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House panel to vote on Ukraine report as Trump mulls defense

WASHINGTON — The House impeachment inquiry enters a pivotal stage this week, with investigators planning a vote Tuesday to approve their report making the case for President Donald Trump’s removal from office as he decides whether to mount a defense before a likely Senate trial.

A draft report will be available for members of the House Intelligence Committee to view in a secure location before their planned vote on Tuesday, which would send their findings to the House Judiciary Committee to consider actual charges.

Majority Democrats say the report will speak for itself in laying out possible charges of bribery or “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional standard for impeachment. Republicans want Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, to testify, though they have no power to compel him to do so, as they try to cast the Democratic-led inquiry as skewed against the Republican president.

“If he chooses not to (testify), then I really question his veracity in what he’s putting in his report,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

“It’s easy to hide behind a report,” Collins added. “But it’s going to be another thing to actually get up and have to answer questions.”

Schiff has said “there’s nothing for me to testify about,” that he isn’t a “fact” witness and that Republicans are only trying to “mollify the president, and that’s not a good reason to try to call a member of Congress as a witness.”

Coming after two weeks of public testimony, the findings of the House Intelligence Committee report are not yet publicly known. But the report is expected to mostly focus on whether Trump abused his office by withholding military aid approved by Congress as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to launch investigations into Trump’s political rivals.

Democrats also are expected to include an article on obstruction of Congress that outlines Trump’s instructions to officials in his administration to defy subpoenas for documents or testimony.

Democrats are aiming for a final House vote by Christmas, which would set the stage for a likely Senate trial in January.

“I do believe that all evidence certainly will be included in that report so the Judiciary Committee can make the necessary decisions that they need to,” said Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., a member of both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees.

She said Democrats had not yet finalized witnesses for the upcoming Judiciary hearings and were waiting to hear back from Trump on his plans to present a defense.

“If he has not done anything wrong, we’re certainly anxious to hear his explanation of that,” Demings said.

The Judiciary Committee’s first hearing is Wednesday. It’s expected to feature four legal experts who will examine questions of constitutional grounds as the committee decides whether to write articles of impeachment against Trump, and if so, what those articles will be.

After weeks of deriding the process as a sham, Trump has yet to say whether he or his attorneys will participate in the Judiciary hearings. He’s previously suggested that he might be willing to offer written testimony under certain conditions.

“The Democrats are holding the most ridiculous Impeachment hearings in history. Read the Transcripts, NOTHING was done or said wrong!” Trump tweeted Saturday, before falling silent on Twitter for much of Sunday.

It’s unlikely that the president himself would attend on Wednesday, as Trump is scheduled to be at a summit with NATO allies outside London. The Judiciary Committee gave the White House until Sunday evening to decide whether Trump or his attorneys would attend.

Trump must then decide by Friday whether he would take advantage of due process protections afforded to him under House rules adopted in October for follow-up hearings, including the right to request witness testimony and to cross-examine the witnesses called by the House.

“Why would they want to participate in just another rerun?” asked Collins, noting that the Judiciary Committee previously heard from constitutional scholars on impeachable offenses during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

“This is a complete American waste of time of here,” Collins said, who is calling on the committee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to expand the witness list to include those sought by Republicans. “This is why this is a problematic exercise and simply a made-for-TV event coming on Wednesday.”

Still, Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California, a Judiciary Committee member, said he believes Trump would benefit if he presents his own defense.

“I think it would be to the president’s advantage to have his attorneys there. That’s his right,” he said.

McClintock said he doesn’t believe Trump did anything wrong in the July 25 call with Zelenskiy that is at the heart of the investigation.

“He didn’t use the delicate language of diplomacy in that conversation, that’s true. He also doesn’t use the smarmy talk of politicians,” McClintock said.

To McClintock, Trump was using “the blunt talk of a Manhattan businessman” and “was entirely within his constitutional authority” in his dealings with Ukraine’s leader.

Collins appeared on “Fox News Sunday” and Demings and McClintock were on ABC’s “This Week.”

The giving season has begun with Toys for Tots

With Christmas less than four weeks out, things are getting hectic for Toys for Tots volunteers.

Parades, appearances, toy drives and more aren’t far down the pike.

Standing in front of a table during the ongoing Toys for Tots drive, Linda Davis — coordinator for the charity for Denton, Cooke, Wise and Montague counties — estimated the local organization has roughly 500 donation boxes spread across the area.

“They never fail us, we’ve never been short,” Davis said.

Jeff Woo/DRC 

Toys for Tots volunteers stand near a donation table and prepare to accept donations Sunday from locals at the Golden Triangle Mall in Denton.

Additionally, the national Toys for Tots Foundation has sent a fair number of toys to the toy warehouse in Denton.

That’s good news, volunteers said Sunday, because approximately 970 families have already signed up to receive Christmas presents through the local branch this year. That’s up from roughly 650 families in 2018.

Despite the surge in participating families, the charity had to uproot itself from what had been a rent-free, 5,500-square-foot toy warehouse in the Stonehill Center in northwestern Denton.

