Day: January 16, 2020

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Ukraine opens criminal investigation into possible surveillance of U.S. ambassador…


Ukrainian police are now investigating two major cases related to the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump, one around possible illegal surveillance of former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and the other around a suspected attack by Russian military hackers targeting a company where the son of former Vice President Joe Biden sat on the board.

On the Yovanovitch case, the interior ministry said in a statement Thursday that police had opened a criminal investigation in light of text messages released by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee this week between two associates of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

On the alleged hacking case, Ukrainian police said Thursday they were now investigating a suspected attack by Russian military hackers that targeted Burisma, the Ukraine-based energy company that employed Hunter Biden.

Earlier this week, cyber-security firm Area 1 said it had discovered that hackers who appeared to be from Russia’s military agency, the GRU, had mounted a concerted phishing campaign against Burisma employees, trying to break into their emails and collect data.

The attacks occurred at the height of the impeachment hearings in November, and Area 1 speculated that the Russian hackers were searching for material that could be damaging to the Bidens that could then be leaked, following a model they had used in the 2016 election against the Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton.

Ukraine’s cyber police said it believed the attack — which also targeted Kvartal 95, the production company that produced President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s TV show before the former actor was elected — was “probably committed by the Russian special services” and they were in the process of identifying the people involved. It said Ukraine had also asked the FBI to join the investigation.

Meanwhile, in the text messages released by the House committee this week, Republican congressional candidate Robert Hyde appeared to suggest to Lev Parnas, a Florida businessman now at the center of the impeachment controversy, that he had people following Ambassador Yovanovitch’s movements in Ukraine.

Ukrainian police are now looking to see if there was surveillance and, if so, whether it had violated Ukrainian law or international conventions obliging host countries to protect foreign diplomats there, the ministry said.

“Ukraine’s position is not to interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States of America. However, the published records contain the fact of possible violation of the legislation of Ukraine and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects the rights of a diplomat in the territory of another country,” the ministry’s statement said.

“After analyzing these materials, the National Police of Ukraine upon their publication started criminal proceedings under part 2 of Art. 163 (Violation of the secrecy of correspondence, telephone conversations, telegraph or other correspondence) and part 1 of Art. 182 (Unlawful collection, storage, use of confidential information about a person, violation of privacy) of the Criminal Code of Ukraine,” the statement continues.

The ministry said investigators were examining whether any laws had been broken or if the messages had simply been “bravado and fake in an informal conversation between two US citizens.” Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has requested the U.S.’ assistance in the investigation, it said.

The allegations that the Giuliani associates may have been spying on a U.S. diplomat are potentially explosive for Trump, coming as the trial for his impeachment begins in the Senate.

Parnas, a Soviet-born businessperson based in Florida, took part in Giuliani’s campaign to press the Ukrainian government to open investigations into Biden.

Parnas has said he and Giuliani were seeking to have Yovanovitch removed as ambassador at the same time, having deemed her an obstacle to their effort. Yovanovitch was recalled abruptly by Trump before the end of her term last year and has testified in the impeachment inquiry that she believed she was the victim of a deliberate smear campaign.

In the messages from March and April released by the House Committee, Hyde, a supporter of Trump, and Parnas also discuss their desire to have Trump fire Yovanovitch, lamenting that she had not yet been removed. In the course of those messages, Hyde then gave a series of updates on Yovanovitch that suggested he or others were watching her in Kyiv and perhaps monitoring her communications.

“She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Her computer is off,” Hyde wrote in one message.

In others, Hyde, who referred to Yovanovitch as a “b—-,” noted Yovanovitch’s heavy security, and in another said, “We have a person inside.”

Several of Hyde’s messages suggested had other people in Kyiv tracking the ambassador.

“My contacts are asking what are the next steps because they cannot keep going to check people will start to ask questions,” he wrote.

Hyde repeatedly asked Parnas what “next steps” were, saying that the unidentified people were “willing to help if we/you would like a price,” and “guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money … is what I was told.”

Parnas texted back: “lol.”

Since the messages’ release, Hyde has dismissed them as joking around with Parnas.

“I was never in Kiev,” he wrote on Twitter Wednesday. “For them to take some texts my buddy’s [sic] and I wrote back to some dweeb we were playing with that we met a few times while we had a few drinks is definitely laughable.”

Yovanovitch through her lawyer has called the text messages between Parnas and Hyde “disturbing” and called for them to be investigated.

“We trust that the appropriate authorities will conduct an investigation to determine what happened,” Lawrence S. Robbins, Yovanovitch’s attorney, said in a statement.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Wednesday, Parnas apologized to Yovanovitch for the smear and disinformation campaign against her. In the explosive interview, he also claimed that Trump had been aware of all he and Giuliani’s efforts.

“He was aware of all of my movements,” Parnas said. “I wouldn’t do anything without the help of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”

Parnas has suggested he would be willing to be called as a witness in the Senate impeachment trial. He and his fellow Soviet-born business partner, Igor Fruman, last year were indicted on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records, in a case where prosecutors allege the made large campaign donations to Republican candidates after receiving millions of dollars originating from Russia. Both men have denied the charges.

Democrats have condemned the possibility that Yovanovitch was being spied on and promised to investigate.

Sen. Bernie Sanders on Wednesday called the situation “outrageous.”

“This must be fully investigated as the Senate conducts the impeachment trial,” he tweeted. “We have a responsibility to hold this lawless administration to account.”

The developments once again thrust Ukraine into U.S. politics, a place its leadership under President Zelenskiy, has been at pains to try to avoid.



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In Seychelles, nature is prized above mass tourism…


Anse Bazarca (Seychelles) (AFP) – In a shady patch along a pristine white beach on Mahe Island, a radio spits out reggae and snapper sizzles on the barbecue, as Seychelloise Nareen tops up her rum and coke on time off from her job aboard a luxury yacht.

Her family is spending the weekend at the beach where a couple dipping their feet into the turquoise waters off in the distance are the only foreign tourists in sight.

“We don’t have mass tourism in Seychelles, and that’s great. That is how we want it,” says Nareen, 32, who asked for her full name not to be published.

Nevertheless, like most citizens, she earns her living from tourism, which makes up more than 60 percent of GDP in the Seychelles, the only country in Africa considered “high income” by the World Bank.

The Indian Ocean archipelago, a chain of 115 islands, is a byword for luxury holidays, Instagram-perfect beaches and has gained a reputation as a honeymoon idyll.

