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Westlake Legal Group > News Corporation (Page 55)

Branding Trump a Danger, Democrats Cap the Case for His Removal

WASHINGTON — The House impeachment managers concluded their arguments against President Trump on Friday with a forceful plea for the Senate to call witnesses, while portraying his pressure campaign on Ukraine as part of a dangerous pattern of Russian appeasement that demanded his removal from office.

Ending their three-day presentation in the Senate, the president’s Democratic prosecutors summoned the ghosts of the Cold War and the realities of geopolitical tensions with Russia to argue that Mr. Trump’s abuse of power had slowly shredded delicate foreign alliances to suit his own interests.

“This is Trump first, not America first, not American ideals first,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House manager. “And the result has been, and will continue to be, grave harm to our nation if this chamber does not stand up and say this is wrong.”

Hours later, as his time ticked down, Mr. Schiff sought to appeal to the consciences of Republican senators weighing whether to hear from witnesses and seek more documents that Mr. Trump suppressed from House investigators.

“I ask you — I implore you,” Mr. Schiff said. “Give America a fair trial. She’s worth it.”

But at one point, Mr. Schiff’s fiery final oration appeared to alienate the very Republicans he was attempting to win over. When he referred to an anonymously sourced news report that Republican senators had been warned that their heads would be “on a pike” if they voted against Mr. Trump, several of them vigorously shook their heads and broke the trial’s sworn silence to say “not true.”

“I hope it’s not true,” Mr. Schiff responded, pressing his point.

Mr. Schiff and the six other managers prosecuting the president spent much of Friday tying up the facts of the second charge, obstruction of Congress, and arguing that Mr. Trump’s attempts to shut down a congressional inquiry into his actions toward Ukraine was unprecedented and undermined the very ability of the government to correct itself.

“He is a dictator,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York. “This must not stand.”

But even as the managers pulled together their complex case, the Republican-controlled Senate appeared unmoved — not just on the question of whether to acquit Mr. Trump, which it is expected to do, but also on the crucial question of compelling witnesses and documents that the president has suppressed.

“We have heard plenty,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Senate Republican.

He said that many in his party had quickly soured on the soaring appeals by House Democrats to repudiate Mr. Trump’s behavior. As day turned to evening on the fourth full day of the trial, many senators unaccustomed to long hours in the Capitol appeared to have simply been numbed by the House managers, and were anticipating the president’s defense, set to begin Saturday.

They were presented with three days of often vivid narrative and painstaking legal arguments that Mr. Trump sought foreign interference in the 2020 election on his own behalf, by using vital military aid and a White House meeting as leverage to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. Yet the pool of moderate Republican senators that had expressed openness to joining Democrats in insisting on witnesses or new documents appeared to be dwindling, not growing.

Comments by Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska suggested that they may have cooled to the idea, although Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah gave no indication that they had shifted.

Still, Ms. Collins was among those shaking her head when Mr. Schiff referred to the purported threat against Republican defectors, as he portrayed Mr. Trump as a tyrant bent on intimidating would-be critics.

“‘Head on a pike,’ that’s where he lost me,” Ms. Murkowski said afterward, clarifying that she meant in the speech, not necessarily on votes for witnesses. “I thought he did fine until he overreached.”

Throughout Friday, inside and outside the chamber, the House managers and Democratic senators worked in tandem to appeal to their consciences, hinting strongly at the political stakes if they failed to press for a more thorough airing of the charges against the president.

“We’ve made the argument forcefully, the American people have made the argument forcefully that they want the truth,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “Will four Republican senators — just four — rise to the occasion, do their duty to the Constitution, to their country to seek the truth?”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167720496_e41957fe-74dc-4276-a2ff-bbe9bc7711db-articleLarge Branding Trump a Danger, Democrats Cap the Case for His Removal Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates House of Representatives

“It was clear who was the chief cook and bottle washer in this whole horrible scheme, this whole evil scheme: Mick Mulvaney,” Mr. Schumer said before the proceedings got underway.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

They got an unexpected lift early in the day when a 2018 recording surfaced of Mr. Trump appearing to order the firing of Marie L. Yovanovitch, then the United States ambassador to Ukraine. The recording was first reported by ABC News and later handed over to the House by Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.

The recording appeared to confirm earlier claims by Mr. Parnas that he had told Mr. Trump about rumors that Ms. Yovanovitch was not loyal to him. The House’s impeachment inquiry concluded that the ambassador was ultimately removed in 2019 as part of Mr. Trump’s attempt to strong-arm Ukraine to announce investigations of his political adversaries.

“Get rid of her,” Mr. Trump can be heard to say, according to ABC. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care.”

Without an agreement to take new testimony or subpoena documents relevant to the case, Mr. Trump may be headed toward a historically speedy acquittal in as little as a week from now, before the Iowa caucuses or his planned State of the Union address. That would make the third impeachment trial of a president in American history the shortest.

Mr. Trump’s defense team plans to open its arguments on Saturday, though senators were expected to meet for only an abbreviated, two- to three-hour session before adjourning the trial until Monday afternoon.

Mr. Trump was not pleased about the schedule, writing Friday morning on Twitter that his team had been “forced” to start on a Saturday, a time “called Death Valley in T.V.” He also turned around Democrats’ accusation, declaring that “the Impeachment Hoax is interfering with the 2020 Election,” not him.

Jay Sekulow, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, said his team would treat the weekend session like a “trailer,” providing an overview of their case for acquittal while holding back until Monday the president’s more television-friendly lawyers, the former independent counsel Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz.

Democrats used almost every one of the 24 hours afforded to them by senators to make their case, determined to persuade American voters watching at home who will cast ballots in just 10 months, if not senators.

On Wednesday, Mr. Schiff and each of the managers took turns introducing the facts of the case in narrative form, unfolding the tale of Mr. Trump’s alleged misconduct chapter by chapter. Beginning with the abrupt removal of Ms. Yovanovitch, they said that Mr. Trump empowered first Mr. Giuliani and then American officials to push Ukraine to announce investigations of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats, before himself asking that country’s leader to “do us a favor.”

When the Ukrainians resisted, they added, he withheld a coveted White House meeting and almost $400 million in military aid the fledgling democracy badly needed to fend off a menacing Russia. And when Congress found out, he undertook an across-the-board campaign to block officials from testifying or producing records that would reveal the scheme.

On Thursday, Mr. Nadler lectured extensively on the constitutional and historical standards for impeachment, setting the stage for the managers to methodically argue that Mr. Trump’s actions toward Ukraine constituted an impeachable abuse of power that warrants his removal from office.

Mr. Schiff completed that case on Friday, directly engaging the national security implications of Mr. Trump’s actions as he argued that the president was a serial offender in seeking foreign help for his own political benefit, allowing himself to be used as a tool of Moscow’s agenda in the process. As a candidate, Mr. Trump welcomed Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to help him win the White House, Mr. Schiff noted, and then as president, he repeatedly cast doubt on the conclusions of American intelligence agencies about that interference. Later, Mr. Trump said outright that he would welcome foreign campaign assistance again.

The California Democrat played a video of the news conference in Helsinki, Finland, where Mr. Trump stood next to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and accepted his denial that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election.

“That’s one hell of a Russian intelligence coup,” Mr. Schiff said. “They got the president of the United States to provide cover for their own interference with our election.”

At another point, Mr. Schiff showed a clip of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who was an outspoken champion of Ukraine and Russia hawk, promoting the benefits of bipartisan American support for Kyiv to contain Russia and its anti-democratic agenda.

The move appeared to be a subtle effort to appeal to Republican senators, many of whom respected Mr. McCain and share his strongly anti-Russia stance, to place those values above their loyalty to the president.

As the managers moved on to the obstruction of Congress charge, they contended that Mr. Trump’s blockade of evidence was far more pernicious than the kind of partisan squabbles that are typical between Congress and the White House.

Even Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard M. Nixon, they said, had produced documents to the investigations that would threaten them with impeachment. Mr. Trump’s administration had not handed over a single page, declaring for the first time an across the board objection to House subpoenas.

Trying to head off Mr. Trump’s defense team, which argues that the president was lawfully protecting the interests of the executive branch from a politically motivated House, the managers pointed out that he never actually invoked executive privilege, the legal mechanism afforded to presidents.

