Former White House aide Fiona Hill has told the impeachment inquiry that President Donald Trump disregarded the advice of senior advisers to push a false theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.
She said the president had instead listened to the views of his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.
Fiona Hill called the claims about Ukraine a “fictional narrative”.
The inquiry is assessing if President Trump withheld aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival.
President Trump denies any wrongdoing.
According to a discredited theory, it was Ukrainians or individuals with Ukrainian connections who interfered in the 2016 vote, rather than Russia.
In a phone call with the Ukrainian president, President Trump urged him to look into the claims as well as open an investigation into Joe Biden, one of the main Democratic presidential candidates.
November 21 is fifth and last scheduled day of public hearings by the House Intelligence Committee.
In her opening statement, Fiona Hill – the former top Russia experts to the White House – accused other Republicans of sowing doubt about Russian interference in the 2016 elections.
She said: “Based on questions and statements I have heard, some of you on this committee appear to believe that Russia and its security services did not conduct a campaign against our country – and that perhaps, somehow, for some reason, Ukraine did.”
Fiona Hill urged lawmakers not to promote “politically driven falsehoods” that cast doubt on Russia’s interference in US elections.
“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” she said.
During Fiona Hill’s testimony, Democratic lawyer Daniel Goldman asked her: “So is it your understanding then that President Trump disregarded the advice of his senior officials about this theory and instead listened to Rudy Giuliani’s views?”
“That appears to be the case, yes,” she replied.
In her later testimony, Fiona Hill warned that Rudy Giuliani had been making “explosive” and “incendiary” claims about Ukraine.
She said: “He was clearly pushing forward issues and ideas that would, you know, probably come back to haunt us.
“I think that’s where we are today.”
Fiona Hill testified that she had a couple of “testy encounters” with Gordon Sondland – the US ambassador to the EU who testified on November 20 – over Ukraine, because the ambassador did not keep her informed of “all the meetings he was having”.
US ambassador to Ukraine David Holmes also testified at November 21 hearing.
In his opening statement, David Holmes said that his work at the embassy in Kiev became overshadowed in 2019 by the actions of Rudy Giuliani.
He said: “I became aware that Mr. Giuliani, a private lawyer, was taking a direct role in Ukrainian diplomacy.”
David Holmes added that he was “shocked” on July 18 when an official from the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that military aid to Ukraine was being withheld.
State department official David Holmes has said at the impeachment inquiry that a US diplomat told Donald Trump Ukraine would carry out investigations the president had asked for.
David Holmes said he had overheard this during a call in July between President Trump and the US envoy to the EU, Gordon Sondland.
He said the call came a day after President Trump asked Ukraine to probe ex-VP Joe Biden.
President Trump has dismissed the impeachment inquiry as “presidential harassment”.
The inquiry is investigating whether Donald Trump withheld US military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the country’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce a corruption inquiry into Joe Biden, now his rival for the presidency.
On November 15, President Trump launched a Twitter attack on another witness – former US ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.
He tweeted in the middle of her testimony: “Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad.
“She started off in Somalia, how did that go?”
Asked for her response, Marie Yovanovitch called it “very intimidating”.
President Trump later hit back, arguing his tweets were not intimidating “at all”. He told reporters he had watched part of the impeachment hearing and considered it “a disgrace”.
David Holmes testified behind closed doors before us lawmakers in Washington DC.
The diplomatic aid said he had overheard the phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland in which “investigations” are said to have been discussed.
He said Gordon Sondland called President Trump from a restaurant in Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on July 26, 2019.
According to a copy of his opening statement obtained by CBS News, David Holmes said: “Sondland told Trump that [Ukrainian President] Zelensky ‘loves your ass.'”
“I then heard President Trump ask, ‘So, he’s gonna do the investigation?’
“Ambassador Sondland replied that ‘he’s gonna do it’, adding that President Zelensky will do ‘anything you ask him to’.”
Observers have drawn attention to the security implications of making the call from a restaurant, potentially exposing the conversation to eavesdropping by Russian intelligence.
David Holmes’ deposition appears to corroborate the testimony given to the impeachment inquiry by US ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor on November 13.
Bill Taylor said one of his aides heard the same chat.
The aide said President Trump had asked about “investigations” and Gordon Sondland had replied that Ukraine was ready to move forward.
According to Bill Taylor, Gordon Sondland then told the aide that the president cared more about the investigation of the Bidens than anything else involving Ukraine.
The call – which Donald Trump has denied any knowledge of – allegedly happened the day after the now-famous Trump-Zelensky phone call.
While giving her evidence, Marie Yovanovitch was alerted to the president’s criticism by the hearing’s chairman Adam Schiff.
Responding directly to Donald Trump’s tweet, in which he appeared to blame her for upheaval in Somalia, Marie Yovanovitch replied: “I don’t think I have such powers, not in Mogadishu and Somalia and not in other places.
“I actually think that where I’ve served over the years I and others have demonstrably made things better, you know, for the US as well as for the countries that I’ve served in.”
Marie Yovanovitch’s response was broadcast live during the televised hearing.
Adam Schiff, the Democratic Chairman of the Intelligence Committee overseeing the impeachment inquiry, suggested the president’s tweets could be classed as witness intimidation.
Marie Yovanovitch was removed as ambassador to Kyiv in May, two months before a controversial phone call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, which is now key to the inquiry.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly called for the whistleblower who triggered the impeachment inquiry to be unmasked, ignoring a cease-and-desist warning.
On November 7, a lawyer for a whistleblower told the White House that President Trump’s rhetoric was placing his client and family in physical danger.
However, the president renewed his attacks on the whistleblower and lawyer on November 8.
