The Daily 202: Marie Yovanovitch is the first of three immigrants who will testify in Trump impeachment hearings

The Daily 202: Marie Yovanovitch is the first of three immigrants who will testify in Trump impeachment hearings
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With Mariana Alfaro

THE BIG IDEA: Marie Yovanovitch, testifying today before the House Intelligence Committee, was born in Canada to parents who fled the Soviet Union and moved to Connecticut as a child. Lt. Col. Alex Vindman’s father brought him and his twin brother to Brooklyn from Ukraine, which was then behind the Iron Curtain. Fiona Hill is a coal miner’s daughter who grew up in northern England and caught a lucky break that put her on a path to Harvard.

All three of these immigrants have inspiring family stories, earned Ivy League degrees and have distinguished records of service in key posts across the U.S. government. Each has agreed to offer televised testimony as part of the impeachment inquiry about what they witnessed of the shadowy efforts by President Trump and his associates to allegedly coerce the government of Ukraine to pursue the president’s political interests.

Yovanovitch, a 33-year veteran of the foreign service who became a U.S. citizen at age 18, was ousted as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine this spring after a smear campaign that involved Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. Vindman, who as director of European affairs for the National Security Council was required to listen in on Trump’s July 25 phone call with the president of Ukraine, is scheduled to appear on Tuesday. Hill, the former senior director for Europe and Russia at the NSC, will testify next Thursday.

“My personal history gave me both deep gratitude to the United States and deep empathy for others,” Yovanovitch, who goes by Masha, told lawmakers in her opening statement on Friday morning.

She explained during her October deposition at the Capitol how her parents escaped both communist and Nazi regimes. “Having seen, firsthand, the war and poverty and displacement common to totalitarian regimes, they valued the freedom and democracy the U.S. offers and that the United States represents,” Yovanovitch explained. “They raised me to cherish those values.”

Xenophobia is a hallmark of Trumpism, and all three have faced intensely personal, sometimes nativist, attacks from the fever swamps of the pro-Trump right. There is some irony in these public servants who came from abroad testifying at personal and professional risk as fact witnesses against a president who has made restricting immigration, including legal immigration, the centerpiece of his governing agenda.

— Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent felt compelled to defend the three immigrants during his opening statement on Wednesday. “Masha, Alex, and Fiona were born abroad before their families or they themselves personally chose to immigrate to the United States,” said Kent. “They all made the professional choice to serve the United States as public officials, helping shape our national security policy in particular, and we and our national security are the better for it.”

Kent called them the “the 21st century heirs of two giants of 20th century U.S. national security policy who also were born abroad”: Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, and Henry Kissinger, who was secretary of state to Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. “Like the Brzezinskis and Kissingers, the Yovanovitches and Vindmans fled Nazi and communist oppression to contribute to a stronger, more secure America,” Kent explained.

There are many other examples Kent didn’t mention. Four U.S. ambassadors to the United Nations over the last 26 years were born abroad, including future secretary of state Madeleine Albright, John Negroponte, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Samantha Power.  Khalilzad, a native of Afghanistan, is currently the special representative for Afghan reconciliation at the State Department, where he’s sought to broker a peace deal with the Taliban.

“That honorable tradition of transatlantic ties goes back to the very founding of our Republic,” Kent added. “Our 18th-century independence would not have been secured without the choice of European officers, the French-born Lafayette and Rochambeau, the German born von Steuben, in the Poles Pulaski and Kosciuszko to come to the New World and fight for our cause of freedom and the birth of a new country free from imperial dominion. … It is my honor to serve with all of these patriotic Americans.”

Kent testified that he and other State Department officials had asked Yovanovitch to extend her tenure in Kyiv until 2020 before Giuliani met twice in January and February with Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko. Kent explained that Giuliani helped arranged for Lutsenko to be interviewed by a conservative columnist for The Hill, John Solomon, in March. Lutsenko claimed that Yovanovitch had given him a list of people his office should not prosecute. Kent testified that he knew that claim to be untrue for a host of reasons. In fact, he said, Yovanovitch has been a bulwark in the fight against corruption, which has earned the enmity of Lutsenko. Yovanovitch vehemently denied all the allegations being peddled against her by Giuliani and his allies, and Lutsenko later recanted the claim about the do-not-prosecute list. As Kent memorably put it: “You can’t promote principled anti-corruption activities without pissing off corrupt people.”

— The innuendo has gotten ugly at times. Laura Ingraham described Vindman as “a U.S. national security official who is advising Ukraine while working inside the White House, apparently against the president’s interests.” John Yoo, a Justice Department official in the George W. Bush administration, replied that “some people might call that espionage.” Former congressman Sean Duffy (R-Wis.) – who was a contestant on MTV’s “Real World” when Vindman was fighting for the U.S. overseas – suggested on CNN that Vindman “has an affinity, I think, for the Ukraine.”

— “I am a patriot, and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country, irrespective of party or politics,” Vindman said during his opening statement at his closed-door hearing. He put the word “our” in capital letters of the written text that he submitted to the committee. “I have dedicated my entire professional life to the United States of America,” he explained.

— Vindman shared his personal story with lawmakers. “Upon arriving in New York City in 1979, my father worked multiple jobs to support us, all the while learning English at night,” he said. “He stressed to us the importance of fully integrating into our adopted country. For many years, life was quite difficult. In spite of our challenging beginnings, my family worked to build its own American Dream.”

