Live updates: Trump says the Democratic-led House has the votes to impeach him – The Washington Post

Trump’s comments to reporters at the White House came as fallout continued Friday from the late-night release of text messages by House investigators, while another key figure, the inspector general of the intelligence community, testified on Capitol Hill behind closed doors.

The texts released late Thursday show how State Department officials coordinated with Zelensky’s top aide and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to leverage a potential summit between Trump and Zelensky on a promise from the Ukrainians to investigate an energy company, Burisma, that had employed Hunter Biden.

Early Friday, Ukraine’s chief prosecutor also said he would conduct an “audit” of an investigation related to Burisma.

●Trump publicly calls on China to investigate Bidens

●Trump’s removal would require Republican dissidents. But those who speak out become targets of viral disinformation.

●Trump wanted Ukraine’s president to launch investigations before face-to-face meeting, State Department texts show

Read the whistleblower complaint | The rough transcript of Trump’s call with Zelensky | House Democrats’ letter on State Department texts

Chat live with Post reporters: The latest on impeachment and Ukraine

12:20 p.m.: Romney criticizes Trump’s ‘brazen and unprecedented’ appeals to Ukraine, China

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) on Friday condemned Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens as “wrong and appalling,” breaking ranks with most Republicans on Capitol Hill who have largely avoided criticizing the president.

In a pair of tweets, Romney referenced that fact that Biden is running for president.

“When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated,” Romney said in one tweet.

“By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling,” he added in another.

12:05 p.m.: E.U. Ambassador Gordon Sondland gave $1 million to Trump inaugural committee through LLCs

Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union who’s become a key figure in the Ukraine controversy, has been a longtime donor to the Republican Party, previously supporting the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Mitt Romney.

In the 2016 campaign, he supported Jeb Bush’s campaign and the super PAC supporting Jeb Bush.

When Trump became the party’s presumptive nominee, Sondland signed on to the joint finance operation between the campaign and the party as a major fundraiser, or a “bundler” who collects big checks on behalf of the nominee.

Sondland was announced as the Oregon and Washington state co-chair of Trump Victory in July 2016. He was listed as a co-host of an August 2016 fundraiser in Seattle in his capacity as Trump Victory co-chair, according to an invitation. Tickets for that fundraisers cost as high as $100,000 per couple.

But once media outlets reported plans of that fundraiser, Sondland and another Portland hotelier, Bashar Wali, said their names were added without their approval and declined to participate as co-hosts, the Willamette Week reported at the time. The two men said through a Provenance Hotels spokeswoman that they refused to participate due to Trump’s anti-immigrant stance.

Sondland eventually donated $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee through four limited-liability companies, state and federal records show. Buena Vista Investments LLC and BV-2 LLC gave $350,000 each, and Dunson Cornerstone Inc. and Dunson Investments LLC gave $150,000 each, inaugural committee records show.

All four companies are registered in Washington, under Sondland’s name. Sondland was among at least 47 people or corporations who gave $1 million or more to the Trump inaugural committee, which drew $107 million. Sondland’s donations were first reported in 2017 by the Intercept, the Center for Responsive Politics and other outlets.

— Michelle Ye Hee Lee

12 p.m.: Cornyn tweets that Justice is investigating Biden ‘conflicts of interest’

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) tweeted Friday morning that the Justice Department is “investigating foreign government influence, VP Biden conflicts of interest, and possible corruption.”

A spokesman for Cornyn clarified that the senator was referring to the ongoing investigation being conducted by U.S. Attorney John Durham into various activities surrounding the FBI’s Russia probe, but he declined to say whether he had been informed if that investigation included an examination of Biden.

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to messages, and an FBI spokeswoman declined to comment.

When asked by a reporter later Friday morning if the Justice Department was looking into Biden, Trump said, “Well, that you’d have to ask Attorney General Barr, but I can tell you just as an observer that what I saw Biden do with his son, he’s pillaging these countries, and he’s hurting us.”

The Biden family’s Ukraine dealings would seem far afield of what has been publicly revealed about Durham’s work. When it was first announced that Barr had tapped Durham to conduct the review, a person familiar with the matter said the prosecutor was seeking to determine if the U.S. government’s “intelligence collection activities” related to the Trump campaign were “lawful and appropriate.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman said more recently that Durham was “exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election.”

“While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating,” the spokeswoman said.

— Matt Zapotosky

11:45 a.m.: Trump won’t say whether he’s asked countries to investigate any nonpolitical opponents

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, Trump said he didn’t know if he had ever asked a foreign leader to investigate a person who wasn’t his political opponent, though he said he had a right to do so.

“You know, we would have to look,” Trump said. “But what I looked for and will always ask for is anything having to do with corruption.”

Reporters asked him several times if that included enlisting Russian President Vladimir Putin’s help, but Trump ignored the question.

