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Key Diplomat in Impeachment Inquiry Changes Testimony to Say Quid Pro Quo Happened

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  • The House Intelligence Committee released several transcripts from testimonies in the impeachment inquiry on Monday, including one from U.S. Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, a key player in the investigation.
  • Sondland had originally testified that there was no explicit quid pro quo involving security assistance to Ukraine in exchange for the country announcing an investigation presidential presidential candidate Joe Biden, a political rival of President Trump.
  • But the now-released transcript shows that Sondland later changed his testimony in an amendment.
  • In the amendment, Sondland wrote that he told an aide to Ukrainian President Zelensky “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.”

Sondland Testimony Released

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the EU who is a key witness in the impeachment inquiry, changed his testimony to say that there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine.

Sondland, generally considered a strong Trump ally, had previously denied that the U.S. withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Sondland was mentioned by name in the whistleblower’s complaint alongside the former U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt 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.”

Sondland was also implicated in a set of text messages released by the House that involved key people organizing the call between President Donald Trump and Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the conversations that followed.

One of the most significant interactions from those texts was between Sondland and William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine where the two discussed the Trump administration’s decision to withhold aid.

During the conversation, Taylor texted Sondland: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

Sondland responded to that concern, telling Taylor that Trump “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,” he continued.

Sondland’s First Testimony

Sondland was supposed to testify on Oct. 8, but at the last minute, his testimony was blocked by the State Department. He ended up testifying about a week later.

Sondland initially told lawmakers that he knew Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani had told Ukraine to announce an investigation into Biden in exchange for a meeting between Trump and Zelensky at the Oval Office.

However, he denied direct quid pro quo involving military aid, saying, “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.”

Sondland Changes Testimony

The now-released transcript shows that Sondland later went back and changed his testimony. 

In a supplemental statement, Sondland said that he remembered a conversation with a top Zelensky aide on Sept. 1, “where I said 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.”

Sondland’s amended testimony is significant for two main reasons. 

First, it shows a senior official who is a central figure in the impeachment inquiry directly saying that Trump withheld aid from Ukraine in exchange for an investigation into his political rival. 

And second, Sondland changed his initial testimony after it was contradicted by testimonies from other top officials, and now his testimony matches up with theirs. 

Taylor and Morrison Contradict Sondland

One of the people that contradicted Sondland’s initial testimony was Taylor— the top diplomat to Ukraine who was implicated in the text messages.

In his testimony, Taylor said that Sondland told the same top Zelensky aide “that the security assistance money would not come until President Zelenskyy committed to pursue” the investigation into Biden.

Taylor also notably testified that Sondland later told him “that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations — in fact, Ambassador Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance.”

Taylor’s testimony was also later confirmed in another testimony from Tim Morrison, a former White House national security adviser.

Sondland said in his revised statement that Taylor and Morrison’s testimonies prompted him to recall the series of events differently.

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

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House Democrats Introduce Two Articles of Impeachment Against President Trump

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  • The House officially announced two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
  • The articles will now go to the Judiciary Committee for debate and approval before being sent to the House floor for a full vote. If approved, they will be sent to the Senate for the trial portion, which is likely to be set for January. 
  • Notably, the articles did not mention allegations that Trump obstructed the Mueller report investigation, which members had debated including as a separate article.

Democrats Announce Articles

House Democrats announced Tuesday that they were introducing two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Flanked by Democratic House leaders, Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) outlined the charges against the president.

“It is an impeachable offense for the president to exercise the powers of his public office to obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest,” Nadler said, addressing the first article, abuse of power.

“That is exactly what President Trump did when he solicited and pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 presidential election.”

“These actions moreover are consistent with President Trump’s previous invitations of foreign interference in our 2016 presidential election,” he added.  

“And when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry,” Nadler continued, introducing the second article, obstruction of Congress.

“A president who declares himself above accountability, above the American people, and above Congress’ power of impeachment, which is meant to protect against threats to our democratic institutions, is a president who sees himself as above the law,” he said. 

“We must be clear: No one, not even the president, is above the law.” 

Several hours later, the House released the official text of the articles of impeachment in a formal resolution.

Article I: Abuse of Power

Describing the abuse of power charge, the first article alleges Trump used his office to solicit foreign interference from Ukraine by asking the government to “publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage.”

“President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit,” the resolution continued.

The document then goes on to say that Trump pressured Ukraine to announce investigations by conditioning the announcement on two official acts: a White House meeting and “the release of $391 million of United States taxpayer funds that Congress had appropriated on a bipartisan basis for the purpose of providing vital military and security assistance to Ukraine.”

The resolution continues on, noting that the president released the military aid once acts became public, “but has persisted in openly and corruptly urging and soliciting Ukraine to undertake investigations for his personal political benefit.”

