- After repeatedly denying that he spoke about former Vice President Joe Biden in a call to the President of Ukraine, Trump backtracked Sunday and said that he had in fact discussed Biden, among other things.
- The call became the center of controversy after the news broke about a whistleblower complaint involving Trump and inappropriate communications with a foreign leader.
- A number of Democrats brought back the discussion of impeachment following the revelations, an idea that Republicans have generally pushed back against.
President Donald Trump is facing renewed calls for impeachment after he admitted Sunday to discussing corruption accusations against former Vice President Joe Biden in a phone call with Ukraine’s president.
The phone call in question is at the center of a whistleblower complaint that has created a whirlwind in Washington and beyond.
Here’s what you need to know.
Origins of Complaint
It all started on Aug. 12, when a whistleblower in the intelligence community filed a complaint.
At the time, it was unclear where the whistleblower worked, but The Washington Post has since reported that the person “once worked on the staff of the White House National Security Council.” It is still unclear who that person is specifically.
What we do know is that the complaint was filed with the Intelligence Community Inspector General (ICIG). The ICIG is basically what it sounds like: a watchdog who investigates allegations and complaints of misconduct in the intelligence community.
Right now, the ICIG is Michael Atkinson, a former Justice Department official who was confirmed to the post in 2018 after being nominated by Trump.
The whistleblower filed the complaint with the ICIG under a law called the Intelligence Community Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. That law says that once a misconduct complaint is filed, the ICIG has 14 days to decide if the complaint is both credible and of “urgent concern.” Atkinson determined that it was both.
After that, the law says that the complaint must be sent to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which Atkinson did. That complaint was then received by the current acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who notably has only held the position since Aug. 8.
Maguire then had seven days, until Sept. 2, to send the full complaint to the House and Senate intelligence committees. But he did not send the report.
On Sept. 9, a week after Maguire was supposed to send Congress the complaint, Atkinson sent a letter to the House Intelligence Committee to tell them that the complaint existed.
The next day, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chairman of that committee, sent a letter to Maguire demanding he send the complaint and accusing him of breaking the law by not doing so.
Notably, Schiff also indicated in the letter that the committee thought the White House could be interfering in preventing the complaint from being sent to Congress.
The legal counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence responded to Schiff in another letter a few days later on Sept. 13.
There, they argued that they did not have to turn over the complaint to Congress because they had decided it was not actually an “urgent concern” and because it involved someone outside of the intelligence community.
A second letter from the IC IG to Schiff, dated September 17th. pic.twitter.com/DetBeesIey— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) September 19, 2019
Schiff responded in yet another letter the same day, where he said the Director of National Intelligence did not have the legal authority to overrule an ICIG decision or withhold it from the congressional intelligence committees.
He noted that this was the first known time a Director of Intelligence overruled the ICIG to withhold a whistleblower complaint.
Also of massive significance in that letter was this excerpt:
“The Committee can only conclude, based on this remarkable confluence of factors, that the series misconduct at issue involves the President of the United States and/or other senior White House or Administration officials.”
That excerpt continued:
“This raises grave concerns that your office, together with the Department of Justice and possibly the White House, are engaged in an unlawful effort to protect the President and conceal from the Committee information related to his possible ‘serious or flagrant’ misconduct, abuse of power, or violation of law.”
Media Discovers Nature of Complaint
That brings us to this past Wednesday when The Washington Post reported that the complaint in question involved Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, according to two foreign intelligence officials who were familiar with the situation.
“Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a ‘promise’ that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community,” the Post stated.
Then on Thursday, it was reported that the people familiar with the complaint said it had to do, at least in part, with Ukraine. The next day, sources said that the complaint had to do with a call between Trump and the newly elected President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky in July.
According to those reports, during that call, Trump had told the Ukrainian president to investigate Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who had served on a board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was U.S. vice president.
Hunter Biden joined that board back in 2014. Two years later, Ukraine’s prosecutor general was removed from his position after receiving pressure from then-VP Biden and others.
That reportedly prompted the Ukrainian prosecutor general to claim he was ousted because he was investigating the gas company’s payments to Hunter Biden. Ukranian officials reported earlier this year they found no evidence of wrongdoing.
