News You May Have Missed: September 29, 2019

We’re sure you haven’t missed the news about the whistleblower whose cogent and cautious complaint–that Trump had tried to use foreign aid as a bargaining chip to get the president of Ukraine to investigate Biden’s son–was initially suppressed. However, as the plot gets thicker and thicker, we thought you might like to have a comprehensive overview of the whole messy story–at least to date.

We’ve also tried to keep track of the most critical immigration news (more stories follow). For a devastating summary of where things stand, see Brianna Rennix’s column in Current Affairs, “This Week in Terrible Immigration News.” Rennix is the Senior Editor of Current Affairs and an immigration attorney.

Our colleague Crysostom sums up the week’s news about appointments and elections.


1. Unpresidented.

A C.I.A. whistleblower has filed a complaint through formal legal channels. Their evidence was initially (possibly illegally) withheld from Congress. The complaint was declassified Wednesday (pdf; if you read only one link from our account, make it this one).

In July 2019, Trump called Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to pressure him to help smear a political rival. The smear? In 2016, then-Vice President Joe Biden demanded that Ukraine fire Viktor Shokin from their top prosecutor position, with Western leaders and Ukrainian anti-corruption activists united in wanting the corrupt Shokin’s removal. Trump is saying Biden used his power to protect his son Hunter from prosecution, even though Shokin had already dropped his investigation into the Hunter Biden-associated company Burisma when Joe Biden intervened, and Hunter was hired after the period originally under investigation.

On the July 25 call (pdf; annotated by WaPo):

  • Zelensky curried favor with Trump by mentioning his stay at a Trump Hotel. Trump has trained world leaders to bargain for their national goals with personal favors. Ukraine already showed their understanding of this in 2018, when they stopped cooperating with Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort while the Trump administration was finalizing plans to sell them missiles.
  • The president criticized Marie Louise Yovanovitch, ambassador to Ukraine from August 2016 to May 2019, as “bad news”, and made the chilling comment, “Well, she’s going to go through some things.”

But allegations of wrongdoing don’t hinge on a single phone call. Giuliani had multiple meetings with Ukrainian officials, at least one set up by the State Department. He also worked through Soviet-born Floridians Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have Ukrainian financial interests and histories of fraud, mafia ties, and ties to smugglers, all detailed in this article. Parnas and Fruman have stayed at the Trump Hotel, brunched with Don Jr., dined with Trump in Washington, and met with and raised funds for congressional Republicans, all “without registering as foreign agents or being vetted by the State Department.” A Florida lawyer specializing in foreign investments wired money from a client trust account to Parnas, who then transferred $325,000 of that money to a Trump-supporting super PAC, apparently laundering an illegal foreign campaign contribution. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is investigating.

The House has opened an impeachment inquiry into the President (video) where the question won’t be whether or not Trump broke the law, but whether he failed to uphold his constitutional duties. The Senate has started a bipartisan inquiry and will depose Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Ambassador Kurt Volker, Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl and Ambassador Gordon Sondland. Both Senate and House heard from intelligence officials Thursday. On Sunday, the House Intelligence Committee made arrangements to hear testimony from the whistleblower, according to the Washington Post. Indivisible is calling on Pelosi to cancel the Sept 30-Oct 15 recess.

The whistleblower complaint also alleges that White House officials sometimes hide computer records of Trump communications with foreign officials (including the July 25 call) on a separate, covert network, in clear abuse of the National Security Act. CNN reported that among those foreign officials were Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

The wrongdoing is not limited to Trump. Vice President Pence also discussed Biden with Zelensky (Trump helpfully threw Pence under the bus). Acting White House Chief of Staff Mulvaney ordered the hold on the distribution of funds. Secretary of State Pompeo got Ukrainian officials to defend Trump (and has been subpoenaed). Attorney General Barr was named by Trump in the call.

