An arctic blast that caused record-setting cold in the Midwest is now spreading shivers across the eastern U.S.
The wintry weather proved deadly in southwestern Michigan, where a man died Tuesday after getting trapped beneath machinery he was using to clear snow.
Temperatures dipped to single digits early Wednesday across parts of the Northeast on the heels of an early-season snowstorm. Forecasters projected even lower temperatures for late Wednesday and early Thursday in some locations.
National Weather Service meteorologist Mark Bloomer in Caribou, Maine, said the frigid airmass is creating mid-winter conditions.
Record low temperatures were recorded Tuesday around New York City; Buffalo, New York; Burlington, Vermont; and parts of Ohio. Records were also broken Wednesday morning in Burlington, parts of Pennsylvania, and as far south as Alabama and Mississippi.
The U.S. House launched the first public hearing Wednesday of Donald Trump’s impeachment investigation, the extraordinary process to determine whether the 45th president of the United States should be removed from office.
Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, immediately outlined the question at the core of the impeachment inquiry -- whether the president used his office to pressure Ukraine officials for personal political gain.
“The matter is as simple and as terrible as that,” Schiff said. “Our answer to these questions will affect not only the future of this presidency but the future of the presidency itself, and what kind of conduct or misconduct the American people may come to expect from their commander in chief.”
It was a remarkable moment, even for a White House full of them. The hearing is the first chance for America, and the rest of the world, to see and hear for themselves about Trump's actions toward Ukraine and consider whether they are, in fact, impeachable offenses.
The proceedings were being broadcast live, and on social media, from a packed hearing room on Capitol Hill. The country has been here only three times before, and never against the 21st century backdrop of real-time commentary, including from the Republican president himself.
Testifying will be two seasoned diplomats, William Taylor, the graying former infantry officer now charge d'affaires in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary in Washington, telling the striking, if sometimes complicated story of a president allegedly using foreign policy for personal and political gain ahead of the 2020 election.
So far, the narrative is splitting Americans, mostly along the same lines as Trump's unusual presidency. The Constitution sets a dramatic but vague bar for impeachment, and there's no consensus yet that Trump's actions at the heart of the inquiry meet the threshold of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Trump calls the whole thing a "witch hunt," a retort that echoes Nixon's own defense. “READ THE TRANSCRIPT,” he tweeted Wednesday.
At its core, the inquiry stems from Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine's newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy when he asked the Zelenskiy for “a favor.”
Trump wanted the Ukraine government to investigate Democrats in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, all while holding as leverage military aid the young democracy relies on as it confronts an aggressive Russia.
An anonymous whistleblower first alerted officials to concerns about the phone call. The White House released a rough transcript of the conversation, with portions deleted.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. But she pressed ahead in September after the whistleblower’s complaint.
The White House has instructed administration officials not to testify in the inquiry. But over the past month, witness after witness has appeared behind closed doors to tell the investigators what they know.
Most received subpoenas to appear, and both Taylor and Kent had fresh subpoenas Wednesday.
Trump lashed out at the witnesses, tweeting they were “NEVER TRUMPERS,” but the two are career diplomats working for both Republican and Democratic administrations. There’s no evidence they engaged in partisan activity opposing Trump.
Whether Wednesday's proceedings begin to end a presidency or help secure Trump's position, it was certain his chaotic term had finally arrived at a place he could not control and a force, the constitutional system of checks and balances, that he could not ignore.
Unlike the Watergate hearings and Richard Nixon, there is not yet a "cancer-on-the-presidency" moment galvanizing public opinion. Nor is there the national shrug, as happened when Bill Clinton's impeachment ultimately didn't result in his removal from office. It's perhaps most like the partisanship-infused impeachment of Andrew Johnson after the Civil War.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Donald Trump will meet as relations between the two NATO allies are at their lowest point in decades, with Turkey rebuffing the U.S. and turning toward Russia on security issues and Ankara facing a Washington backlash over attacks on Kurdish civilians during its incursion into Syria last month.
Erdogan and Trump have a difficult agenda Wednesday that includes Turkey's decision to buy a Russian air defense system and its attack on U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in northern Syria. Their scheduled afternoon news conference, however, will give Trump a stage to counter the first public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry.