The whistleblower’s identity has so far been fiercely guarded by Democrats.
In August he filed a report that eventually triggered impeachment proceeding against President Trump.
The report expressed concern over a phone call a month earlier in which President Trump asked his Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, a Democratic front-runner for the 2020 presidential election.
In the letter, sent to White House counsel Pat Cipollone, the whistleblower’s lawyer Andrew Bakaj cites many examples of Donald Trump’s “fixation” on the identity of his client in his comments to the media, at rallies and on Twitter.
Andrew Bakaj wrote: “Such statements seek to intimidate my client – and they have.”
The lawyer continued: “Should any harm befall any suspected named whistleblower or their family, the blame will rest squarely with your client.”
However, the next day, President Trump launched a fresh attack at the White House.
“The whistleblower is a disgrace to our country… and the whistleblower because of that should be revealed,” the president told reporters.
“And his lawyer who said the worst things possible two years ago, he should be sued, and maybe for treason.”
President Trump may have been referring to the whistleblower’s other lawyer, Mark Zaid, who has been under fire from the president’s allies over tweet posted in 2017 in which he vowed – among other things – to “get rid of him [Donald Trump]”.
Meanwhile, first daughter Ivanka Trump said in an interview with the Associated Press that she did not believe the whistleblower’s identity was “particularly relevant”.
“The whistleblower shouldn’t be a substantive part of the conversation,” Ivanka Trump said, adding that the person “did not have firsthand information”.
Ivanka Trump echoed her father’s view that the impeachment investigation was about “overturning the results of the 2016 election”.
Democrats have said the whistleblower’s identity is immaterial. They argue that the complaint, which alleges abuse of power by President Trump, has been substantiated by witness testimony to the impeachment committees.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives will next week hold televised hearings for the first time in this inquiry.
If the House eventually votes to impeach President Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate will hold a trial of the president.
If President Trump is convicted – which is widely viewed at present as unlikely – he would be removed from office.
A resolution setting out the next steps in President Donald Trump’s impeachment have been published by House Democrats.
The motion sets out a more public phase of the inquiry and hands the lead role in hearings to the chairman of the intelligence committee, Adam Schiff.
The House, controlled by the Democrats, will vote on the measure on October 31.
A White House spokeswoman said the resolution was an “illegitimate sham”.
So far, hearings have been held behind closed doors. This vote to make the impeachment process public is about the procedure, and not a ballot on whether or not to impeach the president.
Meanwhile, Republicans have criticized Democrats for the closed hearings up to this point, in which Republican lawmakers have also taken part. However, Democrats insist they were needed to gather evidence ahead of the public stage of the inquiry, and deny allegations they have been secretive.
President Trump is accused of trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating unsubstantiated corruption claims against his political rival, Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, who worked with Ukrainian gas company Burisma.
The president denies wrongdoing and calls the impeachment inquiry a “witch hunt”.
On October 29, the impeachment inquiry heard from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a White House official who had monitored a phone call on July 25 between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
That call sparked a whistleblower complaint and led to the impeachment probe.
Col. Alexander Vindman said he was “concerned” by the call as he “did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a US citizen”.
The eight-page document sets out a two-stage process for the next phase of the inquiry.
In the first, the House Intelligence Committee will continue its investigations and hold public hearings. It will have the right to make public transcripts of depositions taken in private.
In the second phase, a public report on the findings will be sent to the House Judiciary Committee which will conduct its own proceedings and report on “such resolutions, articles of impeachment, or other recommendations as it deems proper”.
President Trump’s lawyers will be allowed to take part in the Judiciary Committee stage.
Republicans on the committees will be able to subpoena documents or witnesses – although they could still be blocked as both committees are Democrat-controlled.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said a House vote on the resolution would take place on October 31. She has previously said such a vote is not required under the US Constitution.
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, speaking before the resolution was unveiled, said the entire process was a “sham.”
Referring to the closed-door meetings and depositions he said: “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle. Due process starts at the beginning.”
However, Hunter Biden acknowledged the possible political ramifications of his work, saying his failure to do so previously demonstrated “poor judgment”.
“Did I make a mistake? Well, maybe in the grand scheme of things, yeah,” he said.
“But did I make a mistake based upon some ethical lapse? Absolutely not.”
Hunter Biden stressed his record on the board of the UN World Food Program and work for US corporations to defend his lucrative role as a board member for a Ukrainian gas company.
He said: “I think that I had as much knowledge as anybody else that was on the board, if not more.”
However, he acknowledged the appointment may have resulted from his father’s clout.
“I don’t think that there’s a lot of things that would have happened in my life if my last name wasn’t Biden,” Hunter Biden said.
His foreign business ventures have pulled him to the epicenter of the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Trump.
President Trump and his allies have claimed that as vice-president Joe Biden encouraged the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor because the prosecutor was investigating Burisma, a gas company that employed Hunter Biden.
These allegations – though widely discredited – were raised by President Trump in a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
This call has fuelled the Democratic-led impeachment investigation. The inquiry is trying to establish whether President Trump withheld nearly $400 million in aid to nudge President Zelensky into launching an inquiry into the Bidens.
President Trump tweeted: “A big scandal at @ABC News. They got caught using really gruesome FAKE footage of the Turks bombing in Syria. A real disgrace. Tomorrow they will ask softball questions to Sleepy Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, like why did Ukraine & China pay you millions when you knew nothing? Payoff?”
The president has continued to seize on Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine and China to stage political attacks against him and his father, charging both Bidens with corruption, without offering specific evidence.
In an interview on October 15, Hunter Biden dismissed the president’s claims as a “ridiculous conspiracy idea”.
Last week, Hunter Biden announced he would step down from the board of BHR (Shanghai) Equity Investment Fund Management Company.
