Vietnam Real Estate Billionaire Sentenced To Death In $12 Billion Fraud Case 

Real estate billionaire Truong My Lan was sentenced to death in a court in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam for organizing the nation’s largest financial fraud case. The punishment is being regarded as a pivotal moment in a decadelong anti-corruption campaign from the Vietnamese business community.

Chinese Billionaire Sun Dawu Sentenced To 18 Years In Prison 

Billionaire Sun Dawu is a vocal critic of the Chinese government. Now, Sun has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for “picking quarrels and provoking troubles,” according to an official statement published by the court. 

Sun was arrested back in March, he owns the company Hebei Dawu Agriculture and Animal Husbandry Group, which owns farming operations in China and employs about 9,000 people in poultry processing, pet food production, and other industries. 

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Sun was found guilty of “gathering a crowd to storm state institutions, obstructing public service, picking quarrels and provoking troubles, disrupting production and operation, conducting coercive trade, illegal mining, illegal occupation of agricultural land, illegal absorption of public deposits,” the People’s Court of Gaobeidian said in a statement. 

Dawu was also fined 3.11 million yuan ($480,000) as a part of his sentence. He’s one of very few powerful figures in China who has remained outspoken against the ruling communist party. He publicly accused the government of attempting to cover up the extent of the African swine flu outbreak in 2019, which killed more than 100 million pigs in the nation. 

There have also been local reports that claimed Sun was in the midst of a land dispute with a local government owned farm. Dawu claimed dozens of company employees were injured after a 2020 fight with the police when a group led by Dawu attempted to stop state farm staff from tearing down one of its buildings. 

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Chinese Human Rights Defenders is an advocacy group that recently claimed Sun was “being put on trial as a blatant attempt to punish him for his support of human rights.” 

“Sun Dawu has made extraordinary contributions to improving the life of Chinese citizens living in rural China. His support of rights defenders was an extension of his concern for the welfare of people on the margins of the Chinese economy,” said Ramona Li, senior researcher and advocate for CHRD.

Private enterprises in China have been subjected to multiple restrictive guidelines from the government in recent months. The Communist Party recently said that all private sector entrepreneurs need to be “politically sensible people who will firmly listen to the party.”

Chinese billionaire Ren Zhiqiang was also imprisoned for 18 years back in September 2020 on corruption related offenses. Ren was widely attributed to an essay that referred to Chinese president Xi Jinping as a “clown” for his coronavirus prevention strategy.

White House

Trump’s Russian and Ukrainian Connections, Explained

While the allegations at the core of the current presidential impeachment effort are fairly straightforward, the larger story of the president’s alleged misconduct can become extraordinarily complicated, as Republicans are actively spreading Russian disinformation to defend the president, making it difficult to separate fact from fiction. Additionally, quite a large number of people are involved in this story, each with unique and often mysterious worldviews and motives. While you may know the basic allegation that Donald Trump asked the president of Ukraine for assistance in his personal political campaign in exchange for desperately-needed military assistance, thereby trying to cheat in his next election, you may have not heard about, or have forgotten, the numerous associates of Donald Trump who are linked to Russia and Ukraine, some of whom are currently serving time in jail.

Trump’s connections with Russia and Ukraine predate matters directly related to impeachment. Trump has a substantial personal financial investment in Russia, a corrupt dictatorship, as he has pursued building a Trump property in Moscow for decades. Infamously, Trump publicly implored Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email account when he was the nominee and she was his opponent, but was not found to have successfully colluded with the Russian government to promote his 2016 campaign. The day after Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified that his team had not found evidence of successful collusion with Russia, President Trump called Ukraine’s President Zelensky for help in his domestic political campaign, apparently having believed he had gotten away with it the first time and thus could do so again without facing consequences. To this day, Trump contends that he did nothing wrong and that his call was “perfect,” and while he often lies, he likely believes this to be true, as he is prone to subscribing to conspiracy theories that are disproven but nonetheless help him politically.

