Posts tagged with "Secretary of State Mike Pompeo"

Sondland: ‘Everyone was in the loop’ and ‘followed Trump’s orders,’ pressed for a ‘quid pro quo’

November 21, 2019

The team on the ground in Ukraine was following President Donald Trump’s orders, Ambassador Gordon Sondland said in no uncertain terms in his dramatic testimony in the impeachment inquiry on November 20. And those orders included working with the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to extract a quid pro quo from the new Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Specifically, the United States would provide a meeting with Trump in the White House and close to $400 million in military aid in exchange for a public announcement by Zelensky on CNN that Ukraine would investigate the 2016 election, the energy company Burisma; and 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden, along with his son Hunter.

Indeed, Ambassador Gordon said in his opening statement, obtained by The New York Times, that the first thing his interlocutors should know is that, “Secretary [of Energy Rick] Perry, Ambassador [Kurt] Volker, and I worked with Mr. Rudy Giuliani on Ukraine matters at the express direction of the President of the United States.”

“We did not want to work with Mr. Giuliani, “Sondland noted. “Simply put, we played the hand we were dealt. We all understood that, if we refused to work with Mr. Giuliani, we would lose an important opportunity to cement relations between the United States and Ukraine. So we followed the President’s orders.”

“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a ‘quid pro quo?’ ” Sondland said in sworn testimony. “With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

Trump’s U.S. ambassador to the European Union—described by The Washington Post as “a longtime Republican donor who gave $1 million to the presidential inaugural committee and was confirmed by the Republican Senate”—gave the House Intelligence Committee an account of the president’s culpability in leveraging the power of the Oval Office for his own political gain.

According to the Post’s report, Democrats said Sondland’s testimony pulled back the curtain on the extent of the Ukraine pressure campaign—implicating not just the president but Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.

“We now can see the veneer has been torn away,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-California) told reporters during a break in the testimony, arguing that the situation as described by Sondland “goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery, as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”

“I think a very important moment in the history of this inquiry,” he added.

Sondland said “there was no secret” about the work within a much larger circle of Trump’s Cabinet. Everyone was in the loop,” Sondland said

Digging a deeper hole for the secretary of state to climb out of, Sondland said that Pompeo was involved at several points, including the key point of withholding security assistance—and that he “was aware that a commitment to investigations was among the issues we were pursuing.”

The ambassador said that he was never privy to the White House meetings where the aid was frozen—but that he became convinced it was being held up as leverage and thought that was inappropriate, the Post said.

“In the absence of any credible explanation for the hold, I came to the conclusion that the aid, like the White House visit, was jeopardized,” Sondland said. “My belief was that if Ukraine did something to demonstrate a serious intention” to launch the investigations Trump wanted, “then the hold on military aid would be lifted.”

Following the testimony, in brief remarks to reporters outside the White House, Trump distanced himself from Sondland, saying, “This is not a man I know well.” He noted that Sondland testified that the president had denied to him there was a quid pro quo.

“That means it’s all over,” Trump said.

Research contact: @washingtonpost

After spiteful tweet during Yovanovitch testimony, Schiff accuses Trump of ‘witness intimidation’

November 18, 2019

In a shocking display of animus during the testimony of ousted Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch on Friday morning, November 15, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted an accusation, with no supporting evidence, that she had caused havoc during her diplomatic tours prior to her most recent assignment.

Even as Yovanovitch bore witness as part of the impeachment inquiry, the president tweeted: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second phone call with him.”

It was an attack that House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff characterized as “witness intimidation”—and which the former ambassador clapped back on: When asked to comment on the tweet, Yovanovitch said, “I actually think that where I’ve served over the years, I and others have demonstrably made things better, you know, for the U.S. as well as for the countries that I’ve served in.”

She described herself as a dedicated public servant during her opening statement, asserting, “I come before you as an American citizen, who has devoted the majority of my life, 33 years, to service to the country that all of us love. Like my colleagues, I entered the Foreign Service understanding that my job was to implement the foreign policy interests of this nation, as defined by the President and Congress, and to do so regardless of which person or party was in power. I had no agenda other than to pursue our stated foreign policy goals.

Then, as The Wall Street Journal reported, she went on to portray herself as the victim of a plot by corrupt Ukrainians in partnership with Americans to oust her because of her advocacy for rule of law issues in her role as ambassador.

“Individuals, who apparently felt stymied by our efforts to promote stated U.S. policy against corruption—that is, to do our mission—were able to successfully conduct a campaign of disinformation against a sitting ambassador, using unofficial back channels,” she said.

“Not all Ukrainians embraced our anticorruption work. Thus, perhaps, it was not surprising, that when our anticorruption efforts got in the way of a desire for profit or power, Ukrainians who preferred to play by the old, corrupt rules sought to remove me,” she said.

“What continues to amaze me is that they found Americans willing to partner with them and, working together, they apparently succeeded in orchestrating the removal of a U.S. ambassador,” Yovanovitch said.

