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US News Everything We Know About Trump’s Ukraine Whistle-blower Scandal

12:04  25 september  2019
12:04  25 september  2019 Source:   nymag.com

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Everything We Know About Trump ’ s Ukraine Whistle - blower Scandal . We have been informed by the whistleblower ’s counsel that their client would like to speak to our committee and has requested guidance from the Acting DNI as to how to do Trump ’ s Ukraine Whistle - blower Scandal : Everything We Know .

Trump - Ukraine whistleblower complaint: read it in full. Trump and his key advisers have taken these facts and run with them. Under their narrative, Biden corruptly pressured That makes it quite possible that Trump could be investigated by the House and then impeached, with formal charges, known as “articles of

a man wearing a suit and tie: Mark Wilson/Getty Images © Mark Wilson/Getty Images Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Having just emerged from one scandal of foreign influence in Eastern Europe, President Trump immediately became embroiled in another — driving House Democrats to finally launch an official impeachment inquiry. The central allegation: In a July 25 phone call, Trump pressured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the business dealings of Joe Biden’s son in exchange for unblocking U.S. aid to the country. (Bloomberg has cast doubt on the claim that the former vice-president interfered in Ukrainian politics to aide his son Hunter, but that doesn’t mean Trump couldn’t use it against his potential 2020 rival.)

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The call came to light via a complaint from an intelligence-community whistle-blower; Democrats are currently locked in a battle with Trump’s director of national intelligence over whether he is illegally withholding the complaint from Congress.

Here’s everything we know about Trump’s Ukrainian call and his administration’s attempt to conceal the whistle-blower’s complaint.

What Trump said during the phone call

The story of Trump pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate Hunter Biden trickled out slowly over the past week. First, there were confusing reports about the Trump administration withholding a whistle-blower’s account from Congress, but the subject of the complaint was unclear. On Wednesday, September 18, the Washington Post reported that it concerned a “promise” Trump made to an unnamed foreign leader. A day later, several outlets reported that the complaint “centers on Ukraine.”

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Here’ s what you need to know about the whistleblower ’ s complaint that the White House is refusing to release to Congress.

The whistleblower cites US officials saying that Trump directed Mike Pence not to attend Zelenskiy’ s inauguration in May and also “made clear” that he did While the revelations about Trump and Zelenskiy’ s talks have rocked political circles, media coverage of the scandal has been muted here – a sharp contrast

Finally, on Friday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal appeared to put it all together:

President Trump in a July phone call repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden ’s son, according to people familiar with the matter, urging Volodymyr Zelensky about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani on a probe that could hamper Mr. Trump’s potential 2020 opponent.

“He told him that he should work with [Mr. Giuliani] on Biden, and that people in Washington wanted to know” if his lawyer’s assertions that Mr. Biden acted improperly as vice president were true, one of the people said.

… Mr. Trump in the call didn’t mention a provision of U.S. aid to Ukraine, said this person, who didn’t believe Mr. Trump offered the Ukrainian president any quid pro quo for his cooperation on any investigation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announces the House of Representatives will launch a formal inquiry into the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump following a closed House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque © Thomson Reuters House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announces the House of Representatives will launch a formal inquiry into the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump following a closed House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Rudy Giuliani’s role in pushing the Biden-Ukraine story

In recent months Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has made no secret of his efforts to pressure Ukraine to open an investigation into Biden ahead of the 2020 election.

8 Takeaways From the Whistle-Blower Complaint

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Trump ’ s request that Ukraine help find dirt on Joe Biden has led to an impeachment inquiry – and drawn in multiple people. Democrats announced an official impeachment inquiry into Trump on 24 September following a whistleblower ’s complaint about Trump ’ s interactions with the president of Ukraine .

The Trump - Ukraine whistleblower scandal — it doesn’t really have a catchy name yet — is about more than one phone call. It’ s about a months-long effort by Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to drum up foreign investigations into What we know about who Asian American voters supported in the election.

The Trump camp’s central claim is that Biden behaved improperly as vice-president, using his influence to demand that Kiev fire its top prosecutor, who had investigated a Ukrainian gas company where Hunter Biden was a board member. But in May, Bloomberg found the timeline doesn’t add up: the investigation into the energy company was long dead by the time Biden began calling for the prosecutor’s ouster. Plus, as New York’s Jonathan Chait notes, “the prosecutor was widely considered corrupt, his sacking was consistent with the administration’s pro-democracy agenda, and the Obama administration supported the investigation into Hunter Biden anyway.”

