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Welch elaborates on call for Trump's impeachment

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., on Thursday explained his decision to call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

Prior to Thursday, Welch was reserved when it came to the topic, wanting to see the results of the Mueller Report and other investigations.

“On Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump took his oath of office, pledged to preserve, protect and defend the constitution, and in the 30 months since, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s violated his oath, that he’s unfit for office and that he should be impeached,” Welch said during a conference call with several reporters.

Welch’s statements come a day after the House voted overwhelmingly against furthering a resolution offered by Rep. Al Green, a Texas Democrat, to impeach the president, according to the Associated Press. Democrats voted 137 to 95 on furthering the resolution. The total House vote was 332 to 95.

According to The Hill, Welch voted in favor of moving the resolution forward.

Welch said Thursday his vote was a procedural one to advance the discussion and not so much a reflection on what he thinks of the resolution itself. He said articles of impeachment would have to come from the House Committee on Judiciary.

“The conduct of the president is putting himself above the law when he’s completely objecting and refusing to cooperate with any Congressional investigations,” Welch said.

He said he’s been reluctant to call for impeachment, given how serious a measure that is, and has wanted to see the results of various investigations into the president’s conduct, “But it’s become apparent that the president is going to refuse to allow Congress to do that job. And under Article 1, Congress has oversight responsibility in the conduct of the president.”

He said the Trump administration has done little but stonewall when it comes to lawful requests from Congress.

“That’s an approach to Congress where the president is putting himself above the law and beyond accountability,” said Welch. “And the Constitution makes it clear that no person, even the president of the United States, is above the law.”

Welch said two things changed his mind with regards to impeaching the president. One was his conclusion that Trump won’t change his “stonewalling” tactics. The other is Trump’s recent comments directed at House Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley, of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan, suggesting they return to their countries of origin. According to the Associated Press, all were born in the United States except Omar, who fled Somalia as a child.

“It’s very clear that his attacks on American citizens on the basis of their ethnic origin, their religion and their race are intensifying,” Welch said. “And my alarm is, this is extremely dangerous to our democracy. And it’s clear that the president has embraced this approach of being brutally divisive.”

He said the president needs to be someone who unifies people to solve problems.

Welch said it’s not clear how the will of the House will shift with regards to impeachment, but he felt Vermonters need to know where he stands. He said he did not confer with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, before speaking out beyond sending her a text message saying that he was doing so. She thanked him for the message, he said, but had no further comment. Welch said he likewise didn’t confer with Vermont’s senators Patrick Leahy and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

Welch acknowledged that Trump might welcome impeachment proceedings, saying the president wants the 2020 election to be about race and impeachment.

“That’s really unfortunate,” Welch said. “I have been one who has been very cautious about this because I did not want this to become seen as a political decision on the part of Congress and certainly on my part.”

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com


rlayman / Robert Layman / Staff Photo  

‘Keeping an open book’

From left to right: Faith Holzhammer, Sydney Taft Cole, Katy Friesen, Milo Piovano and Jadella Rivers work on the latest Stone Bench Project at the Carving Studio & Sculpture Center in West Rutland on Thursday morning. This year’s bench concept was “keeping an open book.” The bench, made from Indiana limestone, will be installed at Maclure Library in Pittsford.


AP
American warship destroys Iranian drone in Strait of Hormuz

WASHINGTON — A U.S. warship on Thursday destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz after it threatened the ship, President Donald Trump said. The incident marked a new escalation of tensions between the countries less than one month after Iran downed an American drone in the same waterway and Trump came close to retaliating with a military strike.

In remarks at the White House, Trump blamed Iran for a “provocative and hostile” action and said the U.S. responded in self-defense. Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, told reporters as he arrived for a meeting at the United Nations that “we have no information about losing a drone today.”

The clash in one of the busiest waterways for international oil traffic highlighted the risk of war between two countries at odds over a wide range of issues. After Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and imposed additional economic sanctions, the Iranians have pushed back on the military front, allegedly sabotaging Saudi and other oil tankers in the Gulf, shooting down a U.S. drone on June 20 and stepping up support for Houthi rebels in Yemen.

Adding to the economic pressure on Tehran, the Treasury Department said Thursday it was imposing sanctions on what it called a network of front companies and agents involved in helping Iran buy sensitive materials for its nuclear program. It said the targeted individuals and entities are based in Iran, China and Belgium.

Trump said the Navy’s USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship, took defensive action after the Iranian aircraft closed to within 1,000 yards of the ship and ignored multiple calls to stand down.

“The United States reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce,” Trump said.

The Pentagon said the incident happened at 10 a.m. local time Thursday in international waters while the Boxer was transiting the waterway to enter the Persian Gulf. The Boxer is among several U.S. Navy ships in the area, including the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the nearby North Arabian Sea for weeks.

