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President Trump Waffles On Hong Kong Democracy Bill Amid China Trade Talks
By Scott Horsley

President Trump said Friday he supports pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong. But he stopped short of saying he would sign legislation requiring sanctions against China for any crackdown on Hong Kong protesters.

"We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I'm also standing with President Xi," Trump said in an interview on the Fox News program Fox and Friends. "He's a friend of mine." The U.S. House and Senate this week passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act with overwhelming, veto-proof support. The bill calls for stripping Hong Kong of its preferential trade status if China fails to maintain the freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony when Beijing took over more than two decades ago. Now it heads to Trump's desk as the U.S. and China attempt to broker a mini trade deal that would boost China's purchases of American farm goods. The talks have stumbled over how much tariff relief the Trump administration is willing to grant China.

If no deal is reached by mid-December, the administration is preparing to impose new tariffs on another $160 billion worth of Chinese imports, including popular consumer items such as cellphones and laptops.

"The bottom line is we have a very good chance to make a deal," Trump said Friday, calling the Hong Kong protests a "complicating factor." China could withdraw from the talks if Trump signs the Hong Kong bill. Full Story

The 58 most bananas lines from Donald Trump's Friday 'Fox & Friends' interview
Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) Looking for a shelter in the storm amid one of the most damaging weeks of his presidency, President Donald Trump phoned in for a nearly hour-long monologue -- er, interview with "Fox & Friends." The "questions" ranged from the merely pedestrian (how do you make sure people know all the good things you have done for the economy?) to the outright outlandish (how high did the corruption go in the last administration?).

Trump's answers were, as ever, a sort of stream-of-consciousness riff on whatever came to mind.
I watched the whole thing and went through the transcript. The most memorable(?) lines are below.

1. "They were spying on my campaign and it went right up to the top and everybody knows it and now we're going to find out."
In which Trump repeats a debunked claim that the FBI was "spying" on his campaign and then President Barack Obama ordered it. There is zero evidence to support that charge. What did happen -- as far as we know -- is that as part of the FBI's counterintelligence operation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, it did obtain a FISA warrant to wiretap then-Trump foreign policy aide Carter Page's phone. Also: Away we go!

2. "And this was spying on my campaign. Something that has never been done in the history of our country."
[narrator voice] It wasn't.

3. "This was an overthrow attempt at the presidency. They tried to overthrow the presidency. This is a disgrace."
"This" -- to the extent a "this" actually exists -- is a counterintelligence operation run through the FBI aimed at getting to the bottom of Russia's attempts to interfere in our election. The FISA warrant to listen in on Page went through the proper channels and had zero to do with Obama.

4. "So my conversation was a perfect conversation. The Ukrainian president said, what are they talking about? They must think we're nuts in this country."
I don't doubt that last sentence is true.

5. "It was appropriate. It was perfect. It was nice. It was everything."
The July 25 phone call referenced here between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky raised concerns among several longtime diplomats who were either on the call or received a read out of it. And in some cases they immediately reported their concerns to their superiors. And oh yeah, you can read the transcript of the call and it sure as hell isn't "perfect."

6. "Now, Adam Schiff is a sick puppy."
What's remarkable is that Trump has so stretched the bounds of acceptable conduct that him attacking the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee as a "sick puppy" barely merits mention.

7. "What you're going to see, I predict, will be perhaps the biggest scandal in the history of our country, political scandal."
What is Trump even talking about here? Presumably that there was some sort of "deep state" conspiracy aimed at trying to keep him from winning in 2016? No matter what it is, it's going to be BIG. BIGGEST.

8. "I think you're going to see things that are going to be incredible if it's -- if it's done right. And I purposely stay out."
This was Trump's "answer" when pressed about what, exactly, he was talking about in regards to the biggest scandal in American history. My favorite part? How he adds the "if it's done right" -- handing himself an out when nothing happens to say it was a coverup. Truly astounding. Full Story

Hill says Trump ignored warnings on Ukraine conspiracy theory
CBS News - National Security Council expert Fiona Hill confirmed during her testimony on Thursday that President Trump ignored his top advisors when they informed him that the cospiracy theory that Ukraine was involved in the 2016 U.S. election interference was indeed false. Asked if she believed President Trump "instead listened to Rudy Giuliani's views," she responded: "That appears to be the case, yes." State Department official David Holmes said Russia wanted to deflect responsibility for its own interference and drive a wedge between the U.S. and Ukraine. Video

Exclusive: Former FBI lawyer under investigation after allegedly altering document in 2016 Russia probe
By Katelyn Polantz and Evan Perez, CNN

Washington (CNN) A former FBI lawyer is under criminal investigation after allegedly altering a document related to 2016 surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser, several people briefed on the matter told CNN. The possibility of a substantive change to an investigative document is likely to fuel accusations from President Donald Trump and his allies that the FBI committed wrongdoing in its investigation of connections between Russian election meddling and the Trump campaign. After CNN first reported on the investigation, the Washington Post reported that the inspector general concluded the alteration did not change the validity of the surveillance application.

The finding is expected to be part of Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz's review of the FBI's effort to obtain warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign aide. Horowitz will release the report next month. Horowitz turned over evidence on the allegedly altered document to John Durham, the federal prosecutor appointed early this year by Attorney General William Barr to conduct a broad investigation of intelligence gathered for the Russia probe by the CIA and other agencies, including the FBI. The altered document is also at least one focus of Durham's criminal probe.

It's unknown how significant a role the altered document played in the FBI's investigation of Page. The alterations were significant enough to have shifted the document's meaning and came up during a part of Horowitz's FISA review where details were classified, according to the sources. According to the Washington Post, it did not change Horowitz's finding that the FISA application had a legal basis.

Some witnesses who have been interviewed in Horowitz's investigation have said they expect the inspector general to find mistakes in the FBI's handling of the FISA process, but that those mistakes do not undermine the premise for the FBI's investigation. American intelligence agencies and the Justice Department have not swayed from their finding that Russia interfered in the 2016 election by hacking the Democrats and spreading pro-Trump propaganda online. And even former top Trump campaign officials have corroborated special counsel Robert Mueller's finding that the Trump campaign planned some of its strategy around the Russian hacks, and had multiple contacts with Kremlin-linked individuals in 2016.

Horowitz's investigators conducted more than 100 witness interviews in their review. During one of interviews this year, they confronted the witness about the document. The witness admitted to the change, the sources said. The lawyer, who was a line attorney, is no longer working at the bureau, said a person familiar with the matter. A line attorney is a lower level lawyer within the FBI. No charges that could reflect the situation have been filed publicly in court. The Justice Department and inspector general's office declined to comment. Full Story

You can’t trust the White House on Trump’s health
CNN - President Donald Trump, according to the White House, made an unscheduled trip to Walter Reed hospital on Saturday for a "quick exam and labs" as the first stage of his annual physical. But you shouldn't just believe them. Chris Cillizza breaks down why Trump has been less than truthful about his health before — and what it should tell us about what’s going on now. Full Story

Sondland, Defiant, Says He Followed Trump’s Orders to Pressure Ukraine
The United States ambassador to the European Union told the impeachment inquiry his efforts to press Ukraine to announce investigations were ordered by President Trump, and top officials knew.
By Nicholas Fandos and Michael S. Schmidt

WASHINGTON — An ambassador at the center of the House impeachment inquiry testified on Wednesday that he was following President Trump’s orders with the full knowledge of several other top administration officials when he pressured the Ukrainians to conduct investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals, detailing what he called a clear quid pro quo directed by the president.

Gordon D. Sondland, a wealthy Republican megadonor appointed by Mr. Trump as the ambassador to the European Union, told the House Intelligence Committee that he reluctantly followed Mr. Trump’s directive to work with Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, as he pressured Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and an unsubstantiated theory that Democrats conspired with Kyiv to interfere in the 2016 election.

“We followed the president’s orders,” Mr. Sondland said. In testimony that amounted to an act of defiance by an official who has been described by other witnesses as a point man in the push to extract the investigations, Mr. Sondland tied the most senior members of the administration to the effort — including the vice president, the secretary of state, the acting chief of staff and others. He said they were informed of it at key moments.

As striking as his account was, Mr. Sondland appeared on Wednesday as a highly problematic witness. He has had to revise his account several times based on testimony from others, repeatedly claimed not to have recalled key episodes and conceded before the committee that he did not take notes that could give him certainty about precisely what happened. Still, the revelations he offered, along with emails corroborating them, were stunning.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on parts of the pressure campaign, Mr. Sondland testified, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, was deeply involved. They understood, as he did, that there was a quid pro quo linking a White House meeting for President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to a promise by him to announce investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals, he said.

