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House nears impeachment as Trump decries 'vicious crusade'

WASHINGTON — On the eve of almost-certain impeachment, President Donald Trump fired off a furious letter Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denouncing the “vicious crusade” against him, while Democrats amassed the votes they needed and Republicans looked ahead, vowing to defend Trump at next month’s Senate trial.

Trump, who would be just the third U.S. president to be impeached, acknowledged he was powerless to stop Wednesday’s vote. He appeared to intend his lengthy, accusatory message less for Pelosi than for the broad audience of citizens — including 2020 voters — watching history unfolding on Capitol Hill.

He accused the Democrats of acting out of “Trump Derangement Syndrome,” still smarting from their 2016 election losses. “You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own selfish, personal political and partisan gain.”

Portraying himself as a blameless victim, as he often does, Trump compared the impeachment inquiry to the “Salem Witch Trials.” Asked later if he bore any responsibility for the proceedings, he said, “No, I don’t think any. Zero, to put it mildly.”

Pelosi, who warned earlier this year against pursuing a strictly partisan impeachment, nonetheless has the numbers to approve it. According to a tally compiled by The Associated Press, Trump is on track to be formally charged by a House majority on Wednesday.

“Very sadly, the facts have made clear that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit and that he obstructed Congress,” Pelosi wrote to colleagues. “In America, no one is above the law.”

“During this very prayerful moment in our nation’s history, we must honor our oath to support and defend our Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic,” she said.

No Republicans have indicated they will support the the two articles of impeachment, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, setting up a close-to-party-line vote.

One by one, centrist Democratic lawmakers, including many first-term freshmen who built the House majority and could risk their reelection in districts where the president is popular, announced they would vote to impeach.

Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, referred to the oath she took in January as she was sworn into office as guiding her decision. She announced support for both articles of impeachment to “honor my duty to defend our Constitution and democracy from abuse of power at the highest levels.”

Republicans disagreed, firmly.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set the partisan tone for the next step, as attention will shift to the Senate which, under the Constitution, is required to hold a trial on the charges. That trial is expected to begin in January.

“I’m not an impartial juror,” McConnell declared. The Republican-majority chamber is all but sure to acquit the president.

From Alaska to Florida, tens of thousands of Americans marched in support of impeachment Tuesday evening, from a demonstration through a rainy Times Square to handfuls of activists standing vigil in small towns. They carried signs saying “Save the Constitution — Impeach!!!!” and “Criminal-in-Chief.”

“I really believe that the Constitution is under assault,” said one protester, 62-year-old Glenn Conway, of Holly Springs, North Carolina, attending his first political rally in 30 years. “I think we have a president at this point who believes he’s above the law.”

Trump is accused of abusing his presidential power in a July phone call in which he asked the newly elected president of Ukraine, a U.S. ally facing an aggressive Russia at its border, to “do us a favor” by investigating Democrats, including his potential 2020 rival Joe Biden. At the time, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was hoping for a coveted White House meeting that would bolster his standing with Ukraine’s most important ally. He also was counting on nearly $400 million in military aid Congress had approved to counter Russia. The White House had put the money on hold — as leverage, the Democrats say.

In his letter on Tuesday, Trump defended his “absolutely perfect” phone call that sparked the impeachment inquiry. He also tried to justify anew the Ukrainian investigations he wanted into Biden. And he disputed the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress’ investigation.

Conceding the House vote, he said he wanted to set his words down “for the purpose of history.”

Asked on CNN about Trump’s lengthy complaints about his treatment, Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California dismissed what he called a “childish, whiny letter.”

House Democrats continued to march toward Wednesday’s debate and votes.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to be here today, but the actions of the president of the United States make that necessary,” said Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., gaveling the Rules Committee, which met through the day, with lawmakers arguing over the parameters for the debate.

McGovern said, “Every day we let President Trump act like the law doesn’t apply to him, we move a little closer” to rule by dictators.

The top committee Republican, Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said, “When half of Americans are telling you what you are doing is wrong, you should listen.”

Lawmakers crossing party lines face consequences. One freshman Democrat, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, is indicating he will switch parties to become a Republican after opposing impeachment. Earlier this year, Michigan conservative Rep. Justin Amash left the GOP when he favored impeachment.

One new Democratic congressman, Jared Golden of Maine, said he would vote to impeach on abuse of power but not obstruction.

Hoping to dispatch with lengthy Senate proceedings, McConnell rejected Senate Democrats’ push for fresh impeachment testimony and made a last-ditch plea that House Democrats “turn back from the cliff” of Wednesday’s expected vote.

“Impeachment is a political decision,” McConnell said. “The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate. I’m not impartial about this at all.’’

McConnell’s remarks Tuesday effectively slapped the door shut on negotiations for a deal proposed by the Democratic leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who wants to call top White House officials for the Senate trial.