His father gave up everything to escape from communism, an overbearing government, anti-Semitism and the painfully narrowed opportunities that Jews faced in the Soviet Union,” Marc Fisher wrote in a profile last week. “Vindman and his identical twin, Yevgeny, were not quite 4 when they landed in the United States, settling in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, a half-hour subway ride from the ferry that runs to the Statue of Liberty. Grateful to the nation that adopted them, the twins enlisted in the U.S. Army and launched careers in government. Today, at 44, Vindman is a military man in a job that puts a premium on discretion — and the commander in chief, without evidence, calls him a ‘Never Trumper witness.’ But those who have worked with Vindman describe him as a model officer. …

The Vindmans came to America as part of a wave of hundreds of thousands of Jews who emigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1970s and ’80s. The Vindman boys’ mother had recently died when the family made it to Brooklyn in 1979, after a brief stay in Italy. The twins arrived with their father, their grandmother, their older brother, Leonid, and $750.” (Ken Burns featured the Vindman twins in a 1986 documentary about the Statue of Liberty.)

— Hill, a well-respected scholar of Russia, testified that she’s received death threats since former national security adviser H.R. McMaster hired her away from Brookings to work on the NSC. She was born in Bishop Auckland, a small town in County Durham as the daughter of a miner and a nurse. “She became a dual national after marrying an American she met at Harvard. She still speaks with flat northern English vowels,” the Guardian noted recently.

The American chapter in her life opened quite by chance. After winning a scholarship to St Andrews University, she was in Moscow during the 1988 Reagan-Gorbachev summit and got an internship making coffee for NBC’s ‘Today’ Show. There, she met an American professor who suggested she apply for postgraduate studies at Harvard.”

During her deposition last month, Hill testified that she was struck by how “extraordinarily easy” it was for people to make “baseless claims” about her loyalties. “My entire first year of my tenure at the National Security Council was filled with hateful calls, conspiracy theories, which has started again, frankly, as it’s been announced that I’ve been giving this deposition, accusing me of being a [George] Soros mole in the White House, of colluding with all kinds of enemies of the president, and, you know, of various improprieties,” Hill said.

Pressed by Republicans on the Intelligence Committee, Hill said she’s “agnostic” toward Trump and agreed to join the NSC because it’s important to “serve your country.” She volunteered that she’s not the “anonymous” senior administration official who wrote the New York Times op-ed and now a book.

— For Trump, Yovanovitch’s testimony today also brings a moment of reckoning on gender. During the July 25 call that sparked this inquiry, Trump made a reference to gender as he smeared Yovanovitch. “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news,” the president told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “She’s going to go through some things,” he added.

The emotional weight of her experience is evident from the deposition transcript,” Elise Viebeck reports. “Describing her recall to Washington, under questioning from Democrats, Yovanovitch suddenly stopped herself mid-sentence. A Democratic lawyer for the House Intelligence Committee, Daniel S. Goldman, asked, ‘Do you want to take a minute?’ ‘Yeah, just a minute. I’m just going to exit it for one minute,’ Yovanovitch said as the session went off the record. After that, Goldman thanked Yovanovitch for her ‘honest recollection and answers.’ ‘We understand this is a difficult and emotional topic,’ he said.

Yovanovitch will face an Intelligence Committee with only four women — three Democrats and one Republican — out of 22 members. Female voices accounted for a little over 20 minutes of Wednesday’s roughly five-hour hearing with [Bill] Taylor and Kent. … Of the 15 people who had given depositions in the inquiry as of Thursday, five were women, and four are scheduled to appear in public hearings.” 

“Seeing someone like Masha Yovanovitch come forward is going to be an extremely difficult moment for Trump,” said Nancy McEldowney, a former ambassador to Bulgaria who served as director of the Foreign Service Institute and now teaches at Georgetown University, where Yovanovitch is a senior fellow.

THE LATEST ON THE INVESTIGATIONS:

— The White House released this morning a rough transcript of Trump’s April call with Ukrainian President-elect Volodymyr Zelensky. Colby Itkowitz reports: “When Trump called newly elected Zelensky to congratulate him on his victory, Zelensky made clear how badly he wanted Trump to attend his inauguration in Ukraine. … Zelensky calls Trump ‘a great example’ and says, ‘I know how busy you are, but if it’s possible for you to come to the inauguration ceremony, that would be a great, great thing for you to do to be with us on that day.’ Trump promised to look into it and send a ‘great representative’ if he couldn’t attend. Initially that person was going to be Vice President Pence, but then he canceled and Energy Secretary Rick Perry led the delegation instead. …

“Trump then said he’d like to invite Zelensky to the White House. A meeting with Trump was allegedly conditioned on Zelensky publicly announcing investigations in the Bidens. Zelensky thanked him for the invitation and again said, ‘And I think that it will still be great if you could come and be with us on this very important day of our inauguration … So, it will be absolutely fantastic if you could come and be with us on that day.’ During his opening statement, Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican of the Intelligence Committee, read the entire rough transcript into the record.”

— Trump formally asked the Supreme Court to shield his tax returns from prosecutors, a bold assertion of presidential power that will likely lead to a historic separation-of-powers showdown. Robert Barnes and Ann E. Marimow report: “The case involves Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s attempt to enforce a grand jury subpoena issued to the president’s accountants for eight years of Trump’s tax records. Trump went to court to block the subpoena, making a broad claim that U.S. presidents are immune from investigation while in office. A district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled against him, saying that the subpoena was proper and that the president’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars USA, must comply.”

