The closed doors of the Trump impeachment investigation are swinging wide open.
When the gavel strikes at the start of the House hearing Wednesday morning, America and the rest of the world will have the chance to see and hear for themselves for the first time about President Donald Trump's actions toward Ukraine and consider whether they are, in fact, impeachable offenses.
It's a remarkable moment, even for a White House full of them.
All on TV, committee leaders will set the stage, then comes the main feature: Two seasoned diplomats, William Taylor, the graying former infantry officer now charge d'affaires in Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary in Washington, telling the striking, if sometimes complicated story of a president allegedly using foreign policy for personal and political gain ahead of the 2020 election.
So far, the narrative is splitting Americans, mostly along the same lines as Trump's unusual presidency. The Constitution sets a dramatic, but vague, bar for impeachment, and there's no consensus yet that Trump's actions at the heart of the inquiry meet the threshold of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
Whether Wednesday's proceedings begin to end a presidency or help secure Trump's position, it's certain that his chaotic term has finally arrived at a place he cannot control and a force, the constitutional system of checks and balances, that he cannot ignore.
The country has been here just three times before, and never against the backdrop of social media and real-time commentary, including from the president himself.
"These hearings will address subjects of profound consequence for the Nation and the functioning of our government under the Constitution," said Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee leading the inquiry, in a memo to lawmakers.
Schiff called it a "solemn undertaking," and counseled colleagues to "approach these proceedings with the seriousness of purpose and love of country that they demand."
"Total impeachment scam," tweeted the president, as he does virtually every day.
Impeachments are rare, historians say, because they amount to nothing short of the nullification of an election. Starting down this road poses risks for both Democrats and Republicans as proceedings push into the 2020 campaign.
Unlike the Watergate hearings and Richard Nixon, there is not yet a "cancer on the presidency" moment galvanizing public opinion. Nor is there the national shrug, as happened when Bill Clinton's impeachment ultimately didn't result in his removal from office. It's perhaps most like the partisanship-infused impeachment of Andrew Johnson after the Civil War.
Trump calls the whole thing a "witch hunt," a retort that echoes Nixon's own defense. Republicans say Democrats have been trying to get rid of this president since he first took office, starting with former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian interference to help Trump in the 2016 election.
Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was initially reluctant to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. As Democrats took control of the House in January, Pelosi said impeachment would be "too divisive" for the country. Trump, she said, was simply "not worth it."
After Mueller's appearance on Capitol Hill in July for the end of the Russia probe, the door to impeachment proceedings seemed closed.
But the next day Trump got on the phone.
For the past month, witness after witness has testified under oath about his July 25 phone call with Ukraine's newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and the alarms it set off in U.S. diplomatic and national security circles.
In a secure room in the Capitol basement, current and former officials have been telling lawmakers what they know. They've said an earlier Trump call in April congratulating Zelenskiy on his election victory seemed fine. The former U.S. reality TV host and the young Ukrainian comedian hit it off.
But in the July call, things turned.
An anonymous whistleblower first alerted officials to the phone call. "I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election," the person wrote in August to the House and Senate Intelligence committees. Democrats fought for the letter to be released to them as required.
"I am deeply concerned," the whistleblower wrote.
Trump insisted the call was "perfect." The White House released a rough transcript. Pelosi, given the nod from her most centrist freshman lawmakers, opened the inquiry.
"The president has his opportunity to prove his innocence," she told Noticias Telemundo on Tuesday.
Defying White House orders not to appear, witnesses have testified that Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was withholding U.S. military aid to the budding democracy until the new Ukraine government conducted investigations Trump wanted into Democrats in the 2016 election and his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter.
It was all part of what Taylor, the long-serving top diplomat in Ukraine, called the "irregular" foreign policy being led by Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, outside of traditional channels.
Taylor said it was "crazy" that the Trump administration was withholding U.S. military assistance to the East European ally over the political investigations, with Russian forces on Ukraine's border on watch for a moment of weakness.
Kent, the bowtie-wearing State Department official, told investigators there were three things Trump wanted of Ukraine: "Investigations, Biden, Clinton."
