Diplomat provides House with detailed account on Ukraine

By LISA MASCARO, MARY CLARE JALONICK and LYNN BERRY Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Former U.S. Ambassador William Taylor, a diplomat who has sharply questioned President Donald Trump’s policy on Ukraine, has provided lawmakers with a detailed account of his recollection of events at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment probe , they said Tuesday.
Lawmakers emerging from the room after the early hours of the private deposition said Taylor had given a lengthy opening statement, with a recall of events that filled in gaps from the testimony of other witnesses.
“The testimony is very disturbing,” said New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who attended the start of the Taylor interview.
Taylor, who declined to comment as he entered the closed-door deposition, is the latest diplomat with concerns to testify. His appearance is among the most watched because of a text message in which he called Trump’s attempt to leverage military aid to Ukraine in return for a political investigation “crazy.” He was subpoenaed to appear.
Rep Ami Bera, D-Calif., said Taylor is a career civil servant who “cares deeply” about the country. He said Taylor’s memory of events was better than that of Gordon Sondland, the U.S. European Union ambassador who testified last week but couldn’t recall many specific details.
Taylor was expected to discuss text messages he exchanged with two other diplomats earlier this year as Trump pushed the country to investigate unsubstantiated claims about Democratic rival Joe Biden’s family and a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.
The diplomat was one of several intermediaries between Trump and Ukrainian officials as the president advocated for the investigations. Taylor had been tapped to run the embassy there after the administration abruptly ousted the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, in May.
In a series of text messages released earlier this month by Ukrainian envoy Kurt Volker, Taylor appeared to be alarmed by Trump’s efforts as the U.S. was also withholding military assistance to Ukraine that had already been approved by Congress.
“I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor wrote in excerpts of the text messages released by the impeachment investigators.
Taylor has stood by the observation that it was “crazy” in his private remarks to investigators, according to a person familiar with his testimony who was granted anonymity to discuss it.
Taylor’s description of the policy is in sharp contrast to how Trump has tried to characterize it. The president has said many times that there was no quid pro quo, though his acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney contradicted that last week. Mulvaney later tried to walk back his remarks.
Taylor, a former Army officer, had been serving as executive vice president at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a nonpartisan think tank founded by Congress, when he was appointed to run the embassy in Kyiv after Yovanovitch was removed before the end of her term following a campaign against her led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
He was welcomed back to Kyiv as a steady hand serving as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009.
“He’s the epitome of a seasoned statesman,” said John Shmorhun, an American who heads the agricultural company AgroGeneration.
Before retiring from government service, Taylor was involved in diplomatic efforts surrounding several major international conflicts. He served in Jerusalem as U.S. envoy to the Quartet of Mideast peacemakers. He oversaw reconstruction in Iraq from 2004 to 2005, and from Kabul coordinated U.S. and international assistance to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2003.
He arrived in Kyiv a month after the sudden departure of Yovanovitch and the inauguration of Ukraine’s new president, prepared to steer the embassy through the transition. He was most likely not prepared for what happened next.
In July, Trump would have his now-famous phone conversation with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which he pressed him to launch the investigations. Trump at the time had quietly put a hold on nearly $400 million in military aid that Ukraine was counting on in its fight against Russian-backed separatists.
In the follow-up to the call, Taylor exchanged texts with two of Trump’s point men on Ukraine as they were trying to get Zelenskiy to commit to the investigations before setting a date for a coveted White House visit.
In a text message to Sondland on Sept. 1, Taylor bluntly questioned Trump’s motives: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told him to call him.
In texts a week later to Sondland and special envoy Kurt Volker, Taylor expressed increased alarm, calling it “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” In a stilted reply, several hours later, Sondland defended Trump’s intentions and suggested they stop the back and forth by text.
Taylor had also texted that not giving the military aid to Ukraine would be his “nightmare” scenario because it sends the wrong message to both Kyiv and Moscow. “The Russians love it. (And I quit).”
U.S. diplomats based at the Kyiv embassy have refused to speak with journalists, reflecting the sensitivity of the impeachment inquiry. The embassy press office did not respond to a request for comment on Monday.
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Berry reported from Kyiv, Ukraine. Associated Press writers Matthew Lee and Michael Balsamo in Washington contributed to this report.

Trump likens House impeachment inquiry to ‘a lynching’

