U.S. Ambassador Gordon Sondland told the House impeachment inquiry Wednesday that President Trump directly pressured the Ukrainian government to announce an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter — and that other senior administration officials were “in the loop.” During explosive testimony on the fifth day of public impeachment hearings, Ambassador Sondland said Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo were part of the effort to force Ukraine into helping Trump’s re-election bid. Sondland testified the officials knew that President Trump conditioned the release of nearly $400 million in U.S. military aid and an Oval Office meeting with the Ukrainian president on a statement about the Bidens.
Gordon Sondland: “I know that members of this committee frequently frame these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo? As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and the White House meeting, the answer is yes.”
Wednesday’s impeachment hearings overshadowed the latest debate by candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination Wednesday evening. Ten leading candidates squared off in Atlanta, Georgia, discussing race, women’s rights, healthcare, foreign policy and climate change. After headlines, we’ll speak with Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro about the impeachment hearings and last night’s debate, where front-runner Joe Biden repeatedly stumbled.
In southern Mexico, police and National Guard troops freed 62 migrants Wednesday who were struggling to breathe as they attempted to break out of a locked truck. Most of the migrants were from Guatemala. They were detained and taken to a local immigration jail; police arrested the truck’s driver and a passenger.
In Tucson, Arizona, a federal jury found humanitarian activist Scott Warren not guilty Wednesday on two felony charges of harboring migrants, after he provided food, water and shelter to a pair of men who survived a perilous journey across the Sonoran Desert. Warren, who is a member of the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, faced up to 10 years in prison at his second trial, after a first trial ended in June with a hung jury. Warren was charged after he gave aid to 23-year-old Kristian Perez-Villanueva from El Salvador and 20-year-old José Sacaria-Goday of Honduras. Scott Warren spoke outside a federal courthouse moments after his acquittal.
Scott Warren: “And to migrants like José and Kristian, who are truly the ones at the center of this story, who must make impossible decisions many of us cannot even imagine, and who bear the brunt of this suffering: Our hearts are with you. As we stand here, people’s brothers, sisters, fathers, spouses and children are in the midst of the perilous desert crossing. The need for humanitarian aid continues. And, unfortunately, the damage to land and life in the border region not only continues, but has been ramped up, way up, since my arrest.”
Meanwhile, a federal judge in Tucson sentenced former Arizona Border Patrol agent Matthew Bowen Wednesday to three years of supervised release and an $8,000 fine for intentionally running over a Guatemalan migrant with a pickup truck in 2017 — and then falsifying records about the assault. The man he struck, Antolin Rolando López-Aguilar, survived. Court filings show Bowen had sent a slew of racist text messages on his phone, referring to immigrants as “mindless murdering savages” and “beaners,” among other insults.
In Syria, at least 22 civilians were killed Wednesday as government forces backed by Russia bombed and shelled parts of Idlib — the last rebel-controlled province in Syria. The aid group known as the White Helmets said a missile loaded with “cluster bombs” struck a camp for internally displaced people. Among those injured were medical workers at a maternity hospital. Meanwhile, Israel launched fresh airstrikes overnight Tuesday on the outskirts of Syria’s capital Damascus. Syrian state media says two civilians were killed in the bombings, which were aimed at Syrian military targets as well as buildings used to house members of Iran’s Quds Force. The attacks have bolstered fears of an all-out conflict between Iran and Israel.
Israel’s former army chief Benny Gantz said Wednesday he has failed in his attempts to form a coalition government, setting up a likely third national election in less than a year. Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party nor Gantz’s Blue and White party won enough votes in a September election to claim an outright majority, after an election in April also yielded no clear winner.
At the United Nations, the United States stood alone Wednesday as the 14 other members of the Security Council rebuked the Trump administration’s announcement that it no longer considers Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank illegal under international law. This is Karen Pierce, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to the U.N.
Karen Pierce: “I’m making this statement today on behalf of Belgium, France, Germany, Poland and, of course, the United Kingdom. Our position on Israeli settlement policy in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, is clear and remains unchanged: All settlement activity is illegal under international law, and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace as reaffirmed by U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334.”
The United Nations is warning that global fossil fuel production is on track to rapidly increase global temperatures by more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, leading the planet toward a climate catastrophe. In a new report, the U.N. Environment Program found nations are planning to burn 50% more coal, oil and gas by 2030 than what would be needed to keep global temperature rise below the 2-degree benchmark. It’s more than double the carbon budget needed to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius.
In Sydney, Australia, health officials are warning young and elderly residents and people with respiratory illness to stay indoors and avoid exercise, as a thick blanket of smoke from unprecedented wildfires settled over the city of 5 million people. The out-of-control fires have raged for weeks as much of the continent is baked by a searing heat wave, with the city of Melbourne on Wednesday matching a November temperature record. Highs in parts of New South Wales have topped 110 degrees Fahrenheit this week. More fires are raging in Victoria and Queensland states.
North Dakota’s Department of Environmental Quality admitted Wednesday that the amount of land fouled by an oil spill from the Keystone pipeline last month is nearly 10 times greater than initially reported. The company operating Keystone, TC Energy Corp. — formerly known as TransCanada — says over 380,000 gallons of crude oil spilled in a rural wetland after the pipeline ruptured on October 29. TC Energy is seeking approval to restart oil flow through the pipeline as early as Sunday.
In Haiti, hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Port-au-Prince Wednesday, in the latest demonstration to call for the ouster of President Jovenel Moïse.
Protester: “We can’t suffer any longer. We live in a place where there are no roads, no water, no hospitals. There’s nothing. Everything is blocked in this country. We’re saying this isn’t possible. That’s why we’re in the street. We’re going to stay in the streets every day.”
More than 40 people have been killed in two months of the anti-government protests.
In Britain, Prince Andrew said Wednesday he will withdraw from public duties, amid mounting public anger over his longtime friendship with deceased serial sexual predator Jeffrey Epstein. In a BBC interview that aired Sunday, Andrew denied accusations by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who says she was sexually trafficked by Epstein and forced to have sex with the prince when she was 17 years old. A photo released by Giuffre shows Prince Andrew standing beside her with his hand around her bare stomach, with Epstein’s longtime confidante Ghislaine Maxwell in the background.
In Somalia, prominent peace activist Almaas Elman was shot and killed Wednesday as she rode in a car in a heavily fortified area of the capital Mogadishu. Elman was from a family of Somali exiles who returned to Somalia from Canada in 2010. She worked to promote women’s rights, children’s rehabilitation and other social justice issues. She was the daughter of Elman Ali Ahmed, a prominent activist who was assassinated in Mogadishu in 1996.
In the Mediterranean island nation of Malta, prominent Maltese businessman Yorgen Fenech was detained aboard his yacht Wednesday while heading out to sea, in an arrest linked to the car bomb assassination of reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia two years ago. Galizia was a well-known investigative journalist who reported on corruption at the highest levels of the Maltese government, including tax evasion, nepotism and money laundering. At the time of her murder, Galizia was investigating Fenech’s business dealings.
Protesters: “Gustizzja! Gustizzja! Gustizzja!”
On Wednesday, hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside Parliament demanding the resignation of the prime minister over Galizia’s murder. They surrounded the car of Malta’s justice minister, banging on the hood and pressing photos of Daphne Galizia against the windshield. Galizia’s sister, Mandy Mallia, was part of the protest.
Mandy Mallia: “People have to do protests like these more often. The corrupt must not stay where they are now; they must stay in jail. I hope to have a normal country for my children, and justice for my sister and all her stories.”