Connect with us

Politics

Acting DNI Testifies After Release of Whistleblower Complaint

Published

on

  • Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before Congress about his handling of the whistleblower complaint alleging Trump acted inappropriately on a call with the President of Ukraine.
  • The complaint was released to the public on the same day as Maguire’s testimony.
  • In it, the whistleblower wrote: “I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
  • Among other things, the whistleblower complaint details the call between the two leaders, key events and meetings regarding the President and his administration both before and after the call, and alleged efforts by some in the administration to hide records of the call and other calls with foreign leaders.

Maguire Testifies

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday following the release of the whistleblower complaint alleging that President Donald Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden.

Maguire’s testimony follows the public release of a memorandum detailing the call between Trump and Zelensky on Wednesday, which showed Trump asking Zelensky to look into Biden.

Maguire has received backlash over the way he handled the complaint, specifically because he did not turn it over to Congress as mandated under the law.

In his opening remarks, Maguire defended his handling of the complaint, including his decision to hold it as long as he did, noting that the whole situation was unprecedented. He also added that he was following the Whistleblower Act in his decision making.

Maguire said he believed the whistleblower was acting in good faith and added, “I think the whistleblower did the right thing. I think he followed the law every step of the way.” It’s also worth noting that Maquire does not know the identity of the whistleblower, and thus he would not know the whistleblower’s gender.

The testimony also comes as the whistleblower’s complaint was publicly released with minimal redactions earlier on Thursday morning. 

Here are some key excerpts from that complaint.

The Complaint

The whistleblower starts out with this passage:

“In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals.”

They also note that Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr are involved.

The whistleblower goes on to say that they had received this information “over the past four months” from “more than half a dozen U.S. officials.” 

Notably, they say that they were “not a direct witness to most of the events described,” but added, “I found my colleagues’ accounts of these events to be credible because, in almost all cases, multiple officials recounted fact patterns that were consistent with one another.”

This goes back to claims from Trump and others that the whistleblower was not a first-hand witness. Though to be clear, they are saying they did not witness most of the events, not all of them.

“I am deeply concerned that the actions described below constitute ‘a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, or violation of law or Executive Order,’” the complaint continues. “I am also concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”

The whistleblower then outlines those actions through a series of different sections.

The 25 July Presidential Phone Call

The first section is titled “The 25 July Presidential phone call” and details the call between Trump and Zelensky.

The whistleblower says it was the first publicly acknowledged call between the leaders since a quick congratulatory call after Zelensky won his election. Trump on Wednesday acknowledged that he had an earlier call with Zelensky, and say he would release the transcript of that call if asked.

“Multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of the call informed me that, after an initial exchange of pleasantries, the President used the remainder of the call to advance his personal interests,” the whistleblower wrote regarding the July 25 call. “Namely, he sought to pressure the Ukranian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.”

They then go on to note the actions detailed in the memo for the call, adding, “The White House officials who told me this information were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call. They told me there was already a ‘discussion ongoing’ with White House lawyers about how to treat the call because of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the President abuse his office for personal gain.”

Efforts to Restrict Access to Records Related to the Call

The second section is called “Efforts to restrict access to records related to the call.”

“In the days following the phone call, I learned from multiple U.S. officials that senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced — as is customary — by the White House Situation Room,” the whistleblower states. “This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call.”

“White House officials told me that they were ‘directed’ by White House lawyers to remove the electronic transcript from the computer system in which such transcripts are typically stored,” they continued, elaborating that instead of storing it where it is normally stored, it was loaded into a separate electronic system “used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”

“One White House official described this act as an abuse of this electronic system because the call did not contain anything remotely sensitive from a national security perspective,” they note.

This was ‘not the first time’ under this Administration that a Presidential transcript was placed into this codeword-level system solely for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive rather than national security sensitive information,” the whistleblower continues later.

Ongoing Concerns & Circumstances Leading Up to the 25 July Presidential Phone Call

The third and fourth sections of the complaint are titled “Ongoing concerns” and “Circumstances leading up to the 25 July Presidential phone call.”

In these sections, the whistleblower said that multiple officials told them that Giuliani had: “Reportedly privately reached out to a variety of other Zelenskyy advisers.”

Later, the whistleblower adds that even before the call, starting in mid-May, officials told them “That they were deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukranian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President.”

They also talk about efforts made after the call by two ambassadors who “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.”

They go on to say that officials told them that State Department officials, including the same two ambassadors “had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security”

Notably, the whistleblower says: “During this same time frame, multiple U.S. officials told me that the Ukrainian leadership was led to believe that a meeting or phone call between the President and President Zelenskyy would depend on whether Zelenskyy showed willingness to ‘play ball’ on the issues that had been publicly aired” by the former Ukraine prosecutor general and Giuliani.