“A fixed-wing unmanned aerial system approached Boxer and closed within a threatening range,” chief Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said in a written statement. “The ship took defensive action against the UAS to ensure the safety of the ship and its crew.”

Neither Trump nor the Pentagon spelled out how the Boxer destroyed the drone. CNN reported that the ship used electronic jamming to bring it down rather than hitting it with a missile.

The Iranians and Americans have had close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz in the past, and it’s not unprecedented for Iran to fly a drone near a U.S. warship.

In December, about 30 Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels trailed the USS John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and its strike group through the strait as Associated Press journalists on board watched. One small vessel launched what appeared to be a commercial-grade drone to film the U.S. ships.

Other transits have seen the Iranians fire rockets away from American warships or test-fire their machine guns. The Guard’s small fast boats often cut in front of the massive carriers, running dangerously close to running into them in “swarm attacks.” The Guard boats are often armed with bomb-carrying drones and sea-to-sea and surface-to-sea missiles.

Thursday’s incident was the latest in a series of events that raised U.S.-Iran tensions since early May when Washington accused Tehran of threatening U.S. forces and interests in Iraq and in the Gulf. In response, the U.S. accelerated the deployment of the Lincoln and its strike group to the Arabian Sea and deployed four B-52 long-range bombers to the Gulf state of Qatar.

It has since deployed additional Patriot air defense missile batteries in the Gulf region.

Shortly after Iran shot down a U.S. Navy drone aircraft on June 20, Trump ordered a retaliatory military strike but called it off at the last moment, saying the risk of casualties was disproportionate to the downing by Iran, which did not cost any U.S. lives.

Iran claimed the U.S. drone violated its airspace; the Pentagon denied this.

Zarif said Thursday that Iran and the U.S. were only “a few minutes away from a war” after Iran downed the American drone. He spoke to U.S.-based media on the sidelines of a visit to the United Nations.

At the meeting, Zarif also said Iran would be willing to move up an Iranian parliament ratification of an agreement Tehran made with the International Atomic Energy Association — one that outlined access to Iranian nuclear sites and other information.

A spokesman for Zarif explained that Iran is already abiding by the agreement under the 2015 nuclear deal, but it doesn’t have the force of law because it’s not supposed to be ratified by the Iranian parliament until 2023. Zarif told reporters that the ratification could come earlier if the U.S. eased sanctions.

A senior administration official responded that Trump has repeatedly said he is willing to have a conversation with Iranian leaders. The official said that if Iran wants to make a “serious gesture,” it should immediately stop enriching uranium and negotiate an agreement that includes a permanent end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, including development of nuclear-capable missiles. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the issue and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Zarif blamed Washington for the escalation of tensions.

“We live in a very dangerous environment,” he said. “The United States has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss.” Zarif accused the Trump administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through economic sanctions.

Earlier Thursday, Iran said its Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country, and hours later released video showing the vessel to be a United Arab Emirates-based ship that had vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend.

The announcement cleared up the fate of the missing ship but raised a host of other questions and heightened worries about the free flow of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most critical petroleum shipping routes. One-fifth of global crude exports pass through the strait.


rlayman / Robert Layman / Staff Photo  

Maternal instinct

A turkey perches with a baby chick underneath its wing on a tree limb high above the ground in Ira recently.


Local
Vague motion obscures lawsuit

The Board of Aldermen voted Monday to open settlement negotiations in a small-claims lawsuit.

You would not be able to tell that from the public record, though, because the motion approved by the board after it came out of executive session was to “authorize city attorney on discussed matter on discussed terms.”

Jenny Prosser, general counsel and director of municipal assistance for the Vermont secretary of state’s office, said Wednesday that while Vermont law requires votes — with the exception of real estate purchases — be held in open session, there are not requirements on the scrutibility of motions.

“The law doesn’t even address that conceptually,” she said. “It does come up a lot — this is not a new situation for me. It usually comes up in the context of personnel — they want to hire someone or discipline someone without saying the same.”

Prosser said case law is similarly quiet.

“We’re waiting for that case, I guess,” she said. “If the Legislature wanted to put some guidelines on there, I guess they could do that.”

City Attorney Matt Bloomer wrote in an email Wednesday that he had been given parameters for negotiations and that he tried to craft a motion that kept those parameters and the identity of the lawsuit quiet so as to avoid tipping the city’s hand in negotiations. He also said the motion was essentially meaningless because any actual settlement would have to be specifically approved by the board in open session.

“I thought it might be useful to have a record that I’d been given some parameters within which to negotiate a settlement,” he wrote. “It was my attempt on short notice to come up with some nondescript motion that memorialized their direction to me, but it was only intended to be mysterious for the various plaintiffs with pending suits out there!”