His lawyer, George Mesires, told media his client had not acquired an equity interest in the fund until 2017, after his father had left office.
Hunter Biden said last week that he would not work for any foreign-owned companies if his father is elected president.
Amy Lappos called on Joe Biden not to run for the White House, saying: “Uninvited affection is not okay. Objectifying women is not okay.”
Lucy Flores was running as the Democratic candidate for Nevada’s lieutenant governor in 2014 when Joe Biden flew in to support her bid.
As she prepared to go on stage, Joe Biden placed two hands on her shoulders from behind, smelled her hair then planted “a big slow kiss on the back of my head”.
Asked about the new allegation, a spokesman for Joe Biden referred reporters to a statement he issued on March 31.
The statement read: “In my many years on the campaign trail and in public life, I have offered countless handshakes, hugs, expressions of affection, support and comfort. And not once – never – did I believe I acted inappropriately.”
“But we have arrived at an important time when women feel they can and should relate their experiences, and men should pay attention. And I will,” it added.
Joe Biden and Barack Obama were known for their close friendship, often seen playing golf and attending sports events together. Joe Biden even said that Barack Obama offered him financial help when his son was ill.
For his vice president’s birthday in 2017, Barack Obama posted a photo of the two of them on Twitter, writing that Joe Biden was his “brother and the best vice president anybody could have”.
On April, a spokesman for Joe Biden also accused “right wing trolls” of presenting harmless images of the former vice president interacting with women over the years as evidence of inappropriate touching.
A number of candidates for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination have backed Lucy Flores.
Senator Elizabeth Warren said Joe Biden “needs to give an answer”, and Senator Amy Klobuchar said that in politics “people raise issues and they have to address them”.
Some supporters though have defended him. Cynthia Hogan, a former aide to the vice-president, told the New York Times that Joe Biden “treated us with respect and insisted that others do the same”. An ally of Joe Biden told CNN he was not reconsidering a run for the White House following the allegations but stressed he was yet to make a decision.
Former Vice-President Joe Biden appeared to announce his candidacy for the 2020 presidential election, before immediately correcting himself.
Joe Biden made the slip while addressing 1,000 Democrats at a dinner in his home state of Delaware.
The democrat said his record was the most progressive “of anyone running for the United-” before correcting himself and saying, “anybody who would run”.
The audience stood up and chanted “run Joe run”, while the 76-year-old crossed himself and said: “I didn’t mean it!”
Addressing party brokers and leaders in the city of Dover, Joe Biden said that it was time to restore the country’s “backbone”, but that they needed political consensus to move beyond what he called today’s “mean”, “petty” and “vicious” political landscape.
“I’m told I get criticized by the new left,” Joe Biden said, referring to a group of popular new left-wing Democrats that includes congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
“I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the United- “
The former vice-president then corrected himself, saying: “Anybody who wouldrun.”
As the diners rose to their feet and chanted “run Joe run”, Joe Biden laughed and insisted: “I didn’t mean it!”
“Of anybody who would run,” he continued.
“Because folks, we have to bring this country back together again.”
VP Joe Biden has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest US civilian honor.
President Barack Obama praised Joe Biden for his “faith in your fellow Americans, for your love of country and your lifetime of service”.
The award comes as both men prepare to leave office when Donald Trump is inaugurated on January 20.
The vice-president has said he plans to stay active in Democratic Party politics.
A visibly emotional Joe Biden stood by as President Obama heaped praise on what he called the “best possible choice, not just for me, but for the American people”.
According to the New York Times, the medal was awarded with distinction.
Image source NBC News
That additional honor has been reserved in recent administrations for just a handful of recipients, including Pope John Paul II.
Barack Obama joked that the internet would have one last chance to mock the pair’s “bromance”.
Joe Biden said he was “part of the journey of a remarkable man who did remarkable things”.
The vice-president said that he had had no idea the award was coming.
“I had no inkling. I thought we were coming over to Michelle for you, Jill and Barack and I and a couple of senior staff to toast one another and say what an incredible journey it’s been.
“Mr. President, you got right the part about my leaning on Jill but I’ve also leaned on you and a lot of people in this room.
“Mr. President, I’m indebted to you. I’m indebted to your friendship. I’m indebted to your family.”
Barack Obama said that Joe Biden’s career was “nowhere close to finished” both at home or abroad.
The vice-president has said he plans to work on policy issues at institutes at the University of Delaware and University of Pennsylvania, and continue his efforts tackling cancer, which claimed his son Beau in 2015.
Joe Biden gave an hour-long interview with media outlets on January 12 in which he strongly criticized Donald Trump for his condemnation of the US intelligence services.
“It is really very damaging in my view to our standing in the world for a president to take one of the crown jewels of our national defense and denigrate it,” he said.
“It plays into, particularly now, the Russian narrative that America doesn’t know what it’s doing.”
However, Joe Biden was full of praise for his successor, Mike Pence, saying he had sent him memos on how to handle certain situations.
Vice-President Joe Biden has told Donald Trump to “grow up” and criticized his attacks on the intelligence community.
On January 6, Donald Trump will be briefed on allegations that Russia meddled in the US presidential election – claims he has cast doubt on.
Joe Biden said it was “absolutely mindless” for Donald Trump not to have faith in intelligence agencies.
Russia denies hacking alleged to have helped Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton.
On January 5, the president-elect questioned how intelligence agencies were confident about the alleged Russian hacking “if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers” belonging to the Democratic National Committee (DNC).
In an interview with the PBS, Donald Trump: “For a president not to have confidence in, not to be prepared to listen to, the myriad intelligence agencies, from defense intelligence to the CIA, is absolutely mindless.
