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Inquiry into deaths of former soldier and his Nova Scotia family adjourned

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 10:35
GUYSBOROUGH, N.S. - An inquiry set to open today in the case of Lionel Desmond, the Afghan war veteran who killed his mother, wife and daughter before turning the weapon on himself in early 2017, has adjourned before hearing any testimony. Lawyers, government officials and relatives had gathered in a Guysborough, N.S., municipal building for the inquiry that also aims to determine what can be done to prevent similar tragedies. But the commissioner overseeing the inquiry, provincial court Judge Warren Zimmer, announced that he had received a request for an adjournment Friday from the newly appointed lawyer for the family of Desmond’s wife. He agreed to postpone the hearings until early in the new year, saying it would be unfair to proceed as scheduled without giving the family’s lawyer time to prepare. Desmond, a 33-year-old retired corporal who lived in Upper Big Tracadie, N.S., had been diagnosed with PTSD after two violent tours in Afghanistan in 2007. In the months after the murder-suicide, relatives said he never got the help he needed before Jan. 3, 2017, the day Desmond bought a gun and shot his wife Shanna, 31, their 10-year-daughter Aaliyah, his mother Brenda, 52, and himself. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2019. The Canadian Press

Police say several wounded in shooting at Oklahoma Walmart

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 10:32
DUNCAN, Okla. - Local media are reporting that several people have been injured in a shooting at a Walmart store in Oklahoma. Fox 25 TV reports that police say three people were shot and wounded Monday morning at the store in Duncan, Oklahoma. A dispatcher tells The Associated Press that "everyone is at the scene." The Associated Press

Tory Sen. Dagenais quits caucus over Scheer’s socially conservative views

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 10:24
OTTAWA - Conservative Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais is leaving his party’s caucus over concerns about leader Andrew Scheer’s socially conservative views and will join a newly-formed group of independent senators in the upper chamber. In a statement Monday, Dagenais said Scheer’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage led to a “mass exodus” of support in the province of Quebec, effectively ending the chances of electing more candidates there. There’s no possibility things will change in time for the next election, Dagenais said. “We have wasted a unique opportunity and the result will be the same the next time if the current leader and those who advise him remain in office as is the case at this time,” Dagenais said. He said his opinions would make it inappropriate for him to continue to participate in the Conservative caucus, but he intends to remain a member of the party. The Canadian Senators Group was formed earlier this month by 11 senators seeking to ensure regional issues get their due. The majority of its members have links to the Conservative party, but the group also announced Monday that Sen. Percy Downe, who was appointed as a Liberal, was joining its ranks. Downe had previously been one of the last members of the Senate Liberal caucus. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had severed all ties with the group in 2014, and upon forming government had appointed senators only as independents. Last week, the remaining members of the Liberal caucus had also rebranded themselves as the Progressive Senate Group. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2019.   The Canadian Press

Tory Sen. Dagenais quits caucus over Scheer’s socially conservative views

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 10:00
OTTAWA - Conservative Sen. Jean-Guy Dagenais is leaving his party’s caucus over concerns about leader Andrew Scheer’s socially conservative views. Dagenais says he’ll remain a member of the party, but he’s going to sit with the newly-formed Canadian Senators Group in the upper chamber. Dagenais says Scheer’s views on abortion and same-sex marriage led to a “mass exodus” of support in the province of Quebec and that he thinks there’s no possibility things will change in time for the next election. He says given his opinions, it would be inappropriate for him to continue to participate in the Conservative caucus. The Canadian Senators Group was formed earlier this month by 11 senators seeking to ensure regional issues get their due. The majority of its members have links to the Conservative party, but Sen. Percy Downe, who was appointed as a Liberal, was also announced as a new member of the group today. This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2019.   The Canadian Press

Pelosi invites Trump to testify as new witnesses prepare

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 09:58
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. On Monday, Trump tweeted he might be willing to offer written testimony: "She also said I could do it in writing. Even though I did nothing wrong, and don't like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!" Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump "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 co-operating 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 co-operating 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 defence 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 defence, 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 defence 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. Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

