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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 147)

Trump Said to Favor Leaving a Few Hundred Troops in Eastern Syria

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-MILITARY-facebookJumbo Trump Said to Favor Leaving a Few Hundred Troops in Eastern Syria United States Defense and Military Forces Turkey Trump, Donald J Syria North Atlantic Treaty Organization Kurds Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Defense Department

WASHINGTON — President Trump is leaning in favor of a new Pentagon plan to keep a small contingent of American troops in eastern Syria, perhaps numbering about 200, to combat the Islamic State and block the advance of Syrian government and Russian forces into the region’s coveted oil fields, a senior administration official said on Sunday.

If Mr. Trump approves the proposal to leave a couple of hundred Special Operations forces in eastern Syria, it would mark the second time in 10 months that he has reversed his order to pull out nearly all American troops from the country. Last December, Mr. Trump directed 2,000 American troops to leave Syria immediately, only to relent later and approve a more gradual withdrawal.

The decision would also be the potential second major political reversal in a matter of days under pressure from his own party, after he rescinded on Saturday a decision to host next year’s Group of 7 summit at his own resort.

Mr. Trump has come under withering criticism from former military commanders, Democrats and even some of his staunchest Republican allies for pulling back United States troops from Syria’s border with Turkey, clearing the way for a Turkish offensive that in nearly two weeks has killed scores of Syrian Kurdish fighters and civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands of residents.

A senior administration official said on Sunday that Mr. Trump has since last week been considering a plan to leave a couple of hundred troops in northeast Syria, near the border with Iraq, for counterterrorism efforts. The official said it is a concept Mr. Trump favors.

Three other administration and Defense Department officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential military planning, confirmed over the weekend that the option was being discussed among top American policymakers and commanders.

The senior administration official said it was highly likely that troops would be kept along the Iraqi border area — away from the cease-fire zone that Vice President Mike Pence negotiated with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey last week. The main goal would be to prevent the Islamic State from re-establishing all or parts of its religious state, or caliphate, in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

A side benefit would be helping the Kurds keep control of oil fields in the east, the official said.

Mr. Trump seemed to hint at this outcome in a message on Twitter on Sunday, saying, “We have secured the Oil.”

The senior administration official suggested that the president was balancing competing impulses: achieving the ultimate goal of bringing United State forces home from Syria — part of a signature campaign promise to pull American troops from “endless wars” — and ensuring that efforts to contain and diminish ISIS continue. The order also could be heard as at least a partial answer to those who have criticized the president’s policy.

The officials indicated that Mr. Trump could describe the continued deployment of the small contingent of troops as a thoughtful, reasonable way to help safeguard regional and American security without violating his campaign pledge.

The senior official insisted the president’s approach to the incursion ordered by Mr. Erdogan had been mischaracterized, and pushed back against a widely held public narrative that Mr. Trump “greenlighted” the attack. Critics of Mr. Trump’s Syria policy have said the president, by telling Mr. Erdogan that he would order American troops to pull back from positions along the border where they had fought alongside Syrian Kurds, essentially acquiesced to the Turkish offensive.

Mr. Erdogan called Mr. Trump on Oct. 6 for the express purpose of informing him that Turkish forces planned to cross the border, the official said, and Mr. Trump made it clear to him that it was not a good idea — and did not endorse the attack. Mr. Trump followed up on Oct. 9 with a now-infamous letter to Mr. Erdogan.

The senior administration official said that the American troops were withdrawn from the border area because Turkish forces were coming across into Syria, and that they were sitting in harm’s way, a rationale that Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper and Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also have expressed in recent days.

Spokeswomen for Mr. Esper and General Milley declined on Sunday to comment on any options under discussion.

White House officials argue that leaving a small contingent of troops in eastern Syria is not a policy reversal because the goal of the original withdrawal was to protect lives. Unlike Mr. Trump’s withdrawal order in December, administration officials say, this time was never about bringing troops home because they were always going to remain elsewhere in the region, in particular in Iraq.

But the White House has struggled to articulate a clear position on what the administration is trying to accomplish as Mr. Erdogan has clearly been undeterred and Mr. Trump, who hates appearing weak, has shrugged off the fighting on his Twitter feed and in a campaign rally.

“It is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home. WE WILL FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN. Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to,” Mr. Trump said on Twitter on Oct. 7.

“After defeating 100% of the ISIS Caliphate, I largely moved our troops out of Syria. Let Syria and Assad protect the Kurds and fight Turkey for their own land. I said to my Generals, why should we be fighting for Syria and Assad to protect the land of our enemy?” Mr. Trump said in another Twitter message on Oct. 14.

The discussion over leaving a residual counterterrorism force in eastern Syria was unfolding as the bulk of the nearly 1,000 American forces now in Syria continued to withdraw on Sunday. Mr. Esper told reporters traveling with him to Afghanistan on Saturday that the troops would go to bases in western Iraq.

From there, Mr. Esper said, American troops would “help defend Iraq” and “perform a counter-ISIS mission” — presumably carrying out periodic cross-border Special Operations raids and conducting armed drone strikes against Islamic State cells. ISIS has already sought to exploit the chaos in northern Syria to break out insurgents from Kurdish-run jails, to attack Kurdish fighters and to regain momentum overall.

“They will rally. These are resilient adversaries,” Gen. Tony Thomas, who retired after serving as head of the military’s Special Operations Command, said of the Islamic State on the CBS program “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “We’ve done nothing to knock down the ideology, and I think they’ll see this as certainly a respite, if not an opportunity to have a resurgence.”

The proposal to keep a counterterrorism force in eastern Syria resulted from the Defense Department directing the military’s Central Command in recent days to provide options for continuing the fight against Islamic State in Syria.

One of those options, which is said to be Mr. Trump’s choice, would keep a contingent of about 200 Special Operations forces at a few bases in eastern Syria, some near the Iraqi border, where they have been working alongside Syrian Kurdish partners.

Military officials also are expected to brief Mr. Trump this week on that plan and of the other counterterrorism options — including keeping some troops in Syria and using other commandos based in Iraq. Mr. Trump would need to approve any plan to leave forces in any part of Syria in addition to the about 150 in Al-Tanf, a small garrison in south-central Syria.

The commander of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces, Mazlum Kobani, whose fighters switched sides to join Syrian government forces after Mr. Trump announced the American withdrawal, said on Saturday that despite the Turkish offensive, his troops had resumed counterterrorism operations near Deir al-Zour.

