Has Trump finally gone too far…again?

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Very behind the scenes, a whistleblower from the intelligence community voiced urgent concern about a matter involving a conversation between Ukraine’s leader and President Donald Trump. It’s so hush-hush that even Democrats won’t say all that they know, or suspect.

Very much out in the open, Trump is calling for an investigation that involves Ukraine and could help him win re-election if it breaks his way.

Trump’s interest in getting dirt from abroad on prospective Democratic presidential rival Joe Biden has been hiding in plain sight for months. His fealty to standards that other presidents have either lived by or pretended to — as when it comes to chats with foreign leaders, for example — is thin.

This is, after all, the man who openly encouraged Russia to snoop on Hillary Clinton’s email and much more recently said that, sure, he’d listen to foreigners who come to him with dirt on an opponent. Why not? he wondered.

As the contours of the episode roiling the capital begin to flesh out, here are some questions and answers at the intersection of Trump, Ukraine and the whistleblower.

WHY THE WHISTLE?

Because someone in the government, who is under the umbrella of U.S. intelligence, saw or heard something that raised a credible and “urgent concern” about how someone else in government did or said something that “involves confidential and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the intelligence community.” That’s according to Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for intelligence.

It’s no more spelled out than that so far, because the complaint remains a closely held secret.

But the complaint was based on a series of events, one of which was a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to two people familiar with the matter. The people were not authorized to discuss the issue by name and were granted anonymity.

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WHAT DOES TRUMP SAY ABOUT THE COMPLAINT?

“Just another political hack job.”

“I have conversations with many leaders. It’s always appropriate.”

As for the July 25 phone conversation he had with Zelenskiy: “It doesn’t matter what I discussed.”

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WHAT DO DEMOCRATS SAY?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says if reports about the complaint bear out, Trump faces “serious repercussions” and the nation will have “grave, urgent concerns for our national security.”

As the leader at the center of a months-long Democratic debate over whether to impeach Trump — she has resisted pressure from members to do so — Pelosi will find her every word on this matter scrutinized for signs of whether this makes her want to move ahead.

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WHERE DO UKRAINE AND BIDEN COME INTO IT?

Biden was vice president, with some influence over U.S. policy on Ukraine, when son Hunter was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian businessman. Trump for months has been calling for more scrutiny of that period and impugning corrupt motives to the business and government work of the Biden family, without putting forward evidence of wrongdoing.

“Someone ought to look into Joe Biden,” he said again Friday, undeterred by the revelation of the whistleblower complaint.

The question arising from this matter is whether Trump personally pressed Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens in that phone call or other times and, if so, whether seeking or accepting such help from a foreign leader to benefit his re-election constitutes a misuse of presidential power. That question can’t be answered with what’s known so far.

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IS THIS RUSSIA REDUX, JUST A DIFFERENT COUNTRY?

There are some similarities with the episode investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller as he tracked an aggressive effort by Russia to tilt the 2016 U.S. election to Trump. There are also differences, as well as much that remains unknown.

The Mueller report informed or reminded everyone that it’s illegal for a political campaign to accept a “thing of value” from a foreign government. It could be argued that an investigation by a foreign government meant to harm a political opponent would be a thing of value, and pressing for one could be perilous for a U.S. president.

It could also be argued that it is not. The Trump administration has had longstanding complaints about corruption in Ukraine and asking for corruption to be investigated is, on the surface, different than the potential collusion between Moscow and the Trump campaign that Mueller looked into.

One striking twist here is that pressure for a Ukrainian investigation of the Bidens has come most publicly not from the government or the campaign, but from Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani has been working for months to get Ukraine’s leadership to probe the Bidens.

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HOW?

In May, Giuliani scrapped plans to take his case for a Biden investigation directly to authorities in Kiev, when word got out about the trip. But he’s been talking to Ukrainians about it.

At the time, he tweeted: “Explain to me why Biden shouldn’t be investigated if his son got millions from a Russian loving crooked Ukrainian oligarch while He was VP and point man for Ukraine.”

Trump tag-teamed him on the Biden matter, telling Fox News “I’m hearing it’s a major scandal, major problem.”

