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Top Diplomat Blocked From Testifying in Impeachment Inquiry

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  • U.S. Ambassador to the E.U. Gordon Sondland was barred from giving a scheduled testimony before Congress regarding President Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky and other matters involving the impeachment inquiry.
  • Sondland was revealed to be a key organizer of the call with Zelensky in a series of released text messages between U.S. diplomats, Rudy Giuliani, and a top Zelensky aide.
  • Democrats have accused Secretary of State Pompeo, who recently revealed he was on the July call, of obstructing the inquiry by preventing witnesses in the State Department from testifying before Congress.

Sondland Barred From Testimony

U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, a key figure in the impeachment inquiry, was blocked by the Trump administration from giving a planned testimony before Congress in a last-minute move Tuesday.

“Early this morning, the U.S. Department of State directed Ambassador Gordon Sondland not to appear today for his scheduled transcribed interview before the U.S. House of Representatives Joint Committee,” the law firm that represents Sondland said in a statement hours before his deposition.

“Ambassador Sondland had previously agreed to appear voluntarily today, without the need for a subpoena, in order to answer the Committee’s questions on an expedited basis,” the statement continued.

“As the sitting U.S. Ambassador to the EU and employee of the State Department, Ambassador Sondland is required to follow the Department’s direction.”

The administration’s efforts to bar Sondland’s testimony angered Democrats, who have sparred with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over his attempts to prevent State Department officials from testifying in the ongoing impeachment investigations into President Donald Trump.

The Democrats impeachment inquiry centers around a whistleblower complaint that claims Trump pressured Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his 2020 opponent Joe Biden during a July phone call.

Democrats also are looking into whether or not Trump decided to withhold nearly $400 million in security aid to Ukraine so he could have leverage over Zelensky.

Pompeo Blocks Testimonies

On Sept. 27, Congress sent Pompeo a letter informing him of the dates they had scheduled testimonies from State Department officials.

Pompeo responded by writing to the House Foreign Affairs Committee accusing Democrats of “an attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly” State Department officials.

Several representatives chairing the committees leading the impeachment inquiry responded in a letter shortly after. In the letter, the members noted that there were reports that Pompeo had been on the Ukraine call, and as a result, had a conflict of interest.

“Any effort by the Secretary of the Department to intimidate or prevent witnesses from testifying or withhold documents from the Committees shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” the chairs wrote. Obstructing an impeachment inquiry is an impeachable offense.

A few days later Pompeo confirmed for the first time that he was on the July call with Zelensky.

On Oct. 6, Pompeo said that the Department of State will follow the law in the impeachment investigation. But Democrats seem skeptical.

Following the news that Sondland’s testimony had been blocked, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said that House Democrats are seeking “additional strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress.”

On the other side, some Republicans defended the move.

“The way [Schiff] treated Volker last week, that treatment is the reason why the State Department and the White House said we’re not going to subject Ambassador Sondland to the same treatment,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) told reporters Tuesday, referring to the testimony of the former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker.

Trump also appeared to justify his administration’s efforts on Twitter Tuesday morning. 

“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify, but unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public,” he wrote.

Volker Testimony and Text Messages

In addition to upsetting Democrats, the administration’s endeavor to bar Sondland’s testimony will likely have major repercussions, especially because of Sondland’s role in Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and Zelensky.

Before serving as the U.S. ambassador to the E.U., Sondland was a major donor to Trump and reportedly donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. Sondland was appointed to his position back in March 2018, despite the fact that he appears to have no official political or diplomatic experience.

Sondland was mentioned by name in the whistleblower’s complaint alongside Volker.

In the complaint, the whistleblower wrote that Volker and Sondland “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the President had made of Mr. Zelenskyy.”

The complaint also notes that the two men, along with other State Department officials, “had spoken with Mr. Giuliani in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security”

Volker testified behind closed doors on Thursday. Later that night, the House released a set of text messages between Volker, Sondland, and other officials including Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a top aide to Zelensky named Andrey Yermak, and Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine.

In one of the exchanges between Sondland and Volker from July 19, a few days before Trump’s call with Zelensky, Volker texted Sondland about plans for the call. 

“Most [important] is for Zelensky to say that he will help investigation—and address any specific personnel issues—if there are any,” he wrote.

