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More of the president's men? Ukraine probe widens, Giuliani subpoenaed

President Donald Trump with Attorney General William Barr

President Donald Trump with Attorney General William Barr on July 11. Credit: EPA/Michael Reynolds

The plot thickens

It didn't stop with Ukraine. President Donald Trump's zeal to find dirt on political enemies extended to Australia, Italy and Britain, and two Cabinet officials have been alongside him for the hunts, new reporting revealed Monday.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among the administration officials listening in on the July 25 call when Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to reopen investigations that he hoped would tar Joe Biden and his son Hunter. A whistleblower's revelation about the call and other actions that seemed aimed at squeezing Ukraine to boost Trump's re-election prospects sparked the accelerating House impeachment inquiry.

Without revealing his participation, Pompeo said last week that actions by State Department officials had been “entirely appropriate and consistent” with administration efforts to improve relations with Ukraine. Three House committees have already subpoenaed Pompeo for Ukraine-related documents, and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani has said he conducted his private gumshoeing with Pompeo's knowledge. “I have 40 texts from the State Department asking me to do what I did,” Giuliani told The Washington Post recently.

Those same committees — intelligence, foreign affairs and oversight — issued a subpoena Monday to Giuliani, demanding he turn over records pertaining to his contacts regarding Ukraine, the Bidens and related matters. The panels' chairmen wrote that they are probing “credible allegations” that Giuliani acted as Trump's agent "in a scheme to advance his personal political interests by abusing the power of the office of the president.” They noted that Giuliani on national television acknowledged his efforts to pressure Ukrainian officials. Giuliani tweeted he was considering how to respond.

The panels also asked Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Soviet-born Republican donors who are alleged to have worked as fixers for Giuliani, and Semyon “Sam” Kislin, a longtime associate of Giuliani, to appear for depositions between Oct. 11 and Oct. 14.

The New York Times reported that Trump pushed Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during a recent phone call to help Attorney General William Barr get information Trump hopes will discredit the Robert Mueller Russia investigation, which Trump has claimed absolved him. Access to the call transcript was restricted to a small group of aides, much like the Zelensky call. Trump's right-wing media allies have promoted a theory that an Australian official who tipped off the FBI about Russian efforts to peddle Hillary Clinton dirt to the Trump campaign was in cahoots with the Obama administration.

Barr, whose Justice Department tried to keep a lid on the whistleblower's complaint, also has traveled to Italy to meet with officials there and sought information from the British while carrying out Trump's wishes to discredit the origins of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. In the Zelensky call, Trump urged the Ukrainian leader to pursue contact with Barr.

No alarm from McConnell

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wouldn't answer when asked in a CNBC interview about Trump's Twitter tirades suggesting House intelligence chairman Adam Schiff should be arrested "for treason." Trump also attacked the anonymous intelligence agency whistleblower and quoted an evangelical supporter's warning that his removal from office "will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation."

But while Trump denounces the "impeachment scam" and quotes followers calling it "unlawful," McConnell said that if the House votes to impeach and passes it to the Senate for trial, "I would have no choice but to take it up." He added, “How long you are on it is a different matter."

McConnell noted that it would take 67 votes in the narrowly divided chamber to change the Senate rules guiding impeachment. Republicans hold 53 seats.

For more of Monday's developments and a preview of the week ahead in the House investigations, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Janison: Contrary to Iran-Contra 

Newsday's Dan Janison notes Trump's Ukraine ploy bears some echoes of the 1980s Iran-Contra scandal during Ronald Reagan's presidency. Members of Reagan's inner circle used private and foreign players for purposes unsupported or clearly opposed by Congress. Weapons deliveries were involved.

But there are fundamental differences. However misguided, not to mention illegal, the Reagan administration's motive for exceeding its constitutional authority was its view of the national interest: to leverage the release of captive Americans from Iran and fund rebels in Nicaragua against the Communist-supported Sandinistas. It also helped Reagan that he was popular and that his aides tried to give him "plausible deniability" about their actions. Reagan was tarnished, but he wasn't impeached.