— Rudy Giuliani said Trump will stay loyal to him before adding that he has good “insurance” in case the president turns against him. From the Guardian: “In a telephone interview with the Guardian, in response to a question about whether he was nervous that Trump might ‘throw him under a bus’ in the impeachment crisis, Giuliani said, with a slight laugh: ‘I’m not, but I do have very, very good insurance, so if he does, all my hospital bills will be paid.’ Giuliani’s lawyer, Robert Costello, who was also on the call, then interjected: ‘He’s joking.’ … Giuliani also defended his role as Trump’s attorney, and repeatedly said he had spoken to the president on Wednesday night, and that Trump had wished him a good night. … Giuliani said he believed Trump, who he has known for three decades, was a ‘very loyal guy.’ ‘I acted properly as his lawyer,’ Giuliani said. ‘I did what a good lawyer is supposed to do.'”

— Giuliani is being investigated by federal prosecutors for possible campaign finance violations and a failure to register as a foreign agent as part of a cascading investigation into his financial dealings. From Bloomberg News: “The probe of Giuliani, which one official said could also include possible charges on violating laws against bribing foreign officials or conspiracy, presents a serious threat to Trump’s presidency from a man that [Bolton] has called a ‘hand grenade.’ A second official said Giuliani’s activities raise counterintelligence concerns as well, although there probably wouldn’t be a criminal charge related to that.

— Giuliani ally Pete Sessions, the former Texas congressman who was defeated in the midterms, was among the potential contenders to take over Yovanovitch’s job as ambassador. From the Daily Beast: “Conversations about Sessions—and another possible pick for the job, Raul Mas Canosa, a South Florida businessman with deep ties to the Cuban expat community—circulated inside and outside the administration from late 2018 through the early months of 2019. … A spokesperson for Sessions (said) he was not offered the ambassadorship or vetted for it. Mas Canosa confirmed that he was approached about taking the position.”

— Using her most aggressive language yet, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Trump of committing “bribery” by seeking to use U.S. military aid as leverage to pressure the Ukrainian government to conduct investigations that could politically benefit the president. “The devastating testimony corroborated evidence of bribery uncovered in the inquiry and that the president abused power and violated his oath by threatening to withhold military aid and a White House meeting in exchange for an investigation into his political rival,” the Democratic leader said at her weekly news conference. “If the president has something that is exculpatory — Mr. President, that means you have anything that shows your innocence — then he should make that known.”

Pelosi’s embrace of the term bribery — one of only two crimes specifically cited in the Constitution as impeachable — comes after nearly two months of debate over whether Trump’s conduct amounted to a ‘quid pro quo’ — a Latin term describing an exchange of things of value,” Mike DeBonis and Toluse Olorunnipa report. “Bribery, Pelosi suggested, amounted to a translation of quid pro quo that would stand to be more accessible to Americans … Article II of the Constitution holds that the president and other civil federal officials ‘shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.’ …

The shift came after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee conducted focus groups in key House battlegrounds in recent weeks, testing messages related to impeachment. Among the questions put to participants was whether ‘quid pro quo,’ ‘extortion’ or ‘bribery’ was a more compelling description of Trump’s conduct. According to two people familiar with the results, which circulated among Democrats this week, the focus groups found ‘bribery’ to be most damning.”

— The Post confirmed the AP’s scoop that a second official from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv says she overheard Trump discussing political “investigations” in a July 26 phone call with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. David Holmes, who works for Taylor, is slated to testify behind closed doors today. Suriya Jayanti, a Foreign Service officer who is also based at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, is the second person who overheard the call. It’s unclear whether she will be asked to give a deposition.

— American diplomats are often advised to resign if, when confronted with scandal, they believe they can no longer be effective in the job. Sondland isn’t giving his post up so easily. John Hudson and Michael Birnbaum report: “‘He has no intention of resigning,’ Sondland’s attorney, Jim McDermott, said in a statement to The Washington Post. The Portland hotel magnate and GOP megadonor upended the House impeachment inquiry last week by acknowledging he communicated the terms of a quid pro quo with Ukraine during a meeting in September after testifying earlier that he had no knowledge of such an arrangement. The reversal of his testimony prompted key Republican allies in the White House and Congress to abandon Sondland after initially viewing him as an indispensable witness. Further revisions of his testimony may come next Wednesday, when he is expected to return to Capitol Hill to address [the] July 26 phone call. … Sondland’s attorney said his client ‘has the full confidence of Secretary [Mike] Pompeo,’ but the State Department declined to comment on that claim, adding to the diplomat’s isolation as he comes under fire from all sides.”

— Mark Sandy, a longtime Office of Management and Budget official, is expected to break ranks and sit for a closed-door deposition on Saturday, potentially filling in important details on the president’s role in freezing vital military aid to Ukraine. Erica Werner reports: “Sandy would be the first OMB employee to testify in the inquiry, after OMB acting director Russell T. Vought and two other political appointees at the agency defied congressional subpoenas to appear. … Unlike these other OMB officials, Sandy is a career employee, not one appointed by the president. He has worked at the agency off and on for over a decade, under presidents of both parties, climbing the ranks to his current role as deputy associate director for national security programs.”

— The GOP’s talking point that none of the witnesses have firsthand knowledge is risky because Vindman was actually on the July 25 call. Rachael Bade, Mike DeBonis and Josh Dawsey report: “And former national security adviser John Bolton also could talk to investigators. Additionally, if Republicans were so concerned about secondhand accounts, Democrats say, they should allow Trump associates who do have firsthand information — acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, for example — to testify, rather than blocking them. The White House has no plan, however, to do that.”