In another text preparing for the call two days after that, Taylor noted that Zelensky “is sensitive about Ukraine being taken seriously, not merely as an instrument in Washington domestic, reelection politics.”

To which Sondland responded, “Absolutely, but we need to get the conversation started and the relationship built, irrespective of the pretext. I am worried about the alternative.” 

Then, on July 25, the morning of the call, Volker texted Yermak, “Heard from White House—assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington. Good luck!”

Skipping ahead a month to Aug. 28, Yermak texted Volker a news story titled “Trump Holds Up Ukraine Military Aid Meant to Confront Russia” and said “we need to talk.”

A few days later on Sept. 1, Taylor pressed Sondland on the aid to Ukraine. 

“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” he asked. Sondland responded by asking Taylor to call him.

After that, the conversations started to shift heavily towards the decision to withhold aid. In a Sept. 9 text, Taylor expressed doubt about the plan in his messages to Sondland.

“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” he wrote. 

“I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” Sondland responded. “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”

House Democrats said Tuesday they plan on issuing a subpoena for Sondland’s testimony.

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

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Sanders and Warren Disagree Over CNN Report That Alleges Sanders Said a Woman Couldn’t Win the Presidency

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  • A CNN report released on Monday alleges that Bernie Sanders told Elizabeth Warren in 2018 that he did not believe a woman could win the presidency, according to four anonymous sources.
  • Sanders has denied the claim, calling it “ludicrous.” 
  • The Washington Post later reported a source as saying that Sanders did not say he did not believe a woman could be president, but rather said Trump would use “nefarious tactics” against the Democratic nominee. 
  • Warren stood by the original allegation, saying that Sanders disagreed with her that a woman could win the White House but added she didn’t want to discuss the matter any further, calling him an ally and a friend.

Allegations

A CNN report released on Monday detailed a December 2018 meeting between presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in which Sanders allegedly said that he did not believe a woman could win the election. 

The report said that its details of that encounter were based on accounts from four anonymous people, two that Warren spoke with soon afterward, and two “familiar with the meeting.” 

Sanders’ campaign manager, Faiz Shakir, called the assertion a “lie,” and the Vermont senator denied the claim himself in a statement. 

“It is ludicrous to believe that at the same meeting where Elizabeth Warren told me she was going to run for president, I would tell her that a woman couldn’t win,” Sanders told CNN. 

According to The Washington Post, two people with knowledge of the 2018 meeting told the news outlet that Warren asked Sanders if he thought a woman could win the White House. One of these sources said that Sanders did not say he believed a woman couldn’t win, but rather that Trump would use “nefarious tactics” against the Democratic candidate.  

“What I did say that night was that Donald Trump is a sexist, a racist and a liar who would weaponize whatever he could,” Sanders said in his statement. “Do I believe a woman can win in 2020? Of course! After all, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 3 million votes in 2016.”

But later on Monday night, Warren stood by the initial allegation in a statement tweeted by her communications director.

“Among the topics that came up was what would happen if Democrats nominated a female candidate,” Warren said. “I thought a woman could win; [Sanders] disagreed.” 

“I have no interest in discussing this private meeting any further because Bernie and I have far more in common than our differences on punditry,” she added.

Online Reactions

Regardless of who said what, both Warren and Sanders supporters were quick to jump online with their opinions. 

Many Twitter users expressed anger at the Massachusetts senator, accusing her of lying about Sanders’ comments in order to get ahead in the race. #RefundWarren began trending on Monday night, encouraging people to request refunds for donations to her campaign.

Meanwhile, Sanders supporters fell back on instances in the past where he has been explicit about his belief in equal gender opportunities.

On the flip side, others expressed their belief in Warren’s claims, arguing that she had nothing to gain from being untruthful. Many pledged their unwavering support despite the events unfolding.

Others took to Twitter to neutralize the situation, suggesting that pitting two Democratic candidates against each other does nothing productive for the party.

Warren-Sanders Relationship

While Warren called her and Sanders long-time “friends and allies in this fight,” their unspoken civil pact has faced obstacles recently. 

On Sunday, Politico reported that Sanders volunteers were issued a script that criticized Warren. 

In a campaign appearance on Sunday, Warren said she was “disappointed to hear that Bernie is sending his volunteers out to trash me,” and verbalized her hopes that he redirects his campaign for the sake of not dividing their mutual political party. 

