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US Monthly Headline News October 2019 Page 10

By Glenn Kessler, Salvador Rizzo and Meg Kelly
As President Trump approaches his 1,000th day in office Wednesday, he has significantly stepped up his pace of spouting exaggerated numbers, unwarranted boasts and outright falsehoods. As of Oct. 9, his 993rd day in office, he had made 13,435 false or misleading claims, according to the Fact Checker’s database that analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement he has uttered. That’s an average of almost 22 claims a day since our last update 65 days ago. One big reason for the uptick: The uproar over Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president on July 25 — in which he urged an investigation of former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 election rival — and the ensuing House impeachment inquiry. We’ve added a new category of claims, Ukraine probe, and in just a few weeks it has topped 250 entries. In fact, Trump earned his fastest Bottomless Pinocchio ever with his repeated false statement that the whistleblower compliant about the call was inaccurate. The report accurately captured the content of Trump’s call and many other details have been confirmed, yet Trump has repeated this Four Pinocchio claim 29 times. (It takes 20 repeats of a Three or Four Pinocchio claim to merit a Bottomless Pinocchio, and there are now 27 entries.) Another false claim — that Biden forced the resignation of a Ukrainian prosecutor because he was investigating his son Hunter — just barely missed the cutoff for inclusion. (Trump has said it 18 times.) We presume the falsehood will earn a spot on the Bottomless Pinocchio page in the next update. Trump crossed the 10,000 mark on April 26. From the start of his presidency, he has averaged nearly 14 such claims a day. Almost one-fifth of these claims are about immigration, his signature issue — a percentage that has grown since the government shut down over funding for his promised wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. In fact, his most repeated claim — 218 times — is that his border wall is being built. Congress balked at funding the concrete barrier he envisioned, so he has tried to pitch bollard fencing and repairs of existing barriers as “a wall.” False or misleading claims about trade, the economy and the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign each account for about 10 percent of the total. Claims on those subjects are also among his most repeated. Trump has falsely claimed 204 times that the U.S. economy today is the best in history. He began making this claim in June 2018, and it quickly became one of his favorites. The president can certainly brag about the state of the economy, but he runs into trouble when he repeatedly makes a play for the history books. By just about any important measure, the economy today is not doing as well as it did under Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower, Lyndon B. Johnson or Bill Clinton — or Ulysses S. Grant. Moreover, the economy is beginning to hit the head winds caused by Trump’s trade wars, with the manufacturing sector in an apparent recession.

By Daniel Dale, CNN
Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump likes to declare that he has managed to accomplish things that other presidents had tried and failed to achieve. He did it again on Thursday -- baffling experts, who said his latest claim made no sense at all. The claim was about his deal with Turkey. The deal calls for Turkey to suspend its military operations in northeast Syria for five days; for Kurdish forces to move at least 20 miles away from the Turkish border, surrender their heavy weapons and dismantle their fortifications; for the US to avoid the additional sanctions on Turkey it had been planning to impose Monday; and for the US to remove existing sanctions on Turkey if what Vice President Mike Pence called a "ceasefire" holds. (Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said it was a "pause" and "not a ceasefire.") Trump tweeted that "people have been trying to make this 'Deal' for many years." Speaking to reporters in Texas after the tweet, Trump said previous administrations had tried to make this deal for "10 years." Later in his comments, he said they had tried for "15 years." Then he said he has heard negotiations have been happening for even more than 15 years. He credited his own personality for the outcome. "They couldn't get it -- other administrations. And they never would have been able to get it unless you went somewhat unconventional. I guess I'm an unconventional person," he said. Facts First: Trump's claim is baseless to the point of being nonsensical. The deal is a narrow agreement specifically tied to the Turkish offensive that followed Trump's decision to withdraw US troops from a Kurdish-held region of northern Syria, not an agreement that resolves longstanding regional disputes. Further, presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush never sought to give Turkey anything like the concessionary terms of Trump's deal. In addition, the Syrian civil war had not even started 10 years ago or 15 years ago. "I honestly don't have the slightest idea what he's referring to. It doesn't make any sense," Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser to Obama, told CNN. "Turkey has wanted to do this (move in, dislodge Kurds, set up their own buffer) for a while and we didn't want them to do it in 2016 and they didn't," Rhodes said. "So the only people who were trying to get this deal were the Turks, and only since the Kurds gained some quasi-autonomy with our support in 2015-16." It is not only former Obama officials who were bewildered by Trump's claim. Henri Barkey, an international relations professor at Lehigh University who studies the Kurds and the Middle East, said there was no basis for Trump's claim "whatsoever." "This does not make any sense at all," said David Romano, a Missouri State University professor of Middle East politics who studies the Kurds. Romano cautioned that we are still learning what the deal entails. But he said: "No one, absolutely no one, has been trying to get this sort of deal except Turkey. Ten years ago, the Syrian civil war wasn't even happening, much less 15 or 20. Trump seems to think he just solved Turkish-Kurdish conflicts in general, which if true would betray a stunning lack of understanding about the situation."

By Olivia Messer
Hillary Clinton appeared to claim in a podcast interview this week that Russians will support Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard as a third-party presidential candidate—and called Jill Stein “a Russian asset.” Clinton made the remark on Campaign HQ with David Plouffe. “I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on someone who’s currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians,” said Clinton, apparently referring to Rep. Gabbard, who’s been accused of receiving support from Russian bots and the Russian news media. “They have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far.” She added: “That’s assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not because she’s also a Russian asset. Yeah, she’s a Russian asset—I mean, totally. They know they can’t win without a third-party candidate. So I don’t know who it’s going to be, but I will guarantee you they will have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most needed.” Clinton spox Nick Merrill later clarified, when asked if Clinton was referencing Gabbard: “If the nesting doll fits.”

By Aaron Blake
This post has been updated with Schumer’s and Esper’s comments. Sen. Mitt Romney delivered perhaps the most thorough Republican rebuke of President Trump’s Syria withdrawal Thursday, calling Trump’s abandonment of the Kurds there “a bloodstain on the annals of American history.” But while that line has gotten a lot of play, there’s something else Romney said that shouldn’t escape notice. He suggested Trump got bullied into the withdrawal by Turkey — and that he backed down. “It’s been … suggested that Turkey may have called America’s bluff, telling the president they are coming no matter what we did,” said Romney, of Utah. “If that’s so, we should know it. For it would tell us a great deal about how we should deal with Turkey, now and in the future.” Romney then returned to the idea that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan might have given Trump an ultimatum that was met with acquiescence. “Are we so weak and inept diplomatically that Turkey forced the hand of the United States of America? Turkey!?” Romney said. “I believe that it’s imperative that public hearings are held to answer these questions, and I hope the Senate is able to conduct those hearings next week.” Romney is elevating an idea that hasn’t gotten enough attention, though it appears to have been confirmed by Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Trump himself in the days before Romney’s remarks. The Washington Post reports that Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Trump copped to this in their contentious Oval Office meeting on Wednesday. Schumer said Trump recalled Erdogan told everyone “we’re going to go in whether you want it or not.” Esper, too, seemed to indicate Sunday that Erdogan told Trump that Turkey was going in regardless. “The first thing that we understood — I’ve understood from my counterpart, Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo … and certainly from President Erdogan, is they were fully committed to doing this, regardless of what we did,” Esper told “Fox News Sunday.” “We thought [the withdrawal] was prudent,” Esper added. “It was my recommendation. I know the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff agreed as well. We should not put U.S. forces in between a Turkish advance.” Esper reiterated the point later: “I think they were fully committed. That was what I took from my conversations with my counterpart, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff took from his, Secretary Pompeo from his.” Most of the theorizing about what happened has focused on the idea that Trump got rolled by Erdogan, who has been pitching the idea that Turkey could take over the fight against ISIS in northern Syria for a long time. The possibility that Trump gave away the farm because Erdogan was particularly convincing or because of something else — Trump’s business interests in Turkey, his desire for Middle East withdrawals, etc. — is a well-trafficked theory among Trump’s opponents.