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump enraged Democrats on Tuesday by comparing their impeachment inquiry to a lynching, assigning the horrors of a deadly and racist chapter in U.S. history to a process laid out in the Constitution.
“That is one word no president ought to apply to himself,” said Democratic Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the highest-ranking African American in Congress. “That is a word that we ought to be very, very careful about using” he said.
Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., called on Trump to delete the tweet.
“Do you know how many people who look like me have been lynched, since the inception of this country, by people who look like you. Delete this tweet,” wrote Rush, who is also black.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., tweeted to Trump: “No sir! No, @realDonaldTrump: this is NOT a lynching, and shame on you for invoking such a horrific act that was used as a weapon to terrorize and murder African Americans.”
Republican legislators largely tried to put the focus on what they said was the unfair way in which Democrats are conducting the impeachment inquiry
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Trump’s description was “pretty well accurate.” He called the impeachment effort a “sham” and a “joke” because the president does not know the identity of his accuser, and the process is playing out in private.
Lynchings, or hangings, were used mostly by whites against black men in the South, beginning in the late 19th century amid rising racial tensions. By comparing his possible impeachment to a lynching, Trump also likened Democrats to a lynch mob.
Under pressure over impeachment, blowback over his Syria policy and other issues, the Republican president tweeted Tuesday: “So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights.
“All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here — a lynching. But we will WIN!”
Trump has a habit of trying to portray himself as the victim.
His tweet came a day after he lashed out at critics of his decision — since rescinded — to schedule a major international economic summit for 2020 at one of his Florida golf properties. During remarks Monday, he lamented people who invoke the “phony emoluments clause.”
The clause is in the Constitution and bans presidents from receiving gifts or payments from foreign governments, without the consent of Congress. Impeachment and its process are also in the Constitution.
A whistleblower’s complaint that Trump was attempting to use his office for personal political gain during a July 25 phone conversation with Ukraine’s president led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to open the impeachment inquiry.
Trump insists he did nothing wrong. He has characterized the conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as “perfect” and argues that sore-loser Democrats are still trying to overturn the 2016 election that put him in the White House and keep him from winning a second term next year.
Lynchings were fueled by anger toward blacks across the South, where many whites blamed their financial problems on newly freed slaves living around them, the NAACP notes.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, a U.S. appeals court in Atlanta was to consider whether federal judges can order grand jury records unsealed in the mob lynching of two black couples . The young black sharecroppers were stopped along a rural road in 1946 by a white mob that dragged them out and shot them multiple times east of Atlanta. More than 100 people reportedly testified before a grand jury, but no one was ever indicted in the deaths of Roger and Dorothy Malcom and George and Mae Murray Dorsey.
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Follow Darlene Superville on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/dsupervilleap

‘Just too much’: Meet the uber-rich who want a wealth tax

By JOSH BOAK AP Economics Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — When the grand vacation homes of Newport Beach were empty on a beautiful Memorial Day weekend, Molly Munger decided it was time for the U.S. to consider taxing wealth.
As her family’s boat moved through the harbor a few years ago, Munger, whose father is a billionaire investor, saw that many of her neighbors’ houses were sitting dark and vacant. She knew why: The owners now controlled enough money to holiday at one of their several other luxury homes. It didn’t sit right, she said.
“It’s just too much to watch that happen at the top and see what is happening at the bottom,” said Munger, 71, a California civil rights lawyer whose father, Charlie, built his fortune as vice chairman of Warren Buffett’s firm Berkshire Hathaway. “Isn’t it a waste when beautiful homes on the beach are empty for most of the summer?”
Munger is now among a handful of billionaires and multimillionaires making a renewed push for the government to raise their taxes and siphon away some of their holdings. As Democratic presidential candidates debate a new tax on wealth rather than on incomes, this group of uber-rich people is urging them on.
“I believe in free markets. I’m the daughter of a capitalist. But not Darwin-like free, unregulated and red in tooth and claw,” Munger said.
The chief argument from these tycoons, financiers and scions is that the government could spend their money more effectively than they could on their own by improving schools, upgrading infrastructure and protecting the environment. It challenges a long-standing belief among many politicians and economists that lower taxes on corporations and investment incomes are the most efficient way to deliver growth and spread wealth down the income ladder.
The idea also is a direct challenge to the reputed billionaire in the White House, Donald Trump, who once backed a wealth tax but in 2017 enacted a dramatic tax cut that favored the rich.
Twenty people, including one who remained anonymous, signed on to a letter this summer essentially asking to be taxed more. The group included financier George Soros, Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes and heiress Abigail Disney, and others often involved in liberal causes. Bill Gates, the world’s second richest person, didn’t sign it but has since said he “wouldn’t be against a wealth tax” on a net worth that roughly exceeds $100 billion.
While Democrats have long pushed for higher taxes on the top income tiers, the current debate goes further — whether to impose annual taxes on what people own, not just on what they earn.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has endorsed a wealth tax on holdings above $50 million that could potentially raise as much as $2.75 trillion over 10 years. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ tax would start at $32 million. At last week’s presidential debate, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, expressed openness to levying a wealth tax, while Tom Steyer argued for higher taxes on his own $1.6 billion fortune.
There were some detractors: Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang argues wealth taxes in other nations have failed to raise enough revenues.
Former Vice President Joe Biden criticized the Warren and Sanders plans as “demonizing wealth” and argued instead for focusing on income taxes and raising the rates charged on earnings from investments.
Biden’s view is backed by many in the economic establishment, even those who say they support using the tax code to counter income inequality.
Larry Summers, the former treasury secretary and Harvard University president, argues a wealth tax is essentially unworkable. The richest Americans would find ways to avoid it, making it difficult to implement and unlikely to break the hold on politics by powerful companies and rich donors, he said Friday at a panel on wealth taxes at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. Summers estimates that changes to the income tax could raise more than $2 trillion over 10 years from the top earners, but he doubts that a wealth tax would curb the influence of the richest Americans.
But the economists who developed the idea dispute the notion that tax avoidance is an unbreakable law of nature. Wealthier Americans paid taxes in the past when tax avoidance was viewed as freeloading, said Emmanuel Saez, an economist at the University of California at Berkeley whose work has drawn attention to the wealth tax as a fix for worsening inequality.
“The tax system reflects the values of society,” he said.
The top 1% of Americans hold nearly 40% of the country’s wealth, while the bottom 50% of Americans effectively control none of it, according to the World Inequality Database, an index Saez helped develop. Many in the wealthiest sliver of that top 1% pay lower rates than most Americans because of how their income gets taxed, according to his calculations.
Ian Simmons is among the well-off declaring they’re ready to pay more.
Simmons runs an investment fund called the Blue Haven Initiative with his wife, Liesel Pritzker Simmons. The 43-year-old joined the effort to recruit other moneyed families to support a wealth tax in the June letter.
The idea of taxing a relatively steady base of trillions of dollars felt consistent to Simmons with what he first learned at the Harvard University introductory economics class taught by Martin Feldstein, who was President Ronald Reagan’s economic adviser.
“This is really a conservative position about increasing the stability of the economy in the long term and having an efficient source of taxation,” he said.
Simmons’ family money came in part from mail order retailer Montgomery Ward, which opened in 1872, an innovation aided by the U.S. Postal Service. The Hyatt hotel chain that helped form his wife’s family fortune was aided by the government’s construction of the interstate highway system.
That’s part of the reason he supports a wealth tax – because his family’s fortune stems in part from government programs, echoing Warren’s key argument for her tax plan.
When Simmons called the retired real estate developer Robert Bowditch this year to endorse the idea, the 80-year-old did the math on what it would mean for his own lifestyle. He figured it would cut into some of his charitable giving, but the returns would be much greater because the public would be able to decide in a democratic fashion on how the money would be spent.
“Charitable giving by itself simply cannot provide enough money to support public goods and services, such as public education, roads and bridges, clean air,” Bowditch said. “It has to be done by taxes.”
Rich people have had limited success as advocates for tax hikes. In 2011, billionaire Buffett’s declaration that he paid a lower tax rate than his employees spawned President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise rates on people making more than $1 million. The so-called “Buffett rule” fizzled in Congress.
In 1999, when Trump was mulling a presidential bid for the Reform Party, he proposed a one-time tax of 14.25% on fortunes above $10 million, saying at the time that it could eliminate the national debt.
“It’s a win-win for the American people,” Trump said then. Asked if the president still supports the idea, the White House declined to comment Tuesday.

