web analytics
a

Facebook

Twitter

Copyright 2015 Libero Themes.
All Rights Reserved.

8:30 - 6:00

Our Office Hours Mon. - Fri.

703-406-7616

Call For Free 15/M Consultation

Facebook

Twitter

Search
Menu
Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 161)

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.’’

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

White House Declares War on Impeachment Inquiry, Claiming Effort to Undo Trump’s Election

WASHINGTON — The White House declared war on the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, announcing that it would not cooperate with what it called an illegitimate effort “to overturn the results of the 2016 election” and setting the stage for a constitutional clash with far-reaching consequences.

In a letter to House Democratic leaders, the White House said the inquiry has violated precedent and denied President Trump’s due process rights in such an egregious way that neither he nor the executive branch would willingly provide testimony or documents.

“Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice,” said the letter signed by Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel. “In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the executive branch and all future occupants of the office of the presidency, President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.”

But in refusing to cooperate with what Mr. Trump on Tuesday called a “kangaroo court,” the president risked ensuring the very outcome he would rather avoid. House Democrats made clear that they may consider his failure to comply with their demands for information to be obstruction that could form the basis for its own article of impeachment.

“The American people have the right to know if the president is acting in their interests, in the nation’s interests with an eye toward our national security, and not in his narrow personal, political interests,” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee leading the inquiry, told reporters earlier in the day.

The letter came shortly after the White House blocked the interview of a key witness, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, just hours before he was to appear on Capitol Hill. A senior administration official said no other witnesses or documents would be provided, putting a “full halt” to cooperation.

Westlake Legal Group white-house-letter-impeachment-promo-1570570699708-articleLarge White House Declares War on Impeachment Inquiry, Claiming Effort to Undo Trump’s Election United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) impeachment House of Representatives Democratic Party

Read the White House Letter in Response to the Impeachment Inquiry

In a letter to House Democratic leaders, the White House counsel called the House’s impeachment inquiry illegitimate.

The president’s decision to resist across the board is itself a potentially precedent-setting move that could have far-reaching implications for the inquiry. Democrats believe that it bolsters their list of impeachable offenses, adding the stonewalling of Congress to the tally, but it could also deprive them of crucial witnesses and evidence they might need to lodge credible charges against the president.

It came after days of confusion, uncertainty and debate inside the White House and among Mr. Trump’s allies about his strategy as investigators dig into his efforts to pressure Ukraine to provide damaging information about his domestic rivals.

Only last week, Mr. Trump publicly vowed to participate in the inquiry, saying that, “I always cooperate” and that “we’ll work together” with Democrats, even though he considered the allegations against him to be meritless.

He reversed himself after investigators were given text messages that called into question his assertion that there was no quid pro quo when he pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate Democrats while dangling a White House invitation and withholding American security assistance.

The decision to block Mr. Sondland’s testimony frustrated some House Republicans. A group of them visited the president earlier Tuesday and explained why they hoped to hear from Mr. Sondland, a person briefed on the meeting said, in part because he has already denied any quid pro quo.

As Mr. Trump braced for a full-fledged battle, he had lunch on Tuesday with Trey Gowdy, a former South Carolina congressman who has been in talks about joining the president’s legal team. An administration official said Mr. Gowdy, who led the House inquiry into American deaths in Benghazi, Libya, while Hillary Clinton was secretary of state, had agreed to represent Mr. Trump, but two others involved in the matter said it was not a done deal.

Republicans made clear they would not simply rest on defense but would mount a counteroffensive on Mr. Trump’s behalf. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would invite Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who was deeply involved in the pressure campaign on Ukraine, to testify before his panel.

Democrats did not flinch at the suggestion. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Mr. Graham’s Democratic counterpart on the committee, said she looked forward to questioning “Rudy Giuliani under oath about his role in seeking the Ukrainian government’s assistance to investigate one of the president’s political rivals.”

In an interview, Mr. Giuliani said he had not decided whether to appear before Mr. Graham’s committee but would probably follow the White House’s lead and refuse to cooperate with House Democrats. “I think the committee is a joke,” he said. “It’s the McCarthy committee on steroids. There’s no sensitivity to civil rights.”

The White House letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Mr. Schiff and other Democrats was part constitutional argument, part political statement. Over eight pages, Mr. Cipollone listed various ways House Democrats have diverged from precedents set during impeachment inquiries against Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Among other things, both of those inquiries were authorized by a vote of the full House, while Ms. Pelosi has opted against holding such a vote that might expose some of her more endangered members and instead simply declared by her own fiat that an impeachment inquiry was underway.

As a result, Mr. Cipollone noted, the minority Republicans did not have subpoena power to call their own witnesses. He also noted that the president’s lawyers were not allowed to participate in the questioning of witnesses, which so far has been taking place behind closed doors rather than in open session.

Westlake Legal Group impeachment-investigation-tracker-promo-1570214529724-articleLarge-v3 White House Declares War on Impeachment Inquiry, Claiming Effort to Undo Trump’s Election United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) impeachment House of Representatives Democratic Party

The Evidence Collected So Far in the Trump Impeachment Inquiry

The status of the documents and witness testimony being collected by congressional investigators.

“Many Democrats now apparently view impeachment not only as a means to undo the democratic results of the last election, but as a strategy to influence the next election, which is barely more than a year away,” Mr. Cipollone wrote.

While Mr. Cipollone was correct that in some ways Ms. Pelosi is handling impeachment differently than her Nixon and Clinton-era predecessors, it is not clear that she has any constitutional obligation to follow those precedents. The Constitution says that the House “shall have the sole power of impeachment,” but provides no process or rules, meaning each House that has considered it has proceeded as it chose to.

For her part, Ms. Pelosi preferred on Tuesday to focus on another precedent that she might follow. One of the three article of impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee against Mr. Nixon in 1974 charged him with high crimes for failing to provide information during the inquiry.

Ms. Pelosi was not ready to say whether she will follow suit, but left the door open. “The president is obstructing Congress from getting the facts that we need,” she told reporters in Seattle, where she was holding an unrelated event. “It is an abuse of power for him to act in this way.”

Even before the White House released its letter, Mr. Trump signaled his defiance on Tuesday, ridiculing the inquiry as spurious.

“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify,” the president wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning around the time Mr. Sondland was to appear, “but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away.”

[Catch up on all the day’s news here.]

The decision to block Mr. Sondland from being interviewed was delivered at the last minute, after the ambassador had already flown to Washington from Europe, and lawmakers had returned from a two-week recess to observe the questioning. Mr. Sondland’s lawyers told House staff members that a State Department official left a voice mail message at 12:30 a.m. directing him not to appear.

Mr. Schiff told reporters that the State Department was also withholding text messages Mr. Sondland had sent on a private device that were “deeply relevant” to the inquiry. By the end of the day, House leaders issued a subpoena ordering Mr. Sondland to appear next Wednesday and turn over documents before then.

