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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 182)

Ukraine and Whistle-Blower Issues Emerge as Major Flashpoints in Presidential Race

DES MOINES — Allegations that President Trump courted foreign interference from Ukraine to hurt his leading Democratic rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., dominated presidential politics on Saturday, as Mr. Biden demanded a House investigation of Mr. Trump’s phone call last month with Ukraine’s leader and as Mr. Trump lashed out, denying wrongdoing without releasing a transcript of the call.

With Mr. Trump seizing on a familiar defense, saying Democrats were undertaking a “witch hunt” against him on Ukraine, Mr. Biden called on the House of Representatives to begin a new investigation of whether the president sought the interference of a foreign government to bolster his re-election campaign.

“This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power,” Mr. Biden said during a campaign swing in Iowa. “We have never seen anything like this from any president.”

Mr. Trump is said to have urged the Ukranian president on a July 25 phone call to investigate Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who did business in Ukraine while his father was vice president. Mr. Trump’s request is part of a secret whistle-blower complaint in the intelligence community that is said to involve Mr. Trump making an unspecified commitment to a foreign leader, according to two people familiar with the complaint.

The sharp accusations between Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden elevated the president’s dealings with Ukraine as a potentially significant new issue in the presidential race, and offered voters a preview of what is likely to be an extraordinary general election contest if Mr. Biden were to win the nomination.

The controversy has focused on whether Mr. Trump manipulated foreign policy — a military aid package to Ukraine had been delayed at the time of the phone call — to pressure the country’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to take action to damage Mr. Biden’s election bid.

On Saturday, Mr. Trump sought to deflect attention from that question by accusing Mr. Biden of acting improperly as vice president in calling for the ouster of a Ukranian prosecutor who had overseen an inquiry into corruption related to the oligarch whose company employed Hunter Biden.

Mr. Trump defended his own conduct as “perfectly fine” and routine.

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

Intensifying a line of attack he and his allies have stoked for months, Mr. Trump said the real problem was Mr. Biden and questions about what the president described as “the Joe Biden demand that the Ukrainian Government fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son.”

Referring to his conversation with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Trump said: “Nothing was said that was in any way wrong, but Biden’s demand, on the other hand, was a complete and total disaster.”

No evidence has surfaced to support Mr. Trump’s claim that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal. But some State Department officials had expressed concern that Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine could complicate his father’s diplomacy there.

The issue strikes a particular nerve for Mr. Biden, who has long feared putting his family under the harsh spotlight of a presidential campaign. During a two-minute encounter with reporters on Saturday morning, he grew irate, angrily insisting that he had never spoken with his son about any overseas work.

“You should be looking at Trump,” Mr. Biden said. “Trump is doing this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum.”

Even as they avoided mentioning Mr. Biden, other Democratic presidential candidates moved quickly to capitalize on the new dynamic in the race. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who rarely mentions Mr. Trump in her stump speech, opened her remarks at a cattle call on Saturday afternoon by excoriating both the president and congressional Democrats.

“He has solicited another foreign government to attack our election system,” she told a crowd of 1,200 cheering Democratic voters gathered in Des Moines for an afternoon of primary speeches. “It is time to call out this illegal behavior and start impeachment proceedings right now.”

Ms. Warren, who first called for Mr. Trump to be impeached in April after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report, went further on Saturday, arguing on Twitter that by failing to act on impeachment, Congress had become “complicit in Mr. Trump’s latest attempt to solicit foreign interference to aid him in U.S. elections.”

Though he has yet to call for impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump — as have several of his rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination — Mr. Biden on Saturday tiptoed closer to embracing the idea that has been gaining support on Capitol Hill despite opposition from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Mr. Biden, whose appearances on the campaign trail can be halting and sprinkled with misstatements, has generally delivered his strongest performances when focused on Mr. Trump. Speaking about the president allows Mr. Biden to discuss foreign policy and national security, issues that his campaign has said differentiate Mr. Biden, a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, from the rest of the 2020 Democratic field.

While Mr. Trump’s attacks give Mr. Biden the one-on-one showdown with the president that his campaign has spent months trying to create, it also exposes him and his son to another round of probing questions about Hunter Biden’s lobbying business in Ukraine.

The Biden campaign moved quickly to warn the news media over the story, underscoring a deep concern about how allegations about the younger Mr. Biden’s work will be received by voters. “Any article, segment analysis and commentary that does not demonstrably state at the outset that there is no factual basis for Trump’s claim, and in fact that they are wholly discredited, is misleading readers and viewers,” said the deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, in an email to reporters.