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Trump’s connections with Ukraine are related to his connections with Russia. Paul Manafort, the president’s campaign chairman who is now a convicted felon, previously helped in the campaign of Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was a corrupt politician who was preferred by Russia and acted to strengthen Ukraine’s ties with Russia. He was removed from office by the Ukrainian parliament, who also issued a warrant for his arrest for “mass killing of civilians.” Yanukovych now lives in exile in Russia and was succeeded by oligarch Petro Poroshenko, whose administration was also involved in widespread corruption. Poroshenko’s reelection efforts were defeated by the election of current Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who won a landslide victory after campaigning on a platform of rooting out corruption.

When Poroshenko was elected president, Joe Biden was the Vice President and had urged President Obama to provide Ukraine with military assistance after that country was invaded by Russia, which he declined to do. So Biden called Poroshenko and urged the newly-elected President to reform his country’s corruption-laden political system, explaining that corruption makes it difficult for other countries to work with them, particularly in their fight against Russia. At around the same time, Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, joined the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, in large part not because of the younger Biden’s experience or skills but because of the value of his last name. 

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Joe Biden, alongside most of the international community, worked to oust Ukraine’s corrupt prosecutor general who was accused of taking bribes from various companies, including Burisma, to protect them from investigation. Ultimately, this prosecutor was fired as a result of the allegations, resulting in the hiring of a prosecutor who would have been more likely to investigate Burisma. Joe Biden contends that he has not discussed Burisma with his son, and there’s no evidence to suggest that he even took Burisma into consideration when deciding to oppose the corrupt Ukrainian prosecutor. Notably, this prosecutor’s removal actually increased the chances that Burisma would be investigated, as the prosecutor was replaced by one who was less likely to accept bribes from companies like Burisma. The fact that Hunter Biden worked for Burisma while his father was the Vice President shows poor judgment and a willingness to take advantage of nepotism, but does not constitute evidence of a crime.

While based on partial truths, Trump’s narrative depends on several facts arguably invented by Moscow

The president’s narrative, then, depends on material falsehoods and happens to be identical to a Russian disinformation campaign, as Russia expert and impeachment witness Fiona Hill recently testified. Republicans and the president falsely allege that it was Ukraine, not Russia, who interfered in the 2016 American presidential election, and that Biden’s actions in Ukraine were meant to protect his son from investigation into corruption. These claims are refuted by material evidence, but have nonetheless convinced a significant portion of the American electorate, thanks to Trump and the network of media that supports him. 

While based on partial truths, Trump’s narrative depends on several facts arguably invented by Moscow in an attempt to even further divide the American electorate, as such behavior is consistent with Russia’s foreign policy, particularly in the aftermath of their successful attempt to elect a president they believed would harm the United States. Putin, a former KGB spy, often uses disinformation against his political opponents to harm them, both domestically and abroad. Throughout his presidency, Trump has repeatedly and consistently praised Russian President Putin, despite his corruption and human rights abuses, and has privately met with Putin several times. To this day, we don’t know exactly what the two presidents discussed in these closed-door meetings, as the only other people in the room were translators.

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In addition to Manafort, Putin, and Zelensky, Trump has an unusually large number of connections to people in Eastern Europe for a sitting American president. Rick Gates, for instance, worked in a high level position during the 2016 Trump campaign and briefly worked for the Trump administration before pleading guilty to lying to the FBI and conspiring against the United States by concealing millions of dollars he earned representing pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. Yesterday, he was sentenced to 45 days in jail and three years’ probation for this offense. Other Trump associates with connections to Russia who are facing criminal penalties include his former personal lawyer, Micheal Cohen, self-professed “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, former national security advisor Michael Flynn, and former foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos. Furthermore, The Moscow Project, which documents the connections between Trump and Russia, has identified 272 contacts between Trump and Russia-linked operatives.

It’s no coincidence, I believe, that Trump’s ongoing abuse of power involves extorting Ukraine, an enemy of Russia and an ally of the United States

While the Mueller Report did not explicitly find that Trump successfully colluded with Russia, it did find that Trump obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with Mueller’s investigation, as he is accused of doing to Congress in the present impeachment. It’s no coincidence, I believe, that Trump’s ongoing abuse of power involves extorting Ukraine, an enemy of Russia and an ally of the United States, to the benefit of both Trump personally and Russia. In my view, Trump felt emboldened by the lack of consequences for his request for election interference from Russia, and so did so again with Ukraine, perhaps at Russia’s direction, this time bolstered by a quid pro quo. Thankfully, this second attempt has not so far been as successful, as Trump released the withheld military aid to Ukraine after he was caught and has faced accountability in the form of impeachment proceedings, which have convinced roughly half of the American electorate of the president’s substantial wrongdoing. No one can predict how the results of impeachment will affect the outcome of the next election, but one thing is clear: the theories that Trump was looking forward to impeachment as it would help him politically have been debunked, as the president is clearly troubled, as evidenced by his hundreds of tweets on the subject and his angry letter to Nancy Pelosi, by the constitutional remedy currently being exercised.

