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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.
  • Republicans on Saturday submitted an impeachment hearing witness list to Democrats which includes the son of Vice President Joe Biden, along with the intelligence community whistleblower who initially touched off questions about President Donald Trump's efforts to get Ukraine to launch certain investigations to help Mr. Trump's 2020 election bid. In a five page letter to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) blasted the process involved in the impeachment process, labeling it a 'one-sided and purely political' effort against President Trump. 'Americans see through this sham impeachment process, despite the Democrats' efforts to retroactively legitimize it last week,' Nunes wrote, referring to a House vote to approve plans for the impeachment inquiry opposed by GOP lawmakers. The GOP request named eight specific witnesses: + Hunter Biden, son of the former Vice President. + Devon Archer, tied to Biden through a Ukraine energy company. + Alexandra Chalupa, a former DNC staffer. + David Hale, the third-ranking State Department official, who testified behind closed doors on November 6. + Tim Morrison, National Security Council official who testified on October 31. + Nellie Ohr, a frequent target of the GOP from the Russia investigation. + Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, who was the first witness deposed by Congress. + The whistleblower who brought the Ukraine issue to officials in the U.S. Intelligence Community. On his way to the Alabama-LSU college football game on Saturday, President Trump added his own jabs at Democrats, saying he would likely release the transcript of another phone call with the leader of Ukraine next week. 'PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!' the President tweeted, in a familiar complaint about the Russia investigation. The GOP letter also asks to hear publicly from 'All individuals relied upon by the anonymous whistleblower in drafting his or her secondhand complaint.' It was not clear how many witnesses would be approved by Democrats; as of now, it's not known how long the hearings will go, or how many public sessions will be conducted. 'We expect that you will call each of the witnesses listed above to ensure that the Democrats' 'impeachment inquiry' treats the President with fairness,' Nunes wrote. You can read the GOP letter at this link. The immediate reaction from Democrats did not seem positive for the GOP effort to call Hunter Biden and others. 'This inquiry is not, and will not serve, however, as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit,' Schiff wrote in a Saturday afternoon response.
  • Just days before the start of public impeachment hearings, Congressional Republicans on Friday shuffled the GOP membership on the House Intelligence Committee, adding Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), one of the most vocal and staunch defenders of President Donald Trump. 'I am appointing @Jim_Jordan to the Intelligence Committee — which has now become the Impeachment Committee — where he will continue fighting for fairness and truth,' tweeted House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) on Friday. Jordan has routinely been one of the more outspoken defenders of the President on a host of issues. 'No quid pro quo whatsoever,' he told reporters earlier this week about allegations that President Trump had withheld military aid from Ukraine in an effort to get the government to start several investigations which could give political help to Mr. Trump's re-election bid in 2020. In order for Jordan to be added to the panel, Rep. Rick Crawford of Arkansas will step aside; he submitted a resignation letter for his committee slot, which was read on the House floor on Friday afternoon. “I look forward to rejoining my colleagues on HPSCI when this impeachment hoax has concluded and we return to the important work and oversight of the Intelligence Community that the committee is intended for,” Crawford said. The switch involving Jordan came as Democrats released the transcripts of closed door depositions with two more witnesses, former White House aide Fiona Hill, and National Security Council staffer Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. One of the few aides who listened to a July 25 phone call between President Trump and the leader of Ukraine, Vindman said there was no question in his mind that President Trump was holding back military aid for Ukraine in order to get the government to start investigations which could benefit Mr. Trump's re-election. “And was there any doubt in your mind as to what the President, our President, was asking for as a deliverable?” asked Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT). “There was no doubt,” Vindman answered. In a separate deposition, Hill - who served as a Russia expert for the Trump White House until just a few months ago - said national security experts like herself had been subjected to false conspiracy theories and death threats to paint them as opponents of President Trump. 'My entire first year of my tenure at the National Security Council was filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories, which has started again,' Hill testified. 'I received, I just have to tell you, death threats, ca1ls at my home,' Hill added. 'My neighbors reported somebody coming and hammering on my door.' Hill blamed the back channel actions of President Trump's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, for the escalating pressure on Ukraine to investigate the son of Joe Biden, and a debunked theory that Ukraine - and not Russia - had hacked Democrats during the 2016 elections. 'I didn't know exactly what Mr. Giuliani was doing,' Hill said. 'So we are now living my worst nightmare.' Watching Giuliani discuss Ukraine-related issues on television, Hill said the President's lawyer seemed to be separated from reality. “He seemed at times to actually believe some of the things he was saying that I knew to be untrue,” Hill testified. Hill's testimony is at this link. Vindman's testimony is available here.