Chicago teachers’ strike highlights support staff shortages

By KANTELE FRANKO Associated Press
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Demands by striking Chicago teachers for more nurses, librarians and social workers are highlighting concerns that resonate in high-poverty school districts nationwide, where shortages of support staff leave educators feeling stretched.
Unions and professional groups for such employees say those jobs often are lower priority when budgets are tight, but their absence can have profound effects on student learning and teachers’ work. They contend support staff is vital to properly address everyday student issues such as physical and mental health problems or homelessness.
In Chicago, the nation’s third-largest school district, the teachers who have been out on strike since last Thursday are seeking commitments for support staff hiring alongside other demands including higher pay and affordable housing citywide. The demands are part of the union’s “social justice” agenda.
Bridget Nelson, a social sciences teacher at a magnet high school in Chicago, said her school is lucky to have a nurse most days but a social worker still is responsible for more than 2,000 students.
“Adolescence is a challenging time, and we worry about depression and stress like a lot of educators,” Nelson said. “Some students have support at home, but others don’t. They should have support at school to help give them what they need.”
The support-staff issue has come up elsewhere in spring protests by thousands of educators in North Carolina and South Carolina; in Minnesota, where a state survey recently found an increase in students’ mental and emotional health concerns; and in strikes in California, where teachers won promises for hundreds of additional nurses and more counselors in Los Angeles schools and more psychologists and special education instructors in Oakland.
Shortages are causing problems in schools across the country, said Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers.
While discussing labor unions on a visit this month to a government class in an urban Ohio high school, Cropper said she asked the students what they would want prioritized in negotiations. A girl who had attempted suicide answered first: a counselor. Another student wanted a nurse.
“We’ve got kids who are dealing with thinking about committing suicide or coming to school hungry or watched a domestic abuse situation over the weekend,” Cropper said. “We can’t possibly begin to think that we’re going to teach them something that’s going to stick with them until we’ve dealt with these other issues.”
Most teachers don’t have specific training to tackle those sorts of concerns, so they’re advocating for schools to add more colleagues who do, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said.
The American School Counselor Association recommends one counselor for every 250 students but has found the average ratio to be nearly double that. The National School Nurses Association’s most recent estimates, from a study published early last year, indicated less than 40% of schools had a full-time nurse and about a quarter didn’t employ one at all.
In those cases, teachers may have to assess and address issues such as gym class injuries, and preventive care can dwindle, said Donna Mazyck, the executive director of the nurses association.
At John Tartan Elementary School in North Las Vegas, an assistant trained in basic first aid often handles minor injuries and distributes basic medications because the nurse splits duty at multiple schools, said Marie Neisess, a veteran teacher and reading specialist there.
The school of 400-plus students also has a counselor, a social worker and a psychologist, but they struggle to keep up with the needs of the student body, which includes children facing challenges such as severe behavioral problems, foster care or a parent’s incarceration, she said.
“We’re all kind of putting Band-Aids on the very big problem that we have here,” Neisess said.
In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot had campaigned with an education plan that included staffing schools with full-time nurses, social workers and librarians, and enabling students to get mental health services. The district has committed to hiring more nurses, social workers and support staff but objected to making that part of the teachers’ contract.
The union also has expressed concern about the various roles counselors are expected to fill, including as substitute teachers and lunchroom help, and asked for contract language that spells out that people will only be asked to do the jobs for which they are hired.
Pushing for something enforceable in writing makes sense to Matt Mandel, a middle-school English teacher in the Philadelphia School District, who said the local union there has fought to have a nurse and counselor at each school.
“In these urban districts like Philadelphia and Chicago, our kids need more,” Mandel said, “and we always find ways to justify giving them less.”
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Associated Press reporter Kathleen Foody in Chicago contributed to this report.