Impeachment Trial

Marie Yovanovitch Testifies as Impeachment Hearings Continue

Congressional hearings aren’t exactly known for being entertaining or dramatic spectacles. Nevertheless, one of the major criticisms of the first round of public impeachment hearings was that it was boring, and not exciting enough to capture the attention of the American public. This opinion was offered both by Republicans in an attempt to discredit the hearings as well as certain members of the press, who judged the event as if it were a television spectacle rather than a serious, sober government proceeding. Predictably, these comments were mocked on Twitter and elsewhere on the Internet, with Jonathan Allen’s complaint that the witnesses called on Wednesday lacked “pizazz” drawing significant attention.

It’s harder to make this criticism of today’s hearing, during which lawmakers questioned former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted from her position in Ukraine despite 33 years of highly celebrated public service during which she received numerous awards and being told she had done nothing wrong. Yovanovitch testified that she believed the reason for her ouster was to establish a shadow foreign policy, separate from the official channels of international diplomacy, to allow the president to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation that would hurt Joe Biden and help Trump’s reelection campaign. Yovanovitch’s testimony corroborates Wednesday’s testimonies from Bill Taylor and George Kent, two government officials with experience in similar matters.

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During his opening remarks, Adam Schiff explained Yovanovitch’s relevance to the impeachment hearings in an attempt to make the case that Trump removed Yovanovitch in order to facilitate his bribery attempt of Ukraine. Representative Devin Nunes spent much of his opening statement reciting a transcript released today by the Trump administration of a phone call between Trump and the newly-elected president of Ukraine, which was largely congratulatory and included an invitation from Ukrainian President Zelensky for Trump to attend his inauguration. This recitation bore little relevance to the matter at hand, and was likely performed in order to distract from the substance of the hearing, as the presence of a non-incriminating preliminary conversation does not negate a later, incriminating one.

Despite Trump’s attack on Yovanovitch, Republicans in the House of Representatives were careful not to deride Yovanovitch’s character, instead thanking her for her decades of service and praising the importance of her work.

Donald Trump, despite saying repeatedly that he would not be watching the hearings, was nonetheless active on Twitter throughout, providing commentary and denigrating Yovanovitch’s character. This gave chairman Adam Schiff a rare opportunity to respond to the president in real-time; during his questioning, Schiff mentioned the tweet, posted just minutes prior, which claimed that Yovanovitch’s conduct led to disastrous outcomes in Ukraine and Somalia, and asked Yovanovitch whether those accusations were accurate. She replied that they were not. Schiff suggested comments like these were destructive to the impeachment process, as they would discourage other witnesses from coming forward, and took the opportunity to assure Yovanovitch that the Committee takes witness intimidation very seriously. Notably, Trump’s tweet may form the basis for an additional article of impeachment, as witness intimidation is a crime and facilitates obstruction of justice.

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Despite Trump’s attack on Yovanovitch, Republicans in the House of Representatives were careful not to deride Yovanovitch’s character, instead thanking her for her decades of service and praising the importance of her work. This discrepancy is just one example of the rift between Republicans in Congress, who are doing everything in their power to defend the president throughout the impeachment hearings, and the president himself, who frequently undermines these attempts by publicly contradicting them. As the president is quick to deride anyone who displays the slightest bit of disloyalty to him, even members of his own party who attempt to defend him but don’t do so strongly enough for the president’s liking, this rift has the potential to lead to further isolation of the president even from his allies.

Coincidentally, the trial of Roger Stone, a former advisor to the president, concluded today, and Stone was found guilty of lying to the FBI among other charges. In an obvious display of his anger and frustration, the president took to Twitter to complain about this outcome, and called for the jailing of his political opponents, including Adam Schiff and former special counsel Robert Mueller. Lately, it seems that news breaks every day that damages Trump’s presidency, and today is certainly no exception.