They noted that information was conveyed to them by U.S. officials, but that they do not know “who delivered this message to the Ukranian leadership, or when.”

The whistleblower elaborates on that in an appendix, where they say that U.S. officials told them that Trump instructed Vice President Mike Pence to cancel his trip to attend Zelensky’s inauguration on May 20, and instead sent Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

“According to these officials, it was also ‘made clear’ to them that the President did not want to meet with Mr. Zelenskyy until he saw how Zelenskyy ‘chose to act’ in office,” they added.

Here, the whistleblower again notes that they do not know how that was communicated or by whom, and also that they do not know if that action was directly “connected with the broader understanding” that a meeting or call between Trump and Zelensky would “depend on whether Zelensky showed willingness to ‘play ball.’”

The last thing the whistleblower includes in the complaint is about aid to Ukraine. They write that on July 18, an official from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) informed other departments and agencies “That the President ‘earlier that month’ had issued instructions to suspend all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.”

They say that neither OMB nor the National Security Council staff knew why Trump had made that decision, but add that OMB officials had explicitly said that the order came directly from the president. 

“As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukranian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy,” the complaint continues. “But I do not know how or when they learned of it.”

Quid Pro Quo Debate & Pentagon Letter

The last few excerpts about Zelensky being willing to “play ball” and about Trump putting a hold on the military aid will likely shift the debate about whether or not there was implicit pressure for a quid pro quo.

Trump did not outright say “look into Biden and I’ll give you something in return,” but some have argued that Trump was holding back nearly $400 million in military and security aid as leverage over Zelensky.

Trump for his part has said that he decided to hold back the aid because he was concerned about corruption in Ukraine.

However, on Wednesday evening, NPR obtained a letter from the Pentagon sent to four congressional committees back in May that appears to contradict that claim.

In the letter, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood wrote that he, “certified that the Government of Ukraine has taken substantial actions to make defense institutional reforms for the purposes of decreasing corruption [and] increasing accountability.”

As NPR explains, that certification is required under the law for that aid to be released to Ukraine. Basically, the undersecretary said in his letter he had certified that Ukraine had met its corruption reduction goals and that the aid was good to go.

After that, the Defense Department announced it would be sending the aid to Ukraine back in June. The White House then blocked that aid before Trump’s call with Zelensky in July.

That aid was released to Ukraine on Sept. 11 after Congress learned the aid was being withheld and demanded it be given to Ukraine. That demand came right around the time Congress was first informed about the whistleblower complaint.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (CNN)

Advertisements

Politics

Highlights From the Nevada Democratic Debate

Published

on

  • Six 2020 presidential candidates took the stage at the Democratic Debate in Nevada ahead of the state’s highly anticipated caucus this Saturday.
  • Here are some highlights from Wednesday’s debate.

Candidates Target Bloomberg

Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg made his first debate appearance, and the other candidates used it as an opportunity to target the controversial political figure right out of the gate.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) all went after Bloomberg in their opening statements.

Sanders and Biden criticized the mayor for expanding New York City’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, which gave police the authority to stop and search anyone they suspected of committing a crime and disproportionately targeted people of color.

Warren, for her part, had some of the sharpest rebukes of the former mayor.

“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against, a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And, no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” she said.

“Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop-and-frisk,” she continued. “Look, I’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is. But understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”

Bloomberg’s Nondisclosure Agreements

Warren also questioned Bloomberg’s record with sexual harassment after a moderator asked him about “sexually suggestive remarks” he had made when confronted about the fact that several former employees of his company had described the workplace as hostile for women.

“The mayor has to stand on his record. And what we need to know is exactly what’s lurking out there. He has gotten some number of women, dozens, who knows, to sign nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace,” she said. 

“So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those nondisclosure agreements, so we can hear their side of the story?” she asked.

“We have a very few nondisclosure agreements,” he responded. 

“None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told,” he continued. “There’s agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet and that’s up to them. They signed those agreements, and we’ll live with it.”

Warren continued to push Bloomberg to release the individuals from their nondisclosures, a demand that was eventually echoed by Biden. 

 Klobuchar and Buttigieg Spar

Warren was not the only person who sparred with the other candidates.

Another notable moment from the night came from a tense interaction between Klobuchar and Buttigieg, after one of the moderators asked Klobuchar about an interview from last week where she was unable to remember the name of the president of Mexico and had trouble discussing his policies.

Klobuchar said that a moment of forgetfulness did not reflect what she knows about Mexico. 

“I said that I made an error,” she added. “I think having a president that maybe is humble and is able to admit that here and there maybe wouldn’t be a bad thing.” 

Buttigieg, however, saw it as an opportunity to pounce.

