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Saturday
Oct192019

'If I were in the House, I would vote to impeach' Trump: Former Republican Gov. John Kasich

Twitter/@rickklein(WASHINGTON) -- Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich said if he were in the House of Representatives today, he would vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

"I have no problem with the president of the United States withholding aid if it's related to policy, but to withhold aid because you want some political operation to occur, I just think is dead wrong, and it just goes too far for me," Kasich said on ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. "So if I were in the House, I would vote to impeach."

Kasich, who sought the 2016 GOP presidential nomination and has been a frequent critic of Trump, said that while coming to the decision that an impeachment inquiry was necessary was "a piece of cake for" him, the decision to support impeaching the president was something he'd been struggling with.

While he said he didn't really see the quid pro quo "at the time," acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's comments Thursday, "compounded by so many other things," finally led Kasich to a decision.

"The final, final act was Mulvaney saying, 'Yes, we did withhold this aid, because we wanted this investigation done about the 2016 election,'" he told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein.

On Thursday, in an exchange with Karl during a press briefing, Mulvaney admitted there was a quid pro quo as it relates to Ukraine, saying that part of the reason Trump withheld military aid was to put pressure on the foreign government to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory from 2016 involving a hacked email server that belonged to the Democratic National Committee.

While Mulvaney said that the "driving factors" in Trump's decision were his distaste for foreign aid in general -- especially if it's used in a corrupted way -- and that he didn't think European nations were giving enough financial assistance to Ukraine, he added, "Did he also mention to me in pass the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that's it. And that's why we held up the money."

Karl pressed for clarity: "But to be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is: Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens as well."

Mulvaney replied, "We do that all the time with foreign policy."

Later, he claimed the media "decided to misconstrue" what he said, saying in a statement: "There was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election. The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption."

"I've now concluded there was a quid pro quo that was absolutely unacceptable," Kasich told the hosts.

While Kasich supports impeaching the president, he hasn't been happy with the way House Democrats have gone about conducting the investigation, taking issue with there not having been a formal vote, calling it a political move.

"When you're going about impeaching a president, investigating a president, we don't have time for politics," he said, but added that he does think the House will move on impeachment.

As far as the timeline of the investigation goes, and contrary to others who have spoken out, the former lawmaker doesn't think there should be a rush to get this done.

"I don't think they should be in any hurry. I think they ought to do their job the right way," Kasich said. "This is our country. There's an investigation. Do it right. You shouldn't have some calendar. You shouldn't worry that you're going to put your vulnerable members at risk. Tough. If you can't do that then you shouldn't have started this thing, OK? Plain and simple."

When asked if he thought Republicans would ever vote to remove Trump from office, Kasich said he's "not a fortune teller," but referred back to his time in the House during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, which he voted in favor of. He said that back then, the fact that Clinton was likely to be acquitted wasn't the issue for him in making his decision.

And he noted that the impeachment inquiry into Trump is just starting.

"There's going to be lots of hearings that are going to continue, more witnesses. Who knows what's going to come out? Every day, there's another -- I mean, almost another bombshell, so I can't predict what's going to happen next week. ... Next week, who knows what's going to happen?" he said.

Klein and Karl also asked Kasich about Tuesday's Democratic debate, which was held in the Ohioan's hometown, Westerville.

He said that debates are a "silly way to pick a president."

"You want to pick a president based on the sound bites? I mean, that's what we're doing," he said. "These debates are pushing everybody to extremes to come up with a snarky answer, and it's just -- it's just, you know, what's there to watch?"

He took a shot at "Medicare for All," a signature proposal for top-polling 2020 Democratic candidates Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying the American people don't want to give up their private insurance for a government-run option. He also criticized a wealth tax supported by Warren, Sanders and billionaire candidate Tom Steyer, and made a slight pass at former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's proposal to institute a mandatory buy-back program for assault weapons, like a AR-15s and AK-47s.

"The way it's going right now, they're going hard left, which means they can't win," Kasich said of the Democratic primary field.

Karl asked Kasich if his political days were behind him, and while he threw cold water on getting into this presidential election, he left open the possibility for trying to run again in the future.

"The only thing I really have an interest in is president, and I see no path at this point in time," he said. "I'll be younger when the next election comes around than all these top front runners running for president today."

Kasich ended with this question, "Can somebody who doesn't hold public office have a big enough voice to move the public? Is there a way to do it?"

Citing all many methods of communication now used -- podcasts, YouTube, TV, Twitter -- Kasich said voices are what matter.

"We'll see," he said. "All of my options are on the table."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

Hillary Clinton says Russians are ‘grooming’ a 2020 candidate for third-party run

Martin Holverda/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Former Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, without naming names -- and just ahead of the debate -- said that a female 2020 candidate is a “favorite of the Russians”--comments that picked up steam on Friday on social media.

“They’re also going to do third-party again. And I’m not making any predictions, but I think they’ve got their eye on somebody who is currently in the Democratic primary and are grooming her to be the third-party candidate. She’s the favorite of the Russians, they have a bunch of sites and bots and other ways of supporting her so far...” Clinton told David Plouffe on “Campaign HQ”, a podcast run by the 2008 Obama campaign manager.

Clinton does not mention Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard by name and there are five Democratic women running for president this cycle: Gabbard, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Minnesota Sen. Amy Kloubuchar, California Sen. Kamala Harria and author Marianne Williamson. However, the comment appeared to be aimed at Gabbard.

