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Westlake Legal Group > News Corporation (Page 351)

Can members of Congress be impeached? Trump wants Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff out over Ukraine investigation

CLOSEWestlake Legal Group icon_close Can members of Congress be impeached? Trump wants Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff out over Ukraine investigation

Impeaching a U.S. president might not be the be-all-end-all for their career. We explain why this is the case. Just the FAQs, USA TODAY

President Donald Trump once again targeted House Democrats who are conducting a formal impeachment inquiry over the Ukraine whistleblower scandal in tweets accusing them of treason on Sunday, calling for the impeachment of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.

“This makes Nervous Nancy every bit as guilty as Liddle’ Adam Schiff for High Crimes and Misdemeanors, and even Treason. I guess that means that they, along with all of those that evilly “Colluded” with them, must all be immediately Impeached!” Trump said.

Pelosi and Schiff are spearheading the Trump impeachment probe over concerns that he improperly pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate political rival Joe Biden. Trump has also suggested that Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, face impeachment.

But can a member of Congress be impeached? According to law, no, but there are other steps that can be taken.

More: Donald Trump now accuses Nancy Pelosi of ‘treason’ (and wants to impeach her)

What the law says about impeachment

Impeachment is laid out by the Constitution as the first step in the process to remove an official from office. A president, vice president, or “civil officer” can be impeached. 

The House of Representatives holds the authority to vote on and submit articles of impeachment to the Senate, which then has the power to preside over an impeachment trial and ultimately vote on removal from office.

Impeachment is a step that can be taken against an official appointed by the president, including members of the president’s cabinet and judges.

More: How does a Supreme Court justice get impeached?

House Democrats are leading the impeachment probe into the president to uncover more details about his dealings with Ukraine, and whether he withheld financial aid to the country in exchange for an investigation into Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. 

Trump has made the allegation without evidence that the former vice president pressed Ukraine to fire a top prosecutor who was looking into corruption in a company where his son once sat on the board. 

Explainer: What really happened when Biden forced out Ukraine’s top prosecutor

Can impeachment be used against members of Congress?

Technically, members of Congress do not go through impeachment proceedings. But they can be expelled from office and disciplined in other ways.

According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, expulsion is a more simplified process than impeachment.

“A removal through an impeachment requires the action of both houses of Congress— impeachment in the House and trial and conviction in the Senate; while an expulsion is accomplished merely by the House or Senate acting alone concerning one of its own Members, and without the constitutional requirement of trial and conviction,” the report states.

House and Senate members can expel members with a two-thirds vote, as is laid out in Article I of the Constitution.

A Congressional recall, on the other hand, is not provided for by the Constitution. This consists of constituents voting to place an early limit on the term of their representative through a special election. Some states do provide for recalls for some other state officials, but Supreme Court decisions have opposed the right of states to impose a recall on members of Congress, according to the CRS report.

Another way to discipline a members of Congress, but that would not result in removal from office, is a censure, which is a formal reprimand of a member that requires a simple majority vote.

A House Republican has also introduced a motion to censure Schiff over his exaggerated reenactment of a phone call between Trump and the Ukraine president.

So, Trump’s call for the impeachment of his critics won’t pan out for legal reasons, and it would also be difficult to expel them from office.

Has the removal of a member of Congress ever been tried?

There is only one documented case of an attempted impeachment of a member of Congress, in 1797. While the House of Representatives voted to impeach Sen. William Blount, the Senate rejected this for reasons including that he was not considered a “civil officer” based on his role in Congress, and that he had already been expelled, making impeachment a moot point.

But as for expulsion, 15 senators and five members of the House have met this fate in the history of the United States. Most of those were related to Civil War infractions, and the United States hasn’t seen an expulsion since 2002 when Ohio Rep. James Traficant was convicted on bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/10/09/can-members-congress-impeached-trump-wants-pelosi-schiff-out/3912234002/

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Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell Tells Republicans to ‘Get a Grip’ on Fear of Standing Up to Trump — “We’ve got to remember that the Constitution started with, ‘We the People,’ not ‘Me the President,’ ” Powell said

Westlake Legal Group mCrq3NZEwz4DAsS_CC5FpWD0U8-rL12OccVWqY94d1M Bush Secretary of State Colin Powell Tells Republicans to 'Get a Grip' on Fear of Standing Up to Trump — “We’ve got to remember that the Constitution started with, ‘We the People,’ not ‘Me the President,' " Powell said r/politics

I mean… Powell is one of the key players in paving the way for Trump. He is the one who swallowed the truth and lied to Congress about WMDs so Bush could have his war with Iraq and Cheney could grift his grift.

If Powell had had the balls to speak up then rather than now, we probably wouldn’t even have Trump in office.

Maybe.

Trump is also an almost direct reaction by racists to Obama’s term. So there’s that.

But no, Powell doesn’t get a pass on this. Yes, maybe he can convince the crazies to stop being crazy, but I doubt it.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

3 Scientists Win Nobel Prize In Chemistry For Development Of Lithium Ion Batteries

Westlake Legal Group 5d9d86e0210000c307342908 3 Scientists Win Nobel Prize In Chemistry For Development Of Lithium Ion Batteries

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Three scientists on Wednesday were awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their contributions to the development of lithium-ion batteries, which have reshaped energy storage and transformed cars, mobile phones and many other devices in an increasingly portable and electronic world.

The prize went to John B. Goodenough of the University of Texas; M. Stanley Whittingham of the State University of New York at Binghamton; and Akira Yoshino of Asahi Kasei Corporation and Meijo University in Japan.

Goran Hansson, secretary general of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said the prize was about “a rechargeable world.”

In a statement, the committee said lithium-ion batteries “have revolutionized our lives” — and the laureates “laid the foundation of a wireless, fossil fuel-free society.”

The Nobel committee said the lithium-ion battery has its roots in the oil crisis in the 1970s, when Whittingham was working to develop methods aimed at leading to fossil fuel-free energy technologies.

The prizes come with a 9-million kronor ($918,000) cash award, a gold medal and a diploma that are conferred on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Nobel’s death in 1896 — in Stockholm and in Oslo, Norway.

Prize founder Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist who invented dynamite, decided the physics, chemistry, medicine and literature prizes should be awarded in Stockholm, and the peace prize in Oslo.

On Tuesday, Canadian-born James Peebles won the Physics Prize for his theoretical discoveries in cosmology together with Swiss scientists Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz, who were honored for finding an exoplanet — a planet outside our solar system — that orbits a solar-type star.

Americans William G. Kaelin Jr. and Gregg L. Semenza and Britain’s Peter J. Ratcliffe won the Nobel Prize for advances in physiology or medicine on Monday. They were cited for their discoveries of “how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability.”

Two literature laureates are to be announced Thursday, because last year’s award was suspended after a scandal rocked the Swedish Academy. The coveted Nobel Peace Prize is Friday and the economics award on Monday.

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Who Is Gordon Sondland, and What Was His Mission to Ukraine?

Westlake Legal Group 04sondland1-facebookJumbo Who Is Gordon Sondland, and What Was His Mission to Ukraine? Zelensky, Volodymyr United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Diplomatic Service, Embassies and Consulates

BRUSSELS — Gordon D. Sondland, the blunt-spoken hotelier who is President Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, was boasting on Ukrainian television that Mr. Trump had honored him with a “special assignment” — “overseeing” relations between the two countries “at the highest levels.”

