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Trump-Ukraine Affair Page 2
By Sonam Sheth
Three years ago, the FBI launched an unprecedented investigation focused on one question: Did President Donald Trump's campaign help a foreign power interfere in the 2016 election? Now, just months after that investigation was formally closed, FBI officials are stunned the president is openly calling for another country to intervene in another presidential election. One special agent, who spoke with Insider on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press, said officials were "rattled" not just by the nature of Trump's actions but also by his brazenness. "You walk down the halls and there was this sense of dread, and everyone's kind of thinking, did the president really do this?" the agent said.
The agent was one of four current and former officials Insider spoke with about the matter. In addition to feeling undermined by the Justice Department's ongoing investigation into the Russia probe's origins, sources also said FBI officials were frustrated with how the Justice Department handled a criminal referral related to a whistleblower's allegations against Trump, saying it added to a sense that the bureau was being "neutered." At the heart of the controversy are Trump's repeated efforts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Biden is one of the 2020 Democratic front-runners and Trump's chief political rival. Trump ordered his administration to hold up a nearly $400 million military-aid package to Ukraine in July. A few days later, on July 25, the president had a phone call with Zelensky, during which Trump told his Ukrainian counterpart the US "does a lot for Ukraine." Zelensky acknowledged that and said Ukraine wanted to purchase more Javelins — a powerful US-made anti-tank missile — from the US. Trump immediately followed up and told Zelensky he would like Ukraine to "do us a favor, though," and investigate Biden. Trump made no direct mention of the aid package, but his request was alarming enough to White House officials and others on the call that they began discussing how to "lock down" all records of the conversation, and White House lawyers immediately began working on damage control, according to a whistleblower complaint a US intelligence official filed against Trump in August.
Officials are concerned about whether the FBI is being 'neutered as an organization' One US official who works in counterintelligence told Insider that staff at the bureau were not only "blindsided" by the contents of Trump's call with Zelensky but also frustrated with the Justice Department's handling of the matter. Michael Atkinson, the intelligence-community inspector general, and Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, sent the whistleblower's complaint to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation because of concerns that the president may have violated campaign-finance laws by asking the Ukrainian government to manufacture dirt on his political opponent. The Justice Department's criminal division reviewed the whistleblower's complaint and determined that there were no grounds for an investigation of Trump's behavior. Officials are said to have decided that the White House summary of Trump's phone call with Zelensky didn't constitute a campaign-finance violation because he didn't ask for a financial contribution or an "item of tangible value." They did not interview any witnesses or gather more facts outside of reviewing the summary of the call.
The Justice Department's actions were a departure from the norm because typically, in such cases, the FBI investigates if there was criminal wrongdoing and makes a recommendation to the Justice Department on whether or not to press charges. Here, the US official said, "the DOJ made the decision right off the bat, and that was viewed by many as a slap in the face and usurping the FBI's independence and judgment." It also added to concerns about whether the FBI was being "neutered as an organization," the official said. 'Everyone says they did their jobs, and yet they're being accused of treason' Complicating matters is the fact that all this occurred against the backdrop of Attorney General William Barr spearheading a separate investigation into the origins of the Russia probe. There is no evidence that the FBI or the Justice Department acted inappropriately while investigating Russia's interference in the 2016 election. But Trump and his allies in Congress and the media have long called for an investigation into purported corruption and anti-Trump bias within the Justice Department, which they claim was the catalyst for the Russia probe.

By Paul Kane, Karoun Demirjian and Rachael Bade
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney organized a meeting this spring in which officials were determined to take Ukraine policy out of the traditional channels, putting Energy Secretary Rick Perry, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker in charge instead, a top State Department official told lawmakers Tuesday. George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for Ukraine, told House investigators he was instructed to “lay low,” focus on the five other countries in his portfolio and defer to Volker, Sondland and Perry — who called themselves the “three amigos” — on matters related to Ukraine, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) told reporters Tuesday.
Kent took that as a sign, Connolly added, that having been critical of the plan he was being pushed aside “because what he was saying was not welcome” at high levels of the government. Mulvaney’s meeting, which Kent told lawmakers took place on May 23, according to Connolly, was just days after the administration recalled Marie Yovanovitch from her post as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Yovanovitch spoke to House investigators last week about the campaign against her, which she and other former diplomats have said was organized by President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. The revelations from Kent’s testimony suggest the decision to wrest Ukraine policy away from career diplomats and put it in the hands of officials seen as more sympathetic to the president was taken several weeks before Trump spoke by phone with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In their July 25 call, Trump appeared to pressure the Ukrainian leader to launch probes into the 2016 U.S. election and the son of 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden. Administration officials informed the Ukrainians of their decision to shift authority for Ukraine policy in June, according to two people familiar with Kent’s testimony. “For some Americans from the embassy, that was news to them,” he added. Perry, who was on Capitol Hill on Tuesday for an unrelated briefing, told reporters he “was involved in that [Ukraine policy] more than anybody. And I never saw or heard anything that was untoward, not by the president, not by anybody.” Kent spoke for several hours Tuesday in a closed-door meeting with the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees, which together are conducting an impeachment probe into whether Trump abused his office to pressure a foreign government into doing work that could affect the election. The longtime Foreign Service official had been summoned for a deposition in the investigation, with Democrats expected to question him about a campaign by Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into investigating the president’s political rival.