By Brendan Cole
Marlon Anderson had worked for three years as a security guard at West High School in Madison, and in the school district for 11 years. Tempers frayed during a confrontation with a student whom he was trying to calm and get to leave the school. Anderson said that the student started to curse at him and used the N-word repeatedly. To emphasize how unacceptable this was, Anderson used the word in response. "I shouldn't be punished because I have the right to tell somebody not to call me this word"-- an emotional plea from a security guard fired from West High for repeating the n-word when asking a student to stop calling him that. MMSD's education board will be reexamining policies pic.twitter.com/zlhSOShKW5  — Madalyn O'Neill (@news3madalyn) October 17, 2019. He said "Don't call me that, don't call me the n-word, and don't call me n*****," using the word. Anderson told the Wisconsin State Journal that he had been set up by the assistant principal who held up her radio to his face during the altercation for other staff to hear. The Madison Metropolitan School District [MMSD] fired Anderson, citing a zero-tolerance policy of staff using the word, following a number of recent incidents in which racial slurs had been said. West High Principal Karen Boran informed parents by email that "regardless of context or circumstance, racial slurs are not acceptable in our schools." But in an interview with TV station Channel 3000, Anderson said he had been unfairly targeted and was trying to make a point to the student. "I want the zero-tolerance policy to be looked at. It's lazy," he said. "My mother was called this word. My father was called this word, my grandmother, my grandfather and keep going down the family line. "We were all called this word, and not one of them could say, 'Don't call me that.' I can. And I shouldn't be punished, because I have the right to tell somebody not to call me this word," he said. "I made a conscious decision to address the word because it is an epidemic, our kids use it every day." "You have no tolerance for a word, but yet you let students call me that word 15 times without correcting that behavior," he added. The union Madison Teachers Inc. is fighting the dismissal. In a statement, the union said: "We hope the school board will modify their action earlier and get him back to work," according to WKOW.

Many Senate Republicans disagree with the president. But they won’t be voting on a resolution that says so.
By Li Zhou
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), a longtime opponent of “endless wars,” just blocked a resolution condemning President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American troops from northern Syria. “I object to this resolution because it does nothing to fix this problem,” Paul said, while pushing his own bill to stop arms sales to Turkey. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer had called for the Senate to consider a vote on this resolution, which passed the House with a bipartisan 354-60 majority on Wednesday, with the goal of sending Trump a message about Congress’s disapproval of his recent actions. “Because of the president’s precipitous action ... ISIS prisoners are escaping,” Schumer said in a floor speech on Thursday. “The president’s incompetence has put American lives in danger.” Schumer is far from the only one who’s criticized Trump’s decision, which many Republicans also view as a betrayal of the United States’s Kurdish allies in the region, who’ve been forced to confront a Turkish military offensive. Despite their outcry on the subject, it’s still not clear just how much Republicans are willing to clash with the president explicitly on this issue. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is unlikely to allow the non-binding resolution condemning Trump to come to the floor, and he has previously said it has some “serious weaknesses.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a prominent Trump ally, has questioned the president’s efforts in Syria and is also pushing his own legislation alongside Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), which would impose stricter sanctions on Turkey that target military transactions and energy resources. Paul, meanwhile, is taking specific aim at arms sales. The congressional backlash to Trump’s decision began last week when he announced that he’d be withdrawing American troops from the region, prompting concerns that the US was abandoning its Kurdish allies and offering an opening for the Islamic State. Since the decision, ISIS members have begun to break out of prisons in the region.

By Melissa Lemieux
A recent study conducted by healthybabyfood.com says that 168 brands of baby food include toxic heavy metals which might damage a baby's cognitive development, says CNN. The study tested 168 brands of American-made baby food, and found that 95 percent of the sampled jars contain lead, 73 percent of them included arsenic, 75 percent had cadmium and 32 percent included mercury. A fourth of them contained all four heavy metals in the same sampled jars. One in five of the samples contained over 10 times the legally mandated amount of lead as recommended by health experts. While they agree that no level of lead in food is safe, a 1-ppb limit is endorsed by most public health experts. This matched the results reached by an FDA study current as of May 2019, which found one or more of the above listed types of metal in 33 out of 39 tested brands of food. Previous studies focusing on the neurodevelopment of children exposed to low levels of arsenic showed that such exposures can be catastrophic to children's development. A 2004 study that looked into the cognitive development of Bangladeshi children who were exposed to arsenic-tainted drinking water showed that they scored significantly lower in intellectual testing. According to the report, the foods which contained the highest risk of harm were rice-based products, fruit-juice based products or sweet potato-inclusive snacks. "These popular baby foods are not only high in inorganic arsenic, the most toxic form of arsenic, but also are nearly always contaminated with all four toxic metals," the report reads. Rice, which is grown in paddies of water, is more likely to absorb inorganic (the most dangerous sort) of arsenic, with brown and wild rice, which doesn't have its outer shelling removed during processing, ranking higher in toxicity than its white form. "Even in the trace amounts found in food, these contaminants can alter the developing brain and erode a child's IQ. The impacts add up with each meal or snack a baby eats," said the report. Parents are urged to give their children a variety of foods, replacing rice-based foods with wholegrain alternatives, pediatrician Tanya Altmann told CNN. "Best first foods for infants are avocado, pureed veggies, peanut-butter oatmeal and salmon," Altmann said. "They all provide important nutrients that babies need, help develop their taste buds to prefer healthy food and may decrease food allergies."

By Stefan Becket, Grace Segers and Kathryn Watson
Washington -- The acting White House chief of staff said Thursday that a delay in hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine over the summer was driven partly by a desire to pressure the country into cooperating with a Justice Department investigation into supposed Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election. Speaking to reporters at the White House, Mick Mulvaney described conversations with President Trump, paraphrasing him as saying, "Look, this is a corrupt place. I don't want to send them a bunch of money, and have them waste it, have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets. Plus, I'm not sure that the other European countries are helping them out either." "Did he also mention to me in the past, the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that," Mulvaney said, referencing an unproven theory that Ukrainians framed Russians for hacking into the DNC's computer systems. "But that's it. That's why we held up the money." Mulvaney reiterated the rationale later in the briefing: "I was involved with the process by which the money was held up temporarily, OK? Three issues for that: the corruption in the country, whether or not other countries were participating in support of the Ukraine and whether or not they were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice. That's completely legitimate." After Mulvaney's briefing, a senior Justice Department official said the department was not aware of any connection between aid to Ukraine and the department's investigation into the origins of the 2016 counterintelligence probe. "If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation with any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us," the official said. Jay Sekulow, the president's outside counsel, also issued a terse statement in response to Mulvaney's comments about the delay of Ukraine aid, saying, "The President's legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mike Mulvaney's press briefing." Later Thursday, the White House released a statement from Mulvaney seeking to clarify his remarks, blaming the media for misconstruing his remarks and claiming "there never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server." Earlier in the day, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union told lawmakers he was "disappointed" that Mr. Trump had directed him and other diplomats managing U.S. policy toward Ukraine to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney.