— Former president Bill Clinton said the impeachment probe shouldn’t prevent Trump from working with Democrats on issues such as gun control. From CNN: “His comments came hours after a deadly shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California. … Trump has asserted that he cannot work with Democrats while the impeachment inquiry is taking place. ‘Look, you got hired to do a job. You don’t get to — every day’s an opportunity to make something good happen,’ Clinton said. ‘And I would say, ‘I’ve got lawyers and staff people handling this impeachment inquiry and they should just have at it. Meanwhile, I’m going to work for the American people.’ That’s what I would do.’”

— Fresh commentary from the opinion page:

— The Justice Department’s inspector general office told people mentioned in the draft of a report on the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign that they wouldn’t be allowed to submit written feedback, but he later asserted that that was not their intention after The Post reported on the unusual restriction. Matt Zapotosky and Devlin Barrett report: “The Post’s report, first published early Thursday evening, detailed a series of parameters that some feared could make the final document less accurate. At the time, the Justice Department inspector general’s office declined to comment. But late Thursday night, Stephanie Logan, a spokeswoman, said the office would clarify to witnesses that they could submit written feedback ‘consistent with rules to protect classified information.’’’

— Trump himself met with Attorney General Bill Barr and White House counsel Pat Cipollone at the White House to discuss the IG report, per CNN.

— The DOJ will no longer argue that the public release of records about former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe would interfere with an ongoing enforcement action. From Politico: “The move could signal that prosecutors have given up on their quest to charge McCabe, or it could simply be an effort to forestall attempts by a judge to get prosecutors to publicly reveal whether they are still trying to indict the former FBI official.”

— Trump confidant Roger Stone’s jury is due back in court today for a second day of deliberations. Rachel Weiner and Spencer S. Hsu report: “In hopes of keeping himself out of prison, the veteran Republican operative has asked jurors to treat his case as a referendum not on him but on [special counsel Bob] Mueller’s entire Russia investigation — leading to the only defense at trial of that probe’s importance. … Stone did not testify during the trial, which began Nov. 6. Instead jurors saw videos of his television appearances and heard scratchy audio of his appearance before the House committee. … [He] explained his philosophy in a clip from his House testimony played for jurors. Quoting the writer Gore Vidal, he said, ‘Never pass up an opportunity to have sex or appear on television.’ Not one juror smiled.”

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DOMESTIC DEVELOPMENTS THAT SHOULD NOT BE OVERLOOKED:

— The House Ethics Committee disclosed a federal investigation into a Florida Republican accused of accepting an illegal campaign loan and announced it is scrutinizing a veteran Florida Democrat for a long-standing personal relationship with a highly paid aide. Mike DeBonis reports: “Rep. Ross Spano (R-Fla.) acknowledged the Justice Department probe in a statement issued after the ethics panel’s announcement Thursday. The freshman has faced questions about $180,000 in loans he accepted from friends last year during the closing months of his campaign. He later appeared to funnel the money into his campaign account, reporting it as a personal loan to the campaign. Spano has blamed bad advice for any campaign-finance misdeeds … The Ethics Committee said in a brief statement that the Justice Department ‘asked the Committee to defer consideration of this matter,’ prompting a unanimous vote to comply with the request. …

Another matter concerned 14-term Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-Fla.), 83, and his longtime companion, Patricia Williams, who has worked as an aide to Hastings since he first took office in 1993. She earns $168,411 a year as deputy district director – the highest salary in Hastings’s office. The relationship has repeatedly come under public scrutiny, including in a 2012 report … The relationship was not against House rules at the time; Hastings told the Palm Beach Post, ‘my personal business is just that, personal.’ House rules, however, were changed in February 2018 in light of the #MeToo movement to bar members from ‘engag[ing] in a sexual relationship with any employee of the House who works under the supervision’ of the member in question. The Ethics Committee said Thursday said it was specifically considering that provision…

The committee also moved to extend its review of a matter involving Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) … According to an Office of Congressional Ethics report released Thursday, Tlaib came under scrutiny for her decision to pay herself a salary totaling $45,500 through her congressional campaign. Candidate salaries are permissible under federal election law under certain circumstances, but investigators found that Tlaib may have been paid for work performed after the Nov. 6, 2018, general election, in violation of federal guidelines. Tlaib and campaign staff declined to be interviewed by investigators. …

Another matter extended by the Ethics Committee dealt with Rep. Bill Huizenga’s alleged improper handling of staff travel expenses and improper use of campaign funds for personal purposes. OCE investigators found more than $33,000 worth of improperly documented expenses paid through Huizenga’s campaign account to his chief of staff. Investigators also scrutinized several campaign-related trips that Huizenga (R-Mich.) took with his family, as well as member of his staff and their families, to several resorts between 2015 and 2018.”

— The White House and the Pentagon are preparing for Trump to issue pardons in three war-crimes cases. Dan Lamothe and Josh Dawsey report: “The details were not all clear but are expected to involve executive clemency, in which Trump can pardon someone or shorten a prison sentence through commutation. The actions have been anticipated by U.S. officials and advocates for the service members for weeks, and decried by some military justice experts for what they see as a subversion of the legal process. But those experts also acknowledge that, as commander in chief, Trump has broad authority in the cases to act as he sees fit. … The cases include that of Army Maj. Mathew L. Golsteyn, a former Special Forces officer who faces a murder trial in the 2010 death of a suspected Taliban bombmaker; former Special Warfare Operator Chief Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL who recently was acquitted of murder but convicted of posing with an Islamic State corpse; and former Army 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who was convicted of second-degree murder in 2013 and is serving a 19-year prison sentence for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three men in Afghanistan.”

