Things That Matter

Ambassador Gordon Sondland Gives Democrats New Information In Impeachment Hearings

The fourth day of public testimony in the impeachment inquiry of President Trump proved to be one of the most eye-opening days so far. Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told House Intelligence Committee members that President Trump was the person behind the push to get Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden in exchange for a White House visit. 

Sondland said President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani asked Ukrainian officials to make a public statement that Biden would be investigated. This would be done in return for inviting President Volodymyr Zelensky to the White House. This prompted one of the biggest moments in the impeachment hearings so far as Sondland said in the clearest terms that there was a quid pro quo with Ukraine. 

“I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo?” Sondland said. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.

U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s testimony provided House Democrats with the strongest evidence yet in their inquiry into Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine’s

To this point in the impeachment inquiry, Sondland is the most significant witness yet and his testimony reflected that. Having Sondland testify was a challenge itself as he had previously been blocked by the Trump administration from testifying in the hearing but ultimately came forward to discuss his dealings. 

“I agreed to testify because I respect the gravity of the moment and I believe I have an obligation to recount fully my role in the events,” Sondland said. “I did so despite the directives from the White House and the State Department.”

From the ambassador’s accounts, he, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, and U.S. special envoy to Ukraine  Kurt Volker, who testified on Tuesday, were told by Trump to work with Giuliani on Ukrainian matters back in May. This didn’t sit well with Sondland and other State Department officials. 

“We weren’t happy with the president’s directive to talk with Rudy. We did not want to involve Mr. Giuliani. I believed then, as I do now, that the men and women of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for Ukrainian matters,” Sondland said. “We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani. Simply put, we were playing the hand we were dealt.”

Another key moment on Wednesday from Sondland was that other senior officials that included Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and current White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, knew about the quid pro quo for the potential White House meeting with Zelensky.

“We can see why Secretary Pompeo and President Trump have made such a concerted and across the board effort to obstruct this investigation and this impeachment inquiry,” House Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said during his opening statement. “They do so at their own peril.”

Republicans put Sondland’s testimony under scrutiny questioning his first-hand accounts of everything that went down between Trump and his dealings in Ukraine. 

Constant scrutiny from Republican members of the committee has been a common theme throughout the first week of these hearings. Even as the most damning claims against Trump have been heavily questioned in their legitimacy. Wednesday proved no different as Sondland shut down Republican arguments that the president had any intention of building a relationship and battling corruption in Ukraine. 

Republican members also questioned the validity of the hearings in part because Ukraine got its $400 million in U.S. aid despite Zelensky never announcing an investigation of the Biden family. 

Things weren’t much different from President Trump as reporters asked him what his thoughts were on the testimonies on Wednesday. 

Carrying some notes that he jotted down, Trump responded to Sondland’s earlier claims that he did indeed ask for a favor in return regarding Ukraine. “I want nothing! I want nothing!” Trump told reporters.  “I want no quid pro quo. This is the final word from the president of the United States. I want nothing.”

Trump also told reporters that he didn’t know Sondland saying, “This is not a man I know well. He seems like a nice guy though.” The statement is the latest walk-back from the president about his relationship with Sondland, who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee. It also follows the president’s usual reaction to negative press by denying a relationship with any of the people involved.

Many Democrats see Wednesday as the first cracks in the impeachment inquiry hearings that lead to a possible criminal investigation. Looking at the way Trump has reacted to these hearings, things aren’t looking that great for him. 

READ: Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg Apologizes For Years Of Stop-And-Frisk Policy Ahead Of Possible 2020 Run

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US Prosecutors Allege That Honduran President Hernández Said He Wanted to ‘Shove Drugs Up the Noses of Gringos’

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US Prosecutors Allege That Honduran President Hernández Said He Wanted to ‘Shove Drugs Up the Noses of Gringos’

Photo via Getty

They say the truth is stranger than fiction, and in this case, that saying happens to be true. New reports from federal prosecutors in New York have come out that implicate Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández in drug trafficking, embezzlement, and fraud.

For years, Honduras and the United States have publicly touted themselves as partners in global the war on drugs. But it seems that, privately, President Hernández felt differently.

Prosecutors allege that Hernández said that he wanted to “shove the drugs right up the noses of the gringos”.

Federal prosecutors say that Hernández “said that he wanted to make the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration think that Honduras was fighting drug trafficking, but that instead he was going to eliminate extradition.”

The allegations against President Hernández are part of a larger drug trafficking case prosecutors have against, Geovanny Fuentes, a prolific Honduran trafficker whom authorities arrested in Miami.