By Scott Neuman
President Trump fired him (after he submitted his resignation) and earlier this week reportedly called him "the world's most overrated general," but former Defense Secretary James Mattis had a few barbs of his own to sling in a speech he gave in New York on Thursday. Delivering the keynote address at the 74th Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner, Mattis — a retired four-star U.S. Marine general — said he felt he had finally "achieved greatness." "I'm not just an overrated general, I am the greatest, the world's most overrated," he said to laughter. "I'm honored to be considered that by Donald Trump, because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress," Mattis continued. "So, I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals. Frankly that sounds pretty good to me." The jibes were a departure for Mattis, whose book Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead, published last month, was met with criticism from some who said he had pulled punches in characterizing the president's erratic leadership style. In an interview with NPR promoting his book, Mattis declined to discuss his relationship with Trump. "I don't discuss sitting presidents," Mattis said. "I believe that you owe a period of quiet." Thursday's annual gala, named after the former New York governor who won the Democratic nomination for president in 1928, was hosted this year by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York. Mattis said he had been asked what he thought of Trump's remarks, which reportedly came during a White House meeting with congressional Democrats on Wednesday. "I earned my spurs on the battlefield ... Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor," he said in a reference to a medical deferment for bone spurs that kept Trump from serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Although Trump's nickname for Mattis was "mad dog" — a nickname the former general despised — Mattis said these days he feels more like "an emotional support animal." more...

For decades, the two ambitious New Yorkers have found ways to use each other’s celebrity to stoke their own.
Long, long before he was Donald Trump’s personal attorney and devoted defender, Rudy Giuliani wasn’t exactly a fan. The first time, actually, he invoked Trump’s name in a high-profile, high-stakes setting, Giuliani was the prosecutor in a public corruption case. The setting was the federal courthouse in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1986. Giuliani was the top gun from the Southern District of New York. And the main defendant, accused of taking kickbacks from companies for whom he helped score contracts with the city’s Parking Violations Bureau, was Stanley Friedman—a former deputy mayor, the Democratic Party chair in the Bronx and a lobbyist who the year before had netted nearly a million dollars. He typically sported a goatee, pinstriped suits with a pocket square and glasses with his initials in rhinestones. He spent his days on the phone, chain-chomping cigars, a human hub of old-style favor-trading. “A bribe broker,” Giuliani called him. “A force to be reckoned with,” his own attorney would grant in his memoir. And the perch from which Friedman presided was his office at the law firm of one of his closest associates, Roy Cohn, and one of his most prominent clients was Cohn’s most noted mentee—Donald Trump. Trump wasn’t on trial but Giuliani didn’t do his reputation any favors. Giuliani sketched for the jury what he called this “cesspool of corruption,” this tale of “plunder,” this story of “the buying and selling of public office.” Knitting the men together, Giuiliani cast Trump as a preeminent beneficiary of Friedman’s expansive, crooked clout. “During the latter part of time that you were deputy mayor,” Giuliani posed, referring to Friedman’s official capacity in the late 1970s in the administration of Trump family friend Mayor Abe Beame, “You had meetings with Roy Cohn and talked about joining his law firm, isn’t that correct?” more...

Retired Adm. William McRaven says Trump doesn’t believe in the ideals that made America great
By Mike Murphy
The U.S. commander who oversaw the raid that killed Osama bin Laden says the U.S. is under attack again — “but from within,” and it’s the president doing it. In a scathing op-ed published Thursday by the New York Times, retired Adm. William McRaven, former chief of the U.S. Special Operations Command, said it may be time for the U.S. to get a new president, since President Donald Trump is not a capable leader. “The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within.” Retired Adm. William McRaven McRaven said he was struck by the men and women who serve — and have served — America who he said now harbor “an underlying current of frustration, humiliation, anger and fear” because of Trumps’s words and deeds. “As I stood on the parade field at Fort Bragg, one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!’” he wrote. McRaven said America’s greatness is reflected in its ideals. “We are the most powerful nation in the world because our ideals of universal freedom and equality have been backed up by our belief that we were champions of justice, the protectors of the less fortunate.” “President Trump seems to believe that these qualities are unimportant or show weakness. He is wrong,” he said. “And if this president doesn’t understand their importance, if this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, both domestically and abroad, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office — Republican, Democrat or independent — the sooner, the better. The fate of our Republic depends upon it.” more...

If President Trump doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs, then it is time for a new person in the Oval Office.
By William H. McRaven
Last week I attended two memorable events that reminded me why we care so very much about this nation and also why our future may be in peril. The first was a change of command ceremony for a storied Army unit in which one general officer passed authority to another. The second event was an annual gala for the Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) Society that recognizes past and present members of the intelligence and Special Operations community for their heroism and sacrifice to the nation. What struck me was the stark contrast between the words and deeds heralded at those events — and the words and deeds emanating from the White House. On the parade field at Fort Bragg, N.C., where tens of thousands of soldiers have marched either preparing to go to war or returning from it, the two generals, highly decorated, impeccably dressed, cleareyed and strong of character, were humbled by the moment. They understood the awesome responsibility that the nation had placed on their shoulders. They understood that they had an obligation to serve their soldiers and their soldiers’ families. They believed in the American values for which they had been fighting for the past three decades. They had faith that these values were worth sacrificing everything for — including, if necessary, their lives.  Having served with both officers for the past 20 years, I know that they personified all that is good and decent and honorable about the American military with genuineness of their humility, their uncompromising integrity, their willingness to sacrifice all for a worthy cause, and the pride they had in their soldiers. Later that week, at the O.S.S. Society dinner, there were films and testimonials to the valor of the men and women who had fought in Europe and the Pacific during World War II. We also celebrated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, recognizing those brave Americans and allies who sacrificed so much to fight Nazism and fascism. We were reminded that the Greatest Generation went to war because it believed that we were the good guys — that wherever there was oppression, tyranny or despotism, America would be there. We would be there because freedom mattered. We would be there because the world needed us and if not us, then who? Also that evening we recognized the incredible sacrifice of a new generation of Americans: an Army Special Forces warrant officer who had been wounded three times, the most recent injury costing him his left leg above the knee. He was still in uniform and still serving. There was an intelligence officer, who embodied the remarkable traits of those men and women who had served in the O.S.S. And a retired Marine general, whose 40 years of service demonstrated all that was honorable about the Corps and public service. But the most poignant recognition that evening was for a young female sailor who had been killed in Syria serving alongside our allies in the fight against ISIS. Her husband, a former Army Green Beret, accepted the award on her behalf. Like so many that came before her, she had answered the nation’s call and willingly put her life in harm’s way. For everyone who ever served in uniform, or in the intelligence community, for those diplomats who voice the nation’s principles, for the first responders, for the tellers of truth and the millions of American citizens who were raised believing in American values — you would have seen your reflection in the faces of those we honored last week. But, beneath the outward sense of hope and duty that I witnessed at these two events, there was an underlying current of frustration, humiliation, anger and fear that echoed across the sidelines. The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within. more...

