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34 U.S. service members diagnosed with brain injuries after Iran attack

104 0 25 Jan 2020

WASHINGTON — Thirty-four U.S. service members were diagnosed with concussions and traumatic brain injuries following Iranian airstrikes on the Ain al-Asad Air Base in Iraq earlier this month, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman said Friday.

Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at two Iraqi air bases on Jan. 8 in retaliation for the U.S. killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani, an influential and powerful Iranian military commander.

Jonathan Hoffman, the Pentagon spokesman, confirmed Friday that eight of the U.S. service members who received diagnoses were transported to a hospital in Germany and then taken back to the United States, where they will receive treatment at the Walter Reed Medical Center. He said another nine were still in Germany.

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Seventeen of the service members who were diagnosed with concussions and traumatic brain injury, or TBI, were back on active duty in Iraq, Hoffman told reporters.

No one was killed in the attack on the Ain al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq.

Trump appeared to downplay the severity of those injuries at a news conference Wednesday after the Pentagon acknowledged that U.S. troops were being examined for injuries resulting from the Iranian airstrikes.

“I heard they had headaches,” Trump told reporters in Davos, Switzerland. “I can report it is not very serious.”

“No, I don’t consider them very serious injuries relative to other injuries that I’ve seen,” Trump said. “I’ve seen what Iran has done with their roadside bombs to our troops. I’ve seen people with no legs and with no arms. I’ve seen people that were horribly, horribly injured in that area, that war.”

The killing of Soleimani by an American drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3 sharply escalated tensions between the U.S. and Iran, raising fears in both countries of a potential military conflict.

Hoffman said the Department of Defense was “committed to delivering programs and services intended to lead to the best possible outcome for our service members who suffer any injury.”

Mosheh Gains reported from Washington, Daniel Arkin reported from New York.

Trump tweets new Space Force logo. Star Trek fans think it looks familiar.

84 0 25 Jan 2020

President Donald Trump on Friday went boldly where one show has gone before.

Trump unveiled the logo for the U.S. Space Force on Twitter, where users were quick to point out its similarities to the symbol for the fictional Starfleet, from the famous TV franchise “Star Trek.”

“After consultation with our Great Military Leaders, designers, and others, I am pleased to present the new logo for the United States Space Force, the Sixth Branch of our Magnificent Military!” Trump tweeted.

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The Star Trek Starfleet Command seal also features a celestial arrowhead wrapped with a shooting star.

Canadian actor William Shatner glances upwards in a scene from an episode of the television series ‘Star Trek’ entitled ‘The Man Trap,’ 1966.CBS Photo Archive / Getty Images file

“Ahem. We are expecting some royalties from this…,” tweeted actor George Takei, who played Lieutenant Hikaru Sulu, the helmsman of the USS Enterprise, in the original “Star Trek” series.

However, John Noonan, an aide to Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., pointed out that the longstanding logo for the U.S. Space Command — a division of the U.S. Air Force that will now operate under Space Force — also has a lot in common with the Starfleet medallion.

“For those excitedly tweeting that Trump stole the Star Trek logo!!!!, the patch on the left was the existing Air Force Command logo. The same one I wore as a Lieutenant in 2005,” he tweeted, noting that it was a long-running joke that the agency had copied the popular show.

“Star Trek: The Original Series” first aired in 1966.

Trump initially floated the idea of creating a Space Force in March 2018, saying he originally came up with the name as a joke.

“I said, ‘Maybe we need a new force, we’ll call it the Space Force,’ and I was not really serious,” he said in a speech to service members at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in California at the time. “Then I said, ‘What a great idea, maybe we’ll have to do that.'”

Later that year, in August, Vice President Mike Pence announced details for the Space Force as a proposed new branch of the U.S. military — responsible for protecting national security in outer space.

The Department of Defense released a 15-page report in 2018 saying that the Pentagon would “usher in a new age of space technology” in order “to deter and if necessary degrade, deny, disrupt, destroy, and manipulate adversary capabilities to protect U.S. interests, assets, and way of life.”