Mr. Sondland had arrived in Kiev on July 25, the day of the now-infamous telephone call between President Trump and the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. He had spoken to Mr. Trump minutes before the call, he said, and met with Mr. Zelensky for an hour the next morning, before his television interview.

At the time, his television remarks might have been the kind of diplomatic bluster one would expect of Mr. Sondland, a big, loquacious man who has been a prominent Republican donor and fund-raiser for years and loves to remind people of the good relationship he has developed with Mr. Trump.

But in the glare of the impeachment inquiry swirling in Washington, Mr. Sondland’s mission is now being scrutinized in an entirely different light, to assess whether it was to give a lift to American relations with Ukraine, or actually to serve as Mr. Trump’s personal fixer.

“We can make sure that all the reforms and all of the initiatives that we are undertaking with Ukraine stay on track and happen quickly,” Mr. Sondland said in the television interview.

[The Trump administration blocked Mr. Sondland from sitting for a deposition on Tuesday with House investigators.]

What Mr. Sondland did not say, and what has become clear in the messages released on Thursday by House Democrats, is that one of the main initiatives was getting Mr. Zelensky to agree publicly to a statement committing Ukraine to pursue investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals, especially former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son, Hunter, and into supposed meddling from Ukraine in the 2016 election.

In return, Mr. Zelensky would get the White House meeting he craved and, implicitly, Washington would release military aid held up on Mr. Trump’s request.

Asked in the interview about progress in Ukraine-America relations, including questions like membership of NATO and energy security, Mr. Sondland urged patience.

“It’s not a question of saying no,’’ Mr. Sondland said of the Zelensky government. ‘‘It’s a question of saying when. There are certain things that they have to do. There are preconditions to anything.”

Mr. Sondland also spoke to Ukraine’s state-run news agency after the call and said: “The conversation was very successful. They found a common language immediately.” He said the two leaders discussed Ukraine’s war, energy security and “the rule of law.”

Mr. Sondland, 62, arrived in Brussels as ambassador to the European Union in June of last year, having raised a lot of money for Mr. Trump after building a lucrative hotel chain in the Pacific Northwest.

He sees his job as pressing Mr. Trump’s agenda, which is tightly focused on trade and the impediments that led to a $151 billion trade deficit in goods with the European Union, a figure Mr. Sondland often cites.

Mr. Sondland has said that his grandparents were from Ukraine. His parents were both refugees from the Nazis, and he was the first in his family to be born in the United States.

In September 2018, Mr. Sondland posted a video to introduce himself and his family to Europeans, featuring shots of him making coffee, relaxing at home, showing off his collection of art, climbing into a jet that he likes to pilot, and walking his dogs on the beach with his wife, Katherine Durant, a businesswoman, and introducing his son Max and daughter Lucy.

Ms. Sondland backed out of hosting a fund-raiser for Mr. Trump in 2016, citing Mr. Trump’s disparaging comments toward immigrants and the family of a slain Muslim-American soldier. But in the end Mr. Sondland donated $1 million through his companies to the inaugural committee for Mr. Trump.

That relationship seems to have led to his apparent responsibility in Ukraine after the previous ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, displeased the White House and was removed several months before the end of her term.

Mr. Sondland’s “special assignment” from Mr. Trump was never formally announced, but it was instrumental in the negotiations with Mr. Zelensky’s team and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, who was pressing for these essentially political investigations.

Officials in Mr. Sondland’s embassy say that the Ukrainian effort was not a part of their own work with the European Union, and that they were not aware of the extent of Mr. Sondland’s activities in Ukraine.

In his interview with Ukrainian television, Mr. Sondland said the American-Ukrainian relationship was in the hands of “what are called the three amigos’’ — himself, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Kurt D. Volker, the special representative for Ukraine negotiations.

Mr. Sondland arrived in Kiev the day of the phone call, on July 25, and has said that he spoke to Mr. Trump minutes before the call took place, and then met with Mr. Zelensky for an hour the next morning along with Mr. Volker, who quit his role after the whistle-blower’s complaint about the call was made public.

The whistle-blower has described the two men as having “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelensky.”

In a message to a Zelensky adviser on July 25, ahead of the call, Mr. Volker said he was assured by the White House that if Mr. Zelensky could convince Mr. Trump that he “will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”

That message made no reference to Mr. Biden or his son, just to Mr. Trump’s conviction that 2016 election meddling came from Ukraine, not Russia. Nor did it mention the frozen military aid.

Mr. Sondland has declined to comment, referring all questions to the White House. But he seems from the messages to have been instrumental in trying to get Mr. Trump what he wanted in a fashion that would get Mr. Zelensky the White House meeting he wanted, as well as the unfreezing of the military aid.

From the messages released, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., a career diplomat who had previously been ambassador to Ukraine from May 2006 to May 2009, was extremely uncomfortable with the implicit quid pro quo insisted upon by the White House.

Ukrainian “faith” in Washington was already shaken by the withholding of aid, Mr. Taylor said in a message to Mr. Sondland, and if in the end Ukraine made the statement Mr. Trump wanted and was denied the military assistance anyway, Mr. Taylor messaged, “the Russians love it. (And I quit.)”

Mr. Sondland’s predecessor, Anthony L. Gardner, appointed by President Barack Obama, said that such a special assignment to Ukraine was “extremely unusual,’’ since it has little to do directly with the European Union.

But Mr. Sondland told reporters last month that he saw Ukraine as among a handful of “low-hanging fruit” areas of policy where the European Union could work together with Washington.

The July visit was the third Mr. Sondland made to Ukraine. He was in Odessa in February and in Kiev again in May, when he attended Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, which Vice President Mike Pence was ordered not to attend by Mr. Trump.

Instead, the delegation was led by Mr. Perry and included Mr. Volker, Mr. Sondland and Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin. They then briefed Mr. Trump in the White House about Mr. Zelensky and his eagerness to combat corruption, but Mr. Trump was not convinced.

Mr. Sondland continued building a relationship with Mr. Zelensky, hosting him at a June dinner at the United States mission to the European Union in Brussels after a July 4 party that featured Jay Leno, who is a friend of Mr. Sondland.

The party and the dinner were also attended by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser; Mr. Perry; the Polish prime minister; and Ulrich Brechbuhl, a State Department counselor who is mentioned in the whistle-blower memo as having listened in to the July 25 telephone call.

On Aug. 9, according to the texts released, Mr. Sondland thought he was finally making progress on getting a date for the Zelensky visit to the White House. But he was unsure, messaging Mr. Volker: “I think POTUS really wants the deliverable,” meaning a public Zelensky statement about his commitment to investigate the Bidens and 2016.

Even though the Ukrainians seemed to agree, Mr. Trump still would not set a date for a meeting.

Mr. Perry, Mr. Sondland and Mr. Pence also met with Mr. Zelensky in Warsaw on Aug. 31, when Mr. Trump canceled his own visit, citing a hurricane. That meeting appeared routine, according to Mr. Perry’s readout.

