Trump Backing Off Banning Vaping Flavors Popular with Teens

When President Donald Trump boarded Air Force One to fly to a Kentucky campaign rally two weeks ago, a plan was in place for him to give final approval to a plan to ban most flavored e-cigarettes.By the time Trump landed back at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington a few hours later, the plan was off. And its future is unclear.For nearly two months, momentum had been building inside the White House to try to halt a youth vaping epidemic that experts feared was hurting as many as 5 million teenagers.Both first lady Melania Trump and Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior adviser, pushed for the ban, which was also being championed internally by White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, who has taken the lead on some public health issues.But as Trump sat surrounded by political advisers on the flights to and from Lexington, he grew reluctant to sign the ban, convinced it could alienate voters who would be financially or otherwise affected by a vaping ban, according to two White House and campaign officials not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.A news conference scheduled by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to announce the ban was canceled, while more meetings with industry leaders and lobbyists were proposed, according to the officials.Trump tweeted last week that he’ll be meeting with vaping industry representatives, medical professionals and others “to come up with an acceptable solution to the Vaping and E-cigarette dilemma.” The White House has yet to announce a date for a meeting.FILE- Flavored vaping solutions are shown in a window display at a vape and smoke shop in New York, Sept. 16, 2019.This month, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and others showed the president polling data indicating that e-cigarette users could abandon him if he followed through with the ban, the officials said.Campaign aides also highlighted an aggressive social media campaign — (hash)IVapeIVote —  in which advocates claimed a ban would force the closure of vaping shops, eliminating jobs and sending users of electronic cigarettes back to traditional smokes. Parscale also pointed out the risk that a ban could have on e-cigarette users in key battleground states that Trump narrowly won in 2016.Others in the West Wing, including Conway, have argued that a ban could be a winning issue with suburban voters, including mothers, who have fled the president in large numbers. Few would predict where Trump, who is known to abruptly change his mind, would end up since he recently has been consumed with other matters, notably televised impeachments hearings.The vaping industry’s largest trade group said Monday the administration was heading “in the right direction for adult smokers and their families.”“Bans don’t work, they never have,” Tony Abboud, executive director of the Vapor Technology Association, said in a statement.Gregory Conley, president of the American Vaping Association, an advocacy organization, added that the government should put in place “sensible and targeted regulations” before it resorts to prohibition, which opponents of a ban said could lead to the creation of an underground market for e-cigarettes.But Matt Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said Trump would be guilty of “terrible public policy” and “bad politics” if he backs down.“This is one of the very few issues on which public views are unified,” Myers said in a telephone interview. “There are a small number of vape shop owners who are loud and don’t care. But there are millions more moms and dads who are deeply concerned.”Robin Koval, president and CEO of the Truth Initiative, a nonprofit, anti-tobacco organization, called on Trump to implement the original plan.“The health of America’s youth must come first and is not for sale or political gain,” Koval said in a statement. The first lady opened the White House to a group of young people from the Truth Initiative in October to tell her about their experiences with vaping.FILE – A high school student uses a vaping device near a school campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.Trump’s initial pledge Sept. 11 to ban virtually all flavored e-cigarettes stunned vaping proponents and was immediately embraced by anti-tobacco advocates. In an Oval Office appearance with the first lady and Azar, Trump said the government would act within weeks to protect children from fruit, candy, dessert and other sweet vaping flavors, including mint and menthol.The announcement followed a tweet two days earlier by Mrs. Trump expressing concern “about the growing epidemic of e-cigarette use in our children.”“We need to do all we can to protect the public from tobacco-related disease and death, and prevent e-cigarettes from becoming an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for a generation of youth,” she said.But within days, Trump tweeted that e-cigarettes might be a less-harmful alternative for smokers, a point long made by the industry. Meanwhile, vaping lobbyists, conservative groups and Republican lawmakers from key states warned Trump that a crackdown could cost him with voters.The Vapor Technology Association launched ads and an online campaign promising to punish Trump and other politicians who support vaping restrictions. Conservative groups that have long promoted vaping as an alternative to smoking, including Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, joined the criticism.That group and others helped organize protests against banning flavors, including one outside the White House. Trump supporters also showed up at some of his campaign rallies holding signs expressing their opposition to a ban.The industry warned some 15,000 to 19,000 vaping shops across the country — and jobs — could be wiped out if flavors were eliminated.The administration was widely expected earlier this month to announce a scaled-back flavor ban that would exempt menthol, citing research that the flavor was not widely used by children. But no decision came.Trump instead told reporters on Nov. 8 — four days after his political advisers buttonholed him on the Kentucky trip — he was considering new approaches to curbing teen use, including raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco from 18 to 21.Last week, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson sent Trump a letter warning against “unchecked government action that stifles innovation and restricts adults’ freedom to choose safer alternatives to smoking.”Asked how disappointed the first lady would be if the president did not follow through with a ban, her spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, who also speaks for the president, said Mrs. Trump’s priority is the health and safety of children.“She does not believe e-cigarettes or any nicotine products should be marketed or available to children,” Grisham said.Underage vaping has reached what health officials call epidemic levels. In the latest government survey, 1 in 4 high school students reported using e-cigarettes in the previous month.Anticipating a ban on flavors, Juul Labs, the nation’s largest e-cigarette maker, said this month it would stop selling its best-selling, mint-flavored nicotine pods.

