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Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu indicted on charges of bribery, fraud, breach of trust

Alaska Dispatch News - 39 min 22 sec ago

JERUSALEM - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was formally charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust on Thursday, making him the first Israeli premier to be indicted while in office and sending Israel's already stalemated political system into further disarray.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem Nov. 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, pool, File) (Oded Balilty/)

Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit capped almost three years of investigation and months of speculation by handing down a 63-page indictment against the country’s longest-serving prime minister and its center of political gravity for the last decade.

The cases against Netanyahu center on police allegations that the prime minister and his wife, Sara, accepted more than $260,000 worth of luxury goods in exchange for political favors and that Netanyahu interceded with regulators and lawmakers on behalf of two media companies in exchange for positive news stories.

Netanyahu has steadfastly denied wrongdoing during a wide-ranging probe that he has repeatedly dismissed as a politically motivated "witch hunt."

In October, his legal team spent four marathon days in front of prosecutors arguing that the charges should be reduced or dismissed, and few here expect him to do anything other than ferociously fight the counts that emerged.

Of more immediate concern is how the indictments could scramble his standing in Israel's chaotic political standoff.

"We are in a historical and unprecedented situation with new legal questions almost every day," Suzie Navot, a professor of constitutional law at the Haim Striks Law School in Rishon LeZion.

The indictments came down on the first day of an unparalleled phase in Israeli politics: a 21-day window in which any member of parliament can try to form a governing majority, including Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz, who both failed at that task in previous cycles.

While the law allows for a prime minister to remain in office until he or she is convicted and exhausted all appeals, it is unclear whether Netanyahu remains eligible to present a proposed government to Israel's president.

"This is a question that will be brought to the Supreme Court of Israel," Navot said. "I can imagine they will say the president does not have to give the mandate to an indicted member of the Knesset, that he can chose to give it to another member of same faction."

The day's news marked a remarkable - and ignominious - moment in a remarkable and controversial career. Netanyahu has dominated Israeli politics in recent years like few other leaders before him. In office for a decade, last summer, he surpassed Ben Gurion as the country's longest-serving premier.

Political observers have marveled at his survival powers in the rough and tumble of Israel's fractious party system and his ability to wield the levers of government to his own advantage. Being able to stay in power after failing to claim a majority in the last two elections has only added to his reputation for near invincibility.

But after two officials that he personally appointed to their jobs became instrumental in the corruption investigation - Mandelblit, his former cabinet secretary and former Israeli Police Chief Roni Alsheich - Netanyahu's powers to ward off threats seem diminished.

"It shows that he's not as omnipotent as everyone thought," said Anshel Pfeffer, a Ha'aretz columnist who wrote a recent biography of the prime minister. "It shows the system is stronger than Netanyahu."

Pointing out that Israel has previously convicted a former prime minister - Ehud Olmert, who stood trial for taking money from real estate developers when he was mayor of Jerusalem - Pfeffer counted Mandelblit's move as a mixed blessing.

"It's not a proud day for any country when its prime minister is indicted on a charge of corruption, but it shows that Netanyahu has failed in his quest to erode the rule of law," Pfeffer said.

In one of the three cases, police say the Netanyahus accepted more than a quarter of a million dollars in jewelry, cigars and other gifts from wealthy benefactors who had official business with the government, among them the Israeli-born producer Arnon Milchan, whose credits include "Fight Club" and "Pretty Woman."

Netanyahu also allegedly pressed the United States repeatedly to give Milchan a U.S. visa and, in Israel, pushed the finance minister to extend an income tax exemption that would benefit the producer.

In another case, at a time that he served as his own minister of communications, Netanyahu allegedly intervened to smooth the way for a merger sought by Shaul Elovitch, majority shareholder of Bezeq, the country's largest telecommunications company, in exchange for favorable coverage on the popular news website Walla, also owned by Elovitch. Walla reporters and editors have described being ordered to spike stories, tweak headlines and change photographs in ways that boosted Netanyahu's image.

It is far from clear how the charges will affect Netanyahu's political standing. He would remain eligible to run in a possible third election next spring. (Only those convicted of moral turpitude are barred from the ballot). But even the threat of indictment has been a major issue in the two previous campaigns. Gantz built his own campaign around a pledge not to serve with an indicted premier.

One October poll showed that a small majority of Israelis, 53.5%, thought Netanyahu should resign if indicted. Almost half, 47%, of his core right-wing supporters thought the same.

But Netanyahu has spent months disparaging the investigation as politically motivated "kish kush (Hebrew for nonsense.) Large parts of the electorate are sympathetic to his complaints.

"Among Likud members and the right-wing there is deep distrust for the legal process," said Tal Schneider, a diplomatic and political correspondent for the Israeli business newspaper Globes. "Likud is backing him up because they have convinced themselves that it's all a witch hunt and we hear the same things from D.C. about Trump."