George Kent reportedly testified to House intelligence committee that he warned colleagues about ‘disinformation’ campaign back in March
By Joanna Walters
George Kent arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington Tuesday to testify before congressional lawmakers as part of the House impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump. Giuliani under investigation: Rudy Giuliani was paid $500,000 for work he did for a company co-founded by the Ukrainian-American businessman arrested last week on campaign finance charges, Giuliani has told Reuters today. The businessman, Lev Parnas, is a close associate of Giuliani and was involved in his effort to investigate Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. Giuliani said Parnas’ company, “Fraud Guarantee”, based in Boca Raton, Florida, whose website says it aims to help clients “reduce and mitigate fraud”, engaged Giuliani Partners, a management and security consulting firm, around August 2018. Giuliani said he was hired to consult on Fraud Guarantee’s technologies and provide legal advice on regulatory issues. Federal prosecutors are “examining Giuliani’s interactions” with Parnas and another Giuliani associate, Igor Fruman, who was also indicted on campaign finance charges, a law enforcement source told Reuters on Sunday. The New York Times reported last week that Parnas had told associates he paid Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for what Giuliani said was business and legal advice. Giuliani said for the first time on Monday that the total amount was $500,000.

CBS This Morning - We're learning about former National Security Adviser John Bolton's alarm over the Trump administration's Ukraine policy. Bolton reportedly wanted White House lawyers to be alerted in July when he learned about efforts to pressure Ukraine. Bolton's former aide, Fiona Hill, testified Monday before House impeachment investigators. Nancy Cordes reports.

CNN - A source tells CNN that Fiona Hill, President Donald Trump's former top Russia adviser, testified that former national security adviser John Bolton referred to Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani as a "hand grenade" who was "going to blow everybody up," as first reported by The New York Times.

By Jessica Campisi
President Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani said he was paid $500,000 for his work at a company co-founded by an associate who was arrested on campaign finance charges. Giuliani told Reuters that Fraud Guarantee, Lev Parnas’s Boca Raton, Fla.-based company, took on Giuliani Partners as a management and security consulting firm around August 2018. Giuliani was hired to consult with the company and provide legal advice. Giuliani also said he received two payments within weeks of each other but did not say when they were made. Parnas, a Ukraine-born businessman, was one of two Giuliani associates who helped the former New York City mayor in efforts to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry after revelations that Trump pressured his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate, and his son. The latest development comes after The New York Times noted last week that Parnas told associates he paid Giuliani hundreds of thousands of dollars for his work. Parnas and Igor Fruman, another Florida-based businessman, were arrested last Wednesday at Dulles International Airport with one-way international tickets. They arrests came hours after they had lunch with Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

By Daniel Dale, CNN                                 
Washington (CNN) - President Donald Trump is making a brazen attempt to rewrite the reality of his dealings with Ukraine. He has said at least 18 times over the last 15 days that the whistleblower who lodged a highly accurate complaint about his phone call with Ukraine's President had been highly inaccurate. And over the weekend, he pushed three other fictions -- reversing the timing of two events and touting a supposed Nancy Pelosi quote there is no evidence the House speaker ever said. Pelosi's reaction to the call: Trump has been slamming Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, for performing a rendition of his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that included words Trump did not say.
But Trump himself appears to have concocted comments from Pelosi -- repeatedly describing supposed Pelosi quotes that are the opposite of what she has publicly said. Trump claimed last Monday, Friday and Saturday that Pelosi expressed surprise and dismay after Trump released the rough transcript of the call with Zelensky. His suggestion was that Pelosi had found, and said, that the call was more innocent than she was first told. "When she saw it, she said, 'This is not what the whistleblower said,' " Trump told reporters on Monday at the White House. "She was angry as hell when she got to read the transcript. Because she said, 'Wait a minute, that's not what I was told,' " Trump said at his Friday rally in Louisiana. "She was very angry when she read the actual call," Trump said at his Saturday speech to the Values Voter Summit of social conservatives. Facts First: There is no evidence Pelosi said or thought that the rough transcript was underwhelming or substantially different than she expected.
"It's complete fiction," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill told CNN of Trump's claim. While we can't know what Pelosi might have said in private, Pelosi's public statement on the Trump call was scathing. We've explained that Schiff's account of Trump's call was at very least confusing and that Trump had reasonable cause to be miffed. It's worth noting, though, that Schiff did say he was offering the "essence" of Trump's words, not a verbatim recitation, and that at least some of Schiff's comments closely resembled what the rough transcript shows Trump said. Trump's Pelosi statements, conversely, have no apparent basis in fact. The call and the ambassador: Trump is facing scrutiny over his decision to recall Marie Yovanovitch from her job as ambassador to Ukraine.
She testified to Congress on Friday that she had been the victim of "unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives," including Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his associates. Trump offered a different explanation in a Fox News interview on Saturday. He said Zelensky had told him, "out of the blue," that he didn't like Yovanovitch. "But even if you listen to the very good conversation that I had, a very, very good, no-pressure, congenial conversation with the new President of Ukraine, he had some things that were not flattering to say about her. And that came out of the -- out of the blue," he told Fox host Jeanine Pirro. "So, you know, it would be nice to have somebody that he liked, because he's going -- the person will have to deal with the President of Ukraine." Zelensky's criticism of Yovanovitch had not come out of the blue.

