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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 13)

Review of Russia Inquiry Grows as F.B.I. Witnesses Are Questioned

Westlake Legal Group merlin_144012531_edbac8a7-52fc-43a5-9a2d-17362315d5df-facebookJumbo Review of Russia Inquiry Grows as F.B.I. Witnesses Are Questioned Wiretapping and Other Eavesdropping Devices and Methods United States Politics and Government Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Strzok, Peter Steele, Christopher (1964- ) Special Prosecutors (Independent Counsel) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Russia Presidential Election of 2016 Great Britain Fringe Groups and Movements Espionage and Intelligence Services Durham, John H Barr, William P Australia

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors reviewing the origins of the Russia investigation have asked witnesses pointed questions about any anti-Trump bias among former F.B.I. officials who are frequent targets of President Trump and about the earliest steps they took in the Russia inquiry, according to former officials and other people familiar with the review.

The prosecutors, led by John H. Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut, have interviewed about two dozen former and current F.B.I. officials, the people said. Two former senior F.B.I. agents are assisting with the review, the people said.

The number of interviews shows that Mr. Durham’s review is further along than previously known. It has served as a political flash point since Attorney General William P. Barr revealed in the spring that he planned to scrutinize the beginnings of the Russia investigation, which Mr. Trump and his allies have attacked without evidence as a plot by law enforcement and intelligence officials to prevent him from winning the 2016 election.

Closely overseen by Mr. Barr, Mr. Durham and his investigators have sought help from governments in countries that figure into right-wing attacks and unfounded conspiracy theories about the Russia investigation, stirring criticism that they are trying to deliver Mr. Trump a political victory rather than conducting an independent review.

And on Thursday, Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, tied Mr. Durham’s investigation to the Ukraine scandal, infuriating people inside the Justice Department. But Mr. Mulvaney’s comments also put the spotlight on the fact that Ukraine is one country that Mr. Durham has sought help from. His team has interviewed private Ukrainian citizens, a Justice Department spokeswoman has said without explaining why.

A spokesman for Mr. Durham declined to comment. Mr. Barr has said that he viewed some investigative steps as “spying” on the Trump campaign and that there was a “failure among a group of leaders” in the intelligence community. He has said he began the Durham review in part to prevent future missteps.

Mr. Durham has yet to interview all the F.B.I. officials who played key roles in opening the Russian investigation in the summer of 2016, the people familiar with the review said. He has not spoken with Peter Strzok, a former top counterintelligence official who opened the inquiry; the former director James B. Comey or his deputy, Andrew G. McCabe; or James A. Baker, then the bureau’s general counsel.

Those omissions suggest Mr. Durham may be waiting until he has gathered all the facts before he asks to question the main decision makers in the Russia inquiry.

Though criticism has been set off by the revelations that Mr. Durham is examining politically tinged accusations and outright conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation, he would naturally have to run down all leads to conduct a thorough review.

The president granted Mr. Barr sweeping powers for the review, though he did not open it as a criminal investigation. That means he gave Mr. Durham the power only to read materials the government had already gathered and to request voluntary interviews from witnesses, not to subpoena witnesses or documents. It is not clear whether the status of the review has changed.

Mr. Durham’s investigators appeared focused at one point on Mr. Strzok, said one former official who was interviewed. Mr. Strzok opened the Russia inquiry in late July 2016 after receiving information from the Australian government that the Russians had offered damaging information on Hillary Clinton to a Trump campaign adviser. Mr. Durham’s team has asked about the events surrounding the Australian tip, some of the people familiar with the review said.

Mr. Durham’s team, including Nora R. Dannehy, a veteran prosecutor, has questioned witnesses about why Mr. Strzok both drafted and signed the paperwork opening the investigation, suggesting that was unusual for one person to take both steps. Mr. Strzok began the inquiry after consulting with F.B.I. leadership, former officials familiar with the episode said.

Mr. Durham has also questioned why Mr. Strzok opened the case on a weekend, again suggesting that the step might have been out of the ordinary. Former officials said that Mr. McCabe had directed Mr. Strzok to travel immediately to London to interview the two Australian diplomats who had learned about the Russians’ offer to help the Trump campaign and that he was trying to ensure he took the necessary administrative steps first.

It is not clear how many people Mr. Durham’s team has interviewed outside of the F.B.I. His investigators have questioned officials in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence but apparently have yet to interview C.I.A. personnel, people familiar with the review said. Mr. Durham would probably want to speak with Gina Haspel, the agency’s director, who ran its London station when the Australians passed along the explosive information about Russia’s offer of political dirt.

Many of the questions from Mr. Durham’s team overlapped with ones that the Justice Department inspector general, Michael C. Horowitz, has posed in his own look into aspects of the Russia inquiry, according to the people.

Mr. Horowitz’s report, which is most likely to be made public in the coming weeks, is expected to criticize law enforcement officials’ actions in the Russia investigation. Mr. Horowitz’s findings could provide insights into why Mr. Barr thought that the Russia investigation needed to be examined.

Mr. Durham’s questions seem focused on elements of the conservative attacks on the origins of the Russia inquiry. It is not clear whether he has asked about other parts of the sprawling probe, which has grown to include more than 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 search warrants, 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence and interviews of about 500 witnesses.

In his review, Mr. Durham has asked witnesses about the role of Christopher Steele, a former intelligence official from Britain who was hired to research Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia by a firm that was in turn financed by Democrats. Law enforcement officials used some of the information Mr. Steele compiled into a now-infamous dossier to obtain a secret wiretap on a Trump campaign adviser, Carter Page, whom they suspected was an agent of Russia.

The president and his supporters have vilified Mr. Steele, saying that investigators should have kept his information out of the application for the wiretap because they viewed him as having a bias against Mr. Trump. The Steele information served as one piece of the lengthy application.

They have accused the F.B.I. and Justice Department of failing to disclose that Democrats were funding Mr. Steele’s research, but the wiretap application contains a page-length explanation alerting the court that the person who commissioned Mr. Steele’s research was “likely looking for information” to discredit Mr. Trump.

Mr. Durham’s investigators asked why F.B.I. officials would use unsubstantiated or incorrect information in their application for a court order allowing the wiretap and seemed skeptical about why agents relied on Mr. Steele’s dossier.

The inspector general has also raised concerns that the F.B.I. inflated Mr. Steele’s value as an informant in order to obtain the wiretap on Mr. Page. Mr. Durham’s investigators have done the same, according to the people familiar with his review.

Mr. Horowitz has asked witnesses about an assessment of Mr. Steele that MI6, the British spy agency, provided to the F.B.I. after bureau officials received his dossier on Mr. Trump in September 2016. MI6 officials said Mr. Steele, a Russia expert, was honest and persistent but sometimes showed questionable judgment in pursuing targets that others viewed as a waste of time, two people familiar with the assessment said.

One former official said that in his interview with Mr. Durham’s team, he pushed back on the notion that law enforcement and intelligence officials had plotted to thwart Mr. Trump’s candidacy, laying out facts that prove otherwise.

For example, the former official compared the F.B.I.’s handling of its two investigations related to Mr. Trump and his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton. Agents overtly investigated Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server but kept secret their counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign. If the F.B.I. had been trying to bolster Mrs. Clinton’s candidacy and hurt Mr. Trump’s, they could have buried the email investigation or taken more overt steps in the Russia inquiry.

Instead, the former official noted, the opposite happened.

The former official said he was reassured by the presence of John C. Eckenrode, one of the former senior F.B.I. agents assisting Mr. Durham. Like Mr. Durham, who investigated C.I.A. torture of detainees overseas, Mr. Eckenrode is also familiar with high-stakes political inquiries.

He is probably best known for working with Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the former United States attorney who in 2003 was appointed to investigate the leak of the identity of an undercover C.I.A. officer, Valerie Plame, to a journalist.

“Jack is as straight a shooter as you can get in the F.B.I.,” Asha Rangappa, a former F.B.I. agent, said of Mr. Eckenrode, a friend. “It’s the first reassuring thing I’ve heard about this review.”