Another legal scholar, Gadi Taub of the Federmann School of Public Policy at Hebrew University, also compared the unfolding drama in Jerusalem to the impeachment hearings in Washington.

"The difference is that the impeachment is a political process, whereas in Israel, the prosecutor is also the legal adviser to the government, which is absolutely ridiculous," Taub said. "There is no other functionary in the government that holds so much power, he can announce an investigation and he can make the decision on pressing indictment. That means a single unelected official can overthrow a government."

Many will be watching Netanyahu's Likud party for signs that the indictments will weaken what has been his formidable grip on it.

Netanyahu was first elected as chairman of the Likud in 1993, serving in the opposition until 1996. He resigned from politics after being defeated in a general election in 1999, returning to lead the party in 2005. Since then he has consolidated his position in Likud, dividing and weakening his opponents and facing very few challenges over the years.

The attorney general's decision is unlikely to have an immediate impact on Netanyahu's standing within his ruling Likud, but on Thursday there were already indications that a leadership challenge was underway.

Speaking at a diplomatic conference, former Likud minister Gideon Sa'ar said holding elections for a new party leader, especially if the country was forced into a third election, was "the right and necessary thing to do under the current circumstances."

"First of all, that is what our constitution requires if we are about to have new elections," he said. "We are a democratic party, and we haven't had primaries for several years already."

Sa'ar said that he supported the prime minister's efforts to form a national unity government, but "if we do go to elections, it is not reasonable to think that he will be successful in forming a government after third elections."

He added, “I think I will be able to form a government, and I think I will be able to unite the country and the nation.”

Three young Coast Guardsmen went out for a drink on a chilly morning in Dutch Harbor. One never returned.

Alaska Dispatch News - 1 hour 14 min ago

A HH-60J Jayhawk helicopter passes the cutter Alex Haley at the Kodiak Coast Guard Base on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes / ADN/)

On a frigid January night, three Coast Guard seamen too young to drink at a bar walked along the beach in Dutch Harbor, sharing swigs from a bottle of Rich & Rare Reserve Canadian Whisky. But when the sun rose, only two of the Guardsmen returned to their ship safely.

After an hours-long search, Ethan Kelch, 19, was found dead on the western shore of Amaknak Island.

A seven-month investigation led military prosecutors in August to charge and arrest Ethan Tucker, 21, alleging he severely beat Kelch, tried to strangle him, and then dragged him into the ice-cold water and left him to drown. But Tucker was released Monday after his attorney said new evidence, including Snapchat videos shot on the night of Kelch’s death, tells a drastically different story, namely that two men fought valiantly to save their friend before his drowning.

"Tucker frantically tried to keep his friend out of the frigid Alaskan waters," Tucker's military defense attorney, Navy Cmdr. Justin Henderson, told The Washington Post.

Despite his release and some allegations in the case being scrapped, prosecutors say they still intend to prove Tucker murdered Kelch.

Seaman Ethan W. Tucker, 19, was arrested August 28 after a seven-month Coast Guard investigation into the January death of Seaman Ethan Kelch, also 19, who served on the same ship as Tucker. https://t.co/mDweVwE9Xp

— Stars and Stripes (@starsandstripes) October 17, 2019

Tucker and Kelch, who have been described as “best buddies,” were both seamen assigned to the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro, based in Kodiak. The ship was in Dutch Harbor, about 830 miles southwest of Kodiak, for repairs, and on Jan. 26 the two friends were enjoying a night off with a third shipmate, Trevin Hunter. After struggling to keep Kelch away from the water for a half-hour, Tucker collapsed on the beach. He was discovered lying in the sand unconscious the next morning, only 200 yards from the spot where Kelch was later found.

In August, military prosecutors alleged Tucker had punched his fellow Coast Guardsman so hard during a drunken fight on the beach that he caused internal hemorrhaging, leaving the 19-year-old with a swollen bump on his scalp. Tucker also tried to strangle his friend in the scuffle, they said. Then he allegedly dragged Kelch into the icy waters and left him to drown, according to a charging document obtained by The Post.

But in October, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported, Henderson brought Snapchat videos recorded by Hunter to a court hearing that he says show Tucker and Hunter fighting to stop their friend from swimming in the dark 38-degree waters. Witnesses testified that Kelch had frequently been difficult to control when drunk, Henderson told The Post, and one witness said he had seen Kelch drink too much at least 20 times.

After wrestling with Kelch for almost 30 minutes as he pushed toward the ocean, Tucker's attorney said, Tucker collapsed on the beach in an exhausted, intoxicated heap, the Union-Tribune reported.