But it is confronting a tug-of-war over how to keep the economy growing, while protecting its fragile ecosystem.

“More tourists means it’s better for the economy, but it’s not the only thing that comes into play,” Nareen says.

– One island, one resort –

High-end tourism, from Europe mainly, helped pull the Seychelles from the brink of financial ruin after the 2008 economic crisis.

Visitor numbers almost doubled in the decade that followed, to around 360,000 in 2018, nearly four times the country’s population.

But now the Seychelles is grappling with how many visitors it can realistically accommodate. An official study commissioned into the matter is due to begin soon.

In the meantime, the government placed a moratorium in 2015 on the construction of large resorts on the three main islands of Mahe, Praslin and La Digue.

It wanted both to protect the environment and encourage the growth of smaller, locally-run hotels.

On further-flung islands, the Seychelles practises a “one island, one resort” policy.

“It’s about controlling the number of tourists that come here, through controlling the number of rooms in the hotels that exist,” Tourism Minister Didier Dogley told AFP.

The Seychelles has 6,000 hotel rooms, but another 3,000 are in the pipeline, having been approved before the moratorium took effect, Dogley said.

“We believe that we can go up to 500,000 tourists, that is just an estimate for the time being,” he said.

– World heritage –

Nearly half of the Seychelles 455 square kilometres (176 square miles) are classed as protected areas.

By later this year, 30 percent of its 1.3 million square km of marine territory will have protected status too, under a special arrangement in which conservation groups agree in return to pay a small portion of Seychelles’ national debt.

The country has two UNESCO world heritage sites: the Mai Valley and its indigenous coco de mer palm trees, and the Aldabra Atoll, home to the Seychelles’ famed giant tortoises.

With a few exceptions such as the popular Beau Vallon Beach on Mahe or Anse Source d’Argent on La Digue, regularly named one of the world’s most beautiful beaches, tranquility reigns on the islands.

Most beachside resorts keep a low profile, blending into the jungle backdrop that reaches into the island’s interior from the white sands bordering the azure shores.

“It all depends on the standards that you want to maintain,” said Nirmal Shah, executive director of environmental NGO Nature Seychelles.

He believes that some of the more popular sites have already reached their full capacity.

The Seychelles, he said, “really do not want to become” an eyesore like some beaches in Europe, crowded by umbrellas and edged by concrete.

– Room to improve –

On Grand Police, in the south of Mahe island, locals have been angered by a Gulf company’s plans to build a new resort, approved before the 2015 ban.

The project is unpopular over concerns about the health of a local marshland but also because most large resorts are owned by foreign groups.

The government has promised to talk to those behind the new resort to explore how the proposal could be dropped.

Despite environmental pledges and efforts, Dogley said that much still had to be done in Seychelles to ensure a sustainable tourism industry.

Large hotel groups have put measures in place to limit their impact on the environment, such as having their own vegetable gardens and reducing plastic and energy use.

Smaller, Seychellois-owned establishments, though not leaving the same ecological footprint, sometimes lack the resources to match these efforts, despite government incentives.

“Given our small population, the number of tourists is huge, and it is difficult to absorb the footprint of so many visitors,” said Shah.

More than a quarter of the workforce is foreign, he pointed out, especially in the tourism and construction industries — unemployment is only around 3.5 percent.

The tourism industry faces other constraints, too.

The small, hilly country is forced to import more than 90 percent of its goods, and most of the energy needed to keep the islands running is derived from oil-powered generators.

Still, the pursuit of eco-friendly growth over profit alone has struck a chord with some visitors.

“We didn’t know much about the ecological side of tourism in the Seychelles… but once here, it really hit us,” says Romain Tonda, a 28-year-old French tourist on his honeymoon on Cousin Island, fringed by coral reef.

“It’s not perfect, but we can see that it’s something that is important for the Seychellois.”



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Mystery virus spreads from China to Japan as epidemic fears grow…


Japanese officials have confirmed its first case of the new coronavirus in the country as epidemic fears grow.

A government official said today that a Japanese man in his 30s, who travelled to Wuhan in eastern China, tested positive for the virus.

The SARS-like virus has struck down dozens in China since the outbreak was first recorded in December.

It is believed an outbreak of pneumonia caused the fresh coronavirus strain.

A Chinese woman was quarantined in Thailand on Monday after authorities discovered she had been infected with the coronavirus.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned the virus could spread further and has told hospitals across the world to be alert.

The World Health Organisation has warned the virus could spread

Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of the WHO’s emerging diseases unit, said: “From the information that we have it is possible that there is limited human-to-human transmission, potentially among families, but it is very clear right now that we have no sustained human-to-human transmission.

She added: “It is still early days, we don’t have a clear clinical picture.”

The virus can spread from person to person

Coronaviruses are infections that can cause colds to more-serious illnesses like SARS.

In all, 41 cases of pneumonia have been reported in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, which preliminary lab tests cited by state media showed could be from a new type of coronavirus.

One of the patients has died, a 61-year-old man who had bought goods from a wholesale seafood market in Wuhan.

There is now a security presence guarding the closed market, believed to be the source of the virus.



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Iowa Dems view flawed front-runners with anxiety…


AMES, Iowa — Democratic voters fear their party is on the brink of repeating the mistakes that sent President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Nunes threatened to sue him over criticism Parnas: U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed to clear path for investigations into Bidens Five takeaways from Parnas’s Maddow interview MORE to the White House as they consider their choices weeks before the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

The four front-running contenders are all battling to prove they are the most likely to defeat Trump, a reflection both of the president’s looming presence over the race and the anxiety felt by Democratic voters, who fear fatal flaws with each candidate could doom their hopes of winning back the White House.

In conversations with nearly two dozen Iowa Democrats before and after Tuesday’s debate, many analyzed the unsettled Democratic primary through the lens of a television pundit.

They weighed the relative strengths and weaknesses of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe Biden Parnas: U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed to clear path for investigations into Bidens Five takeaways from Parnas’s Maddow interview Parnas: Trump threatened to withhold more than just military aid to Ukraine MORE, Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersWarren to Sanders: ‘I think you called me a liar on national TV’ Warren-Sanders fight raises alarm on the left On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Trump signs first phase of US-China trade deal | Senate to vote Thursday on Canada, Mexico deal | IRS provides relief for those with discharged student loans MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren to Sanders: ‘I think you called me a liar on national TV’ Warren-Sanders fight raises alarm on the left Overnight Health Care: Health insurers urge Supreme Court to take ObamaCare case | Lawmakers press Trump officials to change marijuana rules | Bloomberg vows to ban flavored e-cigs if elected MORE (D-Mass.) and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegWarren-Sanders fight raises alarm on the left New Hampshire Rep. Kuster endorses Buttigieg Hillicon Valley: Trump turns up heat on Apple over gunman’s phone | Mnuchin says Huawei won’t be ‘chess piece’ in trade talks | Dems seek briefing on Iranian cyber threats | Buttigieg loses cyber chief MORE (D) and more often than not expressed concerns about what they are certain will be a tough general election fight in November.

