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Westlake Legal Group > United States International Relations

Standoffs With Iran Test Trump’s Resolve to Use Military Force

WASHINGTON — By the time President Trump met with congressional leaders on the afternoon of June 20, he had already decided to retaliate against Iran for shooting down an American surveillance drone. But for once, he kept his cards close to the vest, soliciting advice rather than doing all of the talking.

“Why don’t you go after the launch sites?” a Republican lawmaker asked.

“Well,” Mr. Trump replied with a hint, “I think you’ll like the decision.”

But barely three hours later, Mr. Trump had changed his mind. Without consulting his vice president, secretary of state or national security adviser, he reversed himself and, with ships readying missiles and airplanes already in the skies, told the Pentagon to call off the airstrikes with only 10 minutes to go. When Vice President Mike Pence and other officials returned to the White House for what they expected would be a long night of monitoring a military operation, they were stunned to learn the attack was off.

That about-face, so typically impulsive, instinctive and removed from any process, proved a decision point for a president who has often threatened to “totally destroy” enemies but at the same time has promised to extricate the United States from Middle East wars. It revealed a commander in chief more cautious than critics have assumed, yet underscored the limited options in a confrontation he had set in motion.

Three months later, some of Mr. Trump’s own allies fear the failure to follow through was taken by Iran as a sign of weakness, emboldening it to attack oil facilities in Saudi Arabia this month. Mr. Trump argues his decision was an expression of long-overdue restraint by a nation that has wasted too many lives and dollars overseas.

But he finds himself back where he was in June, wrestling with the consequences of using force and the consequences of avoiding it, except now Iran is accused of an even more brazen provocation, and the stakes seem even higher.

As Mr. Trump again weighs retaliation against Iran, this time for the Saudi attacks, the choice he made in June is instructive in the insight it provides into how the president approaches a life-or-death decision committing American forces against an enemy.

This account of that day in June is based on interviews with White House aides, Pentagon officials, military officers, American and foreign diplomats, members of Congress and outside presidential advisers, most of whom asked not to be identified describing private conversations.

That day clearly stays with Mr. Trump, who has ruminated on it over the past week.

“When I was running, everybody said, ‘Oh, he’s going to get into war, he’s going to get into war, he’s going to blow everybody up, he’s going to get into war,’” he told reporters on Friday. “Well, the easiest thing I can do — in fact, I could do it while you’re here — would say, ‘Go ahead, fellas, go do it.’ And that would be a very bad day for Iran.”

But as eager as he is to fight with 280 characters on Twitter, Mr. Trump has proved profoundly reluctant to fight with live ammunition on a real battlefield. “For all of those that say, ‘Oh, they should do it, it shows weakness,’” he said, “actually, in my opinion, it shows strength.”

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_156836193_c785c69f-6314-43e8-9788-4290249f1d1b-articleLarge Standoffs With Iran Test Trump’s Resolve to Use Military Force United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Shanahan, Patrick M (1962- ) Pompeo, Mike Iran Gulf of Oman Incident (June 2019) Gulf of Oman Graham, Lindsey Dunford, Joseph F Jr Defense Department Defense and Military Forces Carlson, Tucker Bolton, John R

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the head of the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, in June in Tehran inspecting debris purported to be fragments of a downed American drone.CreditMeghdad Madadi/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Mr. Trump came to office fixated on Iran as an enemy to be confronted. In abandoning the nuclear agreement negotiated by President Barack Obama in 2015 on the grounds that it was a bad deal, Mr. Trump set himself on a collision course with Tehran that was bound to test him.

Strained by the “maximum pressure” sanctions that Mr. Trump has imposed, Iran this summer acted out aggressively, targeting oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman and vowing to reconstitute its nuclear program. The overnight downing of the Global Hawk drone in June seemed to climax a campaign of escalation that would draw in Mr. Trump.

Hours after the drone was destroyed, the president’s team met for breakfast at 7 a.m. in the office of John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, were joined by two acting secretaries of defense, Patrick M. Shanahan, who had just announced his resignation and was days away from departing, and Mark T. Esper, his designated replacement.

At the meeting, several strike options were discussed. The Pentagon’s preferred plan was to attack one of the missile-laden Iranian boats that the United States had been tracking in the Gulf of Oman. American forces would warn the Iranians to evacuate the vessel, videotape them doing so, then sink the boat with a bomb or missile strike.

The end result would be zero casualties, which Mr. Shanahan and General Dunford argued would be a proportional response to the downing of a $130 million drone that had itself resulted in no loss of life.

Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo were concerned that would not be decisive enough and pushed for strikes on Iranian soil. Mr. Bolton argued for what was described as a “comprehensive list” of targets, but only so many could be hit if the operation was to be carried out quickly, so the officials settled on three Iranian missile batteries and radars.

The same advisers reconvened along with more officials at 11 a.m. in the Situation Room to brief the president. The meeting lasted for about an hour as various possibilities were discussed.

Four officials said that striking the three targets would result in about 150 casualties, a number derived from Iranian manning doctrine for these particular facilities, including operators, maintenance personnel and security guards.

How much Mr. Trump was paying attention to that part of the briefing or what he absorbed was not clear in hindsight to some officials. But they said the casualty estimates were included as part of the target package presented to the president.

The aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln in August. The ship was prepared to launch an attack against Iran on June 20, but the final order never came.CreditBryan Denton for The New York Times

The national security team emerged from that meeting convinced it had a decision from Mr. Trump to strike, and soon the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and other ships and aircraft were on the move, preparing for an attack around 9 p.m. Washington time, or just before dawn in the region.

Still, there continued to be pushback from Pentagon civilians and General Dunford. They argued that killing as many as 150 Iranians did not equate to the shooting down of a drone and could prompt a counterstrike by Iran that would escalate into a broader confrontation.

Moreover, General Dunford argued that a sustained conflict in the Middle East would require the United States to divert more forces to the region, including from the Pacific theater, which would benefit China.

Mr. Trump seemed to be nursing doubts of his own, partly because of reports that the Iranian commander who shot down the drone had acted on his own, not on specific orders of the national government. Just after the Situation Room meeting, he sat down with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, who was visiting, and floated that scenario.

“I find it hard to believe it was intentional, if you want to know the truth,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office shortly after noon. “I think that it could have been somebody who was loose and stupid that did it.”

Mr. Bolton argued that it mattered little if Tehran gave the order or gave its commanders so much authority that they could take such action on their own. But it clearly did matter to Mr. Trump.

It also mattered that he had been so critical of past presidents for being too quick to pull the trigger. In the days leading up to this moment, he had talked with Tucker Carlson, the Fox News host, who reminded him that he had come to office to get out of endless wars, not start a new one.

If he allowed himself to be pulled into a new conflict by the same people who got the United States into Iraq, then Mr. Trump could forget about his chances for re-election, Mr. Carlson told him.

And beyond his own electoral prospects, Mr. Trump bristled at the idea of a wider war. “People underestimate how much emotionally he does not like the idea of Americans dying needlessly,” said Christopher Ruddy, a friend and the chief executive of Newsmax.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on June 20 after leaving a closed door meeting about Iran. Democrats suggested caution, warning that a military strike could destabilize the region and play into Iran’s hands.CreditGabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

At 3 p.m., Mr. Trump convened a dozen congressional leaders from both parties in the Situation Room, a rare act of inclusion. Mr. Pence, Mr. Pompeo, Mr. Shanahan, Mr. Esper, Mr. Bolton and Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, joined the meeting.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was late because she was meeting with Mr. Trudeau, and the group debated waiting for her, but with so much history of animosity between Democrats and Republicans, there was no small talk and the room fell into an awkward silence. Finally, they decided to go ahead with the discussion.