By Mark Joseph Stern
Donald Trump has flagrantly abused the power of his office to line his own pockets. Again. Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney announced on Thursday that the president selected his own Trump Doral golf resort as the site of June’s G-7 summit. Heads of state and diplomats will congregate at his own property—which is in steep decline and needs extra business in June. The move ensures that other nations will spend millions of dollars housing hundreds of personnel at Trump’s resort, funneling money from foreign governments into the president’s business. There are myriad other potential locations, but Trump chose to award the contract to himself. The president’s decision to exploit the G-7 summit for personal enrichment is so obviously corrupt, so shameless and extortionary, that it seems strange to debate whether it is also unlawful. And yet, from the start of Trump’s tenure, his opponents have struggled to find an effective line of legal attack against his self-dealing. Government watchdogs have sued him in federal court, but their efforts have stalled—in part because judges have struggled with the unprecedented nature of the offense: No other president has bilked his office for so much cash. It seems implausible that the Constitution would provide no mechanism to halt such brazen corruption. And yet, here we are, well more than halfway through Trump’s term, and the president’s heists are only getting more blatant. Can anything or anyone stop his raid on the public fisc?  One strategy, initiated shortly after Trump took office, has been to ask the federal judiciary to enforce the Constitution’s emoluments clauses. These provisions sound abstruse because nobody uses the word emolument in casual conversation. But the Framers intended it to mean a payment, gift, or service. The foreign emoluments clause bars any federal officeholder, including the president, from receiving an emolument from a foreign state without congressional approval. The domestic emoluments clause explicitly prohibits the president from receiving any emolument (beyond his official salary) from any state or the federal government. There’s no exception for congressional approval. It is pretty apparent that Trump has repeatedly violated both clauses. For instance, foreign diplomats routinely stay at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, in part to curry favor with the president. By accepting payments at his own property from another government—without obtaining permission from Congress—Trump likely violated the foreign emoluments clause. Or consider the allegations that Trump directed the Air Force to stop at his Turnberry resort in Scotland. By funneling federal money into his property, Trump likely violated the domestic emoluments clause. There isn’t anything especially complicated about this constitutional theory. Ample evidence indicates that the Framers intended the emoluments clauses to function as a safeguard against government corruption—and, in particular, foreign influence in affairs of state. But the numerous plaintiffs who’ve sued the president of accepting illegal emoluments keep getting tripped up on a preliminary roadblock. To successfully sue Trump for emoluments, these plaintiffs must prove they have standing, meaning they are actually injured by his actions. And it turns out to be quite difficult to prove that the president’s corruption negatively affects you in a concrete way.  There a few possible routes around this barricade. In September, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that hotels and restaurants competing with Trump’s properties had standing to sue. The court held that the plaintiffs had plausibly argued that they faced unfair competition from Trump, because foreign and domestic government employees patronize his business to earn his favor. In 2018, a federal judge ruled that members of Congress also had standing to sue, because they were denied the opportunity to approve Trump’s foreign emoluments. (That decision is on hold as it’s appealed.) he District of Columbia and Maryland are also battling out their own emoluments suit. Their attorneys general argue that Trump’s D.C. hotel draws foreign and domestic government officials away from Maryland (which wants the tax revenue) and the D.C. convention center (which is taxpayer funded). A panel of judges for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found neither jurisdiction had standing, but the full court will reexamine its decision in December. more...

By Karoun Demirjian and John Hudson
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters Thursday that President Trump blocked nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in part to force the government in Kyiv to secure a politically motivated investigation of Democrats, a startling acknowledgment after the president’s repeated denials of a quid pro quo. Mulvaney defended the maneuver as “absolutely appropriate.” “Did he also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that’s it, that’s why we held up the money,” Mulvaney said, referring to an unproven conspiracy theory that a hacked Democratic National Committee computer server was taken to Ukraine in 2016 to hide evidence that Kyiv, not Moscow, interfered in the last U.S. presidential election. But hours later, Mulvaney scrambled to walk back his comments in an official statement blaming the media for misconstruing his words “to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump.” “Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election,” he said in a written statement. “There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server ... there was never any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.” In his press conference, Mulvaney said, too, that the funds had been withheld because European countries were being “really, really stingy when it comes to lethal aid” for Ukraine, and over whether Ukraine’s leaders “were cooperating in an ongoing investigation with our Department of Justice.” But he also characterized the decision to leverage congressionally approved aid as common practice, citing other instances in which the Trump administration has withheld aid to foreign countries and telling critics to “get over it.” “I have news for everybody: get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney said. “Elections do have consequences and they should, and your foreign policy is going to change … there’s no problem with that.” Mulvaney’s bold defense of Trump’s Ukraine actions comes as the House’s impeachment probe is closing in on the president’s most senior advisers, to determine whether Trump abused his power and pressured a foreign government to conduct investigations that could help his chances of reelection in 2020. To the Democrats on the three panels conducting the impeachment probe, Mulvaney’s words marked a significant turning point. “We have a confession from the president,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, referring to Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, during which Trump pressured his counterpart to open investigations into the 2016 election and former vice president Joe Biden’s son, who sat on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. more...

By Harper Neidig
The Department of Justice improperly redacted a court filing related to the Mueller investigation and must reveal the names of two individuals who figured prominently in the probe, a federal judge in Washington ruled on Thursday. Judge Beryl Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said in her opinion that the department erroneously redacted a portion of a document after invoking grand jury secrecy protections, even though the two names that were concealed belonged to individuals who did not testify before a grand jury during the Mueller probe. “DOJ’s assertion that identifying individuals who did not testify before the grand jury as part of the Mueller investigation would reveal ‘a matter occurring before the grand jury’ is without merit and rejected,” Howell wrote. According to the judge, who was appointed by former President Obama, both of the people whose names were redacted “figured in key events examined in the Mueller Report.” Howell said that it does not appear that the same redaction error was made in the report that former Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave to Congress earlier this year. The redactions in question came in an affidavit submitted to the court by Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer, who reviewed Mueller’s report for classified information before it was transmitted to Congress. more...

CNN Right Now - President Trump's acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney says that aid to Ukraine was in fact tied to President Trump's wish for an investigation into the 2016 election.

A new ProPublica investigation found that Trump inflated and deflated his assets when convenient.
By Aaron Rupar
A new ProPublica investigation lends credence to a remarkable claim made by Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former longtime personal lawyer and fixer, during his congressional testimony earlier this year. Cohen alleged that Trump “inflated his total assets when it served his purposes and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.” And ProPublica’s Heather Vogell has receipts indicating Cohen knew what he was talking about. Property tax documents obtained by Vogell via New York’s Freedom of Information Law “show stark differences in how Donald Trump’s businesses reported some expenses, profits and occupancy figures for two Manhattan buildings, giving a lender different figures than they provided to New York City tax authorities. The discrepancies made the buildings appear more profitable to the lender — and less profitable to the officials who set the buildings’ property tax.” To cite one example from the story, Trump’s representatives told a lender that the occupancy rate in his building at 40 Wall Street in New York City was 59 percent as of the end of 2012. But that figure wasn’t the same as 81 percent occupancy rate for 2012 that was reported to tax authorities. Trump ultimately used the lower occupancy rate figure to create a perception of “leasing momentum” — his company reported that occupancy rates started to rise in 2013 — that was helpful in securing a refinancing. While there are reasons for such discrepancies that don’t necessarily involve fraud, the pattern that emerges from ProPublica’s analysis suggests that on numerous occasions Trump used one set of figures for lenders and another for tax officials — just as Cohen claimed during his testimony. If done intentionally, false reporting of this sort can have consequences. As ProPublica’s story notes, New York City’s property tax forms say that the signatory “affirms the truth of the statements made” and that “false filings are subject to all applicable civil and criminal penalties.” Trump of all people should know this — Cohen and former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort are currently serving time for falsifying tax and bank records. more...