“I’ll tell you what’s okay,” he continued. “If we feel there is corruption, we have a right to go to a foreign country.”

11:30 a.m.: Trump says Democrats have votes to impeach him in House

Trump told reporters Friday that it appears House Democrats have the votes to impeach him but predicted that he would be acquitted in a trial in the Republican-led Senate.

“The Democrats unfortunately, they have the votes,” Trump said as he prepared to leave the White House. “They can vote very easily, even though most of them, many of them, don’t believe they should do it.”

“If they proceed, they’ll just get their people, they’re all in line, even though many of them don’t want to vote, they have no choice,” Trump added. “They have to follow their leadership. And then we’ll get it to the Senate, and we’re going to win. The Republicans have been very unified.”

Trump said Democrats would “pay a tremendous price at the polls” for impeaching him.

He continued to insist that he had done nothing inappropriate during his July call in which he pressed Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.

“When I speak to a foreign leader, I speak in an appropriate manner,” Trump said.

10:30 a.m.: Trump shares purported employer of whistleblower in a tweet

In the midst of several midmorning tweets, Trump identified the purported employer of the whistleblower as the CIA.

In the tweet, Trump quoted longtime Republican operative Ed Rollins from an appearance on Fox News.

“I think it’s outrages that a Whistleblower is a CIA Agent,” Trump quoted Rollins as saying, misspelling “outrageous.”

Federal laws offer only limited protection for those in the intelligence community who report wrongdoing — even when they follow all the rules for doing so.

“If he wants to destroy this person’s life, there’s not a lot to stop him right now,” whistleblower attorney Bradley P. Moss told The Washington Post last week.

Both The Post and the New York Times have published stories identifying the whistleblower as a CIA officer, drawing objections from the whistleblower’s lawyers, who say he is entitled to anonymity under the law.

10 a.m.: Trump camp to air anti-Biden ads in key early primary states

Beginning this weekend, the Trump campaign is airing more than $1 million worth of TV ads in early primary states that accuse Joe Biden and his son Hunter of corruption in Ukraine, according to Brad Parscale, Trump’s campaign manager.

The commercials will air in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Parscale tweeted.

The anti-Biden ads are part of a larger $8 million ad buy focused on impeachment, which the Trump camp is trying to spin to its advantage.

CNN said Thursday it would not run the ad because the allegations of corruption against the Bidens highlighted in the ad are unsubstantiated.

9:50 a.m.: Intelligence community inspector general meeting with Congress about whistleblower complaint

Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, will appear before the House Intelligence Committee on Friday to discuss the complaint from a whistleblower that touched off the impeachment probe against Trump.

He arrived on Capitol Hill shortly before 10 a.m. for a scheduled 10:30 a.m. hearing.

The hearing is necessary “to establish additional details, leads and evidence” in the probe, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) wrote in a letter to colleagues last week. The hearing will not be public.

IG at center of impeachment inquiry promised robust whistleblower protections when he took job

“We have to flesh out all of the facts for the American people. The seriousness of the matter and the danger to our country demands nothing less,” Schiff wrote.

Atkinson alerted Schiff and other congressional committee leaders to the whistleblower’s complaint last month, but at the time, acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire would not allow Atkinson to share the full complaint with the committees.

Read more here.

— Shane Harris, Rachael Bade and Karoun Demirjian

9 a.m.: House Republicans object to White House subpoena

Republicans on the House Oversight Committee on Friday made public a letter to Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) in which they objected to his threatened subpoena of White House records related to Trump’s call with Zelensky.

“You decided to issue this subpoena without consulting Republicans and without allowing Members to debate the terms of the subpoena,” the Republicans wrote in the letter, dated Thursday. “Your memorandum cherry-picks and misstates information to propagate a misleading narrative about the President’s actions. We object strongly to the issuance of this subpoena and your stated reasons for issuing it.”

Cummings said earlier this week he would issue a subpoena if the White House didn’t reply with document requests by Friday.

8:50 a.m.: Trump seizes on unemployment rate in arguing against impeachment

Trump seized the release of new unemployment numbers Friday morning to argue against his impeachment.

“Breaking News: Unemployment Rate, at 3.5%, drops to a 50 YEAR LOW,” he tweeted. “Wow America, lets impeach your President (even though he did nothing wrong!).”

Trump made no mention that the same report showed the economy adding a modest 136,000 jobs in September, in what is likely to be interpreted as further evidence that the country is headed for a slowdown.

U.S. economy added just 136,000 jobs in September, in fresh sign economy is cooling

8:25 a.m.: Schiff says Republicans must decide if Trump has ‘absolute right’ he claims

In a morning tweet, Schiff responded to Trump’s late-night assertion that he has an “absolute right” to enlist foreign countries in corruption investigations.

Trump’s contention, in a tweet, came at the end of a day in which he publicly urged both Ukraine and China to investigate the business dealings of Hunter Biden.

