House lawmakers on Wednesday opened the first public hearings of the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Two witnesses — Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and William Taylor, a former ambassador and the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. They both testified President Trump withheld aid to Ukraine in an attempt to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company. In his opening statement, Ambassador Taylor revealed details about a previously unknown phone call from July between President Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU.
William Taylor: “The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone asking Ambassador Sondland about the investigations. Ambassador Sondland told President Trump the Ukrainians were ready to move forward. Following the call with President Trump, the member of my staff asked Ambassador Sondland what President Trump thought about Ukraine. Ambassador Sondland responded that President Trump cares more about the investigations of Biden, which Giuliani was pressing for.”
Trump tasked his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to take charge of foreign policy around Ukraine, sidestepping the State Department. We’ll have more on the historic impeachment inquiry after headlines with Elizabeth Holtzman, who was the youngest member of the House of Representatives during President Nixon’s impeachment inquiry.
At the White House, President Trump denied watching the televised impeachment inquiry, saying he was “too busy” working for the American people. Despite that, Trump tweeted or retweeted about the inquiry more than 30 times throughout the day. During a joint press conference with Turkey’s authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan just after the hearings wrapped up, Trump called on reporters from far-right news outlets — One America News Network and Fox News — before demanding a question from “friendly reporters.”
President Donald Trump: “Would you like to pick somebody? A friendly person from Turkey, please. Friendly. Only friendly reporters we like to see. There aren’t too many of them around.”
President Erdogan’s visit came amid international condemnation of the recent Turkish offensive into northern Syria, which Turkey launched after President Trump abruptly withdrew U.S. troops from the area, clearing the way for the offensive. Speaking alongside Erdogan from the Oval Office, Trump said Wednesday the only U.S. troops remaining in eastern Syria were there to protect oil.
President Donald Trump: “We’re keeping the oil. We have the oil. The oil is secure. We left troops behind only for the oil.”
President Trump also claimed that he had spoken with Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who he said were “very satisfied” with the change in U.S. policy. The claim was directly contradicted by SDF commander Mazloum Abdi, who tweeted, “During Erdogan-@realDonaldTrump meeting, Turkish forces launched fierce attacks on predominantly Christian town of Til Temir, causing massive displacement of the residents, in clear violation of the cease-fire agreement.”
In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians have agreed to a tenuous ceasefire with Israel’s military after Israel launched its biggest attacks on the territory in months. After the ceasefire took effect overnight, at least five rockets were launched from Gaza, prompting air raid alarms in southern Israel, where 1 million Israeli children were ordered to remain at home. Several Israelis reported minor injuries from falling rockets. Gaza’s Health Ministry says 34 Palestinians were killed in the fighting, with dozens more wounded. Among the dead were eight members of a single family — including five children — who were crushed to death when an Israeli airstrike flattened their home. The fighting erupted after Israel bombed the home of a senior member of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad on Tuesday, killing the commander and his wife and injuring their children.
In Mexico City, exiled Bolivian President Evo Morales said Wednesday he’s willing to return to Bolivia to join a “national dialogue,” after he was forced by the military to step down Sunday in what he’s described as a U.S.-backed coup d’état. Morales blamed the Washington, D.C.-based Organization of American States — the OAS — for his ouster, saying it falsely accused his government of vote tampering in last month’s presidential election.
Evo Morales: “The OAS made a political decision, not a technical or legal one. This is a report — now I have realized from the recommendations of some leftist brothers and sisters — that the OAS is not in the service of the people of Latin America, less so the social movements. The OAS is at the service of the North American empire.”
In Bolivia, police fired tear gas to clear thousands of anti-coup protesters from the streets of La Paz Wednesday as low-flying fighter jets roared overhead in a show of force. The protesters were rejecting right-wing opposition leader Jeanine Áñez, who declared herself interim president Tuesday night. The police and military have killed at least 10 protesters since Morales’s ouster, with many more injured.
Protester: “The authorities nearly choked me! They nearly choked me, but I am going to continue. Bolivia is indigenous!”
On Wednesday, Jeanine Áñez swore in a new Cabinet and military leaders at the presidential palace in La Paz. Meanwhile, police barred lawmakers with Morales’s Movement for Socialism party from entering Bolivia’s parliamentary assembly. Morales was elected in 2005 as Bolivia’s first indigenous president. He says that after Sunday’s coup, armed men broke into his home in Cochabamba and led an arson attack on his sister’s home, as well.
In Lebanon, government troops opened fire on protesters who had blocked a road in the capital Beirut late Tuesday, killing one man. It was the first death in four weeks of massive anti-government protests that have continued despite the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri last month. Protesters are demanding the resignation of all top government officials, early parliamentary elections and economic reforms.
In Zimbabwe, the United Nations is warning 5.5 million rural residents — or nearly a third of Zimbabwe’s population — are at risk of food shortages due to a devastating drought brought on by climate change. The head of the World Food Programme is appealing for $331 million in emergency food aid, warning, “People are marching towards starvation if we are not here to help them.”
