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National Govt & Politics

    Military aid promised by the U.S. to Ukraine — and the strange circumstances under which it was held up and eventually released — is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. For Republicans, the key fact is that Ukraine received the money, regardless of any request from Trump for an investigation of Joe Biden or the 2016 U.S. elections. For Democrats, withholding the aid for investigations is an abuse of power, regardless of what happened in the end. A look at key dates involving the nearly $400 million in military assistance that had been approved for release in the early months of 2019: JULY 3: The hold Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a national security official working at the White House, becomes aware that the military aid has been held up. He testified that he received a notice from the State Department. “That’s when I was concretely made aware of the fact there was a hold placed,” he said in testimony to lawmakers. JULY 10: The meeting A meeting at the White House with Ukrainian officials is cut short when Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, says he has an agreement with the acting White House chief of staff that Ukraine’s president would get a meeting with Trump if Ukraine agreed to launch investigations. Then-national security adviser John Bolton “stiffened” and ended the meeting, later telling colleague Fiona Hill to report it to the National Security Council’s lawyer, she testified. “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and (acting White House chief of staff Mick) Mulvaney are cooking up on this,” Hill said Bolton told her. JULY 18: The hold-up announcement In a secure call with national security officials, a staff member of the White House Office of Management and Budget announces there’s a freeze on Ukraine aid until further notice, based on a presidential order to the budget office. JULY 25: The phone call Trump speaks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, asking him for favors that include an inquiry into Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s dealings with Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, and to investigate whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. He later calls it a “perfect” call. AUGUST: The questions Catherine Croft, the special adviser for Ukraine at the State Department, says two Ukrainians reach out to her to ask about the status of the military assistance. She told lawmakers she couldn’t recall the exact dates, but believes the outreach took place before the Aug. 28 publication of a Politico article detailing the hold. AUG. 12: The complaint A whistleblower files a formal complaint addressed to Congress that details concerns over the July 25 phone call and the hold placed on the military aid. The complaint is withheld from Congress until Sept. 25. AUG. 28: The article Politico publishes details that the military aid to Ukraine is on hold, setting off a scramble among diplomats in Ukraine and the United States. AUG. 29 AND AFTER: Ukraine’s desperation William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testified that he did not know the aid had been withheld until after the Politico article appeared, when he started receiving “desperate” calls from Ukrainian officials. “The minister of defense came to me,” he said. “I would use the word ‘desperate,’ to try to figure out why the assistance was held.” Taylor said the minister thought if he spoke to Congress, or the White House, he could find out the reason and reassure them of whatever was necessary to get the aid. If the money wasn’t provided by Sept. 30, it would be lost. SEPT. 9: The investigations begin Three House committees launch a wide-ranging investigation into the allegations that Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and possibly others, tried to pressure the Ukrainian government to help the president’s reelection campaign by digging up dirt on a political rival. SEPT. 11: The aid is released The funds are suddenly released. Senate Republicans said that happened in part because Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, threatened to block $5 billion in Pentagon spending for 2020 if the aid wasn’t given to Ukraine. They said the aid was held up while Trump looked into whether Zelenskiy was serious about fighting corruption. Taylor and other diplomats involved in Ukraine were not given a reason for the aid being released. IN THE AFTERMATH: The canceled CNN interview Taylor said Ukraine’s president was planning to do an interview with CNN in which he would make a public statement on the investigations that Trump had pushed for. Taylor was concerned about the interview and its potential to play into “domestic U.S. politics,” and on Sept. 13 asked Ukrainian officials about it. The interview never happens.
  • Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg may be weighing a run for president, but he won’t be on the ballot in the New Hampshire primary. Bloomberg’s team says the billionaire media mogul will not file in the state ahead of a Friday deadline to get on the ballot. Bloomberg is still deciding whether to seek the Democratic nomination. If he does run, his advisers have said he would skip early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and instead focus on the crush of states that vote on March 3 and beyond. An adviser says Bloomberg doesn’t want to set any expectation that he will compete in New Hampshire and therefore won’t put his name on the ballot.
