Ensnarled in an impeachment investigation over his request for Ukraine to investigate a chief political rival, President Donald Trump Thursday called on another nation to probe former Vice President Joe Biden: China.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said in remarks to reporters outside the White House. Trump said he hadn’t directly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to investigate Biden and his son Hunter but said it’s “certainly something we could start thinking about.”
Trump and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have also tried to raise suspicions about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, leaning on the writings of conservative author Peter Schweizer. But there is no evidence that the former vice president benefited financially from his son’s business relationships.
Trump’s requests for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to dig up dirt on Biden, as well as Giuliani’s conduct, are at the center of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that sparked the House Democratic impeachment probe last week.
Trump’s comments came as he publicly acknowledged that his message to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and other officials was to investigate the 2020 Democratic presidential contender. Trump’s accusations of impropriety are unsupported by evidence.
“It’s a very simple answer,” Trump said of his call with Zelenskiy. “They should investigate the Bidens.”
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
Jaw thrust forward and ready to rumble, President Donald Trump plowed his way through a day of questions Wednesday about his controversial phone call with Ukraine’s leader, his private anger about the House impeachment effort bursting into full public view.
“Did you hear me? Did you hear me? Ask him a question,” the president, pointing to his counterpart from Finland, irritably told a reporter who pressed Trump to answer a question during a surreal and scorching White House news conference.
For days, the president had seethed about the Democrats’ rapidly moving inquiry that threatens to overwhelm his presidency. He insisted he did nothing wrong in what he repeatedly dubbed “a perfect call” with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which he asked for an investigation of political opponent Joe Biden. Trump’s rage behind closed White House doors found myriad targets: Democrats, the media, his own staff, the faltering performances of Republicans trying to defend him on television.
Though the president had let off some steam on Twitter, it took until Wednesday’s meetings with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto for Trump to erupt. Lacking a strong White House response team or many allies willing to make his case, while always believing that he is his own best spokesman, Trump became a one-man war room as the afternoon went on.
The news conference, taking place in the East Room on an unseasonably warm early October day in Washington, started innocently enough.
It featured the usual talk about strong cooperation between the two nations. Trump offered America’s condolences for an attack the day before at a vocational school in Finland in which a man wielding a sword and a firearm killed a woman and wounded nine others.
But Niinisto, who appeared bewildered in the Oval Office hours earlier during a previous Trump tirade, found his footing at the news conference. He seemed to send a subtle message when he remarked how he had spent part of his time in Washington prior to his White House meeting by visiting a couple of museums.
“You have here a great democracy. Keep it going on,” he told the president.
Trump soon turned to trade. The president, as he often does, complained about the trade deficit in goods with EU countries, which hit $169.3 billion last year.
“We’re gonna have to start doing something with the European Union because they have not been treating this country right for many, many years. And they know it,” Trump said.
But Niinisto tried to emphasize a different story: “Well, we all know Europe needs USA, but I say that USA needs also Europe,” Niinisto said. “We know the price of everything. We should recognize also the value of everything. We share the same values: democracy, human rights, rule-based order. And in that we are very similar.”
But those grand sentiments soon gave way to questions about dirty politics.
Furious about the impeachment inquiry, Trump said he was under attack for three years, blasted the completed special counsel’s Russia probe and said he was considering filing a major lawsuit, though he didn’t say who it would be against.
“We’ve been investigating the corruption having to do with what they did to my people,” Trump said. “They destroyed many people. They came down to Washington to do a great job and they left home, they left Washington dark.”
He said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi hands out subpoenas like they’re cookies. “Every day, you get subpoenas.”
His ire only grew when one reporter, Jeff Mason from Reuters, asked Trump to make clear what he wanted the president of Ukraine to do with regard to former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
Trump dodged with a non-answer, saying he did not like giving money to a corrupt country. “I don’t like being the sucker country,” he said. “European countries are helped far more than we are and those countries should pay more to help Ukraine.”
But when the reporter followed up about what he wanted Ukraine to do about the Bidens, Trump angrily tried to stop the inquiry, backing away from the podium and asking, “Are you talking to me?” while trying to badger Mason to stop.
Preferring to take his questions in informal settings, like the White House lawn against the backdrop of a whirring helicopter, making it easier to skip inquiries he didn’t like, Trump seemed ill-prepared to handle Mason’s follow-ups.
“Did you hear me? Did you hear me? Ask him a question,” Trump ordered, pointing to Niinisto.
Minutes later, the news conference ended and Trump stalked off the stage, again alone.
Agitated and angry, President Donald Trump squared off against House Democrats, packing his increasingly aggressive impeachment defense with name-calling and expletives. Quietly but just as resolutely, lawmakers expanded their inquiry, promising a broad new subpoena for documents and witnesses.
Democratic leaders put the White House on notice that the wide-ranging subpoena would be coming for information about Trump’s actions in the Ukraine controversy, the latest move in an impeachment probe that’s testing the Constitution’s system of checks and balances. They said they’d be going to court if necessary.
Amid the legal skirmishing, Wednesday was a day of verbal fireworks.
