First Public Trump Impeachment Hearing Changes No Minds in Washington

A day of testimony in the impeachment inquiry targeting U.S. President Donald Trump changed no minds in Washington, with his critics convinced as ever that he abused his office by pushing Ukraine for political investigations of Democrats in the U.S. and his staunchest allies unwavering in their opinion that he did nothing wrong.
Trump declared on Twitter, “This Impeachment Hoax is such a bad precedent and sooo bad for our Country!”

….that the House Democrats have done since she’s become Speaker, other than chase Donald Trump.” This Impeachment Hoax is such a bad precedent and sooo bad for our Country!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)
Speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi, talks to reporters on the morning after the first public hearing in the impeachment probe of President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 14, 2019.“The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections. That’s bribery,” Pelosi said at a news conference. “What the president has admitted to and says it’s perfect, I say it’s perfectly wrong. It’s bribery.”
Trump called Wednesday’s testimony from two career U.S. diplomats detailing his efforts to get Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open the investigation of Biden “a joke.” The U.S. leader delighted in retweeting comments from supporters, including Congressman Mark Meadows’s assessment that the hearing was “a MAJOR setback for the unfounded impeachment fantasy.”
But Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that could soon push for Trump’s impeachment, called the day’s testimony “pretty damning.” However, Nadler said he would remain open-minded “for the moment” on whether articles of impeachment should be written.  
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told CNN, “The president was very placid. I’ll tell you why. There was nothing new yesterday.”

FILE – White House adviser Kellyanne Conway talks with reporters outside the White House, in Washington, Nov. 7, 2019.She dismissed the importance of the day’s major news from the first of several days of the public impeachment inquiry, only the fourth against a U.S. president in the country’s 243-year history.
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified that an aide of his overheard a cell phone conversation at a Kyiv restaurant on July 26 in which Trump asked Gordon Sondland, a million-dollar Trump political donor and now the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, about whether Ukraine was opening “the investigations” he wanted about Biden, his son Hunter Biden’s work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and a debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election Trump won. The U.S. intelligence community concluded Russia was behind the election meddling.
The overheard conversation occurred a day after Trump from the White House asked Zelenskiy in a half-hour call for “a favor” — the investigations of the Bidens — at a time when he was blocking release of $391 million in military aid to Ukraine that it needed to help fight pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.

FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a bilateral meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the sidelines of the 74th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sept. 25, 2019.Taylor said his aide, David Holmes, told him that Sondland said he believed Trump was more concerned about the investigations of the Bidens, which Trump personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was pursuing, than anything else in Ukraine.
Democratic Congresswoman Jackie Speier, a member of the House Intelligence Committee conducting the impeachment inquiry, called the previously undisclosed phone conversation “so explosive.”
But Trump adviser Conway said, “You’re calling that evidence, respectfully. In a real court of law we’d not be referring to something as evidence that is, oh, someone on my staff recalled overhearing a conversation between someone else and the president where they think they heard the president use the word investigations. This is not what due process and the rule of law in our great democracy allows.”
Trump said he knew “nothing” about the alleged Kyiv call from Sondland.

FILE – U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 17, 2019.Impeachment investigators are interviewing Holmes, the Taylor aide, on Friday, while Sondland is set to testify before the impeachment inquiry next Wednesday. Sondland has already testified for hours in private behind closed doors, telling investigators that he told an aide to Zelenskiy that Ukraine would not get the military assistance unless the Ukrainian leader promised publicly that it would initiate the Biden investigations.
Trump at one point called Sondland a “‘great American,” but after he revised his testimony to say there were conditions on the Ukraine aid, Trump contended, “I hardly know the gentleman.”
Trump has denied a quid pro quo with Zelenskiy – release of the military aid in exchange for the Biden investigations – and described his July 25 call with Zelenskiy as “perfect.” After a 55-day delay, Trump released the military assistance on Sept. 11 without Ukraine undertaking the Biden investigations.
Trump’s Republican supporters say the fact that he released the aid without Ukraine investigating the Bidens is prime evidence there was no quid pro quo. They also pointed to the testimony from Taylor and George Kent, the State Department’s top Ukraine overseer, that they have had no personal interactions with Trump during the months that the Ukraine drama has played out.
Trump called the diplomats “NEVER TRUMPERS,” but both denied the characterization and cited their long service in the diplomatic corps under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

