White House rejects participation in ‘baseless’ impeachment probe against Trump

US Capitol police officers stand in front of a video showing President Donald Trump speaking to the news media in the White House driveway as it is displayed on a screen in the House Judiciary Committee’s first hearing on the impeachment inquiry into Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington on Dec. 4, 2019. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
Updated 07 December 2019

White House rejects participation in ‘baseless’ impeachment probe against Trump

  • The House Judiciary Committee is to meet starting Monday to review the evidence from investigators and decide whether to charge Trump with abuse of power, bribery and obstruction

WASHINGTON: The White House blasted the impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump as “completely baseless” Friday, signaling it would not seek to defend the president in Democratic-led hearings to draw up formal charges against him.
But Republicans demanded that Joe Biden’s son Hunter, the lawmaker leading the impeachment probe Adam Schiff, and the whistleblower at the origin of the inquiry all testify next week before the House Judiciary Committee.
“As you know, your impeachment inquiry is completely baseless and has violated basic principles of due process and fundamental fairness,” White House chief lawyer Pat Cipollone wrote in a letter to the committee chair, Jerry Nadler.
“House Democrats have wasted enough of America’s time with this charade. You should end this inquiry now and not waste even more time with additional hearings,” he wrote.
Cipollone issued the letter minutes before a deadline to declare whether the White House would deploy representatives to defend Trump against accusations he abused his office by pressuring Ukraine to find dirt on former vice president Biden, his potential challenger in the 2020 election.
Nadler’s committee is to meet starting Monday to review the evidence from investigators and decide whether to charge Trump with abuse of power, bribery and obstruction.
Those charges could become articles of impeachment sent to the full House to vote on within weeks.
If they pass the Democratic-led House as expected, it would make Trump only the third president in US history to be impeached.
That would set up a trial next month in the Republican-controlled Senate, seen as likely to acquit him.
Trump is accused of pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into Biden and his son, and also into a widely-dismissed theory that Ukraine helped Democrats in the 2016 election.
The US leader is accused of demanding Zelensky announce the investigations in exchange for the release of military aid and a high-profile summit — which Democrats say constitutes bribery.
Democrats also say Trump’s actions amount to soliciting foreign interference in American elections — which is barred by US laws.
Trump denies any wrongdoing but has refused to cooperate with the inquiry, citing his privilege as president to prevent top aides from testifying.
Cipollone told Nadler in the letter that adopting articles of impeachment “would be a reckless abuse of power” and constitute “the most unjust, highly partisan, and unconstitutional attempt at impeachment in our nation’s history.”

Blocking 'key evidence'
He repeated Trump’s tweet of Thursday: “If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our country can get back to business.”
In a statement Nadler accused Trump of continuing to block “key evidence” from Congress.
“We gave President Trump a fair opportunity to question witnesses and present his own to address the overwhelming evidence before us,” Nadler said.
“If the President has no good response to the allegations, then he would not want to appear before the committee. Having declined this opportunity, he cannot claim that the process is unfair.”
Meanwhile the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins, announced a list of witnesses his camp wishes to subpoena “to provide context and transparency about the underlying facts at issue.”
Besides Schiff, the list includes Hunter Biden and his business partner Devon Archer, who both sat on the board of a Ukraine energy company Burisma, which Trump allegedly pressured Zelensky to investigate.
Also included were the whistleblower, believed to be a CIA analyst who reported his concerns about Trump’s demands of Zelensky; possible government contacts of the whistleblower; White House national security official Alexander Vindman, whose earlier testimony strongly supported the allegations against Trump.
With the exception of Vindman, there was little likelihood Nadler would accept the witness list.


