- 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.
Trump Signs Order Interpreting Judaism as Race or Nationality
- President Trump signed an executive order that will effectively label Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion.
- The move is intended to crack down on what the Trump administration views as growing anti-Semitism on college campuses.
- The reclassification places Judaism under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allows the Education Department to withhold federal funding from colleges that discriminate based “on the ground of race, color, and national origin,” but not religion.
- While some praised the move, a number of Jewish groups condemned it. Others said the policy was reminiscent of when Nazi Germany labeled Jews as a race.
Trump Executive Order
President Donald Trump signed an executive order Wednesday that would legally interpret Judaism as a race or nationality and not just a religion under federal law.
The Trump administration said that the move will allow the Education Department to crack down on what it views as growing anti-Semitism on college campuses.
Reclassifying Judaism as a nationality puts it under the purview of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which allows the Education Department to withhold federal funding from colleges that discriminate based “on the ground of race, color, and national origin.”
Notably, that does not include discrimination based religion, so labeling Judaism as a race or nationality will let the Education Department prevent colleges that it believes are acting in an anti-Semitic way from receiving funding.
The move comes at a time when anti-Israel sentiments have become more prevalent on college campuses largely due to the growing support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
The goal of the movement is to pressure Israel to change its treatment of Palestinians by protesting the country and it’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Supporters of the movement compare it to the boycotts of South Africa during apartheid, while opponents say it is anti-Semitic and undermines Israel as a Jewish state.
Criticisms of Executive Order
News that Trump would likely sign the executive order circulated Tuesday night, and the topic quickly began trending on Twitter.
Critics of the move argued that the policy could be used to stifle free speech because it could be used to stop legitimate criticism and concerns about Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.
That point was echoed by Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who told the New York Times that the policy was part of an ongoing campaign “to silence Palestinian rights activism” by amounting any opposition of the Israeli treatment Palestinians to anti-Semitism.
Notably, a number of Jewish groups also spoke out and condemned Trump’s efforts.
Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the prominent Jewish advocacy group J Street criticized the policy, saying in a statement that it would “have a chilling effect on free speech and to crack down on campus critics of Israel.”
“We feel it is misguided and harmful for the White House to unilaterally declare a broad range of nonviolent campus criticism of Israel to be anti-Semitic, especially at a time when the prime driver of anti-Semitism in this country is the xenophobic, white nationalist far-right,” he added.
Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America also echoed that point in a similar statement.
“If President Trump truly wanted to address the scourge of anti-Semitism he helped to create, he would accept responsibility for his role emboldening white nationalism, perpetuating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and repeating stereotypes that have led to violence targeting Jews,” she said.
Some also argued that Trump was being hypocritical, pointing to remarks he made in a speech on Saturday to the Israeli American Council that were condemned by a number of Jewish groups who accused the president of using Anti-Semitic tropes.
This included the president telling the Jewish audience that they had “no choice” but to vote for him because they would lose money to Democratic wealth tax plans, as well as Trump saying that Jews “don’t love Israel enough.”
Others noted that labeling Judaism as a nationality or race has dangerous roots in history, with a number of Twitter users pointing out that Nazi Germany labeled Judaism as a race and not just a religion under the Nuremberg Laws in 1935.
Some, like Emily Mayer, the policy director of activist group IfNotNow, also argued that defining Judaism as a nationality is also connected to the anti-Semitic trope that American Jews are not American, or that they have dual loyalties to Israel.
“The order’s move to define Judaism as a ‘nationality’ promotes the classically bigoted idea that American Jews are not American,” she told the Washington Post.
Praise for Executive Order
However, there were also a number of individuals and Jewish groups that commended the proposed executive order.
“These are significant steps in the ongoing fight against antisemitism and the BDS movement on college campuses,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz said in a statement.
Several American Jewish groups applauded the move, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
“Of course we hope it will be enforced in a fair manner,” ADL chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt told the Times. “But the fact of the matter is we see Jewish students on college campuses and Jewish people all over being marginalized.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition also praised the policy, with its chairman, former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN) calling the policy a “truly historic and important moment for Jewish Americans.”
“President Trump has extended to Jewish students very strong, meaningful legal protection from anti-Semitic discrimination,” he added.
While signing the order Wednesday, Trump said the new policy “makes clear” that Title VI of the Civil Rights Act would “apply to institutions that traffic in anti-Semitic hate.”
See what others are saying: (Vox) (NBC News) (The Jerusalem Post)
House Democrats Introduce Two Articles of Impeachment Against President Trump
- The House officially announced two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
- The articles will now go to the Judiciary Committee for debate and approval before being sent to the House floor for a full vote. If approved, they will be sent to the Senate for the trial portion, which is likely to be set for January.
- Notably, the articles did not mention allegations that Trump obstructed the Mueller report investigation, which members had debated including as a separate article.
Democrats Announce Articles
House Democrats announced Tuesday that they were introducing two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, charging him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Flanked by Democratic House leaders, Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) outlined the charges against the president.
“It is an impeachable offense for the president to exercise the powers of his public office to obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest,” Nadler said, addressing the first article, abuse of power.
“That is exactly what President Trump did when he solicited and pressured Ukraine to interfere in our 2020 presidential election.”
“These actions moreover are consistent with President Trump’s previous invitations of foreign interference in our 2016 presidential election,” he added.
“And when he was caught, when the House investigated and opened an impeachment inquiry, President Trump engaged in unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry,” Nadler continued, introducing the second article, obstruction of Congress.
“A president who declares himself above accountability, above the American people, and above Congress’ power of impeachment, which is meant to protect against threats to our democratic institutions, is a president who sees himself as above the law,” he said.
“We must be clear: No one, not even the president, is above the law.”
Several hours later, the House released the official text of the articles of impeachment in a formal resolution.
Article I: Abuse of Power
Describing the abuse of power charge, the first article alleges Trump used his office to solicit foreign interference from Ukraine by asking the government to “publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage.”
“President Trump engaged in this scheme or course of conduct for corrupt purposes in pursuit of personal political benefit,” the resolution continued.
The document then goes on to say that Trump pressured Ukraine to announce investigations by conditioning the announcement on two official acts: a White House meeting and “the release of $391 million of United States taxpayer funds that Congress had appropriated on a bipartisan basis for the purpose of providing vital military and security assistance to Ukraine.”
The resolution continues on, noting that the president released the military aid once acts became public, “but has persisted in openly and corruptly urging and soliciting Ukraine to undertake investigations for his personal political benefit.”
Article II: Obstruction of Congress
The second article claims that Trump obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry by blocking subpoenaed witnesses from testifying and rejecting requests to hand over key documents.
“In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’” the resolution says.
“This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment — and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives,” it continued.
Both articles conclude with the same excerpt: “President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law.”
With the articles formally drafted, the next step will be for the Judiciary Committee to debate and approve them, which is set to happen Wednesday and Thursday, respectively to the articles.
Technically, individual members can propose amendments and changes to the articles, but they are not likely to change; however, members can also propose more articles of impeachment.
This may be relevant because in the lead up to the announcement of the articles, there was a lot of discussion about whether or not to draft a third article.
That article would charge Trump with obstruction of justice in regards to the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
In his report, Special Counsel Robert Mueller outlined several instances that could be considered obstruction but left it up to Congress to decide if it was.
Many of the more progressive Democrats in the House pushed to include that decision in their articles, but the leadership ultimately decided to zero in on the Ukraine case.
Once the articles have been approved by the Judiciary, they will go to the full House for a vote, which is expected to happen next week.
The House only needs to approve one of the articles for Trump to be impeached. After that, any approved articles will be sent to the Senate for a trial, which will likely be held in January.
Pelosi Announces House Will Draft Articles of Impeachment Against Trump
- Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced that the House will begin drafting the official articles of impeachment for President Trump.
- This follows the release of the final report from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation and the Judiciary Committee formally launching impeachment proceedings.
- The process is anticipated to move very quickly, with a Committee vote as soon as next week, and a full House vote before Christmas.
Pelosi Announces Articles of Impeachment
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that the House of Representatives will officially begin drafting articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
“The facts are uncontested,” the Speaker said. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security, by withholding military aid and crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival.”
“His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution,” she continued.
“The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit. The president has engaged in abuse of power, undermining our national security, and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections.”
“Sadly, but with confidence and humility, with allegiance to our founders and a heart full of love for America, today I am asking our chairmen to proceed with articles of impeachment,” she concluded.
Pelosi’s announcement marks a significant step in the impeachment process. The articles of impeachment the House now drafts will essentially be the “charges” they will bring against President Trump.
Intelligence Committee Report
The decision follows several major developments in the impeachment proceedings that have occurred throughout the week.
On Tuesday, the House Intelligence Committee— which has been leading the impeachment investigation for the last two months— released its final report on the findings of that investigation.
In the 300-page report, the Committee found that Trump pressured Ukraine to announce investigations into his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, by withholding a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in military assistance to Ukraine.
“The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation’s upcoming presidential election to his advantage,” the Committee wrote.
“In doing so, the President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”
The report also goes on to say that in response to the House launching the impeachment investigation, “President Trump engaged in an unprecedented campaign of obstruction of this impeachment inquiry.”
The Committee outlined how examples of how Trump obstructed their investigation, such as his refusal to cooperate with the investigation or hand over subpoenaed documents, and his efforts to direct State Department and White House officials to do the same.
The report said that Trump also obstructed their investigation by blocking key witnesses from testifying, including those who had been subpoenaed. It also accused Trump of engaging in “a brazen effort to publicly attack and intimidate witnesses who came forward to comply with duly authorized subpoenas and testify about his conduct.”
“Donald Trump is the first and only President in American history to openly and indiscriminately defy all aspects of the Constitutional impeachment process,” the report notes.
Judiciary Committee Starts Proceedings
The Intelligence Committee report does not include a direct recommendation for impeachment, but it will likely serve as the basis for which the articles of impeachment are drafted.
The articles will be written by the Judiciary Committee, which officially began the formal impeachment proceedings on Wednesday by holding a hearing where constitutional experts discussed the legal basis for impeaching Trump.
Four experts testified at the hearing: three brought in by Democrats and one brought in by Republicans.
The experts requested by Democrats argued that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine definitely met the threshold for an impeachable offense set by the framers of the Constitution.
Meanwhile, the expert the Republicans brought in argued that the Democrats were rushing the process and did not have adequate evidence and that Trump should be investigated more.
But Democrats appear eager to press on, with leadership pushing to hold the full House vote on the impeachment articles before Christmas.
As a result, it has been reported that the Judiciary Committee will draft the articles in the next few days and hold the debate and vote on the articles as early as next week. The bigger question is what the articles will be, and how many the Committee will propose.
Each offense they claim Trump committed must be its own article— for example “obstruction of justice” would be a separate article from “misconduct.”
Right now, the Democrats are deciding if they want to zero in on the Ukraine matter, or include a broader look at Trump’s other alleged wrongdoings, which notably could include his alleged efforts to obstruct the Mueller report investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Once the Judiciary has approved the articles, they will go to the full House for a vote.
The House just has to approve one of the articles for the president to be impeached, and if approved, the matter would head to the Senate for the trial portion of the process, which would likely be held in January.