Army Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman testified in a televised House impeachment hearing over whether President Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden and his son. Among Vindman’s statements, he said he couldn’t believe what he was hearing when he listened to the July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. During the call, Trump pressured Zelensky to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company, Burisma. Vindman, who is the director for European affairs at the National Security Council, testified along with Jennifer Williams, a Russia adviser for Vice President Pence. On Tuesday afternoon, House investigators heard the testimonies of Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, and Tim Morrison, former senior director for European and Russian affairs on the National Security Council.
Today, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland will testify to lawmakers. Sondland is a wealthy hotel magnate and real estate developer in Oregon. He received his ambassadorship after donating a million dollars to Trump’s inauguration. His lack of diplomatic experience led one White House foreign policy adviser to complain Sondland was a national security risk.
In Iran, Amnesty International says security forces killed over 100 protesters during ongoing nationwide demonstrations sparked by a sudden hike in fuel prices last week. The report also warns the death count may be much higher, with some suggesting as many as 200 have been killed. On Thursday, Iran announced a rise in the cost of gas ranging from 50% to 300%. On Sunday, soon after the protests broke out, Iran imposed an almost complete internet blackout. We’ll have more on the Iranian protests later in the broadcast.
In Bolivia, police and military forces killed at least five pro-Morales protesters and injured dozens more Tuesday, in at least the second massacre against Evo Morales’ supporters since the longtime Bolivian president was ousted in what he calls a military coup. Tuesday’s massacre occurred in the town of El Alto, near the capital of La Paz, where protesters had been blocking a major fuel plant for days. Police and military forces deployed helicopters and armored vehicles to the protest site. Witnesses say a military unit then opened fire on protesters, killing at least five young men. This is one of the victims’ relatives.
Victim’s relative: “The ones that were in the back took him and dragged him inside. What are they going to do with him now? Are they going to disappear him? Now they are saying there are no people dead. There are people dead. Their brothers are here. There are people dead. The bullet went through him, and the doctors are saying he’s going to die probably. And the press is not saying anything. They say there are no clashes.”
Tuesday’s killings follow Friday’s massacre near Cochabamba, where security forces killed at least nine Morales supporters. This all comes as Germany has secured access to Bolivia’s vast reservoir of lithium, a key raw material used to produce cellphone and electric car batteries. Shortly before his ouster, Bolivian President Evo Morales said he planned to cancel the agreement with Germany. But the right-wing government of self-declared President Jeanine Áñez now says the mining deal will move forward. Bolivia’s Potosí region is home to over 50% of the world’s lithium reserves.
The U.S. Senate unanimously approved a bill Tuesday aimed at protecting the human rights of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters. The Senate bill would allow the president to impose sanctions and travel restrictions on people who are found to be responsible for arbitrary detention, torture or forced confession of any individual in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act will now go to the House of Representatives. Beijing quickly denounced the bill, and Hong Kong officials said it would harm relations between the two countries.
The U.S Senate also unanimously passed a second bill that would ban the export of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to Hong Kong’s police force. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has urged President Trump to voice support for Hong Kong’s protesters. President Trump had previously promised Chinese President Xi Jinping the United States would remain quiet about the protests as the two countries pursued trade talks over the summer.
The United Nations human rights agency has reaffirmed that the United Nations still considers the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank illegal under international law, despite U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement Monday that the United States no longer considers them illegal under international law. This is the United Nations’ Rupert Colville.
Rupert Colville: “On the situation regarding Israel and the settlements in the Occupied Territories, as part of the U.N. Secretariat, we continue to follow the long-standing position of the United Nations that the Israeli settlements are in breach of international law. A change in the policy position of one state does not modify existing international law nor its interpretation by the International Court of Justice and the Security Council.”
The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency says ISIS is rebuilding itself in northern Syria, following Trump’s abrupt decision to move U.S. troops from key areas, clearing the way for a Turkish invasion against Syrian Kurdish fighters. The new report by the Pentagon’s inspector general says ISIS has used the turmoil in the area to rebuild itself and increase its ability to launch attacks abroad.
