The House impeachment inquiry is exposing new details about unease in the State Department and White House about President Donald Trump’s actions toward Ukraine and those of his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani.
One witness said it appeared “three amigos” tied to the White House had taken over foreign policy. Another quoted national security adviser John Bolton as calling Giuliani a “hand grenade” for his back-channel efforts to get Ukraine to investigate Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter.
On Wednesday, a former aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived to speak to the House impeachment panels behind closed doors. Michael McKinley, who resigned last week, is a career foreign service officer and was Pompeo’s de facto chief of staff.
He is expected to discuss concerns held by career State Department officials about the treatment of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and others who worked on the Ukraine portfolio, according to a person familiar with his testimony. A Latin America specialist, McKinley wasn’t directly involved in Ukraine policy, but as a senior adviser to Pompeo was generally aware of the situation, the person said.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters outside the closed-door hearing that McKinley was complimentary about Pompeo’s role but did raise other issues.
“I think most of this is a concern by a colleague for an ambassador that he held in high regard,” said Meadows said, declining to provide more details of the closed session.
McKinley was expected to talk about demoralization in the ranks of career foreign service officers and what many have lamented as the politicization of the once-apolitical bureaucracy, according to the person, who was granted anonymity to speak about his remarks.
The 37-year veteran of the diplomatic corps was known to be unhappy with the state of affairs although his farewell note to colleagues mentioned nothing about the reason for his departure other than it was a “personal decision.”
Another key figure in the impeachment investigation, special envoy Kurt Volker, returned to Capitol Hill on Wednesday. He and his lawyer were to review the transcript of his Oct. 3 testimony to investigators, according to a person familiar with his appearance who was not authorized to discuss it. Republicans say all the transcripts from the investigation should be released to the public.
Volker provided text messages to lawmakers that revealed an effort at the State Department to push Ukraine’s leader into opening an investigation of the gas company Burisma, connected to Joe Biden’s son, in return for a visit with Trump.
That effort soon escalated into what one diplomat feared was a quid pro quo for U.S. military aid. Trump has denied that, saying assistance to Ukraine was delayed to pressure the country into addressing corruption.
The testimony so far from the witnesses, mainly officials from the State Department and other foreign policy posts, is largely corroborating the account of the government whistleblower whose complaint first sparked the impeachment inquiry, according to lawmakers attending the closed-door interviews.
Trump’s July 25 phone call in which he pressed Ukraine’s president to investigate the Bidens is at the center of the Democrats’ inquiry.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, despite intensifying calls from Trump and Republicans to hold a formal vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry, showed no indication she would do so. She said Congress will continue its investigation as part of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances of the executive.
“This is not a game for us. This is deadly serious. We’re on a path that is taking us, a path to the truth,” Pelosi told reporters after a closed-door session with House Democrats.
Democratic leaders had been gauging support for a vote to authorize the impeachment inquiry after Trump and Republicans pushed them for a roll call. Holding a vote would test politically vulnerable Democrats in areas where the Republican president is popular.
Trump calls the impeachment inquiry an “illegitimate process” and is blocking officials from cooperating.
Trump and congressional leaders will be meeting later Wednesday at the White House on other matters.
The inquiry is moving quickly as a steady stream of officials appears behind closed doors this week, some providing new revelations about the events surrounding the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. It is on that call that Trump urged Zelenskiy to investigate a firm tied to political rival Joe Biden’s family and Ukraine’s own involvement in the 2016 presidential election.
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the Intelligence Committee overseeing the probe, has praised the State Department officials for stepping forward, under subpoena, to shed light on the matter.
“We have learned much of this thanks to the courageous testimony of the State Department officials who have been put in an impossible situation by the administration,” which is urging them not to comply with requests to testify to Congress, he said. “They are doing their duty.”
Career State Department official George Kent testified Tuesday he was told by administration officials to “lay low” on Ukraine as “three amigos” tied to the White House took over U.S. foreign policy toward the Eastern European ally.
Kent was concerned about the “fake news smear” against Yovanovitch, whom Trump recalled in May, according to emails obtained by The Associated Press.
Kent told the lawmakers that he “found himself outside a parallel process” and had warned others about Giuliani as far back as March. He felt the shadow diplomacy was undermining decades of foreign policy and the rule of law in Ukraine and that was “wrong,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.
Connolly said Kent described a May 23 meeting at the White House, organized by Trump’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, where three administration officials — U.S. ambassador Gordon Sondland, special envoy Kurt Volker and Energy Secretary Rick Perry — declared themselves the people now responsible for Ukraine policy.
“They called themselves the three amigos,” Connolly said Kent testified.
