Tag Archives: Ukraine

Pressure builds as Trump impeachment probe hears new claims

Two top US diplomats delivered gripping testimony on Wednesday about Donald Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to investigate his potential 2020 rival Joe Biden, as the impeachment inquiry into the president shifted into a new phase of high-stakes televised hearings.

No more debate impeachment inquiry is underway

Republicans call for Trumps impeachment

Trump dismissed the probe in the Democratic-led House of Representatives as a “witch hunt” and said he was “too busy” to watch the first public hearings, during which he received staunch backing from Republican lawmakers.

William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, began his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee with a new revelation about Trump’s efforts to pressure Kiev — the main issue of just the fourth impeachment process in US history.

Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power by using US military assistance and a possible White House meeting to pressure President Volodymyr Zelensky into opening a probe into the Democrat Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

The key evidence is the official White House transcript of a July 25 telephone call between Trump and Zelensky in which the US president asked his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate the Bidens.

Taylor testified that he was told Trump cared more about the probe than he did about Ukraine.

The grey-haired former Army officer and veteran diplomat, who testified in a closed hearing last month, said he had since become aware of a telephone call between Trump and the US’s EU ambassador Gordon Sondland, which a member of Taylor’s staff overheard.

The staffer asked Sondland after the call what Trump thought about Ukraine and was told that “President Trump cared more about the investigations of Biden,” Taylor said.

Freshman House Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an outspoken Trump critic, said the new Taylor comment added “a layer of proximity” for the president.

“(Trump) himself was making and partaking in some of these phone calls… And that really adds a much more disturbing degree of the involvement that he had in using the powers of government to create politically motivated investigations,” the New York representative told CNN.

Asked about the new allegations, while hosting his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House, Trump replied: “First time I’ve heard it.”

Sondland “did speak to me for a brief moment, and I said no quid pro quo under any circumstances.”

‘He didn’t open investigations’

Republicans sought to undercut the witnesses’ testimony by focusing on Hunter Biden’s role on the Burisma board, pointing out that he was paid $50,000 a month and questioning his qualifications.

They also stressed that the Ukrainians were not aware for months that the White House had put a hold on the nearly $400 million in military assistance and that it was eventually released in September.

“What did President Zelensky actually do to get the aid?” asked John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican congressman. “The answer is nothing. He didn’t open investigations.

“He didn’t do any of the things that House Democrats say that he was being forced and coerced and threatened to do.”

In his opening statement, Taylor recalled opposing making US military aid to Ukraine or a White House visit by Zelensky contingent on Kiev investigating the Bidens.

“Withholding security assistance in exchange for help with a domestic political campaign in the United States would be crazy,” he said. “I believed that then and I believe it now.”

Taylor said an “irregular policy channel” involving former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, was pushing for the Ukrainian probe into the Bidens.

Fellow witness George Kent, a career diplomat, was asked what interests Giuliani was promoting.

“I believe he was looking to dig up political dirt against a potential rival in the next election cycle,” said the deputy assistant secretary of state.

“I do not believe the United States should ask other countries to engage in selective politically associated investigations or prosecutions against opponents of those in power because such selective actions undermine the rule of law.”

‘Scorched-earth war’

If the House impeaches Trump, it would then go to trial in the Senate, where Republicans enjoy a 53-47 majority.

The next hearing is scheduled for Friday, featuring the US ambassador to Ukraine who Kent said was recalled by Trump after being subjected to a “smear campaign” by Giuliani.

Eight more witnesses, including Sondland, are to appear next week, the second of several planned weeks of hearings.

The investigation threatens to make Trump the third US president to be impeached, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, although the Senate would need to convict him to remove him from office.

Neither Johnson nor Clinton was convicted. But in 1974, Richard Nixon resigned in the face of certain impeachment and removal from office for the Watergate scandal.

In his opening statement, committee chairman Adam Schiff, the California congressman overseeing the probe, said the proceedings will examine “whether President Trump sought to exploit (Ukraine’s) vulnerability and invite Ukraine’s interference in our elections.”

“If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?”

Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the panel, hit back by accusing Democrats of a “carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.”

“It’s nothing more than an impeachment process in search of a crime.”

Coming just one year before elections, the hearings carry great risks for both parties and no certain reward, with a divided US electorate weary of Washington infighting.

Polls show a slim majority of Americans favor impeachment, but Trump’s sizable voter base — which delivered his shock victory in 2016 — rejects the allegations.


