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Trump to GOP: Don't make alibis for me, my Ukraine call was 'perfect'

President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky

President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shake hands during a meeting in Manhattan on Sept. 25. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Saul Loeb

Lawless? Flawless!

Few Republicans signal a willingness to back the impeachment of Donald Trump, let alone his removal from office. Aside from Trump's most fervent defenders, however, there is a casting-about for ways to frame a self-interested presidential squeeze play on Ukraine as maybe not a good thing, but not bad enough to impeach.

“I believe that it is inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival ... I don’t believe it was impeachable," said Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” But Trump doesn't appear grateful over the prospect of winning his case by lowering the bar for beating the rap.

"The call to the Ukrainian President was PERFECT. Read the Transcript!" Trump tweeted Sunday. " ... Republicans, don’t be led into the fools trap of saying it was not perfect, but is not impeachable. No, it is much stronger than that. NOTHING WAS DONE WRONG!"

Democrats fervently disagree. As depositions from testimony made clear, so did officials reaching up to the highest levels of the Trump administration as Trump turned over Ukraine policy and pursuit of his political interests to personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. The Washington Post recapped the testimony for a blow-by-blow telling of the story.

One GOP strategy floated last week was to put the onus on Giuliani, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, suggesting they acted on their own. But it's tough to redirect blame when the president is tweeting there's nothing to blame anyone for because "NOTHING WAS DONE WRONG!"

As the House impeachment inquiry begins open hearings this week, Republicans will have to decide whether it's a case of nothing-to-see-here. On CBS' "Face the Nation," Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said it depends on whether Trump "asked for an investigation of a political rival" or an "investigation of possible corruption by someone who happens to be a political rival.” 

Kennedy continued: "The latter would be in the national interest. The former would be in the president’s parochial interest, which would be over the line.” Meaning impeachable? "Yeah, probably."

Ready to rumble

House Democrats and Republicans offered a preview Sunday of the case each side will make this week when public hearings start on Wednesday, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Top Democrats making the Sunday talk show rounds argued the president's dealings with Ukraine, as described by a succession of top diplomats and White House officials in closed-door depositions, were evidence of "bribery" and an abuse of power.

"You have an elected official, the president, demanding action of a foreign country in this case, and providing something of value, which is the investigation, and he is withholding aid, which is that official act," said Rep. Jackie Speier of California.

Trump and House Republicans pressed House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff to approve the GOP list of witnesses it wants in the open hearings. Democrats expect it will be a "no" for the Bidens and the U.S. intelligence whistleblower whose complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry.

Flipper Parnas: Made threat for Rudy

Parnas explicitly told Ukrainian officials before President Volodymyr Zelensky's inauguration that if it did not announce an investigation into the Bidens, Vice President Mike Pence would not attend the swearing-in and the U.S. would freeze aid, according to a lawyer for Parnas.

The lawyer, Joseph Bondy, told The New York Times that the message to the Ukrainians was given at the direction of Giuliani, whom Parnas believed was acting under Trump’s instruction. Bondy has offered Parnas' cooperation to the impeachment inquiry.

Parnas' indicted partner, Igor Fruman, who was also in the meeting, said Parnas’s claim was false, according to his lawyers. “There was no mention of any terms, military aid or whatever they are talking about it — it’s false," said John Dowd, who has also represented Trump.

The Ukrainian official, Serhiy Shefir, also disputed that aid was discussed. He said Parnas and Fruman wanted a meeting arranged between Giuliani and Zelensky. Giuliani also denied directing Parnas to deliver a warning.

Janison: Bloomberg grabs mic

When you think groundhogs and New York City mayors, you think Bill de Blasio, but it's Michael Bloomberg's newest flirtation with presidential that's prompting "Groundhog Day" comparisons.

Every time in recent years that the ex-mayor had his entourage crank up noise about a possible run, moderates and middle-of-the-roaders regarded Bloomberg as a potentially good and competent president if he could ever win, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

His money and background will get Bloomberg an audience, but it may not change the dynamics that led him to pull back before. Parts of his record will make core Democratic primary voters, populistic Republicans and libertarians of all shades wary.

