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Sen. Ron Johnson spoke out on the topic Friday.
By Andrew Prokop and Jen Kirby
A top US diplomat told Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) that the Trump administration was blocking hundreds of millions of dollars in US military aid to Ukraine until the country agreed to launch investigations Trump was demanding, Johnson told the Wall Street Journal Friday. Johnson said that the US ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, told him in late August that the administration was demanding Ukraine investigate “what happened in 2016,” and that if President Trump had “confidence” in the investigation, he’d “release the military spending.” It’s been well documented by now that Trump tried to push Ukraine to launch investigations designed to serve his political needs — one into the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation, and one into the Biden family. But perhaps the biggest question at the heart of this scandal has been whether Trump’s blocking of about $400 million in congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine was linked to this pressure campaign. Johnson claims he heard from Sondland that this was in fact the policy. However, Johnson adds that he became disturbed by this, and followed up with President Trump himself — who denied any such linkage. “He said—expletive deleted—‘No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?” Johnson told Journal reporters Siobhan Hughes and Rebecca Ballhaus. But the story doesn’t end there. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Molly Beck, Patrick Marley, and Eric Litke, Johnson said in a separate interview that Trump did say he was considering withholding the aid because he wanted to find out “what happened in 2016.” Johnson said he asked Trump whether he could tell Ukraine’s president the aid was on the way anyway, to dispel the government’s fears, but “I didn’t succeed.” Ambassador Sondland seemed wary of this topic in newly released texts: Sondland, a major Trump donor, was also a key figure in a set of text messages related to the scandal that House Democrats released Thursday night.

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
Washington (CNN) - It seemed like every time you turned your TV on this week, Donald Trump was talking about Ukraine.
That's an exaggeration, but not much of one. Trump held court twice on Thursday -- once at a photo availability with the Finnish President and once in a more formal press briefing -- and then worked the media rope line outside the White House for more than 20 minutes Friday morning before heading to Walter Reed hospital. The President talking to the media is a good thing! For the media and the American public! But man oh man, is it a bad thing for this President -- especially as he tries to downplay the potential damage the ongoing impeachment inquiry in the House could do him.
Why? Because Trump has a habit of saying the quiet part out loud. Like on Thursday, when he said this about his desire for the Ukrainians to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter: "Well I would think that if they were honest about it, they'd start a major investigation into the Bidens. It's a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens. Likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine. So, I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens."

CNN Political Director David Chalian analyzes a series of text messages between US diplomats and a senior Ukrainian aide in the first episode of "The Daily DC: Impeachment Watch" podcast. The text messages, which were released last night, show how a potential Ukrainian investigation into the 2016 election was linked to a desired meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and Trump. Chalian is joined by CNN National Correspondent Athena Jones and New York Times White House Correspondent and CNN Political Analyst Maggie Haberman. Listen to the podcast here.

Damning text messages detail Trump pressure on Ukraine
By Jeremy Herb and Paul LeBlanc, CNN
Washington (CNN) - Text messages released on Thursday between US diplomats and a senior Ukrainian aide show how a potential Ukrainian investigation into the 2016 election was linked to a desired meeting between Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and US President Donald Trump. The text messages, which were released by the House Intelligence Committee, underscore how Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was closely connected to US policy on Ukraine and was involved in setting up the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, in which Trump also urged an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. They show how cognizant the Ukrainians were about the importance of the election investigation to Trump and Giuliani's role. On the morning of the call, in an exchange with a key adviser to the Ukrainian President, then-US Special Envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker made clear that it was important to the White House that Zelensky convince Trump that an investigation into the 2016 election would happen. "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," Volker said via text to the Ukrainian adviser on the morning of July 25. Volker provided Congress with the text messages ahead of his closed-door congressional testimony on Thursday before three committees leading the House's impeachment inquiry into Trump and Ukraine. The messages released by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee add a new layer of detail to the whistleblower complaint that prompted the impeachment inquiry, which alleged that Trump had urged the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt on his political rival, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. That Trump wanted an investigation was a message that seemed to register with the Ukrainian administration. Volker and the Ukrainian adviser, Andrey Yermak, continued to text after the call about Zelensky making a public statement ahead of a meeting between the two leaders. "I think potus really wants the deliverable," US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland texted Volker on August 9, as the two were talking about possible dates for a meeting. "Once we have a date, will call for a press briefing, announcing upcoming visit and outlining vision for the US-UKRAINE relationship, including among other things Burisma and election meddling in investigations," Yermak wrote to Volker the following day. Ukrainians drafted statement about starting investigation: A source familiar with the matter tells CNN that the Ukrainian government wrote the initial draft of a statement for public release, committing to pursue investigations of corruption. The source told CNN that the Ukrainians drafted the statement to demonstrate to Trump and Giuliani, who they knew had influence with Trump, that there was a new team in Ukraine with Zelensky that was committed to cleaning up corruption. The statement was shared with Volker and Sondland, who then shared it with Giuliani, according to the source. Giuliani told Volker that it did not go far enough and suggested inserting references to pursuing probes of Burisma and the 2016 election, although it did not mention the Bidens. Burisma is the Ukrainian company that hired Hunter Biden to be on its board. Volker and Sondland then exchanged text messages about the draft, which Volker said he would share with an adviser to Zelensky. The Ukrainians told Volker they were not comfortable with the suggested statement, and the matter was ultimately dropped while a meeting between Zelensky and Trump continued to be pursued, the source said. The source explained the context of the statement about the investigation after the discussion was included in the text messages provided to Congress ahead of Volker's testimony. Giuliani told CNN after The New York Times first reported the existence of the statement that he "never saw it or even draft of it." "This is their testimony if it is and not part of my role," he texted. "They have to explain it. Lots of things going on I didn't know about." 'it's crazy to withhold security assistance'

