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Puerto Rico governor slams congressman over ‘dictatorial’ letter

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Puerto Rico’s governor on Monday fiercely defended his administration’s right to help steer the insolvent, storm-ravaged island out of bankruptcy after a U.S. congressman said the process should be led by the island’s creditors and federally appointed oversight board.

In a scorching, 6,000-word letter delivered on Monday to U.S. Representative Rob Bishop, and seen by Reuters, Governor Ricardo Rossello accused the Republican lawmaker of turning “back the clock many decades to a time when the federal government simply imposed its will” on the U.S. territory.

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Bishop, who chairs the House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, was at the forefront of a 2016 federal law known as PROMESA, which moved Puerto Rico’s finances under the management of a federally appointed board.

In a letter last week, Bishop censured the board for lack of progress on a massive planned debt restructuring in Puerto Rico, directing the board to seek more input from the island’s financial creditors on a plan to stabilize the island.

 Rossello said on Monday that flew in the face of PROMESA, which calls for the board and the governor to work together. He said the sides had made consensual progress on elements of Puerto Rico’s restructuring.
“I cannot and will not permit you to elevate concerns of bondholders on the mainland above concern for the well-being of my constituents,” Rossello said in the 13-page rebuke. “Your letter is truly disturbing in its reckless disregard for collaboration and cooperation in favor of an anti-democratic process akin to a dictatorial regime.”

 Puerto Rico is navigating both the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. government history, with $120 billion in bond and pension debt, and its worst natural disaster in 90 years with September’s Hurricane Maria. The storm killed dozens, devastated the island’s infrastructure, and has left thousands without power more than six months later.
Rossello’s letter, scattered with legal arguments supporting a theory that the board’s powers are limited, foreshadows the potential for litigation if his government and the oversight board cannot come to terms on a path forward for the island.

The two sides have been collaborating on an economic forecast, called a fiscal turnaround plan, whose projections will determine, crucially, how much money the island has left over to repay its bondholders.

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But they are apart on key issues, namely demands by the board to impose pension cuts and labor reforms. The governor has said those demands constitute specific policy decisions that exceed the board’s power.

 The board has the authority to certify a plan unilaterally if it cannot reach terms with the governor, and Bishop’s letter was seen as a nod to that increasingly likely scenario. In it, Bishop essentially instructed the board to use its powers to enforce austerity measures and start collaborating with creditors rather than with just the government.
A unilateral plan would likely perpetuate already costly litigation over Puerto Rico’s financial future, because Rossello could resist implementing the board’s plan, and the board could then sue to enforce it, a scenario that has some precedent.

Rossello insisted his government was owed a seat at the table. “Congress did not create a control board … with plenary policymaking power,” the governor said. “Congress expressly rejected such a model.”

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Reporting by Nick Brown; Editing by Peter Cooney


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‘Smoking gun so hot it’s still on fire’: Ex-US Attorney astonished by text shown in Vindman testimony

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A former U.S. Attorney says Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman has delivered "smoking gun" evidence of a quid pro quo arrangement between President Donald Trump and Ukraine.

The National Security Council staffer told a House impeachment inquiry that he was aware of -- and alarmed by -- efforts as early as March to pressure Ukraine to announce an investigation of Joe Biden and his son, which he believed were conducted to deliver a political benefit the president.

The counsel for House Democrats then showed a text sent 30 minutes before Trump's July 25 call to Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky, which shows the special envoy Kurt Volker dangling a White House visit to a Zelensky aide in exchange for an investigation.

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‘Perfectly impeachable’: George Conway says Vindman and Williams testimony is ‘absolutely devastating’ for Trump

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On Tuesday, as Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Mike Pence aide Jennifer Williams testified publicly about their knowledge of the Ukraine scandal, conservative lawyer George Conway called the testimony "devastating" for President Donald Trump — and proclaimed his conduct both impeachable and criminal.

This testimony, from two witnesses to the July 25 call, is absolutely devastating. That call was absolutely “perfect,” all right—perfectly impeachable.

And criminal.

— George Conway (@gtconway3d) November 19, 2019

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‘Improper’, ‘Unusual’: Aides describe Trump’s Ukraine call at impeachment hearing

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One top national security aide who listened to President Donald Trump’s July call with Ukraine’s president called it “improper.” Another said it was “unusual.” The two testified Tuesday at House impeachment hearings as the inquiry reached deeper into the White House.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an Army officer at the National Security Council, and Jennifer Williams, his counterpart at Vice President Mike Pence’s office, said they had concerns as Trump spoke on July 25 with the newly elected Ukraine president about political investigations into Democrat Joe Biden.

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