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US Supreme Court Temporarily Blocks Trump Tax Ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday temporarily blocked a lower court ruling that would have required President Donald Trump to turn over some of his financial records to a Democratic-led committee in the House of Representatives.Trump, in two conflicts with opposition lawmakers and prosecutors investigating his finances, has sought to shield disclosure of his personal and business affairs. He is only the second U.S. leader in the last four decades to refuse to make his tax returns public.Last week, a federal appellate court in Washington refused to rehear a ruling from a divided three-judge panel that Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars, must turn over eight years of Trump’s financial records.But Trump appealed and the Supreme Court, at least for the moment, blocked the need for Mazars to comply with the lower court ruling to turn over the documents.The order issued by Chief Justice John Roberts did not indicate whether the court ultimately plans to hear Trump’s appeal. The Roberts order puts the lower court ruling on hold while the nine Supreme Court justices decide how to proceed.In separate litigation, Trump has asked the Supreme Court to bar turning over the Mazars financial records to prosecutors in New York who are investigating the president’s business deals.The case could eventually result in a major decision on the extent of presidential immunity from criminal prosecution.Trump’s lawyers have argued that as long as Trump remains in office he is immune from criminal proceedings and investigations.”That the Constitution would empower thousands of state and local prosecutors to embroil the president in criminal proceedings is unimaginable,” Trump’s lawyers argued.The accounting firm has said that it will turn over the documents the prosecutors want if Trump loses the case. 

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US House Panel Agrees to 10-day Hold in Fight for Trump Financial Data

A House of Representatives committee on Monday told the U.S. Supreme Court it would agree to a 10-day hold – but not a longer delay – on a lower court ruling directing President Donald Trump’s accounting firm to hand over his financial records to the Democratic-led panel.The case represents an important showdown pitting the powers of the presidency against the authority of Congress, with Trump fighting doggedly to keep details of this finances private.The delay agreed to by the House Oversight Committee would give the nine justices a chance to decide whether to grant Trump’s emergency request, filed on Friday, seeking to block the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruling.Trump turned to the justices after the lower court last week refused his request to reconsider its October decision backing the House committee’s authority to subpoena the records from Mazars LLP, Trump’s longtime accounting firm.The Republican president had asked the justices for at least a temporary hold on the enforcement of the subpoena. Trump’s lawyers would also want the matter to be put on hold for a longer period while the litigation is resolved.In a letter to the court, the committee’s lawyers said they would agree to a 10-day delay “out of courtesy for this court,” but would oppose Trump’s request for a longer pause. The Supreme Court has yet to act on Trump’s request or the committee’s offer to allow the 10-day delay.If the Supreme Court declines to hear Trump’s appeal, the documents would have to be handed over to lawmakers. Five votes among the justices are needed to grant a stay request. The court has a 5-4 conservative majority.In a separate case, Trump last Thursday asked the Supreme Court to review a New York-based federal appeals court’s ruling that local prosecutors can enforce a subpoena also issued to Mazars demanding Trump’s personal and corporate tax returns from 2011 to 2018.The House committee subpoenaed Mazars this year, saying it needed the records to determine if Trump complied with laws requiring disclosure of his assets, and to assess whether those laws needed to be changed.

