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On Ukraine Aid, ‘Nothing to See Here’: Diplomats Urged to Play Down Funds’ Release



WASHINGTON — American diplomats who had pushed for the Trump administration to restore security funding to Ukraine were advised by the White House to play down the release of the money when it was finally approved, documents show.

“Keep moving, people, nothing to see here …” Brad Freden, the State Department’s acting deputy assistant secretary overseeing issues in Europe and Eurasia, wrote in a Sept. 12 email obtained by The New York Times.

He said the National Security Council would not publicly announce that $141 million in State Department assistance was being restored after being held up in what the White House described as a normal review.

The money is now at the heart of an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats into whether President Trump withheld a total of $391 million in funding as he sought damaging information on his political opponents from Ukraine’s newly-elected leader.

A series of previously unreported internal State Department emails reflect diplomats’ frustration with the unexpected freeze on funding that Congress had already approved.

“We realize the strain this puts on posts and your ability to conclude grants and carry out programs,” Jim Kulikowski, the State Department’s regional assistance coordinator, wrote in an Aug. 5 email.

“We currently await further guidance and will provide you with an update as soon as we know about next steps,” Mr. Kulikowski wrote in the message, which was sent to dozens of State Department employees, including diplomats in Kiev and in countries across Eastern Europe.

The email did not explain why the assistance was being withheld.

Trump administration officials said the funding had been frozen weeks earlier, before a July 25 telephone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine. During that call, Mr. Zelensky said he was grateful for the security assistance that the United States had supplied to Ukraine, and made clear that he hoped to receive more.

A Ukrainian official has said Mr. Zelensky’s government did not learn of the funding delay until about a month later. The White House has said the review merely sought to ensure the money was properly spent.

But the freeze irritated diplomats who questioned whether it was tied to Mr. Trump’s demands for Ukraine to investigate two politically fraught allegations: a widely-debunked conspiracy theory about election tampering in 2016 and corruption at an energy company that employed the younger son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. There is no evidence that the Bidens were involved in wrongdoing.

Once the decision to freeze the aid became public in late August, a bipartisan group of lawmakers pressed the administration to reverse course, saying that holding up the money sent the wrong signal as a new Ukrainian government confronted a continuing military threat from Russia.

William B. Taylor Jr., the top American envoy in Kiev, wrote in a Sept. 9 text message that it was “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” In response, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, wrote that “the President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”

Mr. Sondland then suggested that the conversation continue by telephone, rather than by text. On Tuesday, the Trump administration blocked Mr. Sondland from testifying to the House in the impeachment inquiry.

Officials were informed that the freeze had been reversed — and the $141 million in foreign military financing would be released — in a Sept. 12 email from the White House that was then sent around the State Department.

“Apparently, and I don’t have full visibility, decision made last night,” Mr. Kulikowski wrote.

Mr. Freden said the Ukrainian government had already been told that the funds were forthcoming. But he urged State Department employees not to announce the reversal.

“Ukrainians are aware, but N.S.C. said that in the spirit of the ‘hold’ being a normal review, there will be no public announcement that it has been lifted,” he wrote, referring to the president’s National Security Council.

Mr. Taylor said he planned to announce it in Ukraine.

“I will inform President Zelensky as soon as he is out of a meeting,” Mr. Taylor wrote to Mr. Freden. “We then intend to make it public here.”

Mr. Freden responded in minutes.

“In terms of public messaging, N.S.C. is deliberately treating both the hold and its lifting as administrative matters,” he wrote. “My advice is to keep your public messaging low-key as well.”

“Good advice — thanks,” Mr. Taylor emailed back.

The State Department did not respond on Wednesday to several requests for comment.

Some senior State Department officials readily volunteered information about the $141 million in aid as it was finally approved.

At a breakfast meeting with reporters on Sept. 12, R. Clarke Cooper, the assistant secretary of state for political military affairs, said that department officials were notifying lawmakers that morning that the State Department’s portion of aid to Ukraine was moving forward.

He told reporters to anticipate other notifications to Congress — specifically $250 million in military aid from the Pentagon, assistance the Defense Department announced later in the day would also move ahead. Lawmakers from both parties quickly announced the same day that the aid had been released.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.


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Barcelona mayor pleads for violence in Catalonia to stop




The mayor of riot-stricken Barcelona pleaded Saturday for calm after violent protests by Catalan separatists rocked Spain’s second largest city for a fifth consecutive night.

“This cannot continue. Barcelona does not deserve it,” Mayor Ada Colau told reporters, adding that Friday’s violence was the worst so far.

Protesters clashed with police again later on Saturday despite efforts by some citizens to mediate by gathering between the two sides. There was also a skirmish between separatist supporters and police in a square in Spain’s capital, Madrid. Authorities are bracing for more protests in the coming days.

Radical separatists have fought with police every night in Barcelona and other Catalan cities following huge peaceful protests by people angered by Monday’s Supreme Court verdict that sentenced nine separatist leaders to prison for their roles in a failed 2017 secession attempt.

