Politics: Cellphone call from Ukraine could compound Trump's troubles - - PressFrom - US
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Politics Cellphone call from Ukraine could compound Trump's troubles

03:15  15 november  2019
03:15  15 november  2019 Source:   latimes.com

Former U.S. top diplomat Rice concerned by shadow diplomacy on Ukraine

  Former U.S. top diplomat Rice concerned by shadow diplomacy on Ukraine Former U.S. top diplomat Rice concerned by shadow diplomacy on UkraineRice was critical of President Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential run but has been more restrained since the Republican took office.

The Trump -Zelensky call and the pressure on the authorities in Kyiv to conduct investigations that could aid Trump ’ s 2020 campaign are at the heart of the impeachment hearings. Calling a president from a cellphone violates protocols set up to protect senior administration officials’ communications.

Call To Trump From A Ukraine Restaurant Big Security Breach: Ex-Officials. The call , in which Trump ' s remarks were overheard by a US Embassy "The member of my staff could hear President Trump on the phone " asking U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland about "the

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WASHINGTON — When Donald Trump was constructing the opulent Trump Tower in Midtown Manhattan four decades ago, he was infuriated when he saw a thin layer of golden-hued marble lining the walls and column in the lobby, and ordered aides to make it appear twice as thick.

Sure, he had architects and engineers to handle those decorating details so that he could focus on the building’s multimillion-dollar budget and other big-picture concerns of a business empire that would teeter in and out of bankruptcy.

But when something bothers Trump, however small, he can obsess over it.

That tendency to become preoccupied by narrow interests is haunting him in the impeachment inquiry, which hit a milestone Wednesday when the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee held its first public hearing since the investigation began in September.

A second hearing is scheduled Friday, and eight more witnesses will testify over three days next week.

The first hearing provided compelling evidence of one of Trump’s most audacious fixations: getting Ukraine’s new president to announce investigations of Trump rivals, including potential 2020 opponent Joe Biden, after Trump had suspended $391 million in congressionally approved security aid to the government in Kyiv.

House Democrats argue that the evidence shows Trump hijacked foreign policy, and put national security at risk, to help his reelection bid. On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi went further, saying for the first time that the president’s demands to Ukraine amounted to bribery.

White House: NSC Ukraine expert wrote summary of April Trump-Zelensky call that conflicts with rough transcript

  White House: NSC Ukraine expert wrote summary of April Trump-Zelensky call that conflicts with rough transcript The White House appears to be blaming Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for misleading reporters about the contents of an April 21 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. © Provided by MediaDC: Washington Newspaper Publishing Company, Inc.Vindman is the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council. On Friday, the White House released a rough transcript of the call that appeared to conflict with a separate summary of the call sent to reporters in April.

Trump on Wednesday said he did not recall the July 26 call with Sondland. “No, not at all, not He testified that his staffer could hear Trump on the phone asking Sondland about “the investigations.” Current and former U. S . officials say Sondland’ s use of a cellphone in a public place in Ukraine to

“The bribe is to grant or withhold military assistance in return for a public statement of a fake investigation into the elections. That’s bribery,” Pelosi told a news conference.

During the hearing Wednesday, William B. Taylor Jr., the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, revealed publicly for the first time that an embassy staffer had overheard Trump speaking to the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, who had called the president on a cellphone from a restaurant in Kyiv after meeting senior Ukrainian officials.

Taylor said the aide, who was later identified as political counselor David Holmes, specifically heard Trump ask Sondland about “the investigations,” and that Sondland said after the call that Trump cared more about Biden than about U.S. policy toward Ukraine, an ally battling a Russian-backed insurgency.

Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: U.S. President Donald Trump walks along the colonnade after greeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan upon his arrival at the South Portico of the White House on November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. © Alex Wong/Getty Images North America/TNS U.S. President Donald Trump walks along the colonnade after greeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan upon his arrival at the South Portico of the White House on November 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that a second U.S. diplomat, a foreign service officer based at the embassy in Kyiv, also heard Trump speaking on the call.

