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House races to oust Trump; he blames accusers for US 'anger'

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House pressed forward Tuesday toward impeaching President Donald Trump for the deadly Capitol attack, taking time only to try to persuade his vice president to push him out first. Trump showed no remorse, blaming impeachment itself for the “tremendous anger” in America.

Already scheduled to leave office next week, Trump is on the verge of becoming the only president in history to be twice impeached. His incendiary rhetoric at a rally ahead of the Capitol uprising is now in the impeachment charge against him, even as the falsehoods he spread about election fraud are still being championed by some Republicans.

Three Republicans, however, including third-ranking House GOP leader Liz Cheney of Wyoming, announced they would vote to impeach Trump, cleaving the party’s leadership.

“The President of the United States summoned this mob, assembled the mob, and lit the flame of this attack,” said Cheney in a statement. “There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.”

Reps. John Katko of New York, a former federal prosecutor, and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, an Air Force veteran, said they, too, would vote to impeach.

As lawmakers reconvened at the Capitol for the first time since the bloody siege, they were also bracing for more violence ahead of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Jan. 20.

“All of us have to do some soul searching,” said Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, imploring other Republicans to join.

Trump, meanwhile, warned the lawmakers off impeachment and suggested it was the drive to oust him that was dividing the country.

“To continue on this path, I think it’s causing tremendous danger to our country, and it’s causing tremendous anger,” Trump said.

In his first remarks to reporters since last week’s violence, the outgoing president offered no condolences for those dead or injured, only saying, “I want no violence.”

Impeachment ahead, the House was first pressing Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to remove Trump more quickly and surely, warning he is a threat to democracy in the few remaining days of his presidency.

The House was expected to approve a resolution calling on Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment to the Constitution to declare the president unable to serve. Pence, who had a “good meeting” with Trump on Monday, their first since the vice president was among those sheltering from the attack, was not expected to take any such action.

After that, the House would move swiftly to impeachment on Wednesday.

Trump faces a single charge — “incitement of insurrection” — in the impeachment resolution after the most serious and deadly domestic incursion at the Capitol in the nation’s history.

During an emotional debate ahead of the House action, Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., urged her Republican colleagues to understand the stakes, recounting a phone call from her son as she fled during the siege.

“Sweetie, I’m OK,” she told him. “I’m running for my life.”

But Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a top Trump ally just honored this week at the White House, refused to concede that Biden won the election outright.

Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., tied such talk to the Capitol attack, interjecting, “People came here because they believed the lie.”

A handful of other House Republicans could vote to impeach, but in the narrowly divided Senate there are not expected to be the two-thirds votes to convict him, though some Republicans say it’s time for Trump to resign.

The unprecedented events, with just over a week remaining in Trump’s term, are unfolding in a nation bracing for more unrest. The FBI has warned ominously of potential armed protests in Washington and many states by Trump loyalists ahead of Biden’s inauguration and Capitol Police warned lawmakers to be on alert. The inauguration ceremony on the west steps of the Capitol will be off limits to the public.

Lawmakers will be required to pass through metal detectors to enter the House chamber, not far from where Capitol police, guns drawn, had barricaded the door against the rioters.

The final days of Trump’s presidency will be like none other as Democrats, and a small number of Republicans try to expel him after he incited the mob that violently ransacked the Capitol last Wednesday.

A Capitol police officer died from injuries suffered in the riot, and police shot a woman during the violence. Three other people died in what authorities said were medical emergencies.

In the Senate, Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania joined GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska over the weekend in calling for Trump to “go away as soon as possible.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, did not go that far, but on Tuesday called on Trump to address the nation and explicitly urge his supporters to refrain from further violence. If not, he said, Trump “will bear responsibility.”

No member of the Cabinet has publicly called for Trump to be removed from office through the 25th Amendment.

Biden has said it’s important to ensure that the “folks who engaged in sedition and threatening the lives, defacing public property, caused great damage — that they be held accountable.”