“It comes down to this,” Schiff tweeted. “We’ve cut through the denials. The deflections. The nonsense. Donald Trump believes he can pressure a foreign nation to help him politically. It’s his ‘right.’ Every Republican in Congress has to decide: Is he right?”

Minutes after Schiff’s tweet, Trump doubled down on his assertion.

“As President I have an obligation to end CORRUPTION, even if that means requesting the help of a foreign country or countries,” he tweeted. “It is done all the time. This has NOTHING to do with politics or a political campaign against the Bidens. This does have to do with their corruption!”

6:45 a.m.: Ukraine’s new chief prosecutor to ‘audit’ Biden case

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s new chief prosecutor said Friday his office will conduct an “audit” of an investigation into Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that had recruited Hunter Biden for its board.

A criminal probe of the company was closed in 2016, and Trump has alleged it was because of pressure by Hunter Biden’s father, Joe Biden, who was then vice president. Trump has insisted that Ukraine open a new investigation.

Ukrainian officials said previously that the probe was focused on the years 2010 to 2012, before the younger Biden joined the board. They also have said that there is no evidence of any wrongdoing on his part.

Prosecutor General Ruslan Ryaboshapka told a news conference that he is aware of at least 15 investigations that may have touched on Burisma, its owner Nikolai Zlochevsky, an associate named Serhiy Zerchenko, and Biden, and that all will be reviewed. He said no foreign or Ukrainian official has been in touch with him to request this audit.

Read more here.

— Will Englund

6:30 a.m.: Trump wanted Ukraine’s president to launch investigations before face-to-face meeting, texts show

House investigators released numerous text messages late Thursday night illustrating how senior State Department officials coordinated with the Ukrainian president’s top aide and Trump’s personal lawyer to leverage a potential summit between the heads of state on a promise from the Ukrainians to investigate the 2016 U.S. election and an energy company that employed Biden’s son.

The texts, which former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker provided investigators during a nearly 10-hour deposition Thursday, reveal that officials felt Trump would not agree to meet with Zelensky unless Zelensky promised to launch the investigations — and did so publicly.

Although the texts do not mention Biden by name, congressional Democrats leading an impeachment inquiry are pointing to them as clear evidence that Trump conditioned normal bilateral relations with Ukraine on that country first agreeing “to launch politically motivated investigations,” top Democrats said in a statement Thursday night.

“heard from White House — assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate / ‘get to the bottom of what happened’ in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington,” Volker texted Zelensky’s aide, Andrey Yermak, on July 25, hours before Trump and the Ukrainian president spoke via phone.

Read more here.

— Karoun Demirjian, Rachael Bade, Josh Dawsey and John Hudson

6 a.m.: Trump asserts ‘absolute right’ to investigate corruption

Trump on Thursday night asserted an “absolute right” to investigate corruption, which he said includes reaching out to foreign countries for assistance, and suggested that he might sue House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif).

He comments on Twitter came hours after he told reporters that he would like to see investigations of the Bidens not only by Ukraine but also China, prompting an uproar from congressional Democrats.

“As the President of the United States, I have an absolute right, perhaps even a duty, to investigate, or have investigated, CORRUPTION, and that would include asking, or suggesting, other Countries to help us out!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Later, he took aim at Pelosi for standing by Schiff’s comments in a hearing last week.

Trump has called for Schiff to resign for remarks in which he embellished Trump’s phone call with Zelensky. Schiff later said his remarks were intended as a parody and that Trump should have recognized that.

Pelosi defended Schiff during an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that aired Thursday morning on “Good Morning America,” saying his remarks were “fair.”

“Nancy Pelosi today, on @GMA, actually said that Adam Schiffty Schiff didn’t fabricate my words in a major speech before Congress,” Trump said in his tweet. “She either had no idea what she was saying, in other words lost it, or she lied. Even Clinton lover @GStephanopoulos strongly called her out. Sue her?”

5 a.m.: Members of Congress getting pressed on developments back home

With Congress in recess, House and Senate members are getting pressed on developments in the Ukraine controversy while back home.

Here is a video of Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) responding to a constituent Thursday night at a town hall in Templeton, Iowa, who asked a pointed question about the president: “When are you guys going to say, ‘Enough?’”

5 a.m.: CNN declines to run Trump campaign ads

CNN said Thursday that it will not run two Trump campaign ads because they disparage the network’s journalists and make “demonstrably false” claims while discussing impeachment and pushing unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against Biden.

The network’s decisions come as the Trump administration escalates its attacks on congressional Democrats’ impeachment efforts and continues to lash out at media organizations it tries to discredit as “fake news.”

CNN’s move brought renewed ire from Trump’s reelection campaign, as Communications Director Tim Murtaugh called the news network a “Democrat public relations firm” that “spends all day protecting Joe Biden.”

Read more here.

— Hannah Knowles

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