“The Vice President reiterated the U.S.’ support of Ukraine’s security and rightful claim to Crimea,’’ the statement read. ‘‘President Zelensky articulated his administration’s commitment to defeating corruption and pledged to launch much anticipated reforms.”

On Sept. 1, Mr. Taylor texted Mr. Sondland: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Mr. Sondland responded by ending the text exchange and reverting to a telephone call.

But by Sept. 9, matters remained unclear. Mr. Taylor, the acting ambassador, messaged: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Mr. Sondland responded: “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.’’

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Khashoggi’s Murder Should’ve Made Saudi Arabia A Pariah. 7 Men Made Sure That Didn’t Happen.

Illustration by Paul Ryding for HuffPost

Saudi government officials killed Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi and then cut up his body with a bone saw, leaving his remains in a still unknown location, a little over a year ago. Their boss, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, will soon host some of the richest and most powerful people in the world to talk about how great his country is at an event dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” and he can still count President Donald Trump as a friend, even after the CIA concluded that he likely ordered the murder.

Despite global uproar last year, justice has been at best delayed in the Khashoggi case. “Though little progress has been made until now, it does not have to remain this way,” Khashoggi’s fiancée at the time of his death, Hatice Cengiz, wrote in the Post in late September. “I continue to hope the United States decides to stand for what is right. In the meantime, I will continue seeking justice for Jamal — and hope that people and governments the world over will join me in my quest.”

Saudi Arabia and its de facto ruler, the prince colloquially known as MBS, have used that borrowed time to shore up their image on the world stage. High-profile backing from Trump has helped. 

But it’s the less flashy work that has counted even more. It’s people like the ones below ― let’s call them the Saudi Seven ― who Cengiz and human rights groups will have to confront if there’s any hope for accountability. Khashoggi’s murder “goes beyond religion, language or geography,” she wrote. “It is a matter of humanity.” These are the people who have made it possible so far for Saudi Arabia to remain a member of the international community in relatively good standing — instead of a government shunned for the brutal murder, within another country’s borders, of a citizen who sought refuge abroad.

The Lobbyist: Brad Klapper, At Qorvis

On April 18, 2018, Brad Klapper ended a career of more than a decade in journalism and became a paid agent for the government of Saudi Arabia.

Klapper left his job as a national security editor at The Associated Press to become a senior vice president for media relations at the lobbying firm Qorvis, which the Saudis hired after 15 of their citizens helped to kill more than 3,000 people on Sept. 11, 2001. Within months, Klapper was helping the Saudis respond to their biggest public relations problem since the 9/11 attacks: the murder of a fellow journalist, Khashoggi.

Qorvis is likely the most important node in Saudi Arabia’s sprawling network of influence in the United States. The firm stuck with the kingdom even as, particularly following the Khashoggi killing, similar companies have said they will no longer represent Riyadh, and it’s been rewarded for it. The company earned close to $19 million from the Saudis in the six months after the murder, an amount lobbying expert Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy said is more than half of what the Saudis normally spend across all their agents in a whole year. Qorvis also gained three new contracts linked to Saudi government money in the spring of 2019.

At a challenging time for the company and its client, Klapper is a rare and valuable asset: Someone who influential journalists, lawmakers and government officials know from long experience, which makes them likely to treat outreach from him differently than that from other Saudi mouthpieces. He spent 13 years at the outlet that revealed the Saudis ― and Qorvis ― were secretly paying U.S. veterans to lobby against a bill supported by the families of 9/11 victims, after all. 

“The Saudis have amassed quite the collection of folks who’ve gone through the revolving door in all the places of power in D.C.,” Freeman said. “Having folks like that on your payroll really opens a lot of doors that wouldn’t be open for the Saudis and can really transcend having a toxic reputation which I think the Saudis do now.” 

Former elected officials seeking roles like Klapper’s have to wait one year before they can lobby their erstwhile colleagues, a period during which the relationship can adjust to a new normal. There aren’t similar regulations for the press ― though the ethical dilemmas for reporters leaving the industry are clear, especially when it comes to working for a client accused of orchestrating the murder of a Washington Post employee.

“If you’re a journalist and you’re seen as somebody who’s working for a reputable outlet and doing objective work and you cross over to work for a foreign dictatorship doing work that is not objective, I think it’s worth having a cooling-off period so people know what you’re doing: this is somebody who’s working to push a Saudi agenda,” Freeman said.

Klapper and Qorvis did not respond to requests for comment.

The Banker: John Flint, Formerly At HSBC

The story about Saudi Arabia that the crown prince wants the world to focus on has little to do with human rights or journalists. It’s that the kingdom is trying, he would say successfully, to make its economy less reliant on selling oil and therefore better prepared for the future. This narrative is aimed at winning investment from the world’s wealthiest people ― and it relies heavily on institutions they trust. Chief among the Saudis’ allies in the world of global finance is HSBC, the British bank, and at the center of its support to the kingdom over the past year is a man named John Flint.

“HSBC has arguably become Saudi Arabia’s most important bank as the kingdom tries to turn the page on the killing of Mr. Khashoggi,” The Wall Street Journal reported in April. The story noted that the bank is Saudi Arabia’s biggest foreign investor in financial services and some of its former employees now hold powerful jobs in the government.

Flint was HSBC’s chief executive until this past August. He followed the lead of other top bankers in skipping a marquee conference in Saudi Arabia soon after Khashoggi’s murder. But he was clear that he didn’t want the relationship to end: “I understand the emotion around the story but it is very difficult to think about disengaging from Saudi Arabia, given its importance to global energy markets,” Flint said weeks after the murder. He returned to Saudi Arabia in April and publicly praised the kingdom’s financial policies.

Keeping HSBC and other powerful banks like Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup close helps MBS argue all is well and his country and his economy aren’t going to be derailed by one pesky assassination. And the benefits flow both ways: those companies ensure they’re well-positioned to compete for the potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in fees they could earn off Saudi maneuvers like privatizing a segment of the state-owned oil company Aramco.

So the relationship persists, even as officials like Flint come and go, a vital bulwark against the campaign to isolate the kingdom over its atrocities. 

“Our participation reflects 70 years presence in Saudi Arabia,” Rob Sherman, a spokesman for HSBC, wrote in an email to HuffPost. “Through our shareholding in [the Saudi British Bank] and our partnership in HSBC Saudi Arabia, we are the biggest international bank, employing more than 4,000 staff to support our customers as the country implements its economic reform and social development agenda.” 

HuffPost attempts to contact Flint were unsuccessful. 

The Evangelical: Joel Rosenberg, Author

On Sept. 10, MBS sat down with a nine-member Christian delegation that included Johnnie Moore of Trump’s evangelical advisory board and the U.S. government commission on religious freedom; Christian media executive Wayne Pederson; and former GOP gubernatorial candidate John Kenneth Blackwell. He had met with a similar group within the year. A large portion of the credit, it appeared, went to the headliner: Joel Rosenberg, a prolific author writing primarily for a Christian readership who runs an Israel-focused nonprofit called the Joshua Fund.