Fending off concerns that an impeachment trial would bog down Biden’s first days in office, the president-elect is encouraging senators to divide their time between taking taking up his priorities of confirming his nominees and approving COVID relief while also conducting the trial.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer suggested in a letter to colleagues Tuesday the chamber would do both.

As Congress resumed, an uneasiness swept the halls. More lawmakers tested positive for COVID-19 after sheltering during the siege. Many lawmakers may choose to vote by proxy rather than come to Washington, a process that was put in place last year to limit the health risks of travel.

Among Trump’s closest allies in Congress, House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy was among those echoing the president, saying “impeachment at this time would have the opposite effect of bringing our country together.”

Democrats say they have the votes for impeachment. The impeachment bill drafted by Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Ted Lieu of California, during the riot lockdown, and joined by Raskin of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York draws from Trump’s own false statements about his election defeat to Biden.

Judges across the country, including some nominated by Trump, have repeatedly dismissed cases challenging the election results, and former Attorney General William Barr, a Trump ally, has said there was no sign of widespread fraud.

The impeachment legislation also details Trump’s pressure on state officials in Georgia to “find” him more votes, as well as his White House rally ahead of the Capitol siege, in which he encouraged thousands of supporters last Wednesday to “fight like hell” and march to the building.

The mob overpowered police, broke through security lines and windows and rampaged through the Capitol, forcing lawmakers to scatter as they were finalizing Biden’s victory over Trump in the Electoral College.

While some have questioned impeaching the president so close to the end of his term, there is precedent. In 1876, during the Ulysses Grant administration, War Secretary William Belknap was impeached by the House the day he resigned, and the Senate convened a trial months later. He was acquitted.

Capital capitol cleanup

Longtime General Services employee Bill Lawson Jr., who celebrated his 68th birthday Tuesday, sweeps away litter from around the columns on the north side of the state Capitol. Lawmakers will descend on the Capitol Wednesday for the opening day of the 85th Legislature, with both the House of Delegates and Senate meeting to organize, elect officers and open and publish election returns. The regular 60-day session begins Feb. 10.

Forest Service approves MVP crossing through Jefferson National Forest, triggering lawsuit and frustration from environmentalists

The U.S. Forest Service has approved the Mountain Valley Pipeline’s route through the Jefferson National Forest for the second time since 2017, prompting yet another legal challenge from conservationists.

The approval follows an environmental impact statement from the Forest Service last month that supported plans for construction, operation and maintenance of the 42-inch pipeline across 3.5 miles of the Jefferson National Forest in Monroe County in West Virginia and Giles and Montgomery counties in Virginia.

The decision from James Hubbard, undersecretary of natural resources and the environment for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, changes standards in the land and resource management plan for the national forest to accommodate construction of the pipeline.

The Forest Service first approved the pipeline’s pathway through the Jefferson National Forest in 2017, but the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018 vacated the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to grant a right of way and the Forest Service’s decision to permit a right of way and construction through the forest after conservationists challenged both.

Mountain Valley must obtain and comply with a right-of-way grant and temporary use permits from the Bureau.

In a statement, Natalie Cox, spokeswoman for Canonsburg, Pennsylvania-based Equitrans Midstream Corporation, developer of the pipeline, noted that the timeline for the Bureau and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission review of Hubbard’s decision is uncertain.

“Upon approval, and before construction would begin in the Jefferson National Forest, we will also need to consider other relevant factors, such as weather and availability of government oversight,” Cox said.

Mountain Valley cannot begin construction on national forest lands until the company has obtained all federal and state authorizations needed for the entire project.

Conservation groups including the Sierra Club, Wild Virginia, Appalachian Voices, The Wilderness Society, Save Monroe, Preserve Craig, the Indian Creek Watershed Association and the Monacan Indian Nation sued just hours after the Forest Service decision was released Monday to reverse the Forest Service decision.

“This decision is a total abdication of the mission of the Forest Service — including its responsibility to local communities that rely on the water resources that will be harmed by MVP’s private plunder of our public lands,” Howdy Henritz, president of the Indian Creek Watershed Association, said in a statement. “We have seen firsthand MVP’s repeated failures to control their mud from desecrating our pure mountain waters, and we are more than disappointed with the Forest Service.”