FILE – Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (C) arrives on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Oct. 11, 2019.The House Intelligence Committee is now turning its attention to Friday’s testimony from Marie Yovanovitch, a former U.S. ambassador to Kyiv who was ousted from her posting earlier this year by the Trump administration months before her tour of duty was set to end.
Her dismissal, according to career diplomats who watched helplessly as it unfolded, came after Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney he had assigned to oversee Ukraine affairs outside normal State Department channels, pushed for her removal, viewing her as an impediment to getting Ukraine to undertake the Biden investigations.
Trump called Yovanovitch “bad news” in his July call with Zelenskiy.
Next week, the impeachment panel is calling eight more witnesses, including two on Tuesday who listened in as Trump talked with Zelenskiy — Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who serves as director for European affairs on the White House’s National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, a foreign affairs aide to Vice President Mike Pence.
Political analysts in Washington say the Trump impeachment drama could last for several months. If Trump is impeached by a simple majority in the House, perhaps by the end of the year as appears possible, a trial would be held in January in the Republican-majority Senate, where a two-thirds vote would be needed for his conviction and removal from office.
The time frame could bump up against the first Democratic party presidential nominating contests starting in February, when voters will begin voting on who they want to oppose Trump when he seeks a second four-year term in the November 2020 national election. Six Democratic senators are among those running for the party’s presidential nomination, but could be forced to stay in Washington to sit as jurors in the 100-member Senate as it decides Trump’s fate, rather than campaign full-time for the presidency.
Trump’s removal remains unlikely, with at least 20 Republicans needed to turn against him and vote for his conviction. To date, while a small number of Republicans have criticized Trump for his actions on Ukraine, no Republican senator has called for his removal from office via impeachment, a drastic action that has never occurred in U.S. history.
 

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GOP Senators Confronted Erdogan Over Video, Participants Say

A band of GOP senators rebuffed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s effort to depict anti-Islamic State Kurd forces as terrorists in a contentious Oval Office meeting, as the White House allies took a far harder line against Erdogan than did President Donald Trump.
                   
Participants said Erdogan played a propaganda video for Republican senators attending Wednesday’s meeting, drawing a rebuke from Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham and others.
                   
Graham said Thursday that he asked Erdogan, “do you want me to get the Kurds to play a video about what your forces have done?”
                   
The lawmakers also told Erdogan that he is risking economic sanctions by going ahead with a new Russian anti-aircraft missile system.
                   
The exchange behind the scenes was far more confrontational than the reception Trump gave Erdogan in public.

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Next Up in Impeachment Hearings: A Parade of Key Witnesses

Several more witnesses scheduled to testify in the House impeachment hearings over the next week are expected to say they too worried about President Donald Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate Democrats as the U.S. withheld military aid from the country.
What’s ahead on the impeachment schedule:
More witnesses
The House intelligence committee, which is conducting the impeachment hearings, has set a packed schedule of open hearings over the next week.

FILE – Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, center, arrives to testify on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Oct. 11, 2019.On Friday, lawmakers will hear from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted in May at Trump’s direction. She told lawmakers in a closed-door deposition last month that there was a “concerted campaign” against her as Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani pushed for probes of Democrat Joe Biden and other political opponents.
Eight more witnesses will testify next week, some in back-to-back hearings on the same day. Among them will be Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official who said he raised concerns in the White House about Trump’s push for investigations; Gordon Sondland, Trump’s European Union ambassador, who spoke to the president about the Ukraine policy; and Fiona Hill, a former Russia adviser to the White House who told lawmakers about national security adviser John Bolton’s concerns about Ukraine.

FILE – Army Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a military officer at the National Security Council (C) arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 29, 2019, to testify as part of impeachment hearings.All witnesses testifying this week and next have already spoken to investigators in closed depositions, some of them for 10 hours or more.
Back behind closed doors
Though those private depositions are largely done, Democrats have scheduled two more for this week — at the same time they are conducting the open hearings.
Democrats have scheduled a closed-door session with David Holmes, the political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, for Friday. An official familiar with the matter said Holmes is the person Taylor referred to in his testimony on Wednesday when he said an aide had overheard a conversation between Sondland and Trump in July about Ukraine conducting investigations.