AP Exclusive: US officials knew of Ukraine’s Trump anxiety

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 09:45
WASHINGTON - Despite his denials, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was feeling pressure from the Trump administration to investigate former Vice-President Joe Biden before his July phone call with President Donald Trump that has led to impeachment hearings. In early May, staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, including then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, were briefed on a meeting Zelenskiy held in which he sought advice on how to navigate the difficult position he was in, according to two people with knowledge of the briefings. He was concerned that Trump and associates were pressing him to take action that could affect the 2020 U.S. presidential race, the people said. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic and political sensitivity of the issue. The briefings show that U.S. officials knew early that Zelenskiy was feeling pressure to investigate Biden, even though the Ukrainian leader later denied it in a joint news conference with Trump in September. The officials said in their notes circulated internally at the State Department that Zelenskiy tried to mask the real purpose of the May 7 meeting __ which was to talk about political problems with the White House __ by saying it was about energy, the two people said. Congressional Republicans have pointed to that public Zelenskiy statement to argue that he felt no pressure to open an investigation, and therefore the Democrats' allegations that led to the impeachment hearings are misplaced. "Both presidents expressly have stated there was no pressure, no demand, no conditions, no blackmail, no corruption," one Republican lawmaker, John Ratcliffe of Texas, argued on the first day of public hearings last week. The central allegation in the impeachment inquiry is that Trump, through his allies, demanded that Ukraine, which is fending off Russian aggression, launch an investigation that would benefit him politically in exchange for crucial military and strategic support. Witnesses have detailed, in closed-door depositions and public impeachment hearings, that allies of Trump pressed Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son while withholding military aid and a coveted meeting between the newly elected Zelenskiy and Trump. The U.S. briefings - and contemporaneous notes on Zelenskiy's early anxiety about Trump's interest in an investigation - suggest that Democrats have evidence in reach to contradict Republican arguments that Zelenskiy never felt pressure to investigate Biden. The Associated Press reported last month about Zelenskiy's meeting on May 7 with, two top aides, as well as Andriy Kobolyev, head of the state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz, and Amos Hochstein, an American who sits on the Ukrainian company's supervisory board. Ahead of the meeting, Hochstein told Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador, why he was being called in. He separately briefed two U.S. Embassy officials, Suriya Jayanti and Joseph Pennington, about Zelenskiy's concerns, said the two people who spoke to the AP. Jayanti and Pennington took notes on the meeting, the people said. After the meeting, Hochstein told the embassy officials about Zelenskiy's concerns and then travelled to Washington to update Yovanovitch on the meeting. The ambassador, who was facing a smear campaign, had just been called back to Washington, where she was informed that she no longer had the confidence of the president. She was relieved of her duties as ambassador on May 20. Jayanti was also one of three witnesses to a phone call in which Trump discussed his interest in an investigation of Biden with his ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. The call occurred while Sondland was having lunch with three embassy officials in Kyiv. David Holmes, political counsel at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, has already detailed to House investigators what he overheard. Jayanti and the third witness, Tara Maher, have not been interviewed. Hochstein, a former diplomat who advised Biden on Ukraine matters during the Obama administration, has also not been questioned in the impeachment proceedings. The Republican arguments about Zelenskiy's lack of concern stem from a Sept. 25 joint media appearance by the American and Ukrainian leaders in which Zelenskiy discussed the July call with Trump that effectively launched the impeachment inquiry. The appearance came shortly after Trump released a rough transcript of the call. "You heard that we had, I think, good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. And I - so I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed - pushed me," Zelenskiy said in the appearance with Trump on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. "In other words, no pressure," Trump spoke up to add. In the impeachment hearings, Democrats have countered that Zelenskiy's public comments came when he was trying to calm the waters with the U.S. president in the immediate wake of the transcript's release. The burgeoning scandal has brought further uncertainty for Ukraine with its most important Western partner as the country faces simmering conflict with Russia. Zelenskiy's May 7 meeting suggests that he had been concerned about U.S. support from the start. ___ Follow Associated Press investigative reporters Desmond Butler at https://twitter.com/desmondbutler , Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck Desmond Butler And Michael Biesecker, The Associated Press

Campus under siege as Hong Kong police battle protesters

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 09:44
HONG KONG - As night fell on Hong Kong, police tightened their siege of a university campus where hundreds of protesters were trapped in the latest dramatic episode in months of protests against growing Chinese control over the semi-autonomous city. The Asian financial centre's work week began Monday with multiple protests that disrupted traffic, while schools remained closed because of safety concerns stemming from the demonstrations, which began in June but have become increasingly violent in recent weeks. The pitched battle for control of the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University has been the centre of the most recent developments. For days, protesters have fortified the campus to keep out the police. Now cornered by police determined to arrest them, they desperately tried to get out but faced a cordon of officers armed with tear gas and water cannons. Officers repelled one escape attempt Monday morning with tear gas, driving hundreds of protesters back onto the campus. Later, huge crowds of supporters advanced on foot toward the police from outside the cordon to try to disrupt the police operation. Some protesters descended by ropes from a footbridge to a road below, where they were met by motorbike riders helping them flee as police fired teargas at them. It was unclear whether they got away safely. Senior government officials said they were trying to de-escalate the situation and urged the protesters to peacefully leave the campus and co-operate with police - advice that seemed certain to lead to arrests and therefore strengthened the protesters' resolve to resist. Local council elections scheduled for Sunday are now at risk of being delayed because of the unrest, said Patrick Nip, Hong Kong's secretary for constitutional affairs. "The situation in the past weekend has obviously reduced the chance of holding the election as scheduled. And I am very anxious about this," Nip said, adding that the government "won't take this step unless absolutely necessary." Riot officers broke in one entrance before dawn as fires raged inside and outside the school, but they didn't appear to get very far. Fiery explosions could be seen as protesters responded with gasoline bombs. Police, who have warned that everyone in the area could be charged with rioting, reportedly made a handful of arrests. The give-and-take has played out repeatedly during the city's months of anti-government unrest. The protesters want to avoid arrest. The police want to pick up as many as they can. "These rioters, they are also criminals. They have to face the consequences of their acts," said Cheuk Hau-yip, the commander of Kowloon West district, where Polytechnic is located. "Other than coming out to surrender, I don't see, at the moment, there's any viable option for them," he said. Cheuk said police have the ability and resolve to end the standoff peacefully so protesters should not "try their luck." While both sides dug in at the campus, protest supporters rallied in nearby districts across Kowloon as they attempted to get close to the police cordon to disrupt the law enforcement operation and help those trapped inside. But they were met at multiple locations by riot police firing tear gas, turning the busy streets teeming with apartment blocks into a battle zone. Protesters won on a legal front on Monday when the high court struck down a mask ban imposed by the government last month. The court said it did not consider anti-mask laws unconstitutional in general, but in this case, the law infringed on fundamental rights further than was reasonably necessary. Many protesters wear masks to shield their identities from surveillance cameras that could be used to arrest and prosecute them. The ban has been widely ignored, and police have charged protesters with wearing masks. The protests started peacefully in early June, sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland. But by the time the bill was withdrawn, the protests had hardened and broadened into a resistance movement against the territory's government and Beijing. Activists see the extradition bill as an example of Hong Kong's eroding autonomy under Beijing's rule since the 1997 handover from colonial power Britain. The head of a nationalistic Chinese newspaper said Hong Kong police should use snipers to fire live ammunition at violent protesters. "If the rioters are killed, the police should not have to bear legal responsibility," Global Times editor Hu Xijin wrote on his Weibo social media account. Anti-government protesters barricaded themselves inside Polytechnic last week. Police surrounded the area Sunday night and began moving in after issuing an ultimatum for people to leave the area. The crowd wore raincoats and carried umbrellas to shield themselves from police water cannons. At daybreak, protesters remained in control of most of the campus. In one outdoor area, some demonstrators made gasoline bombs while others dozed while wearing gas masks. Two walked about with bows and quivers of arrows, while many stared at their smartphones. "We are exhausted because we were up since 5 a.m. yesterday," said a protester who gave only his first name, Matthew. "We are desperate because our supplies are running low." A lull settled on the area as the president of the university said in a video message that police have agreed to suspend their use of force. Jin-Guang Teng said police would allow protesters to leave and he would accompany them to the police station to ensure their cases would be processed fairly. "I hope that you will accept the proposed temporary suspension of force and leave the campus in a peaceful manner," he said. It seemed unlikely the protesters would accept the offer given that they would all likely be arrested. A few hundred streamed out of the campus about 8:15 a.m. in an apparent bid to escape, but they were driven back by police tear gas. Some wearing gas masks calmly picked up smoking tear gas canisters and dropped them into heavy-duty bags, but the protesters decided to retreat with a phalanx of officers lined up across the road in the distance. Other protesters blocked a major road not far from the Polytechnic campus to distract police and help those inside the campus escape. They tossed paving stones onto stretches of Nathan Road as police chased them with tear gas. An injured woman arrested at a Nathan Road intersection for participating in an unlawful assembly escaped after protesters stopped her ambulance and hurled rocks and bricks inside. One police officer fired three warning shots, a statement on the police Facebook page said. Police issued a "wanted" notice for the 20-year-old woman and said anyone who aided her could be charged with assisting an offender, which can be punished by up to 10 years in prison. The road closure added to transport woes during the morning commute, with several train stations still closed because of damage by protesters last week and a section of one line closed completely near Polytechnic. The Education Bureau announced that classes from kindergarten to high school would be suspended for the sixth straight day Tuesday because of safety concerns. Most classes are expected to resume Wednesday, except for kindergarten and classes for the disabled, which are suspended until Sunday, the bureau said. ___ Associated Press journalist Dake Kang contributed to this report. Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press

