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Trump's Ukraine ploy straining Nancy Pelosi's impeachment restraint

President Donald Trump on Sunday at the White

President Donald Trump on Sunday at the White House. Credit: Ron Sachs via EPA

A whistle but no penalty?

The whistleblower complaint is still under wraps, but if it shows Donald Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation to dirty up Joe Biden and his son Hunter, the president has a familiar defense: What's wrong with that?

"The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place. It was largely the fact that we don't want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, [contributing] to the corruption already in the Ukraine," the president said. (Watch it on video.)

Trump said there was no "quid pro quo" during the July 25 call, though it's difficult to imagine Zelensky wasn't acutely aware that the release of promised military aid hung in the balance as the U.S. president sought to bash Biden, who has looked like his strongest potential 2020 rival.

Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani are pushing unsubstantiated allegations that the former vice president's pressure on Ukraine to fire a prosecutor in 2016 to stop an investigation of an energy company that Hunter Biden worked for. But Joe Biden wasn't alone in seeking the prosecutor's ouster. The International Monetary Fund, the European Union and others accused the prosecutor of failing to fight corruption.

Among Democrats, there was a growing sense that merely crying foul wasn't enough of a response if Trump is leveraging foreign policy and the security of America's allies to serve his re-election bid, and that meant renewed pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to greenlight impeachment. "We back off of everything! We've been very weak," said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.).

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who demands to see the whistleblower complaint that was rated an "urgent" matter of "serious or flagrant abuse" by the intelligence community inspector general, has agreed with Pelosi's caution on impeachment. But he said Sunday that the only "remedy" may be impeachment. “This seems different in kind and we may very well have crossed the Rubicon here."

Pelosi hinted in a letter to colleagues that she could go that way. If acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire fails to provide the complaint when he testifies in front of Schiff's committee on Thursday, she said, the administration "will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation." For more, see Newsday's story by Scott Eidler.

The one that gets away

Trump's alleged bid to enlist Ukraine for collusion against Biden came the day after Robert Mueller's House testimony had the president crowing that the Russia investigation special counsel found "no collusion," The Washington Post writes.

The president appears to be convinced of his own invincibility and confident that no one could hold him back. Without consequence, he received help from a foreign adversary in 2016, sought to thwart the Russia investigation and possibly obstruct justice, earned profits for his businesses while in office and blocked Congress’ ability to conduct oversight, said the Post.

The administration's Sunday talk show guests, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, defended his conduct. “If Vice President Biden behaved inappropriately, if he was protecting his son and intervened with the Ukrainian leadership in a way that was corrupt, I do think we need to get to the bottom of that,” Pompeo said on ABC's "This Week."

Mnuchin was asked on CNN's "State of the Union" what he would say if former President Barack Obama had pressured a foreign leader to investigate Trump's sons. "I'm not going to speculate on that," he said.

Republicans in Congress for the most part responded to the revelations with silence, shrugs or cheering on Trump's accusation of a new "witch hunt." An exception, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), tweeted, "If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme."

Stricken Kiev

Ukrainian leaders are facing two unappealing choices, reports The Washington Post.

They could give in to Trump’s demand to open an inquiry into the Ukrainian business dealings of Hunter Biden and risk angering Democrats who would see it as interference in the 2020 elections. Or they could defy Trump and face the wrath of a U.S. president who had frozen $250 million of crucial military assistance before releasing it earlier this month.

Either way, it risks a rupture of the U.S. bipartisan consensus that has stood with Ukraine since 2014, when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region and stoked war in Ukraine’s east.

Janison: It's de Blasi-over

Bill de Blasio wasn't just running against history. It's almost like he tried to defy science.

It remains one of the laws of political gravity that people who run City Hall in Manhattan just don't make it to the White House in Washington, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. Yet de Blasio succumbed to the illusion that if he could make it in New York, home of an international media bubble, he could make it everywhere in the U.S.

Now out of the race, he'll have to make the best of his day job as mayor until his term ends in 2021.

Still chance for Iran peace

Pompeo on Sunday said the Trump administration is “looking for a diplomatic resolution” to diffuse escalating tensions between the United States and Iran, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Pompeo, making the Sunday talk show rounds ahead of Monday’s start of the annual UN General Assembly in Manhattan, insisted Trump is looking to “avoid war” even as Pompeo doubled down on calling missile and drone strikes on the oil fields “an act of war.”

The Pentagon announced plans on Friday to deploy additional troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Pompeo said they are going there “for purposes of deterrence and defense.”

Warren edges ahead in Iowa

Elizabeth Warren has pulled slightly ahead of Biden for the first time in Iowa, according to a Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll.

The survey showed Warren with 22% to Biden's 20% among likely Democratic caucusgoers. Bernie Sanders was a distant third at 11%, followed by Pete Buttigieg at 9% and Kamala Harris with 6%.

The last Register/CNN poll, in June, had Biden leading with 24% and Warren in the third spot at 15%.

Still, just 1 in 5 likely Democratic caucusgoers said they had already made up their minds.

What else is happening:

  • While Trump's approval rating is 45% in an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, a record 69% of voters don't like him personally. The poll also found considerable doubt about some of the progressive policies favored by Warren and Sanders and about Biden's fitness.
  • Trump's trade war with China has led to a surprise windfall for the Long Island Cares-Harry Chapin Food Bank, reports Newsday's Robert Brodsky. Millions of pounds of groceries that American farmers can't sell to Chinese markets are flooding the docks of pantries, soup kitchens and food banks nationwide.
  • Instead of red Make America Great Again hats, there were turbans and Islamic caps as Trump joined a Houston rally of 50,000 welcoming Narendra Modi, India's prime minister. Modi heaped praise on Trump, calling him “a great American president," as Trump seeks inroads among voters who usually lean Democratic.
  • Trump on Sunday blamed Democrats in Congress who are "wasting time" on investigations for the lack of action on gun violence. The Democratic-led House has passed background check legislation, but the Republicans running the Senate have been waiting for weeks to hear from Trump on what he would support.
  • Cory Booker's campaign manager indicated the New Jersey senator may have to quit the race if he doesn't raise $1.7 million by Sept. 30. The deadline is related to anticipated fundraising thresholds for the Democrats' November debate.
  • Trump called Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell a "bonehead" with "no guts" last week, but the president said Sunday he's not trying to get rid of him. Trump said he “could do things if I wanted but I don’t want to do that."
  • Trump has been ordered by a New York judge to provide video testimony for a trial beginning this week. The case is a lawsuit brought by protesters who say they were assaulted by Trump's security guards during a 2015 protest outside Trump Tower.

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