Sondland faces tough questions about Trump and Ukraine

By LISA MASCARO, MARY CLARE JALONICK and ERIC TUCKER

WASHINGTON — Ambassador Gordon Sondland, the most anticipated witness in the impeachment inquiry, will confront questions Wednesday about his evolving accounts of the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine and a newly revealed summertime phone call with President Donald Trump.

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier Trump tapped as his ambassador to the European Union, is more directly entangled than any witness yet in the Republican president’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden and Democrats in the 2016 election. Yet Sondland already has amended his testimony once — “I now do recall,” he said, talking to Ukraine about investigations.

Sondland’s appearance at Wednesday morning’s hearing, and his closeness to Trump, is of particular concern to the White House as the historic impeachment inquiry reaches closer to the president, pushing through an intense week with nine witnesses testifying over three days in back-to-back sessions.

Trump has recently tried to suggest that he barely knows his hand-picked ambassador, but Sondland has said he has spoken several times with the president and was acting on his direction.

The envoy is likely to face tough questions from lawmakers of both parties about Trump’s July 25 call when he asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for the political investigations at the same time as U.S. military aid for the ally was being stalled.

Sondland routinely bragged about his proximity to Trump and drew alarm from the foreign service and national security apparatus as part of an irregular channel of diplomacy led by the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani.

Last week State Department official David Holmes revealed one of those interactions to impeachment investigators, saying he recalled it “vividly.”

The political counselor was having lunch with Sondland in Kyiv when the ambassador dialed up the president on his cellphone and Holmes could hear Trump’s voice.

“I then heard President Trump ask, quote, ‘So he’s going to do the investigation?’” Holmes testified. “Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘He’s going to do it,’ adding that President Zelensky will, quote, ‘do anything you ask him to.’”

Sondland was known for telling others “he was in charge of Ukraine” despite being the U.S. envoy in Brussels, said another witness in the impeachment probe, former White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill.

“And I asked, well, on whose authority?” said Hill, who will testify Thursday. “And he said, the President.”

Sondland’s appearance follows the testimony Tuesday of four national security and diplomatic officials, including a career Army officer who described Trump’s call with Zelenskiy as “improper.”

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman told lawmakers it was his “duty” to report his concerns about the call, as he deflected Republican attacks, including from the White House on his loyalty and career in public service.

It wasn’t the first time Vindman had registered his concerns over Ukraine policy. He testified about a July 10 meeting at the White House when Sondland told visiting Ukraine officials they would need to “deliver” before the administration would agree to a meeting Zelenskiy wanted with Trump.

“Ambassador Sondland referred to investigations into the Bidens and Burisma in 2016,” Vindman testified, referring to the gas company on whose board Hunter Biden had a seat.

At the White House, Trump said he had watched part of the day’s testimony and slammed the ongoing impeachment hearings as a “disgrace.” Over the weekend, Trump assailed Williams as part of the “Never Trumpers” who oppose his presidency, though there is no indication she has shown any partisanship.

Former National Security Council official Timothy Morrison told investigators that he witnessed a key September conversation in Warsaw between Sondland and a top aide to Zelenskiy. Afterward, Sondland said he had relayed to the Ukrainian that U.S. aid might be freed if the country would announce the investigations, Morrison testified.

Another diplomat, former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, shifted his own account of the July 10 meeting to say Sondland did, in fact, discuss investigations with the visiting Ukrainians.

“I think all of us thought it was inappropriate; the conversation did not continue and the meeting concluded,” Volker said.

A series of text messages Volker provided to lawmakers showed conversations between him, Sondland and other leaders in which they discussed a need for Ukraine to launch investigations, including into Burisma.

Volker said meeting with Giuliani was just part of the dialogue, and he had one in-person meeting with him, in which Giuliani “raised, and I rejected, the conspiracy theory that Vice President Biden would have been influenced in his duties as vice president by money paid to his son.”

Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Zeke Miller, Laurie Kellman, Colleen Long, Eric Tucker, Lolita Baldor and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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Taliban free US, Australian hostage for 3 Taliban figures

By KATHY GANNON

ISLAMABAD  — The Taliban freed an American and an Australian held hostage since 2016 on Tuesday, in exchange for three top Taliban figures who were released by the Kabul government and flown out of Afghanistan the previous day.

The hostages — American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks — were released in southern Zabul province, ending more than three years of captivity since they were abducted outside the American University in Kabul, where both work as teachers.

Kings’ family issued a statement later Tuesday saying he was now safe with U.S. officials in Afghanistan and getting the medical care he needs ahead of his return home to be reunited with his family. It was not clear if Weeks was also with Australian officials.

The two were released in Zabul’s Naw Bahar district, a region largely under Taliban control, according to a Taliban official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to talk to the media. King and Weeks were handed over to U.S. forces and transported from the area in a U.S. helicopter.