Hugh Irwin, landscape conservation planner for The Wilderness Society, argued in a statement that the Forest Service’s decision unlawfully rubber-stamped the pipeline through the forest at the behest of the oil and gas industry.

“The Mountain Valley Pipeline is emblematic of the Trump administration’s four-year desecration of our public lands,” Irwin said. “Americans put their trust in the U.S. Forest Service to safeguard the splendor of Jefferson National Forest for future generations … We’ve stopped the pipeline before, and we won’t stop fighting until this ill-conceived project is gone for good.”

Cox was dismissive of conservationists’ latest effort to challenge the project.

“We are not surprised at the timeliness of the petition that was recently filed in opposition to the USFS decision as the petitioners have made it clear that they will contest any approval of the project regardless of the substantive merits of their challenge,” Cox said.

Environmentalist organizations aren’t the only ones still voicing objections to the pipeline project, which Mountain Valley applied to the FERC to approve, construct and own back in October 2015. Individuals from West Virginia are speaking out against the pipeline, too.

In a hand-written comment made last month and filed with the FERC Monday, Elaine J. Wine of Braxton County wrote that Mountain Valley Pipeline construction there has already caused hillsides to slide into streams, harming many species.

“It is due time that agencies such as FERC base decisions on ethical, responsible facts rather than pressure from an industry that has proven over [and] over to be careless when it comes to environmental safety,” Wine wrote.

The FERC’s oversight of pipeline projects was heavily scrutinized at a U.S. House subcommittee on civil rights and civil liberties hearing last month, during which Chairman Jamie Raskin, D-Md., highlighted subcommittee findings that the FERC has approved 99% of applications for natural gas projects in the past 20 years and, over the past 12 years, approved 89 of 92 requests to extend the time frame for construction projects behind schedule while not approving any landowner appeals.

FERC witnesses defended the commission during the hearing, saying it takes all written comments from parties in the cases it considers seriously and that it typically only considers viable projects.

Construction of the Mountain Valley Pipeline would use about 83 acres of the Jefferson National Forest, and pipeline operation would occupy about 42 acres of the forest, according to the Forest Service. The forest consists of 18,526 acres in West Virginia and 690,106 acres in Virginia, per the Forest Service.

Cox said the Mountain Valley team remains confident that the pipeline, which is slated to provide up to 2 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations to East Coast markets, will meet its targeted full in-service date of late this year.

But Height Capital Markets, a Washington, D.C.-based broker dealer, predicted this week that the pipeline won’t begin service until 2022 due to expectations that the 4th Circuit Court will vacate the pipeline’s “one size fits all” water permit authorization under Nationwide Permit 12 and the incoming Biden administration will force Mountain Valley to apply for individual permits.

Equitrans originally estimated that the pipeline would be complete by the end of 2018, but legal and regulatory challenges have repeatedly set the project back and helped raise the project price tag to at least $5.8 billion, over 50% more than its original cost estimate.

The pipeline has been designed to travel from Northwestern West Virginia to Southern Virginia, crossing Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers and Monroe counties in the Mountain State.

Morrisey declines to address role of Republican AGs group in urging protesters to come to US Capitol

West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey declined to directly address a robocall campaign by the Republican Attorneys General Association and its fundraising arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, that encouraged people to travel to Washington, D.C., last week for an event that ultimately turned deadly.

Morrisey condemned the violent attacks at the U.S. Capitol by supporters of President Donald Trump on Twitter on Jan. 6 and again in an email to the Gazette-Mail on Monday, but he declined to comment specifically about the organization’s efforts to recruit “patriots like you” to “march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” according to the call.

“As a member of the Republican Attorneys General Association, I am stunned and deeply disappointed by actions taken last week outside of the organizations’ operating structure,” Morrisey said in a statement Monday. “As I stated on Wednesday, I condemn in the strongest possible manner the violent attacks at the Capitol on January 6th, 2020.”