Rep. King calling it quits

After 14 terms in Congress, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) announced he will not run for reelection next year. 

"I made this decision after much discussion with my wife Rosemary; my son Sean; and my daughter Erin," he texted. "The prime reason for my decision was that after 28 years of spending 4 days a week in Washington, D.C., it is time to end the weekly commute and be home in Seaford." 

A new TV ad campaign from an anti-Trump group happens to target King and a dozen other House Republicans, urging them to support the impeachment inquiry. They won't. The ads feature veterans repeating their oath to protect the nation against enemies, foreign and domestic, reports Newsday's Rachelle Blidner.

Nikki: Path of no 'resistance' 

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, in a CBS News interview and a new book, said she wouldn't go along with then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and then-chief of staff John Kelly when they wanted her quiet support to thwart Trump plans the two men thought were dangerous.

"Kelly and Tillerson confided in me that when they resisted the president, they weren't being insubordinate, they were trying to save the country … Tillerson went on to tell me the reason he resisted the president's decisions was because, if he didn't, people would die," Haley wrote.

Haley continued: "Instead of saying that to me, they should've been saying that to the president ... to undermine a president is really a very dangerous thing."

Kelly responded: "If by resistance and stalling she means putting a staff process in place … to ensure the (president) knew all the pros and cons of what policy decision he might be contemplating so he could make an informed decision, then guilty as charged." Tillerson had no comment.

Haley was broadly supportive of Trump and said she went to him privately when she disagreed. One instance was his ceding of authority at the 2018 Helsinki summit with Vladimir Putin; the other was his “moral equivalence” in response to a deadly white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia, the year before.

Whistleblower lawyer: No 'scam'

Mark Zaid, a Long Island-raised lawyer for the Ukraine whistleblower, is rejecting charges from Trump and his allies that a series of tweets he wrote early in 2017 about an inevitable impeachment show the inquiry is a "scam."

Zaid told Fox News: "I was referring to a completely lawful process of what President Trump would likely face as a result of stepping over the line, and that particularly whatever would happen would come about as a result of lawyers."

Newsday's Figueroa has more on Zaid's background. He grew up in Jericho, graduated from Albany Law School and has taken on a number of newsy cases. He successfully sued the Libyan government for families of victims of Pan Am flight 103 which blew-up over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Zaid said he still considers Long Island home. “For the most part, I have lost my Long Island accent even though there are people who are not from Long Island who will tell me that they can still hear it in some words,” Zaid said. “I always tell everyone … I will always be a New Yorker.”

What else is happening:

  • Democrats scored victories with the help of suburban swing voters last Tuesday, but that doesn't mean they've got them for keeps if moderates decide the party's 2020 nominee is too left-wing, political analysts tell Newsday's Emily Ngo.
  • Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a zealous Trump defender, seems to have adopted the president's penchant for canine-based insults. Zeldin tweeted that despite no qualifications, Hunter Biden "laid down w/Ukrainian dogs for $50k+ p month."
  • In his new book, Donald Trump Jr. recalled his thoughts visiting Arlington National Cemetery the day before his father's inauguration. They included "all the sacrifices we’d have to make to help my father succeed — voluntarily giving up a huge chunk of our business and all international deals to avoid the appearance that we were ‘profiting off the office.' "  
  • Trump is in New York City to speak at the opening ceremony of Monday's Veterans Day Parade in Manhattan. Mayor Bill de Blasio, a critic of Trump, told reporters he hoped the president would attend the event with a recognition that it "is not about him, this is about our veterans."
  • Trump says he’s weighing an invitation from Putin to attend the May 9 Victory Day military parade in Moscow.
  • Former National Security Adviser John Bolton, depicted in impeachment inquiry testimony as a foe of Giuliani's Ukraine plotting, has made a book deal with Simon & Schuster worth about $2 million, The Associated Press reported. It's still uncertain whether he will testify, but Axios reports Bolton was a prolific note-taker, which worries people around Trump.

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