“We are so happy to hear that my brother has been freed and is on his way home to us,” said King’s sister, Stephanie Miller. “This has been a long and painful ordeal for our entire family, and his safe return has been our highest priority. We appreciate the support we have received and ask for privacy as we await Kevin’s safe return.”

Their freedom came hours after the Afghan government freed three Taliban prisoners and sent them to Qatar. They included Anas Haqqani, the younger brother of the Taliban’s deputy Sirajuddin Haqqani, who also leads the fearsome Haqqani network. The other two were Hajji Malik Khan, an uncle of Haqqani and a Haqqani lieutenant, Hafiz Abdul Rashid.

It appears the Taliban had refused to hand over the two professors until they received proof their men had reached Qatar. A Taliban statement said the prisoner exchange was a good step “for building trust” and something that “can help in peace process.”

The American University of Afghanistan confirmed the release of the two, saying that its “community shares the relief of the families of Kevin and Timothy, and we look forward to providing all the support we can to Kevin and Tim and their families.”

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan also welcomed the professors’ freedom, saying he appreciates “steps taken by all involved to make it possible.” Pakistan wields some influence over the Taliban and has played a behind-the-scenes role in trying to restart peace talks.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani a week ago announced the “conditional release” of the three ranking Taliban figures, saying at a press event broadcast live on state television that it was a very hard decision he felt he had to make in the interest of the Afghan people.

Kings family gave a special mention to Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien for their “behind the scenes” efforts to get Ghani on board with the prisoner swap. Pompeo and O’Brien made separate calls to Ghani on Monday.

In 2017, several months after their abduction, the Taliban released two videos showing the captives. A January 2017 video showed them appearing pale and gaunt. In the later video, King and Weeks looked healthier and said a deadline for their release was set for June 16 that year.

Both said they are being treated well by the Taliban but that they remain prisoners and appealed to their governments to help set them free. It was impossible to know whether they were forced to speak.

Subsequently, U.S. officials said that American forces had launched a rescue mission to free the two, but the captives were not found at the raided location.

The prisoner exchange was intended to try to restart talks to end Afghanistan’s 18-year war and allow for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.

The United States had been close to an agreement in September with the Taliban but a fresh wave of violence in the Afghan capital that killed a U.S. soldier brought talks and an impending deal to a grinding halt.

The agreement called for direct talks between the Taliban and Afghan government as well as other prominent Afghans to find a negotiated end to the war and set out a roadmap for what a post -war Afghanistan would look like.

Ghani in his discussions with Pompeo and O’Brien said he wanted a reduction in violence and an all-out cease-fire, his spokesman said.

According to a U.S. State Department statement Tuesday, Pompeo told Ghani the United States was “committed to work closely together to address violence if the President’s decision does not produce the intended results.”

Southern Zabul province, where the two professors were freed, is heavily controlled by the Taliban and vast parts of it have long been a no-go area for the government.

But according to the Taliban, an unofficial cease-fire is now being observed in three districts of the province — Shahjoy, Shahmatzo and Naw Bahar — possibly to facilitate the release of the two hostages.

___

Associated Press writers Abdul Khaliq in Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, and Tameem Akhgar in Kabul, Afghanistan, and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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Pelosi invites Trump to testify as new witnesses prepare

By JILL COLVIN

WASHINGTON — Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited President Donald Trump to testify in front of investigators in the House impeachment inquiry ahead of a week that will see several key witnesses appear publicly.

Pushing back against accusations from the Republican president that the process has been stacked against him, Pelosi said Trump is welcome to appear or answer questions in writing, if he chooses.

“If he has information that is exculpatory, that means ex, taking away, culpable, blame, then we look forward to seeing it,” she said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” Trump “could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants if he wants,” she said.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer echoed that suggestion.

“If Donald Trump doesn’t agree with what he’s hearing, doesn’t like what he’s hearing, he shouldn’t tweet. He should come to the committee and testify under oath. And he should allow all those around him to come to the committee and testify under oath,” Schumer told reporters. He said the White House’s insistence on blocking witnesses from cooperating begs the question: “What is he hiding?”

The comments come as the House Intelligence Committee prepares for a second week of public hearings as part of its inquiry, including with the man who is arguably the most important witness. Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, is among the only people interviewed to date who had direct conversations with the president about the situation because the White House has blocked others from cooperating with what it dismisses as a sham investigation. And testimony suggests he was intimately involved in discussions that are at the heart of the investigation into whether Trump held up U.S. military aid to Ukraine to try to pressure the country’s president to announce an investigation into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 candidate, and Biden’s son Hunter.

