WASHINGTON — They have heard the measured testimony of career diplomats and the mind-boggling account of a first-time ambassador who declared he was in charge of President Donald Trump’s Ukraine policy. Now House impeachment investigators will hear from Fiona Hill, a no-nonsense former White House adviser who was alarmed by what she saw unfolding around her.
Hill, who speaks rapid-fire and in the distinctive accent of the coal country of northern England where she grew up, is expected to testify Thursday about what she witnessed inside the White House as two men — European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani — carried out foreign policy for an unconventional president.
She is a distinguished Russia analyst who took a break from the think-tank world to serve as a national intelligence officer from early 2006 to late 2009. She took another leave from the Brookings Institution in early 2017 to join the National Security Council at the start of the Trump administration, a decision that raised eyebrows at the time.
Hill built her reputation on her insights into Russian President Vladimir Putin and clear-eyed view of the threats posed by Russia, yet went to work for a president who discounted Russian election interference and appeared to believe in Putin’s good intentions.
In closed-door testimony last month, Hill testified that she spent an “inordinate amount of time” at the White House co-ordinating with Sondland, whose donation to Trump’s inauguration preceded his appointment as ambassador to the EU. Sondland testified Wednesday that Trump and Giuliani sought a quid pro quo with Ukraine, and that he was under orders from the president to help make it happen.
Sondland said Trump wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to announce investigations of Democrats before he would agree to welcome him at the White House. As the push progressed, Trump also held up nearly $400 million in military aid that Ukraine was counting on to fend off Russian aggression.
During her closed testimony, Hill warned of the risks posed by the shadow diplomacy being run by Giuliani and his associates, including two Soviet-born Florida businessmen who now face campaign finance charges. She said she told Sondland: “You’re in over your head. I don’t think you know who these people are.”
She described Sondland as a counterintelligence risk because of his use of a personal cellphone, including in Ukraine, where the networks are easily hacked by Russia. Sondland confirmed Wednesday that he called Trump on his cellphone from a restaurant in Kyiv.
David Holmes, a U.S. diplomat in Kyiv who overheard that July 26 call, also is testifying Thursday as investigators wrap up two weeks of public hearings. Holmes heard Trump ask Sondland whether Zelenskiy was going to conduct the investigations he wanted and be told he would.
Unlike Sondland, who explained discrepancies in his testimony by saying he doesn’t take notes, Hill is a meticulous note taker. She says it was a habit she learned from the first grade because her town was so poor that pupils didn’t have textbooks.
Hill left the administration about a week before the July 25 call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden, his son and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 election. She learned the details only when the White House released a rough transcript in September and said she was shocked. “I sat in an awful lot of calls, and I have not seen anything like this,” she said.
But the call did not come out of the blue. It was an outgrowth of a July 10 meeting of U.S. and Ukrainian officials at the White House that Hill witnessed and described to lawmakers in vivid detail.
Hill said Sondland “blurted out” that he and Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had worked out a deal for Ukraine’s president to visit the White House in exchange for opening the investigations. Her boss, national security adviser John Bolton, “immediately stiffened” and ended the meeting.
When Sondland led the Ukrainians to a room downstairs in the White House to continue the discussions, Bolton sent Hill to “find out what they’re talking about.” As she walked in, Sondland was trying to set up the meeting between the two presidents and mentioned Giuliani. Hill cut him off.
She reported back to Bolton, who told her to tell an NSC lawyer what she had heard and to make clear that “I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up on this.”
Sondland on Wednesday pushed back on Hill’s account. He said he doesn’t remember the meeting being cut short and denied that by carrying out Trump’s Ukraine policy he was engaging in “some kind of rogue diplomacy.” He said Ukraine was part of his portfolio from the start, and said it’s “simply false” to say he “muscled” his way in.
Hill made clear in her testimony that she was frustrated by Sondland, particularly over his casual use of cellphones. He not only used his to call Trump and foreign officials, he was giving out her number as well. Officials from Europe would appear at the gates of the White House and call her personal phone, which was kept in a lockbox. She would later find messages from irate officials who had been told by Sondland that they could meet with her.