“Only one person in the world has the power to issue an order to the entire executive branch,” said Representatives Val B. Demings, Democrat of Florida. “And President Trump used that power not to faithfully execute the law, but to order agencies and employees of the executive branch to conceal evidence of his misconduct.”

Reporting was contributed by Maggie Haberman, Carl Hulse, Catie Edmondson, Michael D. Shear and Emily Cochrane.

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It May Be the Biggest Tax Heist Ever. And Europe Wants Justice.

They made quite a team.

One was an Oxford-educated wunderkind who handled the complicated math behind the transactions. The other was a beefy, 6-foot-2 New Zealander with an apparent fondness for Hawaiian shirts, who brought in clients and money.

Martin Shields and Paul Mora met in 2004, at the London office of Merrill Lynch. Mr. Shields was always the pupil, a little in awe of the older man’s ability to bluff and charm. Once, after Mr. Mora fended off suspicious auditors at a bank where the two worked, Mr. Shields sent an admiring email.

“Remind me never to play poker with you,” he said, according to an internal report later commissioned by the bank.

Today, the men stand accused of participating in what Le Monde has called “the robbery of the century,” and what one academic declared “the biggest tax theft in the history of Europe.” From 2006 to 2011, these two and hundreds of bankers, lawyers and investors made off with a staggering $60 billion, all of it siphoned from the state coffers of European countries.

As one participant would later put it, taxpayer funds were an irresistible mark for a simple reason: They never ran out.

The scheme was built around “cum-ex trading” (from the Latin for “with-without”): a monetary maneuver to avoid double taxation of investment profits that plays out like high finance’s answer to a David Copperfield stage illusion. Through careful timing, and the coordination of a dozen different transactions, cum-ex trades produced two refunds for dividend tax paid on one basket of stocks.

One basket of stocks. Abracadabra. Two refunds.

The process was repeated over and over, as word of cum-ex spread like a quiet contagion. Germany was hardest hit, with an estimated $30 billion in losses, followed by France, taken for about $17 billion. Smaller sums were drained away from Spain, Italy, Belgium, Austria, Norway, Finland, Poland and others.

Outrage in these countries has focused on the City of London, Britain’s answer to Wall Street. Less scrutinized has been the role played by Americans, both individual investors and branches of United States investment banks in London, including Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

American bankers didn’t try cum-ex at home because they feared domestic regulators. So they moved operations to London and treated the rest of Europe as an anything-goes frontier. Frank Tibo, a former chief tax officer at a bank where Mr. Shields and Mr. Mora worked, said American and British cum-ex traders regarded the Continent as a backwater of old economies ripe for swindling.

”There was this culture in London, and it really came from New York,” he said. “These guys were either from New York or trained in London at New York banks, and they looked at Europe as their playground. People at the highest levels were collaborating to rip off countries.”

Seemingly risk-free profits poured in, and over the years a mini-industry thrived, one that a former participant labeled “the devil’s machine.”

Exactly how that machine operated is a central question in the first cum-ex prosecution, which began in September in Bonn, Germany. In a trial expected to last until February, German prosecutors intend to make an example of Mr. Shields, 41, and a former colleague. (Mr. Mora, 52, was indicted in December and will be tried separately in the coming months.) The men in the Bonn case have been charged with “aggravated tax evasion” that cost the German treasury close to $500 million.

Last month, the presiding judge issued a preliminary ruling that, for the first time, declared cum-ex a felony, calling it a “collective grab in the treasury.” Punishment has yet to be determined, but the give-it-back and the go-to-prison phases of this calamity are about to begin.

German prosecutors say they will now pursue 400 other suspects, unearthed in 56 investigations. Banks large and small will be ordered to hand over cum-ex profits, which could have serious consequences for some. Two have already gone bust.

Dozens of law firms and lawyers may face penalties, too, having drafted highly priced opinions contending there was no law explicitly prohibiting cum-ex and thus it was perfectly legal. That is an argument that many involved might offer in the coming years of litigation. They may insist that if Germany didn’t make the trade impossible, they did not break a law. A desk-thumping variation of that defense is already being offered by Hanno Berger, once the most formidable tax auditor in Germany, who later switched sides and became a cum-ex mastermind as well as an ally of Mr. Shields and Mr. Mora.

But officials in Germany say the trade was a form of theft, one so obviously illicit that forbidding it — which was tried twice, with ineffectively worded laws — was hardly necessary. In September, the justice minister of the state of North-Rhine Westphalia, Peter Biesenbach, went so far as to liken cum-ex players to mobsters.

Their work, he said, was “organized white-collar crime of unimaginable magnitude.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_167581269_3962e953-86be-4d02-a53c-897b6cbb0ff1-articleLarge It May Be the Biggest Tax Heist Ever. And Europe Wants Justice. Rebates and Refunds Pensions and Retirement Plans Financial Brokers Finances European Sovereign Debt Crisis (2010- ) Europe Cum-Ex Trading Bonn (Germany) Banking and Financial Institutions

One of the accused bankers, who under German law can’t be identified by the media, at the courthouse in Bonn in September.Credit…Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

American investment banks and hedge funds have long been the leading laboratory for financial instruments, some a boon to economies (money market funds), others not (collateralized debt obligations). Precisely who invented cum-ex trading, and when, are mysteries, but ground zero for this scandal may have been the London branch of Merrill Lynch.

That is where Mr. Shields took his first job in 2002. He has yet to enter a plea — that comes later in the German system — but he has been cooperating with prosecutors in the hope of winning leniency, and he read a long statement at the start of proceedings in September to the panel of judges who will decide the case.

Sitting at a table beside a translator, he said he regretted ever entering the cum-ex world. Back then, though, he had “different information and a different perspective.”

That perspective came largely from Mr. Mora, his onetime boss at Merrill Lynch, an obese man fond of wearing loud shirts and Bermuda shorts in London, according to a description in Die Zeit, a German newspaper. A New Zealand publication, Stuff, wrote in October that Mr. Mora now lives in a luxurious house overlooking a golf course in Christchurch and owns a portfolio of properties, including an interest in dairy farms.

Through his lawyers, Mr. Mora has denied wrongdoing. He has also denied having an eccentric taste in clothing. In 2017, he issued a statement to Stuff ridiculing Die Zeit’s account of his appearance.

“That’s so far from the truth it’s laughable,” he wrote.

At Merrill, Mr. Shields’s job was to identify “tax-attractive trades,” as he put it in his testimony. He had joined one of the least visible sectors of the financial world, which pokes at the seams of international finance law, looking for ways to reduce clients’ tax bills.

Many of these were variations of a strategy called “dividend arbitrage,” and right before Mr. Shields left Merrill in 2004, he learned about a new one, cum-ex, that would soon become the focus of his life.

Academics have struggled for years to explain the trade and say its impenetrability is part of what made it so successful — as though someone had found a way to weaponize string theory. At the Bonn trial, defendants spent days walking judges through cum-ex’s nuances, with one baffling slide after another.

Suffice it to say, the goal was to fool the financial system so that two investors could claim refunds for dividend taxes that were paid just once.

The trade was pure theater and required a huge cast: stock lenders, prime brokers, custodians, accounting firms, asset managers and inter-dealer brokers. It also required vast quantities of stock, most of which was sourced from American shareholders.

Germany was the largest bull’s-eye for these traders because it is home to Europe’s largest economy, with dozens of blue-chip stocks. Requests for multimillion-dollar dividend refunds were more likely to pass unnoticed.

Some of the best legal minds in Europe spent much of their working hours writing opinions declaring cum-ex within the bounds of the law. One of those lawyers was Hanno Berger, now 69, who provided Mr. Shields and Mr. Mora with an invaluable legal imprimatur, as well as a kind of remorseless zeal.

A lawyer who worked at the firm Dr. Berger founded in 2010, and who under German law can’t be identified by the media, described for the Bonn court a memorable meeting at the office.

Sensitive types, Dr. Berger told his underlings that day, should find other jobs.

“Whoever has a problem with the fact that because of our work there are fewer kindergartens being built,” Dr. Berger reportedly said, “here’s the door.”

To German prosecutors, Dr. Berger is an archetype straight out of a potboiler: the revered enforcer who went to the dark side. In 2012, the government raided his home and law firm. Within hours, he drove to Switzerland, where he now lives.

He will stand trial in the same case as Mr. Mora, for aggravated tax evasion. Reached by email, Dr. Berger said he remained convinced that cum-ex trading is legal.