Mr. Trump rambled on about how bad Mr. Obama’s deal had been and insisted over and over again — one lawmaker estimated a dozen times — that his pressure campaign would force Iran to the bargaining table.

He seemed less certain about what to do in response to the drone shootdown. Democrats suggested caution, warning that a military strike could destabilize the region and play into Iran’s hands.

Mr. Trump, for once, did not reject their views. Indeed, he seemed concerned about an overreaction. “At the end of the day, the impression I got was that the president was genuinely worried about stumbling into a broader conflict,” said Representative Adam Smith, Democrat of Washington and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

“I think it was good that the president asked us over,” he added. “And he was inclusive. He didn’t just bring us over there to bark at us for an hour and a half. He listened. Which, frankly, surprised me a little bit.”

Mr. Trump disclosed no decision to the lawmakers, but forces were already in motion, and more than 10,000 sailors and airmen were on the move. The plan called for Tomahawk cruise missiles to be fired from at least two Navy ships in the region. Carrier-based fighter/attack planes would not participate in the original strike, but would be launched into the air above the North Arabian Sea to counter any attempt by the Iranians to retaliate.

Mr. Trump still had time to rethink it — the military calculated the “go/no go” point at which the first stage of the operation would begin and it would no longer be possible to call off.

Tehran in June. Mr. Trump bristled at the idea of getting the United States into a new war.CreditEbrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

As the hour approached, Mr. Trump was given the estimate that 150 Iranians would be killed in the attack. The president later said publicly that it came when he asked his generals, but in fact, multiple officials said the estimate was delivered to him by a White House lawyer who got it from a Pentagon lawyer.

Pentagon lawyers typically prepare casualty estimates drawn from manuals listing how many personnel are believed to work at certain foreign facilities. One official said that White House lawyers demanded an estimate because they had to fill out a memo justifying military action under the president’s Article II powers as commander in chief.

Advocates of the strike angrily assumed the lawyers had pulled an end-run around the process and complained that the estimate was just a formula that did not account for the fact that the attack would be conducted at night when few if any personnel would be on duty.

Why Mr. Trump suddenly latched onto the estimate at this point rather than when casualties were discussed at the earlier meeting remains a mystery to many officials. Some assumed he was influenced by Mr. Carlson or other allies that his re-election would be jeopardized and was looking for cover.

But when the decision came, Mr. Pence, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton were all out of the White House, and the president did not call them for input. Instead, he told the Pentagon to call off the attack.

General Dunford called Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie, the head of the Central Command in Tampa, Fla., with new orders from the White House: The strike was off. The Tomahawk missiles stood down. Attack planes were called back.

In the command center of the Abraham Lincoln, Rear Adm. Michael E. Boyle, the commander of the carrier strike group, had been waiting for the final order to attack. “All the systems were on, all the lights were green, we were waiting for the order,” Admiral Boyle recalled. “And the order didn’t come.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, on June 20 in the Oval Office. They pushed for strikes on Iran.CreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

When the president’s top advisers returned to the White House and learned what happened, they were flabbergasted. Mr. Pompeo was described as incredulous, Mr. Bolton as aggravated.

The advisers were stunned all over again the next morning when Mr. Trump took to Twitter to reveal that he had been “cocked and loaded” for a strike and then called it off. There was no need to publicly disclose how close they had come to acting, they thought; by doing so, the president risked making it look like he had blinked.

The moment was all too reminiscent to them of Mr. Obama, who had warned Syria that using chemical weapons on civilians during its civil war would cross a “red line” prompting American action, only to back off the threat when Damascus ignored him in 2013. Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Obama was mindful of getting the United States into another Middle East war, but the failure to follow through did lasting damage to his reputation.

Also like Mr. Obama, Mr. Trump would find another way that had its own merits. Mr. Obama reached a deal with Russia to remove Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, which he argued did far more to save lives than a momentary strike would have, even though Syria later cheated. In Mr. Trump’s case, he launched a cyberstrike that did considerable damage to Iran’s ability of targeting shipping with no loss of life.

But now allies like Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, and advisers like Mr. Bolton, who left the White House this month after deep disagreements with Mr. Trump, including over the aborted strike, argue that marching up to the line of a military operation and then calling it off only emboldened Iran.

“The president’s repeated failure to militarily respond to Iranian actions has been a serious mistake,” said Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former C.I.A. official at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a group dedicated to countering Iran’s influence. “To believe the reverse requires a certain deep dive into new-age, oh-so-Western psychology, where crippling caution becomes a virtue.”

Some said Mr. Trump has only himself to blame. “Trump is in a box of his own making,” said Philip Gordon, who was a Middle East adviser to Mr. Obama. “He has put in place policies — ‘maximum pressure’ on Iran — guaranteed to provoke an aggressive Iranian response, but he’s not prepared to respond aggressively in turn, and the Iranians know it.”

“So now he has to either back down or go down that slippery military slope,” he added, “a terrible dilemma he should have considered before he went down this road in the first place.”

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Despite Tough Talk, U.S.-China Trade Negotiations Continue

Westlake Legal Group merlin_160148577_634ccd18-4ee0-4060-821b-69eaebaa523d-facebookJumbo Despite Tough Talk, U.S.-China Trade Negotiations Continue xinhua United States International Relations Trump, Donald J International Trade and World Market Customs (Tariff)

SHANGHAI — The combination on Friday of tough words from President Trump and the cancellation of a planned trip by Chinese agriculture officials to two farm states seemed to cast a cloud over prospects for a trade deal and caused a sell-off in New York stock trading.

But both sides moved on Saturday to indicate that the negotiations continue.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said on Saturday that fairly senior negotiators had “conducted constructive discussions” in Washington in recent days and had “agreed to continue to maintain communication.”

The tone of the Xinhua statement was matched by a separate statement from the United States trade representative in Washington. “These discussions were productive, and the United States looks forward to welcoming a delegation from China for principal-level meetings in October,” the statement said.

Both sides’ trade negotiators have continued to look for a resolution of their differences even as tensions ratcheted ever higher over the summer, several people familiar with the trade talks said. All insisted on anonymity, citing diplomatic sensitivities in the negotiations.

The delegation of Chinese agriculture officials that had planned to travel to Montana and Nebraska in the coming week didn’t cancel the trip because of any new difficulty in the trade talks, two of these people said. Instead, the trip was canceled out of concern that it would turn into a media circus and give the misimpression that China was trying to meddle in American domestic politics, one of them said.

The Chinese government has long taken the position that countries should not interfere in each other’s domestic affairs, a position developed partly in opposition to foreign criticisms of China’s human rights record.

In recent weeks, the Chinese government and many Chinese internet users have also reacted angrily to calls by American officials for Beijing to show restraint in responding to increasingly violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly objected to what it describes as intervention in China’s internal affairs over Hong Kong.

The question now is whether Vice Premier Liu He of China can make any progress when he comes to Washington for high-level talks next month. While the dates for those talks have not been confirmed, they look likely to be scheduled for Oct. 10 and 11, said two of the several people familiar with the trade talks.

The biggest obstacle facing negotiators may be agreeing on the scale and ambition of any deal they try to reach. Several people familiar with the trade talks said in interviews over the past two weeks that China wanted to reach a partial deal that would head off President Trump’s planned increases in American tariffs on Chinese goods on Oct. 15 and Dec. 15.

