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2nd whistleblower adds to impeachment peril at White House

WASHINGTON — A second whistleblower has come forward with information about President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, adding to the impeachment peril engulfing the White House and potentially providing new leads to Democrats in their unfurling investigation of Trump’s conduct.

Attorney Mark Zaid, who represents both whistleblowers, said in a text message to The Associated Press that the second person has spoken to the intelligence community’s internal watchdog and can corroborate information in the original whistleblower complaint. That document alleged that Trump pushed Ukraine’s president to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s family, prompting a White House cover-up. Crucially, the new whistleblower works in the intelligence field and has “firsthand knowledge” of key events, Zaid said.

The emergence of the second whistleblower threatened to undermine arguments from Trump and his allies to discredit the original complaint. They have called it politically motivated, claimed it was filed improperly and dismissed it as unreliable because it was based on secondhand or thirdhand information.

A rough transcript of Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, released by the White House, has already corroborated the complaint’s central claim that Trump sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The push came even though there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president or his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Text messages from State Department officials revealed other details, including that Ukraine was promised a visit with Trump if the government would agree to investigate the 2016 election and Ukrainian gas company Burisma — the outline of a potential quid pro quo.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said word of a second whistleblower indicates a larger shift inside the government.

“The president’s real problem is that his behavior has finally gotten to a place where people are saying, ‘Enough,’” Himes said.

Democrats have zeroed in on the State Department in the opening phase of their impeachment investigation. The Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees have already interviewed Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine who provided the text messages. At least two other witnesses are set for depositions this week: Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly ousted as the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine in May.

Trump and his supporters deny that he did anything improper, but the White House has struggled to come up with a unified response. No administration officials appeared on the Sunday news shows to defend the president, while other Republicans focused mainly on attacking Democrats. A few Republicans suggested that Trump was only joking this past week when he publicly called on China to investigate the Bidens.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, one of Trump’s most vocal backers, provided perhaps the strongest defense of the president. He said there was nothing wrong with Trump’s July conversation with Zelenskiy and that the accusation look like a “political setup.”

As for Trump, rather than visiting his nearby golf course in Sterling, Virginia, for a second day, he stayed at the White House, where he tweeted and retweeted, with the Bidens a main target.

“The great Scam is being revealed!” Trump wrote at one point, continuing to paint himself as the victim of a “deep state” and hostile Democrats.

As the president often does when he feels under attack, he trumpeted his strong support among Republican voters. He kept lashing out at Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, one of the few Republicans who has publicly questioned Trump’s conduct.

“The Democrats are lucky that they don’t have any Mitt Romney types,” Trump wrote, painting the 2012 GOP presidential nominee as a traitor to his party. Romney tweeted recently that Trump’s “brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine” for an investigation of Biden is “wrong and appalling.”

The July call raised questions about whether Trump held back near $400 million in critical American military aid to Ukraine as leverage for a Burisma investigation. Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.

A leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Biden wrote in The Washington Post that he had a message for Trump and “those who facilitate his abuses of power. ... Please know that I’m not going anywhere. You won’t destroy me, and you won’t destroy my family.”

Additional details about the origins of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy emerged over the weekend.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry had encouraged Trump to speak with the Ukrainian leader, but on energy and economic issues, according to Perry spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes. She said Perry’s interest in Ukraine is part of U.S. efforts to boost Western energy ties to Eastern Europe.

Trump, who has repeatedly described his conversation with Zelenskiy as “perfect,” told House Republicans on Friday night that it was Perry who teed up the July call, according to a person familiar with Trump’s comments who was granted anonymity to discuss them. The person said Trump did not suggest that Perry had anything to do with the pressure to investigate the Bidens.

As the furor over Trump’s phone call and the House’s subsequent impeachment inquiry escalated, two Republicans challenging Trump for the GOP presidential nomination engaged in a heated on-air debate over what should happen to the president. The exchange between former Reps. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Joe Walsh of Illinois was notable, given the refusal of all but three Republican senators to criticize Trump’s conduct.

Walsh said the president deserves to be impeached. Sanford tried to make the case that moving forward with impeachment in the Democratic-run House if the Republican-controlled Senate doesn’t have the votes to convict would be counter-productive.

“This president needs to be impeached, just based on what he himself has said,” Walsh said. “And Republicans better get behind that.”

Himes appeared on CBS’ “Face the Nation” while Walsh was on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Graham spoke on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

Jacksonville business hosts 11th Annual Family Fun Day

JACKSONVILLE — Joe Smith Farms and Garden Center in Jacksonville kicked off the fall season with its 11th Annual Family Fun Day. The Saturday event invited visitors to come out in their best Halloween costumes for an afternoon of family fun.

