It’s been 18 years since the September 11th terrorist attacks that shook America. In only 102 minutes, 2,977 people lost their lives. Thousands of others suffered injuries directly related to the attacks, many of them severe and extremely critical.
Of those who died, 343 were New York City firefighters, 23 were New York City police officers and 37 were officers at the Port Authority. Within seconds, these first responders rushed to the scene. And for them and the other tens of thousands of responders and victims in Lower Manhattan in its aftermath, the events of 9/11 didn’t just last 102 minutes or 24 hours. For them and their families, 9/11 had lasting repercussions.
According to recent CDC estimates, by 2020, more men and women will have died as a RESULT of 9/11-related illnesses than those who died during the attacks. For almost two decades, responders and advocates have been fighting for health coverage and benefits. This is the story of their struggle and triumph. Click the link to watch the full doc.
Gordon Sondland Gives New Public Testimony in Impeachment Hearing. Here’s What You Need to Know
- U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland testified in a public hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry.
- Notably, Sondland testified that requests made by Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, were “a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for [Ukranian] President Zelensky.”
- While Sondland said he was concerned the Trump administration’s decision to withhold military aid from Ukraine was a quid pro quo, he also said that Trump “never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings.”
- Sondland also implicated a number of other high-ranking officials, saying that “everyone was in the loop.”
Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. and a key player in the ongoing House impeachment inquiry, testified in his first public hearing before the House Intelligence Committee Wednesday.
Sondland’s testimony shed new light on the investigation into whether or not President Donald Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Burisma, a Ukrainian company Joe Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of.
The inquiry stems from a whistleblower complaint that alleged Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress on the condition that President Zelensky conduct the investigation.
The complaint also claims that Trump refused to meet with Zelensky until after he had publicly agreed to the investigations.
Sondland’s public hearing is also important to the impeachment inquiry because his testimonies have not always been consistent. In his closed-door hearing last month, Sondland testified originally that there was not a quid pro quo regarding military aid.
“I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign,” he said.
Sondland later revised his closed-door testimony after several people contradicted his deposition. Those individuals said that it was actually Sondland himself who told a Zelensky aide that the military assistance would be conditioned on the investigation.
In an amendment to his testimony, Sondland wrote that he told Zelensky’s aide “that resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
In his public testimony, Sondland restated much of the content in his closed-door deposition, but he also provided some new information.
Here is some of the new information we got from Sondland’s hearing today.
Explicit Quid Pro Quo
In his opening statement, Sondland said for the first time that there was an explicit quid pro quo regarding the investigation and the meeting with Trump.
“[Trump’s personal attorney Rudy] Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” he said. “Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election, DNC server, and Burisma.”
“Mr. Giuliani was expressing the desires of the president of the United States, and we knew that these investigations were important to the president,” he added.
However, regarding the military aid and investigations, Sondland said President Trump “never told me directly that the aid was conditioned on the meetings. The only thing we got directly from Guiliani was that the Burisma and the 2016 elections were conditioned on the White House meeting.”
But Sondland still said he personally had “concerns of the potential quid pro quo regarding the security aid.”
Sondland Involves Key People in Trump Administration
Sondland later said that he expressed his concerns about the military aid to Vice President Mike Pence.
“I mentioned to Vice President Pence before the meetings with the Ukrainians that I had concerns that the delay in aid had become tied to the issue of investigations,” he said.
A spokesperson for Pence’s office denied that the conversation ever happened.
Sondland went on to say that many people high up in the administration, including Trump’s acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney as well as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, knew what was going on, saying, “Everyone was in the loop.”
During a key interaction, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) asked Sondland if: “Mulvaney was aware of this quid pro quo of this condition that the Ukrainians had to meet, that is announcing this public investigations to get the White House meeting. Is that right?”
“Yeah, a lot of people were aware of it,” Sondland responded.
“Including Mr. Mulvaney?” Schiff asked.
“Correct,” Sondland responded.
“And including the secretary of state?” the representative asked.
“Correct,” the ambassador answered.