Schumer’s proposal was the first overture in what were expected to be negotiations between the two leaders. Trump wants a relatively broad, perhaps showy, Senate proceeding to not only acquit but also vindicate him of the impeachment charges.

McConnell and most other GOP senators prefer a swift trial to move on from impeachment. Many centrist House Democrats also are ready to vote and move on. Still, Schumer wants to hear from John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney and other current and former Trump officials who were instructed by the president not to appear in the House proceedings.

“Why is the leader, why is the president so afraid to have these witnesses come testify?” asked Schumer from the Senate floor. “They certainly ought to be heard.”

Trump “betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” the impeachment resolution says. “President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.”

Trump has promoted lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s investigation of Biden and a widely debunked theory that it was actually Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election, a conspiracy-laden idea that most other Republicans have actively avoided.

Volunteers pack food for Goodfellows

While Kay Stromer stood by the last box she put canned food in, she waited for her partner to return with more food and checked her fitness app on her smartwatch.

“You get your steps in,” she said. “I won’t have to go to the gym tonight.”

Stromer’s partner, Carrie Tibbs, quickly returned with more cans and the pair returned to putting food in almost 500 boxes Tuesday evening at the Goodfellows grocery packing session on the Adams County Fairgrounds.

The boxes will go to 230 families in the area by Friday and will have toys and over 40 different food items — about enough to last a week. Families applied for a Goodfellows box and those eligible were selected on perceived need.

Stromer and Tibbs went to the grocery packing session with a group of their coworkers from Conway Pauley and Johnson P.C.. About 30 family members and volunteers from other businesses helped over the course of the night.

Volunteers generally broke out into pairs, with one person pushing a shopping cart and handing groceries to their partner. The partner would gently place each food item in a box. Each box was marked with a number corresponding to a family. The more family members, the more food items.

This year was Stromer’s and Tibbs’ third year volunteering for Goodfellows. Tibbs said it doesn’t take long for the two to get a good grocery-packing rhythm going.

“It gets faster as you get going,” she said.

As people pushed their carts between the rows of boxes, each group would take a moment to greet each other — unless they were focused on keeping place in the line of boxes.

Tibbs said she likes to volunteer at Goodfellows because it is a good thing to do and it feels nice to help out people in the community.

lbeahm / Laura Beahm/Tribune  

Volunteers pack food boxes for Goodfellows Tuesday night at the Adams County Fairgrounds.

Diane Lepant came with some of her coworkers from Nebraska Aluminium Casting. This was her first year volunteering but she also got into the charitable spirit.

“It just makes you feel good to help out the community,” Lepant said.

The food was purchased with the help of money raised this Goodfellows season. Over $10,000 has been raised so far.

On Wednesday night, Goodfellows will continue getting the boxes ready with toy distribution and then gift wrapping on Thursday. The boxes will be picked up Friday and any remaining will delivered on Saturday.

Goodfellows was started in 1926 by then Tribune publisher Adam Breede.

Jail committee members hear financing figures

While paying for a new Adams County jail would be manageable for residential property owners, agricultural land owners would carry much more of a burden.

That was the response from members of the Citizens’ Jail Committee to financing options for a new jail presented by Andy Forney, vice president of public finance banking for D.A. Davidson, during a committee meeting Tuesday at the county’s Wallace Elementary building.

D.A. Davidson is the county’s bond counsel.

Using a $30 million project cost and interest rate of 2.75%, Forney said annual payments for a 20-year bond would be about $1.875 million. He said the current interest rate is 2.66%.

The projected required bond levy would be about 4.9 cents per $100 valuation.

Using the average home value in Adams County of $123,526, Forney calculated the annual cost would be $61.41, which breaks down to $5.12 per month.

For agricultural land, that same bond levy would cost $2.73 for an irrigated acre — with an average assessed value in Adams County of $5,497. The annual cost would be $436.80 for a 160-acre irrigated quarter section and $1,747 for a 640-acre irrigated section.

Another funding option for the county is a “nickel tax,” in which the supervisors could pass a property tax of 5.2 cents per $100 of value.

It’s possible the project may cost more than $30 million.

Adams County farmers Lance Atwater and Ron Pavelka, who serve on the Citizens’ Jail Committee, talked about how an added property tax would affect them and other Adams County farmers.

Scott Thomsen, a member of the Adams County Board of Supervisors who chairs the county’s buildings, grounds and equipment committee, said he considered himself an average Adams County resident and thought the residential levy amounts presented by Forney were manageable.

“When you look at you guys then it’s a big deal,” he said to Atwater and Pavelka.

Omaha architectural firm Prochaska & Associates, which is working with Adams County on the jail project, has projected in transporting and housing inmates elsewhere, Adams County’s annual costs are anticipated to increase from $1.69 million in 2018 to $13.74 million by 2050.