Trump says Turkey has been a critical U.S. ally for decades, cites the strong economic upside to the relationship and maintains that the two countries have enough in common to overcome their differences. Some in Congress say Erdogan should never have been invited to the White House in the first place.
Last month, the House overwhelmingly passed a bill to sanction senior Turkish officials and its army for the military incursion into Syria to fight the Kurds. Erdogan sees Kurdish forces in Syria as an extension of a separatist Kurdish group that's been fighting inside Turkey since the 1980s.
In the Senate, two Democrats introduced legislation denouncing Turkey's targeting of journalists, political opponents, dissidents, minorities and others. They said the Turkish government had imprisoned more than 80,000 Turkish citizens, closed more than 1,500 non-governmental organizations on terrorism-related grounds and dismissed or suspended more than 130,000 civil servants from their jobs.
"This is not the time or place to be extending hospitality and exchanging niceties with a dictator," said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a New Hampshire Democrat who sits on the Foreign Relations and Armed Services committees.
In October, Trump moved U.S. troops in Syria out of the way of invading Turkish troops, a decision that critics said amounted to abandoning America's Kurdish allies to be attacked.
"It has upended what was an oasis of stability, damaged U.S. credibility and standing on the world stage and strengthened the hands of Russia, Iran" and the Syrian government of Bashar Assad, Shaheen said.
Trump administration officials have said the president told Turkey not to invade Syria. But when Erdogan insisted, they say Trump decided to move 28 Green Berets operating on the Turkey-Syria border so they wouldn't be caught in a crossfire between Turkish-backed forces and the Kurds.
A State Department official said Trump is not rewarding Erdogan with a White House visit but is conducting diplomacy. The official said high-level consultations are needed because of the volatile situation in Syria that has displaced tens of thousands of people.
Amnesty International recently released a report documenting killings, human rights violations and possible war crimes caused by Turkey-backed forces in northern Syria.
"There has been a callous disregard for civilian lives, including attacks on residential areas," said Margaret Huang, executive director of Amnesty International USA. "Over 100,000 people have fled this offensive and there are fears that the displaced are not getting access to food, to clear water, or to medical supplies."
She said Trump must send a message to Erdogan that these actions and unlawful behavior must stop and that those responsible be held accountable.
A senior State Department official said that the U.S. is following up on reports of human rights violations and indiscriminate killings. The official was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly and spoke only on condition of anonymity.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights has urged Turkey to investigate reported cases of summary executions committed by a Turkish-backed armed group in northern Syria. The U.N. cited video footage showing fighters with the Ahrar al-Sharqiya armed group filming themselves capturing and executing three Kurdish captives on a highway in northern Syria.
The State Department has looked into these killings and has asked Turkey to investigate. The Turks have told the U.S. that the Syrians have set up a commission, the official said, but it's unclear what, if any, action the panel will take.
Turkey reached truce agreements with Russia and the United States last month that halted the incursion and forced Kurdish fighters to retreat from Turkey's southern border. But Erdogan claims the Kurds have not vacated border areas and says he will give Trump a list of attacks carried out by Mazloum Abdi, the commander of the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish-led force.
On the U.S. side, Trump will be expressing continued concern about Erdogan's purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system. The U.S. and fellow NATO nations say the S-400 would aid Russian intelligence and compromise a U.S.-led fighter jet program.
The U.S. has since kicked Erdogan out of a multinational program producing components of America's high-tech F-35 fighter jet. In response, Erdogan attended an annual Russian air show this summer in Moscow and expressed interest in buying the latest Russian Su-35 fighter jets.
Trump has not yet decided whether to impose congressional sanctions on Turkey for the S-400 purchase.
During his visit, Erdogan will be trying to get Turkey back in the F-35 program and also try to end an ongoing prosecution against a major Turkish bank, said Max Hoffman at Center for American Progress. Halkbank is accused of carrying out a scheme to evade sanctions against Iran by moving billions of dollars of Iranian oil revenue illegally.
Birol Baskan, a scholar at the Middle East Institute, says Turkey needs the U.S. on its side to balance Russia and Iran's interests in Syria. "The problem is, the U.S. seems not to be interested in doing that," Baskan said.
President Donald Trump has been fulminating for weeks over the impeachment inquiry, which he sees as a persecution cooked up by Democrats and "Never Trumpers."