Mr. Eckenrode and Mr. Durham appear to know each other from Mr. Eckenrode’s time as agent in New Haven, Conn., where Mr. Durham has spent most of his career as a prosecutor. Mr. Eckenrode also worked in Boston and eventually ran the F.B.I.’s office in Philadelphia before retiring in 2006.

Adam Goldman reported from Washington, and William K. Rashbaum from New York.

Follow them on Twitter: @adamgoldmanNYT and @WRashbaum.

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Defiant Mulvaney Rides Out Storm Over His Ukraine Comments

Westlake Legal Group 18dc-mulvaney-facebookJumbo Defiant Mulvaney Rides Out Storm Over His Ukraine Comments Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Mulvaney, Mick

WASHINGTON — On the day after he made more news than any chief of staff in recent White House history — much less an acting one —Mick Mulvaney went about his business as usual.

He finalized plans for hosting Republican members of Congress this weekend at Camp David, a form of outreach he has regularly pursued and a bit of traditional Washington socializing that is not President Trump’s forte. He was booked as a guest on Fox News’s Sunday morning talk show, despite a desire by some conservatives that he stop talking. And he gave a speech to a Republican group in the Raleigh, N.C., area.

But Mr. Mulvaney’s job has been anything but normal since the news conference on Thursday at which he seemingly undermined the Trump administration’s strategy for avoiding impeachment by acknowledging that Mr. Trump had sought a quid pro quo for providing Ukraine with American aid. In the chaotic aftermath, the president’s Republican allies are questioning Mr. Mulvaney’s savvy and intelligence even as the Trump campaign is defiantly turning one of his lines from the news conference into a T-shirt.

As he approaches his anniversary in the White House, Mr. Mulvaney, 52, a former South Carolina congressman and Trump budget director, finds himself in a strange netherworld.

The word “acting” is still conspicuously stuck to his title, even though Mr. Trump could remove it at any time. His relationship with the president runs hot and cold, depending on the day, though never quite cold enough for Mr. Trump to fire him.That is in part because it’s unclear who might be willing to take a job that Mr. Trump struggled to fill when it last came open.

But Thursday’s briefing in the White House press room was a prize winner in “the annals of disastrous appearances by White House chiefs of staff,” according to Christopher Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.”

Mr. Mulvaney’s ostensible purpose was to announce that Mr. Trump had chosen his own golf resort in Doral, Fla., as the site for next year’s Group of 7 summit meeting of world leaders — a controversy of its own, but one that Mr. Mulvaney appeared prepared to take heat for.

“I get the criticisms,” he told reporters. “But, no, there’s no issue here on him profiting from this in any way, shape, or form.”

Then the questions quickly turned from whether Mr. Trump was using the presidency to enrich himself to why his administration recently froze $490 million in congressionally allocated military aid to Ukraine and whether it was an effort to coerce its government into pursuing political investigations sought by Mr. Trump.

Peppered by skeptical questions from reporters, Mr. Mulvaney was remarkably nonchalant in conceding a central component of the Democratic case for impeachment: that the aid was delayed, in part, because of Mr. Trump’s belief in an unfounded conspiracy theory that a Democratic National Committee email server hacked in 2016 may be hidden in Ukraine and could hold data showing that Russia did not interfere in that year’s election.

Mr. Mulvaney dismissed questions about whether it was appropriate to delay the aid, saying, “There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy.”

“Get over it,” he declared.

It did not take long for Mr. Mulvaney to release a statement trying to take back his admission that indeed the release of aid to Ukraine had been linked to Mr. Trump’s demand for an inquiry. White House aides privately expressed shock that Mr. Mulvaney said what he said. Several of Mr. Trump’s advisers — concerned the president didn’t seem to process what had happened — told him there was a problem.

Mr. Trump, though, grew unhappy only when he saw coverage of the news conference, according to people close to him. Even then, he was not as angry as many aides have seen him before.

Asked about Mr. Mulvaney’s comments, Mr. Trump said he hadn’t watched them and appeared unbothered. “I think he clarified it,” Mr. Trump said.

The extended Trump apparatus seemed to embrace parts of the Mulvaney message. By midday, a black T-shirt with “Get Over It” in white letters was available from the Trump 2020 campaign for $30.

But despite the effort to project confidence, Republicans in Congress and at least one prominent conservative media figure expressed dismay at Mr. Mulvaney’s words, which contradicted weeks of White House messaging.

Representative Francis Rooney, Republican of Florida, told reporters on Friday that he was “shocked that he said that stuff” and that Mr. Mulvaney’s remarks could not be walked back so simply.

“It’s not an Etch-a-Sketch,” easily erased, he said, miming the gesture.

“I want to get the facts and do the right thing,” he told reporters, “because I’ll be looking at my children a lot longer than I’m looking at anybody in this building.”

Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and a former colleague of Mr. Mulvaney in the hard-line House Freedom Caucus, accused the media of taking his friend out of context, then said Mr. Mulvaney’s remarks had been incorrect.

“We know from the call transcript itself, there was no linkage,” he said, repeating the talking point about Mr. Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian leader that was damaged badly by Mr. Mulvaney. “There was no quid pro quo.”

One of Mr. Trump’s most reliable allies, the Fox News host Sean Hannity, assailed Mr. Mulvaney on his radio show on Thursday as “idiotic” and “dumb,” saying he “didn’t know what he was talking about.”

Mr. Whipple said that Mr. Mulvaney’s defiant defense of the president told a larger story about how the president’s staff had largely come to enable, rather than check, his impulses.

“I think the senior advisers in the White House, led by Mulvaney, have become a cult,” he said. “To the extent there’s any discernible defense or strategy here, it seems to be, ‘There’s no defense — so let’s pretend it’s normal.’”

He added, “We found out that they think if Trump does it, it’s normal — get over it.”

The underlying tether that Mr. Trump is using to keep Mr. Mulvaney close, some advisers and former aides say, is a recognition that his scorched-earth farewells to other senior officials have left a number of them willing to tell secrets about what they saw while they served him.

Within the White House, Mr. Mulvaney has a number of allies among his subordinates. But at a more senior level, he has repeatedly been at odds with the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, who came into his job not long after Mr. Mulvaney stepped into the chief of staff role.

Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Cipollone had an extensive disagreement the day the White House released the transcript of Mr. Trump’s call on July 25 with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Since then, the counsel’s office staff has repeatedly been frustrated by Mr. Mulvaney, seeing him as an impediment to helping the president.

And like everyone else, Mr. Mulvaney has the shadow of Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, to remind him that there are few permanent fixtures in this White House besides Mr. Trump’s family members.

Mr. Kushner has told White House officials that he supports Mr. Mulvaney, but he has also told associates that he has fielded complaints about him over time. Mr. Kushner was said to be frustrated by Mr. Mulvaney’s podium gaffe.

Joe Lockhart, who served as press secretary for President Bill Clinton and faced his own daily barrage of impeachment questions, said of Mr. Mulvaney, “It was malpractice to send him out there, given his lack of experience, lack of skills and a clear lack of preparation.”

But, Mr. Lockhart added: “One thing I do give him credit for, he covered himself. He was very clear that anything he did on Ukraine was at the direction of the president.”

Michael Crowley reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York.

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Giuliani Mixes His Business With Role as Trump’s Lawyer

Westlake Legal Group 18dc-rudy-facebookJumbo Giuliani Mixes His Business With Role as Trump’s Lawyer Yovanovitch, Marie L United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Justice Department Giuliani, Rudolph W Congo, Democratic Republic of (Congo-Kinshasa) Benczkowski, Brian A

WASHINGTON — It is an extraordinary time in Washington, but it is more or less business as usual for Rudolph W. Giuliani.

He is a central figure in the impeachment inquiry. He is under scrutiny by federal prosecutors. But throughout the building controversy, Mr. Giuliani has continued to represent clients, broker deals and take on consulting contracts in Washington and around the world in ways that leave him subject to criticism that he is using his role as President Trump’s personal lawyer to open doors to the government and influence policy despite the questions about his own conduct.

A few weeks ago, Mr. Giuliani secured a meeting, along with some other defense lawyers, with the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division and attorneys in the fraud section. They were there to discuss a foreign bribery case for a client that Mr. Giuliani described as “very, very sensitive.”

