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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 15)

Contradicting Trump, Ukraine Knew of Aid Freeze Before It Became Public

Westlake Legal Group 21dc-aid-promo-facebookJumbo-v2 Contradicting Trump, Ukraine Knew of Aid Freeze Before It Became Public Zelensky, Volodymyr Volker, Kurt D United States Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry State Department Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) Russian Interference in 2016 US Elections and Ties to Trump Associates Presidential Election of 2020 Presidential Election of 2016 Office of Management and Budget (US) Mulvaney, Mick Giuliani, Rudolph W Defense Department

KIEV, Ukraine — To Democrats who say that President Trump’s decision to freeze a $391 million military aid package to Ukraine was intended to bully Ukraine’s leader into carrying out investigations for Mr. Trump’s political benefit, the president and his allies have had a simple response: There could not have been any quid pro quo because the Ukrainians did not know the assistance had been blocked.

Following testimony by William B. Taylor Jr., the top United States diplomat in Ukraine, to House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that the freezing of the aid was directly linked to Mr. Trump’s demand for the investigations, the president took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to approvingly quote a Republican member of Congress saying neither Mr. Taylor nor any other witness had “provided testimony that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld.”

But in fact, word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.

The problem was not a bureaucratic glitch, the Ukrainians were told then. To address it, they were advised, they should reach out to Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the interviews and records.

The timing of the communications about the issue, which have not previously been reported, shows that Ukraine was aware the White House was holding up the funds weeks earlier than United States and Ukrainian officials had acknowledged. And it means that the Ukrainian government was aware of the freeze during most of the period in August when Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, and two American diplomats were pressing President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to make a public commitment to the investigations being sought by Mr. Trump.

The communications did not explicitly link the assistance freeze to the push by Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani for the investigations. But in the communications, officials from the United States and Ukraine discuss the need to bring in the same senior aide to Mr. Zelensky who had been dealing with Mr. Giuliani about Mr. Trump’s demands for the investigations, signaling a possible link between the matters.

Word of the aid freeze got to the Ukrainians at a moment when Mr. Zelensky, who had taken office a little more than two months earlier after a campaign in which he promised to root out corruption and stand up to Russia, was off balance and uncertain how to stabilize his country’s relationship with the United States.

Days earlier, he had listened to Mr. Trump implore him on a half-hour call to pursue investigations touching on former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee. Mr. Zelensky’s efforts to secure a visit to the White House — a symbolic affirmation of support he considered vital at a time when Russia continued to menace Ukraine’s eastern border — seemed to be stalled. American policy toward Ukraine was being guided not by career professionals but by Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Taylor told the impeachment investigators that it was only on the sidelines of a Sept. 1 meeting in Warsaw between Mr. Zelensky and Vice President Mike Pence that the Ukrainians were directly told the aid would be dependent on Mr. Zelensky giving Mr. Trump something he wanted: an investigation into Burisma, the company that had employed Hunter Biden, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s son.

American and Ukrainian officials have asserted that Ukraine learned that the aid had been held up only around the time it became public through a news story at the end of August.

The aid freeze is getting additional scrutiny from the impeachment investigators on Wednesday as they question Laura K. Cooper, a deputy assistant defense secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. This month, Democrats subpoenaed both the Defense Department and the White House Office of Management and Budget for records related to the assistance freeze.

As Mr. Taylor’s testimony suggests, the Ukrainians did not confront the Trump administration about the freeze until they were told in September that it was linked to the demand for the investigations. The Ukrainians appear to have initially been hopeful that the problem could be resolved quietly and were reluctant to risk a public clash at a delicate time in relations between the two nations.

The disclosure that the Ukrainians knew of the freeze by early August corroborates, and provides additional details about, a claim made by a C.I.A. officer in his whistle-blower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry by House Democrats.

“As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukrainian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy, but I do not know how or when they learned of it,” the anonymous whistle-blower wrote. The complainant said that he learned that the instruction to freeze the assistance “had come directly from the president,” and said it “might have a connection with the overall effort to pressure Ukrainian leadership.”

Publicly, Mr. Zelensky has insisted he felt no pressure to pursue the investigations sought by Mr. Trump.

“There was no blackmail,” Mr. Zelensky said at a news conference earlier this month. He cited as evidence that he “had no idea the military aid was held up” at the time of his July 25 call with Mr. Trump, when Mr. Trump pressed him for investigations into the Bidens and a debunked conspiracy theory about Ukrainian involvement in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee in 2016.

Mr. Zelensky has said he knew about the hold up of the military aid before his meeting in Poland on Sept. 1 with Mr. Pence, but has been vague about exactly when he learned about it. “When I did find out, I raised it with Pence at a meeting in Warsaw,” he said this month.

In conversations over several days in early August, a Pentagon official discussed the assistance freeze directly with a Ukrainian government official, according to records and interviews. The Pentagon official suggested that Mr. Mulvaney had been pushing for the assistance to be withheld, and urged the Ukrainians to reach out to him.

The Pentagon official described Mr. Mulvaney’s motivations only in broad terms but made clear that the same Ukrainian official, Andriy Yermak, who had been negotiating with Mr. Giuliani over the investigations and a White House visit being sought by Mr. Zelensky should also reach out to Mr. Mulvaney over the hold on military aid.

A senior administration official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the issue said on Monday that Mr. Mulvaney “had absolutely no communication with the Ukranians about this issue.”

Ukrainian officials had grown suspicious that the assistance was in jeopardy because formal talks with the Pentagon on its release had concluded by June without any apparent problem.

In talks during the spring with American officials, the Ukrainians had resolved conditions for the release of the assistance, and believed everything was on schedule, according to Ivanna Klympush-Tsintsadze, Ukraine’s former vice prime minister for Euro-Atlantic Integration.

But by early August, the Ukrainians were struggling to get clear answers from their American contacts about the status of the assistance, according to American officials familiar with the Ukrainians’ efforts.

In the days and weeks after top Ukrainian officials were alerted to the aid freeze, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, were working with Mr. Giuliani to draft a statement for Mr. Zelensky to deliver that would commit him to pursuing the investigations, according to text messages between the men turned over to the House impeachment investigators.

The text messages between Mr. Volker, Mr. Sondland and the top Zelensky aide did not mention the hold up of the aid. It was only in September, after the Warsaw meeting, that Mr. Taylor wrote in a text message to Mr. Sondland, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

After being informed on Sept. 1 in Warsaw that the aid would be released only if Mr. Zelensky agreed to the investigations, Ukrainian officials, including their national security adviser and defense minister, were troubled by their inability to get answers to questions about the freeze from United States officials, Mr. Taylor testified.

Through the summer, Mr. Zelensky had been noncommittal about the demands from Mr. Volker, Mr. Sondland and Mr. Giuliani for a public commitment to the investigations. On Sept. 5, Mr. Taylor testified, Mr. Zelensky met in Kiev with Senators Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, and Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut.

Mr. Zelensky’s first question, Mr. Taylor said, was about the security aid. The senators responded, Mr. Taylor said, that Mr. Zelensky “should not jeopardize bipartisan support by getting drawn into U.S. domestic politics.”

But Mr. Sondland was still pressing for a commitment from Mr. Zelensky, and was pressing him to do a CNN interview in which he would talk about pursuing the investigations sought by Mr. Trump.

Mr. Zelensky never did the interview and never made the public commitment sought by the White House, although a Ukrainian prosecutor later said he would “audit” a case involving the owner of the company that paid Hunter Biden as a board member.

Mr. Giuliani has said he had nothing to do with the assistance freeze and did not talk to Mr. Trump or “anybody in the government” about it. “I didn’t know about it until I read about it in the newspaper,” he said in an interview last week.

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

An Envoy’s Damning Account of Trump’s Ukraine Pressure and Its Consequences

WASHINGTON — He stood on one side of a war-damaged bridge in Ukraine staring across at Russian-backed forces and saw the real-world consequences of President Trump’s efforts to advance a personal agenda. “More Ukrainians,” he said, “would undoubtedly die.”

Recalling that moment during explosive testimony on Tuesday, William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, laid out in visceral terms the stakes of what he saw as an illegitimate scheme to pressure the Kiev government for political help by suspending American security aid.

In by far the most damning account yet to become public in the House impeachment inquiry Mr. Taylor described a president holding up $391 million in aid for the clear purpose of forcing Ukraine to help incriminate Mr. Trump’s domestic rivals. Mr. Trump’s actions, he testified, undercut American allies desperately fighting to stave off Russian aggression.

Without the money that Mr. Trump held up, Mr. Taylor said, Ukraine would find it harder to defend itself in the face of Moscow’s attempt to redraw the boundaries of Europe through force of arms.