— A damning report by NASA’s inspector general paints a troubling picture of the relationship between NASA and Boeing. Christian Davenport reports: The report claims NASA “‘overpaid’ Boeing by hundreds of millions of dollars in what the report deemed ‘unnecessary’ payments for a ‘firm-fixed-price’ contract.”

— Amazon will challenge the Pentagon’s decision to award a $10 billion contract to Microsoft. Jay Greene and Aaron Gregg report: “The protest, filed under seal in federal court on Nov. 8, comes after the Pentagon awarded the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) contract to Microsoft last month — a contract that had long been expected to go to Amazon because its Amazon Web Services (AWS) division has a formidable position and deep experience in cloud computing. The Pentagon’s decision, a bitter defeat for Amazon, had been delayed after President Trump ordered Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper to review the contract after he was confirmed in July. Trump has repeatedly criticized Amazon, whose chief executive, Jeff Bezos, owns The Washington Post. … In its statement Thursday, Amazon suggested that it believed the Pentagon was improperly influenced by Trump. Federal acquisition laws prohibit politicians, including the president, from influencing contract awards.”

— Trump’s Washington hotel has fallen behind its competitors, marketing materials show. Jonathan O’Connell and David A. Fahrenthold report: “The hotel has become a center of Republican politics and a frequent stopping point for members of Trump’s cabinet and inner circle. But its guest rooms are running nearly half empty this year, according to the information, causing the 263-room luxury property — which opened on Pennsylvania Avenue weeks before Trump arrived in the White House — to fall short of the company’s own expectations. Marketing materials distributed by a real estate firm hired by Trump’s company say that a new owner, operating ‘unencumbered’ by Trump’s name or his management company, could dramatically increase profits, particularly through a massive increase in business with foreign governments.”

— The Republican National Committee will hold its winter meetings at Trump’s Doral golf course in Florida – the hotel where the president pushed to hold the G-7 summit. David A. Fahrenthold and Michael Scherer report: “This will be the second time in two years that the GOP will hold a major meeting at the resort — a key property for Trump that has suffered financial decline since he entered politics. The first GOP meeting at Doral was in spring 2018. That event produced about $630,000 in revenue for Trump’s company, from the GOP and individual attendees, according to a review of campaign-finance records. At another GOP meeting, in winter 2018, the GOP held most of the event at another hotel — but it also included a dinner at Trump’s D.C. hotel, for which it paid Trump’s company $169,000.”

— A chorus of Democrats called on White House senior adviser Stephen Miller to resign after the disclosure of emails that suggest he’s been promoting white nationalism. But Trump is standing by his aide. Michael Brice-Saddler reports: “On Thursday, the chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus called on Miller to resign, adding that the report [from the Southern Poverty Law Center] illustrated numerous instances in which he vilified communities of color and espoused white nationalist beliefs. … Miller, a longtime Trump adviser who has been described by The Post as ‘the singular force behind the Trump administration’s immigration agenda,’ referred to other White House officials when reached for comment Thursday afternoon. In a statement, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley characterized the SPLC as untrustworthy.”

— Senate Republicans confirmed Steven Menashi, with only 51 votes, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York, despite strong resistance — and no blue slips — from either of his home state senators. Felicia Sonmez and Colby Itkowitz report: “Menashi, 40, is an associate counsel to the president. He previously was acting general counsel in the Education Department under Secretary Betsy DeVos.During Menashi’s confirmation hearing, senators of both parties accused him of lacking candor, especially around his work as associate counsel to Trump. He refused to answer most questions related to his work at the White House, specifically when asked whether he played a role in the administration’s policy of separating migrant parents and children at the border and limiting the number of refugees allowed in the country.” Menashi will occupy a seat once held by Thurgood Marshall.

— Justice Brett Kavanaugh told members of the Federalist Society that he’ll “always be grateful” for their help. Robert Barnes reports: “There was a crowd of protesters outside, and a few inside. Those attending the Federalist Society’s gala Thursday night at Washington’s Union Station were greeted by a large video screen on a truck out front, which played on a loop the Senate testimony of Christine Blasey Ford accusing [Kavanaugh] of sexual assault when the two were teenagers. But before a crowd of more than 2,000 supporters, there were standing ovations for the newest justice and for his wife, Ashley, and a message from Kavanaugh that he said could be summed up in one word: ‘gratitude.’ … The group gave him a minute-long standing ovation, and ramped up the applause when some protesters who had slipped inside the hall began blowing whistles.”

— Facebook is under fire from its own employees once again, this time for paying to be a “gold sponsor” of the Federalist Society’s celebration of its takeover of the judicial system. From the Guardian: “The company’s head of global public policy, Joel Kaplan, was spotted sitting behind Kavanaugh during his 2018 Senate judiciary committee hearing.” (Kaplan also threw a party for his friend after he got confirmed despite being accused of sexual assault.)

