Democrats are describing the testimony of a key diplomat in President Trump's Ukraine scandal as "incredibly damaging."
Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, testified Tuesday before the House of Representatives amid the impeachment inquiry into whether Trump abused his power by pushing for Ukraine to conduct investigations that might help him in the 2020 presidential election. A key question in the inquiry is whether Trump held up aid to Ukraine to secure these investigations, and Taylor in text messages released earlier this month wrote, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
Taylor's 15-page opening statement Tuesday drew "sighs and gasps," Politico reports. He reportedly described "how pervasive the efforts were to tie an investigation of Burisma and 2016 election 'interference' to a White House meeting and aid being released," as Politico's Andrew Desiderio quotes a source as having described. Burisma is the Ukrainian gas company where former Vice President Joe Biden's son served on the board.
CNN additionally reports Taylor testified that U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told him "that security aid to Ukraine could have been held up in part because of a push for Ukraine to publicly announce an investigation that could help Trump politically," although Taylor reportedly said he couldn't get a "straight answer" about why the aid was being delayed.
Democrats came out of the testimony describing it as quite damning, with freshman Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) telling The Wall Street Journal"this is my most disturbing day in Congress so far," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) telling Politicoit was "incredibly damaging to the president," and Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) telling CNN the testimony is a "sea change." Republicans, though, seem to have had an entirely different reaction, with Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) telling CNN there was "nothing new here." Brendan Morrow
Brayden Harrington has found the confidence to speak up — and he hopes to inspire other kids like him who stutter.
Harrington, 13, met President Biden last February during a campaign stop in New Hampshire. Biden grew up with a stutter, and he offered Harrington some advice: "Don't let it define you. You are smart as hell." Harrington and Biden remained in touch, with the teen speaking at the Democratic National Convention and again during Wednesday's Celebrating America inaugural special, when he delivered the iconic line: "Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country."
Harrington will soon share his story in a picture book,Brayden Speaks Up, set to be published on Aug. 10. It won't be his only book — next year, Harrington will release a second title for older kids. In a statement, Harrington said he was "so nervous" during his speech at the Democratic National Convention, but "what got me through and helped motivate me was knowing I could be a voice for other children who stutter as well as anyone else who has faced challenges. I only hope my story provides a little extra support and motivation for those that need it." Catherine Garcia
Former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton on Wednesday encouraged Americans to reach out to friends and family members who don't necessarily agree with their political beliefs, saying this is an important step in getting the country to heal.
During a taped message that aired during the "Celebrating America" inaugural special, Bush said he thinks "the fact that the three of us are standing here talking about a peaceful transfer of power speaks to the institutional integrity of our country."
Obama agreed, saying that Americans have to "not just listen to folks we agree with, but listen to folks we don't. One of my fondest memories of my inauguration was the grace and generosity that President Bush showed me and Laura Bush showed Michelle. It was a reminder that we can have fierce disagreements and yet recognize each other's common humanity, and as Americans we have more in common than what separates us."
Bush implored viewers to "love their neighbor like they'd like to be loved themselves," as that would cause "a lot of division in our society" to end. With President Biden now in office, it's "a new beginning," Clinton said, adding that the first step to unity is everyone getting off their "high horse" and reaching out to friends and neighbors.
The three former presidents also delivered messages to Biden, with Bush saying he is "pulling for your success. Your success is our country's success." Clinton said he is "glad" Biden is in the White House, and "we're ready to march with you." Obama told his former vice president he is "proud" and wants him to know that the trio is "rooting" for him and "will be available in any ways that we can as citizens to help you guide our country forward. We wish you Godspeed." Catherine Garcia
One of former President Donald Trump's last acts in office was issuing a directive extending free Secret Service protection to his four adult children and two of their spouses for the next six months, three people with knowledge of the matter told The Washington Post.
It's not just his adult children benefiting — Trump also directed that former Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and former National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien continue to receive Secret Service protection for six months, two people familiar with the matter told the Post. This 24-hour security, funded by taxpayer money, is expected to cost millions.
Under federal law, only Trump, former first lady Melania Trump, and their 14-year-old son, Barron, are entitled to Secret Service protection now that they have left the White House; while Donald and Melania can receive protection for the rest of their lives, Barron is only entitled to it up until his 16th birthday.
The Post notes that presidents have the ability to order Secret Service protection for anyone they want, but it is extremely unusual for an outgoing president to order this type of security for their children who are well into adulthood. It is also unclear if there is precedent for ordering security for former aides. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush requested security extensions for their daughters, who were in college when their presidencies ended. Once former President Barack Obama was out of office, his daughters — one in high school, the other on a gap year from college — received a short extension of security.
During Trump's presidency, his adult children took more than 4,500 trips, including vacations and business travel for the Trump Organization, the Post reports. Taxpayers paid millions of dollars for Secret Service agents to accompany them on those jaunts. Catherine Garcia
President Biden addressed the nation during the "Celebrating America" inaugural special Wednesday night, saying that to "overcome the challenges in front of us," the country must find "the most elusive of all things in a democracy: Unity."
Speaking from the Lincoln Memorial, Biden said the United States has learned that "democracy is precious, and because of you, democracy has prevailed." Americans are "good people," Biden said, and he called on the country to unite in favor of "opportunity, liberty, dignity, and respect" and against "common foes" like "hate, violence, disease, and hopelessness."
The only way the U.S can "get through the darkness around us" is by coming together, Biden said. There are moments, like the Civil War, when "more is asked of us Americans," he added. "We are in one of those moments now. The pandemic, economic crisis, racial injustice, the climate crisis, and threats to our very democracy. The question is: Are we up for it?"
Biden said he has no doubt that people will unite, adding, "You the American people are the reason why I've never been more optimistic about America than I am this very day. There isn't anything we can't do if we do it together." Catherine Garcia
Haines is the first woman to serve as head of the intelligence community, and is also the first member of President Biden's Cabinet to receive Senate confirmation. She served as deputy national security adviser and deputy CIA director in the Obama administration.
During her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Haines said "when it comes to intelligence, there is simply no place for politics, ever." After Biden announced in November that he wanted Haines to serve as director of national intelligence, Haines declared she would "speak truth to power" and knew Biden valued "the perspective of the intelligence community." Catherine Garcia
The Biden administration held its first press briefing on Wednesday evening, with White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki promising that every weekday, there will be a news conference.
"There are a number of ways to combat misinformation," Psaki said. "One of them is accurate information and truth and data and sharing information, even when it is hard to hear." She added that her daily briefings will include COVID-19 updates from health officials.
Psaki said President Biden's first call with a foreign leader will be on Friday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and she expects "they will certainly discuss the important relationship with Canada as well as the decision on the Keystone pipeline that was announced today." Shortly after taking office on Wednesday, Biden signed an executive order halting construction on the pipeline, meant to transport crude oil from Canada to the Midwest.
Biden is expected to spend the next several days calling "partners and allies" of the United States, Psaki said, because "he feels that's important to rebuild those relationships and address the challenges and threats we're facing in the world."
Psaki was also asked about the letter former President Donald Trump left for Biden, which he earlier described as being "very generous." Biden said because it was "private," he will "not talk about it until I talk to him." Psaki reiterated that the letter was "generous and gracious," but she does not believe a call from Biden to Trump is imminent. Catherine Garcia