Prominent figures on Russian TV have been openly putting out the same ideas that we now know the American president was privately pursuing.
By Julia Davis - the daily beast
Elements of the bombshell whistleblower report outlining various aims pursued by the Trump administration with respect to Ukraine keep connecting back to Russia. Several of the reported objectives of President Donald Trump, his administration officials, and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, would benefit the Kremlin and not the United States or its national security. Namely, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky was urged to make a deal with Putin, pressured “to play ball” with respect to providing or manufacturing compromising materials about Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, and essentially tasked with concocting “the evidence” to disprove the well-established fact that the Democratic National Committee server was hacked by Russian intelligence agents in 2016. The unconscionable demand for Ukraine to make “a deal” with an invader— which has annexed and occupied its territory and continues to fuel an armed conflict that has claimed more than 13,000 lives—would mean a surrender of Ukraine’s national interests for the benefit of the Kremlin.
It would also lead to the lifting of sanctions against Russia for its aggression in Ukraine. Casting doubt on Russia’s involvement in the hack of the DNC server would potentially lead to the lifting of sanctions against Russia for its election-meddling and other malign activities. Attacking the credibility of Biden, frequently described by Kremlin-controlled state television as “Trump’s most dangerous rival,” would also benefit Putin, who openly admitted that he wanted President Trump to be elected in 2016. That preference remains intact, in spite—or perhaps because—of multiple missteps by America’s bumbling commander in chief. Dmitry Kiselyov, the host of Russia’s most popular Sunday news program, Vesti Nedeli, urged Trump to keep digging in Ukraine for “the sweetest” kompromat of all: “Proving that Ukraine—not Russia—interfered in the U.S. elections.”
The pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden has been not only from Trump, but also from the Kremlin. One of the expectations, voiced on Russian state-television channel Rossiya 24 by analyst Alexander Kareevsky, was that taking down Biden would inevitably lead to the “revelation”—in fact, an outrageous fantasy—that the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was ordered by the Obama administration and carried out by Ukraine, not Russia.In another fantasy, pundits on Russian state television continually assert that Trump’s impeachment is all but “impossible.” In the meantime, the impeachment fallout is beneficial for the Kremlin, creating a spectacle of unprecedented political turmoil in the United States while placing Ukraine in the untenable position of alienating both parties, as well as the country’s European allies, and distracting from Russian election interference and the imposition of any additional sanctions. - Once again, Trump is caught doing what Putin wants over the interest of America.

Trump has sought to distance himself from Lev Parnas as evidence of their ties mounts.
A photograph of President Donald Trump posing with a recently indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani was posted online in April 2014, two years prior to what had been their first known interaction. In the photo, Trump and Lev Parnas stand shoulder to shoulder, smiling at the camera at what appears to be an outdoor nighttime event. Trump wears a white, Trump-branded cap and white shirt under a jacket. Parnas wears a royal blue collared shirt. The circumstances of the meeting captured in the photograph remain unclear. It was posted on April 2, 2014, on the Facebook account of Shawn Jaros, also known as Shawn Jarosovich. Jaros captioned the photo “the big homies!!!!!!!!!!! for real tho” and then commented on the photo, “salute lev im coming brother!!!!!!!!!” Two weeks earlier, on March 14, Jaros posted, “Shout out to my ukranian boss and brother Lev Parnas thank you for eberything you and your team doing for me, i cant repay you enough!!!!!!!! and i want to meet the donald soon!!!!!!” That post suggests the meeting captured in the photo was not a chance interaction, and that Parnas had discussed his access to Trump with Jaros. Trump has sought to distance himself from Parnas, the Florida businessman at the center of a ballooning scandal over illicit foreign influence in his administration and, more broadly, the American political system. But the photograph and post provide further evidence that the two men are more closely tied than Trump has let on.

By Steve Inskeep, Ashley Westerman - NPR
Federal prosecutors say two businessmen had a motive for making illegal contributions to U.S. political campaigns. The two men sought to remove an American diplomat in Ukraine, according to an indictment unsealed on Thursday. The two men, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were associates of President Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. They also has business interests in Ukraine. The indictment alleges that Fruman and Parnas made hundreds of thousands of dollars in illegal campaign donations, disguising the sources of the money and bringing some of it from overseas. They were about to leave the United States with one-way tickets on Wednesday when FBI agents arrested them at Dulles International Airport.
What was it about the little-known career diplomat that made the men willing to go to such lengths to have her dismissed? The ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, was the target of extensive criticism in conservative media this past spring — criticism that President Trump himself took on board. Yovanovitch was recalled in May before the end of her expected term. And Trump spoke of her during his now-famous phone call with Ukraine's president on July 25 — the call that spurred the whistleblower complaint that led the House to open an impeachment inquiry. "The woman, was bad news," Trump said, adding that she dealt with Ukranians who were also "bad news." Yovanovitch is now in Washington. She has been asked to testify Friday as part of the impeachment inquiry, which centers on Trump's effort to have a political rival investigated in Ukraine. She has avoided talking to the media, but NPR has reconstructed her story through documents and sources in both the U.S. and Ukraine.

By benjamin siegel, katherine faulders and conor finnegan
The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine has told House investigators that she was “incredulous” that she was removed based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives,” according to her reported prepared remarks at her deposition Friday before three House committees as part of their impeachment investigation. Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled in the spring, said she was told President Donald Trump pressured the State Department to remove her based on allegations by associates of Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. "Contacts of Mr. Giuliani may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine,” she said, according to her opening statement reported by The New York Times and other news outlets. The Times posted the statement although it's not clear how much Yovanovitch read from it.
Yovanovitch said, after being told in late April that she needed to leave immediately -- "to be on the next plane" -- she met with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan. "He said that the President had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the Summer of 2018," according to the remarks. "He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause." "Equally fictitious is the notion that I am disloyal to President Trump," she said. "Although I understand that I served at the pleasure of the President, I was nevertheless incredulous that the U.S. government chose to remove an Ambassador based, as best as I can tell, on unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives," she said in the statement.
"To make matters worse, all of this occurred during an especially challenging time in bilateral relations with a newly elected Ukrainian president. This was precisely the time when continuity in the Embassy in Ukraine was most needed." Yovanovitch , arrived on Capitol Hill earlier Friday surrounded by news cameras for the closed-door deposition with House committees looking into whether President Trump committed impeachable offenses in asking a foreign country to investigate his political rivals, according to multiple congressional officials with knowledge of the probe.