— Your daily reminder of why all these judges matter: Roe hangs in the balance. Two Republican lawamkers in Ohio have just proposed a total ban on all abortions. Michael Brice-Saddler and Hannah Knowles report: “State Reps. Ron Hood and Candice Keller are the lead sponsors of House Bill 413, which, among other provisions, seeks to legally recognize unborn fetuses as people, according to a news release from the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio dated Thursday … Anyone who performs an abortion, according to the release, would be ‘subject to already existing murder statutes.’ … Kellie Copeland, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, said Keller and Hood had introduced a similar, flat-out abortion ban in the previous General Assembly. While she has not seen this bill’s language, she expects it to be very similar to the last session’s legislation, which Copeland said did not pass in either chamber.”

— Three Indiana judges were suspended after getting in a fight at a White Castle parking lot after failing to get into a strip club during a night of drinking. From NPR: “The altercation apparently started sometime after 3 a.m., when one of the judges, Sabrina Bell, raised a middle finger at two men yelling from a passing SUV, and ended after one of those men shot two of the judges. In between, the three judges took a number of actions that ‘discredited the entire Indiana judiciary,’ according to an opinion posted by the Indiana Supreme Court this week, suspending the judges.”

— Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin (R) finally conceded that he lost his reelection bid, clearing the way for Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear to be sworn into office next month. At a news conference, the Trump ally said the recanvass of the election results that he requested last week was unlikely to change the outcome of the race. (Tim Craig)

— Ahead of Saturday’s runoff election, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) seeks to reverse a weak turnout from black voters. Tim Craig reports: “Edwards, 53, was forced into a runoff with [Eddie] Rispone, a conservative businessman who has made his allegiance to Trump a centerpiece of his campaign, after the governor failed to win a majority in Louisiana’s bipartisan ‘jungle’ primary last month. Edwards received about 47 percent of the vote, which analysts partially attribute to a weaker-than-expected turnout among African Americans, who comprise about 33 percent of the state’s population. After the primary, Edwards adjusted his strategy to try to boost turnout, including adding a new campaign adviser and speaking more directly to the black community. He stepped up his outreach to African American pastors, said Louisiana state Sen. Troy Carter, and began appearing in more intimate settings with black voters to explain his record.”

— A shooting inside a Los Angeles-area high school left two teens dead and four injured. Mia Nakaji Monnier, Crystal Duan, Moriah Balingit and Katie Mettler report: “A 16-year-old student pulled a gun from his backpack and opened fire on classmates at a high school north of Los Angeles on Thursday morning, fatally wounding two teens and striking three others before turning the gun on himself, police said. The shooter, whose attack unfolded at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, survived his self-inflicted gunshot wound and was in grave condition at a hospital … The suspect carried out the shooting on his 16th birthday … Someone called 911 to report the shooting at 7:38 a.m. … When deputies arrived two minutes later, they found six students with gunshot wounds in the quad, a popular outdoor gathering spot with trees and picnic table. They later learned the shooter, who was dressed in black, was among them. They also recovered a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun at the scene. …

“The shooting is at least the seventh to take place on U.S. school grounds since the start of the academic year, according to a Washington Post analysis, and the first fatal shooting on a campus since students arrived back at school. … At an early evening news conference, authorities said just 16 seconds passed from the time the shooter drew his gun and when he shot himself. … They had no information about a connection between the shooter and his victims.”

— Two U.S. Park Police officers who shot and killed unarmed motorist Bijan Ghaisar in 20017 will not face federal charges, federal prosecutors said. Tom Jackman reports: “Ghaisar’s family and a number of elected officials expressed outrage both at the decision and the lack of any explanation for the shooting. Officers Alejandro Amaya and Lucas Vinyard pursued Ghaisar down George Washington Memorial Parkway shortly after 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17, 2017, after he left a fender bender in Alexandria. Ghaisar, 25, briefly stopped twice and then drove away each time as the officers ran toward him with guns drawn, video released by Fairfax County police shows. After a third stop, Ghaisar again pulled away as Vinyard and Amaya aimed their guns at him, the video shows, and the officers fired nine times into Ghaisar’s Jeep. In a statement issued by U.S. Attorney for the District Jessie K. Liu, officials said they could not prove the officers committed a ‘willful violation’ of civil rights law. But her statement did not explain why the men shot into a vehicle as it drove away from them.”

— Police knew Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan, was a U.S. citizen. ICE detained him anyway. Alex Horton reports: “It started with an off-duty police captain watching the evening news featuring Ramos-Gomez’s arrest, speculating if the veteran, Michigan born and bred, was in the country illegally. Those suspicions triggered a decision by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to detain him for three days, despite immediate evidence that proved Ramos-Gomez was a citizen, including police reviewing his passport the day of his arrest. Nearly a year later, the Grand Rapids city commission on Tuesday unanimously agreed to award Ramos-Gomez $190,000 in a settlement over the wrongful detainment … Ramos-Gomez, now 28, was arrested for trespassing in a secure area of the Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital on Nov. 21, 2018. He set a fire and pulled an alarm. He was not a patient at the hospital, but Kessler said he was struggling with post-traumatic stress at the time and accessed a helipad on the roof. Body-cam video shows police immediately knew he was a U.S. citizen. He had his passport with him during the arrest, and the video shows an officer holding it open while taking notes.”