Mr. Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and contributor to Mr. Trump’s campaign, has become a central figure in the saga of the president’s efforts to seek political help from Ukraine. Although Ukraine is not in the European Union, Mr. Trump instructed Mr. Sondland to take a lead in his administration’s dealings with the country.

Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. The president asked Mr. Zelensky in that conversation to “do us “a favor” and investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and conspiracy theories about Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election.

Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Mr. Sondland and another senior diplomat worked with Mr. Giuliani on language for a statement for the Ukrainian president to put out in August that would have committed him to the investigations sought by Mr. Trump. The statement was seen as critical to getting Mr. Trump to agree to a coveted White House visit sought by Mr. Zelensky.

The texts also showed that the top American diplomat based in Ukraine believed that Mr. Trump was holding up $391 million in security aid as leverage for persuading Ukraine to conduct the investigations Mr. Trump wanted.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” William B. Taylor Jr., the diplomat, wrote in early September.

After receiving the text, Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump, who asserted it was false.

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

Mr. Sondland added, “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

There have been conflicting accounts of Mr. Sondland’s views, however. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, told The Wall Street Journal last week that Mr. Sondland told him in August that the release of the aid was contingent upon Ukraine opening the investigations. Mr. Johnson said he was alarmed and asked Mr. Trump if there was a quid pro quo involved. The president adamantly denied it, he said.

Robert D. Luskin, Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, said in a statement that as a State Department employee, his client had no choice but to comply with the administration’s direction. He said Mr. Sondland was “profoundly disappointed” he was not able to testify, and would do so in the future if allowed.

Mr. Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill condemned Mr. Schiff for running what they described as an unfair process, but made clear they believed Mr. Sondland would have been a helpful witness for the president.

“We were looking forward to hearing from Ambassador Sondland,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee.

“But we understand exactly why the administration, exactly why the State Department has chosen to say, ‘Look, if it’s going to be this kind of process …’” Mr. Jordan added.

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

For Once, Republicans Break With Trump, but Not on Impeachment

Westlake Legal Group 08dc-hulse-facebookJumbo For Once, Republicans Break With Trump, but Not on Impeachment United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Romney, Mitt Republican Party Portman, Rob McConnell, Mitch Haley, Nikki R Graham, Lindsey

WASHINGTON — Senator Lindsey Graham, an unsparing critic of President Trump before he entered the White House, rarely if ever questions him anymore, even after the president urged foreign governments to investigate his political rivals.

But on Monday, Mr. Graham found something to criticize, and he could not have been tougher on Mr. Trump.

“I expect the American president to do what is in our national security interest, and it is never in our national security interest to abandon an ally,” Mr. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, railed on Fox News over Mr. Trump’s decision to pull back in Syria.

He and other Republicans joined Democrats in saying that the move could potentially clear the way for a Turkish offensive against Kurdish fighters who have helped the United States root out the Islamic State. Mr. Graham also delivered what could be considered the ultimate insult to Mr. Trump: comparing his Syria policy to that of his predecessor, Barack Obama.

Consistently assailed for refusing to stand up to the president, Senate Republicans this week briefly found their voices, bombarding Mr. Trump with public complaints over his Syria decision. The fleeting moment of dissonance revealed what has emerged as an informal rule of thumb among Republican senators who consider themselves foreign policy experts, with wide latitude to weigh in and potentially influence a president who has far less experience on the subject than they do. They are willing to break with Mr. Trump on matters of international affairs — but only when they believe there are no domestic political consequences for doing so.

Don’t expect the same reaction when it comes to Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the subject of an accelerating impeachment fight. Republicans see that issue as an existential threat to the president and their party’s rule in Washington, and are reluctant to legitimize what they regard as an overreach by Democrats by joining in their criticism.

In fact, just a day after his harsh assessment of the president’s decision on Syria, Mr. Graham rushed to Mr. Trump’s defense in the Ukraine matter by announcing a hearing that could serve as a counterweight to the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry. He said on Tuesday that the Judiciary Committee, which he is the chairman of, would hear from Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, about “corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine,” which Mr. Trump has argued justified his pressure campaign to get the Ukrainian president to investigate Democrats.

When it comes to foreign policy, many senators have spent considerable time developing their expertise, making repeated trips to the Middle East and other hot spots and becoming deeply invested in their positions. They feel confident expressing their opinion, even when it is quite contrary to Mr. Trump’s.

“Many of us have been dealing with this for a decade or two decades, and I think there are a lot of visits to the area and a lot of discussions that stand behind our views on these issues,” said Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri, who had previously counseled the White House on the necessity of maintaining forces in Syria. “This is an area where it has been a consistent concern that leaving those places would create bigger problems than staying.”

The opinions of Mr. Blunt and his colleagues also align with those of much of the Republican foreign policy establishment, current and former top members of the military, and many conservative media commentators, bolstering their willingness to speak out. There truly is strength in numbers. Just a few Republicans — notably Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah, both avowed members of the party’s noninterventionist wing — hailed the president’s decision.

“Foreign policy has always been Trump’s Achilles’ heal with Senate Republicans,” said Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former staff adviser to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, another Republican who faulted the president’s Syria decision — but not his comments about China and Ukraine. Mr. Conant said Republicans were also driven by their view that Mr. Trump’s foreign policy missteps were more damaging, requiring a more forceful response than his day-to-day incendiary statements.

“Everyone forgets Trump’s tweets after a couple of days,” Mr. Conant said. “But history will never forget if the U.S. allows our Kurdish allies to be massacred.”

At the same time, foreign policy — unlike, say, impeachment — is lower on the president’s priority list. Differences of opinion are less likely to spur him to lash out as he has in recent days, for example, at Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, after Mr. Romney said that the president’s requests of Ukraine and China to investigate Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were “wrong and appalling.” Mr. Trump responded with name-calling, disparagement and a gleeful reminder of Mr. Obama’s defeat of Mr. Romney in 2012.

Foreign policy appears to be one of the few areas where Mr. Trump is willing to brook some difference of opinion. Pressed on Monday about the tough criticism of his Syria policy from the likes of Mr. Graham; Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, and Nikki R. Haley, Mr. Trump’s former United Nations ambassador, the president was uncharacteristically restrained.

“I have great respect for all of the people that you named,” Mr. Trump said. “And they have their opinion, and a lot of people do. And I could also name many more than you just named of people that totally are supportive. You see the names coming out; people are extremely thrilled because they say it’s time to bring our people back home.”

If Mr. Trump is less likely to be angered by criticism of his foreign policy, many Republicans believe their constituents will be as well. The issue usually does not stir the kind of base revolt and primary challenges back home that have become major concerns for Republicans who dare to cross Mr. Trump on other matters. While many of the president’s core supporters are no doubt eager to see him follow through on his campaign vow to end America’s overseas entanglements, plenty of other Republicans are worried about a premature withdrawal from a trouble spot and a potential resurgence of the Islamic State.