By Ted Johnson
President Donald Trump again suggested starting his own global news network to “put some really talented people and get a real voice out there. Not a voice that is fake.” His remarks were yet another slam at CNN, but also existing media outlets that are funded by the U.S. government, the largest of which is Voice of America. VOA’s mission is to provide an “objective and reliable source of U.S., regional and world news and information,” and is set up with a “firewall” to be free of political interference. Speaking to a crowd in Florida on Thursday, though, Trump criticized those entities, which are overseen by the U.S. Agency for Global Media. Trump said that “we used to have Radio Free Europe and Voice of America. We did that to build up our country, and that is not working out too well.” Instead, he said that CNN “seems to be a voice that is a voice out there, and it is a terrible thing for our country.” “CNN outside of the United States is much more important than it is inside the United States,” Trump said. Trump has suggested starting a state-run network before. Last year, he wrote on Twitter that “Something has to be done, including the possibility of the United States starting our own Worldwide Network to show the World the way we really are, GREAT!” Voice of America, which has a budget of about $235 million, employs more than 1,000, and programs in more than 40 languages. Trump also ridiculed media fact-checking, arguing that they don’t spot his embellishments. He said that when he once said that California Gov. Gavin Newsom wanted to give everyone a Rolls Royce, CNN said, “The president isn’t telling the truth.” - We already have Fox News the last thing America needs is two Trump propaganda channels.

By Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson and D'Angelo Gore
President Donald Trump’s request that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, has triggered an impeachment inquiry. Since then, the president has made a series of inaccurate claims about his phone call with Zelensky, which he calls “perfect.” Here are some of the claims the president has made over the past two days about the phone call and the whistleblower’s complaint, which included an accurate account of the phone call: The president wrongly claimed that Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified that Trump’s phone call with Zelensky was “very normal.” Maguire did not characterize the phone call in his testimony before the House intelligence committee. Trump falsely claimed that a White House-released memo on his July 25 phone call with Zelensky was “an exact word-for-word transcript of the conversation … taken by very talented stenographers.” The memo includes a “caution” note saying it “is not a verbatim transcript.” Trump said that “the whistleblower never saw the conversation” and “wrote something that was total fiction.” The whistleblower said he received “a readout of the call,” and Maguire said the complaint is consistent with a White House memo of the call. (Trump also wrongly denied that Maguire found the two consistent.) Trump claimed that Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell “put out a statement that said that was the most innocent phone call he’s read.” McConnell said it wasn’t an impeachable offense, but did not describe the call as “innocent.” Trump also claimed that Sen. Rick Scott of Florida described the call as “a perfect conversation.” Scott didn’t use those words, but like McConnell he said he didn’t see the call as an impeachable offense. Maguire: Complaint ‘in Alignment’ with Memo: On Aug. 12, an anonymous intelligence community official filed a whistleblower complaint accusing the president of “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” The complaint included a description of a July 25 phone call that Trump made to Zelensky, who was elected the president of Ukraine on April 21. On the call, “the President pressured Mr. Zelenskyy to … initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter Biden,” and assist a U.S. review of allegations that the “Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine,” according to the whistleblower’s complaint. Trump asked Zelensky to “meet or speak with two people the President named explicitly as his personal envoys on these matters, Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani and Attorney General [William] Barr,” the complaint said. That description was confirmed by a memo of the call, which the White House released on Sept. 25.

