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US Monthly Headline News September 2019 Page 10


By Alexander Bolton
Senate Republicans are scrambling to contain the political fallout from reports that President Trump pressured a foreign leader to investigate his leading Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Several Republican lawmakers have called on Trump to reveal more details from his conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which the president on Sunday acknowledged discussing Biden and his possible links to corruption in Ukraine. This effort comes as some Democrats in the House are ramping up their calls for a vote on an impeachment inquiry. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) announced on the Senate floor Monday afternoon that Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr (R-N.C.) is trying to bring the Trump-appointed intelligence community’s inspector general who received a complaint from a whistleblower before his panel to investigate the matter. But McConnell cautioned his colleagues to handle the issue with bipartisan cooperation and refrain from some of the political fireworks that have erupted in the House over the complaint. “I believe it’s extremely important that their work be handled in a secure setting with adequate protections in a bipartisan fashion, and based on facts rather than leaks to the press,” he said. Senate Republican Whip John Thune (S.D.) told reporters Monday that Congress needs to be briefed on the whistleblower complaint. “I would hope that whatever information is available that is in the possession of the inspector general of the DNI [director of national intelligence] that we would get access to that,” he said. more...

By Teo Armus
In late 2017, the New York Times received an urgent warning from a U.S. official. Egyptian authorities were looking to arrest Declan Walsh, the newspaper’s reporter in Cairo, according to its publisher. It’s not unusual for a large media organization to get tipped off about threats to its journalists overseas, particularly those reporting on authoritarian governments. But what was striking is what the official said next: The Trump administration had tried to keep the warning about Walsh from ever reaching the Times. Officials “intended to sit on the information and let the arrest be carried out,” Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger wrote in an opinion column on Monday. This incident, described publicly by Sulzberger for the first time in a talk at Brown University earlier on Monday, adds a chilling new episode to the administration’s trend of attacking the press and diminishing the rights of journalists as they come under threat around the globe, the publisher wrote. Where the United States was once seen as the top defender of press freedom, Sulzberger suggested Trump has inspired the opposite around the globe, citing recent threats made in an address by the Cambodian prime minister, a social media blackout in Chad, and attempts to arrest foreign journalists in Egypt, whose autocratic president Trump once jokingly called his “favorite dictator.” “These brutal crackdowns are being passively accepted and perhaps even tacitly encouraged by the president of the United States,” Sulzberger said. President Trump has refused to acknowledge that the Saudi government ordered the assassination of The Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, as international investigators have found. And the president’s frequent use of the phrase “fake news” has resulted in more than 50 foreign government leaders to adopt similar calls, the publisher charged. more...  

The allegations would be tantamount to bribery if proved, something the Constitution clearly lists as cause for removing a president.
By Leah Litman, assistant professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School
Here we go again. President Donald Trump once again stands accused of using a foreign government to influence American elections. Whereas last time he invited the Russian government, on public television, to try and find Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s “missing” emails, among other things, this time he has reportedly sought to have the Ukrainian government announce a criminal investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s son, perhaps by using U.S. financial and military support as leverage. But not everyone is singing the same tune this go round. Last time, Republicans largely defended the president even as special counsel Robert Mueller was named to investigate whether Trump or his campaign had colluded with Russia. And after Mueller avoided making an explicit statement of guilt, Democrats were hesitant to launch a full-fledged impeachment inquiry. This time, Trump’s actions on Ukraine have already drawn some criticism from Republicans (like Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah), and they have also increased calls for impeachment from Democrats (such as from Rep. Adam Schiff of California, chair of the House intelligence committee). And rightfully so. So what’s changed? There are potentially significant legal differences and practical distinctions between the two situations. And these differences indicate that the allegations regarding Ukraine fit more clearly into the Constitution’s preconditions for impeachment — and that Congress will not only have an easier time making a case against the president, but also a greater legal imperative to do so. Using the office of the president for personal political benefit comports with both the standard understandings of bribery and the broader category of high crimes and misdemeanors. more...

By Paul LeBlanc, Jim Acosta, Jeremy Diamond and Kaitlan Collins, CNN
Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump asked his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to put a hold on millions in military aid to Ukraine roughly one week before a call with the Ukrainian president in which he pressured the country to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, two senior administration officials said on Monday. Trump, who was in the middle of a broad review of foreign aid programs when he singled out Ukraine specifically this summer, was primarily concerned with "corruption" in Ukraine and Europe shouldering more of the financial burden for supporting Ukraine's defense, according to one of the officials. News of Trump's order to withhold aid to the Ukraine ahead of his July 25 call may trigger questions -- and speculation -- about the President's motive in doing so. Trump had ordered a hold on nearly $400 million of military and security aid to Ukraine at least a week before the call in question, US officials familiar with the matter tell CNN. The Washington Post first reported the figure. The administration was looking at harnessing multiple foreign packages, several aides believed, when Trump took a special interest in Ukraine, at times railing about how the country wasted money in his eyes. This surprised several staffers because, as CNN has reported, Trump had not been interested in engaging with Ukraine in the past, believing Ukraine was a corrupt country that wasn't committed to reform. But his attentiveness to the country had ramped up in recent weeks as his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pushed muddled corruption accusations against Biden, who was leading in national polls against Trump, and his son Hunter. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden. On Friday, CNN reported Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, according to a person familiar with the situation. On the day of Trump's call with Zelensky, word began to spread that Trump was reviewing a plan to cut foreign assistance to Ukraine. more...

CNN Cuomo Prime Time - Former Ukrainian government official Serhiy Leshchenko fires back at Rudy Giuliani's claim that a Ukrainian court found Leshchenko guilty of producing a phony affidavit given to US officials. more...

By Michael Wilner
The Trump administration is ratcheting up its threats against California with a letter warning the state faces sanctions – including cuts in federal highway funding – over its “failure” to submit complete reports on its implementation of the Clean Air Act. In the letter to the California Air Resources Board, Andrew Wheeler, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote that the state had the “worst air quality in the United States” and had “failed to carry out its most basic tasks” under the federal law. That law requires states to submit implementation plans to the EPA outlining their efforts to cut emissions of six types of pollutants. When President Donald Trump entered office, the administration faced a backlog of over 700 reports, and roughly 140 of those that remain are from California, Wheeler said in an interview. “When I learned about this a couple months ago, the question I asked the staffer was, ‘why are we holding on to these – why haven’t we acted?’” Wheeler told McClatchy. “And the response I got back was, ‘we didn’t want to deny them and they couldn’t approve them.’ Well that’s ridiculous to allow 34 million people to live in areas not in compliance with our air standards.” Wheeler’s warning to California is the Trump administration’s latest front in a protracted battle with the state over climate change and, in particular, the state’s unique authority to set its own standards for carbon dioxide emissions – a potent greenhouse gas. The EPA moved last week to rescind the federal waiver allowing California to do so, granted by the Clean Air Act of 1970, prompting a lawsuit from California joined within hours by 22 other states. The administration is moving separately to write new auto emissions standards that would apply to the entire country, rolling back stricter requirements that were set by the Obama administration in agreement with California in 2012. California leaders, however, have attempted to go around the administration, negotiating their own agreement with automakers to voluntarily lower emissions on new cars built through 2026. Thus far, four leading manufacturers have joined the agreement: Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen. more...   

Trump mocks Romney with Twitter video as Ukraine controversy escalates
By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump on Monday tweeted a video mocking Sen. Mitt Romney after the Utah Republican continued his call for the release of more information about Trump's July call with Ukraine's president where he discussed former Vice President Joe Biden. The video included a compilation of news clips from Romney's 2012 general election loss to Barack Obama paired with clips of Trump's own 2016 presidential election win over Hillary Clinton. Earlier Monday, Romney told reporters he believes a transcript of the President's conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, should be released. "Understanding exactly what he said would be very helpful I think to determine whether the allegations, which are quite serious, are allegations that will have consequence," he said.  On Friday, CNN reported Trump pressed Zelensky in a July 25 call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, according to a person familiar with the situation. That call was part of the whistleblower complaint submitted to the Intelligence Community Inspector General, another person familiar with the situation told CNN. Trump on Sunday acknowledged that he discussed Biden with Zelensky but has denied doing anything improper, including that he threatened to withhold aid to Ukraine unless the country's leaders did his bidding and investigated the Bidens. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden. Romney also signaled interest in the administration making public the initial whistleblower complaint, saying, "I think it'd be very helpful to get to the bottom of the facts to follow the law to get us there. That would include the whistleblower as well as the transcript of the conversation." White House officials are now considering releasing a transcript of the call, multiple sources have told CNN, amid mounting scrutiny over the interaction. Still, some senior administration officials, such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, are against the idea because of the precedent releasing it could set with future foreign leaders. Trump has suggested he hoped to release a transcript of his conversation. more...  