Kent also told them that Trump, through the Office of Management and Budget, which Mulvaney previously led, was holding up military aid to Ukraine while pressing Zelenskiy to investigate a company linked to Biden’s son.
Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker, Matthew Lee, Padmananda Rama, Andrew Taylor and Alan Fram in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in Dallas contributed to this report.
The White House is preparing to formally object to Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as soon as Friday, saying it won’t cooperate with the probe because it was initiated without a vote of the House.
The White House Counsel’s Office was preparing to send a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objecting to the form of the impeachment investigation, a person familiar with the matter said late Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the letter before its dissemination.
Pelosi last week announced that the House was beginning the formal inquiry but didn’t seek the consent of the full chamber, as was done for impeachment investigations into former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, confirmed that the letter was forthcoming.
Trump allies have suggested for days that without a formal vote, the House is merely conducting standard oversight, entitling lawmakers to a lesser level of disclosure from the administration. The Justice Department raised similar arguments last month, though that was before Pelosi announced the impeachment investigation.
In a letter Thursday to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Pelosi argued, “There is no requirement under the Constitution, under House Rules, or House precedent that the whole House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry.”
There’s no clear-cut procedure in the Constitution for launching an impeachment inquiry, leaving many of these questions about obstruction untested in court, said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University.
“There’s no specification in the Constitution in what does and does not constitute a more formal impeachment inquiry or investigation,” he said. “One can argue if they’re in an impeachment investigation, they’re in an impeachment.”
Giuliani dismissed the entire premise of the impeachment inquiry, which is centered on Trump asking Ukraine to investigate his possible political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The president was not tasking Ukraine to investigate a political opponent,” Giuliani told The Associated Press on Thursday. “He wanted an investigation into a seriously conflicted former vice president of the United States who damaged the reputation of the United States in Ukraine.”
Democrats have sought to use their declared impeachment investigation to bolster their case to access all sorts of documents from the administration, most recently secret grand jury information that underpinned special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. They have also threatened to use the administration’s refusal to turn over documents and make witnesses available to potentially form an article of impeachment over “obstruction” of the congressional inquiry.
Where courts have generally required congressional oversight requests to demonstrate a legitimate legislative purpose, impeachment requests could be wide-ranging.
It is unclear if Democrats would wade into a lengthy legal fight with the administration over documents and testimony or if they would just move straight to considering articles of impeachment.
Pelosi has sought to avoid a vote on the impeachment probe for the same reason she resisted, for months, liberal calls to try to remove the president: It would force moderate House Democrats to make a politically risky vote.
The White House, meanwhile, is trying to force the question on Democrats, as it seeks to raise the political cost for their impeachment investigation and to animate the president’s supporters ahead of the 2020 election.
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.
House Democrats pursuing an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump say they will subpoena the White House on Friday for documents related to his dealings with Ukraine, citing “flagrant disregard” of their previous requests for information.
House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings wrote in a memo to committee members Wednesday that the action is necessary because the White House has ignored multiple requests. Given the “stark and urgent warnings” the inspector general for the intelligence community has delivered to Congress, Cummings said, the panel has “no choice but to issue this subpoena.”
The subpoena is directed toward acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. It requests 13 separate batches of documents related to a July phone call that Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and related matters. The Oversight panel will issue the subpoena in coordination with the House intelligence and Foreign Affairs committees, Cummings said.
The action came as House and Senate staff prepared to meet with the State Department’s inspector general on Wednesday. A State Department invitation to the meeting, which was reviewed by The Associated Press, requested an “urgent” meeting with staff from eight House and Senate panels.
The invitation said only that the inspector general, Steve Linick, “would like to discuss and provide staff with copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine.” The documents were obtained from the State Department’s acting legal adviser, according to the email.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged Wednesday he was on the phone call between Trump and Zelenskiy that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry. He said that as America’s chief diplomat he is well-versed in U.S. policy toward Ukraine. But Pompeo continued to push back against what he said was Democrats’ “bullying and intimidation.”
The Trump administration has set a defiant tone, resisting Congress’ access to witnesses, even as House Democrats warn such efforts themselves could amount to an impeachable offense.
Democrats have scheduled closed-door depositions Thursday with former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and next week with ousted U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Associated Press writers Matthew Lee in Rome; Angela Charlton in Kyiv, Ukraine; and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar in Washington contributed to this report.
A whistle blew, an impeachment inquiry swung into motion and the president at the center of it all rose defiantly to his own defense, not always in command of the facts.
A CIA officer, in a complaint filed under federal whistleblower protections that preserve anonymity, alleged President Donald Trump abused his office in pressing for a Ukrainian investigation of a Democratic rival, Joe Biden. That revelation persuaded Democrats to move ahead with an inquiry that could produce articles of impeachment. Trump has reacted with anger, with weekend tweets that made the groundless accusation that Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the Intelligence Committee chairman taking the lead in the impeachment review, criticized him “illegally.”