Sondland also said that when he told Pompeo he was concerned about the military aid being withheld, Pompeo directed him to keep up the pressure campaign.
Trump Only Cares About Investigation Announcement
Sondland additionally said that Trump’s priority was always just to have the Ukranian’s announce the investigation, but he was not sure whether he actually cared about the investigation happening.
In a line of questioning, the Democrats’ lawyer, Daniel Goldman asked Sondland: “you understood that in order to get that White House meeting — that you wanted President Zelensky to have and that President Zelensky desperately wanted to have — that Ukraine would have to initiate these two investigations. Is that right?”
“Well, they would have to announce that they were going to do it,” Sondland responded.
“Right. Because Giuliani and President Trump didn’t actually care if they did them, right?” Goldman followed up.
“I never heard, Mr. Goldman, anyone say that the investigations had to start or had to be completed,” Sondland said. “The only thing I heard from Mr. Giuliani or otherwise was that they had to be announced in some form and that form kept changing.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (The Guardian)
Trump Steps Back From Flavored E-Cigarette Ban
- Two months after announcing a ban on most flavored e-cigarettes, President Donald Trump is stepping away from the move, according to reports from The New York Times and The Washington Post.
- Trump first announced this plan to address the rise of vaping related illnesses, which have now killed 42 people and left 2,000 falling ill.
- Reports say Trump switched course because polls in battleground states showed voters who vape oppose the restrictions.
Trump Walks Back Ban
President Donald Trump is stepping back from his plan to ban most flavored electronic cigarettes fearing it could hurt him in 2020.
His plan was announced just two months ago as vaping-related illnesses, which have now killed 42 people, made constant headlines. Public health officials had long been urging for government action.
According to the Washington Post, his reverse on this ban started back on November 4 when he was briefed during a flight to a campaign rally, and refused to sign the decision memo.
The Post says an anonymous Trump advisor told them that “he didn’t want to move forward with a ban he had once backed, primarily at his wife’s and daughter’s urging, because he feared it would lead to job losses.”
One week after this, he tweeted about meeting with vaping industry representatives and medical professionals to “come up with an acceptable solution” for the vaping epidemic. He cited jobs as a priority.
Potential Consequences in 2020
Reports indicated that this fear of job losses is tied to a fear of this ban hurting his reelection chances. If small businesses that profited off of vaping go out of business because of the ban, the move could cost him voters.
There was also vocal dissent present online. Many used the hashtag #IVapeIVote to encourage Trump to not go through with the ban. Some critics also argued that according to the Center for Disease Control, 85% of those who fell ill from vaping were using THC products which are often from the black market, meaning a government-mandated ban could be ineffective.
According to the New York Times, this translated in polls. They cite one conducted by one of his campaign pollsters for the Vapor Technology Association that showed “negative results” in battleground states among voters who vape. This poll was shown to his campaign manager.
The Times also said that among his supporters, pushback against the ban went further than polls.
“Taking away the right to smoke or vape would be something akin to taking away firearms,” The Times said.
Future for Vaping and Legislation
This does not necessarily mean the ban is fully over. Several reports say there is still a chance a door could open for it later down the road. White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere issued a statement suggesting this could be the case but made no promises.
“President Trump and this Administration are committed to responsibly protecting the health of children,” he said. “At this time, we are in an ongoing rulemaking process, and I will not speculate on the final outcome.”
The Trump administration is not alone in working on flavored vaping bans. Several states, including Michigan, New York, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Rhode Island and Montana have either announced or enacted a ban on types of flavored e-cigarettes. Some, however, have been blocked in courts.
Back in October, Juul also said it would stop selling its fruity flavors and limit its marketing towards teens and children.
See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (New York Times) (Slate)
Key Witnesses Testify in First Public Impeachment Hearings
- William Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a State Department official, became the first witnesses to speak in public hearings regarding the impeachment inquiry.
- Both have testified privately, with Taylor largely supporting the existence of quid pro quo saying, “Security assistance money would not come until the President (of Ukraine) committed to pursue the investigation.”