Trump, when he signed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act into law late last year, made Space Force official as the sixth branch of the military, operating within the Air Force.

A black man in Michigan tried to deposit checks at his bank. The manager called police.

98 0 24 Jan 2020

An African American man who went to his local bank in Michigan to deposit checks had the police called on him by a branch manager suspecting fraud.

Ironically, the checks, totaling $99,000, that Sauntore Thomas, 44, sought to deposit at TCF Bank in Livonia were part of a court settlement for a racial discrimination lawsuit against his former employer.

Now Thomas, an Air Force veteran, has sued his bank’s holding company, TCF Financial Corp., alleging racial discrimination.

The suit filed this week in Wayne County Circuit Court says Thomas has had a checking account at the bank since 2018, and he went there on Tuesday asking the branch manager to open a savings account for him so he could deposit the checks.

But the manager became suspicious that the checks were fraudulent and questioned Thomas about where he got them, the suit alleges.

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The manager told Thomas that the checks would need to be verified, but that the computer system the bank uses to verify checks was not working. In order to complete Thomas’ transaction, the manager said she would need to go in the back and “call in the checks,” the suit says.

Instead of trying to verify the checks, the suit claims that the manager refused to deposit them and then went into the back to call Livonia police. Four officers arrived at the bank and questioned Thomas about the checks.

Thomas called his lawyer on the phone to have her verify where he got the checks from but that still did not satisfy the branch manager.

“Defendant still refused to deposit the checks,” the suit states. “TCF Bank subsequently filed a police report against Plaintiff for check fraud.”

Thomas eventually left the bank and went somewhere else to deposit his checks. The lawsuit claims that Thomas’ race “was a factor in Defendant’s decision to treat him less favorably than other individuals.”

Thomas reiterated that sentiment during an interview with the The Associated Press.

“They did not want to assist me because I was African American. They didn’t want to assist me because they assumed that I had a fraudulent check, which was far from the truth,” he told the outlet, adding, “This was no mistake.”

A spokesman for TCF did not immediately return NBC News’ request for comment. The bank told the Detroit Free Press in a statement that the police should not have been called on Thomas and that it apologizes for what happened.

“We strongly condemn racism and discrimination of any kind,” the bank said. “We take extra precautions involving large deposits and requests for cash, and in this case, we were unable to validate the checks presented by Mr. Thomas and regret we could not meet his needs.”

The lawsuit says Thomas was humiliated by the incident and suffered mental anguish and emotional distress. He is seeking damages.

SARS wiped $40 billion off world markets; what will coronavirus do?

76 0 24 Jan 2020

A big question on the minds of investors this week was if — or when — the new Wuhan coronavirus, which has sickened more than 900 people and proven fatal to 26, could become contagious enough to infect markets.

“It just depends on the severity and the disruption that it causes,” said Rick Kahler, president of Kahler Financial Group. “The local markets, especially in China, are going to be first responders.”

As of Friday, the Chinese government had expanded its travel ban, with a total of some 35 million people unable to leave by air or rail. As a result, analysts predicted that sectors such as travel and leisure, as well as energy and retail, could experience greater pain, while healthcare — including medical supplies and vaccine manufacturers — could benefit from the crisis.

“It has pushed yields down and you had some downward pressure, particularly on emerging market equities,” said Darrell Cronk, president of the Wells Fargo Investment Institute. “It is probably going to put some downward pressure on the Chinese economy in the near term.”

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Both the breadth and depth of any market impact depend on how severe and how fast-moving the disease turns out to be. “Duration matters a lot. If this is a couple of weeks, it’s no big deal, but if it extends into months, this will definitely have an impact on GDP,” said Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial Group. “As time goes on, the treatment of this should give us some understanding of how long this is going to last. That’s really the piece of this I’m most interested to see play out.”

Market observers said there were both parallels to and limitations when comparing the current Wuhan virus with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The SARS crisis of late 2002 and 2003, during which nearly 800 people in 17 countries died in an outbreak of another previously unknown respiratory illness that originated in southern China, gives investors some precedent, albeit with limits.

