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Iran scientist acquitted in US trade secrets case deported |NationalTribune.com

An Iranian scientist imprisoned for years in the United States despite being acquitted in a trade secrets case is on his way back to Iran on Tuesday after being deported by US authorities.  Professor Sirous Asgari was in the air on a flight back to Tehran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an Instagram…

Iran scientist acquitted in US trade secrets case deported |NationalTribune.com

An Iranian scientist imprisoned for years in the United States despite being acquitted in a trade secrets case is on his way back to Iran on Tuesday after being deported by US authorities. 
Professor Sirous Asgari was in the air on a flight back to Tehran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an Instagram post, writing: “Congratulations to his wife and his esteemed family,”
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There was no immediate word on Iranian state media about the flight.
Asgari, a professor at Iran’s Sharif University of Technology, was indicted in April 2016 while on an academic research visit to the US.
He was accused by federal prosecutors of trying to steal secret research from Case Western Reserve University. The Cleveland school had been working on a project for the US Navy Office of Naval Research to create anti-corrosive stainless steel.
Asgari was ultimately acquitted in November 2019 after US District Judge James Gwin tossed out the case by prosecutors.
Ken Cuccinelli, acting deputy secretary of Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told The Associated Press it tried to deport Asgari on December 12 after his acquittal. However, he said, Iran refused to recognise him as legitimately Iranian or provide him with a validated passport until late February 2020.
Once Asgari received the passport, DHS made several attempts to fly him back to Iran, purchasing tickets for flights on March 10, March 18, March 23, April 1 and May 1, according to Cuccinelli. Each of those flights was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19 stricken
Asgari’s supporters told The Guardian newspaper in April that he contracted the coronavirus while imprisoned. He had been held at Louisiana’s Winn Correctional Center by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement before his deportation.
Iran’s deputy education minister, Hossein Salar Amoli, recently said Asgari recovered from the virus and would be able to travel, state-run IRNA news agency reported.
It was unclear if Iran would release an American prisoner as part of a deal.
Assal Rad, from the National Iranian American Council, said if there was a prisoner exchange, it would mark a positive step forward in the tense relations between the rivals. 
“The speculation comes from the fact that a prisoner exchange is the lowest-lying fruit in diplomacy in a situation where you want to see a relationship develop. Just a few months ago we were on the brink of war, so the idea of a prisoner exchange is always the first diplomatic step taken,” Rad told Al Jazeera.  
‘Positive publicity’
Reporting from Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Zein Basravi said Asgari had become “a bit of a playing card in a political game” between Iran and the US.
“There were frustrations from US officials about Iran not making the arrangements for Asgari, as well as other Iranian citizens the US wants to return,” Basravi said.
“And Iran has been criticising US officials over and over again in the last few weeks and months for not making a speedy return of its citizens.”
It is believed 20 Iranian citizens are being held in the US, and five Americans in Iranian custody, he added.
“There’s been a lot of speculation as to whether or not any of the prisoners being held in Iran will be released as Asgari is on a plane making his way home,” said Basravi.

“But there are many other people saying the release of Asgari is basically a function of the US ‘system’, not necessarily something that would lead to a prisoner swap. Nonetheless, there is some speculation that this could result in some sort of exchange of citizens, and the Iranian government no doubt would use Asgari’s return as an opportunity to gain some positive publicity.”
Among the US citizens held in Iran is US Navy veteran Michael White, who was detained in July 2018 while visiting a girlfriend in Iran. He was convicted of insulting Iran’s supreme leader and posting private information online.
He was released from prison in March on a medical furlough that required him to remain in the country in the care of the Swiss Embassy in Tehran, which represents US interests. White is among tens of thousands of prisoners granted medical furloughs by Iran, which was one of the first countries hit hard by the spreading coronavirus.
Bargaining chips
In December last year, Iran released a Princeton University graduate student held for three years on widely disputed espionage charges in exchange for the release of another detained Iranian scientist.
In March, the family of former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who vanished in Iran 13 years ago on an unauthorised CIA mission, said they had been informed by US officials that Levinson was probably dead. They have not elaborated on how they made that determination.
Westerners and Iranian dual-nationals with ties to the West often find themselves tried and convicted in closed-door trials in Iran, only later to be used as bargaining chips in negotiations.
The release comes as the US under President Donald Trump continues a “maximum pressure” campaign targeting Iran after unilaterally withdrawing from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers in May 2018.
In the time since, the two countries have seen a series of escalating incidents, including the US drone attack killed a top Iranian general in Baghdad, and an Iranian ballistic missile attack targeting US troops in Iraq.
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acquitted

Trump acquitted: What’s next for the president, Democrats?