Asked Thursday on CNN whether he’d pressed Ukrainian leaders to probe the Bidens, Giuliani said: “Of course I did” seconds after saying “No, actually I didn’t.”

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WHERE’S THE COMPLAINT?

Under wraps.

Only bits and pieces of information about it have emerged because the administration has balked at showing it to Congress, much less to the public.

The timeline is this: Atkinson, the inspector general, received the complaint Aug. 12, reviewed it and found it credible and urgent, and forwarded it two weeks later to Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence. Maguire’s office decided the complaint was outside the agency’s jurisdiction and not urgent, and informed Congress Sept. 9 of the situation without showing it the complaint. Atkinson said that was a break from normal procedure, which is to disclose the contents to lawmakers.

That’s when House Democrats began to suspect that Trump was the subject of the complaint and quickly followed with a subpoena, yet to be satisfied.

Atkinson appeared before the House intelligence committee behind closed doors Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to tell lawmakers the substance of the complaint. Maguire has agreed to give public testimony Sept. 26 and both are expected to talk to the Senate intelligence committee during the week.

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Eric Tucker, Michael Balsamo and Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Intel inspector general refuses details on whistleblower complaint

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, refused to confirm or deny the substance of the complaint, including whether it involved the president, according to sources within the closed-door briefing Thursday.

Representative Adam B. Schiff, director of the House Intelligence Committee, says the refusal to provide information or even share the complaint from an intelligence official who filed his concerns with the Inspector General’s office, is a first.

Such complaints are routinely provided to the committee.

Reports The New York Times:

But whatever Mr. Trump said was startling enough to prompt the intelligence official to file a formal whistle-blower complaint on Aug. 12 to the inspector general for the intelligence agencies. Such a complaintis lodged through a formal process intended to protect the whistle-blower from retaliation.

Rep. Schiff, Democrat of California, has been locked in the standoff with Mr. Maguire over the complaint for nearly a week. He said Mr. Maguire told him that he had been instructed not to give the complaint to Congress, and that the complaint addressed privileged information — meaning the president or people close to him were involved.

The reports about the whistle-blower complaint touched off speculation about what Mr. Trump said and to whom.

In the weeks before the complaint was filed, Mr. Trump spoke withPresident Vladimir V. Putin of RussiaPrime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan and the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte.

And current and former intelligence officials have expressed surprise that during his first few months as president, Mr. Trump shared classified information provided by an ally, Israel, with the Russian foreign minister.

Members of Congress from both parties have expressed concern about Trump’s apparent willingness to share classified information with foreign leaders, including dictators considered enemies.

Sen. Angus King, an independent, says the law “is very clear” that the whistleblower complaint must be shared with Congress.

“The Inspector General determines what level of concern it is. Once the determination is made,” he says, the director of national intelligence “has a ministerial responsibility to share that with Congress. It is not discretionary.”

“This is based upon the principle of separation of powers and Congress’s oversight responsibility,” Mr. King adds.  He is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

As president, Trump has made it clear time and again, that he does not feel any obligation to obey the law.

“I am the president,” he has said.  “The law does not apply to me.”

His response to the complaint?

Another Fake News story out there – It never ends!” Trump tweets. “Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!”

Such feelings are among the reasons the House of Representatives is considering articles of impeachment.

An increasing number of members of Congress now feel it is time to “dump Trump.”

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

 

Intel watchdog to testify on questionable Trump ‘promise’?

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The government’s intelligence watchdog is set to testify Thursday in a closed session before the House intelligence committee about the handling of a whistleblower complaint.

The Washington Post reported the complaint involves an intelligence official’s allegation that President Donald Trump made an unspecified “promise” to an unidentified foreign leader. The Post cited two anonymous former U.S. officials.

The Associated Press has not confirmed the report.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., says inspector general Michael Atkinson determined the whistleblower complaint was “credible and urgent” and should be “transmitted to Congress.”

Atkinson is scheduled to testify Thursday.

The White House had no immediate comment.

Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence, has refused to discuss details. He is expected to testify publicly about the whistleblower complaint on Sept. 26.