The president complained that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was handing out subpoenas “like cookies,” railed against a government whistleblower as “vicious” and assailed the news media as corrupt and the “enemy.” All that alongside a presidential tweetstorm punctuated with an accusation that congressional Democrats waste time and money on “BULL—-.”
Pelosi said Democrats had no choice but to take on the most “solemn” of constitutional responsibilities to put a check on executive power after the national security whistleblower’s complaint that recently came to light. The administration and Congress are on a collision course unseen in a generation after the whistleblower exposed a July phone call the Republican president had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in which Trump pressed for an investigation of Democratic political rival Joe Biden and his family.
“We take this to be a very sad time” for the American people and the country, Pelosi said. “Impeaching the president isn’t anything to be joyful about.”
Standing beside her, intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff accused Trump of “an incitement to violence” with his attacks on the unnamed whistleblower, who is provided anonymity and other protections under federal law. He said the investigation is proceeding “deliberately” but with a sense of “urgency.”
Unlike Trump, Schiff never raised his voice but said firmly: “We’re not fooling around here.”
Pelosi, in a “Good Morning America” interview that will air Thursday, said Trump is “scared” of the impeachment inquiry and the arguments that can be made against him.
Democrats are now talking of basing an impeachment charge of obstruction on the White House’s slow-walking of documents and testimony _ administration actions that echo the months of resisting Congress in its other investigations into special counsel Robert Mueller’s report and Trump’s business dealings.
Ahead of the new subpoena, the chairmen of three House committees accused the administration of “flagrant disregard” of previous requests for documents and witnesses and said that refusal could be considered an impeachable offense.
The standoff took on a defiant tone this week when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would not stand for Democrats “bullying” his employees into appearing before the congressional committees, even as he acknowledged that he, too, had been among those U.S. officials listening on the line during the Trump’s phone call with the Ukraine leader.
Pompeo’s admission is complicating his situation, and House leaders now consider him a “witness” to Trump’s interaction with Ukraine.
One former State Department official, Kurt Volker, a former special envoy to Ukraine, will appear Thursday for a closed-door interview with House investigators. He is said to be eager to tell his side of the story. That’s ahead of next week’s deposition of ousted U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Maria “Masha” Yovanovitch.
The circumstances of Yovanovitch’s sudden recall from Ukraine are the subject of conspiracy speculation, and the State Department’s Inspector General Michael Steve Linick sought an “urgent” meeting Wednesday to brief staff of several committees.
During that private session, Linick told them he received a packet of materials from the State Department’s Counsel T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, according to one person granted anonymity to discuss the closed-door session.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said the package contained information from debunked conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election. Trump has long pursued those theories, a topic he discussed with Zelenskiy in the phone call that sparked the impeachment inquiry.
It was unclear where the package originated, but it was in a White House envelope and included folders from Trump hotels, according to another person familiar with the briefing, a Democrat. That person said the White House sent the envelope to Pompeo and it contained notes from interviews that took place in the New York City office of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani with various Ukrainians about the debunked conspiracies.
“It raises more questions than it answers,” said Raskin.
Brechbuhl has also been called to give a deposition to the House.
Trump, in appearances in the Oval Office and a joint press conference with the president of Finland, displayed an unusual show of anger as he defended what he has called his “perfect” phone call with Zelenskiy and decried the impeachment inquiry.
He demanded that a reporter pressing him on his dealings with Ukraine move on, labeling the journalist “corrupt.” Earlier in the day he said even though he popularized the phrase “fake news,” he now preferred to say “corrupt” news. “This is a hoax,” Trump said.
Later he called himself, as he has before, a “very stable genius” who always watches what he says in conversations.
Trump has tweeted in recent days that he wants to “find out about” the whistleblower and question him or her, though the person’s identity is protected by the Whistleblower Protection Act.
Schiff’s spokesman acknowledged that the whistleblower had gone to the intelligence committee before filing the formal complaint but said the staff advised the person to contact an inspector general and seek counsel, and at no point did the committee review or receive the complaint in advance.
Trump suggested, without any evidence, that Schiff “probably helped write” the whistleblower’s complaint. The whistleblower’s lawyers said the person had never met or spoken with Schiff about the matter.
The new subpoena coming Friday from House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings will be directed toward acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and request 13 separate batches of documents concerning the July call and related matters. The call came against the backdrop of a $250 million foreign aid package for Ukraine that was being readied by Congress but stalled by Trump.
The whistleblower alleged in August that the White House tried to “lock down” Trump’s July 25 phone call with the new Ukrainian president because it was worried about the contents being leaked to the public. The acting director of national intelligence eventually made the complaint public.
In recent days, it has been disclosed that the administration similarly tried to restrict information about Trump’s calls with other foreign leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, by moving memos onto a highly classified computer system.
In Russia, Putin said scrutiny over the phone call showed that Trump’s adversaries are using “every excuse” to attack him.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Rome, Angela Charlton in Kyiv, Ukraine, and Laurie Kellman, Zeke Miller, Jonathan Lemire, Alan Fram and Matthew Daly in Washington contributed to this report.
Kurt Volker was little known outside of foreign policy circles as the special U.S. envoy to Ukraine until last week, when the whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump recast the once obscure diplomat as a central figure in the unfolding impeachment inquiry.
