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House panel's public hearings start today with two witnesses

Americans will see live testimony starting at 9 a.m. CST Wednesday in House Democrats' bid to show that President Donald Trump abused his office and should be impeached for pressuring Ukraine to investigate a political rival while withholding U.S. aid.

In public hearings, Democrats will try to make the case that Trump committed "high crimes and misdemeanors" — the U.S. Constitution's standard for impeachment by the House and a Senate trial on whether to convict and remove a president from office.

Trump is accused of withholding security aid to Ukraine and a coveted invitation to the White House while pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and a false conspiracy theory about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.

Republicans have stood by Trump, arguing that there was no link — no "quid pro quo" — between the aid and the investigation request. Some say that even if there was, it's not an impeachable offense. Republicans also call the process unfair, as the GOP can call defense witnesses only with majority Democrats' approval and the president's lawyer will not be allowed to participate in this phase.


The Intelligence Committee will stream the video on YouTube. PBS will carry the hearings live, as will C-SPAN3, C-span.org and C-SPANRadio. NBC, ABC and CBS plan to interrupt regular programming with reports on the hearings; CNN, Fox News and MSNBC plan more extensive airings.


William Taylor, the top U.S. envoy to Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent will testify Wednesday.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will testify Friday.

Taylor has said that during his first several months in the post he grew increasingly concerned that Ukraine aid was being held hostage to White House demands for politically motivated investigations. He said he "always kept careful notes."

Kent is significant because he testified that Trump "wanted nothing less than President Zelensky to go to the microphone and say 'investigations, Biden and Clinton.' " Kent didn't directly speak to Trump about it. "Clinton," Kent explained, was shorthand for the theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign to benefit Hillary Clinton.

Yovanovitch described Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani's activities in seeking an investigation of Biden and the events that led Trump to remove her from her job in the spring.

The Intelligence Committee announced Tuesday night that eight more witnesses will testify next week.


The House Intelligence Committee will conduct the hearings, taking the lead after closed-door depositions conducted with the Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committees. Transcripts of those depositions have been coming out.

The hearing will follow rules set by a resolution approved Oct. 31 by the House, as well as by the House's standing rules.

The resolution gives Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff and top Republican Devin Nunes, both of California, equal time in 90-minute rounds to question each witness, though they can hand over the questioning to committee staff.

The 20 other members of the Intelligence Committee will get five minutes each to question each witness per round. There may be multiple rounds.

Republicans have sought permission from Democrats to call at least nine witnesses. Schiff has said he won't allow Biden's son, Hunter, or the anonymous whistle-blower who set off the impeachment inquiry to be called. Nunes has asked for State Department officials David Hale and Tim Morrison and former White House Ukraine adviser Kurt Volker to testify. Schiff may agree to those requests.


Transcripts of the depositions of Taylor, Kent and Yovanovitch

The rough White House transcript of the July 25 conversation between Trump and Zelensky


After completing the hearings, the Intelligence Committee is to send a report summarizing its findings to the Judiciary Committee. That could come later this month.

The Judiciary Committee then can hold public hearings, which Trump and his lawyers will be invited to attend, question witnesses and offer testimony. The committee would decide whether to draft articles of impeachment and vote on whether to send them to the full House for a vote to impeach the president.

If the Senate receives articles of impeachment from the House, it must immediately begin a trial. Senators would sit as a jury, listening to the case fromHouse managers and the White House defense, with Chief Justice John Roberts presiding. A two-thirds majority is required to convict in the Senate, which Republicans control 53-47. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that if the vote were held now, Trump would be acquitted.


Only two presidents have been impeached by the U.S. House. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 for firing his secretary of war over Congress's objections and for other decisions related to the reconstruction of the American South after the Civil War. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice related to his sworn statements related to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Both were acquitted by the Senate.

Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment related to the burglary of Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate building and the subsequent cover-up. His advisers had warned him that impeachment and removal were likely.

The Trump inquiry differs from the Nixon and Clinton investigations because in those cases, the Judiciary Committee held hearings relying on evidence compiled and turned over by special prosecutors. In Trump's case, House committees conducted the investigation themselves.

'All we really want is just a fair shot': Nebraskans rally outside Supreme Court in support of DACA

WASHINGTON — Jorge Marroquin was born in Mexico and brought to the United States at age 3 when his family settled in Nebraska’s capital city.

“I consider Lincoln my home,” Marroquin said. “Even though sometimes it doesn’t feel so welcoming.”

The 22-year-old, who is studying economics at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, sees how immigration policy has become a political tug-of-war in the country.

He is shielded from immigration enforcement by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which was created by President Barack Obama.

Marroquin traveled to Washington to join a pro-DACA rally Tuesday outside the Supreme Court.

Inside the building’s high marble walls, meanwhile, the justices were hearing oral arguments on whether President Donald Trump can eliminate the program. A decision in the case is not expected until next year.

It’s a case that highlights the country’s deep divisions over immigration, particularly when it comes to those who are in the country illegally. DACA recipients, commonly referred to as Dreamers, represent individuals brought to the United States illegally when they were young.

