Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: Stunning ambassador’s testimony links Trump to abuse of power

US ambassador to EU Gordon Sondland wrote his name in history and triggered a turning point in the House impeachment inquiry with stunning testimony implicating the President in an abuse of power. In effect, one of President Donald Trump’s political appointees confirmed the core allegation of the entire scandal: that he conditioned aid and recognition for Ukraine on personal favors that could help him in his 2020 reelection campaign. (https://edition.cnn.com/2019/11/21/politics/donald-trump-impeachment-gordon-sondland-today/index.html) This was no “Never Trumper” bureaucrat perpetrating what some of the President’s conservative backers have called a coup. He was a glad-handing businessman who paid $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee and ended up with a plum job. Sondland destroyed once and for all the earliest presidential talking point that there was no quid pro quo with Ukraine. He explicitly said the prospect of a White House visit for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was conditional on Ukraine announcing an investigation against Trump’s possible 2020 rival Joe Biden.

Newsline: Lawyer for German embassy in Ankara arrested

Turkish authorities took the lawyer into custody, Germany’s Foreign Ministry confirmed. The man, from Turkey, had been assisting the embassy in Ankara by looking into the cases of Turkish citizens seeking asylum in Germany, according to news magazine Der Spiegel, which first broke the story. A German diplomatic source told Agence France-Presse that the lawyer had provided “internationally customary and, in our view, indisputably acceptable support.” (https://www.dw.com/en/lawyer-for-german-embassy-in-ankara-arrested/a-51341528) “His detention is incomprehensible to us,” they added. The diplomatic source said Germany was “intensively engaging to clear up the allegations and free him from custody.” The lawyer, who Der Spiegel says has been accused of espionage, cannot receive consular assistance from Germany because he is a Turkish citizen.

Newsline: China summons U.S. embassy official to demand halt to Hong Kong meddling

China made stern representations to a representative of the U.S. embassy in Beijing on Wednesday after the Senate unanimously passed legislation aimed at protecting human rights in Hong Kong. In a statement, the foreign ministry said Vice Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu summoned William Klein, the U.S. embassy’s minister counselor for political affairs. (https://www.reuters.com/article/us-hongkong-protests-china-embassy/china-summons-u-s-embassy-official-to-demand-halt-to-hong-kong-meddling-idUSKBN1XU0GN) Ma told Klein the situation in Hong Kong was part of China’s internal affairs and demanded that the U.S. stop its meddling, the ministry added.

Newsline: Bahraini dissident says embassy staff in London tried to kill him

A Bahraini dissident has filed a formal complaint with police in the United Kingdom, claiming that staff at the Bahraini embassy in London tried to murder him. Moosa Mohammed climbed to the top of the embassy in July to protest against the imminent executions of two anti-government activists in Bahrain. (https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/11/bahraini-dissident-embassy-staff-kill-191120070419148.html) He says staff tried to push him off the roof then began the process of trying to kill him inside.

Newsline: Embassy official says ‘never seen anything’ like restaurant call to Trump

A top official at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine told impeachment investigators he had “never seen anything like” the late July phone conversation he overheard between President Donald Trump and his ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, in a Kyiv restaurant. “This was an extremely distinctive experience in my Foreign Service career,” David Holmes, the counselor for political affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, said in a deposition Friday, according to a transcript released late Monday. “I’ve never seen anything like this, someone calling the president from a mobile phone at a restaurant, and then having a conversation of this level of candor, colorful language. There’s just so much about the call that was so remarkable that I remember it vividly.” (https://www.euronews.com/2019/11/19/state-department-official-testifies-he-s-never-seen-anything-trump-n1085426) The call Holmes is referencing is one first brought up by the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, Bill Taylor, during last week’s public testimony. Taylor said one of his staffers, later revealed to be Holmes, overheard a phone call on July 26 during which Trump asked Sondland about “the investigations,” meaning the probes into the Bidens and Democrats. Holmes, who is now slated to appear for public testimony Thursday, told impeachment investigators he heard Sondland tell Trump that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “loves your ass,” to which Trump asked, “So, he’s gonna do the investigation?” Sondland replied that Zelenskiy was “gonna do it,” adding that the Ukrainian leader would do “anything you ask him to.” Holmes said he was able to make out what Trump was saying during that brief portion of the phone call because Sondland held the phone away from his ear as Trump was speaking loudly. Holmes would testify that Trump’s unmistakable voice was later quieter. Holmes said he did not take notes of that part of the call but told fellow embassy staffers what he heard.

Newsline: U.S. Consulate In India Denies L-1 Visas At Alarming Rate

U.S. consular officers are making it extremely difficult, and in some cases nearly impossible, for U.S. companies to transfer their employees from India into America on L-1 visas. The culprit is the Trump administration’s extreme “vetting” and “hire American” policies – even though U.S. unemployment rates are historically low and companies are trying to get visas for individuals they already employ. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2019/11/18/companies-say-us-consulate-in-india-denies-l-1-visas-at-alarming-rate/#33999ddf6e0a) “Our refusal rate for L visas at consular posts in India is 80% to 90%,” an executive of a major U.S. company told me in an interview. “We prepare a sheaf of backup documents, as we’ve always done, but now, after an employee explains why he needs to be transferred into the U.S. and what he’ll be doing, the consular officer will, in effect, say, ‘Not good enough’ and refuse the visa.” (The executive said visa refusals for L-1 visas from U.S. consulates in China are also a problem.)

Newsline: U.S. embassy in Lebanon denies funding “revolution bus”

The U.S. embassy in Lebanon denied rumors about the embassy standing behind the financing of a “revolution bus” in Lebanon amid nationwide protests against the ruling political class. The embassy tweeted that it has nothing to do with the revolution bus while “the embassy supports the Lebanese people in their peaceful demonstrations and expressions of national unity.” (http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2019-11/17/c_138560852.htm) The revolution bus aimed at traveling from north to south of Lebanon on Sunday through the main sites of the month-long demonstrations in Lebanon to convey a message of peace and that protesters from all regions are united against the political ruling class. A group of people had accused the bus of being funded by foreign powers and hence prevented it from entering the city of Sidon, south of Lebanon, creating tension in the area.