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Trump undermines his allies' alibi for him

President Donald Trump on the White House South

President Donald Trump on the White House South Lawn on Friday. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

The Joker

You're a Republican trying to defend Donald Trump on the Ukraine scandal, and then he goes and calls on China, too, to investigate his political rivals. He can't be serious, can he? Aha! There's your answer.

“You really think he was serious about thinking that China’s going to investigate the Biden family?” Rep. Jim Jordan said to ABC's George Stephanopoulos, while ducking questions on whether Trump's request was appropriate. "I doubt if the China comment was serious, to tell you the truth,” Sen. Roy Blunt said on CBS' "Face the Nation." On Friday, Sen. Marco Rubio told reporters in Florida that Trump "did it to gig you guys."

Either Trump isn't in on his own joke or he's going to keep milking it. Amid weekend tweetstorms repeating false and unsubstantiated allegations against Joe Biden and his son Hunter, Trump said, "As lawyers & others have stated, as President, I have an OBLIGATION to look into possible, or probable, CORRUPTION!"

Other Republicans found the president's remarks serious and disturbing. Maine's Sen. Susan Collins on Saturday said Trump made a “big mistake by asking China to get involved.” She is the third Republican senator to publicly criticize the president on this matter, joining Utah’s Mitt Romney and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse.

Romney said, "When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China's investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated."

Trump tweeted back: “Somebody please wake up Mitt Romney and tell him that my conversation with the Ukrainian President was a congenial and very appropriate one, and my statement on China pertained to corruption, not politics." He left out comedy.

Trump went on to fling his trademark insults at Romney, and it didn't seem he was just playing insult comic: "Mitt Romney never knew how to win. He is a pompous 'ass' who has been fighting me from the beginning." Another Trump tweet said, "IMPEACHMITTROMNEY." Funny thing, a senator can't be impeached. Senators can be expelled by a two-thirds vote, but that would require the grossest misconduct or actual (not Trump-defined) treason.

A whistling duet

A second whistleblower has come forward to corroborate the original U.S. intelligence whistleblower complaint that triggered an impeachment inquiry into Trump, according to attorneys representing them.

Attorney Mark Zaid on Twitter said the second whistleblower "has firsthand knowledge" to support the allegations laid out in the original whistleblower complaint — that Trump pushed Ukrainian officials to investigate Trump’s Democratic rivals days after he ordered the suspension of $400 million in U.S. military aid. The second whistleblower already has given an account to Michael Atkinson, the inspector general for the intelligence community, Zaid told ABC News.

The original complaint centered on Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump called on the newly elected leader for a “favor” that included investigating the Bidens. For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Separately, Figueroa writes on how Trump’s push to uncover the identity of the whistleblower presents a major test for the federal laws designed to protect whistleblowers from retaliation, according to their advocates and legal experts.

Follow the bouncing Rudy

Rudy Giuliani keeps shouting on TV with conspiracy theories that keep sprouting like mushrooms. On Fox News' "Media Buzz," Trump's personal lawyer berated host Howard Kurtz when he tried to get Giuliani to pause for a question on his claims.

“Could you just listen for one second?” yelled Giuliani, demanding that Kurtz shush. “Wait, before you interrupt me, Howard. I know you want to defend it so bad. It’s pathetic. It’s pathetic. Just listen to me for one second!” Giuliani also said Biden was the media's “honey boy.”

Kurtz ended the interview after a second lengthy segment while an agitated Giuliani waved an iPad and protested: "We haven't moved to Romania yet … Wait until we get to Romania!"

Newsday's Emily Ngo examines why Giuliani, Trump's attack dog during the 2016 campaign and the Mueller investigation, has become a target in the impeachment inquiry.

Democrats say that aside from acting as a rogue agent advancing Trump's personal political interests in a potential abuse of presidential power, there may also be ethical entanglements between the president's vested interests abroad and those of the clients that Giuliani retains through his namesake security firm. Giuliani says he's done nothing wrong.

Pumping Ukraine for gas

As Giuliani was pushing Ukraine last spring to investigate Biden, a group of individuals with ties to Trump and his personal lawyer also was active there, trying to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company, Naftogaz, The Associated Press reported. Their plan was to then steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies, according to two people with knowledge of their plans.

Their plan hit a snag after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lost his re-election bid to Zelenskiy, but the effort to install a friendlier management team would soon be taken up with Ukraine’s new president by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose slate of candidates included a fellow Texan who is a past political donor.

Two key players in the plans were a pair of Soviet-born Florida entrepreneurs, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who have helped Giuliani pursue his conspiracy theories. They also are said to have spoken about plans for Trump to replace then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, with someone more open to aiding their business interests.

Giuliani told AP: “I have not pursued a deal in the Ukraine. I don’t know about a deal in the Ukraine. I would not do a deal in the Ukraine now, obviously.”

On Friday, according to the news site Axios, Trump told a group of Republican lawmakers that it was Perry who prompted the phone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy for a “favor” regarding Biden.

