The Janesville Plan Commission on Monday shot down what would have been the first step toward developing 19 five-unit apartment buildings on a 10-acre parcel off East Rotamer Road.
Eleanor M. Churley
Edwin Luling Nash Jr.
Dennis C. Neuman
Patricia “Patty” Ruchti
Beverly June Schaber
Dennis E. Schwarz
Elaine J. Wolff
Donald Trump’s presidency was dealt multiple blows last week as impeachment testimony portrayed him as fixated on squeezing a political favor from Ukraine, a one-time confidant was convicted of lying to Congress and new details emerged about a federal investigation of his personal lawyer.
Over two days of public hearings, a trio of career diplomats outlined what they saw as a back-channel pressure campaign on Ukraine led at Trump’s direction by Rudy Giuliani. It was an effort that sometimes relied on corrupt elements in Ukraine, they said, and was aimed at securing investigations that would damage one of Trump’s political rivals.
Their testimony was bolstered by the deposition that David Holmes, a current official at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, delivered behind closed doors on Friday. Holmes detailed a phone call between Trump and a top diplomat, which directly implicates the president in that pressure campaign.
Eight more current and former administration officials are scheduled to testify this week, including two with direct involvement in parts of the Ukraine saga at the center of the impeachment inquiry being conducted by House Democrats.
Despite the onslaught of bad news, there is no sign yet of a break in Trump’s wall of GOP support in Congress. While the Democratic majority in the House appears headed toward impeaching the president, it’s unlikely at this point that 20 GOP senators are ready to abandon Trump and provide the two-thirds majority needed to remove him from office.
The bigger risk for the president may be that the wall-to-wall coverage of the proceedings prove politically damaging for him ahead of his 2020 reelection campaign.
With the White House blocking Trump’s closest aides from cooperating, Democrats have been building a narrative through the mostly secondhand accounts of experienced diplomats, who are accustomed to taking careful notes and tying together threads of evidence.
On Wednesday, William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, and State Department official George Kent described coming to the realization that Trump’s allies were leading a “highly irregular” channel of parallel diplomacy that diverged from established U.S. policy approved by Congress.
That was reinforced Friday by Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled as the ambassador to Ukraine in May following what she said was a “smear campaign” led by Giuliani and his associates. She said being ousted in that manner damaged U.S. policy and gave “shady interests the world over” a lesson in how to get rid of an American envoy who doesn’t give them what they want.
“Our leadership depends on the power of our example and the consistency of our purpose. Both have now been opened to question,” Yovanovitch told the House Intelligence Committee on Friday.
Although she didn’t witness to the events central to the Democratic-led impeachment investigation, her testimony so agitated Trump that he delivered an insult-by-tweet at the same time she was speaking before the Intelligence Committee and a national television audience.
A short time after that tweet and a few blocks from the Capitol complex where the hearing was underway, a federal jury delivered a guilty verdict for Roger Stone, a longtime GOP operative and early Trump booster, who was charged with lying to Congress and obstructing a congressional inquiry.
The case included evidence that Trump knew during his 2016 campaign about WikiLeaks’ plans to release emails damaging to his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Separately, three U.S. officials told Bloomberg that Giuliani—who former national security adviser John Bolton compared to a “hand grenade” poised to blow up in the White House—is under investigation by federal prosecutors for possible campaign finance violations and failure to register as a foreign agent. It’s part of an active probe of Giuliani’s financial dealings that potentially could expose Trump to a new level of legal and political jeopardy.
Amid those developments, Trump is fighting a battle at the Supreme Court to prevent both the Democratic-led House and prosecutors in New York from getting access to his tax returns and other financial records.
Yovanovitch served as a sympathetic casualty of the Ukraine saga, someone who joined the U.S. foreign service under Republican Ronald Reagan and worked under presidents of both parties. For decades she took some of the harshest assignments in the diplomatic corps only to be recalled from Ukraine without explanation and bad-mouthed by Trump.
“I had no other agenda other than to pursue our stated foreign policy goals,” Yovanovitch said.
Yovanovitch had already testified she felt threatened when she read that Trump called her “bad news” during his July 25 phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and said “she’s going to go through some things.”
Democrats said Trump’s tweet during hearing amounted to witness intimidation that could form the basis of an article of impeachment for obstruction. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi already has raised the prospect of a bribery count if Democrats go through with impeachment.
“We saw today witness intimidation in real time by the president of the United States,” Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said during a break in the hearing. “We take this kind of witness intimidation and obstruction very seriously.”
Some Republicans said they disagreed with Trump tweeting about Yovanovitch, though his defenders sought to minimize the damage.
New York Republican Lee Zeldin said the tweets weren’t witness intimidation because “Ambassador Yovanovitch wasn’t on Twitter” at the time and only knew about it because Schiff read it to her during the hearing.
Members of the Intelligence Committee went straight from Yovanovitch’s public testimony to the closed-door hearing with Holmes on Friday. Holmes told the committee about a phone call between Trump and Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, regarding the investigations that the president and his allies were demanding of Ukraine.