Multiple witnesses overheard a phone call in which Trump and Sondland reportedly discussed efforts to push for the investigations. In private testimony to impeachment investigators made public Saturday, Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council aide and longtime Republican defense hawk, said Sondland told him he was discussing Ukraine matters directly with Trump.

Morrison said Sondland and Trump had spoken approximately five times between July 15 and Sept. 11 — the weeks that $391 million in U.S. assistance was withheld from Ukraine before it was released.

And he recounted that Sondland told a top Ukrainian official in a meeting that the vital U.S. military assistance might be freed up if the country’s top prosecutor “would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation.” Burisma is the gas company that hired Hunter Biden.

Morrison’s testimony contradicted much of what Sondland told congressional investigators during his own closed-door deposition, which the ambassador later amended.

Trump has said he has no recollection of the overheard call and has suggested he barely knew Sondland, a wealthy donor to his 2016 campaign. But Democrats are hoping he sheds new light on the discussions.

“I’m not going to try to prejudge his testimony,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said on “Fox News Sunday.” But he suggested, “it was not lost on Ambassador Sondland what happened to the president’s close associate Roger Stone for lying to Congress, to Michael Cohen for lying to Congress. My guess is that Ambassador Sondland is going to do his level best to tell the truth, because otherwise he may have a very unpleasant legal future in front of him.”

The committee also will be interviewing a long list of others. On Tuesday, it’ll hear from Morrison along with Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Alexander Vindman, the director for European affairs at the National Security Council, and Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.

On Wednesday the committee will hear from Sondland in addition to Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, a State Department official. And on Thursday, Fiona Hill, a former top NSC staffer for Europe and Russia, will appear.

Trump, meanwhile, continued to tweet and retweet a steady stream of commentary from supporters as he bashed “The Crazed, Do Nothing Democrats” for “turning Impeachment into a routine partisan weapon.”

“That is very bad for our Country, and not what the Founders had in mind!!!!” he wrote.

He also tweeted a doctored video exchange between Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, in which Schiff said he did not know the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint triggered the inquiry. The clip has been altered to show Schiff wearing a referee’s uniform and loudly blowing a whistle.

In her CBS interview, Pelosi vowed to protect the whistleblower, whom Trump has said should be forced to come forward despite longstanding whistleblower protections.

“I will make sure he does not intimidate the whistleblower,” Pelosi said.

Trump has been under fire for his treatment of one of the witnesses, the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump criticized by tweet as she was testifying last week.

That attack prompted accusations of witness intimidation from Democrats and even some criticism from Republicans, who have been largely united in their defense of Trump

“I think, along with most people, I find the president’s tweet generally unfortunate,” said Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Still, he insisted that tweets were “certainly not impeachable and it’s certainly not criminal. And it’s certainly not witness intimidation,” even if Yovanovitch said she felt intimidated by the attacks.

Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Trump “communicates in ways that sometimes I wouldn’t,” but dismissed the significance of the attacks.

“If your basis for impeachment is going to include a tweet, that shows how weak the evidence for that impeachment is,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”

And the backlash didn’t stop Trump from lashing out at yet another witness, this time Pence aide Williams. He directed her in a Sunday tweet to “meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!”

Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.

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Commercial real estate mailbag: Does Amazon own or buy warehouses?

Occasionally it is healthy to purge the inbox — in a manner of speaking — and share with you some happenings in the world of commercial real estate.

As Jim Barksdale cleverly stated, “’If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.”

Well, here you go, a bit of both — data and opinions.

Misdirection

Please be informed when entering your favorite supermarket these days. Petition gatherers are out in force with all manner of messaging about Proposition 13. Few I’ve encountered get it right.

One initiative has qualified – garnering the necessary signatures – and will be on the ballot next November: The California Schools and Local Community Funding Act. Also known as the split-roll initiative, if passed, it will assess commercial and industrial real estate differently than residential and agriculturally zoned property. The pen wielders want your John Henry for a re-write of the already qualified initiative plus another that would allow homeowners over 55 to transfer their property tax basis to a new purchase.

Primetime

Ever head out to the Inland Empire, maybe to pick apples at Oak Glen or catch a flight from an airport that allows Uber to drop you off at – not near – the terminal?

As you’re gazing at the San Bernardino mountains, you catch a glimpse of the famous Amazon logo. What is that anyway? But, I digress.

Do you ever wonder whether Amazon owns or leases those massive concrete warehouses? Generally, they are leased. Why, you may ask – with more green than an OAC proposal – would Amazon waste money on rent? Three reasons: Their space needs are fluid, depreciation on balance sheets dampens earnings, and a plethora of property owners clamor to host their tenancy and build accordingly.

Highway to the danger zone

Many sellers of commercial real estate employ the IRS tax code chapter 1031 to defer capital gains on the sale of an appreciated parcel of commercial real estate.

