Houston Judge Surrenders for 7-Count Wire Fraud Indictment
Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas surrendered to federal authorities. She’ll make an initial appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Bray.
A Houston jurist, 164th District Judge Alexandra Smoots-Thomas, was indicted for wire fraud, according to a Friday news release by U.S. Attorney Ryan K. Patrick.
The judge’s Oct. 24 seven-count indictment was unsealed Friday when Smoots-Thomas surrendered to federal authorities. She’ll make an initial appearance Friday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Peter Bray, the news release said.
The indictment alleged that the judge embezzled campaign contributions through people and political election committees, promising to use the funds on her reelection campaigns in 2012 and 2016. In reality, she paid for noncampaign expenses such as her mortgage payments, private school tuition, travel, luxury items and cash withdraws, alleged the news release. She concealed her wrongful spending through her campaign treasurer and false Texas Ethics Commission filings, it said.
Wire fraud charges can be punished with up to 20 years in federal prison and a $250,000 maximum fine.
Smoots-Thomas earned her law degree from South Texas College of Law Houston in 2001, and was licensed to practice in 2002, said her State Bar of Texas profile. She does not have any public disciplinary history as an attorney. The Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct also does not list any public discipline for her.
She worked at Brown McCarroll in Houston right out of law school and stayed until 2007, when she opened a solo practice, according to her profile on her campaign website. Her private practice centered around insurance law, commercial litigation, construction litigation and real estate.
Under her former name, Smoots-Hogan, the judge was elected to the 164th Civil District Court in 2008. She was reelected in 2012 and 2016.
In her personal life, Smoots-Thomas is raising two boys, the campaign website said.
When judges are facing criminal charges, it’s fairly routine for the judicial conduct commission to suspend them from the bench as their cases wind through the criminal justice system, said Austin solo practitioner Lillian Hardwick, who practices judicial ethics law.
If the allegations in the government indictments are proven in court, and Smoots-Thomas is convicted, then it’s the type of crime that could boot her from the bench for good, Hardwick said. She could either resign instead of facing discipline, and promise never to run for election again, or the Texas Supreme Court could remove her, Hardwick explained.
“The judge has to comply with the law, and that has been interpreted as in dispensing the law and in personal behavior,” Hardwick said. “If you look at the constitutional provisions, about willful or persistent conduct that’s inconsistent with the proper performance of judicial duties, nobody would argue this behavior, if proven, is consistent with judicial duty.”
Former Rep. John Conyers — the longest serving black congressman — passes away at 90
U.S. Rep. John Conyers, a civil rights icon who during five decades in Congress co-founded the Congressional Black Caucus and pushed to establish a national holiday to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., died Sunday of natural causes at the age of 90.
His death comes after a long and illustrious career that spanned more than 50 years and 27 terms in office, but ended in 2018 with a sudden resignation amidst claims of sexual harassment and verbal abuse of employees and misuse of taxpayer funds to cover-up those claims.
Conyers’ tenure was a remarkable 53-year-run during which the lawmaker, the son of a well-known labor lawyer in Detroit, compiled a near-record legacy of civil rights activism, longevity and advocacy for the poor and underprivileged.
He died with the sixth-longest tenure in congressional history.
“For a long time he was black America’s congressman,” said Sam Riddle, a longtime family friend and consultant to the Conyers family, who confirmed the death Sunday. “On the streets of Detroit, he’ll be mourned.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan in a statement said he “was deeply saddened” by Conyers’ death.
“One of my most special memories was spending time with him at Gordon Park on 12th Street and Clairmount on the 50th anniversary of the violence of 1967 as he recounted the story of his courageous efforts to calm the angry crowds,” Duggan said. “He has fought for a better Detroit for more than half a century.
“From co-founding the Congressional Black Caucus to leading the fight in Congress to enshrine Martin Luther King’s birthday as a national holiday, John Conyers’ impact on our city and nation will never be forgotten,” Duggan said.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called Conyers a “lifelong Detroiter who was deeply committed to the city and to those he represented.”
“His impact on our state, whether by spearheading reforms in criminal justice and voting rights in Congress or through his lifetime of civil rights activism, will not be forgotten,” Whitmer said in a statement.
Conyers was born in Detroit and graduated from Northwestern High School. After a tour of duty with the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Conyers returned home to earn bachelor’s and law degrees from Wayne State University.
His law practice and work in the auto plants in Detroit led him to the office of former U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn, where he worked as a legislative assistant for three years. But by 1964, at the age of 35, Conyers went after a seat of his own in Congress, winning the first of 27 general elections and serving portions of Detroit and some surrounding Wayne County suburbs for the next five decades.
He may not have had many bills that carried his name — only 26 of the 712 bills he introduced became law, according to the Library of Congress — but he fought for issues of civil rights and social justice, including seeking reparations for the descendants of African-American slaves, modifying the mandatory sentences for those convicted of non-violent drug crimes, defending assaults on the Voting Rights Act, reforming laws that put juvenile offenders in prison for life and calling for investigations into police brutality of African-American men.
