Also in the news this Monday: Pelosi invites Trump to testify, escalatingviolence in Hong Kong and North Korea says no summit without something in return.
Pelosi invites Trump to testify at impeachment hearings
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited President Donald Trump to testify in front of investigators in the House impeachment inquiry ahead of a week that will see several key witnesses appear publicly.
Pushing back against accusations from the president that the process has been stacked against him, Pelosi said Trump is welcome to appear or answer questions in writing, if he chooses.
“If he has information that is exculpatory, that means ex, taking away, culpable, blame, then we look forward to seeing it,” she said in an interview that aired Sunday on CBS’ "Face the Nation.” Trump “could come right before the committee and talk, speak all the truth that he wants if he wants,” she said.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer echoed that suggestion.
“If Donald Trump doesn’t agree with what he’s hearing, doesn’t like what he’s hearing, he shouldn’t tweet. He should come to the committee and testify under oath. And he should allow all those around him to come to the committee and testify under oath,” Schumer told reporters. He said the White House’s insistence on blocking witnesses from cooperating begs the question: “What is he hiding?”
The comments come as the House Intelligence Committee prepares for a second week of public hearings as part of its inquiry, including with the man who is arguably the most important witness. Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, is among the only people interviewed to date who had direct conversations with the Republican president about the situation because the White House has blocked others from cooperating with what it dismisses as a sham investigation. And testimony suggests he was intimately involved in discussions that are at the heart of the investigation into whether Trump held up U.S. military aid to Ukraine to try to pressure the country’s president to announce an investigation into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 candidate, and Biden’s son Hunter.
Multiple witnesses overheard a phone call in which Trump and Sondland reportedly discussed efforts to push for the investigations. In private testimony to impeachment investigators made public Saturday, Tim Morrison, a former National Security Council aide and longtime Republican defense hawk, said Sondland told him he was discussing Ukraine matters directly with Trump.
Morrison said Sondland and Trump had spoken approximately five times between July 15 and Sept. 11 — the weeks that $391 million in U.S. assistance was withheld from Ukraine before it was released.
And he recounted that Sondland told a top Ukrainian official in a meeting that the vital U.S. military assistance might be freed up if the country’s top prosecutor “would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation.” Burisma is the gas company that hired Hunter Biden.
Morrison’s testimony contradicted much of what Sondland told congressional investigators during his own closed-door deposition, which the ambassador later amended.
Trump has said he has no recollection of the overheard call and has suggested he barely knew Sondland, a wealthy donor to his 2016 campaign. But Democrats are hoping he sheds new light on the discussions.
“I’m not going to try to prejudge his testimony,” Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said on “Fox News Sunday.” But he suggested, “it was not lost on Ambassador Sondland what happened to the president’s close associate Roger Stone for lying to Congress, to Michael Cohen for lying to Congress. My guess is that Ambassador Sondland is going to do his level best to tell the truth, because otherwise he may have a very unpleasant legal future in front of him.”
The committee also will be interviewing a long list of others. On Tuesday, it’ll hear from Morrison along with Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Alexander Vindman, the director for European affairs at the National Security Council, and Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine.
On Wednesday the committee will hear from Sondland in addition to Laura Cooper, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, and David Hale, a State Department official. And on Thursday, Fiona Hill, a former top NSC staffer for Europe and Russia, will appear.
Trump, meanwhile, continued to tweet and retweet a steady stream of commentary from supporters as he bashed “The Crazed, Do Nothing Democrats” for “turning Impeachment into a routine partisan weapon.”
“That is very bad for our Country, and not what the Founders had in mind!!!!” he wrote.
He also tweeted a doctored video exchange between Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee, and Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, in which Schiff said he did not know the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint triggered the inquiry. The clip has been altered to show Schiff wearing a referee’s uniform and loudly blowing a whistle.
In her CBS interview, Pelosi vowed to protect the whistleblower, whom Trump has said should be forced to come forward despite longstanding whistleblower protections.
“I will make sure he does not intimidate the whistleblower,” Pelosi said.
Trump has been under fire for his treatment of one of the witnesses, the former ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump criticized by tweet as she was testifying last week.
That attack prompted accusations of witness intimidation from Democrats and even some criticism from Republicans, who have been largely united in their defense of Trump
“I think, along with most people, I find the president’s tweet generally unfortunate,” said Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Still, he insisted that tweets were “certainly not impeachable and it’s certainly not criminal. And it’s certainly not witness intimidation,” even if Yovanovitch said she felt intimidated by the attacks.