Certain rules apply: you must identify the property(s) you intend to buy on or before 45 days from the sale; like-kind must be purchased; you’re obliged to spend as much as the sale’s price – including debt; all must be done on or before 180 days – almost.

This time of year is what I call the “danger zone.” A commonly overlooked provision is you must purchase the replacement property(s) within 180 days. True — unless the following April 15th comes sooner. So, if you close after Oct. 15 and before Dec. 31, you only get the benefit of 180 days if you file an extension of your next year’s tax return. Complicated? Yes. Please seek counsel from your tax professional.

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe

What is the most sought after commercial real estate asset class these days? The travails of retail thread the airwaves. Office space is costly to re-tenant. Sure, appetite for industrial – manufacturing and logistics space – is ravenous. But, get this, demand is highest for religious facilities – churches.

What happens in Vegas…

Another conference season is squarely in the books culminating with our company summit in Las Vegas last month. SIOR, CCIM, Core-net, and NAIOP all host soirées this time of the season. You’ll know when you see a bunch of old white guys in suits “networking” at the popular watering holes.

So, what’s up, you ask? The “Amazon” factor disrupting retail and supply chain logistics, generally robust industrial activity nationwide, the slog of bringing new inventory to market … and whispers of a recession.

Allen C. Buchanan, SIOR, is a principal with Lee & Associates Commercial Real Estate Services in Orange. He can be reached at abuchanan@lee-associates.com or 714.564.7104.

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An ambassador ousted: What to watch on Day 2 of impeachment hearings

By LAURIE KELLMAN

WASHINGTON  — An ambassador, her removal and a pair of fixers.

Those details stand at the center of Marie Yovanovitch’s story, a personal ordeal she’ll describe to Americans and the world Friday as part of the Democrat-driven impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

What led to the career diplomat’s ouster, Democrats say, is a key chapter in Trump’s holdup of military aid while he pressured Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son. Republicans dismiss that as not credible.

Was Yovanovitch an obstacle to corruption and casualty of a bribery scheme? Or disloyal to a president fully empowered to choose his own ambassadors? And how will Trump and his allies treat what he called “the woman” as she speaks out for the first time?

Congress digs into her testimony at 9 a.m. on the second day of public impeachment hearings against the nation’s 45th president.

Here’s what to know:

THEY CALL HER MASHA

Expect to hear extensive details about Yovanovitch’s biography as Democrats seek to bolster her credibility and suggest that Trump fired her for being a little too effective at her job.

She had twice served as an ambassador — to the Kyrgyz Republic and to Armenia — before being confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in a Senate voice vote in July 2016. Yovanovitch, 60, testified on Oct. 11 that she was told that people were “looking to hurt” her. One senior Ukraine official said she needed to “watch my back.” Asked in the private session whether she felt threatened, Yovanovitch replied, “Yes.”

After her firing, more of the story began to come out. Yovanovitch said she was told that the State Department had been under pressure from Trump to remove her from Ukraine since the summer of 2018. At the heart of it was president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who told Ukrainian journalists that Yovanovitch was pulled from Kyiv because she was part of efforts against the president.

During the private deposition last month, Yovanovitch grew emotional and asked for a break, according to the transcript.

Yovanovitch is a career diplomat who served as a principal deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, a senior adviser and the dean of the language school at the Foreign Service Institute. She is now working as a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University.

TRUMP CALLED HER “THE WOMAN”

Watch how Yovanovitch and the president’s defenders — and Trump himself — interact during the hearing.

The president had recalled Yovanovitch months before the July 25 phone call in which he pressured Ukraine’s president on the Bidens. Even though she had been gone for months, Yovanovitch clearly was on the president’s mind and connected to his goals in Ukraine. He says he was rooting out corruption generally.

“The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news,” Trump said, according to the rough transcript of the call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. “She’s going to go through some things.”

It’s unclear what he meant, but he says that call was “perfect.” But the president has a long history of denigrating women who stand up to him, especially those of his generation in positions of power.

At a rally in Louisiana just hours before Yovanovitch’s testimony, Trump spoke in rare personal terms about his own impeachment journey.

“Impeachment to me is a dirty word,” he told his supporters in Bossier City. “It’s been very unfair, very hard on my family.”

RUDY’S FIXERS

Listen for mention of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Giuliani’s arrested at an airport last month while trying to leave the country with one-way tickets.

The businessmen are charged with making illegal campaign contributions while looking to expand their energy business in Ukraine. The core of Giuliani’s involvement appears to revolve around his work with them.

Soviet-born Parnas is prepared to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. He’s accused of using foreign money to make illegal campaign contributions while lobbying U.S. politicians to oust Yovanovitch.