She is sensitive to security risks. While writing a book on Putin published in 2013, she said her phone and Brookings’ computer system were repeatedly hacked.
During her deposition, Hill’s temper flared when asked about conspiracy theories, including those espoused by Trump and his allies, seeking to deny Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. The reason she joined the Trump administration, she said, was because the U.S. is “in peril as a democracy” because of interference by Russians and others.
“And it doesn’t mean that other people haven’t also been trying to do things, but the Russians were who attacked us in 2016, and they’re now writing the script for others to do the same,” she said. “And if we don’t get our act together, they will continue to make fools of us internationally.”
Lynn Berry, The Associated Press
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BALTIMORE — The ex-mayor of Baltimore, a city where law enforcement at all levels has long battled corruption and violent crime, is set to appear Thursday in federal court on fraud and tax evasion charges involving her self-published children’s books.
Catherine Pugh, a Democrat, is scheduled to surrender to U.S. Marshals before her initial appearance on charges in an 11-count indictment that stem from her “Healthy Holly” children’s books — whose sales netted her hundreds of thousands of dollars. The appearance comes against the backdrop of an ongoing fight by federal, state and local authorities to root out corruption and crime that have taken an exhausting toll on Maryland’s largest city.
“We need this to be the final line of a chapter in Baltimore history, too often defined by public corruption and criminal indictments,” said Thiru Vignarajah, a former federal prosecutor and deputy Maryland attorney general who is running for mayor.
Pugh, who was elected in 2016, became Baltimore’s second mayor in less than a decade to step down because of scandal. Former Mayor Sheila Dixon left office in 2010 as part of a plea deal for misappropriating about $500 in gift cards meant for needy families.
If convicted, Pugh faces up to 20 years in prison on each wire fraud count, and five years for each tax evasion count. The federal government also will seek to seize a house owned by Pugh and $770,000 as part of any sentence.
Pugh’s attorney, Steven Silverman, declined to comment, saying he’ll address the allegation in court. Pugh, 69, resigned in May as federal, state, and local authorities probed whether she had arranged bulk book sales to disguise political kickbacks.
Corruption in Baltimore has regularly fed headlines.
Last year, state Sen. Nathaniel Oaks, a Democrat, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison in a bribery case. This year, former Police Commissioner Darryl De Sousa pleaded guilty to three counts of failing to file federal tax returns. Baltimore also is still grappling with a major police scandal: A task force created to get illegal guns off the streets spent years ripping off drug dealers and stealing money from citizens.
Meanwhile, the police department remains under a federal consent decree requiring sweeping reforms. It was authorized in January after the U.S. Justice Department released a scathing report detailing longstanding patterns of racial profiling and excessive force within the city’s police force.
Federal authorities began investigating city police following the April 2015 death of a young black man, Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured while in the custody of officers.
The city has continued to suffer. Pugh’s court appearance comes as Baltimore recently hit 300 homicides for the fifth year in a row.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, who entered the job in March, has unveiled a plan to lower the city’s chronically high rates of violent crime. He also is seeking to transform a police department that is distrusted by many citizens because of past police misconduct.
State lawmakers have been trying to address the city’s problems as well.
The General Assembly created the Commission to Restore Trust in Policing to examine the Gun Trace Task Force scandal and submit recommendations.
In April, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan signed emergency legislation to overhaul the University of Maryland Medical System’s board of directors, after Pugh’s shadowy “Healthy Holly” book deals became the public face of a wider self-dealing scandal at the system, where Pugh was a board member for nearly 20 years.
“The people of Baltimore, and all Marylanders, should be able to have confidence in the honesty and character of the people they elect to office,” Hogan, a Republican, said Wednesday. “It is completely unacceptable anytime a public official violates the public trust. That’s why I pledged to put an end to business as usual, clean up the mess, and restore integrity in government.”
In the state capital, changes in leadership are putting Baltimore-area officials into powerful leadership roles that could bring greater focus to addressing the city’s problems.
