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Judge says New York prosecutors can see Trump's tax returns   

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NEW YORK – With President Donald Trump under siege on Capitol Hill, a federal judge dealt him a setback on another front Monday and ruled that New York City prosecutors can see his tax returns for an investigation into matters including the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a Playboy centerfold.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero emphatically rejected Trump's attempt to keep his financial records under wraps, calling the president's broad claim of immunity from all criminal proceedings "extraordinary" and "an overreach of executive power" at odds with the Constitution.

For now, at least, the tax returns remain beyond the reach of prosecutors. The president's lawyers appealed the judge's ruling to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which put the matter on hold while it considers the case on an expedited basis.

At issue is a request from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. that Trump's accounting firm turn over eight years' worth of his business and personal tax returns dating back to 2011.

Vance, a Democrat, is investigating payments made to buy the silence of Daniels and model Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had affairs with the president.

"The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts," Trump fumed on Twitter after the judge's ruling, "so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!"

The district attorney's office declined to comment.

The investigation is unfolding with Trump already facing a fast-moving impeachment drive by House Democrats that was set off by his attempts to get Ukraine's leader to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.

Trump's lawyers have said that Vance's investigation is politically motivated and that the request for tax records should be stopped because Trump is immune from any criminal probe as long as he is president.

The judge swept that claim aside as overly broad.

"As the court reads it, presidential immunity would stretch to cover every phase of criminal proceedings, including investigations, grand jury proceedings and subpoenas, indictment, prosecution, arrest, trial, conviction, and incarceration," Marrero wrote. "That constitutional protection presumably would encompass any conduct, at any time, in any forum, whether federal or state, and whether the President acted alone or in concert with other individuals."

The judge said he couldn't accept that legal view, "especially in the light of the fundamental concerns over excessive arrogation of power" that led the founding fathers to create a balance of power among the three branches of government.

Trump has steadfastly refused to make his tax returns public, breaking a tradition set by presidents and White House candidates decades ago. He has also gone to court to fight congressional subpoenas issued to his bank for various personal financial records, including his tax returns. That dispute is also before the federal appeals court.

In yet another effort to pry loose Trump's tax records, California recently passed a law requiring candidates for president or governor to turn over five years' worth of returns, or else they cannot appear on the state's primary ballot. A federal judge blocked the law this month, saying it is probably unconstitutional.

Vance began his probe after federal prosecutors in New York completed their investigation into payments that Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to be made to the two women to keep them silent during the presidential race.

Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for crimes that included campaign finance violations in connection with the hush money.

Trump was never charged, though prosecutors said publicly that he was aware of and directed the illegal payments. Justice Department policy has long been that sitting presidents cannot be charged criminally.

Grand jury proceedings and records in New York are secret. If Vance gains access to Trump's returns through a grand jury investigation, that doesn't necessarily mean their contents will be disclosed publicly.

It is unclear what Trump's returns might have to do with the criminal investigation or why prosecutors are reaching back as far as 2011.

But the long reach of the subpoena might stem in part from testimony Cohen gave to Congress early this year when he asserted that Trump overstated his wealth to financial institutions before he became president.

Cohen turned over copies of financial statements he said the president provided to Deutsche Bank during a 2014 effort to buy the Buffalo Bills. The statements showed Trump's net worth soaring from $4.55 billion in 2012 to $8.66 billion in 2013.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this story.


          

Fellow Republicans condemn Trump on Syrian-Turkish border troop withdrawal   

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Lindsey Graham Donald Trump composite

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday cast his decision to abandon U.S-allied Kurdish-led fighters in Syria as fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from "endless war" in the Middle East, even as Republican critics said he was sacrificing a U.S. ally and undermining American credibility.


          

Marcelo Suffers Hamstring Injury Ahead of Real Madrid’s Clash With Granada   

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?Real Madrid have confirmed that left-back Marcelo has suffered a hamstring injury, which will likely sideline him for Saturday’s meeting with Granada. The Brazilian has endured an injury-hit start to the campaign and only recently made his return from a neck injury, which had restricted him to just four appearances this season. He managed 45 … Continue reading Marcelo Suffers Hamstring Injury Ahead of Real Madrid’s Clash With Granada

          

Kogi election: APC already scared of defeat - PDP campaign DG   

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The governorship election slated for November 16, in Kogi state, is becoming more interesting as both the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and its main challenger, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) engaged in verbal attacks

          

NEW HEALTH DEPARTMENT CAMPAIGN WARNS YOUTH OF DANGERS OF E-CIGARETTE USE   

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NEW YORK(TIP): New York City Health Department, on October 3,  launched a new media campaign to educate teens about the dangers of e-cigarettes. The fast-paced videos alert young people to the dangers of nicotine addiction [...]

          

Research, Fall 2019   

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Watch this clip from The Wire.  It is the best description of research, ever.

The Internet Archive -- if there is a broken link to what you need, this site might help you find it.  (A morbid example here: https://God.blue/splash.php?url=gOBUcplT42hi4tTyWrz_SLASH_CuHcPE_SLASH_sVeHdXc_SLASH_X6mZpCQgVWZno9vUvG3pufp8tPLan8LWeSZW0nukS_PLUS_UJq2BwaeYBi3MXpfWdCgXRn81gnx3I59QXYLa1e0E3hNAlzh15RPIZT4mu1zn7txfqNLemf6az7Ss_SLASH_yYsj8PDewJ5pOTgg_EQUALS_)

Great stuff at Honnold Library -- which students usually overlook! (password required)
  • Nexis Uni:  news sources and law journals
  • Political science journals
  • Dissertation abstracts (search for "California" and "redistricting" in abstracts, and you will see a couple of Rose Institute names)
General Statistics and The Census

California and General State Politics
Elections, Parties, Campaign Finance

          

Major Policy Shift in Syria   

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American troops are departing the Turkey-Syria border, and the Syrian Kurdish forces there are accusing the US of abandoning the fighters who bore the brunt of the US-led ground campaign against the Islamic State.

          

Dan James insists he can handle playing for Manchester United as their poor form continues    

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The forward has joined up with Wales ahead of Euro 2020 qualifiers with Slovakia and Croatia following a positive personal start to the campaign with his club.

          

Portsmouth-born Chelsea star Mason Mount describes 'extra special feeling' of scoring at Southampton   

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It was the England international's fourth strike of the campaign and helped Frank Lampard's team make it three wins in eight days before a break in the Premier League schedule.

          

Twitter campaign by Pakistani ruling party warns media against anti-state criticism   

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According to the government, the idea behind the series of tweets was not to ridicule but to ‘educate’ the media. However, the activists feel otherwise amidst troll attacks.

          

Tim Heidecker’s Mister America Is Funny (If You’ve Also Seen Everything Else Tim Heidecker Has Ever Done)   

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by Morgan Troper
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Magnolia Pictures

At the end of 2017, Tim Heidecker’s On Cinemaa web series lampooning film criticism that the comedian co-hosts with Gregg Turkington—apexed with a five-hour long, fictitious murder trial. Despite overwhelming evidence that Tim Heidecker’s character was guilty of several counts of murder (several attendees at a fake music festival he funded overdosed on vape pens, which these days hits a little too close to home), Heidecker was found innocent—and promptly launched a garish social media campaign around his implausible candidacy for San Bernardino district attorney.