Parnas’s attorney, Joseph Bondy, sent lawmakers a letter saying Parnas is prepared to answer questions and produce documents for the impeachment inquiry as long as they don’t step on his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

NO QUID PRO QUO

The president and his allies insist there was “no quid pro quo,” which is Latin for, roughly, an offer of this for that.

But quid pro quo is not in the Constitution. “Bribery” is specifically spelled out as a potential ground for presidential impeachment.

So Democrats are shifting to “bribery” to describe Trump’s conduct, though it’s not yet clear whether that charge will form the basis of an article of impeachment.

What’s certain is that Democrats are focused like a laser on making the case for impeachment clear to Americans in a bid to build up public support.

“Quid pro quo: Bribery,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday. “The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into elections. That’s bribery.”

2020 LOOMS

Trump continued to assail the proceedings as “a hoax” on Thursday. House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy dismissed the witness testimony as hearsay, at best second-hand information.

The president’s re-election campaign says Americans are increasingly behind that defense.

Trump’s reelection effort raised more than $3 million on the first day of public impeachment hearings, and campaign manager Brad Parscale announced it now hopes to raise $5 million within a 24-hour span.

 

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Ex-Massachusetts Gov. Patrick announces Democratic presidential bid

By JULIE PACE, BILL BARROW and STEVE PEOPLES

WASHINGTON  — Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced Thursday he is running for president, making a late entry into the Democratic race less than three months before primary voting begins.

In an announcement video, Patrick highlighted his poverty-stricken childhood on Chicago’s South Side, saying he’s running for the “people who feel left out and left back.”

As the first in his family to go to college and law school, Patrick said, “I’ve had a chance to live my American Dream.” But over the years, the “path to that dream” has closed off for others, he said, as government and economy have been “letting us down.”

Patrick made history as the first black governor of Massachusetts and has close ties to former President Barack Obama and his network of political advisers. But he faces significant fundraising and organizational hurdles this late in the race.

His announcement comes as some Democrats worry about the strength of the party’s current field of contenders. Another Democrat — former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — is also weighing a last-minute bid for the party’s nomination.

Bloomberg has taken steps toward launching a presidential campaign, filing candidate papers in Alabama and Arkansas. Even 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton this week said in a BBC interview that she is “under enormous pressure from many, many, many people to think about it,” adding that she has no such plans but still would “never, never, never say never.”

The moves reflect uncertainty about the direction of the Democratic contest with no commanding front-runner. Joe Biden entered the race as the presumptive favorite and maintains significant support from white moderates and black voters, whose backing is critical in a Democratic primary. But he’s facing spirited challenges from Patrick’s home-state senator, Elizabeth Warren, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, progressives whose calls for fundamental economic change have alarmed moderates and wealthy donors.

Patrick could present himself as a potential bridge across the moderate, liberal and progressive factions — as candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Cory Booker are trying to do.

But the former governor faces significant hurdles to raise enormous amounts of money quickly and to build an organization in the traditional early voting states that most of his rivals have focused on for the past year. And he’ll have to pivot to the expensive and logistically daunting Super Tuesday contests, when voters in more than a dozen states and territories head to the polls. Bloomberg’s team has said they will skip the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to focus on the Super Tuesday roster.

It’s also a near certainty that Patrick — and possibly Bloomberg — wouldn’t make a Democratic debate stage until January, if at all, because of debate rules set by the party.

Those dynamics left some prominent Democrats questioning Patrick’s viability.

“Stop. We have enough candidates,” said Kathy Sullivan, a Democratic National Committee member from New Hampshire, which hosts the party’s first presidential primary following the Iowa caucuses.

Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, whose state boasts the second-largest number of Super Tuesday delegates behind California, argued that donors and media are mistaken to think that rank-and-file Democrats see Biden, Warren and others as unable to take down President Donald Trump.

Besides, Hinojosa said, “most of the people you need to build out a campaign have already chosen sides.”

A former managing director for Bain Capital, Patrick has close ties to Wall Street donors. As only the nation’s second elected black governor since Reconstruction, Patrick also could run as a historic boundary breaker trying to dent Biden’s support among African Americans — though Harris and Booker, the only two black Democrats in the Senate, have been unable to do that thus far.

Patrick has remained active in politics since his term as governor ended in 2015. During the 2018 midterm elections, he traveled across the country in support of Democratic candidates, raising his national profile. He also campaigned for Doug Jones during Alabama’s contentious 2017 special election for U.S. Senate.

Last year, some of Patrick’s supporters and close advisers launched the Reason to Believe political action committee, which held meetups across the country, including in early presidential primary states.

By December, however, Patrick cooled to the idea of a presidential bid.

“After a lot of conversation, reflection and prayer, I’ve decided that a 2020 campaign for president is not for me,” Patrick posted on his Facebook page at the time. Patrick said he and his wife worried that the “cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on people whom Diane and I love, but who hadn’t signed up for the journey.”