In Trump's case, the interest he appeared to be pursuing was his own. He delayed legal, bipartisan-backed missile sales to Ukraine, while also trying to get that nation to investigate Americans who happened to be his political detractors. 

Rip off that mask?

Trump demanded again Monday to be told the intelligence whistleblower's identity. He said the White House was "trying to find out" who it is.

Lawyers for the whistleblower say they have “serious” safety concerns for their client, who Trump has compared to a spy while alluding to the punishments those guilty of espionage used to receive. The whistleblower, who has agreed to talk to congressional committees, wants assurances of maintaining anonymity.

Trump's remarks and tweets have raised concerns about intimidation not just of potential witnesses against him but more broadly about protections for government whistleblowers who help uncover waste, fraud and abuse.

According to the National Whistleblower Center website, whistleblower cases have brought in $42.5 billion to the U.S. Treasury since 1987. Websites for numerous federal agencies spell out whistleblower protections and say they "play a critical role in keeping our Government honest, efficient, and accountable."

Followed the rules

Trump also has seized on reports originating in conservative media and repeated by Giuliani that just days before the whistleblower made the complaint, the rules were changed to allow it to include secondhand information. Trump tweeted, "WHO CHANGED THE LONG STANDING WHISTLEBLOWER RULES JUST BEFORE SUBMITTAL OF THE FAKE WHISTLEBLOWER REPORT? DRAIN THE SWAMP!"

No one did. As the Daily Beast reported and intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson affirmed later Monday, there was no such change to the rules. The form the whistleblower filled out has been in use since May 2018. Atkinson, explaining why the complaint "appeared credible," said the intelligence officer had "official and authorized access to the information and sources referenced … including direct knowledge of certain alleged conduct."

Don't expect a beautiful letter

Ousted national security adviser John Bolton spoke out Monday on his sharp disagreements with Trump's policy on North Korea, saying he didn't believe Kim Jong Un would willingly surrender nuclear weapons.

"Every day that goes by makes North Korea a more dangerous country," Bolton added. "You don't like their behavior today, what do you think it will be when they have nuclear weapons that can be delivered to American cities?"

Speaking to a Washington think tank, Bolton said the U.S. can’t “simply pretend” North Korea is making progress toward denuclearizing when Kim is determined to "do whatever he can to keep a deliverable nuclear weapons capability and to develop and enhance it further.” 

What else is happening:

  • Quinnipiac is the latest poll to show growing support for impeachment. It found an even 47%-47% split on whether Trump should be removed from office, up from 37%-57% last week. 
  • Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican from the Buffalo area who was the first in the House to endorse Trump, is resigning from his seat ahead of an expected guilty plea Tuesday in an insider trading case. When Collins was charged last year, Trump complained on Twitter that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions put a GOP seat in jeopardy. 
  • Giuliani was up all night, tweeting attacks on Joe Biden and the impeachment inquiry at 2:10 a.m., 4:05 a.m. and 5:22 a.m., the Daily News reported. White House officials who think Giuliani is making matters worse have decided to sit back and let him go on TV until he burns himself out, according to CNN.
  • Biden's supporters and Democratic strategists are worried how getting "Ukrained" will affect his fragile front-runner status, The Associated Press reports. A South Carolina voter said, “I think that a certain amount of dirt will stick to him, even if it shouldn’t.”
  • Bernie Sanders may be getting ahead of himself. "If it's not Trump, we're gonna beat Mike Pence," he tweeted.
  • Trump isn't the only one who keeps mistakenly referring to Ukraine as "the Ukraine." The Ukrainian Embassy in Washington tweeted a plea: “Let us kindly help you to use the words related to #Ukraine correctly.” The "the" is a despised relic of the Soviet era. The embassy also says the capital is Kyiv, not Kiev, Politico reported.
  • House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, who has sued to obtain Trump's tax returns, said he’s consulting lawyers about whether to make public a complaint by a federal employee about possible misconduct in IRS audits of Trump, Bloomberg News reported.

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