More choices and stable premiums for ‘Obamacare’ next year

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Consumers will have more health insurance choices next year under the much-debated Obama health care law and premiums will dip slightly for many, the Trump administration announced Tuesday.
President Donald Trump was elected on a promise to repeal “Obamacare.” But despite his repeated efforts the program has stabilized three years into his administration. That may be short-lived.
The administration is asking a federal appeals court in New Orleans to overturn the entire Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional, an overhang of uncertainty clouding its future.
For now, the Department of Health and Human Services is touting a second consecutive year of positive-sounding numbers. An additional 20 insurers will participate for 2020, expanding consumer choice in many states, officials said. Nearly 70 percent of customers will have three or more insurers from which to pick a plan.
About 10 million people are covered through the health law’s insurance markets, which offer taxpayer-subsidized private plans for people who aren’t covered on the job. Former President Barack Obama’s namesake law will be 10 years old next year.
Premiums for a hypothetical 27-year-old choosing a standard plan will decline 4% on average in 2020 for states served by the federal HealthCare.gov website, the Trump administration said. About a dozen states run their own sign-up websites, but most rely on HealthCare.gov.
A low-cost midrange plan for that hypothetical 27-year-old will charge monthly premiums of $374 next year, officials said. The law’s income-based subsidies can drop that to around $50.
However, people who don’t qualify for income-based assistance must pay full price, and that’s before any deductibles and copays. Unsubsidized customers may just decide to go uninsured, particularly if they’re healthy.
A previous Republican Congress repealed the law’s unpopular penalty to get more people signed up — fines for going without coverage.
Six states will see premiums decline by 10% or more, officials said. They are Delaware, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Utah.
Three states — Indiana, Louisiana and New Jersey — will see premiums increase 10% or more.
Even as it pursues “Obamacare’s” demise in the courts, the Trump administration is trying to take credit for the program’s current stability.
“Until Congress gets around to replacing it, the president will do what he can to fix the problems created by this system for millions of Americans,” HHS Secretary Alex Azar said. “The president who was supposedly trying to sabotage this law has been better at running it than the guy who wrote it.”
Independent experts say it’s more complicated than that.
They credit the Trump administration for working with a dozen states to approve waivers that can bring down premiums by setting up a backstop system to pay bills from the costliest patients.
However, experts say the original design of the law’s subsidies is probably the major stabilizing force. People eligible for financial assistance are insulated from price spikes because they pay only a fixed percentage of their income. Because their own costs didn’t change much, customers with subsidies kept coming back to the market through years of double-digit increases in list-price premiums.
“As long as the subsidies are in place the changes that are happening … are not going to push this market off a cliff,” Standard & Poor’s director and lead analyst Deep Banerjee said.
Experts say yet another factor is that insurers that have stuck with the program have learned over time how to operate profitably.
Although the program is stable, enrollment has been slowly eroding since Trump took office, from 12.2 million in 2017 to 11.4 million this year. The slippage has come mainly in the HealthCare.gov states, where the federal government runs sign-up season. Slashing the ad budget was one of the Trump administration’s early actions.
The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office has recommended that the administration follow standard federal practices by setting sign-up goals and actively managing the program to meet enrollment targets. Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said the administration doesn’t believe such targets are needed and instead her agency has focused on keeping the HealthCare.gov website running smoothly and improving the enrollment experience for customers.
Verma also disclosed that the administration has made some “minor” changes in how it reports data about the program. While those tweaks appear to be in the weeds, they’re likely to get close attention from Democrats who accuse Trump of “sabotage” of the health law.
Sign-up season starts Nov. 1 in most states and runs through Dec. 15. States that run their own open enrollment may have different dates.
The appeals court in New Orleans could issue its ruling during that time, but Azar said he’s not concerned even if the judges say the whole program should be tossed.
“Our messaging would be to keep calm and carry on,” he said, noting that the case is expected to go to the Supreme Court. “There will be no immediate disruption to anyone.”