Atwater said ag land property owners may respond that with jail costs continuing to increase it is better to pay for a new facility now, or property owners may put their collective foot down saying they can’t support raising the levy any more.

With the rates Forney provided, Atwater estimated the owner of an average-sized farm in Adams County would wind up paying around $87,000 over the course of 20 years for a new jail.

With high property taxes and the current state of the farm economy, Atwater said there are ag land property owners in Adams County wondering if they will be able to continue farming.

Adams County is looking at constructing a new jail with around 150 beds because the current jail, which was constructed in 1962, has out-of-date infrastructure and is non-compliant with state regulations. The only reason it can stay open is because it is grandfathered in to stay in operation under old rules.

“There’s an immense amount of public safety and officer safety issues,” committee member Scott Snell said.

The current jail has a 37-bed capacity with another three beds for booking and three special purpose beds.

As Adams County grows into a new jail, initially about half of the beds could be rented out by other counties looking for additional space for inmates — like Adams County is doing now.

That would create revenue for the county and could help pay off a new jail quicker than 20 years.

Thomsen said he would like to enter into contracts with other counties.

“There are counties that are ready and willing to do that,” he said.

Prochaska representatives are scheduled to present square-foot cost estimates at a meeting on Jan. 7, 2020.

Weeds under control in Adams County

Noxious weeds remained largely controlled in Adams County during 2019.

Members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors voted 7-0 at their regular meeting Tuesday to approve the annual county weeds report from weed superintendent Eric Walston.

He said Adams County only has four of the 12 Nebraska noxious weeds, musk thistle being the primary one.

Walston said the county had some issues with phragmites in Prairie Lake due to flooding there.

“It was full, it’s still full,” he said. “We’ve got some phragmites out in the middle of it we can’t reach until it goes back down.”

He is working with the Little Blue Natural Resources District to schedule spraying there in the spring.

Walston reported the Twin Valley Weed Management Area found no phragmites on the Little Blue River. The river saw high levels of running water during the summer, which minimized the chance for phragmites to grow there.

He’s noticed an increase of leafy spurge and Canada thistle on U.S. highways 281 and 6 due to those noxious weeds “blowing off the hay truck all the way from where it came to where it went.”

He informed the Nebraska Department of Transportation, which is responsible for weed control along highways, of the location of the infestations.

When it comes to federal highways, Walston assists the state with weed control.

An inspector from the Nebraska Department of Agriculture did five weed inspections in Adams County during the year — three of which were random and two were complaint driven.

Three of those five inspections found no weeds.

One, near Hastings College, was treated.

“One of them we’re addressing with aerial spraying,” Walston said. “It’s not complete yet, but it’s in the works.”

Walston is working with that particular landowner, so the landowner will treat the noxious weeds himself rather than the county issuing a formal notice for spraying.

“I don’t want to fine anybody if we don’t have to,” he said. “I think he’s going to work with us this spring. If he does it himself he will save himself some money.”

Also during the meeting, the supervisors didn’t take action but affirmed their decision of June 18 to require nearly all county employees to go through the security screening process at the south entrance of the Adams County Courthouse.

The board discussed the policy Tuesday after board chairman Eldon Orthmann recently allowed state auditors to enter the building without going through security.

“His response was he would just take that chance,” Scott Thomsen, chairman of the county’s security committee, said about Orthmann’s response when Thomsen asked him about his decision. “I guess I was kind of confused by that. Security and taking a risk, they don’t quite go together. It just strikes me as strange how a board decision can be overturned so easily.”

Certain employees of the sheriff and county attorney offices, as well as judges, have dispensation and are allowed to use the building’s east entrance where there is no security.

“I will tell you when we go through the front door we do go through security,” Deputy County Attorney David Bergin said.

Orthmann said he believed the state auditors must be trustworthy to have their jobs.

“The judges and attorneys do not go through security, so I felt it was OK to let these people go through,” he said.

Supervisor Dale Curtis said it isn’t a selective choice who can and can’t bypass security and the board should stick with the policy it approved.

“I don’t care how trustworthy you are, just one person could come in and put a weapon in a bathroom or somewhere and come in afterwards,” he said. “That’s what the public wants protection for.”

In other business, the supervisors:

Unanimously approved, as the Board of Equalization, granting permission for Wash

  • ington National to offer insurance products to Adams County employees.
  • Unanimously approved tax list corrections as the Board of Equalization.
  • Unanimously approved, as the Board of Equalization, 311 motor vehicle exemption renewals from 39 entities.
  • Unanimously approved, as the Board of Equalization, rejecting a settlement offer from Omaha attorney David Skalka in a Tax Equalization Review Commission valuation case for a property owned by Dennis Tebbe.