U.S. Lawmakers Release Transcript Of Interview With Former Ukraine Ambassador

Marie Yovanovitch, who was abruptly recalled as U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine earlier this year, told congressional investigators that she felt unsupported by the State Department prior to her departure, and threatened by President Donald Trump after.

Yovanovitch, who testified before U.S. lawmakers last month, was the latest in a series of current and former U.S. officials who have been called for questioning as part of the House of Representatives’ inquiry into whether Trump should be impeached.

Excerpts of her October 11 testimony had previously been leaked, but the Democratic-led committees spearheading the impeachment effort released the entire transcript of her appearance on November 4.

A veteran Foreign Service officer, Yovanovitch has said she was the victim of a shadowy smear campaign, conducted by allies of Trump, when she was prematurely recalled from her post in Kyiv in May.

Two months after she left, Trump had a phone call with Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which he criticized Yovanovitch as “bad news.”

During that same phone call, Trump also asked Zelenskiy “to do us a favor,” by investigating a Ukrainian energy company whose board included the son of Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

At the time, the Trump White House had suspended nearly $400 million in crucial military aid to Ukraine to support its fight against Russian-backed separatists; the White House’s chief of staff has said that the aid was withheld to force Ukraine to investigate a conspiracy theory involving the 2016 cyberhack of the U.S. Democratic party.

That phone call, and a whistle-blower account of it, helped spur the impeachment effort being led by the Democratic-led House.

According to the newly released transcript, Yovanovitch last year learned that she was becoming the victim of a conservative smear campaign that had painted as her being insufficiently loyal to Trump.

She also said that she was aware of some of the key Trump allies involved in the effort to malign her, including Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani. And she said she was aware of the interest by Giuliani and some of his associates in investigating Biden and the energy company Burisma “with a view to finding things that could be possibly damaging to a presidential run.”

Asked for her reaction when she learned how Trump criticized her during the phone call with Zelenskiy, Yovanovitch said she was shocked that Trump would speak about her, or any ambassador, in that way. She also said she felt threatened.

Seeking Support

Prior to her being recalled, she had sought support, through intermediaries, from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but received none, she said. She also turned to the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, for advice about how to get more backing in Washington.

He counseled her to “tweet out there that you support the president.”

“It was advice that I did not see how I could implement in my role as an ambassador, and as a foreign service officer,” she said.

While she was in Ukraine, Yovanovitch, like previous U.S. ambassadors, was vocal in her support of Ukraine’s efforts to clean up its rampant corruption, among government agencies and major state companies.

At one point earlier this year, Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko publicly accused Yovanovitch of giving him a list of Ukraninian officials that Washington ordered should not be prosecutors. He later recanted the accusation.

Lutsenko’s role in trying to push out Yovanovitch appeared last month in an indictment handed down by U.S. prosecutors against two U.S. businessmen who were born in the Soviet Union. The two businessmen, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, had enlisted a Texas congressman to lobby the State Department to recall Yovanovitch from her post in Kyiv.

Asked about Fruman and Parnas, Yovanovitch told lawmakers that she thought they were looking to expand business interests in Ukraine “and that they needed a better ambassador to sort of facilitate their business’s efforts here.”

Yovanovitch also said she was told by Ukrainian officials late last year that Giuliani was in touch with Lutsenko “and that they had plans, and that they were going to, you know, do things, including to me.”

House lawmakers released the transcript from another U.S. official who testified before the inquiry: Michael McKinley, who resigned as a top adviser to Pompeo.

McKinley said he pressed top State Department officials to publicly back Yovanovitch, according to the transcript.

McKinley said he spoke directly with Pompeo and other senior State Department officials about issuing a public statement. Eventually, he said, he was told that they did not want to “draw undue attention” to Yovanovitch.

“The timing of my resignation was the result of two overriding concerns,” McKinley told lawmakers, according to the transcript: “the failure, in my view, of the State Department to offer support to Foreign Service employees caught up in the impeachment inquiry; and, second, by what appears to be the utilization of our ambassadors overseas to advance domestic political objectives.”


Trump Suggests Impeachment Inquiry Against Him Is a ‘Coup

President Trump on Tuesday slammed the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, claiming the process resembled a “coup” against him as elected president and US citizens’ constitutional rights.

The president wrote that the investigation into his alleged abuse of power is “intended to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!” calling the whole process a “coup.”

Trump’s tweet on Tuesday echoed the president’s words during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump regularly decried the probe as a “witch hunt” and referred to it earlier this year as “a coup,” likening it to something that would happen in a “third world country.” Mueller’s report did not establish that Trump conspired with Russia, while leaving it up to Congress to decide whether he obstructed justice.