This is where the feature-length film Mister America—which screens in Portland on Wednesday—comes in. It's a spin-off of a spin-off of a goofy web-series, and will likely only entertain those who have fully immersed themselves in the On Cinema universe—which, when taking into account the show’s 10 seasons, its annual Oscar specials, and its self-contained offshoot Decker, clocks in at an agonizing 20 hours of content.

If you are one of those people, Mister America is frequently funny. At best, it plays like a bizarro version of The War Room—just sub George Stephanopoulos with a woefully incompetent publicist-turned-campaign advisor named Toni (Terry Parks) and Bill Clinton for Heidecker’s On Cinema persona, a mix of O.J. Simpson and Trump. But just as often, Mister America's comedy is imperceptible: Take one early scene, when Heidecker and Toni discuss immigration. It doesn’t seem like a parody, and there’s no punchline. It just feels like a legitimately racist conversation, and it speaks to the dangers of ineffective satire. By the end of the film, when Heidecker breaks down and apologizes to his constituents after a violent outburst at a town hall debate, you don’t even feel sorry for the guy. You just want him out of your sight.

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Timbers Step Up, Qualify for Postseason in Style   

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by Abe Asher
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Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
Heading into the decisive final day of the MLS regular season, there were plenty of bad omens for a struggling Portland Timbers team in need of a result to qualify for the playoffs.

Brian Fernandez was suspended. Diego Valeri was out with a lingering calf injury. And the San Jose Earthquakes were coming into Providence Park with everything to play for — in need of a win to keep their own season alive.

This time, though, after a month of of ugly soccer and bad breaks and disappointing results, the Timbers got the job done and did it with room to spare.

Goals from Larrys Mabiala, Dairon Asprilla, and Sebastian Blanco were more than enough to lift the Timbers to their first win in six games on a lovely fall afternoon, jump into sixth place in the Western Conference, and bring the curtain down on San Jose's remarkable season.

All of the sudden, after all they endured this fall, the Timbers can look forward to a third-straight playoff appearance that will begin with a game against Real Salt Lake — a team that they've already beaten twice this year, at a venue that they've won at in both of their previous visits under Giovani Savarese.

Things are looking up. Facing the biggest test of their season, the Timbers had the right gameplan and executed it to near-perfection.

With San Jose man-marking in the ubiquitous system installed by their Argentinian manager Matias Almeyda, Savarese — in a move reminiscent of Portland's surge last fall — set his team up to defend deep and hit the 'Quakes on the break.

The early returns were positive. The Timbers nearly took the lead after a quarter of an hour when a Blanco corner hit Chris Wondolowski and forced San Jose goalkeeper Daniel Vega into a sprawling save, and generally were contesting the game on their terms.

The Timbers were getting traction going forward, and while the Earthquakes had plenty of the ball — they'd finish with 61 percent possession and complete nearly 200 more passes than the Timbers did — they were completely unable to break down the Timbers' defensive lines.

A slaloming, one-man run aside, Jorge Villafaña held the dangerous Cristian Espinoza was held in check. Vako completed only four passes during the entirety of the half on the opposite flank, Wondolowski just two from his position at center forward.

The Timbers' attack was limited somewhat with Asprilla and Andy Polo playing on the wings, but with Ebobisse dealing up top and Blanco slashing through the middle, it had a balance that had often been missing over the last several months.

It was on a set piece, though, that the Timbers would strike first.

Just before the half hour mark, Asprilla settled a recycled corner on the edge of the penalty area and slipped a ball wide left for an onrushing Villafaña, who whipped a pass across the face of goal that Mabiala, who had stayed in the box after the initial clearance, stuck out his trailing leg and dragged in.

Just like that, San Jose was in serious trouble — in need of multiple goals, with a third of the game gone, having failed to create a single significant chance yet. But they still had Wondolowski, and, with him, the ability to conjure a goal from thin air.

With halftime closing in and the score 1-0, that's exactly with they did. Off of a pre-planned corner routine, Espinoza hit a cross to the near post and the 36-year-old record MLS goalscorer beat everyone to the ball and flicked a diving header off of the ground, off of the underside of the crossbar, and in to tie the game.

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Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers
It was vintage Wondolowski — a purely instinctual, fearless finish, his record eleventh goal against Portland, a one of the most important of his season.

As the second half began, with Dallas running riot over Sporting Kansas City, everything was on the table. One of these teams was going to be playing its final 45 minutes of the season, one was going to move on.

Enter, not for the first time and not ever unremarkably, Asprilla. Handed his first start in a month ahead of Marvin Loría, the Colombian with a penchant for scoring the most timely of goals repaid Savarese's faith with another memorable contribution.

Just before the hour mark, Asprilla drifted inside to pick up a cross-field pass from Ebobisse, cut past Florien Jungwirth with an excellent first touch, and went barreling through on goal. Vega stopped his first shot, but the rebound squibbed underneath him — and Asprilla, at the second time of asking, tucked it in.

Whatever his past, for a player who has had the most abject of seasons, this was a stunning moment: a truly excellent goal, all of his own making, thanks to the kind of decisive turn of pace that you almost never see him make when he receives the ball.

At this time of the year, though, there's no rhyme or reason when it comes to Asprilla. He's just a different player.

Almeyda emptied his bench almost immediately the goal, making all three of his substitutions and trying to push his team — again in search of two goals, now with just 30 minutes left to play — into a more overtly attacking posture.

In the process, which included removing a defensive midfielder, the 'Quakes opened themselves up on the counter. The Timbers had several chance to ice the game in the following minutes, with Ebobisse and Cristhian Paredes coming closest, but it'd take a special moment from Blanco to make the result secure.

With a quarter of an hour to play, and Valeri off the field, it was the diminutive Argentine who stepped to a free kick from 25 yards away and fired it into the top corner.

No player on the field more deserved to score. The Timbers were never worse over the last month than when Blanco was out of the lineup, and on a day when they were missing their two most high profile attackers, he brought the heat in every phase of the game.

With that, San Jose was buried. They finished the season having lost six straight, a sour end to an otherwise triumphant first MLS campaign for Almeyda.

The Timbers' run-in wasn't much prettier. But Savarese, who has never missed the postseason as a manager, was understandably pleased with his team's perseverance. They didn't throw in the towel, and they made it to the finish line with their season intact.

"It has been a very difficult season in so many ways," Savarese said after the game. "So that’s why I think even in this moment that we have been able to make the playoffs, I’m more proud than ever for all the guys we have on the team.”

The slate is clean. Salt Lake away, a team the Timbers know they can beat, and then the specter of another playoff meeting with Seattle. The possibilities, just as they should at this time of the year, abound.

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Craig Mitchelldyer/Portland Timbers

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Andrew Scheer and the Con Bigot Who Wouldn't Quit   

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I've written about Heather Leung before, the Con candidate in B.C.'s Burnaby-North Seymour riding.

