October 19, 2019
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    Trump-Ukraine inquiry: Democrats demand documents from White House

    October 05, 2019

    In a letter to the White House, Democrats said President Trump had "chosen the path of defiance, obstruction, and cover-up"US Democratic lawmakers have demanded documents from the White House as part of their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.The documents relate to a call between Mr Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on 25 July.In the call, Mr Trump pushed Mr Zelensky to investigate his leading Democratic political rival, Joe Biden.The impeachment inquiry stems from the call, which was flagged up by a whistleblower in August.The whistleblower alleged that Mr Trump used a $400m military aid package to Ukraine, which had been suspended earlier in July, as leverage to persuade Mr Zelensky. The White House released the aid in September.Mr Trump has denied any wrongdoing, accusing his political opponents of a "witch hunt".
    But in a move to crank up the pressure on the president, the three House committees leading the investigation have given him until 18 October to hand over the documents."We deeply regret that President Trump has put us - and the nation - in this position, but his actions have left us with no choice but to issue this subpoena," the Democrats wrote in a letter to the White House.Democrats have asked Mike Pence for documents to clarify his role in the Ukraine affair The subpoena - an order to hand-over evidence - was issued on Friday by the chairmen of the committees for Oversight, Intelligence and Foreign Affairs.White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham sought to play down the subpoena, saying it "changes nothing".
    A separate request for records has also been sent to Vice-President Mike Pence, with Democrats asking him to clarify "any role you may have played" in Mr Trump's overtures to Ukraine. What we know about Biden-Ukraine corruption claims If Democrats manage to impeach Mr. Trump - by way of a vote in the House of Representatives - a trial would be held in the Senate. Senators would have to vote to convict Mr Trump by a two-thirds majority to remove him from office. But that outcome is seen as unlikely given that the president's fellow Republicans control the Senate. What documents are the Democrats demanding? In their letter to the White House, the committees accused Mr Trump of "stonewalling" multiple requests for records relating to his July 25 call with Mr Zelensky. By refusing to voluntarily release the documents, the Democrats said Mr Trump had "chosen the path of defiance, obstruction, and cover-up".
    Failure to comply with the subpoena would amount to "evidence of obstruction", which is also an impeachable offence, the committees warned. On Friday, Mr Trump said Democrats "unfortunately have the votes" to impeach him, but predicted he would win in a trial in the Republican-led Senate. Most Republicans are standing squarely behind Mr Trump, though two Republican senators have spoken out against the president.
    His remarks came a day after Mr Trump publicly called on Ukraine and China to investigate Mr Biden and his son, Hunter.There has been no evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden, who served on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma until earlier this year.On the same day, text messages released by congressional Democrats showed how US officials worked to prod the Ukrainian president into opening a public inquiry into Mr Biden.
    Asthe fast-moving investigation into Mr Trump escalates, there are reports of a second intelligence official considering making a complaint against the president.The New York Times said the unnamed official had "more direct information" about the events surrounding Mr Trump's phone call with Mr Zelensky. Michael Atkinson, the general inspector of the intelligence community, interviewed this official to corroborate the original whistleblower's allegations, the paper reported. Given the original whistleblower, reported to be a CIA official, did not directly witness the call, the testimony of a second official could prove valuable to the Democrats' inquiry.
    A whistleblower alleges he used "the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the US 2020 election", by asking Ukraine to investigate his main rival, Joe Biden.If this is what he's proven to have done, then yes: it's illegal to ask foreign entities for help winning a US election. Mr Trump says it's a witch-hunt and he did nothing wrong.If the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted to impeach Mr Trump, there'd be a trial in the Senate. A Senate vote needs a two-thirds majority to convict, but Mr Trump's Republican party controls the Senate so that's unlikely. And the Mueller inquiry made clear you can't charge a sitting president with a crime.
    How damaging are Ukraine texts for US president?
    During the former US special envoy to Ukraine's private testimony to congressional committees on Thursday, he turned over a trove of text messages and other communications.They documented the Trump administration's efforts to get the Ukrainian government to investigate a Ukrainian company with ties to Joe Biden's son and conspiracy theories around Russian hacking during the 2016 US presidential election.On Thursday night, Democrats in the US House of Representatives - which is conducting an impeachment investigation of Donald Trump - made public a selection of these messages.While some Republicans are saying the release does not paint a complete picture of the Trump administration's diplomatic efforts and the motivations behind them, the messages themselves offer dramatic evidence of what Democrats view as an abuse of presidential authority.Donald Trump and his defenders have insisted there was no quid-pro-quo in his dealings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The text messages, however, tell a different story.
    It was very clear to members of the administration's Ukrainian diplomatic team what Mr Trump wanted - a publicly announced Ukrainian investigation of political rival Joe Biden and the 2016 election hacking, which the intelligence community has concluded was carried out by Russia (although Mr Trump still has his doubts).Messages appear to show the US diplomats coordinating Ukraine's investigation announcement, saying that a draft of Mr Zelensky's statement should include references to 2016 and Burisma, the company that Mr Biden's son worked for.It also was very clear what they had to offer the Ukrainians: not only US military aid, which had been put on hold by the White House, but also a meeting between the two presidents in Washington that would have been extremely valuable in bolstering the legitimacy of the newly elected Ukrainian leader.
    Drawing a straight line between the offer and the ask doesn't take much imagination - and at least one American diplomat, acting US Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor, had serious concerns about the propriety of it all.He worried that delaying congressionally authorised US military aid to Ukraine, as the Trump administration had done in July, would be a boon to Russia - and would put Ukraine in a precarious spot. He wondered whether the aid, and a potential Zelensky visit to Washington, were being explicitly conditioned on Ukrainian "investigations".
    Who's who in Trump whistleblower story? “I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign," Mr Taylor texted Gordon Sunland, the deep-pocketed Republican donor who Mr Trump nominated to be US ambassador to the European Union. After five hours, Mr Sondland - whose previous messages to Mr Taylor were conversational - replied with a denial of any "quid pro quo" that sounded like a statement crafted by lawyers, followed by a request that they stop texting about it.Other text messages - between Mr Taylor, Mr Sondland and Mr Volker are even more direct. The team seemed intent on getting the Ukrainians to release a statement announcing a new corruption investigation into Burisma and possible Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 hacking - a move that, even if it amounted to nothing, could have provided political ammunition for Republicans to undermine Mr Biden's presidential campaign."Heard from the White House - assuming President Z convinces Trump he will investigate / 'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington," Mr Volker wrote, in which seems the clearest acknowledgement of a quid pro quo.
    It may not be long before the White House falls back to its final line of defence - that threatening and cajoling Ukraine to investigate Mr Biden and the 2016 hacking was a reasonable exercise of a president intent on cracking down on corruption involving a then high-ranking American official."We are looking at corruption, we are not looking at politics," Mr Trump said on Friday morning. "I don't care if it's Biden or anybody else."He may say he doesn't care if it involves Biden (and he dodged a question about whether he's ever asked foreign leaders for an investigation of someone who is not a political rival), but this strategy will necessitate all-out attacks on Mr Biden, his son Hunter and their reputation - despite no current evidence that the then-vice-president acted inappropriately in his interactions with Ukrainian officials.
    In the past two days, Mr Trump has said the Bidens are "crooked", that they are "pillaging the country" and that the former vice-president arranged "sweetheart deals" with foreign governments in order to help his son.Complicating matters for the White House, however, was Mr Trump's decision on Thursday to suggest both Ukraine and China open investigations into the Bidens - essentially saying publicly what Democrats were accusing him of doing in his private phone call with Mr Zelensky.