And he was the key sponsor of the bill, introduced each session for 20 years, that designated the third Monday of January as a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Conyers introduced the bill four days after King was assassinated in 1968, but it wasn’t signed into law until 1989.
In the thick of the civil rights battles, Conyers walked alongside King and other leaders of the movement in Selma, Ala., to bring equal voting rights to blacks.
In 2015, during his 50th year in Congress, Conyers told the Washington Post that King was one of the most important historical figures in history.
“I felt the civil rights movement was a powerful chapter in American history, King to me is the outstanding international leader of the 20th century without every holding office,” he said. “He advanced us forward even though there was a terrible loss of life and violence and injustice. But Martin Luther King Jr. moved us in a way that changed history.”
He moved among those involved in the disturbance in Detroit in August 1967, urging calm. And he burnished his civil rights record even more by hiring icon Rosa Parks after she moved from Alabama to Detroit. The secretary and receptionist job in Conyers’ Detroit office was a job she held until her retirement in 1988.
Tributes pour in
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat who won election to Conyers’ seat after his resignation, on Twitter called Conyers “our Congressman forever.”
“He never once wavered in fighting for jobs, justice and peace,” Tlaib tweeted. “We always knew where he stood on issues of equality and civil rights in the fight for the people. Thank you Congressman Conyers for fighting for us for over 50 years.”
U.S. Rep. Brenda, D-Southfield, also took to Twitter to mourn Conyers’ passing:
“John Conyers spent a lifetime in public service dedicated to civil rights and justice for people of color in America. His legacy will continue to impact generations to come.”
Republican Congressman Fred Upton of St. Joseph also praised Conyers, calling him “a legend on the House Judiciary Committee” who witnessed and helped write history.
“His positive work on Civil Rights legislation began to move the country in the right direction and made our nation a better place today,” Upton tweeted.
U.S. Senate Gary Peters, D-Michigan, said that while serving in Congress with Conyers, he saw firsthand his dedication and passion.
“From being in Selma, Alabama, on Freedom Day during the Civil Rights Movement — to co-founding the Congressional Black Caucus, chairing the House Judiciary Committee and becoming Dean of the House of Representatives — Congressman Conyers dedicated his life to fighting for civil rights,” Peters said.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, noted that Conyers, “believed in justice and equality for all.”
“John Conyers spent his life championing those causes,” Dingell said in a statement. “The fights John Conyers fought will be remembered for generations.”
Michigan Congressman Dan Kildee noted that Conyers rose to become the longest serving African American in Congress and dean of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Throughout his life, John Conyers helped to advance many important causes, including expanding voting rights and equal rights for all Americans,” Kildee said.
Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said Conyers was indispensable to the city on Sept 11, 2001, helping to prevent backlash against our Muslim community.
“RIP,” Moss tweeted. “He was of Detroit and for Detroit.”
Career ends amidst a sex scandal
In the end, Conyers would fall to the #MeToo movement. It was a scandal that was a swift and crushing fall from grace.
Facing a rising chorus of voices demanding he step down because of the sexual harassment claims, Conyers, D-Detroit, refused to do so for several months in 2017.
Conyers resigned in early December 2017 after an article on BuzzFeed.com detailed a secret settlement of more than $27,000 with a former staffer who accused him of making sexual advances toward her and paying her out of funds from his taxpayer-supported office.
Within days, several other women had come forward with accusations against Conyers, who, despite his express denials that he harassed anyone, saw House leaders and members of his own party abandon him, with three of the four Democrats in the Michigan delegation calling for him to resign.
In addition to Marion Brown, the staffer who received the settlement, six other women claimed they either experienced or saw him touching and rubbing women in his office, making sexual advances toward them or making inappropriate remarks. One of them filed a lawsuit against him early this year and then withdrew it, saying she didn’t want to hurt Conyers’ reputation.
Another woman, Washington lawyer Melanie Sloan, also told the Free Press that Conyers had verbally mistreated her, forced her to babysit his children and, on one occasion, showed up at a meeting with her at his office in his underwear —though she didn’t consider it sexual harassment.
From accusation to resignation, Conyers’ colleagues went from being warily supportive, urging caution while an investigation by the House Ethics Committee was completed to issuing outright calls for his resignation, even from at least one fellow member of the Congressional Black Caucus,which he helped to create in 1971.
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who is the third-ranking Democrat in the House and had been a colleague of Conyers’ on the Congressional Black Caucus since 1993, called for him to resign shortly after similar calls by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Conyers’ lawyer, Arnold Reed, of Southfield, had reiterated on several occasions that the congressman was not ready to resign and wanted to see the ethics investigation completed.