Camel, cow, donkey found roaming together along Kansas road

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 09:43
GODDARD, Kan. - Authorities have found the owners of a camel, cow and donkey that were spotted roaming together along a Kansas road in a grouping reminiscent of a Christmas Nativity scene. Police in Goddard had asked for help over the weekend in a Facebook post locating the owners of the "three friends travelling together (towards a Northern star)." The post said that if police couldn't find the owners, they would be "halfway toward a live nativity this Christmas season." No details were provided about the owners. And no one was immediately available at the police department to answer questions. Amid the search, one poster inquired, "Are there 3 wise looking men near?" Another said, "who knows, they may lead you to the second coming." Goddard is about 15 miles (24 kilometres) west of Wichita. The Associated Press

Trudeau’s cabinet choices have domino effect on House of Commons work

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 09:40
OTTAWA - As Prime Minister Justin Trudeau settles on his choices for his new cabinet this week, he'll need to deny high-profile executive posts to some MPs in his government and ask them to take on the often unsung roles in the House of Commons that will be critical to keeping the Liberals in power and their agenda moving. In a minority government, the jobs of government house leader, chief whip and committee chairs will be far more important than they were when Trudeau commanded a majority in the Commons. Those roles are often filled after cabinet is chosen, but with a minority government, Trudeau must consider who will fill them at the same time, said Kevin Bosch, a vice president at Hill and Knowlton and a longtime Liberal staffer well versed with the ins and outs of how Parliament functions. "There is skill in managing things in Parliament," Bosch said. "In the past, where you may have looked more at geography and other demographics, you better start by finding folks who you know can get the job done in a minority government." Trudeau has tried two different kinds of House leaders: an old hand, Dominic LeBlanc, who has been an MP since 2000, was the first one he chose in 2015. But he was shuffled after a rocky nine months of escalating tensions with the opposition parties. Next up was a relative rookie, Bardish Chagger, first elected in 2015 and who had long faced questions about her ability to function in French. Both bilingualism and strong negotiating skills are essential in this minority situation, said Bosch. The house leader's task is to negotiate with other parties on how the Commons functions, which is paramount in a minority situation where being on top of those relationships can keep the government from being brought down. With the Bloc Quebecois having 32 seats in this Parliament, a fluently-bilingual house leader will also be a near imperative. "If you have to do everything in translation, it's hard to create a relationship, build the rapport that you might need to get things done across the aisle," Bosch said. The whip makes sure the MPs are there for the votes, and in a minority, every one of those is going to matter. "You need someone who is skilled and diligent and isn't guessing but is sure they have the numbers when they say they have the numbers," he said. Then there are the committees. For any piece of legislation to get passed in the 43rd Parliament, it first must pass through a committee where the government no longer has the upper hand. Anthony Housefather, a Liberal MP who was the chair of the last justice committee, points out that in a majority situation, if the Opposition were proposing amendments to a bill, the majority on the committee didn't need to listen. Things are different now, he said. Amendments could easily turn into bargaining chips for getting a government bill passed and the chair's role will mutate, he said. "You're going to need in a minority parliament to spend even more time to make sure that you have the support of at least some of the other parties and so there's going to be a lot more discussion and seeking agreement when it comes to bills," he said. Former NDP MP Nathan Cullen, a veteran of the minority Parliaments of the Conservative years, he said he loved committee work during those times, calling it far more democratic and engaging. "Power is inherently shared more and those that can negotiate best will have the most influence - not just those with the most members on a committee," he said. Under both the Conservative and Liberal majorities, Cullen points out, the government was able to shut down motions concerning ethical violations. In a minority situation, those types of investigations are in play, he suggested. That's something already on the Conservatives' radar as they too seek to organize their front benches in response to the minority scenario. During the election campaign, leader Andrew Scheer made much of the fact that efforts by Parliamentary committees to probe deeper into the SNC-Lavalin affair were thwarted by majority might. During an interview with The Canadian Press right after the election, Scheer said the Opposition intends to use their increased power in this minority situation. "I believe in parliament, I believe in the work of parliamentarians," Scheer said. "And what we saw in the previous government was a lot of things were just rubber stamped through committees. So we're going to make sure we respect the results of the election, but at the same time understand that committees can play a very important role in a minority government." Stephanie Levitz, The Canadian Press