"All the evidence shows that effort, and we trust that a fair trial will vindicate SN Tucker," Henderson told The Post in a written statement.

At that same October hearing, a medical examiner told the court that the physical injuries to Kelch's head, which he probably sustained in the fight with Tucker, were not fatal, the Union-Tribune reported. Cristin Rolf, the state's chief medical examiner who performed the autopsy, said the 19-year-old had died by drowning.

Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, who will oversee the case if a court-martial proceeds, sent the charges back to prosecutors after the October hearing. The military lawyers struck parts of the charges, withdrawing claims that Tucker caused severe injuries by "blunt force trauma" and retracting the allegation that he "placed" Kelch in the water.

Despite the videos that Henderson said show the young men struggling to keep Kelch away from the water, Tucker was charged again with murder, manslaughter and several other charges. If convicted, Tucker could face a possible life sentence and dishonorable discharge, the Coast Guard said in a statement in August.

Prosecutors maintain Tucker lied about the drunken evening when he told officials he had injured his hand by "punching a steel bulkhead" and told rescue teams searching for Kelch to look for him at a spot far from where the men had been drinking the night before. Prosecutors said he tried to "impede" the investigation because he "had reason to believe that there were or would be criminal proceedings pending," according to the charging documents.

On Monday, Rear Adm. Melvin Bouboulis ordered Tucker released from the military prison in San Diego. Tucker will be allowed to work in logistics at Base Alameda in Northern California until his case proceeds, the Union-Tribune reported.

"We will continue to vigorously defend Seaman Tucker against any charge that he caused the death of his friend," Henderson told The Post.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 9, Henderson said.

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Alaska News - 1 hour 39 min ago
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Analysis: Key takeaways from today’s impeachment hearing testimony of Fiona Hill and David Holmes

Alaska Dispatch News - 1 hour 43 min ago

WASHINGTON - The final scheduled hearing in the House’s impeachment inquiry is being held Thursday, with former National Security Council Russia expert Fiona Hill and Ukraine diplomat David Holmes testifying.

Below are some key takeaways of the early testimony.

[Impeachment hearing: Former White House Russia analyst denounces ‘fictional’ Ukraine election interference]

1. Fiona Hill isn’t here to play games

Pretty much every witness - up to an including European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland in his blockbuster testimony Wednesday - has been reluctant to craft a narrative or be overly combative with lawmakers.

Hill doesn't appear to have any such reservations.

In her opening statement, she made clear she will take on the conspiracy theories that Republicans, including those on the committee she's testifying in front of, have been pushing about Ukraine's alleged interference in the 2016 election.

“Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country - and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did,” Hill said. “This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves.”

She added: "In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests."

And then: "These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes. President [Vladimir] Putin and the Russian security services operate like a super PAC. They deploy millions of dollars to weaponize our own political opposition research and false narratives. When we are consumed by partisan rancor, we cannot combat these external forces as they seek to divide us against each another, degrade our institutions, and destroy the faith of the American people in our democracy."

There seemed to be a reason Democrats saved Hill for last (she was initially scheduled to testify alone). Despite not being involved in some key events in the impeachment inquiry, her previous deposition suggested she was willing to color her testimony and be combative. Her opening statement certainly sets that tone.

2. Trump tweets at a witness - again

While Hill's testimony seems to be the marquee one on Thursday, President Donald Trump began the day by tweeting at the other witness, Holmes.

Holmes' key testimony regards Sondland's conversation with Trump on July 26, the day after Trump's call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Holmes testified that he overheard them talking about investigations. After the conversation, Holmes says Sondland told him Trump didn't care about Ukraine, but only about the investigations he was seeking.

"While Ambassador Sondland's phone was not on speakerphone, I could hear the President's voice through the earpiece of the phone," Holmes said. "The president's voice was very loud and recognizable, and Ambassador Sondland held the phone away from his ear for a period of time, presumably because of the loud volume."

Trump tried to cast doubt on that Thursday morning, shortly before Holmes delivered his opening statement, suggesting Holmes' account doesn't make sense.

"I have been watching people making phone calls my entire life. My hearing is, and has been, great," Trump said. "Never have I been watching a person making a call, which was not on speakerphone, and been able to hear or understand a conversation. I've even tried, but to no avail. Try it live!"

Trump was rebuked - even by Republicans - for criticizing former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch during her testimony Friday. Yovanovitch was asked about it during the hearing and stated that she found it intimidating.

3. Where’s John Bolton?

Some saw Hill as a proxy for former national security adviser John Bolton, whom she served under in the White House and whose testimony hangs in the balance. Bolton has said he wants the courts to weigh in on whether he should testify, but Democrats aren't subpoenaing him because they say it would take to long.

