custody, and that around 500 people are currently imprisoned on terrorism convictions.
  • Germany's Cabinet has approved legislation that will criminalize 'upskirting' photos and taking unauthorized pictures of people killed in accidents. The bill introduced Wednesday, which requires parliamentary approval, will make it a criminal rather than civil offense to take and distribute such pictures. The German move follows the approval this year of legislation making it illegal in England and Wales to take 'upskirting' photos. It also will ban the taking or distribution of unauthorized pictures 'that display a dead person in a grossly offensive way,' punishing them with up to two years in prison. Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht says that 'we must spare relatives the additional suffering of pictures of their deceased parents or children being spread around.
  • Spanish police said Wednesday they have been unable to locate a Venezuelan former spymaster wanted by the United States for extradition on charges of drug trafficking. Police told The Associated Press that its officers have been unable to find Maj. Gen. Hugo Carvajal. News website El Español reported on Friday that a Spanish court had reversed an earlier ruling throwing out the U.S. arrest warrant and that it had ordered authorities to proceed with the extradition request. A spokesman for the National Court said Wednesday that no decision on the case has been made public at this time. Carvajal's lawyer, Maria Dolores de Arguelles, said her client couldn't be considered a fugitive because the defense has not been officially notified of the court ruling granting the extradition, and no court summons or arrest warrant has been issued. Carvajal is free on bail, but his passport has been confiscated and he is not allowed to leave the Madrid region, according to the bail terms. He also needs to sign in at the court every 15 days — the next time is Friday. Anti-drug prosecutors in Spain had appealed a mid-September decision by the National Court rejecting the extradition to the United States, where he is wanted on drug smuggling and other charges. The extradition needs to be cleared by the Spanish Cabinet, which typically holds weekly meetings every Friday. Appeals can be filed before the country's Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights, but that wouldn't necessarily stop the extradition. The U.S. had been seeking Carvajal's extradition since the former head of Venezuela's military intelligence fled to Spain in late March after publicly supporting the opposition's efforts to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Prosecutors in New York say Carvajal should face trial for 'narcoterrorism' as part of a group of Venezuelan officials who were charged with 'flooding' the U.S. with drugs. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration ties Carvajal to a 5.6-ton cocaine shipment busted in Mexico in 2006 and accuse him of aiding and protecting Colombian guerrillas. ___ Wilson reported from Barcelona. Aritz Parra in Madrid contributed to this report.
  • A Syrian man on trial in Hungary denied charges Wednesday that he took part in a beheading and other killings in his homeland while a member of the Islamic State group. Prosecutors have charged the 27-year-old identified only as Hassan F. with participating in the beheading of a religious leader in the city of al-Sukhnah in Homs province and involvement in the killings of at least 25 people. They say at least six women and one child were among the dead in slayings intended as revenge and to terrify the local population. Prosecutors said it was Hassan F.'s job to compile a list of those to be killed, which was then approved by IS leaders, and oversee the killings. 'I committed nothing,' said Hassan F. said at the start of the trial. 'I just want my family.' During the court session, gruesome video was shown of the beheading allegedly committed by Hassan F. and another man. Hassan F. denied being in the video or knowing anyone else in the video. Hassan F. also denied prosecutors' claim that he was a member of a small, armed IS unit. During his initial testimony, Hassan F. asked not to be executed, but the judge explained to him that there is no death penalty in the European Union. According to his lawyer, Hassan F. has not been in Syria since 2014 and was in Turkey with his wife at the time of the alleged crimes, during the first half of May 2015. Hassan F.'s father told the court his son had been imprisoned in Syria for refusing to join IS. Hassan F. also claimed repeatedly while being questioned by the judge that he was mistreated by police and in jail and that he feared being poisoned. His lawyer said Hassan F. had attempted suicide in prison. The defense lawyer asked the court to reject many pre-trial statements implicating his client, in part because they were by people who did not personally witness the alleged crimes, or because they had failed to provide any details of the events. Hassan F., who obtained refugee status in Greece, was initially apprehended in December at Budapest's Ferenc Liszt International Airport when he and a female companion were found to have forged personal IDs.