The religious fanatic and vile homophobe who believes among other things that gay people recruit children.

The one whose campaign tried to turn Rick Mercer into a Conservative. 

Well, on Wednesday the Cons fired her.  

Or at least that's what Andrew Scheer claimed he had done.
Read more »

          

Bernie’s Heart. And Ours.   

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Bernie has a huge and eternally healthy heart, filled with the lifeblood of empathy and dedication. In essence, that's what the 2020 Sanders campaign is all about. Not him. Us.

The post Bernie’s Heart. And Ours. appeared first on FlaglerLive.


          

Setup and manage one FB ads campaign   

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Task required: ● Setup a new FB ads campaign to promote one specific product (vacation tour) ● Monitor tweak this campaign for 1 month Background: ● FB pixel already active ● Already connected to Google... (Budget: $30 - $250 USD, Jobs: Facebook Marketing)

          

Trump's Ukraine Call Might Violate Election Laws, But No One's Enforcing Them   

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While Congress mulls whether President Trump's phone call soliciting help from the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son is an impeachable offense, Trump's action raises another question. Did the president's requests violate campaign finance law? The Department of Justice doesn't think so. DOJ officials and career prosecutors in the department's public integrity section examined the text of the July 25 phone call and concluded there was not a potential campaign finance violation, according to senior Justice Department officials. The facts did not provide a basis for a predicated investigation, they said. In part, it depends on whether the president solicited a "thing of value" and how that term is defined. Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, believes there was a violation of the law. He says that "there is a long list" of examples of the Federal Election Commission finding that "intangible items like opposition research can constitute a

          

As FEC Nears Shutdown, Priorities Such As Stopping Election Interference On Hold   

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Barring some kind of miraculous last-minute reprieve, Friday will be the last business day that the Federal Election Commission will be able to function for quite a while, leaving the enforcement of federal campaign finance laws unattended ahead of the 2020 election. The commission's vice chairman, Matthew Petersen, announced his resignation earlier this week, to take effect at the end of the month. With Petersen gone, the FEC will be down to three members and won't have a quorum. In addition to collecting campaign finance data, the FEC investigates potential campaign finance violations, issues fines and gives guidance to campaigns about following election law — but not without a working quorum of at least four commissioners. "To not have the FEC able to take action right now is deeply concerning," says Daniel Weiner, a former senior counsel at the FEC, who's now with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University law school. In particular, Weiner is concerned about another

          

Careful With Those Birthday Candles, Smokey: Beloved Bear Turns 75   

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Updated at 11:20 a.m. ET Smokey Bear, the U.S. Forest Service's symbol of fire prevention, turns 75 on Friday. Smokey is the longest-running public service ad campaign, first appearing on a poster on Aug. 9, 1944. While his look has changed quite a bit, his message has shifted only slightly. Smokey's roots go back further than his first post. In 1942, a Japanese sub attacked an oil field in southern California. Next to the oil field was the Los Padres National Forest, and officials worried about the effect on the war effort if the forest itself had been attacked. So the War Advertising Council developed a campaign to warn of the danger of forest fires. " The original posters were quite scary in nature," said Wendy Melillo, an American University professor who has written about Smokey . "So they had the face of a Japanese soldier with a lighted match and a menacing grin and a slogan that said, 'Careless matches aid the Axis.' " When the war ended, the Forest Service needed a new way of

          

Bernie Sanders, resting at home, announces plan to curtail money in politics   

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Prominent friends and supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., say he should cut back on his relentless campaign pace and speak openly about his recent heart attack when he returns to the campaign trail, urging a shift toward a more personal and less hectic campaign than he has run so far.

The comments reflect what supporters describe as a deeply personal decision with big implications for Sanders’s candidacy: how the 78-year-old democratic socialist, viewed by many of his backers as the leader of a movement, should proceed after a health scare that has sidelined him for days and raised questions about whether he can - or should - maintain the punishing demands of a presidential campaign.

“I would be very open about the experience he had,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a national co-chair of the Sanders campaign who made his pitch to the senator in a brief telephone conversation last week. “I think it can show a resilience, a sense of empathy and a sense of vulnerability.”

Sanders supporters privately acknowledge concern that the heart attack could give voters second thoughts about the candidate, who would be the oldest president in history if elected. In an effort to move beyond the setback, some hope he can seize on the event to transmit a softer side that’s eluded him.

The goal, said Khanna, would be to “make a very human connection.” He said he texted the senator’s wife, Jane Sanders, last week to tell her that this could be Sanders’s “FDR moment,” referring to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose battle with polio is sometimes said to have contributed to his empathy for the less fortunate.

The sensitivity of dealing with the heart attack has been evident since the episode occurred. The campaign did not immediately disclose the heart attack, initially saying only that Sanders had experienced chest pains and had two stents inserted in an artery.

Advisers and friends also say Sanders should consider easing his breakneck campaign pace. Sanders has been sprinting across the country, holding multiple events per day, maintaining a speed that has surpassed his top rivals.

“If I were giving him advice, I would tell him just slack up a little bit,” said former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who visited Sanders in a Las Vegas hospital last week. “Even if he slacks up a little bit, he’s campaigning more than anybody else.”

Sanders spent Monday recuperating at home in Burlington, Vermont. On a conference call with staff, he reiterated that the movement he has been leading is not about him, a theme he often hits in campaign speeches.

“If there’s anything that this event kind of tells us, it is the importance of what our message is in this campaign. And our message is ‘Us, not me,’ ” Sanders said, according to a person with knowledge of his remarks.

Campaign officials have signaled that he is not expected to return to the trail until the Oct. 15 debate near Columbus, Ohio. That makes the debate a critical event for the campaign, as Sanders will face considerable scrutiny from voters and rivals sizing up his health and vitality.

“Bernie is raring to go, and his campaign staff has been trying to hold him back until the debate,” said Ben Cohen, who co-founded Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and serves as a national co-chair of the campaign. “The plan is for the debate to be his reentry into the race.”

People with knowledge of the situation said there had been a period of uncertainty about the campaign’s future in the immediate aftermath of Sanders’s hospitalization for chest pains last week. The campaign suspended an Iowa ad buy and made reassuring calls to supporters during those first hours.

But in recent days, the campaign has shown determination to move full speed ahead. The Iowa ad touting Sanders will be on the airwaves starting Tuesday.

The campaign rolled out a new policy proposal Monday aimed at curtailing the role of money in politics. It would eliminate big-dollar fundraising for all federal elections, enact a constitutional amendment to declare that campaign contributions are not speech and end corporate contributions to the party conventions.

Surrogates campaigned for Sanders in the key early states over the weekend, a strategy the campaign plans to continue. Cohen said he plans to campaign for Sanders this weekend in New Hampshire.

The campaign is also aggressively calling voters. After establishing a goal of making a million calls in the early primary states over the past 10 days, it beat that goal by 300,000 calls, the campaign said.

Sanders and his allies have also used his heart attack to call attention to his push to enact a Medicare-for-all universal health-care system. They note that while Sanders was fortunate to have access to good doctors and treatment, many Americans do not.

