All Eyes on Envoy Who May Be Trump’s Undoing
From point man to point of contention.
Gordon Sondland, once a little-known Donald Trump loyalist and donor, has become a household name for anyone following the House impeachment hearings.
The self-described “point man for Europe” who the president assigned to oversee relations with Ukraine, Sondland has been a central figure in the narrative that witnesses are sketching of the Trump administration’s efforts to press Kyiv to investigate his 2020 rival Joe Biden.
As Nick Wadhams writes, Sondland is now poised to take a beating from both parties when he testifies tomorrow in what’s likely to be the marquee event of the second week of public impeachment hearings.
It will follow testimony scheduled for today from Kurt Volker, who until recently was Trump’s special envoy to Ukraine and who worked closely with Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union.
Republicans may seek to portray the latter as an unreliable witness who steered U.S. policy without Trump’s permission, while Democrats will argue he was deep in the president’s inner circle.
While the question lingers whether Sondland had the Oval Office access he claimed or exaggerated his influence, his role at the heart of the impeachment story symbolizes Trump’s unorthodox — critics say chaotic — foreign policy.
With Trump now suggesting that he’s “strongly considering” testifying, it’s possible the answer could eventually come from the commander-in-chief himself.
Under siege | Days of anti-government protests in Iran have left hundreds under arrest, the Internet blocked and an unconfirmed number of people dead, raising the question: Is the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure’’ campaign working? There’s little doubt it has hurt the economy, but there’s no sign Iran’s leaders are losing support of the powerful Revolutionary Guards or that it’s backing down on its stalled nuclear program.
Promises, promises | Whatever the outcome of the Dec. 12 election, the U.K. is heading for public spending levels not seen since the 1970s. After a decade of austerity, political leaders are in an arms race of spending pledges. But for post-industrial towns in the North of England like Hartlepool, where budget cuts took a brutal toll, relief may be too late, Andrew Atkinson and Lucy Meakin report.
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are preparing for their first head-to-head election debate today as the latter seeks to reverse Johnson's double-digit lead in polls.
Question of sovereignty | The U.S. is reversing its decades-old position on Israeli settlements built on land claimed by Palestinians in the West Bank, declaring they’re not illegal under international law. The move could provide a boost to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces potential criminal charges over alleged corruption and the end of his rule following September elections that gave no one the edge to form government.
A higher authority | China denounced a Hong Kong court decision that ruled that a government ban on masks was unconstitutional, raising concerns of an intervention in a judicial system whose independence is seen giving the global financial hub a key competitive advantage. It was the latest sign Beijing is taking a more hands-on role after months of historic unrest.
- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam urged a peaceful end to a siege at a university where about 100 protesters remained holed up after clashes with police.
- U.S. Senate Republicans’ push to support Hong Kong protesters has been met with silence from Trump, who has yet to indicate whether he’d sign a bipartisan bill that risks angering China.
Battleground bid | Democrats hope to put the diverse state of Georgia in play for the first presidential election in decades, but it remains a long shot (Trump carried the state by five percentage points in 2016). The party will have to fight with Republicans over access to ballots and other voting-rights issues. Highlighting its new competitiveness, 10 candidates seeking the 2020 Democratic nomination will debate tomorrow in Atlanta.
What to Watch
- The Catalan separatist party that holds the key to unlocking a national government for Spain is preparing its supporters for a deal that would put Socialist acting Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez back into power.
- German Chancellor Angela Merkel will address a conference of African leaders today in Berlin as the European Union faces criticism of allowing China and Russia to wield more influence on the continent.
- Poland’s nationalist government suffered another blow to its sweeping judicial reforms after the European Union’s highest court raised fresh concerns over the independence of judges.
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And finally ... Scapegoating immigrants for South Africa’s economic woes by everyone from the unemployed to the president has fueled routine bouts of xenophobic violence that’s killed hundreds since the end of apartheid a quarter century ago. As Antony Sguazzin reports, far from being spontaneous, the attacks — most often on fellow Africans — are often coordinated by groups and individuals for economic or political gain, capitalizing on the public’s frustration with soaring crime and scarce jobs, housing and health care.
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