Volker is scheduled to testify in private Thursday to congressional investigators who want to ask about any role he may have played in Trump’s efforts to press Ukrainian officials for damaging information about the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.
Volker resigned Friday after being asked to testify to Congress about the complaint, which describes how Trump in a July 25 phone call repeatedly prodded Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for an investigation of Biden and his son, while his administration delayed the release of military aid to help Ukraine fight Russia-backed separatists. The complaint says Volker met in Kyiv with Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian political figures a day after the call and he provided advice about how to “navigate” Trump’s demands.
“I think he was doing the best he could,” said retired senior U.S. diplomat Daniel Fried, who described the actions of his former colleague as trying to guide Ukrainians on “how to deal with President Trump under difficult circumstances.”
Volker’s role, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s confirmation that he was also on Trump’s July 25 call, deeply entangles the State Department in the impeachment inquiry now shadowing the White House.
The State Department said Volker has confirmed that he put a Zelenskiy adviser in contact with Rudy Giuliani, at the Ukraine adviser’s request, and Giuliani has said he was in frequent contact with Volker.
Separately, The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that Volker met last year with a top official from the same Ukrainian energy firm that paid Biden’s son Hunter to serve on its board. The meeting occurred even as Giuliani pressed Ukraine’s government to investigate the company and the Bidens’ involvement with it.
Pompeo accused the congressional investigators of trying to “bully” and “intimidate” State Department officials with subpoenas for documents and testimony, suggesting he would seek to prevent them from providing information. But the committee managed to schedule the deposition with Volker as well as one next week with Marie Yovanovitch, who was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until she was removed from the post last spring.
The spotlight is an unlikely place for Volker, who was brought into the Trump administration by Trump’s first secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to serve as envoy for Ukraine. He worked in a volunteer capacity and had retained his job as head of the John McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University.
Though his name may not have been known before last week to most Americans, Volker had a long diplomatic career, often working behind the scenes. He was a principal deputy assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs before becoming the U.S. ambassador to NATO in 2008.
In his most recent role as envoy to Ukraine, he spoke openly of U.S. support for Ukrainian sovereignty. Last year, he criticized the expansion of Russian naval operations and Russia’s resistance to full deployment of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine to monitor the fight against the Russia-backed separatists.
Pompeo himself mentioned Volker during an appearance in Rome on Wednesday when he confirmed his participation in the call, saying he had been focused on “taking down the threat that Russia poses” in Ukraine and to help the country build its economy.
Fried described Volker as a “dedicated public servant and professional, a problem solver.”
“In all of the years I’ve worked with him, we never had a partisan conversation,” Fried said. “He’s an utter professional.”
Setting a defiant tone, the Trump administration resisted Congress’ access to impeachment witnesses, even as House Democrats warned such efforts themselves could amount to an impeachable offense.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to delay five current and former officials from providing documents and testimony in the impeachment inquiry that could lead to charges against President Donald Trump. But Democrats were able to set closed-door depositions for Thursday for former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and next week for ousted U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
The escalating exchange of accusations and warnings on Tuesday signaled yet another stiffening in the confrontation between the executive and legislative branches amid the Democrats’ launching of the impeachment inquiry late last week. That followed a national security whistleblower’s disclosure of Trump’s July phone call seeking help from the new Ukrainian president in investigating Democratic political rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter.
In a Tuesday evening tweet, Trump cast the impeachment inquiry as a coup “intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!” In fact, a coup is usually defined as a sudden, violent and illegal seizure of government power. The impeachment process is laid out in the U.S. Constitution.
Pompeo said the Democrats were trying to “intimidate” and “bully” the career officials into appearing and claimed it would be “not feasible” as demanded. House investigators countered that it would be illegal for the secretary to try to protect Trump by preventing the officials from talking to Congress.
Some Trump supporters cheered Pompeo’s muscular response to the Democrats. But it also complicated the secretary’s own situation, coming the day after it was disclosed that he had listened in during Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy that helped trigger the impeachment inquiry.
“Any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress — including State Department employees — is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” said three House chairmen, Adam Schiff of the intelligence committee, Eliot Engel of Foreign Affairs, and Elijah Cummings of Oversight.
They said that if he was on Trump’s call, “Secretary Pompeo is now a fact witness in the House impeachment inquiry.” And they warned, “He should immediately cease intimidating Department witnesses in order to protect himself and the President.”
On Wednesday, the State Department’s inspector general is expected to brief congressional staff from several House and Senate appropriations, oversight, foreign affairs and intelligence committees on their requests for information and documents on Ukraine, according to an aide familiar with the planning. The inspector general acts independently from Pompeo.
The committees are seeking voluntary testimony from the current and former officials as the House digs into State Department actions and Trump’s other calls with foreign leaders that have been shielded from scrutiny.
In halting any appearances by State officials, and demanding that executive branch lawyers accompany them, Pompeo is underscoring Attorney General William Barr’s expansive view of White House authority and setting a tone for conflicts to come.
“I will use all means at my disposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals,” Pompeo wrote.
When issuing a separate subpoena last week as part of the inquiry, the chairmen of the three House committees made it clear that stonewalling their investigation would be fought.