And Sanders has already begun showing a more personal side of himself. When he left the hospital on Friday, he stood shoulder-to-shoulder with his wife, Jane, smiling and waving. When he returned to Burlington, reporters there noted Sanders saying he was “happy to be home” before walking inside where family was waiting.

On Monday, he and Jane took a walk in the rain, and he joked with reporters he said should get paid more for working in the drizzle.

Early this year, when he launched his second campaign for president, advisers encouraged Sanders to speak about his participation in the civil rights movement and his modest upbringing in Brooklyn. He mentioned those things at early campaign stops. But as time went on, they faded from his stump speeches.

“He’s somewhat reticent to talk about his own … life experiences,” said Cohen. “But I think it’s helpful for him to do that and it’s certainly only a decision that he can make, but I do think this is an opportunity for him to talk.”

Sanders has been trailing former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., in many recent polls, sparing him the pressure that can face the front-runner. His Democratic rivals have either wished Sanders well or brushed aside questions about his physical fitness for office. President Donald Trump and his allies have been preoccupied with the impeachment inquiry.

These external events have led some Sanders allies to conclude that he does not have to rush back onto the national stage.

“The next months are going to be dominated by the impeachment inquiry, not the presidential race,” said Khanna. “His volunteers can do a lot of the work and he just needs to focus on recovering.”

In a sign of how the Sanders movement has charged ahead without him on the trail, a video created by a supporter arguing that he’s been criticized unfairly by the media had received 6 million views as of late Monday.

As Sanders recovers, his campaign has taken steps to reassure staffers and supporters, scheduling calls and other outreach to keep allies focused.

“The campaign reached out to me to let me know that he was doing fine. They gave me the details, which made me feel really comfortable,” said Deb Marlin, an Iowa small-business owner who has endorsed Sanders.

Reid recalled spending 30 to 45 minutes with Sanders on Thursday. They reminisced about their work in the Senate and talked about health care, Reid said. As for the next debate, Reid said Sanders ought to take things slowly before then.

“He should take it easy until then,” said Reid. “As far as I understand, that’s what he’s going to do.”


          

Profit, not politics: Trump allies sought Ukraine gas deal   

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KYIV, Ukraine – As Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukrainian officials last spring to investigate one of Donald Trump’s main political rivals, a group of individuals with ties to the president and his personal lawyer were also active in the former Soviet republic.

Their aims were profit, not politics. This circle of businessmen and Republican donors touted connections to Giuliani and Trump while trying to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company. Their plan was to then steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies, according to two people with knowledge of their plans.

Their plan hit a snag after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lost his reelection bid to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose conversation with Trump about former Vice President Joe Biden is now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry of Trump.

But the effort to install a friendlier management team at the helm of the gas company, Naftogaz, would soon be taken up with Ukraine’s new president by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose slate of candidates included a fellow Texan who is one of Perry’s past political donors.

It’s unclear if Perry’s attempts to replace board members at Naftogaz were coordinated with the Giuliani allies pushing for a similar outcome, and no one has alleged that there is criminal activity in any of these efforts. And it’s unclear what role, if any, Giuliani had in helping his clients push to get gas sales agreements with the state-owned company.

But the affair shows how those with ties to Trump and his administration were pursuing business deals in Ukraine that went far beyond advancing the president’s personal political interests. It also raises questions about whether Trump allies were mixing business and politics just as Republicans were calling for a probe of Biden and his son Hunter, who served five years on the board of another Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

On Friday, according to the news site Axios, Trump told a group of Republican lawmakers that it had been Perry who had prompted the phone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy for a “favor” regarding Biden. Axios cited a source saying Trump said Perry had asked Trump to make the call to discuss “something about an LNG (liquefied natural gas) plant.”

While it’s unclear whether Trump’s remark Friday referred specifically to the behind-the-scenes maneuvers this spring involving the multibillion-dollar state gas company, The Associated Press has interviewed four people with direct knowledge of the attempts to influence Naftogaz, and their accounts show Perry playing a key role in the effort. Three of the four spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. The fourth is an American businessman with close ties to the Ukrainian energy sector.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Energy Department said Perry, a former Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, was not advancing anyone’s personal interests. She said his conversations with Ukrainian officials about Naftogaz were part of his efforts to reform the country’s energy sector and create an environment in which Western companies can do business.

Perry was asked about the AP’s reporting on Monday while in Lithuania, where he was meeting with officials from Ukraine and other eastern European countries to discuss energy security and cooperation. He said any suggestion that he tried to force a management change at Naftogaz was a “totally dreamed up story.”

“We get asked for our recommendations about people who are experts in areas, various areas,” Perry said. “Folks who have expertise in particular areas. Obviously having been the governor of the state of Texas, I know a lot of people in the energy industry.”

The Trump and Giuliani allies driving the attempt to change the senior management at Naftogaz, however, appear to have had inside knowledge of the U.S. government’s plans in Ukraine. For example, they told people that Trump would replace the U.S. ambassador there months before she was actually recalled to Washington, according to three of the individuals interviewed by the AP. One of the individuals said he was so concerned by the whole affair that he reported it to a U.S. Embassy official in Ukraine months ago.

THE BUSINESSMEN

Ukraine, a resource-rich nation that sits on the geographic and symbolic border between Russia and the West, has long been plagued by corruption and government dysfunction, making it a magnet for foreign profiteers.

At the center of the Naftogaz plan, according to three individuals familiar with the details, were three such businessmen: two Soviet-born Florida real estate entrepreneurs, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and an oil magnate from Boca Raton, Florida, named Harry Sargeant III.

Parnas and Fruman have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations to Republicans, including $325,000 to a Trump-allied political action committee in 2018. This helped the relatively unknown entrepreneurs gain access to top levels of the Republican Party – including meetings with Trump at the White House and Mar-a-Lago.

The two have also faced lawsuits from disgruntled investors over unpaid debts. During the same period they were pursuing the Naftogaz deal, the two were coordinating with Giuliani to set up meetings with Ukrainian government officials and push for an investigation of the Bidens.

Sargeant, his wife and corporate entities tied to the family have donated at least $1.2 million to Republican campaigns and PACs over the last 20 years, including $100,000 in June to the Trump Victory Fund, according to federal and state campaign finance records. He has also served as finance chair of the Florida state GOP, and gave nearly $14,000 to Giuliani’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.

In early March, Fruman, Parnas and Sargeant were touting a plan to replace Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev with another senior executive at the company, Andrew Favorov, according to two individuals who spoke to the AP as well as a memorandum about the meeting that was later submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, formerly known as Kiev.

Going back to the Obama administration, the U.S. Energy Department and the State Department have long supported efforts to import American natural gas into Ukraine to reduce the country’s dependence on Russia.

The three approached Favorov with the idea while the Ukrainian executive was attending an energy industry conference in Texas. Parnas and Fruman told him they had flown in from Florida on a private jet to recruit him to be their partner in a new venture to export up to 100 tanker shipments a year of U.S. liquefied gas into Ukraine, where Naftogaz is the largest distributor, according to two people briefed on the details.