$260 million deal averts 1st federal trial on opioid crisis

By JULIE CARR SMYTH and GEOFF MULVIHILL Associated Press
CLEVELAND (AP) — The nation’s three biggest drug distributors and a major drugmaker agreed to an 11th-hour, $260 million settlement Monday over the terrible toll taken by opioids in two Ohio counties, averting the first federal trial over the crisis.
The trial, involving Cleveland’s Cuyahoga County and Akron’s Summit County, was seen as a critical test case that could have gauged the strength of the opposing sides’ arguments and prodded the industry and its foes toward a nationwide resolution of nearly all lawsuits over opioids, the scourge blamed for 400,000 U.S. deaths in the past two decades.
The agreement was struck in the middle of the night, just hours before a jury that was selected last week was scheduled to hear opening arguments in federal court in Cleveland.
Drug distributors AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson will pay a combined $215 million, said Hunter Shkolnik, a lawyer for Cuyahoga County. Israeli-based drugmaker Teva will contribute $20 million in cash and $25 million worth of generic Suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid addiction.
“People can’t lose sight of the fact that the counties got a very good deal for themselves, but we also set an important national benchmark for the others,” Shkolnik said.
The deal contains no admission of wrongdoing by the defendants.
Across the U.S., the pharmaceutical industry still faces more than 2,600 other lawsuits over the deadly disaster. Participants in those cases said the Ohio deal buys them time to try to work out a nationwide settlement of all claims.
It could also turn up the pressure to work out such a deal, because every partial settlement reached reduces the amount of money the companies have available to pay other plaintiffs.
The barrage of lawsuits was brought against drug manufacturers, suppliers and sellers by state and local governments, Native American tribes, hospitals and others. For nearly two years, a federal judge in Ohio has been pushing the parties toward one big settlement.
The only defendant left in the trial that had been scheduled for Monday is the drugstore chain Walgreens. The new plan is for Walgreens and other pharmacies to go to trial within six months.
The settlement enables both sides to avoid the risks and uncertainties involved in a trial: The counties immediately lock in money they can use to deal with the crisis, and the drug companies avoid a possible finding of wrongdoing and a huge jury verdict.
“There’s no amount of money that’s going to change the devastation and destruction that they’ve done to families not only all across our county but all across the country,” said Travis Bornstein, who was preparing to testify in the Cleveland trial. But he said the settlement should help provide services for people who are struggling.
Bornstein said his son, Tyler, became hooked on opioids as a teenager after receiving a prescription following surgery on his arm. He died of a heroin overdose five years later, in 2014.
Better funding for treatment programs might have helped his son, who was on a waiting list when he died, Bornstein said.
Ohio in 2017 had the second-highest death rate from drug overdoses in the U.S., behind only West Virginia.
In a statement, the three major distributors said the settlement money should be used on such things as treatment, rehab and mental health services.
The settlement also means that the evidence prepared for the trial won’t be fully aired.
Lawyers for the counties were preparing to show the jury a 1900 first edition of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz,” featuring the poppy fields that put Dorothy to sleep, and a 3,000-year-old Sumerian poppy jug to show that the world has long known the dangers of opioids.
Those suing the industry have accused it of aggressively marketing opioids while downplaying the risks of addiction and turning a blind eye toward suspiciously large shipments of the drugs. The industry has denied wrongdoing.
Industry CEOs and attorneys general from four states met Friday in Cleveland, where the offer on the table was a deal worth potentially $48 billion in cash and addiction-treatment drugs to settle cases nationally.
Those attorney generals reiterated Monday that they have worked out a “framework” for a settlement. They said they hope other states and local governments sign on.
But the reception wasn’t promising. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost called the idea “a pile of lumber,” not a framework. And Paul Hanly, one of the lead lawyers for the local governments, said the companies should be forced to pay more.
OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, often cast as the biggest villain in the crisis, reached a tentative settlement last month that could be worth up to $12 billion. But half the states and hundreds of local governments oppose it. It remains to be seen whether the settlement will receive the approvals it needs.
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Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
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This story has been corrected to say that the tentative deal would settle only claims brought by the Ohio counties of Cuyahoga and Summit, not other lawsuits.