But Biden advisers also seized on the furor to portray Mr. Trump as fixated on, and worried about, a potential general election race against Mr. Biden.

“There is only one candidate the president is trying to get foreign governments to dig up bogus dirt on,” Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden, said.

The effort by the president and his team to shift the focus to Mr. Biden could boomerang, transforming him into a sympathetic figure unfairly attacked with foreign help. It could just as easily mark a defining moment for Mr. Biden, a 76-year-old politician first elected to the Senate in 1972 and long accustomed to playing by the more genteel political rules of a different era.

[Which Democrats are leading the 2020 presidential race this week?]

Donna Brazile, the former Democratic National Committee chairwoman who led the party through Hillary Clinton’s loss to Mr. Trump three years ago, said the exchange on Saturday “in many ways feels like 2016.”

Just the prominent discussion of the actions of Mr. Biden and his son in Ukraine, regardless of the merits of the president’s accusations, has the potential to hurt Mr. Biden, Ms. Brazile said.

“We’re basically creating a political story which right now is undermining Joe Biden when I do believe the real focus should be getting the substance of the complaint out to the American people as soon as possible,” she said.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_161157456_623a29c7-f22d-46d2-8b54-9952c2b74704-articleLarge Ukraine and Whistle-Blower Issues Emerge as Major Flashpoints in Presidential Race Whistle-Blowers Ukraine Trump, Donald J Presidential Election of 2020 Iowa Democratic Party Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

President Trump said Democrats were undertaking a “witch hunt” against him on Ukraine.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

On Saturday morning, Mr. Trump posted a video mash-up of TV news footage of stories about Mr. Biden’s son. “This is the real and only story,” the president wrote.

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

Senator Chris Coons of Delaware, a Biden backer, said that no matter who emerges as the Democratic nominee in 2020, that person will face misinformation and slashing personal attacks by the president and his campaign.

“You have any other nominee, Trump will do something comparable to try to disadvantage that nominee,” said Mr. Coons, as he walked with Mr. Biden into a Polk County Democratic Party event. “I don’t see anything about this story that is specific to Joe Biden.”

So far, Mr. Biden’s rivals, nearly all of whom descended on Iowa this weekend, have been quick to assail Mr. Trump while avoiding commentary about how the president’s accusations against the Bidens would affect the Democratic nominating contest.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, whose campaign manager on Friday released a memo stating he would have to drop out of the race if he failed to raise $1.7 million before the end of September, remarked that “this is not a partisan issue.” He and former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas reiterated their calls for Mr. Trump to be impeached.

Even if Mr. Biden’s primary competitors don’t take direct aim, the perception of Mr. Biden’s son leveraging his connections cuts a stark contrast with two leading rivals, Ms. Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders, who have centered their candidacies around a fierce populist message of rooting out corruption in Washington.

It’s a message that worked in 2016 for Mr. Trump, who cast Ms. Clinton as the avatar of establishment self-dealing, a past-her-prime creature of Washington unable to adjust to the times and to produce real change.

Mr. Biden’s team is acutely aware of that comparison. After Mr. Biden initially gave only a meager retort to the issue Friday, his campaign decided to go further.

Sensing an opportunity to highlight Mr. Trump’s fixation with Mr. Biden, his campaign released a statement in his name blistering the president for “abhorrent” conduct and demanding Mr. Trump release the transcript of his call with the Ukrainian leader and allow the director of national intelligence to release the whistle-blower’s claims to Congress.

Advisers to Mr. Biden said his initial reluctance to comment reflected his prudence about discussing sensitive national security matters rather than unease with the work of his son in Ukraine. But the former vice president is highly sensitive about questions regarding his family, and it was not until other outlets had confirmed the initial Wall Street Journal report that the Biden campaign determined it should try to go on the offensive.

Hunter Biden in 2016. The younger Biden had a lobbying business in Ukraine while his father was vice president.CreditTeresa Kroeger/Getty Images

Matt Stevens and Katie Glueck contributed reporting from New York and Katie Rogers and Jonathan Martin contributed reporting from Washington.