Sargeant told Favorov that he regularly meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and that the gas-sales plan had the president’s full support, according to the two people who said Favorov recounted the discussion to them.

These conversations were recounted to AP by Dale W. Perry, an American who is a former business partner of Favorov. He told AP in an interview that Favorov described the meeting to him soon after it happened and that Favorov perceived it to be a shakedown. Perry, who is no relation to the energy secretary, is the managing partner of Energy Resources of Ukraine, which currently has business agreements to import natural gas and electricity to Ukraine.

A second person who spoke on condition of anonymity also confirmed to the AP that Favorov had recounted details of the Houston meeting to him.

According to Dale Perry and the other person, Favorov said Parnas told him Trump planned to remove U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and replace her with someone more open to aiding their business interests.

Dale Perry told the AP he was so concerned about the efforts to change the management at Naftogaz and to get rid of Yovanovitch that he reported what he had heard to Suriya Jayanti, a State Department foreign service officer stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv who focuses on the energy industry.

He also wrote a detailed memo about Favorov’s account, dated April 12, which was shared with another current State Department official. Perry recently provided a copy of the April memo to AP.

Jayanti declined to provide comment. Favorov also declined to comment.

On March 24, Giuliani and Parnas gathered at the Trump International Hotel in Washington with Healy E. Baumgardner, a former Trump campaign adviser who once served as deputy communications director for Giuliani’s presidential campaign and as a communications official during the George W. Bush administration.

She is now listed as the CEO of 45 Energy Group, a Houston-based energy company whose website describes it as a “government relations, public affairs and business development practice group.” The company’s name is an apparent nod to Trump, the 45th president.

This was a couple of weeks after the Houston meeting with Favorov, the Naftogaz executive. Giuliani, Parnas and Baumgardner were there to make a business pitch involving gas deals in the former Soviet bloc to a potential investor.

This time, according to Giuliani, the deals that were discussed involved Uzbekistan, not Ukraine.

“I have not pursued a deal in the Ukraine. I don’t know about a deal in the Ukraine. I would not do a deal in the Ukraine now, obviously,” said Giuliani, reached while attending a playoff baseball game between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. “There is absolutely no proof that I did it, because I didn’t do it.”

During this meeting, Parnas again repeated that Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, would soon be replaced, according to a person with direct knowledge of the gathering. She was removed two months later.

Giuliani, who serves as Trump’s personal lawyer and has no official role in government, acknowledged Friday that he was among those pushing the president to replace the ambassador, a career diplomat with a history of fighting corruption.

“The ambassador to Ukraine was replaced,” he said. “I did play a role in that.”

But Giuliani refused to discuss the details of his business dealings, or whether he helped his associates in their push to forge gas sales contracts with the Ukrainian company. He did describe Sergeant as a friend and referred to Parnas and Fruman as his clients in a tweet in May.

As part of their impeachment inquiry, House Democrats have subpoenaed Giuliani for documents and communications related to dozens of people, including Favorov, Parnas, Fruman and Baumgardner’s 45 Energy Group.

Baumgardner issued a written statement, saying: “While I won’t comment on business discussions, I will say this: this political assault on private business by the Democrats in Congress is complete harassment and an invasion of privacy that should scare the hell out of every American business owner.”

Baumgardner later denied that she had any business dealings in Ukraine but refused to say whether the replacement of Ambassador Yovanovitch was discussed.

Sargeant did not respond to a voice message left at a number listed for him at an address in Boca Raton.

John Dowd, a former Trump attorney who now represents Parnas and Fruman, said it was actually the Naftogaz executives who approached his clients about making a deal. Dowd says the group then approached Rick Perry to get the Energy Department on board.

“The people from the company solicited my clients because Igor is in the gas business, and they asked them, and they flew to Washington and they solicited,” Dowd said. “They sat down and talked about it. And then it was presented to Secretary Perry to see if they could get it together.

“It wasn’t a shakedown; it was an attempt to do legitimate business that didn’t work out.”

THE ENERGY SECRETARY

In May, Rick Perry traveled to Kyiv to serve as the senior U.S. government representative at the inauguration of the county’s new president.

In a private meeting with Zelenskiy, Perry pressed the Ukrainian president to fire members of the Naftogaz advisory board. Attendees left the meeting with the impression that Perry wanted to replace the American representative, Amos Hochstein, a former diplomat and energy representative who served in the Obama administration, with someone “reputable in Republican circles,” according to someone who was in the room.

Perry’s push for Ukraine’s state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz to change its supervisory board was first reported by Politico.

A second meeting during the trip, at a Kyiv hotel, included Ukrainian officials and energy sector people. There, Perry made clear that the Trump administration wanted to see the entire Naftogaz supervisory board replaced, according to a person who attended both meetings. Perry again referenced the list of advisers that he had given Zelenskiy, and it was widely interpreted that he wanted Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American businessman from Texas, to join the newly formed board, the person said. Also on the list was Robert Bensh, another Texan who frequently works in Ukraine, the Energy Department confirmed.

Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, were also in the room, according to photographs reviewed by AP. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation, said he was floored by the American requests because the person had always viewed the U.S. government “as having a higher ethical standard.”

The Naftogaz supervisory board is supposed to be selected by the Ukrainian president’s Cabinet in consultation with international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the United States and the European Union. It must be approved by the Ukrainian Cabinet. Ukrainian officials perceived Perry’s push to swap out the board as circumventing that established process, according to the person in the room.

U.S. Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said Perry had consistently called for the modernization of Ukraine’s business and energy sector in an effort to create an environment that will incentivize Western companies to do business there. She said Perry delivered that same message in the May meeting with Zelenskiy.

“What he did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company,” Hynes said Saturday. “That is fiction being pushed by those who are disingenuously seeking to advance a nefarious narrative that does not exist.”

Hynes said the Ukrainian government had requested U.S. recommendations to advise the country on energy matters, and Perry provided those recommendations. She confirmed Bleyzer was on the list.

Bleyzer, whose company is based in Houston, did not respond on Saturday to a voicemail seeking comment. Bensh also did not respond to a phone message.

Perry has close ties to the Texas oil and gas industry. He appointed Bleyzer to a two-year term on a state technologies fund board in 2009. The following year, records show Bleyzer donated $20,000 to Perry’s reelection campaign.

Zelenskiy’s office declined to comment on Saturday.

In an interview Friday with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Perry said that “as God as my witness” he never discussed Biden or his son in meetings with Ukrainian or U.S. officials, including Trump or Giuliani. He did confirm he had had a conversation with Giuliani by phone, but a spokeswoman for the energy secretary declined to say when that call was or whether the two had discussed Naftogaz.

In Lithuania on Monday, Perry said he could not recall whether Bleyzer’s name was on the list provided to Zelenskiy. But Perry confirmed he had known Bleyzer for years and called him “a really brilliant, capable businessman.”