    That he made the suggestion to China less than a minute after discussing the two nations' ongoing trade negotiations and saying that the US has "tremendous power" will leave Democrats howling - particularly after a report later in the day that Mr Trump brought up Mr Biden in a 18 June call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.Not to be outdone, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor who has essentially served as the president's private detective investigating the Bidens, told the Wall Street Journal that Mr Trump ordered the dismissal of the previous US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, because she was insufficiently supportive of the Biden investigation.

    Giuliani is alleged to have sought to dig up dirt on Democrat candidate Joe Biden All in all, the recent spate of revelations paints a picture of a White House wielding the tools of foreign policy to advance goals that could be seen as overtly political. Many Democrats have already said this is an abuse of power necessitating presidential impeachment and removal from office. Handful of Republicans has also been critical. In a series of tweets on Friday, Mitt Romney - the 2012 Republican presidential nominee - offered a stinging rebuke of the president."When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China's investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated," he wrote. "By all appearances, the president's brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling."Trump urges China to investigate Bidens The reality, however, is that for all the blows Mr Trump has received and may yet endure, none of them may prove fatal. He's faced seemingly mortal crises before, only to plough through and emerge intact on the other side. Impeachment, even if it now seems like a foregone conclusion, isn't the end of the Trump presidency. That would take two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate voting for removal.
    As Axios's Mike Allen points out, the chamber has more than enough Republican senators from states where the president remains popular - 36 - to form a "red firewall" to block removal. Unless Mr Trump's approval craters, any of these senators voting to convict the president would be tantamount to political suicide.The president knows how to endure the "political storm", as he called it earlier this week. "I'm used to it," he said. "For me, it's like putting on a suit in the morning."With what's coming in the days ahead, he's going to need that to be a suit of armour.

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