Nevertheless, in May Giuliani made plans to travel to Ukraine to press the government into investigating Hunter Biden’s business dealings. In an interview with the New York Times, the former New York City mayor openly admitted that he was pressuring Kiev because it would be “very, very helpful” to Trump — though some might see that as “improper”:

“We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview on Thursday when asked about the parallel to the special counsel’s inquiry.

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“There’s nothing illegal about it,” he said. “Somebody could say it’s improper. And this isn’t foreign policy — I’m asking them to do an investigation that they’re doing already and that other people are telling them to stop. And I’m going to give them reasons why they shouldn’t stop it because that information will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”

Giuliani eventually abandoned the Kiev visit, but in August he met with a top Ukrainian official and “strongly urged” him to “just investigate the darn things,” referring to Hunter Biden and Ukrainian efforts to undermine Trump in the 2016 election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announces the House of Representatives will launch a formal inquiry into the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump following a closed House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque © Thomson Reuters House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) announces the House of Representatives will launch a formal inquiry into the impeachment of U.S. President Donald Trump following a closed House Democratic caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

On Thursday night, after the whistle-blower story broke, Giuliani performed his typical TV routine on CNN, clashing with host Chris Cuomo and contradicting himself, claiming that he did not ask Ukraine to investigate Biden, before changing his mind about 30 seconds later.

Trump’s response to the scandal

On Sunday, the president admitted to discussing matters related to the Biden family in a call with the Ukrainian president, citing concerns about “corruption.”

“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn. “It was largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice-President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.” He added that the exchange was “perfect” and involved no improper behavior.

A day later, Trump suggested it’s totally proper to withhold aide from a country because it won’t investigate your political rivals. “It’s very important to talk about corruption,” Trump said. “If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?”

But the timing of Trump’s decision to withhold almost $400 million in aid just days before speaking to the Ukrainian president suggests the possibility of a quid-pro-quo.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., approach a television camera to deliver a GOP response to the news from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., that she is in support of an official impeachment inquiry on President Donald Trump, Tuesday Sept. 24, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) © ASSOCIATED PRESS House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., left, and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., approach a television camera to deliver a GOP response to the news from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., that she is in support of an official impeachment inquiry on President Donald Trump, Tuesday Sept. 24, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Trump continued making less-than-subtle remarks at the United Nations General Assembly:

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But following the announcement of the official impeachment inquiry, it appears that the administration is taking the power-check seriously. Politico reported on Tuesday night that the White House was preparing to release the transcript of the call, the whistle-blower’s complaint, and the DNI inspector’s report by the end of the week. (Prior to Pelosi’s announcement, Trump wanted to release only the transcript.) But reports emerged Tuesday night stating that Trump only planned to release a redacted version of the transcript:

House Democrats announce impeachment inquiry

Though a majority of House Democrats had previously said Trump should be impeached, proceedings were dead in the water — but the Ukraine scandal changed that in a matter of days.

While House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, was once “very reluctant to go down the path of impeachment,” he changed his tune on CNN’s State of the Union.

Impeachment talk exploded on Monday night, and at least 14 House Democrats expressed support for impeachment for the first time this week. Finally, following a Tuesday afternoon meeting with her caucus, Pelosi announced in a televised address that the impeachment inquiry was on.

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“The actions of the Trump presidency have revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said. “Therefore, today, I am announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.”

Republicans have been cautious; while none seem close to backing impeachment, few were lining up to defend Trump. One exception was Senator Mitt Romney, who called the allegations “troubling in the extreme.” Trump responded with a tweet mocking Romney for losing the presidency in 2012.

Romney added on Tuesday:

The fight over the whistle-blower complaint

Meanwhile, the battle over the complaint that brought this story to light continues. On August 12, an unidentified member of the U.S. intelligence community submitted a complaint to (Trump-appointed) Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson flagging a troubling phone call between President Trump and a foreign leader (who was later identified as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky).

Atkinson reviewed the complaint, found it to be credible and of “urgent concern,” and, on August 26, sent it to the recently appointed acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire. Per statute, Maguire was required to report the claim to the Intelligence Committees in the House and Senate within a week – but he said nothing. On September 9, Atkinson wrote the committees to make them aware of the existence of the whistle-blower complaint and Maguire’s failure to report it.