  • Police say two men, aged 27 and 38, have been arrested on suspicion of 'gross vandalism' of gravestones in the Jewish section of a churchyard in northwestern Denmark. The men are suspected of dousing green paint on 84 gravestones and knocking over several of them. Police spokesman Klaus Arboe Rasmussen says their motive was to target 'a particular group of the population based on their religion.' Arboe Rasmussen added Wednesday that the men, who were not identified in line with Danish practice, also are suspected of throwing black and green paint on a building in Randers, some 177 kilometers (110 miles) northeast of Copenhagen. He added both incidents happened in the night between Friday and Saturday. Police want the men held in custody while they investigate the case.
  • The German parliament's legal affairs committee on Wednesday ousted its chairman, a member of the far-right Alternative for Germany, amid anger over a string of provocative comments. The committee voted 37-6 Wednesday to remove chairman Stephan Brandner, center-left lawmaker Florian Post wrote on Twitter. It is the first time in the parliament's 70-year history that a committee chairman has been voted out. Brandner has repeatedly angered lawmakers from other parties over recent months, including with broadsides against opponents and by retweeting a reaction to the killing of two passers-by in a botched attack by a right-wing extremist on a synagogue last month that many considered objectionable. That was followed by a tweet railing against singer Udo Lindenberg, who is critical of Alternative for Germany, and a decoration Lindenberg received, in which Brandner used the term 'Judaslohn' ('blood money.') Brandner comes from the eastern state of Thuringia, whose regional Alternative for Germany leader, Bjoern Hoecke, is the party's best-known far-right firebrand. The general secretary of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right Christian Democrats, Paul Ziemiak, voiced 'respect' for the committee's decision. He tweeted that Brandner, 'Hoecke's Berlin outpost,' had been 'unworthy' as chairman and added that 'his anti-Semitism is intolerable.' Brandner has portrayed himself as a victim of absurd accusations. Alternative for Germany became the biggest opposition party after the country's 2017 election. It has dire relations with other parties. Lawmakers so far have voted down four candidates the party put forward to be parliament's deputy speaker.
  • A former Conservative Party Cabinet minister said Wednesday that giving the party a majority in next month's election would be 'disastrous' for the U.K., in the latest example of how the Brexit debate has shattered traditional party alliances in this deeply divided country. David Gauke, who served as justice secretary until July, said an outright victory for Prime Minister Boris Johnson's party would likely result in Britain leaving the European Union without an agreement ensuring unfettered trade with the bloc. 'A Conservative majority after the next General Election will take us in the direction of a very hard Brexit and in all likelihood at the end of 2020 we will leave the implementation period without a deal with the EU ... in effect on no-deal terms,' Gauke told the BBC. 'And that I believe would be disastrous for the prosperity of this country, whole sectors would become unviable.' The comments underscore the upheaval underway in British politics, triggered largely by differing views on how and whether Britain should leave the EU. Many traditional Conservative voters, once attracted by the party's business-friendly policies and fiscal restraint, now oppose its focus on severing ties with the EU. The Labour Party is also split over Brexit, as well as the left-wing policies of leader Jeremy Corbyn. Last week, a former member of Labour's inner circle took the extraordinary step of urging voters to support Johnson. Ian Austin, an aide to Gordon Brown, the party's last prime minister, said Labour had been poisoned by 'anti-Jewish racism' under Corbyn. Those splits are providing an opening for smaller parties such as the Liberal Democrats and Greens, who have united behind the goal of stopping Brexit. On the other side of the divide is the newly formed Brexit Party, which seeks to ensure Britain leaves the bloc as soon as possible. The Brexit Party this week said it wouldn't run candidates in constituencies now held by the Conservatives after Johnson promised Britain would leave the EU by the end of 2020. Gauke said this 'choreographed cooperation' with the Brexit Party means Johnson is now 'boxed in' by hardliners who won't allow him to extend talks with the EU beyond the end of next year. Since it will take at least three years to negotiate a trade deal, Britain is likely to leave the bloc without an agreement next December, he said. Because of this, Gauke said the best thing for voters to do is deny Johnson an outright majority by supporting independent candidates and Liberal Democrats. While other former Conservatives have switched to the Liberal Democrats, Gauke said he will run for re-election as an independent. 'I'm calling for people to vote for the center ground, if you like,' he said. 'If independents can do well, if Liberal Democrats can do well, then we can have a Parliament that is both opposed to a no-deal Brexit and also, I have to say, opposed to Jeremy Corbyn going to 10 Downing Street.' That will also help ensure there is a Parliamentary majority for a second referendum asking voters to choose between Johnson's withdrawal agreement and remaining in the EU, Gauke said. 'Because the consequences of the Boris Johnson deal are so significant, we do need to check back in with the British people,' he said. 'And I think it's perfectly possible for there to be a parliamentary majority for that after the general election.' Follow AP's full coverage of Brexit and British politics at https://www.apnews.com/Brexit
