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House panel to vote on Ukraine report as Trump mulls defense

WASHINGTON — The White House declared Sunday it would not participate in the first impeachment hearings before the House Judiciary Committee as Democrats prepared to approve their report Tuesday making the case for President Donald Trump’s removal from office.

The Democratic majority on the House Intelligence Committee says its report will speak for itself in laying out possible charges of bribery or “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional standard for impeachment. After receiving the report, the Judiciary Committee would prepare actual charges.

That committee’s first hearing was already set for Wednesday and was expected to feature four legal experts who will examine questions of constitutional grounds as the committee decides whether to write articles of impeachment against Trump, and if so, what those articles would be.

The White House was invited to attend the Wednesday hearing, but its counsel declined in a fiery letter released Sunday evening.

“This baseless and highly partisan inquiry violates all past historical precedent, basic due process rights, and fundamental fairness,” said White House counsel Pat Cipollone, continuing the West Wing’s attack on the procedural form of the impeachment proceedings. Trump himself was scheduled to attend a summit with NATO allies outside London on Wednesday.

Cipollone’s letter applied only to the Wednesday hearing, and he demanded more information from Democrats on how they intended to conduct further hearings before Trump would decide whether to participate in those hearings. House-passed rules provide the president and his attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses and review evidence before the committee, but little ability to bring forward witnesses of their own.

Republicans, meanwhile, wanted Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to testify before the Judiciary Committee, though they have no power to compel him to do so, as they joined the White House effort to try to cast the Democratic-led inquiry as skewed against the Republican president.

“If he chooses not to (testify), then I really question his veracity in what he’s putting in his report,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

“It’s easy to hide behind a report,” Collins added. “But it’s going to be another thing to actually get up and have to answer questions.”

Schiff has said “there’s nothing for me to testify about,” that he isn’t a “fact” witness and that Republicans are only trying to “mollify the president, and that’s not a good reason to try to call a member of Congress as a witness.”

Coming after two weeks of public testimony and two months of investigation, the findings of the Intelligence Committee report were not yet publicly known. But the report was expected to focus mostly on whether Trump abused his office by withholding military aid approved by Congress and a White House meeting as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch investigations into Trump’s political rivals.

Democrats also were expected to include an article on obstruction of Congress that outlines Trump’s instructions to officials in his administration to defy subpoenas for documents or testimony.

Democrats were aiming for a final House vote by Christmas, which would set the stage for a likely Senate trial in January.

“I do believe that all evidence certainly will be included in that report so the Judiciary Committee can make the necessary decisions that they need to,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

She said Democrats had not yet finalized witnesses for the upcoming Judiciary hearings and were waiting to hear back from Trump on his plans to present a defense.

“If he has not done anything wrong, we’re certainly anxious to hear his explanation of that,” Demings said.

Trump has previously suggested that he might be willing to offer written testimony under certain conditions, though aides suggested they did not anticipate Democrats would ever agree to them.

“The Democrats are holding the most ridiculous Impeachment hearings in history. Read the Transcripts, NOTHING was done or said wrong!” Trump tweeted Saturday.

Democrats had pressed Trump to decide by Friday whether he would take advantage of due process protections afforded to him under House rules adopted in October for follow-up hearings, including the right to request witness testimony and to cross-examine the witnesses called by the House.

“If you are serious about conducting a fair process going forward, and in order to protect the rights and privileges of the President, we may consider participating in future Judiciary Committee proceedings if you afford the Administration the ability to do so meaningfully,” Cipollone said in the Sunday letter.

“Why would they want to participate in just another rerun?” asked Collins, D-Ga., noting that the Judiciary Committee previously heard from constitutional scholars on impeachable offenses during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“This is a complete American waste of time of here,” said Collins, who is calling on the committee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to expand the witness list to include those sought by Republicans. “This is why this is a problematic exercise and simply a made-for-TV event coming on Wednesday.”

Still, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California, a Judiciary Committee member, said he believes Trump would benefit if he presents his own defense.

“I think it would be to the president’s advantage to have his attorneys there. That’s his right,” he said.

McClintock said he doesn’t believe Trump did anything wrong in the July 25 call with Zelenskiy that is at the heart of the investigation.