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

— “Trump is demanding that South Korea pay roughly 400% more in 2020 to cover the cost of keeping US troops on the peninsula,” CNN reports. “The price hike has frustrated Pentagon officials and deeply concerned Republican and Democratic lawmakers, according to military officials and congressional aides. It has angered and unnerved Seoul, where leaders are questioning US commitment to their alliance and wondering whether Trump will pull US forces if they don’t pay up.Nothing says I love you like a shakedown,’ said Vipin Narang, an associate professor at MIT who follows the Korean peninsula, summarizing South Korean uncertainty about the US. In the US, congressional aides and Korea experts familiar with the talks say the President’s $4.7 billion demand came out of thin air, sending State and Defense Department officials scrambling to justify the number with a slew of new charges that may include Seoul paying some costs for US personnel present on the peninsula and for troops and equipment that rotate through. …

North Korea has already launched 24 missiles this year, each a violation of UN resolutions, to match the country’s previous annual record for firing off projectiles that threaten South Korea and Japan … Germany, France and the United Kingdom recently condemned Pyongyang for the launches, saying they undermined regional security and stability. Meanwhile, South Korean leaders are acutely aware that Trump has downplayed the launches, saying he is ‘not at all’ troubled by them.”

— Meanwhile, Pyongyang issued an official statement that refers to Joe Biden as a “rabid dog” who deserves to be beaten to death. Simon Denyer reports: “The attack came two weeks after Biden issued a statement attacking [Trump’s] North Korea policy and referring to that country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, as a ‘murderous dictator.’ In response, North Korea laid on the animal metaphors thick and fast, calling Biden a crafty, rabid dog keen at getting at others’ throats, and a profiteer. ‘A crow is never whiter for often washing,’ the Korean Central News Agency said in a commentary.”

— Amid the impeachment drama, Ukrainian politicians are reassessing not only their relationship with the U.S. but also their ties with Russia. Adam Taylor reports: “Speculation about a meeting between [Zelensky] and Russian President Vladimir Putin has been mounting, with the former president of Kazakhstan telling an audience this week that the Ukrainian leader asked for his help on setting up a bilateral meeting. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko, however, said at a news conference in Austria on Thursday that there were no plans for a one-on-one meeting. … Some Ukrainian political figures have warned that the impeachment hearings only increase the need for rapprochement with Russia. Billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, a powerful ally of Zelensky, told the New York Times this week he had backed away from his previous opposition to Moscow. … But the extent of Ukrainian government skepticism about Moscow was also spelled out Wednesday in a Facebook post by Defense Minister Andriy Zahorodniuk, who said financial and economic relations with Russia were impossible and Ukraine needed to integrate with NATO.”

— Intercepted calls show how deeply involved Russian troops were with Ukraine rebels at the time that they shot down an airplane full of civilians in 2014. Michael Birnbaum reports: “There has been little doubt that Russia was deeply involved in the conflict, despite Kremlin denials: Western journalists saw Russian troops move across the border into Ukraine and witnessed Russian troops operating on the ground. And during a key stretch in summer 2014, the rebels’ top leaders were Russian. But the recordings and transcripts of intercepted phone calls made public Thursday offered a new level of detail about Kremlin involvement in eastern Ukraine as rebels struggled to set up the institutions of a breakaway state, press their advantage with Kyiv and manage the fallout from the July 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. … Western investigators say the Malaysia Airlines plane was taken down by a Russian-built missile fired from rebel-held territory, killing all 298 people aboard. The intercepted calls were released by the Dutch-led investigators.”

— Four weeks ago, the New York Times provided visual proof that the Russian Air Force bombed a Syrian hospital. They did it again on Wednesday. And there’s strong evidence that they did so intentionally:

— Putin said it would be the “right step” if Trump accepts his invitation to attend a May 9 military parade in Red Square to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. “The presence of the leader of a country which made a major contribution to the fight against Nazism at a ceremony marking the end of World War II, even amid a pre-election campaign, would be a right step,” Putin said. (Bloomberg News)

— The U.S. threatened Egypt with sanctions over Cairo’s decision to proceed with a purchase of Russian warplanes. From the WSJ: “The warning came in a letter Wednesday from [Pompeo]  and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper urging Egypt’s defense minister to cancel a deal to buy Russian Su-35 warplanes. The letter … said Egypt risked sanctions under a U.S. law barring purchases of Russian military equipment. … The letter was sent as Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu arrived in Cairo for talks about military cooperation. Egypt, seeking to strengthen its military alliance with Russia, earlier this year signed a $2 billion agreement with Moscow to buy more than 20 Su-35 jet fighters.”

— Europe has resisted taking back citizens who joined the Islamic State, but it seems like it may not have a choice. Loveday Morris and Souad Mekhennet report: “Although Turkey has said it is starting to deport people in its custody with suspected Islamic State links, even more significant are landmark court cases giving governments little choice. Last week, an appeals court in Berlin ruled that the German government should repatriate Bint Dahlia alongside her three children from al-Hol, a squalid Kurdish-run camp inside Syria. … The camp’s conditions, the court determined, were life-threatening, and the children had a right to remain with their mother. The lawyer for the case said he hopes it will set a precedent for 20 other German mothers and 40 children he represents. … A ruling in the neighboring Netherlands likewise ordered the government to work to return 56 children from camps in Syria — and allow their mothers to return if that is necessary for the children’s repatriation.”

— Turkey will also repatriate a U.S. citizen accused of belonging to ISIS. Kareem Fahim and Elinda Labropoulou report: “Turkey’s Interior Ministry has not identified the man, referring to him only as a ‘foreign terrorist,’ without citing any specific accusations. Turkish media outlets have identified him as a 39-year-old American of Jordanian heritage.”