  • The world's thirst for oil will continue to grow until the 2030s, with climate-damaging emissions climbing until at least 2040 — and consumers' insatiable appetite for SUVs is a big reason why. Mounting demand for plastic is another factor. So is increasing plane travel. And the upcoming population boom in cities across Africa and Asia. All this is according to an important global industry forecast released Wednesday by the International Energy Agency that is used as guidance by oil companies and governments. This year, amid growing pressure from young activists like Greta Thunberg and others for tougher action on emissions, the IEA's World Energy Outlook took a stronger-than-usual stand on climate change. It celebrates a growing boom in solar and wind power, and urges governments to work together on changing the way we fuel our lives. And it singles out gas-guzzling SUVs for criticism. Growing demand for SUVs in the U.S, China, Europe and elsewhere could negate all the environmental benefits of the increased use of electric cars, the report says. Because of their size, SUVs are harder to electrify than smaller vehicles. SUVs 'were the second biggest reason for global emissions growth in last 10 years, after the power sector and more than all the industrial sectors put together,' IEA director Fatih Birol told reporters in Paris on Wednesday. Energy-intensive SUVs and pickup trucks account for about two-thirds of car sales in the U.S. and only about a third in the EU, though they are steadily growing in demand in Europe too, according to industry reports. Worldwide, about 42% of cars sold last year were SUVs, Birol said. The World Energy Outlook, which focuses on forecasting energy needs over the next 20 years, is increasingly important to governments because of its relevance to climate policy. Environmental advocates say the IEA still isn't doing enough to encourage renewable energy. Oil Change International notably criticized the IEA's 'over-reliance' on natural gas as a replacement for coal, saying that will lead to 'climate chaos' because gas too contributes to emissions. As flooding in Venice hit the second-highest level ever this week, inundating St. Mark's Cathedral and grounding gondolas, the city's mayor blamed climate change. Scientists say it's difficult to pin a single such event on climate change, but that increasingly extreme weather events worldwide are linked to human-caused emissions. The IEA said that almost 20% of the growth in last year's global energy use was 'due to hotter summers pushing up demand for cooling and cold snaps leading to higher heating needs.' Based on current emissions promises by governments, the IEA forecast global oil demand of 106.4 million barrels a day in 2040, up from 96.9 million last year. Global oil demand is due to slow in the 2030s, and coal use to shrink slightly. Emissions will continue to rise, if more slowly than today, and won't peak before 2040. The U.S. is central to whatever happens next. U.S. consumers and businesses were a leading source of growing oil demand last year, the IEA says. Also, the U.S. will account for 85% of the increase in global oil production by 2030, thanks to the shale boom. Asked about President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the 2015 Paris climate accord, Birol said: 'as a global issue, it's important to have concerted efforts to address climate change.' The report lays out a more ambitious forecast if governments are to meet the goals in the 2015 U.N. climate accord. That would require a big boost in wind and solar power, the IEA says, and a new push for energy efficiency, which has slowed in recent years. The more ambitious scenario would also require work on new coal plants in Asia to capture their emissions, or closing them early. All that would lead to a big drop in oil demand — with repercussions for oil-producing countries that depend heavily on hydrocarbon income. The report came as activist Greta Thunberg announced she will return to Europe soon from North America on a catamaran that leaves nearly no carbon footprint, part of effort to call global attention to individuals' impact on climate change. While the IEA said such movements and individual decisions by companies and investors 'can make a major difference,' it insisted that 'Governments must take the lead... the greatest capacity to shape our energy destiny lies with governments.' ___ Follow AP's full coverage of climate change issues at https://www.apnews.com/Climate
  • Turkish authorities have re-arrested a journalist a week after he was released from prison, where he was serving a 10-year sentence for terror convictions. State-run Anadolu Agency said Ahmet Altan was returned to custody late Tuesday after prosecutors objected to his release and a court ordered his re-arrest. Altan together with another journalist, Nazli Ilicak, were convicted on Nov. 4 of aiding the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Turkey accuse of masterminding a 2016 failed coup. Altan and Ilicak deny the accusations. The two were however, released from prison for time already served — after three years in detention — under laws that allow early release in certain cases. Amnesty International criticized Altan's re-arrest, saying 'it compounds an already shocking catalogue of injustice he has been subjected to.