Questions about the department’s role in events covered by the impeachment inquiry go unacknowledged, says correspondents’ association.
State Department reporters are protesting what they see as unprecedented stonewalling of questions surrounding the Ukraine scandal that led to the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, with their correspondents’ association calling on senior officials to break the impasse. “They’re basically on lockdown,” one reporter told POLITICO. “It’s like radio silence,” said another. The State Department has come under significant scrutiny following revelations last month that Trump urged Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden and his son during a July phone call while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listened in. House Democrats later released text messages in which U.S. diplomats discussed investigations in Ukraine and new details continue emerging as the impeachment story dominates the news cycle. While State Department press secretary Morgan Ortagus and her team continue to field questions on diplomatic and foreign policy issues, reporters have been directed to put Ukraine-specific requests to Katie Martin, a deputy assistant secretary for media strategy who joined in March from the National Republican Senatorial Committee. But reporters say their questions rarely yield answers, and often go unacknowledged. "The requests kind of disappear into the ether," said a third reporter. And this lack of clarity from the administration, the reporter said, hampers journalists' ability “to explain what is happening to the American public.” Shaun Tandon, an AFP reporter who serves as president of the State Department Correspondents’ Association, told POLITICO that they have brought concerns to senior department officials.

By Paul LeBlanc, CNN
Washington (CNN) - At least four national security officials were so concerned by the Trump administration's efforts to pressure Ukraine for political purposes that they shared their discontent with a White House lawyer both before and after President Donald Trump's July phone call with Ukraine's President, The Washington Post reported Thursday, citing US officials and other people familiar with the matter. The revelation of the discussions with National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg establish that US officials had delivered notable warnings through official White House channels even before Trump's July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that set off a whistleblower complaint. According to the Post, officials were alarmed by the removal of then-US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in May, the promotion of Ukraine-related conspiracies from Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and indications in White House meetings that Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to deliver politically damaging information on former Vice President Joe Biden.
These concerns, the Post said, were amplified after Trump's call with Zelensky. A transcript of their conversation released by the White House last month shows Trump repeatedly pushed Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden. Officials told the Post that shortly after the call took place, national security adviser John Bolton and other senior officials were being contacted by subordinates with problems about what Trump had said to Zelensky. "When people were listening to this in real time there were significant concerns about what was going on — alarm bells were kind of ringing," one person familiar with the sequence of events told the paper. "People were trying to figure out what to do, how to get a grasp on the situation." Bolton -- who was fired last month -- was among the officials who moved to obtain a rough transcript of the call that was already being "locked down" on a highly classified network, officials told The Post.

By Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe
At least four national security officials were so alarmed by the Trump administration’s attempts to pressure Ukraine for political purposes that they raised concerns with a White House lawyer both before and immediately after President Trump’s July 25 call with that country’s president, according to U.S. officials and other people familiar with the matter. The nature and timing of the previously undisclosed discussions with National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg indicate that officials were delivering warnings through official White House channels earlier than previously understood — including before the call that precipitated a whistleblower complaint and the impeachment inquiry of the president.
At the time, the officials were unnerved by the removal in May of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine; subsequent efforts by Trump’s lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to promote Ukraine-related conspiracies; as well as signals in meetings at the White House that Trump wanted the new government in Kiev to deliver material that might be politically damaging to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Those concerns soared in the call’s aftermath, officials said. Within minutes, senior officials including national security adviser John Bolton were being pinged by subordinates about problems with what the president had said to his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky. Bolton and others scrambled to obtain a rough transcript that was already being “locked down” on a highly classified computer network.
“When people were listening to this in real time there were significant concerns about what was going on — alarm bells were kind of ringing,” said one person familiar with the sequence of events inside the White House, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter. “People were trying to figure out what to do, how to get a grasp on the situation.” It is unclear whether some or all of the officials who complained to Eisenberg are also the ones who later spoke to the whistleblower. The accounts are sharply at odds with Trump’s depiction of the call as a “perfect” exchange in which he “did nothing wrong,” despite appearing to link U.S. support for Ukraine to that country’s willingness to investigate the family of the former vice president. On Thursday, Trump renewed his attacks on Twitter, describing the impeachment inquiry as a “Democrat Scam.”
But new details about the sequence inside the White House suggest that concerns about the call and events leading up to it were profound even among Trump’s top advisers, including Bolton and then-acting deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman. Bolton and Kupperman did not respond to requests for comment. Officials said that within hours of the 9 a.m. conversation, a rough transcript compiled by aides had been moved from a widely shared White House computer network to one normally reserved for highly classified intelligence operations. According to the whistleblower’s complaint, White House lawyers “directed” officials to move the transcript to the classified system. At the same time, officials were seeking ways to report what they had witnessed, an undertaking complicated by the lack of a White House equivalent to the inspector general positions found at other agencies.