“The current prosecution in the context of cum-ex is the attempt of the German tax administration to obscure the failure of the politicians and the legislation in a retroactive way,” he wrote. “This is not appropriate for a state of law!”

Dr. Berger began working with Mr. Shields and Mr. Mora after the two left Merrill Lynch for the London branch of HypoVereinsbank, a bank based in Munich. By 2006, Mr. Mora’s group was producing immense profits and plenty of internal suspicion. Worried about the growing pileup of tax-withholding credits on the books, Frank Tibo, the bank’s chief tax officer, flew to London in May 2007. He spent the day grilling Mr. Mora in a company conference room, Mr. Tibo recalled in a recent interview.

“He just told me a lot of nonsense,” Mr. Tibo said. “He said he had this toolbox of financial instruments and he’s in the middle of these trades, and that sometimes he doesn’t even know who he is trading with.”

When Mr. Tibo tried to signal his concern to executives at UniCredit, the bank’s Italian owner, they didn’t seem to care, he said.

“There were big profits coming out of HypoVereinsbank, and most of it was from the investment banking section,” Mr. Tibo said. “The Italians quickly made up their minds: ‘We want to make money.’ No one gave us any internal support, because they didn’t want us to learn anything.”

The blowback came a few years later. In 2012, the German authorities raided the Munich headquarters of HypoVereinsbank, and the company agreed to hand over more than $160 million in repayments and fines.

By then, Mr. Mora and Mr. Shields were long gone from the London branch. Tired of niggling questions and feeling underpaid, they had left in 2008 to open Ballance Capital, one of the first full-service, one-stop cum-ex trading shops.

With the financial crisis in full swing, cum-ex was one of the few reliable moneymakers, and the trade boosted careers throughout the City of London. Prosecutors have reportedly opened investigations into transactions handled by Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and many others. Dozens of German banks participated in cum-ex deals, too, gobbling up German taxpayer money at the same time they received a rescue package worth more than $500 billion.

Spokesmen for JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Bank of America, which took over Merrill Lynch in 2008, said they had no comment.

Before it all unraveled, the cum-ex ecosystem of lawyers, advisers and auditors enjoyed heady days. Last year, the lawyer who testified anonymously at the Bonn trial described the culture of the cum-ex world to Oliver Schröm and Christian Salewski, two reporters on the German television show “Panorama,” under disguising makeup. It was a realm beyond morality, he said: all male, supremely arrogant, and guided by the conviction that the German state is an enemy and German taxpayers are suckers.

He remembered looking down from his office on the 32nd floor of a Frankfurt skyscraper and pitying the pedestrians.

“That was the normal world to which we no longer belonged,” he told the reporters. “We looked out the window from up there, and we thought, ‘We’re the cleverest of all, geniuses, and you’re all stupid.’”

Two weeks ago a former Merrill Lynch investment banker sat in a London restaurant near the Thames and described what had turned him into a whistle-blower. In the years after the financial crisis, he said, he noticed that a handful of colleagues on the company’s trading floor were using their personal mobile phones, a breach of company policy. All communication was supposed to be tracked and recorded. These guys were sending self-deleting texts on Snapchat.

“Obviously, they were circumventing controls,” he said.

When he pointed this out to management, the policy was tweaked.

“They said, ‘You can answer a call on your mobile, but you need to immediately move off the floor,’” he recalled. “So these guys would get up from their desks, start walking toward the edge of the floor, send a text message and then walk back. It was a joke.”

The whistle-blower requested anonymity for this article because he was discussing confidential information. Nearly all of it was included in a long complaint he sent in 2012 to the Office of the Whistleblower at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington.

A copy of the complaint was obtained by a team of reporters from Die Zeit, the news website Zeit Online and “Panorama,” which spent four years studying the cum-ex business. The team shared the document with The New York Times.

The complaint lays out, in painstaking detail, how the trades were confected, who executed them and which questions should be asked by investigators to uncover the “sham.” It states that Merrill Lynch earned hundreds of millions of dollars over the previous seven years from cum-ex trades.

A spokeswoman from the S.E.C. declined to comment.

“Anyone who stood in the way of this trade was swept aside, and those who enabled it were promoted,” the whistle-blower said in a follow-up phone call. “But it was widely regarded as insanity inside the bank for it to be extracting money from sovereign treasuries, particularly after the entire sector had been supported by the public purse.”

American banks conducted their cum-ex trades overseas, rather than at home, out of fear, the whistle-blower said. Specifically, he mentioned a 2008 Senate investigation into “dividend tax abuse” that found it was depriving the Treasury of $100 billion every year. The report led to a ban on dividend arbitrage tied to stock in United States corporations.

But nothing prevented American bankers from conducting such trades with foreign companies on foreign soil.

Eventually, American investors joined in, too. German efforts to stamp out cum-ex with legislation, in 2007 and 2009, left holes through which certain types of financial players could still crawl. This included private pension plans in the United States, a niche financial product for wealthy people who want the kind of privacy, and exotic investment options, that Fidelity doesn’t offer.

“These U.S. pension plans became the holy grail for cum-ex trading,” said Niels Fastrup, a co-author with Thomas Svaneborg of “The Great Tax Robbery.” “They were perceived by tax authorities as very trustworthy, and all European countries had agreements with the U.S., so these plans could claim 100 percent of withheld taxes.”

But in 2011, a clerk in the Bonn Federal Central Tax Office, who was interviewed by the German media team and has remained anonymous, came across tax refund applications that looked dubious. They were from a single American pension fund that had bought, then quickly sold, $7 billion in German stock. Now it wanted a tax refund of $60 million. The fund had just one beneficiary.

Instead of paying the refund, the clerk made inquiries. She soon received a peppery letter from a German law firm that threatened to hold her “PERSONALLY” accountable “under criminal, disciplinary and liability law.” The clerk reported all of this to prosecutors, which ultimately led to the trial in Bonn.

Last year, a crew from “Panorama” tracked down the fund’s beneficiary, Gregory Summers, who lives in a grand home in Green Brook, N.J. A reporter tried to interview Mr. Summers in his driveway as he sat in the passenger seat of a black Mercedes-Benz.

“I can’t talk to you,” he said, and the Mercedes drove away.

Messages left with Mr. Summers’s family were not returned.

The cum-ex reckoning has already begun. Several banks have been fined (Deutsche Bank, UniCredit), one has apologized (Macquarie), others have pledged cooperation with investigators (Santander, Deutsche Bank) and two are insolvent. A lawyer from Freshfields, a prestigious London firm that provided cum-ex advice, was briefly jailed by the German authorities in late November and has reportedly been charged with fraud.

If the Bonn trial ends in convictions, stiff penalties are expected.

“They won’t even have to prove that the banks were complicit, or that the banks were trying to evade taxes,” said Dierk Brandenburg of Scope, a credit-rating agency in London. “The fact that they benefited means they have to give the money back.”

Investors will have problems of their own. Many have said they had no idea how cum-ex traders returned such dazzling profits. That defense became less plausible in 2012, after the German government spent millions of dollars to buy 11 hard drives from industry insiders. The hard drives were filled with marketing fliers, written by bankers, who sold cum-ex with an antigovernment pitch.

“We learned that it was very common for these bankers to have conversations over coffee with clients about cum-ex,” said Norbert Walter-Borjans, a former minister of finance for North Rhine-Westphalia. “They would say, ‘If you have a problem with how your hard-earned money is being spent in taxes, we’ve got an idea for you.’”

Authorities across Europe are said to be waiting for a resolution of the Bonn trial to move ahead with their own. Many are livid that Germany didn’t alert them sooner about the perils of cum-ex. The failure, say lawyers, stems from a Europe-wide hypersensitivity about privacy, which is especially acute when it comes to taxes.

Some countries are starting to overcome their reticence, but scholars and bankers say cum-ex and its mutations still pose a financial threat. As evidence, there is the bitter experience of Denmark.

In 2012, soon after Germany shut down its cum-ex problem, a London trader began a cum-ex scheme that fleeced the Danish tax authority of $2 billion, officials there say. The trader, Sanjay Shah, who now lives in Dubai, denies wrongdoing but has never been shy about the source of his wealth.

When he bought a $1.3 million yacht a few years ago, he found the perfect name: Cum-Ex.