  • The first day of impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump will feature two State Department witnesses who raised questions about actions in Ukraine by the President's personal lawyer, with one alarmed by Rudy Giuliani's efforts to undermine the former U.S. Ambassador in Ukraine, and another who saw Giuliani leading an effort to press for investigations desired by Mr. Trump. 'Mr. Giuliani was almost unmissable starting in mid-March,' Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testified, saying Giuliani conducted a 'campaign of slander' against former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. 'I worried about what I had heard concerning the role of Rudolph Giuliani,' said William Taylor, now the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who said he was worried about entering a 'snake pit' involving Giuliani. Here is some of what we might expect from these two witnesses in the first day of impeachment hearings. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE GEORGE KENT - After working at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, Kent returned to the State Department in the second half of 2018, taking on a post where he was responsible for Ukraine and five other eastern European nations often targeted by Russia. It was in that position where Kent said he witnessed the media attack which unfolded, spurred by Giuliani and conservative news media organs. In his impeachment deposition, Kent said an article by conservative journalist John Solomon spurred a sudden attack on Ambassador Yovanovitch and the U.S. embassy in Ukraine in general, which was then amplified by Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Kent said much of what was alleged, that Yovanovitch was bad mouthing President Trump, that she was working against Ukraine prosecutors, was simply false. 'It was, if not entirely made up in full cloth,' Kent testified, 'it was primarily non-truths and non-sequiturs.' Kent described how U.S. diplomats were blindsided by what was clearly a concerted campaign against the U.S. Ambassador and the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, spread over four days in March of 2019. It started first with arrows aimed at Ambassador Yovanovitch, but then spread to accusations against former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter, along with other charges mentioning conservative bogeyman George Soros - all of it given a push by President Trump, his son, conservative websites, and Fox News. The attacks on Yovanovitch came two weeks after she had been asked by the State Department to stay on in Ukraine until 2020 - but her extension would not survive the conservative media attacks against her. 'I was then abruptly told in late April to come back to Washington from Ukraine 'on the next plane,'' Yovanovitch told Congressional investigators. She will testify on Friday. + WILLIAM TAYLOR, U.S. Chargé d'Affaires IN UKRAINE. With the recall of Ambassador Yovanovitch, Taylor is the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Ukraine - basically the acting Ambassador. Several months after Yovanovitch had been ousted, Taylor described how the work of Giuliani had seemingly led to a situation where U.S. military aid for Ukraine was being withheld - in an effort to gain a quid pro quo - where the government of Ukraine would launch investigations sought by President Trump. 'By mid-Ju1y, it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian influence in the 2016 elections,' Taylor said, referring to a focus on the Bidens, and the debunked theory that Ukraine - and not Russia - was behind the hacks of Democrats in 2016. Taylor said the impetus for the situation was obvious. 'It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani,' Taylor said in his closed door deposition. Mr. Taylor said he had determined that link in 'mid-July' - it was on July 25 that President Trump spoke with the leader of Ukraine, and spelled out the need for Ukraine to launch investigations into the Bidens, and the Ukraine-2016 elections theory, which included the evidence-free allegation that the hacked computer server from the Democratic National Committee was being hidden in Ukraine. Some Republicans have mocked the choice of Taylor as an opening witness, saying he has no firsthand knowledge of why the President would want investigations conducted related to the Bidens or the 2016 elections. 'No, I've never talked to the President,' Taylor said in his deposition. Look for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) to bring this up during the first day of questioning with Taylor. Three hearings have also been set for next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with eight different witnesses.
  • Hongjin Tan pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court to committing theft of trade secrets from his employer.  Investigators say Tan used a thumb drive to copy hundreds of files.  His job at the company was to develop next generation battery technologies for stationary energy storage.  Tan’s LinkedIn profile lists his employer as Phillips 66 in Bartlesville.  Prosecutors say the defendant stole information on a development downstream energy market product worth more than $1 billion.  “Industrial spies like Hongjin Tan engage in espionage to steal American trade secrets and intellectual property born out of the innovation that is innate in our free market system,” said U.S. Attorney Trent Shores for the Northern District of Oklahoma.  'Trade secret theft is a serious crime which hurts American businesses and taxpayers,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Melissa Godbold of the Oklahoma City Field Office. Sentencing is set for Feb. 12, 2020.