“In 2003 we were just breaking out of a pretty harsh recession,” Cronk said. “It’s hard to unbundle those two.”

He added that the scope of the outbreak is not yet at epidemic levels that characterized SARS as well as past outbreaks of diseases like swine flu, bird flu and Ebola.

“It hasn’t risen to that point yet. To the extent that it can be contained, markets will be fine with it,” Cronk said.

A spread from regional to global, though, would be another story. “Where the markets might start to react more is if you were to start to see the coronavirus spread, particularly to the U.S.,” Cronk said. “Then I think the markets may get a little more concerned about that.”

The increased interconnectedness of today’s economy means that any volatility could spread globally, Cox said. “Asia is such a big part of the world economy, I think it would affect everybody.”

A 2004 analysis determined that the SARS crisis cost the world economy a total of about $40 billion. The economic fallout, the authors wrote, “go beyond the direct damages incurred in the affected sectors of disease-inflicted countries.” A global economy facilitated the spread of the economic impact via travel, trade and financial networks, with both direct and knock-on effects.

The researchers said any recurrences would have driven that figure higher as markets priced in a fear factor premium. “The higher costs from a persistent shock relate to the loss of investment and the impact on confidence and therefore spending,” they said.

Governmental and NGO responses are likely to be another potent signal for investors, with pronouncements from the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. likely to have market-moving potential — for better or worse.

Another unknown is the response of the Chinese government, which has in the past downplayed or dismissed public health crises. “If the Chinese are being forthcoming, this is probably as bad as it gets,” Cox said. “The risk is that maybe this is worse than people are letting on.”

The top 6 mattresses to buy right now, according to Consumer Reports

97 0 24 Jan 2020

In the past, finding the right mattress was an extensive boots-on-the-ground process that required a lot of in-person research and planning. But with the rise of online bedding retailers and sites — like Casper, Amazon, Brooklyn Bedding and Nest Bedding — shopping for a mattress online has gotten easier.

So we asked Consumer Reports digital lifestyle editor Elliot Weiler how to shop for the best mattresses online and score the best value.

Whether you prefer to sleep on your back, with someone by your side or you’re simply looking for an option that will easily ship to your door, Consumer Reports did all the research for you. Here are the six top-rated mattresses that you can buy online:

Best bed-in-a-box mattresses

1. Amazon Basics Memory Foam Mattress

The Amazon Basics mattress is backed by more than 1,100 reviews and has an average of 4.3 stars out of 5. It has a plush memory foam layer that adapts to the contours of your body and a hard bottom layer that gives the mattress structure.

2. Signature Sleep Gold Series Mattress

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This queen size mattress is 12-inches deep, including a plush, 4-inch layer of memory foam. It comes with a 15-year limited warranty.

Best mattress for side sleepers

3. Pure Green Natural Latex Mattress

This mattress is designed to provide firm support with a 100-percent natural latex foam. “I’m a side sleeper who loves a very firm bed. This morning for the first time in ages it felt like I really had the best night of sleep and my bad back was not aching, not even a twinge,” said one buyer.

Best mattress for back sleepers

4. Avocado Green Mattress

According to testing conducted by Consumer Reports, back sleepers need optimal support along the natural curve of the spine. Reviewers agreed that the Avocado Green Mattress was one of the best for these types of sleepers. It’s made with organic wool, cotton, latex and more than 1,400 pocketed support coils.

Best mattress for couples

5. Real Bed Mattress

This mattress delivers responsive firmness: It’s designed with 8 separate layers — including power core springs, natural latex and organic cotton — to meet the needs of a wide range of sleepers.

Best adjustable air mattress

6. Sleep Number 360 c2 Smart Bed

When you think of a typical air mattress, you might be thinking of one you blow up to take on a camping trip. This high-tech mattress, however, has a 2-inch gel-infused layer and you can manually adjust two air chambers in the bed to match your preferred level of firmness.