Business Conference

Hunter Biden Announces Departure from Chinese Company Amidst Criticism

Until recently, the business dealings of the son of former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden were not often the subject of political discussion. However, following an unlikely and consequential string of events involving President Trump, a phone call with Ukraine, and a whistleblower complaint, Hunter Biden announced his decision to step down from the board of a Chinese company, BHR, to reduce the appearance of a conflict-of-interest with respect to his father’s presidential bid. Trump has responded to the news of the whistleblower complaint, which alleges that he illegally requested campaign assistance from a foreign power when he asked the President of Ukraine to investigate his likely political opponent, Joe Biden, by doubling down on his attacks of the Biden family, putting the Biden campaign in an awkward and defensive position.

No evidence of misconduct on Hunter Biden’s part is known to exist, and he has not been formally charged with a crime nor is he known to be under investigation. However, the younger Biden has been the target of relentless, vicious, and personal attacks from President Trump on the campaign trail and by abusing the powers of the presidency to undermine the integrity of the upcoming election in what has become the subject of an ongoing and historic impeachment investigation. Trump’s ongoing attempts to smear his political rivals by using both lawful and unlawful strategies, including outright lies and quid-pro-quo requests for foreign assistance, present a unique and unprecedented challenge for the Biden campaign as well as for the campaigns of any potential nominee.

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Hunter Biden’s announcement came via a statement released by his lawyer, who also said that the younger Biden would pledge to forgo all work in foreign countries if his father is elected president. Hunter Biden’s decision seems to have been made independently of his father’s campaign, as both Bidens have publicly stated that they had never discussed Hunter’s business dealings with each other. Joe Biden has said that he only found out about his son’s decision to step down from BHR after being contacted by Hunter’s lawyer, and had no input into the decision-making process.

The younger Biden’s decision to step down from his position at BHR is the first time anyone in the pro-Biden camp has acknowledged the appearance of impropriety of Hunter’s business activities, and though the move was made in order to quell conspiracy theories about political corruption, the political ramifications are as of yet difficult to predict. Predictably, Trump responded to the news with a tweet, asserting without evidence that Hunter Biden was “forced to leave” the company. Joe Biden, on the other hand, praised his son’s decision, arguing that it demonstrates his son’s integrity, and hoped that it would put an end to any speculation of political corruption.

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In a brief news conference on Sunday, Joe Biden reaffirmed his commitment to transparency and integrity, promising that if he becomes president, neither he nor anyone in his family would be involved in any foreign operation whatsoever. Joe Biden also took the opportunity to indirectly point out the political family corruption of his opponent, President Trump, by saying “No one in my family will have an office in the White House, will sit in on meetings as if they’re a Cabinet member, will in fact have any business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or a foreign country.” (The President’s daughter and his son-in-law, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, both have worked for the White House and for Trump’s campaign, as have his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr.)

Despite ongoing concerns about Trump’s various business properties around the world and their impact on his foreign policy, the roles of his family members in government and business, and the funneling of taxpayer dollars into Trump-owned businesses, the President and his campaign have decided to focus on political corruption as a line of attack against Biden, spending millions of dollars on ad campaigns featuring demonstrably false accusations. In his defense, Joe Biden has pointed out that “no one has asserted that I have done anything wrong except the lying president.” However, Biden seems reluctant to call out his opponent’s political corruption, apparently signaling a refusal to stoop to his level, though he has called for Trump’s impeachment.

Impeachment 2

Formal Impeachment Announcement Largely Symbolic, but Captures Nation’s Attention

In the past several days, news emerged that a whistleblower from the federal government observed disconcerting behavior from the President, who reported this news to the Director of National Intelligence, who considered the complaint to be urgent and serious. The Director of National Intelligence, by law, was supposed to hand over this information to Congress, but was blocked from doing so by the White House. As such, the full content of the complaint is currently unknown to Congress and to the American people, but what has become known is deeply troubling to lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who yesterday publicly announced that Congress would be holding impeachment inquiries and investigations.