“He didn’t use the delicate language of diplomacy in that conversation, that’s true. He also doesn’t use the smarmy talk of politicians,” McClintock said.

To McClintock, Trump was using “the blunt talk of a Manhattan businessman” and “was entirely within his constitutional authority” in his dealings with Ukraine’s leader.

Collins appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and Demings and McClintock were on ABC’s “This Week.”

Justices take up gun case, though disputed law has changed

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is turning to gun rights for the first time in nearly a decade, even though those who brought the case, New York City gun owners, already have won changes to the regulation they challenged.

The justices’ persistence in hearing arguments Monday despite the city’s action has made gun control advocates fearful that the court’s conservative majority could use the case to call into question gun restrictions across the country.

Gun rights groups are hoping the high court is on the verge of extending its landmark rulings from 2008 and 2010 that enshrined the right to have a gun for self-defense at home.

For years, the National Rifle Association and its allies had tried to get the court to say more about gun rights, even as mass shootings may have caused the justices to shy away from taking on new disputes over gun limits. Justice Clarence Thomas has been among members of the court who have complained that lower courts are treating the Second Amendment’s right to “keep and bear arms” as a second-class right.

The lawsuit in New York began as a challenge to the city’s prohibition on carrying a licensed, locked and unloaded handgun outside the city limits, either to a shooting range or a second home.

Lower courts upheld the regulation, but the Supreme Court’s decision in January to step into the case signaled a revived interest in gun rights from a court with two new justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, both appointees of President Donald Trump.

Officials at both the city and state level scrambled to find a way to remove the case from the justices’ grasp. Not only did the city change its regulation to allow licensed gun owners to transport their weapons to locations outside New York’s five boroughs, but the state enacted a law barring cities from imposing the challenged restrictions.

“There is no case or controversy because New York City has repealed the ordinance and the New York Legislature has acted to make sure it remains repealed,” said Jonathan Lowy, chief counsel and vice president of the gun control group Brady’s legal action project.

But those moves failed to get the court to dismiss the case, although the justices are likely to ask at arguments about whether there’s anything left for them to decide.

Paul Clement, who represents three New York residents and New York’s National Rifle Association affiliate challenging the transportation ban, said in an email that among the reasons the case remains alive legally is that the court frowns on tactical moves of the sort employed by the city and state that are meant to frustrate the justices’ review of an issue.

In addition, he wrote, that “the City still views firearm ownership as a privilege and not a fundamental right and is still in the business of limiting transport and denying licenses for a host of discretionary reasons.”

In the event the court reaches the substance of the law, the city does contend that what it calls its “former rule” did not violate the Constitution. But that would seem to be a tough sell given the court’s makeup, with Gorsuch and, in particular, Kavanaugh on the court.

Kavanaugh voted in dissent when his federal appeals court upheld the District of Columbia’s ban on semi-automatic rifles.

“Gun bans and gun regulations that are not longstanding or sufficiently rooted in text, history, and tradition are not consistent with the Second Amendment individual right,” Kavanaugh wrote in 2011.

Gun control advocates worry that the court could adopt Kavanaugh’s legal rationale, potentially putting at risk regulations about who can carry guns in public, limits on large-capacity ammunition magazines and perhaps even restrictions on gun ownership by convicted criminals, including people convicted of domestic violence.

“This approach to the Second Amendment would treat gun rights as an absolute right, frozen in history, and not subject to any restrictions as public safety demands,” said Hannah Shearer, litigation director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Reflecting the possible high stakes, more than three dozen supporting legal briefs have been filed. The Trump administration, 25 mainly Republican states and 120 members of the House of Representatives are on the side of the gun owners.

A dozen Democratic-led states and 139 House lawmakers back the city. In addition, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., a vocal court critic, filed a brief joined by four Senate Democratic colleagues that asked the justices to dismiss the case and resist being drawn into what he called a political project.

Whitehouse also included a warning to the justices. “The Supreme Court is not well. And the people know it. Perhaps the Court can heal itself before the public demands it be ‘restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics,’” he wrote, quoting a public opinion poll showing support for such changes.

All 53 Republican senators responded with a letter urging the court not to be cowed by the Democrats’ threats.

