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Trump denigrates US diplomats, pushes conspiracy theories

WASHINGTON — Offering his own take on five long days of public hearings, President Donald Trump brushed off the impeachment inquiry as “total nonsense” on Friday and bad-mouthed a number of the U.S. diplomats who testified to Congress about his Ukraine pressure campaign.

In one breath, Trump said House Democrats looked like “fools” during the hearings on Capitol Hill. In another, he offered a window into his political strategy ahead of an expected House vote to impeach him. If that happens, the Senate would hold a trial on whether to oust him from office.

“I think we had a tremendous week with the hoax,” Trump said at the White House.

At the same time, he talked up debunked conspiracy theories that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election, speaking just one day after a former White House adviser testified that the claim was a “fictional narrative” that played into the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Trump also repeated claims that Obama administration officials spied on his campaign and underscored the need to keep Republicans unified against impeachment.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen support in the Republican party like we do right now,” he said.

In a 57-minute, animated phone interview on “Fox & Friends,” Trump said he did not expect to be impeached. But he added that if the House did vote to impeach him, he would welcome a trial in the Republican-led Senate.

“Frankly, I want a trial,” he said.

A trial, he said, would give Republicans a chance to question Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who led the hearings as chairman of the House intelligence committee. Procedures for a Senate trial still are being worked out, but Republicans may well be hesitant to adopt Trump’s idea of turning a lawmaker into a witness.

“I want to see Adam Schiff testify about the whistleblower, who is a fake whistleblower,” the president said, adding that he knows the identity of the whistleblower whose formal complaint launched the impeachment inquiry.

Trump’s professed confidence came after impeachment witnesses testified under oath that the president withheld aid from Ukraine to press the country to investigate his political rivals. Trump insisted he was trying to root out corruption in the Eastern European nation when he held up nearly $400 million in military aid to help Ukraine battle Russian aggression.

“I think it’s very hard to impeach you when they have absolutely nothing,” Trump said.

He denied there was any quid pro quo, extortion or bribery. He also denied holding up a White House meeting or military aid to get Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s dealings in Ukraine.

Uncowed by witnesses who warned against playing into the Russians’ hands, Trump repeated a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukrainians might have hacked the Democratic National Committee’s network in 2016 and framed Russia for the crime.

“They gave the server to CrowdStrike, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian,” Trump said. “I still want to see that server. The FBI has never gotten that server.”

Trump’s claim on Ukraine being behind the 2016 election interference has been discredited by intelligence agencies and his own advisers.

CrowdStrike, an internet security firm based in California, investigated the DNC hack in June 2016 and traced it to two groups of hackers connected to a Russian intelligence service — not Ukraine. The company’s co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch is a Russian-born U.S. citizen who immigrated as a child and graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Fiona Hill, a former Russia adviser on the White House National Security Council, admonished Republicans in her testimony on Thursday for pushing unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“This is a fictional narrative that has been perpetrated and propagated by the Russian security services themselves,” Hill said.

Trump continued to distance himself from other impeachment witnesses, including Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

Sondland said he was working on a deal to arrange a White House visit if Zelenskiy publicly announced investigations into Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. Democrat Joe Biden’s son Hunter was a Burisma board member.

Speaking of Sondland, Trump said, “I hardly know him, OK? I’ve spoken to him a few times.”

The president said Sondland left out of his opening statement his account of a phone conversation in which Trump said: “I want nothing. No quid pro quo. Have Zelenskiy do whatever is right.”

Sondland “didn’t put that in,” Trump said. “That was the end of him. I turned off the television.”

He also denigrated the testimony of David Holmes, a counselor at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv. Holmes testified that he overheard a different phone conversation Sondland had with the president. Holmes said he heard the president talking loudly about Zelenskiy, asking, “So, he’s gonna do the investigation?” Ambassador Sondland replied that “He’s gonna do it.”

Trump said he didn’t believe Holmes could hear the conversation since it wasn’t on a speaker phone. “That was a total phony deal,” Trump said.

And Trump continued to disparage former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. Trump recalled her from her post in Kyiv before her tenure was to end. Trump called her an “Obama person” and claimed she didn’t want his picture to hang on the wall of the embassy.

Ian Kelly, the former U.S. ambassador to Georgia, tweeted in Yovanovitch’s defense, saying: “Our official White House portraits did not arrive at Embassy Tbilisi until March 2018. This was because the WH (White House) was late getting them to all embassies.”

Trump said he asked why some administration officials were being so kind to Yovanovitch. He claimed they told him, “Well, sir, she’s a woman. We have to be nice.”

Annual festival lights up Paramount Arts Center

ASHLAND — For 10 days each year, the historic Paramount Arts Center in Ashland transforms into a winter wonderland complete with dozens of decorated Christmas trees and miniature trains and villages on display.

The transformation is part of the annual Festival of Trees and Trains, which kicked off its 35th year Friday and will be open through Dec. 1. On Thursday, local students were given the chance to visit the venue for a sneak peek of the elements featured in this year’s event.

In addition to the trees and trains that make up the event’s name, the festival offers children’s activities, entertainment, special performances and more.

The Festival of Trees and Trains is open from noon to 9 p.m. on most weekdays; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturdays; noon to 6 p.m. Sundays; and 4 to 9 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Tickets are $6.50 for adults, $5.50 for kids 12 and under, and $12 for up to five people together on Family Day. Ages 3 and under are free. For more information, visit www.pacfott.org.

Woman in overdose death case wants parole

HUNTINGTON — A woman currently serving a 10-year sentence in the 2014 overdose death of another woman in Huntington is seeking to be released on parole about a year after her sentence was imposed.

Misty Dawn Chapman, 31, was given a 10-year sentence in October 2018 by Cabell Circuit Judge Alfred E. Ferguson, to be served on home confinement after pleading guilty to drug delivery resulting in death, pleading down from her original charge of murder.

Her victim, Racheal Diane Chaney, was found unresponsive Feb. 7, 2014, at her home in the 300 block of 5th Avenue West in Huntington and never revived.

Chapman appeared in Ferguson’s court Friday to request to be released on parole, but Cabell Prosecutor Sean “Corky” Hammers requested the hearing be reset so the victim’s mother could attend. She will return to the courtroom Dec. 12 for both sides, Hammers and defense attorney Abe Saad, to give arguments in the case.

In February 2014, Chaney and Chapman had spent a day at her co-defendant Angela Jarvis’ home taking drugs. Hammers has alleged that Jarvis illegally sold two prescriptions to Chaney, after which Chapman helped inject oxycodone into the woman’s bloodstream at a Milton residence before returning to Chapman’s Huntington home. Chapman said Chaney had issues finding a vein, so she helped her find a vein and inject oxycodone. Chapman said she had passed out on a bed for about 12 hours and woke to find Chaney dead.

After an autopsy, toxicology reports showed Chaney had a lethal dose of morphine from heroin in her system, as well as oxycodone, Hammers had alleged. Saad said Chapman denies involvement with the heroin.

Chapman was originally charged with murder in the case, but an agreement between Hammers and Saad led to Chapman pleading under a statute enacted in 2017 to address overdose deaths in West Virginia.

She was given credit for 194 days served in jail and 715 days spent on home confinement (half of the time she had served on home confinement prior to her sentencing) and has spent about 400 additional days on home confinement after the sentencing.