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China Reports Over 1,280 Coronavirus Cases, Death Toll At 41

Westlake Legal Group 5e2ba74b220000ca053eba14 China Reports Over 1,280 Coronavirus Cases, Death Toll At 41

BEIJING (AP) — The virus-hit Chinese city of Wuhan, already on lockdown, banned most vehicle use downtown and Hong Kong said it would close schools for two weeks as authorities scrambled Saturday to stop the spread of an illness that has infected more than 1,200 people and killed 41.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said her government will raise its response level to emergency, the highest one, and close primary and secondary schools for two more weeks on top of next week’s Lunar New Year holiday. They will re-open Feb. 17.

Lam said that direct flights and trains from Wuhan would be blocked. The outbreak began in the city in central China and has spread nationwide and overseas, fueled by millions of people traveling during the country’s biggest holiday.

In a sign of the growing strain on Wuhan’s health care system, the official Xinhua news agency reported that the city planned to build a second makeshift hospital with about 1,000 beds. The city previously announced that construction of a hospital of the same size was underway and expected to be completed Feb. 3.

The vast majority of the infections and all the deaths have been in mainland China, but fresh cases are popping up. Australia and Malaysia reported their first cases Saturday and Japan, its third. France confirmed three cases Friday, the first in Europe, and the U.S. identified its second, a woman in Chicago who had returned from China.

The new virus comes from a large family of what are known as coronaviruses, some causing nothing worse than a cold. It causes cold- and flu-like symptoms, including cough and fever and, in more severe case, shortness of breath. It can worsen to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Most of China’s provinces and cities activated a Level 1 public health alert, the highest in a four-tier system, the state-owned China Daily newspaper reported Saturday.

China cut off trains, planes and other links to Wuhan on Wednesday, as well as public transportation within the city, and has steadily expanded a lockdown to 16 surrounding cities with a combined population of more than 50 million, greater than that of New York, London, Paris and Moscow combined.

The cities of Yichang, Suizhou and Jingzhou were the latest added to the list on Friday evening and Saturday.

Wuhan went one step further Saturday, announcing vehicle use including private cars would be banned in downtown areas starting after midnight, state media reported. Only authorized vehicles to carry supplies and for other needs would be permitted after that, the reports said.

The city of 11 million people will assign 6,000 taxis to different neighborhoods, under the management of local resident committees, to help people get around if they need to, the state-owned English-language China Daily newspaper said.

In Hong Kong, where five cases of the illness have been confirmed, a marathon that was expected to draw 70,000 participants on Feb. 9 was canceled, the South China Morning Post newspaper reported.

China’s biggest holiday, the Lunar New Year, unfolded Saturday in the shadow of the worrying new virus. Authorities canceled a host of Lunar New Year events, and closed major tourist sites and movie theaters.

The National Health Commission reported a jump in the number of infected people to 1,287. The latest tally, from 29 provinces and cities across China, included 237 patients in serious condition. Of the 41 deaths, 39 have been in Hubei province, where Wuhan is the capital city, and one each in Hebei and Heilongjiang provinces.

Most of the deaths have been older patients, though a 36-year-old man in Hubei died earlier this week.

Health authorities in the city of Hechi in Guangxi province said that a 2-year-old girl from Wuhan had been diagnosed with the illness after arriving in the city.

The Australian state of Victoria announced its first case Saturday, a Chinese man in his 50s who returned from China last week, and the state of New South Wales confirmed three more cases later in the day.

Malaysia said three people tested positive Friday, all relatives of a father and son from Wuhan who had been diagnosed with the virus earlier in neighboring Singapore. Japan confirmed a third case, a Chinese tourist in her 30s who had arrived from Wuhan on Jan 18.

The National Health Commission said it is bringing in medical teams from outside Hubei to help handle the outbreak, a day after videos circulating online showed throngs of frantic people in masks lined up for examinations and complaints that family members had been turned away at hospitals that were at capacity.

The Chinese military dispatched 450 medical staff, some with experience in past outbreaks including SARS and Ebola, who arrived in Wuhan late Friday night to help treat the many patients hospitalized with viral pneumonia, Xinhua reported.

Xinhua also said that medical supplies are being rushed to the city, including 14,000 protective suits and 110,000 pairs of gloves from the central medical reserves as well as masks and goggles.

The rapid increase in reported deaths and illnesses does not necessarily mean the crisis is getting worse, but could reflect better monitoring and reporting of the newly discovered virus.

It is not clear how lethal the new coronavirus is, or even whether it is as dangerous as the ordinary flu, which kills tens of thousands of people every year in the U.S. alone.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it is expecting more Americans to be diagnosed with the virus.

The outbreak put a damper on Lunar New Year in China, the first day of the Year of the Rat.

Temples locked their doors, Beijing’s Forbidden City, Shanghai Disneyland and other major tourist destinations closed, and people canceled restaurant reservations ahead of the holiday, normally a time of family reunions, sightseeing trips and other festivities in the country of 1.4 billion people.

“We originally planned to go back to my wife’s hometown and bought train tickets to depart this afternoon,” said Li Mengbin, who was on a stroll by the moat of the closed Forbidden City. “We ended up cancelling. But I’m still happy to celebrate the new year in Beijing, which I hadn’t for several years.”

Associated Press researcher Henry Hou and video journalist Dake Kang contributed to this report.

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Trump Tries to Upstage Drama in the Senate With His Own Programming

Westlake Legal Group merlin_167724795_de7d1367-d8ed-4e63-b3b5-e5ec9be8a5d8-facebookJumbo Trump Tries to Upstage Drama in the Senate With His Own Programming Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Palestinians Middle East Israel impeachment Abortion

WASHINGTON — On the chilly grounds of the National Mall, within sight of the gleaming white Capitol where he is on trial for high crimes and misdemeanors, President Trump on Friday rallied abortion opponents gathered for their annual march and equated their battle with his own.

“They are coming after me,” Mr. Trump declared about a half-hour before the day’s trial session opened, with two of the juror-senators joining him onstage, “because I am fighting for you and we are fighting for those who have no voice. And we will win because we know how to win. We all know how to win. We all know how to win.”

For Mr. Trump, the strategy to win these days is counterprogramming. While Democrats and Republicans debate whether he should be convicted and removed from office, the president has offered up an alternative menu of events intended to focus attention on his economic record, present himself as a peacemaker and cater to his conservative base.

As the trial opened in earnest this week, he was hobnobbing with global corporate titans in Davos, Switzerland, trumpeting the growth of jobs and markets back home. As the House managers prosecuting him wrapped up their case on Friday, he became the first sitting president to attend the March for Life, bolstering his ties to the anti-abortion movement. And as senators begin posing their own questions next week, he plans to host Israeli leaders and release his long-awaited Middle East peace plan.

In case those are not enough to draw away attention from the proceedings in the Senate chamber, Mr. Trump has scheduled not one but two campaign rallies next week, one in New Jersey on Tuesday and another in Iowa on Thursday — even as four of his putative Democratic rivals are stuck at his trial, unable to campaign in the last days before the Iowa caucuses.

And he sought to get the last word in on Friday, giving an interview to air on Fox News at 10 p.m., just an hour after the House managers wrapped up their opening arguments. In the interview, he defended the decision to recall Ambassador Marie L. Yovanovitch, who was viewed by his associates as an impediment to their effort to get Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

Still, while Mr. Trump hoped to distract from the prosecution case led by Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, the past three days, the ever-ratings-conscious former reality show star was clearly irritated that his own lawyers would be opening their arguments on Saturday, when the television audience presumably may be smaller.

“After having been treated unbelievably unfairly in the House, and then having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer & their crew, looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.,” the president wrote on Twitter on Friday.

But the primary challenge for the White House legal team will not be earning ratings so much as doing no harm. With acquittal all but assured given the requirement for a two-thirds vote for conviction, the president’s lawyers will try to poke holes in the prosecution’s case to buttress Republican senators already inclined to vote for the president. At the same time, they will have to make sure they do not lose any of the handful of relative moderates who at one point may have been up for grabs.

Mindful that senators of both parties have grown weary and were eager to get out of town, if only for part of the weekend, the White House team agreed to a Senate request to start Saturday’s proceedings early and use only a portion of its time. The session will open at 10 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. and last no more than three hours. Then the White House team will put on a full presentation on Monday.

“I guess I would call it a trailer, coming attractions — that would be the best way to say it,” Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s lawyers, told reporters.