Bolton's lawyer thickened the plot recently by writing a letter to the House noting he had knowledge of "many relevant meetings and conversations" that hadn't, as of Nov. 8, been discussed in the impeachment inquiry. His exit from the White House was acrimonious, suggesting he might be a motivated witness if he does appear.

Hill's testimony only seems to reinforce how significant a witness Bolton could be. He was advising her to register her concerns, and according to her and other witnesses, he was among the most concerned about the metaphorical "drug deal" that was being cooked up with Ukraine.

Bolton may have been hoping Hill would speak for him, to some degree, and he wouldn't have to testify. Expect plenty of talk after this hearing about whether Bolton could build on the foundations of the case that have been set by Sondland and Hill.

---

Video Embed Code

Video: Fiona Hill, the former White House adviser on Russia, talked about her family's background and opportunities she had immigrating to the U.S. during the House impeachment inquiry on Nov. 21.(The Washington Post)

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Oil is finally flowing from the Mustang project on Alaska’s North Slope

Alaska Dispatch News - 2 hours 49 min ago

Crude oil is loaded in a tanker truck at the Mustang Operations Center near the Kuparuk River field on the North Slope. (Photo courtesy Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority)

A small but long-awaited North Slope development has quietly started producing oil.

Brooks Range Petroleum Corp. achieved first oil from its Mustang project Oct. 30, according to Houston-based Thyssen Petroleum CEO Majid Jourabchi.

Thyssen Petroleum became an owner-investor in the project in 2014. Jourrabchi said first production was about 620 barrels per day from one well.

The Mustang project is adjacent to the southern portion of ConocoPhillips’ large Kuparuk River field and also near the Nanushuk oil project being developed by Oil Search.

The single well, North Tarn 1-A, that is producing will eventually be turned into a gas injection well, according to Jourabchi.

The company is targeting the same sandstone formations that have helped produce more than 2 billion barrels of oil from Kuparuk. Mustang holds 22 million barrels of proven reserves, according to Brooks Range.

Peak production estimates for the field have been in the range of 12,000 barrels per day.

However, Brooks Range installed modular early production facilities capable of handling approximately 6,000 barrels per day over the past year to expedite production without the initial expense of permanent processing facilities.

Anchorage-based Brooks Range has been working on Mustang for years, though the project has gone through fits and starts since oil prices collapsed starting in late 2014.

Brooks Range CEO Bart Armfield said in a December 2018 interview that the company was then owed $22 million in refundable tax credits by the State of Alaska, which slowed repayment on the incentive program in 2016 while facing multibillion-dollar yearly budget deficits under former Gov. Bill Walker.

The delay in tax credit payments, combined with reluctance from its investors to fund development activities after oil prices fell sharply, delayed the startup of Mustang, which once was scheduled for 2014.

Armfield told the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Board of Directors in April that startup of Mustang would mark the first time a small independent company such as Brooks Range had taken a North Slope oil prospect all the way from discovery to development without it changing hands.

“If little Brooks Range can do it anybody should be able to go to the North Slope and do it,” he said at the time.

AIDEA first partnered with Brooks Range in December 2012 when the authority approved a $20 million investment in a nearly $30 million, five-mile gravel road to access the prospect and 20-acre gravel pad to host production facilities. The gravel infrastructure was completed in April 2013.

At the time, Brooks Range leaders said they wanted to have the field in production by fall 2014 and credited incentives in the just-passed and industry-supported oil production tax structure under Senate Bill 21 for improving the economics of the project and spurring it forward.

In April 2014, AIDEA committed an additional $50 million of investment into a planned $225 million Mustang oil processing facility known as Mustang Operations Center-1, or MOC1, which authority leaders then saw as a facility other small companies prospecting in the area might potentially be able to use.

However, when oil prices fell from $100-plus per barrel in late 2014 to eventually less than $30, it caused company and authority leaders to reevaluate their plan.

AIDEA and Brooks Range owners agreed to rework their partnership last May when the authority approved a transaction to shift from an investor to a lender in Mustang by selling its stake in the holding companies set up under the original deals for the gravel infrastructure and processing facilities.

That move freed Brooks Range to focus on getting to first oil — and cash flow — with a smaller, less expensive early production facility before eventually growing the operation.

AIDEA spokesman Karsten Rodvik wrote via email that achieving first oil from Mustang is an important milestone for the state and the authority will continue to help the Brooks Range facilitate its investment plan for the project.

Armfield wrote in the company’s development plan submitted to the Division of Oil and Gas Sept. 30 that Brooks Range prepared its North Tarn 1-A well for production in the third quarter.

The transport of produced oil from the early production facilities to ConocoPhillips’ common carrier Alpine pipeline was expected to start in the fourth quarter of the year.

According to the Mustang plan of development, four new wells are scheduled to be drilled in the first half of 2020.