Alderman Thomas DePoy voted against the motion. He said Monday this had less to do with the specific case, which deals with property that was seized during an arrest in 2016, and more to do with the city’s overall patterns of dealing with claims.

“There was a bunch of stuff talked about in executive session that irritated me, but I can’t talk about that,” DePoy said. “In a general sense, I’m starting to get sick of the city getting taken advantage of in these frivolous lawsuits. ... At some point, the city has to start sticking up for itself and start fighting some of these frivolous lawsuits instead of settling them.”

DePoy said the history of the plaintiff in this case — Adam Cijka — indicated it could be worth fighting. Cijka is currently at the Southern State Correctional Facility serving a four to 14-year sentence on several felony convictions stemming from a check-forging spree.

The lawsuit stems from a 2016 incident in which Cijka was arrested — though the charges appear to be dropped — in a rental car that had been reported stolen. According to the lawsuit filed last month in Rutland County civil court, police seized 60 packs of cigarettes, a word processor, a pair of hair clippers, an iPod Touch and $330 in cash, and that when he tried to reclaim them a few days later, they were missing and he was told they were destroyed. The lawsuit seeks a total of $2,090.

Police Commission Chairman Sean Sargeant said there was an ongoing internal investigation into what became of the items and referred further questions to Chief Brian Kilcullen, who did not immediately return phone calls Wednesday.

gordon.dritschilo

@rutlandherald.com


News
manslaughter case
Manslaughter suspect allowed release to home

A Pittsford man charged with accidentally hitting and killing his girlfriend with his truck will have the opportunity to be released on home confinement if he posts $50,000 bail, under an order issued Thursday.

Anthony J. Reynolds, 48, pleaded not guilty in May in Rutland criminal court to felony counts of involuntary manslaughter, first-degree aggravated domestic assault, second-degree aggravated domestic assault, grossly negligent driving with death resulting and leaving the scene of a crash that resulted in a death.

Reynolds is accused of causing the death of Melanie Rooney, 31, of Proctor.

Police found that Reynolds and Rooney, who had been in a relationship, had gone out to Rutland on May 18. Police said they learned the two had been drinking and started arguing.

Police said the pair went back to Rooney’s home, where Reynolds got into his truck and left in a hurry. Reynolds allegedly told police that it wasn’t until he returned because he forgot his cellphone that he realized Rooney had been hit and died.

“Rooney did not appear to be breathing, so Reynolds checked her pulse via her left wrist. Upon feeling no pulse and not observing her breathing, Reynolds advised he panicked and left the area,” wrote State Police Detective Sgt. Tyson Kinney in an affidavit.

On Monday, defense attorney Dan Stevens asked that Reynolds be released to his father’s home in Irasburg, where he would be under home confinement pending the resolution of the charges.

Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy asked Judge Thomas Zonay to keep Reynolds in jail.

Zonay issued an order Thursday that concluded the Legislature had created a home-detention statute “as a cost-saving measure in cases where home detention is appropriate.”

“The court is mindful of this legislative intent. In this particular case, for the reasons described above, the court concludes that placing (Reynolds) on home detention will reasonably assure his appearance in court when required and that proposed residence is appropriate for home detention,” Zonay wrote.

The state argued that Irasburg is closer to the Canadian border than a Rutland County address. The defense argued that Reynolds has four children who live in Vermont and provide an incentive to not flee.

Zonay said his analysis found that Reynolds posed a serious risk of flight.

“(Reynolds’) behavior underlying the charges in this case involve alcohol, driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, acts of violence, providing false statements and misleading the police and not seeking help for Ms. Rooney after she was struck and lying in the roadway. In sum, the facts give rise to a serious question as to (Reynolds’) issues with substances and his character,” he wrote.

However, Zonay said he believed the $50,000 bail, the promise of Reynolds’ father to supervise his son and the use of global-positioning system (GPS) monitoring “significantly mitigates the risk.”

Stevens did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

By email, Kennedy said she wanted to make it clear the state argued that Reynolds was charged with a violent felony and should have continued to be held without bail.

Kennedy said the rules that allowed Reynolds to be released were “a matter for the Legislature.”

Despite Zonay’s order, as of about 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Reynolds was still being held in the Rutland jail, according to the Vermont Department of Corrections’ online inmate locator.

The manslaughter charge and the charge of leaving the scene of a fatal crash carry mandatory minimum sentences of one year in jail. If convicted of all the charges, Reynolds could be sentenced to almost 70 years in prison.

patrick.mcardle

@rutlandherald.com


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RHD Hotspot

Today

For the kids

Bring your pre-schooler to enjoy story and craft time. The topic is post offices. A parent or responsible adult must be with the child. Ages 3 to 5. Suggested donation of $5 per family. 10:30 a.m. Chimney Point State Historic Site, 8149 Route 17W, Addison, elsa.gilbertson@vermont.gov, 759-2412.