Washington (CNN) - Two associates of President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani pushed former Republican Rep. Pete Sessions to seek the ouster of the US Ambassador to Ukraine at the same time as the associates were helping to bankroll his campaign, according to a federal indictment and campaign finance records. The indictment of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, which was unsealed Thursday, shows how they discussed with Sessions seeking then-US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch's ouster, and are accused of later lying to investigators about illegal campaign contributions.
The indictment alleges that a "Congressman-1" had been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million in independent expenditures by "Committee-1." Sessions is not named in the indictment and is not charged with any wrongdoing. But campaign finance records and Sessions' previous remarks identify Sessions as "Congressman-1," and he was the lawmaker Parnas and Fruman had met with at an event hosted by a political action committee in 2018. "At and around the same time, Parnas and Fruman committed to raising those funds for Congressman-1. Parnas met with Congressman-1 and sought Congressman-1's assistance in causing the US Government to remove or recall the then-US Ambassador to Ukraine," the indictment states.
CNN has identified the committee as America First Action, a pro-Trump super PAC. Global Energy Producers, a company created by Parnas and Fruman, donated $325,000 to the pro-Trump super PAC and are alleged to have concealed the true source of that money. The super PAC in a statement said it placed the money in a "segregated bank account" and has not used the funds. Sessions said in a statement that he "could not have had" knowledge of the scheme. And that he took "no official action" after being approached "by these individuals about the strategic need for Ukraine to become energy independent." "Therefore, if I am 'Congressman One', I could not have had any knowledge of the scheme described in the indictment or have involvement or coordination of it," Sessions said.
When Parnas and Fruman met with Sessions, Parnas and Fruman committed to raise at least $20,000 for Sessions, according to the indictment. The indictment alleges that Fruman already made a maximum contribution of $2,700 to the congressman, but then made an illegal contribution of an additional $2,700 under Parnas' name that was never reimbursed. The indictment also alleges that Fruman and Parnas made false statements about this contribution. While America First Action said it did not use the funds donated by Global Energy Producers, the pro-Trump super PAC spent more than $3 million on Sessions' behalf in the 2018 midterms, FEC records show. Sessions lost a hotly contested race for his Dallas-area seat to Democrat Colin Allred. He has declared plans to run for Congress from a Waco, Texas, district in 2020, and a spokesman confirmed Thursday he still plans to do so.
The push to remove Yovanovitch: Sessions had reportedly met with Parnas and Fruman to discuss Yovanovitch. Sessions was advocating for Yovanovitch's removal in part because of allegations that she had criticized Trump and was disloyal. Sessions has not been charged with wrongdoing. Sessions told BuzzFeed in July that he raised Yovanovitch in the meeting, not Parnas and Fruman. "I sought their input," he said. Other Republicans were aware of Sessions' effort. Rep. Mark Meadows on Thursday cited Sessions when asked by CNN whether he had any concerns about Yovanovitch's removal. Meadows, a North Carolina Republican, had not read the indictment and was unaware Sessions was cited.

By conor finnegan
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as of Thursday had yet to say a public word about the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who fought against corruption there and has been repeatedly besmirched by President Donald Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. Marie Yovanovitch, who was recalled early from her post this spring, is scheduled for a deposition Friday with three committees in the House of Representatives, but it is unclear whether she will be allowed to show up after the U.S. ambassador to the European Union was blocked by the Trump administration from testifying on Tuesday. Either way, the manner in which Yovanovitch has been treated by Trump and the silence from Pompeo has already rankled many rank and file at the State Department, according to half a dozen current and former officials, who are also upset by the administration's use of career diplomats in the president's efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political opponents.
At his arrival as secretary, Pompeo was seen as a much-needed improvement over his predecessor, Rex Tillerson. But many career diplomats tell ABC News they are increasingly fed up with the former congressman and CIA director, in particular over an effort to penalize more than 100 State Department employees for having emailed Hillary Clinton's private email address during her time as secretary, and because of how he's painted himself as the department's defender in a battle with House Democrats over documents and witness testimony, while keeping quiet on Yovanovitch. The State Department did not respond to several requests for comment this week. But Pompeo has repeatedly defended the president and Giuliani's effort to push Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as the effort to investigate leaks during the 2016 campaign about Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has since gone to prison for his corrupt business dealings in Ukraine, among other charges.
Yovanovitch is still an active member of the U.S. diplomatic corps, known as the Foreign Service. She is teaching this school year at Georgetown University after being recalled in May two months early from her post as ambassador to Ukraine despite being nearly unanimously praised as a "professional of impeccable integrity, someone with a stellar career that has never had the slightest suggestion of impropriety," as retired ambassador Nancy McEldowney described her. Giuliani, who said at the time she was "fired," had been spreading misinformation about Yovanovitch for months before that. Yovanovitch had been trying to tackle corruption, including giving a major speech in March that criticized the lack of investigative progress and in particular blamed Ukraine's then-prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko. In response, Lutsenko accused Yovanovitch of giving him a "do-not-prosecute" list and blocking him and other officials from traveling to the U.S. to present evidence against the Bidens.

By Sara Murray and Rene Marsh, CNN
(CNN) - A political appointee at the Office of Management and Budget took the unusual step of getting involved in signing off on freezing US aid to Ukraine this past summer -- a process normally reserved for career budget officials, according to sources familiar with the matter. Michael Duffey, OMB's associate director for national security programs and a Trump political appointee, signed at least some of the documents delaying aid to Ukraine, two sources told CNN. Normally a career budget official signs such documents. Sources told CNN it is highly unusual for a political appointee to be involved in signing off on such a freeze. In this case, career budget officials raised concerns about signing the documents because they believed such a move may have run afoul of laws requiring OMB to spend money as it is appropriated by Congress, according to a congressional aide.
Duffey's role is of interest to House Democrats who are conducting an impeachment inquiry over Trump's moves to pressure Ukraine for help investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either. Congressional impeachment investigators believe that there may be a paper trail at OMB that sheds light on the decision to block aid to Ukraine this summer as Trump and his allies were pressuring the new government. The decisionmaking behind the administration's moves on aid has been obscured from both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. The Wall Street Journal first reported that Duffey's involvement is of interest to the impeachment inquiry. "The idea that administration officials would not be involved in budget execution, including apportionment authority, after decades of precedent, is absolutely ludicrous," said Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for OMB. "It is absurd to suggest that the President and his administration officials should not play a leadership role in ensuring taxpayer dollars are well spent."
Another source familiar with the situation said there was a legitimate reason for Duffey to personally sign off on the freeze. Relatively new to OMB, Duffey wanted a better understanding of how the apportionment process worked, a source said. The source said Duffey signed the paperwork to halt the aid based on his belief that the White House would want to review it because the President doesn't like spending on foreign aid in general. "This is a highly unusual set of circumstances that would have raised serious red flags for career officials at the Department of Defense, the State Department and OMB," said Sam Berger, a vice president at the left-leaning Center for American Progress and a former senior counselor and policy adviser at OMB. Congressional investigators looking to follow the money -- or rather, where it was frozen -- have so far hit a wall at OMB. OMB's acting director Russell Vought made it clear Wednesday that he's prepared to block requests for information from House Democrats, in line with the White House position.