  • Congress behaved itself as Americans and the world tuned in for the first time to the impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump. But the largely respectful conduct Wednesday wasn’t an effort to preserve the dignity of the House doing the gravest of its constitutional duties, or the sudden return of civility. “Boring,” as the president’s son Eric tweeted, served both parties during only the fourth presidential impeachment proceedings in the nation’s history, on the cusp of the 2020 election year. So between the pillars of a chilly House hearing room, lawmakers put up posters, waved papers around and in the case of ringer Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speed talked through five-minute rounds of questions. Republicans seated in the audience grumbled and one openly scoffed at Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. But there was a distinct lack of bickering and over-the-top burns that have become the hallmark of congressional hearings during the Trump presidency. It all seemed to serve the spirit of being “solemn” and “sad,” as suggested for months by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “It’s hard for me to stay awake,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who attended the proceedings in one of two rows reserved for lawmakers. Short of war, there’s no more serious national question than whether a president should be removed from office. Impeachment, the first step in the process of removal, is such a grave and seldom-used remedy that it’s spelled out in the Constitution and has only been leveled by the House against two presidents, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton 130 years later. Richard Nixon was on the brink of it in 1974 before he resigned. This moment is animated by Trump’s reckoning with an equivalent branch of government after a lifetime in the private sector — and the limits that puts on his presidency. On Wednesday as the hearings opened, Trump dismissed them as “a joke” and said he hadn’t watched them while hosting a visit from Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. When history happens in Washington, it sometimes looks like a room full of people processing information. In this case, most of that information was known by the time Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, gaveled open the hearing. The two witnesses, diplomats William “Bill” Taylor and George Kent, already had testified to their concerns over Trump’s shadow diplomacy, all while holding up military aid to the U.S. ally. Transcripts of their closed-door testimony running hundreds of pages had been made public. And Trump and his allies had long since dismissed the probe as a “witch hunt” and a “fraud,” while Democrats say the July 25 phone call represented an abuse of power, if not the bribery cited by the Constitution as grounds for impeachment. On Wednesday, there were signs that this stage of the impeachment process would be less than riveting. The House recessed for a few hours so that lawmakers could watch the proceedings or attend them in person. A few Republicans and Democrats stopped by, including Meadows and Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan Democrat who famously vowed on her first day in Congress to impeach Trump, attended the hearing’s opening moments. One who stayed for hours was Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, who had some things to say about the hearing and the impeachment effort. And he said them out loud from the front row of the hushed hearing room. When Schiff said he didn’t know the name of the whistleblower who sparked impeachment, Gohmert laughed out loud. When Kent testified to the character of other witnesses, Gohmert growled, “All gossip mongers.” And when Schiff interrupted Republican questions with a parliamentary inquiry, Gohmert scoffed, “Are you kidding me?” If Schiff heard, he did not respond. But he’s clearly not kidding, and Pelosi’s got his back. “I hope we will all take our lead from him,” she told House Democrats in a closed meeting, according to an aide who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity. ___ Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/APLaurieKellman
  • Ukraine is playing a starring role in the historic U.S. impeachment hearings — and Ukrainians themselves wish the whole thing would just go away. The lively, if troubled, young democracy seems destined to be tangled up in other people’s problems. With four EU countries on one side and Russia on the other, this Texas-sized nation has been trapped in a tug-of-war between the Kremlin and the U.S.-led West ever since the 1991 Soviet collapse set it free. As Wednesday’s impeachment hearing in Washington made clear, President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had consequences for Ukraine’s unequal, fraught relationship with Russia, too. Russia sees Ukraine as its geopolitical backyard and natural trade partner, a neighbor with deep cultural and linguistic ties. The U.S. sees Ukraine as a bulwark against resurgent Russian imperialism, and a strategic foothold at an important crossroads of energy pipelines and east-west commerce. Trump’s July phone call with Zelenskiy, at the center of the impeachment inquiry, further diminished Russians’ view of its weaker, poorer neighbor and bolstered long-held Russian suspicions that the U.S. is Ukraine’s puppet master. And that hurts Ukraine’s negotiating position just as Zelenskiy is trying to end the five-year war with Moscow-backed separatists in the east, which has killed 13,000 and hobbled his country. Trump is suspected of pressuring Zelenskiy to investigate political rival Joe Biden's family, at the same time Trump was withholding nearly $400 million in military aid that Ukraine is using against Russian-backed separatists. Trump says he did nothing wrong. “The Russians, as I said in my deposition, would love to see that humiliation of President Zelenskiy at the hands of the Americans,” said William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, as he described the knock-on