American officials widely interpreted the comments as a signal to Washington that the Syrian Kurds were still willing to fight in partnership with the United States against the Islamic State in eastern Syria, despite their abandonment in other parts of the country.

Some lawmakers suggested that it may be too late to contain the damage done to the counterterrorism mission and, more broadly, American credibility overseas. Representative Will Hurd, a Texas Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, described the cease-fire agreement announced on Thursday as “terms of surrender” to Turkey.

Also appearing on “Face the Nation,” Mr. Hurd, a former C.I.A. officer, referred to Turkey, a NATO ally, as part of a group of American “enemies” and “adversaries” who will benefit from the cease-fire agreement.

“Our enemies and our adversaries like Iran, Russia, Turkey, they’re playing chess,” he said. “Unfortunately, this administration is playing checkers.”

Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York.

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Mark Esperanto? Trump Misnames His Defense Secretary in Tweet

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-esperanto-facebookJumbo Mark Esperanto? Trump Misnames His Defense Secretary in Tweet United States Politics and Government United States Defense and Military Forces twitter Turkey Trump, Donald J Syria Saudi Arabia Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Esper, Mark T Defense and Military Forces

WASHINGTON — President Trump shared an update on Sunday from his defense secretary that outlined “minor skirmishes” between Turkish and Kurdish fighters in northern Syria as American troops make their way out of the area. It might have passed by with little notice in the rushing current of Mr. Trump’s Twitter stream, but for one thing.

“Mark Esperanto, Secretary of Defense, ‘The ceasefire is holding up very nicely. There are some minor skirmishes that have ended quickly,’” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “‘New areas being resettled with the Kurds.’ USA soldiers are not in combat or ceasefire zones. We have secured the Oil. Bringing soldiers home!”

Even for Mr. Trump, who often lards his online missives with typos, caps-lock abuses, occasional gibberish and errant exclamation points, Sunday’s missive contained an outsize number of errors. The first and most glaring: The president’s defense secretary is actually named Mark Esper.

Questions arose. Was it a typo? How could Mr. Trump’s iPhone even make the jump from “Esper” to “Esperanto” if it was an auto-correct situation? It was a mystery that several White House officials could not solve when asked by a reporter on Sunday.

The larger problem, of course, is that Mr. Trump made a series of false or unsupported statements about a chaotic situation that has unfolded since he stood by as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey advanced his forces into the area. In recent days, the vice president traveled to Turkey to negotiate a brief cease-fire — a nominal sacrifice from Mr. Erdogan that the White House has tried to frame as a win.

The quote Mr. Trump attributed to Mr. Esper could have come from a private conversation between them. But it appeared that it might have been a recounting — if not an entirely faithful one — of public comments made by Mr. Esper, who made an unannounced visit to meet with American troops in Afghanistan this weekend and delivered his own assessment of what was happening in Syria.

“I think overall the cease-fire generally seems to be holding,” Mr. Esper said, according to a Reuters correspondent traveling with him. “We see a stabilization of the lines, if you will, on the ground, and we do get reports of intermittent fires, this and that, that doesn’t surprise me necessarily.”

At the end of the tweet, Mr. Trump added two confusing elements of his own. The first was that United States had “secured the oil,” a claim he has repeatedly made in recent days without any explanation. The White House did not clarify what he meant by those remarks, and Mr. Trump has ignored the question when asked about it by reporters. Last year, there were about 2.5 billion barrels of oil in the fields in northern Syria, according to industry estimates.

The president also said that the United States was “bringing soldiers home,” which is also not correct, at least not in the short term: Mr. Esper has confirmed that the troops leaving Syria are heading to Iraq, to continue operations against the Islamic State.

Separately, the Trump administration said this month that it would be committing additional troops to Saudi Arabia, a decision the president has said was made because the Saudis agreed to pay for the operation.

“A very rich country,” Mr. Trump said during a news conference with the Italian president last week. “They should be paying. And so should many other countries be paying if they want this kind of protection.”

Hours after the original tweet was posted to the presidential account, the White House tried again, spelling Mr. Esper’s name correctly.

Most of the other questionable assertions remained.

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Mick Mulvaney Struggles to Explain Comments on Ukraine

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-mulvaney-facebookJumbo Mick Mulvaney Struggles to Explain Comments on Ukraine Wallace, Chris (1947- ) United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Trump National Doral Miami (Doral, Fla) Presidential Election of 2016 Mulvaney, Mick Group of Seven

WASHINGTON — Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, tried again on Sunday to back off assertions he made to reporters last week that the Trump administration had held up an aid package to Ukraine because the president wanted the country to investigate Democrats, acknowledging he did not have a “perfect press conference.”

During an appearance on “Fox News Sunday,” Mr. Mulvaney disagreed with an assertion by the show’s anchor, Chris Wallace, that Mr. Mulvaney’s remarks were proof of a quid pro quo, an exchange the president has publicly denied for weeks. But he struggled to explain how his comments Sunday were not at odds with what he said last week.

“That’s what people are saying that I said, but I didn’t say that,” Mr. Mulvaney said, adding that he had outlined “two reasons” for withholding the aid to Ukraine in a news briefing with reporters on Thursday. In the briefing, however, he outlined three reasons: the corruption in the country, whether other countries were also giving aid to Ukraine and whether Ukrainian officials were cooperating in a Justice Department investigation.

Mr. Wallace played back Mr. Mulvaney’s appearance before reporters in which he said the president’s concern about interference in the 2016 election — and his interest in a widely debunked theory that a Democratic National Committee server is being held in Ukraine — was part of that final reason for withholding aid.

Pressed by Mr. Wallace, Mr. Mulvaney said he was “not acknowledging there’s three reasons.”

“You said three reasons,” Mr. Wallace said.

“I recognize that,” Mr. Mulvaney responded. But he urged Mr. Wallace “to go back to what actually happened in the real world.”

“I recognize that I didn’t speak clearly, maybe, on Thursday,” he said. “Folks misinterpreted what I said. But the facts are absolutely clear and they are there for everyone to see.” He said there could not have been a quid pro quo because “the money flowed without any connection whatsoever to the D.N.C. server.”

Mr. Mulvaney’s comments last week set off alarm at the White House and among its Republican allies in Congress, as a Democratic impeachment inquiry over Ukraine gathers steam.