Mr. Sekulow also previewed the aggressive and confrontational approach the White House lawyers intend to take when it is their turn. They will argue that it was the Democrats who accepted foreign help in 2016, citing a research dossier by a British former intelligence officer, and that Mr. Trump has been persecuted from the start. They will highlight a recent report criticizing the F.B.I. for the way it obtained a warrant to continue surveillance on a onetime Trump campaign adviser.

They will also focus attention on former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, arguing that Mr. Trump had legitimate reasons to accuse them of corruption. Mr. Sekulow said the managers not only opened the window to discussing the Bidens by spending so much time on Thursday defending them but they “kicked the door open.” He and his colleagues will argue that Democrats were trying to influence the 2020 election by taking Mr. Trump off the ballot.

“They put their case forward,” said Mr. Sekulow. “It’s our time next.”

As the trial has gotten underway, Mr. Trump uncharacteristically has limited his public pushback to select moments, instead making an effort to appear focused on other matters, much like President Bill Clinton sought to do during his own impeachment trial in 1999. He largely stuck to the topic of abortion at the march on Friday, turning to other issues during an afternoon public meeting with mayors from around the country.

But there have moments this week when his grievance and anger got the better of him and he has lashed out, usually on Twitter. On Wednesday, as Mr. Schiff and his team had the Senate floor to themselves and without interruption all afternoon and deep into the night, Mr. Trump posted or reposted 142 messages on Twitter, many assailing the managers and their case, setting a record for his presidency.

The effort to counterprogram with other public initiatives has led to some strategic gambles. Mr. Trump’s decision to attend the March for Life in person on Friday defied the conventional wisdom that led other anti-abortion Republican presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to play it more cautiously by staying away and sending taped or telephoned messages instead.

Likewise, the president chose now, of all times, to finally unveil his plan to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians. For three years, he and his team have said they would wait for the most opportune moment, then suddenly concluded that this was that time, even though Israel is focused on its third election in a year and the Palestinians are not on speaking terms with the Trump administration.

Underscoring just how unsettled the moment really is, Mr. Trump plans to host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel at the White House on Tuesday, and has invited Mr. Netanyahu’s major campaign opponent, Benny Gantz, as well, unsure who his negotiating partner will be in just a matter of weeks.

Yet the president’s friend, Mr. Netanyahu, eager to hang onto office, may be just as eager for a distraction from his domestic troubles as Mr. Trump, leading to the odd spectacle of an American president on trial in the Senate for abuse of power hosting an Israeli prime minister indicted on charges of corruption.

For Mr. Trump, at least, the public remains largely unmoved. A new poll by The Washington Post and ABC News found that Americans remain as divided as they have been for months over whether he should be removed from office, with 47 percent for and 49 percent against. His approval rating stood at 44 percent.

Whether that will change as a result of the trial remains uncertain. But Mr. Trump said his legal team starting on Saturday will reinforce his message that he has been unfairly targeted by a partisan witch hunt.

“What my people have to do is just be honest, just tell the truth,” he said in the Fox interview. “They’ve been testifying, the Democrats, they’ve been telling so many lies, so many fabrications, so much exaggeration. And this is not impeachable.”

Michael D. Shear and Maggie Haberman contributed reporting.

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White House spokesman invokes ‘Spaceballs’ in critique of Adam Schiff’s impeachment case

Westlake Legal Group ENC3_132243873232230000 White House spokesman invokes 'Spaceballs' in critique of Adam Schiff's impeachment case fox-news/shows/the-story fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/politics/senate fox-news/politics/house-of-representatives/democrats fox-news/person/donald-trump fox-news/person/adam-schiff fox-news/media/fox-news-flash fox-news/media fox news fnc/media fnc Charles Creitz article 178c70ab-0f0c-5dc8-a3d2-7094df13bc7b

A top White House spokesman invoked the 1987 Mel Brooks classic “Spaceballs” in laying out just how flimsy lead impeachment manager Adam Schiff’s, D-Calif., impeachment case is against President Trump.

Deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley told “The Story” on Friday that the House Democrats’ case against Trump — in which they alleged abuse of power in the form of the president trying to personally benefit through foreign policy with Ukraine — effectively has no first-hand witnesses.

Democrats, he said, are trying to “splice it together [and] pass it off as real.”

“This is all about the president of the United States being impeached over a phone call in which he was trying to protect the American people’s tax dollars,” Gidley said. “[T]he Democrats [are] trying to tear down a president with no proof, no evidence. It’s all hearsay.”

ELIZABETH WARREN CONFRONTED BY IOWA DAD OVER STUDENT LOAN PLAN

“It’s all ‘your father’s brother’s cousin’s nephew’s former roommate’ says this about the president,” he remarked, quoting Rick Moranis’ character from the cult-classic spoof on “Star Wars.”

In the film, Moranis’ “Dark Helmet” — a play on Darth Vader — reveals himself to Bill Pullman’s “Lone Starr” character in a scene reminiscent of James Earl Jones’ Vader uttering, “I am your father,” to Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back”.

While speaking with host Martha MacCallum, Gidley added that the Democrats are simply trying to use impeachment as a way to get Trump out of office.

“It’s not going to work,” he warned. “He’s going to be exonerated.”

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Gidley added that Trump does not even have impeachment at the front of his mind this week, pointing to the president’s landmark attendance at the annual March For Life — the first president to attend since the movement’s inception in the wake of Roe v. Wade.

He added that Trump traveled to Davos, Switzerland, to meet with world leaders and businessmen while Democrats were half a world away making their case for impeachment before marathon Senate sessions.

When asked about how the president’s lawyers will present their case, beginning Saturday, Gidley said he will leave those specifics up to counsel Jay Sekulow and the rest of the White House legal team.

Westlake Legal Group ENC3_132243873232230000 White House spokesman invokes 'Spaceballs' in critique of Adam Schiff's impeachment case fox-news/shows/the-story fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/politics/senate fox-news/politics/house-of-representatives/democrats fox-news/person/donald-trump fox-news/person/adam-schiff fox-news/media/fox-news-flash fox-news/media fox news fnc/media fnc Charles Creitz article 178c70ab-0f0c-5dc8-a3d2-7094df13bc7b   Westlake Legal Group ENC3_132243873232230000 White House spokesman invokes 'Spaceballs' in critique of Adam Schiff's impeachment case fox-news/shows/the-story fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/politics/senate fox-news/politics/house-of-representatives/democrats fox-news/person/donald-trump fox-news/person/adam-schiff fox-news/media/fox-news-flash fox-news/media fox news fnc/media fnc Charles Creitz article 178c70ab-0f0c-5dc8-a3d2-7094df13bc7b

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Meghan Markle, Prince Harry to receive security ‘whether or not they are active’ royals: expert

Westlake Legal Group Meghan-Markle-prince-harry-timeline-photo Meghan Markle, Prince Harry to receive security 'whether or not they are active' royals: expert Mariah Haas fox-news/world/personalities/british-royals fox-news/person/prince-harry fox-news/entertainment/celebrity-news/meghan-markle fox-news/entertainment fox news fnc/entertainment fnc article 5900e3ab-873a-5b42-b2c7-05b5fd2c9954

Ever since Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announced that they would be taking “a step back” as senior members of the royal family, a number of questions have come up surrounding their decision — especially about the topic of security.

According to Mark Stephens from London law firm Howard Kennedy, who spoke with People magazine, the Sussexes will likely still receive the same level of diplomatic protection as any other royal “whether or not they are active members.”

Stephens explained to the outlet: “If you take the Dutch royal family for example, where a number of them work — the king is an airline pilot — they still have diplomatic immunity because of their status as a member of the royal family.

‘MEGXIT’ STILL HAS PRINCE WILLIAM, KATE MIDDLETON ‘REELING,’ ROYAL EXPERT SAYS

“The same is the case in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia or Kuwait or the UAE. So it’s perfectly normal. There are no exceptions for Harry and Meghan,” he added of the couple.

As People notes, if the line of royal succession follows its current course, Prince Harry, 35, will eventually become the son to the King of England (Prince Charles) then the brother to the King of England (Prince William), so the importance of security for the Sussexes and their 8-month-old son, Archie, will only become more crucial.

“If they’re covered by either the Canadian or British security services, they will also have the intelligence attached which comes with that,” Stephens told the magazine. “If you employ a private security firm, they won’t have the intelligence which is necessary to provide effective close protection.