According to Holmes’ opening statement, obtained by CNN, he was with Sondland on the terrace of a restaurant in Kiev when the ambassador used his cell phone to call Trump to brief him on a meeting with Zelenskiy. Holmes said Sondland held the phone out because “the president’s voice was very loud and recognizable,” allowing others at the table to hear both sides of the conversation.
Trump asked about “the investigations,” and Sondland assured him that Zelenskiy would do anything Trump asked him to do, according to Holmes’ testimony.
Holmes said he later asked Sondland if the president cared about Ukraine, and Sondland said Trump did not “give a s—- about Ukraine.”
“I asked why not, and Ambassador Sondland stated that the president only cares about ‘big stuff,’” Holmes testified, according to the document posted by CNN. “I noted that there was ‘big stuff’ going on in Ukraine, like a war with Russia, and Ambassador Sondland replied that he meant ‘big stuff’ that benefits the president, like the ‘Biden investigation.”’
Holmes’ testimony undercuts two main thrusts of the Republican defense in the impeachment inquiry: that witnesses thus far didn’t have firsthand knowledge of events, and that Trump wasn’t directly implicated.
This revelation also raises the stakes for Sondland’s public testimony this week.
Sondland, a hotel executive who donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee, answered many of the questions during his closed-door testimony last month by saying he didn’t recall the details of relevant events regarding Ukraine.
The next round of public hearings also includes Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a U.S. Army officer assigned to the White House National Security Council who listened in on Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy. He’s previously testified that he was so disturbed by what he heard that he reported his concerns to the NSC’s legal counsel.
Vindman’s statement corroborates the complaint made by an intelligence community whistle-blower who Trump and his Republican allies have repeatedly sought to discredit and dismiss.
Others who are scheduled to testify include: Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence; Ambassador Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine; Tim Morrison, an NSC aide focusing on Europe and Russia policy; Laura Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs; David Hale, the under secretary of State for political affairs; and Fiona Hill, former NSC senior director for Europe and Russia.
When he was a little kid, Alex used to be good at math.
But now as a college student, he’s more interested in English and history.
He’s also into politics. He said he can name the 45 U.S. presidents in order (but he occasionally stumbles around the middle).
Sometimes, the UW-Whitewater student gets tension in his muscles and flings his arms. But he said he doesn’t see many other ways being on the autism spectrum affects his campus experience.
“I’m just more weary of those things as the days go on. I’m getting better and better with adjusting to my environment,” he said. “But I’m still my same old self.”
Alex is figuring out when and to whom he wants to open up about being on the spectrum—maybe when someone asks him about getting more time on tests or another person brings up a relative on the autism spectrum.
At the same time, he’s still trying—like every other college student—to find his identity. But when he opens up about his disability, people sometimes respond by saying they never would have known.
“And in a lot of aspects, I think that’s really good,” he said. “But sometimes in some aspects, I like people that I can trust to tell them some of my issues that I’ve had in the past so they can maybe understand me better now.”
Alex is among an increasing number of students on the autism spectrum attending UW-Whitewater.
Karen Fisher, the disability services coordinator at the Center for Students with Disabilities, remembers having about five such students on her caseload when she started at the university about 15 years ago. More recently, she said, that number is about 100.
“Some of them are geniuses that we were losing prior because they didn’t fit the standard model,” she said. “And now, things are shifting so that their gifts can be seen and valued.”
Leann Smith Dawalt, a senior scientist at UW-Madison’s Waisman Center, said more students on the spectrum attending college is a result of multiple converging trends.
For one, she said, more people of all abilities are pursuing higher education. Additionally, more children on the autism spectrum are receiving diagnoses earlier in their lives, and intervention is happening sooner.
The center says the disorder is “a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges” that now is a broader spectrum that includes what used to be diagnosed separately, such as Asperger syndrome.
While colleges are becoming more accommodating to students on the spectrum, Smith Dawalt said UW-Whitewater was “really ahead of the curve” and “a pioneer” in its programming to support students with disabilities.
She pointed to a summer program for those students before they start on campus. The program helps them transition to college life and connects them to support services.
Fisher said about one-third of students who attend that program are on the autism spectrum. She estimated that in a given summer they might have 65 or 70 students total.
Fisher also mentioned tutoring services offered to students with disabilities.
Alex, who asked The Gazette to publish only his first name because he will be searching for jobs, has been one of those tutors for three years. Because he has his own disability, the students he tutors know he can connect with them in a way others cannot, he said.
Fisher said a study from a few years ago showed students who took advantage of the university’s programming had higher GPAs. The study showed students on the spectrum who attended the summer transition program had an average GPA of 3.3, while the average for all students on the spectrum is 2.99.
She also said these students had higher retention rates. After participating in a two-hour informational meeting before coming to the university, students with autism, she said, were retained for two years and beyond at a rate of 90.66%.