The U.S. ambassador to the EU will tell Congress that he was effectively forced to work with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine by the president.
By Jamie Ross, Betsy Swan and Spencer Ackerman
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, will tell Congress that President Donald Trump told him to help his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani with his plan on Ukraine. In his opening statement, which was obtained by The Daily Beast, Sondland wrote that any plot to encourage a foreign government to influence an American election would have been “wrong.” “I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign,” he will say, according to the written version of his opening statement. Sondland's role in the pressure campaign on the Ukrainian president was first revealed by The Daily Beast. He and Giuliani encouraged President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce an investigation into the Bidens. It has been alleged that there was a quid pro quo whereby Zelensky would be rewarded by the White House with a meeting between the presidents in return for launching an investigation into one of Trump's potential 2020 rivals. “Please know that I would not have recommended that Mr. Giuliani or any private citizen be involved in these foreign policy matters. However, given the President’s explicit direction, as well as the importance we attached to arranging a White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky, we agreed to do as President Trump directed,” Sondland wrote. “Based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.” The testimony describes how Trump's obsession with investigating his political rival put on hold Sondland's efforts to strengthen U.S. ties with Ukraine. Sondland will say he was “disappointed” that Trump wouldn't commit to a meeting with Zelensky until he spoke to Giuliani. “It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the President’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani,” the statement reads. “It is my understanding that Energy Secretary Perry and Special Envoy Volker took the lead on reaching out to Mr. Giuliani, as the President had directed.” According to the testimony, when he spoke to Giuliani it was made clear that Trump wanted a public statement from Zelensky “committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues.” Sondland will say: “Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anticorruption investigatory topics of importance for the President.” more...

Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, seems to lay a lot of blame at Rudy Giuliani’s feet.
By Alex Ward
One of the main players under investigation in the House impeachment inquiry used his opening testimony to lawmakers Thursday to throw Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, under the bus. Gordon Sondland, the US ambassador to the EU, delivered an 18-page written statement to congressional investigators in advance of hours of questioning. He’ll be asked about the Trump administration’s effort to get Ukraine to launch an investigation into Joe Biden’s family in exchange for US military aid and a meeting between the two countries’ presidents. Trump falsely believes Biden used his power as vice president to stop a corruption probe into Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company Hunter Biden — Joe’s son — sat on the board of. Sondland is a key figure in the drama, as text messages revealed earlier this month showed the ambassador working with Giuliani and top US officials to coordinate the White House’s Ukraine policy. But his main message to Congress in his prepared opening statement was that he had merely aimed to faithfully execute the administration’s policy involving normal, non-corrupt relations with Ukraine. The only one pushing anything about Burisma, Sondland claims, was Giuliani. Sondland also claims Giuliani clearly tied a possible meeting between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with Ukraine opening a probe into Burisma as part of a “deliverable” Trump wanted from the country. Importantly, however, Sondland doesn’t say Trump himself purposefully did anything wrong. But the main narrative is that Sondland is innocent of any wrongdoing and that anything inappropriate came from Giuliani — likely in hopes that the former New York City mayor gets a nice view of a public transport vehicle’s underside. Trump wanted Giuliani to help lead Ukraine policy: Sondland makes the case that Trump wanted Giuliani intimately involved in carrying out the administration’s Ukraine policy. Sondland describes a May 23 meeting he and other US officials had with Trump and his aides about organizing a phone call and meeting between Trump and Zelensky. “President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns,” Sondland says. Sondland says that those in the meeting — including Energy Secretary Rick Perry and then-Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker — didn’t like that, as they wanted Ukraine policy to remain in official channels. But, the ambassador explains, they all chose to comply with the president’s command. “Based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening US-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held US foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns. We chose the latter path,” Sondland said. This is important: Sondland is testifying that Trump explicitly delegated Ukrainian policy to Giuliani. And the only way to get the Trump-Zelensky meeting Sondland and others wanted was to work with the president’s personal lawyer on the president’s concerns — otherwise, they would have to “abandon” any hopes of a meeting. And, as Sondland lays out, those “concerns” involved the Bidens. Giuliani emphasizes that Burisma is important to Trump: Describing a set of short phone conversations with Giuliani starting in May, “Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from [Ukrainian] President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anti-corruption issues,” Sondland testified. “Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anticorruption investigatory topics of importance for the President.” Sondland then adds: “Mr. Giuliani does not work for me or my Mission and I do not know what official or unofficial role, if any, he has with the State Department.” more...

By Jeremy Herb, Katelyn Polantz and Manu Raju, CNN
(CNN) - US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was directed by President Donald Trump to work with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine, he told Congress on Thursday, and was left with a choice: Abandon efforts to bolster a key strategic alliance or work to satisfy the demands of the President's personal lawyer.
Sondland said he wasn't aware until "much later" that Giuliani's agenda might have included an effort to "prompt the Ukrainians" to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter and to involve the Ukrainians in the President's campaign, according to his opening statement, which was obtained by CNN in advance of the deposition. Sondland's revealing testimony is a clear break with Trump over Giuliani — he said he was "disappointed" that Trump wouldn't commit to a meeting sought by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky until they spoke with Giuliani, who was pursuing an investigation into Biden, a potential political rival in Trump's reelection campaign. And the ambassador's testimony showcases how Trump put on hold an effort to strengthen relations with Ukraine until top US officials were in contact with his personal attorney. "Based on the President's direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President's concerns," Sondland said in his opening statement. "We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us -- Secretary (Rick) Perry, Ambassador (Kurt) Volker, and myself -- to be the better alternative," Sondland continued. "But I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani's agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President's 2020 reelection campaign." Sondland's testimony Thursday comes as he's under fire for his role in the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, in which Trump repeatedly urged Zelensky to open an investigation into the Bidens. Sondland's testimony is likely to ratchet up the Democrats' focus on the concerns top officials expressed about Giuliani's involvement in Ukraine — and how they disagreed with Trump's insistence on using his private attorney to negotiate diplomatic efforts. Sondland's text messages with the top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, are a key data point for the impeachment investigation, in which Sondland told Taylor there was "no quid pro quo" after speaking to Trump about the matter. Sondland's testimony says that he knew of no arrangement tying US security assistance to Ukraine with an investigation into the Bidens — but also that it would be wrong to do so. "Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong," Sondland said, according to the statement. "Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings. In my opinion, security aid to Ukraine was in our vital national interest and should not have been delayed for any reason." more...

By Jeffrey Toobin
William P. Barr just gave the worst speech by an Attorney General of the United States in modern history. Speaking at the University of Notre Dame last Friday, Barr took “religious liberty” as his subject, and he portrayed his fellow-believers as a beleaguered and oppressed minority. He was addressing, he said, “the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today. This is not decay; this is organized destruction.” Historically illiterate, morally obtuse, and willfully misleading, the speech portrays religious people in the United States as beset by a hostile band of “secularists.” Actually, religion is thriving here (as it should be in a free society), but Barr claims the mantle of victimhood in order to press for a right-wing political agenda. In a potted history of the founding of the Republic, Barr said, “In the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people—a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order.” Not so. The Framers believed that free government was suitable for believers and nonbelievers alike. As Justice Hugo Black put it in 1961, “Neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against nonbelievers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.” But the real harm of Barr’s speech is not what it means for historical debates but what it portends for contemporary government policy. The real giveaway of Barr’s agenda came near the end of his speech when he said, with curious vagueness, “Militant secularists today do not have a live-and-let-live spirit—they are not content to leave religious people alone to practice their faith. Instead, they seem to take a delight in compelling people to violate their conscience.” What’s he really talking about here? Barr and the Trump Administration want religious people who operate businesses to be allowed to discriminate against L.G.B.T.Q. people. The Trump Justice Department supported the Colorado bakers who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple (in a case that the Supreme Court basically ducked last year), but more such lawsuits are in the pipeline. Innkeepers, restaurant owners, and photographers are all using the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment to justify their refusal to serve gay customers. This is Barr’s idea of leaving “religious people alone to practice their faith.” The real beleaguered minorities here are gay people who are simply trying to be treated like everyone else, but Barr twists this story into one about oppression of believers. The heart of Barr’s speech is devoted to a supposed war on religion in education. “Ground zero for these attacks on religion are the schools. To me, this is the most serious challenge to religious liberty,” he said. He asserted that the problem is “state policies designed to starve religious schools of generally available funds and encouraging students to choose secular options.” Again, Barr engages in a measure of vagueness to obscure his real subject. Historically, parochial schools have flourished largely outside of government supervision and, just as important, without government funding. This reflects the core meaning of the establishment clause, which enshrines the separation of church and state. But, in recent years, a key tenet of the evangelical movement (and its supporters, like Barr) is an effort to get access to taxpayer dollars. In a major case before the Supreme Court this year, the Trump Administration is supporting religious parents who want to use a Montana state-tax-credit program to pay for their children’s religious schools. This effort is also a major priority of Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, who is pushing for the increased availability of taxpayer vouchers to pay for religious schools. Barr portrays these efforts as the free exercise of religion when, in fact, they are the establishment of religion; partisanship in the war between the religion clauses is one of the signatures of Trump’s tenure in office. Of course, the necessary corollary to providing government subsidies to religious schools is starving the public schools, which are open to all children, of funds. more...