But with allegations swirling not only over the harassment claims but his use of taxpayer funds to pay at least one settlement, he abruptly stepped down as the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, a position he had held for more than two decades.
Then — with media reports that some members of the caucus were privately urging him to resign — he suddenly quit Washington, missing several votes, including one mandating sexual harassment training for members, as he headed back to Detroit and his family.
Conyers record in Congess
During his time in office, which he won with huge margins ever two years like clockwork, Conyers was considered one of the most liberal members of Congress, with a 100% rating from the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Human Rights Campaign.
The conservative Freedom Works gave him a 15% rating, while the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity give him ratings of 8% and 6% respectively.
Conyers, however, had already come under scrutiny twice from the House Ethics Committee in Congress for possible transgressions in his office.
In 2017, the committee confirmed it was continuing to look at whether he had wrongly paid his former chief of staff more than $50,000 for time she didn’t work. Conyers said he was only paying her for accrued leave time and severance as part of a separation agreement reached after she pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of receiving stolen property unrelated to her job.
In 2003, the Free Press reported on complaints from six unnamed Conyers aides who said they were forced to work on various campaigns, including a failed legislative campaign for Conyers’ wife, Monica, on government time. A follow-up Ethics Committee report, however, focused on allegations that the congressman used staff to babysit his sons, help his wife with her law studies and chauffeur him to private events.
Conyers’ office denied the accusations and eventually reached a deal to ensure staff knew where their responsibilities began and ended.
In 2014, Conyers nearly didn’t get the chance to run for reelection because of irregularities in the petitions he filed to run for office. Wayne County Clerk Cathy Garrett said he had used ineligible people to gather signatures, but a federal court disagreed and the Legislature passed a law that people who collected signatures didn’t need to be registered voters.
Read Barack Obama’s Eulogy for Elijah Cummings
“His commitment to justice and the rights of others would never, ever waver.”
Former President Barack Obama delivered a eulogy today honoring Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland, who died last week after a decades-long career in the House of Representatives. Cummings was known in Congress as a staunch defender of voting rights and for his perch as chair of the House Oversight Committee, which put him at the center of the impeachment inquiry now facing President Donald Trump. The widespread bipartisan adulation Cummings’s colleagues had for him was made clear yesterday, when he lay in stateat the Capitol—the first African American lawmaker to be afforded that honor in the nation’s history.
Below, the full text of Obama’s remarks as delivered.
To the bishop, and the first lady, and the New Psalmist family, to the Cummings family, Maya, Mr. President, Madam Secretary, Madam Speaker, governor, friends, colleagues, staff.
The seed on good soil, the parable of the sower tells us, stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop. The seed on good soil.
Elijah Cummings came from good soil. And in this sturdy frame, goodness took root. His parents were sharecroppers from the South. They picked tobacco and strawberries, and then sought something better in this city, South Baltimore. Robert worked shifts at a plant, and Ruth cleaned other people’s homes. They became parents of seven, preachers to a small flock. I remember I had the pleasure of meeting Elijah’s mother, Ruth, and she told me she prayed for me every day, and I knew it was true, and I felt better for it. Sometimes people say they are praying for you, and you don’t know. They might be praying about you, but you don’t know if they are praying for you. But I knew Miss Ruth was telling the truth.
So they were the proverbial salt of the earth, and they passed on that strength and that grit, but also that kindness and that faith to their son. As a boy, Elijah’s dad made him shine his shoes and tie his tie, and they’d go to the airport—not to board the airplanes, but to watch others do it. I remember Elijah telling me this story. Robert would say, “I have not flied. I may not fly, but you will fly one day. We can’t afford it right now, but you will fly.”
His grandmother—as Elijah related—and as grandmothers do, was a little more impatient with her advice. Your daddy, she said, “he’s been waiting and waiting for a better day. Don’t you wait.” And Elijah did not wait. Against all odds, Elijah earned his degrees. He learned about the rights that all people in this country are supposed to possess, with a little help, apparently, from Perry Mason. Elijah became a lawyer to make sure that others had rights, and his people had their God-given rights, and from the statehouse to the House of Representatives, his commitment to justice and the rights of others would never, ever waver.
Elijah’s example: a son of parents who rose from nothing to carve out just a little something, a public servant who toiled to guarantee the least of us have the same opportunities that he had earned. A leader who once said he would die for his people, even as he lived every minute for them—his life validates the things we tell ourselves about what’s possible in this country. Not guaranteed, but possible. The possibility that our destinies are not preordained. But rather, through our works, and our dedication, and our willingness to open our hearts to God’s message of love for all people, we can live a purposeful life. That we can reap a bountiful harvest. That we are neither sentenced to wither among the rocks nor assured a bounty, but we have a capacity, the chance, as individuals and as a nation, to root ourselves in good soil.