After Trump’s election, Patrick’s initial criticism of the Republican president was somewhat less pointed than other Democrats offered. “We need our presidents to succeed,” he said, while still expressing concern about what he described as Trump’s belittling of those with opposing points of view.

Patrick also urged the party at the time to look in the mirror, saying that “the outcome of the 2016 election was less about Donald Trump winning than Democrats and our nominee letting him do so.”

Early in his career, Patrick served as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration and later worked as an executive at Texaco and Coca-Cola. Since leaving the governor’s office, Patrick has worked as a managing director for Bain Capital — a company co-founded by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Patrick’s predecessor as governor.

Patrick’s Massachusetts record is mixed. His successes include helping oversee the 2006 health care law signed by Romney that would go on to serve as a blueprint for Obama’s 2010 health care law.

But Patrick was also forced to publicly apologize for a disastrous effort to transition to the federal health care law during which the state’s website performed so poorly it created a backlog of more than 50,000 paper applications.

 

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‘Sad day’ or ‘scam’? What to watch at impeachment hearing

By LAURIE KELLMAN

WASHINGTON  — A “solemn day” or a “showtrial”?

Americans and the world can decide for themselves as House Democrats let the public in to the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.

With the bang of a gavel, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff opens the first hearings Wednesday into Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden’s family. Big questions loom, including how strongly officials connected what Trump called that “favor” to U.S. military aid for Ukraine.

Impeachable offenses? Worthy of Trump’s removal? And, critically, will a parade of diplomats and their accounts nudge more Americans behind formally charging Trump in the shadow of the 2020 elections?

Here’s what to know about the first hearing, with the charge d’affaires in Ukraine, William Taylor, and a career diplomat, George Kent, at the witness table, beginning at 10 a.m.:

WHO’S UP FIRST?

Shortly after Schiff’s gavel, he and ranking Republican Devin Nunes will begin the questioning. They get 45 minutes each or can designate staff attorneys to do so.

Members of the panel will then get five minutes each to ask questions, alternating between Republicans and Democrats.

There will also be exhibits. Democrats, at least, are expected to display excerpts from transcripts, text messages, relevant news articles and social media posts.

The goal is to end the hearing by 4:30 p.m. Eastern

FIRST, KNOW THIS

“The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Expect numerous mentions of Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution, especially on whether Trump’s own words and actions meet the vague threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Some Democrats and diplomats say conditioning U.S. aid on whether Ukraine goes after Biden’s son Hunter sounds like “bribery.” Republicans deny that, saying Trump did not explicitly offer aid for the Biden probe.

What it’s not: a trial, which would be conducted by the Senate if the House approves articles of impeachment. So no matter what the president tweets, he is not entitled to a defense attorney. The proceedings are the due process he says he’s being denied, though they are controlled by Democrats in ways Republicans will say is unfair.

… AND THIS

It’s only the fourth time in American history that Congress has launched impeachment proceedings against a sitting president. Two of those — against Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton 130 years later — resulted in their impeachments, or formal charges approved by the House. Both were acquitted by the Senate.

Former President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the House could vote to impeach him.

THE SPIN

With only hours to go before the gavel, Republicans and Democrats from Congress to the campaign trail were spinning their points of view.

“Well, it’s a calm day, it’s a prayerful day, it’s a solemn day for our country,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday night on the eve of the hearings. “It’s a sad day, which I wish we never had to face.”

“A phony showtrial,” Trump groused a few hours later.

Trump also has called the process a “total impeachment scam.” He’s offering his own counterprogramming with a White House visit from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, which is its own story of war, trade and tension.

THE SPARK

A whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy ignited the impeachment investigation. Trump responded on Sept. 24 by releasing a rough transcript.

During the hearing Wednesday, listen for discussion about a key exchange during that 30-minute call, in which Zelenskiy invokes the still-blocked military aid and the U.S. president responds: “I would like you to do us a favor though.” Trump then asks Zelenskiy to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election, and later explicitly mentions the Bidens.

Trump says the call was “perfect” and contained no “quid pro quo,” or this for that.

Democrats say it shows Trump using his office to pressure a foreign government to help him politically.

‘INVESTIGATIONS, BIDEN and CLINTON’

Democrats chose Taylor and Kent to start the storytelling of public hearings. They will describe a parallel foreign policy toward Ukraine led by Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and other White House officials.

“I discovered a weird combination of encouraging, confusing and ultimately alarming circumstances,” Taylor testified in an Oct. 22 statement. He is a West Point graduate and Vietnam War veteran who has served under every presidential administration, Republican and Democrat, since 1985, and worked for then-Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J.