Trump mocks teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg
By Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN
Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump mocked Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Twitter late Monday night after the 16-year-old excoriated world leaders for not doing enough to tackle the climate crisis. "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!" Trump posted on Twitter, replying to a video of Thunberg's speech at the United Nations climate action summit earlier in the day. Trump's penchant for Twitter insults and online confrontations with people he sees as political adversaries is well known, though Monday's tweet is a striking display of the President teasing a child. In the video shared by Trump of her speech, Thunberg is visibly frustrated and at times appears to be holding back tears of anger as she dresses down the UN General Assembly. "People are suffering, people are dying, entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth," Thunberg said. She did not name Trump or any other world leaders in her speech, but her message was pointed. "How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you're doing enough when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight," she said. "You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency, but no matter how sad and angry I am, I do not want to believe that. Because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act then you would be evil and that I refuse to believe." Trump briefly attended the UN climate summit on Monday in an impromptu stop on his way to his administration's priority event on religious freedom. But the US did not speak at the event and Trump -- who has repeatedly said he thinks climate change is a hoax -- left after 15 minutes. more...

By Sam Fossum and Ellie Kaufman, CNN
Washington (CNN) - In the latest confrontation between the bee industry and the Trump administration, a group of concerned beekeepers have sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its July decision to expand the use of a pesticide that's known to harm bees and other pollinators. The Pollinator Stewardship Council, the American Beekeeper Federation and beekeeper Jeff Anderson, who are represented by Earthjustice, have asked the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to review the EPA's decision earlier this summer to rollback several restrictions around the pesticide sulfoxaflor, which were put in place under the Obama administration over concerns it might be contributing to plummeting bee populations. Bees help pollinate a third of the crops we eat, including almonds, apples, avocados and grapes, and the steady decline in bee populations has caused alarm not just in the US but in Europe as well. Pollinators like bees are under threat because of parasites like varroa mites, widespread pesticide use, habitat loss and the climate crisis. An EPA report from earlier this summer notes that some forms of the pesticide sulfoxaflor can be "very highly toxic" to bees. The EPA defended their decision at the time by citing studies that show the chemical disappears from the environment faster than other alternatives. But Earthjustice and other critics have attacked the EPA for relying on studies funded by industry groups. "Honeybees and other pollinators are dying in droves because of insecticides like sulfoxaflor, yet the Trump administration removes restrictions just to please the chemical industry," said Earthjustice lawyer Greg Loarie in a statement. "This is illegal and an affront to our food system, economy, and environment." The EPA did not immediately respond to CNN's request for comment. Michele Colopy of the Pollinator Stewardship Council attacked the EPA reliance on industry studies as "inappropriate." more...

The treasury secretary is not a big fan of “details.”
By Aaron Rupar
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin did a tour of the Sunday news talk shows, ostensibly to discuss the Trump administration’s escalation of sanctions on Iran. But he also faced questions about a growing scandal surrounding Trump’s efforts to get the Ukrainian government to investigate the Biden family — and his efforts to handle them did not go well. In particular, Mnuchin was unable to explain a mysteriously large foreign aid payment to Ukraine, one that came weeks after the administration held up aid payments to the country altogether. He also struggled to account for why it’s appropriate for the Trump administration to attack a son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden for his international business dealings, while Trump and his children profit from businesses he still owns. One cringe-inducing moment came on Meet the Press, when host Chuck Todd asked Mnuchin to explain why Ukraine was provided with $140 million more in US aid than initially expected. Todd asked Mnuchin to account for “how all of the sudden, when the [Ukraine] aid got released, more money showed up. Where did [it] come from? ... they got an additional $140 million they didn’t expect.” Mnuchin hemmed and hawed for about 20 seconds before trying to move on. Todd was referencing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s announcement earlier this month that his country received $140 million more than they expected from the United States — one that came weeks after any US government aid to Ukraine was held up, and at the end of a summer in which President Donald Trump and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, repeatedly asked the Ukrainians to open a “corruption” investigation aimed at implicating Hunter Biden, a son of the former vice president. The Treasury Department oversees foreign aid payments, but Mnuchin’s answer was underwhelming. “You’re getting into details,” Mnuchin said, declining to do so himself. He then alluded to Trump’s desire for Ukraine to investigate the Biden family and said, “these were not connected issues.” more...  

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
(CNN) - President Donald Trump accidentally told a whole lot of the truth over the weekend about his conversation with the Ukrainian president.
"We had a great conversation," said Trump. "The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with all of the corruption taking place and 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 and the Ukraine has got a lot of problems." Which is, uh, interesting. Because, well, Trump and his allies spent the days since the news of the whistleblower complaint regarding his communication with a foreign leader denying there was any "there" there, at all. And now Trump is admitting that not only did he talk to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky but that he also raised the issue of "corruption" regarding the Bidens. (Sidebar: Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, did work for a Ukrainian gas company. A prosecutor looking into the company was removed. While Trump and his allies insist something nefarious is at play, fact-checkers have dismissed that claim.) So here's where the reporting and Trump's admissions -- despite his repeated invocation of "fake news" -- agree. 1) Trump and the Ukrainian president did talk in late July. 2) Trump did raise the issue of corruption in Ukraine vis a vis the Bidens. And, here's where the reporting and what Trump has admitted -- at least through Monday! -- disagree: 1) The Washington Post reported that the whistleblower complaint had been triggered by a "promise" by Trump. He denies there was any sort of promise or quid pro quo. 2) The Wall Street Journal reported that Trump asked Zelensky eight times on that phone call to look into the Bidens and their connections in the Ukraine. Trump hasn't specifically denied that number but has said only that the conversation with the Ukrainian president was "perfect." So what is in dispute at the moment is how aggressive Trump was urging Zelensky to look into the Bidens and whether or not the American president held some sort of promise out for his Ukrainian counterpart if there was an investigation opened into Joe and Hunter Biden. more...

“That is treason. It’s treason pure and simple, and the penalty for treason under the U.S. code is death,” Bill Weld told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe “That’s the only penalty.”
By Barbie Latza Nadeau
Former Massachusetts Governor and Republican presidential challenger Bill Weld said Monday that President Donald Trump’s “acts of treason” in pressuring Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden deserved the death penalty. “That is treason. It’s treason pure and simple, and the penalty for treason under the U.S. code is death,” Weld told MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “That’s the only penalty.” Weld made the shocking statement in a joint appearance with fellow GOP presidential challengers Joe Walsh and Mark Sanford, who are protesting state Republican parties that have decided to cancel primaries to give the edge to the sitting president. “Obviously, canceling primaries undermines democratic institutions and democratic elections, but that’s far from the deepest dive crime that the president has committed here,” Weld said, referring to the growing calls for clarification about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine and the withholding of military funds in the weeks before a July 25 call in which he admitted to discussing an investigation of Hunter Biden. Biden’s son had business dealings in Ukraine at the same time then-Vice President Biden was tasked with overseeing the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy. Trump made the call when he already knew Biden would challenge him in the 2020 presidential election. “He has now acknowledged that in a single phone call right after he suspended $250 million of military aid to Ukraine, he called up the president of Ukraine and pressed him eight times to investigate Joe Biden, who the president thinks is going to be running against him,” Weld said. “Talk about pressuring a foreign country to interfere with and control a U.S. election.” The death penalty is the maximum punishment for treason, but federal law also allows for lesser sentences including five-year prison terms or fines starting at $10,000. The law also states that treasonous acts can prohibit one from holding public office. “The penalty on the Constitution is removal from office,” Weld said. “And that might look like a pretty good alternative to the president if he can work out a plea deal.” Weld then backed off calls for executing the president, but only slightly. “The grounds for removal of office, impeachment, are treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about bribery anymore, we don’t have to worry about other high crimes and misdemeanors, although I think he committed many. We have treason and we can go right for the hoop.” more...

By Christina Zhao
NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday grilled Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin over the whistleblower complaint, which allegedly is about President Donald Trump asking Ukrainian officials to probe 2020 Democratic front-runner Vice President Joe Biden. The Trump administration has been accused of pressuring the newly-elected Ukrainian president to open an investigation into the business dealings of Biden's son, Hunter Biden. Ukrainian leaders decided against opening the investigation and the Trump administration withheld military aid. Following bipartisan pressure from Congress, the military aid was eventually released, along with an extra $140 million. "Explain how, all of a sudden, when the aid got released, more money showed up. Where did that money come from?" Todd asked Mnuchin during a segment on NBC's Meet the Press. "There was $250 million and they got an additional $140 million that they didn't expect. Do you have any idea where that came from?" "It was appropriated money, it came through the State Department," the Treasury Secretary responded. "They didn't know they were getting this money. Is there any indication why they got the money when they did?" Todd pressed, to which Mnuchin shot back: "I'm not sure it's correct for you to say they didn't know they got the money." "The president said he was surprised to get it," Todd explained. "The president of Ukraine said he was surprised to get an additional $140 million dollars. He said it was a pleasant surprise but that he was surprised." "I think he was referring to his expectations as opposed to necessarily a surprise," Mnuchin said. "You're getting into details again. These are foreign policy issues. They've been discussed at the National Security Council at the principles level. These were not connected issues." "Do you have any problems with Congress looking into any of this?" Todd asked. "What I have a problem with is Congress asking for a transcript between world leaders," Mnuchin responded. more...  