According to leaked emails from Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russia’s disinformation campaign may have broken U.S. law and exposed details of a witness who later fell from a window.
By Nico Hines
LONDON—The identity of the U.S. government’s star witness in a high-profile trial—who subsequently fell out of a fifth-story Moscow window—was compromised in the course of a pro-Kremlin disinformation campaign run by Natalia Veselnitskaya, according to leaked emails. The Russian lawyer who took part in the infamous Trump Tower meeting with senior Trump campaign officials was part of a secretive campaign on American soil that—according to the emails—may also have involved contempt of court and the violation of lobbying laws. She already has been indicted by the Southern District of New York on obstruction of justice charges. A cache of emails obtained by the Dossier Center, which is a Russian opposition organization based in London, exposes the depth of foreign asset entanglement in Trump’s America at the precise moment that the president’s dealings with Ukrainian officials threaten to pull the Department of Justice and State Department into an unseemly impeachment fight.  The leaked emails offer an unprecedented look into the cynical world of Russia’s remorseless influence campaign within the U.S. Veselnitskaya was representing a company called Prevezon, which was facing an American trial over a $230 million fraud that began in Russia and implicated the Russian authorities. An American law firm that had been working for Prevezon at the direction of Veselnitskaya was barred from the case by an extremely rare writ of mandamus handed down by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals because of conflict of interest with a former client. Emails suggest BakerHostetler, a major U.S. law firm that has also worked for The Daily Beast and its parent company, IAC, continued to operate as a kind of shadow counsel in what would have been a clear breach of the court order. Other emails suggest another court order was violated when the testimony given by a Russian witness leaked, endangering his life before he was due to return to New York to give evidence at the trial. It was later reported in the Russian media that the witness—Nikolai Gorokhov—had fallen five floors from an apartment building in Moscow. He survived with a fractured skull. He said his fall was no accident, but could not remember exactly what happened. Cristy Phillips, a former U.S. government prosecutor with the Southern District of New York (SDNY) who worked on the case, said she fears that the emails shared with The Daily Beast indicate deep corruption hidden within the American legal system. “The integrity of our judicial system depends on lawyers upholding their obligations as officers of the court. Most fundamentally, if a court issues an order, lawyers have to follow it and make sure that others on their side follow it. There were numerous senior lawyers on these emails and they all clearly violated a Second Circuit court order. And these were not inexperienced lawyers, several of them are former Department of Justice attorneys,” she told The Daily Beast. “We’re talking about a case where witnesses had died and other witnesses’ lives and safety had been threatened. These were not low-stakes decisions.”

“Whenever there’s a Trump scandal, Mike Pence never seems to know what’s going on,” the “Daily Show” host observed.
By Matt Wilstein
After examining how poorly President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have been handling the impeachment inquiry so far over the past few days, Trevor Noah turned his attention Thursday night to Vice President Mike Pence. “Mike Pence likely knew about the phone call, had access to the transcript and personally told [Ukrainian President] Zelensky that he wasn’t getting his military aid,” The Daily Show host said, summing up the vice president’s alleged role in the scandal that is threatening to bring down the Trump administration. “Pence was so deep in this thing, I bet Mother considers it cheating,” he joked. Noah explained that he’s not “shocked” Pence is so involved in the scandal because “he does whatever Trump tells him” to do, characterizing him as the Ned Flanders to the president’s Homer Simpson.

By Philip Ewing
President Trump demanded on Friday that the full House must vote on Democrats' impeachment inquiry, arguing that he needn't further comply with Congress' requests until it does. Trump told reporters at the White House that he's sending a letter to that effect to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. He suggested his accommodation of congressional requests from this point forward might depend on her response. "The lawyers say they've never seen anything so unfair," Trump said. "The lawyers say they've never seen anything so unjust." The White House contends that for impeachment to be legitimate, all members in the chambers must have a chance to support or oppose it. So far, although Pelosi has declared that an "impeachment inquiry" is underway, the full House has not yet voted to launch one. The House does not need a vote in order for lawmakers to conduct an impeachment investigation, but a vote could give Republicans more power in the Democratic-led inquiry. It would also force lawmakers in both parties to go on the record for or against the inquiry as headlines fly thick and fast about the Ukraine affair. While Republicans so far oppose the impeachment investigation, some GOP lawmakers have said the Ukraine allegations are worthy of an investigation and they could also face a tough choice if put to a vote by the full House. Some moderate Democrats have yet to take a position. Trump was also asked Friday whether he'd go along with the prospect of Democrats' subpoenas for documents or other materials as they look into his administration's dealings with Ukraine. "I don't know, that's up to the lawyers," he said. The president has gone back and forth about what he'll release or how transparent he says the administration might be. His announcement about his letter of protest to Pelosi on Friday suggested that he might now consider the gate closed until Congress acts. When does impeachment become impeachment. Democrats, led initially by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York, argue that they've been acting on impeachment business for months. Nadler has said as much in his hearings, and attorneys for House Democrats also have invoked impeachment in their separate legal contests with attorneys for Trump over documents and witnesses. Pelosi said on Wednesday that there is no need for a full House vote. Trump's demand represented the latest tactical skirmish within the broader political war over impeachment, which has sucked all the oxygen out of official Washington and largely sidelined all other business between the administration and Congress. Trump and Pelosi both have said, at different times, they thought Washington should still attempt to negotiate over other legislation — potentially involving prescription drug costs or new gun restrictions — but for now the shadow of impeachment seems to have blotted out nearly everything else in the capital. Trump's challenge also is an attempt to force Pelosi to truly test which of her moderate members, some of whom were elected last year in districts that Trump carried in 2016, are prepared to go on record in support of impeachment. "Most of them, many of them, don't believe they should do it," Trump said on Friday. The president said that if Democrats move ahead, "I really believe they're going to pay a tremendous price at the polls."