“Our country can’t afford to have a candidate or a president like we currently have. We’ve got to pick someone who can get elected,” said Sarah Binder, a retiree in Ames who is waffling between supporting Buttigieg and entrepreneur Andrew YangAndrew YangYang fourth-most-tweeted-about Democrat during debate despite not qualifying All the frontrunners could survive initial Iowa test DNC, Democratic candidates combine to raise 0M in 2019 MORE. “I’m very anxious that … all the fake news and the ugliness that the current president will employ to try to win will sway this American public that voted him in to begin with.”

Each of the front-runners have carved out their own niches among Iowa caucusgoers. Recent polls show the four tightly packed together at the top of the heap, with either Biden or Sanders narrowly leading.

But voters are acutely aware of their respective weaknesses, too.

Sanders, the most liberal candidate in the field, concerns some voters who worry he will frighten independents and moderates who helped Democrats reclaim control of Congress in the midterm elections. Warren said this week that Sanders told her in a 2018 conversation that he did not believe a woman could beat Trump — a comment Sanders denied, but one that is echoed by both male and female Iowa Democrats who think pivotal swing voters might privately harbor sexist attitudes.

Buttigieg, who turns 38 on Sunday, offers a generational change, something that is at once his greatest appeal to voters seeking change and his most significant drawback among those who believe the country is not yet ready for a millennial president. And Biden, 77, is seen by some as a creature of a previous and bygone political era, an elder statesman who is no longer as sharp on the debate stage as he was during vice presidential debates in 2008 and 2012.

“I am so terrified,” said Beth Frederickson, 70, a retiree from Baxter, Iowa, who attended a Buttigieg town hall meeting Wednesday. “I think Biden is just going to bumble. Trump is mean and hateful, and he’ll eat [Biden] alive.”

Voter anxiety over the field’s ability to beat Trump is evident in the public polls that have shown Biden and Sanders rising to the top in recent weeks. A majority of Democratic voters, 55 percent, told the Iowa pollster Ann Selzer that it was more important to them that Democrats nominate a candidate who can beat Trump than a candidate who agreed with them on major issues. A whopping 89 percent said a candidate’s ability to beat Trump was important or extremely important to their thinking.

Just a quarter of Democratic voters told Selzer they were backing a candidate other than the one they believed would be best able to beat Trump.

Some Democrats said they were concerned that heated rhetoric and growing rifts between the leading contenders threatens to divide the party at precisely the moment it needs to be united to combat Trump’s enthusiastic base — an unsettling echo of the 2016 campaign, when Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonWarren-Sanders fight raises alarm on the left Poll: Trump trails 2020 Democratic contenders in Michigan US company offers free cybersecurity assistance to campaigns MORE backers harshly criticized Sanders for a perceived disinterest in bringing his most die-hard fans back into the fold after a bitter primary.

On Tuesday, Warren and Sanders seemed to clash after a debate at Drake University, when they exchanged words and didn’t shake hands. Buttigieg and Biden have consistently drawn contrasts with the liberal leaders over “Medicare for All” and college tuition plans. Sanders attacked Biden for his vote to authorize the use of military force in Iraq. Even Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharGOP senator: 2020 candidates must recuse themselves from impeachment trial Fight escalates over planned impeachment press restrictions Overnight Energy: Cost analysis backing BLM move comes under scrutiny | Republicans eye legislation to rival Dems’ climate plan | Report claims top global risks all climate-related MORE (D-Minn.), polling behind the front-runners, implied that her rivals were part of the political extremes that have divided the country.

“A few of them are trying to lob bombs at each other, and a little bit of that reeks of desperation,” said Kirsten Running-Marquardt, a Democratic state representative from Cedar Rapids who is backing Biden. “Nobody is perfect. Each of the candidates have their own issues.”

Some Iowa Democrats are more sanguine, even bullish, about their party’s prospects in November. Virtually every Democratic voter, from Sanders supporters to Biden backers, said their dislike of Trump acted as a unifying force and that he or she would vote for the eventual nominee over Trump without hesitation.

“I think about anybody can beat President Trump,” said Elmer King, a retiree from Swan who attended Buttigieg’s event. “He’s just hateful.”



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TRUMP TRIAL: FOUR REPUBLICANS COULD PREVENT RAPID ACQUITTAL…


(Bloomberg) — Donald Trump’s impeachment moves to the GOP-controlled Senate where the president and Democrats will battle over a small group of Republicans whose votes will determine the course of a trial on whether he should be removed from office.

The Senate proceedings will begin formally on Thursday with a show of pageantry that includes the reading of two impeachment articles and U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts swearing in 100 senators as jurors. Yet one of the most pressing and contentious issues — whether to meet Democratic demands for witnesses — will remain unresolved for more than a week.

The seven House Democrats chosen by Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday to argue the impeachment case will have their best shot when the trial fully gets under way early next week to persuade at least four Republicans that new witnesses must be heard and new evidence presented.

Despite Trump’s conflicting statements about wanting witnesses to defend him during the Senate trial, White House officials said Wednesday the president’s team is seeking a short trial and that no additional testimony is needed.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that’s his preference as well, but it may be up to his Republican colleagues, Senators Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney and Lamar Alexander.

All four have said they’re open to hearing new testimony. Together they have the power to join with Democrats on key questions like whether to subpoena former National Security Adviser John Bolton, acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and a trove of documents sought by the House but blocked by the president.

Collins said Wednesday she’s satisfied that they will “ensure a roll call vote on the overall issue of whether or not to have witnesses.”

The trial is almost certain to end with Trump’s acquittal on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress; 67 votes are required to convict and no Republican senator has said the articles laid out by House merit his removal from office. But the entire proceeding will hang over his bid for re-election as well as his legacy.