Mr. Giuliani declined to divulge any details about the meeting, except to say it had nothing to do with legal issues facing him or Mr. Trump. Days after the meeting, it was revealed that Mr. Giuliani was under investigation himself for possible violations of foreign lobbying laws by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

Mr. Giuliani lashed out at what he said were efforts by congressional Democrats, as well as journalists and critics in the executive branch, to “destroy” his business.

“I really try very hard to be super-ethical and always legal,” he wrote in a text message in response to questions about his meeting with the Justice Department. “But I can’t publicly defend everything I do because I’m presumed guilty. If I did, my business and firm would be unable to have any clients. That’s why this malicious torrent of questions is so damaging.”

Over the last year, he has circulated widely on television defending Mr. Trump, denouncing the special counsel’s investigation into Russian election interference and trying to turn attention to what he says is wrongdoing by Democrats. Mr. Giuliani has meanwhile pursued a range of lucrative deals with clients around the world.

That business development push coincided with a heightened demand for back channels to Mr. Trump, who swept into office without connections to the usual array of Washington gatekeepers and power brokers. Business and political leaders — particularly in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the former Soviet Union — were willing to pay handsomely for relationships with Trump intimates that could give them access in Washington or additional credibility and stature at home.

In one recent example that has not been disclosed in detail, Mr. Giuliani was retained this year to headline a team that was paid $425,000 to drum up American and foreign government support for a methane project in Uzbekistan that was also seeking Chinese financing, according to people familiar with the effort.

That deal came after a string of others that have come under more scrutiny as Mr. Giuliani has pursued his work on Mr. Trump’s behalf. He was paid $500,000 late last year by a company co-owned by a Ukrainian-American businessman who played a key role in facilitating the campaign to pressure Ukraine that Mr. Trump championed.

Mr. Giuliani was paid what he described in an interview as “a reasonable amount of money” in 2017 by a Ukrainian-Russian developer to create an emergency management plan for the developer’s hometown in northeast Ukraine near the Russian border.

And Mr. Giuliani’s security company this year won a contract to consult for the Bahraini government, which described him as leading a “high-level United States delegation” when he visited to pitch his services to the king in December.

While Mr. Giuliani insists he does not lobby, and says his contracts explicitly state that he will not, some of his clients and prospective clients said in interviews that they saw him as a conduit to the administration.

For instance, while Mr. Giuliani was exploring work in the Democratic Republic of Congo last year, its ambassador to the United States said in an interview that his country was relying on Mr. Giuliani to act as a liaison as it sought to avoid further sanctions from the Trump administration.

He has at times sought to shape American foreign policy to benefit his clients, pressing Mr. Trump and Rex Tillerson, then the secretary of state, during an Oval Office meeting in 2017 to consider releasing a jailed client, an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, as part of a potential prisoner swap with Turkey.

The scrutiny of Mr. Giuliani by federal prosecutors goes to whether some of his activities broke foreign lobbying laws. The prosecutors are looking in particular at Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to undermine the American ambassador to Ukraine then, Marie L. Yovanovitch, one person familiar with the case has said. The question would be whether he did so at the behest of, or to benefit, Ukrainian officials with whom he worked, some of whom had been intensely critical of Ms. Yovanovitch. Mr. Giuliani has denied any wrongdoing.

Federal law requires American citizens to disclose to the Justice Department any contacts with the government or media in the United States at the direction or request of foreign politicians, government officials or state-controlled companies, regardless of whether they pay for the representation. Prosecuting violations of the law, the Foreign Agents Registration Act, has become a growing priority for the Justice Department.

Beyond the legal issues, the appearance that Mr. Giuliani has been profiting from his role working for the president has raised ethical questions about his conduct.

In the case of his recent meeting at the Justice Department, Mr. Giuliani declined to identify the client or subject covered, saying, “None of your business.” He said he was one of several lawyers working on the case who attended.

“It’s a completely privileged meeting,” he said, “but it was a perfectly appropriate meeting.”

Mr. Giuliani requested the meeting to discuss a case related to the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bars Americans from bribing foreign officials, according to people familiar with the meeting. They said it was attended by Brian A. Benczkowski, the assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.

A former federal prosecutor and mayor of New York who built an international consulting business over the last two decades, Mr. Giuliani saw the demand for his services spike in April 2018 when he joined the legal team helping Mr. Trump navigate the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Some of the people involved with Mr. Giuliani’s deals have already come under law enforcement scrutiny.

Lev Parnas, the Ukrainian-American businessman whose company paid Mr. Giuliani $500,000, was arrested last week along with three associates on campaign finance charges.

Mr. Giuliani suggested that the money he received from a company called Fraud Guarantee that is co-owned by Mr. Parnas came from investors in the company. He declined to name the investors.

“I know exactly where it came from,” he said. “It wasn’t Russian money. It was American money.”

Among the recipients of an illegal straw donation that Mr. Parnas made using money from Igor Fruman, one of the associates arrested along with him, prosecutors alleged, was a congressman who they asked to help remove Ms. Yovanovitch, the American ambassador. She was seen by Mr. Parnas as blocking his efforts with Mr. Fruman to pursue deals in the gas industry in Ukraine, and by Trump allies as blocking the partisan investigations sought by the president.

The congressman is not named in the indictment, but is Pete Sessions, Republican of Texas. He held a fund-raiser last year featuring Mr. Giuliani, which Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman planned to attend, according to an associate. Mr. Sessions lost his re-election race last year, and was subpoenaed this year for records related to his dealings with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani, according to people familiar with the request.

House impeachment investigators have subpoenaed records from Mr. Giuliani related to his work with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, as well as various Giuliani clients in Ukraine.

Impeachment investigators also have subpoenaed records from Mr. Giuliani related to a business called 45 Energy Group. The entity is a division of a company called 45 Group, which is owned by Healy E. Baumgardner, a former Trump campaign aide. The 45 Group was paid $425,000 by a foreign company seeking to build American support for the ethane/methane project in Uzbekistan.

The 45 Group paid one of Mr. Giuliani’s consulting companies some portion of that money to enlist his help.

Mr. Giuliani said he “advised on that deal” and had worked on projects “over the years” with Ms. Baumgardner, who worked on Mr. Giuliani’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Mr. Giuliani agreed to travel to Uzbekistan in early May to review the project, according to two people familiar with the plans, who said the foreign company’s goal was to lend the appearance of support from Mr. Trump. But Mr. Giuliani never made the trip, and the company has since asked for money back from Ms. Baumgardner.

She said that her team “fulfilled our consulting duties,” but that she and Mr. Giuliani severed their connection to the project when she learned of the discussions with potential partners linked to the Chinese government, which could have required her and Mr. Giuliani to register as foreign agents for the project.

She said her company “adheres to all U.S. laws” and ascribes to “the highest ethics,” and she accused the Democrats who control the House of “unfairly targeting and harassing private citizens, like myself.” She said, “I won’t be bullied or intimidated by their witch hunts.”

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As Inquiry Widens, McConnell Is Said to See Impeachment Trial as Inevitable

Westlake Legal Group 18dc-senate-facebookJumbo As Inquiry Widens, McConnell Is Said to See Impeachment Trial as Inevitable United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Senate Murkowski, Lisa McConnell, Mitch impeachment Elections, Senate Constitution (US) Collins, Susan M

WASHINGTON — It was only a few weeks ago that the top Senate Republican was hinting that his chamber would make short work of impeachment.

But this week, Senator Mitch McConnell sat his colleagues down over lunch in the Capitol and warned them to prepare for an extended impeachment trial of President Trump.

According to people who were there, he came equipped with a PowerPoint presentation, complete with quotes from the Constitution, as he schooled fellow senators on the intricacies of a process he portrayed as all but inevitable.

Few Republicans are inclined to convict Mr. Trump on charges that he abused his power to enlist Ukraine in an effort to smear his political rivals. Instead, Mr. McConnell sees the proceedings as necessary to protect a half a dozen moderates in states like Maine, Colorado and North Carolina who face re-election next year and must show voters they are giving the House impeachment charges a serious review.