By Juliegrace Brufke
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) shot down House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) call for Democrats to suspend the impeachment inquiry, noting in a written response that President Trump hours earlier had publicly asked China to investigate one of his political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden. “As you know, our Founders were specifically intent on ensuring that foreign entities did not undermine the integrity of our elections," Pelosi wrote to McCarthy. "I received your letter this morning shortly after the world witnessed President Trump on national television asking yet another foreign power to interfere in the upcoming 2020 elections,” she continued. “We hope you and other Republicans share our commitment to following the facts, upholding the Constitution, protecting our national security, and defending the integrity of our elections at such a serious moment in our nation’s history.” Pelosi also wrote in her letter that there is not a requirement under the Constitution or House rules, or under House precedent, that the House hold a vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry. McCarthy earlier on Thursday had argued the inquiry should not move forward without members establishing “equitable rules and procedures.” “I should hope that if such an extraordinary step were to be contemplated a fourth time it would be conducted with an eye towards fairness, objectivity, and impartiality. Unfortunately, you have given no clear indication as to how your impeachment inquiry will proceed — including whether key historical precedents or basic standards of due process will be observed,” he wrote.

By Jordain Carney
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Friday broke sharply with President Trump's call for China and Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, calling it "wrong and appalling." "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," Romney said in a statement, which he also tweeted out.  The day before, Trump floated to reporters outside of the White House that the two countries should probe Biden, the Democratic 2020 front-runner, and his son, Hunter Biden, even as House Democrats work on an impeachment inquiry centered on allegations that Trump sought to withhold aid to Ukraine as an effort to get Kiev to launch a probe. "China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said in front of cameras on the South Lawn. The president added that he had not explicitly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to open such a probe, but that it’s “certainly something we can start thinking about.” Most Republicans, who are currently scattered across the country for a two-week recess, have remained silent on Trump publicly suggesting that foreign governments investigate a potential 2020 rival.  But Romney is part of a small group of Republicans who have spoken out this week, though none have backed the impeachment inquiry against Trump. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), in a statement on Thursday night, said "Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth," while also knocking House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) for running a "partisan clown show in the House."

By Jim Sciutto, Gloria Borger and Jeremy Diamond, CNN
(CNN) - During a private phone call in June, President Donald Trump promised Chinese President Xi Jinping that the US would remain quiet on pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong while trade talks continued, two sources familiar with knowledge of the call tell CNN. The remarkable pledge to the Chinese leader is a dramatic departure from decades of US support for human rights in China and shows just how eager Trump is to strike a deal with Beijing as the trade war weighs on the US economy. And like other calls with the leaders of Ukraine, Russia and Saudi Arabia, records of Trump's call with Xi were moved to a highly-classified, codeword-protected system, greatly limiting the number of administration officials who were aware of the conversation. Trump's commitment to China had immediate and far-reaching effects throughout the US government as the President's message was sent far and wide. In June, the State Department told then-US general counsel in Hong Kong, Kurt Tong, to cancel a planned speech on the protests in Washington because the President had promised Xi no one from the administration would talk about the issue. Tong was also slated to speak at a Washington-based think tank in early July but the State Department asked for that event to be canceled as well. That speech was ultimately rescheduled for after Tong's scheduled retirement later that month meaning he eventually had the opportunity to speak about Hong Kong but as a former official. The Financial Times first reported some details of the President's commitment. At the time, reporters asked State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus if Tong was barred from making a tough speech after Trump and Xi's trade truce during the G20 summit. "I believe that that was based off of anonymous reports, and that's not something that we ever validate here at the State Department. I don't see much truth to that," she responded.