A look at Trump’s recent words on impeachment, Ukraine and other subjects:
TRUMP: “Liddle’ Adam Schiff … fraudulently and illegally inserted his made up & twisted words into my call with the Ukrainian President to make it look like I did something very wrong. He then boldly read those words to Congress and millions of people, defaming & libeling me.” — tweets Saturday.
THE FACTS: He is exaggerating Schiff’s exaggerations. The California Democrat, in what he said was a parody during a committee hearing, mocked and overstated the president’s pleas in his July 25 call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, as Trump does with his critics routinely. Schiff’s remarks are not illegal nor would it be defamatory or libelous, because lawmakers are shielded from liability for comments made in the course of Congress under the “speech or debate” clause in the Constitution, which seeks to foster political debate.
During Thursday’s House intelligence committee hearing, Schiff made clear he was providing an account that was in “essence” what he believed Trump was conveying to Zelenskiy when “shorn of its rambling character.”
No exact transcript of Trump’s comments with Ukraine’s president actually exists, just a rough transcript released by the White House.
TRUMP, describing the July 25 phone call with his Ukrainian counterpart: “Another Fake News Story! See what was said on the very nice, no pressure, call.”— tweet Thursday.
TRUMP: “My call was perfect.” — remarks to reporters Thursday.
THE FACTS: It’s a big stretch for Trump to say he placed no pressure on Zelenskiy in that phone call — a conversation marked by Trump’s blunt remark: “I would like for you to do us a favor,” according to a White House account of the call.
Trump repeatedly prodded Zelenskiy to help investigate Biden and son Hunter, as well as to look into a cybersecurity firm that investigated the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee and concluded it was carried out by Russia.
The call followed a monthslong campaign by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, conducted on Trump’s behalf to get Ukrainians to scrutinize Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine when Joe Biden was vice president. It also followed Trump’s abrupt suspension of military aid for Ukraine that Congress had approved. The aid was recently released.
When Zelenskiy thanked Trump for past U.S. aid and suggested his country might need more, Trump switched the topic to the investigation he wanted Ukraine to do. He asked Zelenskiy to work with Attorney General William Barr and Giuliani on the matter.
As for the call being “perfect,” it was actually worrisome enough so that White House attorneys moved a rough transcript of it to a highly secure system where fewer officials would have access to it than is normally the case for conversations between Trump and world leaders.
The call and the broader effort to win a foreign government’s help on a matter that could benefit Trump’s reelection are what sparked the impeachment inquiry.
TRUMP, denouncing information from the whistleblower: “All second hand information that proved to be so inaccurate.” — tweet Friday.
THE FACTS: The whistleblower’s accusations have not been shown to be incorrect. Several key details have actually been corroborated. For example, the White House account of the July 25 phone call showed that the whistleblower had accurately summarized the conversation, as relayed by unidentified U.S. officials, in the complaint sent to the acting director of national intelligence.
TRUMP: “I want to see other countries helping Ukraine also, not just us. As usual the United States helps and nobody else is there.” — remarks to reporters Wednesday.
TRUMP: “I’d withhold again, and I’ll continue to withhold until such time as Europe and other nations contribute to Ukraine. Because they’re not doing it; it’s the United States. … Why is it only the United States putting up the money?” — remarks to reporters Tuesday.
THE FACTS: It isn’t only the U.S. putting up money. It’s false to say “nobody else is there.”
European Union institutions have provided far more development assistance than the U.S.— compared with $204 million from Washington. EU members, Japan and Canada also contribute significantly.
Since 2014, the EU and European financial institutions have mobilized more than $16 billion to help Ukraine’s economy, counter corruption, build institutions and strengthen its sovereignty against further incursions by Russia after its annexation of Crimea.
The U.S. is a heavy source of military assistance. The aid package held back by Trump, and recently released, amounted to nearly $400 million in such aid. But NATO also contributes a variety of military-assistance programs and trust funds for Ukraine. In most such cases, the programs are modest and NATO countries other than the U.S. take the lead.
TRUMP, in the July 25 call with Ukraine’s leader: “Germany does almost nothing for you. All they do is talk.” — according to White House account of the conversation, released Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Germany is the third largest bilateral donor to Ukraine, after the EU and the U.S.
“Anyone who views this soberly will conclude Germany is strongly involved,” said German foreign ministry spokesman Rainer Breul.
TRUMP: “It is disgraceful what the Do Nothing Democrats are doing (the Impeachment Scam), but it is also disgraceful what they are NOT doing, … Gun Safety … and much more!” — tweet Saturday.