Elijah understood that. That’s why he fought for justice. That’s why he embraced his beloved community of Baltimore. That’s why he went on to fight for the rights and opportunities of forgotten people all across America, not just in his district. He was never complacent, for he knew that without clarity of purpose and a steadfast faith, and the dogged determination demanded by our liberty, the promise of this nation can wither. Complacency, he knew, was not only corrosive for our collective lives, but for our individual lives.
It has been remarked that Elijah was a kind man. I tell my daughters—and I have to say, listening to Elijah’s daughters speak, that got me choked up. I am sure those of you who have sons feel the same way, but there is something about daughters and their fathers. And I was thinking, I would want my daughters to know how much I love them, but I would also want them to know that being a strong man includes being kind. That there is nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There is nothing weak about looking out for others. There is nothing weak about being honorable. You are not a sucker to have integrity and to treat others with respect. I was sitting here and I was just noticing The Honorable Elijah E. Cummings and, you know, this is a title that we confer on all kinds of people who get elected to public office. We’re supposed to introduce them as honorable.
But Elijah Cummings was honorable before he was elected to office. There’s a difference. There is a difference if you are honorable and treated others honorably outside the limelight. On the side of a road; in a quiet moment, counseling somebody you work with; letting your daughters know you love them. As president, I knew I could always count on Elijah being honorable and doing the right thing. And people have talked about his voice. There is something about his voice. It just made you feel better. There’s some people, they have that deep baritone, a prophetic voice. And when it was good times and we achieved victories together, that voice and that laugh was a gift. But you needed it more during the tough times, when the path ahead looked crooked, when obstacles abounded. When I entertained doubts, or I saw those who were in the fight start to waver, that’s when Elijah’s voice mattered most.
More than once during my presidency, when the economy still looked like it might plunge into depression, when the health-care bill was pronounced dead in Congress, I would watch Elijah rally his colleagues. “The cost of doing nothing isn’t nothing,” he would say, and folks would remember why they entered into public service. “Our children are the living messengers we send to a future we will never see,” he would say, and he would remind all of us that our time is too short not to fight for what’s good and what is true and what is best in America.
Two hundred years to 300 years from now, he would say, people will look back at this moment and they will ask the question “What did you do?” And hearing him, we would be reminded that it falls upon each of us to give voice to the voiceless, and comfort to the sick, and opportunity to those not born to it, and to preserve and nurture our democracy.
Elijah Cummings was a man of noble and good heart. His parents and his faith planted the seeds of hope, and love, and compassion, and righteousness in that good soil of his. He has harvested all the crops that he could, for the Lord has now called Elijah home, to give his humble, faithful servant rest. And it now falls on us to continue his work, so that other young boys and girls from Baltimore, across Maryland, across the United States, and around the world might too have a chance to grow and to flourish. That’s how we will honor him. That’s how we will remember him. That’s what he would hope for. May God bless the memory of the very honorable Elijah Cummings. And may God bless this city, and this state, and this nation that he loved. God bless you.
Donald Trump Leaves Wife Melania Out in the Rain While He Uses an Umbrella — See the Photos/Video
Apparently First Lady Melania Trumpcannot stand under her husband’s umbrella.
After his wife joined him under the umbrella he was carrying, the president darted off to talk to a group of reporters about his wife’s ABC News interview and his 60 Minutes interview, leaving his wife out in the rain. “She did a great job on television the other night,” Trump told reporters in footage.
BALTIMORE (AP) — Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings died early Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital due to complications from longstanding health challenges, his congressional office said. He was 68.
A sharecropper’s son, Cummings became the powerful chairman of a U.S. House committee that investigated President Donald Trump, and was a formidable orator who passionately advocated for the poor in his black-majority district, which encompasses a large portion of Baltimore as well as more well-to-do suburbs.
As chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Cummings led multiple investigations of the president’s governmental dealings, including probes in 2019 relating to the president’s family members serving in the White House.
Trump responded by criticizing the Democrat’s district as a “rodent-infested mess” where “no human being would want to live.” The comments came weeks after Trump drew bipartisan condemnation following his calls for Democratic congresswomen of color to get out of the U.S. “right now,” and go back to their “broken and crime-infested countries.”
Cummings replied that government officials must stop making “hateful, incendiary comments” that only serve to divide and distract the nation from its real problems, including mass shootings and white supremacy.
“Those in the highest levels of the government must stop invoking fear, using racist language and encouraging reprehensible behavior,” Cummings said in a speech at the National Press Club.
Cummings’ long career spanned decades in Maryland politics. He rose through the ranks of the Maryland House of Delegates before winning his congressional seat in a special election in 1996 to replace former Rep. Kweisi Mfume, who left the seat to lead the NAACP.
Cummings was an early supporter of Barack Obama’s presidential bid in 2008. And by 2016, Cummings was the senior Democrat on the House Benghazi Committee, which he said was “nothing more than a taxpayer-funded effort to bring harm to Hillary Clinton’s campaign” for president.