China has become more wary in recent weeks of seeking any comprehensive resolution of the dozens of issues facing the two countries. Chinese negotiators have tried to focus the talks on issues that can be resolved through regulations that the country needs to issue by early January anyway in response to a new law on foreign investments the National People’s Congress approved in March.

At the same time, Chinese trade negotiators have tried this week to exclude issues like data flows, the location of data and the setting of cybersecurity standards. These issues tend to infringe on the turf of China’s feared internal security agencies, which have resisted any limits on their ability to conduct comprehensive surveillance within the country and are wary of allowing in American tech companies.

The United States has tried to persuade Beijing to adopt broad changes to Chinese laws to make the country more open to imports and to limit subsidies for industries, particularly advanced manufacturing industries that compete with American industries.

But President Trump objected on Friday to any partial deal.

“I’m looking for a complete deal, I’m not looking for a partial deal,” Mr. Trump said on Friday during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia. “We’re looking for the big deal.”

There have nonetheless been some discussions between the two sides on reducing American tariffs that would only apply to Chinese goods worth $250 billion a year. That would be instead of the current tariffs on goods worth $360 billion a year, which are set to increase even further by mid-December, people familiar with the talks said.

The United States has been pressing China to buy more American food in exchange — food that China may need as an epidemic of African swine fever has killed huge numbers of pigs in China.

The two sides have nonetheless undertaken a series of small, confidence-building trade measures in the past two weeks. Each side has removed tariffs from a series of items, like Christmas tree lighting sets from China and pork from the United States. China has also agreed to purchase some soybeans this autumn.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Despite Tough Talk, U.S.-China Trade Negotiations Continue

Westlake Legal Group merlin_160148577_634ccd18-4ee0-4060-821b-69eaebaa523d-facebookJumbo Despite Tough Talk, U.S.-China Trade Negotiations Continue xinhua United States International Relations Trump, Donald J International Trade and World Market Customs (Tariff)

SHANGHAI — The combination on Friday of tough words from President Trump and the cancellation of a planned trip by Chinese agriculture officials to two farm states seemed to cast a cloud over prospects for a trade deal and caused a sell-off in New York stock trading.

But both sides moved on Saturday to indicate that the negotiations continue.

China’s state-run Xinhua news agency said on Saturday that fairly senior negotiators had “conducted constructive discussions” in Washington in recent days and had “agreed to continue to maintain communication.”

The tone of the Xinhua statement was matched by a separate statement from the United States trade representative in Washington. “These discussions were productive, and the United States looks forward to welcoming a delegation from China for principal-level meetings in October,” the statement said.

Both sides’ trade negotiators have continued to look for a resolution of their differences even as tensions ratcheted ever higher over the summer, several people familiar with the trade talks said. All insisted on anonymity, citing diplomatic sensitivities in the negotiations.

The delegation of Chinese agriculture officials that had planned to travel to Montana and Nebraska in the coming week didn’t cancel the trip because of any new difficulty in the trade talks, two of these people said. Instead, the trip was canceled out of concern that it would turn into a media circus and give the misimpression that China was trying to meddle in American domestic politics, one of them said.

The Chinese government has long taken the position that countries should not interfere in each other’s domestic affairs, a position developed partly in opposition to foreign criticisms of China’s human rights record.

In recent weeks, the Chinese government and many Chinese internet users have also reacted angrily to calls by American officials for Beijing to show restraint in responding to increasingly violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. China’s foreign ministry has repeatedly objected to what it describes as intervention in China’s internal affairs over Hong Kong.

The question now is whether Vice Premier Liu He of China can make any progress when he comes to Washington for high-level talks next month. While the dates for those talks have not been confirmed, they look likely to be scheduled for Oct. 10 and 11, said two of the several people familiar with the trade talks.

The biggest obstacle facing negotiators may be agreeing on the scale and ambition of any deal they try to reach. Several people familiar with the trade talks said in interviews over the past two weeks that China wanted to reach a partial deal that would head off President Trump’s planned increases in American tariffs on Chinese goods on Oct. 15 and Dec. 15.

China has become more wary in recent weeks of seeking any comprehensive resolution of the dozens of issues facing the two countries. Chinese negotiators have tried to focus the talks on issues that can be resolved through regulations that the country needs to issue by early January anyway in response to a new law on foreign investments the National People’s Congress approved in March.

At the same time, Chinese trade negotiators have tried this week to exclude issues like data flows, the location of data and the setting of cybersecurity standards. These issues tend to infringe on the turf of China’s feared internal security agencies, which have resisted any limits on their ability to conduct comprehensive surveillance within the country and are wary of allowing in American tech companies.

The United States has tried to persuade Beijing to adopt broad changes to Chinese laws to make the country more open to imports and to limit subsidies for industries, particularly advanced manufacturing industries that compete with American industries.

But President Trump objected on Friday to any partial deal.

“I’m looking for a complete deal, I’m not looking for a partial deal,” Mr. Trump said on Friday during a joint news conference with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia. “We’re looking for the big deal.”

There have nonetheless been some discussions between the two sides on reducing American tariffs that would only apply to Chinese goods worth $250 billion a year. That would be instead of the current tariffs on goods worth $360 billion a year, which are set to increase even further by mid-December, people familiar with the talks said.

The United States has been pressing China to buy more American food in exchange — food that China may need as an epidemic of African swine fever has killed huge numbers of pigs in China.

The two sides have nonetheless undertaken a series of small, confidence-building trade measures in the past two weeks. Each side has removed tariffs from a series of items, like Christmas tree lighting sets from China and pork from the United States. China has also agreed to purchase some soybeans this autumn.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Trump Calls Reports That He Pressured Ukraine’s President a ‘Witch Hunt’

Westlake Legal Group merlin_158332635_d3a048f2-4847-4da8-a5d0-c07b3b9a35c7-facebookJumbo Trump Calls Reports That He Pressured Ukraine’s President a ‘Witch Hunt’ Zelensky, Volodymyr United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Presidential Election of 2020 Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Saturday dismissed news reports that he urged the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son as little more than a “witch hunt” and said his dealings were “perfectly fine” and routine.

“Now that the Democrats and the Fake News Media have gone ‘bust’ on every other of their Witch Hunt schemes, they are trying to start one just as ridiculous as the others, call it the Ukraine Witch Hunt,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. He said that any effort to investigate him would fail, comparing it to the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into his ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign

The news reports he was referring to have revealed the existence of a secret whistle-blower complaint that is believed to have been filed, at least partly, in response to Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky. The New York Times reported Friday that Mr. Trump, in a July call, pressed the Ukrainian president to investigate Mr. Biden’s son, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

Mr. Trump, intensifying a line of attack he and his allies have stoked for months, said the real problem was Mr. Biden, who according to most polls is the leading candidate in a crowded Democratic field and has framed himself as the most likely to defeat Mr. Trump in the general election.

“The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, want to stay as far away as possible from the Joe Biden demand that the Ukrainian Government fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son,” Mr. Trump wrote, “so they fabricate a story about me and a perfectly fine and routine conversation I had with the new President of the Ukraine.”

No evidence has surfaced to bolster Mr. Trump’s claim that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal.

Another tweet from Mr. Trump, which featured his campaign’s phone number, included a series of video clips featuring journalists, including some from The New York Times, discussing Mr. Biden and Ukraine on television news programs.

Citing the reports by journalists seemed ironic given the president’s claim that the media had not reported on Mr. Biden. But the tweets signaled that Mr. Trump and his campaign organization would be doing as much as possible to sow doubt about Mr. Biden.

Friday’s reports on the president drew strong reactions from top Democrats and, for some, brought a new urgency to calls for Mr. Trump’s impeachment.