TRUMP, speaking of the Democratic senator from Connecticut: “Chris Murphy — who I’ve been dealing with on guns — you know, so nice. He’s always, ‘Oh, no, we want to work it out. We want to work it out.’ But they’re too busy wasting their time on the witch hunt.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: Trump is the main holdup on gun control legislation as he mulls whether to endorse expanded background checks.
The Democratic-controlled House passed a bill in February that would require background checks on all gun sales, including those between strangers who meet online or at gun shows. But Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it’s not clear the Senate would be able to pass the legislation or that Trump would sign it into law. Earlier this month, McConnell stressed that Congress would remain “in a holding pattern ” on gun control as lawmakers await proposals from the White House.
A proposal being floated by Barr on Capitol Hill would require background checks on all commercial gun sales, including at gun shows. But Trump told reporters this month the plan was one of many ideas under consideration and he would go “very slowly.”
ECONOMY and TRADE
TRUMP: “How do you impeach a President who has created the greatest Economy in the history of our Country.” — tweet Saturday.
TRUMP: “Our country is the strongest it’s ever been economically.” — news conference Wednesday.
THE FACTS: It isn’t.
In the late 1990s, growth topped 4% for four straight years, a level it has not reached on an annual basis under Trump. Growth reached 7.2% in 1984. The economy grew 2.9% in 2018 — the same pace it reached in 2015 under President Barack Obama — and hasn’t hit historically high growth rates.
The unemployment rate is near a 50-year low of 3.7%, but the proportion of Americans with a job was higher in the 1990s. Wages were rising at a faster pace back then, too. More Americans are now out of the workforce, taking care of children or relatives, or going to school, while others became discouraged about their job prospects and stopped looking. The government doesn’t count people as unemployed unless they are actively searching for jobs.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “We have before the Congress what will be the largest trade deal in American history. … It’s time for Congress to pass the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and pass it this year.” — remarks Thursday in Indianapolis.
THE FACTS: It’s not the largest trade deal ever made.
It covers the same three countries as the North American Free Trade Agreement, which the Trump administration is seeking to replace. In contrast, the Uruguay Round of trade negotiations concluded in 1994 created the World Trade Organization and was signed by 123 countries. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston found the following year that the WTO’s initial membership accounted for more than 90 percent of global economic output.
TRUMP on the effects of the impeachment inquiry: “The stock market went up when they saw the nonsense. All of a sudden the stock market went down very substantially when they saw a charge. After they read the charge, the stock market went up very substantially.” — remarks to reporters in New York on Wednesday.
THE FACTS: First, he’s not actually charged with anything. He’s saying the market went down Tuesday when the impeachment drive was announced and up after the White House memo on his phone call with Ukraine’s president came out. That’s roughly right, but it’s wrong to tie the market fluctuations solely — or even primarily — to the impeachment episode.
The market cares even more about the economy, and currently the biggest wild card for the U.S. economy is how much Trump’s trade war with China could curtail growth. Since it began last year, the stock market has fallen with each escalation of tensions and risen when the two sides appeared close to resolving the dispute.
The 142-point drop in the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Tuesday was partly due to the impeachment developments but was also tied to Trump taking a hard line on China in a speech to the United Nations, which seemed to dim the prospects that coming talks would resolve the trade standoff. While the market did move higher Wednesday after the release of the memo, the Commerce Department released some solid numbers on the housing market around the same time.
Moreover, just after the comment on the stock exchange, Trump told reporters a deal with China “could happen sooner than you think,” and the Dow quickly doubled its gain.
The economic-political dynamic was evident in the impeachment inquiries of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. After the initial inquiry of Nixon in October 1973, the S&P 500 index fell 33% the next year. But the S&P 500 gained 39% after the Clinton impeachment inquiry started in October 1998. The difference: The economy was headed toward a recession in the mid-1970s, while the economy was growing strongly in the late 1990s. For Trump, the U.S. economy slowed to growth of about 2% in the second quarter from 3% in the first quarter and current estimates are for 2% growth in the third quarter.
TRUMP: “In America, the result was 4.2 million lost manufacturing jobs … the United States is now taking that decisive action to end this grave economic injustice.” — address Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly.
WHITE HOUSE: “The president is getting rid of the disastrous North American Free Trade Agreement and replacing it with a better deal, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. Our country has lost 4 million manufacturing jobs since NAFTA went into effect.” — news release Tuesday.
THE FACTS: The loss of factory jobs is not all due to NAFTA.
Trump is correct that the United States has lost nearly 4 million factory jobs since that pact took effect in January 1994. But most economists attribute the losses to other factors — the recessions of 2001 and 2007-2009, automation that lets machines replace workers and low-cost competition from China.