effects of Trump’s foreign policy. “That rule of law, that order that kept the peace in Europe and allowed for prosperity as well as peace in Europe was violated by the Russians,” Taylor said. “That, Mr. Chairman, affects us, it affects the world we live in ... this affects the kind of world that we want to see abroad.” Some Ukrainian lawmakers are worried that the U.S. political furor could threaten aid Ukraine has come to depend on. The United States has poured billions of dollars into Ukraine, and has been one of the country’s most steadfast allies since Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea in 2014. Zelenskiy himself is trying to steer clear of the impeachment hearings. Ukrainian officials won’t discuss them. And even ordinary Ukrainians paid little attention as they unfolded on TV screens across the U.S. and the world. Maybe that’s a good thing. One word — “corrupt” — was used over and over again to describe their country on the floor of the U.S. Congress. It’s a moniker Ukrainians would love to shed. A big reason why they elected Zelenskiy – a comedian with zero political experience — as president this year was because he promised to fight the graft that’s long held back Ukraine’s economy. And he remains popular despite the Trump debacle. Ukraine’s day was wrapping up by the time Wednesday’s hearing started in Washington, and local newscasts focused on heated debate in parliament over a law allowing Ukrainians to sell their land for the first time in years. Kyiv residents had strong opinions about that measure, but appeared perplexed by the details of what’s happening in Washington. Former legislator Serhiy Leshchenko is among the few in Ukraine following the proceedings closely. “People have to know what happened. What is the truth in the story,” he told The Associated Press. He fears that Ukraine may have to wait for next year’s U.S. election to renew normal relations with Washington, however. “It’s unfortunate, it’s a bit sad to me, but it’s a reality which we face now.” ___ Charlton contributed from Paris.
  • The first day of impeachment hearings against President Donald Trump included new evidence from the acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, who told lawmakers that one of his aides had listened to a top U.S. diplomat speak with the President, reporting that Mr. Trump had inquired repeatedly about political investigations he was seeking. William Taylor told the House Intelligence Committee that since his recent deposition in October, one of his staffers had reported the unsecured cell phone call between U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and the President, saying the message was clear. 'President Trump cares more about the investigation of Biden, that Giuliani was pressing for,' Taylor told the first day of impeachment hearings. At the White House, the President denied the assertion by Taylor, telling reporters he did not remember any such call with Sondland, which Taylor said occurred a day after a July 25 phone call with the leader of Ukraine, where the President asked for Ukraine to start certain political investigations. In the hearing, Taylor and State Department official George Kent repeatedly found themselves trying to walk an almost impossible tightrope of being a truth-telling non-partisan diplomat, thrust into the midst of a politically explosive impeachment hearing, in which their every answer could be used by one party or the other to buttress or undermine their impeachment arugments. 'I'm not here to do anything having to do with, to decide about impeachment.' Taylor said at one point to Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX). 'That is not what either of us are here to do. This is your job.' But Republicans tried to use the first hearing to undermine the testimony of both Taylor and Kent, repeatedly saying that they had no first hand knowledge of what President Trump was doing. 'Not only no conversations with the President of the United States about Ukraine, you've not had any contact with the President,' said Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH). 'Correct?' In a back and forth with Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Taylor tried to keep a smile on his face as Jordan described Taylor as the supposedly prime witness for Democrats out to get President Trump. 'I don't consider myself a star witness for anything,' Taylor said. 'They do,' Jordan said of Democrats. While Ambassador Taylor dominated most of the headlines, Kent also provided some news, as he made clear that he felt the naming of Hunter Biden - the son of the former Vice President - to the board of a Ukrainian energy company, was a red flag which needed to be watched. But under questioning, Kent said he never found any evidence that it led to corruption - or anything illegal involving the younger Biden. Both Kent and Taylor raised questions about the President's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, as Taylor frowned on what he described as an 'irregular' diplomatic back channel in Ukraine led by Giuliani. 'What interest do you believe he was promoting?' asked Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). 'I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt against a potential rival in the next election cycle,” Kent said. “I agree with Mr. Kent,” Taylor added, as the two officials reinforced the suspicions of Democrats that Giuliani was leading an effort which not only unseated the U.S. Ambassador, but led to the President pressing Ukraine for investigations of the Bidens, and of Ukraine interference in the 2016 elections. Asked about the question of Ukraine interference, Kent said there was 'no factual basis,' pointing the finger directly at Russia - as U.S. Intelligence agencies have done. There likely will be more discussion of Giuliani's role in Ukraine in the next hearing on Friday, when lawmakers hear from the ousted U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch. Kent testified there was a campaign of 'slander' against Yovanovitch, which began March 20, 2018.