“There is no bottom. Impeach him,” Beto O’Rourke said on Friday evening.

And Joe Walsh, a former congressman from Illinois who has launched a long-shot challenge to Mr. Trump for the Republican presidential nomination, urged others in his party who were alarmed by the president’s behavior to come forward.

“He doesn’t believe in the rule of law,” Mr. Walsh wrote on Twitter on Saturday morning. “He abuses his power whenever he wants. He lies at will. He doesn’t know the meaning of checks & balances. And he sees nothing wrong with telling a foreign government to dig up dirt on his opponents. Come on Republicans. Be better than this.”

Mr. Biden, for his part, has dismissed the president’s attacks.

“If these reports are true, then there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country,” he said in a statement released after The Times and other new organizations, including The Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, reported Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Zelensky. “This behavior is particularly abhorrent because it exploits the foreign policy of our country and undermines our national security for political purposes.”

For years, the Bidens have faced questions about the association of Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, with one of Ukraine’s largest natural gas companies, and whether or not there was any connection to Mr. Biden’s efforts as vice president to remove a Ukrainian prosecutor whose office had authority over investigations of the oligarch whose company paid his son.

Mr. Biden’s son earned as much as $50,000 per month in some months for his work for the company, Burisma Holdings. This year, the current Ukrainian prosecutor general reopened an investigation into Burisma just as Mr. Biden began his 2020 presidential campaign.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Behind the Whistle-Blower Case, a Long-Held Trump Grudge Toward Ukraine

WASHINGTON — For months this spring and summer, Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, tried to deflect pressure from President Trump and his allies to pursue investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Biden’s son and other Trump rivals.

The pressure was so relentless that Mr. Zelensky dispatched one of his closest aides to open a line of communication with Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and the loudest voice among those demanding that Ukraine look at Mr. Biden’s dealings as vice president with Ukraine at a time when his son, Hunter Biden, was doing business there.

Over breakfast in early July at the Trump International Hotel, Mr. Zelensky’s aide asked the State Department’s envoy to Ukraine for help connecting to Mr. Giuliani. Several days later, the aide discussed with Mr. Giuliani by phone the prospective investigations as well something the Ukrainians wanted: a White House meeting between Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Trump.

But if Mr. Zelensky’s goal was to reduce the pressure to pursue the investigations and win more support from the White House — not least for Ukraine’s fight against Russia — he would be disappointed.

On July 25, two weeks after the first call between Mr. Zelensky’s aide, Andriy Yermak, and Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Zelensky had a call of his own with Mr. Trump. During their conversation, Mr. Trump pressed for an investigation into Mr. Biden and repeatedly urged Mr. Zelensky to work with Mr. Giuliani, according to people familiar with the call.

In the weeks after the call, events unfolded rapidly in a way that alarmed some officials in both countries. They interpreted the discussions as dangling support to Ukraine in exchange for political beneficial investigations.

On Aug. 12, a whistle-blower filed a complaint with the intelligence community inspector general that was at least in part about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Around the same time, Mr. Giuliani met face-to-face in Spain with Mr. Yermak to press again for the investigations and to discuss the status of the prospective Trump-Zelensky meeting. The State Department acknowledged that its envoy had helped connect Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Yermak, and Mr. Giuliani said he briefed the department on his discussions.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_159327390_ef8e1658-c7f1-4181-9dda-55c16b02a934-articleLarge Behind the Whistle-Blower Case, a Long-Held Trump Grudge Toward Ukraine Zelensky, Volodymyr United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2020 Presidential Election of 2016 Pence, Mike Giuliani, Rudolph W Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

Rudolph W. Giuliani has pushed for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.CreditAnna Moneymaker/The New York Times

Then, in late August, the Ukrainians learned that a package of American military assistance was being delayed by the White House, because, Vice President Mike Pence later explained after a meeting with Mr. Zelensky, he and Mr. Trump “have great concerns about issues of corruption.”

That sequence of events is now at the heart of a clash between Democrats in Congress and the White House over whether Mr. Trump used the powers of his office and United States foreign policy in an effort to seek damaging information about a political rival. The conflict has been fueled in recent days by the administration’s refusal to allow the intelligence community inspector general to disclose to Congress any information about the complaint.

The dispute has further stoked calls among House Democrats to advance impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump. Mr. Trump’s open backing for a Ukrainian investigation into the Bidens — “Somebody ought to look into that,” the president told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday — is especially striking for coming soon after the special counsel’s lengthy investigation into whether Mr. Trump encouraged or accepted help from Russia in the 2016 campaign.

The situation has also highlighted Mr. Trump’s grudge against Ukraine, a close ally that has long enjoyed bipartisan support as it seeks to build a stable democracy and hold off aggression from its hostile neighbor to the east, Russia.

Mr. Trump has often struck a less-than-condemnatory tone toward Russian aggression, including its interference on his behalf in the 2016 presidential election, and its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which Mr. Trump said last month should no longer prevent Russia from rejoining the Group of 7 industrialized nations.

Only after Congress put intense bipartisan pressure on the administration did Mr. Trump release the military assistance package to Ukraine last week.

After delays in scheduling a White House meeting for Mr. Zelensky, and the cancellation of a trip by Mr. Trump to Europe during which the two would have met face-to-face for the first time, a meeting was finally added to Mr. Trump’s calendar for Wednesday in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly session.

Privately, Mr. Trump has had harsh words about Ukraine. He has been dismissive of his own administration’s recommendations that he throw the full support of the United States government to Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian and political neophyte who is seen in the West as a reformer elected with a mandate to stop both Russian aggression and the political corruption that has long plagued the former Soviet state.

In May, a delegation of United States officials returned from Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration praising the new president as a reformer and urging Mr. Trump to meet with him, arguing that Mr. Zelensky faced enormous headwinds and needed American support. The future of Ukraine, they said during an Oval Office meeting with Mr. Trump, would be decided in the next six months.

Mr. Biden’s younger son, Hunter Biden, did business in Ukraine while Mr. Biden was vice president.CreditMichelle Gustafson for The New York Times

Mr. Trump was not sympathetic. “They’re terrible people,” he said of Ukrainian politicians, according to people familiar with the meeting with the officials who had just returned from Kiev. “They’re all corrupt and they tried to take me down.”

The skepticism harbored by Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani toward the Ukrainian government is derived at least partly from their belief that officials in the Ukrainian government of the time supported Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and tried to sabotage Mr. Trump’s.

Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was forced to resign after anti-corruption prosecutors in Ukraine disclosed records showing that a Russia-aligned political party had earmarked payments for him from an illegal slush fund.

Mr. Giuliani has claimed without evidence that the records were doctored, and one of the matters into which he has sought an investigation is the records’ provenance and release.

Mr. Giuliani contends that the circumstances around the records release could undermine the legitimacy of the special counsel’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.

As far back as the summer of 2017, Mr. Trump posted on Twitter about “Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign” and boost Mrs. Clinton, demanding, “So where is the investigation.”

The other matter involves the overlap between Mr. Biden’s diplomacy in Ukraine and his son’s involvement in a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch.

Mr. Biden is a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and Mr. Giuliani has acknowledged that such an investigation could damage him.

Mr. Trump has called attention to the scrutiny of Hunter Biden, and to questions about the former vice president’s involvement in the removal of a Ukrainian prosecutor whose office had authority over investigations of the oligarch whose company paid Hunter Biden.

