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White House vows total halt to impeachment probe cooperation

WASHINGTON — The White House declared Tuesday it will halt any and all cooperation with what it termed the “illegitimate” impeachment probe by House Democrats, sharpening the constitutional clash between President Donald Trump and Congress.

Trump attorneys sent a lengthy letter to House leaders bluntly stating White House refusal to participate in the inquiry that was given a boost by last week’s release of a whistleblower’s complaint that the president sought political favors from Ukraine.

“Given that your inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it,” White House Counsel Pat Cipollone wrote.

That means no additional witnesses under administration purview will be permitted to appear in front of Congress or comply with document requests, a senior official said.

The White House is objecting that the House has not voted to begin an impeachment investigation into Trump. It also claims that Trump’s due process rights are being violated.

House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff tweeted in response that Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the inquiry signals an attitude that “the president is above the law.”

“The Constitution says otherwise,” he asserted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has insisted the House is well within its rules to conduct oversight of the executive branch under the Constitution regardless of a formal impeachment inquiry vote.

“Mr. President, you are not above the law,” Pelosi said in a statement Tuesday night. “You will be held accountable.”

The Constitution states the House has the sole power of impeachment, and that the Senate has the sole power to conduct impeachment trials. It specifies that a president can be removed from office for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” if supported by a two-thirds Senate vote. But it offers little guidance beyond that on proceedings.

The White House letter marks the beginning of a new all-out strategy to counter the impeachment threat to Trump. Aides have been honing their approach after two weeks of what allies have described as a listless and unfocused response to the probe.

The president himself is sticking with the same Trump-as-victim rhetoric he has used for more than a year.

“People understand that it’s a fraud. It’s a scam. It’s a witch hunt,” he said on Monday. “I think it makes it harder to do my job. But I do my job, and I do it better than anybody has done it for the first two and half years.”

Early Tuesday, Trump escalated his fight with Congress by blocking Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador, from testifying behind closed doors about the president’s dealings with Ukraine.

Sondland’s attorney, Robert Luskin, said his client was “profoundly disappointed” that he wouldn’t be able to testify. And Schiff said Sondland’s no-show was “yet additional strong evidence” of obstruction of Congress by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that will only strengthen a possible impeachment case.

The House followed up Tuesday afternoon with subpoenas for Sondland’s testimony and records.

Trump is also bulking up his legal team.

Former Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy is being brought on as outside counsel, according to an administration official. Gowdy, who did not seek reelection last year, led a congressional investigation of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

The whistleblower’s complaint and text messages released by another envoy portray U.S. Ambassador Sondland as a potentially important witness in allegations that the Republican president sought to dig up dirt on Democratic rival Joe Biden in Ukraine and other countries in the name of foreign policy.

Pelosi said thwarting the witness testimony on Tuesday was an “abuse of power” in itself by the president.

The White House letter to Pelosi, Schiff and other House committee chairmen, though asserting a legal argument that Trump and other officials cannot cooperate, would not be likely to win respect in court, said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas.

“This letter reads to me much more like a news release prepared by the press secretary than an analysis by the White House counsel,” he said.

The White House is claiming that Trump’s constitutional rights to cross-examine witnesses and review all evidence in impeachment proceedings extend even to House investigations, not just a potential Senate trial. It also is calling on Democrats to grant Republicans in the House subpoena power to seek evidence in the president’s defense.

Elsewhere in Washington, a federal judge heard arguments Tuesday in a separate case on whether the House has actually undertaken a formal impeachment inquiry despite not having taken a vote and whether the inquiry can be characterized, under the law, as a “judicial proceeding.”

That distinction matters because while grand jury testimony is ordinarily secret, one exception authorizes a judge to disclose it in connection with a judicial proceeding. House Democrats are seeking grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation as they conduct their impeachment inquiry.

“The House under the Constitution sets its own rules, and the House has sole power over impeachment,” Douglas Letter, a lawyer for the House Judiciary Committee, told the court.

Bigger than ever
Fresh Hop Ale Festival sees record attendance at new location
 Tammy Ayer  / 

Saturday’s Fresh Hop Ale Festival drew a record crowd of about 6,800 people at its new downtown location and potentially raised more than $100,000 for local nonprofits.

Organizers with the nonprofit Fresh Hop Group board are still finalizing numbers, which includes paying invoices. They’ll have firmer numbers next week, but at this point they think roughly 6,800 people attended and are hopeful this year’s festival raised upward of $110,000, festival spokeswoman Megan Holland said Tuesday.

Held at Millennium Plaza since its inception in 2003, the festival moved a few blocks west this year into the big parking lot at the old Track 29 location at 5 W. Yakima Ave. That spot has about 20,000 more square feet, according to Holland.

The festival, started in 2003 as a fundraiser for Allied Arts of Yakima, raises money for grants to local nonprofits. Dozens of organizations have benefited over the years.

Fresh Hop draws people from throughout the Pacific Northwest. Specific attendance figures are difficult to pinpoint because there are so many people involved — paid ticketholders and volunteers, people associated with the Fresh Hop Group, 64 breweries and their staff and those working the vendor booths — but as numbers increased, the previous festival location at Millennium Plaza filled up pretty fast.

Even with record attendance, no incidents involving the festival were reported within a three-block radius of the venue between 4 p.m. and midnight Saturday, said city spokesman Randy Beehler, citing information provided by the Yakima Police Department.

There were no DUI arrests in the area either, Beehler said in an email.