Campus under siege as Hong Kong police battle protesters

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 09:31
HONG KONG - As night fell on Hong Kong, police tightened their siege of a university campus where hundreds of protesters were trapped in the latest dramatic episode in months of protests against growing Chinese control over the semi-autonomous city. The Asian financial centre's work week began Monday with multiple protests that disrupted traffic, while schools remained closed because of safety concerns stemming from the demonstrations, which began in June but have become increasingly violent in recent weeks. The pitched battle for control of the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University has been the centre of the most recent developments. For days, protesters have fortified the campus to keep out the police. Now cornered by police determined to arrest them, they desperately tried to get out but faced a cordon of officers armed with tear gas and water cannons. Officers repelled one escape attempt Monday morning with tear gas, driving hundreds of protesters back onto the campus. Later, huge crowds of supporters advanced on foot toward the police from outside the cordon to try to disrupt the police operation. Some protesters descended by ropes from a footbridge to a road below, where they were met by motorbike riders helping them flee as police fired teargas at them. It was unclear whether they got away safely. Senior government officials said they were trying to de-escalate the situation and urged the protesters to peacefully leave the campus and co-operate with police - advice that seemed certain to lead to arrests and therefore strengthened the protesters' resolve to resist. Local council elections scheduled for Sunday are now at risk of being delayed because of the unrest, said Patrick Nip, Hong Kong's secretary for constitutional affairs. "The situation in the past weekend has obviously reduced the chance of holding the election as scheduled. And I am very anxious about this," Nip said, adding that the government "won't take this step unless absolutely necessary." Riot officers broke in one entrance before dawn as fires raged inside and outside the school, but they didn't appear to get very far. Fiery explosions could be seen as protesters responded with gasoline bombs. Police, who have warned that everyone in the area could be charged with rioting, reportedly made a handful of arrests. The give-and-take has played out repeatedly during the city's months of anti-government unrest. The protesters want to avoid arrest. The police want to pick up as many as they can. "These rioters, they are also criminals. They have to face the consequences of their acts," said Cheuk Hau-yip, the commander of Kowloon West district, where Polytechnic is located. "Other than coming out to surrender, I don't see, at the moment, there's any viable option for them," he said. Cheuk said police have the ability and resolve to end the standoff peacefully so protesters should not "try their luck." Protesters won on a legal front on Monday when the high court struck down a mask ban imposed by the government last month. The court said it did not consider anti-mask laws unconstitutional in general, but in this case, the law infringed on fundamental rights further than was reasonably necessary. Many protesters wear masks to shield their identities from surveillance cameras that could be used to arrest and prosecute them. The ban has been widely ignored, and police have charged protesters with wearing masks. The protests started peacefully in early June, sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland. But by the time the bill was withdrawn, the protests had hardened and broadened into a resistance movement against the territory's government and Beijing. Activists see the extradition bill as an example of Hong Kong's eroding autonomy under Beijing's rule since the 1997 handover from colonial power Britain. The head of a nationalistic Chinese newspaper said Hong Kong police should use snipers to fire live ammunition at violent protesters. "If the rioters are killed, the police should not have to bear legal responsibility," Global Times editor Hu Xijin wrote on his Weibo social media account. Anti-government protesters barricaded themselves inside Polytechnic last week. Police surrounded the area Sunday night and began moving in after issuing an ultimatum for people to leave the area. The crowd wore raincoats and carried umbrellas to shield themselves from police water cannons. At daybreak, protesters remained in control of most of the campus. In one outdoor area, some demonstrators made gasoline bombs while others dozed while wearing gas masks. Two walked about with bows and quivers of arrows, while many stared at their smartphones. "We are exhausted because we were up since 5 a.m. yesterday," said a protester who gave only his first name, Matthew. "We are desperate because our supplies are running low." A lull settled on the area as the president of the university said in a video message that police have agreed to suspend their use of force. Jin-Guang Teng said police would allow protesters to leave and he would accompany them to the police station to ensure their cases would be processed fairly. "I hope that you will accept the proposed temporary suspension of force and leave the campus in a peaceful manner," he said. It seemed unlikely the protesters would accept the offer given that they would all likely be arrested. A few hundred streamed out of the campus about 8:15 a.m. in an apparent bid to escape, but they were driven back by police tear gas. Some wearing gas masks calmly picked up smoking tear gas canisters and dropped them into heavy-duty bags, but the protesters decided to retreat with a phalanx of officers lined up across the road in the distance. Other protesters blocked a major road not far from the Polytechnic campus to distract police and help those inside the campus escape. They tossed paving stones onto stretches of Nathan Road as police chased them with tear gas. An injured woman arrested at a Nathan Road intersection for participating in an unlawful assembly escaped after protesters stopped her ambulance and hurled rocks and bricks inside. One police officer fired three warning shots, a statement on the police Facebook page said. Police issued a "wanted" notice for the 20-year-old woman and said anyone who aided her could be charged with assisting an offender, which can be punished by up to 10 years in prison. The road closure added to transport woes during the morning commute, with several train stations still closed because of damage by protesters last week and a section of one line closed completely near Polytechnic. The Education Bureau announced that classes from kindergarten to high school would be suspended for the sixth straight day Tuesday because of safety concerns. Most classes are expected to resume Wednesday, except for kindergarten and classes for the disabled, which are suspended until Sunday, the bureau said. ___ Associated Press journalist Dake Kang contributed to this report. Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press