“If Ukraine succeeds in breaking free of Russian influence, it is possible for Europe to be whole, free, democratic and at peace,” Mr. Taylor said in his opening statement to House investigators, which was provided to reporters after he delivered it behind closed doors. “In contrast, if Russia dominates Ukraine, Russia will again become an empire, oppressing its people and threatening its neighbors and the rest of the world.”

Westlake Legal Group william-taylor-ukraine-testimony-promo-1571775262338-articleLarge An Envoy’s Damning Account of Trump’s Ukraine Pressure and Its Consequences United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Taylor, William B Jr Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) Russia impeachment Defense and Military Forces

Read the Ukraine Envoy’s Statement to Impeachment Inquiry

William B. Taylor Jr., the United States’ top diplomat in Ukraine, delivered testimony to impeachment investigators on Tuesday that described an effort by President Trump to withhold aid for Ukraine until the country’s leader agreed to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals.

Mr. Taylor’s vivid depiction illustrated the differences between the impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump and the ones that consumed Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton. While the Watergate and Monica Lewinsky cover-ups involved the integrity of America’s democracy and system of justice, the Ukraine scandal also extends to matters of life and death, as well as geopolitics on a grand scale.

Mr. Taylor’s testimony could make it harder for Republicans to brush off Mr. Trump’s actions as unimportant or distorted by partisan foes. Defending Ukraine against Russian encroachment, much like defending the United States’ Kurdish allies against Turkey, has been a high priority for many Republicans, who complained that President Barack Obama did not stand up to Moscow aggressively enough.

Mr. Taylor brought to the House hearing a 50-year résumé of public service, starting as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point and an infantry officer with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He served every administration, Republican and Democrat, since President Ronald Reagan, culminating with a posting as ambassador to Ukraine under President George W. Bush. And he was recruited last spring by Mike Pompeo, Mr. Trump’s secretary of state to return to Kiev to replace Marie L. Yovanovitch, the ambassador tarred by Mr. Trump’s camp as an adversary.

The chain of events that Mr. Taylor laid out in his testimony suggested a clear quid pro quo between $391 million in suspended assistance and Mr. Trump’s demands that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as well as a debunked conspiracy theory involving Ukrainian help for Democrats in the 2016 election.

Yet in the publicly released portion of his testimony, Mr. Taylor neither described any direct conversation with Mr. Trump himself nor made any reference to documents or recordings that would explicitly implicate the president. Instead, he provided a road map for investigators by quoting others around Mr. Trump describing his actions and statements.

“President Trump has done nothing wrong — this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution,” Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “There was no quid pro quo. Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats’ politically motivated, closed-door, secretive hearings.”

Mr. Taylor’s testimony once again focused attention on Mr. Trump’s unusual relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia. Unlike most leaders in both parties, Mr. Trump has rarely expressed much criticism of Mr. Putin or his aggression against his neighbors, at one point even suggesting that he could accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine through force in 2014.

Mr. Trump went further than Mr. Obama by providing lethal military assistance to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, but privately echoed Mr. Putin’s line about the Ukrainians being untrustworthy and corrupt. By holding up the $391 million in aid allocated by Congress, Mr. Trump essentially reversed his own policy and angered lawmakers of both parties, who pressured him into releasing the money last month.

In his 14-page opening statement, bristling with indignation yet chock-full of dates, facts and quotes, Mr. Taylor described “two channels of U.S. policymaking and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular,” run largely by the president’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, as well as others like Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union.

Mr. Taylor made clear that what he found particularly egregious about the president’s actions was what he regarded as the betrayal of a friend to the not-so-tender mercies of a ruthless invader for corrupt reasons.

“Ukraine is special to me,” he said, and what has happened in the five months since he was asked to return to Kiev was “crazy,” “improper” and “folly” with far-reaching implications.

“We must support Ukraine in its fight against its bullying neighbor,” he told House investigators. “Russian aggression cannot stand.”

He recalled being stunned to learn during a secure video conference call on July 18 that the aid to Ukraine had been put on hold with no explanation other than that “the directive had come from the president to the chief of staff to” the Office of Management and Budget.

“I and others sat in astonishment,” he testified. “The Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons, but also the assurance of U.S. support.”

No one told the Ukrainians at first, and Mr. Taylor recalled meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev on July 26, the day after Mr. Trump pressured the newly elected Ukrainian leader on the telephone to investigate Mr. Biden and the 2016 election conspiracy theory.

After the meeting, he joined Mr. Zelensky and Kurt D. Volker, the State Department special envoy for Ukraine, on a trip to northern Donbas, the front line of the conflict with Russian-backed separatists, where they were briefed by the commander of Ukrainian forces.

“The commander thanked us for security assistance, but I was aware that this assistance was on hold, which made me uncomfortable,” Mr. Taylor said. “Ambassador Volker and I could see the armed and hostile Russian-led forces on the other side of the damaged bridge across the line of contact. Over 13,000 Ukrainians had been killed in the war, one or two a week. More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the U.S. military assistance.”

As weeks went by without a resolution of the aid impasse, Mr. Taylor said he began preparing to resign. His resolve was strengthened when Mr. Sondland and Timothy Morrison, the senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, both indicated to him that the aid was conditioned on Ukraine opening the investigations sought by the president.

Mr. Sondland explained that Mr. Trump saw it through a transactional lens. “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check,” Mr. Taylor said, quoting Mr. Sondland. Mr. Volker “used the same terms several days later.”

Before he could resign, congressional leaders intervened and persuaded Mr. Trump to lift the suspension. Mr. Taylor still serves as the top diplomat in Ukraine. For now.

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

An Envoy’s Damning Account of Trump’s Ukraine Pressure and Its Consequences

WASHINGTON — He stood on one side of a war-damaged bridge in Ukraine staring across at Russian-backed forces and saw the real-world consequences of President Trump’s efforts to advance a personal agenda. “More Ukrainians,” he said, “would undoubtedly die.”

Recalling that moment during explosive testimony on Tuesday, William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, laid out in visceral terms the stakes of what he saw as an illegitimate scheme to pressure the Kiev government for political help by suspending American security aid.

In by far the most damning account yet to become public in the House impeachment inquiry Mr. Taylor described a president holding up $391 million in aid for the clear purpose of forcing Ukraine to help incriminate Mr. Trump’s domestic rivals. Mr. Trump’s actions, he testified, undercut American allies desperately fighting to stave off Russian aggression.

Without the money that Mr. Trump held up, Mr. Taylor said, Ukraine would find it harder to defend itself in the face of Moscow’s attempt to redraw the boundaries of Europe through force of arms.

“If Ukraine succeeds in breaking free of Russian influence, it is possible for Europe to be whole, free, democratic and at peace,” Mr. Taylor said in his opening statement to House investigators, which was provided to reporters after he delivered it behind closed doors. “In contrast, if Russia dominates Ukraine, Russia will again become an empire, oppressing its people and threatening its neighbors and the rest of the world.”

Westlake Legal Group william-taylor-ukraine-testimony-promo-1571775262338-articleLarge An Envoy’s Damning Account of Trump’s Ukraine Pressure and Its Consequences United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Taylor, William B Jr Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) Russia impeachment Defense and Military Forces

Read the Ukraine Envoy’s Statement to Impeachment Inquiry

William B. Taylor Jr., the United States’ top diplomat in Ukraine, delivered testimony to impeachment investigators on Tuesday that described an effort by President Trump to withhold aid for Ukraine until the country’s leader agreed to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals.

Mr. Taylor’s vivid depiction illustrated the differences between the impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump and the ones that consumed Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Bill Clinton. While the Watergate and Monica Lewinsky cover-ups involved the integrity of America’s democracy and system of justice, the Ukraine scandal also extends to matters of life and death, as well as geopolitics on a grand scale.

Mr. Taylor’s testimony could make it harder for Republicans to brush off Mr. Trump’s actions as unimportant or distorted by partisan foes. Defending Ukraine against Russian encroachment, much like defending the United States’ Kurdish allies against Turkey, has been a high priority for many Republicans, who complained that President Barack Obama did not stand up to Moscow aggressively enough.

Mr. Taylor brought to the House hearing a 50-year résumé of public service, starting as a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point and an infantry officer with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam. He served every administration, Republican and Democrat, since President Ronald Reagan, culminating with a posting as ambassador to Ukraine under President George W. Bush. And he was recruited last spring by Mike Pompeo, Mr. Trump’s secretary of state to return to Kiev to replace Marie L. Yovanovitch, the ambassador tarred by Mr. Trump’s camp as an adversary.

The chain of events that Mr. Taylor laid out in his testimony suggested a clear quid pro quo between $391 million in suspended assistance and Mr. Trump’s demands that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as well as a debunked conspiracy theory involving Ukrainian help for Democrats in the 2016 election.