By Evan McMullin, Opinion contributor
Trump joins a cadre of corrupt Western leaders intent on undermining democracy to stay in power. One of the vital lessons I learned as an undercover CIA officer, and later as an adviser to Republicans in Congress, was how corrupt leaders escalate their abuses of power at the expense of their citizens’ freedom while trying to retain power. It motivated my service at the time and continues to drive my work to protect and improve American democracy now. It also informs my grave concern about recent reporting that President Donald Trump and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, pressured the government of Ukraine to help them dig up dirt on Trump’s primary political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Despite Trump and Giulani’s cajoling and claims to the contrary, Ukrainian prosecutors are not investigating Biden and do not have evidence of wrongdoing. Following in the footsteps of others. Some of the most extreme cases of such corrupt leaders are Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s Ali Khamenei and North Korea's Kim family dynasty. In recent years, aspiring authoritarian leaders and movements have also risen to power closer to home in Hungary, Turkey and Poland. Each is in a unique position on the spectrum of corruption, but they have many traits in common, including attacks on the independent news media, attempts to dismantle other power centers within their own governments, self-dealing and various efforts to weaken their people’s ability to vote them out of office. more...  

The president’s latest attempt to keep his tax returns hidden is a novel one.
By Bess Levin
As you may or may not have heard, Donald Trump refused to release his tax returns while running for president, claiming, falsely, that an audit prevented him from doing so but that the public would see them just as soon as he got the green light. Two years and 242 days after moving into the White House that, of course, has not happened. Instead, Trump has sicced his Treasury secretary, attorney general, and various personal lawyers on anyone attempting to get their hands on the information, in a manner suggesting the details within could make a person look quite bad. Typically, Trump’s attorneys have argued that such requests, like the ones from various House committees, constitute “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT” or supposedly lack “a legitimate legislative purpose.” On Thursday, though, they came up with a novel new argument: It’s illegal to investigate a sitting president for any crimes he may have committed. In a lawsuit filed today against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who recently subpoenaed eight years of Trump’s tax returns to determine if the Trump Organization falsified business records relating to Stormy Daniels payments, the president’s lawyers claim such a request is unconstitutional because the founding fathers believed sitting presidents should not be subject to the criminal process. “The framers of our Constitution understood that state and local prosecutors would be tempted to criminally investigate the president to advance their own careers and to advance their political agendas,” the suit reads. “And they likewise understood that having to defend against these actions would distract the president from his constitutional duties.” Strangely, actual legal experts aren’t entirely convinced of this argument. “Even assuming that the president cannot be indicted while in office, it does not follow that his business and associates are likewise immune from investigation,” Harry Sandick, a former federal prosecutor, told Bloomberg. “The complaint makes light of the idea that ruling in their favor would elevate the president above the law, but it certainly seems as if the president views himself as above the law.” Vance, who agreed not to enforce the subpoena—issued to Trump’s longtime accounting firm Mazars USA—until a scheduled September 25 hearing, is investigating if executives at the Trump Organization filed false business records concerning hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claim to have had affairs with Trump, charges he, naturally, denies. The president’s former fixer, Michael Cohen, admitted to arranging the hush money payments and released audio of him discussing the Daniels payment with Trump. more...

by Susan Page, USA TODAY
The Russia investigation? Settled, more or less. Cue Ukraine. Once again, Donald Trump faces explosive allegations of encouraging foreign meddling to help him win a presidential campaign. Once again, the reports are fueling Democratic calls for his impeachment. And once again, the president is responding with a furious counter-attack on the Democratic rival involved. On Sunday, Trump confirmed that he had discussed Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden during a congratulatory phone call on July 25 with the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The conversation was largely about corruption, he told reporters while en route to a Texas rally, "all of the corruption taking place, 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." A still-unnamed administration official in an intelligence agency was so alarmed by Trump’s interactions with a foreign leader that he or she filed a whistleblower complaint. The Washington Post has reported the complaints concerns Trump’s communications with Ukraine, though the substance of it is shrouded in secrecy. The administration has enraged congressional Democrats by refusing to turn that complaint over to oversight committees in Congress, as the law requires. That has stoked new demands for the president's impeachment, including some from lawmakers who had resisted endorsing the idea in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. His report and his low-key testimony before Congress failed to galvanize public momentum for removing Trump from office, as some Democrats had hoped. In a remarkable bit of timing, Mueller's decisive congressional testimony was on July 24. Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president took place the next day. more...   

The president has reportedly told staff he’ll just pardon them.
By Bess Levin
As you might have heard once or twice, Donald Trump kicked off his bid for the presidency by proclaiming that he was going to build a wall on the southern border and make Mexico pay for it. Unfortunately for the supporters who voted for him based on that pledge, construction on the barrier hasn’t exactly panned out as the president promised, in that virtually none of it has been built, due to a combination of factors like Mexico shockingly declining to finance the thing, Democrats refusing to provide the billions in funding, environmental concerns, and logistical issues like people living where Trump wants the fencing to go. Sure, the president could just lie about the wall being built already, which he has many times. But he really wants to make good on an ineffectual passion project that the base can point to like a beacon of hope for racists. So he’s got a new plan to get it done in time for 2020: Break the law. Honestly, it’s so simple he’s probably kicking himself for not having thought of it sooner. The Washington Post reports that the president has “directed aides to fast-track billions of dollars’ worth of construction contracts, aggressively seize private land, and disregard environmental rules, according to current and former officials involved with the project.” In the coming weeks, Defense Secretary Mark Esper is expected to approve the White House’s request to reroute $3.6 billion in Pentagon funds to the project, money that the president decided to divert from apparently less important Defense Department projects after lawmakers refused to pony up $5 billion. When staffers have nervously suggested that Trump’s demands are unworkable or illegal, the president has apparently told them not to worry because he’ll pardon everyone who helps him get this thing done, and has “waved off worries about contracting procedures and the use of eminent domain, saying ‘take the land,’” according to officials who sat in on the meetings. more...

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
(CNN) - Some times when President Donald Trump talks, all you can do is shake your head in amazement. Take his comments Friday morning in the Oval Office, for one. Trump was trying to downplay the raging controversy over a whistleblower's complaint that deals with communication between Trump and a foreign leader. It didn't work. Start here: Trump described the complaint as filed by a "partisan whistleblower." And he referred to the complaint as a "political hack job." Which is interesting! Was Trump telling us that he knew the identity of the whistleblower? And did he have information that proved that this person was, in fact, a partisan out to get Trump? Man, big story! "I do not know the identity of the whistleblower," Trump then said. Wait, what? So: a) the whistleblower is definitely a partisan engaging in a "political hack job" b) Trump doesn't know who the whistleblower is. This all checks out! But, Trump wasn't done. Far from it. Remember that up until Trump started talking, all we knew for sure was that the whistleblower complaint centered on several interactions between Trump and a foreign leader. At that point, The New York Times and The Washington Post had reported that the complaint involved Ukraine. (Later on Friday, after Trump spoke, The Wall Street Journal reported that sources said Trump pushed Ukraine's president in a phone call to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal attorney, who was advocating for an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter.) Enter Trump. Asked about whether the conversation in question was with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump said this: "I don't want to talk about any conversation. It was a great conversation. A totally appropriate conversation. It couldn't have been better." So, then, there was a conversation with the Ukrainian president. Which confirms the reporting of the Times and the Post! (Sidenote: Trump, in Friday's press availablity, said that the "media is laughed at all over the world," adding: "You're a joke." He then went on to take more than 10 minutes more of questions.) more...  

OK, so the president can't be indicted. But Trump's lawyers are now arguing he can't even be investigated
By Igor Derysh
Lawyers for President Trump argue that the president is immune from all criminal investigations in a new federal lawsuit seeking to block New York prosecutors from obtaining his tax returns. Trump sued his longtime accounting firm Mazars USA and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance on Thursday, after Vance's office subpoenaed the firm to demand eight years of the president’s personal and corporate tax returns. Department of Justice guidelines say a president cannot be prosecuted while in office, as former special counsel Robert Mueller made clear. But Trump’s personal attorneys are now going well beyond that by arguing that he also cannot be “investigated … or otherwise subjected to the criminal process.” The suit also quoted a decision by then-appeals court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, who wrote in 2009 that investigations are “distracting” to the president, even though Kavanaugh himself was part of a years-long criminal investigation of former President Bill Clinton. Constitutional law scholars told The New York Times that Trump’s lawyers’ position, if accepted by the judge, would “set a sweeping new precedent” but added that the attorneys’ theory was “not based on established case law.” Of course, the Constitution does not actually say that a president cannot be indicted. When Mueller earlier this year said that his office was prohibited from bringing charges against the president, he cited only a memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel as the reason a president could not be indicted. Mueller also said in May that the DOJ “explicitly permits” the investigation of a sitting president. more...