Time magazine is reporting Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is planning to resign from the Trump administration and run for a U.S. Senate seat in Kansas next year. Pompeo has come under fire during the ongoing impeachment hearings against President Trump, with many criticizing him for failing to defend State Department officials and protect U.S. policies against Trump’s efforts to politicize foreign affairs. Pompeo has not publicly confirmed his planned resignation.
In immigration news, a federal judge in California has ruled the Trump administration’s asylum restrictions don’t apply to the tens of thousands of people who are currently in limbo at the U.S.-Mexico border. In July, the Trump administration imposed a new rule aimed at prohibiting migrants from applying for asylum if they crossed through a third country before arriving at the United States. The policy aimed to sharply limit the number of Central Americans, Africans and people from other regions who are eligible for asylum. But on Tuesday, Judge Cynthia Bashant of the Southern District of California ruled that asylum seekers who arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border prior to the July rule aren’t subject to it and can still apply for asylum in the U.S.
Meanwhile, asylum seekers currently arriving at the U.S. border can now be sent to Guatemala, after the new asylum pact between the U.S. and Guatemala took effect Tuesday. Human rights advocates say the Trump administration’s new plan is particularly dangerous for female and LGBTQ asylum seekers. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of femicide — the murder of women — in the world. BuzzFeed reports that Homeland Security officials are still trying to work out basic details of the new plan to send asylum seekers to Guatemala. One Homeland Security Department brief states, “There is uncertainty as to who will provide orientation services for migrants as well as who will provide shelter, food, transportation, and other care.”
In Sweden, prosecutors have dropped an investigation into sexual assault allegations against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, which Assange has always denied. Assange took refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London for over seven years to avoid extradition to Sweden on the charges. British authorities dragged him out of the Ecuadorian Embassy in April. He’s since been jailed in London’s Belmarsh Prison on charges related to skipping of bail in 2012 when he first entered the embassy, which he did in order to avoid extradition to Sweden over the now-dropped sexual assault charges. The United States is now seeking Assange’s extradition to the U.S., where he faces up to 175 years in prison on hacking charges and 17 counts of violating the World War I-era Espionage Act.
In New York, 29 people were arrested Saturday protesting the construction of a fracked gas power plant in Dover. Both Connecticut and New York residents oppose the power plant’s construction, saying it will pollute the air with harmful chemicals and greenhouse gases, a major driver of climate change. And the British Labour Party says it would remove companies failing to take action to climate change from the London Stock Exchange, if Labour wins the general election on December 12. The announcement came after Britain’s Green Party criticized Labour for dropping plans to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030.
In New York, authorities have brought criminal charges against two prison guards who were on duty the night serial sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein reportedly hanged himself in a Manhattan jail. The indictments against them say the two guards were sleeping, shopping online for furniture and catching up on sports news instead of checking on Epstein and other prisoners every 30 minutes — and that they then falsified prison records to claim they had performed their required rounds. The guards have been charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and with making false records.
New York has sued the e-cigarette giant Juul, accusing the company of engaging in deceptive marketing and sales tactics aimed at targeting young people. This is New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Attorney General Letitia James: “And there is no doubt that Juul, the largest e-cigarette company, has caused this addiction. In fact, they hold 70% of the market. And that’s why today we are taking action by announcing a comprehensive lawsuit against Juul Labs, Inc. Juul basically took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook by marketing its products in a manner that was appealing to underage youth.”
The lawsuit in New York comes after President Trump abruptly reversed course and decided not to sign a memo that would have banned most flavored e-cigarettes, despite promising to do so only months earlier. Trump was reportedly concerned that banning these vaping products could hurt his re-election prospects.
Today marks Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day that honors the thousands of transgender and gender non-conforming people who have been killed around the world. At least 22 transgender and gender nonconforming people have died in the United States so far this year. Most of them were black transgender women. Over 3,000 trans and gender nonconforming people have been killed around the world since 2008. We’ll have more on Transgender Day of Remembrance later in the show.