On Friday, the public is scheduled to hear from Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who told investigators she was warned to "watch my back" as Trump undercut and then recalled her.
Eight more witnesses will testify in public hearings next week.
"What this affords is the opportunity for the cream of our diplomatic corps to tell the American people a clear and consistent story of what the president did," said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., a member of the Intelligence panel.
"It takes a lot of courage to do what they are doing," he said, "and they are probably just going to be abused for it."
Republicans, led on the panel by Rep. Devin Nunes, a longtime Trump ally from California, will argue that none of those witnesses has first-hand knowledge of the president's actions. They will say Ukraine never felt pressured and the aid money eventually flowed, in September.
Yet Republicans are struggling to form a unified defense of Trump. Instead they often fall back on criticism of the process.
Some Republicans align with Trump's view, which is outside of mainstream intelligence findings, that Ukraine was involved in 2016 U.S. election interference. They want to hear from Hunter Biden, who served on the board of a gas company in Ukraine, Burisma, while his father was the vice president. And they are trying to bring forward the still-anonymous whistleblower, whose identity Democrats have vowed to protect.
The framers of the Constitution provided few details about how the impeachment proceedings should be run, leaving much for Congress to decide. Democrats say the White House's refusal to provide witnesses or produce documents is obstruction and itself impeachable.
Hearings are expected to continue and will shift, likely by Thanksgiving, to the Judiciary Committee to consider actual articles of impeachment.
The House, which is controlled by Democrats, is expected to vote by Christmas.
That would launch a trial in the Senate, where Republicans have the majority, in the new year.
Lebanon's banking association says banks will stay closed due to a strike by employees as the country's financial crisis worsens.
Banks were supposed to open on Tuesday following a three-day closure, but employees have gone on strike, complaining of aggressive behavior by customers.
Depositors have rushed to withdraw their money in recent days amid a rapidly deteriorating economic and financial crisis.
Lebanon's financial troubles have worsened since economically driven mass protests erupted nationwide last month, paralyzing the country.
The country's lenders have imposed varying capital controls that differ from bank to bank, triggering panic and anxiety among clients. Some have taken out their anger on employees.
The government has said it will continue to meet customer needs through ATM machines, but many Lebanese were unable to withdraw their money Tuesday.
President Donald Trump's nominee for a federal appeals court is in jeopardy following a conservative revolt from two Republican senators who have said publicly they won't support him.
Trump nominated federal judge Halil "Sul" Ozerden of Mississippi to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June. The New Orleans-based court handles cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
The Senate Judiciary Committee says it removed Ozerden from a planned vote Thursday at the request of the White House. A White House spokesman declined to comment.
Ozerden, a close ally of White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, faces opposition from Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. They have questioned Ozerden's dismissal of a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama's health care law and other rulings they say show he is not a true conservative.
Senators also questioned whether Ozerden's rulings as a judge have been overturned more frequently than other nominees.
Ozerden said at his nomination hearing that he dismissed a 2012 challenge to the health care law's contraceptive mandate on procedural grounds, adding that he followed legal precedent in the case.
"The notion I am somehow hostile to religious liberty is simply not accurate," Ozerden told senators.
Cruz said Ozerden denied the Catholic Church a hearing and issued a "cursory opinion" that didn't include a detailed discussion about all of the church's arguments.
The Judiciary Committee has delayed a vote on Ozerden's nomination at least four times, indicating the White House is having trouble finding support on the closely divided committee, which includes 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Cruz and Hawley serve on the Judiciary panel and without their support, the nominee would need Democratic votes to go forward.
Withdrawal of Ozerden's nomination would be an unusual setback for Trump, who has celebrated his administration's success in getting more than 150 federal judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate, including 45 appeals court judges.
About one-quarter of federal appeals court judges were nominated by Trump, an accomplishment the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell boasted about last week.
"Nobody's done more to change the court system in the history of our country than Donald Trump," McConnell said at a rally in his home state of Kentucky. "And Mr. President, we're going to keep on doing it. My motto is 'Leave no vacancy behind.'"