“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo?” Mr. Sondland said. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.” “Everyone was in the loop,” he said. “It was no secret.”

And Mr. Sondland testified that he came to believe that there was another linkage being made by Mr. Trump, between vital military assistance approved by Congress for Ukraine and a public commitment by its president to investigate Mr. Trump’s political adversaries. Mr. Sondland said he informed Vice President Mike Pence of his concern about that connection during a Sept. 1 meeting in Warsaw.

His appearance raised questions about whether the other top administration figures will come forward to testify in the inquiry and push back on Mr. Sondland’s version of events. Almost two months after House Democrats began their impeachment inquiry, Mr. Sondland’s account came as close as investigators have gotten to an admission from an official who dealt directly with Mr. Trump. But it came with the blemishes of Mr. Sondland’s shifting accounts, which have evolved since the committee first deposed him in October, opening him up to criticism from Republicans who claimed he was unreliable and not credible.

The State Department sought to block Mr. Sondland from testifying, and refused to allow him access to certain documents, which it also withheld from the committee despite a subpoena. Without access to them, Mr. Sondland said, he simply could not fully reconstruct the particulars of the conversations and meetings lawmakers pressed him on. Democrats pointed to the administration’s stonewalling as yet another piece of evidence for an impeachment article against Mr. Trump for obstruction of Congress. And they quickly seized on what Mr. Sondland did say as bombshells. Full Story

The president has 5 Pinocchios on a daily basis’: Rep. Speier | ABC News
ABC News - The Democratic lawmaker responded to Rep. Mike Conway during the fourth day of the House impeachment hearings. Video

Fox Anchor Chris Wallace: Sondland Just Ran the Bus Over Trump, Pence, Pompeo, Giuliani and Mulvaney
“He implicates all of them,” the Fox News anchor remarked.
By Justin Baragona

During the first break in Wednesday’s impeachment hearings—which featured U.S. Ambassador to the EU and million-dollar Trump donor Gordon Sondland implicating President Donald Trump in a quid pro quo with Ukraine—Fox News anchor Chris Wallace declared that Sondland “took out the bus and ran it over” President Donald Trump and a number of his allies and aides.

“I think what Gordon Sondland was trying to do here is protect himself more than he is to protect anybody else,” Wallace said during Fox News’ special coverage. “To a certain degree, he took out the bus and ran over President Trump, Vice President Pence, Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney,” he added. “He implicates all of them.”

Besides roundly trashing Trump and Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, throughout his testimony, Sondland also took aim at the State Department for not offering up any objection to Trumpworld’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to commit to investigations into the president’s political rivals. “And one of the things, it pains [Sondland] to say, this wasn’t a rogue operation,” Wallace explained. “I wasn’t a freelancer. Everybody knew. Everybody was in the loop on this.” Full Story

Trump: ‘I Don’t Know’ Sondland, but His Impeachment Testimony Proves My Innocence
by Pilar Melendez

President Donald Trump said Gordon Sondland “is not a man I know well,” as his ambassador to the European Union delivered bombshell testimony to the House impeachment panel Wednesday. “I don’t know him very well. I have not spoken to him much. This is not a man I know well,” Trump told reporters in a short statement at the White House before boarding Marine One. “He seems like a nice guy though... He worked for other candidates, too.”

The distancing came just moments after the president recounted Sondland’s impeachment hearing testimony and claimed it proves there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine for an investigation of the Biden family. Full Story - Another Donald J. Trump lie, time and time again Donald J. Trump knows someone until they get in trouble then he no longer know them.

Trump press secretary faces backlash over claim that Obama aides left ‘you will fail’ notes
By Toluse Olorunnipa and Josh Dawsey

The White House is facing fresh allegations of dishonesty after press secretary Stephanie Grisham claimed without evidence that aides to former president Barack Obama left behind disparaging messages around the White House on the day President Trump was inaugurated. During a radio interview Tuesday, Grisham said that White House aides left “Obama books” throughout the White House and taped a big “You will fail” sign on the door of the press office before Trump aides moved in — claims that sparked a chorus of condemnation from former Obama administration officials.

Grisham then modified her assertions later in the day, changing key parts of her story and saying she viewed the alleged conduct as little more than a harmless prank. “This is another bald faced lie,” Susan E. Rice, who was serving as Obama’s national security adviser through the end of his administration, wrote Tuesday on Twitter in response to Grisham’s initial remarks. “This is absolutely not true,” wrote Chris Lu, who served as White House Cabinet secretary during the Obama administration. “Obama repeatedly and publicly praised Bush cooperation during 2009 transition, and pledged we would provide same cooperation to whoever followed us. And that’s what we did.”

Grisham did not provide evidence to back up her allegations. No other administration official has made any similar allegations publicly in the 34 months since Trump entered the White House. Five former senior administration officials present on Day One in 2017 said they do not remember witnessing or hearing of any notes like the ones that Grisham described. “Not in my office,” said one of the former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in contradicting the press secretary. Full Story

Trump Cleared a Sailor Accused of War Crimes. The Navy Wants to Expel Him From the SEALs Anyway.
By Elliot Hannon

Despite being cleared by President Donald Trump as part of series of highly controversial pardons for American servicemen convicted of war crimes, Navy officials are looking to expel Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher from the SEALs. Removing Gallagher from the elite commando force would have little practical impact on the 40-year-old’s military career, as he’s expected to leave the Navy, but is considered an extraordinary and explicit rebuke of the president’s clearing of charges against the special operations chief. Gallagher was accused of murder while deployed in Mosul, Iraq, in 2017, but was only convicted of illegally posing for a photo with a corpse, which resulted in his being stripped of his rank before Trump’s intervention to restore it, a move that was resoundingly disapproved of by Navy officials. Full Story

Gordon Sondland just saved himself -- and jeopardized Donald Trump's presidency
Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) The question coming into Wednesday was whether Gordon Sondland would try to save himself or save President Donald Trump. He chose himself. Sondland, the US Ambassador to the European Union, in his opening statement before the House Intelligence Committee, laid out in no uncertain terms how he was part of a broader effort to force the Ukrainians to open an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden in exchange for a White House meeting. "I followed the directions of the President," said Sondland.

Later, he added:
"Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret. Everyone was informed via email on July 19, days before the Presidential call. As I communicated to the team, I told President Zelensky in advance that assurances to 'run a fully transparent investigation' and 'turn over every stone' were necessary in his call with President Trump." Which, well, wow. That statement disrupts -- actually, destroys -- the defenses of both the White House and congressional Republicans who have insisted that the Ukrainians had no clue that there were any preconditions to getting what they wanted most -- a meeting between Zelensky and Trump and then, later, the release of the nearly $400 million in military aid from the US to Ukraine. And just in case there is any doubt as to what Sondland is saying, he made it plain: "I know that members of this Committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a 'quid pro quo?' As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."

Before we go any further, it's important to note that Sondland was appointed to his ambassadorial role by Trump. Sondland had financially supported Trump's inauguration -- to the tune of a $1 million donation. Sondland isn't part of the so-called "Deep State." He isn't a "Never Trumper" (although he did originally support Jeb Bush in the 2016 primary.) Sondland was also testifying under oath, meaning that if he lies, he is committing a felony -- a lesson that Roger Stone learned the hard way last week. Full Story

Republican Witnesses Blow Massive Hole in GOP’s Defense of Trump
Kurt Volker’s testimony has complicated what was supposed to be an opportunity to amplify the GOP’s impeachment counter-narrative.
By Sam Brodey, Erin Banco, Spencer Ackerman

After weeks of decrying the impeachment process as a sham, Republicans finally got two of the witnesses they requested for testimony. But when one of them took the stand—the U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker—he instead blew a massive hole in a central part of the GOP’s defense of President Trump.

Just moments after the top Republican on the panel, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), used his platform to parrot the very same claims President Trump has used to justify his pressure campaign in Ukraine—that the Biden family’s business involvement in a Ukrainian gas company is worth probing and that Ukraine meddled significantly in the 2016 election—Volker dismissed those items as “conspiracy theories circulated by the Ukrainians.”

“They’re not things we should be pursuing as part of our national security policy with Ukraine,” said Volker. He also said in his opening remarks that he told fellow officials at the time he did not find it “credible” that Biden “would have been influenced in any way by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as Vice President.” Three hours into the hearing, Nunes had already distanced himself from the officials his side had requested, saying instead they were Democrats’ witnesses and declaring that the GOP had called relevant witnesses like Hunter Biden.