The company continues to plan for eventually drilling up to 10 production and 11 injection wells, which would be accompanied by central processing facilities capable of handling up to 15,000 barrels of oil per day.

-------

Elwood Brehmer can be reached at elwood.brehmer@alaskajournal.com.

Understanding recidivism in <b>Alaska</b> through simulation

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Impeachment hearing: Former White House Russia analyst denounces ‘fictional’ Ukraine election interference

Alaska Dispatch News - 3 hours 32 min ago

WASHINGTON — A former White House Russia analyst on Thursday denounced as “fictional” the contention from some Republicans that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and warned lawmakers not to advance a politically motivated narrative helpful to Russia as they defend President Donald Trump in the impeachment probe.

"I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests," says Fiona Hill in prepared opening remarks to the House intelligence committee.

Hill was an aide to former national security adviser John Bolton and stressed that she is "nonpartisan" and has worked under Republican and Democratic presidents.

"I have no interest in advancing the outcome of your inquiry in any particular direction, except toward the truth," Hill said.

But she said the conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia meddled in the election "is beyond dispute."

She said the assertion by some Republicans that Ukraine interfered in the election "is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves."

"I refuse to be part of an effort to legitimize an alternative narrative that the Ukrainian government is a U.S. adversary, and that Ukraine — not Russia — attacked us in 2016," she said.

Some Republicans have advanced the Ukraine election interference talking point as they seek to defend Trump from allegations that he pressed Ukraine's president to investigate Democrats and rival Joe Biden as he was withholding military aide.

They, and Trump himself, have said he was trying to root out corruption in the country.

Hill said U.S. support for Ukraine, "which continues to face armed Russian aggression, has been politicized."

Hill is one of two key witnesses House impeachment investigators will hear on Thursday, capping an intense week in the historic inquiry. Both Hill and David Holmes, a political counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, grew alarmed by how President Donald Trump and others in his orbit were conducting foreign policy in Ukraine.

Holmes says he was having lunch with Ambassador Gordon Sondland this summer when he overheard Trump on the phone asking the envoy about the investigations he wanted from the Ukraine president. The colorful exchange was like nothing he had ever seen, Holmes said in an earlier closed-door deposition.

Hill has said Bolton cut short a meeting with visiting Ukrainians at the White House when Sondland started asking them about "investigations."

The impeachment inquiry focuses on allegations that Trump sought investigations of Biden and his son — and the discredited idea that Ukraine rather than Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. election — in return for the badly needed military aid and a White House visit the new Ukrainian president wanted to show his backing from the West.

Those testifying publicly previously appeared for private depositions, most having received subpoenas compelling their testimony.

Holmes, speaking about the July 26 call between Trump and Sondland, has told investigators the call he overheard "was so remarkable that I remember it vividly."

He said he heard Trump ask, "So he's going to do the investigation?" According to Holmes, Sondland replied that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy "will, quote, 'do anything you ask him to.'"

Hill said Bolton told her he didn't want to be involved in any "drug deal" Sondland and Trump's acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney were cooking up over the Ukrainian investigations Trump wanted.

Sondland, a wealthy hotelier and donor to Trump's inauguration, appeared before lawmakers Wednesday in a marathon session.

He declared that Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani explicitly sought a "quid pro quo" with Ukraine, leveraging an Oval Office visit for political investigations of Democrats. But he also came to believe the trade involved much more.

Sondland testified it was his understanding the president was holding up nearly $400 million in military aid, which Ukraine badly needs with an aggressive Russia on its border, in exchange for the country's announcement of the investigations.

Sondland conceded that Trump never told him directly the security assistance was blocked for the probes, a gap in his account that Republicans and the White House seized on as evidence the president did nothing wrong. But the ambassador said his dealings with Giuliani, as well as administration officials, left him with the clear understanding of what was at stake.

"Was there a 'quid pro quo'?" Sondland testified in opening remarks. "With regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes."

The rest, he said, was obvious: "Two plus two equals four."

In often-stunning testimony, he painted a picture of a Ukraine pressure campaign that was prompted by Trump himself, orchestrated by Giuliani and well-known to other senior officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Sondland said he raised his concerns about a quid pro quo for military aid with Vice President Mike Pence — a conversation Pence said he didn't recall.

However, Sondland said: "Everyone was in the loop. It was no secret."

Later Wednesday, another witness undercut a main Republican argument — that Ukraine didn't even realize the money was being held up. The Defense Department's Laura Cooper testified that Ukrainian officials started asking about it on July 25, which was the day of Trump's phone call with Zelenskiy, when he first asked for a "favor."

Trump himself insists daily that he did nothing wrong and the Democrats are just trying to drum him out of office. On Wednesday, reading from notes written with a black marker, Trump quoted Sondland quoting Trump to say the president wanted nothing from the Ukrainians and did not seek a quid pro quo. He also distanced himself from his hand-picked ambassador, saying he didn't know him "very well."