“How could our system fail like this? How is it that foreign corrupt interests could manipulate our government?” she asked. “Which country’s interests are served when the very corrupt behavior we have been criticizing is allowed to prevail? Such conduct undermines the U.S., exposes our friends, and widens the playing field for autocrats like President Putin.”

“Our leadership depends on the power of our example and the consistency of our purpose. Both have now been opened to question.”

She said that “with respect to Mayor [Rudy] Giuliani,”—the president’s personal attorney, who had traveled to the Ukraine to obtain “oppo research” on the Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter—“I have had only minimal contacts with him …. None related to the events at issue. I do not understand Mr. Giuliani’s motives for attacking me, nor can I offer an opinion on whether he believed the allegations he spread about me.”

In describing her departure, the former ambassador said “I was … abruptly told … in late April to come back to Washington from Ukraine ‘on the next plane.’”

She attributed the reason for her ejection to “Individuals , who apparently felt stymied by our efforts to promote stated U.S. policy against corruption—that is, to do the mission—were able to successfully conduct a campaign of disinformation against a sitting Ambassador, using unofficial back channels. As various witnesses have recounted, they shared baseless allegations with the President and convinced him to remove his Ambassador, despite the fact that the State Department fully understood that the allegations were false and the sources highly suspect.”

And despite those false allegations, Yovanovitch made it clear that she had gotten no support from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, noting, “It is the responsibility of the Department’s leaders to stand up for the institution and the individuals who make that institution the most effective diplomatic force in the world. And Congress has a responsibility to reinvest in our diplomacy. That’s an investment in our national security, an investment in our future.

“These events, “the former ambassador told the House Intelligence panel, “should concern everyone in this room. Ambassadors are the symbol of the United States abroad, the personal representatives of the President. They should always act and speak with full authority to advocate for U.S. policies. If our chief representative is kneecapped, it limits our effectiveness to safeguard the vital national security interests of the United States. This is especially important now, when the international landscape is more complicated and more competitive than it has been since the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

“Our Ukraine policy has been thrown into disarray, and shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American Ambassador who does not give them what they want. After these events, what foreign official, corrupt or not, could be blamed for wondering whether the Ambassador represents the President’s views? And what U.S. Ambassador could be blamed for harboring the fear that they cannot count on our government to support them as they implement stated U.S. policy and defend U.S. interests?”

Research contact: @WSJ

Will Congress confront Trump on Iran?

June 21, 2019

A U.S. drone was shot down during an “unprovoked attack” in international airspace above the Strait of Hormuz on June 20, according to U.S. Central Command; although Iran’s Revolutionary Guard disputed that claim—saying that it had struck the aircraft after it entered the nation’s airspace.

It was another “shot heard round the world”—but the U.S. Congress is hoping that the results will not be the same: combat and bloodshed, this time in Iran.

The news comes amid rising tensions in the region, The Daily Beast reports, after American officials blamed Iran on June 13 for what they said was an attack on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman. Iran at that time also denied any involvement.

And as the possibility of armed conflict with Iran grows stronger, legislators are struggling to settle on what—if anything—they are obligated to do, as the only branch with the constitutional authority to declare war.

Many lawmakers, including a odd-couple coalition of libertarian-minded Republicans and mainstream and progressive Democrats, are increasingly worried that the Trump administration might use, as a legal basis for war, the 18-year old authorization of military force ( or AUMF) that Congress approved immediately after the September 11 attacks, The Daily Beast noted. And as the possibility of conflict inches closer, they are making a play to force the administration to come to Congress and actually convince them military action is necessary.

Senators Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) co-authored a letter to President Trump on June 18, calling on him to explain his recent decisions to deploy additional troops to the Middle East. In the letter, the Senators asked for more information on the troops’ missions and expressed concern about escalating tensions leading to a war between the United States and Iran. They underscored the fact that the Trump Administration does not have the authority to start a war with Iran without authorization from Congress. Other signatories included Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon), Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) , Chris Murphy (D-Connecticut), and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky).

In addition, Kaine and several others, including Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky), had filed an amendment the week before to the annual Department of Defense spending authorization that would block funds for a conflict with Iran unless Congress explicitly authorizes military action.

“The administration desperately wants to avoid coming to Congress on this, and it looks like they’re constructing an argument, the purpose of which is to avoid Congress,” said Kaine. “The purpose is not really to make a great argument about the 2001 AUMF.”

And in the House, The Daily Beast said, Representatives Ro Khanna (D-California) and Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) announced on June 17 that theywould introduce a resolution to block the administration from going to war with Iran on the basis of the 2001 AUMF. Such a measure would require Trump to obtain explicit congressional approval for any hostilities with Iran. Khanna told The Daily Beast that their resolution will likely make it to the House floor next week as an amendment to the House’s Pentagon authorization bill.

In the past, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has linked Iran with al Qaeda—which is specifically named in the 2001 AUMF—and claimed that the Iranian government has supported them, the news outlet reported. That claim is hotly contested by Iran experts.

President Trump, himself, has said repeatedly that he does not wish to escalate military actions into a war—but he also has refused to cooperate with Congress in recent weeks. What happens now is anybody’s guess.