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The best workout headphones and earbuds, according to fitness pros

84 0 24 Jan 2020

Music plays an essential part in a fantastic workout. But all too often, tuning in while working out involves getting frustrated with tangled cords, sub-par sound, or earbuds that slip out at the worst possible moment. Getting a solid pair of workout headphones — whether wireless, true wireless or wired — is one way to elevate your fitness routines.

In our search for a symphonic solution, I scoured the market reviews and went to my favorite trainers to find out what they use to listen to music during workouts. Below are the results — a mix of headphones and earbuds ranging from higher-end options to more reasonably priced pairs.

Let’s start with my favorite headphones. Whether I’m running, working out, or working on the computer, I’ve found that these wireless headphones offer a fantastic audio experience. When I remove them from my ears, the music will stop, and when I place them back in, it starts again seamlessly. The silicone tips are easy to clean, while ear wings tuck into the ear to help keep them in place during workouts.

NBC News contributor Whitson Gordon considers these the best fitness wireless earbuds. The Jaybird Vistas come with IPX7 water resistance, “meaning they’re water-tight even when immersed in up to one meter for as long as 30 minutes,” he wrote. “I wouldn’t recommend dunking them in the water, but if you tend to sweat a lot while exercising, these’ll hold up well. And if they don’t, Jaybird’s warranty covers damage from perspiration. Couple that with a small hook on each “bud that keeps it in your ear while running, and you’ve got a workout buddy that won’t quit on you.”

“I love Aftershokz for running because they use bone conduction tech, so they don’t actually sit in your ears. They sit in front, near your cheekbones, which allows you to hear both your music and outside sounds like cars coming, sirens, and people behind you.” — Amanda Capritto, personal trainer and health coach

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(Also consider the latest from AfterShokz: AfterShokz Xtrainerz)

“I was worried they’d get slippery with sweat and pop out as I was running down the road. But these buds have stayed put in my ears throughout four-mile runs and at-home dancing sessions. Plus, the sound quality is phenomenal — I always feel like I’m listening to music on a sound system. The best feature: Siri is fully integrated. So, to place a call, play a song, ask for a joke, etc., all I have to do is double tap one of my pods.” — Amelia Pavlik, barre and cycling instructor at Exhale Atlanta

“These earbuds are easy to use, stay put in my ears, and offer more than three hours’ worth of playback time. Plus, they offer a full fitness experience: They connect with the Jabra Sport Life app, which has a built-in heart rate monitor, activity tracker, automatic rep counter, race pace calculator and more.” — Lynette Pettinicchi, Pilates instructor

These Beats by Dr. Dre headphones are another personal favorite. This pair is certainly an investment, but I’ve had them for years and they have yet to let me down. They offer high-quality sound as well as comfort thanks to the customizable earhooks. They’re also sweat- and water-resistant to stand up to your toughest workouts, and offer up to nine hours of listening time on one charge.

Another recommendation from Whitson Gordon is the Anker’s Soundcore Liberty Neo. They “sport a lightweight build that is IPX7-rated water resistant (sweating while wearing them is okay),” he wrote. “They won’t sound quite as good as the premium options above but they’ll certainly do the job.”

Looking for a more budget-friendly option? This wired headphones option from Sony wraps around your ears and the loops are adjustable to help you find the perfect fit. They’re also highly rated and relatively much more affordable than the options above.

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College fraternity member in New Mexico accused of shooting student in leg in hazing

106 0 24 Jan 2020

A fraternity at a New Mexico university has been suspended, and one of its members faces charges after another student was shot at a hazing event.

The incident involving students at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces, about 46 miles north of El Paso, Texas, happened at an off-campus campground in Cloudcroft in November.

Dozens of students, including Jonathan Sillas, attended the Kappa Sigma fraternity’s initiation event.

As Sillas was leaving, another student, Miguel Altamirano, pulled him to the side and told him to turn around, according to a criminal complaint.

Altamirano pulled out a .40 caliber handgun, held the firearm against Sillas’ leg and pulled the trigger, the complaint states. The bullet went through Sillas’ leg.

Altamirano told officers that he had been drinking alcohol before the incident and did not think the gun was loaded, according to the complaint.

