- 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.
Feds Investigate Classified Files Found in Biden’s Former Office
The documents reportedly include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom
What Was in the Files?
President Biden’s legal team discovered about 10 classified files in his former office at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in Washington D.C., the White House revealed Monday.
The Department of Justice has concluded an initial inquiry into the matter and will determine whether to open a criminal investigation.
According to a source familiar with the matter who spoke to CNN, they include U.S. intelligence memos and briefing materials that covered topics such as Ukraine, Iran, and the United Kingdom.
A source also told CBS News the batch did not contain nuclear secrets and had been contained in a folder in a box with other unclassified papers.
The documents are reportedly from Biden’s time as vice president, but it remains unclear what level of classification they are and how they ended up in his office.
Biden kept an office in the. Penn Biden Center, a think tank about a mile from the White House, between 2017 and 2020, when he was elected president.
On Nov. 2, his lawyers claim, they discovered the documents as they were clearing out the space to vacate it.
They immediately notified the National Archives, which retrieved the files the next morning, according to the White House.
What Happens Next?
Attorney General Merrick Garland must decide whether to open a criminal investigation into Biden’s alleged mishandling of the documents. To that end, he appointed John Lausch Jr., the U.S. attorney in Chicago and a Trump appointee, to conduct an initial inquiry.
Garland reportedly picked him for the role despite him being in a different jurisdiction to avoid appearing partial.
Lausch has reportedly finished the initial part of his inquiry and provided a preliminary report to Garland.
If a criminal investigation is opened, Garland will likely appoint an independent special counsel to lead it.
The case mirrors a similar DoJ special counsel investigation into former President Donald Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified materials and obstruction of efforts to properly retrieve them.
On Nov. 18, Garland appointed Jack Smith to investigate over 300 classified documents found at Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.
Trump resisted multiple National Archives requests for the documents for months leading up to the FBI’s raid on his property, then handed over 15 boxes of files only for even more to be found still at Mar-a-Lago.
“When is the FBI going to raid the many houses of Joe Biden, perhaps even the White House?” Trump wrote on Truth Social Monday. “These documents were definitely not declassified.”
Rep. James Comer (R-KY), the new chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told reporters he will investigate the Biden files.
Republicans have been quick to pounce on the news and compare it to Trump’s classified files, but Democrats have pointed out differences in the small number of documents and Biden’s willingness to cooperate with the National Archives.
The White House has yet to explain why, if the files were first discovered six days before the midterm elections, the White House waited two months to reveal the news to the public.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (BBC)
Lawmakers Propose Bill to Protect Fertility Treatments Amid Post-Roe Threats
The move comes as a number of states are considering anti-abortion bills that could threaten or ban fertility treatments by redefining embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for IVF.
The Right To Build Families Act of 2022
A group of Democratic lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would codify the right to use assisted reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertility (IVF) treatments into federal law.
The legislation, dubbed the Right To Build Families Act of 2022, was brought forward by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Il) and Patty Murray (D-Wa.) alongside Rep. Susan Wild (D- Pa.). The measure would bar any limits on seeking or receiving IVF treatments and prohibit regulations on a person’s ability to retain their “reproductive genetic materials.”
The bill would also protect physicians who provide these reproductive services and allow the Justice Department to take civil action against any states that try to limit access to fertility treatments.
The lawmakers argue it is necessary to protect IVF because a number of states have been discussing and proposing legislation that could jeopardize or even ban access to the treatments in the wake of the Roe v. Wade reversal.
“IVF advocates in this country today are publicly telling us, ‘We need this kind of legislation to be able to protect this,’” Murray told HuffPost. “And here we are after the Dobbs decision where states are enacting laws and we have [anti-abortion] advocates who are now starting to talk, especially behind closed doors, about stopping the right for women and men to have IVF procedures done.”
Fertility Treatments Under Treat
The state-level efforts in question are being proposed by Republican lawmakers who wish to further limit abortions by redefining when life begins. Some of the proposals would define embryos or fetuses as “unborn human beings” without exceptions for those that are created through IVF, where an egg is fertilized by a sperm outside the body and then implanted in a uterus.
For example, a bill has already been pre-filed in Virginia for the 2023 legislative session that explicitly says life begins at fertilization and does not have any specific language that exempts embryos made through IVF.
Experts say these kinds of laws are concerning for a number of reasons. In the IVF process, it is typical to fertilize multiple eggs, but some are discarded. If a person becomes pregnant and does not want to keep the rest of their eggs. It is also normal that not all fertilized eggs will be viable, so physicians will get rid of those.