By Matthew Chapman
On MSNBC Saturday, former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah laid out all the ways that President Donald Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani could be breaking federal law with their apparent scheme to push Ukraine into digging up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden. “Extortion, conspiracy to engage in extortion, and violating federal election law,” said host Alex Witt. “Do you agree with all those premises?” “I do, Alex, and I would add one to that, which is federal bribery,” said Rocah. “Here, Trump essentially was trying to get the Ukrainian president to bribe him, give him information about his political opponent in exchange for aid to the country. So, that is soliciting a bribe. And you know, look, we can get into this more. Obviously, this is my area of expertise, whether something violates federal criminal laws, but I do worry that we’re going down a path that we went down with the Mueller investigation, because for the president of the United States, that is not the standard.” “I think Rudy Giuliani should be investigated,” she continued. “I don’t know if this Department of Justice is independent enough to do that. He is a private citizen, though. He can be prosecuted. The president we know cannot be prosecuted, but this is something that Congress must take action on now. And one other point with respect to what you were saying in the prior conversation with the other panelists.” “You know, this isn’t about what Joe Biden’s son did or didn’t do,” added Rocah. “There are avenues to investigate United States citizens through a process known as mutual legal assistance treaties. The Department of Justice does it all the time. If there is reason for a U.S. citizen to be investigated and the aid of another country is needed, there are proper channels to do that through, and they don’t include the president of the United States calling up the leader of another country and demanding it in exchange for foreign aid. I think we’re going down a rabbit hole there.” “What kind of hot water could Rudy Giuliani be in for having gone over, and potentially at the president’s behest, have these conversations with the Ukrainian president and leadership?” Witt pressed her. more...

The president supposedly dangled millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine in exchange for Kiev investigating Joe Biden. That looks a lot like old-fashioned corruption.
By Barbara McQuade
If the latest allegations about President Donald Trump’s conversations with the leader of Ukraine are true, his conduct may constitute a garden-variety public corruption crime: extortion and bribery. The Washington Post has reported that the subject of an intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint relates to a “promise” made by Trump in a conversation with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Further reporting indicates that the conversation amounted to a threat to withhold $250 million in military aid to Ukraine unless Zelensky investigates the family of Joe Biden, who is of course running to unseat Trump in 2020. more...

e-News.US USA
If the latest allegations about President Donald Trump’s conversations with the leader of Ukraine are true, his conduct may constitute a garden-variety public corruption crime: extortion and bribery. The Washington Post has reported that the subject of an intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint relates to a “promise” made by Trump in a conversation with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Further reporting indicates that the conversation amounted to a threat to withhold $250 million in military aid to Ukraine unless Zelensky investigates the family of Joe Biden, who is of course running to unseat Trump in 2020. more...

Former Palm Beach police chief Michael Reiter spoke out to NBC News in one of his most extensive interviews to date.
By Sarah Fitzpatrick and Rich Schapiro
Former Palm Beach police chief Michael Reiter spent years trying to convince state and federal prosecutors in Florida to bring serious charges against Jeffrey Epstein. Now, the retired lawman wants to tackle a new mission: to persuade lawmakers to take action to prevent the next Jeffrey Epstein from perverting the criminal justice system. “Epstein found every loophole,” Reiter told NBC News as part of a months-long "Dateline" investigation. "I want some system in the future that this can't happen again." Reiter said he believes the state and federal prosecutors’ handling of the Epstein case amounts to “the worst failure of the criminal justice system" in modern times. The story begins in March 2005 when the Palm Beach police department received a call from the distraught mother of a 14-year-old girl. The woman, Reiter recalled, said her underage daughter was having sex with an adult who lives in a mansion in Palm Beach. Palm Beach police detectives immediately launched an investigation. “They said, ‘This is credible. This is believable,” said Reiter, speaking in his first in-depth TV interview. “Our sense just from sitting in the room with the first victim was that this is something we’ve absolutely got to get on.” The interview with the initial young girl led to another and another. “I have no problem telling you everything that I know,” one of the girls told police in a videotaped interview obtained by NBC News. Another told police that Epstein “pulled out this vibrator thing and he pulled down my panties.” The investigators were immediately struck by the consistency of the accounts, Reiter said. “The stories were all the same,” he said. “They all could describe the house in detail. They could describe what happened.” In many cases, the victims' very specific physical descriptions of Epstein's body matched. But the detectives also observed that the accounts weren’t perfectly aligned; that would have been a red flag that the stories were coordinated, Reiter said. The investigators also noted something else of significance: many of the victims didn’t know each other, so there was little chance that they would have come together to concoct false allegations. Within those first few weeks, the investigation was already bearing fruit. more...

By NATASHA KORECKI
DES MOINES, Iowa – An angered Joe Biden on Saturday accused President Donald Trump of “using every element of his presidency to try and smear me,” and called for an investigation into Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president. “You should be asking him the question: why is he on the phone with a foreign leader, trying to intimidate a foreign leader?” Biden told reporters. “This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power. To get on the phone with a foreign leader who is looking for help from the United States and ask about me and imply things … this is outrageous. You have never seen anything like this from any president.” The Biden campaign is pushing back strongly against the president's claims that as vice president he demanded Ukraine fire a state prosecutor who was investigating a gas company where Biden's son held a board position. Multiple news organizations this week reported that Trump had repeatedly pressed Ukrainian authorities to investigate the allegations in a phone call. "Any article, segment, analysis and commentary that does not demonstrably state at the outset that there is no factual basis for Trump’s claims, and in fact that they are wholly discredited, is misleading readers and viewers," the campaign said in a statement. During the gaggle, Biden grew irate, pointing his finger at a reporter who asked the former vice president if he had ever spoken to his son about his overseas business dealings. Biden said he hadn’t. “You should be looking at Trump,” Biden said. “Everybody looked at this and everybody who’s looked at it said there’s nothing there. Ask the right question.” Biden briefly spoke to whether the episode was a possible preview of a general election battle against Trump. more...  

Analysis: The president has a canned approach for trying to fend off bad news. This time, it's a whistleblower report.
By Shannon Pettypiece
President Donald Trump is turning to what's become a tried-and-true pattern of defending himself against scandal in the latest controversy over a whistleblower's accusation that he made a disturbing promise to a foreign leader. It goes like this: Step one: Deny the reports while arguing that even if true, there is nothing wrong with what was done. Step two: Divert attention to a subplot that implicates political rivals. Step three: Discredit investigators by accusing those involved of a deep state or partisan witch hunt. The playbook has been used by Trump and his surrogates repeatedly against various accusations, including whether his campaign held an improper meeting with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, that he paid hush money to an adult film actress, and that he is profiting off the presidency through his private businesses. The strategy played out in the Oval Office on Friday when Trump was pressed about a whistleblower report by an intelligence officer who raised concerns after learning of an alleged promise Trump made during a phone call to a foreign leader. Ukraine is at the center of the complaint, The Washington Post reported on Thursday evening. Trump denied knowing who the whistleblower is or the date of the conversation in question — but said he never did anything wrong anyway. "It was a totally appropriate conversation, it was actually a beautiful conversation," Trump told reporters. When Trump was asked about speculation he asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden, the president deflected. He tried to shift to his own accusation that Biden had been involved in a quid pro quo with Ukraine connected to the former vice president son's involvement in a Ukrainian gas company. It was the same pattern of defense Trump used when media reports came out about a meeting arranged between his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and a Russian lawyer, whom he believed had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. Trump initially denied knowing about the meeting and his lawyer denied he knew anything about his son's response to the media reports. When it was later reported, and eventually confirmed by Trump’s lawyers, that Trump helped his son write a misleading statement about the purpose of the meeting, the president and his lawyers shifted their defense to saying that there was nothing wrong with having such a meeting. Throughout the Russia investigation, Trump and his allies sought to discredit any findings saying they were a politically motivated "witch hunt," accusing Robert Mueller's investigators of being "angry Democrats." White House lawyers have since stonewalled subpoenas by House Democrats into the Trump campaign's connections with Russia. And now Trump's used a similar tactic to attempt to discredit the intelligence community whistleblower. "It’s ridiculous, it's a partisan whistleblower," he said. Like with the Russia investigation, where Trump tried to push a counter-narrative about Obama administration spying and rogue Justice Department officials, he is using the controversy to try to further his accusations that Biden was involved in nefarious deals in Ukraine. It was a pattern he also followed when reports came out that Trump paid hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to keep quiet about an affair days before the election. more...  

By Savannah Behrmann, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON-- After Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson reportedly made offensive remarks about transgender people earlier this week, Julián Castro, former Obama HUD secretary and 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful, as well as other candidat, had some choice words.  “19 Black trans women have been killed this year because comments like Ben Carson’s normalize violence against them,” Castro tweeted Thursday.” As HUD Secretary, I protected trans people, I didn’t denigrate them.” According to the Washington Post, during a stop at HUD’s San Francisco office on Tuesday, Carson said “big, hairy men" identifying as women were trying to infiltrate women’s homeless shelters. The Post also reported Thursday that the HUD secretary alluded to society being unable to tell the difference between men and women. Reportedly, he also added that single-sex shelters should be able to reject transgender people. Carson's comments upset many of the roughly 50 HUD staffers who were present, and at least one woman walked out in protest, also according to the Post’s reporting. more...