Washington, DC – The Republican-led United States Senate handed Donald Trump his biggest victory yet on Wednesday after it acquitted the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. “It’s a big win for President Trump,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor of law and director of the Public Policy Institute at Loyola Law School…

Trump acquitted: What’s next for the president, Democrats?

Washington, DC – The Republican-led United States Senate handed Donald Trump his biggest victory yet on Wednesday after it acquitted the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
“It’s a big win for President Trump,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor of law and director of the Public Policy Institute at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.
“He’s going to say this was exoneration,” Levinson told Al Jazeera.
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That was indeed the word coming from the White House after the final votes on Wednesday.
“The shame impeachment attempt concocted by the Democrats ended in the full vindication and exoneration of President Donald J Trump,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement.
Trump on Wednesday spoke from the White House, saying it was a “day of celebration”. 
The president labelled the impeachment and Democrats as “evil and corrupt”. 
“This should never ever happen to another president,” Trump said in televised remarks. “We went through hell, unfairly. We did nothing wrong.”
Wednesday votes fell largely along party lines, with only one Republican, Senator Mitt Romney, breaking ranks to vote with the Democrats on the first article: abuse of power. Even with his support, the vote fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to convict and remove a president.
Republican senators viewed the case primarily as a partisan attack by Democrats on their president. Democrats meanwhile contend that Trump’s acquittal gives him a greenlight to do similar things in the future.
“If Trump gets re-elected, I don’t think there will be any constraints on what he does,” said John Jackson, a visiting politics professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at the University of Southern Illinois.

US senators casting their votes on the second article of impeachment obstruction of Congress during the final votes in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump [Senate TV/Handout via Reuters] 

The president’s acquittal in the Senate is a measure of his political strength among Republican voters and the combination of admiration and fear with which he is regarded by Republican officeholders.
Trump took charge of his own defence early on. He denied House Democrats’ allegations, fought off investigators’ demands for information, and with the help of allies in Congress held Republicans together in turning the whole affair into a partisan exercise.
While the outcome gives Trump a political win, it does not resolve questions about his handling of aid to Ukraine and pursuit of foreign help in the upcoming 2020 US presidential election to be held in November. 
And the way the trial was conducted also gives Democrats ammunition to try frame the acquittal as not a big victory for Trump, but a loss for the country, analysts say. 
‘Cover-up’
Democrats will frame the trial as a “cover-up” and will use the Ukraine case to foster doubts among US voters about Trump’s corruption and dishonesty, said Keith Whittington, a politics professor at Princeton University.
“Democrats will continue to denounce not only the president for abusing power but also the Republican senators for limiting the scope of the trial,” Whittington told Al Jazeera.
Republicans in the Senate refused Democrats’ demands to call witnesses and maintained party discipline to reject strong arguments by the House that Trump abused his power and obstructed Congress.
At the core of Trump’s impeachment was a phone call in which the US president asked his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma.
There is no evidence the Bidens did anything wrong.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speaks during a bilateral meeting with Trump on the sidelines of the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly [File: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Prior to the call, Trump froze nearly $400m in congressionally approved US security assistance for Ukraine and directed officials to tell Zelenskyy privately the money would not be released until the investigations Trump wanted were announced, according to testimony.
House investigators interviewed 17 witnesses and held 35 hours of public hearings to build a record in support of their case. But the White House refused to allow Trump’s closest aides to testify in the inquiry and withheld emails and documents demanded by investigators.
A key turning point in the Senate trial came when Republicans voted 51-49 to reject a demand by Democrats that the Senate call witnesses, including Trump’s former NSA John Bolton whose forthcoming book reportedly details conversations with the president, one in which Trump told the former White House aid the military support was conditioned on the investigations.
The blocking of witnesses by Republicans enables Democrats now to disparage Trump’s acquittal.
“Rob this country of a fair trial and there can be no representation that the verdict has any meaning,” said Democrat Adam Schiff, the lead House manager.
“How could it, when the outcome was baked-in,” Schiff said in closing remarks to the Senate.