“I would recommend him for a host of different things in Kyiv because he knows the country,” Perry said of Bleyzer. “He’s from there. So, why not? I mean I would be stunned if someone said that would you eliminate Michael Bleyzer from a recommendation of people you ought to talk to about how to do business in the country, whether they’re knowledgeable. It’d be remarkable if I didn’t say, `Talk to Michael.“’


          

As impeachment looms, GOP revolts against Trump on Syria   

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WASHINGTON – They may have his back on impeachment, but some of President Donald Trump’s most loyal allies are suddenly revolting against his decision to pull back U.S. troops from northern Syria.

On Monday, one chief Trump loyalist in Congress called the move “unnerving to the core.” An influential figure in conservative media condemned it as “a disaster.” And Trump’s former top NATO envoy said it was “a big mistake” that would threaten the lives of Kurdish fighters who had fought alongside American troops for years.

Trump’s surprise move, which came with no advance warning late Sunday and stunned many in his own government, threatened to undermine what has been near lockstep support among Republicans. It also came against the backdrop of a congressional impeachment inquiry in which the backing of Republicans in the Senate is the president’s bulwark against being removed from office.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has been among Trump’s most vocal defenders, called the Syria decision “a disaster in the making” that would throw the region into chaos and embolden the Islamic State group.

“I hope I’m making myself clear how short-sighted and irresponsible this decision is,” Graham told Fox News. “I like President Trump. I’ve tried to help him. This, to me, is just unnerving to its core.”

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who has shrugged off the key allegation in the impeachment inquiry – that Trump pressured foreign powers to investigate a top Democratic rival – tweeted that Trump’s shift on Syria is “a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria.”

And Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has been more willing than many Republicans to condemn Trump’s calls for foreign intervention in the 2020 election, called the Syria move “a terribly unwise decision” that would “abandon our Kurdish allies, who have been our major partner in the fight against the Islamic State.”

A more frequent Republican Trump critic, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, cast Trump’s announcement as “a betrayal.”

“It says that America is an unreliable ally; it facilitates ISIS resurgence; and it presages another humanitarian disaster,” Romney tweeted.

Nikki Haley, who was Trump’s hand-picked ambassador to the United Nations, also cast the decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northern Iraq as a betrayal of a key ally.

“The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake,” she wrote on Twitter.

Former Rubio aide Alex Conant highlighted the risks ahead for a president whose political future depends on Republican support.

“For Trump to make a very controversial move on Syria at the exact moment when he needs Senate Republicans more than ever is risky politics,” Conant said, noting the significance for many Senate Republicans of the United States’ policy in northern Syria, where Kurds would be particularly vulnerable to a Turkish invasion.

“They’re not just going to send out a couple of tweets and move on,” Conant said. “At the same time, the White House is going to need these guys to carry a lot of water for them.”

While a number of Republicans criticized Trump’s decision, one of their most important leaders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, was sanguine, offering little concern about Syria or impeachment during an appearance at the University of Kentucky.

“There are a few distractions, as you may have noticed,” McConnell said. “But if you sort of keep your head on straight and remember why you were sent there, there are opportunities to do important things for the country and for the states that we represent.”

After the appearance, McConnell issued a statement warning that Trump’s proposed withdrawal “would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime. And it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.”

“As we learned the hard way during the Obama Administration, American interests are best served by American leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal,” McConnell said.

Outside government, leaders of conservative groups backed Trump.

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr., a prominent evangelical leader, said Trump was simply “keeping his promise to keep America out of endless wars.”

He suggested Trump could easily reengage in the region if the decision backfires.

“The president has got to do what’s best for the country, whether it helps him with this phony impeachment inquiry or not,” Falwell said in an interview.

Former Trump campaign aide Barry Bennett noted that the president has been talking about reducing troop levels in the Middle East since before the 2016 election.

“I understand that they don’t like the policy, but none of them should be shocked by the policy,” Bennett said. “He’s only been talking about this for four or five years now. I think he’s with the vast majority of the public.”

Still, the backlash from other Trump loyalists was intense.

Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., a member of the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees, called it a “misguided and catastrophic blow to our national security interests.”

And on Fox News, a network where many rank-and-file Trump supporters get their news, host Brian Kilmeade said it was “a disaster.”

“Abandon our allies? That’s a campaign promise? Abandon the people that got the caliphate destroyed?” Kilmeade said on “Fox & Friends.”

Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the controversy reminds him of former Defense Secretary James Mattis’ decision to resign late last year after Trump announced plans to withdraw troops from Syria.

“Ultimately, Trump reversed himself,” Aliriza said. “The question is whether he will actually reverse himself again in view of the opposition from Capitol Hill led by several of his closest allies.”


          

Judge rejects Trump challenge to release of his tax returns   

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NEW YORK – A federal judge Monday emphatically rejected President Donald Trump’s challenge to the release of his tax returns to New York prosecutors, saying the president’s broad claim of immunity from all criminal investigations is at odds with the Constitution. But an appeals court blocked any handover of the records for now.

At issue is a request from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. that Trump’s accounting firm turn over eight years’ worth of his business and personal tax returns for an investigation into the payment of hush money to two women who claimed to have had affairs with the president.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero turned down Trump’s attempt to keep the tax returns under wraps, saying the president was making a “categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity.”

The president’s lawyers immediately appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and it granted a temporary stay of the judge’s ruling “pending expedited review” by the court.

“The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts,” Trump fumed on Twitter, “so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!”

The criminal investigation in New York is unfolding with Trump already under siege on Capitol Hill from a fast-moving impeachment drive set off by his attempts to get Ukraine’s leader to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. The judge’s ruling marked the latest in a string of setbacks for the president in the past couple of weeks.

Trump’s lawyers have said that the investigation led by Vance, a Democrat, is politically motivated and that the request for his tax records should be stopped because he is immune from any criminal probe as long as he is president.

Marrero called Trump’s claim of broad immunity “extraordinary” and “an overreach of executive power.”

“As the court reads it, presidential immunity would stretch to cover every phase of criminal proceedings, including investigations, grand jury proceedings and subpoenas, indictment, prosecution, arrest, trial, conviction, and incarceration,” the judge wrote. “That constitutional protection presumably would encompass any conduct, at any time, in any forum, whether federal or state, and whether the President acted alone or in concert with other individuals.”

The judge said couldn’t accept that legal view, “especially in the light of the fundamental concerns over excessive arrogation of power” that led the founding fathers to create a balance of power among the three branches of government.

Trump’s lawyers and the district attorney’s office did not immediately comment in response to the ruling. Justice Department attorneys in Washington, who had urged Marrero to delay deciding the issue, declined to comment.

Vance began his probe after federal prosecutors in New York completed their investigation into payments that Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to be paid to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep them silent during the presidential race. The Trump Organization later reimbursed Cohen.

Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for crimes that included campaign finance violations in connection with the hush money.

Trump was never charged, though prosecutors said publicly that he was aware of and directed the illegal payments. Justice Department policy has long been that sitting presidents cannot be charged criminally.

Trump has steadfastly refused to make his tax returns public, breaking from a tradition set by presidents and presidential candidates decades ago.

Grand jury proceedings and records in New York are secret. If Vance gains access to Trump’s returns through a grand jury investigation, that doesn’t mean that their contents will be disclosed publicly.