Ambassador expected to testify key assurance came from Trump

By ERIC TUCKER, MARY CLARE JALONICK and LISA MASCARO Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. ambassador is expected to tell Congress that his text message reassuring another envoy that there was no quid pro quo in their interactions with Ukraine was based solely on what President Donald Trump told him, according to a person familiar with his coming testimony in the impeachment probe.
Gordon Sondland, Trump’s hand-picked ambassador to the European Union, is among administration officials being subpoenaed to appear on Capitol Hill this week against the wishes of the White House. It’s the latest test between the legislative and executive branches of government, as the impeachment inquiry by House Democrats deepens.
On Monday, the House panels leading the investigation expect to hear from Fiona Hill, a former top National Security Council expert on Russia.
Sondland’s appearance, set for Thursday, comes after a cache of text messages from top envoys provided a vivid account of their work acting as intermediaries around the time Trump urged Ukraine’s new president, Volodymr Zelenskiy, to start investigations into a company linked to the family of a chief Democratic presidential rival, Joe Biden.
One witness who may not be called before Congress is the still anonymous government whistleblower who touched off the impeachment inquiry. Top Democrats say testimony and evidence coming in from other witnesses, and even the president himself, are backing up the whistleblower’s account of what transpired during Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy. Lawmakers have grown deeply concerned about protecting the person from Trump’s threats over the matter and may not wish to risk exposing the whistleblower’s identity.
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Sunday, “We don’t need the whistleblower, who wasn’t on the call, to tell us what took place during the call. We have the best evidence of that.”
Schiff said it “may not be necessary” to reveal the whistleblower’s identity as the House gathers evidence. “Our primary interest right now is making sure that that person is protected,” he said.
But Trump strongly objected.
“Adam Schiff now doesn’t seem to want the Whistleblower to testify. NO!” the Republican president tweeted early Monday. “We must determine the Whistleblower’s identity to determine WHY this was done to the USA.”
The impeachment inquiry is testing the Constitution’s system of checks and balances as the House presses forward with the probe and the White House dismisses it as “illegitimate” without a formal vote of the House to open impeachment proceedings.
In calling for a vote, the White House is trying to press House Democrats who may be politically reluctant to put their names formally behind impeachment. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has resisted those efforts and is unlikely to budge as Congress returns. Democrats say Congress is well within its power as the legislative branch to conduct oversight of the president and it is Republicans, having grown weary of Trump’s actions, who may be in the greater political bind over a vote.
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said Sunday he’d be fine with taking a formal vote, “but it’s not required.”
“Look, my own opinion is that we ought to just take this off the table because it’s such a non-issue, and there’s no doubt in my mind that of course if Nancy Pelosi does that she will have the votes and that will pass,” Himes said.
Sondland’s appearance comes after text messages from top ambassadors described their interactions leading up to Trump’s call and the aftermath.
Sondland is set to tell lawmakers that he did understand the administration was offering Zelenskiy a White House visit in exchange for a public statement committing to investigations Trump wanted, according to the person, who demanded anonymity to discuss remarks not yet given.
But Sondland will say he did not know the company being talked about for an investigation, Burisma, was tied to Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, the person said. Sondland understood the discussions about combating corruption to be part of a much broader and publicized Trump administration push that was widely shared, the person said.
In the text exchange, the diplomats raised alarm that Trump appeared to up the ante, withholding military aid to Ukraine over the investigation.
One seasoned diplomat on the text message, William Taylor, called it “crazy to withhold security assistance” to Ukraine in exchange for “help with a political campaign.”
Sondland responds that the assertion is “incorrect” about Trump’s intentions. “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind,” he said in the text message.
The person familiar with Sondland’s testimony said that before Sondland sent that text, he spoke to Trump, who told him there was no quid pro quo. Sondland then repeated that message to Taylor.
Schiff appeared on “Face the Nation” on CBS and Himes spoke on ABC’s “This Week.”
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Tucker reported from Providence, Rhode Island.

Family seeks answers after police kill Texas woman at home

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A white police officer who killed a black woman inside her Texas home while responding to a neighbor’s call about an open front door “didn’t have time to perceive a threat” before he opened fire, an attorney for the woman’s family said.
“You didn’t hear the officer shout, ‘Gun, gun, gun,'” attorney Lee Merritt said after viewing video taken from a Fort Worth officer’s bodycam during Saturday’s shooting of Atatiana Jefferson, 28. “He didn’t have time to perceive a threat. That’s murder.”
Her family told KXAS television that Jefferson was watching her 8-year-old nephew when she was killed early Saturday.
The Fort Worth Police Department said in a statement that officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his duty weapon and fired after “perceiving a threat.” The video released by police shows two officers searching the home from the outside with flashlights before one shouts, “Put your hands up, show me your hands.” One shot is then fired through a window.
“It’s another one of those situations where the people that are supposed to protect us are actually not here to protect us,” said Jefferson’s sister, Amber Carr.
“You know, you want to see justice, but justice don’t bring my sister back,” Carr said.
An aunt, Venitta Body, said the family does not understand why Jefferson was killed.
“It’s like from the moment we got the call, it’s been more and more inconceivable and more confusing. And there has nothing been done in order to take away that confusion,” Body said.
A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson’s home Sunday night for a vigil after earlier demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on part of Interstate 35.
Police Lt. Brandon O’Neil said Sunday afternoon that the officer, who’s been on the force since April 2018, is on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation and will be interviewed about the fatal shooting on Monday. His name was not released.
At a brief news conference at police headquarters, O’Neil confirmed that the officer did not announce he was police before he fired the fatal shot and that his failure to do so is part of the department’s investigation.
O’Neil also confirmed that Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew was in the room with Jefferson when she was shot. He said representatives of the police department have spoken with the woman’s family and “shared our serious and heartfelt concern for this unspeakable loss.” Her family has said she was watching her nephew at the time.
O’Neil declined to answer reporters’ questions and said Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus plans to conduct a more in-depth news conference on Monday.
James Smith, who called a police non-emergency number about the open door, told reporters he was just trying to be a good neighbor.
“I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset. And I feel it’s partly my fault,” Smith said. “If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive.”
Smith said Jefferson and her nephew typically lived with an older woman, who’s been in the hospital.
“It makes you not want to call the police department,” he said.
In an audio recording of Smith’s call that was released by police, the neighbor said it was “not normal” for the house to leave its front door open for hours at that time of day.
Merritt said Jefferson’s family expects “a thorough and expedient investigation.”
The Fort Worth Police Department said it released bodycam footage soon after the shooting to provide transparency, but that any “camera footage inside the residence” could not be distributed due to state law. However, the bodycam video released to media included blurred still frames showing a gun inside a bedroom at the home. It’s unclear if the firearm was found near the woman, and police have not said that the officer who shot her thought she had a gun. The police statement released Saturday said only that officers who entered the residence after the shooting found a firearm. Police did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Sunday.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders on Sunday called on the Justice Department to investigate.
“The killings of unarmed Black Americans have got to end,” Sanders tweeted. “Atatiana Jefferson should be alive.”
The shooting comes less than two weeks after a white former Dallas police officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of her black neighbor inside his own apartment. Amber Guyger, 31, said during her trial that mistook Botham Jean’s apartment for her own, which was one floor below Jean’s. Merritt also represents Jean’s family.
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This story has been corrected to reflect that the initial police statement said officers found a firearm after the shooting.