Volker’s dose of cold water on the GOP’s Ukraine fever swamp was just one part of the larger effort from the career diplomat on Tuesday afternoon to distance himself from the more problematic elements of the apparent Trumpworld push to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations by dangling $400 million in U.S. security aid.

Still, Volker’s performance did little in the way of exciting committee lawmakers on either side of the aisle. Following the morning appearances, members in the audience had thinned out and the atmosphere in the hearing room turned sleepy. Lawmakers sat back in their brown swivel chairs and seemed desperate to try and stay awake during counsel questioning. Some leaned forward on their desks, hands on cheek, staring blankly at the witnesses. Others simply closed their eyes. Full Story

Sondland testimony targets Trump, Pompeo and confirms deal with Ukraine
The ambassador is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee and will be revealing emails and texts to back up his claims.
By Josh Lederman

WASHINGTON — Gordon Sondland, the American ambassador to the E.U., pointed the finger at President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton in explosive public testimony on Wednesday in which he said explicitly that there was a "quid quo pro" linking a White House visit by Ukraine's president to investigations into a political opponent of the president.

Under fire from all sides after multiple witnesses contradicted his earlier deposition, Sondland blamed everyone but himself for the pressure campaign on Ukraine now driving impeachment proceedings against Trump. He showed up for his televised hearing with reams of new text messages and emails he said prove the highest levels of the White House and the State Department were in on it.

"They knew what we were doing and why," Sondland told the House Intelligence Committee in his opening statement. "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret." He said he knew that House members have asked "was there a quid pro quo," adding that when it comes to the White House meeting sought by Ukraine's leader, "The answer is yes."

Sondland also drew Pompeo more deeply into the effort than has previously been known, including emails to the secretary and a top aide in which the basic contours of the quid pro quo alleged by Democrats seem clear. At the time, the Trump administration had frozen military aid to Ukraine. On Aug. 11, Sondland emailed top Pompeo aide Lisa Kenna that he and former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker "negotiated a statement" for Ukraine's president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to deliver. Kenna responds saying she's passing the message along to Pompeo.

Eleven days later, Sondland wrote Pompeo directly, suggesting Zelenskiy meet Trump in Warsaw "to look him in the eye" and say he should be able to proceed on issues important to Trump "once Ukraine's new justice folks are in place." Earlier, in a July 25 phone call, Zelenskiy had told Trump that installing his own prosecutors would remove an obstacle to opening the investigations of the Bidens and the 2016 election.

"Hopefully, that will break the logjam," Sondland wrote. "Yes," Pompeo responded three minutes later. Kenna followed up saying she would try to arrange the meeting. Ultimately, Trump sent Vice President Mike Pence to Warsaw instead. Sondland testified that he told Pence "before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations." Full Story

Nikki Haley Used System for Unclassified Material to Send ‘Confidential’ Information
Newly released emails suggest that in 2017 the then-ambassador lost her password for classified communication, and so she used a different system.
by Christopher Dickey

North Korea had just tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting Alaska, and the Trump administration was scrambling to react. But it seems Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, had lost her password for classified communications. That’s why on that fraught July 4, 2017, she was typing away on her BlackBerry 10 smartphone, sending “confidential” information over a system meant only for unclassified material.

Haley was in a rush as she headed to her office—“On my way in”—shooting emails back and forth with top aides who’d been with her since she was governor of South Carolina. She needed to make a statement, and they were drafting it for her. “Let’s clean this up,” she writes after looking at some of the copy. “Pretty this up for me,” she says. The next day we discover what the problem is with her communications. “Can’t find my password for the high side,” she writes.

The stylistic suggestions and the apparent explanation for using less secure messages was in a trove of emails recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the watchdog organization American Oversight. But most of the content is blacked out—and the redactions note various classification criteria as exempt from FOIA requests, including the B1 category: “classified national defense and foreign relations information”; 1.4(B) “foreign government information”; and 1.4(D) “foreign relations or foreign activities of the United States, including confidential sources.” Full Story

A list of people Donald Trump has called 'Never Trumpers' who aren't Never Trumpers
Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) Over the weekend, President Donald Trump sent this tweet:
"Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just released statement from Ukraine. Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don't know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!" Who is Jennifer Williams, you ask? She must be one of those Republicans who fought against Trump's election and has refused to acknowledge that he is even President, right? Uh, no.

Williams is a State Department employee who is currently detailed to Vice President Mike Pence's staff as a a special adviser to the vice president for Europe and Russia. She was handpicked for her current role by Keith Kellogg, the vice president's national security adviser. (Her transgression? She testified behind closed doors that she found Trump's behavior on the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky "unusual and inappropriate.") So if Williams is part of the "Never Trump" movement -- and, to be clear, there is ZERO evidence she is -- then she has a lot of people, including the vice president of the United States, fooled.

But here's what is even more amazing: This is far from the first time Trump has referred to someone who simply says something he doesn't like as a "Never Trumper." Less than two hours before Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, and State Department employee George Kent publicly testified last week in front of the House Intelligence Committee, Trump tweeted: "NEVER TRUMPERS!" Full Story

The White House shifts description of Trump's visit to Walter Reed
By Jeremy Diamond, CNN

Washington (CNN)The White House has offered shifting descriptions of President Donald Trump's medical exam in the days since he made an unscheduled Saturday visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Trump and White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham initially billed Trump's visit as the first part of the President's annual physical. But two days later, the President's doctor described the hospital visit as an "interim checkup," a term physicians told CNN implies a separate visit that is not part of an annual physical.

In a bid to quell concerns and speculation surrounding the visit, the White House released a memo from Dr. Sean Conley, the President's physician, describing the visit as "a routine, planned interim checkup as part of the regular, primary preventative care he receives throughout the year." Despite speculation otherwise, he said Trump "has not had any chest pain, nor was he evaluated or treated for any urgent or acute issues."

The immediate effect of Conley's memo was to bolster the White House's claims that Trump was not being treated for an urgent medical issue. But the memo also revealed a shift in the White House's explanations for the purpose of Trump's visit to Walter Reed. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Tuesday he wishes the President "well" from "whatever he's recovering from." While the White House has maintained since Saturday that Trump's visit to Walter Reed was "routine" and that Trump had no symptoms that prompted the visit, Grisham initially claimed that Trump was getting a head start on "portions of his routine annual physical exam."

"Anticipating a very busy 2020, the President is taking advantage of a free weekend here in Washington, D.C., to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam at Walter Reed," Grisham said in a statement on Saturday. Trump made the same claim in a tweet late Saturday night, calling the visit "phase one of my yearly physical" and saying he would complete his physical "next year." But on Monday, while Grisham continued to insist that Trump's visit was "routine," she called it a "checkup" and made no mention of it being part of Trump's "annual physical." And then came Conley's memo. Trump on Tuesday continued to refer to the visit as a "very routine physical," despite the new language used by Grisham and Conley's memo.

Dr. Jonathan Reiner, former Vice President Dick Cheney's longtime cardiologist, said he remains "very skeptical" of the White House's explanation, particularly because the White House did not disclose what exam Trump underwent beyond having blood drawn. "The President has a physician with him every day and access to 24/7/360 care," said Reiner, who was in touch with the White House on Monday about Trump's visit to Walter Reed. "I have no doubt he was taken to Walter Reed to do something specific and separate from 'a quick exam and some bloodwork.' All that can be done at the White House." Full Story

Stephen Miller And 'The Camp Of The Saints,' A White Nationalist Reference
by Lulu Garcia-Navarro

Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller is an immigration hard-liner. He engineered the Trump administration's family-separation policy and its travel ban on people from some Muslim-majority countries. But last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center detailed leaked emails in which it says Miller encouraged far-right website Breitbart to promote white supremacist ideas. In one message, Miller references a book of fiction: "Someone should point out the parallels to Camp of the Saints."

The Camp of the Saints is a 1973 French novel by Jean Raspail that has become a key inspiration within white nationalist circles. It portrays a dystopia, or perhaps an apocalypse: a flotilla of South Asian people who invade France and effectively overthrow Western society. "The key themes are actually white supremacy and the end of white civilization as the West knows it — infestation, invasion, hordes of nameless, faceless migrants who come to indeed invade the West and bring about its end," says Chelsea Stieber, professor of French and Francophone studies at Catholic University of America.

Stieber says she became interested in the novel after she heard echoes of its rhetoric – its "not-normal political discourse" — in President Trump's inaugural address. "I noticed a language that I was intimately familiar with because I study it — because I worked on far-right French nationalism and its literature and language for a long time," she says. "And I was sort of blown away. The alarm bells started going off." Stieber teaches the book to students, who she says are generally "overwhelmed" by its content.