“This is a difficult time for our country, but this is precisely the kind of time for which the framers created the Senate,” McConnell said after the House impeachment managers marched to the Senate chamber for a ceremonial delivery of the impeachment articles. “I’m confident this body can rise above short-termism and factional fever and serve the long-term best interests of our nation. We can do this, and we must.”

Before the trial fully gets under way on Tuesday, the Senate must summon the president to respond to the charges and make other procedural moves, including adopting a resolution setting the rules. McConnell has said they would parallel those set out for the 1999 impeachment trial of then-President Bill Clinton.

Assuming that resolution is adopted by 51 senators without changes, the impeachment managers will have several days to be present their case, followed by the defense, questions from senators and then either votes to extend the trial or wrap it up and declare Trump guilty or not guilty.

Once the House managers and Trump’s counsel begin presenting their cases, senators will find themselves in an unusual setting.

They’ve been told they must stay seated at their desks for the proceedings with only reading material related to the case and have been admonished to avoid even talking to neighboring senators. Their telephones and other electronic devices will be kept in special cubbies in the cloakrooms, and access to the Senate side of the Capitol will be unusually limited for both reporters and staff. The trial may go on for six days a week.

First Meeting

In the House, the seven lawmakers who’ll make up the prosecution team led by Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of California met as a group for the first time Wednesday afternoon, along with representatives from Pelosi’s office and Intelligence and Judiciary committee legal teams.

Schiff will read the articles of impeachment in the Senate on Thursday.

Several members said little was discussed about trial strategies or what assignments they will have in pulling together and presenting the case.

“You know what? We haven’t discussed to that level of detail yet,” said Representative Val Demings of Florida.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said he and his House manager colleagues will likely work over the weekend in preparation.

The managers can file certain preliminary motions under the rules of impeachment, and also file a trial brief stating its overall case. Nadler said one focus of House legal arguments from the start will be to argue for the allowing of evidence not considered or available in the House’s impeachment investigation.

The House inquiry focused on alleged efforts by Trump to use U.S. military assistance as leverage to get Ukraine’s government to probe Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, a potential challenger in 2020.

Additional Evidence

The attempt to sway Collins, Romney and the other GOP senators had begun well before the first arguments are made on the Senate floor.

“Above all, a fair trial must include additional documents and relevant witnesses,” Nadler said.

Among the additional evidence, Nadler cited the materials turned over by Lev Parnas, a former associate of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who was central to the attempt to pressure Ukraine

A lawyer for Parnas, who is under indictment on campaign finance-related charges, turned over to House investigators a trove of notes, emails and text messages that Democrats said “further corroborates the findings and evidence related to the president’s scheme, which was laid out in the Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report.”

The material includes a May 2019 letter from Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy requesting a meeting “in my capacity as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent.”

Schiff said the materials from Parnas showed that Giuliani’s back-channel effort to influence Ukraine was directed by Trump. “There is no fobbing this off on others,” he said. “The president was the architect of this scheme.”

He said the documents are only a “small sample” of the kinds of material that were withheld by the White House during the House investigation. “Those documents should be demanded by the senators,” Schiff said.

Since the impeachment process got started in the House in September, Republicans and Democrats have exchanged charges of bias and accusations that one side or the other was seeking a pre-determined outcome.

Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas said an impeachment trial is a “unique process” that is unlike a regular court proceeding.

“They call us a jury but we’re hardly disinterested,” Cornyn said. “So the analogies we are all trying to make” to judicial trials “have their limitations.”

–With assistance from Daniel Flatley and Erik Wasson.

To contact the reporters on this story: Steven T. Dennis in Washington at sdennis17@bloomberg.net;Billy House in Washington at bhouse5@bloomberg.net;Laura Litvan in Washington at llitvan@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Joe Sobczyk, John Harney

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

Subscribe now to stay ahead with the most trusted business news source.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.



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Major test for McConnell, Schumer…


The looming Senate impeachment trial is a major test for both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellNew Parnas evidence escalates impeachment witnesses fight On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Trump signs first phase of US-China trade deal | Senate to vote Thursday on Canada, Mexico deal | IRS provides relief for those with discharged student loans GOP senator: 2020 candidates must recuse themselves from impeachment trial MORE (R-Ky.) and Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerGOP senator: 2020 candidates must recuse themselves from impeachment trial Collins questions delay on Lev Parnas documents Sanders calls for investigation into possible surveillance of Yovanovitch MORE (D-N.Y.) as they square off in what could be the most defining battle on Capitol Hill this year before the 2020 election.

The stakes for McConnell and Schumer, who have been longtime political adversaries, are high.

In 1999, Democrats scored a big victory in President Clinton’s impeachment trial by convincing a handful of Republicans to cross the aisle and vote against the two articles of impeachment passed by the House. Ten Republicans voted against Article I charging Clinton with perjury and five Republicans voted against Article II charging the president with obstruction of justice.
Clinton and his allies hailed it as an acquittal and saw depriving Republicans — who controlled the chamber with 55 seats — of a majority vote for impeachment as a major victory. Sen. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinNew Hampshire parochialism, not whiteness, bedevils Democrats Democrats must question possible political surveillance Wisconsin lawmaker gets buzz-cut after vowing not to cut hair until sign language bill passed MORE (D-Iowa) was spotted exchanging high fives on media row in the Russell Rotunda immediately after the vote.

If Schumer can convince four Senate Republicans to vote to subpoena additional witnesses and documents, as he has demanded for weeks, it would be a big win. And if he can convince any Republicans to vote for articles of impeachment — something that Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Trump signs first phase of US-China trade deal | Senate to vote Thursday on Canada, Mexico deal | IRS provides relief for those with discharged student loans House delivers impeachment articles to Senate Senate begins preparations for Trump trial MORE (D-Calif.) failed to do in the House — it will be a bigger victory.

McConnell’s goal, meanwhile, is to win President TrumpDonald John TrumpDem lawmaker says Nunes threatened to sue him over criticism Parnas: U.S. ambassador to Ukraine removed to clear path for investigations into Bidens Five takeaways from Parnas’s Maddow interview MORE a fast acquittal and to keep his conference unified on the biggest vote: an up-or-down vote on the articles of impeachment.

“McConnell is the majority leader and controls the schedule, but Schumer is the chief [Democratic] strategist, the head of the messaging operation. Depending on how things break it could be a very joyous occasion for one of them or a very unhappy one,” said Ross K. Baker, a professor of political science at Rutgers University who has served several stints as a Senate fellow.

