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Pelosi orders impeachment probe: 'No one is above the law'

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, acquiescing to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a deeply divided nation into an election year clash between Congress and the commander in chief.

The probe centers on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government to undermine Democratic foe Joe Biden and help his own reelection. Pelosi said such actions would mark a “betrayal of his oath of office” and declared: “No one is above the law.”

Pelosi’s brief statement, historic yet presented without dramatic flourish, capped a frenetic stretch on Capitol Hill as details of a classified whistleblower complaint about Trump have burst into the open and momentum has shifted swiftly toward an impeachment probe. The charge was led by several moderate Democratic lawmakers from political swing districts , many of them with national security backgrounds and serving in Congress for the first time.

After more than two and one-half years of sharp Democratic criticism of Trump, the formal impeachment quest sets up the party’s most urgent and consequential confrontation with a president who thrives on combat — and injects deep uncertainty in the 2020 White House race. Trump has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party would bolster his political support

Trump, who was meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, previewed his defense in an all-caps tweet: “PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT!”

Pelosi had barely finished speaking as he began a mini-blizzard of tweets assailing her announcement.

At issue are Trump’s actions with Ukraine. In a summer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy , he is said to have asked for help investigating former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter. In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge, but acknowledged he blocked the funds, later released.

Biden said Tuesday, before Pelosi’s announcement, that if Trump doesn’t cooperate with lawmakers’ demands for documents and testimony in its investigations the president “will leave Congress ... with no choice but to initiate impeachment.” He said that would be a tragedy of Trump’s “own making.”

The Trump-Ukraine phone call is part of the whistleblower’s complaint, though the administration has blocked Congress from getting other details of the report, citing presidential privilege. Trump has authorized the release of a transcript of the call, which is to be made public on Wednesday .

“You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call,” Trump said.

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

While the specter of impeachment has hung over Trump for many months, the likelihood of a probe had faded after special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers. Democratic House committees launched new inquiries into Trump’s businesses and a variety of administration scandals, but all seemed likely to drag on for months.

But details of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. By the time Pelosi addressed the nation on Tuesday, about two-thirds of House Democrats had announced moving toward impeachment probes.

The president has all but dared Democrats to take this step, repeatedly stonewalling requests for documents and witness interviews in the variety of ongoing investigations. Trump advisers say they are confident that an impeachment process led by the opposition party will bolster his political support heading into his reelection campaign.

After Pelosi’s Tuesday announcement, the president and his campaign team quickly released a series of tweets attacking Democrats, including a video of presidential critics like the speaker and Rep. Ilhan Omar discussing impeachment. It concluded with a message for the Trump faithful: “While Democrats ‘Sole Focus’ is fighting Trump, President Trump is fighting for you.”

Pelosi has for months resisted calls for impeachment from her restive caucus, warning that it would backfire against the party unless there was a groundswell of public support. That groundswell hasn’t occurred, but Pelosi suggested in comments earlier Tuesday that this new episode — examining whether a president abused his power for personal political gain — would be easier to explain to Americans than some of the issues that arose during the Mueller investigation and other congressional probes.

The speaker put the matter in stark terms on Tuesday: “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of his national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”

Smith County judge seeks to propose courthouse bond in 2020

The Smith County judge said Tuesday he would like to propose a plan for a new county courthouse for potential voter approval in November 2020.

Nathaniel Moran gave a presentation to members of the Commissioners Court during the regular meeting on Tuesday and asked for them to approve the concept.

There was no official vote on whether to build a courthouse, but Moran said he needed to know if the Commissioners Court would generally agree to putting together a strong courthouse plan for voters in November 2020.

Moran showed an analysis he had been preparing of studies about building a new courthouse that date back to 1999. He said the issue has been studied thoroughly, and people generally agree a new courthouse is needed.

However, he said the Commissioners Court has yet to put together a formal plan for voters. He said good leadership requires the Commissioners Court to solve the problem, and putting it off would be poor leadership.

The current courthouse was dedicated in 1955 and is 64 years old. The courthouse replaced one built in 1910 that many considered the most beautiful building in Smith County.

Moran said the company Willdan completed a study of the courthouse on Sept. 3 with additional analysis. He said the company did the study for free because it was seeking to show what it is capable of.

The study showed that there is at least $12.8 million in heating, ventilation, air conditioning, mechanical, and electrical work needed on the current courthouse. That doesn’t include plumbing upgrades.

“Renovation of the existing courthouse is not a long-term solution to meet the security and logistical needs of the county given its growth to date,” Moran said, summarizing his analysis. “That’s my assessment of those studies.”

He added: “Construction in my opinion of a new courthouse and associated parking structure to accommodate the current and future needs of Smith County and its justice system is the best solution. That’s my read of these prior studies and assessments.”

In July, the Commissioners Court approved a facilities planning contract with Fitzpatrick Architects, which has proposed a makeover of downtown Tyler, and the Dallas-based project management firm Project Advocates LLC.

The two companies gave presentations at the Tuesday meeting about what they could do, and Moran said he would ask the Commissioners Court next week to approve about $1 million in contracts to begin the planning for the new courthouse and a new road and bridge facility.

Brandy Ziegler, of Fitzpatrick Architects, said the No. 1 priority in design should be security. She said her firm has worked on courthouse designs for the full 20 years, and realized that security needed to be the No. 1 priority after the 2005 shooting.