“But you’re staking your candidacy on your Washington experience. You’re on the committee that oversees border security. You’re on the committee that does trade,” he said. “You’re literally in part of the committee that’s overseeing these things and were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south.”

“Are you trying to say that I’m dumb? Or are you mocking me here, Pete?” Klobuchar responded. 

“I have passed over 100 bills as the lead Democrat since being in the U.S. Senate. I am the one, not you, that has won statewide in congressional district after congressional district,” she continued. “And I will say, when you tried in Indiana, Pete, to run, what happened to you? You lost by over 20 points.”

Buttigieg Goes After Sanders’ Supporters 

Buttigieg, who is competing with Sanders for the title of frontrunner after the elections New Hampshire, also used his time on stage to attack Sanders and his supporters.

Sanders supporters, also known as “Bernie Bros,” have come under fire recently for their response to a flyer made by Nevada’s Culinary Workers Union that said Sanders would “end Culinary Healthcare” under his Medicare-for-all policy.

After posting the flyer on Twitter, the union accused Sanders’ supporters of “viciously” attacking members of the group, and the organization’s top leaders told reporters they received threatening phone calls, emails, and tweets and that their personal information was doxxed.

“We have over 10.6 million people on Twitter, and 99.9 percent of them are decent human beings, are working people, are people who believe in justice, compassion, and love,” Sander’s said of his supporters. “And if there are a few people who make ugly remarks, who attack trade union leaders, I disown those people. They are not part of our movement.” 

“Senator, when you say that you disown these attacks and you didn’t personally direct them, I believe you,” Buttigieg said. “But at a certain point, you got to ask yourself, why did this pattern arise? Why is it especially the case among your supporters that this happens?”

“I think you have to accept some responsibility and ask yourself what it is about your campaign in particular that seems to be motivating this behavior more than others,” he continued. 

See what others are saying: (TIME) (NPR) (Vox)

Advertisements
Continue Reading

Politics

Court Rules Florida Can’t Bar Felons From Voting Over Unpaid Fines and Fees

Published

on

  • On Wednesday, a federal appeals court in Florida upheld an injunction on a law that bans felons from voting if they haven’t paid their legal fees. 
  • In 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which granted ex-felons the right to vote once they’ve completed all terms of their sentence. 
  • Then, in 2019, Florida’s legislature and Rep. Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a law mandating former felons to pay all court costs before getting access to voting polls.
  • With the help of voting rights groups, 17 felons sued DeSantis and other state officials in an effort to overturn this law.
  • The latest ruling only applies to the 17 felons in the lawsuit, but it is still seen as a victory for all Florida felons who wish to vote.

Injunction Upheld

A federal appeals court in Florida said on Wednesday that for now, felons can no longer be barred from voting if they haven’t paid fines or fees from their cases. 

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction of a state law that requires convicted felons to settle all legal fines and fees before they are able to get reinstated to vote. The panel agreed to suspend the law until there’s a final ruling on it. 

The decision of the appeals court only applies to the 17 felons who sued Rep. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials in an effort to overturn the law. The plaintiffs and the voting rights groups that represent them argued that the legislation equates to an unfair poll tax.

The appeals court judges agreed, and said that the legal financial obligations (LFOs) law “punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can—and does so by continuing to deny them access to the ballot box.”

While Wednesday’s ruling only applies to the 17 felons in the lawsuit, it is still seen as a victory for all Florida felons. A trial for the plaintiffs is still pending but slated to begin in April, and that’s when the overall constitutionality of the LFO law will be decided.

“This is a tremendous win for our clients and for our democracy,” Sean Morales-Doyle, a senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, told NBC.

Background on Felon Voting Restrictions

Until recently, Florida automatically prohibited all felons from the right to vote ever again. This changed in late 2018 when an overwhelming majority of Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which granted ex-felons the right to vote once they’ve completed all terms of their sentence. Those with murder or felony sex convictions were exempt from this change. 

The passing of Amendment 4 restored voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million people. 

Last year, the Republican-led legislature and Gov. DeSantis passed the law that mandated that former felons pay all court costs before getting access to voting polls.

Supporters of the LFO law argued that Amendment 4 was not meant to restore voting rights for all felons, but only those who have “paid their debt to society,” including monetary fees.  

Helen Aguirre Ferré, the Communications Director for DeSantis, responded to the Wednesday decision in a tweet.

“We disagree and will appeal en banc,” Ferré said. 

Looking Ahead to 2020 Election

The recent ruling is especially significant as the 2020 presidential election approaches. Wednesday’s decision means that the 17 plaintiffs in the lawsuit are eligible to vote in Florida’s presidential primary next month, though other felons with outstanding legal fines or fees are still not.