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Many have never known a home other than America and would be lost if deported to the countries of their birth.

Fellow UNL students Frida Aguilera de la Torre, 19, and Fatima Barragan-Herrera, 22, rallied alongside Marroquin and other Nebraskans who turned out on a raw November morning to show their support for the DACA program with chants and signs.

The crowd shouted along with the call-and-response of “Undocumented! Unafraid!” and waved signs supporting Dreamers.

Speakers at the podium urged participants to raise their voices so those inside the court could hear them.

Marroquin said that eliminating DACA would have a domino effect on the economy and that there is a misconception that DACA recipients are asking for special benefits.

“All we really want is just a fair shot,” he said.

In his own case, Marroquin said the program allows him to drive and work, making it possible in turn for him to pay for his own education.

Before Tuesday’s oral arguments even started, Trump took to Twitter to share his thoughts.

“Many of the people in DACA, no longer very young, are far from ‘angels,’ ” Trump tweeted. “Some are very tough, hardened criminals. President Obama said he had no legal right to sign order, but would anyway. If Supreme Court remedies with overturn, a deal will be made with Dems for them to stay!” The program bars anyone with a felony conviction from participating.

Marroquin said that attending the rally brought a range of emotions.

On the one hand, it drove home the fact that the administration and its allies are working to eliminate the very program that allows him to participate in public life.

On the other, Marroquin was surrounded by DACA defenders who come from every walk of life and every part of the country.

“Just seeing everyone come together, come show their support, really means a lot,” he said.

Meet the Nebraska state senators

Nebraska Methodist, Midland form alliance, giving students access to programs at both schools

FREMONT, Neb. — Midland University and Nebraska Methodist College have become allies, sharing programs and making it easier for a student to transfer from one to the other.

Administrators at the institutions say it’s wise for schools to work together in the competitive field of higher education, where the pool of young students has stagnated or shrunk.

The administrators say the partnership will enable them to avoid having to create their own programs in certain fields and allow students at each campus to enjoy some of the benefits at the other campus.

“What we’re doing is we’re taking down barriers and creating opportunities,” said Deb Carlson, president of Nebraska Methodist College in Omaha.

Carlson and Midland President Jody Horner said some faculty members, staffers and other administrators have participated in discussions on the partnership. They have looked for ways the colleges can complement each other.

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“This is not a merger,” Horner said. “It’s a strategic partnership.” And that alliance has begun, she said.

Among other elements:

  • Nebraska Methodist students will be allowed to play intramural sports at Midland and to attend sports and performing arts events at Midland for free. They also will have access to Midland’s Study Away travel program.
  • Most credits will transfer without difficulty from one college to the other.
  • Nebraska Methodist students who decide against a health care profession may move into a Midland liberal arts program.
  • If a Midland student tries Midland’s nursing program and decides against it, that student will have a bevy of Nebraska Methodist health care certificate programs to choose from while getting their bachelor’s degree at Midland.
  • The partnership may put a dent in the state’s health care worker shortage by increasing accessibility to Nebraska Methodist programs in health care.

Horner said it’s not rare for colleges to have transfer agreements with each other. “But it usually stops there,” she said. Midland and Nebraska Methodist want to “think more broadly,” she said.

“There’s more flexibility and nimbleness by their partnership,” said Joretta Nelson, senior vice president of the North Carolina higher education consulting firm called Credo. Nelson said partnerships with businesses and other colleges are important as higher education goes through a tumultuous period.

The disruption stems from enrollment stagnation, high costs, questions about the value of college and advancements in technology, Nelson said. Her organization has worked with Nebraska Methodist and Midland on strategy, enrollment and other matters, she said.

Easing Midland students’ access to Nebraska Methodist certificate programs may help those students get tuition discounts and part-time jobs at Methodist Fremont Health and other Methodist Health System clinics. A certificate program sometimes lasts only a few weeks while others can take up to a year to complete.

The jobs and tuition reimbursement would reduce their student loan debt, give them meaningful work experience and increase their marketability, Carlson and Horner said.

Employees of Methodist receive tuition reimbursement after six months of employment.

“Our students are getting jobs before they even graduate,” Carlson said.

Nebraska Methodist enrolls about 1,125 students, Midland about 1,410.

Nebraska Methodist offers about 40 certificate and degree programs on its campus and online in nursing, allied health and health professions. Midland, in Fremont, offers more than 30 majors and other academic programs.

Mark Snow, dean of human performance at Midland, said students in his athletic training master’s program will be required by a national accrediting group next year to know how to draw blood.

The partnership will enable Midland students in that program to get a certificate in phlebotomy (for blood draws and intravenous fluids) over nine weeks through Nebraska Methodist, Snow said, to gain that skill.

Check out nearly 100 stunning photos of Nebraska

Fire union leader should be reinstated after bar assault, arbitrator rules; Stothert, chief mull appeal

The embattled president of the Omaha firefighters union should get his city job back, with back pay, an arbitrator has ruled.

The ruling says the city overstepped in firing Steve LeClair following his assault of a woman at a local bar.