“The idea that you may know more than the intelligence community knows – it’s like saying I know more about physics than my professor. I didn’t read the book, I just know I know more.”
When asked what he thought of Donald Trump’s regular attacks on Twitter, Joe Biden said: “Grow up Donald, grow up, time to be an adult, you’re president. Time to do something. Show us what you have.”
The VP went on to call Donald Trump “a good man”.
Joe Biden said he had read a US intelligence agencies report outlining Russian involvement, the details of which are starting to emerge in media.
According to the Washington Post and NBC News citing intelligence sources, agencies had intercepted communications in the aftermath of the election showing senior Russian government officials celebrating Donald Trump’s win over rival Hillary Clinton.
US authorities had also identified Russian actors who delivered stolen Democratic emails to the WikiLeaks website.
NBC News says the alleged Russian hacking targeted not just the DNC but also the White House, joint chiefs of staff, the department of state and large US corporations.
An unclassified version will be made public next week.
Joe Biden said the report clearly details “that the Russians did, as a matter of policy, attempt to affect and… discredit the US electoral process”.
He said the hacking was part of a systematic campaign to undermine Hillary Clinton.
Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager John Podesta was among those hacked on the DNC server.
On January 5, the Director of National Intelligence, Gen James Clapper, told a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the hack, and said the motive would be revealed next week.
President Barack Obama last week ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US over the alleged hacking. Russia has said it will not reciprocate.
Donald Trump has repeatedly rejected allegations that the Russian government hacked into the computers of John Podesta or the servers of the DNC.
On January 4, the president-elect repeated a suggestion that “a 14-year-old” may have been responsible for the breach.
On January 5, he said he was a “big fan” of intelligence agencies, after months of casting doubt on the Russian link, but later went on to raise questions over how the Democratic Party responded to the security breach.
Last week, Donald Trump said he would announce information about hacking “on Tuesday or Wednesday”, but no announcement came.
Joe Biden will not run for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 White House race.
The 72-year-old vice-president said his family was ready after the death of his son, Beau Biden, earlier this year, but he had now run out of time.
He also said it would be a mistake for Democrats to turn their backs on President Barack Obama’s record.
Democrats seeking an alternative to frontrunner Hillary Clinton had been urging Joe Biden to run.
Though he will not be a candidate, Joe Biden said he “will not be silent”.
“I intend to speak out clearly and forcefully on where we stand as a party and where we need to go as a nation.”
Joe Biden said any candidate would be making a “tragic mistake” to reject the Obama legacy, and urged an end to political bickering.
“I believe we have to end the divisive, partisan politics ripping apart this country,” he said as he stood in the Rose Garden of the White House, flanked by his wife Jill and President Barack Obama.
Repeating a dig at Hillary Clinton that he has made several times this week, he said it was wrong to see Republicans as enemies.
When asked at last week’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton said she was proud of making an enemy out of Republicans.
In explaining his decision not to join the race, after three months pondering it, Joe Biden said his family had “reached a point” where they felt they could cope with his third presidential run, but time was now against him.
Beau Biden died from brain cancer in May, another family tragedy for the former Delaware senator after the deaths of his baby daughter and first wife in 1972.
Joe Biden then rose through the Senate ranks and ran for president in 1988 and 2008.
After hearing the news, presidential candidates for 2016 tweeted their well wishes.
Bernie Sanders also tweeted that he supported Joe Biden’s plans to make college free, fight economic inequality and close tax loopholes.
Democratic candidate Martin O’ Malley tweeted that he respected Joe Biden’s decision and that he is “one of the most decent, compassionate public servants our nation has produced”.
VP Joe Biden has called Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, who killed four marines and a sailor in Chattanooga in July, a “perverted jihadist”, despite no official determination of motive.
Speaking at a memorial service in the Tennessee town, Joe Biden also called the suspect a “perverse ideologue”.
According to authorities, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez acted alone when he attacked two military facilities in Chattanooga.
However, the FBI has said it has not yet been able to establish a motive.
Joe Biden was joined by Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and families of the victims for the service, a month on from the July 16 attack.
The vice president alluded to the recent loss of his own son Beau Biden, a former attorney general of Delaware who died from brain cancer in May.
“I wish I were not here,” he told the families.
“I have some sense of how hard it is for you to be here.”
“I didn’t have the privilege of knowing any one of them personally but oh, I knew them,” Joe Biden added.
“Confident, determined, trustworthy, compassionate and always, always loyal. I knew them. They were my son. And so many other sons I know.”
FBI investigators say Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, 24, acted alone in the crime but say they are still unsure whether he was inspired by radical ideology or driven by mental illness as his family has suggested.
“The meaning of their killing is yet unclear, what combination of disturbed mind, violent extremism and hateful ideology was at work, we don’t know,” said Ashton Carter.
Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, a former engineering student, was shot dead by police after opening fire at a military recruitment centre and later a reserve centre 7 miles away.
Ashton Carter has ordered the military to review its procedures for protecting American troops inside the US and to step up security at recruiting stations.
President Barack Obama has delivered an emotional eulogy at the funeral of Beau Biden, the son of Vice-President Joe Biden.
Former Delaware Attorney-General Beau Biden died on May 30 from brain cancer at the age of 46.
Beau Biden was seen as a rising star of US politics but suffered from health problems in recent years.
He had intended to run for Delaware state governor in 2016.
Barack Obama said: “Beau Biden was an original. He was a good man. A man of character. A man who loved deeply and was loved in return.”
About 1,000 people – including Bill and Hillary Clinton and numerous other top politicians – attended the funeral at a Roman Catholic church in Wilmington, the largest city in the state of Delaware.
Joe Biden led a procession into the church with his family at the beginning of the service.
