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White House Releases Memorandum of Trump-Zelensky Call

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  • A memorandum of a conversation between President Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows that Trump asked Zelensky to investigate presidential candidate Joe Biden.
  • The phone call took place a week after Trump ordered a hold on aid to Ukraine. Trump does not mention this hold but does say that the United States is “very very good to Ukraine” in comparison to other countries and that he “wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal.”
  • Some believe this could be interpreted as Trump using aid as leverage to receive a favor in a form of quid pro quo, but others argue that quid pro quo is not made explicit in the document.
  • This memo has many Democrats more eager to impeach the president after Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi launched an inquiry Tuesday. Many Republicans, however, do not believe the conversation shows serious wrongdoing.

White House Released Memorandum

President Donald Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden during a phone call, a newly released memorandum shows.

The White House released the memorandum Wednesday of Trump’s July 25 conversation with the Ukrainian leader. The memorandum is essentially a rough transcript of their call, which according to the White House is “based on notes and recollections… by policy staff assigned to listen and memorialize the conversation.”

Trump promised to release transcripts of this talk after a whistleblower complaint alleged he encouraged Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. Outrage over the phone call escalated Tuesday when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) opened an impeachment inquiry into the matter. 

“The other thing, There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great, ” Trump said to Zelensky during their conversation. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.”

Trump initially denied every saying anything “inappropriate” to a foreign leader, then eventually did admit to bringing Biden up during his talk with Zelensky. After doing so, he claimed he had a right to mention Biden.

Now that the impeachment inquiry is open, Democrats leading the charge were anxious to see what this memo would reveal. While it did confirm that Trump brought up probing a political opponent to a foreign leader, it did not explicitly confirm a quid pro quo, which is giving a favor with the expectation of getting something in return.

Just a week before their talk, Trump ordered a hold on almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine. He did not bring this aid up during their conversation, however, he did insist that the United States was a strong ally to Zelensky’s country, though the favor may not be “reciprocal.”

“I will say that we do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing,” Trump said. 

“But the United States has been very very good to Ukraine,” he later added. “I wouldn’t say that it’s reciprocal necessarily because things are happening that are not good but the United States has been very very good to Ukraine.”

While a quid pro quo was not made explicit, many see this as Trump potentially holding assistance from the U.S. over Zelensky’s head.

Washington Post writer Aaron Blake explained its context with this metaphor:

“It’s difficult to see how Zelensky could interpret that set of circumstances as something other than a strong suggestion and even a veiled threat,” Blake wrote. “It’s equivalent to your boss repeatedly suggesting you do something — while noting what your compensation is — without explicitly making a demand. What are you going to do: believe it to just be a gentle suggestion? No, you’re going to think there could be some relation between your pocketbook/job status and your future actions.”

The fact that a quid pro quo is not directly in the memorandum does not foil the Democrat’s plan to impeach. The president still asked a foreign leader to look into Biden, a 2020 frontrunner. Democrats are also anticipating more information to come out in the whistleblower’s complaint, which was given to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on Wednesday afternoon.

Mention of Robert Mueller

Another passage that caught the public’s eye from the memorandum is one that referenced Robert Mueller. Zelesnky mentioned potentially buying Javelins from the U.S. Trump then asked Zelensky to “do us a favor,” before mentioning Crowdstrike– the company that analyzed the DNC hack in 2016. 

The context and details around what he says are very vague. He says he knows the Ukraine “knows a lot about it” before mentioning the company and then asks Zelensky to “get to the bottom of it.”

He then brings up Mueller’s testimony to Congress, which took place just one day before their phone call. 

“As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible,” Trump said. 

While what Trump is specifically saying is unclear, reports indicate that this could be related to efforts to get to the root of the Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election. Trump, his lawyer Rudy Guiliani, and other Republicans have a theory that Ukraine may have been connected to the DNC hack and its servers. 

Zelensky seemed receptive to what Trump was saying. 

“Yes it is very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier,” Zelensky said. 

Reactions to Memorandum

After the memorandum was released, Democrats who were already behind impeachment found a new fire ignited within them. 

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) tweeted about the news, claiming she was surprised the White House released the memo at all. 

“The President sought to use the powers of the United States government to investigate a political opponent. We have no choice but to impeach,” she wrote. 