Since May, the expanding operation has had to make due with a 3,300-square-foot space behind the scenes at the Golden Triangle Mall.

While they’ll start hunting for a bigger spot in early 2020, workers did what they could to utilize what space they had, said retired U.S. Marine Cpl. Joe Hammers.

Jeff Woo/DRC  

Retired U.S. Marine Cpl. Joe Hammers, left, and Toys for Tots coordinator Linda Davis, hold some toys that will go to children for Christmas inside the Toys for Tots warehouse Sunday at the Golden Triangle Mall in Denton.

“I mean, you have to work with the positives,” said Hammers, who works as warehouse manager for the local Toys for Tots branch. “You can’t go out, so you’ve got to go up.”

Volunteers from Guyer High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC were vital in installing wooden shelves and reassembling bike racks.

In the dimly lit space, shelves are stacked high with toys, board games, Bluetooth speakers and more. As in years past, Hammers said it’s older kids who are hardest to gather donations for.

“Once you get your learner’s permit, you really start to slip away,” from wanting traditional toys, Hammers said. “Every year, that’s always the hard area to tackle.”

For the 13-year-olds and up, it’s a matter of getting makeup, fishing items, headphones, art sets and the like.

While the donation period officially ends Dec. 15, Davis and Hammers said they won’t turn away anybody in need. Those looking to donate can do so by going to the local Toys for Tots website at https://bit.ly/2OHes0F.

For more information about volunteering, donating or signing up, call 940-391-6267.

The current toy drive will last through Tuesday evening, and volunteers can be found near the food court in the Golden Triangle Mall.

The Watchdog: 17 tips you need to know to make you a super searcher on Google

“I love your tips,” a woman told The Watchdog recently.

That got me thinking. What are the best tips I could share with you to ensure that you’re a super-consumer who buys only the best products, hires the best people and knows how to avoid scams?

In Watchdog Nation, we call the most important consumer tool “the magic Google box.”

Google is magic. Life before Google stunk. You had to work the Yellow Pages, make phone calls, visit a library, stop at store after store to find the exact product you sought.

What once could take hours now takes seconds.

I’ve put together this list of Google tips. How many do you know and use?

1. Know which links are ads, and which aren’t. Until a couple of years ago, Google placed most of the paid advertised websites on the right side of search results. Search results and paid ads were clearly separated. But then Google moved the paid ads to the top of search results. Now the only way to tell if a result is an ad is by looking for a tiny square box at the front of the result marked “AD.” I bet many people miss it.

I usually skip the ads and burrow down lower on the front page to find non-advertised results.

2. Don’t stay on the front page. Dig deeper. Many of us don’t go past the first search results page. Good results are often deeper inside.

3. Search first. One of the cardinal rules of Watchdog Nation is to always search before buying something or hiring someone. Use a company’s name and location with key words: John Doe Plumbing of Carrollton, for example.

Then test other keywords with that: complaints, reviews, scam. Better to do this before rather than after.

For products, try the manufacturer, the model number of the product, the name of the store where you may buy the item: Frigidaire model 39-A at Best Buy and complaints.

4. The best part might be on the bottom of page 1. At the bottom, you’ll find a section headlined “Search terms related to … ” Those are the phrases others use to find answers to queries that are similar to yours.

5. Be suspicious. Although Google has made improvements, scammers still know how to game the setup. Companies also use ads and search results to steal business from competitors. For example, you’re looking for that plumbing company you used a couple of years ago, but a competitor figured out a way to intercept you. One popular method is populating Google Maps to make it look like a company is close to you when it’s not. Bottom line: Double-check before clicking on the link that calls the company. Search again for your target in a different way. Find the company’s actual website.

6. Don’t forget the “News” tab. Most of us use the “All” tab on Google because it’s the first one listed. But don’t forget to slide over and use “News” also. That search often brings up more recent information on the subject.

7. Auto-complete is a favorite. Go to the magic search box and type in the start of your query and see what choices pop up. The words that automatically fill in are indicative of what most people are asking.

8. Use private browsing. If you’re signed into Google, Google knows who you are and where you live — and delivers search results accordingly. To hide your identity from Google, use the private browser. In Chrome, it’s called Incognito. In Safari, it’s called Private Window. In Firefox, it’s called Private Browsing. Why do this? When searching for personal health questions, for example, it’s best to keep the most private questions as private as possible. It’s still traceable, but it doesn’t show up in your search history — and should provide another level of privacy.

9. Remember that Google has competitors. Microsoft’s Bing is one. DuckDuckGo is another search engine that promises to protect your privacy.

10. Google tries to keep you. Google now tries to answer popular questions on its main page so you don’t click away. One way is a fairly new “Knowledge Panel,” which pulls information and presents it in a box. You’ve seen it. Often the knowledge provided is good enough (How old is a celebrity?). But don’t stop there.

11. Use the minus symbol before a word to exclude that word from search results.

12. Pay attention to how you arrange your words. Lisa Eadicicco, who attended a Google search class, points out that dog chow and chow dog bring up very different results. “One refers to pet food while the other is the name of a breed of dog,” she writes on BusinessInsider.com.