Gabbard fired back on Twitter on Friday afternoon.

 


The Hawaiian lawmaker recently addressed criticism that her campaign is being aided by Russian propaganda efforts-- a narrative that has appeared recently in such places as the New York Times. The news outlet reported last week that some Democrats worry about Russian bot influence due to Gabbard's apparent popularity on and mentions in Russian news media and on such places as 4chan, an online message board popular with right-wing groups.

Clinton's spokesman Nick Merrill told CNN in response to a question about whether the former secretary of state was referring to Gabbard: "If the nesting doll fits."

"This is not some outlandish claim. This is reality," Merrill told CNN. "If the Russian propaganda machine, both their state media and their bot and troll operations, is backing a candidate aligned with their interests, that is just a reality, it is not speculation."

Gabbard addressed speculation about being boosted by Russia on ABC's "This Week" in May, after being asked about an article published in The Daily Beast titled "Tulsi Gabbard's Campaign Is Being Boosted by Putin Apologists."

The Daily Beast article said that Gabbard's campaign was being "underwritten by some of the nation's leading Russophiles," and highlighted donations from supporters of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The piece says that those donors' views are likely to align more closely with Gabbard's on subjects like Syria. As a member of Congress, she has met with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and criticized a U.S. strike against the Syrian government, receiving backlash from other Democrats in Congress.

"You know, it's unfortunate that you're citing that article, George, because it's a whole lot of fake news," Gabbard said. "What I am focused on is what is in the best interest of the American people. What is in the best interest of our national security. Keeping the American people safe."

Clinton's team has not responded to a request from ABC News for comment.

ABC News has also reached out to Gabbard's campaign for a response.

Gabbard has previously said on multiple occasions that she will not run as a third-party candidate should she fail to net the Democratic presidential nomination.

Last week, Gabbard threatened to boycott the fourth Democratic debate, hosted by CNN and the New York times, accusing them of “rigging” the 2020 election.

"I am seriously considering boycotting October 15 debate to bring attention to DNC/corporate media's effort to rig 2020 primary," she tweeted.

Last Saturday, Gabbard tweeted, “As if to prove my point, NYT just published a “greatest hits” smear piece. All your favorite hits in one article! These are the folks who will be acting as the “neutral” questioners/ moderators of Tuesday’s debate lol”

Gabbard ended up joining the other candidates on the stage Tuesday night.

Clinton also said on the podcast interview with Plouffe that Jill Stein, the 2016 Green Party presidential nominee, was a "Russian asset."

"And that's assuming Jill Stein will give it up, which she might not, 'cause she's also a Russian asset," Clinton said during the podcast interview referring to Stein's third party status. " I mean, totally. They know they can't win without a third-party candidate, and so I don't know who it's going to be, but I will guarantee they'll have a vigorous third-party challenge in the key states that they most need it."

Stein, in a response to ABC News on Friday evening, said: "Instead of addressing the crises working people face, the DNC is painting progressives as the enemy. It's as if they're trying to lose to Trump again...In light of the latest slanderous allegations from Hillary Clinton, I challenge her to a debate. It's past time to give the American people the real debate they deserved in 2016, but were denied by the phony DNC/RNC-controlled Commission on Presidential Debates."

 

Some of Gabbard's Democratic competitors weighed in on Twitter, too. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker tweeted a GIF in response to Gabbard.

 

 

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

'If I were in the House, I would vote to impeach' Trump: Former Republican Gov. John Kasich

Toshe_O/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich said if he were in the House of Representatives today, he would vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

"I have no problem with the president of the United States withholding aid if it's related to policy, but to withhold aid because you want some political operation to occur, I just think is dead wrong, and it just goes too far for me," Kasich said on ABC News' "Powerhouse Politics" podcast. "So if I were in the House, I would vote to impeach."



Kasich, who sought the 2016 GOP presidential nomination and has been a frequent critic of Trump, said that while coming to the decision that an impeachment inquiry was necessary was "a piece of cake for" him, the decision to support impeaching the president was something he'd been struggling with.

While he said he didn't really see the quid pro quo "at the time," acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney's comments Thursday, "compounded by so many other things," finally led Kasich to a decision.

"The final, final act was Mulvaney saying, 'Yes, we did withhold this aid, because we wanted this investigation done about the 2016 election,'" he told ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and Political Director Rick Klein.

On Thursday, in an exchange with Karl during a press briefing, Mulvaney admitted there was a quid pro quo as it relates to Ukraine, saying that part of the reason Trump withheld military aid was to put pressure on the foreign government to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory from 2016 involving a hacked email server that belonged to the Democratic National Committee.

While Mulvaney said that the "driving factors" in Trump's decision were his distaste for foreign aid in general -- especially if it's used in a corrupted way -- and that he didn't think European nations were giving enough financial assistance to Ukraine, he added, "Did he also mention to me in pass the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. But that's it. And that's why we held up the money."

Karl pressed for clarity: "But to be clear, what you just described is a quid pro quo. It is: Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democratic server happens as well."

Mulvaney replied, "We do that all the time with foreign policy."

Later, he claimed the media "decided to misconstrue" what he said, saying in a statement: "There was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election. The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption."

 "I've now concluded there was a quid pro quo that was absolutely unacceptable," Kasich told the hosts.