  • Ignoring the verbal barbs and Twitter attacks leveled against him by President Donald Trump, former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has started his campaign to regain his old Senate seat - which reportedly has irked the President - by heaping praise on President Trump. In a 30 second video unveiled on Thursday titled, 'Great Job,' Sessions said he hasn't criticized the President, because he agrees with Mr. Trump's agenda. 'Did I write a tell all book?' Sessions says in the ad. 'Have I said a cross word about our President? Not one time.' 'The President is doing a great job for America, and Alabama, and he has my strong support,' Sessions says in the video released on Thursday night. Tucked into that advertisement is a snippet of video from a late February 2016 rally in Madison, Alabama, where Sessions became the first sitting GOP Senator to endorse Mr. Trump, just as he was poised to grab control of the race for the Republican nomination. 'At this time in American history, we need to make America great again,' Sessions said to cheers of 'USA! USA!' from the crowd. That early support resulted in Sessions being brought in as a top adviser for the President, and ultimately the Alabama Senator would become U.S. Attorney General. But it was in that post that Sessions infuriated the President by recusing himself from the Russia investigation, as President Trump belittled Sessions repeatedly, until Sessions was finally pushed out, the morning after the 2018 mid-term elections. 'Sessions didn't have a clue,' the President tweeted in March. 'The Russian Witch Hunt Hoax continues, all because Jeff Sessions didn’t tell me he was going to recuse himself,' Mr. Trump tweeted in June of 2018.  'I would have quickly picked someone else,' the President added. In recent weeks, as Sessions has made clear he wanted to run to regain his seat in the U.S. Senate, GOP Senators have made clear to their former colleague that he does not have the backing of the President at this point. Sessions enters what's already a crowded Republican Primary, as the GOP looks to defeat Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL), a Democrat who won an improbable victory to replace Sessions, as he defeated GOP nominee Roy Moore, who had been beset by a variety of sexual misconduct allegations. The GOP lineup right now includes not only Moore, but also former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-AL), along with the Alabama Secretary of State, the state Auditor, another state Representative, and several other candidates. It would not be the first time that Sessions has taken an unusual route to the U.S. Senate; in 1986, Sessions was nominated to be a federal judge by President Reagan, but after a spirited debate with strong opposition from Democrats, Sessions was forced to withdraw. Sessions had the last laugh, as he returned to Alabama and ran for the U.S. Senate, winning in 1996 - then serving alongside many of the Democratic Senators who had opposed his nomination to the federal bench.
  • A series of emails released under a Freedom of Information Act request show that National Weather Service forecasters publicly knocked down talk that Hurricane Dorian might threaten the Alabama Gulf Coast without knowing that President Donald Trump had heightened concerns by mentioning a possible threat to the Yellowhammer State twenty minutes earlier. 'The day shift did not know what precipitated this escalation in calls/social media questions,' wrote Chris Darden, in charge of the National Weather Service office in Birmingham, Alabama. 'It was later learned that the uptick in calls/concern regarding Alabama may have been related to a White House tweet earlier in the day,' Darden told others by email on Sunday, September 1. 'It was directly in response to the increase in calls from anxious and panicked citizens,' Darden wrote. The calls led the Birmingham office to send out a tweet, twenty minutes after the President wrongly included Alabama as being under a direct threat from Hurricane Dorian. In a series of agency emails made public this week, the Birmingham, Alabama office - and other Weather Service officials - repeatedly say that the forecasters had no idea they were getting worried calls and messages because of the President's tweet. 'Some in media assumed, understandably so, that our social media posts were a direct response to the WH (White House) post,' Darden wrote in an email. 'In fact, they were not as we were not even aware of them at the time.' But as the news media focused on the matter - and the President refused to back down in the days after the tweets - by that Friday, officials issued a public rebuke of the Birmingham office. 'The Birmingham National Weather Service's Sunday morning tweet spoke in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time,' the statement read. The dustup ultimately led to President Trump presenting a weather map in his defense, which included an extra area - marked by a black marker - to show that there was a threat to Alabama. Other emails made public from the Weather Service included complaints from fellow employees about the public rebuke of the Birmingham office. “This statement is deeply upsetting to NOAA employees that have worked the hurricane and not fully accurate based on the timeline in question,” wrote one NOAA worker in Maryland. Also included were angry emails from people outside of the Weather Service, who accused NOAA officials of giving in to the President. “You should resign immediately,” one woman wrote. “You should make yourself legit by getting a job in Trump's reelection campaign.” You can find all the emails released by NOAA at this link.
  • As more Trump Administration officials did not show up to testify before impeachment investigators in the Congress on Wednesday, Energy Secretary Rick Perry became the first of President Trump's Cabinet to join that growing list, as Democrats say the President and his aides are openly obstructing a Congressional impeachment investigation. Transcripts from the impeachment investigation show that Perry was working in concert with the President's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as Giuliani was operating a separate diplomatic effort in Ukraine, apart from State Department officials. It was also revealed this week that before testimony by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, the two men spoke about events involving Ukraine. 'I have spoken with Secretary Perry on several occasions relating to non-Ukraine business,' Sondland told investigators, 'and I did ask Secretary Perry to refresh my memory about a couple of meetings. Yes.' Perry was one of nine different officials from the White House, the State Department, and the Cabinet - in just three days this week - who defied subpoenas for their testimony. Democrats said if the top officials from the Trump Administration had only testimony which would benefit the President, then they would probably stop at nothing to tell the world that message. 'This will only further add to the body of evidence of a potential obstruction of Congress charge against the President,' said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), who is leading the impeachment proceedings at this point in the House. On Wednesday, only one of four officials showed up to testify; that was David Hale, a top State Department official. 'We wish others would show the same courage and dedication to the law,' Schiff told reporters. Meanwhile, Democrats began to mock GOP lawmakers who had furiously complained about the closed door depositions conducted in recent weeks, arguing that Republicans were saying little about the hundreds and hundreds of pages of testimony released this week. Republicans brushed aside such criticism, as they argue that Democrats are wasting the time of the American people. 'This is nothing but a show trial in the U.S. House of Representatives,' said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). 'They're trying to undo the free and open election of 2016 that elected Donald Trump to be President of the United States,' Perdue added.
  • 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. 

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  • 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.