On Thursday morning, in a “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest” moment, Trump insinuated that the whistleblower, who he called a spy, should be killed, saying, “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.” (LA Times audio)

It is illegal under US law for a politician to extort a foreign government to help win an election. Moreover, part of the $391 million package Trump delayed will pay for a secure system to allow Ukrainian military communications to continue despite ongoing Russian hacking and jamming… meaning that Trump compromised national security, and did so in a way that just happens to benefit Russia. JM

NYT keeps a list of Who Supports an Impeachment Inquiry Against Trump if you want to check on, and call, your representatives.

2. Other investigations.

Huffington Post reports on a potential second whistleblower with evidence given to Ways and Means that Trump tried to rig tax audit of his personal returns.

The New York Times has a summary of each of 30 investigations related to the president. JM

3. Many fewer refugees to be admitted to the U.S.

In a deeply disturbing move, President Trump has slashed the cap on the number of refuges the U.S. will admit, the New York Times reports. In 2016, then-President Obama suggested the U.S. should be taking responsibility globally for admitting 110,000 refugees annually. Last year, Trump and the Republicans accepted 30,000 refugees. Next year the U.S. intends to admit only 18,000 refugees.

In contrast, with only about 11% of the population of the U.S., Canada accepted 28,100 refugees in 2018, according to Global News. S-HP.

To speak up about our responsibility to the world’s refugees, write those on this list.

4. We’re all paying to keep empty detention centers open

While there haven’t been children in the Homestead Detention Center since August 3, taxpayers are still paying $720,000 day to keep the facility fully staffed in case of an influx. That’s a bit more than $5 million a week or $21.6 million per month, according to CBS News. Incarcerating children is helping to keep Caliburn, the company that runs this and other private prisons and whose Board members include ex-Chief of Staff John Kelly, profitable. The company actually wrote in their SEC filings: “Border enforcement and immigration policy is driving significant growth for our company.” S-HP

If you have opinions about whether this is a good use of your tax money, write your representatives–addresses here.

5. We’re all paying for the tariffs

The Center for American Progress has been examining the impact of Trump’s China tariffs. They report that the Federal Reserve estimates the tariffs will cost each U.S. household $831 per year, while JPMorgan is projecting a cost of $1000 per household—and both these numbers were calculated before Trump escalated the trade war with additional tariffs. The Center for American Progress estimates the current sot of these tariffs at over $100.7 billion (yes, that’s billion with a b). To look up the tariffs’ costs thus far for your Congressional district, just go here. S-HP

If you want to speak up about how much the tarrif war is costing you, write your representatives.

6. Graduate student teachers no longer “employees”

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has just published a proposed rule that would declare that students (undergraduate and graduate) working for any private college or university, including teachers and researchers, would not be considered “employees” under the law. This means they would have no collective bargaining rights and could not turn to the NLRB for redress of workplace abuses. The NLRB’s logic: “The Board believes that this proposed standard is consistent with the purposes and policies of the Act, which contemplates jurisdiction over economic relationships, not those that are primarily educational in nature.” However, as anyone with much contact with a college or university would already know, many schools now rely on graduate students to do the bulk of lower-division instruction and to avoid hiring additional faculty, which certainly sounds like “employment.” This proposed rule is open for comments through November 11. At the moment, only five comments have been submitted, so we need to speak up.

Do you want to let the NLRB know that labor is labor? If so, you can send a formal comment.

7. Election (In)security

You may have heard that the Senate, with Mitch McConnell’s blessing, has passed a $250 million election security bill. Before you start doing a happy dance, let’s look at some of the details. These monies would be given to local elections offices to purchase additional voting machines. Does it require machines with paper ballot verification? No. Does it require machines that haven’t been hacked in fifteen minutes by a twelve-year-old (seriously)? No. Does it require machines be auditable? No. Does it require that the machines not be connected to the internet, which facilitates hacking? No. S-HP

Do you have views on election security? Write your senators.