  • While President Donald Trump will welcome the Turkish leader to the White House on Wednesday, the last visit of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in May of 2017 still echoes in Washington, D.C., when security guards for the Turkish President openly attacked protesters in an unprecedented act of violence less than two miles from the White House. With video that showed Erdoğan watching the pitched battle along what's known as 'Embassy Row' in the middle of Washington, D.C. - the Turkish leader's planned return drew sharp comments from Capitol Hill in recent days, as none of his guards were ever held accountable for the violence. 'This behavior is sadly routine for President Erdoğan on Turkish soil,' said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a letter this week to 'immediately' expel any of the guards involved in that 2017 violence if they are on this week's trip to Washington. 'The Erdoğan regime's use of violence against innocent civilians anywhere is inhumane, uncivilized, and unacceptable,' Cheney wrote. This was what the scene looked like on May 16, 2017, as Turkish security forces broke through police lines, and openly attacked protesters on the streets of the nation's capital. Some of the most graphic video was shot by the Voice of America's Turkish Service. At least nine people were injured in the attacks, which took place several hours after the Turkish leader met with President Trump. An in-depth review of multiple videos of the May 16, 2017, violence left no doubt as to the actions of the Erdoğan security detail, with descriptions of guards who 'punched a protestor' or 'kicked man on ground,' and 'knocked over woman, kicked man,' or 'choked, slammed woman.' You can see the New York Times video analysis of the violence at this link. In court documents revealed in recent days, U.S. security officials said the Turkish bodyguards also attacked American Secret Service agents during the incident, but were quickly spirited out of the country, and thus avoided any legal charges. A grand jury in Washington, D.C. indicted 15 Turkish security guards, but most of the charges were ultimately dropped. Several months after the incident, the Turkish leader said in an interview that President Trump had apologized for the incident - the White House denied that had occurred.
  • Voters who braved the cold for an off-year bond election overwhelmingly passed three propositions extending the Improve Our Tulsa package Tuesday.  The three bonds approved include one which addresses streets and transportation systems, a second which will fund improvements to parks and replace old city vehicles, and a third which directs new money into the city's “rainy day” fund. The list of projects is extensive; about 70% of the money, however, is earmarked for roads and transportation, a priority clearly established by voters during a series of town hall meetings held by the mayor and city council before - and after - they drafted the proposal. The majority of the funds will come from bond sales, funded by property taxes; the rest from the extension of existing sales taxes. The city's sales tax rate will remain the same, however the .05 cent (one-twentieth of a penny) sales tax which will fund the “rainy day” account becomes permanent. The Improve Our Tulsa package has a timetable of about six and a half years, at a cost of an estimated $639 million. 

Washington Insider

  • The first day of impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump will feature two State Department witnesses who raised questions about actions in Ukraine by the President's personal lawyer, with one alarmed by Rudy Giuliani's efforts to undermine the former U.S. Ambassador in Ukraine, and another who saw Giuliani leading an effort to press for investigations desired by Mr. Trump. 'Mr. Giuliani was almost unmissable starting in mid-March,' Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent testified, saying Giuliani conducted a 'campaign of slander' against former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. 'I worried about what I had heard concerning the role of Rudolph Giuliani,' said William Taylor, now the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who said he was worried about entering a 'snake pit' involving Giuliani. Here is some of what we might expect from these two witnesses in the first day of impeachment hearings. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE GEORGE KENT - After working at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, Kent returned to the State Department in the second half of 2018, taking on a post where he was responsible for Ukraine and five other eastern European nations often targeted by Russia. It was in that position where Kent said he witnessed the media attack which unfolded, spurred by Giuliani and conservative news media organs. In his impeachment deposition, Kent said an article by conservative journalist John Solomon spurred a sudden attack on Ambassador Yovanovitch and the U.S. embassy in Ukraine in general, which was then amplified by Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham. Kent said much of what was alleged, that Yovanovitch was bad mouthing President Trump, that she was working against Ukraine prosecutors, was simply false. 