Yet in the publicly released portion of his testimony, Mr. Taylor neither described any direct conversation with Mr. Trump himself nor made any reference to documents or recordings that would explicitly implicate the president. Instead, he provided a road map for investigators by quoting others around Mr. Trump describing his actions and statements.

“President Trump has done nothing wrong — this is a coordinated smear campaign from far-left lawmakers and radical unelected bureaucrats waging war on the Constitution,” Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. “There was no quid pro quo. Today was just more triple hearsay and selective leaks from the Democrats’ politically motivated, closed-door, secretive hearings.”

Mr. Taylor’s testimony once again focused attention on Mr. Trump’s unusual relationship with President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia. Unlike most leaders in both parties, Mr. Trump has rarely expressed much criticism of Mr. Putin or his aggression against his neighbors, at one point even suggesting that he could accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which it seized from Ukraine through force in 2014.

Mr. Trump went further than Mr. Obama by providing lethal military assistance to Ukraine to defend itself against Russia, but privately echoed Mr. Putin’s line about the Ukrainians being untrustworthy and corrupt. By holding up the $391 million in aid allocated by Congress, Mr. Trump essentially reversed his own policy and angered lawmakers of both parties, who pressured him into releasing the money last month.

In his 14-page opening statement, bristling with indignation yet chock-full of dates, facts and quotes, Mr. Taylor described “two channels of U.S. policymaking and implementation, one regular and one highly irregular,” run largely by the president’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, as well as others like Gordon D. Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union.

Mr. Taylor made clear that what he found particularly egregious about the president’s actions was what he regarded as the betrayal of a friend to the not-so-tender mercies of a ruthless invader for corrupt reasons.

“Ukraine is special to me,” he said, and what has happened in the five months since he was asked to return to Kiev was “crazy,” “improper” and “folly” with far-reaching implications.

“We must support Ukraine in its fight against its bullying neighbor,” he told House investigators. “Russian aggression cannot stand.”

He recalled being stunned to learn during a secure video conference call on July 18 that the aid to Ukraine had been put on hold with no explanation other than that “the directive had come from the president to the chief of staff to” the Office of Management and Budget.

“I and others sat in astonishment,” he testified. “The Ukrainians were fighting the Russians and counted on not only the training and weapons, but also the assurance of U.S. support.”

No one told the Ukrainians at first, and Mr. Taylor recalled meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev on July 26, the day after Mr. Trump pressured the newly elected Ukrainian leader on the telephone to investigate Mr. Biden and the 2016 election conspiracy theory.

After the meeting, he joined Mr. Zelensky and Kurt D. Volker, the State Department special envoy for Ukraine, on a trip to northern Donbas, the front line of the conflict with Russian-backed separatists, where they were briefed by the commander of Ukrainian forces.

“The commander thanked us for security assistance, but I was aware that this assistance was on hold, which made me uncomfortable,” Mr. Taylor said. “Ambassador Volker and I could see the armed and hostile Russian-led forces on the other side of the damaged bridge across the line of contact. Over 13,000 Ukrainians had been killed in the war, one or two a week. More Ukrainians would undoubtedly die without the U.S. military assistance.”

As weeks went by without a resolution of the aid impasse, Mr. Taylor said he began preparing to resign. His resolve was strengthened when Mr. Sondland and Timothy Morrison, the senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council, both indicated to him that the aid was conditioned on Ukraine opening the investigations sought by the president.

Mr. Sondland explained that Mr. Trump saw it through a transactional lens. “When a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check,” Mr. Taylor said, quoting Mr. Sondland. Mr. Volker “used the same terms several days later.”

Before he could resign, congressional leaders intervened and persuaded Mr. Trump to lift the suspension. Mr. Taylor still serves as the top diplomat in Ukraine. For now.

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

William Taylor, ‘Model’ Diplomat, Is at Center of Impeachment Inquiry

Westlake Legal Group 22dc-taylor-new-facebookJumbo William Taylor, ‘Model’ Diplomat, Is at Center of Impeachment Inquiry United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Taylor, William B Jr State Department Pompeo, Mike Bush, George W

WASHINGTON — When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked William B. Taylor Jr., a highly respected former diplomat, to become America’s top diplomat in Ukraine in June, Mr. Taylor initially hesitated.

He had left government after decades of service in 2009, although he had remained involved in the affairs of Ukraine, a country that had particular meaning for him since he spent three years as the American ambassador there more than a decade ago in the administration of President George W. Bush.

But he was concerned about the way President Trump’s ambassador to Ukraine had been pushed out of her job under suspicious circumstances. So was his wife, who urged him not to take the job, he said in his congressional testimony on Tuesday.

A conversation with a person he described as a trusted Republican mentor who had served in government, changed his mind. “If your country asks you to do something, you do it — if you can be effective,” he recalled his mentor saying.

Now Mr. Taylor, 72, is at the center of the scandal engulfing the Trump administration over charges that the president tied the United States’ aid to a country fending off Russian aggression to the investigation of his political opponents. His testimony on Tuesday to committees pursuing an impeachment inquiry against Mr. Trump included damning charges of linkage and misleading accounts by Trump administration officials.

A West Point graduate who served as an Army infantry officer leader and company commander in Vietnam and Germany, Mr. Taylor is among the country’s most experienced diplomats, and has served in every administration of both parties since 1985.

Former officials of both parties described Mr. Taylor in glowing terms and suggested that his credibility would be difficult for Mr. Trump’s allies to question.

“Ambassador Bill Taylor is a person of integrity with a strong, ethical base,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former under secretary of state in the Bush administration. “I would also describe him as a true patriot. His entire professional life has been in service to the U.S.”

“You couldn’t ask for a more credible, universally-respected, upright public servant to testify on the facts of this case,” said Stephen Sestanovich, who served as the State Department’s ambassador at large for the former Soviet Union under President Bill Clinton and has traveled in Ukraine with Mr. Taylor.

“You want to go against Bill Taylor, you’ve got the whole city against you,” Mr. Sestanovich added.

Mr. Taylor served as ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. The country has remained a primary interest. “Ukraine is special for me,” he said on Tuesday, adding that he believed in the “profound importance” of the country to America’s security.

He is also intimately familiar with American assistance programs to former Soviet republics like Ukraine. From 1992 to 2002, he was coordinator of American assistance to the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

Former officials say that would have given him a strong understanding of the $391 military aid package that the Trump administration delayed this summer as Mr. Trump demanded that Ukraine’s government pursue an unfounded theory into whether Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election and examine the role of former Vice President Joe Biden Jr.’s son Hunter Biden in a natural gas company there.

During the Obama administration, Mr. Taylor’s focus at the State Department was the Middle East, overseeing assistance to Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria at the State Department. He also served in Jerusalem working on issues related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Before accepting the job from Mr. Pompeo, he was the executive vice president of the United States Institute of Peace in Washington.

“He’s just straight-up,” said Strobe Talbott, who served as deputy secretary of state under Mr. Clinton from 1994 to 2001, focusing on the former Soviet Union, and who encountered Mr. Taylor in Ukraine in the 2000s. “He’s courageous. He was just the model of a diplomat, and he had no problem speaking his own mind to his superiors.”

Steven Pifer, a former United States ambassador to Ukraine from 1998 to 2000 who is now a research fellow at Stanford University, said that he had known Mr. Taylor for 25 years and often worked closely with him in Ukraine.

“If Bill Taylor says it happened, it happened,” Mr. Pifer said.

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

Ukraine Envoy Testifies Trump Linked Military Aid to Investigations

Westlake Legal Group 22dc-impeach1-promo-facebookJumbo-v3 Ukraine Envoy Testifies Trump Linked Military Aid to Investigations Zelensky, Volodymyr United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Taylor, William B Jr Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) impeachment Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — William B. Taylor Jr., the United States’ top diplomat in Ukraine, told impeachment investigators privately on Tuesday that President Trump held up vital security aid for the country and refused a White House meeting with Ukraine’s leader until he agreed to make a public pronouncement pledging to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals.

In testimony that Democrats in attendance called the most damaging account yet for the president, Mr. Taylor provided an “excruciatingly detailed” opening statement that described in blunt and unsparing terms the quid-pro-quo pressure campaign that Mr. Trump and his allies have long denied.

When he objected to that effort, Mr. Taylor said in his opening statement obtained by The New York Times, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union and a Trump campaign donor, sought to explain Mr. Trump’s actions by noting that he was a businessman. Mr. Taylor recounted Mr. Sondland saying that, “when a businessman is about to sign a check to someone who owes him something, he said, the businessman asks that person to pay up before signing the check.”