U.S. President Donald Trump ATTENDS a bilateral meeting with Iraq's President Barham Salih on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst © Thomson Reuters U.S. President Donald Trump ATTENDS a bilateral meeting with Iraq's President Barham Salih on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York City, New York, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff wrote Maguire the next day, subpoenaing the complaint. Schiff accused him of breaking the law and demanded to know what the whistle-blower had claimed and whether anyone else in the executive branch had been involved in the decision to keep the complaint from Congress. On September 13, DNI general counsel Jason Klitenic responded to Schiff, saying that after consulting with the Justice Department, they had overruled the inspector general. In their determination the complaint was not of “urgent concern,” as it “concerns conduct by someone outside of the Intelligence Community” (i.e., the president), and it “involves confidential and potentially privileged communications.”

Schiff immediately rejected this explanation, calling it a “radical distortion” of the intelligence community’s whistle-blower statute and insisting that the DNI lacks the authority to overrule the inspector general. The California Democrat also concluded, based on the DNI’s conduct, that the complaint must involve the president or other administration officials. Schiff subpoenaed Maguire to either supply the complaint by September 17 or appear before the committee on September 19 to explain why he had not. Maguire declined.

On Tuesday afternoon, Schiff said the whistle-blower may testify before the House Intelligence Committee as soon as this week.

Also on Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was able to secure the unanimous passage of a non-binding resolution demanding that Trump hand over the whistle-blower complaint to Congressional intelligence committees immediately.

Who is the whistle-blower?

UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 23: Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., speak to a group of protesters and the media about the need to impeach President Donald Trump in front of the Rayburn House Office Building on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. The event was originally slated to coincide with the House Judiciary Committees hearing on corruption, but the hearing was postponed. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) © 2019 CQ-Roll Call, Inc. UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 23: Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., speak to a group of protesters and the media about the need to impeach President Donald Trump in front of the Rayburn House Office Building on Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. The event was originally slated to coincide with the House Judiciary Committees hearing on corruption, but the hearing was postponed. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images) The whistle-blower has yet to be publicly identified, so all we know is that they’re a member of the U.S. intelligence community. On Friday, an “official briefed on the matter” told CNN that the whistle-blower “didn’t have direct knowledge of the communications” and that their concerns “came in part from learning information that was not obtained during the course of their work, and those details have played a role in the administration’s determination that the complaint didn’t fit the reporting requirements under the intelligence whistle-blower law.” The whistle-blower is being represented by attorney Andrew Bakaj.

Some of Trump’s allies have seized on this alleged lack of “direct knowledge” to discredit the whistle-blower, but “a source close to the whistle-blower’s legal team” disputed the unnamed official’s characterization, saying the intelligence community’s inspector general would not accept “thirdhand disclosures.”

Did the whistle-blower report anything else?

Nothing the whistle-blower flagged in the complaint has been made public, but Inspector General Michael Atkinson told lawmakers that it raised concerns about multiple actions. It’s not yet clear if Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky was the central — or only — focus of the complaint.

Could Trump’s actions – or his administration’s – be illegal?

If Trump pressured a foreign leader to produce dirt on a political rival, that could be a campaign-finance-law violation. But as former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti argued in Politico Magazine, if the allegations are true, “it is a kind of corrupt conduct that the criminal system is not equipped to handle.”

A bribery charge wouldn’t hold up in court, Mariotti explains, because offering military aid for a foreign investigation of a political opponent’s son doesn’t line up with the federal bribery statute, and extortion won’t hold up either, because “courts won’t send presidents to prison for cajoling foreign governments to do things, even if that involves horse trading an official act by our government in exchange for an official act by someone else’s.”

Mariotti makes it clear that impeachment is the only recourse designed to address a transgression of this scale, and “pursuing criminal cases that won’t stand legal scrutiny, or arguing that Trump has violated a criminal statute, risks undermining that goal.”

With regards to how the whistle-blower complaint has been handled, the House Intelligence Committee chairman and other Democratic lawmakers, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, have insisted that acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire continues to break the law by not providing the complaint to Congress, as he is mandated to do by the 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act. The Trump administration, meanwhile, has insisted that Maguire is following the law — at least technically.