By Grace Segers, Kathryn Watson, Stefan Becket
Washington -- The House committees leading the impeachment inquiry released a trove of messages provided by the former special envoy to Ukraine who resigned abruptly last week. The messages show a concerted effort by U.S. diplomats to get the Ukrainian government to commit to opening investigations that would benefit President Trump politically. On Thursday, the president suggested China and Ukraine should open investigations into Joe and Hunter Biden, stating publicly what he is accused of insinuating on the July call with the Ukrainian president at the center of House Democrats' impeachment inquiry.  "I would say, President Zelensky, if it was me, I would start an investigation into the Bidens," he said, referring to the Ukrainian leader. Speaking to reporters on the White House lawn on Thursday, Mr. Trump also said the Chinese president may want to investigate Biden and his son. "Clearly it's something we should start thinking about," he said. Also on Thursday, the Pentagon said it had begun in June to release $250 million in Ukraine aid approved by Congress, but in late July, on July 25 or 26, the White House Office of Management and Budget ordered a pause in the disbursement of those funds. Mr. Trump's conversation with Zelensky took place on July 25. Trump insists his requests for foreign countries to investigate Biden has "nothing to do with politics" 8:30 a.m.: In a tweet on Friday morning, Mr. Trump reiterated the claim that he has the right as president to ask foreign leaders to investigate "corruption," referring to his requests for Ukraine and China to probe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. "As President I have an obligation to end CORRUPTION, even if that means requesting the help of a foreign country or countries. It is done all the time. This has NOTHING to do with politics or a political campaign against the Bidens. This does have to do with their corruption!" Mr. Trump said. There is no evidence of any wrongdoing by either Biden in Ukraine or China.

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN
(CNN) - President Donald Trump's aggressive new strategy to thwart the Democrats' impeachment offensive is already sinking under the weight of new revelations. Trump tried to turn the tide Thursday, after struggling to counter the core Democratic argument that he had abused his power to hurt a political rival, Joe Biden, including staging a remarkable photo op in which he effectively asked China, America's rising geopolitical rival for global power, to help him win in 2020. But an avalanche of disclosures about his administration's previous attempts to enlist Ukraine in his effort to smear Biden showed his White House is failing to contain a crisis that is threatening his presidency. Perhaps the biggest problem for Trump is the release of text messages provided by his former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who gave a deposition on Capitol Hill. The texts include a key message from Volker to a Ukrainian aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky, sent just before the infamous July 25 call at the center of the impeachment probe, which lays out how an investigation into Trump's political interests could help assure a meeting between the two presidents. The unveiling of the text messages threatens to undermine one of the President and his supporters' key defenses: that there was no quid pro quo when Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter. Trump's seeming obsession with undermining Biden's campaign may also present problems for him on the other side of the globe. In addition to Trump publicly asking the Chinese to investigate the Bidens, CNN reported Thursday that Trump had brought up Biden and his political prospects to Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone call back in June. The disclosure was the latest sign that the President was using his constitutional leeway to set foreign policy in order to advance his own political interests. The gambit threatened to introduce a new conflict of interest into talks to ease the President's trade war with China. But on a deeper level it raised questions about Trump's willingness to embrace foreign intervention in US politics -- a possibility that haunted America's founders as they contemplated the shape of a new republic more than two centuries ago. Before the latest breaking developments, the President had sought to combat the perception that he had secretly attempted to get a foreign power to intervene in US politics. But then he appeared on the South Lawn of the White House to take another shot at Biden and to say that both Ukraine and China should investigate his potential 2020 foe, and then later tweeted that he had the "absolute right" to do so. It was a brazen yet quintessentially Trumpian response to his crisis. The President has spent days, unusually, struggling to switch a damaging political narrative triggered by evidence that he pressured a foreign nation to target a political opponent in an apparent abuse of power.

House Democrats released the messages that were turned over by former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker amid impeachment inquiry.
By Josh Lederman1
WASHINGTON — Text messages given to Congress show U.S. ambassadors working to persuade Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating President Donald Trump’s political opponents and explicitly linking the inquiry to whether Ukraine’s president would be granted an official White House visit. The two ambassadors, both Trump picks, went so far as to draft language for what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy should say, the texts indicate. The messages, released Thursday by House Democrats conducting an impeachment inquiry, show the ambassadors coordinating with both Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and a top Zelenskiy aide. At one point, a diplomat quoted in the texts even expresses alarm that the Trump administration is conditioning the visit and military aid on an investigation of political opponents, saying the linkage is "crazy." The messages offer the fullest picture to date of how top diplomats and Giuliani sought to advance Trump’s goal of getting the Ukrainians to investigate both meddling in the 2016 election and Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden. “Heard from 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 a visit to Washington,” former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations Kurt Volker wrote to the top Zelenskiy aide on July 25, just before Trump spoke by phone to Zelenskiy. That phone call led a U.S. intelligence official to file a whistleblower complaint that set off a cascade of fast-moving events, ultimately leading to an impeachment inquiry into the president. Volker resigned amid the tumult. He provided a deposition Thursday at the Capitol, which included the text messages. Volker and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland — both political appointees — repeatedly stressed the need to get the Ukrainians to agree to the exact language that Zelenskiy would use in announcing an investigation, the texts indicate. In August, Volker proposed to Sondland that they give Zelenskiy a statement to utter at a news conference citing “alleged involvement of some Ukrainian politicians” in interference in U.S. elections. “We intend to initiate and complete a transparent and unbiased investigation of all available facts and episodes, including those involving Burisma and the 2016 U.S. elections,” Volker and Sondland agreed that the Ukrainian president should say. Zelenskiy never did make the statement.

