Things That Matter

Witnesses From Third Day Of Impeachment Hearings Offer Information Defending And Implicating Trump

Day three of the public impeachment hearings offered few positives for President Trump as the House Intelligence Committee heard from four more witnesses on Tuesday. The first part of the hearing featured vivid testimonies from two key witnesses, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council official who heard President Trump’s call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, and Jennifer Williams, a foreign policy adviser to Vice President Mike Pence. The later part of the day was devoted to two witnesses called forth by Republicans, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former Trump foreign policy adviser Tim Morrison.

Unlike previous witnesses in the impeachment investigation, three of the four individuals who testified on Tuesday actually listened in on the July 25th phone call with Trump and Zelensky. All of them expressed serious concerns with President Trump’s phone call and spoke at length about the implications of his conversation with Zelensky. They say Trump used foreign policy to benefit his reelection campaign by using military aid in an effort to force Ukraine to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden. 

One of the most pivotal moments on Tuesday was the testimony from Lt. Col. Vindman who said that the phone call was “improper” and was concerned.

 The Iraq War veteran called out Trump saying that he acted out of duty and told a senior lawyer at the National Security Council about his concerns.

 “Without hesitation, I knew that I had to report this to the White House counsel,” Vindman said. “I had concerns and it was my duty to report my concerns to the proper people in the chain of command.”

 Vindman told committee members that he found many of the things that Trump discussed in the phone as troublesome. He implied that Trump could do further damage to both Ukraine’s efforts to establish itself as an independent nation as well as the national security of the United States.

“It was improper for the president to request to demand an investigation into a political opponent,” Vindman said. “This would have significant implications if it became public knowledge…It would undermine our Ukraine policy. It would undermine our national security.”

Republicans countered by questioning Vindman and his political standing throughout his testimony. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the head Republican on the Intelligence Committee, repeatedly jabbed at Vindman asking him if he could identify the anonymous whistleblower whose complaint helped trigger the impeachment proceedings. 

There was even some shots taken at Vindman from the White House’s social media page that tried to discredit his testimony. Vindman affirmed his loyalty to the U.S. and dismissed the idea that he was a “never-trumper”.  

“I’m an American,” Vindman said. “I came here when I was a toddler and I immediately dismissed these offers. Did not entertain them…the whole notion is rather comical.”

Jennifer Williams, an adviser to Vice President Mike Pence, who also listened to the July 25 phone call, said it was “unusual and inappropriate.”

Credit: @KyleGriffin1 / Twitter

Williams said she found the president’s call unusual because it included discussion of a “domestic political matter.” She said that she wasn’t sure why aid was being withheld from Ukraine. Williams couldn’t recall any national security official in the U.S government who supported the decision to withhold the security aid for Ukraine. 

“I found the July 25 phone call unusual because, in contrast to other presidential calls I had observed, it involved discussion of what appeared to be a domestic political matter,” Williams testified. 

President Trump took to Twitter to attack Williams and her testimony. “Tell Jennifer Williams, whoever that is, to read BOTH transcripts of the presidential calls, & see the just-released statement from Ukraine. Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!”

Throughout the day Republicans attempted to discredit witnesses and testimonies. 

Committee Republicans quickly took to criticizing testimonies throughout the day claiming that Vindman and Williams were simply giving his personal opinion about the phone call. President Trump also chimed in on the hearings throughout the day portraying Vindman as a liar and a Democratic pawn. 

This seems to be continuing theme during the first few days of these hearings and show no sign of stopping anytime soon.  If these are the best defenses Trump and fellow committee republicans can come up, there is trouble on the way when it comes to a vote against impeachment.

READ: Democratic Presidential Candidate Julián Castro Discusses The Primary Process, DACA, And The Legacy Of His Campaign

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A Federal Court Ruling Could Finally Put Much Needed Stimulus Funds In The Hands Of Native Tribes

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A Federal Court Ruling Could Finally Put Much Needed Stimulus Funds In The Hands Of Native Tribes

Sharon Shischilly / Getty Images

Indigenous communities in the Unites States have often been forgotten or deliberately excluded from federal policy. Many nations have been forced to go it alone and, as Covid-19 ravages Native lands, many tribe members have died.