A decision is expected by late June.

top story
Toppenish vigil urges public to remember missing and murdered Native people
 Pat Muir  / 

TOPPENISH — They just don’t want their loved ones forgotten.

There were plenty of reasons family and friends of missing and murdered indigenous people organized a vigil Sunday at the Yakama Nation Toppenish Community Center — solidarity, pleas for information and justice, a desire to educate the public — but above all, they just wanted to say their loved ones mattered, that their lives can’t just be discarded without a thought.

“We have murdered relatives across the nation, and nobody’s been paying attention except for us,” said Roxanne White, an activist for missing and murdered indigenous people. “We know it. We live here. We’re the ones who are burying our relatives all the time.”

White, an enrolled member of the Nez Perce Tribe who was born and raised on the Yakama Nation Reservation, saw her aunt, Karen White, killed in 1996. That her aunt’s killer was charged with manslaughter and given less than five years in prison left her wanting greater justice.

“She didn’t get a trial,” White said. “I didn’t get to testify.”

She was one of several speakers at Sunday’s event with similar stories of loved ones who have disappeared or been killed. Violence against indigenous people, especially women, has only recently become a well-known issue nationally. But it’s something Native American women have known about their whole lives.

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control reported that homicide is the third leading cause of death among Native American women between the ages of 10 and 24. The U.S. Department of Justice has reported Native American women are 10 times more likely to be murdered than other Americans.

The event’s primary organizer, Cissy Strong Reyes, knows those aren’t just statistics. Her sister, Rosenda Strong of Toppenish, went missing Oct. 2, 2018, and was found murdered in July. That made the issue personal.

“I knew about it, but I didn’t really pay attention until my sister went missing,” Reyes told the crowd of about 50 who braved icy roads to be at the event. “It breaks my heart that there are so many missing out there. ... I needed to let everybody know in my community that she is loved, whether she was on drugs or alcohol, she was loved.”

No arrests have been made in the case. Few of the dozens of cases of missing and murdered Native people, along with mysterious deaths on and around the 1.3-million-acre Yakama Reservation, have been solved.

Even when it’s clear who is at fault, justice can be hard to find, said Jolene Barrientes of Yakima, whose brother Leonard Keith Eagle of the Blackfeet Nation was killed in Butte, Mont., in 2015. Barrientes told the crowd her brother’s killer is known but has never been charged.

“The judicial system has failed us,” she said. “That’s why all of us are here; the judicial system has failed us in one way or another.”

Like others in the crowd, she has found solidarity and resolve among others who have lost loved ones.

“I want to thank Cissy for inviting me to be a part of this event,” Barrientes said. “We both know what it feels like to lose our best friend. We both know what it feels like to hit a brick wall when you’re fighting for justice and you don’t know what to do next. ... So I come here, and I bring awareness, and I say his name, Leonard Keith Eagle, because I don’t want him to be swept under the rug like they’ve been trying to do for the last four and a half years.”

Like Reyes and White and the other surviving family members at the event, she pledged to continue the effort.

“This is the only thing I can do to try to get through the bad times, I guess,” Reyes said. “The holidays are the worst. My sister was a good, loving person that’s missed every day. And this is the only way I can feel like she’s here, you know. I wake up missing her every day. She was my best friend.”

A day for giving
Giving Tuesday makes a difference for Yakima Valley nonprofits
 Tammy Ayer  / 

Ever since Michele McGinnis founded the Yoga Collective of Yakima in 2013, she and its volunteer instructors have shared its message, and its classes, with as many people as possible.

The message is that yoga is for everyone. You don’t need to look a certain way or wear expensive clothing or fall within a specific age range or fitness level. The nonprofit yoga studio provides props, offers courses in English and Spanish, and classes are free.

Class sponsorships make that possible. One person may donate $20 — the approximate cost of holding a class — which makes the class free for everyone else, or more people may donate lesser amounts.

And the studio is halfway through its first 200-hour yoga teacher training for instructors of color. Preference was given to fluent bilingual Latinos/as and indigenous and Native Americans. Yoga teacher training is offered by other local studios at a cost of $3,000, or much more.