Pelosi invites Trump to testify as new witnesses prepare

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 09:17
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. On Monday, Trump tweeted he might be willing to offer written testimony: "She also said I could do it in writing. Even though I did nothing wrong, and don't like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!" Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Trump "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 co-operating 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 co-operating 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 defence 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 defence, 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 defence 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. Jill Colvin, The Associated Press

Cold, stormy winter forecast across much of Canada, The Weather Network predicts

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 09:09
It's going to be a long, cold and messy winter across much of Canada, according to the seasonal forecast released Monday by the Weather Network. November has already brought historically early snowfall in southern Ontario and power outages in the Prairies, setting what chief meteorologist Chris Scott said will be a trend throughout the winter. "The upcoming winter across the country looks to be more frozen than thawed, and we've already seen an early entrance of winter weather this fall," he said. "The signs that we're seeing this year do suggest we're in for a winter that's more on than off across the country - and that it's going to be fairly long for many Canadians." But things are looking a little better in British Columbia, where Scott said temperatures will be slightly above normal and precipitation will be just below normal. However, he said there may still be a two-week period where winter shows up out of the blue on the Pacific coast. Conditions will also likely be favourable in British Columbia's ski areas, despite the slightly higher temperatures. In Alberta, Scott said, there will be above-normal precipitation in the south, with especially frigid temperatures throughout the province. The trend of a deep freeze will continue through Saskatchewan and Manitoba. That's especially the case in the southern parts of the Prairies, where Scott said he expects cold air to anchor down for the season. From southern Ontario to southern Quebec, Scott said, people can prepare for a winter that's colder than usual and has much more precipitation than normal. He expects it to be stormy throughout Quebec and Ontario, but said that there will be a mix of precipitation. That means rain could often wash out snow after large dumps, and that there could be potential for icy conditions "Once we settle into winter, it does not look like an early spring," Scott said, saying that winter in Ontario and Quebec will be a slog towards the end. In fact, Scott said, all the provinces east of Manitoba will likely face a prolonged winter season. Spring weather is only forecasted to arrive in late March or early April. In Atlantic Canada, Scott predicted it won't be bitterly cold, but it will be a very stormy season. "It's going to be a real mess depending on where you are," he said. There will likely be lots of snow in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, Scott said, while in Nova Scotia it will be a mix of snow, ice and rain. In Newfoundland and Labrador, Scott said, snowfall will be average. Scott said Nunavut and the Northwest Territories will likely experience average winter conditions, which bucks a recent trend of warmer-than-usual winters in the Far North. "In years past we've seen the climate change signal where we get warmer-than-normal winters, and that's something we're going to see for years and decades to come," Scott said. But he said that this year is an exception, especially because near the North Pole, colder air tends to trend near Nunavut as opposed to near Russia and Scandinavia. But in Yukon, the winter will likely be warmer than normal, Scott added. Yukon and British Columbia are also the only parts of the country where spring could show up early in 2020. Scott said the rest of the country should get ready for a harsh and prolonged season. Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press  