After more than two centuries of exclusion, amid a global epidemic, Indigenous communities are once again being excluded from the decision-making process in Washington even as Covid-19 devastates their communities.

But while Indigenous peoples haven’t always had success before the courts, there has been real momentum of late. In July, the Supreme Court recognized roughly half of Oklahoma as Indigenous land, in a ruling that will have far-reaching consequences in the state justice system and beyond.

Now, Native Americans are having to fight once again for what they’re owed as the federal government distributes the more than $150 billion in stimulus money. More than a dozen Indigenous organizations warned, starting in early April, that if the Trump administration did not listen to tribal governments, they ran the risk of turning the relief package into a “grave injustice.”

A federal judge has ordered the Trump administration to give Native tribes their withheld stimulus money.

Credit: Sam Wasson / Getty Images

Frustrated and disgusted that it has taken so long for the Treasury Department to distribute federal stimulus funds to Native American tribes, a federal judge ordered Secretary Steve Mnuchin to distribute the money immediately, according to HuffPost. The judge said that tribes should have received their portion of the CARES Act months ago when other Americans received theirs.

The decision from U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta was particularly critical of Mnuchin’s decision to hold back $679 million in funding set aside for tribes while waiting on a decision in another case that will determine whether tribal businesses are eligible for the funding, as The Hill reported.

In his ruling, Mehta said “Continued delay in the face of an exceptional public health crisis is no longer acceptable.”

Over the past three months, the Treasury Department has managed to send out billions of dollars in loans to small businesses, checks to families and aid to corporations. But distributing the $8 billion pot set aside for tribal governments has proved more difficult. As a result, tribes, already critically underfunded and among the nation’s most vulnerable communities, have not received all the money they need to weather the pandemic and begin recovering from the economic toll.

“Congress made a policy judgment that tribal governments are in dire need of emergency relief to aid in their public health efforts and imposed an incredibly short time limit to distribute those dollars,” he wrote in an order released late Monday night. “The 80 days they have waited, when Congress intended receipt of emergency funds in less than half that time, is long enough.”

Some tribes were owed $12 million in federal funding and yet got nothing from the government.

Credit: Mark Ralson / Getty Images

Much of the fault is with the Treasury Department which counted the populations of Native tribes differently that Congress had intended. This meant that some tribes would end up with zero funding while some for-profit tribal companies could end up with millions.

Since some tribes do not have a designated reservation or service area, their population counts were listed as zero and they received only the minimum $100,000 allocation.

“We are not races — we are sovereign nations,” said Chief Ben Barnes of the Shawnee Tribe. He added “How can a tribe have zero people?” noting that more than 3,000 people belong to his tribe. “It was a simple clerical error, but no one at Treasury tried to fix it.”

The oversight was even more egregious, Barnes said, because there is also a census count that, while not completely accurate, would have ensured the tribe got closer to the $12 million it believes it is entitled to based on enrollment numbers.

As the legal wrangling continues, the picture on the ground is disastrous.

The Indian Health Service (IHS) reports there have been nearly 33,000 COVID-19 cases reported to IHS, tribal, and urban Indian health organizations. In May, the outbreak in the Navajo Nation surpassed New York as the highest infection rate in the country—today, its infection rate is double any state. Today, the nation has more cases, in terms of raw numbers, than several states.

And while the funding threats and lack of resources threaten everyone, Indigenous elders—sometimes the only remaining speakers of nearly lost languages—face particular danger.

In recent years, there have been furious efforts to collect Indigenous histories and preserve nearly lost Indigenous languages. COVID-19 threatens to undo much of that work as it cuts through the elderly population.