In a press release, Rosenberg said the group was “stunned” to hear only two American elected officials had visited the kingdom in the past year and called out MBS’ critics. “While there are challenges in the U.S.-Saudi relationship, we urge more congressional leadership to come here, see the sweeping and positive reforms that the crown prince is making, and ask him candid questions directly, rather than sniping at him from Washington.” he said.

Khashoggi went unmentioned in the statement. So did the Saudis’ brutal military campaign in Yemen 

Westlake Legal Group 5d975fb12000004e004c6fcc Khashoggi’s Murder Should’ve Made Saudi Arabia A Pariah. 7 Men Made Sure That Didn’t Happen.

A. Larry Ross The evangelical Christian writer Joel Rosenberg (left) and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sept. 10, 2019.

Unlikely friends like Rosenberg have become key to MBS’ pitch that he is an essential reformer for Saudi Arabia. The prince has prioritized reducing the kingdom’s decadeslong support for a hardline interpretation of Islam that international observers see as linked to terrorism and he’s suggested he’s a fan of religious tolerance ― shifts that nicely align with his geostrategic interest in strengthening ties with the U.S. and courting Israel in the Saudi squabble with Iran. 

“The Saudis have our number as far as the Americans and know that the evangelical community is politically salient, coherent, very important for the current administration and important for Republicans since the 1980s,” said Annelle Sheline, a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute who studies how Arab monarchies treat religion.

For MBS, who wants to tweak the Saudi posture in the world for reasons that include his kick to move past oil, testimonies from Rosenberg and those in his network are part of a long game. They’re not going to result in some groundswell of evangelical enthusiasm for the kingdom, particularly given the way MBS’ talk of the need for changing the practice of Islam can be interpreted as justifying American suspicions that many Muslims are just a few mental leaps from radicalization ― but they provide a new shield against international criticism. 

“Until MBS took over, there was awareness within the Saudi political establishment that their major audience was other Muslims around the world, so there was the importance of maintaining the image of Saudi Arabia as this perfect Islamic society, whereas MBS is far less concerned,” with that logic, Sheline said. “He’s aware of the economic constraints that the kingdom faces and … although Saudi has pursued religious soft power among other Muslims, MBS knows that that doesn’t pay the bills.” 

Evidence of that turn doesn’t exist just in stage-managed photo opportunities; it’s in policy choices like making clear that the struggle of the Palestinians is low on MBS’ list of priorities and arresting scores of clerics. 

And the hypocrisy of it isn’t hard to find either: as it speaks of religious diversity, the Saudi government continues to mistreat the sizeable minority of its citizens who follows the Shia branch of Islam (not least because they’re seen as agents of largely Shia Iran), to work with fundamentalists claiming to wage war in the name of Allah in Yemen and to criminalize the public practice of any religion but Islam.

But it sells. 

Larry Ross, who accompanied Rosenberg on the trip, told HuffPost the group went as “ambassadors of reconciliation in the name of Jesus” and pressed MBS on “hard, direct questions,” starting with the Khashoggi matter. The prince updated them on the status of the Saudis’ investigation, Ross said. 

“As a result of what we heard and observed, our delegation came away with a better understanding of how to pray for the crown prince and his majesty, the king, and their nation at this critical juncture,” Ross wrote in a follow-up email. “That includes wisdom and courage in tough decisions that need to be made to protect the safety and security of the Saudi people and residents of the kingdom, especially in the wake of horrific drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities two days after our delegation departed Jeddah for home.”

The Saudi government did not pay for the delegation’s trip, he said.

The Spin Doctor: Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, Editor-In-Chief Of Al Arabiya English

Media coverage of Saudi Arabia is a longtime fixation for MBS. It’s part of what he sought to gain control over in his infamous shakedown of Saudi elites at his capital’s Ritz Carlton hotel and it’s the issue his former aide Saud al-Qahtani, who the kingdom’s own prosecutors say was involved in plotting the Khashoggi killing, spent much of his time trying to influence. So as the Saudi leadership has sought to defuse international criticism, it’s invested in getting out its version of events and its arguments for why the world should forget Khashoggi or the question of punishment for Riyadh.

Although lobbyists and business partners are key to the Saudis’ global strategy, messaging is perhaps most vital at home and in its immediate neighborhood, where the killing of one of the best-known Arab journalists resonated widely. The kingdom’s “primary regional spin artist” is the state-funded television channel Al Arabiya, Adam Coogle of Human Rights Watch told HuffPost in an email. That operation gained a powerful face just months after Khashoggi’s murder: Mohammed Khalid Alyahya, a Saudi pundit who spent some time working at think tanks in Washington and has now become the editor-in-chief of Al Arabiya English.

Under Alyahya and his colleagues, Al Arabiya is following MBS’ lead in redefining and reasserting Saudi identity by rallying Saudis and their sympathizers to see the Khashoggi moment not as a chance to challenge tyranny but as a time to stand defiant in defense of the regime. That involves promoting the Saudis’ investigation of the murder, which a top United Nations expert has deemed insufficient, and material like a statement this week from Khashoggi’s son expressing loyalty to MBS. And it includes public fights with journalists who are skeptical of Saudi narratives, like Alyahya’s recently suggesting New York Times correspondent Farnaz Fassihi was unfairly soft on the kingdom’s regional rival Iran.

“The post-Khashoggi regional propaganda strategy in my opinion has not been to try to launder Saudi Arabia’s image, but rather to portray all negative press attention as a conspiracy against Saudi Arabia and make Saudi the victim and target of unfair Western attacks,” Coogle wrote. “It’s part of an appeal to nationalism.”

Alyahya did not respond to requests for comment.

The Consultant: Horacio Rozanski, President And CEO Of Booz Allen Hamilton

MBS’ talk of redrawing the Saudi economy is a siren song for the bevy of large companies that claim expertise in just that kind of ambitious overhaul. Consulting firms have gained unprecedented power in Saudi Arabia since his rise to power. The most overlooked of them is the one with the most pull in Washington: Booz Allen Hamilton, the giant firm that’s known as one of the biggest contractors for the U.S. government and a key force in national security.

Although consulting firm McKinsey & Company has drawn fire for inspiring and helping implement the prince’s economic policies, Booz Allen under president Horacio Rozanski has quietly provided key support for some of the most aggressive and controversial parts of MBS’ agenda. That includes posting “dozens” of U.S. military veterans in the kingdom, according to The New York Times, training Saudis in cyber skills that experts believe could be used for offensive operations and advising on the Saudi humanitarian effort in Yemen, which aid groups see as designed to justify the kingdom’s continued bombing of the country.

The relationship continued after the Khashoggi killing ― adding to the veneer of normalcy MBS needed.

“Given the Kingdom’s recent actions, your firms’ continued business relationships with this government appear to be inconsistent not only with American values but with your stated principles,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) wrote to the heads of Booz Allen, McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group the month after the murder, requesting details on their work in Saudi Arabia. 

Consulting firms and not-for-profit organizations working with the Saudis have become adept at compartmentalizing their work and avoiding feelings of responsibility for repression, by emphasizing that they aren’t the final decision-makers, wrote Calvert Jones, a University of Maryland professor who’s studied the consulting industry in the region, in an email.

They often assess that the downsides of those relationships aren’t that large relative to the gains even after incidents like the Khashoggi killing.

