House panel approves charges, Trump at brink of impeachment


WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Democratic-controlled House of Representatives committee on Friday took Republican President Donald Trump to the brink of impeachment when it approved two charges against him stemming from his efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden.

A deeply divided House Judiciary Committee voted 23-17 to approve articles of impeachment charging Trump with both abusing the power of his office over Ukraine and obstructing House Democrats’ attempts to investigate him for it.

If the full House votes next week to impeach Trump, as expected, the Republican will become the third U.S. president to be impeached. But the chances of him being removed from office are close to zero because the Senate, which is dominated by Republicans, will have the final say.

In congressional hearings that have gripped Washington, Democrats have accused the president of endangering the U.S. Constitution, jeopardizing national security and undermining the integrity of the 2020 election by asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July phone call to investigate Biden.

“Today is a solemn and sad day,” the committee’s Democratic chairman, Jerry Nadler, said. “For the third time in a little over a century and a half, the House Judiciary Committee has voted articles of impeachment against the president.”

Republicans have defended Trump and accused Democrats of a politically motivated farce aimed at overturning his surprise 2016 presidential election victory.

“A sad, ridiculous sham in the U.S. House of Representatives. This needs to come to a quick end,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican who is often a staunch defender of Trump, wrote on Twitter.

If impeached, Trump will go on trial in the Senate early next year, just as the 2020 presidential campaign begins to pick up speed.

Biden, a former U.S. vice president, is a leading Democratic candidate to face Trump in November’s general election. Trump has alleged that Biden was involved in corruption in Ukraine and should be investigated but the president has offered no evidence. The Democrat denies any wrongdoing.

ABUSE CHARGE

The abuse of power charge against Trump also accuses him of freezing nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid to Ukraine and offering a possible White House meeting to Zelenskiy to get him to publicly announce investigations of Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Trump also asked Ukraine to investigate a debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

Vote tally sheets showing that two articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump have been approved by the House Judiciary Committee lie on the clerk’s desk after the committee voted to approve the articles of impeachment and send them on to the full House of Representatives for consideration on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., December 13, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott

The obstruction charge against Trump is based on his directives to current and former administration officials such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, even if that meant defying subpoenas.

A senior Democratic aide said the House tentatively plans to hold an impeachment debate next Wednesday ahead of a vote on whether to impeach Trump and send him for trial.

Trump and Republicans say the president did nothing improper in his call with Zelenskiy, and that there is no direct evidence he withheld aid or a White House meeting in exchange for a favor. Democrats counter that by saying that Trump stopped top aides from testifying.

Signaling investors’ lack of concern at political upheaval, U.S. stocks hit fresh record levels on Friday on optimism over a possible trade deal between China and the United States.

As the committee was voting, China announced progress and said Beijing would cancel tariffs scheduled to take effect, pushing the Dow Jones Industrial Average up 0.38%. Trump followed up by tweeting a that trade deal had been reached. Shares later gave up some of the gains but remained near record levels.

Trump would be the third U.S. president to be impeached. Democrat Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for perjury for lying about a sexual relationship with a White House intern, but he was acquitted in the Senate. Democrat President Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 but not convicted in the Senate.

Republican President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before he was impeached over his involvement in the Watergate scandal.

Slideshow (9 Images)

Trump is running for re-election in 2020, a contest expected to be a bitter, partisan battle with a Democratic nominee who will be chosen next year.

The impeachment inquiry was launched in September after a whistleblower complaint about the July 25 call between Trump and Ukraine’s Zelenskiy.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Mohammad Zargham, Lisa Lambert and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.



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U.S. ‘Likely’ to Bring New Charges in Giuliani-Allies Case


(Bloomberg) — The U.S is “likely” to bring additional charges in a case against Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, associates of Rudy Giuliani who are accused of skirting campaign contribution limits as part of a plot to oust the American ambassador to Ukraine, a prosecutor said.

The comment was made Monday at an hour-long court hearing in Manhattan. Speaking in response to a question from U.S. District Judge Paul Oetken about whether the government planned to file additional charges, Assistant U.S. Attorney Douglas Zolkind said: “Certainly the investigation is ongoing. We think a superseding indictment is likely, but no decision has been made. It’s something we continue to evaluate.”

Parnas and Fruman were charged in October. According to prosecutors, they illegally funneled foreign money into U.S. political campaigns, including a $325,000 contribution to the pro-Trump America First political action committee. Both men have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Prosecutors have said repeatedly their investigation is continuing, and Bloomberg and other news organizations have reported that Giuliani is a subject of interest in the case. Zolkind’s comment came after Gerald Lefcourt, one of the defense lawyers, complained that the heavily redacted documents shared by the government in discovery had left them with little sense of the case. As an example, he held aloft a search warrant affidavit with the pages completely blacked out.

In response, Zolkind said the redacted pages did not relate to the charges that have been filed thus far — an indication that the investigation has spanned well beyond the charges against the two men. The prosecutor didn’t elaborate on what the new accusations would be or whether others would be charged, but he said later that at least one of the defendants, Parnas, is “under investigation for additional crimes.”

Zolkind also opposed a request by Parnas for more lenient home detention conditions, saying he presents a substantial flight risk based on his ties to Ukraine and a “billionaire oligarch in Vienna” currently fighting extradition to the U.S. The reference was likely to Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash, who lives in Austria and is facing prosecution for overseas bribery in Chicago. The legal team Firtash hired to defend him in that case included Parnas as a translator.

Parnas and Fruman worked with Giuliani on efforts to dig up political ammunition for Trump in Ukraine against Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. According to the indictment, their campaign donations played a role in the pressure campaign to remove U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Trump recalled her from her post earlier this year.

Prosecutors have obtained thousands of files of phone, bank and Internet service provider records in response to subpoenas, and seized several cell phones, computers, thumb drives and digital tablets from the defendants and their homes after their arrest. The FBI is still trying to access those devices and evidence gleaned from them has not yet been produced. Zolkind said subpoenas are still being served.

Joseph Bondy, a lawyer for Parnas, said his client wants to cooperate with the Congressional investigation into the Ukraine matter but that prosecutors have seized records responsive to a Congressional subpoena.

(Adds background)

To contact the reporter on this story: Christian Berthelsen in New York at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: David Glovin at [email protected], Anthony Lin

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.



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Netanyahu indicted on corruption charges



Israel’s attorney general Avichai Mandelblit is indicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption and breach of public trust charges.

Netanyahu has been indicted on corruption charges in three separate cases, the country’s attorney general announced on Thursday.

This makes Netanyahu the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be indicted while in office. According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, Netanyahu has 30 days to request immunity to avoid a criminal trial but a House Committee that can rule on the issue has not been appointed since April since the country is in political deadlock.

Netanyahu is accused of involvement in a media bribery scheme in which the owner of the Walla! Media platform, Shaul Elovitch, guaranteed positive coverage in exchange for government policies that benefitted his company. The Israeli prime minister is also accused of receiving hundreds of thousands of shekels in gifts from rich tycoons, in exchange for-legal initiatives.

Israel is in a political deadlock as both acting prime minister Netanyahu and the leader of the opposition Benny Gatz have failed to form a governing coalition since the September legislative elections.

The indictment is likely to complicate ongoing negotiations for the formation of a government. After the indictment, any petition to the High Court of Justice to remove him from power is likely to succeed. Should he be found guilty, Netanyahu faces a potential jail sentence of years.



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