Arbitrator Peggy McNeive questioned the city’s handling of LeClair’s case, saying officials had dealt with other employees differently. She said LeClair should have been disciplined, suspended perhaps, but not fired.

“The action taken by the city to terminate me was simply put, politically motivated,” LeClair said Tuesday. “I’m grateful the arbitrator reviewed the evidence and determined I was ... wrongfully terminated.”

Jean Stothert

Mayor Jean Stothert and Omaha Fire Chief Dan Olsen strongly disagreed with the decision. Stothert pledged to consider all legal options, including appealing to district court. Olsen said LeClair should not be allowed to return.

Dan Olsen

“The only true victim in this case — the African-American woman who was sexually propositioned, racially insulted by LeClair ... and then physically assaulted by him — has in our opinion been victimized again,” Stothert said.

If the decision stands, LeClair would receive back pay for all but five of his regular 24-hour shifts since his April firing. The arbitrator decided that LeClair’s actions warranted a five-day suspension and docked his pay accordingly.

Olsen recommended firing LeClair in February after an internal investigation into LeClair’s 2018 off-duty assault of a woman at Tiger Tom’s Pub, near 72nd Street and Military Avenue. She filed a written complaint about his behavior.

The woman later told police that LeClair whispered “white power” and struck her in the back, knocking her off balance, after she rejected his advances. The city released video from the bar that prosecutors said showed an assault.

LeClair said during the arbitration hearing that he had actually said: “What white power?” Mike Dowd, his lawyer, described that statement as an “inartful comment” and said it was intended to be a positive statement about how the diverse bar crowd was getting along well.

Dowd said LeClair and others at the bar had been discussing the toxic political environment, including mass shootings and white supremacy. Several character witnesses vouched for LeClair during the arbitration hearing and said they’d never heard him express racist beliefs.

At least one witness at the bar heard “white power,” but said he might have heard only part of the conversation. Regardless, Dowd said, LeClair should have known better than to make that statement or touch the woman.

It was “the wrong topic with the wrong person at the wrong time,” he said.

LeClair pleaded no contest in April to misdemeanor charges of assault and disorderly conduct. He was sentenced in June to six months’ probation. Fire union lawyer John Corrigan said LeClair has nearly completed his sentence.

In a statement, LeClair told The World-Herald: “One mistake does not define a person’s life’s work, and although I regret the incident that took place, I did not punch a lady in a bar, and I’m no subscriber to racist attitudes.”

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The woman who filed the report did not return calls seeking comment.

Stothert said racial and physical abuse by city employees will not be tolerated. She said those who behave that way will face consequences.

Stothert also said she was “disturbed” by the men who have defended LeClair’s character, referring to reference letters that LeClair obtained from U.S. Rep. Don Bacon, former U.S. Rep. Brad Ashford and State Sens. Steve Lathrop and Justin Wayne of Omaha.

Stothert singled out Bacon and noted that she introduced him at a fundraiser for him this summer. She said Bacon will have to explain why he wrote a “glowing” letter of support for LeClair.

Bacon has said he wrote the letter because of his working relationship with LeClair but said he does not condone LeClair’s alleged actions.

The fire union on Tuesday issued a statement saying the arbitrator made the correct call after what it called an “unfortunate incident.”

“The arbitration process worked exactly as it should for all city employees, providing a fair and unbiased result based on the evidence that was presented,” the union statement said.

Union leadership has stood by LeClair throughout the arbitration process, paying his salary and benefits while he fought to regain his job. Capt. Trevor Towey said the fire union looks forward to having LeClair back.

LeClair said he would reimburse the union for the money that the union gave him once the city pays him for missed work. The mayor said LeClair will remain off the job while the legal process plays out.

LeClair’s lawyers said the arbitrator’s decision reinforces their belief that the city unfairly targeted him because of his frequent union-related spats with Stothert and her administration, an allegation she has denied.

Dowd called the city’s original process a “directed outcome.”

Stothert said she did not have a grudge against LeClair. She has said that the fire chief made the decision to fire LeClair and she supports it.

Olsen said LeClair’s actions violated multiple subsections of the union contract. He also said the bar incident harms the Fire Department’s image and public trust, and said it’s the chief’s job to protect the department’s reputation.

The crux of LeClair’s legal argument was that other city employees who behaved similarly during off hours have been allowed to keep their jobs. His attorneys say LeClair’s service record and actions don’t merit termination.

Dowd pointed out during the hearing that Battalion Chief Joe Salcedo was suspended after sharing Facebook posts comparing President Barack Obama and the Black Lives Matter movement to terrorist organizations.

His team also argued, and the arbitrator ultimately agreed, that the city’s handling of his firing denied him his due process rights and his rights under the fire union’s collective bargaining agreement.

Do you think Omaha fire union President Steve LeClair should be reinstated?

“What Steve LeClair actually did isn’t as bad as what they wanted everybody to believe,” Corrigan said.

Stothert said Tuesday that she disagrees.

“There was an assault of a woman ... by a city employee,” she said. “He struck her.”

Our best photos of October 2019