Baker said the test for Schumer’s success is luring four Republicans to vote with Democrats to subpoena additional witnesses and documents. There is some dispute on whether Chief Justice John Roberts can break a 50-50 tie if all Democrats unite with three Republican defections.

The test for McConnell will be to preserve party unity and to block additional witness testimony and document review that could extend the trial for weeks longer.

“As far as McConnell is concerned, [the goal] is to get it over with as quickly as possible and to keep his conference together, prevent them from straying. If he does that, I think he’d count it a success,” Baker added.

Schumer and McConnell have battled many times before. They both served as heads of their respective party campaign committees and Schumer targeted McConnell in 2008, but the Kentucky legislator triumphed. In 2017, Schumer won the fight over ObamaCare and a year later, McConnell scored a major win with the Senate’s approval of Supreme Court nominee Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughAppeals court appears wary of letting Trump reinstate death sentences SCOTUS ‘TRAP law’ case and the erosion of abortion rights Sanders: Releasing list of Supreme Court picks ‘not a bad idea’ MORE.

Schumer’s and McConnell’s allies are already trying to manage expectations ahead of the trial, which could take unexpected turns.

Schumer on Tuesday acknowledged he doesn’t know for sure whether four GOP senators will vote to call witnesses and subpoena documents.

“I can’t predict whether we’ll have witnesses or not. At first, everyone said no. McConnell seemed to rule the roost. Now we’re having some people entertain it, but you don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said. “We’re in better shape than we were a few weeks ago, but there are no certainties here at all.”

A person close to Schumer said the Democratic leader has already achieved a victory by focusing public attention on McConnell’s refusal to agree to witnesses and documents at the start of the trial.

“The first test was to define what a fair trial is: Sen. Schumer and Senate Democrats succeeded in doing that and now everyone knows that a fair trial must have witnesses and documents, and a trial without that is a cover-up,” the Democratic source said.

A Senate GOP aide said Senate Republicans shouldn’t be expected to walk in lockstep throughout the trial and that defections on procedural votes, such as calling former national security adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonGraham on impeachment trial: ‘End this crap as quickly as possible’ New Parnas evidence escalates impeachment witnesses fight House delivers impeachment articles to Senate MORE to testify, shouldn’t be seen as big surprises or setbacks.

The ultimate metric may be whether Trump wins reelection in November — and carries Senate GOP candidates across the finish line to victory or down with him in defeat.

To make any headway with Republican moderates, Schumer will need to whip up public pressure. He also has to worry about keeping moderates in his own caucus in the fold, such as Sens. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinPoll: West Virginia voters would view Manchin negatively if he votes to convict Trump Pelosi set to send impeachment articles to the Senate next week The Hill’s Morning Report — Impeachment tug-of-war expected to end soon MORE (D-W.Va.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

A new poll commissioned by The Club for Growth PAC, a conservative advocacy group, shows that nearly half of West Virginia voters would view Manchin more negatively if he votes to remove Trump from office.

McConnell could score a public relations victory by picking off any of them to portray the House articles of impeachment as an unwarranted overreach, an argument he has made on the floor repeatedly.

McConnell has kept in close contact with his members. He invited one pivotal vote, Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiNew Parnas evidence escalates impeachment witnesses fight Senate begins preparations for Trump trial Collins, Murkowski: Too early to make decision on Hunter Biden testifying MORE (R-Alaska), to his Capitol office to discuss the impeachment trial procedures as soon as senators returned from the Christmas break. He has also negotiated extensively with Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham on impeachment trial: ‘End this crap as quickly as possible’ Collins questions delay on Lev Parnas documents Senate impeachment trial rules call for vote on witnesses, but no motion to dismiss MORE (R-Maine), another crucial moderate, on including language in the organizing resolution for the trial that would ensure a debate and vote on motions to subpoena witnesses.

Collins, who faces a tough reelection fight this year and has come under heavy pressure from Democrats, can point to her work on amending the organizing resolution to protect her brand as an independent voice, something that could be important to voters in November.

Collins, Murkowski and two other moderates, Sens. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyGraham on impeachment trial: ‘End this crap as quickly as possible’ Senate begins preparations for Trump trial The Hill’s Morning Report – Trump trial questions; civil Democratic debate MORE (R-Utah) and Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderTrump Jr. to stump for ex-ambassador running for Tennessee Senate seat Hoyer: Democratic chairmen trying to bridge divide on surprise medical bills Congress must address surprise medical billing in 2020 — and change its approach MORE (R-Tenn.), participated in negotiations with McConnell on drafting the organizing resolution.

“There were a lot of discussions with the leader and his staff on that issue,” Collins said.

While McConnell agreed to guarantee a vote at a later date on subpoenaing witnesses, he did not include a similar guarantee for a vote to dismiss the articles of impeachment — further earning points with GOP moderates.

Neither Schumer nor McConnell are twisting arms. Instead, they’re using careful diplomacy with colleagues.

“Most of the people on the outside think there’s this arm-twisting and heavy whipping going on. It almost never occurs, almost never. Most of it comes from the White House when they’re trying to get senators to come this way,” said Senate Democratic Whip Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinOvernight Defense: Foreign policy takes center stage at Democratic debate | House delivers impeachment articles to Senate | Dems vow to force new vote on Trump’s border wall Senators under strict orders to pay attention during weeks-long impeachment trial Democrats vow to force third vote on Trump’s border wall emergency declaration MORE (Ill.).

“As a person who’s had this job for a few years, I’ve never, ever believed that pressure tactics work in the Senate,” he added.

Alexander, who applauded McConnell’s decision not to promise conservative colleagues a vote on a motion to dismiss the articles of impeachment, said the GOP leader has not pressed him either way on how to vote.

“I’m trying to conduct myself as an individual senator,” Alexander said. “He hasn’t told me how to vote.

“He knows better than to tell me how to vote,” added Alexander, who is not seeking reelection.



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RUDY ASSOCIATE DROPS BOMBS ON MADDOW…


WASHINGTON (AP) — A close associate of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer says he delivered an ultimatum in May to the incoming president of Ukraine that no senior U.S. officials would attend his inauguration and all American aid to the war-torn country would be withheld if an investigation into Joe Biden wasn’t announced.

Lev Parnas, an associate of Rudy Giuliani, made several potentially explosive claims in a televised interview Wednesday night with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. The day after Parnas said he delivered the message, the U.S. State Department announced that Vice President Mike Pence would no longer be attending the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy.