Pro-independence supporters scuffle with rioters trying to set up barricades on the street near a pro-independence demonstration in Barcelona on Saturday. (Emilio Morenatti/Associated Press)

More than 500,000 people gathered in downtown Barcelona on Friday in a massive show of support for the secession movement that is backed by roughly half of the wealthy northeastern region’s 5.5 million voters.

Before night fell, several hundred masked youths had surrounded the headquarters of the National Police and started a street battle that raged into the night in Barcelona, a popular tourist destination.

‘It has been quite scary,’ Torontonian says

“The images of organized violence during the night in Barcelona have overshadowed the half a million people who demonstrated in a peaceful and civic manner to show they rejected the verdict,” said Catalan interior chief Miquel Buch, who oversees the regional police.

Rioters have burned hundreds of trash bins and hurled gasoline bombs, chunks of pavement, acid, and firecrackers, among other objects, at police. They have used nails to puncture the tires of police vans and fireworks to hit one police helicopter, without doing it serious damage.

Outnumbered officers in riot gear from both Catalonia’s regional police and Spain’s national police have used batons, rubber and foam bullets, tear gas and water cannon to battle back.

Residents and tourists have run for cover.

Catalan pro-independence demonstrators pack the street in Barcelona. (Manu Fernandez/Associated Press)

“It has been quite scary,” said Deepa Khumar, a doctor from Toronto visiting for a medical conference. “This place, it looks like a war zone.”

500 injured this week

Authorities say over 500 people have been hurt this week, including protesters and police. Eighteen people remained hospitalized, at least one in very serious condition. Police have made over 150 arrests.

Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said that 101 police officers were injured on Friday alone and that 264 police vehicles have been severely damaged in the week’s riots.

Refuse workers clean up following a night of rioting on Saturday in Barcelona. (Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

A small group of supporters of Spanish unity approached the police headquarters that has been the focus of separatists’ rage to give officers flowers and gifts on Saturday.

“We feel so anguished,” said 54-year-old economist Maria Jesus Cortes. “There used to be a nice atmosphere here in Barcelona. Everybody with their own ideas, and that was it. We used to live in peace.”

Interior minister wants explicit condemnation of violence

Minister Grande-Marlaska asked Catalonia’s regional president to explicitly condemn the escalating violence and express his support for law enforcement officials.

“We have gone five days in which there has not been a firm condemnation of violence” by Catalan leader Quim Torra, Grande-Marlaska said.

Torra has called on protesters to respect the non-violent tenets of the separatist movement that has surged over the past decade.

But on Saturday Torra and his vice-president, Pere Aragones, used a televised address mostly to criticize the Supreme Court verdict. Aragones also insinuated that the national police, which are controlled by Madrid, had acted too aggressively with protesters.

Catalan leader demands meeting with PM

Torra demanded to meet Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez to push his agenda for secession and freedom for the prisoners.

“We ask once again the acting Spanish PM to set the date and time to sit with us at a negotiating table,” Torra said. “Today this is more necessary than ever before.”

The prime minister’s office responded that “the government of Spain has always been in favour of dialogue, but within the confines of the law.”


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Funeral for Atatiana Jefferson canceled after family dispute




A funeral scheduled Saturday for Atatiana Jefferson, who was fatally shot in her home by a police officer in Fort Worth, Texas, was canceled because of a dispute between family members.

The shooting of Jefferson, 28, on Oct. 12 reignited a long-running debate about police use-of-force tactics, especially in the black community. Jefferson, who was black, was shot through a bedroom window by a white officer responding to a late-night report of an open door at the home.

NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported that a local court granted her father, Marquis A. Jefferson, a temporary restraining order halting the funeral. He had argued that he was excluded by other family members from planning the funeral, and he wanted to participate.

Atatiana Jefferson.Family Photo

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The Potter’s House of Dallas, which was to host the service, announced the cancellation Saturday morning.

Marquis Jefferson also said he can afford to pay for his daughter’s funeral, and that supporters had unnecessarily set up a GoFundMe account seeking cash for the event.

Lee Merritt, an attorney for Atatiana Jefferson’s mother, Yolanda Carr, told the Dallas Morning News that former Dallas Mavericks player Harrison Barnes, his wife, Brittany Barnes, and Philadelphia Eagles player Malik Jackson would pay for the funeral.

Family members were due back in court Monday. Merritt said he believed a funeral would be held shortly thereafter, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported.

Merritt tweeted Saturday that Carr had “hired me to seek justice for her daughter.”

“She has been very ill & unable to make media appearances,” he said of Carr. “We worked hard all week to get her prepared to attend her daughter’s funeral. This has been extremely hard on her.”

Atatiana Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when she heard noises outside, pulled a handgun from her purse, and pointed it toward the window before she was shot.

Officer Aaron Dean did not appear to immediately make his presence known or knock on her front door before he headed around the side of the house. A neighbor had called a non-emergency line to report an open front door there.

Dean later resigned and was arrested Monday on suspicion of murder. The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office is seeking an indictment of murder against Dean by a grand jury.

Jay Varela contributed.


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Gideon's Army meets on October 19th, 2019 to FREE AMERICAN POLITICAL PRISONERS!



Gideon’s Army meets on October 19th, 2019 to FREE AMERICAN POLITICAL PRISONERS!


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