“I don’t see ethical and [public relations] costs as being all that significant a balance to this aspect of the calculus, because of the larger strategic relationship” that has continued between the kingdom and the West, she added.

“Consistent with U.S. foreign policy, we have worked in Saudi Arabia and the region for decades,” a Booz Allen spokesman told HuffPost via email. “Much of that work has been performed under contract by the U.S. government, supporting our national interests. Like many other U.S. companies, we have also worked directly with Saudi Arabia on a range of transformation and modernization projects to bring greater stability to the region and promote the growth of a more vibrant, educated and empowered society. In our most recent quarterly financial filing, we reported that our entire global commercial business represents about 3 percent of our total revenue. A minority of that comes from business in the Middle East. In any region and with any client, we will decline any work that is inconsistent with our values.”

The spokesman did not respond to a query about whether the firm responded to Warren’s letter.

The Ally: Xi Jinping, President Of China

Less than six months after the Khashoggi killing, MBS played at a being as a global statesman with a trip through Pakistan, India and ultimately China. It was a signal that he still had friends ― and none of those pals matter quite as much as President Xi Jinping. By securing a warm and very public Chinese reception, the Saudi prince triggered the anxieties of officials in America and its allies who have historically been worried about losing partners like Saudi Arabia to U.S. competitors like China and Russia. At the same time, he underscored to important friends in the business world that he could withstand Western pressure should it come, reminding them that it’s Beijing, not Washington, that is the biggest source of Saudi income. 

Westlake Legal Group 5d9761002100005000a9451f Khashoggi’s Murder Should’ve Made Saudi Arabia A Pariah. 7 Men Made Sure That Didn’t Happen.

Reuters Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, on Feb. 22, 2019.

“The Asia trip cast MBS in a different light and demonstrated that key world powers are perfectly willing to do business with him rather than treat him as a pariah,” James Dorsey, a senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, told The Diplomat.

Perhaps because of the importance of that message amid global calls to punish him as a serial violator of human rights, the prince repaid his hosts with an extraordinary gift: an outright endorsement of China’s own tyranny.

“China has the right to carry out anti-terrorism and de-extremization work for its national security,” MBS said, per Chinese television. That’s code for Beijing’s policy of holding nearly 2 million of its own citizens in internment camps for the crime of being born to Muslim families ― and that’s a blessing for that approach from the man set to inherit one of the most important jobs in the Muslim world, the position of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques.

The unsavory alliance has a simple ideological foundation: Neither MBS nor Xi is particularly interested in seeing regular human beings, their own citizens or those of other nations, as worthy of basic dignity. Each is happy to reinforce the other’s conviction that governments are within their rights to suddenly and without due process round up those within their power, whether they’re royal family members or ethnic and religious minorities. And it’s all the better if they can couch that approach in language that’s been internationally accepted as legitimizing all kinds of violence and injustice over the last two decades.   

“China is Saudi Arabia’s model for economic growth — economic liberalization with domestic repression,” Dorsey said.

China’s embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment. 

The Politician: Mitch McConnell, Senator From Kentucky

The war in Yemen had already left Congress torn over Saudi Arabia before Khashoggi’s murder, with many Democrats and some Republicans loudly saying the kingdom’s repeated war crimes in a campaign it was carrying out with American support showed a rethink was essential. At the end of last year came a double whammy for the Saudis’ defenders on Capitol Hill: the shocking and gruesome treatment of Khashoggi, and the flip in control of the House. Suddenly, Democrats, who by that point had become unanimously opposed to continued U.S. assistance in Yemen and interested in other penalties for Riyadh, had the ability to get their proposals through one chamber.

The hurdle was, and remains, the GOP-controlled Senate. There, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) has historically been friendly to the kingdom and hawkish toward its nemesis Iran. He has the added consideration of Trump, who’s been clear that he is interested in neither downgrading American ties with MBS nor considering legislation that could (as has already been the case four times) force him into embarrassing vetoes on behalf of an unpopular foreign country.

McConnell has yielded to pressure on some Saudi-related legislation (just as Trump’s administration gave in to Khashoggi concerns to some degree by imposing human rights sanctions on a small group of Saudis). But today he and his lieutenants on the Senate’s foreign relations and armed services committee, Sens. Jim Risch (R-Idaho) and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), have stymied proposals to pressure MBS by cutting off some military backing and forcing greater transparency into and penalties for the writer’s assassination.

“There’s a trio of tyranny in the U.S. Senate when it comes to accountability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the disastrous war in Yemen,” Kate Kizer, the policy director at the peace group Win Without War, told HuffPost. “Senators McConnell, Inhofe and Risch have done all they can to shield Trump’s Saudi patron … With the president’s lawlessness becoming more blatant by the day, these three senators should see the writing on the wall.”

As lawmakers soon try to finalize must-pass defense spending legislation by reconciling ideas from the House and the Senate, it’ll become clear whether McConnell and his allies think it’s time for them to have that change of heart yet.

Spokespeople for McConnell, Risch and Inhofe did not respond to requests for comment. 

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Blizzard, a Gaming Company, Stirs a Backlash for Penalizing Hong Kong Player

Westlake Legal Group 09xp-hkgamer-facebookJumbo Blizzard, a Gaming Company, Stirs a Backlash for Penalizing Hong Kong Player Hong Kong Protests (2019) Freedom of Speech and Expression E Sports Computer and Video Games China Activision Blizzard Inc

HONG KONG — Activision Blizzard became the latest American company to find itself caught between its business interests in China and the values of its core customers after it suspended an e-sports player who voiced support for the Hong Kong protests during a live broadcast.

The decision to suspend Chung Ng Wai, a professional Hearthstone player in Hong Kong, for a year, while forcing him to forfeit a reported $10,000 in prize money, prompted a backlash in the United States similar to the public relations debacle the N.B.A. has faced this week. Gamers posted angrily on social media and in forums, while politicians saw it as another troubling sign of China’s chilling clampdown on speech worldwide.

“Recognize what’s happening here. People who don’t live in #China must either self censor or face dismissal & suspensions,” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, wrote on Twitter. “China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, concurred, saying on Twitter that Activision Blizzard showed “it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party.”

“No American company should censor calls for freedom to make a quick buck,” he said.

Activision Blizzard, which has created some of the most popular games in e-sports, including Overwatch and World of Warcraft, said Mr. Chung had run afoul of a rule barring players from any act that “brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages” the company’s image.

In a post-match interview with the Taiwan stream of Hearthstone, Mr. Chung, who is known as Blitzchung, appeared with ballistic goggles and a gas mask, protective gear often worn by protesters during demonstrations in Hong Kong. Mr. Chung shouted in Mandarin: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times,” a popular slogan of the protesters.

Mr. Chung did not respond to an interview request on Wednesday. But in a chat with fans on Tuesday on Twitch, a live-streaming service, he expressed no regret.

“Today, what I have lost in Hearthstone is four years of time,” he said, referring to the years he spent playing the game. “But if Hong Kong loses, it would be the matter of a lifetime.”

In the second quarter of 2019, Activision Blizzard earned $173 million from the Asia Pacific region, about 12 percent of its $1.4 billion worldwide total revenues.