Sanders denied ever personally attacking Warren and said that each campaign has hundreds of employees who “sometimes say things that they shouldn’t.” 

Both the script and he-said-she-said drama unfolded right before the seventh Democratic debate, in which six candidates will be participating—including both Warren and Sanders. The debate will be held in Iowa, which is also where the first-in-the-nation caucuses will take place in about three weeks.  

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (BBC) (Axios)

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Sarah Sanders Apologizes To Joe Biden After Debate Tweet About Stuttering

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  • At a Democratic presidential debate on Thursday, Joe Biden noted that he personally keeps in touch with children who have speech impediments, speaking with a stutter as he referenced one.
  • Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted in response, mocking his delivery.
  • Sanders faced a wave of backlash in response to her tweet.
  • She apologized after Biden himself, who has personally struggled with a stutter for most of his life, condemned her directly.

Controversial Tweet

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders apologized on Thursday after posting a tweet that seemed to mock people with speech impediments. 

Sanders’ post, which has since been deleted, was in response to comments Joe Biden made on Thursday at the sixth Democratic presidential debate, held on the campus of Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. 

At one point, Biden was speaking to the efforts he makes to be accessible to the public. He referenced the “call list” he and his wife have of people with whom they regularly stay in touch. Among these, he said, is a “little kid who says ‘I can’t talk, what do I do?’” Biden stuttered over the “I” and the “what” for emphasis.

“I have scores of these young women and men who I keep in contact with,” he added. 

Biden has been open in the past about the stutter he has struggled with for most of his life, most prominently in an interview published last month in The Atlantic. In that piece, he opened up about the ways in which his speech impediment has brought him strife, from being bullied as a child to tripping him up during political speeches. 

Shortly after Biden’s comments at the debate, Sanders took to Twitter to address them.

“I I I I I I I I I I I I I I I hhhave absolutely no idea what Biden is talking about,” she wrote, adding the hashtag #Demdebate.

Sanders Slammed

Sanders’ remark was met with a wave of backlash from people across the Internet.

Sanders attempted to recover from her initial comment in a follow-up tweet that has also been deleted.

“To be clear was not trying to make fun of anyone with a speech impediment,” she wrote. “Simply pointing out I can’t follow much of anything Biden is talking about.” 

It wasn’t until Biden responded to her directly in a tweet of his own, pointing to his own struggles, that Sanders apologized.

“I’ve worked my whole life to overcome a stutter,” he wrote. “And it’s my great honor to mentor kids who have experienced the same. It’s called empathy. Look it up.”

“I actually didn’t know that about you and that is commendable,” Sanders replied. “I apologize and should have made my point respectfully.”

Biden used the exchange with Sanders to encourage donations to his presidential campaign.

“If you believe we need to bring empathy back to the White House chip in $5,” he wrote, adding a link to a donation page.

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Vox) (New York Times)

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Trump Rebukes Impeachment Vote at Michigan Rally: “It Doesn’t Really Feel Like We’re Being Impeached.”

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  • As the House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump in Washington, Trump held a Michigan rally where he spent time criticizing the impeachment process.
  • After two protesters were escorted out of the rally for causing a distraction, Trump suggested that the security guard should have been more forceful about their removal. 
  • In another statement, Trump insinuated that John Dingell, a Michigan representative who died earlier this year, was “looking up” from Hell.

Trump: “It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached.”

While President Donald Trump was being impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives Wednesday evening, he blasted the entire process at a rally in Michigan.

“It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached,” he said at the rally. “The country is doing better than ever before, we did nothing wrong, and we have tremendous support in the Republican Party like we’ve never had before.”

Despite being impeached while speaking in front of his supporters, Trump delayed going onstage for about an hour to watch the tail end of the debate.

During the two hour rally, Trump criticized Democrats, saying they were trying to nullify the votes of millions of Americans. He also suggested former President Barack Obama deserved to be impeached more than he did. 

At one point, the crowd began to chant “Lock her up!” in reference to both former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.

However, while representatives cast their votes on the House floor, Trump told his supporters a story about stealth bombers being invisible.

“I said, ‘Fellas, how good is this plane?’” he said, mimicking a conversation between military officials. “They said, ‘Sir, it’s great.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Because the enemy can’t see it.’ That helps: stealth. It’s actually called super-stealth. So I said, ‘So they can’t see so you shoot at them but they can’t—’ He said, ‘They have no idea, sir.’ I said, ‘That sounds good to me.’ Nobody does it and nobody can do it, and we have the whole thing. We’ve ordered a lot of those planes.” 

