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Residents of Mexican town struggle with fear after massacre

November 08, 2019

LA MORA, Mexico (AP) — After holding funerals for and burying some of the nine American women and children slain in a cartel ambush, residents of this town of about 300 are left to come to grips with the fear the attacks inspired among the tightly knit community.

“I do not feel safe here, and I won’t, because the truth is we aren’t safe here as a community,” David Langford said between tears addressing mourners at the funeral for his wife, Dawna Ray Langford, Thursday in La Mora, whose residents consider themselves Mormon but are not affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

While the sibling community of Colonia Le Baron has been peaceful since the 2009 murder of one of its members and subsequent installation of a security base, La Mora lacks such a presence — at least until Monday’s killings prompted state and federal forces to deploy to protect those who came to mourn. How long they stay could be crucial to its future.

“We here in the mountains, we have no access to authorities, or very, very little,” David Langford said. The burials Thursday took place as Mexican soldiers stood guard, a reminder of the dangers they face living amid a drug cartel turf war.

The first funeral was for a mother and two sons who were laid to rest in hand-hewn pine coffins in a single grave dug out of the rocky soil. Clad in shirt sleeves, suits or modest dresses, about 500 mourners embraced in grief under white tents. Some wept, and some sang hymns.

Members of the extended community — many of whom, like the victims, are dual U.S-Mexican citizens — had built the coffins themselves and used shovels to dig the shared grave in La Mora’s small cemetery.

Mourners filed past to view the bodies and pay their final respects to Dawna Ray Langford , 43, and her sons Trevor, 11, and Rogan, 2. They were laid to rest together, just as they died together Monday when attackers fired a hail of bullets at their SUV on a dirt road leading to another settlement, Colonia LeBaron. Six children and three women in all were killed in the attack on the convoy of three SUVs.

In a raw, tearful service, relatives recounted valiant efforts to try to rescue their loved ones after the ambush, and how some of the children walked miles out of the mountains to the town, situated about 70 miles (110 kilometers) south of the Arizona border.

There was no talk of revenge in the deeply religious community, only justice. “God will take care of the wicked,” Jay Ray, Dawna’s father, said in a eulogy. David Langford called his wife a hero for telling her children to duck as their vehicle came under fire.

“I find it hard to forgive,” he said. “I usually am a very forgiving guy, but this kind of atrocity has no place in a civilized community.” “My children were brutally, brutally murdered,” he said, “and my beloved wife.”

Of the survivors, he said, son Cody had had a plate installed in his jaw, which was being wired shut for six weeks. Dawna’s younger sister Amber Ray, 34, eulogized her as a devoted mother to her 13 children and homemaker who loved a good laugh and baked the best birthday cakes around.

“There isn’t anything in life that a cup of coffee couldn’t make better,” Amber said Dawna was fond of saying. The three coffins, two of them child-size, were placed into the beds of pickup trucks, and family members rode with them to the grave, hundreds of mourners following on foot.

Later in the day, a memorial was held for Rhonita Miller and four of her children, all of whom also were murdered on the road between La Mora and Chihuahua state. In a grassy backyard before hundreds of attendees, she was eulogized as an “innocent spirit, beautiful heart” and a woman whose laugh “could light up a room.”

Son Howard Jr. loved basketball and recently was delighted to make his first three-pointer; daughter Kristal was “the apple of her daddy’s eye;” twins Titus and Tiana, born March 13, were remembered as “two perfect angels in the first precious moments of their lives.”

Their bodies were to be taken later across the road where they died for burial in Colonia Le Baron. The two communities, whose residents are related, drew together in a show of grief. Patrols of Mexican army troops passed by regularly on the hamlet’s only paved road.

Gunmen from the Juarez drug cartel had apparently set up the ambush as part of a turf war with the Sinaloa cartel, and the U.S. families drove into it. Mexican officials said the attackers may have mistaken the group’s large SUVs for those of a rival gang.

But Julian LeBaron, whose brother Benjamin, an anti-crime activist, was killed by cartel gunmen in 2009, disputed that. “They had to have known that it was women and children,” he said. He said the eight children who survived reported that one mother got out of her SUV and raised her hands and was gunned down anyway.