It’s people like Senator Susan Collins of Maine who will be under immense political pressure as they decide the president’s fate.

“To overturn an election, to decide whether or not to convict a president is about as serious as it gets,” Ms. Collins said.

Mr. McConnell is walking a careful line of his own in managing the fast-moving impeachment process. On Friday, the senator wrote a scathing op-ed criticizing the president’s decision to pull back troops from northern Syria, calling it a “grave strategic mistake.” But Mr. McConnell views it as his role to protect a president of his own party from impeachment and in a recent fund-raising video, he vowed to stop it.

The mood among Republicans on Capitol Hill has shifted from indignant to anxious as a parade of administration witnesses has submitted to closed-door questioning by impeachment investigators and corroborated central elements of the whistle-blower complaint that sparked the inquiry.

They grew more worried still on Thursday, after Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, undercut the president’s defense by saying that Mr. Trump had indeed withheld security aid from Ukraine in order to spur an investigation of his political rivals. Mr. Mulvaney later backtracked, but the damage was done.

“I couldn’t believe it — I was very surprised that he said that,” said Representative Francis Rooney, Republican of Florida, who mocked Mr. Mulvaney’s attempts to take back comments that had been broadcast live from the White House briefing room.

“It’s not an Etch A Sketch,” Mr. Rooney said, miming the tipping movement that erases the toy drawing board. “There were a lot of Republicans looking at that headline yesterday when it came up, I certainly was.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski — an Alaskan Republican who is seen as potentially open to removing Mr. Trump from office — told reporters that a president should never engage in the kinds of actions that Mr. Mulvaney appeared to acknowledge.

“You don’t hold up foreign aid that we had previously appropriated for a political initiative,” she said. “Period.”

Still, Republicans said they did not detect a significant shift that would pose a serious threat to the president in the Senate. It would require 20 Republicans to side with Democrats in convicting Mr. Trump, and few observers believe that will happen.

Mr. McConnell, his allies said, regards the impeachment fight in much the same way as he did the struggle last year to confirm Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, in which he was primarily concerned with protecting his Senate majority by insulating vulnerable incumbents. Then, as now, they said, Mr. McConnell is focused on keeping Republicans as united as possible, while allowing those with reservations about Mr. Trump’s conduct and their own political considerations to justify their decision to their constituents.

“I think he will play it straight,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas and a close McConnell ally, who noted his party’s narrow voting margin. “I don’t think he has any alternative. When you are operating with 53 you have thin margins and you can’t jam anybody or you end up with undesirable consequences.”

Mr. McConnell has told colleagues he expects the House to impeach Mr. Trump quickly, possibly by Thanksgiving, an educated hunch based on the pace of the inquiry so far and Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to keep the inquiry narrowly focused on Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. He plans to move swiftly too, he told colleagues, using the approach of Christmas to force the Senate to complete its work before the beginning of 2020.

Yet an impeachment trial is a spectacle that is by its nature unpredictable, and most of the senators who will act as jurors were not around for the last one, of Bill Clinton in 1999. Mr. McConnell reminded senators that Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. would preside over the trial, and would have wide latitude in handling motions that might be made, including any motion to dismiss the charges that Republicans might try to put forward to short circuit the process.

Mr. McConnell’s declaration that the Senate would move forward was in part designed to show he had no choice, an effort to deflect criticism from conservatives outraged that the Senate would even consider impeachment.

On Wednesday, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, pushed for Senate Republicans to write a letter to Ms. Pelosi declaring that they would not remove the president. But some senators raised objections, worrying that some of their colleagues would not want to sign on, a result that would expose disunity among Republicans. Mr. Graham’s colleagues said they believe they staved off the letter, which they viewed as a mistake.

Mr. McConnell has made it clear that he plans to sit down with Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, to see if they can find a mutually acceptable way to move forward as Democrats and Republicans did in 1999 when they unanimously agreed on the framework for the impeachment trial. The Senate is much more polarized now, though Mr. Schumer this week held out hope.

“We have to do this trial in a fair and bipartisan way and I hope that Leader McConnell would obey those strictures,” Mr. Schumer said. In the battle for Senate control, Democrats have their own political risks to consider since impeachment could prompt a backlash against some of their candidates if enough voters conclude that the president was pursued unfairly.

Just 15 senators remain in office from the time Mr. Clinton was put on trial. Mr. McConnell warned them of the weight of the trial, where they can be required to be on the floor all afternoon six days a week without speaking — a major challenge for senators who relish their chances to be heard.

“It will mean day after day sitting in chamber, listening to the two sides, writing questions for them to answer that go through the chief justice,” said Ms. Collins, one of the Republicans who voted to acquit Mr. Clinton 20 years ago. “Members who have not been through this before will find it is a great deal of work.”

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Diplomat Told House Investigators He Raised Alarm About Hunter Biden in 2015

Westlake Legal Group 18dc-biden-facebookJumbo Diplomat Told House Investigators He Raised Alarm About Hunter Biden in 2015 United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry impeachment Conflicts of Interest Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

WASHINGTON — A career State Department official told impeachment investigators this week that he raised concerns with a senior White House official in 2015 about the son of then-Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. holding a position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

But the warning from George P. Kent, then a State Department officer stationed in Kiev, was not acted on, according to two people familiar with Mr. Kent’s testimony. Mr. Kent, now of the State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, said he told the official that Hunter Biden’s position could look like a conflict of interest, given his father’s role, and would complicate American efforts to encourage Ukraine to clean up corruption.

The White House official told Mr. Kent that the elder Mr. Biden did not have the “bandwidth” to address the concerns while his older son, Beau, was undergoing cancer treatment, according to the people, who were not authorized to discuss the private deposition.

President Trump on Friday latched onto the rare bit of good news for him coming out of the House’s impeachment inquiry. Mr. Kent had also given Democrats plenty of fodder to drive their inquiry forward, but the emergence of any information that could tarnish the Bidens was welcome at the White House, even if White House officials have declared the inquiry illegitimate.

“He excoriated the Obama administration and Joe Biden and Joe Biden’s son, saying that he has tremendous problems, tremendous problems, with Joe Biden’s son and the Ukraine,” Mr. Trump said of Mr. Kent, citing news reports. He added, “It’s been a big deal.”

Mr. Kent’s remarks about the Bidens were first reported by The Washington Post. Mr. Kent also voiced concerns about the Trump administration’s handling of the United States’ relationship with Ukraine, testifying that he and other career officials were all but cut out of decisions regarding the country after a May meeting at the White House.

Andrew Wright and Barry Hartman, lawyers for Mr. Kent, declined to discuss the details of his testimony but cautioned against selectively picking out “elements of his testimony” that “might not give the full picture.”

Hunter Biden’s work for the Ukrainian firm Burisma Holdings, and an unsubstantiated allegation that his father took official action as vice president to protect the firm from a Ukrainian prosecutor, lie at the center of the impeachment inquiry. Mr. Trump and his private lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, both pressured Ukraine’s leaders to investigate the Bidens, and House lawmakers are examining whether the White House withheld around $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure Kiev to conduct the investigation of the Bidens or other matters of interest to the president.

Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Mr. Biden’s presidential campaign, said Mr. Biden stood by his record as vice president. Mr. Biden has denied he took any improper actions in connection to his son’s work.

“On Joe Biden’s watch, the U.S. made eradicating corruption a centerpiece of our policies toward Ukraine, including achieving the removal of an inept prosecutor who shielded wrongdoers from accountability,” he said.

It might be useful to Mr. Trump to be able to say his concerns about Hunter Biden’s work were shared by State Department officials during the Obama administration. But pressing that point holds risks.

On Friday, Representative Adam Kinzinger, Republican of Illinois, expressed unease that the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, had, during a televised White House briefing Thursday, indicated a link between the withholding of military assistance and the demand for another investigation related to the Democrats. Before reversing himself, Mr. Mulvaney said that Mr. Trump had withheld the funds in part until Ukraine began an investigation into an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine, rather than Russia, had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Mr. Kinzinger told CNN he was not sure what Mr. Mulvaney was saying the president wanted Ukraine to investigate when he told reporters the aid was withheld pending the investigation. But, he said, if it had anything to do with the Bidens, that would be serious, “because it would be, if it’s true, taxpayer-funded aid and policy for political reasons, which is totally wrong.”

