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Judiciary too busy impeaching Trump to focus on Kavanaugh claims

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WASHINGTON — House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., responded to calls for an investigation into Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh in light of new sexual misconduct allegations by saying that the panel has “our hands full with impeaching the president.”

In a radio interview with WNYC on Monday, Nadler was asked if he’d be concerned with Democrats thinking he’s not taking the Kavanaugh allegations seriously enough. He said his committee has too much on its plate.

“We have our hands full with impeaching the president right now and that’s going to take up our limited resources and time for a while,” Nadler said.

Asked about whether he plans to keep his promise from last October of investigating Kavanaugh over his Senate confirmation hearing, Nadler was candid about his position on impeaching the president.

“Frankly, we are concentrating our resources on determining whether to impeach the president. Personally I think the President ought to be impeached but we have to concentrate on that for the next few months,” he said.

Over the weekend, a pair of New York Times reporters in an opinion-section article previewing their upcoming book on Kavanaugh’s confirmation said they found new corroboration for accusations that Kavanaugh exposed himself to Deborah Ramirez, a classmate at Yale. NBC News has not verified that reporting.

The reporters said that former Yale classmate Max Stier told senators and the FBI about a different episode of alleged sexual misconduct. Two people with first-hand knowledge confirm to NBC News that the FBI was notified of Stier’s claim.

The chairman said that his committee plans to question FBI Director Christopher Wray next month including about the agency’s investigation into Kavanaugh.

Nadler continued by saying he personally believes impeaching the president is “imperative” so that Democrats can “vindicate the Constitution,” acknowledging that its purpose would not be removing Trump from office because the GOP-controlled Senate wouldn’t do that.

Nadler said that while he feels there is already enough information to impeach the President, he believes the Committee needs to educate the public to get behind impeachment before moving forward.

“We have to show that there are adequate grounds for impeachment, that there are imperative grounds for impeachment and convince people. If that happens, if people are convinced after the hearings that the president should be impeached then we will be able to get the votes, if that doesn’t happen, we won’t be able to get the votes,” Nadler said.

The Judiciary Committee approved a resolution last Thursday that set procedures and rules for future impeachment investigation hearings. The first such hearing will be held on Tuesday afternoon with Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, as the first witness.

Some top Democrats, including Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., called for Kavanaugh to be impeached in light of the new allegations against him.

Kavanaugh was sworn in to the high court last October after senators investigated sexual assault and misconduct allegations made against him by Christine Blasey Ford and other women during his Senate confirmation process. He has denied the allegations made against him.

Haley Talbot contributed.



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U.S. troops to withdraw from northern Syria as ISIS supporters escape amid alleged Turkish atrocities

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U.S. forces were preparing to withdraw from northeastern Syria Sunday as hundreds of Islamic State group supporters escaped from a displacement camp. There were reports of alleged atrocities as Turkish forces continued their advance.

About 1,000 troops will leave the area “as safely and quickly as possible,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper told CBS’ “Face the Nation,” according to an excerpt of an interview set to air Sunday.

They will not leave the country entirely, he said.

Esper said that the conflict between Turkish forces and U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters had become “untenable” for the U.S. military.

U.S. allies have urged an end to the Turkish invasion, which sparked fears of a renewed humanitarian crisis in the region and a resurgent ISIS threat.

President Donald Trump said Sunday that it was “very smart not to be involved in the intense fighting along the Turkish Border, for a change.”

He added that he was working with Congress on imposing “powerful sanctions on Turkey.”

But Trump has largely stood by his decision to pull U.S. troops back to clear the way for Turkish forces, acknowledging late Saturday that he was an “island of one” on the issue.

The U.S. previously set down red lines for the Turkish offensive that would trigger economic sanctions, including ethnic cleansing and indiscriminate fire directed at civilian populations.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said early Sunday that close to 800 members of a camp holding the families of ISIS fighters had escaped after Turkish shelling.

Some Kurdish guards were forced to leave their posts as fighting neared a camp for displaced people near the town of Ain Eissa, a spokesperson for the U.K.-based observatory told NBC News.

“It’s now chaos in the camp and there are people still escaping,” Rami Abdulrahman said.

NBC News has been unable to independently verify the claim.

The Turkish military and Turkey-backed Syrian fighters continued to advance toward Ain Eissa, the administrative center of the Kurdish-held areas.

As they drove forward, video and photographs appearing to show alleged atrocities carried out by Turkish-backed fighters spread on social media.

Multiple U.S. officials told NBC News the video, which appeared to show the execution of a Kurd, appeared to be genuine.

The video is disturbing and NBC News has blurred the most graphic images.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also claimed some civilians had been executed. NBC News has been unable to independently verify the claim.

U.S. allies in Europe sought to step up the pressure on Turkey, with both Germany and France saying they will halt weapons exports to Ankara.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson expressed “grave concern about Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria” in a call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Saturday, his government said.

Protests in support of the Kurds were held in Greece, Germany and France Saturday. Demonstrators also gathered outside the White House Saturday holding large Kurdistan flags.