President Obama on Thursday issued a statement on the passing of Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee and a fierce advocate for civil rights. "Michelle and I are heartbroken over the passing of our friend, Elijah Cummings. As Chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he showed us all not only the importance of checks and balances within our democracy, but also the necessity of good people stewarding it. Steely yet compassionate, principled yet open to new perspectives, Chairman Cummings remained steadfast in his pursuit of truth, justice, and reconciliation. It's a tribute to his native Baltimore that one of its own brought such character, tact, and resolve into the halls of power every day. And true to the giants of progress he followed into public service, Chairman Cummings stood tallest and most resolute when our country needed him the most. May his example inspire more Americans to pick up the baton and carry it forward in a manner worthy of his service. Our deepest sympathies and abiding love go to his wife, Maya, his three children, and all those whose lives he touched." more...

CBS News - Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings died early Thursday due to complications from longstanding health challenges, his congressional office said. He was 68. Cummings became the powerful chairman of a U.S. House committee that investigated President Trump. He also passionately advocated for the poor in his black-majority district.

The president’s lawyer has baffled a lot of people with his recent behavior. Perhaps his social-media habits can explain why.
By Will Sommer
When Rudy Giuliani logs into Twitter, he’s presented with a world where the recent California power outages were staged by military operatives rooting out cannibal-pedophiles deep in their underground bunkers. It’s a place where President Donald Trump only betrayed the Kurds because they were running black sites for a global deep-state cabal; where former Trump Russia adviser Fiona Hill ran an anti-Trump spy ring out of the White House; where former Hillary Clinton campaign chair John Podesta eats children; and where the pope is about to seize world power, and maybe already has.  It is the worst that the right-wing internet fever swamp has to offer, and it is all right there, waiting for Giuliani to consume. With the president’s personal lawyer now in hot water for helping to orchestrate an apparent pressure campaign to get the Ukrainian leadership to launch investigations beneficial to Trump’s domestic political needs, the question being routinely asked is what compelled him to act in these ways. To answer that question, it’s worth examining the dozen of hardcore conspiracy theory accounts that populate Giuliani’s Twitter timeline. Giuliani, after all, has become a fairly regular user of the platform, having posted to it more than 1,000 times and routinely favoriting content during the course of any given day. But he only follows 224 people (as of Wednesday). A good chunk of those follows are conventional Trumpworld figures, including the president himself (Trump was Giuliani’s earliest follow), Judicial Watch chief Tom Fitton, opinion writer John Solomon, and former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka. But many of those 224 dabble in far darker realms of the far-right conspiracy theory internet than the usual rantings of a Fox News primetime broadcast. For instance, Giuliani follows writer Ella Cruz—the author of an Amazon self-published book called Ring of the Cabal: The Secret Government of The Royal Papal Banking Cabal, which alleges that the New World Order will soon impose the “mark of the beast” on all humanity. In August, Cruz tweeted at Giuliani, warning him that Hillary Clinton murdered pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein. Though Giuliani doesn’t often RT or even like the content produced by the people he follows his taste for conspiracy theories does occasionally shine through, such as in August, when he quote-tweeted conspiracy theorist Matt Couch, a prolific promoter of the baseless idea that former Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered by Hillary Clinton. Couch has become so vocal in his attacks on the Rich family that Rich’s brother filed a defamation suit against him. Giuliani promoted a tweet from Couch questioning the police narrative about Rich’s 2016 murder, and later told The Daily Beast there are “legitimate questions” about the investigation. Giuliani follows a number of accounts that promote the QAnon conspiracy, which alleges that Trump is engaged in a secret war against cannibal-pedophiles in the Democratic Party, Hollywood, and Wall Street. Nearly 5 percent of the accounts that Giuliani follows have explicit QAnon references permanently on their Twitter pages, either in the form of pinned tweets, Twitter names, bios, or header images. Many more of them frequently tweet and retweet QAnon messages from popular promoters of the conspiracy theory. Several accounts Giuliani follows recently retweeted a video, shot in a dimly lit, anonymous living room, starring a man claiming that Navy SEALs and Marines had recently rescued “2,100 children from California Underground bases.” There is no evidence that this is actually true. Other accounts that Giuliani follows are prone to promoting a wild potpourri of various conspiracy theory claims. Among them are that Barack Obama is engineering the Trump impeachment process to install Michelle Obama in the White House, or that Hillary Clinton plans to kill off each Democratic presidential candidate so she can become president herself. Others allege that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg secretly died months ago, but that her death is being covered up. Taken together, the accounts circle around a few popular right-wing targets: the Clintons, the Obamas, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN). Several accounts Giuliani follows recently claimed, without any proof, that Omar had donned a disguise to take part in a gathering of left-wing antifascist activists. Another promoted a long-discredited idea that a photograph proves Omar attended a terrorist training camp (in fact, the picture was taken years before Omar was even born).

By Katelyn Polantz, Jeremy Herb and Manu Raju, CNN
(CNN) - US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland was directed by President Donald Trump to work with Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine, he plans to tell Congress Thursday, and was left with a choice: Abandon efforts to bolster a key strategic alliance or work to satisfy the demands of the President's personal lawyer. Sondland plans to say he wasn't aware until "much later" that Giuliani's agenda might have included an effort to "prompt the Ukrainians" to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter and to involve the Ukrainians in the President's campaign, according to his opening statement, which was obtained by CNN. The revealing testimony of the President's top diplomat showcases how Trump put on hold an effort to strengthen relations with the country until top US officials were in contact with Giuliani, who was pursuing an investigation into the Bidens, a potential political rival in Trump's reelection campaign. And Sondland said he was "disappointed" that Trump wouldn't commit to a meeting sought by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky until they spoke with Giuliani. "Based on the President's direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President's concerns," Sondland will testify. "We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us -- Secretary (Rick) Perry, Ambassador (Kurt) Volker, and myself -- to be the better alternative," Sondland continues. "But I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani's agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President's 2020 reelection campaign." Sondland's testimony comes Thursday as he's under fire for his role in the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, in which Trump repeatedly urged Zelensky to open an investigation into the Bidens. Sondland's testimony is likely to ratchet up the Democrats' focus on the concerns top officials expressed about Giuliani's involvement in Ukraine — and how they disagreed with Trump's assistance on using his private attorney to negotiate diplomatic efforts. Sondland's text messages with top US diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, are a key data point for the impeachment investigation, in which Sondland told Taylor there was "no quid pro quo" after speaking to Trump about the matter. Sondland's testimony says that he knew of no arrangement tying US security assistance to Ukraine with an investigations into the Bidens — but also that it would be wrong to do so. "Let me state clearly: Inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong," Sondland will say. "Withholding foreign aid in order to pressure a foreign government to take such steps would be wrong. I did not and would not ever participate in such undertakings. In my opinion, security aid to Ukraine was in our vital national interest and should not have been delayed for any reason."