Parnas alleged that Trump ordered Pence to stay away at the behest of Giuliani to send a clear message to the incoming Ukrainian administration that they needed to take seriously the demand for an investigation into Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate seen as a potential threat to Trump’s 2020 reelection.

Parnas said every communication he had with Zelenskiy’s team was at the direction of Giuliani, whom he regularly overheard briefing Trump about their progress by phone.

“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” said Parnas, a Soviet-born Florida businessman facing a raft of criminal charges related to campaign finance violations. “He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the President.”

If true, Parnas’ account undercuts a key Republican defense of Trump deployed during the ongoing impeachment fight — that Trump’s withholding of vital military aid to Ukraine last summer wasn’t a quid pro quo for Biden investigations because Zelenskiy didn’t know the money was being held up.

Giuliani called Parnas’ statements “sad.”

“I feel sorry for him,” Giuliani said Wednesday in a text message to an AP reporter. “I thought he was an honorable man. I was wrong.”

Asked directly if Parnas was lying, Trump’s lawyer replied, “I’m not responding yet.”

Parnas said he also heard Giuliani and another Trump-aligned defense lawyer, Victoria Toensing, briefing Attorney General William Barr by phone about their efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce the investigation into Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings.

“Barr was basically on the team,” Parnas said.

The Justice Department said in September that Trump had not spoken to Barr about having Ukraine investigate the Bidens and that the attorney general had not discussed Ukraine with Giuliani. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday that Parnas’ claims were “100% false.”

The new accusations came as House Democrats made public a trove of documents, text messages and photos from Parnas’ smartphones that appear to verify parts of his account.

A federal judge earlier this month ruled that Parnas could provide the materials to Congress as part of the impeachment proceedings. Democrats voted in December to impeach Trump for abuse of power and for obstruction of Congress.

A House committee chairman said Wednesday his panel will investigate what he says are “profoundly alarming” text messages among the newly disclosed materials that have raised questions about the possible surveillance of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch before she was ousted by the Trump administration last spring.

The messages show that a Robert F. Hyde, a Republican candidate for Congress from Connecticut, disparaged Yovanovitch in messages to Parnas and gave him updates on her location and cellphone use.

Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Wednesday that the messages are “profoundly alarming” and “suggest a possible risk” to Yovanovitch’s security in Kyiv before she was recalled from her post.

“These threats occurred at the same time that the two men were also discussing President Trump’s efforts, through Rudy Giuliani, to smear the ambassador’s reputation,” Engel said.

He said the committee staff flagged the information for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and is seeking assurances that proper steps have been taken to ensure the security of Yovanovitch and committee staff. He said he also wanted to know what, if anything, the State Department knew about the situation.

“This unprecedented threat to our diplomats must be thoroughly investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Engel said.

Democrats released the files Tuesday and Wednesday as they prepared to send articles of impeachment to the Senate for Trump’s trial. The documents could add pressure on the Senate as it debates whether to hear witnesses in the trial.

The text and phone records show Parnas communicating with Giuliani multiple times a day before Yovanovitch’s removal, as well as a handwritten note that mentions asking Ukraine’s president to investigate “the Biden case.”

Among the documents is a screenshot of a previously undisclosed letter from Giuliani to Zelenskiy dated May 10, 2019, which was shortly after Zelenskiy was elected but before he took office. In the letter, Giuliani requests a meeting with Zelenskiy “as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent.”

The Associated Press reported in October that Zelenskiy had huddled three days earlier, on May 7, with a small group of key advisers in Kyiv to seek advice about how to navigate the insistence from Trump and Giuliani for a probe into the Bidens. He expressed his unease about becoming entangled in the American elections, according to three people familiar with the details of the three-hour meeting. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, which has roiled U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

One of the documents released by Democrats is a handwritten note on stationery from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna that says “get Zalensky to Annonce that the Biden case will be Investigated.”

Parnas told Maddow he took the notes as he was speaking by phone to Giuliani, receiving precise instructions about the demands Trump wanted to convey to Zelenskiy’s team.

Trump asked Zelenskiy in a July 25 call to investigate the Bidens. Hunter Biden served on the board of a gas company based in Ukraine.

The documents were sent to the House Judiciary Committee by three other House panels “to be included as part of the official record that will be transmitted to the Senate along with the Articles of Impeachment,” according to a statement. Some of the materials were made public while others were blacked out and marked as sensitive.

Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, both U.S. citizens who emigrated from the former Soviet Union, were indicted last year on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records. Prosecutors allege they made outsize campaign donations to Republican causes after receiving millions of dollars originating from Russia. The men have pleaded not guilty.

In several of the documents, Parnas communicated with Giuliani about the removal of Yovanovitch. The ambassador’s ouster, ordered by Trump, was at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Yovanovitch testified in the House impeachment hearings that she was the victim of a “smear campaign.”

Trump on the July call told Zelenskiy that Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things.” She had been recalled from her diplomatic post roughly three months earlier.

On April 23, just before Yovanovitch was directed to return to the United States, Giuliani texted Parnas, “He fired her again.” Parnas texted back, “I pray it happens this time I’ll call you tomorrow my brother.”

Parnas also received messages from Hyde, who referred to Yovanovitch as a “bitch.”

After texting about the ambassador, Hyde gave Parnas detailed updates that suggested he was watching her. In one text, Hyde wrote: “She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Her computer is off.” He said she was under heavy security and “we have a person inside.”

Hyde texted Parnas that ″they are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” and “guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money … is what I was told.”

Parnas texted back: “lol.”

Lawrence Robbins, an attorney for Yovanovitch, called for an investigation into the messages.

In a Twitter post Tuesday, Hyde called Parnas a “dweeb” and suggested the messages about surveilling the ambassador were a joke. He said he welcomed an investigation.

Parnas, in turn, also said Wednesday that Hyde’s texts shouldn’t be taken seriously.

The text messages show that Parnas consulted Giuliani in January 2019 after the U.S. denied a visa to former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. Giuliani replied: “I can revive it.”

The following day, Giuliani told Parnas, “It’s going to work I have no 1 in it.” Giuliani then predicted “he will get one,” before giving Parnas the phone number for Jay Sekulow, the leader of the president’s personal legal team. Sekulow is expected to be part of Trump’s legal team during the impeachment trial.

Trump has repeatedly denied knowing Parnas and Fruman, despite numerous photos that have emerged of the men together. Among the materials released from Parnas’ phone this week were more photos of him with Trump, as well as the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., first daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner.