Mr. Taylor’s testimony directly contradicted repeated assertions by Mr. Trump and his Republican allies that there was never a quid pro quo involving investigations into Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that employed Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and other Democrats.

That is not true, Mr. Taylor told the committee. He said the president had explicitly made it clear that Mr. Zelensky would not be invited to the White House or secure much-needed security aid unless the Ukrainian leader made a public announcement that his country would start the investigations that Mr. Trump so badly wanted.

Mr. Taylor testified that he was told of Mr. Trump’s demands for investigations during a telephone call with Mr. Sondland, who Mr. Taylor described as part of a “highly irregular” diplomatic effort aimed at pressuring Ukraine.

“Ambassador Sondland said that ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” Mr. Taylor told lawmakers on Monday. “He said that President Trump wanted president Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”

Mr. Taylor added that: “During that phone call, Ambassador Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election,” Mr. Taylor said.

One lawmaker described the testimony as drawing a “direct line” between American foreign policy and his own political goals.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, who sat in on the deposition as a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said that Mr. Taylor relied in part on detailed “notes to the file” that he had made as he watched the pressure campaign unfold. His testimony shed new light on the circumstances around a previously revealed text message in which Mr. Taylor wrote to colleagues that he thought it was “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

He “drew a very direct line in the series of events he described between President Trump’s decision to withhold funds and refuse a meeting with Zelensky unless there was a public pronouncement by him of investigations of Burisma and the so-called 2016 election conspiracy theories,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz said.

In his statement, Mr. Taylor placed the reason for the hold on Ukrainian aid directly on Mr. Trump, relating a July 18 call with the Office of Management and Budget, where a staff member said the directive had come from the president to the acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

“In an instant I realized one of the key pillars of our strong support for Ukraine was threatened,” Mr. Taylor said in his testimony.

The intelligence whistle-blower’s complaint that prompted the impeachment inquiry said that Mr. Trump’s effort to pressure Mr. Zelensky to open an investigation of Burisma was part of a concerted effort to use the power of his office to enlist foreign help in the 2020 election. Mr. Taylor was the latest in a string of career diplomats and current and former administration officials who have defied a White House blockade of the impeachment inquiry and submitted to closed-door depositions with investigators digging into whether Mr. Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political adversaries.

As Mr. Taylor made his way to Capitol Hill to testify early Tuesday, the president sought to discredit the inquiry with attention-grabbing rhetoric, comparing the impeachment investigation against him to a “lynching.”

His comment on Twitter drew bipartisan outrage in public as the ambassador made his case behind closed doors.

Ms. Wasserman Schultz said that in addition to referencing his notes, Mr. Taylor “had very specific recall of things,” including what she said were “meetings, phone calls, what was said.”

Several Democrats who participated in Mr. Taylor’s questioning described his testimony as stunning. Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, shook his head after exiting the deposition, saying “what he said was incredibly damning to the president of the United States.”

Ms. Wasserman Schultz called it “one of the most disturbing days” she has had in Congress, and added: “I have not seen a more credible witness than this.”

Republicans accused Democrats of exaggerating, but they declined to share details of the testimony.

“I don’t know that any of us, if we are being intellectually honest, are hearing revelations that we were not aware of,” said Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina. “The bottom line is no one has yet to make the case for why the aid was withheld or even if the Ukrainians knew about it.”

Still, by Democrats’ account, Mr. Taylor’s testimony provided the most extensive picture yet of the scope of the president’s effort to pressure Ukraine and the players who were involved in the effort on Mr. Trump’s behalf.

“It’s like if you had a big, 1,000-piece puzzle on a table,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz said. “This fills in a lot of pieces of the puzzle.”

Mr. Taylor became a star witness in the Democratic impeachment probe after a colleague, Kurt D. Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, revealed texts they exchanged. In some of the text chains, as Mr. Taylor expressed his concerns about an apparent quid pro quo, Mr. Sondland sought to take the conversation offline, telling Mr. Taylor to “call me.”

In his lengthy opening statement and in questioning afterward, Mr. Taylor laid out a meticulous timeline of events during his time in the administration.

Mr. Taylor’s habit of keeping notes throughout his tenure has given the inquiry a boost, allowing him to recreate crucial conversations and moments even as the administration seeks to block Congress from reviewing documents related to its dealings with Ukraine.

Mr. Taylor has shared his notes with the State Department but has not produced copies of them for lawmakers conducting the impeachment inquiry, a person familiar with his testimony said.

The State Department objected to Mr. Taylor’s appearance before the committee, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry. In response, the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena Tuesday morning to compel his testimony, and Mr. Taylor complied, according to the official.

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Ukraine Envoy Testifies Trump Linked Military Aid to Investigations, Lawmaker Says

Westlake Legal Group 22dc-impeach1-promo-facebookJumbo-v3 Ukraine Envoy Testifies Trump Linked Military Aid to Investigations, Lawmaker Says Zelensky, Volodymyr United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Taylor, William B Jr Sondland, Gordon D (1957- ) impeachment Biden, Joseph R Jr

WASHINGTON — William B. Taylor Jr., the United States’ top diplomat in Ukraine, told impeachment investigators privately on Tuesday that President Trump held up security aid for the country and refused a White House meeting with Ukraine’s leader until he agreed to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals.

The testimony drew what one lawmaker described as a “direct line” between American foreign policy and his own political goals.

In testimony that Democrats in attendance called the most damaging account yet for the president, Mr. Taylor provided an “excruciatingly detailed” opening statement that described the quid-pro-quo pressure campaign that Mr. Trump and his allies have been denying.

Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, who sat in on the deposition as a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said that Mr. Taylor relied in part on detailed “notes to the file” that he had made as he watched the pressure campaign unfold. His testimony shed new light on the circumstances around a previously revealed text message in which Mr. Taylor wrote to colleagues that he thought it was “crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”

On Tuesday, Mr. Taylor directly addressed accusations surrounding Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that employed Hunter Biden, the son of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., one of the leading Democratic candidates for president.

He “drew a very direct line in the series of events he described between President Trump’s decision to withhold funds and refuse a meeting with Zelensky unless there was a public pronouncement by him of investigations of Burisma and the so-called 2016 election conspiracy theories,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz said.

The intelligence whistle-blower’s complaint that prompted the impeachment inquiry said that Mr. Trump’s effort to pressure Mr. Zelensky to open an investigation of Burisma was part of a concerted effort to use the power of his office to enlist foreign help in the 2020 election. Mr. Taylor was the latest in a string of career diplomats and current and former administration officials who have defied a White House blockade of the impeachment inquiry and submitted to closed-door depositions with investigators digging into whether Mr. Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political adversaries.

The president sought to discredit the inquiry with attention-grabbing rhetoric early Tuesday as Mr. Taylor made his way to Capitol Hill to testify, comparing the impeachment investigation against him to a “lynching.”

His comment on Twitter drew bipartisan outrage in public as the ambassador made his case behind closed doors.

Ms. Wasserman Schultz said that in addition to referencing his notes, Mr. Taylor “had very specific recall of things,” including what she said were “meetings, phone calls, what was said.”

Several Democrats who participated in Mr. Taylor’s questioning described his testimony as stunning. Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, shook his head after exiting the deposition, saying “what he said was incredibly damning to the president of the United States.”

Ms. Wasserman Schultz called it “one of the most disturbing days” she has had in Congress, and added: “I have not seen a more credible witness than this.”

Republicans accused Democrats of exaggerating, but they declined to share details of the testimony.

“I don’t know that any of us, if we are being intellectually honest, are hearing revelations that we were not aware of,” said Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina. “The bottom line is no one has yet to make the case for why the aid was withheld or even if the Ukrainians knew about it.”

Still, by Democrats’ account, Mr. Taylor’s testimony provided the most extensive picture yet of the scope of the president’s effort to pressure Ukraine and the players who were involved in the effort on Mr. Trump’s behalf.

“It’s like if you had a big, 1,000-piece puzzle on a table,” Ms. Wasserman Schultz said. “This fills in a lot of pieces of the puzzle.”

Mr. Taylor became a star witness in the Democratic impeachment probe after a colleague, Kurt D. Volker, the special envoy to Ukraine, revealed texts they exchanged. In some of the text chains, as Mr. Taylor expressed his concerns about an apparent quid pro quo, Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, sought to take the conversation offline, telling Mr. Taylor to “call me.”

During his testimony on Tuesday, Ms. Wasserman Schultz said, Mr. Taylor provided new context for and details about the exchanges with Mr. Sondland, including a phone call that occurred after the texts.

In his lengthy opening statement and in questioning afterward, Mr. Taylor laid out a meticulous timeline of events during his time in the administration, according to several members of Congress and a person familiar with his testimony.