"The book itself is, I mean, from the pedagogic point of view, very effective because it performs the effect of infestation with its language and with its figures of style, repetition, metaphor," she says. "And so students feel quite invaded by the language — and it is an emotional and visceral reaction. ... To study it is so important to understand how it could quite literally infest a mind, a person to believe things." In an essay for the publication Africa Is a Country, Stieber argues that everyone should read the book to understand how a racist ideology can take hold in language and narrative. But she does caution everyone to understand that it is fiction based on mistaken premises. Full Story

In private speech, Bolton suggests some of Trump's foreign policy decisions are guided by personal interest
The former national security director was especially critical of the president's handling of Turkey, according to multiple sources present for his remarks.
By Stephanie Ruhle and Carol E. Lee

Former national security adviser John Bolton derided President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law during a private speech last week and suggested his former boss’ approach to U.S. policy on Turkey is motivated by personal or financial interests, several people who were present for the remarks told NBC News. According to six people who were there, Bolton also questioned the merits of Trump applying his business acumen to foreign policy, saying such issues can’t be approached like the win-or-lose edict that drives real estate deals: When one deal doesn’t work, you move on to the next.

The description was part of a broader portrait Bolton outlined of a president who lacks an understanding of the interconnected nature of relationships in foreign policy and the need for consistency, these people said. Bolton has kept a low public profile since he left the administration on Sept. 10, and efforts by Democrats to have him testify in the House impeachment inquiry into the president have stalled. But his pointed comments, at a private gathering last Wednesday at Morgan Stanley’s global investment event in Miami, painted a dark image of a president and his family whose potential personal gain is at the heart of decision-making, according to people who were present for his remarks.

Bolton served as Trump’s national security adviser for 17 months. The Ukraine scandal began to unfold about a week after his contentious departure. Trump said he’d fired him, though Bolton said he had resigned. Multiple people who attended Bolton’s private speech in Miami did not recall him mentioning Ukraine but said he told attendees that he had kept a resignation letter in his desk for three months. Bolton declined to comment for this article.

Bolton is a potential linchpin witness in the inquiry into Trump’s efforts to elicit help from the Ukrainian government to investigate the family of former Vice President Joe Biden, given his central role in the White House during that time. The impeachment inquiry moves to public testimony this week. Current and former administration officials have testified about Bolton’s strong opposition to the Ukraine pressure effort, which was led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and allegedly involved withholding military aid and a presidential meeting until the Ukrainian government publicly committed to investigations, including into 2016 U.S. election interference and a business associated with Biden's son Hunter. Full Story

Trump’s doctor refutes rumors of a serious presidential illness
After days of speculation surrounding Trump’s sudden hospital visit, the White House physician said in a memo that Trump was simply getting a routine check-up.

President Donald Trump‘s unscheduled weekend visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center prompted days of widespread rumors about the president's health. His doctor now says it was all routine. Dr. Sean P. Conley, physician to the president, used a memo released by the White House late Monday night to refute speculation that Trump had suffered from chest pain or another serious issue that led him to suddenly depart the White House by motorcade on Saturday afternoon.

Conley wrote in the memo to the press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, that Trump was not treated for any urgent issues. He said Trump's visit to the medical center was for a regular check-up and that “scheduling uncertainties“ kept the visit off the record. Trump “did not undergo any specialized neurologic or cardiac evaluations,” Conley wrote. He said he would continue to check in on the president, including a “more comprehensive examination after the New Year.“

“Primary preventative medical care is something occurs continuously throughout the year," Conley wrote, "it is not just a single annual event.“ Trump‘s surprise visit to the medical center prompted rumors on social media that the president was seriously ill. Unlike prior routine presidential physicals, the Saturday visit was not on the president’s schedule. It also came just nine months after his annual physical. Grisham had said the visit was routine Saturday and pushed back on the rumors as “wholly irresponsible & dangerous for the country.“ Full Story

Trump threatens higher tariffs if China doesn’t make a trade deal
By Tucker Higgins

President Donald Trump threatened higher tariffs on Chinese goods if that country does not make a deal on trade. The comments came during a meeting with the president’s Cabinet on Tuesday. The U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies, have been locked in an apparent stalemate in trade negotiations that have lasted nearly two years. “If we don’t make a deal with China, I’ll just raise the tariffs even higher,” Trump said in the meeting.

Financial markets, which have proven reactive to developments in the ongoing trade war, largely shrugged off Trump’s latest warning. The U.S. and China agreed to a “phase one” trade deal in October, but Beijing and Washington have since sent mixed signals about how the countries will move forward. A spokesperson for China’s Commerce Ministry said earlier this month that both countries had agreed to cancel some existing tariffs simultaneously. Trump later said that he had not agreed to scrap the tariffs, lowering hopes for a deal.

“They’d like to have a rollback. I haven’t agreed to anything,” the president said. White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow said Friday that the countries were “getting close” to reaching a trade deal. On Saturday, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He spoke with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The officials had “constructive discussions,” according to China’s Commerce Ministry, and agreed to remain in close contact. The U.S. has imposed tariffs on about $500 billion in Chinese goods. China has retaliated with tariffs on about $110 billion in American products. Full Story

Trump just upended 40 years of U.S. policy toward Israel and may have shattered any hope of peace in the Middle East
By John Haltiwanger

The Trump administration on Monday announced a major shift in U.S. policy toward Israel that could make it virtually impossible to advance peace efforts in the Middle East. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the U.S. will no longer view Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank as "inconsistent with international law." This effectively means the US will no longer adhere to a 1978 State Department legal opinion issued under the administration of former President Jimmy Carter, which determined the settlements violated international law.

"Calling the establishment of civilian settlements inconsistent with international law has not advanced the cause of peace," Pompeo said on Monday. "The hard truth is that there will never be a judicial resolution to the conflict, and arguments about who is right and who is wrong as a matter of international law will not bring peace."

In late 2016, the Obama administration declined to veto a landmark resolution in the UN Security Council that demanded a halt to all Israeli settlement in the occupied territories. The U.S. abstained from a vote on the resolution, which described the settlements as a "flagrant violation" of international law, and it passed 14-0. Saeb Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which conducts peace talks behalf of Palestinians, in a statement on Monday slammed the Trump administration over this announcement.

"Once again, with this announcement, the Trump administration is demonstrating the extent to which it's threatening the international system with its unceasing attempts to replace international law with the 'law of the jungle,'" Erekat said. "Henceforth, the international community must take all necessary measures to respond and deter this irresponsible U.S. behavior, which poses a threat to global stability, security, and peace. " Full Story

Trump administration knew in May Zelensky felt pressured to investigate Bidens
By Rene Marsh and Michael Warren, CNN

Washington (CNN) US administration officials knew as early as May 2019 that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky felt pressure from President Donald Trump's allies to conduct investigations that were politically useful to the American president. That's according to former Trump White House official Fiona Hill, who in recent testimony before Congress said she was told of that pressure contemporaneously by an American businessman and former Obama administration official who had met Zelensky's team on May 7. This account undercuts the argument from the President and his allies that the Ukrainians did not feel pressure to conduct investigations into Trump's political opponents, including 2020 presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

There is no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden in Ukraine. Hill, who until last month was a top deputy at the National Security Council inside the White House, testified that she heard from one of the participants in that May 7 meeting, former State Department official Amos Hochstein. According to Hill, Hochstein told her on May 22 that the Ukrainians were concerned about the pressure that then President-elect Zelensky was already facing from Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and his associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman. She also testified that in mid-May she mentioned these concerns to her boss, then-national security adviser John Bolton, as well as to Bill Taylor, the former Ukraine ambassador who in June became the top US diplomat in Ukraine as head of mission in Kiev. Hill testified that by mid-May she had also heard similar concerns about Giuliani's pressure campaign from US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and Phil Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs. Hill's account illustrates that US officials were aware Ukrainians felt they were being leaned on to investigate Trump's political rivals long before the July 25 phone call between the two countries' presidents.