Sanders details plan to ‘end corporate greed’

By WILL WEISSERT Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Bernie Sanders has released a major proposal to “end corporate greed and corruption” by requiring large companies to give ownership stakes to their workers. The proposal also would ensure that many of the nation’s most profitable firms pay more in federal taxes and government authorities do more to target monopolies and halt mergers that may harm consumers.
The senator has been recuperating at his Vermont home for nearly two weeks since having a heart attack while campaigning in Las Vegas but will travel to Ohio for Tuesday night’s Democratic presidential debate.
Sanders spoke to The Associated Press about his plan to overhaul an “obviously broken” and “totally absurd” corporate tax system, appointing an attorney general who would break up large monopolies and giving workers 20% of shares in their companies and 45% of the seats on their corporate boards. He called the ownership stake component “probably the more radical” piece of his proposal.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: Sen. Elizabeth Warren has obviously been quite outspoken on breaking up large, powerful corporations, as well as making corporate governing boards more accountable to workers. How does this plan set you apart from what she’s been talking about?
A: I’ll let Sen. Warren speak for herself. But this is an issue that we have been working on for my entire political life. In fact, I can remember like it was yesterday having a meeting in city hall in Burlington, Vermont, where hundreds of people came out to talk about worker control and worker empowerment on the job. And, in fact, Vermont has been a leader — one of the leaders in the country — in doing just that.
So you’re seeing a number of companies in Vermont — which are doing very well, doing well economically and I think the morale of their employees is very, very high — where workers sit and help make the decisions for their companies. So this is an issue that I have been involved in my whole life. We’ve introduced several major pieces of legislation to help. You have a lot of companies out there, medium-size companies started by somebody who is about to retire, and, everything being equal, would like to give ownership to his or her employees but doesn’t have the tax incentives to be able to do that.
We’ve filed legislation which would do that. And, the other area is, we brought money into the state of Vermont which educates employers and workers about how they can start employer-employee owned companies. So it’s something that we’ve been working on for a long, long time. But the issue here is to empower working people so they walk into a job, they don’t feel like they’re a cog in a machine but that they have some stake in it as well. That their decisions will count and, when you do that, I think that what the record will show — and what I think you see in companies all over this country that are worker-owned — is absenteeism goes down, worker productivity goes up, people feel better about their jobs because they have some say in it.
And I think that’s enormously important. So, you add all these things together, what we’re saying to a very small number of people in the 1% is that you cannot continue to control this economy with the kind of greed and corruption that you have for so many decades, and we’re going to bring about some fundamental change.”
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Q: Because you’ve been talking about these issues for years, is perhaps the best way to describe this is that you’re putting specificity behind how you would accomplish them?
A: “We’re getting into the nitty gritty and the details of what has to be done with some specificity. The broad concept of how you create a democratic society in which working people have more control over their lives is a theme that I have obviously been working on and believed throughout my entire career. But this provides some of the very specific details of how we can go forward, and it will be a major transformation of the economy in the sense of empowering working people to have control over their own lives, over their own jobs and not just be cogs in a machine, which is sadly enough too often the case.”
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Q: Are there parts of this you can do without Congress since, even if you were to win the presidency, it’s hard to see this being fully approved?
A: Obviously, as is the case in many, many other issues, we will look at what option we have through executive action to incorporate some of these. But I should also tell you that, on some ideas with regard to worker control, there has, interestingly enough, been historically — I can’t tell you exactly what the case is today — but there has been conservative support and that’s a fact. I should also tell you that, right now, if you look around this country, what you’re seeing is labor militancy.
You’re seeing workers stand up, going out on strike with much more frequency than used to be the case because I think people are sick and tired of the economic and political status quo and tired of working longer hours for lower wages and seeing all of the new wealth going to the top 1%. And I think ideas like this that say to working people, “You know what, if you’re working 40 to 50 hours a week, you should have a say in your job.” If you’re a consumer out there, you should have more than two or three companies in a given sector controlling what goes, and the idea that major corporations aren’t paying a nickel in federal income tax, I think all of these ideas will resonate with Americans.
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Q: So, you’re saying you think there will be bipartisan support?
A: I think it is very hard, very hard for Donald Trump or anybody else, to make the case to the American people that a company like Amazon — owned by the wealthiest person in America, made $10 billion in profit last year — didn’t pay a nickel in federal income tax. Somebody wants to make that case, you go ahead. I don’t think anybody in America will accept it. It has everything to do, simply, with the power of the billionaire class, the power of the corporate elite and a very corrupt political system.
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Q: Going into the debate after your health scare, do you have the stamina to be on the stage for three hours on Tuesday?
A: (Laughs) Well, I certainly hope so. I’m feeling great. I’m doing a lot of walking and very much look forward to the debate.
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Q: Will we see you talking about the ideas in your corporate governance plan during the debate?
A: Yes. To the degree that you can get them across in 45 seconds, you will.