By Franco Ordoñez, Susan Davis
Republicans who support President Trump say the next three weeks are crucial to determine whether Trump can keep Republicans united behind him or if emerging cracks break open even wider. Their growing concern is that the White House is not acting with enough urgency to combat the whistleblower fight. They're calling for a more coordinated but also direct and aggressive strategy, similar to the one used when Republicans defended Brett Kavanaugh when Trump nominated him for the Supreme Court. "It's not like you have all this time for this to unfold. You've got to be ready for battle right now," said Scott Jennings, who was subpoenaed by the Senate when he worked for Republican George W. Bush and is close to the White House. "That's why I was comparing it to Kavanaugh. That was a short fight. You know, it happened over a period of weeks. Democrats had their message. They fired their shots. The Republicans were organized. They fired back. And so to me that's really the template here." Trump has been lashing out at Democrats and reporters, as Republicans have struggled to defend the president for encouraging the Ukrainian government to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 rival. A senior Senate GOP aide expressed confidence that, as it stands, Senate Republicans do not believe Trump's July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president unto itself is an impeachable offense. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity to be able to speak freely about strategy and expectations. At the same time, the aide said there's a realization that this is a volatile, unpredictable political conflict. And there have been "zero" efforts to coordinate messaging with the White House or each other, the aide said. "Everyone is waiting for the next shoe to drop," the aide said. The White House has dismissed the need for a war room like the one former President Bill Clinton created in the 1990s during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

By Tobias Hoonhout
A career IRS official has filed a whistleblower complaint over inappropriate interference by at least one Treasury Department official in a mandatory annual audit of the president and vice president’s taxes. The House Ways and Means Committee was alerted to “possible misconduct” at the end of July, but The Washington Post shed more light on the situation Thursday when it reported that the individual was an IRS employee and revealed that the allegation pertained to Treasury Department officials. The whistleblower told the paper in an interview that he had filed a formal complaint, but would not comment on its substance. The White House has continued to push back on Democratic efforts to get the Treasury Department to release the president’s tax returns. Administration officials have dismissed Democrats’ calls for Trump’s tax returns as outside the scope of congressional oversight authority. Democrats fear the recent complaint suggests the independent IRS audit process has been compromised by partisan actors. But the whistleblower denied his actions were politically motivated. “I take very seriously the duty of career civil servants to act with integrity and perform our duties impartially, even at the risk that someone will make a charge of bias,” he said. The whistleblower also told the paper he feared the recent comments being made by President Trump and allies about whistleblowers. Trump told reporters Monday he was “trying to find out” the identity of the Ukraine whistleblower. “The focus should be on the facts that were presented,” the IRS whistleblower told The Washington Post. “I am concerned also by the relative silence of people who should be repudiating these dangerous attacks in the strongest terms.” Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D., Mass.) told reporters Sept. 27 he was weighing the release of the complaint with lawyers.

Jeanine Santucci, USA TODAY
The country is just over a week into the formal impeachment inquiry launched by Democrats in response to a whistleblower complaint against President Donald Trump and there's a lot we still don't know about the situation. House Democrats are attempting to uncover more information about Trump's alleged promises to Ukraine in return for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Here are the unanswered questions about the Ukraine controversy and the attempt to impeach Trump: When will the House vote on impeachment? In order for a Senate impeachment trial to take place, the House of Representatives must agree to draw up articles of impeachment, or a list of presidential offenses. This requires the votes of at least 218 Congressmembers. Some lawmakers have said they hope the House will decide on the articles of impeachment by Thanksgiving. And while Pelosi has said she wants the impeachment inquiry to move, "expeditiously," in reality the process could take months before it comes to a vote. It's hard to know when the House will conduct a vote, in part because of the efforts Trump administration officials may exert to combat the impeachment inquiry. Congressional committees scheduled depositions and a hearing with a handful of officials who may have knowledge of the Ukraine situation even as Congress is scheduled for a two-week recess. Democrats accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of "stonewalling" the investigation after he said he would fight requests to depose State Department workers. Pompeo called the deposition requests "an attempt to intimidate, bully and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State." Trump has also threatened litigation against his political opponents. Who is the whistleblower?