Airlines halt China flights as coronavirus toll hits 132

Updated 29 January 2020

Airlines halt China flights as coronavirus toll hits 132

  • A growing number of governments have in recent days advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China
  • British Airways was the first major airline to announce a total suspension of flights to and from China

WUHAN, China: Foreign airlines began suspending flights to and from China on Wednesday as global fears mounted over a coronavirus epidemic that has killed 132 people and infected nearly 6,000.
The announcements came hours after countries began airlifts to evacuate foreigners trapped in Wuhan, the quarantined central Chinese city of 11 million people at the epicenter of the health emergency.
A growing number of governments, including the United States, Britain and Germany, have in recent days advised their citizens to avoid non-essential travel to China over concerns about the viral outbreak.
China itself on Tuesday urged its citizens to delay trips abroad to avoid spreading the limit further global contagion, with at least 15 countries having confirmed cases of the disease.
The United Arab Emirates reported the first known case in the Middle East on Wednesday.
British Airways was the first major airline to announce a total suspension of flights to and from China, citing the travel advice of the foreign office.
“We apologize to customers for the inconvenience, but the safety of our customers and crew is always our priority,” BA said in a statement on Wednesday.
Indonesia’s Lion Air Group, Southeast Asia’s biggest carrier by fleet size, then said it would halt services to and from China from Saturday “until further notice.”
In Myanmar, the three airlines that have routes into neighboring China also said those flights would also be suspended from Saturday.
Cathay Pacific also cut flights, citing low demand and the Hong Kong government’s response plan against the virus.
And in one of the most dramatic measures, the tiny Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea announced Wednesday that travelers from Asia would not be allowed in.
However, many other airlines said they were continuing their China services.
China has taken other extraordinary measures to try and stop the disease spreading, including bans on tour groups traveling overseas, suspending schools and extending the Lunar New Year holiday.
Authorities also last week imposed transport bans in and around Wuhan in an unprecedented quarantine effort, leaving more than 50 million people shuttered in their homes.
“This is the first day since the lockdown that I’ve had to go out,” a man in his 50s said on the mostly deserted streets of the industrial city on Wednesday.
“I have no choice because I need to buy food today.”
Thousands of foreigners have been among those trapped in Wuhan, which has become a near ghost-town with car travel banned and residents staying indoors.
Countries have scrambled for days to try and get their citizens out of Wuhan safely, but have faced huge logistical, medical and bureaucratic hurdles.
A US charter flight left Wuhan on Wednesday with about 200 Americans on board, including consulate staff.
Another 200 people were aboard a Japanese flight which landed in Tokyo on Wednesday morning.
Medical professionals were on the plane to carry out checks but officials said they had no legal basis to forcibly quarantine people who have not tested positive for the virus.
They would instead be asked to remain at home and avoid crowds until the results of the tests were known.
Other countries were planning more stringent quarantine measures, with Australia to evacuate its citizens from Wuhan and temporarily house them on an island normally used to detain asylum seekers.
France said it would keep its returnees in a holding facility in Paris for 14 days — the estimated incubation period for the virus.
Meanwhile, the virus continued to spread and kill in China.
The number of confirmed cases across the country climbed to 5,974, while the death toll nationwide jumped 26 to 132.
The scale of the deepening crisis was emphasized with the total number of infections on the Chinese mainland exceeding that of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2002-03.
SARS, another respiratory coronavirus, went on to claim nearly 800 lives around the world, with most of those fatalities in mainland China and Hong Kong.
The virus is believed to have originated in a wild-animal market in Wuhan, where it jumped to humans before spreading across the country as the peak travel period for Lunar New Year festivities got under way.
The World Health Organization said Tuesday it would send urgently dispatch international experts to China “to guide global response efforts.”
Until Tuesday, all reported cases overseas had involved people who had been in or around Wuhan.
But Japan and Germany then reported the first confirmed human-to-human transmission of the illness outside China. Vietnam is investigating another case.
Germany now has four confirmed cases, all of them employees at a Bavarian firm recently visited by a Chinese colleague, health officials said.
The US asked China on Tuesday to step up its cooperation with international health authorities over the epidemic.
Washington had offered China assistance three times so far without success, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters.
The virus has rattled global markets and started to dent an already-slowing Chinese economy.
Japanese automaker Toyota said Wednesday it would keep its plants in China closed until at least February 9 in part due to government guidelines.
Apple was closely watching the outbreak in China, home to the firm’s third-biggest consumer market and much of its supply chain, chief executive Tim Cook said.
Global coffee chain Starbucks said it expected a significant earnings hit after closing more than half of its stores across China.