“We’ve planned and planned and planned,” Ziegler said. “We’ve looked at different ways that we can solve security, and you cannot inject the security we need into the existing structure. There’s not enough room.”

She pointed to a model that would have separate hallways for people who cannot interact during cases, such as judges, inmates facing trial, and members of the public. The model also included separate elevators.

Steve Fitzpatrick said potential locations could be west of the downtown square, existing county-owned property on the east side of the square, county property north of the square formerly owned by Gulf State Lumber Company, or even the square itself.

“We don’t know if that’s it or if there’s a better location or what,” Fitzpatrick said. “There’s always going to be the connection to the jail as a factor. Some of those sites might get ruled out just because of that.”

Phil Miller, of Project Advocates, said his company helps public entities save money on major projects, like building schools and courthouses. He said he worked with the Commissioners Court for the Smith County Jail upgrade that opened in 2015.

Judge (Moran) also asked us to speak to inflation costs. This is an index of construction costs. We track all the indexes very closely and the one thing you can be certain of — construction costs always go up.

Miller added: “Delaying a project or moving it down the road will never make it cost less.”



Rabbits hop into the spotlight at youth livestock show

Rabbits both tiny and small were judged by their breed standards at Tuesday’s Junior Rabbit Show at the East Texas State Fair.

Youth ages 18 and under competed in six breeds: Californian, Holland Lop, Mini Rex, Netherland Dwarf, New Zealand and Polish. Rabbits of other breeds were shown together in a separate category. Smith County 4-H member Hailey Perez, 13, of Tyler showed four Californian rabbits.

She’s raised and shown this breed of rabbit for five years.

“To get them ready I give them sunflower seeds to make their coats softer and shinier,” Perez said.

Angela Hemphill, County Extension Agent and 4-H Youth Developer for Henderson County, said that competing in the rabbit show is very educational for her students because they breed the rabbits themselves.

“They learn about bucks and does, the gestation period, and caring for newborn rabbits,” she said.

To prepare for the show, the students select their best rabbits, groom them, check for colds and ear mites and clip their nails.

Hemphill had five students at the show and a total of 12 rabbits.

Other groups in the rabbit show included Chapel Hill FFA and Fruitvale FFA among others.

Twitter: @TMT_Sarah

Leadership Live 2019 luncheon celebrates helping people reach their full potential

Leadership Tyler held its Leadership Live 2019 luncheon on Tuesday to introduce the new members of its Core Experience program. These members are business and community leaders who have committed to the program one day per month for the next nine months.

“Leadership Tyler is equipping leaders to help the community of Tyler through their time and effort,” Leadership Tyler Board President Todd Buchanan said. “They can find training, they can find awareness to the needs of the community, whether that’s through churches, or nonprofits, or government.”

The program has been active for 33 years, and over 800 emerging and established leaders have graduated.

The event began with recognition of the board and alumni of the program, with special recognition of the 37 leaders beginning the nine-month course.

“This is basically the kickoff of the class,” Buchanan said. “They will go on a journey one day a month where they might look at economics and government, they might look at the history of Tyler, they’ll look at diversity and poverty simulation, they’ll look at organizations that have a need. It’s a curriculum that shows the needs of the community.”

This year the theme for the luncheon was “See What Others Don’t.”

The event, which was held at the Green Acres Baptist Church CrossWalk Conference Center, featured keynote speaker Chad Houser, who is founder, CEO and executive chef of Café Momentum in Dallas.

When describing his role at Café Momentum, Houser joked: “I take kids out of jail and teach them to play with knives and fire.” In reality, he employs young people coming out of Dallas’ juvenile centers to cook for and run his restaurant.

“I grew up in a family where going to college was mandatory,” Houser said. “It wasn’t going to college because I wanted to, it was going to college because my parents told me I had to. I told my parents I was going to get my degree and go cook for a living.”

He ended up working as a chef for 17 years before selling his business partnership of Parigi restaurant to devote his energy to Café Momentum.

“It was right around the one-year mark of ownership that I was volunteered to go out to one of our Dallas County juvenile detention facilities and teach eight young men how to make ice cream for an ice cream competition at our local farmers market,” he said.

“The moment that I met those young men, I realized immediately that I had stereotyped them before I had ever met them,” he said. “All eight of them looked me in the eye and called me ‘sir’.”

One of those young men won that competition, and told Houser, “I just love to make food, and give it to people, and see the smile on their face.”

After the competition, Houser couldn’t shake the experience he had, and knew he had to do something to help those kids. After having too much to drink one night, Houser said he told his wife, “I just want to open up a restaurant and let the kids run it.” That dream became reality in Café Momentum.

Café Momentum isn’t just a restaurant — it’s a 12-month program that helps the offenders get back on their feet. It starts with a two-day training course on how to serve, how to speak out loud and how to cook. “We’re giving them the opportunity to reach their full potential,” Houser said.

One person in the program said, “I’m not going to lie, I was a little bit afraid at first, but they showed me I could do it.”

Houser tied together his experience with the theme of Leadership Tyler’s luncheon, “See What Others Don’t”: “Leadership comes from unexpected places.”

The Leadership Live conference stressed the need for being mindful of people in the community and looking for untapped potential.

“If you have not considered joining Leadership Tyler and becoming an alum, I would like to have you consider doing so,” Buchanan said.

“If you are new to leadership and feel a call to serve, or are an experienced business leader with time, talent and treasure to offer, there are many organizations throughout East Texas who could use your help.”