Campus under siege as Hong Kong police battle protesters

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 08:57
HONG KONG - As night fell on Hong Kong, police tightened their siege of a university campus where hundreds of protesters were trapped in the latest dramatic episode in months of protests against growing Chinese control over the semi-autonomous city. The city's work week began Monday with multiple protests that disrupted traffic, while schools remained closed because of safety concerns stemming from the demonstrations, which began in June but have become increasingly violent in recent weeks. The pitched battle for control of the campus of Hong Kong Polytechnic University has been the centre of the most recent developments. For days, protesters have fortified the campus to keep out the police. Now cornered by police determined to arrest them, they desperately tried to get out but faced a cordon of officers armed with tear gas and water cannons. Officers repelled one escape attempt Monday morning with tear gas, driving hundreds of protesters back onto the campus. Later, huge crowds of supporters advanced on foot toward the police from outside the cordon to try to disrupt the police operation. Some protesters abseiled off a footbridge to a road below, where they were met by motorbike riders helping them flee. It was unclear whether they got away safely. Senior government officials said they were trying to de-escalate the situation and urged the protesters to peacefully leave the campus and co-operate with police - advice that seemed certain to lead to arrests and therefore strengthened the protesters' resolve to resist. Riot officers broke in one entrance before dawn as fires raged inside and outside the school, but they didn't appear to get very far. Fiery explosions could be seen as protesters responded with gasoline bombs. Police, who have warned that everyone in the area could be charged with rioting, reportedly made a handful of arrests. The give-and-take has played out repeatedly during the city's months of anti-government unrest. The protesters want to avoid arrest. The police want to pick up as many as they can. "These rioters, they are also criminals. They have to face the consequences of their acts," said Cheuk Hau-yip, the commander of Kowloon West district, where Polytechnic is located. "Other than coming out to surrender, I don't see, at the moment, there's any viable option for them," he said. Cheuk said police have the ability and resolve to end the standoff peacefully so protesters should not "try their luck." Protesters won on a legal front on Monday when the high court struck down a mask ban imposed by the government last month. The court said it did not consider anti-mask laws unconstitutional in general, but in this case, the law infringed on fundamental rights further than was reasonably necessary. Many protesters wear masks to shield their identities from surveillance cameras that could be used to arrest and prosecute them. The ban has been widely ignored, and police have charged protesters with wearing masks. The protests started peacefully in early June, sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland. But by the time the bill was withdrawn, the protests had hardened and broadened into a resistance movement against the territory's government and Beijing. Activists see the extradition bill as an example of Hong Kong's eroding autonomy under Beijing's rule since the 1997 handover from colonial power Britain. The head of a nationalistic Chinese newspaper said Hong Kong police should use snipers to fire live ammunition at violent protesters. "If the rioters are killed, the police should not have to bear legal responsibility," Global Times editor Hu Xijin wrote on his Weibo social media account. Anti-government protesters barricaded themselves inside Polytechnic last week. Police surrounded the area Sunday night and began moving in after issuing an ultimatum for people to leave the area. The crowd wore raincoats and carried umbrellas to shield themselves from police water cannons. At daybreak, protesters remained in control of most of the campus. In one outdoor area, some demonstrators made gasoline bombs while others dozed while wearing gas masks. Two walked about with bows and quivers of arrows, while many stared at their smartphones. "We are exhausted because we were up since 5 a.m. yesterday," said a protester who gave only his first name, Matthew. "We are desperate because our supplies are running low." A lull settled on the area as the president of the university said in a video message that police have agreed to suspend their use of force. Jin-Guang Teng said police would allow protesters to leave and he would accompany them to the police station to ensure their cases would be processed fairly. "I hope that you will accept the proposed temporary suspension of force and leave the campus in a peaceful manner," he said. It seemed unlikely the protesters would accept the offer given that they would all likely be arrested. A few hundred streamed out of the campus about 8:15 a.m. in an apparent bid to escape, but they were driven back by police tear gas. Some wearing gas masks calmly picked up smoking tear gas canisters and dropped them into heavy-duty bags, but the protesters decided to retreat with a phalanx of officers lined up across the road in the distance. Other protesters blocked a major road not far from the Polytechnic campus to distract police and help those inside the campus escape. They tossed paving stones onto stretches of Nathan Road as police chased them with tear gas. An injured woman arrested at a Nathan Road intersection for participating in an unlawful assembly escaped after protesters stopped her ambulance and hurled rocks and bricks inside. One police officer fired three warning shots, a statement on the police Facebook page said. Police issued a "wanted" notice for the 20-year-old woman and said anyone who aided her could be charged with assisting an offender, which can be punished by up to 10 years in prison. The road closure added to transport woes during the morning commute, with several train stations still closed because of damage by protesters last week and a section of one line closed completely near Polytechnic. The Education Bureau announced that classes from kindergarten to high school would be suspended for the sixth straight day Tuesday because of safety concerns. Most classes are expected to resume Wednesday, except for kindergarten and classes for the disabled, which are suspended until Sunday, the bureau said. ___ Associated Press journalist Dake Kang contributed to this report. Ken Moritsugu, The Associated Press

Trudeau, king of Jordan meet to talk refugee issues, security concerns

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 08:54
OTTAWA - Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lauded the king of Jordan for his leadership in the Middle East during troubled times. Trudeau offered the tribute on Monday morning as he welcomed King Abdullah II on his fifth visit to Canada in his 20 years as leader of the strategically important Middle Eastern country that borders Syria and Iraq. “I really have to say that His Majesty has been extraordinary in being a strong leader at a time of so much uncertainty,” Trudeau told Abdullah after the two shook hands in his Parliament Hill office. “Whether it’s on refugees or human rights, economic growth and opportunities, you really have been a tremendous, tremendous strong voice.” Abdullah, clad in a dark business suit and red tie, said his country appreciated the “tremendous support” it has received from Canada on co-ordinating on refugee and regional issues, and “outstanding military and intelligence co-operation.” Upwards of 660,000 Syrians have sought shelter in neighbouring Jordan from the conflict engulfing their homeland, a massive influx for Jordan’s population of about 10 million Canada has tried to help ease the burden under a marquee Liberal program that originated in a campaign promise during the 2015 election. That year, Trudeau promised to bring 25,000 Syrians to Canada and it is four years ago this month in Jordan that the Liberal government kicked off a multi-billion-dollar program that would eventually see nearly 40,000 Syrians arrive. The Prime Minister’s Office said the two were scheduled to discuss the partnership between Canada and Jordan and efforts to promote diversity and counter violent extremism. They are also expected to discuss ongoing regional security concerns, exacerbated in recent weeks by the repeated violation of a ceasefire in the Syrian civil war. This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Nov. 18, 2019. The Canadian Press