House Democrats’ impeachment proceedings against Trump come after the contents of the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky have upended US politics, especially following the revelation that a hushed-up whistleblower complaint from an administration insider concerned their talk. In the call, the transcript of which was made public last week, Trump asked Zelensky to open an investigation in connection with the elder Biden’s pressing Kiev to end a 2016 corruption investigation of a company on whose board Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, sat. Trump then blocked the director of national intelligence from releasing a whistleblower complaint about the call to the House Intelligence Committee, prompting the inquiry announced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.


Trump dubs house impeachment inquiry ´coup´

United States (US) President Donald Trump on Tuesday described a formal impeachment inquiry by Democratic members of the House of Representatives as a “coup”, Anadolu Agency reported, quoting Trump’s Tweet.

“I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP,” Trump said on Twitter.

He said the attempt is intended “to take away the Power of the People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall and their God-given rights as a Citizen of the United States of America!”

The House began its impeachment investigation into Trump last week. At issue is a July 25 phone conversation the president had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump repeatedly pressed Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, over unsubstantiated claims of corruption.

The elder Biden is the leading Democratic candidate heading into next year’s presidential elections, making him a clear political rival to Trump.

Soliciting the assistance of a foreign leader to undermine Biden has raised questions of election interference that have been the foundation for the House’s impeachment investigation.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing, maintaining his call with Zelensky was “perfect” while seeking to undermine the whistleblower whose complaint brought the phone call and other related matters to the public’s attention.


Nancy Pelosi: ‘Doesn’t Matter’ if Impeachment Cost Democrats the House

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said Saturday that pursuing an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump is worth House Democrats losing a majority.

Appearing at the Texas Tribune’s Tribune Fest, Pelosi stated it’s more important for Congress to uphold its duty of holding the president accountable than maintaining power over the lower chamber.

“It doesn’t matter,” Pelosi replied when asked by Tribune CEO Evan Smith if she harbors any “anxiety” over the Democrats’ ability to keep the House if their impeachment inquiry goes awry.

“Our first responsibility is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” said the speaker.

“People say you have to take a political risk doing that,” she went on. “That doesn’t matter. Because we cannot have a president of the United States undermining his oath of office, his loyalty to his oath of office, undermining our national security, and undermining the integrity of our elections.”

Pelosi’s comments come after the speaker announced an impeachment inquiry this week against President Donald Trump over a telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which the pair discussed U.S. military aid and the business dealings of Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President and 2020 White House contender Joe Biden. The July 25th conversation was the subject of so-called “whistleblower” complaint, which according to its author, a CIA officer, is comprised entirely of second-hand knowledge of the call. Additionally, the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel’s (OLC) affirmed that the Deep Stater has a bias in favor of a political rival of President Trump. Further, CBS News and Fox News report that the complaint includes inaccuracies, including the false claim charging that Ulrich Brechbuhl, the Counselor to the U.S. State Department, was on the call.

Notwithstanding, in a nod to transparency, the White House released the Trump-Zelensky call transcript on Wednesday. The complaint was published by the House Intelligence Committee the following day.

President Trump lambasted critics of the call in a pair of tweets Saturday, writing: “The Whistleblower’s complaint is completely different and at odds from my actual conversation with the new President of Ukraine. The so-called “Whistleblower” knew practically NOTHING in that those ridiculous charges were far more dramatic & wrong, just like Liddle’ Adam Schiff.”

“The conversation with the new and very good Ukraine President, who told the Fake News, at the United Nations, that HE WAS NOT PRESSURED BY ME IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM, should by and of itself bring an end to the new and most recent Witch Hunt. Others ended in ashes!” the president added.


Julián Castro on Ukraine Call: Trump Running a ‘Shadow Government’

Appearing Saturday on CNN, flailing 2020 White House candidate Julián Castro claimed President Donald Trump’s July telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows he is operating a “shadow government.”

WOLF BLITZER: Let’s talk about all the developments that are unfolding very rapidly right now. The now-former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who resigned just yesterday, will now appear before various congressional committees as early as this coming Thursday. What does it tell you that he decided to resign?

JULIÁN CASTRO: What it tells me is this story has a lot of legs. What happened here has a lot of people involved…It is amazing what is emerging in terms of the scope of what happened between Donald Trump and the Ukraine and the way he’s been trying to get a country like Ukraine to do his political dirty work and the involvement of Rudy Giuliani, someone who doesn’t have security clearance that ought to be required to do that kind of work, this rogue operation as the ‘New York Times’ has said to set up a shadow government, shadow dealings with Ukraine. There’s a lot here.