“Your failure or refusal to comply with the subpoena shall constitute evidence of obstruction of the House’s impeachment inquiry,” the three chairmen wrote.
Democrats often note that obstruction was one of the impeachment articles against Richard Nixon, who resigned the presidency in 1974 in the face of almost certain impeachment.
Volker played a direct role in arranging meetings between Rudy Giuliani, who is Trump’s personal lawyer, and Zelenskiy, the chairmen said.
The State Department said that Volker has confirmed that he put a Zelenskiy adviser in contact with Giuliani, at the Ukraine adviser’s request.
The former envoy, who has since resigned his position and so is not necessarily bound by Pompeo’s directions, is eager to appear as scheduled on Thursday, said one person familiar with the situation, but unauthorized to discuss it and granted anonymity. The career professional believes he acted appropriately and wants to tell his side of the situation, the person said.
Yovanovitch, the career diplomat whose abrupt recall from Ukraine earlier this year raised questions, is set to appear next week. The Democrats also want to hear from T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, a counselor at the State Department, who also listened in on the Trump-Zelenskiy call, they said.
It’s unclear whether Pompeo will comply with the committees’ request for documents by Friday. He had declined to comply with their previous requests for information.
Pompeo, traveling in Italy to meet with the country’s president and prime minister, ignored shouted question about the impeachment inquiry on Tuesday.
The House investigators are prepared for battle as they probe more deeply into the State Department to try to understand why the administration sought to restrict access to Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders.
The whistleblower alleged in an Aug. 12 letter to Congress that the White House tried to “lock down” Trump’s July 25 phone call with the new Ukrainian president because it was worried about the contents being leaked to the public.
In recent days, it has been disclosed that the administration similarly tried to restrict information about Trump’s calls with other foreign leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman, by moving memos onto a highly classified computer system.
“It’s going to be one heck of a fight to get that information,” Schiff told House Democrats during a conference call over the weekend, according to a person granted anonymity to discuss the private session.
As Trump continued to rage against the impeachment inquiry, there was little evidence of a broader White House response. And few outside allies were rushing to defend the president.
Trump has long measured allies’ loyalty by their willingness to fight for him on TV, and he complained bitterly this week that few had done so. And those who did, including House GOP leader Kevin McCarthy on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” he believed had flubbed their appearance, according to a person not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
Though there has been growing discontent with Giuliani in the West Wing and State Department, where some officials blame him for leading Trump into the Ukraine mess, the president continued to stand by his personal lawyer.
Giuliani, who hired former assistant special Watergate prosecutor Jon Sale a day after being hit with his own subpoena, continued to push false Biden corruption accusations and promised to fight against Democratic investigators.
The Ukraine matter remains the central focus as Democrats investigate whether Trump’s suggestion that the east European country’s new president be in touch with Giuliani and Barr to “look into” Biden amounts to a solicitation of foreign interference in the upcoming 2020 election.
The call unfolded against the backdrop of a $250 billion foreign aid package for Ukraine that was being readied by Congress but stalled by the White House.
Ukraine’s president told reporters Tuesday he has never met or spoken with Giuliani.
Zelenskiy insisted that “it is impossible to put pressure on me.” He said he stressed the importance of the military aid repeatedly in discussions with Trump, but “it wasn’t explained to me” why the money didn’t come through until September.
Not all business was halted between the White House and Congress. Even as the impeachment confrontation boiled, House Democrats briefed White House staffers on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s prescription drug legislation. Lowering drug costs is a top policy priority for both the speaker and the president. Joe Grogan, a top Trump domestic policy adviser, called it a “very productive start.”
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Rome; Angela Charlton in Kyiv, Ukraine; and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.
After back-to-back mass shootings in Ohio and Texas this summer, gun control burst back on the scene as a major political issue for Democrats. Now it risks taking a back seat as impeachment fever overtakes Washington.
Gun control advocates are determined to prevent that from happening.
Ten White House hopefuls will be in Las Vegas for a forum on gun policy on Wednesday, almost two years to the day after a gunman killed 58 people at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. The event is being hosted by MSNBC, March for Our Lives and Giffords, the advocacy organization set up by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot and gravely wounded during a constituent meeting in 2011.
The forum is an effort to keep gun violence front and center of the debate and gives 2020 presidential candidates a chance to showcase their plans to combat the epidemic. Polls show that a majority of Americans favor stricter gun laws, while even more support specific proposals like universal background checks. But negotiations between President Donald Trump’s administration and lawmakers have halted over background checks legislation, an effort that faced long odds even before the impeachment inquiry began.
“Impeachment sucks everything out of the room. Certainly it’s the focus of Trump’s attention,” said Jack Citrin, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of California-Berkeley. “If you need to reach some kind of bipartisan agreement and one party is determined to throw the president out of office, rightly or wrongly, it’s a little hard to see how that builds the kind of goodwill that’s necessary on this or any other issue.”
Ariel Hobbs, a 21-year-old student organizer with March for Our Lives in Houston, said her group wants “to hear from the candidates that they are taking this seriously and they understand they can no longer ignore America’s gun violence epidemic.” She doesn’t think the impeachment inquiry is a reason for lawmakers to stop their push for a bipartisan solution.