To many, the bloodshed seemed to demonstrate once more that the government has lost control over vast areas of Mexico to drug traffickers. And it called into question President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s “hugs, not bullets” security strategy of trying to solve underlying social problems instead of battling drug cartels with military force.

“Now this place is going to become a ghost town,” said Steven Langford, a former La Mora mayor whose sister Christina Langford was among the women killed. “A lot of people are going to leave.”

Associated Press Writer Maria Verza contributed to this report from Mexico City.

NRA’s LaPierre fends off backlash, wins re-election as CEO

April 30, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The National Rifle Association, facing internal turmoil over its financial management, increasingly partisan tone, and legal threats from government regulators, beat back efforts to overhaul its operations. Wayne LaPierre, the public face of the gun lobbying group for decades, fended off a backlash and was re-appointment Monday as the gun lobby’s CEO.

It was unclear if the debate that has roiled the 5-million-member organization in recent weeks would still lead to significant changes in its operations. In recent days, retired Lt. Col. Oliver North lost a bid for a second term as president and the next likely successor was passed over in favor of Carolyn Meadows. But most of the board remained intact and despite a very public tussle with its longtime public relations firm, which has received tens of millions of dollars to steer its message, the board did not formally sever ties with it.

Despite the turmoil, LaPierre struck a cheery tone in a statement after the board meeting: “United we stand. The NRA board of directors, our leadership team, and our more than 5 million members will come together as never before in support of our country’s constitutional freedoms.”

For the past two decades, the NRA has faced criticism from among its ranks that its leaders had become corrupted by the millions of dollars flowing into its coffers. The criticism has included allegations of self-dealing and excessive personal spending. Now the pressure has increased with New York’s attorney general opening an investigation that could threaten the group’s tax-exempt status.

The NRA’s charter was originally filed in New York, giving authorities there broad latitude to investigate its operations. Newly elected New York Attorney General Letitia James has made no bones about her dislike of the NRA, calling it a “terrorist organization.”

“I never thought this thing would ever get to the level it got,” Joel Friedman, an NRA board member since 2002, told The Associated Press before the 76-member board met to decide whether organizational changes were needed to stave off punitive action by New York authorities.

Just last year, an investigation by the previous New York attorney general led President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation to dissolve amid allegations it was operating as an extension of Trump’s business empire and presidential campaign.

The prospect of scrutiny by New York authorities led the NRA last year to hire an outside law firm and to ask its vendors to provide documentation about its billings. The NRA in recent weeks sued Ackerman McQueen, the Oklahoma-based public relations firm that has earned tens of millions of dollars from the NRA since it began shaping the gun lobby’s fierce talking points in the past two decades. The NRA accused Ackerman McQueen of refusing to provide the requested documents.

Ackerman McQueen turned the NRA from an organization focused on hunting and gun safety into a conservative political powerhouse. The firm created and operates NRATV, an online channel whose hosts often venture into political debates not directly related to firearms, such as immigration and diversity on children’s TV.

The NRA has faced some financial struggles in recent years, losing a combined $64 million in 2016 and 2017, and that has prompted some to question whether the large sums spent on public relations and NRATV are worth the money. In its lawsuit, the NRA said some of its members have questioned NRATV’s weighing in on “topics far afield of the Second Amendment.”

The turmoil boiled over Saturday when retired Lt. Col. Oliver North, a conservative stalwart aligned with the public relations firm and host of NRATV’s “American Heroes” segment, was essentially ousted from his role as NRA president after trying to force LaPierre out.

According to LaPierre, North tried to strong-arm him into resigning by threatening to expose damaging information about the NRA’s finances — specifically, allegedly excessive staff travel expenses — as well as sexual harassment allegations against an employee and accusations that LaPierre had charged tens of thousands of dollars in wardrobe purchases to his expense account.

North’s own contract with Ackerman McQueen raised alarm bells within the NRA about the costs and possible conflicts of interest. LaPierre, in a letter to the board, noted that of the 12 TV episodes Ackerman McQueen promised to deliver, only three have aired.