By David French
We still don’t know the details of a whistleblower complaint that is “said” to involve Trump’s dealings with the new Ukrainian government, but we are learning of alleged efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. Chris Cuomo’s interview with Giuliani last night was truly wild. You can watch it here, but Giuliani first denies then admits asking Ukraine to investigate matters related to the Bidens: more...

By Asher Stockler
The United States House of Representatives passed a landmark piece of legislation Friday that would ban mandatory arbitration clauses in employment and consumer contracts. This would free employees and consumers to initiate civil suits against companies which do them harm, a right that was gutted by the Supreme Court last year when a 5-4 majority led by the court's conservatives held that a federal law protecting workplace organizing does not prevent companies from barring class action lawsuits as a mandatory condition of employment. "Forced arbitration clauses have permeated American life in recent decades. They've seeped into just about every nook and cranny of our lives, including cell phone contracts, medical bills, employee handbooks, credit cards, nursing home contracts—you name it," Congressman Hank Johnson of Georgia, who sponsored by the bill, said in a statement on Friday. "The deck has been stacked against American consumers in favor of big business for far too long. This is just another tool for powerful corporate interests to avoid accountability." Johnson said that his bill, the FAIR Act, would "level the playing field" for American workers and consumers. Forced arbitration clauses are frequently used by employers to curtail an employee's ability to take them to court. Proponents of this alternative form of conflict resolution argue that arbitration can be faster, less costly and more efficient for all parties involved. But critics contend that the process offers few benefits for employees and consumers, while conferring immense value upon companies. more...

The president reportedly sought the help of a foreign government against Joe Biden.
By Tom Nichols
The president of the United States reportedly sought the help of a foreign government against an American citizen who might challenge him for his office. This is the single most important revelation in a scoop by The Wall Street Journal, and if it is true, then President Donald Trump should be impeached and removed from office immediately. Until now, there was room for reasonable disagreement over impeachment as both a matter of politics and a matter of tactics. The Mueller report revealed despicably unpatriotic behavior by Trump and his minions, but it did not trigger a political judgment with a majority of Americans that it warranted impeachment. The Democrats, for their part, remained unwilling to risk their new majority in Congress on a move destined to fail in a Republican-controlled Senate. Now, however, we face an entirely new situation. In a call to the new president of Ukraine, Trump reportedly attempted to pressure the leader of a sovereign state into conducting an investigation—a witch hunt, one might call it—of a U.S. citizen, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden. As the Ukrainian Interior Ministry official Anton Gerashchenko told the Daily Beast when asked about the president’s apparent requests, “Clearly, Trump is now looking for kompromat to discredit his opponent Biden, to take revenge for his friend Paul Manafort, who is serving seven years in prison.” Clearly. If this in itself is not impeachable, then the concept has no meaning. Trump’s grubby commandeering of the presidency’s fearsome and nearly uncheckable powers in foreign policy for his own ends is a gross abuse of power and an affront both to our constitutional order and to the integrity of our elections. The story may even be worse than we know. If Trump tried to use military aid to Ukraine as leverage, as reporters are now investigating, then he held Ukrainian and American security hostage to his political vendettas. It means nothing to say that no such deal was reached; the important point is that Trump abused his position in the Oval Office. In this matter, we need not rely on a newspaper account, nor even on the complaint, so far unseen, of a whistle-blower. Instead, we have a sweaty, panicked admission on national television by Trump’s bizarre homunculus, Rudy Giuliani, that he did in fact seek such an investigation on Trump’s behalf. Giuliani later again confirmed Trump’s role, tweeting that a “President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job.” more...

Recent mass shootings have "galvanized the Department of Homeland Security to expand its counterterrorism mission focus beyond terrorists operating aboard," acting DHS Sec. Kevin McAleenan.
By Pete Williams
For the first time since it was formed after the 9/11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security is adding white supremacist violence to its list of priority threats in a revised counterterrorism strategy issued Friday. "The continuing menace of racially based violent extremism, particularly white supremacist extremism, is an abhorrent affront to our nation, the struggle and unity of its diverse population, and the core values of both our society and our department," said Kevin McAleenan, the acting Homeland secretary, in a speech at the Brookings Institute in Washington. DHS is stepping up its focus on what McAleenan called "targeted violence," in which an attacker selects the target in advance, driven by hate. Racism and anti-Semitism have fueled recent attacks on African-American churches, synagogues, and public places in California and Texas, he said. The shooting at the Walmart in El Paso hit DHS particularly hard. Six of the victims were family members of DHS employees. "The majority of our El Paso team, working to protect our nation, uphold the rule of law, and care for vulnerable migrants arriving at our border is Hispanic," he said. While protecting the nation from foreign-inspired or directed terror attacks remains a core Homeland Security mission, McAleenan said recent mass shootings have "galvanized the Department of Homeland Security to expand its counterterrorism mission focus beyond terrorists operating aboard, to include those radicalized to violence within our borders by violent extremists of any ideology." The revised strategy said DHS would seek to better analyze the nature and extent of the domestic terror threat and share information with local law enforcement to help prevent attacks. The government will also do more to discourage technology companies from hosting websites that spread radical hate. DHS will also encourage counter-messaging campaigns "seeking to steer individuals away from messages of violence," according to the new strategy document. And DHS will provide more active shooter training to local law enforcement agencies to help them respond to gun violence. more...   

Giuliani tried to get ahead of the whistleblower scandal. He ended up making things worse.
By Aaron Rupar
On Thursday, the Washington Post broke news that a whistleblower complaint about President Donald Trump’s communications with a foreign leader “centers on Ukraine” and involves a “promise” Trump made that was so alarming, a US intelligence official felt compelled to report it to the intelligence community inspector general. While the precise details of the complaint remain murky, the Ukraine revelation prompted Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani — who was in the news months ago for his dealings with Ukraine — to go on CNN and made a disastrous attempt to get ahead of the story. If anything, Giuliani made it worse, by seemingly confirming the long-standing, but vaguely sourced reports, that Trump’s administration was trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating former vice president (and frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination) Joe Biden — perhaps by withholding military aid to Ukraine unless they complied. Giuliani insisted to CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he didn’t ask Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden — but then, less than 30 seconds later, did a complete about-face and admitted that “of course” he did just that. “You just said you didn’t!” Cuomo replied, disbelievingly, as Giuliani struggled to make a distinction between Ukraine investigating Biden and “look[ing] into allegations that related to my client, which tangentially involved Joe Biden in a massive bribery scheme.” more...    

By Kevin Liptak, CNN
Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump's interactions and decisions on Ukraine are under new scrutiny following reports that an intelligence whistleblower's complaint is related to the country. Trump downplayed on Friday a complaint submitted by an intelligence whistleblower that reportedly involves Ukraine, claiming the complainant is partisan and his conversations with foreign leaders are "appropriate." It was a robust self-defense against accusations that remain, for now, veiled in mystery. An intelligence watchdog has said the claims are "urgent" and "serious," but the acting top intelligence official has declined to provide them to Congress. Below is a timeline of recent key events and stories surrounding Trump, Ukraine and the intelligence whistleblower. more...  

The whistleblower controversy reveals the limits of our system’s defenses.
By Asha Rangappa
On the surface, the latest confrontation between Congress and the White House involves the Trump administration’s refusal to hand over to the House Intelligence Committee a whistleblower complaint deemed an “urgent concern” by the inspector general for the U.S. intelligence community. But what the showdown is really about is the government’s inability to cope with an unprecedented problem: what to do when the president of the United States poses a national security threat. The case involves a complaint by an intelligence official about communications between President Trump and a foreign leader and a “promise” Trump made, which the intelligence official found alarming enough to notify the inspector general about it. People familiar with the case told The Washington Post that it centers on Ukraine, whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, spoke with Trump two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed. We don’t yet know the details of the communications or the promise — only that it was, apparently, troubling. Presidents have, of course, acted inappropriately in the past, and our constitutional system has a framework in place for addressing misconduct by the chief executive. But it’s designed to deal with straightforward criminal activity, not national security threats. The special counsel regulations, for example, were created to deal with a Watergate-like situation as a worst-case scenario. So they take into account the need for an investigation insulated from political influence and give special counsels the ability to make prosecutorial decisions independently of the rest of the Justice Department or the attorney general. The rules even envision a report that might be made public. This approach is appropriate when an investigation involves collecting evidence that can hold up in a court of law. But it is inadequate to address potentially noncriminal conduct that may nevertheless endanger the national security of the United States. This split was evident in the report on the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia in the 2016 election, submitted by then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Although Mueller’s mandate was broad, and potentially encompassed a counterintelligence investigation, he narrowed the scope of his inquiry to criminal matters. The final report lays out only the decisions to charge or not charge individuals based on the evidence collected, noting only briefly that counterintelligence information was shared with the FBI for use in its (presumably ongoing) classified investigation. As a result, the public remains in the dark on whether Trump may be wittingly or unwittingly compromised in his dealings with Russia, or if the FBI and the intelligence community have information to explain his oddly submissive behavior with world leaders like Russian President Vladimir Putin. Very few people seem to know what’s going on with the counterintelligence investigation: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the House Intelligence Committee chairman, has said that his panel doesn’t know the status of the probe, or even if it’s still going on, even though the law requires the administration to keep the lawmakers up to date. But counterintelligence investigations are stymied if they involve the president. more...  