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis, who led the Pentagon through the first two years of the Trump administration, warned during an exclusive interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” Saturday that the president’s decision to pull troops from Syria’s border in advance of a Turkish incursion could have dire consequences and lead to ISIS’s resurgence.

U.S. troops stationed in the region also came under artillery fire from Turkish forces late Friday, but no Americans were injured in the incident.

“There will be serious consequences for our national security well beyond Syria,” said Brett McGurk, former special presidential envoy for the global coalition to defeat ISIS and NBC News foreign affairs analyst, in response to Sunday morning’s news.

“For now, may our people get out safely.”

World leaders and aid organizations have warned the offensive could lead to a new humanitarian crisis on the ground.

The United Nations said Sunday that more than 130,000 people have been displaced from rural areas around the strategically key northeastern Syrian border towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ayn as a result of fighting between Turkish-led forces and Kurdish militia.

It estimated up to 400,000 civilians in the Syrian conflict zone may require aid and protection.

The Trump administration also released $50 million in assistance to Syria late Saturday “to protect persecuted ethnic and religious minorities,” according to a statement from White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham.

Turkish troops are fighting the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are led by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). Turkey views the YPG as an extension of the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is considered a terrorist group by the United States.

But the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been crucial U.S. allies in the war on ISIS.

The SDF has held more than 10,000 ISIS members in detention centers and prison camps, but they said they are being forced to abandon some of those positions to fight the Turkish invasion.

Turkey’s defense ministry said Sunday that 480 “terrorists” have been killed since launching its military operation. That claim has not been independently verified by NBC News.

The number of casualties since the violence began has varied between sources and NBC News has been unable to independently verify any claims.

Associated Press contributed.



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Polls show support for impeachment but not removal, yet

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WASHINGTON – The Ukraine/impeachment saga has been topping the news for weeks now, but a raft of new polls released this week offer the first real read on where the public stands on the complicated story. The common headline: Most people want an investigation and a formal inquiry, but Republicans are not on board – at least not yet.

Inside the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal, however, there are a few numbers that reveal how important the next few weeks of news could be in the impeachment story and suggest that the White House has a few areas of deep concern.

First, the overall findings in the latest survey. A majority of Americans, 55 percent, favor an impeachment inquiry for President Trump and 39 percent believe there isn’t enough evidence to impeach.

But that 55 percent can be broken into two groups on the question. There is a group of 24 percent who believe there is enough evidence to remove the president from office right now. And there is another 31 percent who believe the correct course of action is holding an inquiry “to determine if there is enough evidence to see if he should remain or be removed from office.”

So the largest part of that majority is really backing the start of a process. Remember, impeachment does not mean removal from office, it means starting the formal course of action (in the House) that can lead to a president being removed (by a vote in the Senate).

Looking at those numbers through a partisan frame shows some fault lines and, perhaps, unexpected areas of agreement.

For instance, the poll shows that a plurality of Democrats, 45 percent, and independent voters, 40 percent, believe Congress should hold the impeachment inquiry and see where it leads. The number for outright removal now is higher among Democrats, 42 percent, than it is among independents, 20 percent. Still, it’s worth noting that both groups favor starting the inquiry process over simple removal.

Republicans are the outlier here, as you might expect, with 76 percent saying that currently there is not enough evidence to even start a formal impeachment inquiry.

That’s a high number, of course, and probably a comfort to the White House. However, it should be noted that 76 percent is eight points lower than Trump’s job approval number among Republicans, 84 percent.

In other words, there are some small signs of discomfort with what the president did on the Ukraine story, even among his biggest boosters. And even small signs of discomfort could be troubling for a president who won the Electoral College by a narrow 78,000 margin in three states while losing the popular vote by about 2.8 million ballots.

There are other points of concern in the NBC/WSJ poll for Team Trump.

Among people who get their news from conservative news outlets – people who are more likely to hear coverage sympathetic to the president – 41 percent believe an impeachment inquiry is warranted. That’s more than twice the 20 percent of Republicans overall who believe that.

And when you dig deeper into the number for Republicans, their attitudes on impeachment are less cut-and-dried.

The NBC/WSJ survey asks Republican respondents whether they consider themselves to be more supporters of President Trump or more supporters of the Republican Party. Those two groups make up 48 percent and 39 percent of the GOP respectively – and they have very different feelings about impeachment.

Among “Trump Republicans,” there is an incredibly powerful desire to end the entire impeachment story now – 91 percent say “there is not enough evidence to hold an impeachment inquiry of Trump and he should finish his term as president.”

But among “party Republicans” the end impeachment now figure is 33 points lower, only 58 percent say the there is not enough evidence to hold an impeachment inquiry. And in that “party Republican” segment of the GOP, 26 percent say the inquiry should go forward and 13 percent say there is enough evidence to remove the president right now.

Those “party Republicans” may be the critical part of the GOP to watch going forward. A large portion of them is already open to impeaching the president. Further erosion among them could signal a fundamental challenge to Trump’s presidency.

With all these numbers, keep in mind that we are still likely quite early in the impeachment game. All these data points are, as pollsters always like to say, snapshots of a moment in time – in particular, they are the views from October 4th through 6th, when this survey was taken. That was several twists and turns ago in the story.