Mr. Taylor’s habit of keeping notes throughout his tenure has given the inquiry a boost, allowing him to recreate crucial conversations and moments even as the administration seeks to block Congress from reviewing documents related to its dealings with Ukraine.

Mr. Taylor has shared his notes with the State Department but has not produced copies of them for lawmakers conducting the impeachment inquiry, a person familiar with his testimony said.

The State Department objected to Mr. Taylor’s appearance before the committee, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry. In response, the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena Tuesday morning to compel his testimony, and Mr. Taylor complied, according to the official.

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Putin and Erdogan Announce Plan for Northeast Syria, Bolstering Russian Influence

Westlake Legal Group 22russia-turkey1-facebookJumbo Putin and Erdogan Announce Plan for Northeast Syria, Bolstering Russian Influence United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Syrian Democratic Forces Syria Russia Putin, Vladimir V Kurds Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Assad, Bashar al-

SOCHI, Russia — His jets patrol Syrian skies. His military is expanding operations at the main naval base in Syria. He is forging closer ties to Turkey. He and his Syrian allies are moving into territory being vacated by the United States.

And on Tuesday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia played host to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, for more than six hours of talks on how they and other regional players will divide control of Syria, a land devastated by eight years of civil war.

The negotiations ended with a victory for Mr. Putin: Russian and Turkish troops will take joint control over a vast swath of formerly Kurdish-held territory in northern Syria, in a move that cements the rapid expansion of Russian influence in Syria at the expense of the United States and its Kurdish former allies.

Under the terms of the agreement, Syrian Kurdish forces must now retreat more than 20 miles from the border, abandoning land that they had controlled uncontested until earlier this month — when their protectors, the American military, suddenly began to withdraw from the region.

Mr. Putin has emerged as the dominant force in Syria and a major power broker in the broader Middle East — a status showcased by Mr. Erdogan’s hastily arranged trip to the president’s summer home in Sochi. And it looks increasingly clear that Russia, which rescued the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria with brutal airstrikes over the last four years, will be the arbiter of the power balance there.

As President Trump questions American alliances and troop deployments around the world, Russia, like China, has been flexing its muscles, eager to fill the power vacuum left by a more isolationist United States. In Syria, both Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan see opportunity in Mr. Trump’s sudden withdrawal this month of American forces in the country.

Mr. Erdogan had long wanted go to war against the Kurdish-led forces that control northeast Syria, but he dared not, as long as the Kurds’ American allies were stationed there, too. He responded to Mr. Trump’s withdrawal by launching an invasion.

Tuesday’s meeting began hours before the end of an American-brokered truce between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria, where Mr. Erdogan says his troops have seized more than 900 square miles of territory since invading on Oct. 6.

“The U.S. is still the 500-pound gorilla,” said Howard Eissenstat, a professor of Middle East history at St. Lawrence University. “If the U.S. decided that ‘issue X’ was a primary concern to its national security, there would be very little that anybody in the region could do about it.”

But with the United States increasingly removing itself from the picture — as symbolized in the Russian news media by the images of abandoned washing machines and unopened cans of Coca-Cola left behind in the chaotic withdrawal — it was Russia whose consent Mr. Erdogan needed on Tuesday to consolidate and extend his gains.

“Before, Turkey could play the U.S. against Russia and Russia against the U.S.,” said Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, an Istanbul-based research group. “Now that’s no longer the case, and Russia has shaped up to be Turkey’s only real counterpart in Syria.”

Tuesday’s meeting looked to be a culmination of Mr. Putin’s yearslong strategy of taking advantage of Western divisions to build closer ties with Turkey — a NATO member and long a key United States ally — and to increase Moscow’s influence in the Middle East.

As the United States and Western Europe vacillated in their approach to Syria — to the frustration of Turkey and other Middle Eastern powers — Russia chose to protect its ally, Mr. al-Assad, and stuck with him despite fierce criticism from the West that the Syrian ruler was a brutal despot.

The upshot, Russians now say, is that while their country lacks the West’s economic might, it can be counted on to keep its word.

“Some people are furious again, some people are jealous and some people are drawn to power,” Dmitri Kiselyov, the prominent host of a news program on state-controlled television, told viewers Sunday night. “Whatever the case, Erdogan is flying to Russia to meet with Putin.”

The negotiations highlight the loss of American influence in the days since Mr. Trump ordered troops to withdraw from northeast Syria. The pullout not only cleared the way for Turkey’s assault on American allies, it also prompted the area’s Kurdish leaders to turn to Mr. al-Assad’s government and its main backer, Russia, for protection.

This sudden alliance has allowed Syrian government forces back into parts of northeast Syria that they have not entered in half a decade and thrust Mr. Putin even more prominently into the Syrian affairs.

“The situation in the region is very tense — we understand that,” Mr. Putin said as he began talks with Mr. Erdogan. “I would like to express the hope that the level of Russian-Turkish relations that has been attained recently will play a role in resolving all of the issues that the region has encountered and will help find answers to all questions, even very difficult ones, in the interests of Turkey, Russia, and all countries.”

Russian television showed Mr. Putin looking relaxed as he delivered his opening remarks, leaning back and his hands clasped easily over an armrest. Mr. Erdogan, by contrast, sat up straight as he eyed his Russian counterpart.

Mr. Putin, who relishes chances to drive wedges into Western alliances, has drawn closer to Mr. Erdogan, whose relations with Europe and the United States have been rocky. They have met eight times this year, according to Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin foreign policy adviser.

In July, Turkey defied Western warnings and began taking delivery of a Russian antiaircraft missile system, prompting the United States to cancel Turkey’s purchase of American-made fighter jets. NATO had warned that the purchase could reveal Western technological secrets to Russia, and that the Russian weapons were incompatible with the alliance’s systems.

Mr. Putin has also cultivated ties to the United States’ closest American ally in the region, Israel, and its bitterest adversary, Iran, another supporter of Mr. al-Assad.

Russia “doesn’t have the economic or military capabilities the U.S. has,” Mr. Eissenstat said, “but it has been very savvy about using its power in limited and effective means.”

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin were expected on Tuesday to discuss whether Turkey will be allowed to expand its sphere of influence beyond the central pocket of formerly Kurdish-held territory that Turkish-led forces have already seized this month.

“With my dear friend Putin, we will discuss the current situation in northern Syria, primarily to the east of the Euphrates,” Mr. Erdogan said to reporters at an airport in Ankara, shortly before departing for Russia.

Kurdish fighters had managed to carve out their own autonomous region in northeast Syria, free of government control, amid the chaos of the eight-year civil war. They greatly expanded their territory from 2015 onward, when they became the principal Syrian partner of an American-led coalition working to defeat militants from the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS.

As Kurdish fighters won back ISIS-held land, they took over its governance, eventually establishing control over roughly a quarter of Syria.

Mr. Erdogan’s goal is to create a buffer zone along the entire length of the Turkish-Syrian border, roughly 20 miles deep, to keep Kurdish fighters from getting within mortar range of Turkey. Analysts in Moscow expect Mr. Putin to accept some measure of Turkish control over a buffer zone, though it’s not clear how deep into Syrian territory he would agree for it to extend, or how it would be policed.

Mr. Erdogan views the main Kurdish militia in northeast Syria, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, as a threat to Turkish national security, since the group is an offshoot of a guerrilla movement that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

“We understand Turkey’s concern in connection with the need to ensure its safety and with the need to fight terrorist elements,” the Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of the meeting.

“But we are also expecting that all actions should be proportionate to these concerns and that these actions should in no way make the process of peaceful political settlement in Syria more difficult.”

For Mr. Putin, the meeting with Mr. Erdogan provided an opportunity to solidify and extend Mr. al-Assad’s hold on power.

Mr. al-Assad attempted to project his own influence on Tuesday, visiting the northwestern province of Idlib for the first time since the area fell out of government control several years ago. He was pictured near the front line of a battle between rebels and his own military, in photographs released by a state-run news agency.

Before his meeting with Mr. Erdogan was arranged, Mr. Putin was already scheduled to be in Sochi this week to host the leaders of 43 African countries, a first-of-its-kind summit that will offer another measure of Russia’s growing foreign policy ambitions.

Turkey is part of NATO, which Russia sees as an adversary. But ties between Moscow and Ankara have rapidly warmed as a result of the war in Syria and growing tensions between Turkey and its longtime allies in Western Europe and the United States.

As American troops crossed the border from Syria into Iraq this week, the Iraqi government faced questions about whether the withdrawal was camouflage for an American buildup in Iraq. The United States military has a large camp in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the troops are going there until arrangements are made for them to move on.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper seemed mindful of the Iraqis’ concerns on Monday when he wrote on Twitter, “As we withdraw from NE Syria, we will temporarily reposition those forces in the region outside Syria until they return home.”