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Kurds Reported to Be Pulling Out of Syria ‘Safe Zone’ as Fighting Eases

ISTANBUL — Kurdish forces began pulling out of a 20-mile buffer zone in northern Syria as fighting eased on Friday, Turkish and American officials said, signaling that a cease-fire announced a day before by Vice President Mike Pence between Turkish and Kurdish forces was going into force.

Early Friday, the Kurdish leadership in northern Syria accused the Turkish military and its proxies of violating the terms of the truce, but President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey denied that any fighting was continuing.

Mr. Erdogan said his military commander had reported everything was going as planned. The onus, he added, remained with the United States to ensure the Kurdish militias withdrew within the agreed five-day period.

“If the United States can keep its promise, in 120 hours the issue of the safe zone will be resolved,” he told Western reporters at a news briefing in Istanbul. “If not the operation will continue where we left off.”

Gunfire and artillery could be heard in the Syrian border town of Ras al-Ain, the scene of the heaviest fighting for the last few days, by journalists just across the border in Turkey Friday morning and afternoon. But the town stood silent by Friday evening.

Mr. Erdogan hailed the withdrawal as a victory over a “terrorist organization,” and said that Turkey would establish 12 observation points in 20-mile deep buffer zone along a 400 kilometer stretch of the border east of the Euphrates River.

American troops would remain in southeastern Syria and would maintain control of the airspace of the entire northeastern zone, said Ibrahim Kalin, national security adviser to Mr. Erdogan.

Mr. Trump posted on Twitter Friday evening that Mr. Erdogan had told him in a phone call that “there was minor sniper and mortar fire that was quickly eliminated.”

“He very much wants the cease-fire, or pause, to work. Likewise, the Kurds want it,’’ Mr. Trump wrote. “Too bad there wasn’t this thinking years ago.”

“There is good will on both sides & a really good chance for success. The U.S. has secured the Oil, & the ISIS Fighters are double secured by Kurds & Turkey.”

He added, “I have just been notified that some European Nations are now willing, for the first time, to take the ISIS Fighters that came from their nations. This is good news, but should have been done after WE captured them. Anyway, big progress being made!!!!”

Responding to the claims that Turkey had violated the truce, Mr. Erdogan told a reporter after leaving Friday prayers at a mosque in Istanbul: “I do not know where you get your information from. Conflict is out of the question.”

In a speech later on Friday, Mr. Erdogan said Turkish forces had stopped fighting and would begin again only if Kurdish troops had not retreated by Tuesday night from Kurdish-run areas in northern Syria that have been occupied by Turkish forces in the past week.

Military positions in northern Syria as of Oct. 18

Turkish Army and Syrian opposition Syrian Army deployed Closing U.S. military bases and outposts Russian bases

Westlake Legal Group map-detailed-900 Kurds Reported to Be Pulling Out of Syria ‘Safe Zone’ as Fighting Eases United States Defense and Military Forces Turkey Trump, Donald J Syria Ras al-Ain (Syria) Pence, Mike Kurds Defense and Military Forces

Fighting continues between

Turkish-backed militias

and Kurdish-led forces.

Turkish proxies

are in the western

countryside.

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Ras al-Ain

Russian troops are

positioned outside

the city.

KURDISH

Control

Government

Control

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Turkey’s

proposed

buffer zone

Other

opposition

KURDISH

Control

Deir al-Zour

Government

Control

Mediterranean

Sea

Westlake Legal Group map-detailed-600 Kurds Reported to Be Pulling Out of Syria ‘Safe Zone’ as Fighting Eases United States Defense and Military Forces Turkey Trump, Donald J Syria Ras al-Ain (Syria) Pence, Mike Kurds Defense and Military Forces

Fighting continues between

Turkish-backed militias

and Kurdish-led forces.

Turkish proxies

are in the western

countryside.

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Ras al-Ain

Russian troops are

positioned outside

the city.

KURDISH

Control

Government

Control

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Turkey’s

proposed

buffer zone

Other

opposition

KURDISH

Control

Deir al-Zour

Government

Control

Mediterranean

Sea

Westlake Legal Group map-detailed-335 Kurds Reported to Be Pulling Out of Syria ‘Safe Zone’ as Fighting Eases United States Defense and Military Forces Turkey Trump, Donald J Syria Ras al-Ain (Syria) Pence, Mike Kurds Defense and Military Forces

Fighting continues between

Turkish-backed militias

and Kurdish-led forces.

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Ras al-Ain

KURDISH

Control

Gov’t

Control

Turkish army AND

syrian opposition

Turkey’s

proposed

buffer

zone

KURDISH

Control

Other

opposition

Deir al-Zour

Government

Control

Sources: Control areas as of Oct. 16 via Conflict Monitor by IHS Markit; Military positions for Russia are from the Institute for the Study of War. | By Allison McCann, Sarah Almukhtar, Anjali Singhvi and Jin Wu

On Thursday, Mr. Trump described the deal during a speech in Dallas as “an incredible outcome,” and wrote on Twitter that it was “great for everyone!”

But the lapse in the cease-fire represents a further failure for Mr. Trump, who had pressed Mr. Erdogan not to invade Syria in the first place, in a private letter sent to the Turkish president on the day the invasion began.

“Don’t be a tough guy,” Mr. Trump wrote, in a letter characterized by informal language rarely seen in diplomatic communications.

Mr. Erdogan responded publicly to the letter for the first time on Friday, saying that his country “cannot forget” the harshly worded letter since it was “not in harmony with political and diplomatic niceties.”

“We do not consider it as a current issue and a priority,” Mr. Erdogan added, however. “We also want it to be known that, when the time comes, the necessary response will be taken.’’

Responding to the delayed cease-fire, a White House spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, told Fox News that such conflicts “take time” to wind down and that the agreement remained a success.

Gunfire continued to be heard in Ras al-Ain midafternoon by members of a civilian convoy attempting to reach the city, according to Robin Fleming, an American researcher traveling with the convoy.

Watching the town from a nearby hilltop shortly before 1 p.m., Ms. Fleming said she could see smoke rising from the town and hear gunshots, but no artillery.

The convoy ultimately turned back before reaching the town because of fears of attack by Turkish-led Arab militias.

Turkish-led forces also prevented a convoy of international aid workers from gaining access to Ras al-Ain to treat people wounded in the fighting, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an independent war monitor based in Britain.

Ras al-Ain has been the site of the fiercest clashes since Turkish troops invaded Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria early last week.

On Friday, Kurdish health officials said they were investigating whether six civilians in the town had been hit by chemical weapons during Turkish airstrikes. Photographs shared by the Kurdish Red Crescent, a medical charity working in the area, showed at least two children with burns on their faces.

Mr. Erdogan denied the claim and said the Turkish Army had no chemical weapons in its inventory. He accused the Kurdish militia, the Y.P.G., of sowing disinformation also about civilian casualties and accusation of war crimes committed by Turkish-backed Syrian forces.

But Amnesty International, a global rights watchdog, accused the Turkish military and Arab militias fighting under its command of carrying out “serious violations and war crimes, including summary killings and unlawful attacks that have killed and injured civilians.”

In a statement, Amnesty’s secretary general, Kumi Naidoo, added: “Turkish military forces and their allies have displayed an utterly callous disregard for civilian lives, launching unlawful deadly attacks in residential areas that have killed and injured civilians.”

At least 218 civilians in northern Syria have died since the invasion began, according to the Kurdish authorities. A further 20 have been killed in Turkey by Kurdish mortar attacks, Mr. Erdogan said.

Turkey wants to force out the Syrian Kurdish militia that has used the chaos of the conflict to establish an autonomous region across roughly a quarter of Syrian territory. The militia is an offshoot of a guerrilla group that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. The Turks view the group as a terrorist organization.

Since 2014, the group had operated under the protection of the United States military, which partnered with the Kurdish fighters to help sweep the Islamic State from the region and, in the process, allowed the Kurdish militia to control most of the land lining the Turkish-Syrian border.