Blizzard did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

Several companies have recently apologized after offending Chinese sensitivities, or have pre-emptively self-censored to ensure that they do not lose access to the lucrative Chinese market.

This week, the N.B.A. was forced onto a tightrope after Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted support of the Hong Kong protests. An initial statement from the N.B.A. was widely seen as insufficiently supportive of Mr. Morey, prompting accusations that the league was more interested in its Chinese business interests than supporting free speech.

Last week’s “South Park” episodes mocked Chinese censors and American businesses that compromise their values for the Chinese market, causing the show to be pulled from Chinese platforms.

It was not yet clear what commercial impact the backlash to Blizzard would have, but many of its users reacted strongly. Threads on Reddit forums dedicated to Blizzard games lit up with criticism, while calls to boycott the company or cancel subscriptions spread throughout Twitter.

One person to cancel his World of Warcraft subscription was Mark Kern, who led the team that created the game.

In an interview, Mr. Kern said China was a major source of revenue for the gaming industry, and he knew he was “closing many doors” careerwise by speaking out on Twitter.

But Mr. Kern, who lived in Hong Kong as a teenager, said the company’s actions were “a deterioration of Blizzard values that really broke my heart.”

“It’s one thing to stay out of politics in games, quite another to take harsh, punitive actions designed to appease a government whose values are against what Blizzard has traditionally stood for,” he said.

Patrick Chow, 20, who works at an e-sports stadium in Hong Kong, said he used to play Hearthstone a lot but would immediately stop playing Blizzard games. He said Mr. Chung had the right to use his influence to help the people of Hong Kong, and that the company shouldn’t have “controlled the player’s freedom of speech.”

“It breaks my impression of Blizzard,” he said.

Tiffany May contributed reporting.

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Behind Amazon’s Sudden Change in Its Film Strategy

Westlake Legal Group 07AMAZONFILM-01a-facebookJumbo Behind Amazon’s Sudden Change in Its Film Strategy Web-Original Programming The Aeronauts (Movie) Salke, Jennifer Movies Harper, Tom (1980- ) Amazon.com Inc

LOS ANGELES — “The Aeronauts,” an adventure film about swashbuckling 19th-century hot-air balloonists, was built for the big screen. Led by an Oscar winner, Eddie Redmayne, and a “Star Wars” star, Felicity Jones, it has real cinematic sweep, with sequences that take place miles above sea level. In May, Amazon Studios announced that the movie would play exclusively on IMAX screens for a one-week engagement before “a full theatrical run.”

“We look forward to giving our customers an unforgettable theatrical experience high above the clouds,” Jennifer Salke, the head of Amazon Studios, said in a statement at the time.

Two months later, Amazon scrapped the IMAX engagement and shrank the theatrical release. Under the new plan, “The Aeronauts” would have a two-week run in a small number of theaters before becoming available for streaming on Amazon Prime Video, which is available to more than 100 million Amazon Prime subscribers.

The film’s director, Tom Harper, was disappointed by the move. “It’s not how it’s intended to be seen,” he said in an interview with The New York Times last month at the Toronto International Film Festival, where “The Aeronauts” received a standing ovation. “But it’s a changing world, and I want people to see the movie. If it were up to me, I’d tell them to see it in the theaters.”

The about-face also stunned the movie industry, partly because Amazon had been a friend to old Hollywood, more willing than the other tech giants to sign on for lengthy theatrical releases. Films from Amazon that spent months in theaters have included the two-time Oscar winner “Manchester by the Sea,” the acclaimed 2017 comedy “The Big Sick” and this summer’s “Late Night.”

With the change in plan for “The Aeronauts,” Amazon was behaving more like its streaming rival Netflix, which has favored delivering movies to its subscribers quickly, rather than giving the films long theatrical runs. And the abruptness of the shift contributed to questions that have been swirling among entertainment industry people about how the company’s entertainment unit, Amazon Studios, handles films.

The Amazon Studios television arm has distinguished itself with two Emmy-winning series, “Fleabag” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” Under Ms. Salke, a former president of entertainment at NBC who took charge in 2018, it has also struck TV deals with name writer-producer-directors like Jordan Peele and Barry Jenkins, as well as the “Fleabag” creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The awards and prominent production deals have overshadowed Amazon’s film division to some degree.

“On the film side, I still think they are figuring out what they want to be,” said Richard Greenfield, a co-founder of the LightShed Partners research firm.

Ms. Salke, 55, did not inherit a cinematic gold mine when she replaced Roy Price, who was ousted after an allegation of sexual harassment. Before she stepped in, the film division had been on a losing streak, with box-office flops from A-list directors like Richard Linklater and Todd Haynes.

In January, Ms. Salke attended the Sundance Film Festival for the first time as the Amazon Studios head — and the company went on a spree, shelling out significant sums for several films, including $14 million for “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” a low-key, feel-good comedy now in theaters; another $14 million for “The Report,” a government cover-up drama starring Annette Bening and Adam Driver that will have a limited release in November; and $13 million for the domestic rights to “Late Night,” a comedy written by Mindy Kaling and starring Ms. Kaling as a neophyte TV writer and Emma Thompson in the role of an imperious talk show host.

With “Late Night,” Amazon hoped to repeat its success with “The Big Sick,” a Sundance pickup that grossed more than $56 million at the box office. At the height of its run, “Late Night” played on 2,200 screens across the country this summer.

Despite largely positive reviews and a $32 million marketing budget, audiences stayed away, and “Late Night” generated $15.4 million in domestic box office. The trade press pounced. IndieWire called the release “a disaster.” Variety said Amazon had been “thrown off-balance.”

Ms. Salke called the coverage “frustrating.” She also defended the “Late Night” acquisition, saying it has been streamed on Amazon Prime Video more than any other Amazon original film since it appeared on the service Sept. 6. She would not reveal specific figures.

When “Late Night” was still in theaters, Amazon parted ways with the company’s head of film marketing and distribution, Bob Berney, a Hollywood veteran whose four-year contract had expired. At roughly the same time, Amazon also changed course on “The Aeronauts,” a film with a budget of roughly $40 million that it had developed in house.

Along with her three co-heads of motion pictures — Ted Hope, Matt Newman and Julie Rapaport — Ms. Salke called the makers of “The Aeronauts” and told them that, instead of the exclusive IMAX engagement and extensive theatrical release in the United States, the film would open Dec. 6 at a limited number of theaters and start streaming Dec. 20. (Entertainment One, known as eOne, will distribute the film in Britain for a full theatrical run, including IMAX theaters.)

“With the accessibility of a movie like ‘The Aeronauts,’ we think we can make a bigger event out of it on Prime,” Ms. Salke said.

The decision to favor small-screen viewing was made at a time when theatrical distribution has become less of a sure thing. Moviegoers seem reluctant to go to theaters for films that do not belong to larger franchises or have a superhero or two in them, and box office revenue for the summer was down 2 percent from a year earlier.

“Given the state of the business, nobody is relishing the idea of having a movie out in theaters that, no matter what, the industry wants to talk about the underperformance of those movies,” Ms. Salke said.