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Weary Democratic Voters Balk at New Presidential Candidates

The number of Democrats running for president is growing as the first votes of the primary approach. And voters have a clear message: stop.
                   
Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick roiled the race last week by launching a surprise bid. New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg is likely to do the same in the coming days.
                   
The late entries, less than 80 days before Iowa’s kickoff caucuses, have exposed a fresh gulf in a party already plagued by divisions. On one side: anxious establishment leaders and donors, who are increasingly concerned about the direction of the race and welcome new candidates. On the other: many rank-and-file voters and local officials across early voting Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina, who are drowning in candidates and say they’re more than satisfied with their current options.
                   
“They need to sit down. We’ve got enough Democrats running,” said Debra Tyus, a 63-year-old Democrat from Walterboro, South Carolina.
                   
In New Hampshire, 75-year-old undecided Democrat Thea Lahti said it’s “awfully late” in the process and fears that adding more candidates is “further splintering the field.”
                   
And in Iowa, state Rep. Jennifer Konfrst said she hasn’t spoken to a single Democrat who felt the current field wasn’t good enough.
                   
“The more common refrain revolves around having too many great candidates already,” said Konfrst, a first-term lawmaker who’s backing Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey. “I struggle to see what more candidates bring to the conversation that isn’t already here.”
                   
Before Patrick’s announcement, at least 16 high-profile Democrats were running for president. The field spans multiple generations, racial backgrounds, political ideologies and levels of experience.
                   
There are still so many candidates, in fact, that they can’t all debate together. The Democratic National Committee implemented a system of rising donor and polling thresholds to make the numbers manageable, although last month’s debate featured 12 candidates, and a group of 10 will share the stage this week.
                   
Despite the extraordinary options, establishment-minded Democrats have become increasingly concerned about the direction of the race, seizing on what they see as former Vice President Joe Biden’s lackluster candidacy and fears that leading progressives Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are too liberal.
                   
Underlying their concerns is an almost desperate urgency shared by much of the Democratic Party to find a surefire nominee to deny Trump a second term. After almost a year of campaigning, virtually all the candidates face lingering questions about their political liabilities.
                   
Former President Barack Obama sought to calm establishment anxiety at a weekend donor conference when he reminded attendees of his own turbulent primary battle against Hillary Clinton in 2008. Yet he also seemed to reinforce concerns about the more liberal candidates in the race, warning that “the average American doesn’t think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it.”
                   
Obama and Patrick have long been friends. They spoke privately in the days before the former Massachusetts governor launched, just as Obama did with several other candidates earlier in the year. Far from dissuading Patrick from running, the former president shared “great insights about his own experiences and about his experience with some of the other candidates and what he thought the strengths and weaknesses of the campaign, of my campaign, might be,” Patrick said late last week.
                   
Patrick campaign manager Abe Rakov insisted that deep uncertainty across the electorate and the absence of clear front-runners creates an opening for new candidates.
                   
“When we’re at this point in the process and voters still haven’t made up their minds, there’s an opportunity for someone with a different story and a different background to come in and make their case,” said Rakov, who most recently worked for Beto O’Rourke’s failed presidential campaign. “If it was obvious this was a two-person race, it probably would be too late for someone to get in. But it’s not. This is a wide-open race.”
                   
Having launched his campaign in New Hampshire late last week, Patrick is scheduled to make his inaugural Iowa appearance on Monday, followed by a Tuesday appearance in South Carolina.
                   
A Bloomberg announcement is expected this week as well.
                   
Should he run, the former New York mayor is planning to bypass the early states altogether and focus instead on the group of so-called Super Tuesday states holding primary contests on the first Tuesday in March. While Patrick may struggle to raise the resources to launch a robust multistate effort in the short term, Bloomberg has a net worth of more than $50 billion, and he’s expressed a willingness to spend whatever’s necessary to win.
                   
Bloomberg senior adviser Howard Wolfson said he’s aware that many voters and early state officials are pushing back against new candidates.
                   
“I hear it, I respect it, but we do not believe that the current field is particularly well-positioned to take on Donald Trump in November, and we do believe that Mike would be the best candidate to do that,” Wolfson said. “There will be a burden on us to convince people of that. And that is not a burden that we will likely be successful in overcoming on Day 1, but certainly it’s one in which we hope to be successful in overcoming as the possible campaign commences.”
                   