Ukrainian soldiers during a military exercise this month. In late August, the Ukrainians learned that a package of American military assistance was being delayed by the White House.CreditMykola Tys/EPA, via Shutterstock

Mr. Biden’s support for the removal of the Ukrainian prosecutor was consistent with the administration’s policy and the anti-corruption goals of the Western allies. But State Department officials at the time were concerned that Hunter Biden’s work for the gas company could complicate his father’s diplomacy in Ukraine.

On Friday, Mr. Biden dismissed Mr. Trump’s criticism.

Mr. Trump has suggested he would like Attorney General William P. Barr to look into any material gathered by the Ukrainian prosecutors on the matters.

Starting almost a year ago, Mr. Giuliani, a former federal prosecutor and New York mayor, enlisted intermediaries in a monthslong effort to build interest in the Ukrainian inquiries. They worked with prosecutors under the former Ukrainian government to gather information about the investigations.

After Mr. Zelensky’s victory, Mr. Giuliani planned a trip to Ukraine in May to try to press Mr. Zelensky’s team to pursue the investigations and to meet with people Mr. Giuliani believed would have insights into the new administration and the investigations he was pushing. “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do,” Mr. Giuliani said at the time.

After the planned trip sparked a backlash from Democrats accusing him of trying to enlist foreign assistance to help Mr. Trump’s re-election, Mr. Giuliani canceled the trip at the last minute. He accused Mr. Zelensky’s allies of planning a “set up.”

Mr. Zelensky’s transition team, not wanting to be seen as taking sides in United States politics, rebuffed a request from Mr. Giuliani for a meeting with the new president, a former adviser to Mr. Zelensky, Serhiy Leshchenko, said in an interview.

“It was clear that the Zelensky team doesn’t want to interfere in American politics,” Mr. Leshchenko said. “They were very angry about this issue.”

Mr. Leshchenko and two other Ukrainians, all of them young, Western-leaning politicians and veterans of the 2014 revolution, said in interviews that Mr. Giuliani’s efforts created the impression that the Trump administration’s willingness to back Mr. Zelensky was linked to his government’s readiness to pursue the investigations sought by Mr. Trump’s allies.

When it became clear that he would not be granted an audience with the incoming Ukrainian president, Mr. Giuliani asserted in an interview on Fox News that Mr. Zelensky was being advised by “people who are the enemies” of Mr. Trump, including Mr. Leshchenko.

Mr. Giuliani seemed to be referring to Mr. Leshchenko’s role in helping to draw attention to reports about the “black ledger” book that detailed $12.7 million in off-the-books payments to Mr. Manafort, who did extensive work in Ukraine for Viktor F. Yanukovych, the disgraced former president.

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Trump Pressed Ukraine’s Leader on Inquiry Into Biden’s Son

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-whistleblower-sub-facebookJumbo Trump Pressed Ukraine’s Leader on Inquiry Into Biden’s Son Zelensky, Volodymyr Whistle-Blowers United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J State Department Giuliani, Rudolph W Foreign Aid Espionage and Intelligence Services Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — President Trump pressed the Ukrainian president in a July call to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son, according to a person familiar with the conversation, an apparently blatant mixture of foreign policy with his 2020 re-election campaign.

Mr. Trump also repeatedly told President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to talk with his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had been urging the government in Kiev for months to investigate Mr. Biden and his family, according to two other people briefed on the call.

Mr. Trump’s request for an investigation of the family of Mr. Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is part of the secret whistle-blower complaint that is said to be about Mr. Trump and at least in part about his dealings with Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the complaint.

The president has made no secret that he wanted Ukraine to investigate whether there was any improper overlap between Mr. Biden’s own diplomatic efforts there and his son’s role with a gas company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch. “Someone ought to look into Joe Biden,” Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday in response to a question about whether he brought up Mr. Biden during his call with Mr. Zelensky.

The new revelations gave added urgency to critical questions about Mr. Trump’s dealings with the Ukrainian government. At the same time that the president sought an investigation into a potential political rival, the Trump administration for weeks froze military aid for Ukraine, which is battling Russian-controlled separatists in the country’s east.

The United States suspended the assistance to Ukraine in early July, according to a former American official. Mr. Trump did not discuss the aid in the July 25 call with Mr. Zelensky, whose government did not learn of the suspension until August, according to people familiar with the call. The Wall Street Journal first reported details of it.

For Democrats who want to examine the whistle-blower complaint — itself the subject of an internal administration dispute over whether to hand it over to Congress, as is generally required by law — the key question is whether Mr. Trump was demanding a quid pro quo, explicitly or implicitly. Democratic House committee chairmen are already investigating whether he misappropriated the American foreign policy apparatus for personal political advantage and have requested the transcript of his call with Mr. Zelensky from the State Department and the White House.

The burgeoning controversy had echoes of the dominant scandal of the first years of Mr. Trump’s administration: whether his campaign sought help from Russia to benefit him in 2016. Ultimately, the special counsel found that although “insufficient evidence” existed to determine that Mr. Trump or his advisers engaged in a criminal conspiracy with the Russians, his campaign welcomed Moscow’s election sabotage and expected to benefit from it.

Any attempt by Mr. Trump to ask a foreign power to “dig up dirt” on a political rival while withholding aid is corrupt, said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, one of the panels examining Mr. Trump’s Ukraine dealings.

“No explicit quid pro quo is necessary to betray your country,” tweeted Mr. Schiff, who has also pushed for the whistle-blower complaint to be given to Congress.

Mr. Trump opened a direct counterattack on Friday on the whistle-blower, whose identity is unknown, as are many details about the complaint. The president dismissed the allegations and labeled the whistle-blower, without evidence, a political partisan.

“It’s a ridiculous story. It’s a partisan whistle-blower,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, though he acknowledged he did not know the person’s identity. “They shouldn’t even have information.”

Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have pressed for an investigation of the Bidens for weeks, after reports this year in The New York Times and elsewhere examined whether a Ukrainian energy company that had faced corruption investigations sought to buy influence in Washington by hiring Mr. Biden’s younger son, Hunter Biden, who had a lobbying business in Ukraine while his father was vice president.

During his vice presidency, Mr. Biden cast himself as both the Obama administration’s booster of military assistance to Kiev as well as the chief antagonist of the notorious corruption in Ukraine’s government. In early 2016, he threatened to withhold $1 billion in American loan guarantees if Ukraine’s top prosecutor was not dismissed after accusations that he had ignored rampant corruption.

Mr. Biden succeeded; the prosecutor general was voted out office. And Hunter Biden had an interest in the outcome: The owner of the energy company whose board he sat on had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general.

The former vice president accused Mr. Trump in a statement of using the power of the United States to extract “a political favor.” Mr. Biden called for the president to release the transcript of his call with Mr. Zelensky and said that if the reports about it proved true, “there was no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country.”

He also said the allegations that he or his son committed wrongdoing in Ukraine were baseless. “Not one single outlet has given any credibility to his assertion,” Mr. Biden told reporters on Friday after a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Controversy over the Trump administration’s Ukraine policy has swirled for weeks but was confined mostly to foreign policy experts. The revelations about the whistle-blower complaint plunged the issue into the center of the political debate.

Congress has still not seen the whistle-blower’s allegation. Although the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, has sought to provide it, the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has blocked him in a dispute over legal requirements.

Mr. Maguire and his general counsel decided against providing the complaint to Congress after consulting with Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, according to a person familiar with the move.

Mounting evidence that the White House was involved in the effort to withhold the complaint from lawmakers has stirred anger on Capitol Hill. Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Mr. Maguire of violating the law.

“If the president has done what has been alleged, then he is stepping into a dangerous minefield with serious repercussions for his administration and our democracy,” she added in a statement.