But Amazon decided on the cinematic route for “Brittany Runs a Marathon,” which opened in five theaters in August and has played on more than 1,000 screens. So far, it has generated a modest $6.6 million, according to the website Box Office Mojo. Amazon has decided on a similar strategy for “Honey Boy,” which stars Shia LaBeouf and has received strong early reviews, with a plan to open it in a few theaters Nov. 8 before rolling it out across the country.

The differing strategies for “The Aeronauts” and the two smaller films go against conventional Hollywood wisdom, which holds that a spectacle like “The Aeronauts” should have a shot at big-screen success, while more intimate films are often suited for the direct-to-consumer approach.

Todd Black, an independent producer who has two films set up at Amazon, including a movie written by Aaron Sorkin about Lucille Ball, said he was rooting for Ms. Salke and her film team.

“They are learning and being more definitive about what they can and can’t do, will and won’t do,” he said. “But I feel like they need some help and they need a mission statement.”

Ms. Salke sounded confident in her vision: “My mission is clear. The details of it are in progress.”

And what is the mission?

“The mission is to align the movie side to the same values of trying to get premium content to the global consumer,” she said. “That’s what pays the bills. I will have streaming movies that I will deliver at a regular cadence to my customers globally.”

Starting in 2020, she added, those movies — as many as 30 a year — will come from three categories: young adult films, including a lesbian romance from the director Jennifer Kent; dark-themed thrillers from Blumhouse Productions, the company behind “Paranormal Activity” and “Get Out”; and films Ms. Salke once described as “sexy date-night movies,” now called provocative dramas, from collaborators like Nicole Kidman and her Blossom Films production house.

“I’m fully confident in the strategy,” Ms. Salke said. “I know what a global marketing campaign can do with a television series. I know what those numbers are.”

Ms. Salke has yet to replace Mr. Berney, who before joining Amazon ran the marketing campaigns for “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Passion of the Christ.” There seems to be little urgency at the company to find a new marketing and distribution executive.

Three people familiar with Amazon said the company had become something of an also-ran among those looking to change jobs in Hollywood. For one thing, the flip-flop on the release of “The Aeronauts” suggests a muddled vision for the film division’s future.

Of less concern but still an issue is the lack of perks the famously frugal company offers. For example, Amazon refuses to pay for first-class air travel, and although the stock options are generous, the people added, the salaries are on the low side. Even the parking lot in Culver City is a problem. Those who do not arrive early are often stuck parking at the nearby Trader Joe’s.

Mr. Black, the independent producer, said the film community should be patient. “They know they made some mistakes and everyone has them under a microscope,” he said. “No one should lose sight that they have a huge checkbook.”

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Sophie Turner Shreds Social Media Influencers With Scathing Parody

Westlake Legal Group 5d9da275210000c008acbba1 Sophie Turner Shreds Social Media Influencers With Scathing Parody

Social media influencers who push shady weight-loss products to their followers have invoked the ire of “Game of Thrones” star Sophie Turner.

“Hey, you guys, just kind of going for my influencer look today,” the British actor says in a fake American accent in a parody clip she shared as an Instagram story Monday and which is now going viral on Twitter.

“Today I just wanted to promote this new powdered stuff that you put in your tea,” she continues. “And basically it makes you shit your brains out and is totally really really bad for me to be promoting to young women and young people everywhere but I don’t really give a fuck because I’m getting paid money for it.”

“Influencer life,” Turner, who played Sansa Stark in HBO’s epic fantasy drama, ends the video.

Reality TV personality Kim Kardashian is among those who have come under scrutiny for promoting weight-loss products via social media. Last year, she faced backlash for peddling “appetite suppressant lollipops” on Instagram.

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Justice Dept. must turn over material related to Mueller grand jury, judge rules

Westlake Legal Group AP19203352203125 Justice Dept. must turn over material related to Mueller grand jury, judge rules fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/news-events/russia-investigation fox news fnc/politics fnc Brie Stimson article 87b4290d-df90-557f-9ae2-6bea140f1919

A federal judge Tuesday ordered the Justice Department to disclose some material relating grand jury information from former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell balked at the Justice Department’s appeal to deny a House Judiciary Committee request for grand jury materials, including redacted portions of Mueller’s report, ordering the department to reveal which and how many FBI witness interview reports have been turned over to the committee and how many they plan to turn over, The Washington Post reported.

DURHAM INVESTIGATION INTO ORIGINS OF 2016 TRUMP CAMPAIGN SURVEILLANCE EXPANDS ITS SCOPE

The judge also said the department must explain why it was withholding interviews with witnesses who didn’t go before the grand jury.

Howell’s ruling came after hours of testimony from lawyers for House Democrats and the Justice Department.

“This is not a situation of us getting all sorts of materials,” a lawyer for House Democrats said. “We’re getting almost nothing.”

The judge, appointed by former President Obama in 2010, called some of DOJ’s arguments for withholding information “extreme,” citing the department’s contention that some of the material from the Watergate grand jury should not have been turned over to Congress during the impeachment inquiry into former President Nixon.

“Wow, OK,” Howell said, according to The Post. “As I said, the department is taking extraordinary positions in this case.”

The Justice Department argued that a 1974 federal appeals court decision that said impeachment proceedings are exempt from grand jury secrecy rules is no longer valid because a U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit this year tightened requirements to exclude impeachment proceedings.

The judge also ordered the DOJ to disclose by Friday whether the Mueller team had disclosed grand jury information when asking for help from other countries, explaining that she wanted to know if the DOJ was withholding information from Congress that had already been shared with foreign countries.

Republicans have also argued that a formal impeachment inquiry isn’t taking place until the House has a vote on impeachment. Democrats deny a vote needs to take place.

The judge hasn’t said when she’ll make a decision on whether DOJ has to turn over the material.

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The lawsuit predates the impeachment inquiry into President Trump over a phone call with Ukraine’s president in which he asked him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Westlake Legal Group AP19203352203125 Justice Dept. must turn over material related to Mueller grand jury, judge rules fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/news-events/russia-investigation fox news fnc/politics fnc Brie Stimson article 87b4290d-df90-557f-9ae2-6bea140f1919   Westlake Legal Group AP19203352203125 Justice Dept. must turn over material related to Mueller grand jury, judge rules fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/news-events/russia-investigation fox news fnc/politics fnc Brie Stimson article 87b4290d-df90-557f-9ae2-6bea140f1919

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Who Is Gordon Sondland, and What Was His Mission to Ukraine?

Westlake Legal Group 04sondland1-facebookJumbo Who Is Gordon Sondland, and What Was His Mission to Ukraine? Zelensky, Volodymyr United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Diplomatic Service, Embassies and Consulates

BRUSSELS — Gordon D. Sondland, the blunt-spoken hotelier who is President Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, was boasting on Ukrainian television that Mr. Trump had honored him with a “special assignment” — “overseeing” relations between the two countries “at the highest levels.”

Mr. Sondland had arrived in Kiev on July 25, the day of the now-infamous telephone call between President Trump and the new president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. He had spoken to Mr. Trump minutes before the call, he said, and met with Mr. Zelensky for an hour the next morning, before his television interview.

At the time, his television remarks might have been the kind of diplomatic bluster one would expect of Mr. Sondland, a big, loquacious man who has been a prominent Republican donor and fund-raiser for years and loves to remind people of the good relationship he has developed with Mr. Trump.