'It was, if not entirely made up in full cloth,' Kent testified, 'it was primarily non-truths and non-sequiturs.' Kent described how U.S. diplomats were blindsided by what was clearly a concerted campaign against the U.S. Ambassador and the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, spread over four days in March of 2019. It started first with arrows aimed at Ambassador Yovanovitch, but then spread to accusations against former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter, along with other charges mentioning conservative bogeyman George Soros - all of it given a push by President Trump, his son, conservative websites, and Fox News. The attacks on Yovanovitch came two weeks after she had been asked by the State Department to stay on in Ukraine until 2020 - but her extension would not survive the conservative media attacks against her. 'I was then abruptly told in late April to come back to Washington from Ukraine 'on the next plane,'' Yovanovitch told Congressional investigators. She will testify on Friday. + WILLIAM TAYLOR, U.S. Chargé d'Affaires IN UKRAINE. With the recall of Ambassador Yovanovitch, Taylor is the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Ukraine - basically the acting Ambassador. Several months after Yovanovitch had been ousted, Taylor described how the work of Giuliani had seemingly led to a situation where U.S. military aid for Ukraine was being withheld - in an effort to gain a quid pro quo - where the government of Ukraine would launch investigations sought by President Trump. 'By mid-Ju1y, it was becoming clear to me that the meeting President Zelensky wanted was conditioned on investigations of Burisma and alleged Ukrainian influence in the 2016 elections,' Taylor said, referring to a focus on the Bidens, and the debunked theory that Ukraine - and not Russia - was behind the hacks of Democrats in 2016. Taylor said the impetus for the situation was obvious. 'It was also clear that this condition was driven by the irregular policy channel I had come to understand was guided by Mr. Giuliani,' Taylor said in his closed door deposition. Mr. Taylor said he had determined that link in 'mid-July' - it was on July 25 that President Trump spoke with the leader of Ukraine, and spelled out the need for Ukraine to launch investigations into the Bidens, and the Ukraine-2016 elections theory, which included the evidence-free allegation that the hacked computer server from the Democratic National Committee was being hidden in Ukraine. Some Republicans have mocked the choice of Taylor as an opening witness, saying he has no firsthand knowledge of why the President would want investigations conducted related to the Bidens or the 2016 elections. 'No, I've never talked to the President,' Taylor said in his deposition. Look for Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) to bring this up during the first day of questioning with Taylor. Three hearings have also been set for next Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with eight different witnesses.
  • While President Donald Trump will welcome the Turkish leader to the White House on Wednesday, the last visit of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in May of 2017 still echoes in Washington, D.C., when security guards for the Turkish President openly attacked protesters in an unprecedented act of violence less than two miles from the White House. With video that showed Erdoğan watching the pitched battle along what's known as 'Embassy Row' in the middle of Washington, D.C. - the Turkish leader's planned return drew sharp comments from Capitol Hill in recent days, as none of his guards were ever held accountable for the violence. 'This behavior is sadly routine for President Erdoğan on Turkish soil,' said Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a letter this week to 'immediately' expel any of the guards involved in that 2017 violence if they are on this week's trip to Washington. 'The Erdoğan regime's use of violence against innocent civilians anywhere is inhumane, uncivilized, and unacceptable,' Cheney wrote. This was what the scene looked like on May 16, 2017, as Turkish security forces broke through police lines, and openly attacked protesters on the streets of the nation's capital. Some of the most graphic video was shot by the Voice of America's Turkish Service. At least nine people were injured in the attacks, which took place several hours after the Turkish leader met with President Trump. An in-depth review of multiple videos of the May 16, 2017, violence left no doubt as to the actions of the Erdoğan security detail, with descriptions of guards who 'punched a protestor' or 'kicked man on ground,' and 'knocked over woman, kicked man,' or 'choked, slammed woman.' You can see the New York Times video analysis of the violence at this link. In court documents revealed in recent days, U.S. security officials said the Turkish bodyguards also attacked American Secret Service agents during the incident, but were quickly spirited out of the country, and thus avoided any legal charges. A grand jury in Washington, D.C. indicted 15 Turkish security guards, but most of the charges were ultimately dropped. Several months after the incident, the Turkish leader said in an interview that President Trump had apologized for the incident - the White House denied that had occurred.