Republicans were largely silent about Mr. Trump’s calls for a foreign investigation of his political rival. Their apparent desire to avoid criticizing the president during a political crisis stood in contrast to the criticism from Republicans, including Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, after the administration froze aid to Ukraine.

The administration, critics said, has struggled to explain the move, which has convinced some Democrats that it was part of an effort bring about a Biden investigation.

“They have no shame,” said Michael Carpenter, a former aide to Mr. Biden and expert on Ukraine. He added: “They released the assistance in mid-September after the bipartisan uproar over the freeze — and under pressure from the House investigations. But strikingly, the administration never articulated why the assistance was frozen in the first place.”

Mr. Giuliani has spearheaded a push for a Biden inquiry. He met with Mr. Zelensky’s emissaries this summer in hopes of encouraging his government to pursue investigations into the family as well as whether Ukrainian officials took steps during the 2016 election to damage Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Mr. Giuliani has said he was acting on his own, though his comments on Thursday seemed to draw a closer connection to Mr. Trump. “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job,” Mr. Giuliani tweeted shortly after an appearance on CNN, where he first denied, then admitted, asking the government in Kiev to investigate the Bidens.

Although they agreed to meet with Mr. Giuliani, the Ukranians have so far refused to open the investigations. But there is little doubt the pressure from Mr. Trump is causing stress on the new government, according to a former Ukranian official.

Since 2014, Ukraine has been under attack by Russia and its proxy, a fight that has become a grinding conflict that has made it difficult for Kiev to continue its overhaul efforts and work to become more integrated with Europe and the West.

But now Ukraine also finds itself potentially at odds with the leader of its most critical partner, the United States, and at the center of a political battle in Washington.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky will meet next week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a senior administration official confirmed after Mr. Zelensky’s office announced the meeting on Friday. But the administration has put off any commitment for a White House meeting, which Mr. Zelensky views as critical for the relationship.

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Trump Pressed Ukraine’s Leader as Giuliani Pushed for Biden Inquiry

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-whistleblower-sub-facebookJumbo Trump Pressed Ukraine’s Leader as Giuliani Pushed for Biden Inquiry Zelensky, Volodymyr Whistle-Blowers United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J State Department Giuliani, Rudolph W Foreign Aid Espionage and Intelligence Services Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — President Trump repeatedly pressed the Ukrainian president in a phone call to talk with his personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, who had been urging the government in Kiev for months to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his family, according to people briefed on the call.

Mr. Trump’s request for a Ukrainian investigation of Mr. Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, is part of the secret whistle-blower complaint that is said to be about Mr. Trump and at least in part about his dealings with Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The new revelations add to new scrutiny about Mr. Trump’s dealings with the Ukrainian government. He has made no secret that he wanted Kiev to investigate the Bidens, repeatedly raising it publicly.

But questions have emerged about whether Mr. Trump’s push for an inquiry into the Bidens was behind a weekslong White House hold on military aid for Ukraine. The United States suspended the military aid to Ukraine in early July, according to a former American official.

Mr. Trump did not discuss the aid in the July 25 call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, and Kiev did not learn of the suspension until August, according to people familiar with the call. The Wall Street Journal first reported details of it.

Mr. Trump dismissed earlier on Friday as a “partisan” attack the whistle-blower complaint said to involve his dealings with Ukraine amid mounting questions about his interactions with the country’s new government.

“It’s a ridiculous story. It’s a partisan whistle-blower,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, though he also acknowledged he did not know the person’s identity. “They shouldn’t even have information.”

When asked whether he had brought up Mr. Biden during the call with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Trump waved away the question but added, “Someone ought to look into Joe Biden.”

Mr. Biden said on Friday that the allegations that he or his son did anything wrong in Ukraine are baseless.

“Not one single outlet has given any credibility to his assertion,” Mr. Biden told reporters after a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He said he had no more comment, but added: “The president should start to be president.”

The existence of the complaint, submitted by a member of the intelligence community to its inspector general, emerged late last week and exploded into the open late on Wednesday when The Washington Post reported that it concerned Mr. Trump. The administration has not shared the complaint with Congress, as is generally required by law, angering Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi offered a sharp warning to the Trump administration on Friday, saying in a statement that the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, was violating the law by refusing to disclose the complaint to Congress.

“If the president has done what has been alleged, then he is stepping into a dangerous minefield with serious repercussions for his administration and our democracy,” she said in a statement.

After the Ukraine link emerged in news reports late Thursday, Mr. Giuliani shed more light on it in a rambling CNN appearance, where he first denied, then admitted, to asking the government in Kiev to investigate the Bidens.

Mr. Giuliani has spearheaded a push for such an inquiry. He met with Mr. Zelensky’s emissaries this summer in hopes of encouraging his government to ramp up investigations into two matters regarding the Biden family: the question of any overlap with Mr. Biden’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine, as well as the details of his son’s involvement in a gas company there.

Mr. Giuliani has said he was acting on his own, though his comments on Thursday seemed to draw a closer connection to Mr. Trump. “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job,” Mr. Giuliani wrote on Twitter shortly after his appearance on CNN asserting the same thought.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky will meet next week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a senior administration official confirmed after Mr. Zelensky’s office announced the meeting on Friday.

In recent weeks, congressional aides and administration officials who work on Ukraine issues had become concerned that the White House was delaying the military assistance package for Kiev, according to people involved in an effort to free up the assistance.

Three Democratic House committee chairmen have requested the transcript of the president’s July call with Mr. Zelensky from the State Department and the White House as part of an investigation into whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani were misappropriating the American foreign policy apparatus for political gain.

Vice President Mike Pence, who recently met with Mr. Zelensky in Poland, denied bringing up Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Mr. Biden in their conversations, but said Mr. Trump was still making the decision on “the latest tranche of financial support.”

Mr. Trump also sought to allay concerns about his dealings with other foreign leaders. Part of the whistle-blower’s complaint deals with an unspecified commitment he made to an unnamed foreign leader, a person familiar with it has said. Mr. Trump also said on Friday that he did not know the leader in question.

“I had a great conversation with numerous people, numerous leaders, and I always look for the conversation that’s going to help the United States the most,” he said. Sitting alongside Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia, who had just arrived for a state visit, Mr. Trump called his communications with other leaders “always appropriate.”

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Ukraine Pressured on U.S. Political Investigations

MOSCOW — Months before a whistle-blower’s complaint came to light this week, raising alarms over dealings between the Trump administration and Ukraine, the issue was roiling politics in Kiev.

The whistle-blower’s specific allegations remain cloaked in mystery, but they involve at least one instance of President Trump making an unspecified commitment to a foreign leader along with other actions, according to news reports in Washington. At least part of the allegation deals with Ukraine, the reports say.

But for months now in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, the government of the neophyte president, Volodymyr Zelensky, has been grappling with unwelcome political pressure by associates of Mr. Trump. Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, said in an interview Thursday night on CNN that he had pressed Ukrainian officials to pursue investigations into Mr. Trump’s political opponents, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his family.

Mr. Zelensky took office in May, but even before then, Mr. Giuliani has said he sought a meeting with the president to investigate a natural gas company, Burisma, where Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, had served on the board of directors.

Mr. Zelensky’s transition team, not wanting to be seen as taking sides in United States politics, rebuffed the request, a former adviser to Mr. Zelensky, Serhiy Leshchenko, said in an interview.

“It was clear that the Zelensky team doesn’t want to interfere in American politics,” Mr. Leshchenko said. “They were very angry about this issue.”