13. Wikipedia? Nah. Google loves to return Wikipedia results high. But Wikipedia is not a truly-verified source. False information has been planted in Wikipedia. If you rely on Wikipedia, scroll down to the list of sources for that article, and double-check that way.

14. Use a colon to search a particular website. For example: dallasnews.com: dave lieber watchdog column and property tax.

15. Be wary of phrase stealers. Let’s say you’re shopping for electricity and you want to visit the state’s website, PowerToChoose.org. You type in power to choose, but Google leads you instead to electricity companies that, unethically, use the same phrase. The real PowerToChoose.org shows up lower. (The problem is so bad that last week, the Public Utility Commission put out a news release warning about this.)

16. Is your final result legitimate? Who is behind the website? What’s their motive? Is it really a consumer information site? Or is it a front for a specific company?

17. Finally, don’t forget your human search engines. They are called librarians. They know how to find stuff better than almost anybody. Your taxpayer dollars help pay for reference librarians at your neighborhood public library. Don’t be shy. They are there to help.

Tailgater of the Week: Section 208 crew enjoys camaraderie before and during game

The college football season has come and gone for the University of North Texas, which stumbled against the University of Alabama at Birmingham 26-21 during their season finale Saturday afternoon at Apogee Stadium.

The Mean Green, who entered this season with high hopes and expectations of playing in their fourth consecutive bowl game, ended a long and arduous season Saturday with an overall record of 4-8.

While this season had fallen short of expectations for many fans of the Mean Green, Saturday’s finale had given opportunity to the Section 208 Tailgate Crew to gather in support of UNT one last time.

Denton resident David Barnes, 53, says that he began tailgating home football games at UNT back when he was a student nearly two and a half decades ago. Back then, he was typically the only person in his group that would tailgate when the Mean Green had played at Fouts Field, he said, adding that not even his kids or wife had wanted to go.

But, over the years, as friends from college have reunited and new ones were made along the way, Barnes said that his once lonesome tailgating-affair has grown to about 30 to 40 people. Barnes, an occupational therapist, says that despite his disappointment to the performance this season a great time was still had tailgating.

“We have a great time coming,” he said. “We all get together and have a good time and play ladder ball and cornhole, and we all bring food, too … it’s just a good time to get together and socialize.”

Mark Finley / Jeff Woo/DRC  

The Section 208 tailgaters compete against each other in a game of cornhole before they go watch the University of North Texas football game Saturday at Apogee Stadium in Denton.

Barnes' tailgate consisted of a potluck-style meal where people brought what they could, including a medley of pulled pork sandwiches, piping hot queso and mac n’ cheese. In addition, the Section 208 tailgater crew prepared a batch of Mean Green Punch, which included blue curacao, sprite, vodka and orange juice.

He said that Saturday’s tailgate against UAB had been the biggest turnout since he started tailgating with his friends at Apogee Stadium six years ago. Since then, his tailgate has grown in numbers, in part, due to inviting other Mean Green fans from inside of their section area at Apogee Stadium out to tailgate with them, he said.

“A couple of people here sit in the same section that we do in the stadium,” he said about Section 208. “And, we asked them, ‘Why don’t you come tailgate with us?’ So, now they started coming with us and we made it into a friendship and they bring their friends.”

Denton resident Mike Behning, 58, who graduated from UNT before attending Texas Woman’s University in the 1990s, said his most memorable tailgate experience is hard to choose from. But what it boils down to, he says, is being afforded the time to socialize with friends and taking pride that their section cheers the loudest.

Mark Finley / Jeff Woo/DRC  

The Section 208 tailgaters play a game of ladder golf while other members of the group watch before they go to Saturday’s University of North Texas football game at Apogee Stadium in Denton.

“I can’t say that there’s been one memorable experience,” Behning said. “But the entire experience of coming out for the tailgate, whether it’s hot, whether it’s cold weather or its windy … . We’re out here all the time because we’re supporting the university and we like the camaraderie, that’s the thing that’s most memorable to us.”

Behning, who also attends UNT basketball games, said the university has invested a large sum of money and resources into the community and that he finds value in supporting the program’s trajectory.

“Why not be at the ground level?” he said, standing in front of the newly built indoor practice facility. “When people are fighting for tailgate spots out here, we’re going to be grandfathered in.”

Barnes, who was the first to purchase Section 208 tickets, followed by Behning and then the rest of their group, said that everyone typically has fun after the tailgating ends and they enter the stadium. During the game, he said it’s not uncommon for their section to be seen trading high-fives after a Mean Green first down. While he is not familiar with every person in their section, he says everyone has tended to be welcoming.

A personal factor that continues to bring him out to tailgating, however, is the opportunity he has to spend time with family, including one of the biggest fans of the Mean Green, his 3-year-old grandson. Barnes says that his grandson will sing the UNT fight song and is even aware what is happening on offense and defense.

“Being able to spend time with my grandson, my family and friends is wonderful,” he said.