Wednesday, January 19, 2022

November 19, 2019   WASHINGTON (AP) — Sought by Republicans to testify, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine spoke up instead for Democrat Joe Biden in Tuesday’s impeachment hearings, rejecting “conspiracy theories” embraced by President Donald Trump and some of his allies.

Kurt Volker said he has known Biden as an honorable man for more than two decades, rebuffing debunked corruption allegations that Trump is said to have wanted the Ukrainians to investigate in exchange for military aid to hold off Russian aggression.

“The allegations against Vice President Biden are self-serving and non-credible,” Volker declared.

Broader corruption in Ukraine was “plausible,” but corruption by Biden wasn’t, he said.

Volker testified alongside former White House national security official Tim Morrison in the second hearing of the day in the House’s impeachment inquiry, only the fourth in history against a U.S. president.

Morrison, also requested by GOP members on the House Intelligence Committee, said at the outset that he was not there to question the “character or integrity” of any of his colleagues, though earlier Tuesday Republican lawmakers used his prior comments to try to discredit another witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman. The White House even circulated a tweet that was an earlier quote by Morrison questioning Vindman’s judgment.

Democrats say there may be grounds for impeachment in Trump’s push for Ukraine’s new leadership to investigate his Democratic rival and the 2016 U.S. election as he withheld military assistance approved by Congress.

Trump says he did nothing wrong and dismissed the hearings as a “kangaroo court.”

Volker was the first person to come behind closed doors in the inquiry that started in September, resigning his position shortly before he did so.

Since then, a parade of witnesses has testified publicly and privately about what they recalled about the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine’s new leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Many of those statements cast doubt on Volker’s account that he didn’t know the Ukraine gas company Burisma was tied to Biden, and that he wasn’t aware of a possible quid pro quo offered by Trump.

A number of White House and State Department officials were listening to the call, but Volker was not.

On Tuesday, he said he opposed any hold on security assistance. And he said, “I did not understand that others believed that any investigation of the Ukrainian company, Burisma, which had a history of accusations of corruption, was tantamount to investigating Vice President Biden. I drew a distinction between the two.”

Even though, he said, he understood that Biden’s son Hunter had been a board member -- and he himself had been deeply involved with Ukrainian officials on a statement, never released, that would have committed the country to investigating Burisma and the 2016 U.S. election.

Volker himself requested a meeting on July 19 with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, at which Giuliani mentioned accusations about the Bidens as well as the discredited theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

He said he believes now, thanks to hindsight and the testimony of other witnesses, that Trump was using the aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden and his role on the company’s board.

“In retrospect I should have seen that connection differently, and had I done so, I would have raised my own objections,” Volker testified.

Yet he also acknowledged that Trump never told him he was withholding aid for Ukraine unless there were investigations. He also said Ukrainians never told him that they wouldn’t get a White House visit or military aid without committing to investigations. He said he would have objected had the president asked him to get Ukraine to do investigations.

Morrison, who stepped down from Trump’s National Security Council shortly before he appeared behind closed doors last month, said he was not concerned that anything illegal was discussed on Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s leader, testimony that Republicans have repeatedly highlighted.

“As I stated during my deposition, I feared at the time of the call on July 25th how its disclosure would play in Washington’s political climate,” he said Tuesday. “My fears have been realized.”

He told lawmakers Tuesday that the transcript of the call was incorrectly placed in a highly secure location.

Democrats have seen ill intent in that action, but he said, “It was a mistake ... an administrative error.”

Morrison has confirmed to investigators that he witnessed a key September conversation in Warsaw between Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and a Ukrainian official. Sondland told the official that U.S. aid might be freed if the country’s top prosecutor “would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation,” Morrison said in previous closed-door testimony.

Volker shifted his account of a pivotal July 10 interaction at the White House. In his closed-door interview last month, he said there was no discussion of Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine or investigations sought by the president.

But on Tuesday, he said the meeting was essentially over when Sondland made a “general” comment about investigations.

“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 another envoy 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.”

Volker also said a senior aide to Zelenskiy approached him last summer to ask to be connected to Giuliani. He said he made clear to the Zelenskiy aide, Andriy Yermak, that Giuliani was a private citizen and not a representative of the U.S. government.

He testified he wasn’t part of an irregular foreign policy channel led Giuliani, as others have testified. He also rejected the idea that Trump dubbed him, Sondland and Energy Secretary Rick Perry the “three amigos” in charge of Ukraine policy.

“My role was not some irregular channel, but the official channel,” Volker said.