Sillas was injured and is recovering, NBC affiliate KOB in Albuquerque reported.

“I expected a little bit of hazing. I didn’t think they were going to hurt us,” he told the outlet.

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The school said in a statement Friday that the shooting incident was unacceptable and a serious violation of its policies.

Jonathan Sillas, who was among dozens of students who attended the Kappa Sigma fraternity initiation.KOB 4

“New Mexico State University cares deeply about the health and welfare of our students. We work diligently to ensure a safe and secure environment where our students have an opportunity to succeed,” the statement read. “We have taken steps to hold any responsible individuals accountable.”

Attorney C.J. McElhinney, who is representing Altamirano, told NBC News in an email that his client thought the gun was unloaded and is “remorseful that Mr. Sillas was injured.”

Altamirano was charged with felony aggravated assault, which McElhinney is contesting. He was also expelled from the university, his attorney said.

“The evidence in this case is consistent with the negligent handling of a firearm and not the more serious felony of aggravated assault that has been charged,” he said. “It is not uncommon for the State of New Mexico to overcharge criminal defendants.”

“I am confident that my client will be exonerated on the serious felony charge,” McElhinney added.

The school was made aware of the shooting after being contacted by the Otero County Sheriff’s Department.

The university’s dean of students launched an investigation and during that inquiry learned that the fraternity was in violation of several of the school’s code of conduct policies, according to documents from the school.

The alleged violations included providing alcohol to underage students at fraternity events and subjecting new members to a number of hazing incidents, including tackling the new members and pointing an unloaded gun at their heads and other body parts and pulling the trigger “as part of a loyalty activity.”

The fraternity also held several events and activities that were not approved by the university, the documents state.

As a result of the violations, the university suspended Kappa Sigma until December 2024.

A spokesperson for the national Kappa Sigma fraternity said in a statement that it is “unequivocally opposed” to hazing, which violates the organization’s code of conduct.

“We cannot comment on details of chapter or membership disciplinary proceedings, however, any member found to be in violation of the Fraternity’s Code of Conduct will be held accountable,” the organization said.

Altamirano, 21, is scheduled for a preliminary hearing in February.

Second teen suspended over dreadlocks at Texas school

81 0 24 Jan 2020

A second teenager at a Texas high school was suspended and told he could not return to class until he cut his dreadlocks to be in compliance with the school’s dress code.

Kaden Bradford, 16, a sophomore at Barbers Hill High School in Mont Belvieu in Southeast Texas, has been on at-home suspension since last week, according to his mother, Cindy Bradford.

Kaden’s cousin, DeAndre Arnold, is a senior at the school and also wears dreadlocks. DeAndre was recently told by administrators that he is not allowed in school and cannot walk at his graduation unless he cut his hair, his mother, Sandy Arnold, told NBC affiliate KPRC of Houston. DeAndre, whose father is from Trinidad, said the men in his family often grow their dreadlocks, and that it is a part of his identity and culture.

Kaden Bradford.Courtesy Cindy Bradford

Both women, who are sisters, said they will not cut the boys’ hair.

Bradford said in an interview Friday that like DeAndre, her son has worn dreadlocks for years and it only recently became an issue at the high school. Last year, Kaden would wear a headband to keep his dreadlocks off his shoulders, his mother said. The school told her that if Kaden kept his dreadlocks pulled back, he would not be in violation of its hair policy, she said.

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But shortly after Christmas break, she said the school’s principal, Rick Kana, told Kaden that he would need to cut his hair. Bradford said she paid last week to have Kaden’s dreads cornrowed, or tightly-braided, so that they lay flat against his scalp. But that did not appease administrators, who placed him on at-home suspension because he refused to cut his hair, his mother said.

She said she is now considering taking legal action so he can return to school.

Bradford said she believes the hair policy is racist. The school district dress code states male students cannot have their hair “gathered or worn in a style that would allow the hair to extend below” the collar, earlobes and eyes when let down.

Barbers Hill High School is predominantly white, according to school district data. African Americans made up 3.1 percent of the school district’s population in the 2017-18 school year.