By Erica Orden, Evan Perez, Michael Warren and David Shortell, CNN
(CNN) - Two associates of Rudy Giuliani connected to efforts to dig up dirt in Ukraine on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden were arrested trying to leave the country and indicted on criminal charges for allegedly funneling foreign money into US elections. The charges against the men suggest Giuliani's push on Ukraine and President Donald Trump's receptiveness to it had ties to an illegal effort to influence US politics and policy using foreign funds. The indictment involves two people central to the impeachment inquiry in the House. The two Giuliani-linked defendants, Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, were detained at Dulles International Airport outside Washington on Wednesday evening.
They were booked on a flight to Frankfurt, Germany, to connect to another flight, according to a law enforcement source. Federal prosecutors were not intending to unseal the indictment against the Giuliani associates and two others Thursday, according to three US officials, but had to change course when they learned of the defendants' impending departure. The two were detained as they were about to board the flight with one-way tickets, Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman told reporters Thursday. Giuliani had lunch with Fruman and Parnas at the Trump International Hotel in Washington hours before the two were arrested, The Wall Street Journal reported. Giuliani declined to comment to CNN on the report.
Attorney General William Barr, who visited the Manhattan US Attorney's office Thursday in what officials said was a routine stop, was briefed on the investigation into Parnas and Fruman in February after he took office, and he supported the prosecution, according to a US Justice Department official. Overall, four men were indicted Thursday on two counts of conspiracy, one count of false statements to the Federal Election Commission and one count of falsification of records. The four are alleged in the indictment unsealed by New York federal prosecutors to have conducted a scheme beginning in March 2018 to evade campaign finance laws. Fruman and Parnas appeared in court Thursday in Virginia, where prosecutors told a judge they were concerned the two might attempt to flee. They haven't entered a plea. Along with Fruman and Parnas, Andrey Kukushkin has been arrested and is expected to appear in court Thursday in the Northern District of California, according to the Manhattan US Attorney's office. The fourth man, David Correia, hasn't been arrested. All four are US citizens, according to the indictment.
An attorney for Parnas and Fruman, Kevin Downing, declined to comment on the indictment. An attorney for Kukushkin, Robert Finkle, didn't respond to a request for comment. Connection to super PAC, US congressman: Parnas was Giuliani's fixer in Ukraine, introducing him to current and former officials as far back as 2018, according to CNN's reporting. Starting in November 2018, Giuliani told CNN, Parnas and Fruman introduced him to former and current Ukrainian officials who provided information that Giuliani claims is damaging to some of Trump's political enemies, including Biden. House Democrats have subpoenaed documents from Giuliani relating to those interactions. The request from Congress is the second set of subpoenas linking Giuliani and other Trump affiliates to Parnas. The first set, part of a lawsuit filed in federal court in Florida earlier this year, sought Parnas' financial records and included a request for any work he may have done on Giuliani's behalf. They gave hundreds of thousands in donations to a Trump-allied super PAC, according to the Miami Herald. Fruman and Parnas asked a US congressman, who is not named in the indictment but appears to be former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, to help get the US ambassador to Ukraine fired at the same time that they were committing to raise tens of thousands of dollars for that congressman's reelection effort, according to the indictment. Parnas made their request to the congressman in part at the behest of one or more Ukraine government officials, the indictment states. Donations to Sessions match those laid out in the documents and he has publicly acknowledged raising criticism of the former ambassador.

By Justin Wise
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Thursday said his government would "happily" open an investigation into potential interference from Ukraine in the 2016 U.S. election. The comments from Zelensky come more than two months after Trump asked the foreign president to look into matters related to Ukraine and the U.S. election during a phone call between the two leaders. The phone call is at the center of a whistleblower complaint that prompted an impeachment inquiry in the House. Speaking to reporters, Zelensky said Ukraine could not make a determination on whether it was involved in election interference without an investigation, according to The Associated Press. There is no evidence that suggests Ukraine committed any interference during the 2016 U.S. election. The U.S. intelligence community found that Russia sought to interfere in the election to hurt Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's campaign and to help Trump. Tom Bossert, a former Homeland Security adviser in the Trump administration, said last month that the assertion that Ukraine was responsible for the hack of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was a "conspiracy theory" that has been "completely debunked." He added in an interview with ABC that he communicated this point to Trump while working in the administration. Bossert also blamed Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and other officials for pushing the theory.
"At this point, I am deeply frustrated with what [Giuliani] and the legal team are doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president," Bossert said. "It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again, and for clarity let me just repeat that it has no validity." Giuliani has pushed back hard at Bossert, saying he doesn't know what he's talking about. During a July 25 phone call with Zelensky, Trump called on the Ukrainian president to look into matters related to CrowdStrike — a U.S.-based internet security company that initially examined the breach of the DNC servers in 2016 — after the Ukrainian leader asked about buying U.S. anti-tank missiles. "I would like you to do us a favor though, because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it," Trump said, according to a White House memorandum of the call. CrowdStrike determined in 2016 that Russian agents broke into the DNC's network and stole emails that were later released by WikiLeaks. Trump's broad effort to pressure Ukraine into investigating 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son prompted House Democrats to launch a formal impeachment inquiry last month.