Danish police on Tuesday began performing border checks at the country's crossings with Sweden, moves that followed a series of shootings and explosions around Copenhagen that Danish authorities say were carried out by people crossing the waterway between the Scandinavian neighbors.
The checks were conducted on trains and vehicles crossing the Oresund Bridge over the narrow waterway that separates Copenhagen, Denmark's largest city, and Malmo, Sweden's third-largest city. Checks were also carried out at ferry ports.
Police spokesman Jens Jespersen told The Associated Press that officers at the Oresund Bridge vehicle checkpoint had "a particular focus on cross-border crime involving explosives, weapons and drugs." He also said authorities were stopping cars to have "a peak at who is inside."
"It gives us a pretty good picture of who is coming over," he said.
For years, Danes and Swedes have been able to cross without needing a passport. Now a passport is needed for Swedes entering Denmark — at least for the next six months.
That requirement and the checkpoints come after violence that includes 13 explosions in Copenhagen since February, as well as a shooting in June that killed two Swedish citizens.
The spiraling violence is believed to be gang related, stemming from disputes over drugs, money, protection and retaliation. An estimated 200 people in Malmo belong to about a dozen gangs.
On Saturday, a shooting in Malmo killed a 15-year-old boy and critically wounded another. Police said the teenagers who were shot were well-known to authorities in Malmo and officials vowed to crack down even further on organized crime. No one has been arrested.
Lilian Gustavsson, a 67-year-old Swedish woman who was about to embark on the train to Malmo from Copenhagen's international airport, said she understood why the Danes were carrying out the checks.
"I believe this will mean a little travel delay for everyone," she said. "I fear we might get stuck, but better that than having criminals crossing."
As part of Monday's checks, all vehicles coming from Sweden on the Orseund Bridge were led to a rest area on the Danish side. They then went through a large white tent where officers checked the driver, passengers and the car. Police scanned vehicle license plates, Jespersen said, "so if a (vehicle) is known in the system, we can pull it aside."
During the roughly four-hour check Monday, no one was pulled aside, he said. He declined to give details as to when police would carry out further checks but said "a good guess would be two or three times a week."
The 3-year-old girl traveled for weeks cradled in her father's arms, as he set out to seek asylum in the United States. Now she won't even look at him.
After being forcibly separated at the border by government officials, sexually abused in U.S. foster care and deported, the once bright and beaming girl arrived back in Honduras withdrawn, anxious and angry, convinced her father abandoned her.
He fears their bond is forever broken.
"I think about this trauma staying with her too, because the trauma has remained with me and still hasn't faded," he said, days after their reunion.
This month, new government data shows the little girl is one of an unprecedented 69,550 migrant children held in U.S. government custody over the past year, enough infants, toddlers, kids and teens to overflow the typical NFL stadium. That's more children detained away from their parents than any other country, according to United Nations researchers. And it's happening even though the U.S. government has acknowledged that being held in detention can be traumatic for children, putting them at risk of long-term physical and emotional damage.
Some of these migrant children who were in government custody this year have already been deported. Some have reunited with family in the U.S., where they're trying to go to school and piece their lives back together. About 4,000 are still in government custody, some in large, impersonal shelters. And more arrive every week.
The nearly 70,000 migrant children who were held in government custody this year — up 42 percent in fiscal year 2019 from 2018 — spent more time in shelters and away from their families than in prior years. The Trump administration's series of strict immigration policies has increased the time children spend in detention, despite the government's own acknowledgment that it does them harm. In 2013, Australia detained 2,000 children during a surge of maritime arrivals. In Canada, immigrant children are separated from their parents only as a last resort; 155 were detained in 2018. In the United Kingdom, 42 migrant children were put in shelters in 2017, according to officials in those countries.
"Early experiences are literally built into our brains and bodies," said Dr. Jack Shonkoff, who directs Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child. Earlier this year, he told Congress that "decades of peer-reviewed research" show that detaining kids away from parents or primary caregivers is bad for their health. It's a brain-wiring issue, he said.