But Mr. Mulvaney doubled down Sunday on his assertion that the president had a right to demand information about the investigation into the unfounded theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was involved in hacking and releasing Democratic Party emails during the 2016 election.

“It is legitimate for the president to want to know what’s going on with the ongoing investigation into the server,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “Can I see how people took that the wrong way? Absolutely.”

Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, declined on Sunday to weigh in on Mr. Mulvaney’s news conference.

“I will leave to the chief of staff to explain what it is he said and what he intended,” Mr. Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Mr. Mulvaney, who initially held the explosive news conference to announce the site for the Group of 7 summit, also acknowledged that President Trump had made “the right decision to change” the host location from his Trump National Doral resort after bipartisan backlash. Mr. Trump announced Saturday that the summit would no longer be held there, after being “honestly surprised by the level of pushback,” Mr. Mulvaney said.

“At the end of the day, he still considers himself to be in the hospitality business,” Mr. Mulvaney said of the president. “He saw an opportunity to take the biggest leaders around the world and wanted to put on the absolute best show, the best visit, that he possibly could, and he was very comfortable doing it at Doral.”

“My guess is we’ll find some place else that the media won’t like either for another reason,” he added. “Will we end up putting on an excellent G7 someplace else? Yes, we will.”

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Trump Campaign Floods Web With Ads, Raking In Cash as Democrats Struggle

Westlake Legal Group 20digitalcampaign-web-facebookJumbo Trump Campaign Floods Web With Ads, Raking In Cash as Democrats Struggle Warren, Elizabeth Trump, Donald J Social Media Sanders, Bernard Republican Party Presidential Election of 2020 Presidential Election of 2016 Political Advertising Parscale, Brad (1976- ) Online Advertising Midterm Elections (2018) Harris, Kamala D Facebook Inc Democratic Party cambridge analytica Biden, Joseph R Jr

On any given day, the Trump campaign is plastering ads all over Facebook, YouTube and the millions of sites served by Google, hitting the kind of incendiary themes — immigrant invaders, the corrupt media — that play best on platforms where algorithms favor outrage and political campaigns are free to disregard facts.

Even seemingly ominous developments for Mr. Trump become fodder for his campaign. When news broke last month that congressional Democrats were opening an impeachment inquiry, the campaign responded with an advertising blitz aimed at firing up the president’s base.

The campaign slapped together an “Impeachment Poll” (sample question: “Do you agree that President Trump has done nothing wrong?”). It invited supporters to join the Official Impeachment Defense Task Force (“All you need to do is DONATE NOW!”). It produced a slick video laying out the debunked conspiracy theory about former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Ukraine that is now at the center of the impeachment battle (“Learn the truth. Watch Now!”).

The onslaught overwhelmed the limited Democratic response. Mr. Biden’s campaign put up the stiffest resistance: It demanded Facebook take down the ad, only to be rebuffed. It then proceeded with plans to slash its online advertising budget in favor of more television ads.

That campaigns are now being fought largely online is hardly a revelation, yet only one political party seems to have gotten the message. While the Trump campaign has put its digital operation firmly at the center of the president’s re-election effort, Democrats are struggling to internalize the lessons of the 2016 race and adapt to a political landscape shaped by social media.

Mr. Trump’s first campaign took far better advantage of Facebook and other platforms that reward narrowly targeted — and, arguably, nastier — messages. And while the president is now embattled on multiple fronts and disfavored by a majority of Americans in most polls, he has one big advantage: His 2020 campaign, flush with cash, is poised to dominate online again, according to experts on both ends of the political spectrum, independent researchers and tech executives. The difference between the parties’ digital efforts, they said, runs far deeper than the distinction between an incumbent’s general-election operation and challengers’ primary campaigns.

The Trump team has spent the past three years building out its web operation. As a sign of its priorities, the 2016 digital director, Brad Parscale, is now leading the entire campaign. He is at the helm of what experts described as a sophisticated digital marketing effort, one that befits a relentlessly self-promoting candidate who honed his image, and broadcast it into national consciousness, on reality television.

The campaign under Mr. Parscale is focused on pushing its product — Mr. Trump — by churning out targeted ads, aggressively testing the content and collecting data to further refine its messages. It is selling hats, shirts and other gear, a strategy that yields yet more data, along with cash and, of course, walking campaign billboards.

“We see much less of that kind of experimentation with the Democratic candidates,” said Laura Edelson, a researcher at New York University who tracks political advertising on Facebook. “They’re running fewer ads. We don’t see the wide array of targeting.”

The Trump campaign, she said, “is like a supercar racing a little Volkswagen Bug.”

The Democrats would be the Volkswagen. The are largely running what other experts and political operatives compared to brand-loyalty campaigns, trying to sway moderates and offend as few people as possible, despite mounting research that suggests persuasion ads have little to no impact on voters in a general election.

The candidates, to be sure, are collectively spending more on Facebook and Google than on television and are trying to target their ads — Mr. Biden’s tend to be seen by those born before 1975, for instance, while Senator Bernie Sanders’s are aimed at those born later. But without the same level of message testing and data collection, the Democrats’ efforts are not nearly as robust as Mr. Trump’s.

[Read more on how Democrats are using Facebook to reach specific voters.]

Democratic digital operatives say the problem is a party dominated by an aging professional political class that is too timid in the face of a fiercely partisan Republican machine. The Biden campaign’s decision to tack from digital to television, they say, is only the most glaring example of a party hung up on the kind of broad-based advertising that played well in the television age but fares poorly on social media.

The digital director of a prominent Democratic presidential campaign recounted how he was shut down by an older consultant when pressing for shorter, pithier ads that could drive clicks. “We don’t need any of your cinéma vérité clickbait,” the consultant snapped, according to the digital director, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid risking his job.

Other digital consultants and campaign officials told similar stories, and complained that the Democratic establishment was too focused on winning over imagined moderates, instead of doing what the Trump campaign has done: firing up its base.

“It’s true that anodyne messaging doesn’t turn anyone off. But it doesn’t turn them on either,” said Elizabeth Spiers, who runs the Insurrection, a progressive digital strategy and polling firm.

Republicans are “not messaging around unity and civility, because those things don’t mobilize people,” Ms. Spiers said, adding that while everyone may want to live in a less divided country, “nobody takes time off work, gets in their car and drives to the polls to vote specifically for that.”

Far more than any other platform, Facebook is the focus for digital campaign spending, and it is in many ways even friendlier turf for Mr. Trump’s campaign than in 2016.