Throughout his career, Cummings used his fiery voice to highlight the struggles and needs of inner-city residents. He was a firm believer in some much-debated approaches to help the poor and addicted, such as needle exchange programs as a way to reduce the spread of AIDS.
His constituents began mourning shortly after his death at 2:45 a.m. on Thursday. The Baltimore archdiocese tweeted that Cummings “generously shared his God-given gifts and talents w/the people of his beloved city, state and nation for so many years. We give thanks for his dedicated service and pray for the repose of his soul.”
Cummings was born on Jan. 18, 1951. In grade school, a counselor told Cummings he was too slow to learn and spoke poorly, and he would never fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer.
“I was devastated,” Cummings told The Associated Press in 1996, shortly before he won his seat in Congress. “My whole life changed. I became very determined.”
It steeled Cummings to prove that counselor wrong. He became not only a lawyer, but one of the most powerful orators in the statehouse, where he entered office in 1983. He rose to become the first black House speaker pro tem. He would begin his comments slowly, developing his theme and raising the emotional heat until it became like a sermon from the pulpit.
Cummings was quick to note the differences between Congress and the Maryland General Assembly, which has long been controlled by Democrats.
“After coming from the state where, basically, you had a lot of people working together, it’s clear that the lines are drawn here,” Cummings said about a month after entering office in Washington in 1996.
Cummings chaired the Congressional Black Caucus from 2003 to 2004, employing a hard-charging, explore-every-option style to put the group in the national spotlight.
He cruised to big victories in the overwhelmingly Democratic district, which had given Maryland its first black congressman in 1970 when Parren Mitchell was elected.
Believe it or not: Trump sends third-grade reading-level letter to Erdoğan
Donald Trump has said or done something certifiably insane nearly every day of his presidency. And not like, “This guy’s a little kooky”-level insane, but full-on “Mr. President, put down the stapler and unhand the president of Finland”-level insane. But last week, apparently seeking to prove to the world that we ain’t seen nothing yet re: the depths of his mental instability, he wrote and reportedly proudly distributed the following letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for all the world to see:
Each line of the letter contains an obvious Trumpism—talk of “deals,” reference to “toughguys”—but packaged together, in all its batshit glory, in an official letter to another world leader, it seemed unbelievable even for a guy who most people agree should’ve been placed under conservatorship some time ago. The immediate reaction from the media was “HOW IS THIS THING REAL,” and yet, according to the White House, it totally is! That means that the president of the United States sat down and either penned—or more likely dictated—a letter in which he told the president of Turkey, “Don’t be a tough guy,” “Don’t be a fool,” history “will look upon you forever as the devil if good things don’t happen,” and then, in what might be the absolute craziest way to end a piece of correspondence that references “slaughtering thousands of people,” signed off with: “I will call you later.”
It‘s the kind of thing that even Donald Trump Jr. will have to admit is a sign someone needs to place an emergency phone call to Dr. Bornstein, and that we assume has caused Ivanka to tell aides that “Daddy is resting and isn’t to be disturbed.”
Incredibly, the Erdoğan letter wasn’t the only example of Trump’s mental decline on Wednesday afternoon, which also saw the president lash out at Democrats like a machete-wielding madman on the subway and claim that he personally defeated ISIS:
“He was insulting, particularly to [Nancy Pelosi]. She kept her cool completely. But he called her a third-rate politician…. It was sort of a diatribe—a nasty diatribe not focused on the facts,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) told reporters after the meeting, which focused on Syria and during which impeachment was not discussed.The meeting was tense from the start. Inside the Cabinet Room, Schumer began making his case against Trump’s decision to withdraw nearly all troops from northern Syria, reading to the president comments from former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on NBC’s “Meet the Press” earlier this week, according to three officials familiar with the comments who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private exchange…Trump then interjected and called Mattis the “world’s most overrated general” and remarked that he wasn’t “tough enough” and that Trump himself “captured” the Islamic State, according to the three officials. He boasted that his timeline for capturing the Islamic State was much faster than what Mattis predicted, saying “I captured them in one month.” Trump told Democrats that “I hate ISIS more than you” and repeatedly said “see you at the polls” before the leaders walked out, according to two people familiar with the conversation who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private meeting.
Impeachment Investigators Subpoena White House and Ask Pence for Documents on Ukraine
WASHINGTON — House impeachment investigators widened the reach of their inquiry on Friday, subpoenaing the White House for a vast trove of documents and requesting more from Vice President Mike Pence to better understand President Trump’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.
The subpoena, addressed to Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, calls for documents and communications that are highly delicate and would typically be subject in almost any White House to claims of executive privilege. If handed over by the Oct. 18 deadline, the records could provide keys to understanding what transpired between the two countries and what steps, if any, the White House has taken to cover it up.