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said Trump “communicates in ways that sometimes I wouldn’t,” but dismissed the significance of the attacks.
“If your basis for impeachment is going to include a tweet, that shows how weak the evidence for that impeachment is,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
And the backlash didn’t stop Trump from lashing out at yet another witness, this time Pence aide Williams. He directed her in a Sunday tweet to “meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know & mostly never even heard of, & work out a better presidential attack!”
Associated Press writer Hope Yen contributed to this report.
Schools closed amid measles outbreak that kills 6
Samoa has closed all its schools, banned children from public gatherings and mandated that everybody get vaccinated after declaring an emergency due to a measles outbreak that has so far killed six people.
For the past three weeks, the Pacific island nation of 200,000 people has been in the grip of a measles epidemic that has been exacerbated by low immunization rates.
Schools were closed from Monday after the government declared an emergency on Saturday. The National University of Samoa also told students to stay home and said exams scheduled for this week had been indefinitely postponed.
Health authorities said most of those who died were under the age of 2. They counted 716 measles cases reported, with nearly 100 people still hospitalized including 15 in intensive care.
Samoa’s Director General of Health Leausa Take Naseri said in a news conference last week that he expects the epidemic will get worse. He said that only about two-thirds of Samoans had been vaccinated, leaving the others vulnerable to the virus.
But figures from the World Health Organization and UNICEF indicate that measles immunization rates among Samoan infants have fallen steeply from over 70% in 2013 to under 30% last year.
Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccine expert at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, said the Samoan government halted its immunization program for several months last year after two infants died from a medical mishap involving a vaccine.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Monday it was sending 3,000 vaccines to Samoa as well as nurses and medical supplies.
Ardern said Samoan authorities believe the outbreak was started by a traveler from New Zealand.
“We, of course, have an open flow of people,” Ardern said. “But we see our responsibility as supporting Samoa as they deal with the outbreak, and we are doing that actively.”
Petousis-Harris said it was disappointing that people in New Zealand who were carrying the virus had traveled to Samoa. She said New Zealand has for years known it has immunity gaps.
“But we didn’t deal with the problem,” she said.
Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand have also reported outbreaks of measles but on a smaller scale than in Samoa.
Hong Kong police vs. protesters in university siege
As night fell in Hong Kong, police tightened a siege Monday at a university campus as hundreds of anti-government protesters trapped inside sought to escape.
Protesters advanced on the police from outside the cordon, while others emerged from the campus, their trademark umbrellas at the fore. Police in some places swooped in to subdue protesters and make arrests.
It wasn’t clear if any of those inside Hong Kong Polytechnic University escaped.
Hong Kong’s work week started with multiple protests that disrupted traffic, and schools remained closed because of safety concerns. There was a temporary lull in the pitched battles for control of the Polytechnic campus as the emphasis shifted from battering the protesters with tear gas and water cannons to waiting for them to come out.
For days, protesters have fortified the campus to keep police from getting in. Cornered by authorities, they were trying to get out.
Officers repelled one attempt Monday morning with tear gas, driving a few hundred protesters back onto the campus.
The give-and-take has played out repeatedly during the city’s months of anti-government unrest. The protesters want to avoid arrest. The police want to pick up as many as they can.
“These rioters, they are also criminals. They have to face the consequences of their acts,” said Cheuk Hau-yip, the commander of Kowloon West district, where Polytechnic is located.
“Other than coming out to surrender, I don’t see, at the moment, there’s any viable option for them,” he said.
Cheuk said police have the ability and resolve to end the standoff peacefully so protesters should not “try their luck.”
Protesters won on a legal front when the high court struck down a mask ban imposed by the government last month. The court said it did not consider anti-mask laws unconstitutional in general, but in this case, the law infringed on fundamental rights further than was reasonably necessary.
Many protesters wear masks to shield their identities from surveillance cameras that could be used to arrest and prosecute them. The ban has been widely ignored, and police have charged protesters with wearing masks.
The protests started peacefully in early June, sparked by proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to the mainland. But by the time the bill was withdrawn, the protests had hardened and broadened into a resistance movement against the territory’s government and Beijing.
Activists see the extradition bill as an example of Hong Kong’s eroding autonomy under Beijing’s rule since the 1997 handover from colonial power Britain.