Just months after Trump’s inauguration, conspiracy theorists pushed a fanciful and unsubstantiated narrative in which the DNC framed Russia for election interference.
By Ben Collins
An anonymous post from March 2017 on the far-right 4chan message board teased a conspiracy theory that would eventually make its way to the White House. “Russia could not have been the source of leaked Democrat emails released by Wikileaks,” the post teased, not citing any evidence for the assertion. The post baselessly insinuated that CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that worked with the Democratic National Committee and had been contracted to investigate a hack of its servers, fabricated a forensics report to frame Russia for election interference. The 4chan post was published three days before then-FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election. And that was how it started. That post is the first known written evidence of this unfounded conspiracy theory to exonerate Russia from meddling in the 2016 election, which more than two years later would make its way into the telephone call that may get President Donald Trump impeached. (Federal law enforcement officials have repeatedly made it clear that Russia unquestionably did meddle in the election.) In the years that followed the original 4chan post, at least three different but related conspiracy theories would warp and combine on the fringes of the internet, eventually coalescing around Ukraine’s supposed role in helping Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. Ukraine wasn’t originally part of the theory, but in July, Trump floated CrowdStrike’s name during a call with the president of Ukraine as just one piece of a convoluted conspiracy accusation. That phone call is now at the center of a congressional investigation and impeachment inquiry into whether the president abused his power for political gain. “I would like to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike … ” Trump said on the call, according to a White House summary. “I guess you have one of your wealthy people. ... The server, they say Ukraine has it.” To even people who have followed these theories closely, Trump’s call felt detached from any sense of logic. “It’s a whole new mountain of nonsense,” said Duncan Campbell, a British digital forensics expert who investigated the original claim about CrowdStrike. This omnibus conspiracy theory has been frequently referred to on far-right blogs, Fox News and recently by the president as the Democrats’ “insurance policy,” a reference to the supposed setup as a way to impeach the president if Trump were to win the election. Though all the individual theories have been debunked, each has contributed elements that have been cited by the president, as well as his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Beginning months after Trump’s inauguration, conspiracy theorists have pushed this fanciful and unsubstantiated narrative in which the Democratic National Committee framed Russia for its election interference in 2016 and later covered up its false accusation with help from then-Vice President Joe Biden and officials in Ukraine. In the conspiracy theory, impeachment proceedings recently pursued by House Democrats were always the DNC’s endgame, effectively a cash-out on the “insurance policy.” Trump has repeatedly referred to the “insurance policy” by name in tweets and in remarks on the White House’s South Lawn.

By Naomi Jagoda
The Manhattan district attorney's office on Thursday blasted the Department of Justice (DOJ) for siding with President Trump in a lawsuit over a subpoena for the president's tax returns. The DOJ on Wednesday filed a court document that agreed with Trump that the lawsuit belongs in federal court. The DOJ also called for enforcement of the subpoena to be temporarily blocked if necessary while the court considers Trump's constitutional claims. But the district attorney's office said in its new filing that DOJ's document "ignores the reality" underlying Trump's lawsuit. "In short, the Plaintiffs only goal in this litigation, now supported by the DOJ itself, is to obtain as much delay as possible, through litigation, stays, and appeals," prosecutors with the district attorney's office wrote. The district attorney's office in late August issued a subpoena to Trump's accounting firm for the president's personal and business tax returns and financial records. The subpoena is part of a grand jury investigation into payments made ahead of the 2016 presidential election to women who claim they had affairs with Trump. In September, Trump's personal lawyers filed a lawsuit against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. (D) and the president's accounting firm, Mazars USA, in an effort to block the subpoena. The DOJ weighed in Wednesday. In its filing on Thursday, the district attorney's office argued that it could be harmed by delaying enforcement of the subpoena because any postponement "will likely result in the expiration of the statutes of limitation that would apply to some of the transactions at issue in the grand jury investigation." The district attorney's office also took issue with the DOJ's argument that Trump should receive interim relief to prevent him from being irreparably harmed. The New York prosecutors argued that Trump wouldn't be harmed if asked to comply with the subpoena, because there's no risk that his tax returns would be published under grand jury secrecy rules and because there's isn't anything "sacrosanct" about a president's tax returns. The district attorney's office also disputed the DOJ's arguments that the case belongs in federal court. The New York prosecutors reiterated that they think the case should be dismissed and that a legal challenge to their subpoena should be brought in state court. Trump's personal lawyers argue in the president's lawsuit that Trump can't be criminally investigated while in office. The DOJ didn't say in its filing Wednesday whether it agreed with that position. However, the district attorney's office argued that through its filing, the DOJ "has elected to insert itself into this private lawsuit to support the Plaintiffs extravagant claim that, given his current position, he and all of his prior business associates and related companies are immune, not just from prosecution, but from any routine grand jury inquiry into transactions undertaken before he was a government employee."