By John Cassidy
ust when you think you’ve seen it all, along comes a Trump development to trump them all—or most of them. On Thursday night, the Washington Post reported that a complaint from an anonymous intelligence whistle-blower, which has been the subject of a bitter oversight dispute between the Trump Administration and Congress, centers on a phone call that Trump had on July 25th, with Ukraine’s recently elected President, Volodymyr Zelensky. Many details about this story remain murky, but the implication seems to be that the whistle-blower is alleging that Trump promised to release two hundred and fifty million dollars in stalled aid for Ukraine if Zelensky would launch a corruption investigation into matters involving Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. You might think that sounds too outrageous to be plausible: a President who spent just under two years being investigated for possibly colluding with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election putting the squeeze on another foreign country to interfere in the 2020 race. But hang on a minute. Shortly after the Post’s story dropped, Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who has for months been claiming (without any real evidence) that Joe Biden bribed Ukrainian officials to drop a corruption investigation involving his son, went on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show and said, “It is perfectly appropriate for a President to say to a leader of a foreign country, ‘Investigate this bribe, that was paid by a former Vice-President, that our media in America is covering up.’ ” For the past few days, reporters have been trying to get more details about the whistle-blower’s complaint. Joseph Maguire, the acting director of National Intelligence, has ordered the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community not to pass it along to Congress, a decision that he says was based on legal advice from the Justice Department. The Administration’s refusal to coöperate has caused a mighty row with the House Intelligence Committee, headed by Adam Schiff, Democrat of California. Of course, the Trump Administration and the Democrats on Capitol Hill are involved in many disputes arising from congressional investigations into Trump and his associates. But until now none of them have involved the suggestion that Trump may have exerted pressure on a foreign leader to take actions to help his 2020 reëlection bid, and may have even pledged something in return. Even before this latest revelation, however, Trump’s conversation with Zelensky, a former comedian and screenwriter who was elected President of Ukraine in April, had attracted the attention of congressional Democrats, who were investigating what Trump and Giuliani were up to on the Kiev front. In August, reports emerged that Trump was threatening to withhold two hundred and fifty million dollars in U.S. aid to Ukraine, which was supposed to be used to deter Russian aggression in the east of the country. On September 9th, the leaders of three Democrat-controlled House committees demanded the transcript and a list of participants on the July 25th call. The Democrats said that Giuliani and Trump “appear to have acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels.” The Democrats also referred to a Ukrainian government readout from the July 25th call, which said that Trump told Zelensky he was “convinced the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve [the] image of Ukraine, [and] complete [the] investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA.” more...  

By David Jackson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump said Friday it "doesn't matter" if he asked the government of Ukraine to investigate Democratic opponent Joe Biden and that it should be done anyway. "Someone ought to look into Joe Biden," Trump told reporters while declining to discuss investigations into whether he and aides are pressuring Ukraine to investigate one of his most prominent political opponents. That question is the subject of an ongoing congressional investigation and, reportedly, the still-secret complaint of a whistleblower in the intelligence community. Trump said he doesn't know who the whistleblower is, but described him or her as "partisan." The president also said his conversations with world leaders are “always appropriate, at the highest level always appropriate.” Asked whether he discussed Biden in this conversation, Trump said: "It doesn’t matter what I discussed." The Biden campaign did not immediately respond to Trump's comments. Other Democrats – including Hillary Clinton, Trump's opponent in the 2016 general election – accused him of soliciting help from a foreign government for his re-election bid in 2020. They cited Russia's interference in the 2016 campaign, seeking to help Trump. "The president asked a foreign power to help him win an election. Again," Clinton said. Trump has denied colluding with Russia, the subject of previous investigations that he has denounced as part of a "witchhunt." As Democrats look at allegations that Trump and aides are pressuring Ukraine into helping the president's re-election bid, they are also seeking details of a still-secret complaint by an unnamed intelligence official regarding the president's talks with foreign leaders. "We're determined to do everything we can to determine what this urgent concern is," said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Cal., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Trump has denied wrongdoing in his interactions with foreign leaders, and described various allegations as "harassment" by political opponents. Meanwhile, the Ukraine government announced that its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, will meet with Trump next week at the United Nations. more...  

A new strategy for the first time places a major priority on domestic terrorism, especially of the extreme right. Now the agency has to actually tackle the problem.
By Kathy Gilsinan
Kevin McAleenan took the El Paso shooting personally. The acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security had visited the city more than a dozen times. He recalled in an interview yesterday that among his first thoughts were the safety of the DHS workforce, which numbers some 4,000 people there, many of them Hispanic. The shooter’s motivation quickly became clear, with 22 people dead in a Walmart and an online manifesto attributed to the shooter citing an “invasion” of immigrants. “This,” McAleenan recalls thinking, “was an attack on all of us, on our family.” Speaking to The Atlantic more than six weeks after the attack, he had an “El Paso Strong” bracelet on his wrist. The El Paso shooting figures into a new strategy to counter terrorism and “targeted violence” that the Department of Homeland Security will release today, which The Atlantic obtained and describes here for the first time. The document dwells at length on the threat of white supremacists specifically, which is surprising coming from President Donald Trump’s administration, given that one of its first counterterrorism policies was to try to ban citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. Trump has also pushed for a border wall, which he has said will help keep out terrorists, even though most fatal terrorist attacks in the United States in recent years have been carried out by U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The DHS document is an acknowledgment that, nearly 20 years after 9/11, the new terrorist threat comes largely from within—and not as much from jihadists as from the extreme right. The department is clearly trying to send a message that it takes the threat of violent white nationalists seriously, and McAleenan said that when leadership lays out its goals, bureaucracies tend to move. If DHS get everything it wants, it will have more resources to analyze the changing nature of terrorism in the U.S.; improve information-sharing with local law enforcement; and provide training to communities to prevent or respond to attacks, including through active-shooter drills and security in schools, McAleenan told me. He said the department’s existing resources can be redistributed to better coordinate and focus the sprawling counterterrorism bureaucracy on a wide range of threats, from online radicalization to the movement of weapons of mass destruction. But as with any plan, this one faces obstacles to implementation. The fact that many of the recommendations in the document call for further study indicates just how poorly the federal government understands the problem of white-supremacist violence and its scope. Public statistics show that white supremacists now represent the deadliest extremists in the United States—for instance, the Anti-Defamation League has reported that last year, white supremacists perpetrated 39 of 50 domestic extremism-related killings in the United States. (The same year saw only one death linked to jihadist terrorism in the U.S.) Yet at the federal level, statistics are imperfect and unevenly reported; the ADL also notes that more than 1,000 law-enforcement agencies didn’t report their data on hate crimes to the FBI, leaving huge gaps in the nationwide picture. more...

While Trump grabs headlines, his Cabinet members quietly use transphobia to shore up white evangelical support
By Amanda Marcotte
The white evangelical vote is almost certainly a lock for Donald Trump in 2020, but it appears the president is taking no chances of losing this critical voting block. One major part of that strategy appears to be quietly deploying his Cabinet members, especially those associated with the Christian right, to generate stories highlighting the Trump administration's overt bigotry toward trans people, and its eagerness to deprive trans Americans of basic rights. Just this week, both Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson snagged coverage by making community visits that were ostensibly for noble purposes, but were clearly meant to signal to Christian right voters their hostility to trans rights. Carson, in particular, made sure that there was no mistake about his purpose in visiting HUD's offices in San Francisco this week, a city whose name is frequently used in right-wing circles as shorthand for the alleged excesses of the LGBT rights movement. Multiple people who attended an internal meeting at the HUD offices in San Francisco told reporters that, in his remarks to staff, Carson claimed that "big, hairy men" are trying to infiltrate women's homeless shelters. This was understood by those at the meeting to be a reference to the urban legend that cis men pretend to be trans women in order to gain access to women's spaces, a myth that has been repeatedly debunked by researchers. In fact, the opposite is true — a recent study shows that denying trans people the right to use spaces that align with their gender identity increases their risk of being sexually or otherwise assaulted. more...   