Trump concluded, "It's all over" for the impeachment proceedings.

In Moscow on Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he was pleased that the "political battles" in Washington had overtaken the Russia allegations, which are supported by the U.S. intelligence agencies.

"Thank God," Putin said, "no one is accusing us of interfering in the U.S. elections anymore. Now they're accusing Ukraine."

___

Associated Press writers Colleen Long, Laurie Kellman, Zeke Miller, Matthew Daly and Andrew Taylor contributed to this report.


LIVE NOW | Public Trump impeachment hearings: Fiona Hill and David Holmes testify

Alaska Dispatch News - 3 hours 43 min ago

WASHINGTON -- Watch live analysis from The Washington Post as public hearings of the Trump impeachment inquiry continue for the fifth day.

Fiona Hill, the former National Security Council Russia adviser, and David Holmes, counselor for political affairs at the U.S. embassy in Ukraine, will testify in the morning.

Democrats are trying to build a case that Trump sought to withhold military assistance and an Oval Office meeting until Ukraine announced investigations into former vice president Joe Biden and his son.

So far, seven people have testified publicly.

The Post’s Libby Casey will host the analysis, joined by reporters Amber Phillips, Elise Viebeck and Rhonda Colvin.

Related:

Sondland’s testimony advances likely impeachment charge of obstruction

Sondland says he told Pence that Ukraine military aid appeared conditioned on political investigations

Testimony ensnares Pompeo in Ukraine scandal as he mulls political future

Analysis: Three takeaways from Laura Cooper’s and David Hale’s testimonies

Sondland’s bombshell leaves Trump’s allies scrambling


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Winners and losers from the latest Democratic debate

Alaska Dispatch News - 6 hours 30 min ago

The candidates arrive on stage before the start of the fifth Democratic presidential primary debate at the Tyler Perry Studios on Wednesday night in Atlanta. The Washington Post and MSNBC sponsored the event. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Toni L. Sandys

The Democratic presidential candidates momentarily sidelined the impeachment inquiry on Wednesday night, when they met in Atlanta for the November MSNBC-Washington Post debate.

Below are some winners and losers.

Winners

Pete Buttigieg: Buttigieg has been good in the debates, and now he’s got real momentum in the first contest in Iowa, where a Des Moines Register-CNN poll showed him up nine points there last week. The question has been how he would handled the newfound pressure - and answer questions about whether a young, small-town mayor has the gravitas to win the presidency. “We need somebody who can go toe-to-toe who actually comes from the kinds of communities that [Donald Trump has] been appealing to,” he said, adding: “I know that from the perspective of Washington, what goes on in my city might look small. But frankly, where we live, the infighting on Capitol Hill is what looks small.” On a night he seemed likely to be the target of many rivals’ attacks his most tense back-and-forth was with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii. That’s about the best he could have hoped for, given her limited constituency in the Democratic Party.

Amy Klobuchar: She’s shown perhaps less momentum in Iowa, but she’s rising slightly. And in a key moment, she turned what could have been a dicey question - about her suggestion that a woman with Buttigieg’s experience wouldn’t make the debate stage - into a crowd-pleasing response about a female president. She said Buttigieg was qualified, but, “Women are held to a higher standard; otherwise, we could play a game called Name Your Favorite Woman president.” Then she brought the house down with this: “If you think a woman can’t beat Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi does it every single day.”

Marijuana: It took most of the debate, but Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., ultimately seized upon an issue that was there for the taking: marijuana legalization. Former vice president Joe Biden said recently that he wasn’t ready for it because it might be a “gateway drug.” Booker responded, “I thought you might have been high when you said it. . . . Marijuana has already been legal in our country for privileged people.” Given the fast-rising popularity of legalization, especially in the Democratic Party, Booker could do worse than becoming the face of that effort in the Democratic primary. And at this point, he needs to build a constituency for his struggling campaign.

The wealthy: Don’t look know, but the wealthy are suddenly getting a little bit of defense on that debate stage. The first big confrontation came when Booker differed with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on her 2 percent wealth tax on the top one-tenth of 1% of income. Booker said he sympathized with the goal of creating more revenue and a fairer tax code, “But the tax the way you’re putting it forward, I’m sorry, it’s cumbersome. It’s been tried by other nations. It’s hard to evaluate.” It was an interesting choice from Booker, who has been criticized as being too close to corporate interests. Later in the debate, billionaire Tom Steyer was asked to respond to the idea that he has bought his way into these debates by spending tens of millions of dollars of his own money. Businessman Andrew Yang responded, “I want to stick up for Tom,” he said, adding: “Tom has been spending his own money fighting climate change. You can’t knock someone for having money and spending it in the right way.” Steyer seemed positively surprised someone would defend him, and given the substance of these debates, you couldn’t really blame him.