Taking on the president over his dealings with Ukraine, however, is another matter entirely. Even those such as Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, who have joined Mr. Romney in taking issue with Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian officials say that they don’t believe any offense claimed by Democrats rises to the level of impeachment.

The re-election campaign of Mr. McConnell, who felt compelled on Monday to encourage the president to exercise presidential leadership and reconsider his Syria plan, is currently behind online advertisements in which Mr. McConnell vows to use his position as majority leader to thwart impeachment even before any articles calling for the president’s ouster reach the Senate.

The break with Mr. Trump over Syria has another ancillary benefit for Republicans who are often accused of falling in line behind Mr. Trump like automatons even when he is at his most outrageous: It allows them to point to a significant policy development on which they have quickly and clearly spoken out against him. It cannot be said that they never differ with Mr. Trump, but those differences remain few and far between even as Democrats ramp up their effort to oust the president.

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

Facebook’s Hands-Off Approach to Political Speech Gets Impeachment Test

Westlake Legal Group 00facebook-facebookJumbo Facebook’s Hands-Off Approach to Political Speech Gets Impeachment Test United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Social Media Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Rumors and Misinformation Presidential Election of 2020 Political Advertising Facebook Inc Computers and the Internet Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

WASHINGTON — The 30-second video ad released by the Trump campaign last week is grainy, and the narrator’s voice is foreboding. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., it says, offered Ukraine $1 billion in aid if the country pushed out the man investigating a company tied to Mr. Biden’s son.

Saying it made false accusations, CNN immediately refused to air the advertisement.

But Facebook did not, and on Tuesday, the social network rejected a request from Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign to take it down, foreshadowing a continuing fight over misinformation on the service during the 2020 election as well as the impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

In a letter to the Biden campaign, Facebook said the ad, which has been viewed five million times on the site, did not violate company policies. Last month, the social network, which has more than two billion users, announced that politicians and their campaigns had nearly free rein over content they post there.

Even false statements and misleading content in ads, the company has said, are an important part of the political conversation.

“Our approach is grounded in Facebook’s fundamental belief in free expression, respect for the democratic process, and the belief that, in mature democracies with a free press, political speech is already arguably the most scrutinized speech there is,” Facebook’s head of global elections policy, Katie Harbath, wrote in the letter to the Biden campaign.

The decision by the company illustrates its executives’ hardened resolve to stay out of the moderation of political speech, despite the use of the social network to spread discord and disinformation in the 2016 presidential campaign. On Tuesday, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee released a sobering report warning of fresh signs of interference by Russia and other foreign nations in the 2020 election.

The company’s position stands in contrast to CNN, which rejected two ads from the Trump campaign last week, including the one the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down. The cable channel said it rejected the ad because it “makes assertions that have been proven demonstrably false by various news outlets.”

Facebook has been dogged by accusations of censorship by conservative politicians, including President Trump, who argue that the Silicon Valley company gives greater attention to liberal points of views on the social network.

But by removing itself as the moderator of political content — including in paid ads on the site — Facebook has left itself open another avenue of criticism. In a series of tweets Monday evening, Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the front-runners for the Democratic nomination, said Facebook allowed President Trump to spread false information widely, and called on the company to take down the attack ad against Mr. Biden, one of her top rivals.

“Facebook already helped elect Donald Trump once because they were asleep at the wheel while Russia attacked our democracy — allowing fake, foreign accounts to run ad campaigns to influence our elections,” Ms. Warren wrote.

Facebook declined to comment.

The ad the Biden campaign asked Facebook to take down, released by the Trump campaign on Sept. 27, starts with staticky shots of Mr. Biden meeting with Ukrainian officials during his time in the Obama administration.

“Joe Biden promised Ukraine $1 billion if they fired the prosecutor investigating his son’s company,” a narrator says, using video from an event in which Mr. Biden mentions the money. “But when President Trump asks Ukraine to investigate corruption, the Democrats want to impeach him.”

The $1 billion figure was mentioned at an event in 2018 at the Council on Foreign Relations, in which Mr. Biden was talking about how the Obama administration tried to root out corruption in Ukraine. He said he had held back financial aid to push the country to make reforms.

There is no evidence that Mr. Biden, during his time as vice president, pushed for the dismissal of the Ukrainian prosecutor general to help his son Hunter Biden. The former vice president, along with other members of the Obama administration and other international leaders, pushed for the removal of the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, because of accusations that he ignored corruption.

Days after the ad was broadcast on television and social networks the Biden campaign wrote a letter to Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer, asking to reject the ad. The video “spreads false, definitively debunked conspiracy theories regarding Vice President Joe Biden,” Greg Schultz, a Biden campaign manager, wrote to the Facebook leaders.

Mr. Schultz wrote that the vice president’s call for a new prosecutor in Ukraine’s investigation of a company was supported by the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. He included clippings from The Washington Post and Factcheck.org that debunked the claims of Mr. Biden’s motives of squashing the investigation to benefit his son.

After CNN rejected the ad last week, Tim Murtaugh, the communications director for Mr. Trump’s campaign, said that the ad was “entirely accurate and was reviewed by counsel.”

“CNN spends all day protecting Joe Biden in their programming,” Mr. Murtaugh wrote in a statement. “So it’s not surprising that they’re shielding him from truthful advertising, too.”

The Biden campaign also urged Fox News to reject the Trump campaign ad last week. But the cable channel declined to do so, saying that it was “not in the business of censoring ads from candidates on either sides of the aisle.”

The ad has also appeared on YouTube and Twitter. A spokesman for Twitter said on Tuesday that the ad complied with its policies. A YouTube official likewise said the ad complied with its policies.

T.J. Ducklo, a spokesman for Mr. Biden, wrote in an email that “Donald Trump has demonstrated he will continue to subvert our democratic institutions for his own personal gain, but his shortcomings are no excuse for companies like Facebook to refuse to do the right thing.”

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

White House Declares War on Impeachment Inquiry, Alleging Effort to Undo Trump’s Election

WASHINGTON — The White House declared war on the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, announcing that it would not cooperate with what it called an illegitimate and partisan effort “to overturn the results of the 2016 election” of Donald J. Trump.

In a letter to House Democratic leaders, the White House said the inquiry violated precedent and President Trump’s due process rights in such an egregious way that neither he nor the executive branch would willingly provide testimony or documents, a daring move that sets the stage for a constitutional clash.

“Your unprecedented actions have left the president with no choice,” said the eight-page letter signed by Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel. “In order to fulfill his duties to the American people, the Constitution, the Executive Branch, and all future occupants of the Office of the presidency, President Trump and his administration cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry under these circumstances.”