MEGHAN MARKLE, PRINCE HARRY ADDRESS TRAVEL AND SECURITY CONCERNS FOLLOWING HISTORIC ANNOUNCEMENT

“So, they are clearly going to get that, whatever grumblings there may be from people who are concerned about it being paid. It’s all being paid for at the moment and it doesn’t change by virtue of them stepping back,” he stated.

When it comes to who will be paying for the couple’s security costs, Stephens suggested to the outlet that it’ll continue to come from the same place as before: the British taxpayer.

HOW MEGHAN MARKLE AND PRINCE HARRY’S FINANCES WILL BE IMPACTED BY ABRUPT ROYAL EXIT

“We pay for the security of ex-politicians and government ministers who have two days in the job, so it is perfectly reasonable for a lifelong member of the royal family to have security,” he shared. “And I think the [U.K.] government will feel like that.”

On Wednesday, Page Six reported that more than 80,000 Canadians have signed an online petition, which comes from the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, demanding that Markle and Prince Harry pay for their own security while living there.

“Canadians are pleased to welcome the Duke and Duchess to Canada, but have made it crystal clear that taxpayers should not be forced to support them while they are living here,” said federal director Aaron Wudrick. “All Canadians wish them well as they realize their ambition of financial independence.”

CANADIANS DEMAND MEGHAN MARKLE, PRINCE HARRY PAY FOR THEIR OWN SECURITY IN NEW PETITION

In their big Jan. 8 announcement, Prince Harry and Markle, 38, explained they would be stepping back from their senior royal status to split their time between the United Kingdom and North America. A part of their goal is to be “financially independent.”

On Harry and Markle’s official website SussexRoyal.com, the couple explained that their travel arrangements “will continue to be paid for privately and not by UK taxpayers.”

A note on their website explains that provisions for armed security by The Metropolitan Police is mandated by the government, which doesn’t allow the royal couple to elaborate to the public as to how it is funded or works.

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As stated on the government’s website: “No breakdown of security costs is available as disclosure of such information could compromise the integrity of these arrangements and affect the security of the individuals protected. It is long established policy not to comment upon the protective security arrangements and their related costs for members of the Royal Family or their residences.”

Fox News’ Melissa Roberto contributed to this report

Westlake Legal Group Meghan-Markle-prince-harry-timeline-photo Meghan Markle, Prince Harry to receive security 'whether or not they are active' royals: expert Mariah Haas fox-news/world/personalities/british-royals fox-news/person/prince-harry fox-news/entertainment/celebrity-news/meghan-markle fox-news/entertainment fox news fnc/entertainment fnc article 5900e3ab-873a-5b42-b2c7-05b5fd2c9954   Westlake Legal Group Meghan-Markle-prince-harry-timeline-photo Meghan Markle, Prince Harry to receive security 'whether or not they are active' royals: expert Mariah Haas fox-news/world/personalities/british-royals fox-news/person/prince-harry fox-news/entertainment/celebrity-news/meghan-markle fox-news/entertainment fox news fnc/entertainment fnc article 5900e3ab-873a-5b42-b2c7-05b5fd2c9954

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Lev Parnas Says He Has Recording of Trump Calling for Ambassador’s Firing

Westlake Legal Group 24dc-recording-facebookJumbo Lev Parnas Says He Has Recording of Trump Calling for Ambassador’s Firing Yovanovitch, Marie L United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Parnas, Lev impeachment House Committee on Intelligence Giuliani, Rudolph W Fruman, Igor ABC News

WASHINGTON — A former associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, said on Friday that he had turned over to congressional Democrats a recording from 2018 of the president ordering the removal of Marie L. Yovanovitch as the United States ambassador to Ukraine.

The associate, Lev Parnas, who worked with Mr. Giuliani to oust the ambassador and to pressure the Ukrainian government to pursue investigations to help Mr. Trump, located the recording on Friday after its existence was first reported by ABC News, said Joseph A. Bondy, Mr. Parnas’s lawyer.

Mr. Bondy said it was “of high materiality to the impeachment inquiry” of Mr. Trump, which House Democrats are presenting in the Senate. He said he provided the recording to the House Intelligence Committee, whose chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff, is leading the House impeachment managers in their presentation of the case.

The recording emerged as Democrats continued to press the Senate to call more witnesses and seek additional evidence for the trial.

While the recording does not appear to provide any substantive new information about the effort to oust Ms. Yovanovitch, the possibility of it being played in public could provide a powerful political moment for Democrats by hammering home Mr. Trump’s personal involvement. It also illustrates that there could be more revelations from untapped evidence, even as Democrats are wrapping up their case in the Senate.

That was precisely the argument they made on Friday as they sought to overcome Republican resistance to seeking new information and extending the trial.

Patrick Boland, a spokesman for the Intelligence Committee, declined to comment.

In the recording, ABC News reported, Mr. Parnas can be heard saying that “the biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we gotta get rid of” Ms. Yovanovitch.

“She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait,’” Mr. Parnas says on the recording, according to ABC News.

“Get rid of her!” a voice that sounds like Mr. Trump’s responds, according to ABC News. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it.”

Mr. Trump’s comments were directed at one of his aides who was in the room at the time, Mr. Parnas has previously said.

Ms. Yovanovitch remained in her job for another year after Mr. Trump’s remarks until she was recalled on the White House’s orders, according to testimony in the impeachment inquiry. It is not clear whether the president changed his mind, forgot about his order or was talked out of dismissing her.

Asked about the recording by Fox News, Mr. Trump said he was “not a big fan” of Ms. Yovanovitch. “I want ambassadors that are chosen by me,” he said. “I have a right to hire and fire ambassadors, and that’s a very important thing.”

The campaign to remove Ms. Yovanovitch is among the central elements of the Democratic case that Mr. Trump abused his power in an effort to pressure Ukraine’s government into announcing investigations into purported meddling in the 2016 election and into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his diplomacy in Ukraine.

Mr. Parnas had previously recounted how he and another associate of Mr. Giuliani’s, Igor Fruman, had met with Mr. Trump during a dinner for a small group of donors in a private suite at the Trump International Hotel in Washington in late April 2018. At that dinner, Mr. Parnas relayed a rumor that Ms. Yovanovitch, then the American ambassador in Kyiv, was bad-mouthing the president — an unsubstantiated claim that Ms. Yovanovitch has denied.

Republicans have sought to challenge Mr. Parnas’s credibility by noting that he is under indictment. But the recording seemed to buttress Mr. Parnas’s claims that he had discussions with Mr. Trump about ousting Ms. Yovanovitch, who Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani later came to believe was blocking their efforts to press the Ukrainians to commit to the investigations.

Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman had obtained direct access to the president by donating to Republican committees, and the recording suggests he spoke in front of them in a remarkably unfiltered and undiplomatic way, given their relative obscurity.

The April 2018 meeting came months before Mr. Giuliani began working with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman to win support in Ukraine for investigations that could have helped Mr. Trump’s re-election prospects. Mr. Giuliani came to believe that Ms. Yovanovitch was blocking his efforts to advance the investigations. By early last year, Mr. Parnas had become a key intermediary between Mr. Giuliani and Ukranians officials, including Yuriy Lutsenko, the country’s chief prosecutor at the time, who was also seeking Ms. Yovanovitch’s ouster.

Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he does not know Mr. Parnas or Mr. Fruman, who are facing federal campaign finance charges brought by prosecutors in Manhattan. They have pleaded not guilty. Mr. Giuliani is under investigation by the same prosecutors, who are examining his efforts to remove Ms. Yovanovitch.

Mr. Parnas has broken with Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Trump. He has provided reams of records and data to House impeachment investigators and signaled his willingness to cooperate with the prosecutors in Manhattan. Mr. Fruman’s legal team is working closely with lawyers for Mr. Giuliani — “they talk two, three times a week” — according to Mr. Giuliani, the former New York City mayor.

The recording was captured on Mr. Fruman’s phone, according to people familiar with the matter.

A lawyer for Mr. Fruman declined to comment.

Mr. Parnas and his legal team did not provide the recording to ABC News, Mr. Bondy said.

After ABC News’s report, Mr. Bondy said Mr. Parnas “undertook a renewed search of his iCloud accounts and found a copy of the recording.”

The recording “appears to corroborate” Mr. Parnas’s recollection of the April 2018 gathering at which Mr. Trump issued the order, Mr. Bondy said.

