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Trump impeachment news: Democrats release damning report accusing president of obstruction, as he has tense exchanges with world leaders at Nato summit

Chris Riotta,Joe Sommerlad
Tuesday 03 December 2019 22:22
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Trump threatens to 'deal with' Nato allies

Donald Trump sparred with Emmanuel Macron during a televised bilateral meeting at the two-day Nato summit in London, as House investigators released an explosive report on the impeachment inquiry back home in Washington.

It was a whirlwind news cycle during the president’s visit to the UK: as Mr Trump met with world leaders overseas, House investigators released their report finding “a months-long effort by President Trump to use the powers of his office to solicit foreign interference on his behalf in the 2020 election”.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said the House had "overwhelming evidence of the president’s misconduct" and suggested the president's actions posed "a threat to the integrity of the upcoming election" as Mr Triump meanwhile denounced the timing of the next phase of the process, arguing it has been scheduled to embarrass him.

Mr Trump, who arrived in London on late Monday for two days of meetings, called the trip “one of the most important journeys that we make as president” before departing Washington and noted Democrats had long known about the meeting.

The president lashed out at Democrats again soon after arriving in the UK. He said on Twitter that he had read the Republican report designed to counter Democrats’ impeachment case on his flight. The report called Mr Trump’s hesitation to provide military aid to Ukraine “entirely prudent.”

“Prior to landing I read the Republicans Report on the Impeachment Hoax. Great job! Radical Left has NO CASE. Read the Transcripts", Mr Trump wrote on Twitter. “Shouldn’t even be allowed. Can we go to Supreme Court to stop?”

It was not immediately clear under what legal grounds the president was calling for the high court’s involvement.

Mr Trump’s trip comes amid ongoing quarrels over defence spending by NATO allies and widespread anxiety over the president’s commitment to the alliance.

The president said his trip would be focused on “fighting for the American people".

But in the more than two months that the impeachment inquiry has been underway, he has constantly drifted back to what he frames as the Democrats’ unfair effort to overturn the results of his 2016 election.

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on the constitutional grounds for impeachment before Mr Trump wraps up at the NATO meeting.

Additional reporting by AP. Please allow a moment for our live blog to load

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad3 December 2019 09:50
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Trump in London for two-day Nato summit

Donald Trump has arrived in London for a two-day summit with Nato leaders and a full day of meetings scheduled with the likes of Jens Stoltenberg, Emmanuel Macron and Justin Trudeau in the British capital before he attends evening receptions with the Queen at Buckingham Palace and Boris Johnson at Downing Street.

Trump is currently holding an after-breakfast press conference with the transatlantic alliance's secretary general at Winfield House, the US ambassador's residence in London, and is hitting many of his favourite themes: dimissing the impeachment inquiry back in DC as a "hoax" and a "witch hunt" as well as taking particular issue with President Macron's assessment of Nato as a "brain-dead" organisation, branding the comment "very insulting".

Interestingly, Joe Biden questioned Trump's own attitude to the alliance on the campaign trail in Emmetsburg, Iowa, yesterday, saying he had "treated Nato like it's a protection racket".

The president also said that France needs Nato more than any other nation and that the United States benefits least, also declaring that the country is "not doing well economically" and defending his own plans for Paris: "We're taxing their wines and everything else."

He's also touched on everything from his secretary of state Mike Pompeo's immediate future to North Korea and pledged to stay out of the UK's general election, before endorsing Johnson with his next breath.

Trump also insisted the US has no designs on carving up the NHS after Brexit.

It was supposed to be a short grip-and-grin but turned into a marathon sessions, ending only when someone asked whether he knew Prince Andrew, at which point Trump said "no" and abruptly drew a line under proceedings. Ahem.

Here's our political editor Andrew Woodcock on his arrival.

Joe Sommerlad3 December 2019 10:00
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House Democrats releasing impeachment report ahead of vote

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff appeared on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show last night and said he would release his panel’s report on the findings from the impeachment inquiry ahead of Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing with constitutional scholars. The report was shown to lawmakers last night and they will vote today on passing it on to the Judiciary.

"This is a threat to the integrity of the upcoming election and we don’t feel it should wait, in particular when we already have overwhelming evidence of the president’s misconduct," Schiff commented. 

He added that "even while Judiciary does its work," his committee would be "continuing to issue subpoenas, we’re continuing to learn new information."

Trump has attacked the timing of the next phase of the impeachment process, arguing it has been scheduled to embarrass him as he meets with world leaders overseas.

The Republicans have meanwhile released their own rival 123-page impeachment report - written by underwhelming counsel Steve Castor on behalf of Devin Nunes, Jim Jordan and Michael McCaul - arguing Trump acted toward Ukraine with "genuine and reasonable" scepticism. Their summation, of course, concludes there was "no quid pro quo, bribery, extortion or abuse of power."

Trump claims to have read it on his transatlantic flight and insists the Democrats have "NO CASE".