The letter came hours after the White House blocked the interview of a key witness, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, just hours before he was to appear on Capitol Hill.

Westlake Legal Group white-house-letter-impeachment-promo-1570570699708-articleLarge White House Declares War on Impeachment Inquiry, Alleging Effort to Undo Trump’s Election United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) impeachment House of Representatives Democratic Party

Read the White House Response to the Impeachment Inquiry

In a letter to House Democratic leaders, the White House counsel called the House’s impeachment inquiry illegitimate.

Mr. Trump, defiant as investigators dig further into his efforts to pressure Ukraine to find dirt on his political rivals, ridiculed the inquiry as spurious, signaling even before the release of the top White House lawyer’s letter that he planned to stonewall Congress, an act that could itself build the case for charging him in an impeachment proceeding with obstruction.

“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning around the time Mr. Sondland was to appear, “but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away.”

[Catch up on all the day’s news here.]

Earlier on Tuesday, House Democrats said they would regard the president’s stance as obstruction. Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the administration’s refusal to allow Mr. Sondland to appear was “strong evidence” of “obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a coequal branch of government.”

Mr. Schiff told reporters that the State Department was also withholding text messages Mr. Sondland had sent on a private device that were “deeply relevant” to the inquiry. He later indicated the House would issue a subpoena for his testimony and the messages.

“The American people have the right to know if the president is acting in their interests, in the nation’s interests with an eye toward our national security, and not in his narrow personal, political interests,” Mr. Schiff told reporters. “By preventing us from hearing from this witness and obtaining these documents, the president and secretary of state are taking actions that prevent us from getting the facts needed to protect the nation’s security.”

The decision to block Mr. Sondland from being interviewed was delivered at the last minute, after the ambassador had already flown to Washington from Europe, and lawmakers had returned from a two-week recess to observe the questioning.

Trump administration lawyers and aides have spent days puzzling over how to respond to the impeachment inquiry, and the abrupt move suggested that the president’s team has calculated that he is better off risking the House’s ire — and even an impeachment article focused on the obstruction — than setting a precedent for cooperation with an investigation they have strenuously argued is illegitimate.

The strategy, if it holds, carries substantial risk to the White House. Privately, some Republicans had urged the White House to allow witnesses like Mr. Sondland to appear, in order to deflate Democratic accusations of a cover-up and offer a public rationale for the president’s actions toward Ukraine. Now, some Republicans worry, Democrats have more fodder to argue publicly that Mr. Trump has something to hide.

Mr. Schiff said the Intelligence Committee, working with both the Foreign Affairs and the Oversight and Reform panels, would continue its work regardless. But beyond issuing a subpoena for Mr. Sondland, the chairman did not detail how he might seek to crank up pressure on the White House to comply, and the standoff may create a quandary for Democrats who had hoped to move quickly in extracting crucial evidence and decide in short order whether to push forward on impeaching Mr. Trump.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was too early to know whether Democrats might draft an article of impeachment based on the obstruction issue, akin to one adopted by the House Judiciary Committee in the 1970s impeachment proceedings against Richard M. Nixon.

“The president is obstructing Congress from getting the facts that we need,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters in Seattle, where she was holding an unrelated event. “It is an abuse of power for him to act in this way.”

Westlake Legal Group impeachment-investigation-tracker-promo-1570214529724-articleLarge-v3 White House Declares War on Impeachment Inquiry, Alleging Effort to Undo Trump’s Election United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) impeachment House of Representatives Democratic Party

The Evidence Collected So Far in the Trump Impeachment Inquiry

The status of the documents and witness testimony being collected by congressional investigators.

Mr. Sondland has become enmeshed in the burgeoning saga of how the president sought to push the Ukrainians to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his son and Democrats. Although Ukraine is not in the European Union, Mr. Trump instructed Mr. Sondland — a wealthy hotelier and contributor to his campaign — to take a lead in his administration’s dealings with the country.

Democrats consider him a key witness to what transpired, including whether the president sought to use a $391 million package of security assistance and the promise of a White House meeting as bargaining chips to essentially bully President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine into digging up dirt on the Bidens and other Democrats.

Mr. Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill rushed to his defense on Tuesday and condemned Mr. Schiff and the Democrats for running what they described as an unfair process, though they made clear they thought Mr. Sondland would have been a helpful witness for the president’s case.

“We were looking forward to hearing from Ambassador Sondland,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, adding that Republicans believed Mr. Sondland would “reinforce exactly” what lawmakers and aides heard least week from Kurt D. Volker, the former American special envoy to Ukraine. Mr. Volker told investigators he knew of nothing improper between the two countries, although he turned over a trove of documents that raised further questions.

“But we understand exactly why the administration, exactly why the State Department has chosen to say, ‘Look if it’s going to be this kind of process …,’ ” Mr. Jordan added.

And in the Senate, Mr. Trump’s allies shifted into high gear to orchestrate a counteroffensive on his behalf. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would invite Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer who was deeply involved in the pressure campaign on Ukraine, to testify before his panel. Mr. Giuliani led the push to enlist the Ukrainians to help investigate the business dealings of the Bidens and a conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

“Given the House of Representatives’ behavior, it is time for the Senate to inquire about corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine,” Mr. Graham said.

Democrats did not flinch at the suggestion, and Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, Mr. Graham’s Democratic counterpart on the committee, said she looked forward to questioning “Rudy Giuliani under oath about his role in seeking the Ukrainian government’s assistance to investigate one of the president’s political rivals.”

It was unclear what the Trump administration’s position would mean for other witnesses expected to testify in the House investigation. Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, is currently scheduled to appear on Friday. The State Department has also missed a subpoena deadline to hand over documents the House has demanded related to Ukraine.

Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July call with Mr. Zelensky. The president asked Mr. Zelensky in that conversation to do him “a favor” and investigate the Bidens and matters related to 2016.

Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Mr. Sondland and another senior diplomat had worked on language for a statement they wanted the Ukrainian president to put out in August that would have committed him to the investigations sought by Mr. Trump. The diplomats consulted with Mr. Giuliani about the statement, believing they needed to pacify him in order to allow the United States to normalize relations with the Ukrainians.

Mr. Sondland was also involved in a back-and-forth with top American diplomats to Ukraine over text last month that suggests some senior State Department officials believed that Mr. Trump may have been holding up the security aid as leverage for getting its leaders to conduct the investigations Mr. Trump wanted.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” William B. Taylor Jr., a top American official in Ukraine, wrote in one exchange in early September.

After receiving the text, Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump, who asserted it was false.

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

Mr. Sondland added: “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

There have been conflicting accounts of Mr. Sondland’s views, however. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, told The Wall Street Journal last week that Mr. Sondland had told him in August that the release of the aid was contingent upon Ukraine opening the investigations. Mr. Johnson said he was alarmed and asked Mr. Trump if there was a quid pro quo involved. The president adamantly denied it, he said.