While Kasich supports impeaching the president, he hasn't been happy with the way House Democrats have gone about conducting the investigation, taking issue with there not having been a formal vote, calling it a political move.

"When you're going about impeaching a president, investigating a president, we don't have time for politics," he said, but added that he does think the House will move on impeachment.

As far as the timeline of the investigation goes, and contrary to others who have spoken out, the former lawmaker doesn't think there should be a rush to get this done.

"I don't think they should be in any hurry. I think they ought to do their job the right way," Kasich said. "This is our country. There's an investigation. Do it right. You shouldn't have some calendar. You shouldn't worry that you're going to put your vulnerable members at risk. Tough. If you can't do that then you shouldn't have started this thing, OK? Plain and simple."

 When asked if he thought Republicans would ever vote to remove Trump from office, Kasich said he's "not a fortune teller," but referred back to his time in the House during the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, which he voted in favor of. He said that back then, the fact that Clinton was likely to be acquitted wasn't the issue for him in making his decision.

And he noted that the impeachment inquiry into Trump is just starting.

"There's going to be lots of hearings that are going to continue, more witnesses. Who knows what's going to come out? Every day, there's another -- I mean, almost another bombshell, so I can't predict what's going to happen next week. ... Next week, who knows what's going to happen?" he said.

Klein and Karl also asked Kasich about Tuesday's Democratic debate, which was held in the Ohioan's hometown, Westerville.

He said that debates are a "silly way to pick a president."

"You want to pick a president based on the sound bites? I mean, that's what we're doing," he said. "These debates are pushing everybody to extremes to come up with a snarky answer, and it's just -- it's just, you know, what's there to watch?"

 He took a shot at "Medicare for All," a signature proposal for top-polling 2020 Democratic candidates Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying the American people don't want to give up their private insurance for a government-run option. He also criticized a wealth tax supported by Warren, Sanders and billionaire candidate Tom Steyer, and made a slight pass at former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's proposal to institute a mandatory buy-back program for assault weapons, like a AR-15s and AK-47s.

"The way it's going right now, they're going hard left, which means they can't win," Kasich said of the Democratic primary field.

Karl asked Kasich if his political days were behind him, and while he threw cold water on getting into this presidential election, he left open the possibility for trying to run again in the future.

"The only thing I really have an interest in is president, and I see no path at this point in time," he said. "I'll be younger when the next election comes around than all these top front runners running for president today."

Kasich ended with this question, "Can somebody who doesn't hold public office have a big enough voice to move the public? Is there a way to do it?"

Citing all many methods of communication now used -- podcasts, YouTube, TV, Twitter -- Kasich said voices are what matter.

"We'll see," he said. "All of my options are on the table."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

Perry rejects congressional subpoena, insists resignation not related to Ukraine 

Luka Banda/iStock(WASHINGTON) -- Outgoing Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Friday that his plans to resign are not related to the ongoing congressional impeachment inquiry into his role in the Ukraine affair, but because he wants to spend more time with family in Texas.

The comments from Perry, who said he plans to step down by the end of the year, came on the same day he and Energy Department lawyers told Congress they would not comply with a Friday deadline to respond to a congressional subpoena to provide information related to his work in the former Soviet republic.

Last week, the chairmen of the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees subpoenaed Perry to provide documents related to his role in U.S. energy policy in Ukraine and whether he was involved in decisions to withhold military aid.

But Perry responded Friday in a letter to the committees that, in accordance with a previous White House letter rejecting other subpoenas, he would not comply until the House votes to authorize the impeachment inquiry. Department lawyers also argue some of the documents requested are covered by executive privilege.

“Pursuant to these concerns, the Department restates the President’s position: “Given that you inquiry lacks any legitimate constitutional foundation, any pretense of fairness, or even the most elementary due process protections, the Executive Branch cannot be expected to participate in it,” the Energy letter says, citing the White House letter.

With regard to his leaving Washington, Perry said, “I've been looking at this for some time,” in an interview on CNBC Friday.

“I don't think anybody's surprised that, you know, I've got a rather intense love affair with this state, my wife, this little town of Round Top where we have chosen to live. And so the lure became overwhelming for me to come back home and to spend time with the people that I really love," he said.

President Donald Trump announced Friday on Twitter that he plans to nominate Deputy Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette to replace Perry. Brouillette is an Army veteran from San Antonio, Texas, and has previously worked in the energy sector including as assistant secretary for congressional affairs at the Energy Department from 2001 to 2003. More recently he worked as an executive for Ford Motor Company and USAA.

As part of the impeachment inquiry, Perry has been subpoenaed to provide documents related to his work in Ukraine and meetings with other officials involved in the region.

Perry has said previously that he planned to cooperate with the congressional requests. But since then, the White House has defied those requests because it regards the impeachment inquiry as illegitimate without an official House vote.

Perry has been referred to by some of his colleagues as one of the "three amigos" of the administration's policy in Ukraine. Members of Congress are investigating whether the White House withheld military aid to the country or offered a White House summit on the condition Ukrainian officials investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.

Perry has not been accused of wrongdoing and insists his efforts in Ukraine were focused on advancing American interests in the region by promoting reforms to address corruption and bringing in American energy companies to get Ukraine away from Russian natural gas.

Perry said he's happy with the goals he's accomplished in his time at the Energy Department, including pushing for more American natural gas in Europe and for Ukraine to tackle corruption in the country.