Joe Sommerlad3 December 2019 10:15
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Jeremy Corbyn, NHS staff send letters calling for Trump to leave health service alone

Trump's arrival in Britain saw him met with a letter signed by more than 500 NHS doctors, nurses and other staff asking him to take the health service off the table in Brexit trade talks between the US and UK.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn likewise called on prime minister Boris Johnson to halt the talks until Trump has amended the US’s negotiating position.

"The threat to the NHS from a future post-Brexit US-UK trade agreement, given the statements made by both US and British officials and politicians, is of profound concern to the British public," Corbyn wrote.

"While you have claimed that NHS medicines procurement is 'not on the table' in UK-US trade talks, that claim has now been shown to be false. The evidence is clear that you have misled the public... President Donald Trump and his administration have made no secret of the fact that they intend to use a future trade deal with the UK to drive up the cost at which the NHS buys drugs."

Whether either party will be appeased and reassured by the president's comments just now is another question.

Here's Ben Kentish with more.

Joe Sommerlad3 December 2019 10:30
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Trump gets tough with Macron after administration places new retaliatory tariffs on French exports

Trump was pretty tough on President Macron of France in his bloated press conference just now...

...which promises to further enliven the already tense atmosphere when the two meet at Winfield House after lunch today.

That attack came as his administration has announced plans to charge tariffs on $2.4bn (£1.9bn) worth of French imports - including Roquefort cheese, handbags, lipstick and champagne - in retaliation for France’s tax on American tech giants such as Google, Amazon and Facebook.

The Office of the US Trade Representative claimed France’s new digital services tax discriminated against American companies. 

Here's Chris Baynes with more.

Joe Sommerlad3 December 2019 10:45
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New Melania biography says first lady believes Roger Stone released nude pictures of her in 2016

A new unauthorised biography of Melania Trump - Free, Melania by CNN White House correspondent Kate Bennett - is about to hit book shelves and contains a number of unflattering revelations about the president's wife.

The first lady, according to Bennett, believes eccentric GOP political operative and Trump ally Roger Stone - currently awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of obstructing the Mueller investigation - was responsible for the leak of nude photos of her from her modelling days, which appeared in the pages of The New York Post back in July 2016, three months prior to election day. It has been suggested that Trump himself might have done the deed.

"The theory goes that Trump was trying to head off a bad week on the campaign," Bennett writes. The allusion is to his unseemly row the family of Captain Humayun Khan, a US soldier killed in Iraq in 2004, after the deceased's parents berated him at the Democratic National Convention.

"The idea that [Trump] would throw his naked wife under the bus was almost so gross and salacious, and the photos so B-movie bad, the press ultimately spent very little time discussing them," says Bennett. "Melania has not commented on how she thinks they got into the hands of the tabloid and on to the cover, but friends say she still refuses to believe Trump would do that to her. As for Stone, she’s not so sure." Bennett writes that the episode left Melania “humiliated, defeated, embarrassed and scared for her young son... Then came Access Hollywood and the dam broke."

(Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

The book also backs up a claim in Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury that Melania sleeps in a seperate bedroom at the White House, reports her hospital stay in May 2018 was "not minor" but undertaken to address a dangerous kidney complaint and that she does not care for Karen Pence, wife of Trump's vice president.

Bennett also speculates that Melania's decision to wear an army green Zara jacket emblazoned with the words "I REALLY DON'T CARE, DO U?" to a Texas migrant detention centre in June 2018 was intended as a jab at Ivanka Trump over her "near-constant attempts to attach herself for positive administration talking points".

Chris Baynes has this report.

Joe Sommerlad3 December 2019 11:00
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Expert witnesses named for Judiciary Committee's first impeachment hearing

Back to impeachment, where congressional Democrats have named the four witnesses who will testify this week at the Judiciary Committee's public hearing on Wednesday, an event being described as "academic in nature" that is seen as a likely precursor to the announcement of formal charges against the president.

The hearing witnesses, announced by the committee on Monday, are Noah Feldman of Harvard Law School, Pamela Karlan of Stanford Law School, Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina School of Law and Jonathan Turley of the George Washington University Law School. All are experts on the US Constitution.

The White House informed Democrats on Sunday night that Trump and his lawyers would not participate in Wednesday's hearing, citing a lack of "fundamental fairness." Speaking to reporters as he departed the White House en route to the Nato summit, Trump said he had declined to participate in the hearing because it was a hoax. Chairman Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary, called the White House's decision "unfortunate" and said that allowing Trump to participate had been a priority from the outset of the impeachment probe.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone has not ruled out taking part in future proceedings if Democrats address a list of procedural complaints, however. The committee, which is not expected to consider evidence against Trump until next week, has given the president until 5pm (10pm GMT) on Friday to say whether he plans to mount a defence by calling witnesses and introducing evidence.

The Republicans report said the witnesses called during the impeachment inquiry had painted a picture of "unelected bureaucrats" who "fundamentally disagreed with President Trump's style, world view and decisions" and had presented no evidence that amounted to an impeachable offence.

Adam Schiff said the Republican report "ignores voluminous evidence that the president used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political rival," which Schiff said was outside the law and "a violation of his oath of office."