The 10 candidates slated to participate in the forum are former Vice President Joe Biden; New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; former Obama Housing Secretary Julián Castro; California Sen. Kamala Harris; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke; Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders; Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren; and businessman Andrew Yang.
O’Rourke recast his campaign around gun control after the August shooting in his hometown of El Paso, Texas, where a gunman targeting Hispanics killed 22 people. O’Rourke even vowed to ban assault weapons, saying at a debate in Houston in September, “Hell, yes, we’re gonna take your AR-15, your AK-47, and we’re not going to allow it to be used against your fellow Americans anymore.”
One expert said he doesn’t see a downside for O’Rourke or any of his fellow presidential candidates to talk about impeachment alongside other issues like gun control.
“If (O’Rourke) is pointing out that because of impeachment, the president has decided not to work at all on an issue that involves people’s lives, he could make the argument if he wanted that this is itself an impeachable offense,” said Michael Green, a history professor at the University of Las Vegas-Nevada focused on state and national politics. “If you are trying to get your base, your base probably does not mind the idea of impeachment.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut has been leading negotiations with the White House on a background checks deal and will attend the forum. The conversations have gone silent in the past two weeks, but he’s told the White House that he’s still willing to talk. Trump himself has accused Democrats of ignoring other issues to focus on impeachment.
“The Democrats are so focused on hurting the Republican Party and the President that they are unable to get anything done because of it, including legislation on gun safety, lowering of prescription drug prices, infrastructure, etc. So bad for our Country!” he tweeted Sept. 24.
Murphy says reaching consensus may still be possible.
“I think that the president is going to have some pressure to show that impeachment isn’t consuming him, and a breakthrough on a background checks deal that nobody thought was possible would probably be a pretty good tonic for the administration right now,” he said.
While his fellow Democrats may not be keen on the idea of giving Trump a win, Murphy said he’ll keep pushing because gun control remains top of mind for voters.
“Our party needs to find mechanisms to keep our focus on the issues that matter to voters, and guns is right at the top of that list,” he said. “The forum is an effort to try to keep the primary dialogue focused on an issue that is absolutely going to be top of mind for swing voters.”
At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, the president raged about treason. At the other, the methodical march toward impeachment proceeded apace.
Democrats on Monday subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer who was at the heart of Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden’s family. That was after one of Trump’s staunchest defenders, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, said he would have “no choice” but to consider articles of impeachment if the House approved them.
With Congress out of session for observance of the Jewish holidays, Democrats moved aggressively against Giuliani, requesting by Oct. 15 “text messages, phone records and other communications” that they referred to as possible evidence. They also requested documents and depositions from three of his business associates.
Meanwhile, the circle of officials with knowledge of Trump’s phone call to Ukraine’s president widened with the revelation that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listened in on the July 25 conversation.
Pompeo’s presence on the Ukraine call, confirmed by two officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an internal matter, provided the first confirmation that a Cabinet official heard Trump press President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Hunter Biden’s membership on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. It is that call, and the circumstances surrounding it, that are fueling the new Democratic drive for impeachment.
McConnell, a steadfast Trump defender, nonetheless swatted down talk that that the GOP-controlled Senate could dodge the matter of impeachment if the House approved charges against Trump.
“It’s a Senate rule related to impeachment, it would take 67 votes to change, so I would have no choice but to take it up,” McConnell said on CNBC. “How long you’re on it is a whole different matter.”
Trump took to Twitter to defend anew his phone call with Zelenskiy as “perfect” and to unleash a series of attacks, most strikingly against House intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff. The Democrat, he suggested, ought to be tried for a capital offense for launching into a paraphrase of Trump during a congressional hearing last week.
“Rep. Adam Schiff illegally made up a FAKE & terrible statement, pretended it to be mine as the most important part of my call to the Ukrainian President, and read it aloud to Congress and the American people,” the president wrote. “It bore NO relationship to what I said on the call. Arrest for Treason?”
Trump tweeted repeatedly through the day but was, for the most part, a lonely voice as the White House lacked an organization or process to defend him. Senior staffers, including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and White House counsel Pat Cipollone, were to present Trump this week with options on setting up the West Wing’s response to impeachment, officials said.
A formal war room was unlikely, though some sort of rapid response team was planned to supplement the efforts of Trump and Giuliani. But Trump was angry over the weekend at both Mulvaney and press secretary Stephanie Grisham for not being able to change the narrative dominating the story, according to two Republicans close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Democrats have orders from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to keep momentum going despite a two-week recess that started Friday. Staff for three committees are scheduled on Wednesday and Thursday to depose Marie “Masha” Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who was removed by the Trump administration earlier this year, and Kurt Volker, who resigned last week as America’s Ukrainian envoy. Members of intelligence committee on Friday will interview Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community who first received the whistleblower’s complaint.
Democrats are driving the proceedings toward what some hope is a vote to impeach, or indict, Trump by year’s end. They have launched a coordinated messaging and polling strategy aimed at keeping any political backlash in closely divided districts from toppling their House majority.