But after Mr. Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of United States troops from the border this month, ending their protection of the Kurdish fighters, Turkish forces invaded with the aim of establishing a Turkish-friendly zone, roughly 20 miles deep, along the border.

By Friday, the Turkish troops had captured around 850 square miles of Syrian territory, Mr. Erdogan said in his speech.

The deal announced on Thursday by Mr. Pence and Mr. Pompeo effectively gave American assent to Turkish territorial ambitions in part of the area, handing Turkey a huge diplomatic victory and completing the sudden reversal of a central plank of American policy in the Middle East.

It was sealed without the involvement of the Syrian or Russian governments, to whom the Kurdish authorities turned for protection after the American evacuation and the onslaught of Turkish-led forces.

On Friday, Mr. Erdogan said he would discuss the future of the rest of northeastern Syria with Vladimir V. Putin of Russia at a meeting in Sochi on Tuesday.

“Our aim is to reach a reconciliation with Russia about those matters that are reasonable and acceptable to everyone,” Mr. Erdogan said.

Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon and Lara Jakes from Jerusalem.

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In ‘Cave-In,’ Trump Cease-Fire Cements Turkey’s Gains in Syria

WASHINGTON — The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump.

The best that can be said for the agreement is that it may stop the killing in the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. But the cost for Kurds, longtime American allies in the fight against the Islamic State, is severe: Even Pentagon officials were mystified about where tens of thousands of displaced Kurds would go, as they moved south from the Turkey-Syria border as required by the deal — if they agree to go at all.

And the cost to American influence, while hard to quantify, could be frightfully high.

Video

Westlake Legal Group Syria-refugee-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600 In ‘Cave-In,’ Trump Cease-Fire Cements Turkey’s Gains in Syria United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Syria State Department Putin, Vladimir V Pompeo, Mike Assad, Bashar al- ANKARA, Turkey

Since Turkish forces attacked Kurdish-controlled territory in northeast Syria, almost two thousand refugees have fled the country. We spoke with some of them in Bardarash refugee camp, across the border in Iraq.CreditCreditYousur Al-Hlou/The New York Times

In the 11 days between Mr. Trump’s fateful phone call with Mr. Erdogan and the trip to Ankara by Mr. Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, the United States has ceded ground in Syria — including American bases — to the Russian-backed Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. And it has shaken the faith of American allies that, in a time of stress, Washington will have their back.

“This just looks like a complete cave-in by the United States to everything the Turks demanded,” said Eric S. Edelman, a former ambassador to Turkey and a senior Defense Department official in the George W. Bush administration. “I don’t see what the Turks gave up.”

In fact, if the sanctions imposed against Turkey by the Trump administration are lifted, as Mr. Pence said they now would be, the Turkish leader would pay a far lower price than Russia did for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. The sanctions imposed on Moscow then are still in place.

But there are other winners in addition to Mr. Erdogan, who has routed the Kurdish groups he views as terrorists who were living in an American protectorate.

Chief among them is President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who gains vast influence in a strategic corner of the Middle East where, until 2015, he had almost none. Now, he is a player, and already is filling the territorial and political vacuum that Mr. Trump left after he agreed to get out of the way of the Turkish invasion of Syria, which a small contingent of American Special Operations forces were there to prevent by their very presence.

Iran was also a winner. It has long used Syria as a route to send missiles to Hezbollah and flex its muscles across the region. That, in many ways, is the most perplexing part of the president’s decision to withdraw, because it runs so counter to his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran’s clerical leaders and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

And Mr. Assad, who was barely clinging to power after the Arab Spring in 2011, and whose military facilities Mr. Trump bombed in the opening months of his presidency in 2017, has a new lease on life. The Americans are gone from the one corner of his country they once occupied.

Mr. Trump has a different view — no surprise, given the bipartisan critique of his failure to stop Mr. Erdogan during their phone conversation, or threaten sanctions before the invasion, rather than after the facts had changed on the ground.

“I’m happy to report tremendous success with respect to Turkey,” Mr. Trump told reporters after his vice president and secretary of state announced the deal. “This is an amazing outcome. This is an outcome, regardless of how the press would like to damp it down, this was something they were trying to get for 10 years.”

Mr. Trump’s joy may reflect a very different worldview than that of his military, his diplomats or the Republican leaders who say he has damaged America’s reputation and influence. While his party, and Democrats, accused him of betraying allies and aiding Russia, Mr. Trump insisted he was simply making good on a campaign promise to bring troops home from “endless wars.”

On Wednesday, as Mr. Pence and Mr. Pompeo were flying to Ankara, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was challenging the president on whether there was any strategic logic to his withdrawal from Syria — especially if it resulted in freeing detained ISIS fighters who might now attack in the region or on the United States.

On Thursday, recounting her heated discussion with the president at the White House the previous day, she said she asked him how his strategy fit with his announcement last Friday that nearly 3,000 more troops were being deployed to Saudi Arabia. The president responded that the Saudis were paying the cost of that deployment — suggesting that Mr. Trump was happy to commit troops to the highest bidder among American allies, rather than make an independent judgment about their strategic importance.

Republicans also challenged the agreement reached in Ankara.

“The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory. It is far from a victory,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Given the initial details of the cease-fire agreement, the administration must also explain what America’s future role will be in the region, what happens now to the Kurds and why Turkey will face no apparent consequences.”

And Mr. Romney noted, “The cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally.”

At the Pentagon on Thursday afternoon, senior officials scrambled to understand how they were supposed to carry out the agreement Mr. Pence and Mr. Erdogan had negotiated.

Several civilian and military officials complained that the broadly worded deal left large policy and logistical gaps to fill, with many questions about how to carry out commitments by the two sides that appeared to contradict the fast-moving situation on the ground.

With the withdrawal of about 1,000 Americans already underway, the officials asked, how would those departing forces conduct counterterrorism operations with the Turkish military, as Mr. Pence insisted they would? Would the Syrian Kurds fully comply with a pullback agreement they had little say in drafting, and in which they were the clear losers?

Their questions did not stop there. How large and how deep is the buffer area inside Syria that was supposed to give Turkey a safe zone between its border and the Kurdish fighters? The original safe zone that the United States and Turkey envisioned was 75 miles long and roughly 20 miles deep. But it was upended by Mr. Trump’s acquiescence to the invasion, and now Turkish forces have pushed beyond that.

And what about Mr. Assad’s forces and their Russian allies — to whom the abandoned Syrian Kurds reached out to after the American abandoned them?

It also remains unknown whether Turkey will be required to withdraw all or some of its forces sent across a sovereign border into Syria. (One official said a reason Turkey agreed to the deal on Thursday is because the Kurds have put up more resistance, and Turkish forces could not advance south any farther as a result.)

Several Pentagon and State Department officials and military officers who have worked on Syria policy or deployed to the country’s northwest expressed shock, outrage and disbelief at the administration’s second major capitulation to Mr. Erdogan in less than two weeks.

These officials said Mr. Erdogan was the big winner, and appeared to have gotten everything he wanted.

Military officials said they were stunned that the agreement essentially allowed Turkey to annex a portion of Syria, displace tens of thousands of Kurdish residents and wipe away years of counterterrorism gains against the Islamic State.

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In ‘Cave-In,’ Trump Cease-Fire Cements Turkey’s Gains in Syria

WASHINGTON — The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump.

The best that can be said for the agreement is that it may stop the killing in the Kurdish enclave in northern Syria. But the cost for Kurds, longtime American allies in the fight against the Islamic State, is severe: Even Pentagon officials were mystified about where tens of thousands of displaced Kurds would go, as they moved south from the Turkey-Syria border as required by the deal — if they agree to go at all.

And the cost to American influence, while hard to quantify, could be frightfully high.