The revelation that the whistleblower complaint involved Trump asking Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden led many to speculate that Trump was using the $250 million of military and intelligence aid the U.S. had promised to give to Ukraine as leverage to get them to do political favors.
Some also noted that the U.S. had withheld that aid until Sept. 12, when the congressional battle over the whistleblower complaint began to heat up. Those theories have not been confirmed.
On Friday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal reported that on the July phone call, Trump “repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son, according to people familiar with the matter, urging Volodymyr Zelensky about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani on a probe that could hamper Mr. Trump’s potential 2020 opponent.”
Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, who had previously denied asking Ukraine to investigate Biden before admitting he had in fact done so, defended his efforts in a tweet.
Trump Denies Claims
Trump for his part has been very vocal throughout the whole process, often taking to Twitter to deny the allegations and call them fake news.
“Another Fake News story out there – It never ends!” the president tweeted Thursday. “Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially ‘heavily populated’ call.”
The media was able to get a bit more information during a press briefing on Friday.
“It’s a partisan whistler blower. It shouldn’t even have information,” he said. “I’ve had conversations with many leaders they’re always appropriate.”
He also said he did not know what conversation the whistleblower was referring to specifically.
“I had a great conversation with numerous people, I don’t even know exactly who you’re talking about,” he told reporters.
But a little later, he did seem to indicate there was one specific conversation, though he would not answer questions about whether or not he talked about Biden in that conversation.
“I don’t know the identity of the whistleblower, I just hear it’s a partisan person,” he reiterated. “Meaning it comes out from another party, but I don’t have any idea. But I can say that it was a totally appropriate conversation. It was actually a beautiful conversation.”
In that same briefing, a reporter also asked Trump if he had read the complaint.
“No I haven’t,” he responded, before adding, “Everybody’s read it they laugh at it.”
Over the weekend Trump continued to tweet about the situation, notably referring to it as a “Witch Hunt” and continuing to attack the media.
On Saturday, Ukraine’s foreign minister was reportedly quoted telling a Ukrainian news outlet that Ukraine did not feel pressured by the phone call.
“I know what the conversation was about and I think there was no pressure,” he said. “This conversation was long, friendly, and it touched on many questions, sometimes requiring serious answers.”
That statement prompted some tweets from Trump on Sunday. He also added that the whistleblower did not have “a first hand account of what was said.”
On Monday, Fox News reported that a person familiar with the complaint told them that the whistleblower did not have “firsthand knowledge.”
Trump continued to defend himself Monday. According to CNN, the president said that “Joe Biden and his son are corrupt.” He also directly denied that he put pressure on Ukraine.
“I did not make a statement that ‘you have to do this or I’m not going to give you aid. I wouldn’t do that,” Trump said. “There was no pressure put on them whatsoever. I put no pressure on them whatsoever. I could have. I think it probably, possibly would have been OK if I did.”
Trump Admits He Spoke to Ukraine About Biden
However, later on Sunday, Trump directly said that he did speak about Biden in his phone call with Zelensky.
“We had a great conversation. The conservation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son creating to corruption already in the Ukraine,” the president told reporters.
Trump again addressed the situation later in the day, where he said he would have a right to ask Zelensky to investigate Biden.
The events of the last week have prompted a discussion about impeachment.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who has continually resisted impeachment calls in the past, released a statement on Sunday. The statement did not mention impeachment, but still condemned Trump’s actions and hinted at investigations.
“If the Administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the President, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” the statement said.
That followed comments the speaker made last week while talking to NPR. In an interview, Pelosi did not call to impeach but instead said that laws should be changed to allow a sitting president to be indicted.
Biden for his part has called for the transcript of the call to be released. Trump told reporters on Sunday that he would “love to” release the transcript, but that others in the administration are “a little shy” about it.
“Let’s be clear, Donald Trump pressured a foreign government to interfere in our elections,” the former vice president wrote on Twitter. “It goes against everything the United States stands for. We must make him a one-term president.”
Other Democrats have taken more firm stances.
“At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior – it is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said in a tweet on Saturday.
Similarly, Schiff, who has generally held back from calling for impeachment, said Sunday he now might see it as an option.