Trump Says Security Should Be Rougher With Protesters

Just prior to Trump’s impeachment, two protesters in the arena unfurled a banner that read, “Don the Con. You’re Fired.”

Within seconds, the arena erupted into a series of boos, and one supporter tried to cover up the banner with Trump campaign signs. 

Those protesters were then escorted out of the rally by guards, but one of the protesters stuck up her middle fingers to the crowd before leaving. As she began shouting obscenities, the crowd chanted “USA! USA!” in return.

“There’s a slob,” Trump said while suggesting the event would not make mainstream headlines. “There’s a real slob. But wait, wait a minute. She’ll get hell when she gets back home with mom.” 

Continuing to speak on the subject of the protesters, Trump then said the security guard should have used more force.

“I’ll tell you the other thing, I don’t know who the security company is, but the police came up, but they want to be so politically correct, so they don’t grab her wrist lightly and get her out,” he said in front of a crowd of laughing supporters. “They say, ‘Oh, would you please come? Would you please come with me? Sir? Ma’am? Would you—’ And then she gives the guy the finger and you know, ‘Oh, oh.’ You gotta get a little bit stronger than that, folks.”

Trump Insinuates Dead Representative is Looking up from Hell

One of the key takeaways from the rally occurred when Trump began attacking Democratic Representative Debbie Dingell for voting “yes” to impeachment; however, Trump didn’t so much directly attack Debbie Dingell as he did her dead husband, former Representative John Dingell.

John Dingell represented Michigan from 1955 to 2015 and was the long-serving member of Congress in American history. In February, he died at the age of 92.

Using John Dingell as cannon fodder, Trump mocked Debbie Dingell by recounting a conversation he had with her after her husband’s funeral. Trump then insinuated John Dingell was looking up from Hell.

“‘Do this, do that, do that. Rotunda everything,’” he said, pretending to be Debbie Dingell. “I gave him everything—that’s okay. I don’t want anything for it. I don’t need anything for anything. She calls me up:  ‘It’s the nicest thing that’s ever happened, thank you so much. John would be so thrilled. He’s looking down; he’d be so thrilled. Thank you so much, sir.’ I said, ‘That’s okay, don’t worry about it.’ Maybe he’s looking up, I don’t know. I don’t know.” 

Shortly after his comment, Debbie Dingell responded to Trump on Twitter.

“Mr. President, let’s set politics aside,” she said. “My husband earned all his accolades after a lifetime of service. I’m preparing for the first holiday season without the man I love. You brought me down in a way you can never imagine and your hurtful words just made my healing much harder.” 

Later, another Michigan representative, Republican Fred Upton criticized the president after voting “no” to his impeachment.

“I’ve always looked up to John Dingell – my good friend and a great Michigan legend,” Upton said. “There was no need to ‘dis’ him in a crass political way. Most unfortunate and an apology is due.”

Thursday, on CNN, Debbie Dingell where she said that she never made any of those requests to Trump. She also said Trump was not involved in her husband’s funeral arrangements, also pointing out that her husband didn’t lie in state in the Rotunda. She then said it was Trump who called her to tell her he would be lowering the flags.

Trump’s Twitter Response to Impeachment

On his own Twitter account, Trump has been unsurprisingly active, but following the impeachment votes Wednesday night, he did not make any direct statements on the platform until Thursday morning.

Instead, he opted for retweeting a flurry of tweets from conservative lawmakers and supporters. 

“100% Republican Vote,” he said on Twitter Thursday. “That’s what people are talking about. The Republicans are united like never before!”

Later in the morning, Trump took a jab at Pelosi, calling the impeachment vote a hoax because of her refusal to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate. For her part, Pelosi has said she wants to hold the articles until she is sure the Senate will hold a fair trial. 

“Pelosi feels her phony impeachment HOAX is so pathetic she is afraid to present it to the Senate, which can set a date and put this whole SCAM into default if they refuse to show up!” Trump wrote. “The Do Nothings are so bad for our Country!” 

Currently, Trump has also pinned a tweet with a picture of him reading, “In reality, they’re not after me. They’re after you. I’m just in the way.”

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The Hill) (Politico)

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