Since then, many younger, more liberal users have abandoned the platform in favor of Instagram, Snapchat and various private messaging apps, while older users — the type most likely to vote Republican — are still flocking to Facebook in droves. People over 65 now make up Facebook’s fastest-growing population in the United States, doubling their use of the platform since 2011, according to Gallup.

In a speech this year in Romania, Mr. Parscale recalled telling his team before the 2016 election that Facebook would allow the campaign to reach the “lost, forgotten people of America” with messages tailored to their interests.

“Millions of Americans, older people, are on the internet, watching pictures of their kids because they all moved to cities,” Mr. Parscale said. “If we can connect to them, we can change this election.”

Facebook also favors the kind of emotionally charged content that Mr. Trump’s campaign has proved adept at creating. Campaigns buy Facebook ads through an automated auction system, with each ad receiving an “engagement rate ranking” based on its predicted likelihood of being clicked, shared or commented on. The divisive themes of Mr. Trump’s campaign tend to generate more engagement than Democrats’ calmer, more policy-focused appeals. Often, the more incendiary the campaign, the further its dollars go.

Provocative ads also get shared more often, creating an organic boost that vaults them even further ahead of less inflammatory messages.

“There’s an algorithmic bias that inherently benefits hate and negativity and anger,” said Shomik Dutta, a digital strategist and a founder of Higher Ground Labs, an incubator for Democratic start-ups. “If anger has an algorithmic bias, then Donald Trump is the captain of that ship.”

A Facebook spokeswoman disputed the notion that ads got more visibility just because they were negative, and noted that users were able to flag offending ads for possible removal.

The company, since the 2016 election, has invested heavily to prevent Russian-style interference campaigns. It has built up its security and fact-checking teams, staffed a “war room” during key elections and changed its rules to crack down on misinformation and false news.

But it has left a critical loophole: Facebook’s fact-checking rules do not apply to political ads, letting candidates spread false or misleading claims. That has allowed Mr. Trump’s campaign to show ads that traditional TV networks have declined to air.

One recent video from the Trump campaign said that Mr. Biden had offered Ukraine $1 billion in aid if it killed an investigation into a company tied to his son. The video’s claims had already been debunked, and CNN refused to play it. But Facebook rejected the Biden campaign’s demand to take the ad down, arguing that it did not violate its policies.

At last count, the video has been viewed on the social network more than five million times.

In the wake of the 2016 election, some on the left sought an explanation for Mr. Trump’s victory in the idea that his campaign had used shadowy digital techniques inspired by military-style psychological warfare — a “Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine,” as one article described it — created by the defunct political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. The theories around Cambridge Analytica have never been fully demonstrated, however, and there is a far less nefarious explanation: The Trump campaign simply made better use of standard commercial marketing tools, particularly Facebook’s own high-powered targeting products.

An internal Facebook report written after the 2016 election noted that both the Trump and Clinton campaigns spent heavily on Facebook — $44 million for Mr. Trump versus $28 million for Hillary Clinton. “But Trump’s FB campaigns were more complex,” the memo said, and were better at using Facebook to bring in donations and find new voters. For instance, roughly 84 percent of the Trump ads focused on getting voters to take an action, such as donating, the report said. Only about half of Mrs. Clinton’s did.

At the same time, the Trump campaign sought to tailor its ads more precisely to specific voters, the report said, with a typical Trump message targeted at 2.5 million people, compared with eight million for the Clinton campaign. And the Trump team simply made more unique ads — 5.9 million versus 66,000.

“We were making hundreds of thousands” of variations on similar ads, Mr. Parscale told “60 Minutes” last year. “Changing language, words, colors.”

The idea, he said, was to find “what is it that makes it go, ‘Poof! I’m going to stop and look.’”

For the left, the Trump campaign’s mastery of social media in 2016 represented a sharp reversal. From the blogs of the mid-aughts to Netroots Nation, the digital activists who helped propel Barack Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012, the left was seen as the dominant digital force. The Democrats had an array of tech-savvy campaign veterans who were adept at data mining and digital organizing, and had overseen the creation of a handful of well-resourced digital consulting firms.

Starting with the 2016 primaries, the Trump campaign reversed the trend. While the more traditionally minded Republican operatives signed on to work for the party’s more traditional candidates, such as Jeb Bush, the Trump campaign found itself reliant on “the outliers, and a lot of them truly believed in digital,” said Zac Moffatt, chief executive of Targeted Victory, a Republican digital strategy firm. “It was a changing of the guard, strategically.”

The Republicans’ 2020 operation — with more than $150 million in cash on hand, according to the latest filings — appears to have picked up where it left off.

The Trump campaign’s intense testing of ads is one example. It posts dozens of variations of almost every ad to figure which plays best. Do voters respond better to a blue button or a green one? Are they more likely to click if its says “donate” or “contribute”? Will they more readily cough up cash for an impeachment defense fund or an impeachment defense task force?

The president’s re-election effort is also making use of strategies common in the e-commerce world, such as “zero touch” merchandise sales. T-shirts, posters and other paraphernalia are printed on demand and sent directly to buyers, with the campaign not required to make bulk orders or risk unsold inventory. Sales of these items amount to a lucrative source of campaign fund-raising, and the zero-touch technique allows the campaign to move fast — it was able to start selling T-shirts that say “get over it” a day after the president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters to do just than when it came to Ukraine.

Perhaps most important, the Trump campaign is spending to make sure people see its ads, emails, texts, tweets and other content. In the week the impeachment inquiry was announced, for instance, the campaign spent nearly $2.3 million on Facebook and Google ads, according to data compiled by Acronym, a progressive digital strategy organization that tracks campaign spending. That is roughly four to five times what it spent on those platforms in previous weeks, and about half of what most Democratic front-runners have spent on Facebook and Google advertising over the entire course of their campaigns.

The president’s team has also invested heavily in YouTube, buying ads and counterprogramming his opponents. In June, during the first Democratic primary debates, the Trump campaign bought the YouTube “masthead” — a large ad that runs at the top of the site’s home page and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars per day — to ensure that debate viewers would see it.

The Trump campaign “is always re-upping their ad buy. As soon as an ad runs out, another one goes in,” Ms. Edelson said, adding, “No one is waiting for next month’s marketing budget to kick in.”