In an interview with the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow last week, Mr. Parnas said that Mr. Trump had tried to recall Ms. Yovanovitch “at least four, five times.” Mr. Parnas said he had personally spoken “once or twice” to the president “about firing her,” including at the dinner, which he said was also attended by Mr. Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr.

“I don’t know how the issue is — the conversation came up, but I do remember me telling the president the ambassador was bad-mouthing him and saying he was going to get impeached, something to that effect,” Mr. Parnas recalled. “And at that time, he turned around” to an aide “and said, ‘fire her.’ And we all — there was a silence in the room.”

Mr. Parnas added that Mr. Trump raised the subject again later in the dinner: “I don’t know how many times at that dinner, once or twice or three times. But he fired her several times.”

Ms. Yovanovitch came into Mr. Parnas’s sights at least partly because he had come to believe that she was opposed to his business efforts in Ukraine, where he and Mr. Fruman had hoped to break into the natural gas market, according to associates of the two men, both of whom are Soviet-born American citizens.

Prosecutors have accused Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman of donating money and pledging to raise additional funds in 2018 — some violating legal limits — for a congressman who was then enlisted in the campaign to oust Ms. Yovanovitch.

While the congressman is not named in court filings, campaign finance records identify him as former Representative Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas, who lost his re-election bid in 2018.

Less than two weeks after his dinner with Mr. Trump, Mr. Parnas met with Mr. Sessions to discuss his gas venture in Ukraine, and the meeting eventually turned to Ms. Yovanovitch. After the meeting, Mr. Sessions wrote a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that Ms. Yovanovitch should be fired for privately expressing “disdain” for the current administration.

Mr. Sessions has said that he wrote the letter independently of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, but when Ms. Yovanovitch was not removed, Mr. Sessions provided Mr. Parnas with a copy of the letter, signing his name across the back of the envelope. “Mr. President” appeared across the front.

Photographs appearing to show the signed envelope — and Mr. Parnas presenting it to Mr. Trump — were included in a batch of records provided earlier this month by Mr. Parnas to the House Intelligence Committee.

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Branding Trump a Security Threat, Democrats Cap the Case for His Removal

Westlake Legal Group merlin_167723709_90cf40fa-e9a6-419a-bd52-db9469eaf0e3-facebookJumbo Branding Trump a Security Threat, Democrats Cap the Case for His Removal

WASHINGTON — The House impeachment managers concluded their arguments against President Trump on Friday by portraying his pressure campaign on Ukraine as part of a dangerous pattern of Russian appeasement that would continue to imperil the country’s security if he remained in office.

Ending their three-day presentation in the Senate, the president’s Democratic prosecutors summoned the ghosts of the Cold War and the realities of geopolitical tensions with Russia to argue that Mr. Trump’s abuse of power had slowly shredded delicate foreign alliances to suit his own interests.

“This is Trump first, not America first, not American ideals first,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the lead House manager. “And the result has been, and will continue to be, grave harm to our nation if this chamber does not stand up and say this is wrong.”

Mr. Schiff and the six other managers prosecuting the president also tied up the facts of the second charge, obstruction of Congress, arguing that Mr. Trump’s attempts to shut down a congressional inquiry into his actions toward Ukraine was unprecedented and undermined the very ability of the government to correct itself.

“He is a dictator,” said Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York. “This must not stand.”

But even as the managers pulled together their complex case, the Republican-controlled Senate appeared unmoved — not just on the question of whether to acquit Mr. Trump, which it expected to do, but also on the crucial question of compelling witnesses and documents that the president has suppressed.

“We have heard plenty,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the No. 3 Senate Republican.

He said that many in his party had quickly soured on the soaring appeals by House Democrats to repudiate Mr. Trump’s behavior. As day turned to evening on the fourth full day of the trial, many senators unaccustomed to long hours in the Capitol appeared to have simply been numbed by the House managers, and were anticipating the president’s defense, set to begin Saturday.

After three days of meticulous and often vivid narrative and painstaking legal arguments, the House managers appeared ready to rest their case that Mr. Trump sought foreign interference in the 2020 election on his own behalf, by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, using vital military aid and a White House meeting as leverage. Yet the pool of moderate Republican senators that had expressed openness to joining Democrats in insisting on witnesses or new documents appeared to be dwindling, not growing.

Comments by Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska suggested they may have cooled to the idea, although Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah gave no indication that they had shifted.

“Schiff was phenomenal,” said Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, “but I’m skeptical he moved any votes.”

Inside and outside the chamber, the House managers and Democratic senators worked in tandem on Friday to appeal to their consciences, hinting strongly at the political stakes if they failed to press for a more thorough airing of the charges against the president.

“We’ve made the argument forcefully, the American people have made the argument forcefully that they want the truth,” said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader. “Will four Republican senators — just four — rise to the occasion, do their duty to the Constitution, to their country to seek the truth?”

They got an unexpected lift early in the day when a 2018 recording surfaced of Mr. Trump appearing to order the firing of Marie L. Yovanovitch, then the United States ambassador to Ukraine. The recording was first reported by ABC News and later handed over to the House by Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.

The recording appeared to confirm earlier claims by Mr. Parnas that he had told Mr. Trump about rumors that Ms. Yovanovitch was not loyal to him. The House’s impeachment inquiry concluded that the ambassador was ultimately removed in 2019 as part of Mr. Trump’s attempt to strong-arm Ukraine to announce investigations of his political adversaries.

“Get rid of her,” Mr. Trump can be heard to say, according to ABC. “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care.”

Without an agreement to take new testimony or subpoena documents relevant to the case, Mr. Trump may be headed toward a historically speedy acquittal in as little as a week from now, before the Iowa caucus or his planned State of the Union address. That would make the third impeachment trial of a president in American history the shortest.

Mr. Trump’s defense team plans to open its arguments on Saturday, though senators were only expected to meet for an abbreviated, two- to three-hour session before adjourning the trial until Monday afternoon.

Mr. Trump was not pleased about the schedule, writing on Twitter Friday morning that his team had been “forced” to start on a Saturday, a time “called Death Valley in T.V.” He also turned around Democrats’ accusation, declaring that “the Impeachment Hoax is interfering with the 2020 Election,” not him.

Jay Sekulow, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, said his team would treat the weekend session like a “trailer,” providing an overview of their case for acquittal while holding back until Monday the president’s more television-friendly attorneys, the former independent counsel Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz. Mr. Dershowitz, a well-known defense lawyer, plans to argue that the House charges against the president to not constitute impeachable offenses.

Democrats were on track to use every one of the 24 hours afforded to them by senators to make their case, determined to persuade American voters watching at home who will cast ballots in just 10 months, if not senators.

On Wednesday, Mr. Schiff and each of the managers took turns introducing the facts of the case in narrative form, unfolding the tale of Mr. Trump’s alleged misconduct chapter by chapter. Beginning with the abrupt removal of Ms. Yovanovitch, they said that Mr. Trump empowered first Mr. Giuliani and then American officials to push Ukraine announce investigations of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats, before himself asking that country’s leader to “do us a favor.”

When the Ukrainians resisted, they added, he withheld a coveted White House meeting and almost $400 million in military aid the fledgling democracy badly needed to fend off a menacing Russia. And when Congress found out, he undertook an across-the-board campaign to block officials from testifying or producing records that would reveal the scheme.

On Thursday, Mr. Nadler lectured extensively on the constitutional and historical standards for impeachment, setting the stage for the managers to methodically argue that Mr. Trump’s actions toward Ukraine constituted an impeachable abuse of power that warrants his removal from office.

Mr. Schiff completed that case on Friday, directly engaging the national security implications of Mr. Trump’s actions as he argued that the president was a serial offender in seeking foreign help for his own political benefit, allowing himself to be used as a tool of Moscow’s agenda in the process. As a candidate, Mr. Trump welcomed Russia’s interference in the 2016 election to help him win the White House, Mr. Schiff noted, and then as president, he repeatedly cast doubt on the conclusions of American intelligence agencies about that interference. Later, Mr. Trump said outright that he would welcome foreign campaign assistance again.

The California Democrat played a video of the news conference in Helsinki, Finland where Mr. Trump stood next to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and accepted his denial that Moscow meddled in the 2016 election.

“That’s one hell of a Russian intelligence coup,” Mr. Schiff said, “They got the president of the United States to provide cover for their own interference with our election.”