Mourners heard Barack Obama describing Beau Biden as a public servant who learned through early tragedy what mattered most and as a result decided upon living “a life of meaning” that would inspire those around him.
“He was a scion of an incredible family, who brushed away the possibility of privilege for the harder, better reward of earning his own way,” the president said.
Barack Obama described Beau Biden as a son, a father, a soldier and a politician who refused to take short cuts in his determination to serve his country and others.
He said that a “cruel twist of fate” killed Beau Biden’s mother and infant sister in a car crash four decades ago and left Beau – three years old at the time – and his younger brother Hunter in hospital.
Coldplay singer Chris Martin was a soloist at the service – he volunteered to perform after hearing that Beau Biden liked the band.
Beau Biden was diagnosed with brain cancer in August 2013 and underwent treatment that was initially successful. However, the cancer recurred earlier this year.
Vladimir Putin is to discuss a peace plan for east Ukraine with French President Francois Hollande, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian leaders by phone.
Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande are pushing a plan to end bloody fighting between government and rebel forces.
Meeting the Russian president in Moscow on February 6, they agreed to four-way talks with Ukraine’s Petro Poroshenko on February 8.
More than 5,000 people have been killed in the east since April.
Thousands more have been injured and more than a million have fled their homes.
Ukraine’s military reported continued shelling on February 7, accusing the rebels of preparing new offensives, while the rebels accused the government itself of attacking along the line dividing their forces.
Petro Poroshenko has called on the West for support up to and including weapons.
He made the plea at a security conference in Munich on February 7, when he brandished passports that he said were those of Russian troops in Ukraine.
Russia denies intervening directly in eastern Ukraine.
Angela Merkel told the conference in Munich that there was no guarantee diplomacy would succeed but it was “definitely worth trying”.
The plan is thought to be an attempt to revive a failed ceasefire deal signed in Minsk, in Belarus, in September. Since then, the rebels have seized more ground, raising alarm in Kiev and among Ukraine’s backers.
Francois Hollande said it would include a demilitarized zone of 31-44 miles around the current front line.
The French leader has described the Franco-German plan as “one of the last chances” to end the conflict.
“If we fail to find a lasting peace agreement, we know the scenario perfectly well – it has a name, it is called war,” Francois Hollande said.
The US is said to be considering pleas to send weapons to Ukraine.
Angela Merkel, however, said she could not “imagine any situation in which improved equipment for the Ukrainian army leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will lose militarily”.
The statement put Angela Merkel in opposition to NATO’s top military commander, US Air Force general Philip Breedlove, who told reporters that Western allies should not “preclude out of hand the possibility of the military option”.
Vice-President Joe Biden said the US would “continue to provide Ukraine with security assistance not to encourage war, but to allow Ukraine to defend itself”.
“Let me be clear – we do not believe there is a military solution in Ukraine,” Joe Biden said.
“But let me be equally clear – we do not believe Russia has the right to do what they’re doing.”
The US has expanded visa restrictions on unnamed Venezuelan officials it accuses of human rights violations and corruption.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro said the measures were an attempt to violate Venezuelan sovereignty.
They build on sanctions imposed last year on officials alleged to have violated the rights of protesters.
The list of officials banned from entering the US has been extended, and now includes family members.
“We are sending a clear message that human rights abusers, those who profit from public corruption, and their families are not welcome in the United States,” said US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
Nicolas Maduro reacted angrily and said he would write a letter to President Barack Obama.
“We can’t let an empire that has been eyeing all of us pretend or think it has the right to sanction the country of [Simon] Bolivar,” Nicolas Maduro said, making reference to the Venezuela-born hero of Latin American liberation.
The sanctions imposed in December were aimed at officials accused over their role in suppressing anti-government protests that shook Venezuela in the first six months of 2014.
The new visa restrictions were announced a day after Nicolas Maduro accused Vice-President Joe Biden of plotting a coup against his Socialist government during an energy summit of Caribbean leaders in Washington.
Joe Biden’s office called the allegation “baseless and patently false”.
“President Maduro’s accusations are clearly part of an effort to distract from the concerning situation in Venezuela, which includes repeated violations of freedom of speech, assembly, and due process,” read a statement.
Joe Biden and Nicolas Maduro had shaken hands in Brazil during Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s inauguration ceremony on January 1.
“Vice-President Biden: Look me in the eyes. I saw you in Brazil, I gave you my hand,” said Nicolas Maduro in a televised address on February 1.
“You, who said this is a new era for relations in Latin America, were going to conspire against Venezuela,” he added.
Relations between the US and Venezuela have been tense for many years. They last had ambassadors in each other’s capitals in 2010.
Cleveland house of horrors survivors Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus met with President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden last month at the White House.
Amanda Berry, 28, told People magazine: “It was one of the most unbelievable moments in my life.”
Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus met with President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden at the White House (photo White House)
Gina DeJesus, 24, said she particularly liked talking to VP Joe Biden because he was “very down-to-earth”. She added that she appreciated how much time VP Joe Biden, a longtime advocate of ending violence against women, spent with them and their families.
Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus visited the White House with Amanda’s older sister Beth Serrano and Gina’s parents.
While the two women were meeting with Joe Biden in the West Wing, President Barack Obama swung by to say hello and the group snapped a picture. The family trip to D.C. was paid for by the National Center For Missing And Exploited Children and marked the girls’ first flight.
Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus were also treated to a salon visit and a shopping spree.
US Vice-President Joe Biden has arrived in Beijing for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.
His visit to Asia has been dominated by a row over China’s newly-declared air zone, which covers East China Sea disputed islands controlled by Japan.
Joe Biden arrived from Tokyo, where he reaffirmed the US alliance with Japan.