“YOCO’s long-term goal is that our class offerings better reflect Yakima’s demographics and we’ll need Spanish-speaking and Native teachers to accomplish this,” McGinnis has said. “The Yoga Collective has done an excellent job in reaching nontraditional, under-reached students.

“In order to serve the Latino community, we need to have teachers who look like them. That is the motivation and the philosophy.”

The yoga studio is just one of hundreds of nonprofits in the Yakima Valley that change lives daily. They hope to benefit from Giving Tuesday, which encourages people to donate to their favorite causes online. It follows annual shop-fests Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday and has become an important way for nonprofits to raise funds and awareness.

Giving Tuesday runs for 24 hours and begins at midnight local time Tuesday, according to www.givingtuesday.org. But if donors want their amount matched by Facebook, they should be online at 5 a.m. PST that day.

Facebook announced that it will match donations dollar-for-dollar on a first-come, first-served basis from that time until $7 million in eligible donations are made on Facebook. Any U.S.-based 501©(3) nonprofit eligible to receive donations on Facebook can be matched.

On Tuesday, McGinnis hopes to raise around $5,000 and Facebook’s commitment could help reach that goal. YOCO, at Rainier Square since 2015, is close to signing a five-year lease elsewhere. The nonprofit has never had a long-term lease, she said, stressing that Rainier has been “awesome.”

“It is going to increase our rent significantly. This is going to give us security,” McGinnis said.

Caps and terms apply for those giving on Facebook, and though Giving Tuesday has become a global event since its founding in New York City in 2012, donations to foreign-based charitable organizations won’t qualify for a charitable tax deduction.

But Giving Tuesday can still make a big difference in Washington. The state’s nonprofit sector includes approximately 30,000 federally recognized tax-exempt nonprofits. Most are small, volunteer-led organizations. In 2015, only 6,162 nonprofit organizations in Washington reported paying staff wages in 2015, according to Washington Nonprofits.

Heartlinks Hospice & Palliative Care, based in Sunnyside, supports patients and families in need of end of life care. Its Giving Tuesday goal of $2,500 will provide patients and their families with small comfort items “to ensure that every moment matters at the end of life, a news release noted.

La Casa Hogar in Yakima connects and educates Latina families to transform lives. It is asking donors to commit to monthly recurring gifts on Tuesday. Giving Tuesday donations to the Yakima Music en Accion after-school orchestra program can help instructors reach more students in the academic year.

And it’s not just giving money. Local nonprofits welcome volunteers and all kinds of donations now and throughout the year.

For example, the Calico Cat Cafe in Zillah, which is run by Community SEEDS, can always use any low powder/scent-free clumping litter and Purina One Tender Selects Chicken cat food. The unique restaurant houses permanent feline residents along with a few available for adoption.

Community SEEDS provides job training and social activities for adults with developmental disabilities. There are 389 men and women in Yakima County with an intellectual or developmental disability who can’t get employment or day activities from the social service system due to lack of funding, a flyer notes.

That puts them at risk of isolation. The Calico Cat Cafe offers work and social opportunities, along with efforts to rehome cats. Community SEEDS’ Giving Tuesday goal is 389 donors each giving $38.90.

Beyond Giving Tuesday, the work continues. The instructor training that YOCO is providing for 13 students a few times every week means the nonprofit will do an even better job of including all physical capacities, all cultures and all orientations. “Yoga for everybody,” McGinnis said.

All genders are welcome. Teacher-in-training Brad Cater has practiced yoga daily for three years.

A few who are taking the yoga instructor training stressed they want others to know YOCO is here for them with about 75 classes a month; that includes several a week, Sandra Aguilar noted. It’s a welcoming place, they said, offering their own stories of how they began coming for classes, then decided to become instructors.

“Everyone and anyone is welcome,” said Maria Perez. “In my last class I had two students who had never done yoga. Their loved one was in the hospital and they had seen a flyer (there).”

Each has her or his own style of teaching, Sharon Reyna said, so if one instructor doesn’t work, those interested in YOCO classes should try another. Classes emphasize gentle yoga and focus on poses; they don’t involve religion, Magaly Solis said.

Yoga classes will improve mobility, among other benefits, Maria Perez said. She hopes anyone who’s interested will give YOCO a try.

“No flexibility required,” she said.