As Wolfson notes, persuading voters to welcome new faces to a race already bursting with high-profile Democrats will not be easy.
                   
In July, the Pew Research Center found that roughly two-thirds of Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters had an excellent or good impression of the Democratic presidential candidates as a group. That’s dramatically higher than ahead of the 2016 presidential primary between Clinton and Bernie Sanders, when only about half of Democrats had a positive impression of the field.
                   
Voters’ level of satisfaction actually increased earlier in the month, according to a Monmouth University poll, which found that 74% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters were satisfied with the field; just 16% said they would like someone else to run.
                   
Still, establishment-minded donors have become increasingly worried about their party’s top-tier candidates.
                   
Robert Zimmerman, a New York-based donor and member of the Democratic National Committee, said that cocktail parties have essentially turned into therapy sessions for nervous Democrats in recent weeks. He noted, however, that most voters on the ground where it matters most are pleased with the current field.
                   
“We need more Democrats in the field like Tom Brady needs more Super Bowl rings,” said Zimmerman, a fan of the lowly New York Jets.
                   
Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Don Fowler, who is based in South Carolina, worries that the sheer number of candidates still in the race will allow a less-than-desirable nominee to emerge, much in the same way Trump captured the GOP nomination in 2016 because the more experienced candidates sliced up the establishment vote.
                   
“We’ve got too many candidates,” he said. “No more.”
                   
That’s not to say that all primary voters are completely closed off. While polls show that most are satisfied with the current field, they also suggest that most voters haven’t yet settled on one candidate.
                   
In New Hampshire, 65-year-old independent Carol Maraldo said that the 2020 primary is already confusing because it’s so crowded.
                  
 “Adding more people adds to the confusion,” she said, even as she entertained the possibility of a new candidate. If it’s “somebody that would be that perfect person, I’d be all for it.”

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Poll: Buttigieg Surges Ahead of Democratic Rivals in Iowa

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg holds a clear lead among Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa, the state that will hold the first nominating contest in February, a new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom opinion poll showed on Saturday.Buttigieg’s support climbed to 25%, a 16-point increase since the previous survey in September, CNN reported.It said there was a close three-way battle for second with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren at 16%, and former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders each at 15%.Since September, Warren dropped six percentage points and Biden slipped five points, while Sanders gained four points, CNN said.Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, told the network the news was encouraging and his campaign felt growing momentum in the farm state, but there was “still a lot of work to do” in increasing his name recognition there.Buttigieg also led Democratic presidential candidates in Iowa in a Monmouth University poll released on Tuesday.A New York Times/Sienna poll released earlier this month also showed Buttigieg’s support surging in Iowa, but still behind Warren and Sanders. Nationally, he does not fare nearly as well, averaging around 8% in polls.Buttigieg’s campaign is betting a strong finish in the Iowa caucus on Feb. 3 will help quell questions about whether he is ready for the big stage, and persuade reluctant black and Hispanic voters to give him a second look.Buttigieg, 37, has invested heavily in Iowa from the start.His campaign has more than 100 staffers and 20 offices in the state, among the most of any candidate.Buttigieg finished the third quarter with $23.4 million in campaign cash on hand, ranking third behind Warren and Sanders at $25.7 million and $33.7 million, respectively. Biden had $8.9 million, forcing his campaign to abandon a promise to reject support from political action committees.
 

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Democrats, Republicans React to Impeachment Testimony as Hearings Enter Week 2

House Republicans and Democrats are reacting Sunday to the first week of Impeachment hearings targeting U.S. President Donald Trump. Democrats say testimony hearing during the hearings confirms the president abused power by allegedly withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for dirt on a political foe.  Republicans say the proceedings have provided no hard evidence of wrongdoing.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi reports

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Democrats Hold Louisiana Governor’s Seat Despite Trump