However, it is possible that by the end of the upcoming April trial, the legal financial requirement law will be deemed unconstitutional, which will allow all Florida felons to vote whether or not they’ve paid the fines and fees from their cases. But if that’s the case, DeSantis and the defendants are still likely to appeal that ruling as well to a higher court.

It is unclear how this is all going to end. Some believe that the courts will move quickly to get it settled before the 2020 election, but the timeline is not fully set. Many expect that this particular case could be taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and ultimately be decided on there. 

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (NBC) (Wall Street Journal)

Advertisements
Continue Reading

Politics

Attorney General Barr’s Credibility Questioned Over Roger Stone Case

Published

on

  • Attorney General William Barr is facing backlash over his decision to overrule the sentence recommendation for Roger Stone, a close ally of President Trump, after Trump tweeted that the suggested sentence was “unfair.” 
  • Both Barr and Trump have said the decision was made independently and before Trump’s tweet, but accusations that Barr intervened in Trump’s favor have continued.
  • A group of 2,000 DOJ officials signed a letter condemning Barr and calling for him to resign.
  • Barr defended his decision in an interview with ABC, but he said Trump’s tweets made it “impossible” for him to do his job. 

Barr Overrules Prosecutors in Stone Case

Challenges to Attorney General William Barr’s credibility have escalated over the last week following his decision to overrule a sentence recommendation for Roger Stone, a longtime advisor and friend of President Donald Trump.

The sentence recommendation, announced by Justice Department prosecutors Wednesday, suggested that Stone serve seven to nine years in jail for the seven charges of witness tampering and lying to Congress that he was found guilty of in November.

The indictments stemmed from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Following the announcement, Trump responded to the charges in a tweet, calling them “horrible and very unfair” before adding, “Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”

Shortly after that, the Justice Department announced that it was changing the sentence recommendation. An anonymous DOJ official told the Washington Post that the recommendation was “not what had been briefed to the department.”

“The department finds the recommendation extreme and excessive and disproportionate to Stone’s offenses,” the official added.

Following the announcement, four prosecutors withdrew from the Stone case. One of the four prosecutors quit his job at the DOJ altogether. 

The department’s highly unusual decision to overrule career lawyers was criticized by many, including former DOJ officials under both Democrat and Republican administrations, who accused Barr of intervening in Trump’s favor to lighten the sentence recommendation for an ally of the president.

The Justice Department, for its part, defended the move.

A spokeswoman for the department told reporters that DOJ officials did not discuss the stone case with the White House and that the decision to overrule the recommendation was made before Trump’s tweet.

Trump also denied the claims that he directed the DOJ to change its recommendation, though he later congratulated Barr on Twitter, prompting more allegations of political interference. 

Barr’s ABC Interview

Barr defended his actions regarding the Stone case in an interview with ABC on Thursday. The Attorney General reiterated that his staff made the decision before Trump’s tweets and denied that Trump played a role in it.

However, in an unusual rebuke of the president, Barr also said that Trump’s tweet complicated the situation and that the incident “illustrates how disruptive these tweets can be.” 

“The president has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” Barr said. “However, to have public statements and tweets made about the department, about people in the department, our men and women here, about cases pending in the department and about judges before whom we have cases make it impossible for me to do my job.”

“I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me,” he added.

Trump, however, did not seem to be deterred by the attorney general’s remarks.

“The President wasn’t bothered by the comments at all and he has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.

Trump, for his part, has continued to tweet about the case, going on the offensive Tuesday morning and threatening to sue “everyone” involved in the special counsel’s inquiry.

“Everything having to do with this fraudulent investigation is badly tainted and, in my opinion, should be thrown out,” he said. “The whole deal was a total SCAM. If I wasn’t President, I’d be suing everyone all over the place… BUT MAYBE I STILL WILL. WITCH HUNT!”

Trump also tweeted comments made by Fox News commentator Andrew Napolitano, who said that Stone’s defense team asked for a second trial because a member of the jury was biased against Trump. Because of that, Napolitano said, “almost any judge in the country would order a new trial.”

Letter From Former DOJ Officials.

Barr has still continued to face mounting criticisms and incredulity regarding his credibility.

Since Sunday, a bipartisan group of more than 2,000 former DOJ officials have signed a letter condemning both Trump and Barr and calling on Barr to resign.

“Mr. Barr’s actions in doing the President’s personal bidding unfortunately speak louder than his words,” the letter states. “Those actions, and the damage they have done to the Department of Justice’s reputation for integrity and the rule of law, require Mr. Barr to resign.”

Such behavior is a grave threat to the fair administration of justice,” the officials continue. “In this nation, we are all equal before the law. A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President.” 

“Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.”

See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Fox News)

Advertisements
Continue Reading