The principal and Barbers Hill Independent School District superintendent, Greg Poole, did not return multiple requests for an interview.

In a statement posted on its Twitter account, the district said that it does allow dreadlocks. “However we DO have a community supported hair length policy & have had for decades,” the statement said. “BH is a State leader with high expectations in ALL areas!”

On Friday, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., who announced the first federal legislation that would ban hair-based discrimination in December, expressed support for DeAndre and Kaden.

“Natural hair like dreadlocks is a reflection of culture & heritage,” he tweeted. “No one should be punished for expressing who they are. The CROWN Act would end this—hair discrimination is discrimination against black people.”

In December, Booker said the Create a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair Act (CROWN) will make it clear that “discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles associated with people of African descent” is a “prohibited form of racial or national origin discrimination.”

Earlier this week, Houston Texans wide receiver Deandre Hopkins, who wears his hair similar to DeAndre and Kaden, tweeted his support for DeAndre as news broke of the ultimatum administrators gave the teen.

“Never cut your locks,” Hopkins said.

Trump impeachment trial: Live coverage from the Senate

106 0 24 Jan 2020

Senate GOP expresses unhappiness in heavily edited ‘Groundhog Day’ video

Jeffries kicks off arguments for obstruction of Congress article against Trump

Democratic House impeachment managers have turned their attention during Friday’s proceedings — the third and final day of their opening arguments — to the second article of impeachment against President Donald Trump: Obstruction of Congress.

After Reps. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., and Jason Crow, D-Colo., wrapped up unfinished arguments related to Thursday’s proceedings, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., kicked off the case being made on obstruction.

“At the heart of Article II, Obstruction of Congress, is a simple troubling reality” Jeffries said. “President Trump tried to cheat, he got caught and then he worked hard to cover it up.”

“The president tried to cheat, he got caught and then he worked hard to cover it up,” he repeated, for emphasis.

How to keep your spine healthy while sitting on a Senate seat

Glasses of milk, birthday cake, and now this …

Democrats, presenting case on obstruction of Congress, have some questions for Republican senators

A Democratic staffer working on the impeachment trial provided the following information on Friday’s presentation:

Yesterday, the House managers laid out a powerful case to both senators and the American people: President Trump abused his power to cheat our elections, and in so doing,  jeopardized our national security interest. Today, we’re going to go through the open-and-shut case on President Trump’s unprecedented obstruction of Congress. 

In the face of overwhelming facts and a mountain of evidence, Senate Republicans continue to deflect, distract and distort the truth. The American people and our democracy deserve better. Every Republican senator should answer the following questions at the center of the case against President Trump.  

  • The president refused to produce any documents. At least some clearly should have been produced to Congress. There is no possible claim that they are covered by executive privilege. They are even being produced in FOIA lawsuits. Aren’t you worried that a future president could use the same argument against you in a Senate investigation to refuse to produce any documents?
  • Aren’t you worried that if you do not subpoena documents and witnesses after the opening arguments, that new information will come out at a later that could have been relevant to your decision? Will that make your decision look political?
  • In his own words, the president said he wants a foreign government to investigate his political rival.  If you do not vote to remove him, are you saying it is OK for the president to go right back to doing that? Do you agree that this activity is “perfect” and should continue, especially before the election?

ANALYSIS: Trump’s impeachment lawyers undercut DOJ on witness testimony

President Donald Trump can’t keep his story straight when it comes to blocking White House officials from testifying before Congress, and House lawyers asked a federal court to resolve the discrepancy as quickly as possible in a late Wednesday filing. 

Trump’s impeachment trial defense team has said that the House rushed to judgment without waiting for federal courts to decide whether to compel testimony from witnesses who were subpoenaed. But his Justice Department lawyers have told those same federal courts for months that the House didn’t have the right to subpoena the witnesses because the impeachment investigation wasn’t real.

Trump can’t “have it both ways” House general counsel Douglas Letter wrote to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, citing the words of the president’s impeachment counsel on the Senate floor as evidence of the contradiction in a case involving former White House counsel Don McGahn.