Activities included face painting, pony rides, games, a petting zoo, candy, hay and train rides, a pumpkin patch and door prizes. Rusk photographer Heather Beck was on hand to offer fall mini photo sessions with festive pumpkins of all colors and other fall settings. Entertainment was provided by Boogie Butt Productions.

Owner Betty Lou Smith said she and her husband, Joe Smith, originally started the event for their grandchildren.

“At the time there wasn’t anything in Jacksonville like it for families to do together around this time of year,” she said. “So, we actually started the event for them, but it has consistently grown each year and has become something we enjoy doing to give back to the community.”

Joe Smith Farms employees volunteer their time to help put on the event along with local churches. Sale Barn Cowboy Church donated the food for the event and was there to cook and serve guests.

Joe Smith Farms and Garden Center is a family-owned and operated greenhouse business established in 1975. They offer a wide variety of products and services including plants and flowers, produce, assistance with flower bed arrangements and landscaping. They are located 4 miles east of Jacksonville.

Five questions with Ben Fletcher, who guides Farm & Ranch Club as it promotes agriculture

Ben Fletcher is president of the East Texas Farm and Ranch Club, which was founded in 1952 and continues to promote agribusiness in the area. Any person who owns or operates such a business or supports the club’s mission can be a member.

Information about the club and how to join is on its website, easttexasfarmandranchclub.com.

Following a career in aviation that ended in 2002, Fletcher said he was able to pursue his dream of “returning to the dirt.”

“I believe that my story is similar to those of other people,” Fletcher said. “There seems to be an urgent need to own and operate a ranch or farm, and these folks are busy with careers until they can escape to the real life.”

What is the goal of the East Texas Farm AND Ranch Club and Scholarship Fund?

The East Texas Farm and Ranch Club and Scholarship Fund Inc. is a nonprofit organization with the purpose of promoting charitable, educational and scientific purpose in the field of agriculture.

Our goal is to provide pertinent information to landowners, ranchers and farmers concerning surface rights: such as tax, water, oil and gas, cattle operations, farming updates, gardening, along with the opportunity to meet individuals that enjoy owning acreage.

The extent to which the Farm and Ranch Club can achieve its goals is directly related to the participation of local farmers, ranchers and agribusinesses.

How has the club evolved as farming and ranching haVE declined over the decades?

Our evolvement equals our involvement. Through our members we are able to reach out to our youth through programs with the Tyler Junior College Vet Tech Program, the East Texas Farm and Ranch Club Scholarship program and the East Texas State Fair. We help countless youth attain help with education with scholarship funds raised at the East Texas State Fair Hay Show.

Last year, over $50,000 went toward scholarships that were raised through these partnerships. Agriculture has become more advanced and technical. As technology has become more prevalent in our lives, the club has had to adapt the club’s programs to meet the needs of the modern farmer and rancher. The county is becoming more urban so we are adapting to farms and ranches that are on a smaller scale.

The club provides a networking atmosphere for area producers and agribusinesses and supports area youth in promoting increased awareness of agriculture. The club’s website has recently been revised and it also has added a Facebook page.

The club has shifted its focus from strictly cattle operations to other interests, such as grape growing, bee keeping, gardening and organic farming to mention a few.

Who is eligible to be a member?

Any person who owns or operates a farm, ranch, vineyard or any other property, or who is interested in the advancement of any facet or agriculture education, is eligible for membership.

The club welcomes small and large farms and ranches to join along with local businesses. The club encourages the area youth to become members and share their experiences and future goals to promote awareness of agriculture. Today’s youth is the answer to tomorrow’s success in the world of agriculture.

What are some of the club’s activities?

The club provides educational programs on a wide variety of topics each year. We work closely with the County AgriLife extension agent and his staff to solve questions that may arise. Some of our guest speakers are the most qualified in their field.

The club provides members with information via email blasts and on the club website and Facebook page, along with monthly meetings which not only give members the opportunity to seek potential solutions to concerns, but also provide speakers that discuss subjects from tax law updates, estate planning, water rights, grape growing, cattle operations, gardening, surface/forage procedures and soil management.

What do people need to know about your annual scholarship fund?

The East Texas Farm & Ranch Club awards two, $1,000 scholarships each year to high school graduates that are majoring in agriculture. This can include soil management and the growing of crops such as fruits, vegetables and ornamental crops and many forms of animal science. Scholarships are intended to encourage and support capable students with interest and potential for completing a course of study in agriculture.

The scholarship award of $1,000 is divided equally each semester for two consecutive semesters. The scholarship applications are distributed through the East Texas State Fair and are awarded each year in May. Scholarship applications can be obtained through our website or from the East Texas State Fair office.

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