Under pressure
On May 7, two weeks before his inauguration, Zelensky and his team held a meeting ostensibly about energy issues. But according to a person familiar with the meeting, the conversation became focused on pressure being put on Zelensky to investigate "corruption," specifically into the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings, on whose board sat Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden. Full Story

25 times Trump was soft on Russia
Here's how Trump is keeping Putin in power
By Marshall Cohen, CNN

(CNN) President Donald Trump has an Achilles' heel when it comes to Russia. Over the years, he's made no secret that he has a soft spot for the country and its authoritarian leader, President Vladimir Putin. Trump has proved that he is willing to reject widely held US foreign policy views and align himself with the Kremlin on everything from Russian interference in US elections to the war in Syria. Trump's ties to Russians were so concerning that the FBI believed there was good reason to investigate potential collusion between his 2016 campaign and the Kremlin. Counterintelligence investigators also examined whether Trump himself was somehow a Russian asset. (Special counsel Robert Mueller did not establish a criminal conspiracy of collusion.)

In Trump's eyes, these allegations are proof of a conspiracy against him by Democratic lawmakers and other "deep state" enemies in the US government. He bombastically declared last year, "There's never been a president as tough on Russia as I have been." But that claim is simply false, based on Trump's actions over the last few years. Here's a full breakdown of 25 occasions when Trump was soft on Russia or gave Putin a boost.

Trump has repeatedly praised Putin
While he was a private citizen, during his 2016 campaign and throughout his presidency, Trump has showered Putin with praise. He said Putin was "so nice," he called Putin a "strong leader" and said Putin has done "a really great job outsmarting our country." Trump also claimed he'd "get along very well" with Putin. Few, if any, Western leaders have echoed these comments.

Trump hired Manafort to run his campaign
Trump raised eyebrows in spring 2016 when he hired GOP operative Paul Manafort to run his presidential campaign. Manafort spent a decade working for pro-Russian politicians and parties in Ukraine and cultivated close relationships with Putin-friendly oligarchs. Manafort is currently in prison for, among other things, evading taxes on the $60 million he made from his Ukraine consulting.

Trump suggested Russia can keep Crimea
Trump said Putin did "an amazing job of taking the mantle" when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. During the presidential campaign, Trump broke with US policy and suggested he was OK if Russia kept the Ukrainian territory. He repeated a Kremlin talking point, saying, "The people of Crimea, from what I've heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were."

Trump's team softened the GOP platform on Ukraine
Ahead of the 2016 Republican National Convention, Trump campaign aides blocked language from the party platform that called for the US government to send lethal weapons to Ukraine for its war against Russian proxies. Mueller investigated this for potential collusion but determined the change was not made "at the behest" of Russia. (The Trump administration ultimately gave lethal arms and anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainian military.)

Trump made light of Russian hacking
Throughout the 2016 campaign, Trump cast doubt on the US government assessment that Russia hacked the Democratic National Committee and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. At a news conference in July 2016, he even asked Russia to hack more, saying, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,"

Trump denied that Russia interfered in 2016
The Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the FBI, the CIA, the National Security Agency, the Justice Department and the Senate Intelligence Committee all confirmed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump. But Trump has repeatedly rejected this view, and publicly sided with Putin at the Helsinki summit in 2018, saying he accepted Putin's denials.

Trump transition undermined Russian sanctions
After the election, the Trump transition team asked Russia not to retaliate against new US sanctions imposed by then-President Barack Obama. The sanctions were meant to punish Russia for interfering in the election, but then-Trump aide Michael Flynn asked the Russian ambassador not to escalate the situation so they could have a good relationship once Trump took over. Full Story

Fact check: A list of 45 ways Trump has been dishonest about Ukraine and impeachment
By Daniel Dale, CNN

Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump is dishonest about a whole lot of things. But he is rarely as comprehensively dishonest as he has been about his dealings with Ukraine and the impeachment inquiry they have triggered. Relentless deceit has seemed to be his primary defense strategy in the court of public opinion. Trump has made false claims about almost every separate component of the story, from his July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the whistleblower who complained about the call to Democrats' impeachment inquiry hearings. The President is dissembling about so many different topics at once that it can be difficult to keep track of what is true and what isn't. To help you fight Trump-induced dizziness, here are brief fact checks of 45 separate false claims Trump has made on the subject of Ukraine or impeachment.

The phone call with Zelensky

1. Trump released an "exact transcript" of his call with Zelensky. (The document says on its first page that it is "not a verbatim transcript.")

2. Trump did not ask Zelensky for anything on the call. (Trump asked Zelensky to look into former Vice President Joe Biden, look into a debunked conspiracy theory about Democratic computer servers, and speak with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr.)

3. Zelensky criticized former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch "out of the blue" on the call. (Trump brought up Yovanovitch first.)

4. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was "angry" when she saw the rough transcript of the call, and she said, "This is not what the whistleblower said." (Pelosi has said no such thing in public, and there is no evidence she has said anything like that in private. Her public statement on the call was scathing.)

5. "Everybody" that looked at the text of the call agreed that it was "perfect." (Some of Trump's staunch defenders agreed with this characterization, but clearly not "everybody" did.)

6. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke to Trump about the call and said, "That was the most innocent phone call that I've read." (McConnell said he doesn't recall speaking to Trump about the call. His public statement on the call was far less effusive than Trump's description.)

7. People are not talking about the call anymore. (People continue to talk about the call, a central focus of the impeachment inquiry.)

8. The Washington Post made up fictional sources for its article on how Trump had allegedly tried to get Barr to hold a news conference saying Trump had broken no laws in the call. (There is no evidence that the Post invented sources. Other major news outlets, including CNN, quickly reported the same thing the Post did.)

The whistleblower

9. The whistleblower was "sooo wrong." (The rough transcript and witness testimony have proven the whistleblower to have been highly accurate.)

10. The whistleblower, a second whistleblower and the first whistleblower's source have all "disappeared." (There is no evidence for this. Whistleblowers do not have an obligation to speak publicly after filing their complaints.)

11. The whistleblower had "all second hand" information. (While the whistleblower did get information about the call from other people, the whistleblower also had "direct knowledge of certain alleged conduct," noted Michael Atkinson, the Trump-appointed inspector general for the intelligence community.)

12. The whistleblower "said 'quid pro quo' eight times." (The whistleblower did not even use the words "quid pro quo" in the complaint, much less specify a number of times Trump allegedly said those words. Trump may have been referring to a Wall Street Journal article that had asserted that Trump urged Zelensky "about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani" on a probe that could hurt Biden; the article did not say this claim came from the whistleblower.)

William Barr: Democrats' investigations into Trump are political harassment meant to 'sabotage' his presidency
By Kevin Johnson - USA TODAY

WASHINGTON–Attorney General William Barr said Friday that President Donald Trump's political opponents have pursued a "scorched earth, no-holds-barred resistance" meant to "sabotage" his presidency. "The pursuit of scores of investigations and an avalanche of subpoenas is meant to incapacitate" the administration, Barr said in a biting address to the conservative Federalist Society. The attorney general, in a full-throated defense of the president, said the political "harassment" contravenes the intent of the Constitution's framers who, he said, meant to provide the chief executive with sweeping authority.

"I am convinced that the deck has been stacked against the executive," Barr said. Barr's remarks came as Trump has been swept up in an impeachment inquiry over allegations he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into political rival and former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, who served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Before Friday, Barr had said little publicly about the impeachment proceedings, suggesting he might be attempting to distance himself from Trump. But his remarks left no doubt he stands with the president. He lamented a "steady encroachment of executive authority" that he claimed had "substantially weakened the institution of the presidency." And he said Congress has "drowned" the administration with demands for testimony and documents. Full Story. - William Bar must not have read the constitution or does not care that our founding fathers put it in the constitution to protect our country from bad presidents like Donald J. Trump who put themselves above our country.

A day that underscored the corruption swamping the Trump presidency
Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN

(CNN) A fateful convergence of events Friday reflected a culture of corruption and intimidation endemic to the circle of a President who vowed to drain the swamp but instead became its incarnation. First, a US ambassador told how her reputation was shredded and she was hounded out of her job by President Donald Trump's rogue associates after a faultless 30-year career advancing America's interests. "Ukrainians who prefer to play by the old corrupt rules sought to remove me," former US envoy to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch said at the House impeachment hearings. "What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them."

Incredibly, her testimony was interrupted by a Trump attack tweet that visibly exacerbated her anguish over his bullying tactics, lent credibility to her testimony and could now be folded into articles of impeachment. As she spoke, and less than a mile away across Washington's mall, Roger Stone became the latest associate who will pay for his loyalty to the President. The Nixon-era political trickster was found guilty of lying to Congress and witness tampering, apparently motivated by a desire to protect Trump from embarrassment over the Russia scandal. "Truth matters. Truth still matters, OK?" prosecutor Michael Marando had told the jury on Wednesday. "In our institutions of self-governance, committee hearings, courts of law ... truth still matters."