Robert D. Luskin, Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, said in a statement that as a State Department employee, his client had no choice but to comply with the administration’s direction. He said Mr. Sondland was “profoundly disappointed” he was not able to testify, and would do so in the future if allowed.

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

Trump’s Ukraine Call Was ‘Crazy’ and ‘Frightening,’ Official Told Whistle-Blower

Westlake Legal Group 08dc-memo-facebookJumbo Trump’s Ukraine Call Was ‘Crazy’ and ‘Frightening,’ Official Told Whistle-Blower Zelensky, Volodymyr Whistle-Blowers United States Politics and Government Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Ethics and Official Misconduct

WASHINGTON — A White House official who listened to President Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s leader described it as “crazy,” “frightening,” and “completely lacking in substance related to national security,” according to a memo written by the whistle-blower at the center of the Ukraine scandal, a C.I.A. officer who spoke to the White House official.

The White House official was “visibly shaken by what had transpired,” the C.I.A. officer wrote in his memo, one day after Mr. Trump pressured President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in a July 25 phone call to open investigations that would benefit him politically.

A palpable sense of concern had already taken hold among at least some in the White House that the call had veered well outside the bounds of traditional diplomacy, the officer wrote.

“The official stated that there was already a conversation underway with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion because, in the official’s view, the president had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purposes of advancing his own re-election bid in 2020,” the C.I.A. officer wrote.

The document provides a rare glimpse into at least one of the communications with a White House official that helped prompt the whistle-blower’s formal complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general detailing a broad pressure campaign on Ukraine. The complaint and a reconstructed transcript released by the White House formed the basis of the House impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump.

The inspector general, Michael Atkinson, handed the two-page memo over to Congress last week. A person familiar with its contents described it to The New York Times. Fox News first reported details from it. Neither a lawyer for the whistle-blower nor a spokeswoman for Mr. Atkinson immediately responded to requests for comment.

The whistle-blower, who had no firsthand knowledge of the events he described, wrote in his complaint that he spoke to “multiple U.S. government officials” who said that Mr. Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”

It was not clear whether the White House official he spoke to on July 26 was the second whistle-blower, who has also provided information to Mr. Atkinson, or a different person. Neither whistle-blower’s name has been made public.

Little, if any, of the whistle-blower’s complaint has been disproved, though Mr. Trump has sought to discredit him because his account was secondhand. The White House transcript largely affirmed his account of the call, and Mr. Atkinson deemed his complaint credible, saying he interviewed others who corroborated it.

The White House official “seemed keen to inform a trusted colleague within the national security apparatus about the call,” the C.I.A. officer wrote in his July 26 memo.

Much of the whistle-blower’s memo also comports with the existing public record of the call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky. The C.I.A. officer noted that he spoke to the White House official for only a few minutes, “and as a result, I only received highlights.”

The memo detailed key aspects of the conversation, including Mr. Trump’s request for investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter, and a conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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

G.O.P.-Led Senate Panel Affirms Russia Attacked Election, and Urges Action

Westlake Legal Group 08dc-socialmedia-facebookJumbo G.O.P.-Led Senate Panel Affirms Russia Attacked Election, and Urges Action Warner, Mark R United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Social Media Senate Committee on Intelligence Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia elections Cyberwarfare and Defense Computers and the Internet Burr, Richard M

WASHINGTON — As President Trump amplifies unsubstantiated claims of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee reaffirmed on Tuesday that Russian operatives engaged in a widespread social media campaign to improve his chances in the race.

In a report, the committee backed up the conclusions of the intelligence community, the special counsel and researchers that Russia mounted a broad campaign to interfere in the election. A Russian troll farm central to the election campaign supported “Donald Trump at the direction of the Kremlin,” the committee said.

The panel said Congress should consider new disclosure requirements for political ads online, which unlike television or radio ads do not need to carry information about who paid for them. A bill introduced in 2017 by the top Democrat on the committee, Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, to put into effect new rules for online ads has failed to gain much momentum.

The report is nonetheless the latest call for lawmakers to reconsider the lax system of regulations that governs Silicon Valley, as Americans have learned more about the way platforms like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube can be used to make money off users’ personal information and to spread disinformation.

“Issues such as privacy rules, identity validation, transparency in how data is collected and used, and monitoring for inauthentic or malign content, among others, deserve continued examination,” the committee said.

But lawmakers have little time to advance legislation meant to stem election interference on social media — or to check Silicon Valley more broadly — before the 2020 election. Capitol Hill has been seized in recent weeks by an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump, making the normally difficult task of forging bipartisan consensus on other issues even more challenging.

The lawmakers also called for the Trump administration to take steps to respond to the threat, including setting up a task force of federal agencies to monitor attempts by foreign governments to interfere with democratic processes on social media.

“The committee recommends that the executive branch should, in the run-up to the 2020 election, reinforce with the public the danger of attempted foreign interference in the 2020 election,” the panel said.

But Mr. Trump has long tried to play down or deny Russia’s role in the 2016 election. On a call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that is at the core of the impeachment inquiry, Mr. Trump suggested that Ukraine might have played a part in efforts to sway the race.

That conspiracy theory runs counter to the conclusion published Tuesday by the Intelligence Committee: Operatives at the Russian troll farm, the Internet Research Agency, used a wide range of online platforms to share content they felt could drive a wedge through the American electorate to influence the presidential election.

“The bipartisan work that this committee has done to uncover and detail the extent of that effort has significantly advanced the public’s understanding of how, in 2016, Russia took advantage of our openness and innovation, exploiting American-bred social media platforms to spread disinformation, divide the public and undermine our democracy,” Mr. Warner said in a statement.

Russian operatives running the campaign used a wide variety of platforms, from giants like Facebook and Instagram to smaller players like LiveJournal, a once-popular American blogging service now owned by a Russian firm.

The committee’s report backed the conclusion of outside researchers that African-Americans had been a significant target of Russia’s persuasion efforts. Its report said the “committee found that no single group of Americans was targeted by I.R.A. information operatives more than African-Americans.”

It also highlighted that Russian activity had actually increased after Election Day 2016. Internet Research Agency activity went up 59 percent on Facebook, 238 percent on its subsidiary Instagram, 84 percent on YouTube and 52 percent on Twitter after the election, it said.

“Russia is waging an information warfare campaign against the U.S. that didn’t start and didn’t end with the 2016 election,” said Senator Richard M. Burr, Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the committee.

Tech companies have taken additional steps since 2016 to weed out attempts at foreign interference using illicit accounts. Their dragnet has spread far beyond Russia: Facebook and Twitter recently took down accounts originating in China that had pushed messages meant to discredit protesters in Hong Kong.

The committee said major tech companies should work together and with government officials to share information crucial to combating disinformation.