"Stable and responsive relationships promote healthy brain architecture," Shonkoff said. "If these relationships are disrupted, young children are hit by the double whammy of a brain that is deprived of the positive stimulation it needs, and assaulted by a stress response that disrupts its developing circuitry."
Younger children are at greater risk, because their biological systems are less developed, he said. Previous harm and the duration of separation are also more likely to lead to trauma.
One Honduran teen who was held in a large detention center for four months before reuniting with his mother said that, as each day passed, his fear and anxiety grew.
"There was something there that made us feel desperate. It was freedom. We wanted to be free," he recalled. "There was despair everywhere."
Another Honduran teen, who arrived in the U.S. at 16 and was detained in a series of increasingly secure shelters for more than a year, said he saw his peers harm themselves.
"They would cry sometimes, alone, or they would hit themselves against the wall," he said. "I thought that was because of them being here for such a long time."
The teens spoke on condition of anonymity out of concerns for their safety.
The 3-year-old Honduran girl was taken from her father when immigration officials caught them near the border in Texas in March 2019 and sent her to government-funded foster care. The father had no idea where his daughter was for three panicked weeks. It was another month before a caregiver put her on the phone but the girl, who turned 4 in government custody, refused to speak, screaming in anger.
"She said that I had left her alone and she was crying," said her father during an interview with the AP and Frontline at their home in Honduras. "'I don't love you Daddy, you left me alone,'" she told him. The father agreed to speak about their case on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
What the little girl didn't, or couldn't, tell her dad was that another child in her foster home woke her up and began molesting her, according to court records. As the days passed, she began urinating on herself and seemed unable to eat or drink, a foster parent said in the records.
"She's so small for something like that to happen," said her father, who found out about his daughter's abuse while he was in detention. "I felt like I couldn't do anything to help her."
Desperate to see his daughter, he begged for a DNA test which, four months into his detention, proved their relationship. Still the government kept them apart. In June, he gave up and asked a judge to reunite him with his daughter and deport them. The government sent him back to Honduras alone. His daughter followed a month later in mid-August.
On an August afternoon in their hometown, the little girl had her hair tied up in pigtails. Her dress was a frilly lavender and her pink sneakers were decorated with bows. She played with her younger sister and snuggled up beside her grandfather, but ignored her father's entreaties and refused to hold his hand, convinced he tried to leave her for good.
"When I wanted to cradle her in my arms she started to cry," he said.
He didn't know of any psychological support in their town to help her process the abuse she suffered.
"For now we're going to try to give her more affection, more love and then if there isn't a change we're going to try to find some help," he said.
The U.S. government calls migrant children held without their parents "Unaccompanied Alien Children" — UAC in bureaucratic jargon. Federal law requires the Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Refugee Resettlement to provide them food and shelter, and medical and mental health care. But the HHS Office of Inspector General found there aren't enough clinicians or specialized care in shelters holding migrant children.
HHS spokesman Mark Weber said that, with the largest number of migrant children in their program's history, "you must give credit to the Office of Refugee Resettlement and the shelter network staff for managing a program that was able to rapidly expand and unify the largest number of kids ever, all in an incredibly difficult environment."
In an urgent request to fund an emergency shelter earlier this year, HHS warned "Without a way to provide these services, there is an unacceptable risk that thousands of UAC would be without their basic human needs, which would result in injury/death of children."
In the September issue of the journal Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics says migrant children who are detained "face almost universal traumatic histories." The group recommends specific therapies to help children recover and reunite with their families, warning of serious consequences if left untreated. But few of the thousands of children separated from their parents are receiving therapy after being deported back to Central America. Many are from impoverished communities where there are few, if any, accessible mental health resources.
The U.S. is now being sued for hundreds of millions of dollars by some families who say their children were harmed by being held in detention, and on Nov. 5 a federal judge ordered the government to immediately provide mental health screenings and treatment to immigrant families traumatized by family separations. The judge found attorneys for separated families presented evidence that the government's policy "caused severe mental trauma to parents and their children" and that U.S. government officials were "aware of the risks associated with family separation when they implemented it."