NRA insiders in recent weeks have described an operation with warring factions, a place where some are compensated richly, driving expensive cars and wearing fancy clothes, while most rank-and-file are paid so little that they hold down more than one job and risk being ostracized or fired if they question expenses.

“Right now, it looks like the NRA has become like a self-licking ice cream cone,” Allen West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, conservative commentator and relatively recent NRA board member said in a video interview with the website Tactical Rifleman. “A lot of money is being raised just to scratch the backs of certain — a cabal of cronyism.”

“We’ve got one shot to fix this, and we’ve got one shot to make it right, which means there probably does have to be some personnel leadership changes,” he said. “There also definitely has to be organizational reforms.”

Trump weighed in Monday in defense of the NRA against New York authorities. “The NRA is under siege by Cuomo and the New York State A.G., who are illegally using the State’s legal apparatus to take down and destroy this very important organization, & others. It must get its act together quickly, stop the internal fighting, & get back to GREATNESS – FAST!” he tweeted.

Chicago to elect first black female mayor in historic vote

By Daniel Uria

APRIL 2, 2019

April 2 (UPI) — Chicago will make history on Tuesday by electing the city’s first African-American female mayor.

Whether former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot or Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle emerges victorious, Chicago will become the largest city in the United States to elect a black woman as its leader.

Lightfoot edged out Preckwinkle by a point and a half in February and the two bested a field of a dozen other candidates to force Tuesday’s runoff. Recent poll figures show Lightfoot with a lead over Preckwinkle.

In recent weeks, the campaigns have taken on a harsh tone as both Democrats vie for the opportunity to succeed Rahm Emanuel.

Both candidates share a similar progressive vision for Chicago, but their differing political backgrounds will likely set them apart in the eyes of the city’s voters and each has touted their progressive credentials in what’s been a fierce race for the last two months.

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

Lightfoot

Lightfoot, 56, most recently a senior equity partner in the Litigation and Conflict Resolution Group at Mayer Brown LLP, has a background as an assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division. She has most notably been involved in oversight of the city’s law enforcement, serving as chief administrator of the Office of Professional Standards, president of the Chicago Police Board and Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force. The task force released a report in 2016 that said Chicago’s police force was plagued by public mistrust and institutional racism that led to the mistreatment of citizens, especially African Americans.

Lightfoot also worked as chief of staff of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications and first deputy of the Chicago Department of Procurement Services, where she aimed to revise the city’s minority and female-owned business certification and compliance programs.

Her mayoral platform centered around eliminating corruption in the police department and city government, as well as pro-immigrant stances. If elected, she would become the city’s first openly gay mayor, and says she’d guarantee lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender participation in city government.

Lightfoot has positioned herself as a political outsider looking to shake up the political landscape, in contrast to Preckwinkle’s image as a longtime member of the city government.

“The forces of the status quo are tough. The machine was built to last,” she told supporters at an event on Saturday. “But we can overcome it if we unite together with our brothers and sisters all over this city and speak in one clear voice that change is coming.”

Preckwinkle

Preckwinkle, 71, was elected alderwoman for Chicago’s Fourth Ward in 1991 and served in the role for 20 years before she became president of the Cook County board, where she served until beginning her campaign for mayor.

Throughout her career, she worked to reduce the jail population in Cook County, supported decriminalization of marijuana — and in a political misstep, she passed a penny-per-ounce soda tax that was repealed after heavy criticism that it negatively affected the poor.

She built her mayoral platform on many of the same ideas, in addition to calling on her roots as a school teacher to fight for an elected school board and against private charter schools.

Preckwinkle’s campaign sought to paint her as a seasoned politician, but not part of the Chicago “machine.” At a campaign event Saturday, the candidate — who’s 15 years older than Lightfoot — questioned the potential pitfalls of her opponent’s “inexperience.”

“Are we going to have somebody in the mayor’s office who spent their life in public service, or somebody who’s spent their life protecting the powerful against the people?” she asked a crowd of supporters. “Are we going to have somebody in office who has had experience as a local elected official and managing a large organization, or somebody who is a newcomer and has never held office before?”