“We’re working closely with governments, outside experts and other companies to identify threats and share information,” Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, said in a statement. “We have also invested in technology and people to block and remove fake accounts; find and remove coordinated manipulation campaigns; and bring unprecedented transparency to political advertising.”

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

White House Blocks Sondland Testimony, Signaling Plan to Stonewall Impeachment Inquiry

WASHINGTON — The White House all but declared war on the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, intervening for the first time to block the testimony of a key witness as President Trump signaled his administration would try to starve investigators of more witnesses and documents.

The decision to block Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, from speaking with investigators for three House committees came just hours before he was to appear on Capitol Hill, provoking an immediate conflict with potentially profound consequences for the inquiry and for the president himself.

Mr. Trump, defiant as investigators dig further into his efforts to pressure Ukraine to find dirt on his political rivals, declared the inquiry illegitimate in a signal that he plans to stonewall Congress, an act that could itself build the case for charging him in an impeachment proceeding with obstruction.

“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning around the time Mr. Sondland was to appear, “but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away.”

[Catch up on all the day’s news here.]

House Democrats quickly said they would regard the president’s stance as amounting to obstruction. Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the administration’s refusal to allow Mr. Sondland to appear was “strong evidence” of “obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a coequal branch of government.”

Mr. Schiff told reporters that the State Department was also withholding text messages Mr. Sondland had sent on a private device that were “deeply relevant” to the inquiry.

“The American people have the right to know if the president is acting in their interests, in the nation’s interests with an eye toward our national security, and not in his narrow personal, political interests,” Mr. Schiff told reporters. “By preventing us from hearing from this witness and obtaining these documents, the president and secretary of state are taking actions that prevent us from getting the facts needed to protect the nation’s security.”

In a statement, Mr. Schiff and the chairmen of the two other committees leading the investigation said they would promptly issue a subpoena for Mr. Sondland’s testimony and documents.

The decision to block Mr. Sondland from being interviewed was delivered at the last minute, after the ambassador had already flown to Washington from Europe, and lawmakers had returned from a two-week recess to observe the questioning.

Trump administration lawyers and aides have spent days puzzling over how to respond to the impeachment inquiry, and the abrupt move suggested that the president’s team has calculated that he is better off risking the House’s ire — and even an impeachment article focused on the obstruction — than setting a precedent for cooperation with an investigation they have strenuously argued is illegitimate.

The strategy, if it holds, carries substantial risk to the White House. Privately, some Republicans had urged the White House to allow witnesses like Mr. Sondland to appear, in order to deflate Democratic accusations of a cover-up and offer a public rationale for the president’s actions toward Ukraine. Now, some Republicans worry, Democrats have more fodder to argue publicly that Mr. Trump has something to hide.

Mr. Schiff said the Intelligence Committee, working with both the Foreign Affairs and the Oversight and Reform panels, would continue its work regardless. But the chairman did not detail how he might seek to crank up pressure on the White House to comply, and the standoff may create a quandary for Democrats who had hoped to move quickly in extracting crucial evidence and decide in short order whether to push forward on impeaching Mr. Trump.

Mr. Sondland has become enmeshed in the burgeoning saga of how the president sought to push the Ukrainians to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his son and Democrats. Although Ukraine is not in the European Union, Mr. Trump instructed Mr. Sondland — a wealthy hotelier and contributor to his campaign — to take a lead in his administration’s dealings with the country.

Westlake Legal Group impeachment-investigation-tracker-promo-1570214529724-articleLarge-v3 White House Blocks Sondland Testimony, Signaling Plan to Stonewall Impeachment Inquiry United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) impeachment House of Representatives Democratic Party

The Evidence Collected So Far in the Trump Impeachment Inquiry

The status of the documents and witness testimony being collected by congressional investigators.

Democrats consider him a key witness to what transpired, including whether the president sought to use a $391 million package of security assistance and the promise of a White House meeting as bargaining chips to essentially bully President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine into digging up dirt on the Bidens and other Democrats.

Mr. Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill rushed to his defense on Tuesday and condemned Mr. Schiff and the Democrats for running what they described as an unfair process, though they made clear they thought Mr. Sondland would have been a helpful witness for the president’s case.

“We were looking forward to hearing from Ambassador Sondland,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, adding that Republicans believed Mr. Sondland would “reinforce exactly” what lawmakers and aides heard least week from Kurt D. Volker, the former American special envoy to Ukraine. Mr. Volker told investigators he knew of nothing improper between the two countries, although he turned over a trove of documents that raised further questions.

“But we understand exactly why the administration, exactly why the State Department has chosen to say, ‘Look if it’s going to be this kind of process …,’ ” Mr. Jordan added.

And in the Senate, Mr. Trump’s allies shifted into high gear to orchestrate a counteroffensive on his behalf. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would invite Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer who was deeply involved in the pressure campaign on Ukraine, to testify before his panel. Mr. Giuliani led the push to enlist the Ukrainians to help investigate the business dealings of the Bidens and a conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

“Given the House of Representatives’ behavior, it is time for the Senate to inquire about corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine,” Mr. Graham said.

It was unclear what the Trump administration’s position would mean for other witnesses expected to testify in the House investigation. Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, is currently scheduled to appear on Friday. The State Department has also missed a subpoena deadline to hand over documents the House has demanded related to Ukraine.

Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July call with Mr. Zelensky. The president asked Mr. Zelensky in that conversation to do him “a favor” and investigate the Bidens and matters related to 2016.

Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Mr. Sondland and another senior diplomat had worked on language for a statement they wanted the Ukrainian president to put out in August that would have committed him to the investigations sought by Mr. Trump. The diplomats consulted with Mr. Giuliani about the statement, believing they needed to pacify him in order to allow the United States to normalize relations with the Ukrainians.

Mr. Sondland was also involved in a back-and-forth with top American diplomats to Ukraine over text last month that suggests some senior State Department officials believed that Mr. Trump may have been holding up the security aid as leverage for getting its leaders to conduct the investigations Mr. Trump wanted.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” William B. Taylor Jr., a top American official in Ukraine, wrote in one exchange in early September.

After receiving the text, Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump, who asserted it was false.

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

Mr. Sondland added: “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

There have been conflicting accounts of Mr. Sondland’s views, however. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, told The Wall Street Journal last week that Mr. Sondland had told him in August that the release of the aid was contingent upon Ukraine opening the investigations. Mr. Johnson said he was alarmed and asked Mr. Trump if there was a quid pro quo involved. The president adamantly denied it, he said.

Robert D. Luskin, Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, said in a statement that as a State Department employee, his client had no choice but to comply with the administration’s direction. He said Mr. Sondland was “profoundly disappointed” he was not able to testify, and would do so in the future if allowed.

“Ambassador Sondland believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States, and he stands ready to answer the committee’s questions fully and truthfully,” Mr. Luskin said.