"The timing was right for me. I got these big things done, the agency is in great shape, it's going to continue to be focused on the areas that are important to America. So it was a right time for me to come back home," he said in the interview.

In recent months, Perry and the Energy Department have frequently denied reports he planned to resign. Perry said Thursday morning he was one day closer to stepping down "but it ain't today." He gave Trump his resignation notice later that day.

Perry has defended the administration’s handling of Ukraine, saying the Biden name was not brought up in his conversations with the president and other officials. Perry told Fox News he never heard the Biden name in conversations with Ukrainian officials or the White House, but that the U.S. was pushing Ukraine to crack down on corruption in the country.

He also defended White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who said Thursday the administration did ask Ukraine for an investigation of Democrats in the 2016 election before aid money would be released. Mulvaney later said in a statement that his comments did not mean there was a "quid pro quo" but Perry said Friday that Mulvaney was being "straight up" and that the administration was "hammering" Ukraine to tackle corruption.

"People are trying to connect dots. By basically saying that there was no quid pro quo in the sense of what those folks out there would like for it to be. That we'll give you this money unless you go investigate Joe Biden and his son. I never heard that anywhere, any time, in any conversation," he said on Fox News.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

Diplomat said he expressed concern over Hunter Biden’s foreign work in 2015

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- During a closed-door deposition earlier this week, a senior State Department official told House impeachment investigators that he raised ethical concerns about Hunter Biden’s business ties in Ukraine with then-Vice President Joe Biden’s office in 2015, two sources familiar with the deposition confirmed Friday to ABC News, but was ultimately rebuffed.

Deputy Secretary of State George Kent told investigators that he grew so concerned about the appearance of a conflict of interest presented by Hunter Biden’s role on the board of a Ukrainian oil and gas company that he conveyed his misgivings to an aide to the then-vice president, the sources said.

Kent said in his testimony that Biden’s aide told him that the vice president didn’t have the “bandwidth” to address Hunter Biden’s professional work because his other son, Beau, was battling cancer, according to the Washington Post, which first reported Kent’s claim.

A spokesman for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., declined to comment on the closed door testimony. A spokesman for the Biden campaign said that "on Joe Biden's watch, the U.S. made eradicating corruption a centerpiece of our policies toward Ukraine."

In a statement from his lawyers on Friday, Kent, a career Foreign Service officer who previously served at the U.S. embassy in Kyiv, tried to distance himself from any of the politics: "Those engaged in the broader political debate on either side will likely find both utility and inconvenience in his testimony. But those are matters for others. He was not there to testify on behalf of any side," his lawyers Andrew Wright and Barry Hartman wrote.

Without disputing anything in particular, they added, "With varying degrees of accuracy, several news organizations and sources have characterized the testimony he provided in closed session. We would caution that cherry-picked elements of his testimony might not give the full picture."

At the time of Kent's warning, Joe Biden was routinely traveling to Kiev, to advocate the Obama administration policy focused on rooting out corruption. A year earlier, in 2014, Hunter Biden had accepted a lucrative seat on the board of directors for Burisma, the Ukrainian company.

While the Bidens have not been accused of doing anything illegal, ethics experts say Hunter Biden’s foreign business activity presents ethical concerns.

"At absolute minimum, there's a huge appearance of conflict, and there's every reason to think that the investors that he‘s working with want him partnering with them because he's the son of the then-vice president and now presidential candidate," Robert Weissman, president of progressive watchdog group Public Citizen, told ABC News in June. "[Joe Biden] should have encouraged his son to not take these positions."

During an exclusive interview with ABC News earlier this week, Hunter Biden said he exercised “poor judgment” in taking the Burisma board seat, but defended himself against the ethical questions raised about his private ventures,

"I gave a hook to some very unethical people to act in illegal ways to try to do some harm to my father. That's where I made the mistake," said Biden. "So I take full responsibility for that. Did I do anything improper? No, not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever."


Nevertheless, Kent’s testimony will likely add fuel to claims made by President Donald Trump and his allies about an alleged conflict of interest, who staged a full-court press to have the Hunter Biden and his father investigated in Ukraine. During a phone call in July between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy – a rough transcript of which the White House later released – the president repeatedly encouraged the Ukrainians to investigate the Bidens.

The president’s requests to Zelenskiy during that phone call are now a major part of the congressional impeachment inquiry. Investigators have interviewed several current and former United States officials as part of their probe, including Kent.

Although Trump’s effort to repeatedly raise Hunter Biden’s foreign business ties has brought them more into the spotlight recently, questions were raised at the time he took on the position in Ukraine. In May 2014, ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked then-White House press secretary Jay Carney about the potential conflict of interest.

Carney responded that "Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens, and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the vice president or president."

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

Ambassador to EU Sondland told Congress quid pro quo described by Mulvaney would be improper

Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland told House impeachment investigators he believed it would be improper for the White House to withhold military aid until Ukraine conducted an investigation related to the 2016 election, according to sources familiar with his testimony.

Sondland testified for more than nine hours on Capitol Hill Thursday, as Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, told reporters that the president had cut off military aid to Ukraine in part to pressure Ukrainian officials to probe Democrats, and an unsubstantiated theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked the Democratic National Committee in the 2016 election.

Asked about the comments from Mulvaney, Sondland said that the arrangement, if described accurately, would be improper, but did not say whether he believed it to be illegal, according to sources familiar with his remarks.

