Trump ordered aid frozen; more Democrats want impeachment

September 24, 2019

           

President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan at the InterContinental Barclay hotel during the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019, in New York.

WASHINGTON 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.

Democrats, and some Republicans, urged the White House to be open about his 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.


Pelosi orders impeachment probe: 'No one is above the law'
 

House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., walks to a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., and the other House Democrats on Capitol Hill in Washington,
Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019
.

WASHINGTON   House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Tuesday, acquiescing to mounting pressure from fellow Democrats and plunging a deeply divided nation into an election year clash between Congress and the commander in chief.

The probe centers on whether Trump abused his presidential powers and sought help from a foreign government to undermine Democratic foe Joe Biden and help his own reelection. Pelosi said such actions would mark a "betrayal of his oath of office" and declared: "No one is above the law."

Pelosi's brief statement, historic yet presented without dramatic flourish, capped a frenetic stretch on Capitol Hill as details of a classified whistleblower complaint about Trump have burst into the open and momentum has shifted swiftly toward an impeachment probe. The charge was led by several moderate Democratic lawmakers from political swing districts , many of them with national security backgrounds and serving in Congress for the first time.

After more than two and one-half years of sharp Democratic criticism of Trump, the formal impeachment quest sets up the party's most urgent and consequential confrontation with a president who thrives on combat and injects deep uncertainty in the 2020 White House race. Trump has all but dared Democrats to take this step, confident that the specter of impeachment led by the opposition party would bolster his political support
 

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., departs the Capitol en route to a speaking event in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019.


Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, joins impeachment activists with a youth-led group, By The People, to call for Congress to remove President Donald Trump from office, outside the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 23, 2019. Rep. Green, joined by Alex Meltzer, 9, of Boston, has pressed for Trump's impeachment three times.

Trump, who was meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, previewed his defense in an all-caps tweet: "PRESIDENTIAL HARRASSMENT!"

Pelosi had barely finished speaking as he began a mini-blizzard of tweets assailing her announcement.

At issue are Trump's actions with Ukraine. In a summer phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy , he is said to have asked for help investigating former Vice President Biden and his son Hunter. In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge, but acknowledged he blocked the funds, later released.

Biden said Tuesday, before Pelosi's announcement, that if Trump doesn't cooperate with lawmakers' demands for documents and testimony in its investigations the president "will leave Congress ... with no choice but to initiate impeachment." He said that would be a tragedy of Trump's "own making."

The Trump-Ukraine phone call is part of the whistleblower's complaint, though the administration has blocked Congress from getting other details of the report, citing presidential privilege. Trump has authorized the release of a transcript of the call, which is to be made public on Wednesday .

"You will see it was a very friendly and totally appropriate call," Trump said.

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.

While the possibility of impeachment has hung over Trump for many months, the likelihood of a probe had faded after special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers. Democratic House committees launched new inquiries into Trump's businesses and a variety of administration scandals, but all seemed likely to drag on for months.

But details of Trump's dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. By the time Pelosi addressed the nation on Tuesday, about two-thirds of House Democrats had announced moving toward impeachment probes.

After Pelosi's Tuesday announcement, the president and his campaign team quickly released a series of tweets attacking Democrats, including a video of presidential critics like the speaker and Rep. Ilhan Omar discussing impeachment. It concluded with a message for the Trump faithful: "While Democrats 'Sole Focus' is fighting Trump, President Trump is fighting for you."

Pelosi has for months resisted calls for impeachment from her restive caucus, warning that it would backfire against the party unless there was a groundswell of public support. That groundswell hasn't occurred, but Pelosi suggested in comments earlier Tuesday that this new episode examining whether a president abused his power for personal political gain would be easier to explain to Americans than some of the issues that arose during the Mueller investigation and other congressional probes.

The speaker put the matter in stark terms on Tuesday: "The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of his national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections."

 

Associated Press

 

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