  • The Trump administration has proposed making it tougher for asylum-seekers to obtain permission to work in the United States while their cases are pending, a move that immigrant advocates say would unfairly punish those who need humanitarian protection the most. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Wednesday a proposed rule would double the time asylum-seekers must wait for a work permit to a year and bar those who crossed a border illegally from applying for work permits at all. The new rule aims to discourage immigrants who don’t qualify for asylum from seeking it to “restore integrity to the asylum system and lessen the incentive to file an asylum application for the primary purpose of obtaining work authorization,” Ken Cuccinelli, the agency’s acting director, said in a statement. The proposal is the latest in a series of measures by the Trump administration aimed at deterring immigrants from seeking asylum along the U.S.-Mexico border and in limiting immigration to the United States. There are hundreds of thousands of asylum applications pending in U.S. government offices and immigration courts. Some were filed by immigrants who were already in the country and others by people arriving in airports, at ports of entry, or stopped on the U.S-Mexico border. Currently, asylum-seekers can obtain permission to work in the United States once their cases have been pending for six months. Immigrant advocates decried the proposed rule and said it would fall hardest on the poorest and most vulnerable immigrants, who are often those who flee their homes at a moment’s notice in search of safety. “Those with strongest claims are the ones least likely to be able to support themselves because they had to leave everything behind,” said Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council. Eleanor Acer, senior director for refugee protection at Human Rights First, said asylum-seekers often struggle to feed and house themselves and their families during the current six-month wait period. Making that longer, she said, would worsen their lot and place an additional burden on their communities. The public can comment on the proposed rule until Jan. 13.
  • A former top government environmental health official joined health experts on Wednesday in expressing alarm as the Trump administration moves forward with a proposal that scientists say would upend how the U.S. regulates threats to public health. “It will practically lead to the elimination of science from decision-making,” said Linda Birnbaum, who retired last month as director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences after serving under both Republican and Democratic administrations. In an appearance before the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, Birnbaum said the proposal could be used to roll back fundamental protections from air pollution and other toxins. The “effects here could affect an entire generation,” she said. The Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulation seeks public disclosure of the data underlying studies used by agency officials in deciding how to regulate contaminants and toxins, from car exhaust to coal waste to pesticides. Opponents fear that could include seeking to release identifying information for patients and study participants in violation of confidentiality requirements, leading important public health studies and other research on people to be taken out of consideration instead. The administration says the proposal would increase transparency in government regulation. Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, an EPA principal deputy assistant administrator, told the lawmakers that the agency was working 'to ensure the public has access to information so they can make decisions to protect their health and environment.” But opponents fear the measure will be used to toss out findings of decades of research on humans — and of future studies yet to come — that are a foundation of environmental and public health regulation. With weaker evidence regarding risks to human, the result could be weaker regulation of toxins, opponents said. When the EPA first raised the proposal last year, university heads, public health officials, researchers, health workers, environmental advocates and others lined up at the agency’s public hearings to object. The agency received nearly 600,000 public comments on the change, the majority urging against it. Debate on the proposal revived this month when the EPA sent a draft supplement to the measure to the White House for government review. That made clear that the administration was moving ahead on the measure despite the unusually strong torrent of opposition from scientists and health practitioners. At Wednesday’s hearing before a committee of the Democratic-controlled House, some Republicans also indicated concerns about the measure, which follows past, failed efforts by conservative lawmakers to get similar legislation through Congress. “This is about attacking the EPA under the current administration — not about improving transparency and scientific integrity,” said Rep. Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, the committee’s senior Republican member. Lucas called the EPA proposal “well-intended,” but said broader discussion was needed about “the best way to improve reproducibility and transparency.” Orme-Zavaleta, a career EPA employee, said a draft of the rule obtained by the news media this week was not the final version. Under questioning from Democratic lawmakers, Orme-Zavaleta acknowledged that while the proposal was not intended to be retroactive to existing rules, it could apply to past health studies. Democratic lawmakers argued the change could also be used to throw out findings of health studies and rewrite regulations whenever an existing rule comes up for review. “The true purpose is to undermine the decades of sound science on which the EPA relies to protect public health,” so that “political agendas are given more weight than science,” said Rep. Paul Tonko, D-NY. It “will endanger the safety and health of millions of Americans for many generations to come.” Rep. Bill Foster, D-Ill., noted the early draft rule would allow the EPA administrator to make exceptions to the data disclosure requirements. “Can you understand why we might not be comfortable having the final call being made by a coal lobbyist?” Foster asked, referring to the current EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler. Birnbaum, one of five scientists and health experts testifying Wednesday in addition to the EPA official, said eliminating studies and research on humans because of the confidentiality of identifying information would leave regulators more dependent on animal studies, which are less accurate for people. However, Wheeler announced separately in September that the agency intended to scale down and ultimately eliminate testing of chemicals on animals. Animal rights advocates welcomed the move, but health officials said it eliminated an essential safeguard for human health.