— In a flooded Venice, tourists are taking selfies while residents cry. Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli report: “Venice, on the surface, can rebound quickly from disastrous flooding. The tourists this week never left; one posed for pictures with soot and mud on her wedding dress. But the people who live here say the toll of repeated inundation is mounting — measured not only in the damage to businesses and precious art or architecture, but above all, in the sense that life in one of the world’s most improbable and spellbinding cities is becoming unviable. ‘The reaction is to cry,’ said Flavia Feletti, 77, who has lived in Venice for six decades. ‘I am afraid there is no solution. When I went out the day after the flooding, I met a kind of funeral in the city.”

— Just hours after an Italian council rejected measures to act on climate change, it was flooded. From CNN: “The council chamber in Ferro Fini Palace started to take in water around 10 p.m. local time, as councilors were debating the 2020 regional budget … Among the rejected amendments were measures to fund renewable sources, to replace diesel buses with ‘more efficient and less polluting ones,’ to scrap polluting stoves and reduce the impact of plastics.”

— Mexico has replaced Central America as the largest source of migrants taken into custody at the border. Abigail Hauslohner reports: “CBP acting commissioner Mark Morgan emphasized that overall migrant crossings continued to decrease for the fifth month in a row following a record spike in Central American families and children in May. CBP took just more than 45,000 people into custody at and between ports of entry in October. Officials have welcomed the decline, which follows a historic influx in the spring overwhelmed border infrastructure and immigration authorities. The October number still outpaces the 34,871 taken into custody a year ago, in October 2018. … Morgan credited the decline — 14 percent from September to October — to Trump administration initiatives aimed at deterring migrants from coming to the border. … Morgan, who characterized the reports of violence against migrants in border towns as ‘anecdotal,’ said U.S. officials recently visited migrant shelters in Mexico and found that ‘the safety was okay.’”

— The administration is preparing court filings to begin taking over private land in Texas as early as this week for the border wall. Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is hosting a meeting today with military and administration officials where they are expected to discuss the land seizures, per NBC News

— The outbreak of popular uprisings across South America is already the region’s strongest and most widespread in decades. Anthony Faiola and Rachelle Krygier report: “Some are calling it a Latin Spring. But unlike the popular rebellions across the Arab world nearly a decade ago, when oppressed and impoverished citizens revolted against apathetic dictatorships, the actors and causes of the still-unfolding uprisings in South America are as varied as the countries themselves. In Chile, fury over a pocketbook issue — a subway fare increase — has snowballed into a deeper movement against elites and a right-leaning, democratically elected government. In Peru, the street rose up to back President Martín Vizcarra in his crusade to close down a corrupt Congress. In Ecuador, indigenous groups and left-leaning students pressured their government into restoring gasoline subsidies. In Bolivia, pro-democracy and right-wing forces drove power-clinging president Evo Morales from office after his socialists stood accused of stealing an election. In Venezuela, an outlier in the current protests, a starving nation has risen up — unsuccessfully, so far — against a socialist dictatorship accused of destroying the economy. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó has called for more demonstrations Saturday.”

— We will never forget Jamal: “Saudi spies hacked my phone and tried to stop my activism. I won’t stop fighting,” writes Saudi activist Omar Abdulaziz in an op-ed for The Post. “In the fight against the online campaigns targeting Saudi citizens, I had a powerful ally and friend in Jamal Khashoggi, who recognized the power of Twitter to shape public opinion in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arab world. Jamal was murdered because he was willing to fight trolls and propaganda with truth and ideas. But we are still learning how far Saudi Arabia — and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — is willing to go to monitor and silence critics online. Last week, the Justice Department announced that it was charging two former Twitter employees with spying for Saudi Arabia by accessing the company’s information on dissidents on the platform. I was one of the targets. It’s all been part of a coordinated campaign of harassment. Saudi Arabia, using spyware sold by the Israeli company NSO Group, hacked my phone to read my messages with Jamal, with whom I was working to identify and combat Saudi trolls on Twitter, which we called the ‘electronic bees.’ We were working together to organize an army of volunteers to counter them.”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

At the Federalist Society gala where Kavanaugh spoke, in a room full of Republican-appointed judges, Mitch McConnell boasted about “flipping” control of several circuit courts and promised to do more. It’s a reminder of how much he’s politicized the judicial branch:

Louise Linton, the actress wife of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, lambasted the Trump administration for letting a man import a lion trophy: 

“The Scottish-born actress posts frequently about animal rights, so her message on Wednesday criticizing lion poaching and urging support for a ban on animal-trophy imports was on-brand,” reports Marisa Iati.

A GOP account in Wisconsin deleted this tweet after news of the California shooting broke: 

A former Goldman Sachs CEO shared this remarkably nasty message directed toward Elizabeth Warren, a sign of how much she triggers plutocrats:

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is clearly frustrated that his candidacy is being overlooked in favor of Deval Patrick:

Patrick is trying to position himself in the moderate lane:

Meanwhile, the GOP leader in the House said on Fox News that a Democrat told him he’s thinking about changing parties because of impeachment:

From a former NSA lawyer who now works at the Brookings Institute:

Intelligence beat reporter Greg Miller shared this telling detail from his book after one of Trump’s former lawyers harshly attacked Bill Taylor:

Trump’s visit to Kentucky has brought a string of bad luck:

And the former girlfriend of singer Billy Joel is running for a New York congressional seat, a situation that led to this joke:

 

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Stephen Colbert wants to know: Since when is pizzazz the benchmark of trustworthiness?

Seth Meyers also reviewed the first day of hearings: 

Trevor Noah wants to know what could be added to the impeachment hearings so Republicans no longer find them boring: 





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