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Trump news: Republicans attempt to stonewall impeachment hearing as witnesses outline damning evidence to remove president

Follow the latest updates, as they happened

Trump claims pro-Israel group will vote for him to protect their wealth

Donald Trump has claimed victory after Justice Department inspector general Michael Horowitz released his report claiming that the FBI did not pursue a politically motivated investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign — but that agents did tend to favour damaging evidence over exculpatory evidence as the investigation continued.

The report was released as House Judiciary Committee presented and reviewed the evidence accumulated so far in the impeachment inquiry, with charges against the president expected to be drawn up by the end of the week ahead of a potential pre-Christmas vote in the House of Representatives.

During the hearing, Democrats sought to impress upon the American people that the evidence against Mr Trump was nearly undeniable.

Republicans, meanwhile, did their best to throw the hearing off the traicks and raise as many distractions as possible.

The president is meanwhile under fire for hosting pardoned war criminals - army first lieutenant Clint Lorance and major Mathew Golsteyn - at a Florida Republican Party fundraising dinner over the weekend.

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

Joe Sommerlad9 December 2019 09:10

President lashes out at Fox News for 'pandering' to Democrats

Donald Trump has attacked his biggest media ally Fox News for “pandering” to his opposition by having the audacity to interview “Radical Left Haters” and “losers” like Democrats Eric Swalwell, Pramila Jayapal and David Cicilline during an exhausting day of tweeting on Sunday.

The president otherwise spent his day of rest busily bragging on social media about the health of the US economy, posting Republican talking points from the Sunday shows, attempting to rein in North Korean despot Kim Jong-un, attacking the Democrats over the impeachment inquiry and accusing House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (completely without foundation) of committing a crime.

There were 105 tweets and retweets from the president between 12.47am on Sunday morning and 11.59pm that evening, according to Brian Stelter of CNN...

...but none of it came close to the bizarreness of this stream-of-consciousness musing about light bulbs and toilets from Friday night.

Joe Sommerlad9 December 2019 09:25

House Judiciary Committee to review impeachment evidence

The House Judiciary Committee will today formally present and review the evidence accumulated by the impeachment inquiry, with charges against the president expected to be drawn up by the end of the week ahead of a pre-Christmas vote in the House of Representatives.

The Intelligence Committee concluded, in a report released last week, that Trump seriously misused the power of his office for personal political gain by urging the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden and withholding $391m (£302m) in congressionally-approved military aid to the country.

That panel's top staff investigator, lawyer Dan Goldman, will present the evidence to the Judiciary. Republican lawyer Steve Castor will also present. Judiciary committee lawyers will also be laying out evidence, an indication that special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation could somehow be incorporated into the articles of impeachment.

Trump's White House said on Friday that they won't take part in the hearings, even though House rules allow them to do so. In a letter to House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler, White House counsel Pat Cipollone defiantly wrote that "House Democrats have wasted enough of America's time with this charade."

Nadler said yesterday that he expects action in the days after the Monday hearing, though a vote hasn't yet been scheduled.

"We'll bring articles of impeachment presumably before the committee at some point later in the week," he told Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press.

Democrats are expected to draft around two to four articles that encompass two major themes - abuse of office and obstruction. In interviews on Meet the Press and CNN's State of the Union, Nadler declined to say ultimately how many articles of impeachment Democrats will present but said they will involve "certainly, abuse of power" and likely obstruction. He said final decisions will come after Monday's hearing and discussions with the Democratic caucus.

An impeachment article accusing Trump of abuse of office, or abuse of power, would focus on the findings of the Ukraine investigation. Some lawmakers have suggested that Democrats could break out "bribery" as a separate article. Bribery would likely center on Trump withholding the aid to Ukraine, and also dangling a White House meeting to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, in exchange for the political investigations.

Obstruction articles could be broken up into obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice, or the two could be combined.

The administration's repeated refusals to provide documents and testimony would serve as the basis for an article charging Trump with obstruction of Congress. Robert Mueller's investigation could be incorporated into that article or a separate article on obstruction of justice.

Nadler wrote to White House counsel Pat Cipollone last night, sending him the investigative materials in spite of the administration responding to his deadline on Friday evening saying it would play no part in today's "baseless" proceedings

Assuming the House does vote in favour of impeachment, the process would then move to a weekslong Senate trial, where senators are jurors and select House members act as prosecutors, or impeachment managers. The chief justice of the Supreme Court presides. If the Senate approves an article of impeachment with a two-thirds vote of "guilty," the president is convicted and removed from office. If all the articles are rejected, the president is acquitted.