As the Washington Post noted Sunday, there is no legal precedent for what should happen when the intelligence-community inspector general determines that a whistle-blower’s complaint is credible and a matter of “urgent concern” — a situation in which the DNI must report the complaint to Congress — but the DNI disagrees.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 25: Members of a veterans group called Common Defense protest against President Donald Trump in front of Trump Tower on July 25, 2019 in New York City. The group of veterans, many who served in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, want to impeach Trump for the way way he has performed in office. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) © 2019 Getty Images NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JULY 25: Members of a veterans group called Common Defense protest against President Donald Trump in front of Trump Tower on July 25, 2019 in New York City. The group of veterans, many who served in recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, want to impeach Trump for the way way he has performed in office. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A former general counsel to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Robert S. Litt, explained in Lawfare last week that there was a plausible legal basis for the administration’s stance:

[T]he Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act provides that if the [Intelligence Community Inspector General] determines that a complaint about a matter of “urgent concern” is credible, he sends it to the DNI, who within seven days “shall … forward” it to Congress together with any comments. But a matter of “urgent concern” is defined as “a serious or flagrant problem, abuse, violation of law or Executive order, or deficiency relating to the funding, administration or operation of an intelligence activity within the authority of the Director of National Intelligence involving classified information” (emphasis added). The alleged offer by the president, while perhaps criminal and possibly impeachable, does not obviously relate to any intelligence activity within the DNI’s authority.

Still, some have argued that the statute does not allow the DNI to make his own determination of the applicability of the statute but, instead, requires him to accept the ICIG’s determination that something is a matter of urgent concern. In this case, however, it appears that the DNI went to the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) for an opinion. OLC opinions are considered to be binding and authoritative interpretations of law within the executive branch. So if OLC in fact formally opined that this complaint was not an “urgent concern” as defined in the statute, the DNI could take the position that the ICIG must follow that interpretation.

Litt also noted that the White House could cite privilege regarding the president’s communications with foreign leaders, as it and other administrations have successfully done in the past, to block the inspector general from disclosing what he knows. “The extent of such a privilege — and in particular whether it would protect communications that might constitute bribery — is untested, he added, “but if the White House asserted such a privilege, the [Office of the Director of National Intelligence] would be bound to honor it.”

The simple explanation is that the Trump administration has once again found a way to bulldoze established norms and get away with significant violations of the public trust. Tortured legal logic may work for smothering the whistle-blower complaint. And so even if the allegations turn out to be true, the president might just get away with committing an unprecedented crime too big and messy to prosecute or legally classify.

How has Biden responded?

On Friday, the Democratic front-runner called for the release of the president’s phone-call transcript: “If these reports are true, then there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country,” Biden said in a statement. Later that day, his campaign turned the issue into a fundraising opportunity, emailing supporters:

“Eight. That’s how many times Donald Trump asked a foreign leader to investigate me and my family. It’s more clear than ever: We’re in a battle for the soul of this nation. And now, I need you – right now. Can I count on you to donate tonight?”

Former U.S. Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden makes a statement during an event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., September 24, 2019.  REUTERS/Bastiaan Slabbers © Thomson Reuters Former U.S. Vice President and Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden makes a statement during an event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Bastiaan Slabbers

On the campaign trail in Iowa on Sunday, Biden told reporters that Trump is “violating every basic norm of a president” and called for an investigation into his conduct. He also said that he has “never spoken to my son about his overseas business dealings.”

Speaking with Politico, Monmouth pollster Patrick Murray said that — although he does not anticipate that other 2020 Democrats will attack Biden on the Ukraine point — it is possible that voters could “start worrying that this could hurt him if he is the nominee. It’s ‘can Biden fight back? Will this hurt his ability to take Trump on fully?’ And will it undermine that electability argument that he’s been making?”

Is there a Russia connection?

Buttons are set out for attendees at a Need to Impeach teach-in at a public library in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S., June 22, 2019. The dark cloud of impeachment has threatened President Donald Trump for many months, with Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, where any such effort to remove Trump from office would begin, divided about whether to proceed. Picture taken June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst © Thomson Reuters Buttons are set out for attendees at a Need to Impeach teach-in at a public library in Chantilly, Virginia, U.S., June 22, 2019. The dark cloud of impeachment has threatened President Donald Trump for many months, with Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, where any such effort to remove Trump from office would begin, divided about whether to proceed. Picture taken June 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Though it does not appear that there is a direct link to the Kremlin, the president’s alleged Ukrainian meddling certainly benefits Russian interests — particularly if the July phone call had anything to do with the August slow-walking of military aid to Ukraine. And as journalist Julia Davis notes, any news cycle that makes Ukraine and the U.S. look bad is a double win for Russia, as its two foes become mired in controversy.

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