Pelosi released a statement about the news. 

“The President has tried to make lawlessness a virtue in America and now is exporting it abroad,” she said. “I respect the responsibility of the President to engage with foreign leaders as part of his job.  It is not part of his job to use taxpayer money to shake down other countries for the benefit of his campaign.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) said the memo “reads like a classic mob shakedown.”

On the other side, however, Republicans thought the call did not show the president committing any serious wrongdoings. 

“Wow.  Impeachment over this?” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) wrote.  “What a nothing (non-quid pro quo) burger.”

President Donald Trump has also defended himself. He retweeted Fox News Anchor Bret Baier pointing out the lack of direct quid pro quo.

He also spoke on Wednesday calling this “the single greatest witch hunt in American history.”

“The way you had that built up, that call, it was going to be the call from hell,” Trump said. “It turned out to be a nothing call other than a lot of people said, ‘I never knew you could be so nice.’” 

See what others are saying: (Washington Post) (Fox News) (Wall Street Journal)

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House Votes To Censure Rep. Gosar, Remove Him From Committees Over AOC Video

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Gosar remained defiant in remarks delivered on the floor where he defended the video and refused to apologize.


Republicans Stay Defiant Amid Censure Debate

The U.S. House of Representatives voted Wednesday to censure Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Az.) and remove him from his committees after he tweeted an anime video last week that showed him killing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

The video, which has since been removed by Gosar, was a parody of the popular anime show “Attack on Titan.”

At one point in the clip, Gosar, along with Reps. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Co.), are seen battling and then killing a titan version of Ocasio-Cortez.

That post garnered widespread backlash, but Gosar continued to defend it and refused to apologize.

During the heated debate leading up to Wednesday’s vote, the lawmaker again expressed no regret and remained defiant.

“I rise today to address and reject the mischaracterization and accusations from many in this body that the cartoon from my office is dangerous or threatening. It was not,” he said. “I reject the false narrative categorically.”

“I do not espouse violence toward anyone. I never have. It was not my purpose to make anyone upset,” he continued. He then went on to insist the video was just a rebuke of President Joe Biden’s immigration policy and compared himself to Alexander Hamilton.

Many Republican leaders — who have largely refused to condemn the video — also defended Gosar and dismissed the post as a joke.

While some said they do not condone violence, few members of the party criticized the lawmaker. Rather, most focused their attacks on Democrats, arguing that they were abusing their power and silencing conservatives.

Democrats and Ocasio-Cortez Condemn Incitement of Violence

Democrats slammed Republicans’ continued refusal to reprimand Gosar. They said there must be consequences and that they were forced to act because his party would not.

Many also argued that they must speak out against actions that could incite the kind of violence that unfolded during the Jan. 6 insurrection. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.), for instance, described the situation as “an emergency” that amounted to “violence against women” and “workplace harassment.”

“When a member uses his or her national platform to encourage violence, tragically, people listen,” she said, adding that “depictions of violence can foment actual violence, as witnessed by this chamber on Jan. 6, 2021.”

The Speaker additionally noted that there are legal implications for Gosar’s video because it amounted to a threat against a member of Congress, which is a criminal offense.

Ocasio-Cortez echoed the sentiments expressed by Pelosi during her speech on the floor.

“What I believe is unprecedented is for a member of House leadership of either party to be unable to condemn incitement of violence against a member of this body,” she said. “It is sad. It is a sad day in which a member who leads a political party in the United States of America cannot bring themselves to say that issuing a depiction of murdering a member of Congress is wrong.” 

“What is so hard about saying this is wrong?” she continued. “It’s pretty cut and dry. Does anyone in this chamber find this behavior acceptable?” 

“Our work here matters. Our example matters. There is meaning in our service. And as leaders in this country, when we incite violence with depictions against our colleagues, that trickles down into violence in this country.” 

Ultimately, the vast majority of House Republicans voted against the resolution to censure Gosar. Only Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Il.) supported the measure, which passed 223 to 207.

While removing Gosar from his committees effectively takes away a major platform for him to effect legislation, the censure is basically just a public condemnation. Still, the move is significant because it represents the first time in more than a decade that a member of the House has been censured and only the 24th instance in American history.

Gosar, for his part, appeared to be unmoved by the decision. Just an hour after the vote, the lawmaker retweeted a post praising him that also included the same video of him killing Ocasio-Cortez.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (NPR)

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Former Trump Aide Steve Bannon Surrenders to FBI After Contempt of Congress Charges

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The charges stem from Bannon’s failure to comply with a subpoena from the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.


Bannon Faces Contempt Charges

Former White House advisor Steve Bannon surrendered to the FBI Monday morning on two contempt of Congress charges.

Bannon, who previously served as an aide to former President Donald Trump, was indicted by a federal grand jury on Friday after he defied a subpoena to testify and provide documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“I don’t want anybody to take their eye off the ball…We’re taking down the Biden regime every day,” he said when briefly addressing the media as he turned himself in to the FBI’s Washington, D.C. field office.

Bannon made his first court appearance Monday afternoon, though he did not make a plea and was released from custody. His arraignment is set for Thursday morning.

If convicted, each count of contempt carries a maximum of one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. Contempt of Congress charges are incredibly rare. According to The Washington Post, only three such charges have been brought in the last three decades.

Ongoing Legal Battle

While the proceedings against Bannon will likely be quick, they are only one part of what is shaping up to be a lengthy battle over executive privilege.

Trump has repeatedly attempted to block the Jan. 6 committee from obtaining requested documents, testimonies, and other materials under the argument that they are protected by executive privilege — which he asserts still applies to him and his former aides.

In addition to provoking a fraught legal back-and-forth over key records, the former president’s efforts have additionally prompted multiple previous top officials to refuse to comply with subpoenas.

Some top Democrats have said that Bannon’s indictment will encourage other witnesses to cooperate, but at the same time, it has reinvigorated Trump’s allies in Congress.

While some have threatened payback if Republicans take the House in 2022, others have also weaponized support of Bannon as the latest show of loyalty for Trump, effectively centering the matter as a key issue for the midterm elections.

On Saturday, Trump himself released a statement condemning all Republicans who either voted for the infrastructure bill or the contempt charges against Bannon, listing each by name and promising to back anyone who primaried them in the upcoming elections.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)

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Judge Blocks Trump’s Effort To Keep Records From Jan. 6 Committee

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The former president’s lawyers quickly appealed the decision, and experts have said the legal battle over the records could extend into next year.


Trump’s Attempt To Withhold Documents Rejected

A federal judge issued a ruling Tuesday rejecting former President Donald Trump’s effort to block records from being handed over to the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Trump has launched numerous attempts to prevent the committee from obtaining key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers have requested, claiming the materials are protected by executive privilege.

Last month, he went as far as to file a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing those documents.

In his suit, Trump claimed that executive privilege still applied to him even though he is no longer president, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden also declined to exercise executive privilege over the records.

The former president argued that the requested information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”

In her Tuesday ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan broadly rejected those arguments, writing that “the public interest lies in permitting […] the combined will of the legislative and executive branches to study the events that led to and occurred on January 6, and to consider legislation to prevent such events from ever occurring again.”

Chutkan additionally argued that Congress’ ability to obtain information as part of its constitutional oversight authority outweighs Trump’s remaining secrecy powers, especially because Biden agreed that investigators should see the records.

“[Trump] does not acknowledge the deference owed to the incumbent president’s judgment. His position that he may override the express will of the executive branch appears to be premised on the notion that his executive power ‘exists in perpetuity,'” she added. “But presidents are not kings, and plaintiff is not president.”

Ongoing Legal Battle

Immediately after the ruling, Trump’s lawyers appealed and moved to block the release of the records until their appeal can be heard.

According to various reports, the appeals court set an initial written briefing deadline for Dec. 27. Legal experts, however, believe the battle will likely continue into next year and will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court. 

A drawn-out legal process will only continue to benefit Trump, whose strategy of stonewalling and stalling the investigation has so far proven effective at hindering lawmakers.

Additional delays would further aid the former president if litigation continues past the 2022 midterm elections when Republicans hope to retake the House. 

In a statement on Twitter, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich indicated that the legal fight is just now starting.

“The battle to defend Executive Privilege for Presidents past, present & future—from its outset—was destined to be decided by the Appellate Courts,” he wrote. “Pres. Trump remains committed to defending the Constitution & the Office of the Presidency, & will be seeing this process through.”

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)

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