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House Judiciary Committee votes to impeach Trump, capping damaging testimony

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WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee, in a historic vote that fell along party lines, approved articles of impeachment Friday against President Donald Trump, charging he abused his power as president and obstructed Congress.

“Today is a solemn and sad day,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said after the vote in brief remarks. “For the third time in a little over a century and a half, the House Judiciary Committee has voted articles of impeachment against the president for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The House will act expeditiously.”

The measures, which will most likely be voted on by the full House on Wednesday, were passed by the committee after weeks of damaging testimony about Trump’s alleged conduct from past and present diplomats and other government officials, as well as legal scholars. They asserted the president had improperly withheld security aid to Ukraine for political reasons, including seeking an investigation of the Bidens.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said: “Rather than help Americans move into the future with confidence, Democrats are attempting to knee-cap our democracy. They’re telling millions of voters that Democrats will work to overturn the will of the people whenever it conflicts with the will of liberal elites.”

The votes on Friday followed 14 hours of debate Thursday on the articles and amendments offered by Republicans that sought to gut the resolutions. There was no further discussion of the impeachment articles on Friday morning before the two quick roll call votes, which lasted only a few minutes.

Lawmakers had expected to cast votes on the measures late Thursday night, but Nadler abruptly recessed the committee meeting shortly after 11 p.m. ET, catching Republicans off-guard and leaving them outraged at the surprise move.

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For Democrats, the vote was an expression of their belief that Trump had engaged in conduct that must be punished. Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., a member of the committee, tweeted after the vote that it showed “no one is above the law.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a constitutional law and election law professor for nearly three decades, said more public engagement is needed to help convince the GOP-controlled Senate that Trump should be removed from office.

“The reason that the framers of the Constitution made impeachment a matter of legislative jurisdiction rather than within the courts is because they understood that there would be public opinion involved,” Raskin said. “So we need an engaged public to deal with the president’s crimes, to confront the reality of the president’s misconduct.”

Trump, speaking to reporters a couple of hours after the vote, called it a “sham,” “witch hunt,” and “hoax” and said it was “trivializing” impeachment, while Republicans on the Judiciary Committee condemned the action and blasted Democrats.

“This is an outrage,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said after the impeachment vote Friday. “It sets the bar for any president, in any party, for the future to go through three years of hell like this president has.”

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., told reporters, “This is really a travesty for America and it’s really tearing America apart. I have never in my entire life seen such an unfair rigged railroad job against the president of the United States. … They predetermined they were going to do it and they did it, come hell or high water.”

On Thursday night, Nadler said that the committee would vote Friday morning in an effort to give lawmakers time overnight to contemplate how they plan to vote on such an important measure. Democrats also said the vote was so significant that it should take place during daylight hours when more people are likely to be watching.

The vote count sits on a desk at the House Judiciary Committee as members voted on House Resolution 755, Articles of Impeachment Against President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill in Washington, on Dec. 13, 2019.Saul Loeb / AFP – Getty Images

“A vote on Articles of Impeachment is one of the most consequential and historic votes any member will cast. It should only take place in the light of day — not at 11:30 at night,” Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., tweeted.

In the next step, a Senate trial about whether to convict Trump and remove him from office will be held, most likely beginning in early January. It is unclear how long the trial will last.

Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Sean Hannity on Fox News on Thursday night that there was “no chance” Trump would be convicted in the Senate, which would require a two thirds vote.

“The case is so darn weak coming from the House. We know how it’s going to end,” McConnell said. “There’s no chance the president’s going to be removed from office. My hope is that there won’t be a single Republican who votes for either of these articles of impeachment, and, Sean, it wouldn’t surprise me if we got one or two Democrats.”



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A voice appearing to be Trump’s heard in recording demanding diplomat Yovanovitch’s ouster

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A voice that appears to be that of President Donald Trump ordered aides to “get rid” of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch after two now-indicted Rudy Giuliani associates told him she had been badmouthing him, according to an audio recording reviewed by ABC News.

The network said the recording appeared to include a discussion between Trump and Giuliani associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman at a small private dinner. Trump has denied knowing the pair and dismissed numerous pictures of them together as just photos taken at public events.

NBC News has neither obtained nor heard the recording and cannot verify the authenticity of the ABC report.

Parnas’s lawyer Joseph Bondy told NBC News Friday night that he located a version of the recording and turned it over the House Intelligence Committee after ABC reported on its existence. A spokesperson for the committee declined to comment.

Trump denied knowing Parnas in an interview with Fox News earlier Friday.

Asked if he was relying on Parnas to get rid of Yovanovitch, Trump said, “No, no. I have a lot of people – he’s somebody I guess based on pictures I see goes to fundraisers but I’m not a fan of that ambassador,” Trump said. “I want ambassadors that are chosen by me. I have a right to hire and fire ambassadors.”

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According to ABC, the voice that sounds like Trump apparently told aides at the April 2018 dinner at Trump International Hotel in Washington: “Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it.”

Trump made the demand after a voice that sounds like Parnas’ told the president that Yovanovitch was telling people that Trump was going to be impeached.

“The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador,” says the voice that sounds like Parnas. “She’s basically walking around telling everybody ‘Wait, he’s gonna get impeached, just wait.'”

Yovanovitch was removed from her post, but not until a year later.

A copy of the recording is in the custody of federal prosecutors in New York, according to ABC.

