Trump calls on China to investigate Bidens


President Donald Trump speaks to the media. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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.

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Volker: What role did he play in Ukraine debacle?

Former U.S. special representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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.”

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Impeachment fever swamps gun control efforts

Rep. Gabby Giffords, speaks during a news conference to announce the introduction of bipartisan legislation to expand background checks for sales and transfers of firearms, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

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.”

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GOP impeachment sideshow driven by ‘conspiracy theories’

Rudy Giuliani, an attorney for President Donald Trump, pontificates in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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.”

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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.”

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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.

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Is Barr America’s AG or Trump’s mouthpiece?

President Donald Trump, left, shakes hands with Attorney General William Barr.
(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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.

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