This is the fourth time in history Congress has moved to impeach a president. If he were convicted by the Senate, Trump would be the first to be removed. But that is unlikely in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Joe Sommerlad9 December 2019 09:40

Jerry Nadler says jury would convict president 'in about three minutes flat'

Chairman Nadler was the star guest on the Sunday talk shows, talking impeachment with Dana Bash on CNN as well as with Todd on NBC. He also took his opportunity to forewarn that Trump will be working hard to ensure 2020 is "not a fair election".

Adam Schiff was also out fighting the cause, telling Margaret Brennan on Face the Nation the Ukraine transgressions should be at the heart of the articles of impeachment drawn up by the Judiciary. 

He also had this response to Trump and the GOP accusing him of a crime over the inclusion of phone records in his report last week: "The blowback has only come from the far right. Every investigator seeks phone records to corroborate, sometimes to contradict, a witness’s testimony."

Former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal joined him on Brennan's show, arguing that Trump had committed "unprecedented obstruction".

North Carolina congressman Mark Meadows and Texas senator Ted Cruz were leading the case for the defence, with the former still denying Trump had done anything wrong and working to distance the party from the president's wayward attorney Rudy Giuliani, who's been off in Kiev, up to no good.

"I don’t see a single Republican defecting on impeachment," said Meadows - not quite the clinching argument he appeared to think it was, saying more about disingenuous GOP denial than it does about party loyalty or conviction.

Cruz meanwhile attacked the inquiry as a "kangaroo court" (a line borrowed from Matt Gaetz) and drew an audible laugh from the studio crew on Meet the Press when he pushed the debunked line that Ukraine had meddled in the 2016 election, not Russia, something even Lousiana huckster John Kennedy has had to change his mind about.

As the incredulous Todd points out above, the senator has come a long way since being victimised by Trump and subjected to vicious personal insults (even crude taunts about his wife) during the Republican primaries of 2016. 

Here's Conrad Duncan on Cruz.

Joe Sommerlad9 December 2019 10:00

Trump hosts pardoned war criminals at Florida GOP dinner

So what else did the president do with his weekend - other than tweeting up a storm?

He was in Florida on Saturday to deliver remarks during a closed-door fundraising dinner to the state Republican Party. The Miami Herald reported the president was on "rare form", addressing the 1,000-strong crowd like a "total comedian", according to one member of the audience who spoke to the paper.

The event apparently whipped up $3.5m (£2.7m) for the campaign once the hat was passed and saw the president introduce two special guests - army first lieutenant Clint Lorance and major Mathew Golsteyn - whom he had recently pardoned after they were accused of war crimes.

Lorance was serving a 19-year sentence for ordering his soldiers shoot at unarmed men in Afghanistan while Golsteyn was to stand trial for the 2010 extrajudicial killing of a suspected bombmaker, neither of which bothered Trump apparently as he interfered in military justice to absolve the men at the instigation of Fox and Friends co-host Pete Hegseth.

From there, he went on to address the Israeli American Council's 2019 national summit and delivered an astonishing antisemitic slur associating Jews with avarice.

"A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well, you’re brutal killers. You’re not nice people at all, but you have to vote for me. You have no choice,” the president said. "You’re not going to vote for Pocahontas [a racist slur against 2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren], I can tell you that. You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax!"

Here's Conrad Duncan's report.

Joe Sommerlad9 December 2019 10:20

Trump's inner circle warn Rudy Giuliani 'a liability'

As we saw from Meadows earlier, the president's nearest and dearest appear to be attempting to distance him from his eccentric lawyer.

Here's Vincent Wood's story on attorney general William Barr cautioning the president to cut ties.

Joe Sommerlad9 December 2019 10:40

Justice Dept watchdog to release report on origins of Russia probe, finding flaws but no wrongdoing

The Justice Department's internal watchdog will release a highly anticipated report on Monday that is expected to reject Trump's claims that the Russia investigation was illegitimate and tainted by political bias from FBI leaders. But it is also expected to document errors during the investigation that may animate Trump supporters.

The report, as described by people familiar with its findings, is expected to conclude there was an adequate basis for opening one of the most politically sensitive investigations in FBI history and one that Trump has denounced as a witch hunt. It began in secret during Trump's 2016 presidential run and was ultimately taken over by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The release of inspector general Michael Horowitz's review is unlikely to quell the partisan battles that have surrounded the Russia investigation for years. It's also not the last word: A separate internal investigation continues, overseen by Bill Barr and led by a US attorney, John Durham. That investigation is criminal in nature, and Republicans may look to it to uncover wrongdoing that the inspector general wasn't examining.

