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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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Biden fires back at Trump’s attacks

Former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks during a gun safety forum Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden assured supporters Wednesday night that his message to President Donald Trump is “I’m not going anywhere” as he laid out his most forceful pushback yet to Trump’s baseless attacks.

In a rebuke of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the former vice president said during a 20-minute speech at a rally that he’s not surprised Trump asked a foreign government for help to defeat him. Trump’s effort to enlist Ukraine has sparked an impeachment inquiry in the Democratic-led House.

Trump and his allies have accused Biden and his son Hunter, without evidence, of participating in the kind of corruption that has plagued Ukraine. They point to Hunter Biden’s service on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while Biden was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Yet no one has produced evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden.

“Let me make something clear to Trump and his hatchet men and the special interests funding his attacks against me. I’m not going anywhere,” Biden said to loud cheers.

“It’s not about Donald Trump’s antics. It’s about what has brought Donald Trump, and the nation, to this sobering moment in our history and to the choice facing us in 2020,” he said. “What has brought us here is simply this: the abuse of power.”

A complaint by a government whistleblower helped make public Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president. House investigators said Wednesday they will issue a subpoena demanding all White House and Trump administration documents related to efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son.

“Desperate and defensive, Trump sends one crazed tweet after another _ insinuating that the whistleblower should be dealt with extensively, using the word ‘executed,’ threatening to prosecute the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, warning direly of civil war if he is impeached,” he said.

Biden praised the whistleblower and accused Trump of repeatedly smearing the Biden family.

“Now because of the courageous actions of a whistleblower, Trump’s scheme has been exposed,” he said. “He did it because, like every bully in history _ he’s afraid. He’s afraid of just how badly he may be beaten in November.”

More than 400 people crowded into the student center at Truckee Meadows Community College for Biden’s rally after he joined eight other White House hopefuls at a gun policy forum in Las Vegas earlier in the day. It marked the first time this year the early Democratic presidential front-runner had brought his campaign to northern Nevada.

Nevada’s caucuses in February follow Iowa and New Hampshire as third in the nominating process. It was one of the few key swing states that Trump failed to carry in 2016. Biden historically has enjoyed strong support from labor unions and others in Washoe County, including Reno and Sparks.

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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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