Mulvaney tried to walk back his White House comments in a statement Thursday denying what he had said in the press briefing room constituted a quid pro quo, though not walking back any of those original remarks. And Democrats seized on his initial remarks.

"You can't exert pressure on a foreign government to do anything for your election benefit," Rep. Raka Krishnamoorthi, D-Illionis, told reporters.

Republicans, including some who were startled by Mulvaney's initial comments, quickly pointed to his follow up statement, and insisted he had misspoken.

"Based on my conversations, not only with Mick Mulvaney but others, in addition to the five witnesses we've had, I have zero concern - zero concern - that aid was withheld for any political reason," Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., said Friday. "I don't think he's incorrect, I know he's incorrect."

Sondland, who despite his official title, played a large role in the administration's Ukraine policy and events at the center of Democrats' impeachment inquiry, told investigators Trump had directed him and others to work with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to push Ukraine to conduct investigations, but that he wasn't aware of the efforts and their motives, according to his opening statement obtained by ABC News.

He told investigators that he and other senior administration officials disagreed with Trump's request to work with Giuliani, but said that he felt he could not ignore a directive from the president.

"Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine," he told lawmakers, according to his opening statement.

"However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns."

Other diplomats and former administration officials who have appeared before Congress have suggested that Sondland was a key player in efforts to push Ukraine to conduct investigations outside of normal diplomatic channels.

Sondland told lawmakers he was not aware of a connection between the push to investigate Ukrainian energy company Burisma and the Biden family, and did not know initially that former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter served on the company board - a claim that some lawmakers were skepitcal of, in light of Giuliani's many social media posts and interviews on the subject at the same time.

"I read the opening statement, and everything that followed, as Mr. Sondland engaging in a C.Y.A. operation for himself," Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., said.
"Giuliani made no secret of what he was doing," he added, referencing an appearance Giuliani made on Fox News in April.

House investigators have heard from other witnesses who have raised questions about Sondland's role in the administration's Ukraine policy and work with Giuliani and other senior officials.

Fiona Hill, the National Security Council’s former senior director for European and Russian affairs, told House impeachment investigators that she believed Sondland was a potential national security risk, given his inexperience and extensive use of a personal cell phone for official diplomatic businesses, sources familiar with her testimony earlier this week told ABC News.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

Trump dismisses Mulvaney admitting Ukraine quid pro quo: 'I think he clarified it'

Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump on Friday dismissed White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney’s stunning admission that there was a quid-pro-quo in regard to U.S. military aid for Ukraine and investigating Democrats, contradicting the president's consistent denials about a key subject of the House impeachment inquiry.

At an event in the White House Roosevelt Room Friday afternoon, a reporter asked Trump: “Mr. President, do you want to clarify what Mick Mulvaney said yesterday?”

Trump replied quickly, “I think he clarified it," before pivoting to off-topic comments about his visit to Texas on Thursday.

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham appeared on Fox and Friends Friday morning, praising Mulvaney's performance at his briefing Thursday, emphasizing that “we put a statement out clarifying some of the things that the media got themselves in a tizzy over.”

While Mulvaney, in a statement issued Thursday evening after his admission set of a political firestorm, claimed the press had decided to "misconstrue" what he had said -- despite reporting using the actual words he spoke in the White House briefing room hours earlier -- the president, who seemingly attacks the so-called "Fake News" at nearly every opportunity, did not weigh in further about Mulvaney's admission.

At midday Thursday, Mulvaney had recounted that the president told him he didn’t want to send Ukraine “a bunch of money and have them waste it, and have them spend it, have them use it to line their own pockets.”

“Those were the driving factors,” Mulvaney told reporters in the White House briefing room. “Did he also mention to me in the past that the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it and that’s why we held up the money.” (The "server" reference is to a debunked conspiracy theory that Trump has long clung to: that the Democratic National Committee’s hacked email server was being held in Ukraine – and that individuals in Ukraine were behind an effort to sabotage his 2016 election. Last month, Trump’s own former homeland security adviser called the theory “completely false.” )

“So the demand for an investigation into the Democrats was part of the reason that he ordered you to withhold funding to Ukraine?” ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl asked.

“’Look back to what happened in 2016,’ certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with the nation,” Mulvaney said. “And that is absolutely equivalent.”

“What you described is a quid pro quo,” Karl pressed. “It is: Funding will not flow unless the investigation into the Democrats’ server happens as well.”

“We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney answered.

In a terse statement issued Thursday evening, Trump's personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, said, "The President's legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's press briefing."

After hours of backlash, Mulvaney attempted to clarify his comments shortly after Thursday.

“Once again, the media has decided to misconstrue my comments to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump. Let me be clear, there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election," Mulvaney noted. "The president never told me to withhold any money until the Ukrainians did anything related to the server. The only reasons we were holding the money was because of concern about lack of support from other nations and concerns over corruption."

Mulvaney added in the statement that he repeatedly cited the president's interest in "rooting out corruption in Ukraine, and ensuring taxpayer dollars are spent responsibly and appropriately" during the news conference.

"There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server - this was made explicitly obvious by the fact that the aid money was delivered without any action on the part of the Ukrainians regarding the server," he said. "There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.”

 Mulvaney did not mention that a rough White House transcript of Trump’s call with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy shows the investigation into alleged corruption Trump and the president’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, wanted specified a probe of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, sat on the board.