“If the President is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that conduct represents,” he told CNN’s Jake Tapper when asked if he thought impeachment could be a solution.
However, Republicans remain largely opposed to the idea of impeachment.
“Only 37% of Americans support impeachment,” Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) said on Twitter. “But Democrats continue to waste taxpayer time on impeachment efforts. It’s past time they stop the political games.”
House Republican Whip Steve Scalise said in a tweet that there is “no reason” to impeach.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) also ridiculed the idea of impeachment on Twitter.
However, not all Republicans think the situation is so cut and dry.
“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,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) wrote on Twitter.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Signs Restrictive Elections Bill Into Law
- Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a sweeping elections bill into law Thursday that critics say will significantly limit voting access.
- Among other measures, the bill will impose new restrictions on ballot drop boxes, add barriers to mail-in voting, and limit who can hand out materials to voters at polling locations — a provision many believe will ban the distribution of food and water.
- While Republicans claim the bill is necessary to provide election security and transparency, Democrats and voting rights advocates argue that it will suppress voters, particularly voters of color.
- DeSantis also received widespread backlash from critics and the media for taking the unprecedented step of blocking all journalists from attending the signing ceremony for the law, which was broadcasted exclusively on Fox News.
Newest Voting Restrictions Law
Florida became the latest Republican-led state to impose new voting restrictions Thursday when Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a broad elections bill into law.
The new law contains many provisions similar to the dozens of pieces of legislation aimed at restricting voting access that have been proposed and approved in the months following the 2020 election.
Among other measures, the Florida law will:
- Limit the use of drop boxes and impose new restrictions on where they can be placed.
- Add more identification requirements for requesting absentee ballots.
- Require voters to request absentee ballots for each election, rather than getting them automatically through a voting list.
- Limit who can collect and drop off ballots.
- Give more power to partisan observers during the ballot-counting process.
- Expand a current rule that bans outside groups from engaging in actions that could influence voting within a 150-foot radius of a polling place, which voting rights experts say could be used to prohibit people from giving out food and water to voters waiting in line to vote.
On top of that, critics have also said the new law could result in longer lines for both early in-person and Election Day voting. Democrats and voting rights advocates have also argued that this is just a transparent attempt to suppress voters, and specifically voters of color.
Republicans, meanwhile, have claimed the new law is necessary to make elections more secure — claims that were reiterated by DeSantis during the signing ceremony.
“Me signing this bill says, ‘Florida, your vote counts,’” he said. “Your vote is going to be cast with integrity and transparency, and this is a great place for democracy.”
DeSantis Blocks Media From Bill Signing
In addition to backlash against the new law itself, many condemned DeSantis for speaking about transparency but then completely shutting the media out of the signing, which was broadcasted exclusively on Fox News.
Numerous individual reporters and outlets were blocked from accessing the event, including Jay O’Brien, a reporter for the local CBS affiliate, who tweeted that the station was supposed to film pool footage of the event to feed to affiliates nationwide.
“This isn’t a story about the press being locked out of an event,” O’Brien later added. “It’s about Floridians who had their eyes and ears in that room cut off. @GovRonDeSantis signed a law today that will impact ALL Floridians. And only some viewers were allowed to see it. That’s not normal.”
That disbelief was also echoed by other outlets, like The New York Times, which explained that “Giving exclusive access to a cable news network was unusual, if not unprecedented.”
The Flordia law, which was immediately challenged by civil rights groups in federal court, comes just months after Georgia passed a similar, widely controverisal bill.
Meanwhile in Texas, Republican leaders are ignoring the pleas of major corporations like Dell, Microsoft, and American Airlines by moving forward with legislation that would make the state one of the toughest to vote in throughout the entire country. That proposal, which has already been passed by the state Senate, could see a full state House vote as early as next week.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CBS News)
Biden Administration To Reunite Four Migrant Families Separated Under Trump
- Four migrant families split up under former President Trump’s child separation policy will be reunited this week, Biden administration officials said Sunday.
- More than 5,500 children were separated from their parents from 2017 to 2018. Around 1,000 families remained separated when Trump left office and over half had not been contacted by the administration.
