By Robert A. Vella
Here are breaking news updates on the Trump-Ukraine scandal and the impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives:
President Trump told his Ukrainian counterpart to work with the U.S. attorney general to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and offered to meet with the foreign leader at the White House after he promised to conduct such an inquiry, according to a rough transcript of the call released Wednesday.
Those statements and others in a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky were so concerning that the intelligence community inspector general thought them a possible violation of campaign finance law. In late August, intelligence officials referred the matter to the Justice Department as a possible crime, but prosecutors concluded last week that the conduct was not criminal, according to senior Justice Department officials.
“The United States has been very, very good to Ukraine, ” Trump says. “I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good, but the United States has been very, very good to Ukraine.”
That’s significant because, even in the absence of a quid pro quo, Zelensky might logically have believed aid or some other form of assistance was tied to his decisions. Trump’s comment that the relationship hasn’t been “reciprocal” certainly suggests Ukraine isn’t doing what it should.
After Zelensky responds, Trump’s very next comments deal with investigations he’d like to see.
“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, in reference to those investigations.
“Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible,” Trump says…
Trump soon adds: “The other thing: There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution, and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. … It sounds horrible to me.”
It’s difficult to see how Zelensky could interpret that set of circumstances as something other than a strong suggestion and even a veiled threat.
The officials said that Joseph Maguire, who was thrust into the top intelligence post last month, warned the White House that he was not willing to withhold information from Congress, where he is scheduled to testify in open and closed hearings on Thursday.
The move was in part designed to force the White House to make an explicit legal decision on whether it was going to assert executive privilege over the whistleblower complaint, which centers on a call that Trump made with the leader of Ukraine in late July.
In essence, Maguire was serving notice that he intended to cooperate with lawmakers unless the White House moved forward with a legal case to prevent him from doing so, the officials said.
The tax whistleblower, meanwhile, went straight to Congress ― specifically to the House Ways and Means Committee, which had sued the Trump administration for refusing to provide copies of the president’s tax returns in response to a formal request. Democrats say they need Trump’s returns to make sure the IRS properly enforces tax laws against the president.
But Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) is far less outspoken than Schiff, and his approach to the tax case has been cautious. He decided to stay focused on the lawsuit, using the whistleblower’s material to bolster that case.
In a brief last month, the committee told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that a “federal employee” had approached them with “evidence of possible misconduct” and “inappropriate efforts” to influence an IRS audit of the president. The document provided no further detail about the whistleblower, but in a footnote, Democrats offered to tell U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden all about it in private.
A spokesman for the committee said this week that McFadden, a Trump nominee who donated to the Trump 2016 campaign and volunteered for the Trump presidential transition, has so far not asked to hear more about the whistleblower. He denied a Democratic motion to speed up the case.