The vice-president attended an official welcome ceremony in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People where he met China’s Vice-President Li Yuanchao, and said China and the US should expand practical co-operation and deliver results.
On Thursday he will visit China’s leadership compound, known as Zhongnanhai.
While in Tokyo, Joe Biden said he would raise concerns over China’s new air zone “in great specificity” during meetings with China’s leaders.
Jo Biden and Xi Jinping are said to enjoy a relatively close relationship.
Joe Biden has arrived in Beijing for meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang
China announced a new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) last month, and said aircraft flying through the zone must follow its rules, including filing flight plans.
The ADIZ covers islands claimed and controlled by Japan, and a submerged rock claimed by South Korea.
The US, Japan and South Korea have rejected China’s zone, and flown undeclared military aircraft through the ADIZ.
On Friday, China scrambled fighter jets to monitor US and Japanese planes flying in the area.
Tokyo has told its national carriers not to file flight plans with the Chinese side when transiting the zone, but on Friday the US said it expected its carriers to “operate consistent with Notams [Notices to Airmen] issued by foreign countries”.
This did not indicate “US government acceptance of China’s requirements for operating in the newly-declared ADIZ”, the state department said.
Speaking in Tokyo on Tuesday, Joe Biden said the US was “deeply concerned by the attempt to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China Sea.”
On Wednesday, Chinese state media criticized Joe Biden’s comments.
“Washington has obviously taken Japan’s side,” state-run newspaper China Daily said in an editorial.
Vice-President Joe Biden said at the beginning of a tour of East Asia that the US remains “deeply concerned” about China’s new air defense identification zone (ADIZ).
In written responses to Japan’s Asahi newspaper, Joe Biden said China and Japan had to establish measures to lower tensions.
Joe Biden arrived in Tokyo late on Monday and will then head to Beijing and Seoul during his six-day visit.
The air zone row is likely to dominate the week of talks.
Joe Biden’s most important task this week will be persuading Beijing and Tokyo to stop baiting each other, and to start talking about how to avoid an unintended clash.
Both the US and Japan have voiced strong criticism of China’s establishment of an ADIZ that includes islands claimed and controlled by Japan. It also includes a submerged rock claimed by South Korea.
China says aircraft operating within its ADIZ must follow certain rules such as filing flight plans, or face “defensive emergency measures”.
US, Japanese and South Korean military aircraft have all defied these rules and Japanese commercial carriers have agreed to a government request not to comply.
On Friday, China scrambled fighter jets to monitor US and Japanese planes flying in the area.
Joe Biden told the newspaper that the establishment of the ADIZ underscored “the need for agreement between China and Japan to establish crisis management and confidence building measures to lower tensions”.
Joe Biden arrived in Tokyo late on Monday and will then head to Beijing and Seoul during his six-day visit
As well as “the strength of our alliance commitments” with Japan, he planned to “emphasize the importance of avoiding actions that could undermine peace, security and prosperity in the region”, he said.
Joe Biden was met at the airport late on Monday by the new US envoy to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. Later on Tuesday, he meets Japanese PM Shinzo Abe.
Shinzo Abe said on Sunday that he expected to discuss the ADIZ issue with Joe Biden.
Tokyo has told its national carriers JAL and ANA not to file flight plans with the Chinese side when transiting the zone, but on Friday the US said it expected its carriers to “operate consistent with Notams (Notices to Airmen) issued by foreign countries”.
This did not indicate “US government acceptance of China’s requirements for operating in the newly-declared ADIZ”, the state department said.
Shinzo Abe said on Sunday he expected to have “in-depth” talks with Joe Biden about the ADIZ row.
Japan, he said, would “resolutely but calmly deal with Beijing’s attempt to change the status quo” in the region.
Tensions between Japan and China have been high for months because of a territorial row over islands in the East China Sea.
Japan controls the islands, which are called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China. They are also claimed by Taiwan and lie in a strategically important area south of Japan and north of Taiwan.
The US has described China’s move as destabilizing.
After Tokyo, VP Joe Biden heads to Beijing for talks with President Xi Jinping and then travels on to South Korea.
The White House has potsponed a meeting with Democrats and Republicans congressional leaders as lawmakers continue talks on raising the nation’s debt limit.
The talks were to take place between President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and leaders of the Senate and House of Representatives.
The US government shutdown, also a result of the political deadlock, has now entered its third week.
Officials warn of economic calamity should the US default on its debt.
In a statement, the White House said Monday afternoon’s meeting had been postponed to “allow leaders in the Senate time to continue making important progress towards a solution that raises the debt limit and reopens the government”.
It is unclear when it will be rescheduled.
The White House has potsponed a meeting with Democrats and Republicans congressional leaders as lawmakers continue talks on raising the nation’s debt limit
President Barack Obama sounded his own warning as he toured a soup kitchen for the poor in Washington D.C. earlier on Monday.
“This week if we don’t start making some real progress, both the House and the Senate – and if Republicans aren’t willing to set aside their partisan concerns in order to do what’s right for the country – we stand a good chance of defaulting,” he said.
“And defaulting would have a potentially devastating effect on our economy.”
Barack Obama said he saw “some progress” in the talks, ahead of Thursday’s deadline for the US to raise its $16.7 trillion borrowing limit or risk default on its debt.
Expected to attend the White House meeting were Senate Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican House Speaker John Boehner and House Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
On Monday, Harry Reid told the Senate he was “very optimistic we will reach an agreement”. Mr McConnell also expressed optimism, following what he described as “a couple of very useful discussions” with the Democratic leader.
Republican Senator Susan Collins acknowledged the Senate did not have a finished agreement, but said senators were “making very good progress”.