By Kristine Phillips, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Rudolph Giuliani’s ties to Ukraine stretch back to at least 2008, when he announced that his firm was advising a former boxing champion who was running to be mayor of the capital city of Kiev. Then, in 2017, about a year before President Donald Trump hired him to be his personal attorney, Giuliani Safety & Security began working for the city of Kharkiv in northeast Ukraine. Press releases described the firm as a consultant on Kharkiv's emergency response and security issues. Giuliani’s emergence as a central figure in an effort to push Ukraine to investigate Trump’s potential presidential rival – a scandal that has led to an impeachment inquiry – has raised fresh questions about the former New York City mayor’s business ties and public appearances in Ukraine and other countries.
One possible line of inquiry – and one that Senate Democrats have been pushing – is whether Giuliani's activities violate a federal law that requires Americans who work on behalf of foreign governments to register with the Justice Department. This comes as the Justice Department has stepped up its use of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, an 80-year-old law that Democrats say Giuliani may be violating. Once toothless and antiquated, the statute found its way into the public consciousness in the last two years at the height of the investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election and has been used to prosecute several people, including two men who once were close Trump advisers. The ramped-up enforcement has dramatically changed the landscape not only for lobbyists for foreign governments, but also for others with foreign clients: international law firms, consultants and public relations specialists who, for years, have ignored FARA, experts say. Some don't register because of the administrative burden and the stigma of being labeled a “foreign agent,” experts say. Parties also avoid registering in order to keep relationships with foreign governments and officials secret.

By Lauren Kent, Nina dos Santos, Zahid Mahmood and Chandelis Duster, CNN
Vilnius, Lithuania (CNN) - US Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Monday that he "absolutely" asked President Donald Trump "multiple times" to call Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but about energy -- not the Bidens -- and said he is not leaving his role in the administration. Speaking at a press conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, Perry said that he told Trump that it was in the best interest of the two nations to have discussions regarding energy issues. His response comes on the heels of reports that Trump told lawmakers Perry urged him to make the July 25 call that has become a key focus of House Democrats' impeachment inquiry into the President. "Absolutely, I asked the President multiple times. 'Mr. President, we think it is in the United States and in Ukraine's best interest that you and the President of Ukraine have conversations and discuss the options that are there,'" Perry said Monday. "So absolutely yes." Perry was not part of the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, his spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told CNN in an email Monday. Hynes also said that "Hunter and Joe Biden have never come up in the Secretary's conversations on Ukraine." CNN previously reported that some text messages released by former US Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker showed that Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani was working to set up the call with Zelensky. The texts also show that several other US diplomats, including Volker, were working to arrange the conversation. The Energy Department confirmed on Sunday that Perry "supported and encouraged" Trump to speak with Zelensky on matters related to energy and the economy. Energy issues, though, were not discussed during the July phone conversation between the two leaders, according to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House. The transcript instead revealed Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Joe Biden and the activities of the former vice president's son, Hunter, who had been on a board of a Ukrainian natural gas company. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.

2 Republican senators refute Trump’s Ukraine-Biden conspiracy theory
Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) know that what Trump says about Biden just isn’t true.
By Alex Ward
Two senators over the past five days have blown a major hole in one of President Donald Trump’s favorite conspiracy theories about Ukraine. Those two lawmakers are staunch Republicans. Here’s what Trump believes: Joe Biden improperly used the power of his office as vice president to get a Ukrainian general prosecutor fired, in order to stop him from investigating a Ukrainian gas company that Biden’s son Hunter served on the board of. The reality is that Barack Obama’s administration — as well as many other Western European officials — wanted the prosecutor, a man named Viktor Shokin, removed because he was believed to be trying to stymie anti-corruption efforts in Ukraine. But you don’t have to take my word for it: Take what Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) have recently said about Shokin’s 2016 departure. “The whole world felt that this that Shokin wasn’t doing a [good] enough job. So we were saying, ‘Hey, you’ve ... got to rid yourself of corruption,” Johnson told the radio program The Vicki McKenna Show on Thursday. And then on Monday, Portman told Ohio’s Columbus Dispatch the same thing. While the article doesn’t contain quotes to this effect, it describes Portman as “disput[ing] Trump’s characterization of an ousted Ukrainian as an aggressive battler of corruption,” saying he and other lawmakers “believed the prosecutor wasn’t doing nearly enough to root out corruption — not because he was doing too much.” This isn’t terribly surprising. Johnson and Portman were two of three GOP senators who co-signed a bipartisan 2016 letter to Ukraine’s then-president calling for him to “press ahead with urgent reforms to the Prosecutor General’s office and judiciary.” Four days later, Shokin resigned (although he didn’t officially leave until the following month when Ukraine’s Parliament voted him out).

By Tracy Wilkinson - LA Times
U.S. political leaders peddled ill-informed accounts about the situation in Ukraine, a top advisor to Ukraine’s president said in his first interview with a U.S. news outlet. Although he stressed that he did not believe the falsehoods ever threatened U.S.-Ukrainian relations, the accounts may have given President Trump cover for suspending military aid. “The fact is that some American politicians were not informed in the right degree about what is going on here,” Andriy Yermak said Saturday in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “This is both our problem and their problem,” said Yermak, who is a top advisor and longtime friend of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. “Clearly, over the years,” he added, “President Trump had developed a negative impression of Ukraine, which was not what we wanted.” Yermak said he spent weeks this summer attempting to reassure U.S. officials that the United States had no enemies in the Ukrainian leadership, even before he learned of U.S. officials’ decision to suspend a military aid package to Ukraine, and was dismayed that the country had been dragged into Washington’s political fights and Trump’s possible impeachment. Yermak chose his words carefully to avoid overt criticism of Trump advisors. He clearly communicated a sense of hope that what some view as damage to Ukraine, which has depended on U.S. and European help against Russia, would be temporary. Yermak was asked if he could trust the U.S. under Trump after all that had transpired in recent weeks, and a lengthy pause followed. “We are pragmatic,” he said.