The Iraqis had agreed that the Americans could leave Syria through Iraq and then fly out to Kuwait or Doha, according to generals in the Iraqi Joint Command. In a statement, the Joint Command said that it wanted to make clear that “there is an agreement for U.S. troops to enter Iraqi Kurdistan in order to leave Syria, but there is no approval for them to stay in Iraq.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Trump said he wanted troops in Iraq to “watch Iran,” angering Iraqi politicians who said they feared the United States would use Iraq as a launching pad for a war against Iran.

Anton Troianovski reported from Sochi, and Patrick Kingsley from Istanbul. Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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In Hungary, a Freewheeling Trump Ambassador Undermines U.S. Diplomats

Westlake Legal Group merlin_157725681_4519de61-32ca-4f26-a392-c03f701f7756-facebookJumbo In Hungary, a Freewheeling Trump Ambassador Undermines U.S. Diplomats United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry State Department Orban, Viktor Ignatieff, Michael Espionage and Intelligence Services Diamond, Larry BUDAPEST, Hungary

BUDAPEST — The annual Independence Day celebration at the United States Embassy in Budapest is usually a modest garden party, a chance for the ambassador to celebrate American freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

This year, the ambassador, David B. Cornstein, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a blowout gala for 800 guests. He flew in the singer Paul Anka from California. The guest of honor was Prime Minister Viktor Orban of Hungary, who has curtailed the very freedoms the event was meant to highlight.

Standing at a lectern, Mr. Cornstein declared Mr. Orban “the perfect partner” and “a very, very strong and good leader.” Mr. Anka serenaded the Hungarian leader with a personalized rendition of “My Way.”

For many in the room, it was a bewildering spectacle: an American ambassador lavishing praise on a far-right leader whose party has methodically eroded Hungarian democracy and pushed anti-Semitic tropes. But it was just another demonstration of Mr. Cornstein’s pattern of emboldening Mr. Orban.

Since becoming ambassador in June 2018, Mr. Cornstein has assiduously courted Mr. Orban, giving the Hungarian leader unexpected influence in the Trump administration. Mr. Cornstein used his decades-long friendship with President Trump to help broker a coveted Oval Office meeting for Mr. Orban last May — a meeting now under scrutiny by impeachment investigators in Washington.

At the time, some White House officials tried to stop the meeting, citing Mr. Orban’s anti-democratic record in Hungary and his growing closeness to Russia. The meeting went ahead, and Mr. Orban is said to have used it to fuel the president’s suspicions about Ukraine.

As yet, Mr. Cornstein’s role in that meeting does not appear to be part of the impeachment inquiry. But his freewheeling diplomacy and courtship of Mr. Orban have alarmed career civil servants and contributed to broader criticism, even among Republicans, that some members of the president’s foreign policy team are dangerously unprepared for the job.

During the past year, Mr. Cornstein, an 81-year-old jewelry magnate, has developed unusually close relationships with Mr. Orban and his advisers, according to several American and Western officials. He exchanges text messages with them, occasionally from personal devices, and boasts about his contacts — even as American security officials warn that Mr. Orban is trying to manipulate him.

He has undermined efforts by career diplomats to deliver messages to Washington about corruption and democratic backsliding in Hungary. And he has privately acted as a broker for Mr. Orban’s point of view, taking positions contrary to United States policy, according to interviews with roughly two dozen current and former American and foreign officials as well as others who have worked with Mr. Cornstein.

He has also adopted some of Mr. Orban’s talking points on Ukraine, contradicting the policy of the United States and its NATO allies.

Some embassy officials were so taken aback that, according to two American officials, they confided to a recent congressional delegation that Washington’s top man in Hungary acted more like Mr. Orban’s top man in the Trump administration.

In two interviews, Mr. Cornstein played down concerns about Hungarian corruption, anti-Semitism and the erosion of democracy. He defended his approach as good for the United States, and said that his outreach to Mr. Orban was exactly what Mr. Trump wanted.

“Hopefully there are one or two people who think I’m doing a good job,” he said.

Mr. Trump seems pleased. Although the Obama administration sought to isolate Mr. Orban as punishment for his authoritarian tendencies, the Trump administration has engaged him uncritically, a strategy intended to keep the Hungarian leader from drifting toward China and Russia.

But Thomas Carothers, who studies democracies for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said Mr. Cornstein’s public praise for Mr. Orban had gone too far. “The ambassador has crossed the line, both in openly endorsing bad things and mocking serious issues,” he said.

Privately, Mr. Cornstein has gone even farther.

In April, a group of congressional staff members visited Budapest on a trip sponsored by the Hungarian government. Realizing that Hungarian officials would present a rosy picture, American diplomats squeezed in a 45-minute briefing about corruption and the erosion of democracy.

Mr. Cornstein arrived unannounced and commandeered the meeting, saying he saw no evidence of corruption, according to several people in attendance.

“Before I could start, Cornstein interrupted,” said Miklos Ligeti, a former official at the Hungarian Ministry of Justice who was asked to discuss corruption on behalf of Transparency International. “He came in and hijacked the meeting.”

Mr. Cornstein also spoke glowingly of Mr. Orban’s unchecked power.

“He’s got the executive. He’s got the legislature. And he’s got the judges,” Marta Pardavi, a lawyer with the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group, recalled the ambassador as saying. “He actually said it. And he said it so we would hear it.”

Mr. Ligeti said he was never able to deliver his corruption briefing.

“Cornstein is the worst, most detrimental of diplomats — not just of the United States, but of all the countries,” Mr. Ligeti said. “He is actively working against the voices of anticorruption.”

In interviews, Mr. Cornstein said he did not recall the meeting but played down corruption concerns.

“Is there corruption in Hungary? I’m sure there is,” Mr. Cornstein said. “Is there corruption in New York City and Chicago? I’m sure there is.” He said he had seen no evidence of an effect on American businesses.

It may not seem obvious how, or why, a Hungarian prime minister would influence the views of an American president toward Ukraine, an American ally.

But Mr. Orban has been locked in a dispute with Ukrainian officials over a language law that he says is discriminatory to ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine. The dispute has become a key security issue for the United States because Mr. Orban has blocked Ukrainian engagement with NATO. The United States is adamant that such disagreements should have no bearing on NATO security matters.

The White House meeting gave Mr. Orban the opportunity to press his case directly to Mr. Trump. Asked on Tuesday what Mr. Orban told the president about Ukraine, Mr. Cornstein replied, “It was between two men, and neither person discussed the subject with me.”

But Mr. Cornstein’s statements on the topic have recently drifted toward Mr. Orban’s point of view. Asked about Ukraine in an interview, he raised the language law unprompted.

“The language law that was passed, which was not favorable to the 175,000 Ukrainian, former Hungarian people that are living in that part of the country, was something that I didn’t agree with,” Mr. Cornstein said.

Mr. Cornstein also took Mr. Orban’s side over the fate of Central European University, an accredited institution that Mr. Orban forced from the country. The Hungarian-born philanthropist George Soros founded the school after the collapse of the Soviet Union, in part to educate a new generation on the principles of human rights and the rule of law. As he eroded democratic norms, Mr. Orban attacked Mr. Soros, portraying him as part of a global conspiracy against the prime minister.

Publicly, Mr. Cornstein declared that saving the school was a top priority. But privately, he helped broker the university’s exit, according to the school’s president, Michael Ignatieff.

Mr. Ignatieff said that Mr. Cornstein had proposed that the school move its American degree program to Vienna and keep a smaller, Hungarian-only program in Budapest.

“What do you care where your degrees are issued?” Mr. Ignatieff recalled Mr. Cornstein as saying.

“David, that’s not a compromise,” Mr. Ignatieff replied. “You’re kicking a U.S. institution out of Hungary.”

“I don’t see it that way at all,” Mr. Cornstein said.

The university soon lost its authority to issue American degrees and moved to Vienna — the very outcome Mr. Cornstein had mentioned. The United States Embassy said in a statement that the government was “disappointed.”

Mr. Cornstein, who is Jewish, often says that Hungary’s biggest problem is public relations and that Jews in Hungary have little to worry about.

“They’re content. They’re happy and they’re safe,” he said. “I can’t say that about New York City.”

Other American presidents have been accused of supporting strongmen. But Mr. Trump has broken with a half-century of bipartisan consensus that supporting freedom was a moral imperative and a security goal, said Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution, a conservative research group.

“Orban has quietly and skillfully, with velvet gloves, strangled the life out of democracy,” Mr. Diamond said. “To embrace and normalize and look away from these transgressions in a country that is in the heart of the liberal democratic project of the world is not only disturbing. It’s alarming.”