“COVID-19, like many diseases, renders Indigenous elders—our knowledge-keepers and language holders—particularly susceptible to illness and death,” wrote Gina Starblanket and Dallas Hunt, two Indigenous professors and writers in the Globe and Mail in late March. “This virus not only places us at risk, but the future well-being of coming generations as well

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In Total Telenovela Style, Spain’s Former King Is Forced Into Exile But Don’t Feel Too Bad For Him

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In Total Telenovela Style, Spain’s Former King Is Forced Into Exile But Don’t Feel Too Bad For Him

Daniel Perez / Getty Images

In news that totally seems to be made for TV, the former king of Spain – Juan Carlos – has been forced to flee the country and to live in exile as allegations of corruption emerge.

Juan Carlos had been a very popular and well-liked king until he was forced to abdicate in 2014. He had been on an elephant hunting trip in Botswana as Spain grappled with the very worst of the Great Recession and unemployment hit 24%.

Since his abdication, allegations of corruption and money laundering have chased him and harmed the Spanish monarchy, including his son, Felipe, who is the current reigning king.

Spain is reeling after their former king, Juan Carlos, has fled the country to live in exile abroad.

For a royal scandal with a dash of shock and awe, this week we look to Spain, where its former king has fled the country under a cloud of corruption allegations. This is the same former king who was accused of having a thing for Princess Diana.

Juan Carlos, who ruled for 39 years from 1975 to 2014, has fled the country following a series of allegations he pocketed tens of millions of dollars from a Saudi Arabian deal in an offshore Swiss bank account. He dropped the news to son and current rule King Felipe via a letter published this week.

The former king had become plagued with scandal after scandal and it was beginning to impact his son Felipe, the current reigning king.

Credit: Carlos Alvarez / Getty Images

Although he had several small scale scandals during his reign, Juan Carlos appeared set to go down in history as the leader who helped guide Spain from a deadly dictatorship to a healthy democracy after the death of Gen. Franco in 1975.

However, once his. 2014 abdication of the throne, new allegations of corruption and shady financial deals have followed him. As a result, the former king’s son – King Felipe – has led a very austere personal life in a country where the monarchy does not enjoy high levels of support. 

Many experts say that the whole situation has cast a shadow on the future of Spain’s monarchy. The emergence of shocking allegations of corruption and money laundering against former Spanish King Juan Carlos have cast doubt over the very future of the monarchy, under his son King Felipe

Meanwhile, officials actually have no idea where the former king is currently at.

Credit: Daniel Perez / Getty Images

Since the former king first published his letter detailing his plan to live in exile, outside of Spain, there has been intense speculation about where he would go. Turns out: we still don’t know for sure.

His letter gave no details about his destination but many media outlets reported he would be going to the Caribbean – perhaps the Dominican Republic. However, officials there said they had no information that he was coming. 

A spokeswoman for the Caribbean nation’s immigration service said he had not entered the country, despite reports that he had arrived on Tuesday. But she said he had been there for a few days from late February to early March.

Media in Portugal have reported that he is in a Portuguese resort town, but few outlets have actually been able to confirm these reports.

So with all this drama what could happen to the former king next?

As a royal, Juan Carlos still enjoys some level of immunity from prosecution. However, in Switzerland, which is investigating alleged money laundering, the former king has no immunity, regardless of the date of any possible crimes. So it’s possible that Swiss prosecutors could attempt to bring charges against him.

Regarding the Spanish Supreme Court inquiry, most experts believe the former king will avoid charges as most of the possible crimes took place before his abdication.

Spain’s Congress too has so far voted against a minority of left-wing and regional parties that wish to hold an investigative commission into the origin of Juan Carlos’s offshore fortune.

But what of King Felipe’s future in a country that polls suggest is split fairly evenly down the middle on remaining a monarchy? Some argue that Felipe needs to take greater steps towards a clean break with the past. The Prime Minister has admitted that he is in favor of reforming the constitutional concept of absolute immunity for Spain’s head of state. 

While a prominent supporter of Spain’s monarchy, José Antonio Zarzalejos, told the BBC that King Felipe should take further steps to secure his future on the throne, including the “physical removal” of Juan Carlos from Zarzuela palace.

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