Meanwhile, an outside group that supports GOP House candidates was starting anti-impeachment digital ads on Monday against three House Democrats from districts Trump won in 2016. The ads by the Congressional Leadership Fund accuse Reps. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, Elaine Luria of Virginia and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan of “tearing us apart,” and are among the first in which Republicans are trying to use the impeachment issue against Democratic candidates.
However, support across America for impeachment has grown significantly from its level before the House launched its formal inquiry last week.
A new poll from Quinnipiac University shows 47% of registered voters say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 47% say he should not. Just a week before, it was 37% for impeachment and 57 percent against. That was before the White House released its rough version of the call between Trump and Ukraine’s president and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s announcement of a formal impeachment inquiry.
In the CNN poll, 47% said Trump should be impeached and removed from office, up from 41% in May.
Both polls showed dramatic partisan polarization remains on impeachment: most Democrats expressing support, the vast majority of Republicans opposed. The polls disagreed over whose opinions are changing — Quinnipiac showing increased impeachment support coming more from Democrats, CNN from Republicans.
Schiff said on Sunday that his intelligence panel would hear from the still-secret whistleblower “very soon” but that no date had been set and other details remained to be worked out.
A day after Trump demanded to meet the whistleblower, whom he has repeatedly assailed, he said when asked about the person: “Well, we’re trying to find out about a whistleblower,” who made his perfect call “sound terrible.”
The whistleblower’s attorney, Andrew Bakaj, said Monday that the person “is entitled to anonymity. Law and policy support this, and the individual is not to be retaliated against. Doing so is a violation of federal law.”
Separately, the Justice Department disclosed that Trump recently asked Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and other foreign leaders to help Attorney General William Barr with an investigation of the origins of the Russia investigation that has shadowed his administration for more than two years.
Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Trump made the calls at Barr’s request.
Trump was requesting help for U.S. Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the origins of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. The investigation outraged Trump, who cast it as a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
The Russia probe remains Trump’s motivating factor, according to Tom Bossert, the president’s former homeland security adviser.
“I honestly believe this president has not gotten his pound of flesh yet from past grievances on the 2016 investigation,” Bossert said Sunday on ABC. “If he continues to focus on that white whale, it’s going to bring him down.”
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Mike Balsamo, Laurie Kellman, Alan Fram, Kevin Freking and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.
The president’s lawyer insists the real story is a debunked conspiracy theory. A senior White House adviser blames the “deep state.” And a Republican congressman is pointing at Joe Biden’s son.
As the Democrats drive an impeachment inquiry toward a potential vote by the end of the year, President Donald Trump’s allies are struggling over how he should manage the starkest threat to his presidency. The jockeying broke into the open Sunday on the talk show circuit, with a parade of Republicans erupting into a surge of second-guessing.
At the top of the list: Rudy Giuliani’s false charge that it was Ukraine that meddled in the 2016 elections. The former New York mayor has been encouraging Ukraine to investigate both Biden and Hillary Clinton.
“I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again,” said Tom Bossert, Trump’s former homeland security adviser. “That conspiracy theory has got to go, they have to stop with that, it cannot continue to be repeated.”
Not only did Giuliani repeat it Sunday, he brandished pieces of paper he said were affidavits supporting his story.
“Tom Bossert doesn’t know what’s he’s talking about,” Guiliani said. He added that Trump was framed by the Democrats.
Senior White House policy adviser Stephen Miller, meanwhile, noted that he’s worked in the federal government “for nearly three years.”
“I know the difference between whistleblower and a deep state operative,” Miller said. “This is a deep state operative, pure and simple.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, heatedly said Trump was merely asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to root out corruption. That, Jordan said, includes Hunter Biden’s membership on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either of the Bidens.
Mixed messaging reflects the difficulty Republicans are having defending the president against documents released by the White House that feature Trump’s own words and actions. A partial transcript and a whistleblower complaint form the heart of the House impeachment inquiry and describe Trump pressuring a foreign president to investigate Biden’s family.
In a series of tweets Sunday night, Trump said he deserved to meet “my accuser” as well as whoever provided the whistleblower with what the president called “largely incorrect” information. He also accused Democrats of “doing great harm to our Country” in an effort to destabilize the nation and the 2020 election.
Trump has insisted the call was “perfect” and pushed to release both documents.
“He didn’t even know that it was wrong,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, describing a phone call from Trump in which the president suggested the documents would exonerate him.
But Democrats seized on them as evidence that Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” by asking for a foreign leader’s help undermining a political rival, Democrat Joe Biden. Pelosi launched an impeachment inquiry and on Sunday told other Democrats that public sentiment had swung behind the probe.
By all accounts, the Democratic impeachment effort was speeding ahead with a fair amount of coordination between Pelosi, Democratic messaging experts and its political operation.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Sunday that he expects the whistleblower to testify “very soon,” though details were still being worked out and no date had been set. Hearings and depositions were starting this week. Many Democrats are pushing for a vote on articles of impeachment before the end of the year, mindful of the looming 2020 elections.
Schiff said in one interview that his committee intends to subpoena Giuliani for documents and may eventually want to hear from Giuliani directly. In a separate TV appearance, Giuliani said he would not cooperate with Schiff, but then acknowledged he would do what Trump tells him. The White House did not provide an official response on whether the president would allow Giuliani to cooperate.