Asked by Maddow about Trump’s denials of knowing him, Parnas said he had spoken one-on-one with the president numerous times.

“He lied,” Parnas said of the president. “I mean, we’re not friends. Me and him didn’t watch football games together, we didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were, who I was especially.”

___

Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Lisa Mascaro and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.



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DOWNEY DISASTER…


Universal has barely had a moment to shake the shame off its whiskers after Cats, but now it’s got another big-budget disaster on its hands: Dolittle.

With multiple re-shoots following a bad reception from test audiences two years ago, followed by two missed release dates, the road ahead of the $170million film adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s charming 1920’s novel about a doctor who can speak to animals seems to have been doomed from the start.

Set in Victorian England, and directed by Oscar-winning writer of Syriana and Traffic Stephen Gaghan, John Dolittle is played by Avengers star Robert Downey Jr, who surrounds himself with exotic animals as a way of mourning the death off his wife. Other stars include Jessie Buckley as Queen Victoria and a gagtastic Michael Sheen as a shrewd, rival doctor, but the biggest names remain (luckily for them) invisible: Emma Thompson (a parrot), Rami Malek (a gorilla), Ralph Fiennes (a tiger), Tom Holland (a dog), Marion Cotillard (a fox) and Octavia Spencer (a duck).

Dolittle has been adapted for the big screen before, with similar trouble. Richard Fleischer’s 1987 musical film starring Rex Harrison was plagued with numerous production issues, including technical difficulties related to the large number of animals required for the story, and went wildly over-budget. It managed to pull through at the box office however, and was even nominated for nine Oscars.



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Trump turns signing into rambling hour-plus monologue…




Donald Trump, Mike Pence are posing for a picture: U.S. President Donald Trump reacts between Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (L) and Vice President Mike Pence before signing an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020.


© Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS
U.S. President Donald Trump reacts between Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (L) and Vice President Mike Pence before signing an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020.

WASHINGTON — It was meant to be a relatively brief photo op to celebrate a relatively modest trade agreement with the Chinese.

But President Donald Trump has never been one to honor “brief” when combined with “photo op,” much less risk accusations of modesty.

So as four Chinese government ministers and senior trade officials stood like blank-faced statues beside him in the gilded East Room, Trump began talking. And talking.



Lawrence Kudlow wearing a suit and tie standing in a room: U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (L) and Senior advisor Jared Kushner arrive at a signing ceremony of an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020.


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U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (L) and Senior advisor Jared Kushner arrive at a signing ceremony of an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020.

There’s “the great Lou Dobbs,” the Fox Business Network personality, in the front row, Trump said, “a man who always liked me because he’s smart.”

“Tremendous audience. Everybody in this room watches,” Trump said, recounting the times Dobbs praised Trump as the greatest president ever, “even better than Reagan.” Or Lincoln. Or Washington, the president added.



Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks next to Chinese Vice Premier Liu He before signing an initial trade deal at the White House on Jan. 15, 2020 in Washington, D.C.


© Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks next to Chinese Vice Premier Liu He before signing an initial trade deal at the White House on Jan. 15, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

Trump gave shout-outs to dignitaries from Congress, from Wall Street, from his Cabinet and elsewhere. He offered effusive comments about dozens of friends and allies before he let the Chinese officials — who had flown across the world to sign the trade deal — speak.

There was lavish praise for Nixon-era diplomat Henry Kissinger, whom Trump pronounced “impressed” with the deal. He hailed casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, “tremendous supporters of us and the Republican Party.”

He named members of Congress, thanking them one at a time for their support against the “hoax” impeachment battle, while urging them to keep up the fight.

He talked about South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s golf game, assuring everyone it was better than they might realize. He gave a cheery nod to the new Boeing chief executive, David Calhoun, telling him the 737 Max crashes were “not your fault” while reassuring that Calhoun could fix the company.



a person wearing a suit and tie: U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He shake hands before signing an initial trade deal at the White House on Jan. 15, 2020 in Washington, D.C.


© Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He shake hands before signing an initial trade deal at the White House on Jan. 15, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

The teleprompter in front of Trump was a mere suggestion. Trump, who has been furious and anxious over the ongoing impeachment proceedings, was returning to his place of comfort, a microphone and a captive audience.



Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie talking on a cell phone: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing an initial trade deal with China at the White House on Jan. 15, 2020 in Washington, D.C.


© Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing an initial trade deal with China at the White House on Jan. 15, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

The president has turned events of almost every kind into stream-of-consciousness extravaganzas like this one. Often, foreign leaders and others invited to share the stage with him are left to stand silently while Trump ruminates over any number of domestic grievances and unrelated anecdotes.

At the NATO summit in London in December, the world caught a glimpse of what leaders forced to endure Trump’s monologues were actually thinking. A trio of allies was captured on video laughing among themselves hours later after sitting through marathon photo ops with Trump.



Donald Trump, Mike Pence are posing for a picture: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks next to Vice President Mike Pence before signing an initial trade deal at the White House on Jan. 15, 2020 in Washington, D.C.


© Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks next to Vice President Mike Pence before signing an initial trade deal at the White House on Jan. 15, 2020 in Washington, D.C.

The laughs have hardly chastened the president. On Wednesday, he seemed intent on stealing attention from Congress for as long he could as the House named impeachment managers and prepared to send articles to the Senate.



Cui Tiankai, Yi Gang, Mike Pence, Steven Mnuchin standing next to a person in a suit and tie: U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He shake hands after signing an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020.


© Yuri Gripas/ABACA/Abaca Press/Yuri Gripas/ABACA
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He shake hands after signing an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020.

It ultimately was a losing battle for Trump. After 15 minutes or so, cable news networks began showing a split screen with Trump and the House. Soon, even Fox News and C-SPAN had cut away from live coverage at the White House.

Somewhere around Minute 38, one of the many Chinese reporters squished in the back of the room behind the many television cameras asked another if Trump planned to go on forever. The other reporter shook his head incredulously before answering yes.

When Trump ran out of people in the room to cite, he began talking about those who weren’t there.



Yi Gang, Steven Mnuchin standing next to a person in a suit and tie: U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He sign an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020. Photo


© Yuri Gripas/ABACA/Abaca Press/Yuri Gripas/ABACA
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He sign an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020. Photo

“Where’s Rupert? Is Rupert not here?” Trump asked, referring to Rupert Murdoch, complaining that the owner of his favorite television network was selling some of his assets to a group “that doesn’t like Trump as much.” (The Murdoch family retains control of Fox News after selling its entertainment properties to Disney last year.)