By Miranda Green and John Bowden
A coalition of state attorneys general is suing the Trump administration after it moved earlier in the week to revoke the California's authority to set its own vehicle emission standards, first granted under former President Obama. The lawsuit filed by California's Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) along with the leaders of 23 other states, D.C., Los Angeles and New York City, argues that the Trump administration unlawfully removed the state's waiver granted under the Clean Air Act. The suit also alleges that the decision to remove California's waiver, which is currently adopted by 12 other states, exceeds the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) authority. NHTSA, under the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) jointly drafted the new emissions rule. Trump first tweeted the decision to remove the Golden State's waiver on Wednesday when he was visiting the state. DOT and EPA formally announced the decision on Thursday. "State Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Preemption Regulation be declared unlawful and set aside because it exceeds NHTSA’s authority, contravenes Congressional intent, and is arbitrary and capricious, and because NHTSA has failed to conduct the analysis required under the National Environmental Policy Act," the suit filed in the D.C. District Court reads. Becerra said in a press release Friday that the Trump administration "insists on attacking the authority of California and other states to tackle air pollution and protect public health." more...    

Doug Stanglin, Grace Hauck and Janet Wilson, USA TODAY
NEW YORK – A boisterous crowd of at least 100,000 people turned out to chant and march in Manhattan on Friday, joining hundreds of thousands of protesters from Australia to Thailand to London in Global Climate Strike rallies to express their concern about climate change. While supporters of all ages turned out, the day was billed as a walkout by high school students to call on world leaders to step up their efforts against carbon emissions and other environmental issues. New York City schools excused the city's 1.1 million students from class to participate. "Climate change is worse than homework," read one homemade sign among the crowd marching from Foley Square to City Hall. At one point, the crowd chanted: “That’s bulls--t, get off it, our planet’s not for profit!” Katie Elder, 19, from Milwaukee, was in New York, where she is taking two gap years between high school and college to work for Future Coalition, a network of youth organizations. She called the turnout "amazing" that was turning into a "really, really powerful day." The global protests were timed to begin a week of activism at the United Nations, including a Youth Climate Summit on Saturday and a U.N. Climate Action Summit on Monday. A second worldwide walkout called Earth Strike is planned for Sept. 27. In Washington, D.C., several thousand young people marched to the Capitol building carrying signs reading “There is no Planet B” and “This can’t wait until I finish high school.” more...

Giuliani tried to get ahead of the whistleblower scandal. He ended up making things worse.
By Aaron Rupar
On Thursday, the Washington Post broke news that a whistleblower complaint about President Donald Trump’s communications with a foreign leader “centers on Ukraine” and involves a “promise” Trump made that was so alarming, a US intelligence official felt compelled to report it to the intelligence community inspector general. While the precise details of the complaint remain murky, the Ukraine revelation prompted Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani — who was in the news months ago for his dealings with Ukraine — to go on CNN and made a disastrous attempt to get ahead of the story. If anything, Giuliani made it worse, by seemingly confirming the long-standing, but vaguely sourced reports, that Trump’s administration was trying to pressure Ukraine into investigating former vice president (and frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination) Joe Biden — perhaps by withholding military aid to Ukraine unless they complied. Giuliani insisted to CNN’s Chris Cuomo that he didn’t ask Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden — but then, less than 30 seconds later, did a complete about-face and admitted that “of course” he did just that. “You just said you didn’t!” Cuomo replied, disbelievingly, as Giuliani struggled to make a distinction between Ukraine investigating Biden and “look[ing] into allegations that related to my client, which tangentially involved Joe Biden in a massive bribery scheme.” more...

Analysis by Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large
(CNN) - Some times when President Donald Trump talks, all you can do is shake your head in amazement.
Take his comments Friday morning in the Oval Office, for one. Trump was trying to downplay the raging controversy over a whistleblower's complaint that deals with communication between Trump and a foreign leader. It didn't work. Start here: Trump described the complaint as filed by a "partisan whistleblower." And he referred to the complaint as a "political hack job." Which is interesting! Was Trump telling us that he knew the identity of the whistleblower? And did he have information that proved that this person was, in fact, a partisan out to get Trump? Man, big story! "I do not know the identity of the whistleblower," Trump then said. Wait, what? So: a) the whistleblower is definitely a partisan engaging in a "political hack job". b) Trump doesn't know who the whistleblower is This all checks out! But, Trump wasn't done. Far from it. Remember that up until Trump started talking, all we knew for sure was that the whistleblower complaint centered on several interactions between Trump and a foreign leader. The New York Times and The Washington Post had reported that the foreign leader was the head of Ukraine. Enter Trump. Asked about whether the conversation in question was with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump said this: "I don't want to talk about any conversation. It was a great conversation. A totally appropriate conversation. It couldn't have been better." So, then, there was a conversation with the Ukrainian president. Which confirms the reporting of the Times and the Post! (Sidenote: Trump, in Friday's press availablity, said that the "media is laughed at all over the world," adding: "You're a joke." He then went on to take more than 10 minutes more of questions.) more...   

By Noah Cohen | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
A Morristown man trained by Hezbollah scouted possible targets for terror attacks around the country - including the Statue of Liberty, Port Authority Bus Terminal and area airports - and sent the reports back to the militant group, authorities said Thursday. Federal prosecutors in New York unveiled a nine-count indictment against Alexei Saab, 42, who they said was trained in weapons and explosives by the Iranian-backed organization. He was arrested in July and remained jailed, according to officials. “Even though Saab was a naturalized American citizen, his true allegiance was to Hezbollah, the terrorist organization responsible for decades of terrorist attacks that have killed hundreds, including U.S. citizens and military personnel,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. According to authorities, Saab provided information about locations including the United Nations headquarters, Times Square, the George Washington Bridge, a federal building in New York, Fenway Park in Boston and landmarks in Washington, D.C. In court documents, investigators included photos of the prominent sites allegedly taken by Saab and recovered by FBI agents. “According to the allegations, while living in the United States, Saab served as an operative of Hezbollah and conducted surveillance of possible target locations in order to help the foreign terrorist organization prepare for potential future attacks against the United States,” Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers, head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said. “Such covert activities conducted on U.S. soil are a clear threat to our national security and I applaud the agents, analysts, and prosecutors who are responsible for this investigation and prosecution.” more...    

By ANNA PALMER and JAKE SHERMAN  
IT’S UKRAINE … The Washington Post and The New York Times posted stories within one minute of each other Thursday night reporting that the conversation that caught the ear of an intelligence whistleblower was between President DONALD TRUMP and the Ukrainians. WaPo’s posted at 8:04 p.m. and NYT’s at 8:05 p.m. -- WAPO: “Whistleblower complaint about President Trump involves Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter,” by Ellen Nakashima, Shane Harris, Greg Miller and Carol Leonnig: “A whistleblower complaint about President Trump made by an intelligence official centers on Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter, which has set off a struggle between Congress and the executive branch. “The complaint involved communications with a foreign leader and a ‘promise’ that Trump made, which was so alarming that a U.S. intelligence official who had worked at the White House went to the inspector general of the intelligence community, two former U.S. officials said. “Two and a half weeks before the complaint was filed, Trump spoke with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian and political newcomer who was elected in a landslide in May.” WaPo. -- NYT's story, by Julian Barnes, Nick Fandos, Mike Schmidt and Matthew Rosenberg: “While the allegation remains shrouded in mystery, it involves at least one instance of Mr. Trump making an unspecified commitment to a foreign leader and includes other actions, according to interviews. At least part of the allegation deals with Ukraine, two people familiar with it said.” THEN … RUDY GIULIANI went on Chris Cuomo’s CNN show Thursday night, and Twitter exploded. Asked whether he asked Ukraine to look into Joe Biden, Giuliani first said he didn’t, then reversed himself within seconds and said: “Of course I did.” More from Kyle Cheney … The epic video. GIULIANI on Twitter, at 7:54 p.m.: “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job. Maybe if Obama did that the Biden Family wouldn’t have bilked millions from Ukraine and billions from China; being covered up by a Corrupt Media.” -- WAPO’S BOB COSTA (@costareports): “Checked in w/ Giuliani a few mins before midnight. Said he hasn't spoken w/ Trump since Cuomo. But expects to see him Fri. Said his tweet doesn't confirm anything but ‘only that if he did do it, it'd be appropriate.’ Declined to discuss timing of last convo w/ POTUS on Ukraine.” CUOMO to RUDY: “You who, my whole lifetime, stood up for one single ideal when you were at your best, and that was character counts and leadership.” -- FLASHBACK … NYT, OCT. 25, 1994: “GIULIANI, DEFYING HIS PARTY, BACKS CUOMO FOR 4TH TERM; SEES PATAKI AS BAD FOR CITY” (hat tip: Maggie Haberman). MAYBE IT’S JUST SO SIMPLE … WAPO EDITORIAL, from Sept. 5: “[W]e’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.” WaPo. -- NYT, AUG. 21, by Ken Vogel in D.C. and Andrew Kramer in Kyiv: “Giuliani Renews Push for Ukraine to Investigate Trump’s Political Opponents” THE QUESTION EVERYONE IS ASKING: What do Democrats do here? The intelligence community has balked at providing the whistleblower report, and Rep. ADAM SCHIFF (D-Calif.) has threatened a lawsuit. His threat. more...   