Asked whether Giuliani's role was problematic, Mulvaney dismissed questions raised about having a private citizen, not a government official, involved in U.S. foreign policy.

"It is not illegal, it is not impeachable. The president gets to use who he wants to use. If he wants to fire me and hire someone else, he can. The president gets to set foreign policy. He gets to choose who to do so. As long as it does not violate law or laws regarding confidential information or classified material or anything like that the president can use who he wants tom" he argued.

Mulvaney, who stepped into the role of acting chief of staff from his post as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, insisted that an investigation of Joe Biden was not part of the equation, and dismissed the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as a “witch hunt.”

“I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney said. “That is going to happen. Elections have consequences and foreign policy is going to change from the Obama administration to the Trump administration.”

While previous American presidents have pressured foreign leaders in order to achieve U.S. policy objectives, it has not been considered acceptable that they could do so for the personal benefit they might get from an investigation into political opponents, and many Democrats have said doing so, by itself, is grounds for impeachment.

Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who heads the House Intelligence Committee and is leading the impeachment investigation, called Mulvaney's blocking of the aid "illicit."

"With his acknowledgement now that military aid to a vital ally, battling Russia as we speak, was withheld in part out of the desire by the president to have Ukraine investigate the DNC server or Democrats of 2016, things have just gone from very, very bad to much, much worse," Schiff said. "The idea that vital military assistance would be withheld for such a patently political reason, for reason of serving the presidential election campaign, is a phenomenal breach of the president’s duty to defend our national security."

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Friday
Oct182019

How Joe Biden's effort to dodge son's conflict of interest may have backfired

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- More than a decade ago, as then-Sen. Joe Biden launched his second presidential campaign, he asked a favor of his youngest son: stop lobbying -- according to claims in a lawsuit filed at the time.

Hunter Biden had made a name for himself as a power broker in Washington for clients including Napster and St. Joseph's University, but reportedly took steps to avoid taking on work that could be construed as a conflict of interest given his politician father. The elder Biden's request that his son step away from the industry came as part of a larger effort to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, according to the lawsuit brought by brought by a former business associate of Hunter Biden.

Now, as the former vice president embarks on a third presidential bid, Hunter Biden's professional record has come under scrutiny for the very thing Joe Bidenfeared ahead of his second unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008. The glare around the appearance of a conflict of interest is particularly bright this time around, having attracted the attention of President Donald Trump.

Hunter Biden had made a name for himself as a power broker in Washington for clients including Napster and St. Joseph's University, but reportedly took steps to avoid taking on work that could be construed as a conflict of interest given his politician father. The elder Biden's request that his son step away from the industry came as part of a larger effort to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest, according to the lawsuit brought by brought by a former business associate of Hunter Biden.

Now, as the former vice president embarks on a third presidential bid, Hunter Biden's professional record has come under scrutiny for the very thing Joe Bidenfeared ahead of his second unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008. The glare around the appearance of a conflict of interest is particularly bright this time around, having attracted the attention of President Donald Trump.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Hunter Biden argued that, given Joe Biden's role in policy-making, there was no field in which he could have steered clear of his father's shadow.

"Because my dad was vice president of the United States, there's literally nothing, as a young man or as a full grown adult, that my father in some way hasn't had influence over," he said.

After graduating from Yale Law School in the mid-1990s, Hunter Biden embarked on multiple career paths that intersected directly with his father's political work.

He first worked at MBNA, a Delaware-based credit card company and one of his father's most generous campaign donors. When Hunter Biden was promoted to a senior vice president at the company at age 28, it raised eyebrows. Years later, after Joe Biden was named Barack Obama's running mate, the Obama campaign struggled to defend Hunter Biden's work at the company.

Joe Biden has faced criticism on the campaign trail over his legislative record on credit card debt, including from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who testified against a bankruptcy bill in 2005 that she said would benefit the credit card companies at the expense of struggling families – a bill Biden had supported.

After leaving MBNA, Hunter Biden went to Washington, D.C., where he helped launch a lobbying and consulting firm called Oldaker, Biden, & Belair.

"Hunter didn't do anything that involved his dad, didn't do anything that involved any help from his dad," Vincent Versage, described by The New Yorker as Hunter Biden's lobbying mentor, told the magazine in July.

Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a nonprofit and nonpartisan advocacy group, said that while it is not uncommon for children of powerful public figures to work in Washington, it can present an ethical conundrum.

"It's not all that unusual, and that doesn't make it a crime," Weissman said. "But it isn't right."

Before Joe Biden launched his second campaign for president in November 2006, he sought to find Hunter Biden a new line of work as he became "concerned with the impact that Hunter's lobbying activities might have on his expected campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination," according to court documents filed by Hunter Biden’s former business associate Anthony Lotito in New York in 2007 as part of a dispute between the two men.

According to claims Lotito made as part of a lawsuit targeting the Bidens, Joe Biden tasked his brother, James, with finding his son a new job, and James Biden reached out to Lotito for help.

"[James] Biden told Lotito that, in light of these concerns, his brother had asked him to seek Lotito's assistance in finding employment for Hunter in a non-lobbying capacity," the court documents read. "Lotito agreed to help, and, in connection therewith, began to consider whether any of his contacts in the financial community might be a good starting place in which to seek out employment on Hunter's behalf."

In their own filings in the Lotito case, the Bidens denied that Joe Biden sought Lotito's help finding his son work.