The request for records from a sitting vice president is unusual in its own right, and Mr. Pence’s office quickly signaled he may not comply. In a letter to Mr. Pence, the chairmen of three House committees conducting the impeachment inquiry wrote that they were interested in “any role you may have played” in conveying Mr. Trump’s views to Ukraine. They asked for a lengthy list of documents detailing the administration’s dealings with Ukraine, to be produced by Oct. 15.
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The actions came at the end of another day of fast-moving developments in the House impeachment investigation, which is centered on allegations that Mr. Trump and his administration worked to bend America’s diplomatic apparatus for his own political benefit.
Mr. Trump himself appeared resigned to the prospect that he would be impeached, and was gearing up for an epic political battle to defend himself, predicting the Democrat-led House would approve articles of impeachment against him and the Republican-controlled Senate would acquit him.
“They’ll just get their people,” he said of House Democrats. “They’re all in line. Because even though many of them don’t want to vote, they have no choice. They have to follow their leadership. And then we’ll get it to the Senate, and we’re going to win.”
Privately, Mr. Trump briefly joined a conference call of House Republicans, defending his interactions with Ukraine and rallying his party to fight for him.
On Capitol Hill, the impeachment investigation continued gaining steam, as requests and information from witnesses began to stack up. For more than six hours on Friday, the House Intelligence Committee questioned the intelligence community’s independent watchdog who first fielded a whistle-blower complaint that has spurred the formal impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump. Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community inspector general, had received the complaint and explained his own preliminary investigation into its validity before seeking to deliver it to Congress.
“What the inspector general said last time was, the whistle-blower pulled the fire alarm,” Representative Mike Quigley, Democrat of Illinois, told reporters. “We have now seen the smoke and the fire.”
How the White House, which has routinely rejected congressional requests for information, responds to the demands for documents could significantly shape the impeachment investigation going forward. Under normal circumstances, the White House could claim materials referred to in both requests were privileged, using that as a defense in court.
Press secretaries for the White House and the vice president issued similar statements assailing the demands, but did not clearly indicate whether they would comply or not. Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said the subpoena “changes nothing” and called it “just more document requests, wasted time and taxpayer dollars that will ultimately show the president did nothing wrong.”
Katie Waldman, Mr. Pence’s press secretary, promptly said that “given the scope, it does not appear to be a serious request but just another attempt by the ‘Do Nothing Democrats’ to call attention to their partisan impeachment.”
But that will not help Mr. Trump’s case on Capitol Hill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen leading the inquiry have consistently warned the White House that noncompliance with their requests will be viewed as obstruction of Congress, itself a potentially impeachable offense.
“The White House has refused to engage with — or even respond to — multiple requests for documents from our Committees on a voluntary basis,” said the letter to Mr. Mulvaney, signed by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the Intelligence Committee chairman; Representative Eliot L. Engel of New York, the Foreign Affairs Committee chairman; and Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, the Oversight and Reform Committee chairman. “After nearly a month of stonewalling, it appears clear that the president has chosen the path of defiance, obstruction, and cover-up.”
In addition to the new subpoena and request, a significant subpoena deadline for the State Department to hand over similar material in its possession was also scheduled to arrive by the end of the day. It was not immediately clear if the department had complied or not.
Even as they worked, lawmakers from both parties continued Friday morning to try to make sense of a tranche of texts between American diplomats and a top aide to the Ukrainian president. Those messages were released late Thursday night, and called into question the truthfulness of Mr. Trump’s claim that there had been no quid pro quo attached to his pressing Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., his son and other Democrats.
The House committees are scheduled to interview additional witnesses implicated in the texts next week. Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union and a Trump supporter who been actively involved in diplomacy with Ukraine, is expected to appear on Tuesday, and Marie L. Yovanovitch, the former American ambassador to Ukraine, on Friday.
Democrats have pounced on the texts as further evidence that Mr. Trump was treating the investigations as a precondition to giving Ukraine, an American ally that borders Russia, a meeting with the president and a $391 million package of security aid. Most Republicans remained silent or stood by Mr. Trump in light of the new messages, but a few raised alarms.
Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, one of the few members of Mr. Trump’s party who have been critical of the conduct at the center of the impeachment inquiry, issued a statement condemning the president’s public comments on Thursday in which he invited China as well as Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Mr. Romney said. “By all appearances, the president’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill said Mr. Atkinson’s account reinforced the seriousness of their effort.
A Trump appointee, Mr. Atkinson helped set off the current saga less than a month ago when he notified Congress’s intelligence committees that he had received an anonymous whistle-blower complaint that he deemed to be “urgent” and credible. The acting director of national intelligence intervened initially to block Mr. Atkinson from sharing the complaint with Congress, but ultimately the Trump administration relented and allowed its public release.