If the House approves articles of impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate would hold a trial to see if Trump should be removed from office. That move is unlikely, as few Senate Republicans have shown an appetite for removing the president. But the impeachment inquiry has cast a shadow over Trump's already tumultuous presidency and sharpened a divide among Americans that is likely to intensify as election campaigning heats up in the coming weeks. Democratic aides said a vote on possible articles of impeachment would follow quickly on the heels of an evidentiary hearing.

Joe Sommerlad3 December 2019 11:20
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Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas requests release of 'voluminous' electronic records to impeachment inquiry

An attorney representing Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas has asked a federal court to release electronic devices containing “voluminous” materials to House committees leading the Trump impeachment inquiry during a court appearance ahead of his client’s trial.

Joseph Bondy, who is representing Parnas, asked a federal court in Manhattan on Monday for an update on discovery in his client’s case, specifically whether devices seized during his October arrest at Dulles International Airport in Washington might be handed over to those House committees.

At least 29 electronic devices were reportedly seized from Parnas and three of his co-defendants, including another associate of  Giuliani, Igor Fruman.

Here's Clark Mindock's report.

Joe Sommerlad3 December 2019 11:35
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William Barr expected to dispute inspector general's Russia investigation findings

Attorney general Bill Barr is expected to dispute the findings of his own inspector general Michael Horowitz on the FBI's right to investigate the Trump campaign's ties to Russia in July 2016, according to The Washington Post.

Horowitz is due to release a major report on the Obama-era Justice Department's actions on Monday concluding the bureau was guilty of no wrongdoing in the matter but Barr has reportedly privately questioned that outcome, arguing that the FBI cannot possibly have had enough intelligence to hand at the time to merit an investigation, therein revealing inherent political bias within the Justice Department in his estimation.

Horowitz reportedly criticises some FBI employees and surveillance tactics in his report but does not agree with the president’s view of the investigation as a "witch hunt" intended to inhibit him. Barr's Justice Department is meanwhile running its own criminal investigation, led by Connecticut state attorney John Durham, into the FBI probe. Barr himself has been involved in that investigation by traveling to other countries and seeking assistance.

Former FBI assistant director Frank Figliuzzi had this stinging rebuke for the AG on MSNBC last night, characterising him as a presidential stooge and enabler.

Joe Sommerlad3 December 2019 11:50
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Rod Rosenstein left 'angry, ashamed, horrified and embarrassed' by James Comey firing

In other Justice Department news, ex-deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein told the FBI he was "angry, ashamed, horrified and embarrassed" at the way James Comey was fired as FBI director by Trump in May 2017, according to records released on Monday.

Rosenstein was interviewed by FBI agents several weeks after Comey's firing as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into ties between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and Russia. An FBI summary of that interview was among roughly 300 pages of documents released as part of public records lawsuits brought by BuzzFeed News and CNN.

The records also include summaries of FBI interviews of key Trump associates, including Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski and Michael Cohen. They provide additional insight into Mueller's two-year investigation, which shadowed the first part of Trump's presidency and preceded the ongoing impeachment inquiry centered on his efforts to press Ukraine for investigations of political rival Joe Biden.

Hicks described efforts to prepare for media scrutiny of a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Russians and the president's oldest son. Lewandowski told investigators the president prodded him to tell then-attorney general Jeff Sessions to make an announcement that the scope of the Russia investigation had been limited to future election interference.

And Cohen, who is now serving a three-year prison sentence for campaign finance violations and lying to Congress, told investigators he advised Trump's personal lawyer that there was more detail about a proposed deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow than what he had shared with lawmakers.

Cohen said the lawyer, Jay Sekulow, told him that it was not necessary to elaborate or provide additional details and to "stay on message" and to "not contradict Trump," the FBI said. He also said he "vaguely recalled" telling Sekulow about a call he had "with a woman from the Kremlin," and said Sekulow's response was "in line with 'so what' and the deal never happened," according to the FBI document.

(Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Rosenstein, who left his Justice Department post last spring, was interviewed about his role in Comey's firing. Rosenstein wrote a memo harshly criticising Comey for his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, a document held up by the White House as justification for his firing.

Rosenstein said he was asked during a White House meeting one day before Comey's firing to produce a memo laying out his concerns with the FBI chief. He said he knew when he left the office that day that Comey would be fired, though he said he did not expect for his memo to be immediately released, and was surprised by the portrayal in the media that the termination was his idea instead of the White House's, according to the FBI document. Rosenstein also said his goal in writing the memo was not to get Comey fired.

He said he expected Comey would be contacted by either Trump or Sessions so a meeting could be scheduled and he could be fired in person. Comey instead learned of his firing from television while speaking with agents in Los Angeles.

When he learned of how Comey was fired, he was "angry, ashamed, horrified and embarrassed. It was also humiliating for Comey," an FBI agent wrote of Rosenstein's reaction.

At one point during the interview, as Rosenstein was describing how he had "always liked Jim Comey" but disagreed with his decisions in the Clinton case, the deputy attorney general "paused a moment, appearing to have been overcome by emotion, but quickly recovered and apologised," according to the FBI.

Joe Sommerlad3 December 2019 12:05

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