Wildlife has been affected, too. Tinaapi Madiri, Zimbabwe’s national elephant manager, said more than 200 elephants have died of dehydration and starvation in recent weeks.
Tinaapi Madiri: “Going into the future with the increased droughts due to climate change and other phenomenon, we are likely to experience more and more of this drought, which could possibly impact significantly on our elephant population.”
In Australia, the death toll from raging wildfires rose to four Wednesday, as a group of former fire chiefs said their attempts to warn Prime Minister Scott Morrison about the dangers of climate change have been ignored for months. Greg Mullins, the former fire commissioner for New South Wales, called for the federal government to provide more resources.
Greg Mullins: “But we’re also calling on the government to take urgent action on the fundamental problem that’s leading to these catastrophic fires, and that’s climate change.”
In Italy, the mayor of Venice has declared a state of emergency after high tides and heavy winds brought floodwaters to nearly 90% of the ancient city. It’s Venice’s worst flooding in 50 years and the second worst on record. At least two people have died, while the famed St. Mark’s Square was submerged by over three feet of water. Officials say the floods have caused hundreds of millions of euros’ worth of damage to historic buildings — many of which may never be repaired. Venice’s mayor called the flooding “apocalyptic” and said climate change was to blame. Scientists predict that Venice could be completely submerged by the end of the century if climate change continues at its current pace.
In Washington, D.C., Chad Wolf was sworn in Wednesday as acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. He’s the fifth person to lead the agency, which oversees U.S. immigration enforcement, under President Trump. Wolf previously served as chief of staff to then-Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen as she enforced the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy at the southern border, which saw thousands of migrant children separated from their parents.
The House Judiciary Committee approved a resolution Wednesday that brings the United States one step closer to approving the Equal Rights Amendment — which would guarantee equal legal protections regardless of sex. If approved by the full House and Senate, the resolution would change the deadline for the ERA’s ratification, which was initially set as 1982. The constitutional amendment was approved by Congress in 1972 and was ratified by 35 states over the next decade — three states short of the required total needed by the 1982 deadline. Nevada and Illinois have since ratified the amendment, and many Virginia Democrats — who retook the state Legislature earlier this month — have pledged to approve it, as well.
Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick will formally enter the 2020 presidential race as a candidate for the Democratic nomination. Patrick is managing director at the private equity firm Bain Capital, which was co-founded by Republican Utah Senator Mitt Romney. He once worked as general counsel to the oil company Texaco; served on the board of Ameriquest, a subprime mortgage lender; and was executive vice president at Coca-Cola.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has refused to rule out another run for the presidency in the 2020 election. Clinton was interviewed Tuesday alongside her daughter Chelsea Clinton by BBC Radio host Emma Barnett.
Hillary Clinton: “Look, I, as I say, never, never, never say 'never.' And I will certainly tell you, I’m under enormous pressure, from many, many, many people, to think about it. But as of this moment, sitting here in this studio talking to you, that is absolutely not in my plans.”
In Little Rock, Arkansas, teachers hit picket lines this morning for a one-day strike, protesting the state Board of Education’s decision to stop recognizing their union and to strip teachers of their collective bargaining rights. It’s the first strike in Little Rock since 1987.
The National Football League has invited all 32 NFL teams to scout a private workout on Saturday by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who says he was blackballed for “taking the knee’” during the national anthem as a protest against police violence and racism. Critics say the move is a “PR stunt” aimed at absolving the NFL from its act of retaliation, and have questioned whether the move will result in a new contract for Kaepernick, who’s been out of the NFL since 2016. Meanwhile, Kaepernick drew solidarity Monday from Megan Rapinoe, the star of the World Cup-winning U.S. national soccer team. Rapinoe spoke as she accepted a “Woman of the Year” award from Glamour magazine.
Megan Rapinoe: “So, while I’m enjoying all of this unprecedented and, frankly, a little bit uncomfortable attention and personal success, in large part due to my activism off the field, Colin Kaepernick is still effectively banned, still banned from the NFL for kneeling during the national anthem in protest of known and systematic police brutality against people of color, known and systematic racial injustice, known and systematic white supremacy.”
CodePink founder and longtime peace activist Medea Benjamin was threatened with arrest in Washington, D.C., Wednesday and accused of assaulting a sitting congressmember after being forcibly removed from a press conference for opposing the U.S.-backed coup and U.S. sanctions in Venezuela. Benjamin vehemently denies the accusations and says she was in fact the one assaulted when she and other activists demonstrated at a press conference hosted by Florida Democrat Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Florida Republican Mario Díaz-Balart condemning President Nicolás Maduro and announcing the launch of a Congressional Venezuela Democracy Caucus. Later in the broadcast, we’ll go to Washington, D.C., to speak with Medea Benjamin.