In reality, a collection of witnesses that includes Still Trumpers, Once Trumpers and the apolitical civil service has put together a largely cohesive account of a president exerting pressure on a foreign power for political benefit at home.
On Wednesday, with the opening of historic public hearings, Republicans in the House are primed to defend him while Democrats lean in to make their points before a presumably big TV audience.
Here's a guide to separating fact from fiction on subjects likely to be heard in the hearings:
Republicans seem disinclined to echo Trump's description of his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as "perfect." But they do suggest it was harmless.
A Republican staff memo, laying out talking points for the hearings, asserts that the rough transcript of the call "shows no conditionality or evidence of pressure."
In fact, Trump clearly exerted pressure in the phone call. As well, he made his request for a Ukrainian investigation of Democrats right after Zelenskiy raised the subject of U.S. military assistance.
When Zelenskiy told him Ukraine was "almost ready" to buy more anti-tank missiles from the U.S., Trump responded: "I would like you to do us a favor, though."
Trump did not state explicitly that he would hold back military aid or benefits to Ukraine unless he got what he wanted.
But he repeatedly stated that both his attorney general and personal lawyer would follow up with phone calls about the investigation he was seeking, and "we will get to the bottom of it."
Moreover, Trump's people were engaged in a systematic effort behind the scenes for months to get Ukraine to probe Joe and Hunter Biden and other Democrats. According to closed-door testimony, U.S. military aid was not to be resumed until Ukraine made a public statement committing to an investigation.
THE 'RABBIT HOLE'
Trump's statements about Ukraine rest on two arguments, which House Republicans are echoing to varying degrees despite scant evidence behind the allegations.
One is that Joe Biden used the vice presidency to protect his son Hunter, who was doing business in that country. The other is that Ukraine colluded with Democrats to the disadvantage of the 2016 Trump campaign.
The first argument has this much going for it: Hunter Biden's position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, while his father was serving as an emissary to that country, looked bad. Yet no wrongdoing by either Biden has been substantiated.
The second argument hangs on a fevered conspiracy theory that even some Trump officials have tried to bat away.
Trump's first homeland security adviser, Tom Bossert, said Trump was told by his staff that the theory was "completely debunked" well before the president pressed Ukraine to investigate it.
The theory resurfaced from GOP lawmakers in the closed impeachment hearings, exasperating Fiona Hill, an intelligence official from the Bush and Obama administrations who served as special assistant to Trump on the National Security Council until she resigned in the summer.
"It is a fiction that the Ukrainian government was launching an effort to upend our election," Hill testified. "I'm extremely concerned that this is a rabbit hole that we're all going to go down in between now and the 2020 election, and it will be to all of our detriment."
A RIGHT TO DUE PROCESS
It's been a familiar refrain from Republicans throughout the impeachment inquiry: The proceedings are an illegal "sham" and a "coup," and Trump has a right to confront his main accuser, an anonymous whistleblower.
"Fake Hearing (trial) in the House, as they interview Never Trumpers and others, I get NO LAWYER & NO DUE PROCESS," Trump tweeted recently.
Trump is off the mark.
The House is conducting a hearing, not a trial, so no constitutional rights are being violated here.
Nor is there any illegal takeover afoot —the impeachment process is unfolding as outlined in the Constitution, which gives the House the sole power to impeach and the Senate the sole power to remove a president from office.
Trump is correct that he and his legal team are excluded from the public hearings beginning Wednesday, but he hasn't been charged with anything and has no constitutional right to be represented by a lawyer in this proceeding.
The hearings led by the House Intelligence Committee are akin to the investigative phase of criminal cases, generally conducted in private and without the participation of the person under investigation.
In future House Judiciary Committee hearings that presumably would result in the drafting of impeachment articles, Trump would be invited to attend and his lawyers could question witnesses and object to testimony and evidence, similar to the process in the impeachment proceedings against Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
If there is a Senate trial, Trump's legal team would defend the president against impeachment articles approved by the House in an environment that would look like a typical trial in some respects.
WHERE'S THE CRIME?
The hearings may feature debate over what constitutes a crime for purposes of impeachment. If so, that may be beside the point.