Friends say that Mr. Cornstein, an affable grandfather, is a Rockefeller Republican, not an ideologue. He has donated not only to the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and John McCain, but also to Democrats like Chuck Schumer and Cory Booker.

He did not give money to Mr. Trump’s campaign, but the friendship between the two men goes back decades. Mr. Cornstein attended Mr. Trump’s wedding and ran New York City’s off-track-gambling operation in the mayoral administration of Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is now Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer.

Mr. Cornstein made his fortune operating jewelry counters inside department stores, and he often recounts stories of hard-won wisdom from his business career. Running an embassy is a lot like running a jewelry counter, he says: You can’t forget you’re in someone else’s store.

Some American officials and Western diplomats say that Mr. Cornstein is falling for a Hungarian campaign to undermine veteran foreign policy officials. At the White House, for example, Mr. Orban told Mr. Trump that the embassy in Budapest — staffed by career civil servants — was full of Obama administration holdovers, according to Mr. Cornstein and other American officials.

Mr. Trump responded by asking why Mr. Cornstein had not fired them. (In an interview, Mr. Cornstein said he had confidence in his staff.)

Mr. Cornstein is open about his closeness to Mr. Orban. He tells how, on the flight back to Budapest after the White House meeting, the two men — exhausted from a long day — stripped to their underwear and napped and chatted on couches in the back of Mr. Orban’s plane.

When Mr. Cornstein learned recently that Radio Free Europe, the pro-democracy American news outlet, was preparing to return to Hungary, he sought assurances that it would not criticize Mr. Orban’s government. In an interview, he said he simply wanted to ensure that the government viewpoint would be included.

It is hardly unusual for diplomats to seek ties with foreign leaders, but Mr. Cornstein has eschewed both the rigorous prep sessions that normally precede high-level contacts and the detailed briefings that follow. State Department officials say they often do not know what messages are exchanged.

Mr. Cornstein acknowledged that he rarely speaks to officials in Washington. He conceded that he has used personal devices to contact Mr. Orban and his advisers, but said he had done so a half-dozen times at most, and only to set up meetings.

“I was told this before I got to the post: ‘This is your show. You run it,’” he said. “I know what the president’s philosophy is and what his foreign policy is.”

Mr. Cornstein has delivered mixed results, at best. He regards as an achievement negotiations that are underway, but not finalized, for Hungary to buy more than $1 billion in American weaponry.

Yet Mr. Orban has also allowed an obscure Russian financial institution, the International Investment Bank, to open in Budapest with sweeping diplomatic immunity — a move that Western security officials say enables Russian spying and money laundering.

After a Drug Enforcement Administration sting captured two men thought to be Russian arms dealers, Hungarian officials extradited them to Russia, where they were set free. Hungary has also snubbed Washington by saying that it sees no evidence that the Chinese telecom giant Huawei is a security threat.

Mr. Cornstein said that building bridges was a process, one that will help the United States. He denied honoring Mr. Orban at the Independence Day gala.

“My motivation was to really show what a great party can be,” he said, “and have people walk out and say, ‘Man, America really did that terrific.’”

He said the party cost about $320,000, financed mostly by American businesses. An additional $7,000 came from an embassy account used to establish local contacts.

During the interview, Mr. Cornstein appeared to nudge American policy in another new direction. He said he had vehemently opposed the Russian bank’s relocation but that Mr. Orban had made private promises that have allayed his concerns.

“I am comfortable with where we are now,” Mr. Cornstein said. Pressed on whether that was the official view of the United States government, he replied: “You’ve got to ask Washington. I’m comfortable.”

The embassy quickly clarified his remarks, saying the ambassador considered the bank a threat as long as it remained in Hungary.

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With Syria on the Table, Erdogan Pays Court to Putin

Westlake Legal Group 22russia-turkey1-facebookJumbo With Syria on the Table, Erdogan Pays Court to Putin United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Syrian Democratic Forces Syria Russia Putin, Vladimir V Kurds Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Erdogan, Recep Tayyip Assad, Bashar al-

SOCHI, Russia — His jets patrol Syrian skies. His military is expanding operations at the main naval base in Syria. He is forging closer ties to Turkey. He and his Syrian allies are moving into territory being vacated by the United States.

And on Tuesday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia played host to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, for talks on how they and other regional players will divide control of Syria, a land devastated by eight years of civil war.

Mr. Putin has emerged as the dominant force in Syria and a major power broker in the broader Middle East — a status showcased by Mr. Erdogan’s hastily arranged trip to the president’s summer home in Sochi. And it looks increasingly clear that Russia, which rescued the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria with brutal airstrikes over the last four years, will be the arbiter of the power balance there.

As President Trump questions American alliances and troop deployments around the world, Russia, like China, has been flexing its muscles, eager to fill the power vacuum left by a more isolationist United States. In Syria, both Mr. Putin and Mr. Erdogan see opportunity in Mr. Trump’s sudden withdrawal this month of American forces in the country.

Mr. Erdogan had long wanted to go to war against the Kurdish-led forces that control northeast Syria, but he dared not, as long as the Kurds’ American allies were stationed there, too. He responded to Mr. Trump’s withdrawal by launching an invasion.

Tuesday’s meeting began hours before the end of an American-brokered truce between Turkish and Kurdish forces in Syria, where Mr. Erdogan says his troops have seized more than 900 square miles of territory since invading on Oct. 6.

“The U.S. is still the 500-pound gorilla,” said Howard Eissenstat, a Turkey expert at the Project on Middle East Democracy, a Washington-based research group. “If the U.S. decided that ‘issue X’ was a primary concern to its national security, there would be very little that anybody in the region could do about it.”

But with the United States increasingly removing itself from the picture — as symbolized in the Russian news media by the images of abandoned washing machines and unopened cans of Coca-Cola left behind in the chaotic withdrawal — now it is Russia whose tacit consent Mr. Erdogan needs to consolidate and extend his gains.

“Before, Turkey could play the U.S. against Russia and Russia against the U.S.,” said Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, an Istanbul-based research group. “Now that’s no longer the case, and Russia has shaped up to be Turkey’s only real counterpart in Syria.”

Tuesday’s meeting looked to be a culmination of Mr. Putin’s yearslong strategy of taking advantage of Western divisions to build closer ties with Turkey — a NATO member and long a key United States ally — and to increase Moscow’s influence in the Middle East.

As the United States and Western Europe vacillated in their approach to Syria — to the frustration of Turkey and other Middle Eastern powers — Russia chose to protect its ally, Mr. al-Assad, and stuck with him despite fierce criticism from the West that the Syrian ruler was a brutal despot.

The upshot, Russians now say, is that while their country lacks the West’s economic might, it can be counted on to keep its word.

“Some people are furious again, some people are jealous and some people are drawn to power,” Dmitri Kiselyov, the prominent host of a news program on state-controlled television, told viewers Sunday night. “Whatever the case, Erdogan is flying to Russia to meet with Putin.”

The negotiations highlight the loss of American influence in the days since Mr. Trump ordered troops to withdraw from northeast Syria. The pullout not only cleared the way for Turkey’s assault on American allies, it also prompted the area’s Kurdish leaders to turn to Mr. al-Assad’s government and its main backer, Russia, for protection.

This sudden alliance has allowed Syrian government forces back into parts of northeast Syria that they have not entered in half a decade and thrust Mr. Putin even more prominently into the Syrian affairs.

“The situation in the region is very tense — we understand that,” Mr. Putin said as he began talks with Mr. Erdogan. “I would like to express the hope that the level of Russian-Turkish relations that has been attained recently will play a role in resolving all of the issues that the region has encountered and will help find answers to all questions, even very difficult ones, in the interests of Turkey, Russia, and all countries.”

Russian television showed Mr. Putin looking relaxed as he delivered his opening remarks, leaning back and his hands clasped easily over an armrest. Mr. Erdogan, by contrast, sat up straight as he eyed his Russian counterpart.

Mr. Putin, who relishes chances to drive wedges into Western alliances, has drawn closer to Mr. Erdogan, whose relations with Europe and the United States have been rocky. They have met eight times this year, according to Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin foreign policy adviser.

In July, Turkey defied Western warnings and began taking delivery of a Russian antiaircraft missile system, prompting the United States to cancel Turkey’s purchase of American-made fighter jets. NATO had warned that the purchase could reveal Western technological secrets to Russia, and that the Russian weapons were incompatible with the alliance’s systems.

Mr. Putin has also cultivated ties to the United States’ closest American ally in the region, Israel, and its bitterest adversary, Iran, another supporter of Mr. al-Assad.

Russia “doesn’t have the economic or military capabilities the U.S. has,” Mr. Eissenstat said, “but it has been very savvy about using its power in limited and effective means.”