Whistle-Blower Complaint
Trump Pressed Ukraine’s Leader on Inquiry Into Biden’s Son

Sept. 20, 2019

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-whistleblower-sub-threeByTwoSmallAt2X-v3 Ukraine and Whistle-Blower Issues Emerge as Major Flashpoints in Presidential Race Whistle-Blowers Ukraine Trump, Donald J Presidential Election of 2020 Iowa Democratic Party Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter
Behind the Whistle-Blower Case, a Long-Held Trump Grudge Toward Ukraine

Sept. 20, 2019

Westlake Legal Group 20dc-investigate1-threeByTwoSmallAt2X Ukraine and Whistle-Blower Issues Emerge as Major Flashpoints in Presidential Race Whistle-Blowers Ukraine Trump, Donald J Presidential Election of 2020 Iowa Democratic Party Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter
Whistle-Blower Complaint Is Said to Involve Trump and Ukraine

Sept. 19, 2019

Westlake Legal Group merlin_161073222_208f05c1-d7af-4f03-9348-7fa67ff968c9-threeByTwoSmallAt2X Ukraine and Whistle-Blower Issues Emerge as Major Flashpoints in Presidential Race Whistle-Blowers Ukraine Trump, Donald J Presidential Election of 2020 Iowa Democratic Party Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

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Trump, Biden and a Whistle-Blower Complaint: Here Are the Basics

Westlake Legal Group 21dc-whistleblowerqa-facebookJumbo Trump, Biden and a Whistle-Blower Complaint: Here Are the Basics Zelensky, Volodymyr Whistle-Blowers United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Schiff, Adam B Presidential Election of 2020 Office of the Director of National Intelligence Maguire, Joseph (1952- ) House of Representatives Giuliani, Rudolph W Ethics and Official Misconduct Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

WASHINGTON — President Trump is under intense scrutiny over a classified whistle-blower complaint about his behavior, which at least partly involves his dealings with Ukraine’s new president and Mr. Trump’s call for Ukraine’s government to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is a leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

Here are some of the basic facts behind the controversy.

What did Mr. Trump do?

In a July 25 phone call, Mr. Trump pressed the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Mr. Biden’s younger son, Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. Mr. Trump has seized on an unsubstantiated theory that when Mr. Biden conditioned a $1 billion loan guarantee on the firing of Ukraine’s top prosecutor in 2016, he was trying to protect the company from prosecution. Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers, has pushed the Ukrainian government to investigate the matter and to explore whether there was impropriety involved in its decision in 2016 to release incriminating information about Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman at the time, Paul Manafort.

Why is this coming up now?

Because of an intelligence community whistle-blower who filed a complaint last month about the president’s actions. An inspector general deemed the complaint “credible” and “urgent” and forwarded it to the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who has refused to share it with Congress. The issue was brought out into the open when the House Intelligence Committee chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, sent an angry letter to Mr. Maguire on Sept. 10 demanding the complaint be shared with his panel. Reporting since then by The New York Times and other news outlets has filled in some of the substance.

What did the whistle-blower claim?

The full extent of the whistle-blower’s complaint, as well as the whistle-blower’s identity, is not publicly known because Mr. Maguire will not share it. (He says that is because the complaint entails matters potentially covered by legal “privilege” and concerns conduct by someone outside the intelligence community.) Reporting by The Times and others has established that the complaint involves Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukraine and a phone call with a foreign leader — possibly, but not necessarily, Mr. Zelensky. It is not clear if it includes other matters.

Did Mr. Trump use American foreign policy to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political rival?

This is the big question. The White House this summer blocked a package of military assistance to Ukraine. The aid was intended to help the country defend itself from Russian territorial aggression, including a military conflict in eastern Ukraine that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. The aid was first publicly disclosed as delayed about a month after the July phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky. Mr. Trump is not known to have openly linked the aid — which has since been released — to his demands for political investigations, but many Democrats believe that may be the case. This month, three Democratic House committee chairmen sent letters to the State Department and the White House warning that it would be “a staggering abuse of power, a boon to Moscow and a betrayal of the public trust” if Mr. Trump was withholding the military assistance to “improperly pressure the Ukrainian government to assist the president’s bid for re-election.”

What does Mr. Trump say?

The president insists that he has been unfairly accused, saying — without offering evidence — that the whistle-blower is “partisan” and that Democrats and the news media are initiating a new “witch hunt” against him. Mr. Trump has said that he is aware that his conversations with foreign leaders are monitored by numerous government officials and that he would not incriminate himself so easily. More specifically, Mr. Trump told reporters on Friday that his July call with Mr. Zelensky “was a totally appropriate conversation — it was actually a beautiful conversation.” Mr. Trump also repeated his unsubstantiated assertion that Mr. Biden improperly pressured the Ukrainian government.

What is Mr. Giuliani’s role in this?

As Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Mr. Giuliani has communicated with Ukrainian officials for months about the Bidens, as well as about the circumstances of the 2016 disclosures of payments earmarked by a Russia-aligned Ukrainian political party to Mr. Manafort, who is now serving a prison sentence on charges related to his Ukrainian political work. Mr. Giuliani has sought information about both matters, and traveled to Madrid this summer for a meeting with one of Mr. Zelensky’s top aides, whom he urged to investigate the matters.

Did Mr. Biden do something wrong?

There is no evidence that Mr. Biden intentionally tried to help his son when he pushed for the dismissal of the Ukrainian prosecutor, who was widely seen in the West as corrupt. Stamping out high-level corruption in Ukraine has long been a central goal of United States policy toward the country, and a standard condition for Western aid. Mr. Biden played a lead role in the Obama administration’s diplomacy with Kiev, but Obama administration officials worried that his son’s work for the energy company, Burisma Holdings, could create at least the perception of a conflict of interest. The United States and other Western governments had previously pressed Ukraine to pursue corruption investigations into Burisma and Mykola Zlochevsky, the oligarch who owned it. Those investigations did not yield convictions, which American officials said was at least partly because the Ukrainian prosecutors were intentionally stymieing the efforts. Mr. Zlochevsky’s allies, on the other hand, contended that the corruption claims were baseless and that the threat of prosecution was merely being used to try to solicit bribes from him or his allies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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An Abrupt Move That Stunned Aides: Inside Trump’s Aborted Attack on Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_156836193_c785c69f-6314-43e8-9788-4290249f1d1b-articleLarge An Abrupt Move That Stunned Aides: Inside Trump’s Aborted Attack on Iran United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Defense and Military Forces Trump, Donald J Shanahan, Patrick M (1962- ) Pompeo, Mike Iran Gulf of Oman Incident (June 2019) Gulf of Oman Graham, Lindsey Dunford, Joseph F Jr Defense Department Defense and Military Forces Carlson, Tucker Bolton, John R

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For Biden, Whistle-Blower Complaint Could Cut 2 Ways

DES MOINES — Since President Trump defeated them nearly three years ago, Democrats have warned that Mr. Trump would once again benefit from the interference of foreign governments to help bolster his re-election bid.

Now, as reports that he sought help from the Ukrainian government shake the political world, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the monthslong leader in the primary race, finds himself grappling with the fallout of a still-secret whistle-blower complaint that is said to be about Mr. Trump and his dealings with Ukraine.

For Mr. Biden, it is both the contrast he wants and the controversy he would rather avoid.

The issue strikes a particular nerve with Mr. Biden, who has long feared putting his family under the harsh spotlight of a presidential campaign. He assailed Mr. Trump during a two-minute encounter with reporters on Saturday morning, insisting that he had never spoken with his son about any overseas work.

And he cast Mr. Trump’s efforts as a sign of his strength in the race, saying he is the candidate most feared by the administration.

“You should be looking at Trump,” Mr. Biden said. “Trump is doing this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum. It’s an abuse of power.”

Though he has yet to call for impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump to begin — as have several of his rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination — Mr. Biden on Saturday tip-toed closer to embracing the idea that has been steadily gaining support on Capitol Hill despite opposition from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“The House should investigate this. This appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power,” Mr. Biden said. “We have never seen anything like this from any president.”

The revelations offered voters a preview of what is likely to be an extraordinary general election contest if Mr. Biden were to win the nomination, one in which attacks by the president and his team could boomerang, transforming Mr. Biden into a sympathetic figure under attack with foreign help.

It could just as easily mark a defining moment for Mr. Biden, a 76-year-old politician first elected to the Senate in 1972 and long accustomed to playing by the more genteel political rules of a different era.

[Which Democrats are leading the 2020 presidential race this week?]

While the new report gives Mr. Biden the one-on-one showdown with Mr. Trump that his campaign has spent months trying to create, it also exposes him and his son, Hunter Biden, to yet another round of probing questions about the younger Mr. Biden’s moneymaking activities in the Ukraine.

The Biden campaign quickly seized on the furor to portray the president as fixated on, and worried about, a potential general election race against Mr. Biden.

“There is only one candidate the president is trying to get foreign governments to dig up bogus dirt on,” Anita Dunn, a senior adviser to Mr. Biden, said.

At a time when some of the candidates had been shifting their strategy from trying to chip away at Mr. Biden’s persistent lead to attacking the ascendant candidacy of Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the new allegations about Mr. Trump and Ukraine once again places Mr. Biden at the center of the 2020 campaign.