End of a fierce campaign

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle assailed each other’s backgrounds in a truncated two-month campaign that was filled with public barbs. During the first round of voting, Lightfoot criticized Preckwinkle and a handful of other candidates for their connections to former Alderman Ed Burke, who was charged with attempted extortion in January.

“It’s like cockroaches — there’s a light that’s shined on them they scramble,” she said.

As the runoff race began, Lightfoot accused Preckwinkle of falsely stating she received the endorsements of two City Council members who support President Donald Trump, and “blowing some kind of dog whistle” to conservative voters by mentioning her sexual orientation at a debate.

Preckwinkle’s campaign seized on Lightfoot’s work in corporate law and her efforts with the Chicago Police Department. She said during Lightfoot’s law career she defended companies that had been accused of age and race discrimination.

One of Preckwinkle’s supporters, Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, went so far as to say Lightfoot played a role in the harmful relationship between Chicago’s police force and minority communities.

“Everyone who votes for Lori [Lightfoot], the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the police is on your hands,” he said.

On Saturday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged both candidates to sign a pledge for a “day of unity” after the election to settle the fierce nature of the divisive campaign.

“Tuesday, the race will be over,” said Jackson. “The healing must begin.”

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle signed the pledge in separate appearances at the headquarters of Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

“Whereas our task in running for office is done, we realize as leaders we must show Chicago and the nation how we can win with grace and lose with dignity. In a real sense, both of us are winners,” the pledge stated.

Preckwinkle said she hopes they both can focus on reaching a common goal when the election is finally settled, no matter who wins.

“The commitment needs to be to work together for the interests of the people of the city of Chicago,” she said.

Lightfoot expressed desire for a similar commitment.

“If I lose, I’m going to congratulate her and continue to fight for the things that are important,” she said.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2019/04/02/Chicago-to-elect-first-black-female-mayor-in-historic-vote/7091554161066/.

UK parties unveil election themes, Trump crashes the party

October 31, 2019

LONDON (AP) — The opposition Labor Party kicked off its campaign for Britain’s December general election with one overriding message Thursday: It’s not just about Brexit. Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn put the emphasis firmly on economic and social issues, calling the Dec. 12 vote a once-in-a-generation chance to transform the country.

Then U.S. President Donald Trump threw a curve ball into the campaign, popping up on a U.K. talk radio show Thursday to slam Corbyn and urge Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson to join forces with arch-Brexiteer and political rival, Nigel Farage.

Tossing aside the convention that foreign leaders shouldn’t intervene in other countries’ domestic politics, Trump told Farage on the British politician’s own radio show that Corbyn would “be so bad for your country … he’d take you into such bad places.”

It was a surreal detour to a six-week campaign that won’t even officially begin until next week. All seats in the 650-seat House of Commons are up for grabs in the early election, chosen by Britain’s 46 million eligible voters.

Corbyn, in his first stump speech, declared that his left-of-center party’s plan would take on “vested interests” and “born to rule” elites — a dig at Johnson and his Conservative party’s big-business backers.

“We’re going after the tax dodgers. We’re going after the dodgy landlords. We’re going after the bad bosses. We’re going after the big polluters. Because we know whose side we’re on,” Corbyn told supporters at a rally in London. “Whose side are you on?”

Johnson sought this election, which is being held more than two years early, to break the political impasse over Britain’s stalled departure from the European Union. He plans to campaign as the Brexit champion, blaming Corbyn’s “dither and delay” for the country’s failure to leave the EU on Thursday as scheduled.

While the Conservatives have a wide lead in most opinion polls, analysts say the election is unpredictable because Brexit cuts across traditional party loyalties. Corbyn wants to shift the election battleground away from Brexit and onto more comfortable terrain: the many versus the few. Labor is hoping that voters want to talk about issues such as health care, the environment and social welfare — all of which saw years of funding cuts by Conservative governments — instead of more Brexit debates.

Corbyn, a fierce critic of Trump, likely won’t mind the U.S. president’s intrusion but Johnson could be a different story. Speaking to Farage on radio station LBC, Trump slammed Corbyn and praised Johnson as “a fantastic man” — but urged Britain’s Conservative leader to make an electoral pact with Farage’s Brexit Party.