Sometimes doctors will also implant multiple fertilized eggs to increase the likelihood of pregnancy, but that can result in multiple eggs being fertilized. In order to prevent having multiple babies at once and improve the chance of a healthy pregnancy, people can get a fetal reduction and lower the number of fetuses.
All of those actions could become illegal under proposals that do not provide exemptions.
“In my case, I had five fertilized eggs, and we discarded three because they were not viable. That is now potentially manslaughter in some of these states,” said Duckworth, who had both of her daughters using IVF.
“I also have a fertilized egg that’s frozen. My husband and I haven’t decided what we will do with it, but the head of the Texas Right to Life organization that wrote the bounty law for Texas has come out and specifically said he’s going after IVF next, and he wants control of the embryos,” Duckworth added.
In a hearing after Roe was overturned, Murray also raised concerns about “whether parents and providers could be punished if an embryo doesn’t survive being thawed for implantation, or for disposing unused embryos.”
Experts have said that even if anti-abortion laws defining when life begins do provide exceptions, it would be contradictory and confusing, so providers would likely err on the side of caution and not provide services out of fear of prosecution.
“[Abortion bans] are forcing women to stay pregnant against their will and are, at the very same time, threatening Americans’ ability to build a family through services like IVF,” Murray said in a statement to Axios. “It’s hard to comprehend, and it’s just plain wrong.”
The federal legislation to combat these efforts faces an uphill battle. It is unlikely it will be passed in the last few days of lame duck session, and with control of Congress being handed to Republicans come January, movement in the lower chamber will be hard fought.
Duckworth, however, told Axios that she will keep introducing the legislation “until we can get it passed.”
Hundreds of Oath Keepers Claim to Be Current or Former DHS Employees
The revelation came just weeks after the militia’s founder, Stewart Rhodes, was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
An Agency Crawling With Extremists
Over 300 members of the far-right Oath Keepers militia group claim to be current or former employees at the Department of Homeland Security, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) reported Monday.
The review appears to be the first significant public examination of the group’s leaked membership list to focus on the DHS.
The agencies implicated include Border Patrol, Coast Guard, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Secret Service.
“I am currently a 20 year Special Agent with the United States Secret Service. I have been on President Clinton and President Bush’s protective detail. I was a member and instructor on the Presidential Protective Division’s Counter Assault Team (CAT),” one person on the list wrote.
POGO stated that the details he provided the Oath Keepers match those he made in a sworn affidavit filed in federal court.
The finding came just weeks after Oath Keepers founder Stewart Rhodes was convicted on seditious conspiracy charges for his involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Law enforcement agents who have associations with groups that seek to undermine democratic governance pose a heightened threat because they can compromise probes, misdirecting investigations or leaking confidential investigative information to those groups,” POGO said in its report.
In March, the DHS published an internal study finding that “the Department has significant gaps that have impeded its ability to comprehensively prevent, detect, and respond to potential threats related to domestic violent extremism within DHS.”
Some experts have suggested the DHS may be especially prone to extremist sentiments because of its role in policing immigration. In 2016, the ICE union officially endorsed then-candidate Donald Trump for president, making the first such endorsement in the agency’s history.
The U.S. Government has a White Supremacy Problem
Copious academic research and news reports have shown that far-right extremists have infiltrated local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.
In May, a Reuters investigation found at least 15 self-identified law enforcement trainers and dozens of retired instructors listed in a database of Oath Keepers.
In 2019, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting found that almost 400 current or former law enforcement officials belonged to Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia Facebook groups.
The Pentagon has long struggled with its own extremism problem, which appears to have particularly festered in the wake of the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Nearly one in four active-duty service members said in a 2017 Military Times poll that they had observed white nationalism among the troops, and over 40% of non-white service members said the same.
The prevalence of racism in the armed forces is not surprising given that many of the top figures among right-wing extremist groups hailed from the military and those same groups are known to deliberately target disgruntled, returning veterans for recruitment.
Brandon Russell, the founder of the neo-Nazi group AtomWaffen, served in the military, as did George Lincoln Rockwell, commander of the American Nazi Party, Louis Beam, leader of the KKK, and Richard Butler, founder of the Aryan Nation.
In January, NPR reported that one in five people charged in federal or D.C. courts for their involvement in the Capitol insurrection were current or former military service members.