Mr. Erdogan and Mr. Putin were expected on Tuesday to discuss whether Turkey will be allowed to expand its sphere of influence beyond the central pocket of formerly Kurdish-held territory that Turkish-led forces have already seized this month.

“With my dear friend Putin, we will discuss the current situation in northern Syria, primarily to the east of the Euphrates,” Mr. Erdogan said to reporters at an airport in Ankara, shortly before departing for Russia.

Kurdish fighters had managed to carve out their own autonomous region in northeast Syria, free of government control, amid the chaos of the eight-year civil war. They greatly expanded their territory from 2015 onward, when they became the principal Syrian partner of an American-led coalition working to defeat militants from the Islamic State militant group, also known as ISIS.

As Kurdish fighters won back ISIS-held land, they took over its governance, eventually establishing control over roughly a quarter of Syria.

Mr. Erdogan’s goal is to create a buffer zone along the entire length of the Turkish-Syrian border, roughly 20 miles deep, to keep Kurdish fighters from getting within mortar range of Turkey. Analysts in Moscow expect Mr. Putin to accept some measure of Turkish control over a buffer zone, though it’s not clear how deep into Syrian territory he would agree for it to extend, or how it would be policed.

Mr. Erdogan views the main Kurdish militia in northeast Syria, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, as a threat to Turkish national security, since the group is an offshoot of a guerrilla movement that has waged a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

“We understand Turkey’s concern in connection with the need to ensure its safety and with the need to fight terrorist elements,” the Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of the meeting.

“But we are also expecting that all actions should be proportionate to these concerns and that these actions should in no way make the process of peaceful political settlement in Syria more difficult.”

For Mr. Putin, the meeting with Mr. Erdogan provides an opportunity to solidify and extend Mr. al-Assad’s hold on power.

Mr. al-Assad attempted to project his own influence on Tuesday, visiting the northwestern province of Idlib for the first time since the area fell out of government control several years ago. He was pictured near the front line of a battle between rebels and his own military, in photographs released by a state-run news agency.

Before his meeting with Mr. Erdogan was arranged, Mr. Putin was already scheduled to be in Sochi this week to host the leaders of 43 African countries, a first-of-its-kind summit that will offer another measure of Russia’s growing foreign policy ambitions.

Turkey is part of NATO, which Russia sees as an adversary. But ties between Moscow and Ankara have rapidly warmed as a result of the war in Syria and growing tensions between Turkey and its longtime allies in Western Europe and the United States.

As American troops crossed the border from Syria into Iraq this week, the Iraqi government faced questions about whether the withdrawal was camouflage for an American buildup in Iraq. The United States military has a large camp in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, and the troops are going there until arrangements are made for them to move on.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper seemed mindful of the Iraqis’ concerns on Monday when he wrote on Twitter, “As we withdraw from NE Syria, we will temporarily reposition those forces in the region outside Syria until they return home.”

The Iraqis had agreed that the Americans could leave Syria through Iraq and then fly out to Kuwait or Doha, according to generals in the Iraqi Joint Command. In a statement, the Joint Command said that it wanted to make clear that “there is an agreement for U.S. troops to enter Iraqi Kurdistan in order to leave Syria, but there is no approval for them to stay in Iraq.”

Earlier this year, Mr. Trump said he wanted troops in Iraq to “watch Iran,” angering Iraqi politicians who said they feared the United States would use Iraq as a launching pad for a war against Iran.

Anton Troianovski reported from Sochi, and Patrick Kingsley from Istanbul. Alissa J. Rubin contributed reporting from Baghdad, and Eric Schmitt from Washington.

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Obamacare Premiums to Fall and Number of Insurers to Rise Next Year

Westlake Legal Group 22dc-obamacare2-facebookJumbo Obamacare Premiums to Fall and Number of Insurers to Rise Next Year United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010) Health Insurance and Managed Care

WASHINGTON — Nearly three years into President Trump’s aggressive efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, prices for the most popular type of health insurance plan offered through the health law’s federal marketplace will actually drop next year, and the number of insurers offering plans will go up.

Administration officials credited Mr. Trump with the resiliency of the law even as they echoed his contempt for it.

“The A.C.A. simply doesn’t work and is still unaffordable for far too many,” Alex M. Azar II, the secretary of health and human services, said on Monday. “But until Congress gets around to replacing it, President Trump will do what he can to fix the problems created by this system for millions of Americans.”

The 4-percent price decline is only the second time that average monthly premiums have dropped year-to-year since the marketplace opened in 2014, and it is a sign that the health law is stabilizing after several years of turmoil caused in part by Mr. Trump. Open enrollment for Obamacare starts on Nov. 1, but looming over it is an impending court decision on the law’s constitutionality in a case supported by the Trump administration that seeks to overturn the law.

Premiums rose sharply in the final years of the Obama administration, as Trump officials like to point out, largely because of losses insurers suffered as they tried to gauge the health needs of their new customers. But after Mr. Trump and Republicans in Congress tried unsuccessfully to repeal the law in 2017, the president took a number of steps to weaken it, all of which led to uncertainty that resulted in insurers raising prices.

Now, a correction is taking place. Some of the states with the biggest premium increases this year, including Delaware and North Dakota, will see the biggest decreases in 2020. There will be 20 more insurers selling plans next year in the federal marketplace, which is used by people in 38 states, bringing the total to 175. That will be the largest number of issuers since 2016. Only two states, Delaware and Wyoming, will have a single insurer selling plans under the law next year, compared with five states currently.

For a 27-year-old, premiums for a benchmark “silver” plan will cost an average $388 per month next year; for a family of four, they will average $1,520 per month. That is still expensive, but most people will qualify for federal subsidies that cover much or most of the cost.

For many of those who do not qualify for subsidies under the health law — people earning more than 400 percent of the poverty level, which comes to just under $50,000 for a single person — premiums will remain out of reach.

Deductibles, too, will continue to rise, with the median amount rising to $4,604, from $4, 471, for silver plans, which offer midlevel coverage. But people whose income is at or under 200 percent of the poverty level will have much lower deductibles, thanks to a different kind of discount required under the law that helps with out-of-pocket costs.

Prices and other information about next year’s Affordable Care Act plans in the 13 states that have their own marketplaces will be announced by those states. In all, 10.6 million people had health plans through the federal and state marketplace plans as of March, the last time the Trump administration released enrollment data.

As the market stabilizes, the health law is coming to serve almost exclusively the struggling families and individuals who qualify for federally subsidized coverage. In a call with reporters on Monday, Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which runs the online marketplace, said that from 2016 to 2018, the number of health-law enrollees who did not qualify for premium subsidies dropped by 2.5 million people, or 40 percent.

“It was inevitable that Obamacare’s affordability crisis would eventually increase the number of uninsured,” Ms. Verma said, pointing to new census data showing a rise in the number of higher-income Americans without insurance.

In 2018, 8.5 percent of the population lacked health insurance, according to the Census Bureau, up from 7.9 percent in 2017. But that was driven in large part by a decline in the number of children insured under government programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program. The administration has taken steps to limit Medicaid eligibility for immigrants, and has supported efforts by some states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients.

[Read what is driving the rise in rates of uninsured children.]

The administration has also all but eliminated funding to promote enrollment under the law, through advertising and “navigators,” who once helped people sign up.

Ms. Verma and Mr. Azar praised Congress for zeroing out the tax penalty that the law imposed on people who go without health insurance; it did so as part of the 2017 tax overhaul. They also praised new rules pressed by Mr. Trump that encourage the sale of less expensive coverage that does not provide the comprehensive benefits required by the health law. Both moves, Ms. Verma said, elicited “a kneejerk chorus of dire predictions” that had not come to fruition.

A major reason that premiums have stabilized, she said, is the reinsurance programs that the Trump administration has approved in 12 states. Under these programs, states help insurers pay their largest medical claims, partly using federal funds. Three of the states that will see the biggest drops in premium costs next year — Delaware, Montana and North Dakota — have adopted reinsurance programs, Ms. Verma said.

A bill to spread such programs across the country, drafted by Republican Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine, has been bottled up by Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, who has opposed legislation to shore up the Affordable Care Act.

As always, how much people pay for a marketplace plan will heavily depend on where they live. Wyoming will have the highest average premiums next year — $723 a month for the benchmark plan for a 27-year-old, an increase of two percent. New Mexico will have the lowest average premiums — $282 a month for the benchmark plan for a 27-year-old, a decrease of six percent.

Asked about the court case seeking to invalidate the health law, Mr. Azar said a ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor would not change anything immediately because the defenders of the law would appeal to the Supreme Court.

“Our message would be, ‘Keep calm and carry on,’ ” Mr. Azar said. “There will be no immediate disruption to anybody. We will run the program the day after such a ruling the same way we ran the program the day before.”

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