State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, has been nominated to be the next Maryland Senate president, succeeding Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who has held the post for more than three decades.
“While this is a sad day for Baltimore, the Senate, and all of Maryland, this is a necessary first step to justice and showing that the system is working and nobody is above the law,” Ferguson said of Pugh’s indictment in a statement.
Brian Witte And Regina Garcia Cano, The Associated Press
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Mazzeo Law Barristers & Solicitors Highlights Their Expertise In Real Estate And Property Division Laws
Mazzeo Law Barristers & Solicitors Highlights Their Expertise In Real Estate And Property Division Laws
Vaughan, Ontario based Mazzeo Law Barristers & Solicitors has announced that their wide range of legal services includes real estate and property distribution. The firm also highlights that they have years of experience in handling legal cases surrounding family issues, which often encompasses Family Law, Real Estate Law, and/or Will and Estate Law.
“We are knowledgeable in both Divorce Law and Real Estate Law, and our lawyers are experienced in resolving all types of property issues under Family Law. Our team is capable of providing comprehensive legal guidance even to the most complex areas of property division, division of assets, and property distribution,” says Peter Mazzeo, Founding Partner at Mazzeo Law Barristers & Solicitors. He also points out that their mission is to help ex-couples settle issues and disputes when it comes to property distribution and make the taxing process easier for all the parties involved.
In general, the Family Law Act states that all properties acquired during the course of marriage by either party, with some exceptions, is considered to be the property of both spouses, notwithstanding legal titles. This means that, when a marriage falls apart, the law requires that both spouses are to receive an even distribution of their total combined assets. As noted on the firm’s website, this in turn means that the services of a professional separation lawyer are crucial when it comes to reaching a fair settlement and distribution of a property if a marriage breaks down. The role of a separation lawyer is to legally identify the correct division of assets and property division under the concepts of net family property, equalization, and equalization payment.
Family Law requires both spouses to identify their net family property by totaling the value of all their acquired assets, whether solely or jointly, and deducting all liabilities by both parties that were in existence based on a set valuation date. Once the net family property is determined for each spouse, the values are then compared and equalized, so each party leaves the marriage with an equal amount of assets.
In addition to real estate and property distribution, the firm also highlights their experience in helping couples secure their rights in their relationship by creating domestic contracts to ensure that the interests of both parties are protected even before marriage. Mazzeo asserts that hiring a domestic contracts lawyer can help couples identify their needs and come to an agreement that will benefit both parties in the long run. He also states that having a qualified domestic contracts lawyer can be an invaluable solution to protect each of the spouse’s financial health should they decide to terminate their marriage in the future.
Furthermore, Mazzeo explains that the lawyers at Mazzeo Law Barristers & Solicitors have already helped hundreds of families in the greater Ontario area in the division of property, division of assets, and property distribution. They are considered one of the most trusted law firms in the area, based on the positive reviews and recommendations they have received from many of their previous clients. The firm holds an average client rating of 4.6/5.0 on the Google review platform.
One of their grateful clients says, “Paul and the team at Mazzeo Law have made this difficult time for myself and my family a smoother process. I am especially grateful for how available Paul and his staff were to me, especially when emergencies came up. It was a long battle, but Paul made it as best as possible. He made it easy and comfortable for me to understand my rights. Paul and his staff were always patient when answering my questions and addressing my concerns. Never once did I feel less than or that my thoughts and questions were deficient. I appreciated this the most. Thanks for the great service and compassion that you and your staff have shown me and my family throughout this difficult time and process.”
Complete details about Mazzeo Law Barristers & Solicitors and their wide range of legal services can be found on the firm’s website. Their legal services are available to residents of Vaughan and the surrounding areas, including North York, Toronto, Brampton, and so on. Furthermore, interested parties may connect with Mazzeo Law Barristers & Solicitors through their official social media pages to stay up to date with their latest news and important announcements.
For more information please contact us at any time:
Vaughan, Ontario L4K 4M3
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (905) 851-5909
Fax: (905) 851-3514
Price Range: $000 – $000
5/5 stars –
based on 3 reviews