Mr. Leshchenko and two other Ukrainians, all of them young, Western-leaning politicians and veterans of the 2014 revolution, said in interviews that Mr. Giuliani’s efforts created the impression that the Trump administration’s willingness to back Mr. Zelensky was linked to his government’s readiness to pursue the investigations sought by Mr. Trump’s allies.

When it became clear that he would not be granted an audience with the incoming Ukrainian president, Mr. Giuliani asserted in an interview on Fox News that Mr. Zelensky was being advised by “people who are the enemies” of Mr. Trump, including Mr. Leshchenko.

Mr. Giuliani seemed to be referring to Mr. Leshchenko’s role in helping to draw attention to reports about the “black ledger” book that detailed $12.7 million in off-the-books payments to Paul J. Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman, who did extensive work in Ukraine for Viktor F. Yanukovych, the disgraced former president.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_159327390_4bdc416a-1487-42c9-93eb-e6a12cce946b-articleLarge Ukraine Pressured on U.S. Political Investigations Zelensky, Volodymyr Whistle-Blowers United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Politics and Government Defense and Military Forces Corruption (Institutional) Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

Rudolph W. Giuliani at a rally for President Trump in Manchester, N.H., last week.CreditAnna Moneymaker/The New York Times

After Mr. Giuliani’s appearance on Fox News, the incoming chief of staff for Mr. Zelensky told Mr. Leshchenko he would not be considered for a position in the new government, Mr. Leshchenko said.

Ukrainian officials and intermediaries in touch with the Ukrainian government and Mr. Giuliani tried to find some way to mollify Mr. Giuliani and the Trump administration with an informal meeting or a phone call, Mr. Leshchenko said, but Mr. Zelensky vetoed all their proposals.

Eventually, a State Department official, Kurt D. Volker, the American envoy to settlement talks in the Ukraine war, arranged a meeting between Mr. Giuliani and a senior Ukrainian official in Madrid where the investigations were discussed.

The two presidents spoke by phone on July 25. In the call, Mr. Trump told Mr. Zelensky that Ukraine could improve its reputation and “interaction” with the United States by investigating corruption, according to a Ukrainian government summary.

It is not clear whether Mr. Trump specifically linked United States aid to Ukraine to political help in next year’s election in the United States by investigating his political opponents. Several weeks after the call it was reported that the Trump administration had put a hold on $250 million in Pentagon funding.

“For me, it’s crystal clear” that the Trump administration was seeking to trade military aid for Ukraine’s war against Russian-backed separatists for political favors, Daria M. Kaleniuk, the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kiev, said in an interview.

The hold on the aid was lifted on Sept. 12, after three congressional committees opened investigations into whether the Trump administration had misappropriated foreign policy tools to try to help the president politically. Those investigations were started in response to reporting on Mr. Giuliani’s activities in Ukraine.

Much was at stake in the delayed military assistance. More than 13,000 people, most of them civilians, have been killed in Ukraine’s five-year war with Russian-backed separatists, Europe’s only active military conflict.

Mr. Trump has suggested he would like Attorney General William P. Barr to look into material gathered by the Ukrainian prosecutors. But under a bilateral legal assistance agreement, American law enforcement can only ask for evidence if a criminal investigation is underway in the United States, which is not the case.

“It is a very unfortunate situation for Zelensky,” Svitlana Zalishchuk, a former member of the foreign affairs committee in Ukraine’s Parliament, said in a telephone interview. “Obviously, he wants to build good relations with the American administration. At the same time, he doesn’t want to play American politics.”

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Trump Calls Whistle-Blower ‘Partisan’ and Defends Conduct With Other Leaders

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-whistleblower-sub-facebookJumbo Trump Calls Whistle-Blower ‘Partisan’ and Defends Conduct With Other Leaders Zelensky, Volodymyr Whistle-Blowers United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J State Department Giuliani, Rudolph W Foreign Aid Espionage and Intelligence Services Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — President Trump dismissed on Friday a whistle-blower complaint said to involve him as a “partisan” attack, but acknowledged that he did not know the identity of the person who lodged it.

Details of the complaint remained murky, but the allegations deal at least in part with Ukraine, two people familiar with it have said. That revelation immediately increased scrutiny on Mr. Trump’s public push for the country’s new government to investigate a political rival, Vice President Joseph R. Biden, and whether it was related to the White House’s hold this summer on a military aid package for Ukraine that it has since released.

Mr. Trump was also playing defense concerns that he was ill-equipped to handle delicate communications as other details of the complaint surfaced, including that it dealt in part with an unspecified commitment he made to an unnamed foreign leader, a person familiar with it has said. Mr. Trump also said that he did not know the leader in question.

“I had a great conversation with numerous people, numerous leaders, and I always look for the conversation that’s going to help the United States the most,” he told reporters in the Oval Office after the arrival of Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia for a state visit.

Mr. Trump derided the complaint as a “ridiculous story” and said his communications with other leaders were “at the highest level always appropriate.” When asked whether he had brought up Mr. Biden during a July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, Mr. Trump waved away the question but added, “Someone ought to look into Joe Biden.”

The existence of the complaint, submitted by a member of the intelligence community to its inspector general, emerged late last week and exploded into the open late on Wednesday when The Washington Post reported that it concerned Mr. Trump.

And Thursday after the Ukraine link emerged in news reports late Thursday, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani shed more light on it in a rambling CNN appearance, where he first denied, then admitted, to asking the government in Kiev to investigate the Bidens.

Mr. Giuliani has spearheaded a push such an inquiry. He met with Mr. Zelensky’s emissaries this summer in hopes of encouraging his government to ramp up investigations into two matters regarding the Biden family: the question of any overlap with Mr. Biden’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine, as well as the details of his son’s involvement in a gas company there.

Mr. Giuliani has said he was acting on his own, though his comments on Thursday seemed to draw a closer connection to Mr. Trump. “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job,” Mr. Giuliani wrote on Twitter shortly after his appearance on CNN asserting the same thought.

Three Democratic House committee chairmen have requested the transcript of the president’s call with Mr. Zelensky from the State Department and the White House as part of an investigation into whether Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani were misappropriating the American foreign policy apparatus for political gain.

And in recent weeks, congressional aides and administration officials who work on Ukraine issues had become concerned that the White House was delaying the military assistance package for Kiev, according to people involved in an effort to free up the assistance.

Vice President Mike Pence, who recently met with Mr. Zelensky in Poland, denied bringing up Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Mr. Biden in their conversations, but said Mr. Trump was still making the decision on “the latest tranche of financial support.”

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Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities Tests U.S. Guarantee to Defend Gulf

The oil-rich monarchies of the Persian Gulf have relied for decades on the promise of protection by the United States military, a commitment sealed by the rollback of the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and reinforced by a half dozen American military bases that sprang up around the region.

Now that commitment is facing its most serious test since the first gulf war: an attack last Saturday by a swarm of at least 17 missiles and drones that crippled Saudi Arabia’s most critical oil installation and temporarily knocked out 5 percent of the world’s oil supply.

Washington and Riyadh blamed Iran, despite its denials, and President Trump threatened that the United States was “locked and loaded.” Yet despite months of such bravado, Mr. Trump has been hesitant to take military action that might risk an expanded conflagration. For better or worse, such a muted response could signal another turning point for the region.

“It is enormous,” said Gregory Gause, a scholar of the region at Texas A&M University. “This is the most serious challenge since the invasion of Kuwait to the status of the United States as a great power that would protect the free flow of energy from the region, and unless there is a big change in the response from the Trump administration I think Gulf leaders will start to question the value of that security commitment.”

Confounding expectations on all sides of the Persian Gulf, the attack and its aftermath have laid bare a cascade of revelations about the regional balance of power.