By Brian Naylor
While Congress mulls whether President Trump's phone call soliciting help from the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son is an impeachable offense, Trump's action raises another question. Did the president's requests violate campaign finance law? The Department of Justice doesn't think so. DOJ officials and career prosecutors in the department's public integrity section examined the text of the July 25 phone call and concluded there was not a potential campaign finance violation, according to senior Justice Department officials. The facts did not provide a basis for a predicated investigation, they said. In part, it depends on whether the president solicited a "thing of value" and how that term is defined. Brendan Fischer, an attorney with the Campaign Legal Center, believes there was a violation of the law.
He says that "there is a long list" of examples of the Federal Election Commission finding that "intangible items like opposition research can constitute a thing of value for purposes of campaign finance law." Fischer noted that when looking into Russia intervention in the 2016 election, special counsel Robert Mueller investigated whether Donald Trump Jr. violated campaign finance law with his apparent willingness to accept dirt about Hillary Clinton. Mueller couldn't determine whether Trump Jr. knew that what he was doing violated the law, Fischer says, and furthermore, the information being solicited "appeared to be nonexistent." For a criminal prosecution, the worth of the "thing of value" must be more than $25,000 for a felony and $2,000 for a misdemeanor. The chair of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, tweeted the day after the transcript of Trump's phone call was released last month that "the Commission has recognized the 'broad scope' of the foreign national contribution prohibition and found that even where the value of a good or service 'may be nominal or difficult to ascertain,' such contributions are nevertheless banned."
Former FEC senior counsel Dan Weiner says the question of whether intangibles such as opposition research is a thing of value is "fairly well-settled." He says because the FEC is the agency charged with interpreting and administering federal campaign finance law, getting the agency involved in this question "is crucial." There's only one problem: The FEC currently lacks a quorum and cannot take up any new investigations until additional commissioners are nominated and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Fischer at the Campaign Legal Center isn't sure that even if there were a quorum, the FEC would act. The alleged violation, he says, "arose in the course of the president carrying out his foreign policy responsibilities and the president has wide latitude to conduct diplomacy. I would be very surprised if the FEC were to issue civil penalties against the president or his campaign."

The biggest beneficiary of the Ukraine scandal is, sure enough, the Kremlin.
A year ago, I was in Kiev when a young Ukrainian soldier was killed. Olesya Baklanova, 19, enlisted in the Ukrainian Armed Forces as soon as she was eligible and fought to be assigned a combat post. Deployed to the front lines of her country’s war against Russia, she was killed during the night while manning an observation post, shot by a sniper stationed among the Russian and proxy forces dug in a few hundred meters way. She was one of four Ukrainian soldiers killed at their post that night — one of the estimated 13,000 soldiers, fighters and civilians killed in eastern Ukraine in the past five years. Her story was a concise reminder of the realities of Ukraine’s forgotten war. Russian forces seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in early 2014; weeks later, Russia formally annexed the territory. This was an important strategic goal for President Vladimir Putin. To ensure that no one had time to do anything about it — and to further destabilize Ukraine — Russia then launched a war in eastern Ukraine, in the Donbas region, using nominal separatists with Russian backing. Five years on, it’s still a hot war, with Russia constantly pushing forward the line of occupation.
Some 1.5 million people have been displaced. The shifting mass of regular and irregular Russian troops in eastern Ukraine — soldiers and mercenaries; “separatist” proxies and militias; a lot of guys with pseudonyms using advanced Russian weaponry that Russia claims must have been bought at the local corner shop (note: it is supplied from Russia) — constantly test and adapt new capabilities, especially electronic warfare capabilities, on the battlefield. Ukrainian forces, with Western support, have steadily developed new measures to counter whatever is thrown at them. The Ukrainian war effort is defined both by this ingenuity and by sacrifice. The army, left gutted by former President Viktor Yanukovych, was rebuilt entirely in wartime. New units are rotated through areas of heavy fighting to increase their combat experience — a wartime readiness strategy that contributes to spikes in casualties, but which has been enormously successful. The average age of Ukrainian recruits is officially around 36, though anecdotally it’s over 40 at the front, as the generation that remembers life before independence now leads the fight to keep it.

By David Welna
At a news conference in Kyiv on Friday, Ukraine's newly appointed top prosecutor announced a sweeping review of past corruption investigations that had been either shut down or split up. Fifteen of those cases, according to an official press release, involve the founder of the Ukrainian gas firm Burisma. Former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter was appointed to Burisma's board in 2014, while his father was leading policy on Ukraine during the Obama administration. The audit of earlier corruption probes follows a promise Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy made to President Trump in a July 25 phone conversation: that a new prosecutor general would look into the closing of an investigation into Burisma's practices. Ukraine might appear to be bowing to pressure from Trump, who lifted his previously unannounced two-month hold on nearly $400 million in security assistance for Ukraine on Sept. 11. Earlier this week, the U.S. State Department gave the green light for Congress to consider selling 150 Javelin anti-tank missiles worth nearly $40 million to Ukraine. Zelenskiy had mentioned his desire to acquire those weapons, which are intended to counter Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, in his phone call with Trump.

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

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

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

(CNN) - Three House committees released documents and text messages provided by former American Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker on Thursday. Read the full document and text exchanges here:

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

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