State Dept. aides reveal unease with Trump

Michael McKinley, a former top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019, to testify before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

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.
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“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.

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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.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

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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Trump’s escalating lies on Ukraine, impeachment

A troubled President Donald Trump steps off Air Force One after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base, in Andrews Air Force Base, Md. 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. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

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:

UKRAINE

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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GUN CONTROL

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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BEAUTY PAGEANT

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.

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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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