At another point, Mr. Schiff showed a clip of Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, who was an outspoken champion of Ukraine and Russia hawk, promoting the benefits of bipartisan American support for Kyiv to contain Russia and its anti-democratic agenda.

The move appeared to be a subtle effort to appeal to Republican senators, many of whom respected Mr. McCain and share his strongly anti-Russia stance, to place those values above their loyalty to the president.

Mr. Trump’s actions not only served the ambitions of Russia, which hopes to pull Ukraine back into its orbit, but helped advance the cover story it has put forward to distract from its 2016 interference campaign, Mr. Schiff said. He noted that Mr. Trump had asked not only for an investigation of Mr. Biden but also for one into a Russian-promulgated theory that Ukraine, not Moscow, had actually meddled in the last American presidential election.

“If we’re going to condition the strength of our alliance on whether they’ll help us cheat in an election, we’re not going to have a single ally left,” he said.

As the managers moved on to the obstruction of Congress charge, they contended that Mr. Trump’s blockade of evidence was far more pernicious than the kind of partisan squabbles that are typical between Congress and the White House.

Even Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard M. Nixon, they said, had produced documents to the investigations that would threaten them with impeachment. Mr. Trump’s administration had not handed over a single page, declaring for the first time an across the board objection to House subpoenas.

Attempting to head off Mr. Trump’s defense team, which argues that the president was lawfully protecting the interests of the executive branch from a politically motivated House, the managers pointed out that he never actually invoked executive privilege, the legal mechanism afforded to presidents.

“Only one person in the world has the power to issue an order to the entire executive branch,” said Representatives Val B. Demings, Democrat of Florida. “And President Trump used that power not to faithfully execute the law, but to order agencies and employees of the executive branch to conceal evidence of his misconduct.

Maggie Haberman, Carl Hulse, Catie Edmondson, Michael D. Shear contributed reporting.

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Broadcast networks’ impeachment viewership falls short of soap operas, study says

Westlake Legal Group e7883438-Impeachment-News-Logos-AP Broadcast networks' impeachment viewership falls short of soap operas, study says Joseph Wulfsohn fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/person/donald-trump fox-news/media fox-news/entertainment/tv fox-news/entertainment fox news fnc/media fnc fe9fc790-da97-520e-a5e6-bc81fd880868 article

Perhaps the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump is not dramatic enough because ratings on the broadcast networks failed to exceed the average ratings of daytime soap operas, according to a new study.

ABC, NBC and CBS dedicated its daytime programming this week to the newly launched impeachment trial, which meant that popular soaps like “General Hospital” and “Days of Our Lives” were shelved. However, a study from NewsBusters suggests the broadcast networks would have been better off airing its normally scheduled programming.

According to cited Nielsen data, CBS averaged 1.52 million viewers on Wednesday, which was Day One of the opening arguments made by the House managers, while ABC averaged 1.29 million viewers and NBC averaged 1.26 million viewers.

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The daytimes soaps easily overshadowed the impeachment ratings. According to NewsBusters, CBS’s “The Young & The Restless” has been averaging 3.7 million viewers during the 2019-2020 season and “The Bold & The Beautiful” averages 3.15 million viewers. ABC’s “General Hospital” averages 2.15 million viewers while NBC’s “Days of Our Lives” averages 1.95 million viewers.

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The comparisons are even more drastic on Thursday as broadcast ratings dipped on the second day of opening arguments. CBS averaged 1.4 million viewers while ABC had 1.2 million viewers and NBC had 1.1 million viewers.

Westlake Legal Group e7883438-Impeachment-News-Logos-AP Broadcast networks' impeachment viewership falls short of soap operas, study says Joseph Wulfsohn fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/person/donald-trump fox-news/media fox-news/entertainment/tv fox-news/entertainment fox news fnc/media fnc fe9fc790-da97-520e-a5e6-bc81fd880868 article   Westlake Legal Group e7883438-Impeachment-News-Logos-AP Broadcast networks' impeachment viewership falls short of soap operas, study says Joseph Wulfsohn fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/person/donald-trump fox-news/media fox-news/entertainment/tv fox-news/entertainment fox news fnc/media fnc fe9fc790-da97-520e-a5e6-bc81fd880868 article

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Former Acting AG Whitaker: Trump impeachment charges should be dismissed by Senate – Dems failed to prove case

Westlake Legal Group 694940094001_6126373036001_6126373612001-vs Former Acting AG Whitaker: Trump impeachment charges should be dismissed by Senate – Dems failed to prove case Matthew Whitaker fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/politics/senate fox-news/politics/elections/house-of-representatives fox-news/politics/elections/democrats fox-news/person/donald-trump fox-news/opinion fox news fnc/opinion fnc article 22f8fa46-5110-5918-ae04-fd40fc9feadf

As the former acting attorney general of the United States and as an attorney who has tried cases – both civil and criminal, prosecution and defense – it strikes me that the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump looks different and is fundamentally different from anything I have ever seen.

There is no crime alleged in the articles of impeachment. In a typical criminal trial, the prosecutors (in this case the House managers) explain what they expect the evidence to show and how it proves the elements of the crime alleged.

Here, there is no crime alleged, so it is difficult to determine the implications or purpose of the alleged facts. This requires the jury (in this case, senators) to essentially determine whether

the facts alleged are so egregious that they rise to the need to remove the duly elected president of our country from office.

NADLER CALLS TRUMP A ‘DICTATOR’ AS DEMS WRAP OPENING ARGUMENTS IN SENATE IMPEACHMENT TRIAL

The senators’ task is made even more difficult because the House investigation is so incomplete that House impeachment managers believe new witnesses should be called to testify in the Senate. Anyone of fair mind and reason knows this is purely for political theatre.

The underlying facts do not change. The transcript of the July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was released by the White House early on in the process. The House ran a quick and dirty pell-mell investigation that did not call any witnesses who didn’t voluntarily appear – and this is only the fault of House Democrats.

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The Democrats should not expect the Senate to now conduct their investigation for them, calling witnesses to testify for the first time, such as former National Security Adviser John Bolton and Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

By not alleging any crime or other violation of law by the president, the House’s case is so weak that it should be dismissed upon the completion of the presentation by the House managers.

The law is the bedrock of our constitutional system of justice. A violation of law, especially criminal law, is certainly something for which a president could be impeached.

The 55-day hold on U.S. military assistance to Ukraine while President Trump determined whether a new administration in Ukraine was corrupt is well within the powers of the American president. This action is not an abuse of power as the first article of impeachment alleges. It is not a violation of law and certainly does not justify the president’s removal from office.

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The second article of impeachment, which accuses the president of obstruction of Congress, is ridiculous and needs to be immediately dismissed. The House subpoenas for witnesses and documents for its impeachment inquiry were not properly authorized.

House Democrats could have – and should have – gone to court to enforce their subpoenas if they believed they were properly authorized. This is the way our system is designed to work and how it works.

If Congress really wants to compel the testimony of a witness, Congress must go to court and seek an order to compel such witness to appear. Congress could also try to enforce its legal process by sending the sergeant-at-arms to arrest witnesses and put them in “Congress jail,” which is a real thing.

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All 100 senators are not treacherous and are not unpatriotic by controlling the proceedings in their chamber. The House impeachment managers’ slurs against the senators during the presentation of their case has been offensive and again demonstrates the true political purpose of the proceedings.

When you see the president’s team present their case starting Saturday, these absurdities will be obvious. We should let the American voter decide whether President Trump gets a second term. Not Congress.

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Westlake Legal Group 694940094001_6126373036001_6126373612001-vs Former Acting AG Whitaker: Trump impeachment charges should be dismissed by Senate – Dems failed to prove case Matthew Whitaker fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/politics/senate fox-news/politics/elections/house-of-representatives fox-news/politics/elections/democrats fox-news/person/donald-trump fox-news/opinion fox news fnc/opinion fnc article 22f8fa46-5110-5918-ae04-fd40fc9feadf   Westlake Legal Group 694940094001_6126373036001_6126373612001-vs Former Acting AG Whitaker: Trump impeachment charges should be dismissed by Senate – Dems failed to prove case Matthew Whitaker fox-news/politics/trump-impeachment-inquiry fox-news/politics/senate fox-news/politics/elections/house-of-representatives fox-news/politics/elections/democrats fox-news/person/donald-trump fox-news/opinion fox news fnc/opinion fnc article 22f8fa46-5110-5918-ae04-fd40fc9feadf

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