Democrats are struggling to match more than the sheer volume of content coming out of the Trump campaign. Interviews with Democratic consultants and experts revealed a party deeply hesitant to match the Trump campaign’s intense and often angry partisan approach.

Most of the Democratic Party is “not even fighting last year’s war — the war that they’re fighting is 2012,” said David Goldstein, chief executive of Tovo Labs, a progressive digital consulting firm.

Mr. Goldstein offered an instructive anecdote from the 2018 midterm elections. That spring, Tovo signed on to do online fund-raising for Andrew Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor in Florida. Tovo wanted to build on the work it had done the year before in Alabama, where it claimed to have depressed Republican turnout by running ads that showcased conservatives who opposed the far-right Senate candidate Roy Moore. The ads did not say they were being run by supporters of the eventual Democratic winner, Doug Jones.

Mr. Goldstein hoped to bring the same edge to Mr. Gillum’s campaign and came up with ads that “were really aggressive.”

“We wanted to provoke people,” he said.

One was a particularly buffoonish caricature of Mr. Trump holding the world in his palm. “As Florida goes in 2018, so goes the White House in 2020,” read the tagline.

The ad was aimed at far-left voters deemed most likely to be motivated by the prospect of pushing Mr. Trump from office, and the response rate was high, Mr. Goldstein said. But a few days after it went up, the campaign manager saw it and “freaked out.”

“This is entirely unacceptable,” the campaign manager, Brendan McPhillips, wrote in an email on April 6, 2018.

In Mr. Goldstein’s telling, the campaign manager feared offending voters whom Mr. Gillum hoped to sway. Mr. McPhillips was not mollified when Tovo explained that the ad was targeted only at voters thought to be deeply anti-Trump. He wanted ads that were focused on his candidate, not produced to elicit an emotional response with images the campaign considered crass.

Mr. McPhillips ordered Tovo to immediately stop running the ads. He said Tovo could only use images approved by the campaign. Tovo left soon thereafter.

The approved images — “standard glamour shots of the candidate” — would work for a newspaper ad or television spot, Mr. Goldstein said, but were not “going to drive clicks and provoke people to take action.”

Mr. Gillum narrowly lost the race.

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In Bracing Terms, Trump Invokes War’s Human Toll to Defend His Policies

Westlake Legal Group 14dc-trumpwar-sub-facebookJumbo In Bracing Terms, Trump Invokes War’s Human Toll to Defend His Policies United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Syria Reed, Walter, National Military Medical Center Obama, Barack Iraq Dover Air Force Base (Del) Bush, George W Afghanistan

WASHINGTON — It is the most solemn of rituals for American presidents: comforting the soldiers wounded under his command or the families of those who have died. For generations, presidents have typically discussed those encounters in the most delicate of tones.

“The hardest thing I have to do, by far, much harder than the witch hunt, is signing letters to parents of soldiers that have been killed,” President Trump said at the White House this month.

But in arguing that there must be an end to “endless wars” in Afghanistan and more recently in Syria, Mr. Trump has given graphic accounts of distraught widows and disfigured soldiers in terms rarely, if ever, heard from a president before. In one recent instance, he said he had seen grieving family members “make sounds, scream and cry like you’ve never seen before.”

Mr. Trump has particularly focused on describing the ceremony of transferring the flag-draped coffins of American soldiers killed overseas from the military cargo planes that have brought their remains home to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

In his telling, it is a gut-wrenching ordeal, a scene of anguish from the families of the fallen that bolsters his determination to bring American soldiers home from overseas conflicts. The public shares that desire, according to one recent survey, which found that 46 percent of Americans believe that military intervention makes the country less safe, while just 27 percent believe the opposite.

All recent presidents have struggled with the cost of war, and how to speak publicly about it, and to many of his supporters, Mr. Trump is talking in authentic and admirably frank terms about a reality many Americans and Washington policymakers never confront.

But Mr. Trump’s comments also offend some veterans and military experts. They say that solemn words about fallen heroes ring hollow from a president who received a Vietnam draft deferment and who has managed a dangerously chaotic foreign policy.

Others wince at the bluntness of Mr. Trump’s accounts.

“I think it’s disrespectful,” said Andrew J. Bacevich, a retired Army colonel turned author and historian whose son was killed while serving in Iraq in 2007. “Those are infinitely private and painful moments. And to have anyone presume to comment on that, I think is beyond reprehensible.”

“He’s politicizing casualties,” he said.

Mr. Trump has paid two visits to Dover Air Force Base, according to a White House spokesman, but it is unclear whether he has actually witnessed such scenes himself, or is repeating accounts he has heard from the military officers he has encountered there.

At a recent rally in Minnesota, the president referred to a widow jumping “on top of the flowers,” adding “I’ve seen this.” But the coffins unloaded at Dover, known as transfer cases, are not adorned with flowers.

Visiting Dover is a “a very tough experience,” he said at the rally, describing grieving families awaiting the return of their deceased sons or daughters with remarkable poise.

On his first visit, the president said, he told an unnamed colonel that the relatives he had met appeared to be “doing great.” The colonel warned that would change: “No sir, they’re not going to do great. You’ll see.”

Then, Mr. Trump said, “this big incredible machine flies in, this tremendous cargo plane,” a door opens and lowers a ramp, down which several soldiers carry a coffin.

“And I see parents make sounds, that were just 20 minutes ago absolutely fine, make sounds, scream and cry like you’ve never seen before,” he said.

“Sometimes they’ll run to the coffin. They’ll break through military barriers,” he said on another occasion, and “run to the coffin and jump on top of the coffin. Crying mothers and wives. Crying desperately.”

Dan Caldwell, a senior adviser to Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative group that supports a noninterventionist American foreign policy, called Mr. Trump’s remarks “some of the most powerful and most eloquent remarks of his presidency.”

“I thought it was very important that he take some time to remind the American people of the human toll of these endless wars,” said Mr. Caldwell, a former Marine who served a tour of duty in Iraq. “Policymakers, especially here in Washington, D.C., need to understand that these wars have a real cost,” he added.

Mr. Trump has also spoken increasingly often about his somber encounters with the wounded at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center outside Washington, which the White House spokesman said he had visited eight times.

He recently recalled meeting a soldier whose nose had been reconstructed from “a thousand fragments,” and recounted his awkward conversation.

“I said, ‘So where were you hurt?’” Mr. Trump asked the soldier, whom he did not name. “He said, ‘My face, sir, was almost obliterated.’”