- Shortly after taking office in January, President Biden formed the Family Reunification Task Force, which has located at least 200 more parents. The families that will be reunited later this week mark the first that the task force has connected.
- While immigration advocates applauded the move, they also criticized Biden’s team for not moving faster or pouring adequate resources into reunification efforts.
Four Migrant Families To Reunite
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced Sunday that four migrant parents who were separated from their children and deported alone under former President Donald Trump’s controversial family separation policy will be allowed to return to the U.S. and reunite with their kids.
The “zero tolerance” policy, one of Trump’s most notorious actions on immigration, was formally enacted in April 2018 and ended just months later in June after a federal judge forced the administration to stop.
It was later revealed that the administration had actually been regularly separating families throughout much of 2017. According to government documents, over 5,500 children were separated from their parents in 2017 and 2018.
Most of those families were later reunited, but at least 1,000 parents remained separated because a parent had been deported. More than half of those parents — an estimated 645 — still had not been contacted by the time Trump left office.
President Joe Biden has said reuniting families would be a top priority as he begins undoing the complex network of immigration policies set by Trump. This latest move marks the first families that will be reunited through the Family Reunification Task Force, which Biden created shortly after taking office in January.
So far, that task force has managed to find around 200 of the 645 remaining parents and recently reported that it’s looking into 5,600 files from the first few months of the Trump administration that may have evidence of even more separations.
Immigration Advocates Call for More
While immigration advocates and lawyers applauded the move, they also criticized the slow rate of reunification. Some also accused the Biden administration of taking credit for the reunions despite doing very little to facilitate them.
“Despite what Secretary Mayorkas would have the public believe, DHS has done nothing to facilitate the return and reunification of these parents this week, other than to agree to allow them in,” said Carol Anne Donohoe, a managing attorney for the reunification project run by immigrant advocacy organization Al Otro Lado.
“The only reason these mothers will be standing at the port of entry is because Al Otro Lado negotiated their travel visas with the Mexican government, paid for their airline tickets and arranged for reunification,” she added.
Many advocacy groups have also slammed the Biden administration for not doing enough to plan what happens next for these families. Some have urged them to provide permanent legal status to parents so they cannot be separated from their children again, as well as support services and potential financial compensation.
The parents arriving this week will be allowed to temporarily stay in the country under what’s called humanitarian parole, their long-term immigration status and what happens from here is largely up in the air.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (NBC News)
Matt Gaetz’s “Wingman” Reportedly Said the Congressman Paid for Sex With a Minor
- The Daily Beast reported Thursday that it had obtained a letter written by Joel Greenberg, an accused sex trafficker and a close associate of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), where he admitted that he and the congressman paid for sex with numerous young women, including a 17-year-old girl.
- In the letter, Greenberg allegedly claimed that he and Gaetz believed the girl was 19 but ended contact in September 2017 after realizing she was a minor. Once she turned 18, he said both men re-established contact.
- The Daily Beast also obtained alleged screenshots of messages where Greenberg offered to pay Roger Stone to help him secure a pardon from then-President Trump. Greenberg admitted he and Gaetz paid for sex with a minor in those messages as well.
- In a statement, Stone confirmed that he had spoken to Greenberg about a possible pardon and said he had requested Greenberg’s letter but denied receiving compensation. Gaetz, who is currently under investigation for possible violations of sex trafficking laws, denied ever paying for sex or having sex with a minor.
Alleged Greenberg Letters
Joel Greenberg, an accused sex trafficker and a central figure in the ongoing federal investigation into Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), admitted that both men paid for sex with multiple young women and a 17-year-old girl, according to a letter obtained by The Daily Beast Thursday.
Greenberg was indicted last summer on 33 counts, including sex trafficking a minor. The former Florida politician is an ally of Gaetz, who is currently the subject of a Justice Department investigation that is allegedly part of a broader probe into Greenberg.
The letter in question was reportedly written after Greenberg asked Roger Stone, a close associate of former President Donald Trump, to help him obtain a pardon from the then-president before he left office.