Before Joe Biden launched his second campaign for president in November 2006, he sought to find Hunter Biden a new line of work as he became "concerned with the impact that Hunter's lobbying activities might have on his expected campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination," according to court documents filed by Hunter Biden’s former business associate Anthony Lotito in New York in 2007 as part of a dispute between the two men.

According to claims Lotito made as part of a lawsuit targeting the Bidens, Joe Biden tasked his brother, James, with finding his son a new job, and James Biden reached out to Lotito for help.

"[James] Biden told Lotito that, in light of these concerns, his brother had asked him to seek Lotito's assistance in finding employment for Hunter in a non-lobbying capacity," the court documents read. "Lotito agreed to help, and, in connection therewith, began to consider whether any of his contacts in the financial community might be a good starting place in which to seek out employment on Hunter's behalf."

In their own filings in the Lotito case, the Bidens denied that Joe Biden sought Lotito's help finding his son work.

A lawyer for Hunter Biden told ABC News the fund currently has a registered capital of $4.2 million, and Hunter Biden holds a 10% stake, meaning his committed capital is worth $420,000. His lawyer insists Hunter Biden has yet to receive a financial return on investment, adding that he only became a minority stake-holder in the company in October 2017 – after Joe Biden was vice president. Prior to then, he served as an unpaid director.

In April of 2014, Hunter Biden and his Rosemont Seneca partner, Archer, landed seats on the board of directors at a Ukrainian oil and gas firm called Burisma. According to banking records reviewed by ABC News, the firm began collecting $166,666 payments each month.

Heinz never joined Biden and Archer on Burisma's board, and reportedly "strongly warned" his two associates against doing so. In a statement to The Washington Post in September, a spokesman for Heinz said, "The lack of judgment in this matter was a major catalyst for Mr. Heinz ending his business relationships with Mr. Archer and Mr. Biden."

President Trump has used Hunter Biden's foreign business forays to level at him and his father allegations of engaging in conflicts of interest. In Ukraine, the president's repeated efforts to have the incoming administration in Kyiv investigate the Bidens has led to an impeachment inquiry in Congress. The president also called on Beijing to investigate Hunter Biden's role in the joint investment firm in China.

President Trump has used Hunter Biden's foreign business forays to level at him and his father allegations of engaging in conflicts of interest. In Ukraine, the president's repeated efforts to have the incoming administration in Kyiv investigate the Bidens has led to an impeachment inquiry in Congress. The president also called on Beijing to investigate Hunter Biden's role in the joint investment firm in China.

Both Bidens have denied any wrongdoing. During an exclusive interview with ABC News earlier this week, Hunter said he exercised "poor judgment" in taking the Burisma board seat, but defended himself against the ethical questions raised about his private ventures,

"I gave a hook to some very unethical people to act in illegal ways to try to do some harm to my father. That's where I made the mistake," said Biden. "So I take full responsibility for that. Did I do anything improper? No, not in any way. Not in any way whatsoever."

During a deposition before Congress this week, Deputy Secretary of State George Kent told investigators he raised the issue of potential ethical concerns with Hunter Biden's business ties in Ukraine with former Vice President Joe Biden's office in 2015, two sources familiar with the deposition confirmed Friday to ABC News.

In May 2014, responding to a question raised by ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, then-White House press secretary Jay Carney said, "Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens, and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the vice president or president."

Hunter Biden declined to renew his board membership at Burisma in April 2019. Earlier this month, his lawyer announced he would also cut ties with the Chinese investment firm.

On Twitter, President Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption, which is presumably a situation Joe Biden sought to avoid in asking Hunter Biden to end his Washington lobbying career more than a decade ago.


The Biden campaign recently released details of a proposed government ethics plan, which included a stipulation designed to "rein in executive branch financial conflicts of interest" if he's elected president -- an apparent response to allegations lodged against the Biden family.

The ethics pledge also made several references to President Trump and his family. Ivanka Trump currently serves as a special adviser to the president, and Trump's two adult sons control day to day operations of the Trump Organization. As part of the rollout, Biden told reporters that "no one in my family will have an office in the White House, will sit in at meetings as if they're a cabinet member."

The former vice president publicly defended his son in an interview with the Reno Gazette Journal earlier this month, calling Hunter Biden "a fine man."

"He's been through hell," Biden told the newspaper.

 

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Friday
Oct182019

'You have to ask Rudy': 5 key things to know about Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in the Ukraine affair

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- Once known as “America’s mayor,” Rudy Giuliani has emerged as a central figure in the impeachment inquiry into whether President Donald Trump abused his power as a sitting president to benefit his political campaign.

Here are five key things to know about Giuliani’s involvement in the Ukraine affair:

Giuliani engaged a foreign power as Trump’s personal lawyer

Giuliani doesn’t work on behalf of U.S. taxpayers as a diplomat or other government employee; he’s the president’s personal lawyer.

That’s why it was so astonishing last May when Giuliani told The New York Times that he planned to travel to Ukraine to press the government on matters that some Trump’s allies thought would help Trump’s re-election bid.

The goal, he said, was to find information that would be “very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government.”

Giuliani said he specifically wanted Ukraine’s new government to find evidence that corrupt politicians there had interfered in the 2016 election on behalf of Democrat Hillary Clinton. (U.S. intelligence has determined that Russia, not Ukraine, interfered in the U.S. election -- to benefit Trump, not Clinton.)