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has stunned Republicans again, narrowly winning a second term Saturday as the Deep South’s only Democratic governor and handing Donald Trump another gubernatorial loss this year.In the heart of Trump country, the moderate Edwards cobbled together enough cross-party support with his focus on bipartisan, state-specific issues to defeat Republican businessman Eddie Rispone.Coming after a defeat in the Kentucky governor’s race and sizable losses in Virginia’s legislative races, the Louisiana result seems certain to rattle Republicans as they head into the 2020 presidential election. Trump fought to return the seat to the GOP, making three trips to Louisiana to rally against Edwards.The president’s intense attention motivated not only conservative Republicans, but also powered a surge in anti-Trump and black voter turnout that helped Edwards.Louisiana Republican gubernatorial candidate Eddie Rispone speaks as he is endorsed by President Donald Trump at a campaign rally in Bossier City, La., Nov. 14, 2019.Moderate candidateDemocrats who argue that nominating a moderate presidential candidate is the best approach to beat Trump are certain to point to Louisiana’s race as bolstering their case. Edwards, a West Point graduate, opposes gun restrictions, signed one of the nation’s strictest abortion bans and dismissed the impeachment effort as a distraction.Still, while Rispone’s loss raises questions about the strength of Trump’s coattails, its relevance to his reelection chances are less clear. Louisiana is expected to easily back Trump next year, and Edwards’ views in many ways are out of step with his own party.In the final days as polls showed Edwards with momentum, national Republicans beefed up assistance for Rispone. That wasn’t enough to boost the GOP contender, who wasn’t among the top-tier candidates Republican leaders hoped would challenge Edwards as they sought to prove that the Democrat’s longshot victory in 2015 was a fluke.Little-known RepublicanRispone is a longtime political donor who was little-known when he launched his campaign, had ties to unpopular former Gov. Bobby Jindal and offered few details about his agenda. Edwards also proved to be a formidable candidate, with a record of achievements.Working with the majority-Republican Legislature, Edwards stabilized state finances with a package of tax increases, ending the deficit-riddled years of Jindal. New money paid for investments in public colleges and the first statewide teacher raise in a decade.Edwards expanded Louisiana’s Medicaid program, lowering the state’s uninsured rate below the national average. A bipartisan criminal sentencing law rewrite he championed ended Louisiana’s tenure as the nation’s top jailer.Rispone, the 70-year-old owner of a Baton Rouge industrial contracting company, hitched his entire candidacy to Trump, introducing himself to voters in ads that focused on support for the president in a state Trump won by 20 percentage points.But the 53-year-old Edwards, a former state lawmaker and former Army Ranger from rural Tangipahoa Parish, reminded voters that he’s a Louisiana Democrat, with political views that sometimes don’t match his party’s leaders.“They talk about I’m some sort of a radical liberal. The people of Louisiana know better than that. I am squarely in the middle of the political spectrum,” Edwards said. “That hasn’t changed, and that’s the way we’ve been governing.”Millions spentRispone poured more than $12 million of his own money into the race. But he had trouble drawing some of the primary vote that went to Republican U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, after harshly attacking Abraham in ads as he sought to reach the runoff.Rispone also avoided many traditional public events attended by Louisiana gubernatorial candidates and sidestepped questions about his plans when taking office. He promised tax cuts, without saying where he’d shrink spending, and he pledged a constitutional convention, without detailing what he wanted to rewrite.Both parties spent millions on attack ads and get-out-the-vote work, on top of at least $36 million spent by candidates.

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Senior White House Official Testifies Privately in Trump Impeachment Probe