Shafting another ally

Giving a blank check to Turkey to move into Syria, Trump has newly announced a U.S. withdrawal. He had clashed with former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis over this.

Trump's move drew swift criticism for abandoning the Kurds in the region who bore the brunt against ISIS but who are regarded by Turkey's Erdogan regime as terrorists.

"The Americans are traitors," a spokesman for Kurds in Syria said.

Trump credited himself for defeating ISIS, which is still active in some parts of the region.

Taxing time for Trump

The president's effort to hide his tax returns despite every president since Richard Nixon disclosing them suffered a blow early Monday when Manhattan federal judge Victor Marrero threw out a Trump court challenge.

Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance has been seeking the documents in connection with the Trump Organization’s involvement in buying the silence of two women who claimed to have had affairs with the president.

Janison: Pence for your thoughts

Newsday's Dan Janison imagines what might happen if the unexpected occurs and the key moment at next year's Republican National Convention is the acceptance speech of Mike Pence — for the presidential nomination.

Genuine conservatives might just love him for the top spot. He's anti-abortion and fiscally cautious. He surely would continue the rightward trend of federal judicial appointments. He'd push the tax-cut policies and industry deregulation policies supported by Republican lawmakers.

What would be missing? The use of Twitter and the golf and junk-food habits. The tantrums, public obscenities, preening, business conflicts and sexual-harassment charges. Of course, for some, the campaign might also be less fun.

Lies, half-truths and consequences

The playbook Donald Trump has used as a real estate developer, celebrity businessman and political candidate has, for the most part, proved effective through the first two-plus years of his presidency, writes The Associated Press.

Believing in the force of his own personality, he has faced no consequences for telling half-truths and outright lies, pushing legal boundaries, pressuring subordinates to do the dirty work and accepting no personal responsibility.

But AP says Trump's ways may finally be catching up to him. The tactics that helped him win the White House have jeopardized his hold on it, ensnaring him in accusations that he enlisted a foreign government to investigate a political foe and leaving him flailing against a rapidly escalating impeachment investigation.

Ukraine in the neck

A top adviser to Zelenskiy said in his first interview with a Western news outlet that false accounts peddled by members of Trump’s inner circle threatened to poison U.S.-Ukrainian relations this year.

Andriy Yermak didn't mention Giuliani by name in his interview with the Los Angeles Times, but his meaning was clear. Yermak has served as point man for connecting Zelenskiy with Trump through Giuliani, whom Yermak met and spoke with several times in the months after Zelenskiy took office in the spring. “It is not a secret for us that the true information about Ukraine and U.S.-Ukraine relations left much to be desired,” he said.

Giuliani wanted Ukraine to pursue allegations involving the Bidens that were pushed by a former general prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko. But Lutsenko was fired and Giuliani charged in August that the government led by Zelenskiy was full of “enemies of America.”

Lutsenko recently recanted his claims. In an extensive interview with The New York Times, Lutsenko said he told Giuliani from the start that there was no basis for a case against Biden or his son. “Sometimes the mayor is very wise, but sometimes he gets carried away,” he said. Asked to comment, Giuliani responded: "Liar."

The New York Times portrayed Lutsenko as having tried to cozy up to Giuliani and the Trump administration to salvage his power when U.S. diplomats in Kyiv criticized him for failing to adequately fight corruption. Lutsenko had no formal legal training but had a long history of wielding the law as a weapon in his personal political battles, the newspaper said.

What else is happening:

  • In a Washington Post op-ed, Biden said, "President Trump seemingly cannot tell the truth — about anything. He slanders anyone he sees as a threat. That is why he is frantically pushing flat-out lies, debunked conspiracy theories and smears against me and my family." 
  • House Democrats are marching forward with their impeachment inquiry with more depositions coming this week, The Associated Press reports. Scheduled witnesses include Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the EU who was on text exchanges pushing the "corruption" investigations Trump wanted, and Yovanovitch, who Trump and Giuliani saw as getting in their way. 
  • Two Republicans waging long-shot bids against Trump differed Sunday on the approach Congress should take toward impeachment, Newsday's Scott Eidler reports. Former Rep. Joe Walsh called Trump a "traitor" who "deserves to be impeached." Former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford argued for an "incremental" approach.
  • House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, on CBS' "Face the Nation," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "is not complying with the inquiry so far." Pompeo insisted on Saturday that the administration was right to seek investigation of claims of election interference from Ukraine in the 2016 election, bolstering a widely debunked conspiracy theory, The New York Times reported.
  • The New Yorker looked at the origins of the conspiracy theory on Biden and Ukraine. A key source was an opposition research organization that was founded by former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon and funded by a family foundation led by Long Island hedge fund magnate Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah.
  • The State Department said it had "good discussions" in Sweden with North Korea on resuming nuclear talks. North Korea said it won’t meet with the United States for more “sickening negotiations” unless it abandons its “hostile policy."

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