Schiff subpoenaed Maguire, saying he was withholding a whistleblower complaint from Congress and questioning whether he had been directed to do so by the White House or the attorney general.

Schiff did not divulge the subject of the complaint, but said the committee “places the highest importance on the protection of whistleblowers and their complaints to Congress.”

In a letter Tuesday, the general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Jason Klitenic, wrote that the agency is protecting the whistleblower and argued the allegation does not meet the definition of “urgent concern.” He said the complaint “concerned conduct from someone outside the intelligence community and did not relate to ‘intelligence activity’ under the DNI’s supervision.”

Schiff said last week that Maguire is required to share the complaint with Congress and said the attempt to hold it back “raises serious concerns about whether White House, Department of Justice or other executive branch officials are trying to prevent a legitimate whistleblower complaint from reaching its intended recipient, the Congress, in order to cover up serious misconduct.”

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump: ‘We don’t need no quick action on guns’

President Donald Trump (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump is pouring cold water on prospects for a bipartisan compromise on gun legislation, even as his aides circulate a draft plan on Capitol Hill.

Trump tells Fox News in an interview aired Thursday no deal is imminent. Six weeks after mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, Trump says, “We’re going very slowly.”

Trump says he doesn’t want “bad people” to have weapons, but won’t allow any plan to move forward that takes guns away from law-abiding people.

Trump says Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s call last week to confiscate AR-15-style rifles has made it more difficult for Republicans to make an agreement. Trump says: “A lot of people think this is just a way of taking away guns.” He adds he won’t let that happen.

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McConnell: Gun control ‘in a holding pattern’

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined at left by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., speaks to reporters during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Six weeks after a pair of mass shootings killed more than 30 people, Congress remains “in a holding pattern” on gun control as lawmakers await proposals from the White House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

While President Donald Trump has said he would veto a House-passed bill to expand background checks for gun purchases, McConnell said Tuesday he is hopeful there are other gun-related proposals that Congress can approve and Trump can support.

“I still await guidance from the White House as to what (Trump) thinks he’s comfortable signing,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters. “If and when that happens, then we’ll have a real possibility of actually changing the law and hopefully making some progress.”

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said McConnell and Trump were blocking meaningful action on gun violence, adding, “This is the moment for the president to do something different and courageous.”

The New York Democrat said he wonders whether Trump will “rise to the occasion, or will he squander this opportunity as he always has done in the past?”

Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned Trump on Sunday that any proposal on gun control must include the House-passed bill to expand background checks. Pelosi and Schumer spoke with Trump by phone and said they made it clear any proposal that does not include the House legislation “will not get the job done” because dangerous loopholes will be left open.

Schumer said Tuesday he was “not encouraged by what the president said” but remained committed to pushing for stricter gun control measures. Senate Democrats planned to speak for hours on the Senate floor to urge passage of background checks and other measures in the wake of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio last month that left dozens of people dead.

Trump and White House aides have discussed a number of gun control measures with members of Congress, including steps to go after fraudulent buyers, notify state and local law enforcement when a potential buyer fails a background check, issue state-level emergency risk protection orders, boost mental health assistance and speed up executions for those found guilty of committing mass shootings.

Trump hopes to reveal something on gun control to the American public “very soon,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Tuesday. The White House expects the gun proposal later this week or early next week, according to a person familiar with the administration’s thinking.

Attorney General William Barr and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland met with GOP senators Tuesday to talk about a path forward. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said background checks remained under discussion, but it was not clear whether progress was being made.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said background checks did not come up during a lunch meeting Tuesday between Senate Republicans and Vice President Mike Pence.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., cautioned against overinterpreting the relative silence by the White House. “My guess is they’re still vetting ideas, proposals and kind of putting together their plan,” he said.

Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who has helped lead a bipartisan push to expand background checks, said he had not spoken to Trump since late last week. Manchin said he considers a proposal he is offering with Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey a starting point for legislative action.

“You can’t water it down because that’s the bedrock,” Manchin said, adding that senators and the White House haven’t agreed on anything yet. “We’re just going to see where it goes,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Zeke Miller and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved