- 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.
Georgia House Passes Sweeping Bill To Restrict Voting Access
- The Georgia House approved an election bill Monday that would impose new restrictions on absentee voting and provisional ballots, cut weekend early voting hours, and limit physical access to voting options, among other measures.
- Republicans proposed the bill after losing the Presidential and Senate races, arguing that it is necessary to restore confidence in the state’s elections and prevent fraud.
- Democrats have condemned the proposed law, noting that Republicans created the distrust by spreading former President Trump’s false claims about election fraud even when top GOP officials in the state said there was no evidence. They also accused them of trying to suppress voters, particularly Black residents.
Georgia House Approves Election Bill
Republicans in the Georgia House passed a sweeping bill Monday that would significantly roll back voting access in the state.
The bill, which was proposed by Republicans who want to impose new restrictions after losing the election, was passed 97-72 along party lines. If signed into law, among other things, the legislation would:
- Require a photo ID for absentee voting.
- Cut the amount of time voters have to request an absentee ballot.
- Restrict ballot drop box locations to inside early voting locations.
- Shorten Georgia’s runoff election period.
- Impose more strict regulations on provisional ballots.
- Prevent the governments from mailing out unsolicited absentee ballot applications to registered voters.
- Ban nonprofit organizations from helping fund elections.
- Almost entirely cut early voting busses that are key to transport people to the polls.
- Prohibit food and drinks from being distributed to voters waiting in long lines.
- Limit early voting hours on weekends.
The last provision is one of the most controversial because it would include limiting the get-out-the-vote campaign known as “souls to the polls,” which is widely used by Black churches. That initiative has been credited with mobilizing Black voters all over the country since the Jim Crow era. The proposed law would limit events to just one Sunday during the early voting period, which would also be cut short.
Arguments For And Against The Bill
The Republicans who have pushed for the bill argue that it is necessary to restore public confidence in Georgia’s elections and help prevent fraud.
But Democrats, voting rights organizations, and protestors who have gathered in front of the capitol to demonstrate against the bill have pointed out that it was Republicans who hurt public trust in the state’s elections by repeating former President Donald Trump’s false claims about election fraud.
Meanwhile, numerous top Republican officials — including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger — have said time and time again that there was no evidence of fraud in the 2020 elections.
Though notably, many Republican state legislators who supported the former president’s false that massive fraud had occurred in their states never contested the results of their own elections, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Democrats have also said that the bill is just the Republican’s latest, transparent attempt to drive down turnout and suppress voters — particularly Black voters who helped Democrat’s wins in the state and take the Senate — rather than actually increase election security.
As far as what happens next, the bill will head to the state Senate, which is also Republican-controlled, and already considering its own elections bill that would end no-excuse absentee voting, among other things.
From there, it will go to Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who will likely sympathetic to the cause.
Notably, this legislation the only election bill like this being proposed in state capitols around the country or even in Georgia.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, legislators in 43 states are considering more than 250 bills that would create impediments to voting. Dozens of those proposals exist in Georgia alone.
See what others are saying: (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) (NPR) (The Associated Press)
Second Former Aide Accuses N.Y. Governor of Sexual Harassment
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has been accused of sexual harassment by another former staffer, 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, who first relayed the allegations to The New York Times on Saturday.
- Bennett said Cuomo asked her multiple inappropriate questions about her sex life and told her he would be open to dating women in their 20s, which she interpreted as a request for a sexual relationship.
- Bennett’s allegations come less than a week after another former aide, Lindsey Boylan, detailed years of sexual harassment from the governor, including an alleged non-consensual kiss, all of which Cuomo denied.
- In a series of statements over the weekend, Cuomo said he never made advances towards Bennett, apologized to anyone who interpreted his comments as “unwanted flirtation,” and agreed to refer the matter to the state attorney general’s office.
Charlotte Bennett Claims Cuomo Sexually Harassed Her
A second former aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has come forward with allegations of sexual harassment.
In the essay, Boylan also said that Cuomo had created a culture of harassment and bullying in his administration. Allegations of hostility and a toxic work environment have also recently been echoed by numerous officials during the political fallout over the Cuomos administration’s failure to properly disclose COVID-19 related deaths in the state’s nursing home.
Now, the most recent accusations made by 25-year-old Charlotte Bennett, also support the same narrative. During an interview with The New York Times on Saturday, Bennett described a series of escalating interactions in which the governor asked her multiple questions about her personal life that she “interpreted as clear overtures to a sexual relationship.”
Bennett, who was hired for an entry-level position at Cuomo’s Manhattan office in 2019, said she and the governor became friendly shortly after she started. She said things started to escalate when she was moved to the Capitol office in Albany to work on the pandemic response in March.
She recounted several episodes where she said the governor asked her about her personal and romantic life in a way that made her feel uncomfortable. The most upsetting exchange she said she had was on June 5, during which Cuomo allegedly asked her a number of inappropriate questions, like whether she was monogamous in her recent relationships, if she believed age difference mattered, and if she had ever been with an older man.
Cuomo allegedly said he felt lonely during the pandemic and that he wanted a girlfriend, “preferably in the Albany area.” She claimed he also told her “age doesn’t matter” and that he was fine with dating “anyone above the age of 22.”
She said she then tried to shift the conversation, at one point telling him she was thinking about getting a tattoo, but said that Cuomo had suggested should put it on her buttocks so people would not see it when she wore a dress.
Bennett told The Times Cuomo never was physical with her, though she believed that what he wanted from her was clear.
“I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared. And was wondering how I was going to get out of it and assumed it was the end of my job.”
Others Back Bennett’s Account
Notably, Bennett also shared text messages she had sent friends and family after each interaction that were verified by The Times. Additionally, both her mother and a friend who was also a Cuomo official at the time confirmed that she had told them about the details of the June 5 interaction.
Shortly after that incident, Bennett also disclosed what happened with Cuomo to his chief of staff, who she said was very apologetic, asked if she wanted to move jobs either inside or outside the executive branch, and ultimately helped her transfer to another job in a different part of the Capitol.
Towards the end of June, Bennett met with a special counsel to the governor — a fact that was confirmed to The Times by another special counsel to the governor — but she ultimately decided just to move on and not pursue an investigation.
Cuomo Calls for Investigation
Cuomo, for his part, told The Times in a statement Saturday that he believed he had been acting as a mentor and “never made advances toward Ms. Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.”
His special counsel also said later that day that the governor had tapped a federal judge to launch an independent investigation into the allegations.
That announcement, however, sparked backlash from top lawmakers who believed there needed to be a truly independent probe, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), who called the allegations from both women “serious and credible.”
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also told reporters that President Joe Biden supported an independent review.
On Sunday, Cuomo reversed his position in a statement and said that he would refer the investigation to the New York attorney general. The governor also claimed that he “never inappropriately touched anybody” and “never intended to offend anyone or cause any harm,” but that he just liked to tease people about their personal lives.
“I now understand that my interactions may have been insensitive or too personal and that some of my comments, given my position, made others feel in ways I never intended,” he said. “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation. To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NBC News) (CBS News)
House Passes Equality Act Aimed at Preventing LGBTQ+ Discrimination
- The House voted Thursday to approve the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Democrats and civil rights groups have applauded the move, saying it is necessary to protect LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and other public areas.
- Republicans and conservative groups have opposed the bill, arguing it violates religious freedoms by forcing organizations that refuse to serve LGBTQ+ people to choose between operating on their beliefs.
- The legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where it will need 60 votes to avoid the legislative filibuster.
House Approves Equality Act
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act on Thursday, a broad measure that would greatly expand protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
The legislation would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination against people based on sexual orientation and gender identity in numerous public areas such as employment, housing, education, credit, and jury service, among other places.
The bill also would expand the 1964 act to cover other federally funded programs and “public accommodations” like shopping malls, sports stadiums, and online retailers.
Currently, anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people fall under the umbrella of “sex,” a relatively new development that came last June after the Supreme Court ruled that gay, lesbian, and transgender Americans were protected under the Civil Rights Act on the basis of sex.
But the existing law still has many loopholes that have allowed for discriminatory practices against the LGBTQ+ community.
A person can still be denied housing due to their sexual orientation or gender identity in 27 states, according to a statement released by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), the leading sponsor of the measure. They can also be denied access to education in 31 states and the right to serve on a jury in 41.
Support and Opposition
Many Democrats, civil rights organizations, and LGBTQ+ advocacy groups have praised the House’s passage of the bill, which has been decades in the making, and which President Joe Biden had promised would be one of his top priorities during his first 100 days in office.
“Today’s vote is a major milestone for equality bringing us closer to ensuring that every person is treated equally under the law,” Human Rights Campaign president Alphonso David said in a statement. “Now, the ball is in the Senate’s court to pass the Equality Act and finally allow LGBTQ Americans the ability to live their lives free from discrimination.”
However, the legislation faces an uphill battle in the Senate, which previously blocked the legislation when the House initially passed in it 2019. While the Senate was controlled by Republicans at the time, the current 50-50 split still means that at least 10 Republicans will have to join all 50 Democrats to break the 60-vote legislative filibuster.
But Republicans in Congress have largely opposed the act. Only three GOP representatives voted in favor of the measure Thursday, just half of the number who voted for its passage in 2019.
Many Republicans have echoed the claims of anti-LGBTQ+ groups, arguing that the act will infringe on religious freedoms by forcing businesses and organizations that have religious objections to serving LGBTQ+ people to decide between their beliefs or continued operation.
Others have also said the bill that would roll back protections for women who were assigned female at birth by allowing transgender women to participate in women’s sports.
Shift in Public Opinion
Still, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday he will fight for the act in his chamber and condemned Republicans who have voiced their opposition to it.
“Their attacks on trans people in the transgender community are just mean,” he said. “And show a complete lack of understanding, complete lack of empathy. They don’t represent our views and they don’t represent the views of a majority of Americans.”
Several recent polls have found that Americans broadly support legal protections for the LGBTQ+ community.
According to the 2020 Public Religion Research Institute American Values Survey, more than 8 in 10 people said they favor laws that would protect LGBTQ+ people against discrimination in public accommodations and workplaces.
A 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found the number of Americans who support these laws to be slightly lower, roughly 7 in 10. Notably, that also included 62% of Republicans, which may indicate that the actions of GOP leaders in Congress do not represent the will of their voter base.