Morrisey is not part of the association’s executive committee.

The Republican Attorneys General Association established the Rule of Law Defense Fund in 2014. On Jan. 5, the Fund sent out calls encouraging people to come to the U.S. Capitol the next day, according to a report by The Washington Post.

Five people died in the breach of the U.S. Capitol, which occurred as members of Congress were in the process of certifying the 2020 election. Among the victims was Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher during a struggle and died of his injuries Jan. 7, two law enforcement officials told The Associated Press.

On Monday, RAGA Executive Director Adam Piper resigned from his position after receiving criticism for the robocall campaign. In a statement Friday, he said the RAGA and the Rule of Law Defense Fund “had no involvement in the planning, sponsoring, or the organization” of the Jan. 6 rally, according to the Washington Post.

Morrisey served on the Defense Fund’s Board of Directors in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, according to tax documents. The RAGA provided $6.8 million to his 2016 reelection campaign and ran ads supporting his 2020 reelection bid.

In 2017, Morrisey served as chairman of the RAGA Executive Committee after previously serving as a vice-chairman for the committee.

Scott Will, who served as Morrisey’s campaign manager in 2012, was executive director of the RAGA from 2015 to 2019. He was also vice president of the Rule of Law Defense Fund from 2014 to 2019.

Morrisey did not respond to a question asked by the Gazette-Mail regarding his stance on, or knowledge of, RAGA’s robocalls or how active he is within the RAGA beyond confirming that he is a member of the association.

In 2019, Morrisey said his office had lobbied Congress to pass the TRACED Act, which he said would require phone companies to do more to block unwanted calls and would create a framework to hold telemarketers and robocallers accountable. Morrisey said the calls could be “infuriating, maddening and bothersome,” and warned they also could be used by nefarious actors looking to commit identity theft and other crimes.

“Very few issues today bring people of all political views together like robocalls,” Morrisey said in an Op-Ed published in the Gazette-Mail in October 2019.

Congress passed the TRACED Act in 2019, and Trump signed it into law on Dec. 30, 2019.

The RAGA includes 25 Republican attorneys general from throughout the country. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr is the current chairman of the executive committee.

WV Capitol security gears up on FBI advisory of armed protests

With a FBI advisory warning of potential armed protests at all 50 state capitols in the coming days, state law enforcement officials said Tuesday they are on alert.

In a statement Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security stated it will be working with State Police, Capitol Police and in coordination with other state and federal authorities to be vigilant in the event of protests on the Capitol grounds.

The FBI advisory states it has evidence planning is underway for armed protests at all 50 state capitols, likely to occur between Saturday through the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden on Jan. 20, or beyond.

On Monday, Gov. Jim Justice said it is important for law enforcement to be aware and diligent, and said he is hoping that West Virginians will use good judgment in response to calls for protests.

“We’ve got to be alert and be on guard, and I’m sure there will be heightened alerts, but our people are good,” he said.

Justice will be sworn in for his second four-year term shortly after midnight on Monday, but he announced Jan. 11 that the inauguration ceremonies, traditionally held on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in January, this year will take place on Friday, Jan. 22.

Justice said the inauguration will be outdoors, as per tradition, with social distancing enforced.

Traditionally held on the south steps of the Capitol, Justice’s inauguration will be staged on the north steps, because of ongoing renovations to the Capitol’s south plaza.

There have been exceptions. Cecil Underwood’s inauguration in 1997 was on the north steps, as was Joe Manchin’s second inauguration in 2009.

Regarding Capitol security, the statement from Homeland Security notes the Capitol building remains closed to the public because of COVID-19 protocols.

Admission to the Capitol is limited to state employees, with members of the general public admitted only to attend scheduled meetings or by appointment for specific business within Capitol offices.

All visitors are screened through two access points, which include metal detectors and temperature checks.

The statement also notes state law prohibits firearms or other deadly weapons on the Capitol grounds or in Capitol complex buildings.

Legislation passed in 2019 does permit firearms in vehicles parked at the Capitol complex, so long as the vehicle is locked and the weapon is out of view.