According to The Daily Beast, Greenberg had written multiple drafts of the letter at Stone’s request, including “two typed versions and an earlier handwritten one,” seen by the outlet. In at least one of the letters, Greenberg reportedly said both he and Gaetz had repeated interactions with a girl who was 17-years-old.
“On more than one occasion, this individual was involved in sexual activities with several of the other girls, the congressman from Florida’s 1st Congressional District and myself,” he allegedly wrote of the girl.
“From time to time, gas money or gifts, rent or partial tuition payments were made to several of these girls, including the individual who was not yet 18. I did see the acts occur firsthand and Venmo transactions, Cash App or other payments were made to these girls on behalf of the Congressman.”
In the drafts, Greenberg purportedly stated that “all of the girls were in college or post college,” and he claimed that he and Gaetz had believed the minor was 19 at the time of their sexual relationships with her.
He said he learned she was underage in September of 2017 and contacted Gaetz, who he reportedly wrote was “equally shocked and disturbed by this revelation.” After that Greenberg said, “there was no further contact with this individual until after her 18th birthday.”
However, after she was legal, Greenberg contacted her again, according to The Daily Beast, which previously reported Gaetz had sent Greenberg $900 on Venmo asking him to “hit up” the same girl five months after she turned 18.
Messages Between Greenberg and Stone
The outlet also obtained a series of private messages between Greenberg and Stone starting in late 2020 that had been sent over the encrypted app Singal. Greenberg appears to have taken screenshots of a number of conversations, which are automatically deleted after a set period of time.
“If I get you $250k in Bitcoin would that help or is this not a financial matter,” Greenberg wrote to Stone in one of the screenshots published in the exposé.
“I hope you are prepared to wire me $250,000 because I am feeling confident,” Stone appears to have responded in a message The Daily Beast said was sent on Jan. 13. Just weeks before, Trump pardoned Stone himself for his 2019 conviction.
The images also appear to show Greenberg describing his activities with Gaetz, who he repeatedly refers to as “MG” or “Matt.” In one exchange, Greenberg says that he has not spoken to Gaetz and implored Stone to help him reach out to the congressman.
“He absolutely has to know that the sex charge they hit me with would be what they would hit him with,” he wrote, per the screenshot.
The Daily Beast additionally detailed several other messages between the two men that it did not provide screenshots of. In one alleged interaction, the outlet claims that Greenberg said that federal law enforcement officials were pressuring him to cooperate with their investigation and that he fired his lawyers for urging him to do the same.
“My lawyers that I fired, know the whole story about MG’s involvement,” he purportedly wrote. “They know he paid me to pay the girls and that he and I both had sex with the girl who was underage. So naturally they think that is my golden ticket.”
However, according to the outlet, Stone said several times that Gaetz refused his request to help with the matter. Greenberg did not ultimately receive the pardon, though The Daily Beast stated that White House officials confirmed his name had made it on a list of possible candidates, a detail backed up messages seen by the outlet.
“What I don’t understand is why [Gaetz] would not help me at all and actually told me not to help you which I tried to do anyway. In the end it would not have mattered,” Stone purportedly wrote after Trump had announced his final pardons.
Official Responses to Latest Allegations
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Stone confirmed that Greenberg had tried to hire him to help get a pardon, but denied that he asked for or received payment.
“I made no formal or informal effort in regard to a pardon for Mr. Greenberg,” Stone said. “I recall requesting a document explaining his prosecution The [sic] details of which I was unfamiliar with.”
“I never requested or received a penny from Mr. Greenberg,” he continued. “I recall him offering to retain me and I declined.”
Stone also acknowledged that there may be “copies of correspondence” between him and Greenberg, but he questioned whether they were in full context.
“Sounds to me like you have been presented some kind of cut and paste record,” he said, warning the outlet to “be very careful” and threatening legal action if it published “anything that is false or defamatory.”
Greenberg’s lawyer declined to comment on the story. Gaetz’s office did not respond to the request to comment, but Logan Circle Group, an outside PR firm hired by the Congressman, denied the accusations in a statement.
“Congressman Gaetz has never paid for sex nor has he had sex with a 17 year old as an adult,” the firm said. “We are now one month after your outlet and others first reported such lies, and no one has gone on record to directly accuse him of either.”