The stunning success of the attack has shown that billions of dollars in Saudi military spending has left the kingdom’s central industry vulnerable, and it has demonstrated to the world that the increasing availability of low-flying cruise missiles and drones may have rendered many other defense systems perilously obsolete.

It has also shown the world a new side of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the hard charging and often impulsive de facto ruler of the kingdom: He, too, has been forced in this case to back away from immediate retribution against his nemesis, Iran.

If Iran carried out the attack directly, as Washington and Riyadh say, then it has taken a brazen step beyond its familiar strategy of working through allied militant groups to strike at its foes, evidently surprising the White House.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_161012769_abe13950-dc14-415d-8511-0fdc5722ac94-articleLarge Attack on Saudi Oil Facilities Tests U.S. Guarantee to Defend Gulf United States International Relations Saudi Arabia Oil (Petroleum) and Gasoline Nuclear Weapons Mohammed bin Salman (1985- ) Iran Gulf of Oman Incident (June 2019) Embargoes and Sanctions Drones (Pilotless Planes)

Debris from missiles that the Saudi government says were used in last weekend’s attack.CreditHamad I Mohammed/Reuters

Seeking to exact a price from the United States for its sanctions on Iranian oil sales, Tehran may also now be emboldened to carry out further attacks, calculating that President Trump will balk at another war in the region. The attack on Saudi Arabia was just the latest in a string of recent attacks carried out by Iran or a proxy — including attacks on oil tankers and the downing of an American drone — with little or no cost to Iran.

And President Trump, focused on his re-election, has so far shown himself less willing to match Iran’s escalation than his ferocious tweets about “obliteration” and “the official end of Iran” had suggested. He recently fired the adviser most hawkish on Iran, John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser. And instead of emphasizing the traditional American interest in the free flow of oil, he appears to have returned to a view he espoused before his election — “Saudi Arabia should fight their own wars,” as he wrote in a tweet in 2014.

That Iran would seek in some way to attack Saudi oil production, though, was hardly unexpected. Experts had predicted for months that the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign of sanctions against Iran’s oil sales would drive it to lash out against the oil production of Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf States.

The rulers of those Arab states had previously accused President Obama of trying to pull back from the American commitment to the region. They faulted him for negotiating a 2015 deal with Iran to limit its nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions without further constraining its military or other activities. And the Gulf leaders were outraged when Mr. Obama called off a planned strike against Syria, an Iranian ally, for using chemical weapons against civilians.

Now some prominent voices in the Arab Gulf States accuse Mr. Trump of an even greater betrayal. “Trump, in his response to Iran, is even worse than Obama,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a prominent political scientist in the United Arab Emirates.

Instead of reversing the perceived pullback as Gulf leaders had expected, Mr. Abdulla argued, President Trump let down his Arab partners by failing to respond more forcefully to Iranian aggressions.

The United States has said that Iran was behind naval mines that damaged five oil tankers in the Persian Gulf this spring, and in June Iran boasted of shooting down an American surveillance drone. Yet President Trump did little in retaliation for the tanker attacks and called off a planned airstrike against Iran in response to the downing of the drone.

“His inaction gave a green light to this,” Mr. Abdulla said. “Now an Arab Gulf strategic partner has been massively attacked by Iran — which was provoked by Trump, not by us — and we hear Americans saying to us, you need to defend yourselves!”

The oil installation in the eastern city of Abqaiq burned after the attack.CreditHamad I Mohammed/Reuters

“It is an utter failure and utter disappointment in this administration,” he added.

Mr. Trump has not ruled out a military strike, and senior national security officials met Thursday to refine a list of potential targets should President Trump go that route. Still, he has made clear his opposition to another war, and has ordered new sanctions.

But Iran is already under acute economic pressure from the existing sanctions, which use the reach of the American financial system to try to choke off Iranian oil exports anywhere in the world. After pulling out of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Trump administration implemented the sweeping new penalties this spring to try to force Iran to accept a more restrictive agreement.

Iranian leaders have denounced the sanctions as “economic warfare,” and they appear to have orchestrated an escalating series of attacks that threaten the flow of Persian Gulf oil in order to inflict some of the same pain on the United States and Washington’s Arab allies.

“The Iranians do feel cornered,” Professor Gause said, and that is why they appear to be taking more aggressive action than they have in the past. “This is an effort by Iran to break out of what they see as strangulation.”

Defending the administration’s policies, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo argued this week that the sanctions may have limited Iran’s ability to strike with even more sophisticated missiles or drones.

“They’d have more complex ones but for the sanctions we put in place that have prevented them from getting access to money, most importantly, but also parts, spare parts, information technology,” he told reporters on a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Iranian leaders have denied responsibility for the attack last weekend, but at the same time they have openly reveled in its success. It showed the United States “that playing with the lion’s tail carries serious dangers and if they take action against Iran there will be no tomorrow for them,” Brig. Gen. Hossein Dehghan of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp boasted Thursday, Iranian news media reported.

The Iranians may have previously worried about Mr. Trump’s threatening tweets and hawkish advisers, said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran scholar at Brookings Institution. “But now they see that he is not going to follow through on the bluff that he has carried out on behalf of the American people,” she said.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran this week. Iran may be emboldened to carry out further attacks, calculating that President Trump will balk at another war.CreditOffice of the Iranian Presidency

Others analysts argued that the alarms from the Persian Gulf about an American retreat were overblown under President Obama and remain so under President Trump. American warships are patrolling the gulf to help protect tanker traffic. American satellite and surveillance drones patrol the skies. The many large American military bases deter invasions or other large-scale military actions.

But President Trump’s combination of tough threats and a weak response “is the worst of both worlds,” argued Jeremy Shapiro, research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations and a former State Department official in the Obama administration.

“It would be foolish to counter this escalation with an escalation, but it was foolish to get into this position in the first place,” he argued, leaving the Trump administration “to choose between an unwise escalation or a humiliating climb-down.”

Experts on military technology said Saudi Arabia should not be faulted for failing to stop the attack. Like those of other countries, Saudi Arabia’s defenses were designed to stop ballistic missiles. This attack appears to have been carried out with low-flying cruise missiles or drones that would escape detection by most radar systems.

“I don’t think that there is any country that could have defended any better than Saudi Arabia did, and that includes the United States,” said Peter Roberts, director of military sciences at the Royal United Services Institute, an international research institute.

Yet the attack appears to have caused some rethinking by Crown Prince Mohammed.

Soon after he was first named defense minister, in 2015, he plunged the kingdom into a military campaign in neighboring Yemen to drive from power a faction backed by Iran. Saudi media outlets proclaimed that the prince was asserting the kingdom’s power and leading a new drive to roll back Iranian influence.

“The Iranians, they’re the cause of problems in the Middle East, but they are not a big threat to Saudi Arabia,” the prince boasted confidently to Time magazine in 2018. “Saudi Arabia’s economy is double the size of the Iranian economy,” he said, adding that Iran’s army was “not among the top five” in the Middle East.

“We will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, and not in Saudi Arabia,” he promised on a Saudi news channel.

Yet the damage to the oil installation was a painful lesson in the potential costs of a wider conflict, at a time when the Saudi military remains bogged down in Yemen and Prince Mohammed has been pushing for a public sale of the Saudi state oil company.

The Saudi decision to call for an international investigation and not immediate retribution may be the choice of a chastened prince, analysts said. “I think there has a been a calculation that the costs might be too high,” said Rebecca Wasser, a senior policy analyst at the RAND Corporation.

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