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

White House Signals It Won’t Cooperate With Impeachment Inquiry

WASHINGTON — The White House all but declared war on the House impeachment inquiry on Tuesday, intervening for the first time to block the testimony of a key witness as President Trump signaled his administration would try to starve investigators of more witnesses and documents.

The decision to block Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, from speaking with investigators for three House committees came just hours before he was to appear on Capitol Hill, provoking an immediate conflict with potentially profound consequences for the inquiry and for the president himself.

Mr. Trump, defiant as investigators dig further into his efforts to pressure Ukraine to find dirt on his political rivals, declared the inquiry illegitimate in a signal that he plans to stonewall Congress, an act that could itself build the case for charging him in an impeachment proceeding with obstruction.

“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter Tuesday morning around the time Mr. Sondland was to appear, “but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away.”

[Catch up on all the day’s news here.]

House Democrats quickly said they would regard the president’s stance as amounting to obstruction. Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the administration’s refusal to allow Mr. Sondland to appear was “strong evidence” of “obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress, a coequal branch of government.”

Mr. Schiff told reporters that the State Department was also withholding text messages Mr. Sondland had sent on a private device that were “deeply relevant” to the inquiry.

“The American people have the right to know if the president is acting in their interests in the nation’s interests with an eye toward our national security and not in his narrow personal, political interests,” Mr. Schiff told reporters. “By preventing us from hearing from this witness and obtaining these documents, the president and secretary of state are taking actions that prevent us from getting the facts needed to protect the nation’s security.”

In a statement, Mr. Schiff and the chairmen of the two other committees leading the investigation said they would promptly issue a subpoena for Mr. Sondland’s testimony and documents.

The decision to block Mr. Sondland from being interviewed was delivered at the last minute, after the ambassador had already flown to Washington from Europe, and lawmakers had returned from a two-week recess to observe the questioning.

Trump administration lawyers and aides have spent days puzzling over how to respond to the impeachment inquiry, and the abrupt move suggested that the president’s team has calculated that he is better off risking the House’s ire — and even an impeachment article focused on the obstruction — than setting a precedent for cooperation with an investigation they have strenuously argued is illegitimate.

The strategy, if it holds, carries substantial risk to the White House. Privately, some Republicans had urged the White House to allow witnesses like Mr. Sondland to appear, in order to deflate Democratic accusations of a cover-up and offer a public rationale for the president’s actions toward Ukraine. Now, some Republicans worry, Democrats have more fodder to argue publicly that Mr. Trump has something to hide.

Mr. Schiff said the Intelligence Committee, working with the Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform panels, would continue its work regardless. But the chairman did not detail how he might seek to crank up pressure on the White House to comply, and the standoff may create a quandary for Democrats who had hoped to move quickly in extracting crucial evidence and decide in short order whether to push forward on impeaching Mr. Trump.

Mr. Sondland has become enmeshed in the burgeoning saga of how the president sought to push the Ukrainians to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his son and Democrats. Although Ukraine is not in the European Union, Mr. Trump instructed Mr. Sondland — a wealthy hotelier and contributor to his campaign — to take a lead in his administration’s dealings with the country.

Westlake Legal Group impeachment-investigation-tracker-promo-1570214529724-articleLarge-v3 White House Signals It Won’t Cooperate With Impeachment Inquiry United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) impeachment House of Representatives Democratic Party

The Evidence Collected So Far in the Trump Impeachment Inquiry

The status of the documents and witness testimony being collected by congressional investigators.

Democrats consider him a key witness to what transpired, including whether the president sought to use a $391 million package of security assistance and the promise of a White House meeting as bargaining chips to essentially bully President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine into digging up dirt on the Bidens and other Democrats.

Mr. Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill rushed to his defense on Tuesday and condemned Mr. Schiff and the Democrats for running what they described as an unfair process, though they made clear they thought Mr. Sondland would have been a helpful witness for the president’s case.

“We were looking forward to hearing from Ambassador Sondland,” said Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight and Reform Committee, adding that Republicans believed Mr. Sondland would “reinforce exactly” what lawmakers and aides heard least week from Kurt D. Volker, the former American special envoy to Ukraine. Mr. Volker told investigators he knew of nothing improper between the two countries, although he turned over a trove of documents that raised further questions.

“But we understand exactly why the administration, exactly why the State Department has chosen to say, ‘Look if it’s going to be this kind of process …,’ ” Mr. Jordan added.

And in the Senate, Mr. Trump’s allies shifted into high gear to orchestrate a counteroffensive on his behalf. Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he would invite Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer who was deeply involved in the pressure campaign on Ukraine, to testify before his panel. Mr. Giuliani led the push to enlist the Ukranians to help investigate the business dealings of the Bidens and a conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

“Given the House of Representatives’ behavior, it is time for the Senate to inquire about corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine,” Mr. Graham said.

It was unclear what the Trump administration’s position would mean for other witnesses expected to testify in the House investigation. Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, is currently scheduled to appear on Friday. The State Department has also missed a subpoena deadline to hand over documents the House has demanded related to Ukraine.

Mr. Sondland interacted directly with Mr. Trump, speaking with the president several times around key moments that House Democrats are now investigating, including before and after Mr. Trump’s July call with Mr. Zelensky. The president asked Mr. Zelensky in that conversation to do him “a favor” and investigate the Bidens and matters related to 2016.

Text messages provided to Congress last week showed that Mr. Sondland and another senior diplomat had worked on language for a statement they wanted the Ukrainian president to put out in August that would have committed him to the investigations sought by Mr. Trump. The diplomats consulted with Mr. Giuliani about the statement, believing they needed to pacify him in order to allow the United States to normalize relations with the Ukrainians.

Mr. Sondland was also involved in a back-and-forth with top American diplomats to Ukraine over text last month that suggests some senior State Department officials believed that Mr. Trump may have been holding up the security aid as leverage for getting its leaders to conduct the investigations Mr. Trump wanted.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” William B. Taylor Jr., a top American official in Ukraine, wrote in one exchange in early September.

After receiving the text, Mr. Sondland called Mr. Trump, who asserted it was false.

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

Mr. Sondland added: “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

There have been conflicting accounts of Mr. Sondland’s views, however. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, told The Wall Street Journal last week that Mr. Sondland had told him in August that the release of the aid was contingent upon Ukraine opening the investigations. Mr. Johnson said he was alarmed and asked Mr. Trump if there was a quid pro quo involved. The president adamantly denied it, he said.

Robert Luskin, Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, said in a statement that as a State Department employee, his client had no choice but to comply with the administration’s direction. He said Mr. Sondland was “profoundly disappointed” he was not able to testify, and would do so in the future if allowed.

“Ambassador Sondland believes strongly that he acted at all times in the best interests of the United States, and he stands ready to answer the committee’s questions fully and truthfully,” Mr. Luskin said.