As the clock ticked past 1 p.m., an hour and 13 minutes after Trump had begun talking, there were notable rumblings and a message on the teleprompter instructing Trump and Vice Premier Liu He to walk to the desks that had been set up to sign the trade pact.



Donald Trump et al. standing next to a man in a suit and tie: U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He depart after signing an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020.


© Yuri Gripas/ABACA/Abaca Press/Yuri Gripas/ABACA
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He depart after signing an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020.

Trump and Liu finally signed the documents, before posing for the pictures that the event was meant to showcase.

Then it was off to lunch in the State Dining Room for the assembled dignitaries as a pianist played “What a Wonderful World.”



Donald Trump, Mike Pence standing next to a man in a suit and tie: U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He sign an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020. Photo


© Yuri Gripas/ABACA/Abaca Press/Yuri Gripas/ABACA
U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He sign an initial trade deal at the White House in Washington on January 15, 2020. Photo

It’s not known whether the food had gotten cold.

———

©2020 Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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Warren-Sanders rift has progressives nervous about fallout…


DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — For nearly a year, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders pushed strongly progressive ideas into the Democratic primary spotlight, feeding off each other to build support for proposals long dismissed as radically leftist: “Medicare for All,” tuition-free college and a “Green New Deal” to combat climate change.

Now the race’s most progressive candidates are fighting over the politics of gender, and regardless of who prevails, the party’s most liberal wing is nervous the ensuing fallout could torpedo its once-ascendant ideals. That’s something many see as the worst possible outcome at the worst possible time, with the lead-off Iowa caucuses barely two weeks away.

A brawl on the left might ultimately push undecided voters to more moderate candidates like former Vice President Joe Biden and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who have sought more centrist policy solutions. It could also end up helping President Donald Trump’s reelection bid.

In an interview Wednesday, Sanders’ wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, downplayed lasting repercussions.

“Our campaign has always been about bringing people together. Not dividing them up like Trump does by gender, race or ethnicity,” said O’Meara Sanders, who defended her husband but also refused to criticize Warren. “We remain committed to continuing a progressive movement made up of women and men, black and white, gay and straight. The message is unity. We’re not going to go into that realm. We’re just not going to play that game.”

That message, though, may suddenly be a tougher sell for some progressives at a critical time. The start of voting is now looming but so is Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate. That will pull both Warren, a senator from Massachusetts, and Sanders, a senator from Vermont, off the campaign trial — perhaps for weeks — to sit as jurors, meaning their clash could overshadow each of them delivering closing arguments to voters in Iowa and beyond whom they may not see again.

“To the extent that this race is not about the economic concerns of people in Iowa and other places, it certainly benefits Biden and Buttigieg, whose agenda certainly does not benefit working people,” said Jeff Weaver, Sanders’ chief adviser.

In the meantime, all of this is “dividing the left and pitting the two progressives in the race against each other at a time where we can’t afford division,” said Alice Nascimento, a progressive activist in New York who has been leading protests against Buttigieg in recent weeks.

“I’m sad and frustrated because we have all worked so hard to get here. Our movement has captured the hearts and minds of America — the majority of Americans want a political revolution and big, structural change,” tweeted Alexandra Rojas, executive director of the progressive groups Justice Democrats.

Months of mutually avoiding conflict for Warren and Sanders came to an abrupt end on Monday, when she said that, during a private 2018 meeting between the pair, he disagreed when she said a woman could win the presidency. Sanders forcefully denied saying that, but both repeated their differing accounts during Tuesday’s presidential debate in Iowa.

Warren seemed to win the evening’s skirmish, offering both gumption and humor. She said it was time to take larger questions of sexism head-on and joked about the undefeated electoral record of the two women on stage, her and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, as compared to less-stellar marks of Sanders, Biden and the other men. Sanders was left having to again deny he said what she says he said, a position that could undermine his larger pronouncement about firmly believing a woman could win the presidency.

Before the debate, both campaigns insisted they wanted to de-escalate tensions. But Warren refused to shake Sanders’ outstretched hand afterward, indicating that hard feelings remain.

That became even more evident hours later, when CNN released audio of the exchange, in which Warren repeats twice to Sanders, “I think you called me a liar on national TV,” and he responds, “Let’s not do it right now.”

Before the audio was made public, O’Meara Sanders shrugged off the exchange, saying, “I think that this discussion is over” and “Maybe people sometimes misremember things that happened.” She was quick to add: “I’m not attacking Elizabeth Warren in any way shape or form on this.”

Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and a top Warren backer, struck a similar tone, saying that a few awkward debate moments don’t overshadow the progressive agenda Sanders and Warren mutually champion.

“Left to the campaigns’ own devices, there’s zero interest in drama and a joint interest in stating a shared theory of the case for defeating Trump by advancing bold progressive positions,” he said.

But the larger question is if letting the dispute get this far has already ended the era of progressive good feelings. If so, Sanders supporters who might have accepted Warren as a second choice might now be so antagonized that they won’t back her under any circumstances. And the reverse may be true for Warren partisans.

It also might again raise long-standing liabilities that have surrounded both candidates: past accusations of sexism during Sanders’ 2016 campaign that some Democrats are still wary of, and Warren’s overall authenticity. Trump calling the Massachusetts senator “Pocahontas” to fire up Republicans who weren’t going to support her anyway may not be nearly as serious as progressives who think she’s lying about the 2018 meeting with Sanders.

David Axelrod, who ran Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, said friction was inevitable because Warren and Sanders were long “on a collision course” as both tried to consolidate support on the left.

Still, “If you antagonize the other person’s supporters, it has lasting impact on you,” Axelrod said, adding “To the extent that they’re dividing the (progressive) base, it probably rebounds to the benefit of others.”

Others see feuding that causes shifting support within the party as potentially weakening the case for all Democrats.

“We can’t have it,” said Terry McAuliffe, a former Virginia governor and one-time national party chairman who considered a 2020 bid himself. The hope, McAuliffe said, is that the coalescing priority of defeating Trump supersedes any primary tension.

“This is different than what we had in ’16 in that people want to beat Trump,” McAuliffe said. “That’s a motivating factor for all of us to come together.”

___

Weissert and Peoples reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Bill Barrow contributed to this report from Des Moines, Iowa.

___

Catch up on the 2020 election campaign with AP experts on our weekly politics podcast, “Ground Game.”



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