A senior White House budget official arrived on Capitol Hill Saturday to testify behind closed doors before congressional investigators who are conducting an impeachment inquiry against U.S. President Donald Trump.Mark Sandy, a longtime career official with the Office of Management and Budget, is the first agency employee to be deposed in the inquiry after three employees appointed by Trump defied congressional subpoenas to testify. It remains unclear if a subpoena had been issued to Sandy.Sandy could provide valuable information about the U.S. delay of nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine last summer, allegedly in exchange for the newly-elected Ukrainian president to launch investigations into 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son at Trump’s request. Investigators are also exploring debunked claims promoted by Trump and allies that Ukraine, and not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.Sandy was among the career employees who questioned the holdup, according to people with knowledge of the matter.His signature is on at least one document that prevented the provision of the aid to Ukraine, according to copies of documents investigators discussed during an earlier deposition. A transcript of the discussion has been publicly disclosed.Sandy appears before the House foreign affairs, intelligence, and oversight and reform committees.FILE – Members of Congress head to a resticted area for a closed-door deposition held as part of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, Oct. 23, 2019.In a statement, the three Democratic-led committees said they are investigating “the extent to which President Trump jeopardized national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election and by withholding security assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression, as well as any efforts to cover up these matters.”Sandy’s deposition comes one day after the ousted former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, testified at the congressional impeachment inquiry into U.S. President Donald Trump that she was “shocked and devastated” over remarks Trump made about her during a call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.“I didn’t know what to think, but I was very concerned,” she told the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. “It felt like a threat.”Her testimony was consistent with her closed-door testimony last month when she said she felt “threatened” and worried about her safety after Trump said “she’s going to go through some things.”A career diplomat, Yovanovitch was unceremoniously recalled to Washington after Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and his allies waged what her colleagues and Democrats have described as a smear campaign against her. Two Giuliani associates recently arrested for campaign finance violations are accused of lobbying former Republican House member Pete Sessions of Texas for her ouster.Yovanovitch was mentioned in Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy that triggered the impeachment probe after a whistleblower filed a complaint. According to the White House summary of the call, Trump said Yovanovitch was “bad news.”Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 15, 2019.An unusual exchange occurred during the hearing that began when Trump took to Twitter to again criticize Yovanovitch.  He tweeted, “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.”Democratic committee chairman Adam Schiff interrupted the proceedings to read the tweet and asked her to respond. Yovanovitch paused before saying, “It’s very intimidating” and added: “I can’t speak to what the president is trying to do, but the effect is to be intimidating.”Schiff responded that, “Some of us here take witness intimidation very, very seriously.”Trump’s Twitter attack drew the ire of Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the third highest-ranking Republican in the House.She said Trump “was wrong” and that Yovanovitch “clearly is somebody who’s been a public servant to the United States for decades, and I don’t think the president should have done that.”The White House later issued a statement denying accusations of intimidation.“The tweet was not witness intimidation, it was simply the President’s opinion, which he is entitled to,” the statement said. “This is not a trial, it is a partisan political process—or to put it more accurately, a totally illegitimate, charade stacked against the President. There is less due process in this hearing than any such event in the history of our country. It’s a true disgrace.”Yovanovitch also told lawmakers that she was the target of a “campaign of disinformation” during which “unofficial back channels” were used to oust her.Yovanovitch said repeated attacks from “corrupt interests” have created a “crisis in the State Department,” which she said “is being hallowed out within a competitive and complex time on the world stage.”A transcript of a phone call between U.S. President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is shown during former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s testimony on Capitol Hill, Nov. 15, 2019.The veteran diplomat said that senior officials at the State Department, right up to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, failed to defend her from attacks from Trump and his allies, including Guiliani.Yovanovitch, who served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from July 2016 to May 2019, also testified last month that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland had recommended she praise Trump on Twitter if she wanted to save her job.During opening remarks, Schiff said Yovanovitch was “smeared and cast aside” by Trump because she was viewed as an obstacle to Trump’s political and personal agenda.Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, described the hearings as nothing more than “spectacles” for Democrats to “advance their operation to topple a duly elected president.”Republicans, led by Nunes and their lead counsel, Steve Castor, tried to portray Yovanovitch as immaterial to the impeachment inquiry.Nunes suggested that Yovanovitch’s complaints are a personnel matter that is “more appropriate for the Subcommittee on Human Resources on Foreign Affairs” and declared she is “not a material fact witness.”Castor peppered Yovanovitch with questions aimed at proving her irrelevance, including whether she was involved in preparations for the July 25 call between Trump and Zelenskiy or plans for a White House meeting between the two leaders. She answered in the negative to all the questions.Republican Congressman Devin Nunes, left, talks to Steve Castor, Republican staff attorney, during testimony from former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 15, 2019.Nunes also read a rough transcript of an April call Trump had with newly elected Zelenskiy that shows Zelenskiy was eager to have Trump attend his inauguration in Ukraine. The White House released the transcript just minutes after the hearing began, apparently an attempt to dispel any notions of wrongdoing by the president.“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 vowed to have a “great representative” attend the event if he was unable to.The U.S. delegation to inauguration was led by Energy Secretary Rick Perry after Vice President Mike Pence canceled the trip.Yovanovitch’s removal sent shockwaves through the foreign service, with more than 50 former female U.S. ambassadors writing a letter to Trump and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to protect foreign service officers from political retaliation.William Taylor, acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, a senior State Department official in charge of U.S. policy toward Ukraine, testified on Wednesday during the first day of the historic televised hearings that could lead to a House vote on articles of impeachment before the end of the year.George Kent, senior State Department official, left, and Ambassador William Taylor, charge d’affaires at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, are sworn in at at a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Nov. 13, 2019.All three diplomats have previously testified behind closed doors about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son, Hunter, and to probe a discredited conspiracy theory regarding the 2016 president election.Democrats say the open hearings will allow the public to assess the credibility of the witnesses and their testimonies. Republicans hope to discredit the impeachment proceedings and poke holes in the witnesses’ testimony.Also Friday, David Holmes, a staffer at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, appeared before House investigators for closed-door testimony. Holmes testified he overheard Trump ask Sondland about the status of “investigations” during a phone call after Trump’s July 25 conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart.Sondland later explained the probes pertained to Biden, a former U.S. vice president, and his son, Hunter, according to Holmes. No wrongdoing by either Biden has been substantiated.Holmes’ testimony was one of the first direct accounts of Trump pursuing investigations of a political rival.Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry to determine if Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine unless President Zelenskiy publicly committed himself to investigating 2020 Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden for corruption.FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a bilateral meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on the sidelines of the 74th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, Sept. 25, 2019.Trump also has repeated an unfounded claim that Ukraine, and not Russia, meddled in the 2016 presidential election on behalf of Democrats and their candidate, Hillary Clinton.Republicans have contended that Trump did not improperly pressure Ukraine to investigate political rivals for political advantage.Under pressure from Trump, Republican lawmakers have waged a vigorous defense of the president’s actions in dealing with Ukraine over a several-month period, and they have asserted that the Democrats’ case for impeachment against Trump is non-existent.Next week, the House panel will hold public hearings again. The schedule for testimony includes:
 