Trump blasts ‘Democrat savages’ after launch of impeachment inquiry

President Trump laced into Democratic lawmakers Saturday, ripping them as  “do nothings” and “savages.”

“Can you imagine if these Do Nothing Democrat Savages, people like Nadler, Schiff, AOC Plus 3, and many more, had a Republican Party who would have done to Obama what the Do Nothings are doing to me,” he said. “Oh well, maybe next time!”

“PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” he added in a follow up tweet, that comes days after Dem leaders announced an impeachment inquiry.

Democrats say the president violated his oath of office, and allege he pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden.

“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in brief remarks Tuesday.

The president has insisted that he has done nothing wrong, and son Eric Trump announced Friday that nearly $15 million had been raised from supporters over the issue.


Belarus peacekeepers might take control of Ukraine-Russia border – Lukashenka

Granting an interview to Ukrainian media workers, Alyaksandr Lukashenka confirmed his readiness to send Belarusian peacekeepers to Donbas, and even take control of a part of the Ukrainian-Russian border ‘if the both sides agreed’.

“If you want us to close the-400 kilometre stretch of the Ukraine-Russia border which is currently not being controlled by the Ukrainian authorities, we will close it. Although getting involved in the conflict is fraught with a big challenge, but we are ready to send in peacekeepers, border guards, troops, as you wish, but we are ready to close this section of the border,” he said.

Belarus is not seeking fame or the reputation of a peacemaker or mediator, Lukashenka stressed.

“What is important is that you and everyone involved in the conflict should want this. Let me be frank: it is important that we, you, and Russia should want this, if we speak about the Slavic unity,” state-run news agency BelTA quotes him.

Slavic unity,” state-run news agency BelTA quotes him.

Notably, the Kremlin has immediately responded to the statement. According to Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov, two sides of the conflict – Kyiv and the self-proclaimed republics – should be asked about the issue of Belarusian peacekeepers.

Lukashenka has repeatedly offered Belarus’ its assistance to deconflict the situation in Donbas. In October 2018, when making a speech at the Munich Security Conference Core Group meeting in Minsk, he stressed that Belarus was ready to take responsibility for ensuring peace in eastern regions of Ukraine and exerting control over the Russian-Ukrainian border.

According to him, if Belarus were entrusted with a role in the conflict settlement in Ukraine, it would do everything necessary without taking anyone’s side. However, ше is highly unlikely that the Ukrainian side will give its consent to the presence of Belarusian peacekeepers in Donbas due to the country’s close ties to Russia.


Biden: ‘Hard to Avoid the Conclusion’ Trump Committed ‘an Impeachable Offense’

On Wednesday’s broadcast of ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” 2020 Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden stated that “it’s awful hard to avoid the conclusion” that President Trump committed “an impeachable offense and a violation of constitutional responsibility.”

Biden said, “Based on the material that they acknowledged today, it seems to me it’s awful hard to avoid the conclusion that it is an impeachable offense and a violation of constitutional responsibility. But look, that’s — I am confident in the ability of the House and Senate to deal with this. My job is just to go out and flat beat him. … I can’t let this distract me in a way that takes me away from the issues that really — the reason why I’m running.”


Zelenskiy Says ‘Russian Aggression’ Holds Back Ukraine’s Nation Building

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has blamed the Kremlin as being one of the two main factors that keep the country from realizing its full developmental potential.

Speaking on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly on September 24, Zelenskiy said “Russian aggression against Ukraine” was a barrier that prevents Ukraine from achieving “sustainable development goals” and that Kyiv can’t overcome it “without international support.”

A tradition of political “resistance” to much-needed reforms was the other obstacle mentioned.

Zelenskiy, speaking at the Leaders Dialogue at the UN Summit on Sustainable Development Goals at the 74th session of the UN General Assembly in New York, expressed hope that diplomatic channels in tandem with “international partners” can help Ukraine regain territories it has lost to Russia and achieve peace.

“No state can achieve sustainable development without peace and a sense of security,” Zelenskiy said. “Sustainable development is impossible under the sounds of gunshots and explosions, it is impossible where aggressive geopolitical strategies applauding the invasion of other states and violation of human rights and freedoms prevail.”

Moscow seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and has backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people and displaced almost 2 million.

Russia denies being a party to the war in Ukraine’s easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and has portrayed the conflict as a civil war.

Zelenskiy will address the UN General Assembly on September 25 and is expected to meet U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the General Assembly at 2:15 p.m. local time in New York.