By Zack Budryk
Energy Secretary Rick Perry said President Trump directed him to discuss Ukraine corruption concerns with Rudy Giuliani in the spring, according to an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Perry told the news outlet that he reached out to Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, to ask for help in arranging a meeting between Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky. Perry told the newspaper that he and other officials, including former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, had urged Trump to meet with Zelensky shortly after he took office, but Trump expressed reservations, citing the country’s history of political corruption, and told Perry to “visit with Rudy.” “And as I recall the conversation, he said, ‘Look, the president is really concerned that there are people in Ukraine that tried to beat him during this presidential election,’ ” Perry told the newspaper. “ ‘He thinks they’re corrupt and ... that there are still people over there engaged that are absolutely corrupt.’ ” Perry said that in his conversation with Giuliani, the attorney cited baseless claims, which have frequently been mentioned by Trump, including that Ukraine was in possession of Hillary Clinton’s email server, had fabricated evidence against Trump’s ex-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and was responsible for a former British spy’s dossier alleging that Russia had compromising information on Trump. “I don’t know whether that was crap or what,” Perry said, “but I’m just saying there were three things that he said. That’s the reason the president doesn’t trust these guys.” Perry said Giuliani “didn’t say they gotta do X, Y and Z. He just said, ‘You want to know why he ain’t comfortable about letting this guy come in? Here’s the reason.’ ”

By James LaPorta
Donald Trump got "rolled" by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a National Security Council source with direct knowledge of the discussions told Newsweek. In a scheduled phone call on Sunday afternoon between President Trump and President Erdogan, Trump said he would withdraw U.S. forces from northern Syria. The phone call was scheduled after Turkey announced it was planning to invade Syria, and hours after Erdogan reinforced his army units at the Syrian-Turkish border and issued his strongest threat to launch a military incursion, according to the National Security Council official to whom Newsweek spoke on condition of anonymity. The U.S. withdrawal plays into the hands of the Islamic State group, Damascus and Moscow, and the announcement left Trump's own Defense Department "completely stunned," said Pentagon officials. Turkey, like the United States, wants regime change in Syria. Russia and Iran support the Assad regime. "President Trump was definitely out-negotiated and only endorsed the troop withdraw to make it look like we are getting something—but we are not getting something," the National Security Council source told Newsweek. "The U.S. national security has entered a state of increased danger for decades to come because the president has no spine and that's the bottom line." Newsweek granted the National Security Council official anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The source said it would not be surprising to see a Turkish incursion in the next 24 to 96 hours. Turkey has long considered the Kurdish militia in Syria to be a terrorist insurgency, despite the United States providing military and financial aid to the group in its fight against ISIS, the Islamic State militant group. A battle with the vastly superior military of Turkey, a NATO ally, could drive the Kurds into the arms of Bashar Al-Assad, the Syrian dictator that Washington wants ousted, and by extension into an alliance with Russia and Iran, two U.S. rivals with forces in Syria. The White House said late Sunday evening in a statement that Turkey will soon invade northern Syria but both the Defense Department and Trump on Twitter said they made clear to Turkey that they do not endorse a Turkish operation in northern Syria. "As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I've done before!)," said Trump on Twitter Monday. "They must, with Europe and others, watch over the captured ISIS fighters and families...it is time now for others in the region, some of great wealth, to protect their own territory." According to the NSC official, who had first-hand knowledge of the phone call, Trump did not endorse any Turkish military operation against Kurdish Forces, but also did not threaten economic sanctions during the phone call if Turkey decided to undertake offensive operations. In a statement, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said, "The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and United States forces, having defeated the ISIS territorial "Caliphate," will no longer be in the immediate area." The New York Times reported Monday that about 100 to 150 American forces would withdraw from northern Syria but not completely from the country. Newsweek confirmed the Times reporting but the National Security Council official said the number was closer to 230 service members, among them U.S. Special Forces and reconnaissance units.

“They’re all over the world,” the “Daily Show” host said of Trump’s sons. “It’s like The Amazing Race with no running and no chins.”
By Matt Wilstein
With Hunter Biden’s foreign business dealings in the news, Trevor Noah turned his attention to the issue of nepotism Wednesday night. “The truth is, your name could be a big reason that you get a leg up in life,” The Daily Show host began. “With that said,” he added, “you can’t deny, it’s not a good look that a Ukrainian company hired Hunter Biden just months after Joe Biden became the Obama administration’s point man on Ukraine. Because it looks very much like he got this business because of his father’s position.” “And I understand why a lot of people would complain about that,” he continued. “What I don’t understand is why these people are complaining about that.” With that, he cut to a clip of Donald Trump Jr. accusing Hunter Biden of trading on his name and Eric Trump arguing that he and his brother are exempt from criticism because they do not sit on any corporate boards. “First of all, I’m not surprised nobody has put Beavis and Forehead on any corporate boards,” Noah said. “I don’t even think they’re allowed on diving boards.” But more importantly, the host said, “If there was ever an example of people who got opportunities because of their names, it’s these two.” For instance, if Donald Trump Jr. was not Donald Trump’s son, Noah asked why anyone would be paying him $50,000 to make a speech. “To share his expertise on bad beards?” “Also, if Trump’s sons are actually concerned, like truly concerned about children of politicians doing business overseas,” Noah added, “then can someone please explain to me why they have been doing this?” He then allowed various news reports to lay out the details of continued foreign projects currently being carried out by Eric and Don Jr. on behalf of the Trump Organization. “Yeah, that’s right, even with their dad in office, the Trumps are still growing their business in places like India, Philippines, Indonesia, Uruguay,” Noah said. “They’re all over the world. It’s like The Amazing Race with no running and no chins.” But “at least Donald and Eric are one step removed from the Trump presidency,” Noah said before turning his attention to Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who have official roles in the White House and yet still have entanglements with businesses that benefit from foreign money.

By Tami Luhby, CNN
(CNN) - The Trump administration has acknowledged that its proposed changes to the food stamp program could leave nearly 500,000 children without access to free school lunches. The US Department of Agriculture released an analysis late Tuesday afternoon that showed the agency's proposed rule would mean nearly 1 million children would no longer be directly certified for free school meals based on their participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the formal name for food stamps. About half of those children would continue to be eligible to receive free meals because they come from families with annual household incomes of no more than 130% of the federal poverty level, or $33,475 for a four-person family in 2019. However, another 497,000 kids would only be eligible for reduced-price meals since they come from households with annual income of between 130% and 185% of the federal poverty level, or no more than roughly $47,650. These students would have to pay a maximum of 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch. Another 40,000 students from families with higher incomes would have to pay for their meals. The proposed rule, unveiled in July, curtails so-called broad-based categorical eligibility, which makes it easier for Americans with somewhat higher incomes and more savings to receive food stamps. It could strip more than 3 million people of their benefits. Republicans have long argued that this expanded eligibility option is a "loophole" that permits those with higher incomes and assets to get public assistance. Consumer advocates, however, say that the option helps low-income working Americans get the help they need. Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, first raised concerns in July that half a million kids could be affected by the proposed rule. He called on the agency to revise its proposal to include the estimate.