Backyard football watch party turns deadly with 10 shot, 4 killed
A group of family and friends were gathered in a backyard Sunday evening to watch a football game when a gunman walked up and began shooting, killing four people and wounding six others, according to authorities in Fresno, California.
About 35 to 40 people were at the house, including several children, when the suspect -- who remains on the loose -- started shooting into the crowd, according to police.
First-responders arrived at the home around 8 p.m. after receiving multiple 911 calls and found "three people down" and several suffering gunshot wounds, Fresno Police Deputy Chief Michael Reid told reporters. Officers immediately began performing CPR.
There was no immediate indication the suspect knew the victims, according to Reid.
The four men who died were between the ages of 25 and 30, according to Reid.Three of them were pronounced dead at the scene. The other was transported to Community Regional Medical Center where he died of his injuries.
Five additional victims were taken to CRMC with non-life threatening gunshot wounds, Reid said. One other man was taken to adifferent hospital where he is being treated for a graze wound.
"My heart goes out to the families that are victims of this senseless violence," Reid said. "We are going to do everything we can to find out who the perpetrators are and bring them to justice."
No suspect information or suspect vehicle descriptions were available, Fresno Police Lt. Bill Dooley said at an earlier briefing.
Police are going door-to-door looking for surveillance footage that could help the investigation and witnesses who may have information on the suspect, according to Dooley.
There was no history of calls for service at the home where the shooting took place, Reid said.
Trump reportedly backs off flavor ban for e-cigarettes
President Donald Trump has backed away from a proposal to ban flavored e-cigarettes, according to a report from The New York Times.
Advisers say that Trump decided to retreat from the plan after being warned that there could be backlash from voters, the Times reports. Trump was persuaded by advisers to back off of the proposal during a November 4 flight to a political rally in Kentucky.
Following the conversation with advisers, Trump canceled the administration's planned announcement that was scheduled for the next day, the Times said.
The planned news conference, which would have included Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, was canceled and another meeting was proposed, according to the report.
Despite the ban garnering support earlier in the fall following a rash of e-cigarette lung related illnesses, Trump chose to stay away from the issue on the recommendation of his advisers.
The Times reports that the announcement on Twitter surprised advisers, with one official saying no meeting had been scheduled.
Another adviser who spoke to the president recently said that he had other issues that were taking precedent over the decision on a possible e-cigarette ban, the report said.
North Korea says no summit unless it gets something in return
North Korea on Monday responded to a tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump that hinted at another summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying it has no interest in giving Trump further meetings to brag about unless it gets something substantial in return.
The statement by Foreign Ministry adviser Kim Kye Gwan is the latest call by North Korea for U.S. concessions ahead of an end-of-year deadline set by Kim Jong Un for the Trump administration to offer mutually acceptable terms for a deal to salvage nuclear diplomacy.
Following a U.S. decision over the weekend to call off joint military exercises with South Korea to create space for diplomacy with the North, Trump in a tweet urged Kim Jong Un to “act quickly, get the deal done” and hinted at another summit between them, saying “See you soon!”
But Kim Kye Gwan reiterated his government’s stance that Washington must discard what North Korea sees as “hostile” policies to keep the negotiations alive.
“Three rounds of DPRK-U.S. summit meetings and talks were held since June last year, but no particular improvement has been achieved in the DPRK-U.S. relations ... the U.S. only seeks to earn time, pretending it has made progress in settling the issue of the Korean Peninsula,” he said in a statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency, referring to North Korea by the initials of its formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“We are no longer interested in such talks that bring nothing to us. As we have got nothing in return, we will no longer gift the U.S. president with something he can boast of, but get compensation for the successes that President Trump is proud of as his administrative achievements.”
Kim Kye Gwan is a veteran diplomat who led the North Korean delegation at much of the now-dormant six-nation nuclear disarmament talks held in Beijing in 2003-2008.
His statement came hours after KCNA reported that Kim Jong Un supervised a parachuting drill by military sharpshooters and vowed to build an “invincible army,” displaying more defiance despite the decision by the U.S. and South Korea to shelve their drills.
It was North Korea’s second publicized military drill in three days. A report Saturday said Kim urged combat pilots to prepare against enemies “armed to the teeth” while attending a flight demonstration.
North Korea has been ramping up missile tests and other military demonstrations in recent months in an apparent pressure tactic over the talks.
Negotiations have faltered since a February summit between Kim and Trump in Vietnam which broke down after the U.S. rejected North Korean demands for broad sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.