  • On the eve of convening historic impeachment hearings aimed at President Donald Trump, House Democrats publicly set out guidelines for conduct by lawmakers in the proceedings, seemingly anticipating the possibility of procedural tussles with GOP lawmakers when the hearings begin on Wednesday. In a six page memo released by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Schiff directly warned Republicans not to try to use the hearings to veer into certain areas of interest for the GOP. Schiff wrote, 'it is important to underscore that the House’s impeachment inquiry, and the Committee, will not serve as venues for any Member to further the same sham investigations into the Bidens or into debunked conspiracies about 2016 U.S. election interference.' In his memo, Schiff said the questions should stick to three main areas of inquiry: The Schiff memo also indicated Democrats are still reviewing the requests of GOP lawmakers to call certain witnesses in the hearings. Republicans asked for a series of witnesses on Saturday, headlined by the son of Vice President Biden, Hunter Biden, and the Intelligence Community whistleblower whose complaint kicked off the Ukraine investigation earlier this fall. As for the whistleblower, the Schiff memo warned GOP lawmakers not to make any efforts to use the public hearings to reveal the name of the whistleblower, raising the specter that it could lead to ethics charges. You can read the full memo from Rep. Schiff at this link.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday considers a politically explosive trio of cases on the future of an estimated 700,000 illegal immigrant 'Dreamers' in the United States, and whether the Trump Administration has properly exercised its legal authority to take away the protection those people have had since 2012 to avoid being deported from the United States. Legal experts say the Trump Administration certainly has the right to terminate the DACA program - because it is a discretionary use of authority by the Executive Branch.  But experts also argue that the Trump Administration bungled that simple move, resulting in several years of court challenges, culminating in these arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court. 'This is a program put in place by a government agency - it is not something the Congress put in place - which is important, because now the agency says it can get rid of the program,' said Nicole Saharsky, a lawyer who worked on one of the three DACA cases before the Justices. 'It seemed to me the government had such an easy argument,' Saharsky said at a Georgetown University symposium earlier this fall. 'This is discretionary - we're going to exercise our discretion and not have it anymore.' But Saharsky and other legal experts say the way the Trump Administration went about ending the program undermined its authority to easily make a change. For example, it took the Trump Administration months to produce policy points from the Secretary of Homeland Security - used in a later court case before the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals - to support the reason why the DACA program should be changed. 'Part of the debate is about whether those additional policy reasons are properly before the court or not,' said Irv Gornstein, the Executive Director of the Supreme Court Institute and a Visiting Professor at Georgetown University Law Center. That 'after-the-fact-justification' - as Gornstein labeled it during a Supreme Court preview this fall - is one of a series of administrative matters the Justices must consider, in what otherwise would seem to be a legal slam dunk for the Trump Administration. When lower courts first blocked the feds from changing DACA, law professor Josh Blackman called it 'ludicrous,' denouncing a decision from a federal judge in San Francisco as an 'amateur act of punditry.' But as the issue has wound its way through the courts, Blackman has joined others in acknowledging the Trump Administration fell short in offering the proper rationale for the change. 'Offer other reasons that are legitimate, and the policy can be rescinded,' Blackman argued in a lengthy argument on Twitter earlier this year. The outcome of this case could also find roots in the Supreme Court rebuke of the Trump Administration over the Census, where Chief Justice John Roberts clearly laid out a path for the feds to take without violating the Administrative Procedures Act - which could apply as well to the DACA situation. All of that will play out in 80 minutes of arguments - covering three different cases before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
  • Just days before impeachment hearings are set to begin the U.S. House, President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress continued to be on different pathways when it comes to defending the President's conduct, as Mr. Trump on Sunday again maintained that he did nothing wrong in his phone call with the leader of Ukraine. 'The call to the Ukrainian President was PERFECT,' Mr. Trump tweeted from Trump Tower in New York. 'Read the Transcript!' But Democrats said the transcript showed behavior which was not acceptable - and there were some GOP lawmakers agreeing in part. 'I believe it was inappropriate,' Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX) said of the President's request in a July phone call for the government of Ukraine to launch investigations which would have benefited Mr. Trump politically.  'I do not believe it was impeachable,' Thornberry said on ABC's 'This Week.' Mr. Trump argued specifically against that. 'Republicans, don’t be led into the fools trap of saying it was not perfect, but is not impeachable,' he tweeted. The White House document detailing the call - which is not a full, word for word transcript - shows the President clearly asking the leader of Ukraine to investigate the son of Vice President Biden, along with probing the assertion that Ukraine - and not Russia - had hacked Democrats in the 2016 elections. While the White House and Republicans tried to sort out their impeachment arguments, Democrats were blasting the GOP. 'Witness testimony shows that everybody involved in the President’s pressure campaign knew what he wanted,' said Rep. Mike Quigley (D-I), 'political investigations to undermine our free and fair elections.' 'Republicans cried for weeks for open & public impeachment inquiry hearings,' said Rep. Nanette Barragan (D-CA). 'Now that public hearings begin this week, Trump & GOP don’t want them.