Lawyers for the whistleblower expressed concern about that individual’s safety, noting that some have offered a $50,000 “bounty” for the whistleblower’s identity. They said they expect the situation to become even more dangerous for their client and any other whistleblowers, as Congress seeks to investigate this matter.
On a conference call Sunday, Pelosi, traveling in Texas, urged Democrats to proceed “not with negative attitudes towards him, but a positive attitude towards our responsibility,” according to an aide on the call who shared the exchange on condition of anonymity. Polling, Pelosi said, had changed “drastically” in the Democrats’ favor.
A one-day NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted Sept. 25 found that about half of Americans — 49% — approve of the House formally starting an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
There remains a stark partisan divide on the issue, with 88% of Democrats approving and 93% of Republicans disapproving of the inquiry. But the findings suggest some movement in opinions on the issue. Earlier polls conducted throughout Trump’s presidency have consistently found a majority saying he should not be impeached and removed from office.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries of New York urged the caucus to talk about impeachment by repeating the words “betrayal, abuse of power, national security.” The Democrats’ campaign arm swung behind lawmakers to support the impeachment drive as they run for reelection, according to another call participant to spoke on condition of anonymity.
The contrast with the Republicans’ selection of responses was striking.
A combative House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy said that nothing in Trump’s phone call rose to the level of an impeachable offense.
“Why would we move forward on impeachment?” the California Republican said. “There’s not something that you have to defend here.”
Bossert, an alumnus of Republican George W. Bush’s administration, offered a theory and some advice to Trump: Move past the fury over the 2016 Russia investigation, in which special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of conspiracy but plenty of examples of Trump’s obstruction.
“I honestly believe this president has not gotten his pound of flesh yet from past grievances on the 2016 investigation,” Bossert said. “If he continues to focus on that white whale, it’s going to bring him down.”
Two advisers to the Biden campaign sent a letter Sunday urging major news networks to stop booking Giuliani on their shows, accusing Trump’s personal attorney of spreading “false, debunked conspiracy theories” on behalf of the president. The letter to management and anchors of shows at ABC News, NBC News, CBS News, MSNBC, CNN and Fox News added: “By giving him your air time, you are allowing him to introduce increasingly unhinged, unfounded and desperate lies into the national conversation.”
Giuliani appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and CBS’ “Face the Nation,” while Schiff was interviewed on ABC and NBC’s “Meet the Press.” Bossert spoke on ABC and Miller on “Fox News Sunday.” Jordan appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union.” Pelosi and McCarthy appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes.”
Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Eric Tucker and Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington; writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta; and AP Polling Director Emily Swanson contributed to this report.
As Washington plunges into impeachment, Attorney General William Barr finds himself engulfed in the political firestorm, facing questions about his role in President Donald Trump’s outreach to Ukraine and the administration’s attempts to keep a whistleblower complaint from Congress.
Trump repeatedly told Ukraine’s president in a telephone call that Barr and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani could help investigate Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript of that summertime conversation. Justice Department officials insist Barr was unaware of Trump’s comments at the time of the July 25 call.
When Barr did learn of that call a few weeks later, he was “surprised and angry” to discover he had been lumped in with Giuliani, a person familiar with Barr’s thinking told The Associated Press. This person was not authorized to speak about the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, often appears in rambling television interviews as a vocal defender of the president. Giuliani represents Trump’s personal interests and holds no position in the U.S. government, raising questions about why he would be conducting outreach to Ukrainian officials.
Barr is the nation’s top law enforcement officer and leads a Cabinet department that traditionally has a modicum of independence from the White House.
Yet to Trump, there often appears to be little difference between the two lawyers.
“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it,” Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to the memo of the call that was released by the White House this past week.
Since becoming attorney general in February, Barr has been one of Trump’s staunchest defenders. He framed special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in favorable terms for the president in a news conference this year, even though Mueller said he did not exonerate Trump.
Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said Trump is treating the country’s attorney general as if he’s just another personal lawyer.
“I think it represents a larger problem with President Trump,” she said. “To him, it appears Giuliani and Barr both have the same job.”
Trump has frequently lauded Barr and his efforts to embrace the president’s political agenda. That’s in stark contrast to Trump’s relationship with his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom the president repeatedly harangued in public.
Trump’s frustration with Sessions made clear how the president views the Justice Department — as a law enforcement agency that exists to carry out his wishes and protect him. Despite a close relationship during the 2016 campaign, Trump never forgave Sessions for withdrawing from the government’s investigation into 2016 election interference, a move that ultimately cleared the way for Mueller’s investigation.
Barr has come under the scrutiny of congressional Democrats who have accused him of acting on Trump’s personal behalf more than for the justice system. Democrats have also called on Barr to step aside from decisions on the Ukraine matter. Those close to Barr, however, have argued there would be no reason to do so because he was unaware of the Trump-Zelenskiy conversation.
The department insists Barr wasn’t made aware of the call with Zelenskiy until at least mid-August.