“Students on the spectrum are good students. They tend to be really good students,” Fisher said. “It’s not like everything is easy-peasy for them, but they tend to … value education.”
Experts spoke to some of the challenges students on the spectrum can face.
Smith Dawalt pointed to the scheduling differences between high school and college. In the former, each day is largely the same and classes are in the same building, while the latter has more variability in day-to-day routine.
College campuses are harder to navigate, she said. Higher education also requires students to be more proactive in getting the services they need.
Fisher said students on the spectrum have a different style of communication that might not be attuned to the indirect way neurotypical people speak.
For example, instead of a professor during office hours saying, “Would you like to take a seat,” she recommended being more direct and saying, “Please take a seat.”
“It’s a lot of little, subtle things like that,” she said.
To be clear, there is no monolithic college experience for students on the autism spectrum, just as is the case with any college student.
And the spectrum is just that—a spectrum. And it’s one that Fisher said is “very, very wide.”
“There’s a saying in the autism community: ‘So you met one person with autism? That means you met one person with autism,’” she said.
There are other misconceptions, too. Sometimes, she said, others can go to stereotypes and generalizations about students with disabilities.
Fisher said people hear the word “disability” and think of “wheelchair,” but many disabilities are not visibly apparent.
“Many, many, many disabilities are invisible,” she said. “They’re learning disabilities, ADHD, anxiety, depression, auditory processing, whatever. There’s lots of stuff that you can’t see on the outside.”
While Smith Dawalt said research suggests more students on the spectrum go into STEM fields, Fisher said she knows students who are interested in all areas of study.
And college is also about change. Interests are not static.
“If you go to school, you can actually learn more things,” Smith Dawalt said. “Hopefully, we are experiencing personal growth, and people with autism do the same thing.”
Alex, who is studying physical education, might not like math as much as he used to.
But in college, he has gravitated toward areas that interest him. Just last week, he had a good discussion with a floormate for a few hours about politics, he said.
Receiving a diagnosis for autism spectrum disorder does not determine how a child’s life will turn out, Fisher said. She has seen many people with significant autism diagnostic criteria—such as not talking until age 6, 7 or 8—who ended up becoming college graduates.
But early intervention from doctors, families and schools can make all the difference.
“I’m really excited about this because students on the spectrum are the people that will save the world,” she said.
A Beloit developer wants to build single-family homes and duplexes on a cornfield that has attracted controversy in recent years.
Zach Knutson of Next Generation Construction in Beloit wants to develop 10 acres of cornfield behind Walmart and Sam’s Club adjacent to the Briar Crest Meadows neighborhood, he said.
It is the same parcel where a developer in 2017 proposed building 19 five-unit apartment buildings and was met with passionate opposition from residents in the neighborhood.
The 2017 plan never made it past the city’s plan commission, but Knutson thinks his idea is different and makes sense for everyone.
Under Knutson’s plan, the half of the parcel closest to the neighborhood would host single family homes. The half closest to Walmart and Sam’s Club would host duplexes, he said.
A community member in 2017 told the plan commission he and others did not support the apartment project because when the city negotiated for the land that was eventually developed into Walmart and Sam’s Club, the city promised to keep the 10-acre parcel zoned R1 to act as a buffer between Briar Crest and the businesses.
Commission members agreed with the neighbor and unanimously chose to shut the project down by not approving a request to rezone.
The Janesville Plan Commission on Monday shot down what would have been the first step toward developing 19 five-unit apartment buildings on a 10-acre parcel off East Rotamer Road.
Knutson will need the plan commission to approve rezoning a portion of the parcel before he can build duplexes.
The duplexes would act as a buffer between the single-family homes and retail stores, which Knutson believes is aligned with what neighbors asked for in 2017, he said.
Brian Schweigel, senior planner for the city, said Knutson’s plan is for low-density housing.
A neighborhood meeting is scheduled for Thursday so Knutson can share his plans with the neighborhood and gather feedback before submitting plans for city review, Schweigel said.
“In reality, I am very aware of concerns of the neighborhood,” Knutson said. “I am local, and I want to develop it and want to try to come to a plan that makes sense for everyone.”
City staff will attend the neighborhood meeting to answer questions about the public review process, Schweigel said.
The land behind Walmart is attractive because it is close to walking trails, Interstate 90/39 and retailers, Knutson said.
The city’s concern about a lack of available housing motivated Knutson to pursue the plan, he said.
Knutson characterizes his business as a semi-custom production builder. If his plan is approved, Knutson said some homes would be built on speculation and some would be pre-sold.
The market would dictate how the duplexes are managed, Knutson said.
His business has a property management division, but he has not yet completed a business plan to determine who would own or manage the buildings.
The project would be privately funded without public incentives, Knutson said.
Knutson hopes to start construction in spring.
More than a few residents in the Briar Crest subdivision made it clear to a developer Tuesday that they’re not thrilled about the prospect of an apartment development just west of them.