Trump’s proposed NAFTA replacement is hardly expected to create a jobs boom. The independent International Trade Commission estimates that the new deal would create 176,000 jobs over six years, a rounding error in a country with 152 million nonfarm jobs.
TRUMP, recalling his days as the owner of the Miss Universe pageant: “It’s a great thing. And we had a winner from Ukraine.” — remarks Wednesday before a meeting with Zelenskiy.
THE FACTS: A Ukrainian woman has never won the Miss Universe title. Several made the top 10 during Trump’s tenure at the pageant, which he bought in 1996 and sold in 2015. But none took the prize in the pageant’s history, which dates to 1952. Ukrainian Olesia Stefanko was first runner-up in 2011.
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Zeke Miller, and Paul Wiseman in Washington and Paul Harloff in New York contributed to this report.
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President Donald Trump ordered his staff to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine a few days before a phone call in which he pressured the Eastern European nation’s leader to investigate the family of political rival Joe Biden, a revelation that comes as more Democrats move toward impeachment proceedings.
Trump’s order was first reported by The Washington Post and was confirmed to The Associated Press by two people familiar with but not authorized to discuss private conversations. They spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Late Monday, an influential group of freshmen Democrats who served in the military and national security before winning office said Trump’s actions cut to the core of the country’s defenses. Their views, as centrist lawmakers from previously Republican-held districts where Trump has been popular, hold sway with party leadership.
At issue is a summer phone call with Ukrainian President Voldymyr Zelenskiy, in which Trump is said to have pushed for investigations into Biden. In the days before that call, Trump ordered the aid to Ukraine frozen.
Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong and has denied that any requests for help in procuring damaging information about Biden were tied to the aid freeze.
The United States began providing military aid to the government of Ukraine shortly after Russia illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. With Ukraine’s new president still grappling with separatist rebels in the east, the aid has long been viewed as a measure of Washington’s determination to push back against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Democrats, and some Republicans, have urged the White House to be open about Trump’s actions, which are at the center of a whistleblower complaint. But with no new information from the administration forthcoming, more than a dozen Democrats, including some in House leadership, added their names to those calling for impeachment proceedings.
The sudden rush of activity shows the extent to which Trump’s call to the foreign leader, and his subsequent comments about the conversation, are raising further questions about whether the president improperly used his office to pressure another country as a way of helping his own reelection prospects.
“These allegations are stunning, both in the national security threat they pose and the potential corruption they represent,” wrote the seven freshmen, who include a former Navy pilot, soldiers, officers and intelligence analysts.
“We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly,” the lawmakers wrote in a Washington Post op-ed. The lawmakers include Reps. Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia.
“These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect. We must preserve the checks and balances envisioned by the Founders and restore the trust of the American people in our government. And that is what we intend to do.”
Congress on Monday pressed for full disclosure of a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump and pushed the White House to release a transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukraine president.
The president has acknowledged the phone call. On Monday, he said he didn’t want to give money to Ukraine — if there were corruption issues.
“It’s very important to talk about corruption,” Trump told reporters as he opened meetings at the United Nations. “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is, is corrupt?”
Later Monday, Trump denied telling the Ukraine president that his country would only get U.S. aid if it investigated Biden’s son. “I didn’t do it,” he said.
The fresh calls for impeachment proceedings come as House Democrats are heading into a closed-door meeting Tuesday with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi and her leadership team on the various oversight committees are considering bringing forward a resolution that will put the House on the record on this matter, according to a Democratic leadership aide unauthorized to discuss the private talks. The aide was granted anonymity.
Still, Democrats remained divided on moving forward with an effort to impeach Trump. Pelosi has resisted calls for impeachment and is sticking with her position that Congress must not start formal proceedings unless the American public demands it.
However, Pelosi said Sunday that unless the administration provides more information to Congress by the scheduled Thursday hearing at the intelligence committee, its officials “will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.”
Trump has sought, without evidence, to implicate Biden and his son Hunter 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.
The matter is under new scrutiny following the whistleblower’s mid-August complaint, which followed Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president. The person who filed the complaint did not have firsthand knowledge of the call, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Lawmakers are demanding details of the complaint, but the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to share that information, citing presidential privilege. He is set to testify Thursday before the House.
“Let’s see the transcript,” said Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, about Trump’s call with the Ukraine president.
The chairmen of the House intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Government Reform committees are threatening to subpoena Secretary of State Mike Pompeo if he does not produce information about whether Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, inappropriately tried to influence the Ukraine government for political gain.
Meanwhile, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York called on Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to investigate the whistleblower’s complaint. In a letter to McConnell, he said that the Republicans’ “see no evil, hear no evil” attitude toward the president’s actions “is unacceptable and must change.”