By Kevin Breuninger
President Donald Trump on Friday said he has ordered sanctions on Iran’s central bank at “the highest level.” The president made the remarks to reporters in the Oval Office, where he and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison were scheduled to hold a bilateral meeting. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in the office that the central bank was Tehran’s last source of funds. “This is very big,” Mnuchin said. “We’ve now cut off all source of funds to Iran.” Trump, who had initially said the sanctions applied to Iran’s “national bank,” said the new penalties on Iran mark the “highest sanctions ever imposed on a country.” The president’s remarks at the White House came two days after he announced via Twitter that he had instructed Mnuchin “ more...  

By Fred Imbert
Stocks fell to their lows of the day on Friday on news that Chinese trade officials are cutting short their visit to the U.S. The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded 100 points lower while the S&P 500 fell 0.4%. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.8%. A China delegation had canceled a visit to U.S. farms in Montana, the Montana Farm Bureau said around midday Friday. Lean hog futures hit their limit-down levels on the report. Caterpillar shares traded 1% lower while Boeing lost 1.3%. Apple also reached its lows of the day, sliding more than 1%. Earlier, deputy trade negotiators from the U.S. and China resumed face-to-face talks for the first time in almost two months. The deputy-level trade talks are expected to help lay the groundwork for high-level negotiations early next month. This briefly lifted investor sentiment around trade talks. Washington and Beijing have imposed tariffs on billions of dollars’ worth of one another’s goods since the start of 2018, battering financial markets and souring business and consumer sentiment. The Dow came into Friday’s session 1.1% removed from its all-time high while the S&P 500 was 0.7% below its record mark from late July. The Nasdaq remained 1.9% away from its record. “It’s good that we’re challenging the records, but I don’t know if we have enough momentum to stay around these levels,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “I think 2,800 to 3,000 is the range we’ll stay in” without a trade deal. more...   

By Rex Huppke
I had to unhinge my jaws just to take a bite of this week’s gargantuan news-burger. It was greasy and gross and left me once again asking: “What the (BLEEP) just happened?” Whistleblower has whistle silenced while Trump tweets away. President Donald Trump, never a big fan of intelligence, is at odds once again with the intelligence community. There’s a complaint filed by a whistleblower that, according to the Washington Post and other news outlets, involves Trump making some kind of promise to a foreign leader in a phone conversation. Per the Post: “Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson determined that the complaint was credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of ‘urgent concern,’ a legal threshold that requires notification of congressional oversight committees.” So what did director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire do? He refused to share the complaint with the House Intelligence Committee, claiming it contains “potentially privileged information.” Generally speaking, this is not how any of this is supposed to work and the complaint, filed in August, should have been shared with the intelligence committee within 10 days. Responding to the scandal, Trump tweeted: “Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!” He followed that tweet with another: “Is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call.” Putting aside the fact that the answer to that question is, “Yes, many would think you’re exactly dumb enough to do that,” it was odd for the president to effectively say: “Hey, man, you think this is my first act of corruption? I’m a pro at this stuff and I’d never be dumb enough to do crimes when people are listening.” Also, if whatever happened during the call was “No problem!”, why would the administration not allow the complaint to go to the intelligence committee? more...   

By Anna Nemtsova
KYIV—Ukraine is ready to investigate the connections Joe Biden’s son Hunter had with the Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings, according to Anton Geraschenko, a senior adviser to the country’s interior minister who would oversee such an inquiry.  Geraschenko told The Daily Beast in an exclusive interview that “as soon as there is an official request" Ukraine will look into the case, but “currently there is no open investigation.” “Clearly,” said Geraschenko, “Trump is now looking for kompromat to discredit his opponent Biden, to take revenge for his friend Paul Manafort, who is serving seven years in prison.” Among the counts on which Manafort was convicted: tax evasion. “We do not investigate Biden in Ukraine, since we have not received a single official request to do so,” said Geraschenko. His remarks last week came amid widespread speculation that U.S. President Donald Trump had made vital U.S. military aid for Ukraine contingent on such an inquiry, but had tried to do so informally through unofficial representatives, including his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Giuliani’s adviser on Ukraine, Sam Kislin. But Geraschenko spoke before the appearance of a Washington Post story on Thursday that implied that an intelligence-community whistleblower may have reported the untoward quid pro quo was put forth directly by Trump in a phone call with Ukraine’s recently elected president last July. Geraschenko reconfirmed his statements in a phone call on Friday. The U.S. administration has thus far blocked efforts by Congress to learn precisely what the whistleblower reported, which Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson deemed an “urgent matter” while offering no details. The Post, citing two sources, said the allegation involved a “promise” made to a foreign leader. Trump spoke to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25 to congratulate him on his election. According to the official readout on Ukraine's presidency website, "Donald Trump is convinced that the new Ukrainian government will be able to quickly improve image of Ukraine, complete investigation of corruption cases, which inhibited the interaction between Ukraine and the USA." more...   

By Rachel Frazin
President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani gave conflicting answers in an interview on CNN on Thursday night as to whether he asked Ukraine to look into former Vice President Joe Biden, saying at one point "of course I did." After CNN host Chris Cuomo questioned whether Giuliani had asked Ukraine to investigate Biden, Giuliani said, "No, actually I didn't. I asked the Ukraine to investigate the allegations that there was interference in the election of 2016 by the Ukrainians for the benefit of Hillary Clinton." "You never asked anything about Hunter Biden? You never asked anything about Joe Biden?" Cuomo followed up. "The only thing I asked about Joe Biden is to get to the bottom of how it was that Lutsenko ... dismissed the case against AntAC," Giuliani said, referring to former Ukrainian prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko and the Ukrainian-based Anti-Corruption Action Centre (AntAC). "So you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden," Cuomo said.  "Of course I did," Giuliani replied. "You just said you didn't," Cuomo responded. "I didn't ask them to look into Joe Biden," Giuliani shot back. "I asked them to look into the allegations that related to my client which tangentially involved Joe Biden."  more...   

Analysis by Stephen Collinson, CNN
(CNN) - Washington's newest scandal, over a whistleblower's complaint about President Donald Trump, intensified Thursday amid revelations that the White House and Justice Department tried to keep it quiet. The affair, centering on Trump's contacts with a leader of a mystery foreign nation -- identified in two reports as Ukraine -- has also injected a toxic element into relations among the President, the intelligence community and Congress.
It is hard to see how any of this ends well. Six months after special counsel Robert Mueller shut up shop, the White House again faces suspicion over Trump's dealings with a foreign power and seems to be taking steps to stop the full story from coming out. Democrats are rummaging for new skeletons in Trump's closet and yet another showdown is developing between the executive and Congress that appears almost certain to play out in the courts.
The details of the controversy unleashed when a whistleblower sounded the alarm about the President are complex, disputed according to political allegiance and largely not public. The Washington Post and The New York Times reported Thursday that the contacts at issue between Trump and the foreign leader involve Ukraine. In the past, some of Trump's supporters, including his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, have urged the Kiev government to open investigations that the President could use to raise suspicions about his political rivals, including Joe Biden. In a heated exchange with CNN's Chris Cuomo on Thursday night, Giuliani denied asking Ukraine to investigate the former vice president, before admitting he had done just that.
The US and Ukraine were in discussions about $250 million in military aid to Kiev this summer that had been delayed by the White House. Giuliani said he didn't know anything about the package, but that if Trump had used it as leverage to benefit himself politically in any way he would not have done anything wrong. "The reality is that the President of the United States, whoever he is, has every right to tell the president of another country you better straighten out the corruption in your country if you want me to give you a lot of money. If you're so damn corrupt that you can't investigate allegations -- our money is going to get squandered," Giuliani said. more...  

By Mindy Weisberger - Senior Writer Planet Earth
The last of these monster 1,000-year-storms was just two years ago.
Record-breaking rainfall from the tropical storm Imelda is soaking southeastern Texas. Some areas have been swamped with 20 to 42 inches (51 to 107 centimeters) of rain over just three days, causing catastrophic flooding that is among the worst in U.S. history. Imelda, the first named storm to strike this part of Texas since 2017's devastating Hurricane Harvey, is currently the fifth-wettest tropical storm to drench the contiguous U.S., The Weather Channel tweeted today (Sept. 19). Storms that drop this much rain are estimated to appear once in a millennium, according to precipitation models created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). But the last 1,000-year-rainfall to inundate Texas was Hurricane Harvey — which slammed the state just two years ago. The unrelenting rain caused "significant and life-threatening flash flooding," the National Hurricane Center (NHC) reported this morning, leading Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to declare a state of disaster in 13 counties. To put this quantify of rain into perspective, 41 inches (104 cm) over a two-month period would be considered exceptional in this part of Texas, said meteorologist Eric Holthaus in a tweet. Such an event would happen about once in a century "in a stable climate," Holthaus said. But recent and accelerating climate change is thought to foster conditions that make seasonal tropical storms wetter, windier and potentially more destructive, Live Science previously reported. more...  


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