Article II: Obstruction of Congress

The second article claims that Trump obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry by blocking subpoenaed witnesses from testifying and rejecting requests to hand over key documents.

“In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’” the resolution says.

“This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment — and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives,” it continued.

Both articles conclude with the same excerpt: “President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.”

Next Steps

With the articles formally drafted, the next step will be for the Judiciary Committee to debate and approve them, which is set to happen Wednesday and Thursday, respectively to the articles.

Technically, individual members can propose amendments and changes to the articles, but they are not likely to change; however, members can also propose more articles of impeachment.

This may be relevant because in the lead up to the announcement of the articles, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not to draft a third article.

That article would charge Trump with obstruction of justice in regards to the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In his report, Special Counsel Robert Mueller outlined several instances that could be considered obstruction but left it up to Congress to decide if it was.

Many of the more progressive Democrats in the House pushed to include that decision in their articles, but the leadership ultimately decided to zero in on the Ukraine case.

Once the articles have been approved by the Judiciary, they will go to the full House for a vote, which is expected to happen next week.

The House only needs to approve one of the articles for Trump to be impeached. After that, any approved articles will be sent to the Senate for a trial, which will likely be held in January.

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Vox) (Fox News)

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Pelosi Announces House Will Draft Articles of Impeachment Against Trump

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  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will begin drafting the official articles of impeachment for President Trump.
  • This follows the release of the final report from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation and the Judiciary Committee formally launching impeachment proceedings.
  • The process is anticipated to move very quickly, with a Committee vote as soon as next week, and a full House vote before Christmas.

Pelosi Announces Articles of Impeachment

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that the House of Representatives will officially begin drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

“The facts are uncontested,” the Speaker said. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security, by withholding military aid and crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival.” 

“His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution,” she continued.

“The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security, and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.”  

“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment,” she concluded.

Pelosi’s announcement marks a significant step in the impeachment process. The articles of impeachment the House now drafts will essentially be the “charges” they will bring against President Trump.

Intelligence Committee Report

The decision follows several major developments in the impeachment proceedings that have occurred throughout the week.

On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee— which has been leading the impeachment investigation for the last two months— released its final report on the findings of that investigation.

In the 300-page report, the Committee found that Trump pressured Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, by withholding a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine.

“The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation’s upcoming presidential election to his advantage,” the Committee wrote.

“In doing so, the President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”

The report also goes on to say that in response to the House launching the impeachment investigation, “President Trump engaged in an unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry.”

The Committee outlined how examples of how Trump obstructed their investigation, such as his refusal to cooperate with the investigation or hand over subpoenaed documents, and his efforts to direct State Department and White House officials to do the same.

The report said that Trump also obstructed their investigation by blocking key witnesses from testifying, including those who had been subpoenaed. It also accused Trump of engaging in “a brazen effort to publicly attack and intimidate witnesses who came forward to comply with duly authorized subpoenas and testify about his conduct.”

“Donald Trump is the first and only President in American history to openly and indiscriminately defy all aspects of the Constitutional impeachment process,” the report notes.

Judiciary Committee Starts Proceedings

The Intelligence Committee report does not include a direct recommendation for impeachment, but it will likely serve as the basis for which the articles of impeachment are drafted.

The articles will be written by the Judiciary Committee, which officially began the formal impeachment proceedings on Wednesday by holding a hearing where constitutional experts discussed the legal basis for impeaching Trump.

Four experts testified at the hearing: three brought in by Democrats and one brought in by Republicans.

The experts requested by Democrats argued that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine definitely met the threshold for an impeachable offense set by the framers of the Constitution.

Meanwhile, the expert the Republicans brought in argued that the Democrats were rushing the process and did not have adequate evidence and that Trump should be investigated more.

Next Steps

But Democrats appear eager to press on, with leadership pushing to hold the full House vote on the impeachment articles before Christmas.

As a result, it has been reported that the Judiciary Committee will draft the articles in the next few days and hold the debate and vote on the articles as early as next week. The bigger question is what the articles will be, and how many the Committee will propose. 

Each offense they claim Trump committed must be its own article— for example “obstruction of justice” would be a separate article from “misconduct.”

Right now, the Democrats are deciding if they want to zero in on the Ukraine matter, or include a broader look at Trump’s other alleged wrongdoings, which notably could include his alleged efforts to obstruct the Mueller report investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Once the Judiciary has approved the articles, they will go to the full House for a vote.

The House just has to approve one of the articles for the president to be impeached, and if approved, the matter would head to the Senate for the trial portion of the process, which would likely be held in January.