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida doesn’t think Trump’s actions are grounds for impeachment, but said he wouldn’t have called a foreign leader to discuss a rival.
“I don’t think he should have raised the topic of Joe Biden with the Ukraine president,” Rubio said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday the matter is best left behind closed doors in the classified setting of the intelligence committee, though he did push into the spotlight his own role in securing the Ukraine aid.
McConnell said he had been “personally pressuring” the Trump administration this summer in calls to Pompeo and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to release the U.S. aid money.
Trump said Monday he may, or may not, release details or a transcript of the call but has stressed that foreign leaders should feel free to speak frankly with an American president without fear that the details of their conversations will later be disclosed.
Hunter Biden was hired by the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Holdings in April 2014, two months after Ukraine’s Russia-friendly former president was ousted by protesters and as Biden’s father was heavily involved in U.S. efforts to support the new pro-Western government. The move immediately raised concerns that the Ukrainian firm, whose owner was a political ally of the ousted president, was seeking to gain influence with the Obama administration.
Trump and Zelenskiy plan to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly this week.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Matthew Daly, Michael Balsamo, Laurie Kellman and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.
Ukraine will soon have more lethal American-made weapons to help it fight Russian-backed separatists.
U.S. officials said Friday that the Trump administration approved a plan to provide lethal weapons to Ukraine, in a long-awaited move that deepens America’s involvement in the military conflict and may further strain relations with Russia.
The new arms include American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles that Ukraine has long sought to boost its defenses against Russian-backed separatists armed with tanks that have rolled through eastern Ukraine during violence that has killed more than 10,000 since 2014. Previously, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with support equipment and training, and has let private companies sell some small arms like rifles.
The officials describing the plan weren’t authorized to discuss it publicly and demanded anonymity.
The move is likely to become another sore point between Washington and Moscow, as President Donald Trump contends with ongoing questions about whether he’s too hesitant to confront the Kremlin. Ukraine accuses Russia of sending the tanks, and the U.S. says Moscow is arming, training and fighting alongside the separatists.
Trump had been considering the plan for some time after the State Department and the Pentagon signed off earlier this year. President Barack Obama also considered sending lethal weapons to Ukraine, but left office without doing so.
The State Department, responsible for overseeing foreign military sales, would not confirm that anti-tank missiles or other lethal weapons would be sent. But in a statement late Friday, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. had decided to provide “enhanced defensive capabilities” to help Ukraine build its military long-term, defend its sovereignty and “deter further aggression.”
“U.S. assistance is entirely defensive in nature, and as we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself,” Nauert said.
The White House’s National Security Council declined to comment. Russia’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment late Friday.
Although the portable Javelin anti-tank missiles can kill, proponents for granting them to Ukraine have long argued they are considered “defensive” because the Ukrainians would use them to defend their territory and deter the Russians, not to attack a foreign country or seize new territory.
Under law, the State Department must tell Congress of planned foreign military sales, triggering a review period in which lawmakers can act to stop the sale. It was unclear whether the administration had formally notified Congress, but lawmakers are unlikely to try to block it given that Democrats and Republicans alike have long called on the government to take the step.
The move comes as the United States and European nations struggle to break a long logjam in the Ukraine-Russia conflict that erupted three years ago when fighting broke out between Russian-backed separatists and government troops in the east. France, Russia and Germany brokered a peace arrangement in 2015 that has lowered violence but not stopped it, and a political settlement outlined in the deal hadn’t been fully implemented.
In recent days, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has warned that violence is up about 60 percent this year. In Europe earlier this month, Tillerson called Russia’s involvement the biggest tension point between the former Cold War rivals.
“It stands as the single most difficult obstacle to us renormalizing the relationship with Russia, which we badly would like to do,” Tillerson said.
The intensified support for Ukraine’s military also comes amid early discussions about sending U.N. peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine, to improve security conditions not only for Ukrainians but for special monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who are on the ground in Ukraine.
The U.S. and other nations were cautiously optimistic when Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed to send in peacekeepers. But there are major disagreements about how and where the peacekeepers would operate, especially about whether they’d be deployed only on the “line of conflict” between separatists and the government.
Both the Obama administration and the Trump administration had expressed concerns in the past that injecting more weapons into the conflict was unlikely to resolve it, especially considering that Russia is well-equipped to respond to any Ukrainian escalation with an even stronger escalation of its own. Sending lethal weapons to Ukraine also creates the troubling possibility that American arms could kill Russian soldiers, a situation that could thrust the two nuclear-armed nations closer to direct confrontation.
The United States, under Obama, also imposed sanctions on Russia for its invasion and annexation of Crimea. The Trump administration has insisted those sanctions will stay in place until Moscow gives up the Crimean Peninsula.
AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee contributed to this report.
Donald Trump’s campaign chairman Paul Manafort resigned on Friday in the wake of campaign shake-up and revelations about his work in Ukraine.
In a statement issued as he arrived in Louisiana to tour the flood-ravaged state, Trump said Manafort offered his resignation Friday morning. The billionaire called Manafort “a true professional.”
“I am very appreciative for his great work in helping to get us where we are today, and in particular his work guiding us through the delegate and convention process,” Trump said.
Manafort’s resignation comes a day after The Associated Press reported that confidential emails from Manafort’s firm contradicted his claims that he had never lobbied on behalf of Ukrainian political figures in the U.S.
Trump’s son, Eric Trump, told Fox News in an interview that will air Sunday that his father worried questions about Manafort’s past were taking attention away from the billionaire’s presidential bid.
“I think my father didn’t want to be, you know, distracted by whatever things Paul was dealing with,” Eric Trump said.
Emails between Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, also a top Trump adviser, and the lobbying firm Mercury LLC showed that Manafort’s firm, DMP International LLC, directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation on behalf of Ukraine’s then-ruling political party.
The effort included not just legislative outreach but also attempts to sway American public opinion and gather political intelligence on competing lobbying efforts in the U.S.
The emails obtained by the AP do not describe details about the role of Manafort, Gates’ boss at the firm. But current and former employees at Mercury and a second lobbying firm, the Podesta Group, some of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they are subject to non-disclosure agreements, told the AP that Manafort oversaw the lobbying efforts and spoke by phone about them.
Manafort and Gates never registered as foreign agents for their work as required under federal law.
Under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby on behalf of foreign political figures or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the Justice Department’s counterespionage unit. A violation is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
Also Friday, Ukrainian anti-corruption investigators released copies of handwritten ledgers detailing possible cash payments from Ukrainian political figures to Manafort totaling more than $12 million. Details of the payments described in the ledger were first reported by The New York Times. Manafort denies receiving those payments.
Earlier this week, Trump brought in a new campaign chief executive and campaign manager following a disastrous stretch in which the New Yorker committed a series of errors and fell behind Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in both national and battleground state preference polls.
The new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, had described Manafort and Gates as part of a new “core four” atop the Trump operation with her and CEO Stephen Bannon. But Manafort’s role in the campaign had been significantly marginalized under the new leadership structure announced Wednesday.
Neither Manafort nor Gates were taking a paycheck from the Trump campaign as of June 30, according to campaign finance reports filed with federal regulators. Manafort had said on several occasions he didn’t plan to be paid for his work for Trump.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin and Steve Peoples contributed to this report.
Donald Trump is trying to claw back a string of inaccurate comments about Ukraine, but he’s yet to get it right.
On the weekend, Trump asserted in an ABC interview that Russia would not enter Ukraine, not seeming to know Russian troops were already there. He suggested the 2014 annexation of Crimea didn’t count because the peninsula’s people preferred being part of Russia, which was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stated reason for taking it.
Prodded by his interviewer, the Republican presidential candidate modified his statement afterward.
“Already in Crimea!” Trump tweeted Monday, referring to Russian forces. “That’s what I said!”
The attempted clarifications left much unclarified.
Here’s how Trump’s comments comport with the facts:
TRUMP on Putin: “He’s not going into Ukraine, OK. Just so you understand: He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?”
THE FACTS: Putin did go into Ukraine. After Ukrainian protesters chased Viktor Yanukovych, their Russian-backed leader, from power in February 2014, Russian troops stationed at a base in Crimea seized strategic locations on the peninsula and replaced the local government with pro-Kremlin politicians. Russia annexed the territory after a widely discredited referendum a month later.
Moscow didn’t stop there, according to the central government in Kiev and its Western backers, sending troops and military equipment to help separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine. They say Russia continues to train rebels and direct low-level attacks against Ukrainian forces on the front line.
Russia acknowledges it has some military officials in Ukraine, but says no regular troops are there.
In his tweets Monday, Trump sought to explain himself: “When I said in an interview that Putin is ‘not going into Ukraine, you can mark it down,’ I am saying if I am President.”
TRUMP: “You know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.”
THE FACTS: Trump is right that many Crimeans, being ethnically Russian, felt close to Moscow. But that is only part of the story.
The March 2014 referendum that officially showed 95 percent of Crimeans wanting to join Russia faced an avalanche of criticism.
It occurred as thousands of Russian troops were controlling Crimea. There were charges that people voted at gunpoint. No respected international election monitors supervised the balloting. Crimea’s large Muslim Tatar minority, whose families were forcibly relocated to Central Asia during Soviet times, defiantly opposed joining Russia. Many ethnic Ukrainians stayed at home. And the world community almost universally panned the annexation.