All this came during a week in which the President made a new last-ditch appeal to the Supreme Court to shield his tax returns from public scrutiny.
And on Friday evening, things took another turn for the worse for Trump. Diplomatic aide David Holmes testified that he had heard Trump on a telephone call ask US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland whether the Ukrainians were going to open investigations he had asked for into former Vice President Joe Biden and a conspiracy theory surrounding the 2016 election. Sondland told Trump on the call in July that Ukranian President Vlodymyr Zelensky was ready to do "anything you ask him to," according to a transcript of an opening statement delivered by Holmes to a closed-door session of the impeachment investigation. The revelation significantly raised the stakes for Sondland's testimony in a televised hearing next week and suggests that Trump was intimately involved in his lawyer Rudy Giuliani's scheme to pressure the Ukrainians. Full Story

Trump's impeachment tantrums reveal a fragile ego obsessed with saving his legacy
Fear is dominating Trump's decision-making right now. It’s a sense of panic, masquerading as strength.
By Kurt Bardella, NBC News THINK contributor

As the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, gave public testimony during the House Intelligence Committee’s second public impeachment hearing Friday, President Donald J. Trump unleashed a bizarre tweet attack, claiming, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.”

Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him. It is a U.S. President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 15, 2019

Aside from the absurdity of blaming the ambassador for decades of turmoil in Somalia, Trump’s clear intent, as committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., noted, was to intimidate future witnesses and maybe even convince them not to testify.

While Trump may have deluded himself into believing that this kind of bullying projects strength, I think it reveals the exact opposite. Donald Trump is afraid. This is a man who has spent the entirety of his adult life plastering his name on skyscrapers and casinos; this is a man who is obsessed with his own legacy. And that’s why impeachment is the permanent stain that Trump deserves — and one he clearly fears.

Axios reported recently that Trump has said privately impeachment is a “bad thing to have on your resume.” He doesn’t want impeachment to be the first thing written about him in the world's history books.

Conventional wisdom suggests that there are enough votes in the Democrat-controlled House to successfully impeach Trump, while the Senate will vote against it. But when it comes to Trump and how he is wired, it may not matter if he is thrown out of office. The fact that he would go down in history as only the third president ever to be impeached would psychologically cripple him. Full Story

Trump Pardons 2 Service Members Accused Of War Crimes And Restores Another's Rank
By Richard Gonzales

President Trump has issued pardons for two Army officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and restored the rank of a Navy SEAL who was acquitted of murder in Iraq. "For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country," said White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham in a statement released late Friday. "These actions are in keeping with this long history."

The officers include 1st Lt. Clint Lorance who has served six years of a 19-year sentence on two charges of second-degree murder and obstruction of justice after ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed men in Afghanistan, killing two of them. He had been convicted in 2013. The other pardoned officer is Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, a West Point graduate, who was awaiting trial for allegedly murdering a suspected Afghan bombmaker in 2010. The trial was scheduled for next year.

The president also restored the rank of Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL, who was convicted of posing with a corpse of an enemy combatant in Iraq. Gallagher had been acquitted of murder and other serious charges in July 2019. Full Story

Trump issues pardons in war crimes cases, despite Pentagon opposition to the move
By Dan Lamothe

President Trump intervened in three cases involving war crimes accusations on Friday, issuing full pardons to two soldiers and reversing disciplinary action against a Navy SEAL despite opposition raised by military justice experts and some senior Pentagon officials. The White House said in a statement Friday night that Trump, as commander in chief, is “ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted.”

“For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country,” the statement said. The service members were notified by Trump over the phone late Friday afternoon, according to lawyers for Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn and former Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, the SEAL. Golsteyn faced a murder trial scheduled for next year, while Gallagher recently was acquitted of murder and convicted of posing with the corpse of an Islamic State fighter in Iraq. Full Story

Trump asks Supreme Court to block another subpoena for his tax returns — this one is from Congress
By Tucker Higgins, Dan Mangan

Attorneys for President Donald Trump returned to the Supreme Court on Friday to ask the justices for the second day in a row to block a demand for his income tax returns — this one from House Democrats.

On Thursday, Trump’s lawyers asked the Supreme Court to hear their appeal of a lower-court ruling that would allow the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to obtain eight years’ worth of Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns from his accountants as part of its criminal investigation.

In their emergency application filed on Friday, Trump’s lawyers asked the justices to temporarily halt another subpoena for his tax returns to issued to his accountants at Mazars USA by the House Oversight Committee. The firm has said it will hand over the records if it is required to.

“For the first time in our nation’s history, Congress has subpoenaed the personal records of a sitting President from before he was in office,” the president’s attorney Jay Sekulow said in a statement. “And, for the first time in our nation’s history, a court upheld a congressional subpoena to the President for his personal papers.” Full Story

Rudy Giuliani says he has 'insurance' if Trump tries to throw him under the bus in the impeachment process
By Tom Porter

President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani has hinted that he has "insurance" should the president abandon him amid House Democrats' impeachment investigation. In an interview with The Guardian, the former New York mayor was asked whether he was nervous the president might decide to throw him under the bus.

The House is investigating claims Trump abused his office in waging a pressure campaign, in which Giuliani played a key role, for Ukraine to announce investigations meant to benefit Trump politically. "I'm not, but I do have very, very good insurance, so if he does, all my hospital bills will be paid," Giuliani remarked in the article, published Thursday.

At this point in the call Giuliani's own attorney, Robert Costello, interjected to say: "He's joking." The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Even as a joke, the remark comes against a backdrop of suggestions that Giuliani could be cut loose by the Republican establishment in an effort to protect Trump.

As pressure on Trump continues to grow amid the first US presidential impeachment inquiry in two decades, reports are emerging that senior Republicans are considering using Giuliani as a fall guy. Axios reported that they were mulling portraying him as a rogue actor who sought to broker a deal with Ukraine without the president's full knowledge.

Giuliani in the interview insisted that Trump was a "very loyal guy" who would not abandon an ally. Full Story

Trump associate Roger Stone found guilty of lies that protected Trump
By Geneva Sands, Katelyn Polantz and Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN

(CNN) - Longtime Trump associate Roger Stone was found guilty on Friday of lying to Congress and other charges in a case that has shed new light on President Donald Trump's anticipation of the release of stolen Democratic emails in 2016 by WikiLeaks. Stone, a political operative, was found guilty of all seven counts brought by the Justice Department, a victory for special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. Stone was found guilty on five counts of lying to Congress, one of witness tampering, and one of obstructing a Congressional committee proceeding.

The verdict marks a stunning conclusion to one of the highest-profile prosecutions to emerge from special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation -- a case that began with one of Trump's most vocal supporters arrested during a pre-dawn raid as the special counsel's investigation wound down, and that since then has gradually revealed new information about the Trump campaign's positive reception to foreign interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors asked the judge to take Stone into custody immediately. They alleged he violated his gag order and communicated with a member of the press last night. Judge Amy Berman Jackson declined, saying she" will release him on his current conditions pending the sentencing date."

Stone had no audible reaction as the jury's verdict was read. He kept his right hand steady on the table next to him as he looked forward, away from his defense and the courtroom. When the jury came in and each member said yes, Stone put his glasses on. His movements were slow and deliberate as he took a sip of water while each juror stated their position. According to prosecutors, Stone failed to turn over documents to Congress in 2017, showing he had sought to reach WikiLeaks the previous year, and lied about five facts, obscuring his attempt to use intermediaries to get information that could help then-candidate Trump in the election against Hillary Clinton. Full Story

Trump has considered firing official who reported whistleblower complaint to Congress: report
By Justine Coleman

President Trump has considered firing the official who reported the whistleblower complaint to Congress, The New York Times reported Tuesday. The president has weighed getting rid of the intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson, because he provided the whistleblower complaint to Congress that sparked the impeachment inquiry, four people familiar with the discussions told the Times. Trump was reportedly upset when the whistleblower report was published in September and has considered firing the inspector general more recently because he does not understand why Atkinson shared the complaint, one source told the Times.

The whistleblower report detailed how Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate unfounded corruption allegations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son days after withholding military aid from the country. Trump has blasted the inspector general on Twitter and indicated that he thinks Atkinson should have to testify in the impeachment inquiry alongside the whistleblower. It is unknown how far the consideration of firing Atkinson went, with two sources telling the Times they thought Trump was just venting and not talking about serious consequences for the inspector general. However, the president condemned former FBI Director James Comey and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions before he removed them for disloyalty.