A separate bipartisan group led by Susan Collins also met for several hours earlier in the day to discuss possible solutions, the Associated Press news agency reported.
Congressional Democrats are now said to be using the looming debt ceiling deadline as leverage to push back against previously enacted cuts to the US government budget.
Those deep military and domestic spending cuts, known as the “sequester”, went into effect in January 2013 after Democrats and Republicans failed to reach a budget compromise.
President Barack Obama’s plans for a military strike on Syria have won backing from key US political figures.
Barack Obama said a “limited” strike was needed to degrade President Bashar al-Assad’s capabilities in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack.
Key Republican leaders John Boehner and Eric Cantor both signaled their support for military action. Congress is expected to vote next week.
The UN earlier confirmed that more than two million Syrians were now refugees.
More than 100,000 people are thought to have died since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began in March 2011.
President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden met House Speaker John Boehner, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and the chairmen and ranking members from the national security committees in Washington on Tuesday.
John Boehner signaled his support for Barack Obama’s call for action, saying that only the US had the capacity to stop President Bashar al-Assad. John Boehner urged his colleagues in Congress to follow suit.
Eric Cantor, the House of Representatives majority leader, said he also backed Barack Obama.
President Barack Obama’s plans for a military strike on Syria have won backing from key US political figures
The Virginia Republican said: “Assad’s Syria, a state sponsor of terrorism, is the epitome of a rogue state, and it has long posed a direct threat to American interests and to our partners.”
Nancy Pelosi said she did not believe Congress would reject a resolution calling for force.
Barack Obama said that Bashar al-Assad had to be held accountable for the chemical attack and that he was confident Congress would back him.
He said he was proposing military action that would degrade Bashar al-Assad’s capacity to use chemical weapons “now and in the future”.
“What we are envisioning is something limited. It is something proportional,” the president said.
“At the same time we have a broader strategy that will allow us to upgrade the capabilities of the opposition.”
Secretary of State John Kerry, Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and the top US military officer, Gen Martin Dempsey, are appearing before the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
John Kerry told the panel that US allies such as Israel and Jordan were “one stiff breeze” away from potentially being hurt by any fresh chemical weapons attacks, and that US inaction would only embolden the Syrian president.
“This is not the time for armchair isolationism,” John Kerry said.
“This is not the time to be spectators to slaughter. Neither our country nor out conscience can afford the cost of silence.
“We have spoken up against unspeakable horror many times in the past. Now we must stand up and act.”
But John Kerry said again that there would be no American boots on the ground in Syria and that Barack Obama was “not asking America to go to war”.
Chuck Hagel said that “the word of the United States must mean something” and echoed John Kerry when adding: “A refusal to act would undermine the credibility of America’s other security commitments, including the president’s commitment to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”
There will also be a classified briefing for all members of Congress.
Barack Obama will head to Sweden late on Tuesday for a G20 meeting sure to be dominated by Syria.
France has strongly backed the US plan for military action.
President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday: “When a chemical massacre takes place, when the world is informed of it, when the evidence is delivered, when the guilty parties are known, then there must be an answer.”
Francois Hollande called for Europe to unite on the issue, but said he would wait for the Congress vote.
A complete list of the gifts received by US officials from foreign leaders last year, as well as a couple dozen from previous years, were disclosed by the State Department on Thursday.
The lavish gifts include diamond-and-ruby-encrusted jewels worth $500,000 received by Hillary Clinton from the Saudi Arabian king.
Hillary Clinton’s gifts from King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz – which included a necklace, bracelet, earrings and a ring – were by far the most expensive items among the hundreds of gifts given to U.S. officials in 2012.
The gift-giving continues a long-held tradition of international diplomacy, in which the wealthy and powerful show their appreciation for one another by exchanging artwork, jewelry, electronics and other presents.
Most of the items are required to be donated to the national archives, though a few may be kept depending on their value. The Hill newspaper first reported on the gifts.
In addition to her jewels from Saudi Arabia, Hillary Clinton also received wine from Algeria; a two-piece bronze sculpture of a red chili pepper from Singapore; a cuff bracelet, necklace and earrings from Kazakhstan; caviar and a wool carpet from Azerbaijan; Cognac from Russia; gold, sapphire and diamond jewelry worth $58,000 from Brunei; and a sword from Yemen.
Among President Obama’s gifts were: Christmas mugs, coffee, and steak knives from Brunei; a basketball autographed by Chinese President Xi Jinping; a ‘silver figure representing [an] oversized coffee bean’ from Colombia; a leather wallet and tote bag from France; a porcelain vase decorated with images of the White House and Kremlin from Russia; a chest of liquor and a Coca-Cola bottle decorated with beads from Mexico; and a 41-inch saber from Mongolia.
Hillary Clinton received $500,000 diamond-and-ruby-encrusted jewels from Saudi Arabia King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz
Gifts were also given to Michelle Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, former CIA Chief David Petraeus and Chief Justice John Roberts, among others.
Joe Biden’s gifts included a silver knife and chopsticks from Mongolia, a leather cigar box from Mexico, and a female bare-breasted bust from Liberia.
In every case, officials accepted the items because “non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US”, according to a document provided by the State Department.
SAMPLING OF ITEMS RECEIVED BY US OFFICIALS:
President Barack Obama’s gifts included:
Christmas mugs, coffee, and steak knives from Brunei
Basketball autographed by Chinese President Xi Jinping
“Silver figure representing [an] oversized coffee bean” from Colombia
Leather wallet and tote bag from France
Porcelain vase decorated with images of the White House and Kremlin from Russia
Chest of liquor and a Coca-Cola bottle decorated with beads from Mexico
41-inch saber from Mongolia
Hillary Clinton’s gifts included:
Wine from Algeria
Two-piece bronze sculpture of a red chili pepper from Singapore
Cuff bracelet, necklace and earrings from Kazakhstan
Caviar and a wool carpet from Azerbaijan
Cognac from Russia
Gold, sapphire and diamond jewelry worth $58,000 from Brunei
Vice-President Joe Biden has said the US has “no doubt” that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons and that it must be held accountable.