It’s not yet clear whether these numbers have captured public opinions and attitudes as they are in the process of moving, or whether the data are simply a new baseline on this issue that will stay locked in place.

To better understand that, the real test is what these figures look like a few weeks or a month from now.

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Fired EPA scientists to release air pollution report they say agency unqualified to issue

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Nearly one year ago, the Trump administration fired a panel of more than two dozen scientific experts who assisted the Environmental Protection Agency in its review of air quality standards for particulate matter.

Now, as the EPA prepares its report on those standards later this month, 20 of those scientists met independently to prepare the release of their own assessment of current air pollution levels, with a focus on the particles from fossil fuels that can make people sick.

These scientists and researchers, former members of the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC) on particulate matter, said the EPA has stripped the panel down to its core seven members, who are ill-equipped to set air quality standards and don’t have the time to do it.

“They fired the particulate matter review panel and they said the chartered CASAC would do the review,” Chris Zarba, who served as the staff director of the Scientific Advisory Board at the EPA until 2018, said. “In the history of the agency this has never happened. The new panel is unqualified and the new panel has said they were unqualified.”

In response, the group of former panel members reconvened at a meeting in Washington on Thursday and Friday that was open to the public — exactly one year after they were told that their expertise was no longer needed. This group of scientists, engineers and researchers have formed a nongovernmental committee called the Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel.

The new panel feels their work is necessary for the very reasons that particle pollution is regulated by the EPA: because extended exposure can cause premature death, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, decreased lung function and respiratory issues, according to the agency.

EPA said it is confident in its own panel and experts and said it “is committed to scientific integrity and transparency.”

“EPA has the utmost confidence in its career scientist and the members on its science advisory boards and panels,” an agency spokesperson said. “EPA routinely takes comments from the public and outside organizations, including those not employed or associated with EPA, and will continue to take into consideration those comments that meet our scientific standards.”

Under previous administrations, because of health risks from particle pollution and the science’s complexity, the EPA has enlisted the aid of outside experts to help them come to the strongest scientific consensus on air quality standards, said John Bachmann, the former associate director for science and policy in the EPA’s Air Office. That work with outside help remained consistent for almost 40 years.

Those experts were helpful because the Clean Air Act requires that the standards of particle matter be re-examined every five years with the latest scientific evidence, which is challenging, explained Bachman. Oftentimes, the five-year deadline is not met to ensure the latest science is thoroughly reviewed and related to the new standard.

“Being only seven people, CASAC doesn’t have enough people to cover the scientific issues that come up with the reviews,” said Bachman, who explained that the panels would typically be filled with experts on epidemiology, toxicology, medicine and more.

The fear is that the EPA under the Trump administration is not willing or able to approach these new standards earnestly, which could lead to major health issues, but the other goal, these scientists say, is to broadcast that they believe this administration isn’t taking science seriously or even trying to block it.

“It’s pretty clear in the context of this EPA there’s a strong agenda to roll back regulations, and the science does not always lead to a conclusion that a rollback is the right thing to do,” said Christopher Frey, the chair of this new panel and the former CASAC chair. “Rather than listen to the science and making an appropriate decision, science is being sidelined.”

This new panel hopes to counter that by providing the scientific expertise they believe is lacking in the EPA’s own consideration of these new standards and release a report by Oct. 21.

“It’s really heartening to see the comments that are already coming in to the (questions) we wrote and how people are taking them seriously,” Bachman said. “They’re providing advice like we did in the past. Not all of these folks are going to agree with each other or the EPA, but this is something the EPA should really want to continue.”

While many said it is inspiring that this group of scientists came together to release this report, it also highlights a troubling development in which the federal government is not participating in scientific dialogue, Gretchen Goldman, the research director for the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Center for Science and Democracy, said.

The Union of Concerned Scientists is underwriting the meeting of scientists.

“There are other efforts like this where people outside of the government are picking up the slack,” Goldman said. “There are opportunities to do that. But it’s ultimately not our job, and we can’t expect outside actors to pick up the slack. This is important work, but it’s not a sustainable model.”

That’s not the only concern that some have in this arena.

Current and former EPA officials point out that enforcement and inspection of pollution standards have fallen under the current administration.

Nicole Cantello, an EPA attorney and president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 704, which represents hundreds of Midwest EPA employees, said that enforcement under the Trump administration has deteriorated because of a declining workforce and a recent agency reorganization.

An EPA spokesperson said enforcement numbers have fallen because they have pursued partnerships with some states, are “leveraging the efforts of the private sector by encouraging self-audits and self-disclosure” and has “focused its resources on areas important to the protection of public health and the environment.”

The Obama administration averaged more than 18,000 EPA inspections related to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and a handful of other environmental regulations, according to the agency’s own numbers.

That inspection figure has fallen to about 10,500 over three years under the Trump administration. Enforcement of administrative compliance, penalties and civil judicial reviews fell by nearly 1,000 cases from the almost 2,850 under the Obama administration from 2009 to 2016.

“Even if you get a new administration, (the level of enforcement) is going to kill anything that administration is able to do because there’s no cases that you would have from the previous three or four years,” Cantello said.

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