TRUMP: “As far as the Ukraine is concerned, it’s a mess. And that’s under the Obama’s administration, with his strong ties to NATO. So with all of these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess.”
THE FACTS: Ukraine is not a NATO country and is not covered under the alliance’s basic premise that “an attack against one ally is considered as an attack against all allies,” so Trump’s implication that NATO somehow failed Ukraine is incorrect.
Ukraine has never been part of the 28-member organization.
And although NATO has mobilized for campaigns in the Balkans, Afghanistan and Libya, the self-described defensive alliance has never engaged in military action against Russia.
It probably would never do so unless a NATO member — such as Poland or one of the Baltic states — were faced with Russian aggression.
TRUMP: “If we can have a good relationship with Russia and if Russia would help us get rid of ISIS … that would be a positive thing, not a negative thing.”
THE FACTS: Hawks in both parties have attacked Trump for suggesting closer U.S.-Russian coordination against the Islamic State. Much of the criticism has been unfair.
Trump’s suggested approach is in line with the current strategy of the Obama administration. And Republican and Democratic administrations have a long history of counterterrorism cooperation with Russia, even during times of strained relations.
Former President George W. Bush worked with Putin to fight al-Qaida and other extremist groups after 9/11. As secretary of state, Clinton took partial credit for Russia opening up a northern corridor for U.S. troops and materiel to reach Afghanistan.
Trump also has been accused of having a hand in the Republican Party platform’s omission of pushing for lethal aid to Ukraine, a long held GOP position. The current platform calls for “appropriate assistance” to Ukraine.
President Barack Obama, too, has opposed providing offensive weaponry to Ukraine.
Foreign policy used to stand out as a not-so-bleak spot in the public’s waning assessment of Barack Obama. Not anymore. He’s getting low marks for handling Russia’s swoop into Ukraine, and more Americans than ever disapprove of the way Obama is doing his job, according to a new AP-GfK poll.
Despite the poor performance reviews, Obama’s primary tactic so far — imposing economic sanctions on key Russians — has strong backing.
Close to 9 out of 10 Americans support sanctions as a response to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, the poll indicates. About half of that group says the U.S. sanctions so far are about right, while the other half wants to see them strengthened, the Associated Press-GfK poll found.
Most Democrats say the sanctions are OK, while a majority of Republicans finds them too weak.
“We’re supposed to be a country that helps smaller countries in need,” said Christopher Ashby, 29, a Republican in Albemarle, N.C., who wants a more powerful response. “Ukraine at this time is definitely in need.”
Ashby, a stay-at-home dad caring for three young daughters, said, “When I look at Obama, I see my 5-year-old daughter looking at something that just happened and saying ‘What do I do?'”
Overall disapproval of the job Obama is doing ticked up to 59 percent — a record high for his presidency — in the poll released Wednesday. His 41 percent approval rating is a sobering number for fellow Democrats running in this fall’s House and Senate elections.
Americans are now divided over which party they would rather see in control of Congress. Democrats held a slight edge over Republicans in the January AP-GfK poll.
Obama gets lowest marks for his handling of the federal budget, immigration and the economy. Support for Obama’s education policies, which had been a strong point, dipped into negative territory this month, too.
Republicans have long criticized the president as too weak in asserting American power abroad. Yet until now, foreign policy hasn’t been a drag on Obama’s second term: Americans were about as likely to endorse his actions as to disapprove.
Now he’s hit a new low on international relations — just 40 percent approval.
Majorities say they dislike Obama’s handling of the Ukraine situation (57 percent) and his interactions with Russia (54 percent).
Almost half of those polled say they support imposing tougher sanctions if Russia pushes into new regions or other countries; only 14 percent are opposed. That backs up threats from Obama and Western allies to target Russia’s economy with damaging sanctions if President Vladimir Putin goes further.
About a third of those surveyed said they oppose giving monetary aid to nations targeted by Russia. Only about 20 percent approve of financial support, while the biggest share is neutral. This week Congress is considering $1 billion in loan guarantees for Ukraine sought by Obama.
The idea of lending any type of military support to Ukraine is unpopular, the poll says. Obama has said there are no plans to use military force to dislodge Russia from the Crimean Peninsula.
Richard Johnson, a politically independent retiree in Redmond, Wash., said the United States shouldn’t have gotten involved at all, especially since many Crimean residents favor Russia.
“They’re protesting in both directions, right?” Johnson said. “So I just feel like we’ve got enough problems here at home, why are we looking for more trouble?”
Johnson, pausing from wiring work on his do-it-yourself kitchen remodel, said he still supports Obama nevertheless.
“He’s trying to do what he believes is best,” said Johnson, 62.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
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