A delayed clapback: Back in July’s debate, Gabbard attacked Harris, and Harris didn’t really hit back. Apparently she was ready this time. After Gabbard attacked the modern Democratic Party and Hillary Clinton for its foreign policy, Harris hit back - hard. “I think that it’s unfortunate that we have someone on the stage who is attempting to be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, who during the Obama administration spent four years full time on Fox News criticizing President Barack Obama,” she said. She said Gabbard “buddied up” to Stephen Bannon to get an audience with Trump and that she “fails to call a war criminal” - Syrian President Bashar Assad, whom Gabbard controversially met with - “what he is.” That said, Gabbard seems to be walking right into this, so she was arguably getting what she wanted.

- - -

Losers

Joe Biden: His shaky debate performances haven’t really cost him thus far, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are almost unfailingly shaky. Even in his first answer, which was basically a recitation of his usual talking points about why he would be the best Democratic nominee, he stumbled through it. Later, after Klobuchar’s Buttigieg answer, he assured awkwardly, “I think a woman is qualified to be president.” At another point, while talking about violence against women, he said we need to “keep punching at it and punching at it and punching.” Eek. Late in the debate, he played up his African American support, saying he was supported by the “only African American woman that had ever been elected to the United States Senate,” Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill. Except he was standing a few people down from another one, Harris (which she and Booker were happy to point out). Biden insisted he had said the “first” black female senator, but he was wrong.

The “just beat Trump” ethos: On a day in which President Trump’s Ukraine scandal took a serious turn - thanks to his European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland implicating multiple top administration officials and saying the Ukraine effort was undertaken on Trump’s behalf - the debate actually included plenty of talk about how the party needs to not focus so much on Trump. “We cannot simply be consumed by Donald Trump,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said, ticking off important issues like health care, climate change and homelessness, “What the American people need to understand is that Congress can walk and chew bubble gum at the same time.” Buttigieg also emphasized, as he has before, that the party needs to vote according to what happens after the “tender” moment when Trump is gone. Added Sanders later: “We need to bring our people together not just in opposition to Donald Trump.”

Tulsi Gabbard: It wasn’t just her odd strategy to continually attack Clinton and the Democratic Party more broadly. At one point, she was asked about FBI Director Christopher Wray saying most domestic terrorism these days is fueled by white supremacism. She didn’t really have an answer, eventually landing on the “failed war on drugs” hurting African Americans. Yang quickly followed up with a strong answer about how he learned from a former white supremacist, Christian Picciolini, that he personally spoke to. Gabbard clearly has a plan here; that doesn’t mean it’s the right one.

&#39;<b>Alaska</b> PD&#39; to air on January 1

Alaska News - 6 hours 43 min ago
"'Alaska PD' brings viewers to America's Last Frontier, where the line between. civilization and lawlessness can be razor thin," wrote Elizabeth ...

FBI report: <b>Alaska</b> sexual assault rate highest in nation

Alaska News - 6 hours 43 min ago
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska has the nation's highest rate of sexual assault and violent crime has increased in the state, a new FBI report said ...

Thinking of pooling your resources with a buddy or partner to buy a house? Proceed with caution.

Alaska Dispatch News - 6 hours 53 min ago

Interesting changes are occurring in real estate as the social media generation moves into home-buying. These new, often non-traditional homebuyers need to learn how to protect themselves when making a life-altering investment. This column will identify some areas of concern.

According to a recent National Association of Realtors, or NAR, 2019 Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers report, 37 % of homebuyers are under 38 years old. In this report, unmarried couples made up 9% of homebuyers and uncategorized others made up 2%.

Multi-generational homes were also purchased by 12% of homebuyers for some of the following reasons: 1. Caretaking of aging relatives; 2. Cost savings; 3. Adult children or relatives; 4. For aging parents or the return of adult children; or 5. A larger home that multiple incomes can afford.

Additionally, a recent CNBC segment highlighted an increase in homebuyers pooling their resources and forming “partnerships” to maximize home-buying powers. However, be aware that homeownership between partners is treated differently than with married couples. Understanding these differences is important to protect the biggest financial asset many homeowners will have in their lifetime.

First, consider a co-habitation agreement to spell out how expenses are shared. While the obvious expense is the mortgage, other considerations include furniture, utilities, repairs, major remodeling and everyday maintenance upkeep. This agreement should define ownership of other assets to avoid confusion of what belongs to whom, as well as issues such as the rights, duties, obligations and responsibilities common in a homeownership.