“At about 1:20 a.m. Sunday, a DUI arrest was made at the Jack in the Box by the Valley Mall. Another DUI arrest was made about 40 minutes later at the Taco Bell on 16th Avenue and Nob Hill. Neither appeared to be related to the festival,” he said.

You can find a photo gallery from the Fresh Hop Ale Festival at yakimaherald.com.

Courtesy of the Fresh Hop Ale Festival 

Left: Colleen and Chad Kuehl, owners of Wander Brewing, earned Best of Show honors at the Fresh Hop Ale Festival in downtown Yakima.

top story
Substitute for damaged irrigation pipeline at Rattlesnake Ridge successful
 Janelle Retka  / 

When severe damage to a Union Gap Irrigation District pipeline running near the Rattlesnake Ridge landslide was discovered last fall, a construction project to detour the district’s water was put into full speed in preparation for irrigation season.

The damaged pipe sent water to roughly 3,200 acres of farmland. Without a replacement, millions of dollars in crops would have been lost.

A backup system diverting water through Sunnyside and Roza irrigation districts was constructed and ready for use just after irrigation season would normally have begun in the spring. The project installed two pipes and over 2 miles of piping.

As the season draws to a close this month, district officials say the replacement system went off without a hitch, though the cost of electricity to divert it was higher.

“We’re happy campers. It’s been a high-business, but not a high-stress year,” said Union Gap Irrigation District President Jim Doornink. “We were able to get the water, which just took the stress off. But we still were busy figuring out how the new system worked, tuning it up, making it work better and more efficiently.”

A slow-moving landslide was first detected at Rattlesnake Ridge in 2017. Officials said late this summer that while the crack in the ridge appears to be larger, the slide is slowing down. The irrigation pipeline was buried in a hillside about 50 feet above Thorp Road, which is closed because of the slide.

What’s the damage

Traditionally, the Union Gap Irrigation District canal diverts from the Yakima River through the Selah Gap before running through Moxee and around Rattlesnake Ridge. It ends just north of Zillah.

At the end of October 2018, officials for the Union Gap Irrigation District discovered that the concrete irrigation pipeline was cracked and its circumference had been distorted into an oval shape.

The damaged pipe served more than 100 farms, sending water to roughly 3,200 acres of farmland between the gap and Cheyne Road, north of Zillah. But damage left the pipe unusable, and repairs were not possible amid the 8-million-ton landslide slowly crawling from the western slope of the ridge.

Local officials believed the landslide caused the damage. Officials from the state Department of Natural Resources said the cause could not be determined until the landslide slowed or stopped. The state department could not immediately provide an update Tuesday.

Ray Wolverton, a facilitator for the irrigation district and former member of its board, was among those who first discovered the damage. He estimated in the spring that $80 million in crops would have been lost if the irrigation had not begun on time or if orchards and vineyards had not been properly irrigated through the summer.

The state funded the $4.8 million replacement system through the state supplemental capital budget, the state Department of Ecology and the state conservation commission.

Closing the season

Doornink and Wolverton agreed that the new system worked well, with minor adjustments throughout the irrigation season to fine-tune it.

“Where all of our water used to divert to Selah through the whole district, now we have three districts,” Wolverton said.

The first is the Selah Gap. The second sends water down the landslide to be pumped out of Sunnyside. The third is diverted to Roza and sent down one of the Roza Irrigation District’s wasteways toward Sawyer and funneled into Union Gap’s canal without a pump.

On Tuesday, an adjustment to the Roza portion was tested and found to work well, Wolverton said.

Doornink said district engineers, operations team and construction team are expected to meet one more time this fall to discuss the system and small final adjustments, such as adding water pipes to farmers’ property. Doornink said he expected those additions to be complete in a matter of weeks.

“We’re just really, really happy that we made it to the end of the season,” he added. “It’s a high cause for joy and happiness that we didn’t have to do any big work-arounds or fixes, and we delivered water to everybody.”

Wolverton said the project’s swift completion wouldn’t have been possible without the help and cooperation of the Roza and Sunnyside irrigation districts, the Yakama Nation, the county, state agencies and private landowners.

While district farmers were spared of the cost of the replacement, Wolverton said the diversions were not without financial impact. The price of water to the district went up roughly 50 percent due to the cost of electricity to divert it, he said. Now, farmers spent about $200 per acre foot of water.

“I believe we are now the most expensive irrigation water in the basin,” Wolverton said. “While we’re not paying for the repairs, the forever cost is super high.”

"Entire detective division," gang unit working on fatal Yakima shooting
 Donald Meyers  / 

Yakima police are “throwing every resource we have” at the investigation of a Monday afternoon shooting that left one dead, one wounded and one hit by a car.

“We have the entire detective division working on this, and we have the gang unit working on it,” said Capt. Jay Seely, who commands the detective division.

An autopsy has been scheduled Wednesday for one of the shooting victims, 20-year-old Matthew Munoz of Toppenish, Yakima County Coroner Jim Curtice said.

His death is the 22nd homicide in the county this year, and the sixth in the city.

Seely did not have information on the condition of the other two people, other than that they were still hospitalized as of late Tuesday afternoon.

A fight broke out between two groups of people in the 700 block of South Ninth Avenue shortly before 5 p.m. Monday, according to police. During the fight, two people were shot, while a third person was hit by a car.

Police are searching for a red Ford Escort that was seen speeding away from the scene.

Police say the incident was gang-related.

Seely said several people who witnessed the fight have come forward with details.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Yakima police at 509-575-6200 or Yakima County Crime Stoppers at 800-248-9980. Tips can also be submitted online at http://www.crimestoppersyakco.org.