Fuentes alleges that President Hernandez accepted bribes in exchange for protecting a cocaine laboratory and drug shipments headed towards the U.S. They say President Juan Orlando Hernández used his nation’s armed forces to protect huge shipments of cocaine in exchange for hefty bribes.

The case also alleges that Hernandez funneled aid money from the U.S. to non-governmental organizations.

The Honduran president isn’t explicitly named in the documents, but is instead referred to as “co-conspirator 4”. But the documents reference his political position as well as his relationship to his brother, Juan Antonio Hernández, who was also convicted of drug smuggling in 2019.

It’s worth mentioning that the 2019 case against Hernández’s brother also named President Hernández as a co-conspirator. That case alleged that President Hernández had accepted approximately $1 million in bribes from El Chapo.

President Hernández is denying the allegations and claiming that they are retaliations by cartel lords for his hardline stance against drug trafficking.

Recently, his office tweeted out: “The claim that Pres. Hernández supposedly accepted drug money from Geovanny Daniel Fuentes Ramirez, or gave protection or coordination to drug traffickers is 100% false, and appears to be based on lies of confessed criminals who seek revenge and to reduce their sentences.”

But at home, Hondurans seemed to have lost faith in their president. In fact, many are suspicious of his shady connections and seemingly never-ending scandals. Some Hondurans are reportedly worried that President Hernández may try to “illegally extend” his time in office in order to avoid prosecution by the United States”.

As of now, the prospects of him being prosecuted by the Trump administration are dubious at best.

Hernández and Trump have historically had a cozy relationship based on how fervently the Honduran president supported Trump’s strict immigration policies.

“[Indictment] will probably depend on the political will or political decision of the incoming Biden administration,” said InSight Crime senior investigator Hector Silva to Vice.

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Trump Labels Cuba A State Sponsor Of Terrorism As His Own Supporters Face Similar Allegations

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Trump Labels Cuba A State Sponsor Of Terrorism As His Own Supporters Face Similar Allegations

Yander Zamora/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In a move that is sure to complicate things for the incoming Biden administration, Trump has moved to put Cuba back on the list of nations that allegedly sponsor terrorism.

Obama had taken Cuba off of that list in 2015 and with four years to Cuba back on the list, many agree that Trump has simply put Cuba back on the list to make life difficult for President Biden.

The Trump administration has put Cuba back on the list of countries that “sponsor terrorism.”

With just days left in office, Trump has moved to label Cuba as a “state sponsor of terrorism” in a last-minute move that is sure to complicate things for the incoming Biden administration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo justified the controversial move which reverses Barack Obama’s 2015 decision to remove Cuba from the list after more than three decades – by accusing Havana of “repeatedly providing support for acts of international terrorism in granting safe harbour to terrorists”.

Pompeo also alleged Cuba was engaging “in a range of malign behavior across the region”, highlighting its support for Venezuela’s authoritarian leader Nicolás Maduro who Trump has unsuccessfully tried to overthrow.

The controversial step places Cuba alongside Iran, North Korea and Syria as state sponsors of terror.

However, most officials agree that Trump’s claims about Cuba are bogus.

Many international observers – including U.S. allies – aren’t impressed by the administration’s claims that Cuba is sponsoring terrorism.

In an interview with The Guardian, Christopher Sabatini, a senior fellow for Latin America at Chatham House, said “These are trumped up charges. Terrorism as an international definition is committing acts of violence against unarmed civilians intended to frighten the population. Cuba doesn’t do that. Yes, it represses its own people – but so does Saudi Arabia.”

Groups that favor greater U.S. engagement with Cuba criticized the announcement.

“There is no compelling, factual basis to merit the designation,” according to Ric Herrero, executive director of the Cuba Study Group, a Washington DC-based organization that supports engagement with the island. “Instead it appears to be another shameless, last-ditch effort to hamstring the foreign policy of the incoming Biden administration and set the stage for the next election in Florida, all at the expense of the Cuban people and relations between our countries.”

Many observers agree that Trump’s move is simply a gift to party hardliners in Florida, and likely a deliberate attempt to make life difficult for the incoming Biden administration who may wish to end deténte with Cuba.

Of course, Cuban officials reacted angrily to the announcement.

After the announcement, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez tweeted: “We condemn the US announced hypocritical and cynical designation of #Cuba as a State sponsoring terrorism. The US political opportunism is recognized by those who are honestly concerned about the scourge of terrorism and its victims.”

Reversing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s action would require the Biden administration to certify to Congress that there has been a fundamental change in leadership in Cuba and that the government is not supporting acts of international terrorism, has not for the previous six months and will not do so in the future.

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