Tuesday: Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, former director for European Affairs at the National Security Council, Ambassador Kurt Volker, former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine; and Tim Morrison, a White House aide with the National Security Council focusing on Europe and Russia policy.
 
Wednesday: Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union; Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian Affairs; and David Hale, under secretary of state for political affairs.
 
Thursday: Fiona Hill, former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia. 

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Trump Goes to Hospital for ‘Routine’ Checkup

U.S. President Donald Trump made an unexpected visit to a military hospital Saturday afternoon for what the White House said was an early start to his annual health checkup.“Anticipating a very busy 2020, the president is taking advantage of a free weekend here in Washington, D.C., to begin portions of his routine annual physical exam at Walter Reed,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.Trump, 73, was deemed fit by his official physician, U.S. Navy Commander Sean Conley, following an examination in early February at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.The president, who has a taste for red meat and fast food, does not drink alcohol or smoke. He is not known to have had any significant medical issues since becoming president in January 2017 but has a history of elevated cholesterol and had been taking a low daily dose of aspirin for cardiac health.Four hours of testsOn February 8, Trump underwent four hours of routine tests at Walter Reed with Conley supervising a panel of 11 different board-certified specialists.Following the annual examination, Conley, in a memo to the White House, said the president was “in very good health and I anticipate he will remain so for the duration of his presidency and beyond.”That was the second such physical exam of his presidency. Questions were raised about the true health of the president after the first one in 2018.The motorcade of President Donald Trump waits at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., Nov. 16, 2019.The White House doctor at the time, Navy Rear Admiral Ronny Jackson, declared Trump in “excellent health,” attributing it to “incredibly good genes.”The physician also declared that he had told the president he “might live to be 200 years old” if Trump would just eat food that was more healthful.After the 2018 physical, Jackson told reporters the president weighed 108 kilograms (239 pounds) and could reasonably lose approximately 4 to 7 kilograms (10 to 15 pounds).Jackson said Trump would undergo a colonoscopy in 2019. The procedure apparently was not performed in February of this year.  Jackson also said the president got a perfect score on a screening for cognitive impairment and was “mentally very sharp.”NominationJackson later was nominated by Trump to run the Department of Veterans Affairs, but the admiral withdrew his name after allegations of misconduct surfaced, including accusations he improperly dispensed medication.
 
The admiral denied the allegations, which Trump called “lies.”The president subsequently recommended Jackson for a second star (higher military rank) and subsequently promoted him to White House chief medical adviser.

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