Schiff speaks during a debate ahead of a vote on calling witnesses during the impeachment trial against Trump [File: Senate TV/AP Photo]

In a statement after the acquittal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said: “The president will boast that he has been acquitted. There can be no acquittal without a trial, and there is no trial without witnesses, documents and evidence … The president is impeached forever.” 
In addition to Bolton, Democrats wanted to call Trump’s current Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and two other White House officials to testify in the Senate trial.
Democrats also wanted the Trump administration to turn over White House, State Department and Defense Department emails and documents that were withheld during the House impeachment inquiry.
But Democrats failed to win over at least four Republicans that would have been needed to demand witnesses and documents.
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer called the outcome a “perfidy and a grand tragedy” when the Senate “turned away from the truth”.

US senators casting their votes on the first article of impeachment abuse of power [File: Senate TV/Reuters] 

Ultimately, many Republicans said regardless of any disputes about facts and witnesses, they did not believe Trump’s misconduct rose to the level of impeachment, or removal, especially with the 2020 presidential election only nine months away.
“We’ve got to bear in mind, despite again what Mr Schiff said – he said this isn’t overturning the results of an election – actually it is,” said Republican Senator Josh Hawley.
“We would effectively be invalidating the choice of the American people,” Hawley told reporters at the Capitol last week.
“It’s very weighty,” he said. “And the standard of proof becomes very hard.”
2020 election
It remains to be seen what lasting political and legal implications Trump’s acquittal will have. House Democrats will likely continue their investigations into the Ukraine affair. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said on Wednesday, the House will likely subpoena Bolton to testify.
Still, while the impeachment saga has consumed Washington, DC, most Americans have viewed it from a distance through their own partisan lens.
As a result, few voters’ minds were changed about Trump, said Jim Henson, a pollster and director of the Texas Politics Project at the University of Texas.
“Viewership was down for the Senate trial phase. People were not interrupting their schedules to watch,” Henson told Al Jazeera.
“Most people view it as the latest episode in partisan fighting that is just getting more and more intense,” he said.

President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill as Vice President Mike Pence and Speaker Nancy Pelosi look on [File: Leah Millis/AP Photo] 

Whether the impeachment and later the acquittal make an impact at the ballot box remains an open question.
“Ultimately, the impeachment was about influencing the 2020 election,” Whittington said.
Trump is only the third US president to endure an impeachment trial.
No president has ever been removed from office via impeachment.
And even if Democrats continue their investigations, “impeachment is probably going to be a dead letter after this”, Southern Illinois’s Jackson said.
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Trump acquitted of all charges in Senate impeachment trial

The United States Senate cleared Donald Trump of both charges in its impeachment trial of the president, bringing to an end the impeachment saga that has consumed Washington since the House of Representatives launched its inquiry into the Trump’s actions last September. In a 52-48 vote, the Senate found Trump not guilty of abusing his power of…

Trump acquitted of all charges in Senate impeachment trial

The United States Senate cleared Donald Trump of both charges in its impeachment trial of the president, bringing to an end the impeachment saga that has consumed Washington since the House of Representatives launched its inquiry into the Trump’s actions last September.
In a 52-48 vote, the Senate found Trump not guilty of abusing his power of office. The Senate voted 53-47 to acquit the president on the charge of obstruction of Congress.
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On the first charge, one Republican, Senator Mitt Romney, broke rank and joined all Democrats in voting to convict Trump of abuse of power. But the vote fell well short of the two-thirds majority needed to remove a president. Romney voted with his party on the obstruction of Congress charge.
Democrats had accused Trump of abusing his power by orchestrating a pressure campaign to get Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. They also accused him of obstructing Congress for refusing to participate in the impeachment inquiry. Trump denied any wrongdoing, repeatedly calling the impeachment a “hoax”.