Research contact: @thedailybeast

Senators Graham and McConnell doubt ‘rogue player’ Saudi scenario

October 17, 2018

Although President Donald Trump has suggested that “rogue players” were responsible for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, two of his most avid GOP acolytes are not supporting that version of the story.

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), who adamantly backed the POTUS’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, during the Judicial Committee hearings late last month—and who is said to be bucking for a Cabinet position within the administration—came out strongly against the Saudi Crown Prince on October 16, during an appearance on Fox & Friends.

“I’ve been their biggest defender on the floor of the United States Senate,” Graham said of the Saudi leadership. However, he commented, “This guy [Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman] is a wrecking ball. Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MBS knowing it.”

The observations by Graham—described by Bloomberg as “an influential foreign policy hawk in Congress who frequently advises President Donald Trump”—represented some of the harshest words yet made in public by a senior Republican on the Khashoggi disappearance, that news outlet said. He said he’d support efforts to “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.”

“He had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey and to expect me to ignore it, I feel used and abused,” Graham said on Fox. “I was on the floor every time defending Saudi Arabia because it’s a good ally. There’s a difference between a country and an individual. The MBS figure is to me toxic. He can never be a world leader on the world stage.”

Graham also signed off on an October 10 letter to President Trump that aimed to trigger both an investigation into the alleged murder and sanctions for the Saudis.

The letter read, in part, “The recent disappearance of Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi suggests that he could be a victim of a gross violation of internationally recognized human rights, which includes ‘torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prolonged detention without charges and trial, causing the disappearance of persons by the abduction and clandestine detention of those persons, and other flagrant denial of the right to life, liberty, or the security of person.’ Therefore, we request that you make a determination on the imposition of sanctions pursuant to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act with respect to any foreign person responsible for such a violation related to Mr. Khashoggi. Our expectation is that in making your determination you will consider any relevant information, including with respect to the highest ranking officials in the Government of Saudi Arabia.”

The other signatories on the letter included Senators Bob Corker (Tennessee) and Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey), who are, respectively the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), who is ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs (of which Graham, himself is chairman). In addition, a number of other legislators, both Democratic and Republican, added their names to the correspondence.

In addition, an October 16 report by Bloomberg noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky)—who has supported Trump on every major policy effort, from deconstructing Obamacare to the tax bill to the Supreme Court nomination— said the disappearance and possible murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi looks “extremely disturbing” but the United States needs to determine what role Saudi Arabia’s government may have played before responding.

“Clearly we need to find out what happened before deciding what action should be taken,” McConnell said Tuesday in an interview with Bloomberg News. “I can’t imagine if what we think happened, that we would take no action.”

Asked whether that action would include halting arms sales to the Saudis, McConnell said he’s not ready to say which form of action he would take. He that the president did “the right thing” by sending Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to Saudi Arabia on October 15 to meet with King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

Research contact: @DonnaAN1

‘All-out’ effort: Trump blocks immigration; sets cap at 30,000 for 2019

September 20, 2018

Abandon hope, all ye who would enter here: President Donald Trump plans to cap the number of refugees allowed into the United States over the next year at 30,000, the administration announced on September 17. That represents an historic low for the program, which resettles foreigners fleeing from war, violence, and persecution.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the changes, according to a report by BuzzFeed —saying the cut reflected the “daunting operational reality” of processing the growing backlog of U.S. asylum claims.

“In consideration of both U.S. national security interest and the urgent need to restore integrity to our overwhelmed asylum system, the United States will focus on addressing the humanitarian protection cases of those already in the country,” Pompeo said.

The cap, which will go into effect in October, is the lowest it has been since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, which standardized resettlement services nationwide. Once the ceiling is reached in fiscal year 2019, America will no longer allow refugees to enter the country — even if they meet the requirements of the program.

The refugee resettlement cuts represent the latest in a long series of efforts by Trump to deter both legal and illegal immigration, BuzzFeed said. Just weeks after taking office in 2017 the POTUS fulfilled his campaign promise of “extreme vetting”suspending the refugee program entirely for 120 days, part of a broader executive order banning travel and immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries.

Since then, the president has scaled back refugee admissions dramatically, lowering the refugee cap to 45,000 in 2018, down from 110,000 the previous year. And with two weeks to go in the fiscal year, the administration has admitted just 20,918 refugees — less than half the number allowed under the current cap.

In a statement on September 18,  Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the of the Senate Judiciary Committee, chastised the Trump administration for not consulting with Congress before setting the cap, saying, “While I appreciate the administration’s commitment to protecting national security and public safety by proposing a refugee cap…it is imperative the agencies abide by their statutory mandate to consult with Congress before any number is proposed. Yet, for the second year in a row, the administration has willfully ignored its statutory mandate to inform and consult with Congress, including designated members of both the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, about the number of refugees to be admitted during the next fiscal year.”

Federal law requires an in-person consultation with Congress by a cabinet official before any presidential determination can be issued. Last year, Grassley and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-California) also rebuked the administration for a lack of consultation ahead of the annual refugee cap announcement.

Research contact: michelle@buzzfeed.com