“I said, ‘You have a better face than I do,’” Mr. Trump disclosed to nervous laughter in the room, before praising the skill of the man’s surgeons.

Scott Corsaut, a Marine veteran and interim president of America’s Gold Star Families, a support group for the families of people killed during active duty, said he sympathized with the emotional nature of Mr. Trump’s interactions.

“It’s got to be tough as a president, whether it’s President Trump or President Obama, to greet the families. I just really feel that as a human being that’s got to be a tough job,” he said.

Others see little introspection on Mr. Trump’s part.

“Having a draft dodger come and lecture us about what service to the country means or hard it is to lose troops in combat is hypocrisy at its worst,” said Representative Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a former Marine who served four tours in Iraq. “It’s disgusting. Fake piety is worse than none at all,” added Mr. Moulton, who was briefly a Democratic candidate for president. “He’s saying what he believes is politically popular.”

Peter D. Feaver, a scholar of civil-military relations at Duke University who served on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, said that Mr. Trump may be haunted by his exemption from Vietnam service after a diagnosis of bone spurs that some evidence suggests was unfounded.

“Some presidents struggle with whether they have the moral authority to cause other people to risk their lives,” Mr. Feaver said.

Mr. Trump’s past two predecessors, Mr. Bush and Barack Obama, each regularly visited Walter Reed to meet with service members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Bush was a pilot in the Air National Guard during the Vietnam War, but Mr. Obama, like his successor, did not serve in the military.

But Mr. Bush never visited Dover, despite the thousands of troops killed under his watch, although he met privately with the families of hundreds of lost soldiers in other locations. His White House, determined to maintain support for the Iraq war, resisted pressure to allow cameras to film the return of bodies there.

In late 2009, as he weighed whether to send more troops into Afghanistan, Mr. Obama paid an unannounced midnight visit to Dover to greet a plane returning several Americans who had been killed there. The White House allowed a photographer to capture the scene, prompting conservatives to accuse Mr. Obama of exploiting a sacred ritual.

Mr. Trump has also allowed cameras to photograph him at Dover, but families must also agree to any coverage by the news media.

“The burden that both our troops and our families bear in any wartime situation is going to bear on how I see these conflicts,” Mr. Obama said the next day. “It is something that I think about each and every day.

When Mr. Trump posted a video to his Twitter account defending his first call for a total withdrawal from Syria in December, he suggested that such a disentanglement from a foreign war would comfort those who had died fighting in them.

“I’ll tell you, they’re up there looking down on us,” Mr. Trump said, adding that “there is nobody happier” about his withdrawal plan. “That’s the way they want it,” he continued, pointing his finger toward the sky.

Mr. Bacevich shares Mr. Trump’s skepticism of foreign military action, but he said the president is a flawed and ineffective antiwar messenger, noting that he has overseen Pentagon budget increases and appointed hawkish aides like John R. Bolton, who has since left as national security adviser.

Mr. Trump “doesn’t know how to end endless wars,” he said. “He doesn’t know how to deal with the situations he’s inherited. You can’t just say, ‘Well, we quit.’”

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After Criticism, Trump to Select New Location for G7

Westlake Legal Group 19dc-doral-facebookJumbo After Criticism, Trump to Select New Location for G7 United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump National Doral Miami (Doral, Fla) Miami (Fla) Group of Seven Family Business Conflicts of Interest

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Saturday that he would no longer hold next year’s Group of 7 meeting at his luxury golf club near Miami, a swift reversal after two days of intense criticism over awarding his family company a major diplomatic event.

“I thought I was doing something very good for our country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 leaders,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, before again promoting the resort’s amenities. “But, as usual, the hostile media & Democrat partners went CRAZY!”

Mr. Trump added: “Therefore, based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020.”

The decision to host the Group of 7 at Mr. Trump’s club was first announced by Mick Mulvaney, the president’s acting chief of staff, during a news briefing on Thursday at the White House, but Mr. Trump had hinted that the resort would be a possibility for months. Democrats immediately portrayed the plan as a blatant act of self-dealing corruption, and ethics lawyers said payments from the visiting delegations could violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which forbids the president from accepting gifts and funding from foreign governments.

The White House stressed that Mr. Trump would not stand to profit personally from the event — Mr. Mulvaney said it could be held “at cost,” meaning that Mr. Trump would not make money — but the Doral would still have received a large amount of free publicity simply by hosting the summit.

An event with the size and scope of the Group of 7, which the White House had planned for next June, would have brought a cash windfall to the Doral and the surrounding area in South Florida, which has high vacancy rates at that time of year. White House officials, at Mr. Trump’s suggestion, decided the Doral was the “best physical location” in the United States for the meeting, Mr. Mulvaney said.

The United States has held the Group of 7 in Houston, Puerto Rico, Denver and Sea Island, Ga., as well as Camp David since the gatherings began in France in 1975. On Saturday, Mr. Trump said that other locations, including Camp David, would be considered, two days after Mr. Mulvaney said all of the attendees to the 2012 summit, hosted by President Barack Obama, believed it was a “miserable” venue.

But for the right one, the economic boost can be significant: A study by the University of Toronto in 2010 estimated that the summit, held that year as the Group of 8 in Huntsville, Ontario, would bring the area $300 million in benefits.

The Doral has struggled financially since the Trump family bought the resort out of bankruptcy in 2012, reportedly paying $150 million for the property. More than $100 million in loans to help finance the project came from Deutsche Bank.

Democrats in the House and Senate quickly introduced legislation intended to block the use of the Doral, a bill they called “Trump’s Heist Undermines the G7,” or the Thug Act. The measure would have blocked the use of federal funds for the Group of 7 if the event were held at the Doral.

“Mr. Trump is unashamed of his corruption,” said Representative Lois Frankel, Democrat of Florida, said in a statement Friday. “He is abusing the office of the presidency and violating law by directing millions of dollars of American and foreign money to his family enterprises by holding an important meeting of world leaders at his Doral resort.”

Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, who has helped lead the effort by Democrats in Congress to challenge federal and foreign spending at Trump resorts, said the president’s reversal was a sign that he himself saw that his standing in Washington was weakening.

“He backed down because of cracks in support from his own party, plain and simple,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “The threat that his shattering Republican support on this issue and Syria potentially impacting the solid wall on impeachment — that all is threatening him more deeply than he ever expected.”