Child trauma expert Ryan Matlow at Stanford University says toxic stress in children is associated with higher rates of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress syndrome, heart disease, cancer, and even early death.
"So we want to be a country that inflicts further trauma on individuals who are experiencing intensive adversity and are seeking refuge and help in a neighboring nation?" asked Matlow, who has met with detained migrant children inside several of the largest migrant detention facilities. "Are we ok with the implications of doing harm to vulnerable children - to 2 and 3-year-olds and to teenagers as well? Is that something that we can accept?"
This year President Donald Trump signed a law approving $2.8 billion for the government to house, transport and care for migrant children. Nine out of 10 come from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, with fewer than 3% from Mexico. They're fleeing Central America often to save their own lives, because violence and abuse, even murder, are committed with impunity under corrupt governments the U.S. has supported for decades.
While children have been arriving alone at the U.S. border for more than a decade, the number of children in government custody has grown sharply over the last two years, largely because they have been held for longer time periods. A few months after Trump took office, the federal agency was caring for about 2,700 children, reuniting them with awaiting relatives or sponsors in about a month. This June, that topped 13,000, and they stayed in custody for about two months.
U.S. immigration authorities have separated more than 5,400 children from their parents at the Mexico border, before, during and after a controversial "zero tolerance" policy was enacted and then ended in the spring of 2018.
Eskinder Negash, who heads the nonprofit U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, knows the trauma of separation and detention all too well, and has spent his life seeking solutions.
"I was a refugee, I know what they have gone through," said Negash, who fled Ethiopia alone as a teen after his country was thrown into chaos by a military coup.
Negash also knows what it's like to suddenly have to care for tens of thousands of migrant children caught at the border. He was heading the Office of Refugee Resettlement in 2014 under the Obama administration when more than 60,000 children surged over the border, mostly unaccompanied. Negash and his team scrambled to shelter them in a variety of situations, including on military bases. The fallout, at the time, was harsh: human rights advocates who today decry the way children are treated in government custody were, under Obama, frustrated with their care and urged that children be swiftly granted asylum.
Leaving government to head the nonprofit refugee support agency USCRI, Negash wanted to do better for children, both in the U.S. and abroad.
In El Salvador, USCRI now runs the Livelihoods project, teaching young adults who were deported from the U.S. skills to support themselves. On a recent visit, students clustered in small groups around workbenches to practice building circuits that would make small motors run. They learn everything from residential and commercial electrical installation to building substations and transformers. Other career tracks include auto mechanic, chef and bartender. Since 2016, about 400 young adults have graduated from the program, which is a partnership with the El Salvador government.
"I don't think about migrating anymore," said José Fernando Guillén Rodríguez, 21, who was apprehended in the U.S. at 18 and spent time in adult detention before being deported. Now he's completed a year of daily electrical classes and works as an apprentice at an electrical construction company.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. this summer, USCRI also opened what Negash hopes is a model government-funded shelter in southern Florida, just down the road from Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club. Rinconcito del Sol, which translates to "A Little Corner of Sunshine," is different than other facilities holding migrant children.
There is no uniformed security guard at the entrance. The residents, girls 13-17, can call their families as needed, staff say, and there are more therapeutic services — including intensive treatment for victims of trafficking and abuse — throughout the week. They sleep two to a room, and are free to wander in a large, outdoor area, or "shop" in a store filled with donated items. Case workers hustle to reunite them with family in the U.S. quickly, averaging four weeks. And costs to taxpayers are a third of the $775 per day costs at large, emergency shelters where kids sleep 100 to a room.
"Here, we change lives," said shelter director Elcy Valdez, who worked as an ORR federal field specialist visiting a variety of facilities for six years. She saw a variety of operations, and took note of best practices. Today they hope to share their practices with some 170 shelter programs in 23 states.
"The girls come in very sad, nervous, not knowing what to expect, unsure what the future holds for them," she said. "We give them that sense of security, of safety for the first time."