It is unclear what Trump’s returns might have to do with the criminal investigation.


          

Whistleblower’s attorney says team now representing ‘multiple’ officials   

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WASHINGTON – An attorney for the whistleblower who sounded the alarm about President Donald Trump’s pressure on Ukraine said Sunday that “multiple” whistleblowers have come forward, deepening a political quagmire that has engulfed the president as well as several of his Cabinet members.

The news comes as House Democrats are accelerating their impeachment inquiry and subpoenaing documents related to Trump’s efforts to push foreign countries to investigate one of his political opponents, former vice president Joe Biden.

“I can confirm that my firm and my team represent multiple whistleblowers in connection to the underlying August 12, 2019, disclosure to the Intelligence Community Inspector General,” the whistleblower’s attorney, Andrew Bakaj, said in a tweet. “No further comment at this time.”

Mark Zaid, who also is a member of the original whistleblower’s legal team, confirmed to the Washington Post that the team is now representing a second whistleblower, someone who works in the intelligence community. The second individual has spoken to the inspector general of the intelligence community and has not filed a complaint.

“Doesn’t need to,” Zaid said in a text message, adding that the person has “first hand knowledge that supported the first whistleblower.”

News that the original whistleblower’s team is representing a second person was first reported Sunday by ABC News.

Trump seized on the latest development in a Sunday night tweet.

“Democrat lawyer is same for both Whistleblowers? All support Obama and Crooked Hillary. Witch Hunt!” he said.

The crisis, which began last month with media reports revealing the original whistleblower’s complaint, has quickly metastasized across the Trump administration, ensnaring senior officials such as Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who came under further scrutiny over the weekend.

Trump largely stayed out of public view, spending Saturday at his golf club in Sterling, Virginia, and Sunday at the White House. In tweets, he attacked Democrats and some Republican detractors, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, whose ouster he demanded Saturday after Romney criticized him.

He also appeared to directly link the 2020 presidential race to his efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Biden, contrary to a tweet on Friday declaring that “this has NOTHING to do with politics or a political campaign against the Bidens.”

“And by the way, I would LOVE running against 1% Joe Biden – I just don’t think it’s going to happen,” Trump tweeted Sunday, arguing that Biden and his family were “PAID OFF, pure and simple!”

“Sleepy Joe won’t get to the starting gate, & based on all of the money he & his family probably ‘extorted,’ Joe should hang it up,” Trump added. “I wouldn’t want him dealing with China & [Ukraine]!”

Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates responded by calling it “puzzling” that Trump would claim to love the prospect of a matchup against Biden, “seeing as how he just sent his administration into a tailspin by trying to bully a foreign country into spreading a comprehensively debunked conspiracy theory about the vice president.”

Biden’s son Hunter served for nearly five years on the board of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest private gas company, whose owner came under scrutiny by Ukrainian prosecutors for possible abuse of power and unlawful enrichment. Hunter Biden was not accused of any wrongdoing in the investigation.

As vice president, Joe Biden pressured Ukraine to fire the top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, whom Biden and other Western officials, including Republicans, accused of not sufficiently pursuing corruption cases. At the time, the investigation into Burisma was dormant, according to former Ukrainian and U.S. officials.

On Saturday, Perry’s discussions with Ukrainian officials came to attention amid reports that Trump told Republicans on Friday that he made the July 25 call with the Ukrainian president at the request of Perry.

Asked about Trump’s comments, which were first reported by Axios, Energy Department spokeswoman Shylyn Hynes said in an email that Perry encouraged Trump to speak with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky to discuss energy security.

Pompeo, who was scheduled to return to Washington on Sunday, is facing growing pressure from Democrats seeking Ukraine-related documents.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that Pompeo, who had spent much of the past week in Europe, missed a Friday deadline to comply with a subpoena for information about the State Department’s dealings with Ukraine. Pompeo asserts that a letter sent to the committee constitutes the department’s initial response.

The whistleblower complaint accused Trump of asking the Ukrainian government to help him with his reelection bid by launching an investigation into Biden. Democrats are also probing whether Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military assistance from Ukraine was linked to his push for the government there to pursue political investigations that could bolster the president’s reelection bid.

Text messages between State Department officials, revealed by House Democrats last week, show that there was at least some concern that Trump was pursuing an improper quid pro quo.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” diplomat William Taylor wrote on Sept. 9 to Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Sondland, who has denied that Trump sought a quid pro quo, has agreed to meet privately on Tuesday with the three House panels – Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight – spearheading the probe, according to a committee aide.

On Friday, those three committees subpoenaed the White House for documents and wrote a letter to Vice President Mike Pence demanding that he turn over documents related to his talks with Zelensky.

Speaking at a Republican event in Louisiana on Saturday, Pence criticized Democrats but gave no indication about whether he would comply with their document request.

“Do-Nothing Democrats launched a partisan impeachment inquiry in a blatant attempt to overturn the will of the American people in the last election,” he said.

On Sunday, Trump’s campaign announced that the president would be traveling to Lake Charles, Louisiana, to hold a rally on Friday. The president will also have a rally on Wednesday in Minneapolis.

No White House officials made appearances on the Sunday morning news shows, leaving it up to congressional Republicans and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to defend the president in heated interviews during which they offered at-times-contradictory explanations for the president’s actions.

In a combative exchange on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” host Chuck Todd urged Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., to explain why he told the Wall Street Journal about his concern in the summer that Trump had sought to link Ukrainian military aid to an investigation of the Bidens.

Johnson repeatedly declined to answer, instead raising a conspiracy theory and criticizing the media before finally stating that Trump had “adamantly denied” any quid pro quo.

Johnson also at one point said he does not trust U.S. intelligence agencies. “Something pretty fishy happened during the 2016 campaign and in the transition, the early part of the Trump presidency, and we still don’t know,” he said.

“We do know the answer,” an exasperated Todd responded, adding: “You’re making a choice not to believe the investigations that have taken place.”

Giuliani issued a defiant defense of Trump in an interview on Fox News Channel’s “MediaBuzz” in which he argued that the president “has every right to ask countries to help us in a criminal investigation that should be undertaken.”

Giuliani was named in the whistleblower’s complaint and in a rough transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky as being a key intermediary in back-channel efforts to pursue the allegations against Biden.

But other Republicans sought to play down Trump’s comments, including his exchange with reporters outside the White House on Thursday in which he urged China to investigate Biden.

In an interview on ABC News’s “This Week,” Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, echoed a suggestion on Friday by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., that Trump’s China statement was not “a real request.”

“George, you really think he was serious about thinking that China’s going to investigate the Biden family? … I think he’s getting the press all spun up about this,” Jordan told host George Stephanopoulos.

During the interview, Stephanopoulos repeatedly sought an answer from Jordan on whether he thinks it is appropriate for Trump to ask China and Ukraine to investigate Biden. Jordan dodged the question more than a dozen times.

Democrats on Sunday defended their party’s efforts to pursue an impeachment inquiry.

In an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a member of the Intelligence Committee, supported Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s view that no vote by the full House is necessary for an impeachment inquiry to move forward.