House and Senate Democrats, Mr. Blumenthal added, will continue to press ahead with a lawsuit pending in federal court that claims spending at Mr. Trump’s resorts by foreign government officials violates the Constitution.

“His backing down doesn’t excuse his continued corrupt acceptance of foreign payments and benefits in violation of the Constitution,” he said.

Lawyers who have served in both Republican and Democratic administrations objected to the move, including several who emphasized that even though Mr. Trump, as president, is exempt from a federal conflict of interest statute, his role in the matter was improper.

“It stinks,” said Charles Fried, a Harvard law professor who served as solicitor general under President Ronald Reagan. “It is so completely blatant.”

Some Republicans in Congress also questioned Mr. Trump’s move.

“In the law, there’s a canon that says, avoid the appearance of impropriety,” Representative Francis Rooney, Republican of Florida, told reporters on Friday, adding, “I think that would be better if he would not use his hotel for this kind of stuff.”

Former White House officials expressed shock that Mr. Trump would consider hosting an event that would enrich his family, and suggested that the choice would also pose immediate ethical concerns for the world leaders invited to the summit.

“The appearance of impropriety and self-enrichment will likely be troubling to at least some G7 leaders,” said Daniel M. Price, who helped organize the summits for President George W. Bush. “If I were still the U.S. sherpa and the president was invited to attend a summit at a business resort owned by the foreign leader host, my first question would be to White House counsel about whether ethics rules would permit the president to attend.”

The president’s reversal adds another twist to a process that appeared to flout longstanding State Department guidelines for vetting diplomatic event venues — Mr. Mulvaney said the idea for the Doral was thought up in the White House dining room. Still, Mr. Mulvaney said aides created a short list of about a dozen sites, and narrowed it down to three possibilities in Hawaii and Utah.

Local officials in those states said they were never notified that the White House had been scouting for venues for a major event. A spokeswoman for David Ige, the Democratic governor of Hawaii, said officials determined that the White House had been looking for locations only after the fact.

“No specific facility was considered,” said Cindy McMillan, Mr. Ige’s communications director. “The White House was confirming capabilities and looking at hotels that fit the security and meeting space requirements.”

And Juan Carlos Bermudez, the mayor of Doral, Fla., said Saturday night that no one from the White House called to tell him that the president had changed his mind.

“I would have liked to have been notified. But they didn’t,” he said, adding that he learned of the reversal from a news report.

Mr. Bermudez, who had also not been apprised of Mr. Trump’s original decision to host the Group of 7 at the Doral, expressed disappointment that the city would no longer be able to showcase itself to the world.

“He has to do what he has to do. We respect that. We would love to have hosted it in Doral,” he said. “It is the administration’s decision. Not ours. It is beyond our purview.”

The city was just starting to formally plan for the event, he added, with meetings with federal government officials set for next week.

“Somebody else will have to deal with that,” he said.

Even without the Group of 7 at Trump Doral in Florida, the president has made visits to one of his resorts, golf clubs or hotels a total of 308 days since he was sworn in — about a third of his tenure as president.

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After Criticism, Trump to Select New Location for G7

Westlake Legal Group 19dc-doral-facebookJumbo After Criticism, Trump to Select New Location for G7 United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Group of Seven Family Business Conflicts of Interest

WASHINGTON — President Trump said on Saturday that he would no longer be holding next year’s Group of 7 summit at his luxury golf club near Miami, citing what he said was “irrational” criticism that the choice would enrich his family business.

“I thought I was doing something very good for our country by using Trump National Doral, in Miami, for hosting the G-7 leaders,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter on Saturday, before again promoting the resort’s amenities. “But, as usual, the hostile media & Democrat partners went CRAZY!”

Mr. Trump added: “Therefore, based on both Media & Democrat Crazed and Irrational Hostility, we will no longer consider Trump National Doral, Miami, as the Host Site for the G-7 in 2020.”

Mr. Trump also said that White House officials would begin searching for another site, adding that Camp David, where the United States last hosted the meeting, would be a possibility.

Mr. Trump came under heavy criticism for essentially awarding himself a contract for a major diplomatic event, and drew the ire of ethics lawyers and Democrats who said the choice could violate the emoluments clause of the Constitution, which forbids accepting gifts and funding from foreign governments.

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Francis Rooney, G.O.P. Lawmaker Who Won’t Rule Out Impeachment, Is to Retire

Westlake Legal Group merlin_162926466_493f0f06-ca09-4d48-b1bf-120f0f147826-facebookJumbo Francis Rooney, G.O.P. Lawmaker Who Won’t Rule Out Impeachment, Is to Retire United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Rooney, Francis (1953- ) Republican Party impeachment House of Representatives Florida

WASHINGTON — Representative Francis Rooney, Republican of Florida, who has refused to rule out voting to impeach President Trump, said on Saturday that he would not be seeking re-election.

Mr. Rooney, who first won his district in southwest Florida in 2016, said on Fox News that he believed he had accomplished what he wanted to do in Congress and had grown frustrated with aspects of legislative service.

Asked if he was interested in a third term, Mr. Rooney said, “I don’t really think I do, and I don’t really think I want one.”

“I’ve done what I came to do,” he added, noting that he also wanted to set a model in the House for adhering to term limits.

A day earlier, Mr. Rooney became the first House Republican to indicate that he was willing to consider supporting articles of impeachment over the president’s attempts to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, but he said on Saturday that his decision to retire was unrelated. (He emphasized to reporters that the allegations did not rise to the level of the Watergate scandal.)

“I’m going to do at all stages what I think is right to do,” Mr. Rooney told reporters on Friday when asked if he was more outspoken because he was considering retirement. “You’ve got to do the right thing at every stage. Whether I run again is a totally different can of worms, that has to do with family things, business, wanting to do some different things.”

“This is kind of a frustrating job for me,” he added. “I come from a world of actions, decisions, putting your money down and seeing what happens. This is a world of talk.”

As a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr. Rooney has had access to the closed-door interviews conducted during the open impeachment inquiry, which has brought a parade of career diplomats and senior officials to the Capitol to give hourslong testimony. A former ambassador to the Holy See, he defended the career diplomats who have testified, telling reporters on Friday that “it’s painful to me to see this kind of amateur diplomacy, riding roughshod over our State Department apparatus.”

He also offered some of the bluntest criticism of a top White House official’s efforts to walk back earlier statements saying that Mr. Trump had sought a quid pro quo in withholding American aid from Ukraine.