Well, it’s worth asking, which is it? Did the House have no power to subpoena the witnesses or did it rush forward without witnesses? This is part of the reason the House felt comfortable impeaching Trump on an obstruction of Congress charge — his strategy appeared to the House Democratic majority to be aimed more at obfuscation.

“In light of President Trump’s argument, it is not clear whether DOJ still maintains its position that courts are barred from considering subpoena-enforcement suits brought by the House,” Letter wrote. “At the very least, President Trump’s recognition that courts should resolve such suits undermines DOJ’s contrary threshold arguments in this case, which seek to prevent the House and its committees from seeking judicial resolution of subpoena-enforcement disputes. The executive branch cannot have it both ways. Because the impeachment trial has now begun, the need for Mr. McGahn’s testimony is more urgent than ever. We respectfully urge the court to rule expeditiously.”

In a second letter to the court, Letter argued that the beginning of the Senate trial should trigger the release to the House of grand jury material from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Democratic House manager says the evidence is ‘pretty painful’ for senators

Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., told MSNBC on Friday that the evidence she and the other House managers are presenting is “overwhelming” for many of the Republican senators and is “pretty painful for them.”

“I know that some of them are walking out of the room, but, you know, I kind of see it differently. I think when they are presented with either testimony — and we know we’ve seen one foreign service officer after another, testimony from those career, very dedicated foreign service officers, many of whom have direct knowledge, they were on the call — I think sometimes when the senators walk out of the room, I see it many times as an indication that the evidence is overwhelming for them, that sitting there listening to things being presented in a chronological way, in order, I think it can be pretty painful for them, and I don’t necessarily see them walking out of the room to maybe get a little fresh air as necessarily a bad thing.

Demings also said she thought Schiff’s closing remarks Thursday night moved those who were listening and that she was “prayerful” that the Senate would call the witnesses the Democrats are seeking. But, she added, Trump himself is the “best” witness to the events that led to his impeachment.

“I just believe, if there are patriots out there, there are people who love and care about this country, there is no way they were not moved  or touched by Adam’s remarks,” Demings said. “We certainly were, the impeachment managers were.”

If the Senate doesn’t call witnesses, “and I’m prayerful that we will, the greatest witness that we have in this case, the best witness is the president himself,” she added. “The best witness is the president  himself, and listening to his own words, not only in the call record, but even after the call, where he has publicly invited other foreign powers to interfere in our election, that’s hard to ignore. The information, again, the evidence that we have in this  case is overwhelming.”

 

What’s up with Trump’s ‘Death Valley’ tweet and Saturday’s trial plans?

The president is cognizant of the generally lower ratings on weekends, particularly Saturday, when his defense team is set to begin their much-anticipated (for him) rebuttal. That’s created some speculation on whether the defense team will even begin presenting at all tomorrow. A spokesperson for Sen. McConnell’s office told NBC News: “TBD. Will know more as the day goes on. Cautioning everyone to be patient.”

Sources familiar with the legal team say the current thinking is that there will be arguments tomorrow, although truncated. One of those sources suggests the president was mostly venting in his “Death Valley” TV rating tweet this morning, rather than staking out a red line (although if he gets upset enough, you could see the dynamics start to shift).

Still, there is a real awareness of getting something out there in time for Sunday shows and the Sunday papers, especially after Democrats had days to make their case on the floor uninterrupted. In the words of one source, “After three days of lies and mischaracterizations by the Democrats, the president’s legal team is ready to come out swinging.”

On the mechanics: The defense team itself has no authority to unilaterally “cancel” a trial day, although they could certainly just keep it short. Instead, the move would have to come from 51 senators voting to skip Saturday and return Monday.

Get rid of her: A voice appearing to be Trumps heard on tape demanding diplomat Yovanovitchs ouster

82 0 24 Jan 2020

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 audiotape reviewed by ABC News.

The network said the tape 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.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statment, “Every President in our history has had the right to place people who support his agenda and his policies within his administration.”

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.

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“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.