Joe Biden’s son Hunter stepping down from Chinese board

By STEVE PEOPLES AP National Political Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Facing intense scrutiny from President Donald Trump and his Republican allies, Hunter Biden says he will step down from the board of directors of a Chinese-backed private equity firm at the end of the month as part of a pledge not to work on behalf of any foreign-owned companies should his father win the presidency.
Biden, the 49-year-old son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, revealed his plan Sunday in an internet post written by his attorney, George Mesires, who outlined a defense of the younger Biden’s work in Ukraine and China, which has emerged as one of Trump’s chief lines of attack against Hunter’s father despite no proof of impropriety.
“Hunter makes the following commitment: Under a Biden Administration, Hunter will readily comply with any and all guidelines or standards a President Biden may issue to address purported conflicts of interest, or the appearance of such conflicts, including any restrictions related to overseas business interests. In any event, Hunter will agree not to serve on boards of, or work on behalf of, foreign owned companies,” Mesires wrote.
He continued: “He will continue to keep his father personally uninvolved in his business affairs, while availing himself as necessary and appropriate to the Office of the White House Counsel to help inform his application of the Biden Administration’s guidelines or standards to his business decision-making.”
Joe Biden, speaking to reporters after a union forum in suburban Des Moines, Iowa, said his son did not discuss that decision with him before posting the statement.
“No one has asserted my son did a single thing wrong,” Biden added, pounding his finger into the podium, “except a lying president.”
And Biden promised to bar his family members from occupying any office within the White House and said they won’t “sit in meetings as if they are a Cabinet member.” That was a jab at Trump, who taps daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, as advisers. Biden did not say if his pledge meant that his wife, Jill Biden, would not get the office traditionally assigned to first ladies, should he win.
He further vowed that no one in his family will have “any business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or foreign country.”
Hunter Biden’s work overseas sits at the center of the House impeachment inquiry into Trump, who has admitted asking foreign powers to investigate Hunter Biden’s business dealings abroad.
The White House released a rough transcript of a call in which Trump asks Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to probe Biden’s family and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election that put Trump in office. Trump has also encouraged China to dig into Hunter Biden’s work in that country, asserting without evidence that earned $1.5 billion from a “sweetheart” business deal there.
The president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, is also under increasing scrutiny for his efforts to dig into Hunter Biden’s business background. Late last week, two businessmen involved in Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Hunter Biden’s dealings in Ukraine were charged with federal campaign finance violations.
Still, Republicans reacted to news of Hunter Biden’s decision to step away from the Chinese-backed BHR Equity Investment Fund Management Co. with deep skepticism.
“I think this is just another way to save a flailing campaign that’s going down,” Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” ”He knows he’s in trouble and this is just another way to try and detract attention
On the same show, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Hunter Biden “should have done this quite a while ago.”
Mesires noted repeatedly that there is no evidence of wrongdoing against Hunter Biden, despite intensifying attacks from Trump before the 2020 election.
“Despite extensive scrutiny, at no time has any law enforcement agency, either domestic or foreign, alleged that Hunter engaged in wrongdoing at any point during his five-year term,” Mesires said in his Sunday post of Biden’s experience in Ukraine.
The attorney wrote that Hunter Biden worked as an unpaid board member for BHR Equity Investment Fund Management Co. “based on his interest in seeking ways to bring Chinese capital to international markets.”
“To date, Hunter has not received any compensation for being on BHR’s board of directors,” Mesires said. “He has not received any return on his investment; there have been no distributions to BHR shareholders since Hunter obtained his equity interest.”
One of Biden’s Democratic presidential rivals praised the move, noting that Trump’s children are openly trading on his name in business deals around the world while Trump occupies the Oval Office.
“I think it demonstrates the difference in standards relative to the White House,” said Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
“I mean, here you have Hunter Biden stepping down from a position in order to make sure, even though there’s been no accusation of wrongdoing — doing something just to make sure there’s not even the appearance of a conflict of interests, while, in the White House, the president of the United States is a walking conflict of interest,” he said.