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House opens new battlefronts in its probe of Trump scandals

David Holmes, a U.S. Embassy official in Ukraine,

David Holmes, a U.S. Embassy official in Ukraine, at Capitol Hill last week. He's set for the public hearing on Thursday. Credit: AP/Jose Luis Magana

Stain beyond Ukraine

Troublesome new questions about White House actions mount by the day. On Monday, the House general counsel revealed that probers are reviewing whether President Donald Trump lied to former special counsel Robert Mueller's office on the topic of stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign.

That adds a new spotlight in the inquiry. The counsel, Douglas Letter, made the statement before a federal appeals court hearing regarding Congress' demand for the release of secret grand jury evidence from Mueller's probe.

“This is unbelievably serious and it’s happening right now, very fast,” Letter said. The request followed longtime Trump friend Roger Stone's conviction of lying to Congress involving WikiLeaks contacts with Trump's campaign. Sworn accounts during the trial threw into doubt Trump's denials of knowledge about what Stone was up to.

Earlier in the day, Trump said he was open to answering House committee's questions. But in the initial Russia probe, as Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez notes, Trump wasn't interviewed. Instead, with his lawyers fearing a perjury trap, he was allowed to submit limited and possibly false written responses to Mueller's questions.

Also Monday, The Washington Post reported that staff members for Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), met with an IRS whistleblower who charges that at least one political appointee at the Treasury Department may have tried to meddle in a tax audit of Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. Follow-ups are expected.

On the Ukraine front, two Republican lawmakers asked for and received from Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) his account of his involvement in the administration's controversial dealings with Ukraine.

The House Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, added a U.S. Embassy official to a crowded schedule of public impeachment witnesses this week. The official, David Holmes, has testified in private that he overheard Trump ask his European Union envoy if Ukraine was going to move ahead with "investigations" that he wanted of Democrats. He's due up Thursday.

Four on the floor 

Four key impeachment hearing witnesses are due to testify Tuesday before the House Intelligence Committee and further pin down Trump's unorthodox "investigation" push: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the National Security Council's top Ukraine expert; Jennifer Williams, a State Department employee assigned to Pence; Tim Morrison, a former NSC policy official; and Kurt Volker, former special representative to Ukraine.

Proceedings are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

Republicans on the committee are expected to resume using the tactics of defense attorneys, as the Roll Call news site describes it.

Pompeo's Israel move

Like Trump's symbolic embassy move to Jerusalem, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's declaration on Monday won't instantly change the status quo in Israel. But it carries historic meaning in diplomatic terms.

Abandoning a longtime American position, the administration announced it does not view Israeli settlements in the West Bank as illegal.

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees with President [Ronald] Reagan,” Pompeo said, in that “the establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law.”

Nabil Abu Rdeneh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, responded: “The U.S. administration has lost its credibility to play any future role in the peace process." The European Union also criticized Pompeo's position.

Into the vapor 

Trump has dropped his touted plan to ban the flavored e-cigarettes most likely to get kids hooked, thus adding to his scrap heap of earlier initiatives.

On Twitter, for example, Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) remarked: "He folded on gun safety after speaking favorably of background checks; he failed to protect Dreamers after promising to do so; he backed down on lowering drug prices."

"When special interests weigh in," Doggett charged, "Trump backs down."

Out the tailpipe

Trump's efforts to blow out California's emissions standards are backfiring a bit — on the automakers that supported him. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom's administration says the state will stop buying new vehicles from GM, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler and others that lobbied for eliminating California's authority to regulate auto emissions.

“Carmakers that have chosen to be on the wrong side of history will be on the losing end of California’s buying power,” Newsom said.

What else is happening: 

  • Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who stood with his wife, Ghazala, at the 2016 Democratic National Convention to blast Trump's Muslim travel ban, has endorsed Joe Biden for president this time out.
  • Two Republican judges on the appeals court weighing whether to order the release of Mueller grand jury information to the House questioned whether the judiciary has a proper role in deciding the dispute.
  • House Democrats volunteered in court to alert Trump if they seek to obtain his state tax returns via a recently enacted New York law.
  • Mina Chang, the Trump appointee to the State Department who allegedly inflated her qualifications for the job, has resigned, according to NBC.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar, struggling for traction in her presidential campaign, is pushing a major infrastructure proposal.
  • Trump's weekend story about his abrupt visit to Walter Reed Hospital still doesn't seem to add up.

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