In the complaint, the whistle-blower wrote that multiple government officials had provided him information that “the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”
Specifically, he said that Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, had pressed Ukraine to conduct the investigations, potentially using the prospect of a meeting that the new Ukrainian president badly wanted with Mr. Trump and withholding the aid earmarked for the country as leverage to secure the investigations. The White House tried to cover up aspects of the events, the complaint said.
Mr. Atkinson has already appeared once before the House Intelligence Committee, but he was barred then from speaking in detail about the complaint. On Friday, Mr. Atkinson walked lawmakers through the complaint and some of the steps he took to try to evaluate the veracity of his claims, including showing documents. The inspector general declined to share with the committee names of officials he spoke during his brief investigation, according to one person familiar with his testimony.
Details of the complaint, including a July call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, have already been verified. The texts released late Thursday also appeared to comport with elements of the complaint.
Maggie Haberman contributed reporting from New York, and Annie Karni from Washington.
Trump call transcript summary shows he pressed Ukrainian president to probe Biden
The Trump administration has released the much-anticipated transcript summary of President Trump’s phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, after Mr. Trump authorized publishing the transcript. A memo summarizing the call shows that the president urged Zelensky to probe Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company.
The memorandum released by the Justice Department is not, according to the administration, a verbatim transcript. The text, according to the document released by the administration, is the record of the notes and recollections of the officers and National Security Council policy staff “assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation in written form.”
The full memorandum released by the White House is below:
According to the document, the president said on the call that he would like to find out what happened with “this whole situation with Ukraine” and he said his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani would be traveling to Ukraine. Zelensky said he would meet with Giuliani when he visited.
Zelensky pledged that his new prosecutor would look into the case, and he asked for additional information.
Mr. Trump told Zelensky in the July 25 call that he would have Giuliani give him a call, and also have Attorney General William Barr call to get “to the bottom of it.”
“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it. I’m sure you will figure it out,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump asked Zelensky to “do us a favor” and “find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine” with regards to Crowdstrike, a cybersecurity company which helped investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mr. Trump also asked Zelensky about the Bidens. The president has claimed without offering evidence that Biden, as vice president, had worked to remove a Ukrainian prosecutor specifically because he was investigating a company where Hunter Biden sat on the board of directors. That prosecutor was seen by the U.S. and by many European allies as corrupt.
“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me,” Mr. Trump told Zelensky, in reference to Joe Biden.
At the United Nations, Wednesday, Mr. Trump remarked, “I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time.” Until earlier this month, Mr. Trump had temporarily frozen $391 million in aid to Ukraine. Ultimately, the White House released the funds to Ukraine in September, after withholding the aid for about two months.
Mr. Trump, under pressure to release the transcript, had already confirmed he had discussed Biden with Zelensky and confirmed he slow-walked aid to Ukraine, although he claimed the two acts were unrelated. That call and a whistleblower complaint involving Mr. Trump have pushed growing numbers of Democrats to call for impeachment proceedings, which are now formally beginning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday afternoon.
Responding to the release of the memorandum, Mr. Trump told reporters Wednesday that he was subject to “the single greatest witch hunt in American history, probably in history.” Mr. Trump said “there was no pressure whatsoever” put on Zelensky, adding that “it turned out to be a nothing call.” He slammed “fake news” and “corrupt reporting” about the phone call.
In a statement, Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec said that the Justice Department had determined that “there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted.”
“In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.
“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.
In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.
The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) determined that the complaint needed to have a “connection with the operation of any U.S. Government intelligence activity, and the alleged misconduct does not involve any member of the intelligence community” in order to qualify as an “urgent concern.” The OLC found that since the president is not a member of the intelligence community and that the activity in question did not pertain to any ongoing intelligence matters, that the complaint did not meet the standard of an “urgent concern.”
Mr. Trump said Tuesday the memorandum would reveal it was a “very friendly and totally appropriate call.”
“No pressure and, unlike Joe Biden and his son, NO quid pro quo! This is nothing more than a continuation of the Greatest and most Destructive Witch Hunt of all time!” the president tweeted Tuesday afternoon. He suggested the next day that Democrats should apologize after seeing what was said on the call.
“They should, a perfect call – got them by surprise!” he tweeted Wednesday before its release.
Mr. Trump had previously said he hoped the public would see the transcript, but he feared the precedent it might set for other world leaders who want to keep their conversations with him private.
Biden, who called for the release of the transcript, insisted Tuesday Mr. Trump should be impeached if he continues to stonewall Congress.
“If the president doesn’t comply with such a request from the Congress, he continues to obstruct Congress and flout the law, Donald Trump will leave Congress in my view no choice but to initiate impeachment,” Biden said in a brief statement Tuesday afternoon. “That would be a tragedy but a tragedy of his own making.”
But Democrats still aren’t satisfied. That phone call is just one part of a whistleblower complaint Democrats want to see. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted Tuesday that the whistleblower wants to testify before his committee.