She added that she thinks the House “will have to take a serious look at articles of impeachment” based on the evidence that has emerged.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, N.Y., a key member of House Democratic leadership, said on “This Week” that “the evidence of wrongdoing by Donald Trump is hiding in plain sight.”

“The administration, without justification, withheld $391 million in military aid from a vulnerable Ukraine,” he said. “The president then pressured a foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 elections and target an American citizen for political gain. That is textbook abuse of power.”


          

U.S. researchers on front line of battle against Chinese theft   

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WASHINGTON – As the U.S. warned allies around the world that Chinese tech giant Huawei was a security threat, the FBI was making the same point quietly to a Midwestern university.

In an email to the associate vice chancellor for research at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, an agent wanted to know if administrators believed Huawei had stolen any intellectual property from the school.

Told no, the agent responded: “I assumed those would be your answers, but I had to ask.”

It was no random query.

The FBI has been reaching out to universities across the country as the U.S. tries to stem what American authorities portray as the wholesale theft of technology and trade secrets by researchers tapped by China. The breadth and intensity of the campaign emerges in emails obtained by The Associated Press through records requests to public universities in 50 states.

Agents have lectured at seminars, briefed administrators in campus meetings and distributed pamphlets with cautionary tales of trade secret theft. In the past two years, they’ve requested emails of two University of Washington researchers, asked Oklahoma State University if it has scientists in specific areas and asked about “possible misuse” of research funds by a University of Colorado Boulder professor, according to the emails.

The emails reveal administrators routinely requesting FBI briefings. But they also show some struggling to balance legitimate national security concerns against their own eagerness to avoid stifling research or tarnishing legitimate scientists. The Justice Department says it appreciates that push-pull and wants only to help separate the relatively few researchers engaged in theft from the majority who are not.

Senior FBI officials told AP they’re not encouraging schools to monitor researchers by nationality but instead to take steps to protect research. They consider the briefings vital since they say universities haven’t historically been as attentive to security as they should be.

“When we go to the universities, what we’re trying to do is highlight the risk to them without discouraging them from welcoming the researchers and students from a country like China,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official.

The threat, officials say, is genuine. A University of Kansas researcher was recently charged with collecting federal grant money while working full-time for a Chinese university, and a Chinese government employee was arrested in a visa fraud scheme allegedly aimed at recruiting U.S. research talent. The Justice Department launched last year an effort called the China Initiative aimed at identifying priority trade secret cases and focusing resources on them.

“Existentially, we look at China as our greatest threat from an intelligence perspective, and they succeeded significantly in the last decade from stealing our best and brightest technology,” said top U.S. counterintelligence official William Evanina.

The most consequential case this year centered not on a university but on Huawei, charged with stealing corporate trade secrets and evading sanctions. The company denies wrongdoing. Several universities including Illinois, which received the FBI email last February, have begun severing ties with Huawei.

But the government’s track record hasn’t been perfect.

Federal prosecutors in 2015 dropped charges against a Temple University professor earlier accused of sending designs for a pocket heater to China. The professor, Xiaoxing Xi, is suing the FBI. “It was totally wrong,” he said, “so I can only speak from my experience that whatever they put out there is not necessarily true.”

Richard Wood, the then-interim provost at the University of New Mexico, conveyed ambivalence in an email to colleagues last year. He wrote that he took seriously the concerns the FBI had identified to him in briefings, but also said “there are real tensions” with the “traditional academic norms regarding the free exchange of scientific knowledge wherever appropriate.”

“I do not think we would be wise to create new ‘policy’ on terrain this complex and fraught with internal trade-offs between legitimate concerns and values without some real dialogue on the matter,” Wood wrote.

FBI officials say they’ve received consistently positive feedback from universities. The emails show administrators at schools including the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Nebraska requesting briefings, training or generally expressing eagerness for cooperation.

Kevin Gamache, chief research security officer for the Texas A&M University system, told the AP that he values his FBI interactions and that it flows in both directions.

“It’s a dialogue that has to be ongoing.”

The vice president for research and economic development at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas welcomed the assistance in a city she noted was the “birthplace of atomic testing.

“We have a world-class radiochemistry faculty, our College of Engineering has significant numbers of faculty and students from China, and we have several other issues of concern to me as VPR. In all of these cases, the FBI is always available to help,” the administrator wrote to agents.

More than two dozen universities produced records, including symposium itineraries and a 13-page FBI pamphlet titled “China: The Risk to Academia” that warns that China does “not play by the same rules of academic integrity” as American universities.

Some emails show agents seeking tips or following leads.

“If you have concerns about any faculty or graduate researchers, students, outside vendors … pretty much anything we previously discussed – just reminding you that I am here to help,” one wrote to Iowa State officials in 2017.

In May, an agent sent the University of Washington a records request for two researchers’ emails, seeking references to Chinese-government talent recruitment programs.

Last year, an agent asked Oklahoma State University if it had researchers in encryption research or quantum computing. The University of Colorado received an FBI request about an “internal investigation” into a professor’s “possible misuse” of NIH funds. The school told the AP that it found no misconduct and the professor has resigned.

Though espionage concerns aren’t new, FBI officials report an uptick in targeting of universities and more U.S. government attention too. The FBI says it’s seen some progress from universities, with one official saying schools are more reliably pressing researchers about outside funding sources.

Demers, the Justice Department official, said espionage efforts are “as pervasive, as well-resourced, as ever today.

“It’s a serious problem today on college campuses.”


          

Supreme Court begins election-year term full of big cases   

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WASHINGTON – The justices are returning to the Supreme Court bench for the start of an election-year term that includes high-profile cases on about abortions, protections for young immigrants and LGBT rights.

The court meets Monday morning for its first public session since late June. First up is a death-penalty case from Kansas about whether states can abolish an insanity defense for criminal defendants.

The justices also will hear arguments Monday in a challenge to a murder conviction by a non-unanimous jury in Louisiana.

The term could reveal how far to the right and how fast the court’s conservative majority will move, even as Chief Justice John Roberts has made clear he wants to keep the court clear of Washington partisan politics. The court is beginning its second term with both of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, on board.

The justices could be asked to intervene in disputes between congressional Democrats and the White House that might also involve the possible impeachment of the president.

Roberts would preside over a Senate trial of Trump if the House were to impeach him.

Its biggest decisions are likely to be handed down in late June, four months before the election.

The court also could be front and center in the presidential election campaign itself, especially with health concerns surrounding 86-year-old Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

For now, though, the court has plenty of significant cases to deal with, including whether federal civil rights law that bars workplace discrimination on the basis of sex covers LGBT people. The justices will hear arguments Tuesday in two cases on that topic, their first foray into LGBT rights since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote all the court’s major gay-rights rulings.

Next month, the fate of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is in front of the justices. Lower courts have so far blocked Trump from ending the Obama-era program that has shielded roughly 700,000 people from deportation and provided them with permits to work.

During the winter, the justices will take up a challenge to a Louisiana law that would force abortion providers to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. It’s another test of whether the change in the court’s composition will result in a different outcome. With Kennedy in the majority, the court in 2016 struck down a virtually identical Texas law.


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