Kent, the bow tie-wearing career foreign service officer, testified on Oct. 15 that there were three words Trump wanted to hear from the Ukraine president: “Investigations, Biden and Clinton.”

He also told the investigators about the “campaign of lies” against former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch that he said was waged by Giuliani and contributed to her being recalled from the position.

THE RINGER

Republicans have added House Rep. Jim Jordan to the Intelligence Committee. Although Nunes is the senior Republican, look for the congressman from Ohio to act as an especially fierce attacker of the witnesses’ credibility and the Democrats’ case for impeachment.

At its heart, the GOP argument is that the impeachment effort is unfair and sparked because “unelected and anonymous bureaucrats disagreed” with Trump’s decisions on Ukraine.

Some Republicans have urged the outing of the whistleblower.

WHAT AMERICANS THINK NOW

An AP-NORC Center poll conducted in late October found Americans more approving than disapproving of the impeachment inquiry, 47% to 38%.

Even in the throes of impeachment, approval of the president’s job performance has not changed significantly.

NEXT UP

Yovanovitch, a two-time ambassador, testifies Friday as the next in the series of hearings expected to stretch through next week.

She has twice served as an ambassador — to the Kyrgyz Republic and to Armenia — before being confirmed as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in a Senate voice vote in July 2016.

Next week’s schedule:

— Nov. 19, morning: Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence; Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, director for European affairs at the National Security Council.

— Nov. 19, afternoon: Ambassador Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine; Tim Morrison, a White House aide with the National Security Council.

— Nov. 20, morning: Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

— Nov. 20, afternoon: Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russian, Ukrainian and Eurasian affairs; David Hale, undersecretary of state for political affairs.

— Nov. 21, morning: Fiona Hill, former National Security Council senior director for Europe and Russia.

Associated Press researcher Randy Herschaft and Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.

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Former President Jimmy Carter enters hospital for surgery

By JAY REEVES and SHAMEKA DUDLEY-LOWE

ATLANTA — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was going into surgery Tuesday morning at Emory University Hospital to relieve pressure on his brain, his spokeswoman said.

The procedure is meant to resolve bleeding due to his recent falls, Deanna Congileo said in a statement.

Carter has fallen at least three times this year. The first incident, in the spring, required hip replacement surgery. He hit his head falling again on Oct. 6 and received 14 stitches, but still traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, to help build a Habitat for Humanity home shortly thereafter. And he was briefly hospitalized after fracturing his pelvis on Oct. 21.

Carter also received a dire cancer diagnosis in 2015, announcing that melanoma had spread to his liver and brain. He was treated with radiation and immunotherapy, and later said he was cancer-free.

Nearly four decades after his presidency, and despite a body that’s failing after 95 years, the nation’s oldest-ever ex-president still teaches Sunday school roughly twice a month at Maranatha Baptist Church in his tiny hometown of Plains in southwest Georgia. His message is unfailingly about Jesus, not himself.

Rev. Tony Lowden, Carter’s pastor, said the ex-president was hospitalized Monday on what he called “a rough day.”

“We just need the whole country to be in prayer for him,” Lowden said in a telephone interview.

The church has announced that Carter will not be teaching his Sunday school class this week.

Carter is resting comfortably, and his wife, Rosalynn, is with him, Congileo said.

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At a Macy’s in Santa Ana, smash-and-grab robbers make off with perfume

Robbers staged a smash-and-grab robbery Thursday night at a Macy’s fragrance counter at the MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana.

Three men smashed glass display cases and made off with perfume just before 8 p.m., according to the Santa Ana Police Department.

The suspects put the bottles into duffel bags and left via the store’s south doors to an awaiting early 2000s silver Nissan Altima, police said.

The suspects “were last seen leaving the parking structure northbound onto Main Street and out of sight,” Santa Ana police Cmdr. Joe Marty said

Read more about At a Macy’s in Santa Ana, smash-and-grab robbers make off with perfume This post was shared via Orange County Register’s RSS Feed

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Democrat Beshear claims victory in Kentucky governor race; Trump ally Bevin refuses to concede

By BRUCE SCHREINER

LOUISVILLE, Ky.  — Kentucky’s bitter race for governor went into overtime as Democrat Andy Beshear declared victory while Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, a close ally of President Donald Trump, refused to concede with results showing he trailed by a few thousand votes.

Kentucky has some sorting out to do before inaugurating its next governor.

With 100% of precincts reporting, Beshear — the state’s attorney general and the son of Kentucky’s last Democratic governor, Steve Beshear — had a lead of 5,333 votes out of more than 1.4 million counted, or a margin of less than 0.4 percentage points. The Associated Press has not declared a winner.

In competing speeches late Tuesday, Beshear claimed victory while Bevin refused to concede.