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

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Trump and Macron Spar at NATO Summit

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  • At the NATO summit in London, President Donald Trump criticized French President Emmanuel Macron for previously saying NATO was experiencing “brain death” due to the lack of U.S. commitment under Trump.
  • While condemning Macron, Trump defended NATO, a sharp reversal from previous stances taken by the president.
  • Later, Macron and Trump sparred over the Turkish incursion in Syria and Turkey’s relationship with NATO.
  • U.S.-French relations have experienced recent strains. The meeting between the two leaders follows an announcement made by the U.S. the day before saying it was considering levying tariffs on $2.4 billion worth of French goods. 

Trump Condemns Macron Remarks

President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron publicly sparred during a meeting on the first day of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit Tuesday.

Speaking during a press event with the NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg earlier in the day, Trump condemned a remark made by the French leader in an interview last month.

In that interview, Macron said that NATO was experiencing “brain death” because America’s commitment to the organization has been called into question under Trump.

“NATO serves a great purpose,” Trump said, responding to a question about Macron’s statement. “And I hear that President Macron said NATO is ‘brain dead.’ I think that’s very insulting to a lot of different forces.” 

“When you make a statement like that, that is a very, very nasty statement to 28 — including them — 28 countries,” the president continued, referring to the NATO member-states, which number 29.  

“They’ve had a very rough year and you just can’t go around making statements like that about NATO. It’s very disrespectful,” he added.

Trump’s defense of NATO came was a surprising reversal from his previous stance on the intergovernmental military alliance, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary.  

Trump has a long history of being critical of NATO. He has argued that the U.S. is being treated unfairly by other NATO members because they do not spend as much money on their militaries as the U.S. does.

NATO members are required to spend at least 2% of their GDP on their own national defense. Trump has claimed that many members are not meeting that goal.

Trump also repeatedly called NATO “obsolete” while on the campaign trail, though he later backtracked on those comments once he was elected. And there have been multiple reports that Trump has threatened to pull the U.S. out of NATO altogether.

Trump-Macron Meeting

Even before Trump’s comments, experts and leaders were anticipating tensions and possibly even conflict between Trump and Macron at the summit.

The two leaders, who in the past have had a strong relationship, have recently seen strained ties.

On Monday, just one day before the summit began, the U.S. threatened to put new tariffs on $2.4 billion in French products including wine, cheese, and yogurt.

Trump’s chief trade negotiator said the tariffs would be in response to a French digital services tax that the U.S. believes discriminates against American internet companies.

During the press conference with Stoltenberg, Trump indicated that the U.S. was moving forward with the tariffs.

“They’re starting to tax other people’s products so therefore we’re going to tax them,” the president said. “That’s just taking place right now on technology and we’re doing their wines and everything else.” 

However, shortly after, Trump sat down for his meeting Macron, where he emphasized the positive trade relations between France and the U.S. in his opening remarks.

“We do a lot of trade with France,” Trump said. “We have a minor dispute I think we’ll probably be able to work it out. But we have a big trade relationship and I’m sure that in a very short period of time, things will be looking very rosy.” 

Trump also went on to say that some NATO members were not paying enough in defense spending, but that the organization has gotten a lot more flexible since he assumed office.

Macron for his part defended his earlier statements about NATO being “brain dead,” and said he stood by it.

The Turkey Situation

The conversation started to escalate when the two leaders began to discuss ISIS and the situation with Syria and Turkey.

Trump and his administration have frequently claimed that ISIS has been defeated in Syria.

This claim, which has largely been debunked, was a big part of the justification for Trump’s decision to remove troops from Northern Syria and step aside to let Turkey launch a military operation to clear Syrian Kurdish groups at the border.

Turkey considers those groups to be terrorists, but the U.S. and many other NATO members consider them key allies who have fought alongside the U.S. to combat ISIS in the region.

The Turkey question also appeared to be a point of conflict between Trump and Macron.

Trump claimed that most of the captured ISIS fighters in Syria were from Europe. Macron responded by contradicting Trump, and pointing out that only a small amount of captured fighters were European.

The French leader also condemned Turkey for fighting against the Kurds and said the situation today has lead to more ISIS fighters in the region and that getting rid of ISIS was the number one priority.

Trump responded by saying that Macron’s response “was one of the greatest non-answers I’ve ever heard.” 

Macron hit back by saying that it is not Europe’s responsibility, and added that “any ambiguity with Turkey vis a vis these groups is detrimental to the situation on the ground.” 

Still, Trump emphasized his strong relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a move many experts argue will cause even more divisions within NATO. 

Erdogan is already in hot water with the alliance over the Turkish incursion in Syria, as well as the fact that Turkey recently purchased an antiaircraft missile system from Russia, which goes against NATO commitments not to buy Russian systems.

Despite the tension between NATO and Turkey, Erdogan has already asked NATO members at the summit to recognize the Syrian Kurdish Forces as a terrorist group.

The Turkish leader also threatened to oppose NATO’s plans to update the defense of member states like Poland and other Baltic countries if the organization does not agree to his demands.

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

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