Video

Westlake Legal Group Syria-refugee-videoSixteenByNineJumbo1600 In ‘Cave-In,’ Trump Cease-Fire Cements Turkey’s Gains in Syria United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Syria State Department Putin, Vladimir V Pompeo, Mike Assad, Bashar al- ANKARA, Turkey

Since Turkish forces attacked Kurdish-controlled territory in northeast Syria, almost two thousand refugees have fled the country. We spoke with some of them in Bardarash refugee camp, across the border in Iraq.CreditCreditYousur Al-Hlou/The New York Times

In the 11 days between Mr. Trump’s fateful phone call with Mr. Erdogan and the trip to Ankara by Mr. Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday, the United States has ceded ground in Syria — including American bases — to the Russian-backed Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. And it has shaken the faith of American allies that, in a time of stress, Washington will have their back.

“This just looks like a complete cave-in by the United States to everything the Turks demanded,” said Eric S. Edelman, a former ambassador to Turkey and a senior Defense Department official in the George W. Bush administration. “I don’t see what the Turks gave up.”

In fact, if the sanctions imposed against Turkey by the Trump administration are lifted, as Mr. Pence said they now would be, the Turkish leader would pay a far lower price than Russia did for its annexation of Crimea in 2014. The sanctions imposed on Moscow then are still in place.

But there are other winners in addition to Mr. Erdogan, who has routed the Kurdish groups he views as terrorists who were living in an American protectorate.

Chief among them is President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, who gains vast influence in a strategic corner of the Middle East where, until 2015, he had almost none. Now, he is a player, and already is filling the territorial and political vacuum that Mr. Trump left after he agreed to get out of the way of the Turkish invasion of Syria, which a small contingent of American Special Operations forces were there to prevent by their very presence.

Iran was also a winner. It has long used Syria as a route to send missiles to Hezbollah and flex its muscles across the region. That, in many ways, is the most perplexing part of the president’s decision to withdraw, because it runs so counter to his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran’s clerical leaders and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps.

And Mr. Assad, who was barely clinging to power after the Arab Spring in 2011, and whose military facilities Mr. Trump bombed in the opening months of his presidency in 2017, has a new lease on life. The Americans are gone from the one corner of his country they once occupied.

Mr. Trump has a different view — no surprise, given the bipartisan critique of his failure to stop Mr. Erdogan during their phone conversation, or threaten sanctions before the invasion, rather than after the facts had changed on the ground.

“I’m happy to report tremendous success with respect to Turkey,” Mr. Trump told reporters after his vice president and secretary of state announced the deal. “This is an amazing outcome. This is an outcome, regardless of how the press would like to damp it down, this was something they were trying to get for 10 years.”

Mr. Trump’s joy may reflect a very different worldview than that of his military, his diplomats or the Republican leaders who say he has damaged America’s reputation and influence. While his party, and Democrats, accused him of betraying allies and aiding Russia, Mr. Trump insisted he was simply making good on a campaign promise to bring troops home from “endless wars.”

On Wednesday, as Mr. Pence and Mr. Pompeo were flying to Ankara, Speaker Nancy Pelosi was challenging the president on whether there was any strategic logic to his withdrawal from Syria — especially if it resulted in freeing detained ISIS fighters who might now attack in the region or on the United States.

On Thursday, recounting her heated discussion with the president at the White House the previous day, she said she asked him how his strategy fit with his announcement last Friday that nearly 3,000 more troops were being deployed to Saudi Arabia. The president responded that the Saudis were paying the cost of that deployment — suggesting that Mr. Trump was happy to commit troops to the highest bidder among American allies, rather than make an independent judgment about their strategic importance.

Republicans also challenged the agreement reached in Ankara.

“The announcement today is being portrayed as a victory. It is far from a victory,” Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, said on the Senate floor Thursday. “Given the initial details of the cease-fire agreement, the administration must also explain what America’s future role will be in the region, what happens now to the Kurds and why Turkey will face no apparent consequences.”

And Mr. Romney noted, “The cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally.”

At the Pentagon on Thursday afternoon, senior officials scrambled to understand how they were supposed to carry out the agreement Mr. Pence and Mr. Erdogan had negotiated.

Several civilian and military officials complained that the broadly worded deal left large policy and logistical gaps to fill, with many questions about how to carry out commitments by the two sides that appeared to contradict the fast-moving situation on the ground.

With the withdrawal of about 1,000 Americans already underway, the officials asked, how would those departing forces conduct counterterrorism operations with the Turkish military, as Mr. Pence insisted they would? Would the Syrian Kurds fully comply with a pullback agreement they had little say in drafting, and in which they were the clear losers?

Their questions did not stop there. How large and how deep is the buffer area inside Syria that was supposed to give Turkey a safe zone between its border and the Kurdish fighters? The original safe zone that the United States and Turkey envisioned was 75 miles long and roughly 20 miles deep. But it was upended by Mr. Trump’s acquiescence to the invasion, and now Turkish forces have pushed beyond that.

And what about Mr. Assad’s forces and their Russian allies — to whom the abandoned Syrian Kurds reached out to after the American abandoned them?

It also remains unknown whether Turkey will be required to withdraw all or some of its forces sent across a sovereign border into Syria. (One official said a reason Turkey agreed to the deal on Thursday is because the Kurds have put up more resistance, and Turkish forces could not advance south any farther as a result.)

Several Pentagon and State Department officials and military officers who have worked on Syria policy or deployed to the country’s northwest expressed shock, outrage and disbelief at the administration’s second major capitulation to Mr. Erdogan in less than two weeks.

These officials said Mr. Erdogan was the big winner, and appeared to have gotten everything he wanted.

Military officials said they were stunned that the agreement essentially allowed Turkey to annex a portion of Syria, displace tens of thousands of Kurdish residents and wipe away years of counterterrorism gains against the Islamic State.

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

On Day 1,001, Trump Made It Clear: Being ‘Presidential’ Is Boring

Westlake Legal Group 18dc-memo1-facebookJumbo On Day 1,001, Trump Made It Clear: Being ‘Presidential’ Is Boring Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Trump National Doral Miami (Doral, Fla) Syria impeachment Group of Seven Conflicts of Interest

DALLAS — At one point during one of his most unpresidential of days, President Trump insisted that he knew how to be presidential.

“It’s much easier being presidential, it’s easy,” he told a stadium full of more than 20,000 boisterous supporters in MAGA hats and T-shirts cheering his every word on Thursday night. “All you have to do is act like a stiff.”

He buttoned his suit coat, pursed his lips, squared his shoulders and dropped his arms rigidly at his sides. “Ladies and gentlemen of Texas,” he then droned in a sleep-inducing staccato monotone the way he imagined most of the other 44 presidents had done. “It is a great honor to be with you this evening.”

The crowd loved it, roaring with laughter. Transforming back into the unpresidential president America has come to know, Mr. Trump added, “And everybody would be out of here so fast! You wouldn’t come in in the first place!” Being presidential, he was saying, is so boring. Who wants that?

After 1,000 days in office, Mr. Trump has redefined what it means to be presidential. On the 1,001st day of his tenure, which was Thursday, all pretense of normalcy went out the window. It was a day when he boasted of saving “millions of lives” by temporarily stopping a Middle East war that he effectively allowed to start in the first place, then compared the combatants to children who had to be allowed to slug each other to get it out of their system.

It was a day when he announced without any evident embarrassment that officials of the federal government that answers to him had scoured the country for a site for next year’s Group of 7 summit meeting and determined that the perfect location, the very best site in all the United States, just happened to be a property he owned in Florida.

It was a day when he sent out his top aide, an adviser who has served as “acting” White House chief of staff for nearly 10 months without ever being granted the respect of earning the title outright, to try to quell the whole impeachment furor, only to have him essentially admit the quid pro quo that the president had so adamantly denied.

It was a day that ended with a rally where one of the warm-up acts, the Texas lieutenant governor, declared that liberals “are not our opponents, they are our enemy,” and the president called the speaker of the House “crazy,” a rival candidate “very dumb,” a House committee chairman a “fraud” and the governor of another state a “crackpot.”

After 1,000 days of the Trump Show, the capacity for surprise has long since diminished and comments or actions that would have sparked days of front-page coverage and howls from Capitol Hill now barely register. The shocker that consumed Twitter three hours ago is so quickly overwhelmed by the next one that it seems impossible to digest any single moment to assess its meaning or consequences.