By Manu Raju, Jeremy Herb and Paul LeBlanc, CNN
Washington (CNN)The former US special envoy for Ukraine told House investigators that he urged Ukraine's leadership not to interfere in US politics in a conversation that followed the phone call between President Donald Trump and Ukraine's Volodymyr Zelensky, according to two sources familiar with the testimony. Kurt Volker's testimony behind closed doors seems to confirm the whistleblower description in the complaint that Volker and another US diplomat "provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to 'navigate' the demands that the President made." Volker appeared Thursday before three committees that are investigating allegations made by a whistleblower that the President sought Ukraine's assistance digging up dirt on his political rival and then the White House tried to cover it up. In the interview, Volker told lawmakers that the Ukrainian government had a lot of questions about why the military aid was being held up and he did not have a good explanation, according to the sources describing the testimony. Volker also testified that the Ukrainian government was concerned that a meeting with the Ukrainians and Trump was being put on hold but did not understand the reason. The meeting was important to Zelensky, who pushed to come to Washington on the July 25 call. According to the rough transcript, the President responds first that he will have Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani get in touch and then says: "Whenever you would like to come to the White House, feel free to call. Give us a date and we'll work that out. I look forward to seeing you." But the meeting never happened. A planned meeting in Poland ended up being scrubbed because the President stayed in the United States to deal with a hurricane and he sent Vice President Mike Pence in his place. Volker also told congressional investigators that he raised concerns with Giuliani about using former Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko as a source for information about the Bidens and other controversies, warning that Lutsenko was not credible. The Washington Post first reported Volker's testimony that he raised concerns to Giuliani about the credibility of his sources. Volker, who resigned one day after he was named in the release of the whistleblower report last week alleging Trump was using the power of the presidency to ask Ukraine to investigate the Bidens for political gain in the 2020 election. Trump has denied any wrongdoing. Republicans, however, said that Volker's testimony did not provide any evidence to support the Democrats' claims of impeachment. Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, told reporters after leaving the interview that "not one thing" Volker said "aligns with the Democratic impeachment narrative."

By Caitlin O'Kane
President Trump dominated the headlines with a heated press conference on Wednesday, during which he called Congressman Adam Schiff a "lowlife," doubled down on his attacks against the whistleblower, and threatened to sue several people. Caught in the crossfire between Mr. Trump and the reporters at the White House was the visiting Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, who spent much of the event sidelined beside Mr. Trump. Niinistö, however, emerged from the crucible to win praise for the way he handled it. And because Americans can't resist using social media to express their feelings, Niinistö also got the meme treatment. "Finnish President doing a Jim from The Office," one person wrote, referring to the mockumentary character's signature stare into the camera — often used to say, without words, "I can't believe what I'm witnessing right now," or "get me out of here."

CNN - President Donald Trump ordered the removal of Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from her post in Ukraine following complaints by his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Yovanovitch, who was recalled months earlier than expected in May 2019, was accused by Giuliani without evidence of trying to undermine the President and blocking efforts to investigate Democrats like former Vice President Joe Biden. According to the Wall Street Journal, a person familiar with the matter said that State Department officials were told that her removal was "a priority" for Trump. At the time of her removal, the State Department said that Yovanovitch was "concluding her three-year diplomatic assignment in Kyiv in 2019 as planned" and that her departure aligned with the presidential transition in Ukraine. Giuliani told the Wall Street Journal that he had reminded the President "of complaints percolating among Trump supporters that she had displayed an anti-Trump bias in private conversations." Giuliani told the paper that when he mentioned Yovanovitch to Trump in the spring, the President "remembered he had a problem with her earlier and thought she had been dismissed" and was then asked to provide a list of his allegations about the career diplomat again. Asked on Thursday morning why Yovanovitch was recalled, Trump said, "I don't know if I recalled her or somebody recalled her, but I heard very, very bad things about her for a very long period of time -- not good."

Donald Trump's behavior with China and Joe Biden shows how much he depends on Americans being desensitized to his repeated ethics violations
Don't let Trump shape a new normal
By Lisa Gilbert - USA TODAY
The Ukraine scandal that unfolded with lightning speed has been stunning, and the ongoing revelations of corruption are even more so. Like a mafia don, President Donald Trump — having withheld nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine — put the squeeze on Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden. The pressure campaign spanned months and implicates Vice President Mike Pence's office, Attorney General William Barr and the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani. But he didn’t stop there. Just Thursday, Trump casually referenced to reporters the need for yet another foreign power to look into the Bidens, China. In addition, on Monday, news broke that Trump pushed the Australian prime minister during a recent telephone call to help Barr gather information for a Justice Department inquiry that Trump surely hopes will discredit former special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings. This was followed by the revelation that Barr also sought foreign assistance from British and Italian officials in investigating the Mueller report. And this is likely only just the beginning of the revelations to come. President Trump seems to think that if he keeps committing impeachable offenses, he can somehow normalize them and escape accountability. Yet in some ways, the barrage of news over the past week and a half has felt less shocking than it should have, because morally reprehensible, unethical and corrupt behavior is status quo for the Trump administration, and conflicts of interest, self-dealing and mobster tactics have become the new normal. When caught, Trump simply cranks up the spin machine, attacks his opponents and deflects attention by raising tariffs or rolling out another harsh immigration policy. And the country turns its attention to the next story.

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