  • Former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has told allies he will join the 2020 presidential race, according to two people familiar with his plans. An official announcement is expected before Friday, the filing deadline for the New Hampshire primary. Patrick’s move injects a new layer of uncertainty into the contest less than three months before the first votes. A popular two-term Democratic governor with a moderate bearing and close ties to former President Barack Obama, he is starting late but with a compelling life story and political resume. The two people with knowledge of Patrick’s plans spoke to The Associated Press on Wednesday on condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations. In addition to Patrick, Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York City, has taken steps toward launching a last-minute presidential campaign, filing candidate papers in Alabama and Arkansas. Even 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton this week said in a BBC interview that she is “under enormous pressure from many, many, many people to think about it,” adding that she has no such plans but still would “never, never, never say never.” The moves reflect uncertainty about the direction of the Democratic contest with no commanding front-runner. Joe Biden entered the race as the presumptive favorite and maintains significant support from white moderates and black voters, whose backing is critical in a Democratic primary. But he’s facing spirited challenges from Patrick’s home-state senator, Elizabeth Warren, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, progressives whose calls for fundamental economic change have alarmed moderates and wealthy donors. Patrick could present himself as a potential bridge across the moderate, liberal and progressive factions — as candidates like Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Cory Booker are trying to do. But the former governor faces significant hurdles to raise enormous amounts of money quickly and to build an organization in the traditional early voting states that most of his rivals have focused on for the past year. And he’ll have to pivot to the expensive and logistically daunting Super Tuesday contests, when voters in more than a dozen states and territories head to the polls. Bloomberg’s team has said they will skip the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina to focus on the Super Tuesday roster. It’s also a near certainty that Patrick — and possibly Bloomberg — wouldn’t make a Democratic debate stage until January, if at all, because of debate rules set by the party. Those dynamics left some prominent Democrats questioning Patrick’s viability, while some existing campaigns privately offered outright mockery and derision. “Stop. We have enough candidates,” said Kathy Sullivan, a Democratic National Committee member from New Hampshire, which hosts the party’s first presidential primary following the Iowa caucuses. Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, whose state boasts the second-largest number of Super Tuesday delegates behind California, said he hadn’t heard from Patrick or his representatives. “People are fine with the field,” Hinojosa said, arguing that donors and media are mistaken to think that rank-and-file Democrats see Biden, Warren and others as unable to take down President Donald Trump. Besides, Hinojosa said, “most of the people you need to build out a campaign have already chosen sides.” A former managing director for Bain Capital, Patrick has close ties to Wall Street donors. As the first black governor of Massachusetts and only the nation’s second elected black governor since Reconstruction, Patrick also could run as a historic boundary breaker trying to dent Biden’s support among African Americans — though Harris and Booker, the only two black Democrats in the Senate, have been unable to do that thus far. A Biden aide confirmed that Patrick had talked to Biden in recent days about the possibility of entering the race, though it wasn’t clear Wednesday whether the two men had talked since Patrick had decided that he would run. A Booker aide said Wednesday that Patrick had not called the New Jersey senator. Patrick has remained active in politics since his term as governor ended in 2015. During the 2018 midterm elections, he traveled across the country in support of Democratic candidates, raising his national profile. “He’s a dynamic speaker,” Hinojosa said, recalling Patrick headlining a Texas Democratic fundraiser ahead of the midterms. “But that’s the last we’ve heard from him.” Patrick also campaigned for Doug Jones during Alabama's contentious 2017 special election for U.S. Senate. Last year, some of Patrick's supporters and close advisers launched the Reason to Believe political action committee, “a grassroots organization dedicated to advancing a positive, progressive vision for our nation in 2018 and 2020.” The PAC held meetups across the country, including in early presidential primary states. By December, however, Patrick cooled to the idea of a presidential bid. “After a lot of conversation, reflection and prayer, I've decided that a 2020 campaign for president is not for me,” Patrick posted on his Facebook page at the time. Patrick said he and his wife worried that