Under the Constitution, impeachment involves a political judgment about whether public officials have abused their office to the detriment of the country and therefore should be removed from that office.
A crime may establish that condition. But a president could still be subject to impeachment even if the conduct is not a crime.
Soliciting or accepting election help from a foreign entity is illegal. But it's not clear that the overseas investigation sought by Trump qualifies as an illegal campaign benefit. It does not need to qualify as one if Congress renders the judgment that it's an abuse of office.
Expect Rep. Adam Schiff, the public face of Democrats' impeachment inquiry who will open the hearings, to be a frequent target of Trump and Republican lawmakers. Trump has even called on the intelligence committee chairman to be made to testify as a witness subject to cross-examination.
In the president's eyes, "Shifty Schiff" is guilty of almost everything: fabricating Trump's conversation with Ukraine's president, writing the whistleblower's complaint himself, treason. None of that is true.
"Didn't he pick the Whistleblower?" Trump tweeted Nov. 2.
"It's a scandal he knew before. I go a step further. I think he probably helped write it," Trump told reporters Oct. 2.
The whistleblower did speak to staffers on the House Intelligence Committee on procedural issues before filing the formal complaint that would trigger the impeachment inquiry. But Trump and his GOP allies are taking a big leap in asserting that Schiff schemed with the whistleblower to lodge the complaint.
Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff, said that committee staff advised the person to contact an inspector general and to seek counsel, but that the committee did not get an early look at the complaint.
The whistleblower's lawyer, Mark Zaid, said the person had never met or spoken with Schiff about the matter.
Trump also has repeatedly claimed that Schiff "illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement" about his Ukraine phone call, sometimes asserting that the California Democrat was then caught in "a total lie" after Trump released a rough transcript of the call. Trump has branded Schiff's acts treason.
Trump is exaggerating the episode and botching the timeline.
Schiff delivered what he called a parody of Trump's remarks in the president's July 25 phone call with Ukraine's leader.
Schiff did so after the White House released a rough transcript of the call, not before. So people who read the official account knew Schiff was riffing from it, not quoting from it.
Trump loosely throws around accusations of treason, extending it, for example, to Democratic immigration policy and negative newspaper coverage.
Under the Constitution, treason occurs when a U.S. citizen, or a noncitizen on U.S. territory, wages war against the country or provides material support to a declared enemy of the United States. It is defined narrowly as part of an effort by the framers to prevent the government from using it as a reason to suppress political speech. No one has been convicted of treason since the aftermath of World War II.
THE 'NEVER TRUMPERS'
Trump says the arguments against him are "made up garbage by Shifty Schiff and the Never Trumpers!"
His point misrepresents the breadth of the testimony heard in the closed-door hearings. The witnesses are not all hostile to the president or part of a cabal against him.
Problematic testimony has come from people who worked assiduously to get Ukraine to do what Trump wanted. Among them: Gordon Sondland, a wealthy donor to Trump's 2016 campaign whose loyalty was rewarded with his appointment as U.S. envoy to the European Union.
Reversing a key point of his testimony, Sondland said he had conveyed to a Ukrainian official that the country's leadership would need to announce an investigation of the Bidens and Democrats as a condition of getting the military aid that Trump had frozen.
A senior U.S. State Department official was accused by U.S. media of exaggerating her background on her resume, putting the agency in an embarrassing situation for exercising a lax vetting process for its employees.
Mina Chang, deputy assistant secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, has inflated her achievements in education and overstated her experiences, NBC News reported.
NBC identified multiple fallacies after examining her resume, including faking a cover of Time magazine featuring her face.
Chang, a Korean-Amercian, claimed to be a graduate of Harvard Business School, while the university said she only completed a seven-week course in 2016 and holds no degree from Harvard.
She also said she was a graduate of a program at the U.S. Army War College in the state of Pennsylvania, but she just attended a four-day seminar there.
The official said she addressed both the Democratic and Republican national conventions in 2016, but NBC reported that she spoke at separate events held in the same cities during the same time periods.
Chang also claimed to have worked for a nonprofit organization that had projects in multiple overseas countries, while the organization's tax filing offered a weak support for her words.
Chang was twice nominated by the Trump administration to serve as an assistant administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, but her nomination was withdrawn in September after the Senate requested more documents supporting her past work.