Inspector generals are supposed to remain independent from partisan beliefs and provide objective accountability. People close to Trump told the Times that they thought removing Atkinson could damage the president going into the impeachment proceedings; his firing of Comey led to the appointment of former special counsel Robert Mueller to investigate his campaign's alleged ties to Russia. Full Story

Ex-Trump campaign official testifies Stone gave updates on WikiLeaks email dumps
By Harper Neidig

President Trump's former deputy campaign manager told a jury on Tuesday that Roger Stone was giving the campaign updates on WikiLeaks's plans to release damaging emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman. Richard Gates, who is facing up to ten years in prison under a plea agreement for various fraud charges, testified in Stone's criminal trial on Tuesday, saying that the longtime Trump associate was telling the campaign about WikiLeaks's plans as early as April 2016, months before the DNC had announced it was hacked.

It had not been previously known that Stone was updating the campaign about WikiLeaks that early. Stone is facing charges of lying to Congress about his role as an intermediary between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign. He has pleaded not guilty. According to Gates, Stone's main point of contact with the campaign was Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager who has been sentenced to more than seven years in prison over a variety of fraud charges, though Gates said he spoke with Stone himself as well. On June 13, 2016, Stone said in an email to Gates, "Need guidance on many things. call me," according to evidence presented by prosecutors. The day before, Julian Assange, the leader and founder of WikiLeaks, had hinted in a media interview that he was planning to release Hillary Clinton emails. On June 14, Stone talked with Trump on the phone and the next day sent another email to Gates saying, “I need contact info for Jared” Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and top adviser. Gates said Stone indicated he wanted to "debrief" Kushner about the DNC release. Gates also testified that there were high-level campaign meetings to discuss WikiLeaks releases and that there was a "state of happiness" among aides over the damaging information about their rival. "There were a number of us who felt that it would give our campaign a leg up,” Gates said of the DNC leak. Full Story

Top health official defends federal contract payments to Trump allies
By Nathaniel Weixel

A top administration health official on Tuesday defended her office’s spending of hundreds of thousands of dollars on outside GOP communications consultants with close ties to President Trump. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma said the use of contractors was appropriate, because the agency did not have the necessary communications staff in place to enact her “vision” for the department.

“When I came to CMS, my vision for the comms department was very different than what we had. I wanted to make sure that we were communicating with our patient population … and the provider community,” Verma told reporters. Verma was responding to a report by Politico that found CMS had paid GOP consultants, including at least eight former Trump campaign and transition officials, hundreds of thousands of dollars for work that is normally handled by career civil servants.

The Health and Human Services Department's inspector general is investigating the $2.25 million contract to determine whether Verma complied with federal ethics rules. Congressional Democrats in the House and Senate are also investigating. Full Story

Trump-appointed State Department official embellished her résumé, made fake Time cover: report
By Marty Johnson

Mina Chang, a senior official within the State Department, exaggerated her background on her résumé, including a fake cover of Time magazine with her face on it, NBC News reported on Tuesday. Chang currently serves as the deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, where her main job duties revolve around preventing conflicts from escalating in politically unstable countries. On her résumé, Chang claims that she is a graduate of Harvard Business School, but the university told NBC that she only completed a seven-week course in 2016 and doesn't hold a degree from Harvard.

Additionally, her biography on the State Department's website says that she's a graduate of a program at the Army War College, but the program she attended was, in fact, a four-day seminar. Chang's LinkedIn profile mentions the University of Nations, an unaccredited Christian school that has 600 locations worldwide, the network reports. Her most relevant job experience for her current position appears to be the time she served as CEO of a nonprofit called Linking the World.

Despite touting that the nonprofit was building schools in multiple countries, tax filings for the company don't show concrete evidence of overseas projects, but reveal an operating budget of only $300,000 with a handful of staff. Ian Dailey, former chief of staff of Linking the World, told NBC that the nongovernmental organization doesn't run large-scale programs like Chang suggests.

"We are not implementers of programs," Dailey said. "We pilot new technologies, testing their practicalities, and seek to identify the 'unintended consequences' that are rife in our industry." A 2017 video on the nonprofit's website includes the Time cover, which a spokesperson for the magazine described as "not authentic." According to the NBC, Chang had initially been considered to lead the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) work in Asia, a position that requires Senate confirmation. She would've been in charge of a budget of over $1 billion.

The Trump administration reportedly announced its decision to nominate Chang for the USAID position in late 2018. However, the nomination was withdrawn in early September after the Senate Foreign Relations Committee inquired about more supporting documents about her work experience, NBC reports. Full Story

Trump rails on Fed, notes other countries have negative rates: ‘Give me some of that money’
By Thomas Franck

President Donald Trump used his pulpit before the Economic Club of New York on Tuesday to bash the Federal Reserve, a marked diversion from what many on Wall Street had hoped would be a positive speech on the progress of trade relations between the U.S. and China. Instead of highlighting warmer relations with Beijing, Trump criticized the Fed for what he sees as its hesitation to lower interest rates and blamed the central bank for capping gains in the U.S. economy and stock market.

The president noted that since his election, the S&P 500 is up more than 45%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up over 50% and the Nasdaq Composite is up 60%. But those numbers could be way higher, Trump said, if it weren’t for the reluctance of the Fed. “And if we had a Federal Reserve that worked with us, you could have added another 25% to each of those numbers, I guarantee you that,” Trump said.

“But we all make mistakes, don’t we?” the president added. “Not too often. We do make them on occasion.” It wasn’t immediately clear which “mistake” Trump was referencing: His choice to nominate Fed Chair Jerome Powell to lead the central bank or Powell’s preferred course of monetary policy.

Trump also contended that the Fed should continue to cut interest rates to make the U.S. more competitive in the global market. “We are actively competing with nations who openly cut interest rates so that now many are actually getting paid when they pay off their loan, known as negative interest,” he said. “Who ever heard of such a thing?” “Give me some of that,” he said. “Give me some of that money. I want some of that money.” Full Story

Trump’s lie about impeachment transcripts is one of his laziest yet
The president suggested Adam Schiff “doctored” impeachment hearings transcripts. He did not.
By Aaron Rupar

It’s not exactly news these days when Donald Trump tells a lie. As of August, he had made more than 12,000 false or misleading claims over the course of his presidency. Even so, Trump began one of the most critical weeks of his presidency — the House will hold its first public impeachment hearings starting Wednesday — with a whopper that ranks among the most unpersuasive he’s ever pushed. On Twitter, Trump suggested that House Intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) released doctored transcripts of impeachment depositions conducted behind closed doors — an explosive claim belied by the fact that not a single Republican or witness who has been in the room for them has said anything of the sort.

Shifty Adam Schiff will only release doctored transcripts. We haven’t even seen the documents and are restricted from (get this) having a lawyer. Republicans should put out their own transcripts! Schiff must testify as to why he MADE UP a statement from me, and read it to all!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 11, 2019

Schiff’s committee conducted the initial round of impeachment inquiry depositions behind closed doors in part to prevent witnesses from being able to sync up their stories. Despite Republican complaints that the process has been partisan, the 2,677 pages of transcripts that were released over the course of last week show that Republicans were very involved in the questioning. An almost exclusively party-line vote on October 31 set the stage for the public hearings that will begin this week. Ahead of the release of the transcripts, Trump preemptively complained on Twitter that Schiff “will change the words that were said to suit the Dems [sic] purpose.” But the transcripts were vetted by lawyers ahead of their release and nobody has complained about them. Nonetheless, Trump persists.

Trump’s tweet on Monday represents a departure from what he told reporters last Friday, when he said he wasn’t concerned about any of the impeachment hearing transcripts because it “has all been fine.” In reality, officials who testified in closed-door hearings before impeachment investigators broadly corroborated a whistleblower’s complaint alleging that Trump used military aid to Ukraine as leverage as part of an effort to get the Ukrainian government to do political favors for him. Perhaps most notably, the whistleblower’s account was corroborated in testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, who was on Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and reportedly said, “I did not think it was proper.” Full Story

Pentagon official testifies Trump directed freeze on aid to Ukraine
Asked if the president was authorized to order that type of hold, Laura Cooper said there were concerns that he wasn’t.
By Adam Edelman and Dareh Gregorian

Laura Cooper, the top Pentagon official overseeing U.S. policy regarding Ukraine, told House impeachment investigators last month that President Donald Trump directed the relevant agencies to freeze aid to Ukraine over the summer, according to a transcript of her testimony released Monday. Cooper, during Oct. 23 testimony before the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry into Trump's Ukraine dealings, testified that she and other Pentagon officials had answered questions about the Ukraine assistance in the middle of June — so she was surprised when one of her subordinates told her that a hold had been placed on the funds after an interagency meeting in July.