US senators casting their votes on the second article of impeachment obstruction of Congress during the final votes in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump [Senate TV/Handout via Reuters] 

Trump repeated that assertion again shortly after the trial, tweeting he will discuss “our country’s VICTORY on the Impeachment Hoax!” in a public statement from the White House on Thursday afternoon. 
“The sham impeachment attempt concocted by Democrats ended in the FULL vindication and exoneration of President @realDonaldTrump,” tweeted White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. 
‘Shameful and wrong’, but not impeachable
Trump’s legal defence in the Senate trial had argued that House Democrats did not sufficiently prove that Trump engaged in the pressure campaign. 
Even if Trump did what House Democrats accused him of, many Republicans said it was not a serious enough offence to remove him from office or ban him from running again with only nine months to go before the next US presidential election.
Several Republican senators said the House proved its case and they expressed disapproval of the president’s conduct.
“The president’s behaviour was shameful and wrong. His personal interests do not take precedence over those of this great nation,” Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski said in floor remarks.
Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said in a statement, “it was inappropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate his political opponent and to withhold United States aid to encourage that investigation.”
While acquittal was always the likely outcome, the question of whether the Senate would call witnesses came to a dramatic head last week amid new revelations from former White House National Security Adviser John Bolton about Trump’s alleged wrongdoing. After four hours of arguments, the Senate voted to block witnesses and new evidence in a 51-49 vote.
Moderate Republicans faced heavy political pressure from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the White House not to break ranks during the trial.

US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaking before the resumption and final votes in the Senate impeachment trial of President Donald Trump [Senate TVReuters] 

McConnell met privately with Murkowski and convinced her not to vote with Democrats to call witnesses in the trial.
McConnell, speaking to reporters after Wednesday’s vote, accused Democrats of using the impeachment trial to try to gain an advantage in winning control of the Senate in November, but called the effort “a colossal political mistake.” He also said he was “surprised and disappointed” by Romney’s vote.
Asked by a reporter whether it was acceptable for a president to ask a foreign country to investigate a political rival, McConnell declined to answer directly.
‘Impeached forever’
Trump’s acquittal is not likely to satisfy Democrats’ quest for answers and will leave Trump and his administration open to continuing House investigations.
Chuck Schumer, the top Senate Democrat, said Trump’s acquittal in an unfair trial was worth nothing.
“No doubt, the president will boast he received total exoneration. But we know better. We know this wasn’t a trial by any stretch of the definition,” he said. 
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slammed Wednesday’s acquittal, saying “the president and Senate Republicans have normalised lawlessness and rejected the system of checks and balances of our constitution”. 
She added: “The president will boast that he has been acquitted. There can be no acquittal without a trial, and there is no trial without witnesses, documents and evidence …  The president is impeached forever.” 
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, who also served as a House manager in the Senate trial, said earlier on Wednesday that the House would likely subpoena Bolton to testify and continue its investigation into the president.
Democrats have expressed concern that an acquittal would further embolden a president who already challenges political norms. They have painted him as a threat to US democracy and a demagogue who has acted lawlessly and exhibited a contempt for the powers of Congress and other institutions. They also have voiced concern over Russia interfering in another US election.
What was the impeachment centred on?
The core of Trump’s impeachment revolved around a July 25 phone call the US president had for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in which Trump asked the Ukrainian for “a favour”.
Before and after the call, according to testimony in the impeachment inquiry, Trump directed government officials and his private agent Rudy Guiliani to demand Zelenskyy announce political investigations in exchange for the release of nearly $400m in security assistance and a White House meeting for Zelenskyy.
Trump wanted Zelenskyy to undertake official investigations of Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who was a paid board member of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. There is no evidence the Bidens did anything wrong.

US senators casting their votes on the first article of impeachment abuse of power [Senate TV/Handout via Reuters] 

Trump further pushed Zelenskyy to look into a debunked conspiracy theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked emails and documents of the Democratic National Committee in 2016 and the campaign of then-candidate Hillary Clinton.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation charged Russian intelligence agents with the 2016 cyberattack and US intelligence agencies concluded publicly Russia was behind the attacks.
Biggest victory yet
Trump is only the third US president ever to face a Senate trial. No president has ever been removed from office in an impeachment proceeding.
The acquittal handed Trump his biggest victory yet over his Democratic adversaries in Congress.
Trump’s job approval ratings have remained fairly consistent throughout his presidency and the impeachment process as his core conservative supporters – especially white men, rural Americans, evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics – stick with him.
The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, conducted on Monday and Tuesday, suggested 42 percent of American adults approved of his performance, while 54 percent disapproved. That is nearly the same as when the House launched its impeachment inquiry in September, when his approval stood at 43 percent and disapproval at 53 percent.
With additional reporting by William Roberts in Washington, DC. 
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