“Unconventional” was the word the president himself used repeatedly on Thursday.

He used it specifically to describe his let-them-go-to-war policy with respect to two American allies, Turkey and the Kurds, followed by a cease-fire days later. All part of the plan, he assured Americans. Just a little “tough love” to get the two sides to resolve their differences.

Never mind that their differences are nowhere near solved, even as bodies are strewn in northern Syria, Kurds are forced out of their homes and Russia, Iran, Bashar al-Assad and even the Islamic State are celebrating.

“We were a little bit unconventional,” Mr. Trump explained, offering his foreign policy doctrine in a setting that was itself a little bit unconventional, a Louis Vuitton workshop near Keene, Texas, where they make Parisian bags while cattle graze outside. The president had stopped by in between a Fort Worth fund-raiser and his Dallas rally to cut the ribbon on the new factory as a favor to Bernard Arnault, the luxury industry giant, bringing French sensibility to the Lone Star State.

“Louis Vuitton — a name I know very well,” Mr. Trump said to laughter, even as he mispronounced the name he knows well. “It cost me a lot of money over the years.”

Fortunately for him, his Trump National Doral near Miami will soon have plenty of new business as the leaders of not just France but also Germany, Britain, Canada, Italy and Japan — and maybe Russia — will descend on the club next spring along with thousands of officials, diplomats, journalists and others who attend each year’s G7 summit meeting.

Mr. Trump left it to his staff to announce the selection, as if it were somehow an independent decision, and they insisted that he actually would not make money because he would provide the property “at cost.” The notion that it might make the United States look like all those countries it used to lecture about self-dealing was of no concern. The president knew it would be controversial, his top aide said, and boldly went ahead anyway regardless of the anticipated blowback, as if it were an act of political courage.

By now, the notions of what is presidential and what is unconventional have taken on new meaning, long since divorced from anything that came before. On the 1,001st day of the Trump presidency, he charged forward, writing new rules for himself and the country.

If to the outside world it looked like his presidency was unraveling and the president himself melting down, as Speaker Nancy Pelosi said this week, to Mr. Trump, it was just another day in the never-ending battle with convention.

The chief narrator of the battle, of course, remains its chief protagonist. At the American Airlines Center on Thursday night, Mr. Trump once again relived election night 2016, probably the high point of his political life, casting it as a moment of miracles for himself and the nation, before the scandals and the special prosecutor and the impeachment inquiry.

He replayed the primary fight with Senator Ted Cruz, who was standing off to the side of the stadium, recalling their debates for the Republican nomination. “You can’t beat Ted Cruz if you don’t interrupt him,” Mr. Trump offered by way of a political lesson.

He replayed the general election fight with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, still one of his favorite punching bags. “Remember the emails?” he called out to the crowd. Yes, they remembered.

And then, as he often does, he recreated election night itself as it played out on television nearly three years ago. “Donald Trump has won the state of Utah,” Donald Trump boomed in his best news anchor voice. Then he went on in his own voice: “And we won Florida! And we won South Carolina! And we won Georgia! And we won North Carolina! And we won Pennsylvania!”

For an hour and twenty-seven minutes, he went on with all the winning — winning against Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton and China and the “fake news” and the “radical left,” offering his greatest hits spliced with enough untrue whoppers to keep fact checkers busy for days. He soaked in the applause, in no hurry to head back to Washington where investigators and enemies awaited.

He has been doing this now for 1,001 days. Whether it will last another thousand days or nearly another thousand beyond that remains unclear. But his presidency, so unpresidential and unconventional, is definitively his. “I’ve been a politician for three years,” he exclaimed. “I can’t believe that.”

On that, at least, he was not alone.

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

15 Times Trump and His Allies Claimed ‘No Quid Pro Quo’

Westlake Legal Group 17dc-quidproquo-facebookJumbo-v2 15 Times Trump and His Allies Claimed ‘No Quid Pro Quo’ United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Presidential Election of 2020 Mulvaney, Mick

WASHINGTON — It was not the message that the White House and its supporters have been trying to hammer home in recent weeks as the impeachment investigation has intensified on Capitol Hill: Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, said Thursday that President Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine in part to pressure Kiev to pursue a politically motivated investigation into the 2016 election.

His comments — even after he issued a statement walking back his remarks — undercut weeks of denials from Mr. Trump, his aides, Republican lawmakers and the conservative news media that the president was seeking a quid pro quo in his dealings with the new Ukrainian president. Some of their statements were focused on a July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and the president of Ukraine in which Mr. Trump repeatedly brought up his desire for investigations into political rivals. Others touched specifically on Mr. Trump’s decision in July to hold up the $391 million package of security aid to Ukraine, a development that government officials there said they only learned about at the end of August.

OCT. 16, 2019

“Now, all of a sudden, quid pro quo doesn’t matter because now they see, in the call, there was no quid pro quo.”
— In remarks at the White House

The New York Times also found several other instances of Mr. Trump proclaiming “no quid pro quo” on Twitter, in remarks to reporters, in news conferences and at political rallies.


oct. 3, 2019

“Contrast that with the president’s — the transcript of the president’s phone call with President Zelensky where there was no quid pro quo. There was no pressure.”
In remarks to reporters


Oct. 3, 2019

“What we do know is there was definitely no quid pro quo. I mean, it came out over and over.”
In remarks to reporters


Oct. 13, 2019

“In the Oval Office, when the president was asked about this in front of the vice premier, the president made very clear, they can do what they want. So, again, people who are trying to imply that the president is asking for things or quid pro quos, I think this is ridiculous.”
In an interview on ABC


Oct. 4, 2019

“And it’s not a difference of opinion. Any rational person looking at it, any reasonable person, can only conclude that there was no quid pro quo. There was no threat of any kind.”
— on Fox News


Sept. 28, 2019

“And as the president said, this was a perfect call. The Ukrainian president said on live TV the other day, up at the United Nations General Assembly, that he felt no pressure. And, in fact, if you read what’s there, you see what’s not there — no quid pro quo.”

In an interview on Fox News


Sept. 26, 2019

“There was no quid pro quo. There was no issue about finally getting the military assistance. And he thanked us. The Ukrainian president thanked us for our support on his anticorruption campaign.”
In an interview on Fox News


Oct. 14, 2019

“And I think a lot of these members in swing districts are hearing that, hey, you ran saying you were going to work with people to get things done and all you’re focused on is impeaching the president over a lie about quid pro quo that never even happened. What are you people doing up there?”

In an interview on Fox Business Network


Oct. 14, 2019

“President Zelensky had no idea that there was a hold on aid during the July 25th call. The readouts of the July 25th call on both the Ukraine side and the U.S. side mention nothing about a hold on aid or a quid pro quo. July 26th, the day after that phone call, Ambassador Volker met with President Zelensky. During that meeting, there was no reference to a hold on aid or a quid pro quo.”
In remarks to reporters


Oct. 13, 2019

“There was no quid pro quo in the — in the phone conversation. So, no doubt that the haters are going to hate.”
In an interview on CNN


Oct. 13, 2019

“I think that was good because a lot what the Democrats had been raising, alleging an illegal quid pro quo was not, in fact, backed up by the transcript.”
In an interview with CBS


Oct. 8, 2019

“If they would release the transcript from Ambassador Volker’s testimony and interview last week, you would see that Ambassador Volker backs up exactly what you just said. There was no quid pro quo.”
— During an interview on Fox News


Oct. 6, 2019

“Every Democratic member of the House needs to be on record: Do you agree with Nancy Pelosi that the transcript is enough to impeach President Trump? Remember when Pelosi said that the transcript would show a quid pro quo? It doesn’t.”
In an interview on Fox Business Network


Oct. 8, 2019

“But more so, what is so disgusting is the fact that the Democrats continue to try to build up this narrative on, well, there was a quid pro quo when the call — when the call happened. They just jumped the gun without facts, without being credible.”
— In an interview on Fox Business Network


Oct. 2, 2019

“Well, right. But this doesn’t have anything to do with the 2020 election and the president was very clear about that and that wasn’t in the call. What else wasn’t in the call was the quid pro quo.”
In an interview on Fox News

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