The audiotape lines up with what Parnas told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow about the Trump dinner in an interview last week.

He said he was having dinner in a private area of the hotel with the president and some of his aides.

“I don’t know how the issue is, the conversation came up, but I do remember me telling the president that the ambassador was badmouthing him and saying he was going to get impeached. Something to that effect,” Parnas told Maddow.

“And at that point he turned around to John DeStefano, who was his aide at the time, and said, ‘Fire her.’ And we all, there was silence in the room,” Parnas said.

He said DeStefano replied it couldn’t happen at the time because Mike Pompeo had not yet been confirmed as secretary of state. “I don’t know how many times at that dinner, once or twice or three times, but he fired her several times at that dinner,” Parnas said, speaking of Trump.

“He even had a breakdown and screamed, ‘fire her!'” to another assistant, Parnas claimed, and the assistant replied, “Mr. President, I can’t do that.”

Yovanovitch, who has been lauded for anti-corruption work, was targeted for removal in a campaign led by Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney.

The release of the audio comes as Democrats were outlining obstruction of Congress charges against the president in his Senate impeachment trial. Both Parnas and Fruman were ordered to turn over Ukraine-related documents to the House impeachment investigators, but refused.

Their lawyer at the time, former Trump lawyer John Dowd, cited various reasons for refusing to hand over documents, including that the pair “assisted Mr. Giuliani with his representation of President Trump.”

Following his arrest, Parnas started cooperating with House investigators and turned over numerous documents text messages and emails.



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Nuns get the message out, target vets, focus on minorities

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DES MOINES, Iowa — While his crowd sizes are underwhelming, Joe Biden is hoping veterans, Catholics and people of color will be his secret weapons in the upcoming Iowa caucuses, according to three people who attended a private donor retreat here and were briefed on the plan.

The campaign has taken some unusual steps to reach those voters, who are more typical of general-election swing voters than the Democratic Party loyalists who generally turn out in primaries and caucuses.

For instance, Biden officials told donors the campaign has hired paid canvassers, instead of relying solely on volunteers, to reach the state’s small but growing population of Latinos and African Americans. Iowa Democrats not affiliated with the campaign say that’s unusual, since the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses, now just over a week away, are often about showcasing grassroots enthusiasm.

The campaign has also had nuns send handwritten letters to Roman Catholics, focusing on Dubuque, a heavily Catholic city, attesting to Biden’s faith, which he’s spoken about on the trail. And it’s focused on targeted rural areas, including on a bus tour with the former vice president, where few delegates are at stake, but they can sometimes be won by persuading just a handful of caucusgoers.

To find veterans, the campaign pulled county property tax records, since they qualify for a tax credit, and then invited them to events with prominent Biden supporters who are also veterans, such as former Secretary of State John Kerry and freshman Rep. Conor Lamb, who has told Iowans that Biden can win back places like his western Pennsylvania district, which went for Donald Trump in 2016.

The donor retreat, which was held last weekend at the Marriott hotel in downtown Des Moines, offered a chance for members of Biden’s national finance committee to hear from top campaign officials, including the vice president himself, and for wealthy supporters to get a taste of canvassing door-to-door in their fancy ski gear in 6-degree temperatures.

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Campaign manager Greg Schultz and chief analytics officer Becca Siegel walked donors through their national strategy, and how Iowa fits into it, while Iowa State Director Jake Braun spoke about the state’s Feb. 3 caucuses.

Publicly, the campaign has downplayed the importance of Iowa in Biden’s path to the nomination, especially after a weak showing in a recent poll, noting he is expected to do well in more diverse states down the road, such as South Carolina.

But the presentation to donors made it clear they still view Iowa as essential, if less critical than it might be to other candidates, since they believe they have other pathways to the nomination.

And they said managing expectations in Iowa was key to their plan of trying to build a sense of momentum heading into Super Tuesday on March 3, when more than a dozen states will vote on the same day.

The campaign brass said they had simulated some 10,000 possible routes through the primary calendar to gauge how important each state is and, not surprisingly, found that a vote in Iowa was worth more than a vote anywhere else, since success in Iowa helped in each subsequent state.

Many of Biden’s events have been relatively sparsely populated, even in the run-up to the Iowa caucuses, especially considering he’s still the race’s front-runner in national polls.

For instance, while former Mayor Pete Buttigieg, of South Bend, Indiana, packed some 1,200 into an event in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday night, there were only several dozen at a Biden town hall in Mason City the next morning.

But Biden’s strategy was evident on his most recent swing through some of the state’s smaller cities, which included a national security event at a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and pitches about his electability to voters in redder parts of the state.

Christie Vilsack and her husband, former Iowa governor and Obama Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, have endorsed Biden, urged Iowans to “think of your favorite Republican … because we all have Republican friends.”

“I’m urging all of you to make that practical decision,” Vilsack said.

Randy Flaherty, a disabled Navy veteran who has two sons in the military, met Biden during his 2008 presidential run and carries in his wallet a challenge coin the former vice president gave him.

“I think he’s the only candidate that we’ve got running, and I’ve talked to about all of them, who can put this country back together,” Flaherty said.



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34 American service members suffered concussions, traumatic brain injuries in Iran attack

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The Iranian attack on an Iraqi base housing U.S. troops injured dozens of American service members, the Pentagon now says. President Trump had initially said there were no injuries in the strike.

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