One thought on how to take care of unforeseen repairs and maintenance issues is to plan for them. Setting aside 1% of the house value per year — on a monthly basis of course — would help to create a readily accessible slush fund when an emergency arises. This helps to ensure a sudden expense does not stress the partnership if one party can’t pay the full amount when needed.

Unfortunately, disposing of property can be more complicated than its acquisition. Planning for the worst in the beginning is the best way to preserve the maximum value of the assets in the end. So, the agreement also should be detailed and specific about what happens if the partnership dissolves — amicably or not. The eventual tax consequences can be complicated.

If the partnership dissolves, be aware that the agreement won’t cover a partner’s release from the mortgage obligation — only the lender can modify that obligation because all of the partner(s)’ names are on the original loan documents and responsible for payment. From the lender’s perspective there are two issues: 1. the remaining partner(s) must still be able to qualify to make the mortgage payments and 2. the partner(s) who leaves are still obligated to pay if the mortgage payments are not made.

If the lender is not notified of the parties separating — which is more common than you think — the person(s) who left may have a problem obtaining another loan because records will show they are still obligated on the first loan, even though they have not made payments since separating. This is type of scenario is best discussed with the lender when making the initial loan application, so the partnership agreement can reflect the process.

Another option is to form a limited liability company — which can be formed for any lawful purpose. An LLC also can provide asset protection and transfer of ownership — in life and death — while letting partners retain control.

However, to dissolve the LLC, a court must determine the company is unable to continue with the purpose for which it was formed. Unfortunately, a property title change might bring tax consequences. Selling the property might also become a reportable tax event.

Second, follow through and coordinate the intent of the agreement with all partners' written wishes in their wills to minimize outsider challenges. While it is difficult to imagine the worst-case scenario, the death of one partner can cut off the asset from the living one. Without proper documentation, the remaining partner could have a difficult time proving ownership rights and be left to fight relatives for home and assets.

Third, consider obtaining a term or decreasing-term life insurance policy to benefit your partner and/or family. In many relationships, one partner earns more than the other. This disparity can create a financial hardship if the higher earner dies. A life insurance policy can provide an extra measure of security and give the remaining partner some breathing room. For a disgruntled family member cut off from an asset, an insurance policy might be just enough to soothe feelings and prevent an unnecessary challenge.

For non-married partners, these legal touches can give you some of the benefits of married counterparts. With your home being one of your biggest assets it deserves extra precautions to protect it.

Corrections: Which McCarthy? No ban on sombreros, Wrong woman, <b>Alaska</b> Population

Alaska News - 8 hours 13 min ago
How much of the U.S. population lies in the state of Alaska? The Associated Press got that wrong in a story about fatal plane crashes in Alaska.

Letter: Stop blinding me, please

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 11/20/2019 - 23:32

To put it kindly, the blue headlights, LED headlights and these special gold tip lights everyone is using are too bright.

I have blue eyes. Blue eyes are more susceptible to light sensitivity. Please go shopping and turn down those lights. I have gone to great lengths to have a better driving experience. I bought prescription yellow lenses. They help quite a bit, but I still need you to consider who you are blinding in those dark hours.

I am a firm believer in 24-7 driving with lights because of safety, but please don’t blind me.

You may also need to adjust your headlights to hit the road in front of you and not be shining in all sorts of places When we bought a truck this year, we had to adjust the headlights as they were pointing in the wrong direction, and it turned out they were installed backwards. You can find directions and how-tos on YouTube.

Now please get to it. I am a person in the middle of my life; I fear for the older people and those not likely to buy special glasses. Please be a responsible driver.

Sheryl Stevens

Eagle River

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

Letter: Bad take on Meyer

Alaska Dispatch News - Wed, 11/20/2019 - 23:28

Ron West’s letter to the editor on Steve Meyer’s bird hunting story asks if Mr. Meyer doesn’t “get it.” I did not read the story by Steve Meyer, because over time I have come to understand that I already know what he is going to say from the headline alone. He writes on hunting, an activity that is a big part of his life. ADN carries Mr. Meyer’s column because many Alaskans enjoy it. His readers get it.

It is Mr. West who doesn’t get it. Hunting is an activity that keeps one in sync with the world.

The hunter is companionably enjoying the outdoors, physically working, studying nature, the weather, hunting methods, equipment, ballistics and so on. The details of the hobby provideendless intellectual studies.

If Mr. Meyer laments the decline in hunter participation, it is because he recognizes the loss to people, in general, of an enriching endeavor.

Mr. West’s letter is a good reminder that I should study up before commenting on things withwhich I have no familiarity. But I guess that is what makes for engaging opinions.

Eric Jensen

Wasilla

Have something on your mind? Send to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Letters under 200 words have the best chance of being published. Writers should disclose any personal or professional connections with the subjects of their letters. Letters are edited for accuracy, clarity and length.

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