But in the glare of the impeachment inquiry swirling in Washington, Mr. Sondland’s mission is now being scrutinized in an entirely different light, to assess whether it was to give a lift to American relations with Ukraine, or actually to serve as Mr. Trump’s personal fixer.

“We can make sure that all the reforms and all of the initiatives that we are undertaking with Ukraine stay on track and happen quickly,” Mr. Sondland said in the television interview.

[The Trump administration blocked Mr. Sondland from sitting for a deposition on Tuesday with House investigators.]

What Mr. Sondland did not say, and what has become clear in the messages released on Thursday by House Democrats, is that one of the main initiatives was getting Mr. Zelensky to agree publicly to a statement committing Ukraine to pursue investigations sought by Mr. Trump into his political rivals, especially former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and his son, Hunter, and into supposed meddling from Ukraine in the 2016 election.

In return, Mr. Zelensky would get the White House meeting he craved and, implicitly, Washington would release military aid held up on Mr. Trump’s request.

Asked in the interview about progress in Ukraine-America relations, including questions like membership of NATO and energy security, Mr. Sondland urged patience.

“It’s not a question of saying no,’’ Mr. Sondland said of the Zelensky government. ‘‘It’s a question of saying when. There are certain things that they have to do. There are preconditions to anything.”

Mr. Sondland also spoke to Ukraine’s state-run news agency after the call and said: “The conversation was very successful. They found a common language immediately.” He said the two leaders discussed Ukraine’s war, energy security and “the rule of law.”

Mr. Sondland, 62, arrived in Brussels as ambassador to the European Union in June of last year, having raised a lot of money for Mr. Trump after building a lucrative hotel chain in the Pacific Northwest.

He sees his job as pressing Mr. Trump’s agenda, which is tightly focused on trade and the impediments that led to a $151 billion trade deficit in goods with the European Union, a figure Mr. Sondland often cites.

Mr. Sondland has said that his grandparents were from Ukraine. His parents were both refugees from the Nazis, and he was the first in his family to be born in the United States.

In September 2018, Mr. Sondland posted a video to introduce himself and his family to Europeans, featuring shots of him making coffee, relaxing at home, showing off his collection of art, climbing into a jet that he likes to pilot, and walking his dogs on the beach with his wife, Katherine Durant, a businesswoman, and introducing his son Max and daughter Lucy.

Ms. Sondland backed out of hosting a fund-raiser for Mr. Trump in 2016, citing Mr. Trump’s disparaging comments toward immigrants and the family of a slain Muslim-American soldier. But in the end Mr. Sondland donated $1 million through his companies to the inaugural committee for Mr. Trump.

That relationship seems to have led to his apparent responsibility in Ukraine after the previous ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, a career diplomat, displeased the White House and was removed several months before the end of her term.

Mr. Sondland’s “special assignment” from Mr. Trump was never formally announced, but it was instrumental in the negotiations with Mr. Zelensky’s team and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, who was pressing for these essentially political investigations.

Officials in Mr. Sondland’s embassy say that the Ukrainian effort was not a part of their own work with the European Union, and that they were not aware of the extent of Mr. Sondland’s activities in Ukraine.

In his interview with Ukrainian television, Mr. Sondland said the American-Ukrainian relationship was in the hands of “what are called the three amigos’’ — himself, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Kurt D. Volker, the special representative for Ukraine negotiations.

Mr. Sondland arrived in Kiev the day of the phone call, on July 25, and has said that he spoke to Mr. Trump minutes before the call took place, and then met with Mr. Zelensky for an hour the next morning along with Mr. Volker, who quit his role after the whistle-blower’s complaint about the call was made public.

The whistle-blower has described the two men as having “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the president had made of Mr. Zelensky.”

In a message to a Zelensky adviser on July 25, ahead of the call, Mr. Volker said he was assured by the White House that if Mr. Zelensky could convince Mr. Trump that he “will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.”

That message made no reference to Mr. Biden or his son, just to Mr. Trump’s conviction that 2016 election meddling came from Ukraine, not Russia. Nor did it mention the frozen military aid.

Mr. Sondland has declined to comment, referring all questions to the White House. But he seems from the messages to have been instrumental in trying to get Mr. Trump what he wanted in a fashion that would get Mr. Zelensky the White House meeting he wanted, as well as the unfreezing of the military aid.

From the messages released, the acting ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., a career diplomat who had previously been ambassador to Ukraine from May 2006 to May 2009, was extremely uncomfortable with the implicit quid pro quo insisted upon by the White House.

Ukrainian “faith” in Washington was already shaken by the withholding of aid, Mr. Taylor said in a message to Mr. Sondland, and if in the end Ukraine made the statement Mr. Trump wanted and was denied the military assistance anyway, Mr. Taylor messaged, “the Russians love it. (And I quit.)”

Mr. Sondland’s predecessor, Anthony L. Gardner, appointed by President Barack Obama, said that such a special assignment to Ukraine was “extremely unusual,’’ since it has little to do directly with the European Union.

But Mr. Sondland told reporters last month that he saw Ukraine as among a handful of “low-hanging fruit” areas of policy where the European Union could work together with Washington.

The July visit was the third Mr. Sondland made to Ukraine. He was in Odessa in February and in Kiev again in May, when he attended Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, which Vice President Mike Pence was ordered not to attend by Mr. Trump.

Instead, the delegation was led by Mr. Perry and included Mr. Volker, Mr. Sondland and Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin. They then briefed Mr. Trump in the White House about Mr. Zelensky and his eagerness to combat corruption, but Mr. Trump was not convinced.

Mr. Sondland continued building a relationship with Mr. Zelensky, hosting him at a June dinner at the United States mission to the European Union in Brussels after a July 4 party that featured Jay Leno, who is a friend of Mr. Sondland.

The party and the dinner were also attended by Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and adviser; Mr. Perry; the Polish prime minister; and Ulrich Brechbuhl, a State Department counselor who is mentioned in the whistle-blower memo as having listened in to the July 25 telephone call.

On Aug. 9, according to the texts released, Mr. Sondland thought he was finally making progress on getting a date for the Zelensky visit to the White House. But he was unsure, messaging Mr. Volker: “I think POTUS really wants the deliverable,” meaning a public Zelensky statement about his commitment to investigate the Bidens and 2016.

Even though the Ukrainians seemed to agree, Mr. Trump still would not set a date for a meeting.

Mr. Perry, Mr. Sondland and Mr. Pence also met with Mr. Zelensky in Warsaw on Aug. 31, when Mr. Trump canceled his own visit, citing a hurricane. That meeting appeared routine, according to Mr. Perry’s readout.

“The Vice President reiterated the U.S.’ support of Ukraine’s security and rightful claim to Crimea,’’ the statement read. ‘‘President Zelensky articulated his administration’s commitment to defeating corruption and pledged to launch much anticipated reforms.”

On Sept. 1, Mr. Taylor texted Mr. Sondland: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Mr. Sondland responded by ending the text exchange and reverting to a telephone call.

But by Sept. 9, matters remained unclear. Mr. Taylor, the acting ambassador, messaged: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Mr. Sondland responded: “Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions. The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.’’

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