If confirmed, the cellphone conversation could place Trump and Sondland in jeopardy.

It contradicts Sondland’s previous sworn testimony about his direct interactions with the president, when he failed to mention the conversation, and potentially puts him at risk of perjury. Sondland is scheduled to testify publicly next Wednesday.

More importantly, it places the president more directly into the alleged scheme to demand political favors from Ukraine in exchange for U.S. assistance, a narrative that largely has been outlined by White House aides and U.S. diplomats so far.

As a side issue, it raises questions about why Trump was willing to risk security by taking a cellphone call from abroad.

Sondland’s call normally would be routed through a senior member of the national security staff or an assistant secretary of State, who might brief the president through a memo or verbally to a superior, who would then pass the information to the president.

“Nothing is particularly orthodox” in the way Trump runs diplomacy, said Alexander Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia.

Sondland’s ability to dial up the president in a public place was particularly alarming to U.S. security experts, who cited Russia’s well-documented efforts to undermine the fragile democracy in Ukraine, and its near-certain surveillance of American diplomats there.

“The fact that (Sondland) either didn’t know or knew but took a cavalier attitude — neither answer is a really good answer,” said Larry Pfeiffer, a former senior U.S. intelligence official who ran the White House Situation Room from 2011 to 2013.

Pfeiffer said calls to the president from a foreign country are supposed to be made from a secure area in an embassy to the White House switchboard or the Situation Room, and then patched through to the president.

He said President Barack Obama received some personal calls on his BlackBerry device from a very small group of friends, but they were not supposed to contain potentially sensitive information.

Placing a call from a restaurant is particularly brazen. Even with the best equipment, government employees are constantly warned that “your call is only as secure as the place you’re sitting,” Pfeiffer said.

Republicans contend that Trump did nothing wrong, or at least worthy of impeachment, and suggested that his aides may have been acting on their own. They also complain that few of the witnesses had direct conversations with Trump, and derided their accounts as hearsay.

For his part, Trump retweeted a Fox Business host who said the hearing amounted to a “policy dispute” that average Americans would not find impeachable.

In some ways, the cellphone conversation, as described, would confirm available evidence about Trump’s preoccupation with getting Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.

On July 25, a day before Sondland picked up his cellphone, Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a phone call for a “favor” immediately after Zelenskiy had pleaded for U.S. anti-tank weapons.

Trump made clear that he wanted Zelenskiy to investigate a debunked theory that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and to reopen an inquiry into Burisma, the Ukrainian natural gas company that had put Biden’s son Hunter on its board.

Since Biden effectively led U.S. policy to Ukraine as vice president, the arrangement appeared to pose a conflict of interest. But no evidence has emerged to suggest that Biden or his son committed a crime, and Trump has never said why, if he believes such evidence exists, that he asked a foreign power instead of the Justice Department to investigate U.S. citizens.

Trump’s obsession with “the investigations” is not new, although its meaning appears to have shifted over time.

He often brings up his upset victory in the 2016 election in his speeches before supporters, and still claims — without any credible evidence — that Democrats committed voter fraud. He beams when he mentions Hillary Clinton at his rallies and supporters chant, “Lock her up.”

And he complains bitterly about the “phony” special counsel investigation that concluded the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election, in part to help him win, and that his campaign “welcomed” the Russian help. Federal prosecutors indicted 25 Russians for alleged hacking and other crimes.

Analysts said Trump’s eagerness to blame Ukraine, despite U.S. intelligence and Justice Department conclusions that Russia was responsible, is partly aimed at sowing doubt about the Russia inquiry that tarnished his presidency.

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

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White House: NSC Ukraine expert wrote summary of April Trump-Zelensky call that conflicts with rough transcript .
The White House appears to be blaming Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for misleading reporters about the contents of an April 21 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. © Provided by MediaDC: Washington Newspaper Publishing Company, Inc.Vindman is the top Ukraine expert on the White House National Security Council. On Friday, the White House released a rough transcript of the call that appeared to conflict with a separate summary of the call sent to reporters in April.

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