“I got, you know, I got a readout from the meeting — there was discussion in that session about the — about OMB [Office of Management and Budget] saying that they were holding the Congressional Notification related to” Ukraine, Cooper testified, according to the transcript. Cooper, according to the transcript of her testimony, described the hold as "unusual." Cooper said that she attended a meeting on July 23, where "this issue" of Trump's "concerns about Ukraine and Ukraine security assistance" came up. She said the president's concerns were conveyed by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Days later, on July 26, she testified that she found out that both military and humanitarian aid had been impacted. Asked if the president was authorized to order that type of hold, Cooper said there were concerns that he wasn't. "Well, I'm not an expert on the law, but in that meeting immediately deputies began to raise concerns about how this could be done in a legal fashion because there was broad understanding in the meeting that the funding — the State Department funding related to an earmark for Ukraine and that the DOD funding was specific to Ukraine security assistance. So the comments in the room at the deputies' level reflected a sense that there was not an understanding of how this could legally play out. And at that meeting the deputies agreed to look into the legalities and to look at what was possible," she said, according to the transcript. Full Story

The truly frightening thing about Nikki Haley's big revelation
Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large

(CNN) In her forthcoming book about her time in the Trump White House, former US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley claims that she was recruited by White House chief of staff John Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to subvert the wishes of President Donald Trump. "Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the President, they weren't being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country," writes Haley in "With All Due Respect," which is out on Tuesday. (The Washington Post obtained an early copy.)

In the wake of that revelation, much has been made -- by Haley -- of the fact that she resisted those entreaties. "It should have been, go tell the President what your differences are and quit if you don't like what he's doing," Haley told CBS over the weekend. "To undermine a President is really a very dangerous thing. And it goes against the Constitution and it goes against what the American people want. It was offensive." But the focus on Haley -- and what she did or didn't do -- misses the point, which is this: Two of the top Cabinet officials within the Trump administration were concerned enough about the behavior of the President of the United States that they were actively reaching out to other influential members of the Cabinet to actively work around him.

That is a VERY big deal. Especially when you consider how Tillerson and Kelly came into their jobs. The former was the head of Exxon, a massive, multinational company. Trump touted Tillerson as the crown jewel of his Cabinet -- a hugely successful and accomplished businessman that only this President could recruit to work for the government. The latter was a hugely accomplished general who led Southern Command among other gigs in a lifetime spent in the military. It was these resumes that drew Trump to them. Of all his Cabinet officials, he bragged on these two the most in the early days of his White House.

Of Tillerson, Trump said: "He's a world-class player. He's in charge of an oil company that's pretty much double the size of its next nearest competitor." He so valued Kelly that he when the chief of staff job opened, Trump moved the general from his post as head of the Department of Homeland Security to the vacant job. Neither of these men were "never Trumpers." Both were Trump's top picks for hugely important jobs -- perhaps the two most powerful Cabinet gigs -- and, at least in the early days of Trump's presidency, were considered primetime players. These were the people who, along with Trump, were going to shape the future of the country and the world. Full Story

Trump Issues Warning To Republicans As Impeachment Inquiry About To Go Public | NBC Nightly News
NBC News - Current and former state department officials will testify on camera this week, relaying their firsthand accounts claiming President Trump withheld military aid to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Trump on Twitter warned his party that they should not “be led into the fools trap of saying it was not perfect, but is not impeachable.” Video

Judges tosses Trump suit over New York tax returns, rejects conspiracy claim
Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that his court was not the proper jurisdiction to hear the case.
By Allan Smith

A federal judge on Monday dismissed President Donald Trump's lawsuit to prevent the House Ways and Means Committee from utilizing a recently passed New York law providing the panel an avenue to pursue his state tax returns. Judge Carl Nichols of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that his court was not the proper jurisdiction to sue the New York officials named in the lawsuit, leaving open the option that Trump do so in the Empire State.

In his lawsuit, Trump sued to preemptively block the House Ways and Means Committee from requesting the returns, New York Attorney General Letitia James from enforcing the law, and to stop the New York Department of Taxation from furnishing the documents. Trump argued his lawsuit was necessary to prevent his state returns from being disclosed to Congress before a court could hear his opposition.

The House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., has not requested Trump's state returns through the new New York law. "Based on the current allegations, Mr. Trump has not met his burden of establishing personal jurisdiction over either of the New York Defendants," Nichols, a Trump appointee, wrote. "The Court therefore need not reach the question of proper venue. Accordingly, the New York Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss is granted, and Mr. Trump’s Amended Complaint is dismissed without prejudice as to them."

Nichols also ruled that Trump did not sufficiently establish a conspiracy between the House Ways and Means Committee and the New York defendants, which would have strengthened his case for the lawsuit to be heard in Washington, D.C. Trump argued that Washington, D.C. was the proper venue through a legal theory known as "conspiracy jurisdiction."

"But nowhere in his Amended Complaint does Mr. Trump allege the existence of a conspiracy; in fact, the word 'conspiracy' does not even appear in his pleadings," Nichols wrote. Full Story

Trump met with 'lock him up' chants during Veterans Day Parade
The ceremony comes just a week after a judge found Mr Trump broke the law in using money raised to help veterans to fund his 2016 presidential campaign
By Vittoria Elliott

Protesters chanted "lock him up" as Donald Trump gave a speech to mark Veterans Day in Madison Square Park in central New York. Several dozen people holding banners reading "Traitor, criminal, lock him up!", "Sexist in chief" and "Impeach Trump" had gathered close to Madison Square Park in downtown Manhattan ahead of his speech.

The chants are an echo of those at Trump's own rallies--"Lock her up"-- Trump and his supporters have called for 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to go to jail for the use of a private email server while she was serving as Secretary of State. The State Department found last month that there was no deliberate mishandling of classified information by Mrs Clinton or her team, but Mr Trump was able to weaponise the story during his campaign and after to rally his supporters.

Mr Trump also offered his ongoing support to Gold Star families, those families who have lost someone who was serving in combat as a member of the US military. However, during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr Trump attacked Khizr and Ghazala Khan, a Gold Star family whose son, US Army Captain Humayun Khan, was killed in 2004 while serving in Iraq. Full Story

Trump’s offense is as impeachable as it comes. So no, it can’t wait for an election.
Asking Ukraine to investigate the Bidens is exactly the kind of misconduct the framers had in mind in introducing a check on misuse of power.
Image without a caption
By Michael J. Gerhardt

Michael J. Gerhardt is the Burton Craige distinguished professor of jurisprudence at the University of North Carolina School of Law and the author of “Impeachment: What Everyone Needs to Know.” This past weekend, President Trump had new advice for his Republican defenders in Congress. He warned in a tweet that they should “not be led into the fools trap” of saying there was something wrong with his phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, just not an impeachable wrong.

And yet that “trap” remains popular with those of the president’s allies unable to ignore what he actually said in the call, which was that he wanted Ukraine to “look into” former vice president Joe Biden, a political rival, and his son. “I believe it was inappropriate,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos on Sunday. “I do not believe it was impeachable.” Thornberry went on to say that the Constitution “is very specific” on impeachment — “bribery, treason, high crimes and misdemeanors, which basically means felonies.” Plenty of Republican lawmakers share Thornberry’s reasoning, as well as his position that the remedy is the coming election: “Let the American people decide this in less than a year.” Full Story

Washington Post: Nikki Haley says top Trump aides tried to recruit her to undermine President
By Jamie Ehrlich, CNN

Washington (CNN) Former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley divulged in her forthcoming memoir that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and former White House chief of staff John Kelly attempted to recruit her to undermine President Donald Trump in an effort to "save the country," according to The Washington Post.

The two former Cabinet members sought Haley's help in their endeavors to subvert the President but she refused, Haley wrote. The Washington Post obtained a copy of her book, titled "With All Due Respect," ahead of its Tuesday release. CNN has not seen a copy of the memoir. "Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the President, they weren't being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country," Haley wrote. At one point, Haley wrote that Tillerson also told her people would die if Trump was unchecked. However, Haley said she supported most of Trump's foreign policy decisions that others in the White House tried to block or slow down, according to the Post.

Haley called Tillerson and Kelly's attempt to subvert the President "offensive" in an interview that aired Sunday on "CBS Sunday Morning." "It should have been, go tell the President what your differences are and quit if you don't like what he's doing," she said. "To undermine a President is really a very dangerous thing. And it goes against the Constitution and it goes against what the American people want. It was offensive." Full Story

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