Less than a day after reports of the existence and circumstances of the complaint emerged, sources spoke to the Washington Post to reveal some, but crucially not all, of the details. According to several news outlets, in July President Trump had a phone call with the newly-elected president of Ukraine during which he asked the Ukrainian government to investigate unfounded claims concerning political corruption of the son of Joe Biden, whom Trump considers his main political opponent. While doing so, Trump had also taken the highly unusual step of withholding aid funds from Ukraine, suggesting the possibility of a quid-pro-quo of restoration of funds in exchange for “dirt” on Joe Biden. Yesterday, Trump admitted to reporters while standing next to Air Force One that he had spoken with the President of Ukraine and discussed Joe Biden and corruption concerns, but downplayed the seriousness of his conduct, describing the call as “largely congratulatory” and “perfect.”

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Despite the President’s comments, however, many Democratic lawmakers, particularly those who have backgrounds in national security and the military, considered these allegations to be an unprecedented breach of a President’s constitutional responsibility, as asking a foreign power for help in winning a domestic re-election campaign threatens to undermine the system of democratic governance around which American political life is built. If left unchecked, this conduct could set a precedent that enables presidents to engage in unconstitutional conduct with impunity, fatally threatening the security of the country. As such, Nancy Pelosi yesterday publicly announced the beginning of formal impeachment proceedings in Congress, a risky political move considering the fact that the Senate is controlled by Republicans who are unlikely to convict the President and remove him from office, which could be seen as an embarrassing defeat for the Democrats and vindication for the Republican party. Following the announcement, several dozen Democratic congresspeople proclaimed their support for impeachment, bringing the number of House Democrats favoring impeachment past 200, close to the 218 representatives necessary for an impeachment vote to pass in the House.

According to reports from various news outlets, yesterday Trump called Pelosi in advance of her announcement, asking whether they could work out a deal concerning the whistleblower complaint, to which Pelosi replied he could authorize the release of the complaint to Congress as is required by law. Reportedly, Trump was surprised by Pelosi’s announcement, and took to Twitter to complain about it, even as he attends a U.N. summit. In response to the growing calls for his impeachment, Trump announced he would release the transcript of his call with the Ukranian President, claiming that it would exonerate him, and did so today. Democrats, who insist upon receiving the entire complaint and not just the transcript of the call, were expecting this transcript to be unremarkable, edited heavily or perhaps even falsified to create the impression that there was no wrongdoing. However, the transcript clearly shows Trump asking for an investigation into Joe Biden, as he said “there’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, … whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.” While it is not the full complaint that Democrats are demanding, the transcript is surprisingly damning for the President, suggesting he perhaps does not recognize the extent and nature of the crime he just presented evidence of himself committing. Though the transcript shows no direct evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement, as Republican lawmakers were quick to point out, such an arrangement is irrelevant to the charge of asking a foreign power for assistance winning an election.

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Despite the groundbreaking and unprecedented news, however, little is likely to change in the immediate term. This is because several investigations into the President’s conduct, including his connections with other governments and his finances, are already ongoing in the House, but the word “impeachment” had not been used to describe these investigations until now. And even if the House does vote for impeachment, which is growing ever more likely by the day, the President is only removed from office after a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate. However, recent developments expand the scale of the already-quite-serious allegations of misconduct by the President, as this is the first time Trump has been known to proactively seek assistance from a foreign power to improve his re-election odds, whereas previously he had only expressed an openness to the idea.

The times have found us

That being said, this is an undoubtedly tumultuous period in American history, as the political establishment is dealing with issues for which there exist no precedent and for which the outcome is difficult to predict. Nevertheless, the President’s conduct serves as a vital test of our country’s system of checks and balances, a self-correcting mechanism established deep within the core of the philosophy constructing this country’s politics. This system, comprised of three independent and co-equal branches of government, is designed to withstand and undo bouts of corruption and other internal threats to democracy, but only functions by the action of elected officials. In her announcement yesterday, Nancy Pelosi reiterated a phrase used by the country’s founders, proclaiming “the times have found us.” Indeed, the circumstances influencing political corruption have called upon elected officials to act in service of restoring the soul of the country, or witness the gradual undermining of the country’s founding principles and the dissolution of the rule of law and the rights of citizens.