Trump tweeted on Sunday:

He previously has said that he was awaiting Horowitz's report but that Durham's report may be even more important.

Horowitz's report is expected to identify errors and misjudgments by some law enforcement officials, including by an FBI lawyer suspected of altering a document related to the surveillance of a former Trump campaign aide. Those findings probably will fuel arguments by Trump and his supporters that the investigation was flawed from the start.

But the report will not endorse some of the president's theories on the investigation, including that it was a baseless "witch hunt" or that he was targeted by an Obama administration Justice Department desperate to see Republican Trump lose to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.

It also is not expected to undo Mueller's findings or call into question his conclusion that Russia interfered in that election in order to benefit the Trump campaign and that Russians had repeated contacts with Trump associates.

It is unclear how Barr, a strong defender of Trump, will respond to Horowitz's findings. He has told Congress that he believed "spying" on the Trump campaign did occur and has raised public questions about whether the counterintelligence investigation was done correctly.

The FBI opened its investigation in July 2016 after receiving information from an Australian diplomat that a Trump campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos, had been told before it was publicly known that Russia had dirt on the Clinton campaign in the form of thousands of stolen emails.

By that point, the Democratic National Committee had been hacked, an act that a private security firm - and ultimately US intelligence agencies - attributed to Russia. Prosecutors allege that Papadopoulos learned about the stolen emails from a Maltese professor named Joseph Mifsud. Papadopoulous pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about that interaction.

The investigation was taken over in May 2017 by Mueller, who charged six Trump associates with various crimes as well as 25 Russians accused of interfering in the election either through hacking or a social media disinformation campaign. Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

He examined multiple episodes in which Trump sought to seize control of the investigation, including by firing James Comey as FBI director, but declined to decide on whether Trump had illegally obstructed justice.

Michael Horowitz (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP)

The inspector general's investigation began in early 2018. It focuses in part on the FBI's surveillance of a former Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page. The FBI applied in the fall of 2016 for a warrant from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Page's communications, with officials expressing concern that he may have been targeted for recruitment by the Russian government. Page was never charged and has denied any wrongdoing.

Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to hear testimony from Horowitz on Wednesday, said he expected the report would be "damning" about the process of obtaining the warrant. "I'm looking for evidence of whether or not they manipulated the facts to get the warrant," Graham said on Fox News Channel's Sunday Morning Futures.

The warrant was renewed several times, including during the Trump administration. Republicans have attacked the procedures because the application relied in part on information gathered by an ex-British intelligence operative, Christopher Steele, whose opposition research into the Trump campaign's connections to Russia was funded by Democrats and the Clinton campaign.

In pursuing the warrant, the Justice Department referred to Steele as "reliable" from previous dealings with him. Though officials told the court that they suspected the research was aimed at discrediting the Trump campaign, they did not reveal that the work had been paid for by Democrats, according to documents released last year.

Steele's research was compiled into a dossier that was provided to the FBI after it had already opened its investigation. The report also examined the interactions that senior Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr had with Steele, whom he had met years earlier through a shared professional interest in countering Russian organised crime. Ohr passed along to the FBI information that he had received from Steele but did not alert his Justice Department bosses to those conversations.

Ohr has since been a regular target of Trump's ire, in part because his wife worked as a contractor for Fusion GPS, the political research firm that hired Steele for the investigation.

This is the latest in a series of reports that Horowitz, a former federal prosecutor and an Obama appointee to the watchdog role, has released on FBI actions in politically charged investigations.

Last year, he criticised Comey for a news conference announcing the conclusion of the Clinton email investigation, and for then alerting Congress months later that the probe had been effectively reopened. In that report, too, Horowitz did not find that Comey's actions had been guided by partisan bias.


Joe Sommerlad9 December 2019 11:00

Trump to cripple World Trade Organisation by blocking appointments it needs to function

The president's chaotic approach to international trade risks a return to the bad old days of "law of the jungle" economics and dysfunction at the WTO, experts have warned.

Joe Sommerlad9 December 2019 11:20

Jewish groups slam Trump for antisemitic tropes in speech

For Indy100, here's Darren Richman on the president's track record of antisemitism following his comments to the Israeli American Council on Saturday, which has received no little condemnation from Jewish groups.

Joe Sommerlad9 December 2019 11:40

Trump branded 'spokesman for Saudi Arabia' over response to Pensacola shootings 

The president has also faced criticism over the weekend for his response to a mass shooting at a naval training base in Penascola, Florida, on Friday, in which Saudi gunman Mohammed Alshamrani killed three sailors and injured at least eight other people.

Here's Conrad Duncan to explain.

Joe Sommerlad9 December 2019 12:00

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