- The two repeated much of what they had said behind closed doors but added new details and painted clearer pictures. Kent also denied that there was any factual basis in the allegations against Joe Biden and the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
- A public hearing raises the stakes of impeachment more, giving the public more opportunity to weigh in on if they think the process is worthwhile or not.
Who is Testifying?
The first public hearings in the House of Representatives’ impeachment inquiry took off on Wednesday with two witnesses speaking before the House Intelligence Committee.
William Taylor, a top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, a State Department official, previously testified behind closed doors. Both spoke of President Donald Trump’s apparent efforts to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch a series of investigations: One into Burisma, a Ukranian company Joe Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of, and another into alleged interference by Ukraine into the 2016 election.
Taylor made comments supporting the existence of quid pro quo. Democrats believe that a rough transcript of a phone call between Zelensky and Trump shows that Trump was withholding aid from Ukraine on the condition that these investigations begin.
“That was my clear understanding,” Taylor said in his first closed-door testimony. “Security assistance money would not come until the President (of Ukraine) committed to pursue the investigation.”
While Kent did not speak about aid as much at the time, he did accuse Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, of leading attacks against both himself and former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. He also spoke about Trump’s desire to have Zelensky announce investigations.
“POTUS wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to microphone and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton,” he said behind closed doors.
What Happened at the Hearing?
Wednesday’s hearing was led by House Intelligence Committee and its Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA). He and the top Republican on the committee, Devin Nunes (R-CA) both were allotted 45 minutes of questioning while other members got five.
As expected, much of what was said on Wednesday had been said previously. Key quotes, however, did rise to the surface of the event. In his opening remarks, Schiff acknowledged the circumstances were it could be proven that Trump did withhold official acts from Ukraine on the condition of the investigations.
“If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?” he asked.
Nunes, on the other hand, called the impeachment inquiry a “carefully orchestrated media campaign.”
As far as witnesses go, Taylor mentioned an overheard phone call between Trump and EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland pertaining to the investigations.
“The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone, asking Ambassador Sondland about ‘the investigations.’ Ambassador Sondland told President Trump that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward,” Taylor said.
He claimed Sondland said Trump cares more about the investigation into Biden than he does about Ukraine.
“Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine,” he continued. “Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden.”
Kent called the investigations “politically motivated”.
“In mid-August, it became clear to me that Giuliani’s efforts to gin up politically motivated investigations were now infecting U.S. engagement with Ukraine,” he said.
“I don’t believe the U.S. should ask other countries to engage in selective politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power because such selective actions undermine the rule of law, regardless of the country,” Kent added.
Kent also denied that there was any factual basis in the allegations regarding both Joe Biden and the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
In another clip that went viral from the hearing, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) accuses Schiff of knowing the whistleblower’s identity. Schiff quickly turned this idea down.
“You are the only member who knows who that individual is,” Jordan claims. “Your staff is the only staff of any member of Congress that’s had a chance to talk with that individual. We would like that opportunity. When might that happen in this proceeding?”
“First, as the gentleman knows, that’s a false statement,” Schiff responds. “I do not know the identity of the whistleblower and I am determined to make sure that identity is protected.”
What’s at Stake and What’s Next?
The stakes for this hearing are higher than those of the private ones as they are the first the public is allowed to watch. They will likely have more eyes on them, allowing the public to further decide if they think Trump abused his power, or if the impeachment inquiry is a waste of Congress’ time.
Trump’s Twitter feed has been relatively quiet during the hearing, with the president mainly retweeting clips and commentary from others. Wednesday morning, before they began he tweeted “NEVER TRUMPERS!” and “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!”
In a video shared by the White House, he called the impeachment inquiry “the single greatest scam in the history of American politics.”
He also tweeted a campaign video as the hearings were taking place.
On the other side of the situation, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi applauded Taylor and Kent for speaking out.
These hearings will be followed by remarks by Yovanovitch on Friday. More witnesses are also expected to be called to testify. Republicans also want to subpoena the whistleblower to testify, however, reports say a motion to do so was tabled after the hearing.