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

As U.S. Takes Aim at Chinese Tech Firms, Trump Signals a Strategy Shift

Westlake Legal Group 08blacklist1-facebookJumbo As U.S. Takes Aim at Chinese Tech Firms, Trump Signals a Strategy Shift United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Uighurs (Chinese Ethnic Group) Trump, Donald J Surveillance of Citizens by Government Megvii Technology Ltd Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co Ltd facial recognition software Embargoes and Sanctions Defense and Military Forces Computers and the Internet Computer Vision China

SHANGHAI — The world has largely sat by for nearly two years as China detained more than one million people, mostly Muslims and members of minority ethnic groups, in re-education camps to force them to embrace the Communist Party.

Now, the Trump administration has taken the first public step by a major world government toward punishing Beijing. In doing so, it is opening up a new front in the already worsening relationship between Washington and Beijing: human rights and the dystopian world of digital surveillance.

Trump administration officials on Monday placed eight Chinese companies and a number of police departments on a blacklist that forbids them to buy American-made technology like microchips, software and other vital components. The companies it targeted are at the vanguard of China’s surveillance and artificial intelligence ambitions, with many of them selling increasingly sophisticated systems used by governments to track people.

The White House cited their business in Xinjiang, a region of northwestern China that is home to a largely Muslim minority group known as the Uighurs. The United States government says more than one million ethnic Uighurs and other minorities have been locked in detention camps there.

The administration’s move suggests that President Trump is increasingly willing to listen to the advice of American officials focused on the strategic challenges posed by China and who are concerned about its human rights abuses, even if Mr. Trump himself never seems to pay much attention to those.

The new entrants to the blacklist were announced just days before trade talks were set to begin between American and Chinese officials, likely putting a chill over the negotiations.

More broadly, it signals the White House’s willingness to take aim at China’s technological dreams. China has plowed billions of dollars into companies developing advanced hardware and software to catch up with the United States. Some of the companies added to the list on Monday are among the world’s most valuable artificial-intelligence start-ups.

Much of that technology — including facial recognition and computer vision — can be used to track people. That includes smartphone tracking, voice-pattern identification and systems that track individuals across cities through powerful cameras. Washington officials have grown increasingly worried about China’s ambitions to export its systems elsewhere, including places known for human rights abuses.

“This is an important first step in making some of the companies that have benefited the most from the re-education system in Xinjiang feel the consequences of their actions,” said Darren Byler, an anthropologist at the University of Washington who studies the plight of the Uighurs.

He said the move signaled that abuse of minority groups in Xinjiang “is real and justifies a political and economic response.”

It is also a potentially groundbreaking use of a powerful tool that the American government typically uses against terrorists. The Chinese companies and police departments were placed on what is called an entity list, which forbids them to buy sensitive American exports unless Washington grants American companies specific permission to sell to them.

Use of the entity list over a human rights issue may be a first, said Julian Ku, a professor of constitutional and international law at Hofstra University.

“As far as I know, it was the first time Commerce explicitly cited human rights as a foreign policy interest of the U.S. for purposes of export controls,” he said, referring to the Department of Commerce, which manages the entity lists. “This is not an implausible reading of the regulations, but it is new and has potentially very broad applicability.”

Geng Shuang, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, said in a briefing on Tuesday that the White House was using human rights as an excuse to punish Chinese companies. Many of the companies offer a wide array of products outside of surveillance, including medical tools that diagnose tumors, automatic translation services and even social media filters that slim the waist.

“This goes against the basic principles of international relations, it interferes in China’s internal affairs and it goes against China’s national security,” he said, adding, “There is no human rights issue in Xinjiang.”

The immediate impact on the Chinese companies is likely to be minimal, since many have stockpiled essential supplies, but they could feel increasing pain if they stay on the blacklist for months or years.

Perhaps more important, it can put a cloud over the companies’ reputation, limiting their sales in the United States or elsewhere and keeping them from hiring the world’s best technology talent.

“The U.S. move today puts up a big roadblock on the road to internationalization,” said Matt Sheehan, a fellow at MacroPolo, the think tank of the Paulson Institute.

“Most global technology companies are setting up labs abroad, partnering with the best universities around the world and looking to recruit top talent from everywhere,” he said. “That all just got a lot harder now that they’re marked with the scarlet letter of the entity list.”

The move follows more than a year of internal debate over how to punish China for its persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang.

Senior officials on the National Security Council and in the State Department have pushed for the use of the entity list to target Chinese companies supplying surveillance technology to the security forces in Xinjiang. They have also urged Mr. Trump to approve Global Magnitsky Act sanctions that would penalize Chinese officials involved in the abuses and bar them from traveling to the United States.

But top American trade negotiators, including Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have cautioned against policies that would upset trade talks. Mr. Trump has said he wants to reach a trade deal with China.

Until now, other top officials, most notably Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have denounced China’s policies in Xinjiang but not enacted punitive measures. This month, American customs officials blocked products from a Chinese garment maker in Xinjiang, but they had held off on stronger action.

The Chinese companies on the list included major surveillance camera maker Hikvision and the well-funded artificial-intelligence start-ups SenseTime and Megvii.

SenseTime said it set “high ethical standards for AI technologies,” while Megvii said that it required “clients not to weaponize our technology or solutions or use them for illegal purposes.” It added that it had generated no revenue from within Xinjiang in the first half of 2019.

New York Times reporting showed that four of the companies on the list — Yitu, Hikvision, Megvii and SenseTime — helped build systems across China that sought to use facial recognition to automate the detection of Uighurs.

Government procurement documents, company marketing materials and official government releases tied all eight companies to various business operations and sales in Xinjiang. The many local Xinjiang police bureaus also on the list buy commercial American technology like Intel microchips and Microsoft Windows software, according to procurement documents.

Mr. Trump’s next step could be imposing sanctions on specific Chinese officials working in Xinjiang. Among the officials discussed is Chen Quanguo, a Politburo member who is the party chief in Xinjiang and an architect of the system of internment camps and surveillance.

The blacklist action is a sign that strategic China hawks have become even more influential in the administration in recent weeks.

Matthew Pottinger, the senior director for Asia and an architect of policies aimed at countering China, was promoted to deputy national security adviser last month. That came after Robert O’Brien, the administration’s top hostage negotiator, replaced John R. Bolton as national security adviser. Mr. O’Brien has written that China poses an enormous challenge to the United States.

“This Xinjiang package has been in the works now for months,” said Samm Sacks, a cybersecurity policy fellow at New America, a think tank. “So the fact that it comes out now just ahead of the next round of trade talks sends a signal from those in the administration who want no deal.”

“So far Beijing has been quite measured in its response to the U.S. government,” she said. “That probably is over.”

Paul Mozur reported from Shanghai, and Edward Wong from Hong Kong. Lin Qiqing contributed research from Shanghai.

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