Lawmakers said the measure was necessary to ensure state investigations don't get derailed by the president.
By Allan Smith and Dareh Gregorian
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a measure Wednesday that would allow the state to pursue charges against people who have received a presidential pardon — a law seen as a direct shot at President Donald Trump. Multiple ex-Trump aides or associates are imprisoned or facing legal scrutiny in New York. The president, whose business and campaign are both headquartered in New York, also is facing numerous federal, state and congressional investigations related to his administration, campaign and business dealings. The newly signed law creates a narrow exception in the state's double jeopardy law, which prohibits the prosecution of a person who's been tried for the same crime by the federal government. The change takes effect immediately. "No one is above the law and New York will not turn a blind eye to criminality, no matter who seeks to protect them," Cuomo said in a statement. "The closure of this egregious loophole gives prosecutors the ability to stand up against any abuse of power, and helps ensure that no politically motivated, self-serving action is sanctioned under law." The New York measure was introduced by state Attorney General Letitia James, who began investigating the finances of the president and the Trump Organization earlier this year. That probe came after Cohen told Congress that Trump had inflated the worth of his assets in financial statements to secure bank loans. James has said the law was necessary because double jeopardy "exists to prevent someone from being charged twice for the same crime, not to allow them to evade justice altogether." "We have a responsibility to ensure that individuals who commit crimes under New York state law are held accountable for those crimes," James said in a statement Tuesday. "This critical new law closes a gaping loophole that could have allowed any president to abuse the presidential pardon power by unfairly granting a pardon to a family member or close associate and possibly allow that individual to evade justice altogether. No one is above the law, and this commonsense measure will provide a reasonable and necessary check on presidential power today and for all presidents to come." Trump has dismissed her efforts as "presidential harassment." The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NBC News. - That is not presidential harassment job, but what Trump did to Obama was presidential harassment.

By Jordain Carney and Al Weaver
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is facing pushback from some of his Republican colleagues over his plan to send a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) warning that the caucus won’t remove President Trump from office. Graham raised the forthcoming letter during a closed-door caucus lunch on Wednesday, multiple sources told The Hill. The letter, according to Graham’s description, would warn Pelosi that Senate Republicans will not vote to remove President Trump from office because of a phone call where he asked the Ukrainian government to “look into” former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told The Hill that he would sign the letter, if it is as described, but he warned it could be a distraction and, without enough support, could raise questions about GOP unity in the impeachment fight. “I will sign the letter, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s necessarily a good idea,” Kennedy said. “We don’t need distractions right now.” Asked if the letter would backfire if it doesn’t get enough signatures, Kennedy acknowledged “that’s a risk.” He added some GOP senators want to hear more on impeachment and could be put in an awkward spot. “The fact that some senators may … not [sign the letter] does not indicate necessarily that they don't support the president. They just want to hear more … and I just don’t think that’s fair to them,” Kennedy said. “I just worry that Americans will look at it, and some less-enlightened members of the press … will look at it and say okay this is what the vote will be among the Republicans," he continued. Kennedy was one of a handful of GOP senators who raised concerns about Graham’s letter during the party’s closed-door lunch. Some, including Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), raised concerns, while still others were “visibly frustrated,” according to a GOP aide. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) confirmed that Graham talked during the lunch about the letter. Shelby said he “asked him a couple questions.” He declined to say what those questions were. A GOP senator panned the idea as “one of the dumbest ideas I’ve ever heard from Lindsey.” “He’s trying to help but it’s going to backfire,” the senator added. “If there aren’t enough signatures the president is going to look really weak.”

By Sonam Sheth
Newly uncovered tax documents from President Donald Trump contain several discrepancies that real-estate experts said could point to financial fraud, ProPublica reported on Wednesday. The documents obtained by ProPublica were part of records for four Trump properties in New York City: Trump International Hotel and Tower, 40 Wall Street, Trump Tower, and 1290 Avenue of the Americas. Tax records for 40 Wall Street and the Trump International Hotel and Tower reportedly contained discrepancies that could raise some red flags — specifically, the numbers made the properties look more valuable to lenders and less valuable to tax authorities, ProPublica said. In one instance in 2017, according to ProPublica, Trump told a lender that he got twice as much rent from one building as he reported to tax authorities that year. Nancy Wallace, a professor of finance and real estate at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley, told the outlet she couldn't see why there were inconsistencies in the first place, adding that they looked like "versions of fraud." Trump has been at the center of several financial scandals. The New York Times reported last year that Trump used a series of dubious tax schemes to shield a $400 million inheritance from the IRS. And in September, Mother Jones published an investigation that found that Trump might have fabricated a loan to avoid paying $50 million in income taxes. But Trump has long maintained that he has committed no financial or tax crimes. He has said he can't release his tax returns because they are under audit, even though there is no rule to prevent him from doing so. But the president may soon be forced to give his tax returns to investigators. On October 7, US District Judge Victor Marrero ordered Trump to turn over eight years of his tax returns to New York prosecutors investigating whether he violated state laws by fabricating business records. Days later, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ordered the president to turn over the past eight years of his tax returns to the House Oversight Committee, saying lawmakers have the right to see the documents. Trump's lawyers have said they will fight both decisions and take them to the Supreme Court if they have to. But the public may still get a window into the president's closely held financial documents thanks to an employee at the IRS who recently blew the whistle on "inappropriate efforts to influence" the agency's audit of Trump's tax returns. According to The Washington Post, the person accused of trying to interfere with the audit is a political appointee at the Treasury Department.

By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
Washington (CNN) - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday redirected an attack from President Donald Trump on Twitter, turning a photo he had tweeted of her during a contentious White House meeting with the caption "Nervous Nancy's unhinged meltdown!" into her Twitter cover shot. The image released by the White House shows the California Democrat standing with her finger pointed at a seated Trump during a meeting in which congressional Democratic leaders said the President had a "meltdown." Pelosi's deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill noted the change on Twitter, writing, "Thanks for the new cover photo @realDonaldTrump!" Reporters were not allowed in the meeting Wednesday and CNN does not typically report on photos released by the White House because they cannot be independently verified as an accurate depiction of the events in the room. Pelosi reclaiming and promoting the image that Trump meant as an attack, however, marks a notable -- and newsworthy -- exception. Democratic leaders were at the White House for a meeting on Syria, which came shortly after the House overwhelmingly in a bipartisan vote passed a resolution opposing the Trump administration's troop withdrawal. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the top congressional Democrats said they had walked out. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said they had done so when Trump "started calling Speaker Pelosi a third-rate politician." "He was insulting, particularly to the speaker. She kept her cool completely, but he called her a third-rate politician," Schumer said. "This was not a dialogue, it was sort of a diatribe. A nasty diatribe, not focused on the facts." Pelosi later said Trump had actually referred to her as a "third-grade politician."

By Rachel Layne
In announcing a preliminary trade agreement with China last week, President Donald Trump touted the accord as "the greatest and biggest deal ever made for our Great Patriot Farmers in the history of our Country." Yet questions remain about how great and big the pact ultimately will prove to be for U.S. farmers. The deal calls for China to buy between $40 billion and $50 billion a year in American farm products, according to U.S. trade officials. Experts are skeptical such a goal is achievable. The reason: Chinese imports of U.S. soybeans, pork and other agricultural commodities peaked in 2013 at $29 billion, according to U.S. government data. The trade war pushed that figure down to $9 billion last year. As a result, simply restoring Chinese purchase of U.S. farm products to 2013 levels would be a "big achievement," Arthur Kroeber, an analyst with investor advisory firm Gavekal Research, said in a note to clients this week. Another potential wrinkle is that China's commitment to buying more U.S. farm goods is contingent on their needs and on market prices, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. China may be pushing for the U.S. to drop plans for new 15% tariffs on $156 billion in consumer goods due to take effect December 15, using the farm purchases as leverage, the Journal noted. "Shocking! You mean China's not going to buy $40-50 billion in ag products until our tariffs are lifted? Couldn't have seen that one coming," Farmers for Free Trade, a lobbying group that opposes the tariffs, said in a sarcastic tweet Wednesday.

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