“I’d like to see you and Boris get together, because you would really have some numbers,” Trump told Farage, the president’s leading champion in Britain. “I know that you and him will end up doing something that could be terrific if you and he get together as, you know, an unstoppable force,” Trump added.

Yet Trump also claimed that “certain aspects” of Johnson’s EU divorce agreement would make it impossible for Britain to do a trade deal with the U.S. Johnson has already ruled out any electoral pact with Farage’s Brexit Party, which wants to leave the EU without a deal on future relations and is vying with the Conservatives for Brexit-backing voters.

On the other side of the divide, the centrist Liberal Democrats, who want to cancel Brexit, are wooing pro-EU supporters from both the Conservatives and Labor in Britain’s big cities and liberal university towns.

Sticking to his party’s core issues, Corbyn on Thursday called out prominent business leaders — including media mogul Rupert Murdoch and aristocratic landowner the Duke of Westminster — as he painted Johnson’s Conservatives as champions of the wealthy few.

Johnson once again banged the Brexit drum, ignoring his failure to get British lawmakers to pass his Brexit divorce deal and his previous vow to leave the EU by Oct. 31 “come what may.” Earlier this week, the EU granted Britain a three-month Brexit delay, setting a new Jan. 31 deadline for the country to leave and imploring British politicians to use the extra time wisely.

“If you vote for us and we get our program through … we can be out at the absolute latest by January next year,” Johnson said Thursday as he visited a hospital. Johnson is also trying to steal some of Labour’s thunder by promising more money for key public services such as hospitals, police and schools.

Labor is vulnerable over Brexit because the party is split. Some of its leaders, including Corbyn, are determined to go through with British voters’ decision to leave the EU, while others want to remain. After much internal wrangling, Labor now says if it wins the election, it will negotiate a better Brexit divorce deal, then call a referendum that gives voters a choice between that deal and remaining in the EU. The party has not said which side it would support.

“Labor will get Brexit sorted within six months. We’ll let the people decide whether to leave with a sensible deal or remain,” Corbyn said. Corbyn shrugged off suggestions that he is dragging down the party’s popularity. Critics say the 70-year-old socialist is wedded to archaic policies of nationalization and high taxes, and accuse him of failing to stamp out anti-Semitism within the party.

“It’s not about me,” Corbyn said Thursday. “It’s not a presidential election. It is about each and every one of us (candidates).” Johnson’s critics bash the 55-year-old for his long history of misrepresentations and broken promises, and a string of offensive comments that he has tried to shrug off as jokes.

More than three years after the Brexit referendum, Brexit positions have become entrenched and the debate has soured, with lawmakers on all sides receiving regular abuse online. The toxic political atmosphere has prompted some long-time lawmakers to drop out of the race, including Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan.

“Over the last couple of years, I have had to have a couple of people prosecuted for death threats,” Morgan said. “We’ve got to tackle this culture of abuse.”

Democrats push candidates to fully commit to 2020 nominee

November 01, 2019

The Democratic National Committee is increasing pressure on its presidential candidates to commit to campaign actively for the party’s nominee in 2020, going beyond a previous loyalty pledge for White House hopefuls.

The unity push from Chairman Tom Perez is part of a wide-ranging strategy designed to prevent the mistakes that cost Democrats the 2016 presidential election. It comes as the Republican National Committee continues to dwarf the Democratic Party in fundraising, while Democrats face the prospect of a bruising, expensive nominating fight that could last well into election year.

“We’ll need every Democrat working together in order to defeat Donald Trump,” Perez said, repeating his pledge for a full national campaign even as most Democrats remain focused on the primary campaign.

As an example, the DNC holds up former President Barack Obama, who is already raising money and remains neutral in a nominating fight that includes his vice president, Joe Biden, and who is already raising money for the party. An Oct. 25 email from Obama to grassroots donors produced the party’s best online fundraising day of the cycle, the DNC said, and the former president will headline a fundraising gala in California in November.

DNC officials say Obama has already talked with party leaders about campaigning on behalf of the nominee, whoever it is. Perez is asking all candidates to commit, like Obama, to serve as surrogates, with a focus on battleground states in the weeks after the July 13-16 nominating convention in Milwaukee. And Perez wants each campaign, as candidates drop out, to designate a senior adviser to serve as a liaison to help the national party use the vestiges of individual candidates’ campaigns to build out Democrats’ general election campaign.