International News

8. Depriving the poorest countries of humanitarian aid

In April, President Trump froze foreign aid to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in protest of the number of individuals from these countries entering the U.S. to seek asylum. The loss of aid makes conditions in the region even more dire, giving individuals who live there even more reason to attempt a move to the U.S. National Public Radio (NPR) recently did a story illustrating what frozen aid has meant for one Guatemalan family. The Marroquín family, struggling, small-scale corn farmers, had been delighted to receive a small monthly stipend through a program run by Save the Children and primarily financed with U.S. aid. The stipend was originally $60 a month, but after the aid freeze, the amount kept dropping, until the program was ended altogether. The family spent their final payment of $18 on chickens, in hopes that their eggs might provide a continuing source of calories and nutrition to supplement their corn.

According to NPR, other projects currently in jeopardy include “discount agricultural supply markets in the highlands; rural health clinics; community savings and loans funds; after-school tutoring for kids in violent urban neighborhoods; shelters for victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking; re-integration services for returned migrants; trainings aimed at improving the transparency and effectiveness of local governments; and support for conserving ecologically sensitive landscapes.” Are we to believe that punishing the poorest of the poor in these ways will discourage Guatemalans from seeking a better life in the U.S.? S-HP

Do you think foreign aid should be restored? Here’s a list of those to write.

9. Protect

Burma’s Rohingya people have suffered mass killings and gang rapes; 730,000 have fled to Bangladesh. The UN has said that the persecution of the Rohingya Muslims was conducted with “genocidal intent.” According to its own internal report, which Reuters obtained, the UN did not respond effectively in part because it did not have the support of the Security Council. As the report reads, “The overall responsibility was of a collective character; in other words, it truly can be characterised as a systemic failure of the United Nations.”

The House has passed H.R.3190, the Burma Unified through Rigorous Military Accountability Act. This legislation calls for sanctions on Burmese officials and, as explained in the official summary, “authorizes humanitarian aid for Burma, Bangladesh, and the surrounding region for various purposes, including aid for ethnic minorities targeted by Burma’s military and support for voluntary resettlement of displaced persons. The bill also prohibits security assistance for or security cooperation with Burma’s military and security forces, with exceptions for certain existing programs related to training, research, and reconciliation.” H.R.3190 has now moved to the Senate, where it is with the Foreign Relations Committee. S-HP

Do you want your senators to advance the bill to protect Burma’s Rohingya people? Information here.

Science, Technology & Environment

10. Greta Thunberg attacks are coordinated 

Teen Vogue reports that the deluge of hateful remarks and criticism regarding 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg aren’t exactly of a grassroots groundswell variety. The reporting traces back much of the propaganda efforts to a familiar coterie of incredibly wealthy, old, white men best described as “free market radicals.” That a 16 year old girl has been moved to speak so articulately and passionately about what is almost certainly the greatest existential threat to her generation is apparently also existentially threatening to these moneyed interests. Among the originators are the laughably named Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, the oil lobbying allied Heartland Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute as well as some key British players in the Brexit debacle. They say you can judge a person by their enemies; this seems very true with Ms. Thunberg. JC

11. New UN report reveals we are already within a climate catastrophe

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its newest report this week entitled “Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate,” which details that we are already well past the point of no return to avoid serious climate related disasters. Among the baked-in impacts are *annual* so-called “hundred-year floods” for some cities, more than three feet of sea rise by the end of this century (displacing more than four million people in this country alone), sharp decline in ocean productivity, mass die-off of coral and increased water shortages from the end of glacier-supplied water sources. These are things that are going to happen, no matter what we do now.. even with the most extreme proposals;what will happen if we don’t make significant systemic changes will be much worse, the IPCC explains. JC


  • Sarah-Hope’s list is partly incorporated above, but she has additional material especially for Californians.
  • In addition to a variety of other actions you can take, Rogan’s list suggests some ways your voice can be heard on the Ukraine/impeachment issue.
  • In Martha’s list, note particularly the issue of water quality in Washington State.