“I couldn’t believe it — I was very surprised that he said that,” he said, referring to the president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

“It’s not an Etch a Sketch,” he added, miming the gesture that erases the toy board.

He acknowledged that some of his Republican colleagues had concerns about incurring Mr. Trump’s wrath, as the president continues to lash out at outspoken conservative critics like Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah.

But Mr. Rooney said he had no such reservations, noting, “I didn’t take this job to keep it.”

“What’s he going to do to me?” Mr. Rooney said of the president. “I mean, he could say bad things, but it just is what it is. Let’s just let the facts speak.”

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

Mr. Rooney, a businessman and one of the wealthiest members in Congress, has long been a part of the Republican establishment.

One of the subsidiaries of Rooney Holdings, the company Mr. Rooney and his family started in 1984, has been responsible for the construction of the presidential libraries for Presidents George and George W. Bush in Texas, football stadiums for the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, the Capitol Visitor Center in Washington, and the Walter Reed Army Institute for Research outside the capital.

But he has also cultivated a reputation as one of the few elected Republicans who acknowledges the science of climate change and has pressed for a tax on carbon dioxide pollution to address the problem.

In September, the House passed a bill he wrote that would ban offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico — something he said on Saturday he had not been able to achieve when Republicans controlled the House.

Mr. Trump won Mr. Rooney’s affluent district, which includes Fort Myers, Naples and Marco Island, by more than 20 points in 2016.

Asked in an interview on Friday with The New York Times about reaction from constituents over his criticism of the administration, Mr. Rooney said, “They don’t understand how anyone could say anything remotely at variance with President Trump.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, “but I’m just going to call ‘em like I see ‘em.”

Lisa Friedman contributed reporting.

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What Happened in the Impeachment Inquiry This Week?

Well, that escalated quickly. Congress is back. There were meltdowns. There was testimony. Representative Elijah Cummings, a powerful Baltimore Democrat who was a key figure in the impeachment investigation of President Trump, died at 68. Let’s dive right in.

[To keep up with daily impeachment developments, sign up for our briefing here.]


Westlake Legal Group 17dc-mulvaney-sub-videoSixteenByNine3000-v2 What Happened in the Impeachment Inquiry This Week? United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) Mattis, James N impeachment Giuliani, Rudolph W Foreign Aid

The acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, told reporters that military aid was held back in part to prod Ukraine to investigate Democrats, undercutting President Trump’s denial of a quid pro quo.CreditCreditLeigh Vogel for The New York Times

Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, threw the Trump administration’s defense against impeachment into disarray on Thursday when he said that the White House withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to further President Trump’s political interests. Mr. Mulvaney told journalists in a televised briefing that the aid was withheld in part until Ukraine investigated an unsubstantiated theory that Ukraine, not Russia, was responsible for hacking Democratic Party emails in 2016 — a theory that would show that Mr. Trump was elected without Russian help. The declaration by Mr. Mulvaney, which he took back later in the day, undercut Mr. Trump’s repeated denials of a quid pro quo that linked American military aid for Ukraine to an investigation that could help him politically. [Also read: What is a quid pro quo?]

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_154332234_e81312c7-8294-45cb-a128-c01569578970-articleLarge What Happened in the Impeachment Inquiry This Week? United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) Mattis, James N impeachment Giuliani, Rudolph W Foreign Aid

CreditJustin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

A son of sharecroppers, Mr. Cummings fought tirelessly for his hometown, Baltimore, and became a key figure in the impeachment investigation. At the time of his death, he was chairman of the House Oversight Committee. On the panel, which is charged with maintaining integrity in government, Mr. Cummings may have left his most lasting legacy. The position gave him sweeping power to investigate Mr. Trump and his administration, and he used it. Mr. Cummings’s death left a gaping void on the committee.


It was supposed to be a briefing for lawmakers on the administration’s Syria policy. But a roughly 20-minute meeting on Wednesday, the first with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and President Trump since the impeachment inquiry began, devolved into name-calling and finger-pointing. Ms. Pelosi said Mr. Trump called her a “third-grade” politician, but the White House and Senator Chuck Schumer said the insult was actually “third-rate.” Ms. Pelosi told Mr. Trump that Russia had always wanted a foothold in the Middle East and that it now had one because of his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. “All roads with you lead to Putin,” she said, referring to Russia’s leader, Vladimir V. Putin. At another point, Mr. Trump said, “I hate ISIS more than you do.” Somewhere in there, Mr. Trump also insulted Jim Mattis, his former defense secretary, calling him, “the world’s most overrated general.” (Later in the week, Mr. Mattis said: “I have earned my spurs on the battlefield,” adding, “Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor.”)

After vowing not to cooperate with a “kangaroo court,” the president has largely failed to prevent current and former administration members from spending hours with Democrats seeking to impeach him. A parade of career diplomats and senior officials has offered a cascade of revelations. Among those testifying this week were Michael McKinley, above center, who resigned as a senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He testified that he quit because career diplomats had been sidelined on Ukraine. “I was disturbed by the implication that foreign governments were being approached to procure negative information on political opponents,” he said in his opening statement.

Also, George P. Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, told impeachment investigators that he raised concerns with a senior Obama White House official in 2015 about Hunter Biden holding a position on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. But the warning was ignored, according to two people familiar with Mr. Kent’s testimony. The White House official told Mr. Kent that Joseph R. Biden Jr. did not have the “bandwidth” to address the concerns while his son Beau was undergoing cancer treatment, according to the people, who were not authorized to discuss the private deposition. Mr. Kent’s remarks about the Bidens were first reported by The Washington Post.

Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal lawyer, continued to play a central role in the impeachment inquiry. A White House aide quoted John R. Bolton, the former national security adviser, as calling Mr. Giuliani “a hand grenade” in reference to his activities relating to Ukraine. Gordon D. Sondland, the American ambassador to the European Union, told House impeachment investigators that Mr. Trump delegated American foreign policy on Ukraine to Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Sondland, a hotelier from Portland, Ore., and Trump donor, testified under subpoena that he did not understand until later that Mr. Giuliani’s goal may have been an effort “to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the president’s 2020 re-election campaign.” If you were wondering how Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, got to this point, carve out some time to watch this episode of “The Weekly.” You can find it here, if you have Hulu.


Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who has drawn scrutiny for his role in the controversy surrounding President Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine officials to investigate the son of a political rival, on Thursday told the president he would resign from the cabinet.

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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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