Jon Voight, Alison Krauss honoured with national medals

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 08:53
WASHINGTON - Oscar-winning actor Jon Voight, singer and musician Alison Krauss and mystery writer James Patterson are among the artists and philanthropists being honoured by President Donald Trump for their contributions to the arts or the humanities, the first recipients of prestigious national medals since Trump took office. The White House announced four recipients of the National Medal of Arts and four of the National Humanities Medal in a statement Sunday night. Voight is one of Trump's few vocal Hollywood backers, and has hailed him as "the greatest president of this century.” Trump is also honouring the musicians of the U.S. military, who frequently entertain at White House events. Trump will award the medals during a ceremony at the White House on Thursday. While the honours had been an annual affair during past administrations, they have not been awarded since Trump's inauguration in January 2017. The most recent arts or humanities medals were bestowed by President Barack Obama in September 2016. The recipients of the National Medal of Arts are: -Alison Krauss, the bluegrass-country singer and musician, "for making extraordinary contributions to American music." The White House misspelled her name in its release. -Sharon Percy Rockefeller "for being a renowned champion of the arts, generous supporter of charity, and a pioneer of new ideas and approaches in the field of public policy." -The Musicians of the United States Military "for personifying excellence in music and service to country." -Jon Voight "for his exceptional capacity as an actor to portray deeply complex characters." Voight starred in "Midnight Cowboy," the 1969 film that won an Academy Award for best picture, and he won the best actor Oscar for 1978's "Coming Home." He appears in the Showtime series "Ray Donovan." The recipients of the National Humanities Medal are: -The Claremont Institute "for championing the Nation's founding principles and enriching American minds." -Teresa Lozano Long "for supporting the arts and improving educational opportunities" through scholarships and philanthropy. -Patrick O’Connell, the chef at The Inn at Little Washington, "for being one of the greatest chefs of our time." -James Patterson "for being one of the most successful American authors of our time." Patterson wrote a book about Jeffrey Epstein, the disgraced financier who killed himself while awaiting trial on charges of sexually abusing teenage girls. The book includes several references to Trump, including an account of the men's falling out. The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities solicit candidates for the medals and compile proposed winners. The White House, which sometimes adds its own nominees, traditionally approves and announces them ahead of a presidential ceremony. Trump has had an uneasy if not hostile relationship with many in the arts and the humanities who oppose his policies and have denounced his presidency. He has been largely shunned by Hollywood and has skipped events like the annual Kennedy Center gala that is one of Washington's premier social gatherings after some honorees said they would not attend if Trump was part of the ceremony. The Associated Press

Kanye West talks about serving God during visit with Osteen

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 08:53
HOUSTON - Rapper Kanye West told parishioners at Joel Osteen's Houston megachurch on Sunday that his recent spiritual awakening has made him realize he's no longer in the service to fame and money but "in service to God." West spoke to a packed crowd of about 16,000 people at Lakewood Church's 11 a.m. service during an interview with Osteen from the stage. West told the parishioners about his recent conversion to Christianity and how God has been guiding him. "I know that God has been calling me for a long time and the devil has been distracting me for a long time," West said. He added that at his lowest point, when he was hospitalized in 2016 after a "mental breakdown," God "was there with me, sending me visions and inspiring me." Last month, West released "Jesus is King," a Gospel-themed album that's been described as Christian rap. The rapper’s wife, Kim Kardashian West, and their daughter, North West, joined him at the church. They sat in the front row of the cavernous arena, the former Compaq Center, which was once the home of the Houston Rockets. Many of the parishioners seated around West took photos of him with their cellphones. "This is like the Super Bowl today," said Amy Holmes, who was visiting from New Orleans with her husband and decided to attend. West also was scheduled to perform in the evening at Lakewood with his "Sunday Service," a church-like concert featuring a choir. Tickets for the free concert were distributed through Ticketmaster and sold out within minutes Saturday, though some people have been reselling them for hundreds of dollars. West has been travelling around the U.S. holding his "Sunday Service" concerts since January, including at the Coachella festival, an outdoor shopping centre in Salt Lake City and at an Atlanta-area megachurch. On Friday, he and his choir performed for inmates at the Harris County Jail in Houston. During Sunday morning's appearance, West touched on a variety of topics in what he called his "streams of consciousness," including religion, the perils of fame and money, going to church as a child, strip clubs and the devil. "The only superstar is Jesus," West said as the crowd applauded loudly. But West's trademark boastfulness hasn't completely disappeared. "Now the greatest artist that God has every created is now working for him," West said. After the service, Osteen told reporters he was excited that West was "using his influence for the Lord." "We come from different backgrounds. Styles are different. But we're still brothers in Christ. We're all on the same team," Osteen said. Jose Gonzalez, a 25-year-old who attended the service, said he believes West's religious conversion to be sincere. "I don't see why it would not be genuine. Especially with someone with his platform that talks about God and love and unity, it can get really shut down unfairly," said Gonzalez. When asked what advice he had for people, West told reporters, "Every single millisecond be in service to God." West and his wife are among the celebrities who have expressed support for Texas death row inmate Rodney Reed, who received an execution stay on Friday. Reed's supporters said new evidence raises serious doubt about his guilt in a 1996 killing. On Friday, Kim Kardashian West travelled to death row in Livingston, Texas, and visited Reed. Lakewood Church, where more than 43,000 people attend services each week, has become the largest church in the U.S. Osteen's weekly television program is viewed by more than 13 million households in the U.S. and millions others in more than 100 nations around the world. ___ Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter: https://twitter.com/juanlozano70 Juan A. Lozano, The Associated Press