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Entertainment

September 7, 2021  NEW YORK (AP) — Actor Michael K. Williams, who as the rogue robber of drug dealers Omar Little on “The Wire” created one of the most beloved and enduring characters in a prime era of television, died Monday. Williams was found dead Monday afternoon by family members in his Brooklyn penthouse apartment, New York City police said. He was 54. His death was being investigated as a possible drug overdose, the NYPD said. The medical examiner was investigating the cause of death. Little, a “stick-up boy” based on real figures from Baltimore, was probably the most popular character among the devoted fans of “The Wire,” the HBO show that ran from 2002 to 2008 and is re-watched constantly in streaming.

September 8, 2021 LOS ANGELES (AP) — Britney Spears’ father filed Tuesday to end the court conservatorship that has controlled the singer’s life and money for 13 years. James Spears filed his petition to terminate the conservatorship in Los Angeles Superior Court. “As Mr. Spears has said, again and again, all he wants is what is best for his daughter,” the document says. “If Ms. Spears wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr. Spears believes that she should get that chance.” Judge Brenda Penny, who oversees the case, will need to approve the move. Britney Spears attorney Matthew Rosengart said in an email the filing “represents another legal victory for Britney Spears — a massive one — as well as vindication for Ms. Spears.”

September 8, 2021  NEW YORK (AP) — With Katie Holmes and Lil’ Kim on his front row and singer Marina on the mic high above his runway, Christian Siriano helped kicked off New York Fashion Week’s first big pandemic round of in-person shows Tuesday with a flurry of neon and lace-inspired in part by all the Italian women in his life. From ornate Gotham Hall, beneath a stained-glass skylight 70 feet up, Siriano’s commitment to size inclusivity was never stronger as he opened and closed the show with plus-size breakout model Precious Lee. She first walked in a stunning yellow trouser suit with wide loose pants and an asymmetrical jacket, a matching crossover bralette underneath.

September 7, 2021  VENICE, Italy (AP) — Paul Schrader knows he has a limited number of films left, so whatever he does from here on out is going to be for himself. At 75 years old, the writer of “Taxi Driver” and “Raging Bull” and director of “American Gigolo” and “Mishima” was even somewhat prepared to call it a day after his 2018 film “First Reformed,” for which he got his first Oscar nomination. He didn’t want to. He just knew it might be the reality. “I thought I would go back to this character again for about the fifth time,” Schrader said in a recent interview. By “this character” he means “the man in the room.” It’s Travis Bickle. It’s John LeTour. It’s Julian Kay. And it’s a formula he’s been working with for 45 years.

Business News

September 8, 2021  -Stocks were mostly lower in Asia on Wednesday after a lackluster session on Wall Street, where weak jobs data and pandemic concerns weighed on sentiment. Shares rose in Tokyo after economic growth for the April-June quarter was revised upward to an annualized 1.9% from an earlier estimate of 1.3%. “Any feel-good factor was ignored, though, given the climb was less than half of the 4.20% fall in Q1,” Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a commentary. “Japan will be lucky to break even this year as the current Covid-19 wave will almost certainly have weighed on domestic consumption,” he said.

September 8, 2021 NEW YORK (AP) — There will be something missing at two Whole Foods stores opening next year: the rows of cashiers. Amazon, which owns the grocery chain, said Wednesday that it will bring its cashier-less technology to two Whole Foods stores for the first time, letting shoppers grab what they need and leave without having to open their wallets. Cameras and sensors track what’s taken off shelves. Items are charged to an Amazon account after customers leave the store with them. But there will be an option for those who want to shop the old-fashioned way: Self-checkout lanes will be available that take cash, gift cards and other types of payment. Amazon first unveiled the cashier-less technology in 2018 at an Amazon Go convenience store and has expanded it to larger Amazon supermarkets. But it will be the first time it has appeared at Whole Foods, a chain of more than 500 grocery stores Amazon bought four years ago.

September 8, 2021  BEIJING (AP) — An avalanche of changes launched by China’s ruling Communist Party has jolted everyone from tech billionaires to school kids. Behind them: President Xi Jinping’s vision of making a more powerful, prosperous country by reviving revolutionary ideals, with more economic equality and tighter party control over society and entrepreneurs. Since taking power in 2012, Xi has called for the party to return to its “original mission” as China’s economic, social and cultural leader and carry out the “ rejuvenation of the great Chinese nation.” The party has spent the decade since then silencing dissent and tightening political control. Now, after 40 years of growth that transformed China into the world’s factory but left a gulf between a wealthy elite and the poor majority, the party is promising to spread prosperity more evenly and is pressing private companies to pay for social welfare and back Beijing’s ambition to become a global technology competitor.

Fashion News

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