President Trump Playing Golf While Deadly Hurricane Dorian Approaches The U.S.
As Hurricane Dorian, one of the strongest Atlantic hurricanes on record, slammed through the Bahamas en route towards the Southeastern United States, President Donald Trump was spotted on the links at a Trump-branded Virginia golf club.
The President has no plans listed on his public schedule for Monday. He was originally set to spend this weekend in Poland commemorating the start of World War II. However, that trip was canceled as the threat posed by Hurricane Dorian became more clear.
President Trump has been active on Twitter Monday as well. He has retweeted messages from the National Hurricane Center about the strength and path of Hurricane Dorian, and shared information about the attempted rescue of a boat on fire near California’s Santa Cruz island.
But earlier on Labor Day, Trump was tweeting about the economy and criticizing the president of the AFL-CIO, a union federation. He also attacked two of his favorite targets: the media and a group of young female Democratic lawmakers known as “The Squad.”
Kennedy Space Center making preparations for Hurricane Dorian
As Hurricane Dorian approaches, preparations are underway at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center for the imminent storm.
The National Hurricane Center said Dorian could strike the Florida Peninsula as a Category 4 Hurricane for a Sunday night landfall.
In the meantime, the space center is preparing to close Monday, with a team of 100 to 120 people staying behind to monitor the storm’s effects and conduct a safety inspection once it passes.
Those staying at KSC will stay at the Launch Control Center, which is certified to handle a Category 5 hurricane.
On Wednesday, KSC had its Crawler Transporter 2 vehicle to Launch Pad 39B where it began transporting the Mobile Launcher there early Friday morning back to the Vehicle Assembly Building.
“The Mobile Launcher and Crawler Transporter 2 that will be used for the Artemis program are buttoned up inside the Vehicle Assembly Building,” according to KSC’s press release.
It had been at the pad undergoing hardware testing and checks for NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to return American astronauts to the moon by 2024.
Moving at about one mile per hour, it takes about eight hours for the crawler to get to the pad from the VAB.
Buy PhotoNASA teams, using the historic crawler-transporter, slowly move the mobile launcher from Kennedy Space Center’s Vehicle Assembly Building to pad 39B on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. The mobile launcher will eventually host the agency’s Space Launch System rocket. Emre Kelly / FLORIDA TODAYBuy PhotoFullscreen6 PhotosPhotos: NASA’s crawler-transporter on the move at Kennedy Space Center
“This was done for shuttle numerous times so this is nothing new,” Crawler Project Manager John Giles told FLORIDA TODAY.
This is the first time the crawler transports a vehicle in preparation of a hurricane since the shuttle days, Giles said.
If Dorian does hit the Space Coast, “(the crawler) will stay in the VAB underneath the Mobile Launcher and as soon as it’s safe, we’ll bring it back out to the pad,” he said.
According to KSC, the VAB is built to withstand winds around 125 mph.
Kennedy Space Center’s Crawler Transporter 2 vehicle heads to pad 39B in preparation for Tropical Storm Dorian. (Photo: ANTONIA JARAMILLO / FLORIDA TODAY)
The visitor complex, meanwhile, anticipates to close Sunday and stay that way for the duration of the storm, visitor complex spokeswoman Rebecca Shireman said.
“On Saturday, August 31, Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex will be open during regular hours of 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.” according to the visitor complex’s press release. “Kennedy Space Center Bus Tours to the Apollo/Saturn V Center will be available until 2:30 p.m. Special interest tours will not be available.”
As of now, Shireman said the visitor complex is preparing for the storm by storing away loose items such as umbrellas, banners and so forth. The rockets displayed at the rocket garden do not need extra safekeeping since they are made to withstand high winds.
Although the storm’s path remains uncertain, people in Puerto Rico and Florida are already prepping for Dorian.
Both the space center and the 45th Space Wing, which commands Patrick Air Force Base and the Air Force Station, entered a Hurricane Condition IV (HURCON IV) Thursday morning in preparation for Dorian.
“HURCON IV indicates surface winds in excess of 50 knots (58 mph) could arrive in the area of Patrick Air Force Base and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station within 48 hours,” according to the wing’s press release.
The wing leadership has initiated a “recall” notification of all base personnel, which entails contacting everyone at the station and on base to get the status of where they are and teams will begin disconnecting electrical power to non-essential facilities. The wing also encourages all personnel and residents to take action for the possible arrival of Dorian.
“These actions include the potential for evacuation of the base and all barrier islands,” according to the release. “Wing leadership is coordinating preparation and response operations with Brevard County and NASA emergency management operations centers.”
The 45th Medical Group is curtailing services in preparation for the storm and all appointments will be deferred until normal operations resume.
“Other facilities on base, such as the commissary, Base Exchange, Child Development Center, Youth Center and Riverside Dining Facility are open,” according to the release.