AP Exclusive: US officials knew of Ukraine’s Trump anxiety

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 08:52
WASHINGTON - Despite his denials, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was feeling pressure from the Trump Administration to investigate former Vice-President Joe Biden before his July phone call with President Donald Trump that has led to impeachment hearings. In early May, staff at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, including then-Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, were briefed on a meeting Zelenskiy held in which he sought advice on how to navigate the difficult position he was in, according to two people with knowledge of the briefings. He was concerned that Trump and associates were pressing him to take action that could affect the 2020 U.S. presidential race, the people said. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic and political sensitivity of the issue. The briefings show that U.S. officials knew early that Zelenskiy was feeling pressure to investigate Biden, even though the Ukrainian leader later denied it in a joint news conference with Trump in September. Congressional Republicans have pointed to that public Zelenskiy statement to argue that he felt no pressure to open an investigation, and therefore the Democrats' allegations that led to the impeachment hearings are misplaced. "Both presidents expressly have stated there was no pressure, no demand, no conditions, no blackmail, no corruption," one Republican lawmaker, John Ratcliffe of Texas, argued on the first day of public hearings last week. The central allegation in the impeachment inquiry is that Trump, through his allies, demanded that Ukraine, which is fending off Russian aggression, launch an investigation that would benefit him politically in exchange for crucial military and strategic support. Witnesses have detailed, in closed-door depositions and public impeachment hearings, that allies of Trump pressed Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son while withholding military aid and a coveted meeting between the newly elected Zelenskiy and Trump. The U.S. briefings - and contemporaneous notes on Zelenskiy's early anxiety about Trump's interest in an investigation - suggest that Democrats have evidence in reach to contradict Republican arguments that Zelenskiy never felt pressure to investigate Biden. The Associated Press reported last month about Zelenskiy's meeting on May 7 with, two top aides, as well as Andriy Kobolyev, head of the state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz, and Amos Hochstein, an American who sits on the Ukrainian company's supervisory board. Ahead of the meeting, Hochstein told Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador, why he was being called in. He separately briefed two U.S. embassy officials, Suriya Jayanti and Joseph Pennington, about Zelenskiy's concerns, said the two people who spoke to the AP. Jayanti and Pennington took notes on the meeting, the people said. After the meeting, Hochstein told the embassy officials about Zelenskiy's concerns and then travelled to Washington to update Yovanovitch on the meeting. The ambassador, who was fending off a smear campaign, had just been called back to Washington, where she was informed that she no longer had the confidence of the president. She was relieved of her duties as ambassador on May 20. Jayanti was also one of three witnesses to a phone call in which Trump discussed his interest in an investigation of Biden with his ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. The call occurred while Sondland was having lunch with three embassy officials in Kyiv. David Holmes, political counsel at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, has already detailed to House investigators what he overheard. Jayanti and the third witness, Tara Maher, have not been interviewed. Hochstein, a former diplomat who advised Biden on Ukraine matters during the Obama administration, has also not been questioned in the impeachment proceedings. The Republican arguments about Zelenskiy's lack of concern stem from a Sept. 25 joint media appearance by the American and Ukrainian leaders in which Zelenskiy discussed the July call with Trump that effectively launched the impeachment inquiry. The appearance came shortly after Trump released a rough transcript of the call. "You heard that we had, I think, good phone call. It was normal. We spoke about many things. And I - so I think, and you read it, that nobody pushed - pushed me," Zelenskiy said in the appearance with Trump on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York. "In other words, no pressure," Trump spoke up to add. In the impeachment hearings, Democrats have countered that Zelenskiy's public comments came when he was trying to calm the waters with the U.S. president in the immediate wake of the transcript's release. The burgeoning scandal has brought further uncertainty for Ukraine with its most important Western partner as the country faces simmering conflict with Russia. Zelenskiy's May 7 meeting suggests that he had been concerned about U.S. support from the start. ___ Follow Associated Press investigative reporters Desmond Butler at https://twitter.com/desmondbutler , Michael Biesecker at http://twitter.com/mbieseck Desmond Butler, The Associated Press

Trump suggests he may give written testimony in House probe

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 08:52
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump suggested Monday he might be willing to offer written testimony in the House impeachment inquiry over whether he pressured Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden and his son while withholding aid to the country. In a pair of tweets, Trump says he will "strongly consider" an offer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to testify before the House impeachment panel. Trump tweeted, "She also said I could do it in writing. Even though I did nothing wrong, and don't like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!" Pelosi told CBS' "Face the Nation" in an interview aired Sunday that Trump could come before the committee and "speak all the truth that he wants." The president provided written answers to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller during his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller's team tried to interview the president for more than a year before Trump submitted the written testimony in response to questions on certain Russia-related topics in November 2018. But Mueller found many of Trump's answers in the Russia probe less than satisfying. The format, he said in his final report to Congress, showed "the inadequacy of the written format," especially since the office was unable to ask follow-up questions. Mueller team cited dozens of answers that it considered incomplete or imprecise. Trump said he had no recollection for several questions posed by the special counsel's office After Trump submitted the written answers, the special counsel's office again sought an in-person interview with Trump, but the president declined. The Associated Press

Appearance of gun sours pitch from Winnipeg door-to-door salesperson

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 08:47
WINNIPEG - A man in Winnipeg is facing charges after he allegedly chased a door-to-door salesperson down a street with a gun. Police say a telecommunications service rep encountered an upset resident of a west-end house on Friday evening and was followed out by the occupant prior to a confrontation on the street. They say the man then went inside, came back out with a gun and got into a vehicle to follow the salesperson, who was able to hide in another residence. Police were called and went to the suspect’s home, but he refused to come out and nearly three hours passed before a tactical team safely took him into custody. Police say a search of the home turned up 12 guns with ammunition. Donald Bruce Elliott, who is 51, remains in custody on five firearms-related charges. (CTV Winnipeg) This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2019. The Canadian Press

Trump suggests he may give written testimony in House probe

Mon, 11/18/2019 - 08:23
WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump suggested Monday he might be willing to offer written testimony in the House impeachment inquiry over whether he pressured Ukraine's president to investigate Joe Biden and his son as he withheld aid to the country. In a pair of tweets, Trump says he will "strongly consider" an offer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to testify before the House impeachment panel. Trump tweeted, "She also said I could do it in writing. Even though I did nothing wrong, and don't like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!" Pelosi told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday that Trump could come before the committee and "speak all the truth that he wants." The Associated Press

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