Barr has not spoken with Trump about investigating Biden or Biden’s son Hunter, and Trump has not asked Barr to contact Ukranian officials about the matter, the department said. Barr has also not spoken with Giuliani about anything related to Ukraine, officials have said.
Trump has sought, without evidence, to implicate the Bidens in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time then-Vice President Joe Biden was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden. There is no evidence that Hunter Biden was ever under investigation in Ukraine.
The Justice Department was first made aware of Trump’s call when a CIA lawyer mentioned the complaint from the unidentified CIA officer on Aug. 14, said a person familiar with the matter who wasn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke anonymously. Some Justice Department lawyers learned about the accusations after the whistleblower filed a complaint with the intelligence community’s internal watchdog.
The watchdog later raised concerns that Trump may have violated campaign finance law. The Justice Department said there was no crime and closed the matter.
From the moment Donald Trump became a national political figure, he has been shadowed by investigations and controversy.
They have been layered, lengthy and often inconclusive, leaving many Americans scandal-weary and numb to his behavior. And with each charge against him, Trump has perfected the art of deflection, seemingly gaining strength by bullying and belittling those who have dared to take him on.
Now Trump is facing a high-velocity threat like none he’s confronted before.
It has rapidly evolved from a process fight over a whistleblower complaint to an impeachment inquiry within two weeks. Much of the evidence is already in public view. A rough transcript of a phone call in which Trump asks Ukraine’s president to help investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden. The whistleblower’s detailed letter alleging the White House tried to cover up the call, and possibly others.
Unlike special counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation, which circled an array of people in Trump’s orbit but not always the president himself, Trump doesn’t have the benefit of distance. His words and his actions are at the center of this investigation.
“The Mueller report , it was always Manafort this and his son that. There was a cascade of players,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, referring to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Donald Trump Jr. “This was just Donald Trump and a disturbing conversation with another world leader.”
So, suddenly, Washington is different and the history of Trump’s presidency has changed. By year’s end, he could become only the third American president impeached by the House of Representatives.
That new reality caught Trump and his advisers off guard, according to people close to the president. If anything, they thought the specter of impeachment had been lifted after the Mueller investigation ended without a clear determination that Trump had committed a crime.
The contours of that investigation played to Trump’s strengths. Mueller spent two years in silence, allowing the president to fill the vacuum with assertions that the investigation was a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.” The details of the investigation that did leak out were often complicated and focused on people in Trump’s sphere. Even Mueller’s pointed statement that he had not exonerated Trump did not seem to stick. There was ultimately plenty of smoke, but no smoking gun.
Numerous other Democratic inquiries appeared likely to meet a similar fate, including House investigation into Trump’s business dealings, his tax returns and a variety of administration scandals. For many Americans, they were one big blur of investigations without any clarity of purpose.
Then the whistleblower gave the Democrats what they needed: a simple, easily explainable charge — that the president sought a foreign government’s help for personal political gain — and his words to back it up.
For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi , D-Calif., and several Democratic moderates who had resisted calls for impeachment, the calculus shifted . It was now more of a risk to recoil from impeachment than charge ahead.
“What we’re seeing right now is a completely different moment in the history of this country,” said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla.
One thing that didn’t change — at least not immediately — was the clear partisan divide over Trump’s actions, both in Washington and across the country.
According to a one-day NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted Wednesday, 49% of Americans approve of the House formally starting an impeachment inquiry into Trump. Among Democrats, 88% approve of the investigation, while 93% of Republicans disapprove.
Mike Staffieri, a retiree and Republican who lives just outside of Richmond, Virginia, said Democrats were trying to “throw enough poop at the wall and hope something sticks.”
On Capitol Hill, some Trump allies concurred, confidently dismissing the impeachment inquiry as just another partisan effort to take down a president who is despised by many Democrats. That rough transcript of a phone call in which Trump presses Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to work with Attorney General William Barr and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on an investigation into Biden? It’s just Trump being Trump, according to his backers.
“You’ve heard President Trump talk. That’s President Trump,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis.
Mark Updegrove, a presidential historian and president of the LBJ Foundation in Austin, Texas, said it’s that enduring support from Republican lawmakers that currently separates Trump from Richard Nixon, who resigned in the midst of the Watergate impeachment inquiry because his party began to abandon him.
“The big difference between this and Watergate is that you had both Republicans and Democrats being deeply concerned about the president being involved in criminal wrongdoing,” Updegrove said. “It was a bipartisan effort and you certainly don’t have that here.”
But it is early, compared with Watergate. There were small signs that some Republicans were trying to keep some measure of distance from the president. Some GOP lawmakers fled Washington for a fall break claiming they hadn’t yet read the whistleblower’s complaint. Others said they were open to learning more about the situation.
Trump’s hold on the Republican Party makes it nearly impossible to foresee a scenario in which the GOP-controlled Senate convicts Trump if he were impeached by the Democratic-run House.
The president is acutely well aware that it’s his party alone that can protect him. In the midst of the past week’s firestorm, he tweeted to Republicans: “Stick together, play their game and fight hard Republicans.”
He later deleted the tweet.
AP polling editor Emily Swanson and Associated Press writers Alan Fram in Washington and Alan Suderman in Richmond, Virginia, contributed to this report.