Giuliani also wanted the foreign power to look into potential conflicts of interest involving Democrat presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden, who served on the board a Ukraine gas company at the time. Both Biden and his son, Hunter, have denied any wrongdoing.

Giuliani told The New York Times in May that he wasn’t meddling in the upcoming election. “We’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” he said.

Giuliani says he was acting on behalf of the president

Internal texts and documents suggest Giuliani was so deeply entangled in U.S. discussions with Ukraine, that senior State Department officials sought him out repeatedly to keep him updated.

“The key to changing the President's mind on Ukraine was Giuliani,” said Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, in testimony to Congress.

And in his July phone call to Ukraine’s president, Trump made clear it was Giuliani who was acting on his behalf and not the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Trump called “bad news.”

“He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General,” Trump said of Giuliani to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

“Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy,” Trump added, according to a rough White House transcript of the call. “If you could speak to him that would be great.”

Giuliani earned $500K from a man accused of funneling foreign money into US campaigns.

Two associates of Giuliani – both Soviet-born, Florida-based businessmen – were arrested last week at a Washington-area airport with one-way tickets.

The men are accused of breaking campaign finance laws by funneling money from an unnamed foreign national – identified in the indictment only as a “Russian citizen and businessman” – into political contributions to specific U.S. political campaigns. Both men have pleaded not guilty.

When asked whether he knew the men, Trump said he wasn’t sure. “You have to ask Rudy,” he told reporters.

The business relationship between Giuliani and the two men is now the subject of an ongoing investigation conducted by federal authorities in New York, ABC News reported last Friday. And raising questions in particular is a $500,000 payment that Giuliani acknowledges that he received for work he did with a company co-founded by one of the men.

Giuliani’s influence remains outsize on other matters, too

According to a source with direct knowledge of the matter, Trump in 2017 urged then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to push the Department of Justice to drop a criminal case against one of Giuliani's clients -- an Iranian-Turkish gold trader accused of helping the Iranian government evade U.S. economic sanctions. Giuliani did not respond to a request to comment when reached by ABC News.

Separately, a former senior administration official tells ABC News that Giuliani urged Trump to extradite a Turkish cleric living in exile in the U.S.

The former senior official tells ABC that White House officials stepped in and blocked any actions, telling Giuliani that the Turkish government should go through proper channels for extradition requests. Giuliani declined to comment, citing attorney-client privilege.

Giuliani’s business relationships are under investigation

With Giuliani’s business relationships with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman under investigation, the question is what happens next and how his dealings will impact the administration.

According to the Times, former national security adviser John Bolton told another White House staffer that Giuliani was a “hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up.”

Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing and insisted that others at the White House didn’t have the “evidence” he did of “Ukrainian collusion.”

It’s not the first time a personal lawyer to Trump was scrutinized by law enforcement. Michael Cohen is now serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to tax, bank and campaign finance crimes.

Unlike Cohen, Giuliani says he is not complying with a congressional subpoena.

Giuliani tells ABC News “if they enforce it, then we will see what happens.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Friday
Oct182019

Former Navy SEAL commander William McRaven says US under attack from Trump

Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead(WASHINGTON) -- The retired Navy admiral who oversaw the mission that killed Osama bin Laden rebuked President Donald Trump for what he called the abandonment American leadership domestically and abroad in an op-ed, citing what he said he'd heard from members of the military and intelligence community.

“The America that they believed in was under attack, not from without, but from within,” Adm. William H. McRaven, who led the U.S. Special Operations Command before retiring, wrote in the New York Times Thursday describing the mood at two functions he attended in the span of a week -- one at an Army change of command ceremony and the other a gala honoring members of the intelligence and Special Operations communities.

Recalling a conversation he had while attending a ceremony at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, McRaven wrote, “one retired four-star general, grabbed my arm, shook me and shouted, ‘I don’t like the Democrats, but Trump is destroying the Republic!’”

McRaven castigated Trump for what he described as failing to stand up to tyrannical regimes abroad and assaulting U.S. institutions, behavior that he said undermines the nation’s standing in the world, and said “it is time for a new person in the Oval Office” if “this president doesn’t demonstrate the leadership that America needs.”

McRaven’s comments come just over a week after Trump announced his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria -- leaving America’s Kurdish partners to fend for themselves against Turkey and the Assad regime -- and amid an impeachment inquiry that is ensnaring a growing list of Trump administration officials and associates.

Vice President Mike Pence has since traveled to Turkey in an attempt to curb Turkey’s operation, and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney on Thursday admitted to ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl that the administration withheld military aid in part to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation into political opponents.

Thursday’s op-ed is not the first time McRaven has criticized the president. Last year, in an op-ed published in the Washington Post shortly after CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance was revoked, McRaven wrote that Trump “embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.”

Trump dismissed those comments at the time, calling McRaven a “Hillary Clinton backer and an Obama backer” in a Fox News interview, though McRaven later told CNN that he “did not back Hillary Clinton or anyone else.”

McRaven's op-ed was published on the same day that Trump's former defense secretary, retired Gen. James Mattis, took a few jabs of his own at Trump. At a white-tie dinner in New York, just a day after Trump called Mattis “the world’s most overrated general,” Mattis said, "I'm honored to be called that by Donald Trump, because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actor. So I guess I’m the Meryl Streep of generals."

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