DNC officials say the effort isn’t targeted at any campaign. But since President Donald Trump’s 2016 election, Democratic power players have lamented the bitterness that lingered among many supporters of Bernie Sanders after he lost the nomination to Hillary Clinton. Sanders endorsed and campaigned for Clinton, but some of his supporters never fully embraced her candidacy, and some Clinton loyalists blamed them for her narrow losses in key states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

DNC officials say the overall purpose of what Perez calls a “unity effort” is to pool all Democratic resources, making them available to state parties in battleground states to benefit the presidential nominee and all other Democrats running for lower offices.

Perez already has required candidates to pledge explicitly to support the nominee. Candidates also have been asked to help the party raise money and, as a condition of getting the DNC’s national voter file, pledge to give back the additional data they gather on voters once they drop out of the presidential race.

The DNC says 10 candidates to date have sent fundraising emails and 15 have participated in fundraising events. That list includes Elizabeth Warren, who has shunned high-dollar fundraisers for her own campaign but agreed to help the party. But it does not include Sanders, Warren’s chief rival for the Democrats’ progressive faction. Sanders’ campaign says he would attend such events if he wins the nomination, provided they are open to low-dollar donors.

The data requirements, meanwhile, are part of Democrats’ attempts to catch up to a Republican data operation that surprised the Clinton campaign in 2016 and to avoid the scenario under Obama, whose campaign ran its own sophisticated data operation but never fully integrated it with the party. Sanders also never turned over his voter data after ending his 2016 bid.

Source: Associated Press.

Bolton summoned; 1st big vote set on impeachment probe

October 31, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — House investigators are asking former national security adviser John Bolton to testify in their impeachment inquiry, deepening their reach into the White House as the probe accelerates toward a potential vote to remove the president.

Democratic lawmakers want to hear next week from Bolton, the hawkish former adviser who openly sparred over the administration’s approach to Ukraine — in particular, President Donald Trump’s reliance on his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani for a back-channel operation. Bolton once derided Giuliani’s work as a “drug deal” and said he wanted no part of it, according to previous testimony.

Bolton’s attorney, Charles Cooper, said Wednesday evening that his client would not appear without a subpoena. The Democrats are also calling John Eisenberg, the lawyer for the NSC who fielded an Army officer’s concerns over Trump’s phone call with the Ukraine president, and Michael Ellis, another security council official, according to a person familiar with the invitation and granted anonymity to discuss it.

The rush of possible new witnesses comes as the House prepares to take its first official vote Thursday on the process ahead. That includes public hearings in a matter of weeks and the possibility of drafting articles of impeachment against the president.

The White House has urged officials not to testify in the impeachment proceedings, and it’s not guaranteed that those called will appear for depositions, even if they receive subpoenas as previous witnesses have.

Bolton’s former deputy, Charles Kupperman, has filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to resolve the question of whether he can be forced to testify since he was a close and frequent adviser to the president. Any ruling in that case could presumably have an impact on whether Bolton will testify. A status conference in that case was scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Trump and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill say the entire impeachment inquiry is illegitimate and are unpersuaded by the House resolution formally setting out next steps. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the format for the impeachment probe denies Trump the “most basic rights of due process.”

Now in its second month, the investigation is focused on Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine when he asked President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democrats and a potential 2020 political rival, Joe Biden, as the White House was withholding military aid Ukraine relies on for its defenses. Democrats contend Trump was proposing a quid-pro-quo arrangement.

On Thursday, the investigators are to hear from Tim Morrison, a former top GOP aide on Capitol Hill, who served at Trump’s National Security Council and was among those likely monitoring the president’s call with Ukraine.

Late Wednesday, it was disclosed that Morrison was resigning his White House position. He has been a central figure in other testimony about Trump’s dealing with Ukraine. Earlier in the day, the Democratic and Republican House lawmakers heard fresh testimony about the Trump administration’s unusual back channels to Ukraine.