FILE – U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland arrives at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Oct. 17, 2019, to testify in impeachment hearings.They have also scheduled a Saturday deposition with Mark Sandy, an official at the Office of Management and Budget. Sandy is one of several OMB officials who have been invited by the committee to appear as lawmakers try to find out more about the military aid that was withheld. So far, none of those officials has shown up for their depositions as Trump has instructed his administration not to cooperate.
While the open hearings are being conducted by the intelligence panel, the closed-door hearings have been held by the intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform committees.
Headed to judiciary
The public hearings are expected to last at least another week. After that, the three committees will submit a report to the Judiciary panel, which will oversee the impeachment process.
Judiciary is expected to hold its own hearings and, eventually, vote on articles of impeachment. Democrats say they are still deciding whether to write them.
Next would come a floor vote, and if articles of impeachment are approved by the House, there would then be a Senate trial.
House Democrats are hoping to finish the process by the end of the year. A Senate trial, if called for, would likely come in 2020.
 

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Facebook Signs Lease for Office Space in Hudson Yards

Facebook Inc signed a lease for over 1.5 million square feet of office space across 30 floors and three buildings in New York City’s Hudson Yards, according to a statement by the luxury and commercial real estate development on Thursday.
Hudson Yards is a $25 billion complex of commercial and residential skyscrapers built on Manhattan’s far west side above the rail yards.
The deal includes about 1.2 million square feet in 50 Hudson Yards, about 265,000 square feet in 30 Hudson Yards and about 57,000 square feet in 55 Hudson Yards, the statement added.
“We’re excited to expand our offices there starting in 2020”, said John Tenanes, vice president of Facebook’s global facilities and real estate.
Facebook did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
 

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Pastor: Jimmy Carter ‘Up and Walking’ Post Brain Surgery

Former President Jimmy Carter was already “up and walking” just a day after undergoing surgery to relieve pressure on his brain from bleeding linked to recent falls, his pastor said.
The Rev. Tony Lowden of Maranatha Baptist Church visited Carter, 95, in an Atlanta hospital on Wednesday.
“His spirits are good and he is up and walking,” Lowden told reporters.
Carter Center spokeswoman Deanna Congileo has said there were no complications during Carter’s Tuesday surgery at Emory University Hospital for a subdural hematoma, blood trapped on the brain’s surface.
She said he would remain hospitalized under observation. It’s unclear when he’ll be released.
The center said the bleeding was connected to Carter’s recent falls. A Spring fall required Carter to get hip replacement surgery. He fell twice in October, hitting his head at least once.
Lowden said he expects Carter to ask when can he resume teaching Sunday School. The former president has been teaching Sunday School regularly at Maranatha Baptist for decades.
“I am going to tell him that we have everything in order at the church and he doesn’t have to worry about anything,” Lowden said. “There is no need to rush.”
 

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EU Slams Turkey Over Re-Arrest of Journalist

The European Union on Wednesday criticized Turkey over the rearrest of the journalist and novelist Ahmet Altan, saying the move damaged the credibility of the judiciary.
Altan was detained on Tuesday after prosecutors appealed against a court decision to free him and another veteran journalist, Nazli Ilicak, last week under supervision.
The pair were convicted of “helping a terrorist group” in connection with the failed 2016 coup to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, though they have denied any involvement.
“The lack of credible grounds to re-arrest Ahmet Altan and his renewed imprisonment, reversing the court’s initial decision to release him, further damages the credibility of Turkey’s judiciary, in particular due to the high level of political interference,” a spokesperson for the EU diplomatic service said in a statement.
“This interference needs to halt.”
Altan and Ilicak were freed last week from sentences of 10 and a half years and eight years and nine months respectively in recognition of time served – around three years each – and ordered not to leave the country.
They were accused of ties to the outlawed group of US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of ordering the failed putsch.
The EU has grown increasingly concerned at the decline in media freedom in Turkey since the attempted coup, which was followed by a major crackdown on journalists.
Turkey ranked 157 out of 180 countries in the 2019 World Press Freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders.

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