the “cruelty of our elections process would ultimately splash back on people whom Diane and I love, but who hadn't signed up for the journey.” The PAC was formally dissolved earlier this year. Patrick, a close friend of Obama’s who campaigned for him, has positioned himself over the years as slightly more moderate than some on the Democratic left. After Trump’s election, Patrick’s initial criticism of the Republican president was somewhat less pointed than other Democrats offered. “We need our presidents to succeed,” he said, while still expressing concern about what he described as Trump’s belittling of those with opposing points of view. Patrick also urged the party at the time to look in the mirror, saying that “the outcome of the 2016 election was less about Donald Trump winning than Democrats and our nominee letting him do so.” Early in his career, Patrick served as assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Clinton administration and later worked as an executive at Texaco and Coca-Cola. Since leaving the governor's office, Patrick has worked as a managing director for Bain Capital — a company co-founded by 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Patrick’s predecessor as governor. Patrick's Massachusetts record is mixed. His successes include helping oversee the 2006 health care law signed by Romney that would go on to serve as a blueprint for Obama's 2010 health care law. Also considered a success: a 2008 initiative that committed Massachusetts to spending $1 billion over 10 years to jump-start the state's life sciences sector. There were rough patches, including turmoil at the state Department of Children and Families following the deaths of three children. Patrick was also forced to publicly apologize for a disastrous effort to transition to the federal health care law during which the state's website performed so poorly it created a backlog of more than 50,000 paper applications. ___ Barrow reported from Atlanta. Peoples reported from Concord, N.H.
  • The online spin began even before Wednesday’s impeachment hearing got underway. Moments before House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff could welcome witnesses to the first public hearing of the impeachment inquiry, President Donald Trump took to Twitter to dismiss the “New Hoax. Same Swamp.” Former Obama administration aides-turned-podcasters dissected the hearings in real time. They broadcast their running conversation on Slack, an instant messaging platform popular in workplaces, over YouTube to thousands of left-leaning followers. And partisans on both sides of the aisle used Twitter to debate the significance of a revelation by William Taylor, the top diplomat in Ukraine, that one of his staff members overheard a telephone conversation in which Trump discussed “the investigations.” So went the national conversation surrounding the first presidential impeachment hearings of the hyperpartisan, social media era. It is a moment when influence and misinformation efforts move at lightning speed and with a sophistication that would have been unimaginable when the nation last went through a presidential impeachment more than 20 years ago, an era when dialup modems and AOL message boards powered the digital town square. Even before the Democratic House investigators’ counsel Daniel Goldman could end his first round of questioning, Trump backers labeled the hearing an inconsequential #Snoozefest. “For as much time as the Democrats have spent trying to orchestrate “political theater” they have done a terrible job,” presidential son Eric Trump declared on Twitter. “This clown show is horribly boring. There is not a single person outside the beltway who is engaged in this nonsense. Can’t wait to win again in 2020! #DCSucks.” Tommy Vietor, a former Obama White House spokesman and co-host of Pod Save America, applauded Schiff for keeping early questioning focused on Taylor’s revelation that a staff member overheard a telephone conversation between Trump and Gordon Sondland, an ambassador to the European Union, that he found concerning. Taylor said the staffer asked Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Sondland responded that Trump cared more about investigating Biden. “Really smart of Schiff to start with the new revelations, get Taylor to repeat it,” Vietor wrote in a real-time Slack commentary posted on YouTube. “Create more snippets to share.” Some on the left pushed #TrumpBribery, a hashtag used nearly 50,000 times before the hearings even kicked off. Democrats, who have at times struggled to craft an easily explained narrative around Trump’s conduct with Ukraine, celebrated its success. “BOOM: #TrumpBribery is trending nationally and has already been tweeted over 10,000 times. Let’s keep it going!” Scott Dworkin, co-founder of the Democratic Coalition Against Trump, cheered on Twitter. Before the day’s witnesses could deliver their opening statements, Republicans questioned Schiff’s fairness and created a moment that supporters could share on social media at the top of the hearing. Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, pointedly asked Schiff when he would allow members of the intelligence committee to question the whistleblower whose complaint spurred the impeachment inquiry. The whistleblower had raised concerns that Trump inappropriately pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the Ukraine. “Of the 435 members of Congress, you are the only member who knows who that individual is,” Jordan told Schiff. “And your staff is the only staff of any member of Congress that has had a chance to talk to that individual. We would like that opportunity. When might that happen in this proceeding today?” The whistleblower contacted Schiff’s staff before filing the complaint with the inspector general’s office. But attorneys for the whistleblower said their client never met with Schiff. “First, as the gentleman knows, that’s a false statement,” said Schiff, whose response was met with laughter by some in the Capitol Hill hearing room. “I do not know the identity of the whistleblower, and I’m determined to make sure that the identity is protected.” The Republican National Committee posted video on Twitter of Jordan pressing Schiff but did not include the California lawmaker’s response. The clip was shared from the RNC account more than 1,300 times. Even the sartorial choices of witness George Kent, a deputy secretary of state who wore a patterned green bow tie and matching pocket square, spurred partisan debate on Twitter. “Imagine being George Kent and deciding to wear a bow tie to go up against Donald Trump,” tweeted One America News Network host Jack Posobiec, a self-described nationalist-conservative. The liberal commentator John Nichols was more appreciative of Kent’s neckwear. “Well, yes, it’s obvious by now that George Kent’s superpowers are associated with the bow tie,” Nichols wrote. ___ Seitz reported from Chicago.
  • A federal judge has ruled that a Guatemalan family seeking asylum in the United States must be granted attorney access before being forced to wait in Mexico as their case winds through U.S. immigration court. District Judge Dana Sabraw’s temporary restraining order may have far-reaching consequences if applied more widely to a key Trump administration policy to address a surge of asylum-seekers arriving at the U.S. border with Mexico. The judge scheduled a hearing Dec. 13 on whether the ruling should apply to all asylum-seekers returned to Mexico through California to wait for their next court appearance. The U.S. Homeland Security Department sent back more than 55,000 people through California and Texas to wait in Mexico in the nine months after the policy was introduced in January. Last month, it published a report that called the policy “an indispensable tool in addressing the ongoing crisis at the southern border and restoring integrity to the immigration system.” The Justice Department declined to comment on Sabraw’s ruling, issued late Tuesday. The judge said the family must have access to their attorney before and during an interview with U.S. authorities to determine if Mexico is safe enough for them to wait. Lawsuits challenging the policy say it denies fair treatment to asylum-seekers and exposes them to extremely violent conditions in Mexican border cities. Critics have highlighted recent cases of asylum-seekers sent back to Mexico with nonexistent court dates — an issue they say may be addressed through more attorney access. The Associated Press has heard from attorneys who say U.S. has returned 11 clients to Mexico with court dates that don’t exist. A woman from El Salvador whose case was closed Oct. 30 said she told authorities that she feared living in Mexico because she was kidnapped into prostitution and, on another occasion, savagely beaten. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials declined to comment on individual cases but said Tuesday that asylum-seekers can be returned to Mexico while a ruling is under appeal and that dates are provided to indicate when to check with U.S. authorities on the status of their cases. It is correct that either side can appeal within 30 days of a decision, but the form that CBP gave the Salvadoran woman states that she has a court date Dec. 16, which is untrue. The AP confirmed with the court that there was no court date for her case and also received a copy of the judge’s order that the case is closed. It also falls outside the 30-day window to appeal. The American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego & Imperial Counties sued the federal government last week on behalf of the Guatemalan family, which fled their home after suffering extortion, death threats and rape. The family reported being stripped, assaulted and robbed in Mexico by masked men who appeared to be wearing government uniforms. The family told an immigration judge in San Diego on Nov. 5 that they feared returning to Tijuana after a shootout outside their temporary shelter. Sabraw, an appointee of President George W. Bush who is also presiding over a case to reunite thousands of children with their parents after being separated by authorities at the border, said the Guatemalan family was likely to suffer “irreparable harm” without an attorney. Even if the ruling’s scope is widened, its impact may be blunted by the inability of many asylum-seekers to afford an attorney, which the government is not required to provide. Only 1.3% of asylum-seekers who were sent back to Mexico to wait by the end of June had attorneys, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.