Two State Department Ukraine experts offered new accounts of Trump’s reliance on Giuliani rather than career diplomats to engage with the East European ally, a struggling democracy facing aggression from Russia.

Foreign Service officer Christopher Anderson testified that Bolton cautioned him that Giuliani “was a key voice with the president on Ukraine” and could complicate U.S. goals for the country. Another Foreign Service officer, Catherine Croft, said that during her time at Trump’s National Security Council, she received “multiple” phone calls from lobbyist Robert Livingston — a former top Republican lawmaker once in line to become House speaker — telling her the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, should be fired.

“It was not clear to me at the time — or now — at whose direction or at whose expense Mr. Livingston was seeking the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” she said in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.

Livingston characterized Yovanovitch as an “‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros,” she said, referring to the American financier who is often the subject of conservative criticism in the U.S. and Europe.

Most Democrats are expected to support the formal impeachment investigation resolution Thursday, even if they don’t back impeachment itself, saying they are in favor of opening the process with more formal procedures.

Public hearings are expected to begin in mid-November, a matter of weeks. Democrats are eager to hear from some top witnesses who have already provided compelling testimony behind closed doors, including diplomat William Taylor, a top ambassador in Ukraine, and Alexander Vindman, the Army officer who testified Tuesday that he twice reported to superiors, including Eisenberg, his concerns about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.

Vindman is willing to testify publicly, according to a person familiar with the situation and granted anonymity Wednesday to discuss it. At Trump’s hotel in Washington, during a fundraiser for House Republicans and lengthy dinner afterward with GOP leaders, the president indicated he was prepared for the fight ahead, said those familiar with the private gatherings Tuesday night.

“He’s a tough guy,” said Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the GOP whip. Both career diplomats testifying Wednesday had served as top aides to the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who was the first to testify in the impeachment inquiry and whose cache of text messages provided key insight into Trump’s demands on the new Ukraine president.

Croft, who testified for nearly five hours, described being told at an administration meeting that security funds for Ukraine were being put on hold “at the direction of the president,” corroborating other accounts that have been provided to investigators.

In his opening statement, Anderson traced his unease with developments that he felt threatened to set back relations between the U.S. and Ukraine. He told investigators that senior White House officials blocked an effort by the State Department to release a November 2018 statement condemning Russia’s attack on Ukrainian military vessels.

Both witnesses were instructed by the administration to not testify but appeared in response to subpoenas from the House, according to a statement from their attorney Mark MacDougall. The lawyer told lawmakers that neither of his clients is the whistleblower whose complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry and that he would object to any questions aimed at identifying that person.

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Padmananda Rama, Matthew Daly and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

Envoy for North Korea expected to get No. 2 State Dept. job

October 28, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, is expected to be nominated as early as this week to be second-in-command at the State Department, officials said Monday. Two Trump administration officials and a congressional aide familiar with the selection process said the White House is expected to nominate Biegun to be the next deputy secretary of state in the coming days. The officials were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Biegun would replace John Sullivan, who has been nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Russia. Both positions require Senate confirmation. Biegun has had a prominent role in the delicate negotiations that led to historic meetings between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

A former Ford Motor Co. executive who served in previous Republican administrations and has advised GOP lawmakers, Biegun has led as yet unsuccessful negotiations to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons since being appointed to his current post in August 2018. He is expected to keep the North Korea portfolio if he is confirmed to the new post, the officials said.

His nomination has been expected since mid-September, but its timing has been unclear amid turmoil in the State Department over the House impeachment inquiry into the administration’s policy toward Ukraine.

Sullivan was nominated to be envoy to Moscow in September although his confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee was just set for Wednesday, making Biegun’s nomination to fill the soon-to-be vacant No. 2 spot at the State Department more urgent.

Sullivan’s confirmation hearing is likely to be dominated by questions from committee Democrats about Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and his role in Ukraine policy. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch testified to impeachment investigators earlier the month that Sullivan was the official who informed her that she had lost Trump’s confidence and was being recalled early from Kyiv. Democrats are expected to use Wednesday’s confirmation hearing to press Sullivan on the extent of his involvement in Ukraine and why the department bowed to a campaign to oust Yovanovitch spearheaded by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

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