The US has said its military is ready to launch strikes if President Barack Obama order an attack, and allies say they too are ready to act.
The Syrian government has strongly denied claims it used chemical weapons.
UN weapons inspectors are set to return to the site of last week’s suspected attack near Damascus on Wednesday.
Their evidence-gathering visit was delayed by a day after they were fired on.
The US says it will release its own intelligence report into the incident at Ghouta, a suburb of the capital, in the coming days.
More than 300 people reportedly died there.
President Barack Obama is said to have made at least 88 calls to foreign leaders since Wednesday’s suspected attack.
Vice-President Joe Biden has said the US has “no doubt” that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons and that it must be held accountable
British PM David Cameron said the world could “not stand idly by”, and French President Francois Hollande said France was “ready to punish” whoever was behind the attack.
On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned that “attempts at a military solution will lead only to the further destabilization” in Syria and the region.
Sergei Lavrov emphasised the need for a political solution in a phone call to the joint UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, the foreign ministry in Moscow said.
Russia, China and Iran have previously warned against launching an attack on the war-ravaged country, where more than 100,000 people are thought to have died in two years of fighting.
Stocks have fallen on global markets and oil prices have shot up amid growing concern about an impending attack.
The US has not yet released its intelligence report into the alleged chemical attack, but US officials now say they are certain the Syrian government was behind the incident.
Joe Biden is the most senior member of the Obama administration to blame the Syrian government for the attack.
In a speech to a veterans’ group in Houston, he said there was “no doubt who was responsible for this heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria: the Syrian regime”.
He said that “those who use chemical weapons against defenceless men, women, and children… must be held accountable”.
White House spokesman Jay Carney earlier said it would be “fanciful” to think anyone else could be responsible – saying the Syrian regime remained in control of the country’s chemical arsenal and used the type of rocket that carried the payload used last Wednesday.
But he insisted there were no plans for “regime change”. Any military campaign is likely to be limited in scope, with missile strikes targeting military sites and no ground troops.
US Vice-president Joe Biden has talked to Ecuador’s leader Rafael Correa by phone about fugitive Edward Snowden’s bid for asylum.
Joe Biden held talks with President Rafael Correa on Friday, the two countries confirmed.
According to Rafael Correa, Joe Biden asked him to reject the request but Washington gave no details.
In a new development, a German magazine says a document leaked by Edward Snowden shows the US bugged EU offices.
Spiegel magazine says a September 2010 “top secret” document of the US National Security Agency (NSA) outlines how the agency bugged offices and spied on EU internal computer networks in Washington and at the UN. The document explicitly referred to the EU as a “target”, the magazine reports.
Edward Snowden is believed to be staying at a Moscow airport, having arrived nearly a week ago from Hong Kong, where he had been staying since he revealed details of top secret US surveillance programmes.
The US has charged him with theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified communications intelligence.
Each charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
US Vice-president Joe Biden has talked to Ecuador’s leader Rafael Correa by phone about fugitive Edward Snowden’s bid for asylum
Ecuador has said it is willing to consider Edward Snowden’s request but only when he is physically in the Latin American country.
Rafael Correa said on Saturday that Joe Biden had “passed on a polite request from the United States to reject the request”.
He said he had told Joe Biden: “Mr. Vice-president, thanks for calling. We hold the United States in high regard. We did not seek to be in this situation. Do not get the idea that we are anti-American, as some ill-spirited media outlets are doing.”
If Edward Snowden ever came to “Ecuadoran soil” with his request, he added, “the first people whose opinion we will seek is that of the United States”.
The Ecuadorean president, a leftist economist who received a doctorate in the US, denied he was seeking to disrupt relations and said he had “lived the happiest days of my life” in the US.
White House spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said only that Joe Biden and Rafael Correa had held a wide-ranging conversation.
Edward Snowden’s father has said he believes his son would return to the US under certain conditions.
Lon Snowden asked for “ironclad assurances” his son’s rights would be protected in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder.
He asked his son not be held before trial nor subjected to a gag order, and be able to choose where he was tried.
According to his newly-released tax returns documents, President Barack Obama made $608,611 in 2012, down more than 20% from 2011.
The decline in Barack Obama’s pay comes as sales of his books slow.
Barack Obama’s presidential salary is $400,000.
The President and First Lady Michelle Obama paid an effective tax rate of 18.4% and donated $150,034 to 33 different charities.
Barack Obama’s tax rate will rise next year under a recent agreement with Congressional Republicans.
President Barack Obama made $608,611 in 2012, down more than 20 percent from 2011
“Under the president’s own tax proposals, including limitations on the value of tax preferences for high-income households, he would pay more in taxes while ensuring we cut taxes for the middle class and those trying to get in it,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney in a statement accompanying the release of the president’s and vice-president’s tax returns.
President Barack Obama also paid $29,450 of state income tax in Illinois, the White House said.
About two-thirds of the Obamas’ charitable contributions were given to the Fisher House Foundation, an organization that provides assistance to military servicemen, veterans and their families.
Barack Obama’s earnings have declined significantly from 2009.
In 2009, Barack Obama’s first year in office, he earned $5.5 million, mostly from sales of his books Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope.
Vice-President Joe Biden and his wife Jill reported $385,072 of income and paid $87,851 of federal tax.