“My expectation is that he (Bevin) will honor the election that was held tonight,” Beshear said. “That he will help us make this transition. And I’ll tell you what, we will be ready for that first day in office, and I look forward to it.”

That first day isn’t far off. Kentucky inaugurates its governors in the December following an election.

Bevin, meanwhile, called the contest a “close, close race” and said he wasn’t conceding “by any stretch.”

“We want the process to be followed, and there is a process,” he said.

Bevin won the 2015 GOP primary for governor by a scant 83 votes, noting wryly Tuesday night: “Would it be a Bevin race if it wasn’t a squeaker?”

The margin is much larger this time. Bevin hinted there might be “irregularities” to look into, but didn’t offer specifics. His campaign didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking an explanation.

There is no mandatory recount law in Kentucky. Bevin may request counties recanvass their results, which is not a recount, but rather a check of the vote count to ensure the results were added correctly. Bevin would need to seek and win a court’s approval for a recount.

“The margin is large enough to not have a reasonable expectation that it can be closed with anything outstanding,” Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes’ office said in a statement. “The process laid out by the law will be followed and all candidates do have a recourse to review or challenge their results.”

Grimes, a Democrat, has overseen 20-plus recanvasses during her two terms as secretary of state, her office said. The results never changed significantly enough to flip the outcome of a race, it said.

The final hours of campaigning were dominated by the endorsement Bevin received from Trump at a boisterous rally Monday night in Lexington, Kentucky. Through a spokesman, the president boasted Tuesday night about the boost he had given the incumbent governor despite Bevin finishing with fewer votes to his name.

“The president just about dragged Gov. Matt Bevin across the finish line, helping him run stronger than expected in what turned into a very close race at the end,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “A final outcome remains to be seen.”

Trump had loomed large in the race as Bevin stressed his alliance with the Republican president in TV ads, tweets and speeches. Trump carried Kentucky by a landslide in winning the presidency in 2016 and remains popular in the state. The president took center stage in the campaign with his election eve rally to energize his supporters to head to the polls for his fellow Republican.

But the combative Bevin had been struggling to overcome a series of self-inflicted wounds, highlighted by a running feud with teachers who opposed his efforts to revamp the state’s woefully underfunded public pension systems.

Bevin lagged well behind the vote totals for the rest of the GOP slate for statewide offices. Republican candidates swept Kentucky’s races for attorney general, secretary of state, auditor, treasurer and agriculture commissioner.

Trump took credit on Wednesday for the near sweep, tweeting, “Our big Kentucky Rally on Monday night had a massive impact on all of the races,” and claiming that Bevin “picked up at least 15 points in last days, but perhaps not enough (Fake News will blame Trump!).”

Meanwhile, the Libertarian candidate for governor, John Hicks, got 2% of the vote.

Beshear dominated in the state’s urban areas in Louisville and Lexington and won some traditionally Republican suburban counties in the state’s northernmost tip, just south of Cincinnati, to offset Bevin’s strength in rural areas. Beshear also made inroads in eastern Kentucky, winning several counties in a region where Trump is highly popular.

While Beshear looks to quickly pivot to governing, he’ll be confronted by a dominant GOP. Republicans hold overwhelming majorities in the state legislature.

Beshear maintained his focus throughout the race on “kitchen table” issues like health care and education to blunt Bevin’s efforts to hitch himself to Trump and nationalize the race.

On health care, Beshear could have an immediate impact by backing away from a Bevin proposal to attach work requirements to Medicaid benefits received under the Affordable Care Act. Bevin’s plan for some “able-bodied” recipients has been challenged in court and is yet to be enacted, and Beshear has vowed to rescind it.

On the campaign trail, Beshear also said he wants to legalize casino gambling, proposing to use that revenue to support public pensions. Some Republican lawmakers campaigning for Bevin vowed to reject that idea if it came before them.

Beshear also exploited Bevin’s feud with teachers over pensions and education issues, repeatedly referring to Bevin as a bully.

Beshear said Tuesday night that teachers shared in his victory.

“To our educators, your courage to stand up and fight against all the bullying and name calling helped galvanize our entire state,” Beshear said.

Beshear proposed a $2,000 across-the-board pay raise for public school teachers and vowed to submit “an education-first budget” to lawmakers.

School bus driver Conley McCracken said earlier Tuesday in Bowling Green that he voted for Bevin the first time. He said school issues turned him away from the Republican.

“He’s trying to keep retirement away from a lot of the teachers and school employees and things of that nature,” the 68-year-old McCracken said.

Trump’s support of Bevin wasn’t enough to get McCracken’s vote a second time around.

“I don’t like the way he’s doing (things), so I changed my mind,” McCracken said.

Jonathan Mattise contributed to this article from Bowling Green, Kentucky.

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