Mr. Biden, whose appearances on the campaign trail can be halting and sprinkled with misstatements, has generally delivered his strongest performances when focused on Mr. Trump. Speaking about the president allows Mr. Biden to discuss foreign policy and national security, issues that his campaign has said differentiate Mr. Biden, a former Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, from the rest of the 2020 Democratic field.

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

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_161157456_623a29c7-f22d-46d2-8b54-9952c2b74704-articleLarge For Biden, Whistle-Blower Complaint Could Cut 2 Ways Whistle-Blowers Ukraine Trump, Donald J Presidential Election of 2020 Iowa Democratic Party Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

President Trump at the White House yesterday. Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, have pressed for an investigation of the Bidens for weeks.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

Mr. Biden’s team believes the accusations that his son improperly leveraged his family name on behalf of his lobbying clients have already been widely debunked in the news media. Still, the re-emergence of the younger Biden’s business dealings this past week invites a new round of scrutiny from the press, allies of Mr. Trump and Mr. Biden’s many remaining opponents in the primary.

On Saturday morning, Mr. Trump posted a video mash-up of TV news footage of stories about Mr. Biden’s son. “This is the real and only story,” the president wrote.

So far, Mr. Biden’s rivals, nearly all of whom descended on Iowa this weekend, have resisted taking the bait. Several of his competitors were quick to assail Mr. Trump on Friday, while avoiding commentary about how Mr. Trump’s accusations against the Bidens would affect the Democratic nominating contest.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, whose campaign manager on Friday released a memo stating he would have to drop out of the race if he failed to raise $1.7 million before the end of September, remarked that “this is not a partisan issue,” while Mr. Booker and former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas reiterated their calls for Mr. Trump to be impeached.

“I’m going to keep the focus on the fact that Donald Trump has broken the law if this report is accurate and he should be impeached,” former Housing Secretary Julián Castro said during an interview Friday night in Cedar Rapids. “That’s where the focus belongs right now.”

Ms. Warren, who first called for Mr. Trump to be impeached in April after the release of a report by the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, also renewed those demands, but went even further, arguing that by failing to act on impeachment in preceding months, Congress had become “complicit in Mr. Trump’s latest attempt to solicit foreign interference to aid him in US elections.”

“Today’s news confirmed he thinks he’s above the law,” she said. “If we do nothing, he’ll be right.”

Even if Mr. Biden’s primary competitors don’t take direct aim, the perception of the Biden family leveraging its connections cuts a stark contrast with his two leading rivals, Ms. Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders, who have centered their candidacies around a fierce populist message of rooting out corruption in Washington.

It’s a message that worked in 2016 for Mr. Trump, who cast Hillary Clinton as the avatar of establishment self-dealing, a past-her-prime creature of Washington unable to adjust to the times and produce real change.

Mr. Biden’s team is acutely aware of that comparison, and a few hours after Mr. Biden’s non-comment, his campaign decided to go further.

Sensing an opportunity to highlight Mr. Trump’s fixation with Mr. Biden, his aides released a statement in his name blistering the president for “abhorrent” conduct and demanding Mr. Trump release the transcript of his call with the Ukrainian leader and allow the Director of National Intelligence to release the whistle-blower’s claims to Congress.

Advisers to Mr. Biden said his initial reluctance reflected his prudence about discussing sensitive national security matters rather than unease with the work of his son in Ukraine. But the former vice president is highly sensitive about questions regarding his family, and it was not until other outlets had confirmed the initial Wall Street Journal report that the Biden campaign determined it should try to go on the offensive.

His appearances on Friday were marked by moments of testiness.

Hunter Biden in 2016. The younger Biden had a lobbying business in Ukraine while his father was vice president.CreditTeresa Kroeger/Getty Images

While taking questions outside a Cedar Rapids nature center Friday afternoon, Mr. Biden offered a sharp retort to Angie Weiland, a 59-year-old dental hygienist, who pressed him to support a single-payer health care plan like one backed by Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren.

“God love you, you’ve got the right candidate in Bernie or Elizabeth or whoever you have,” Mr. Biden said. “Tell Elizabeth it’s going to cost a lot of money and you have to raise people’s taxes.”

A few hours later, Mr. Biden shot back at the female moderator leading a forum on L.G.B.T.Q. issues after she questioned his record and his contention, offered in February and then quickly retracted, that Vice President Mike Pence is “a decent guy.”

Before an audience of 700 activists at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Mr. Biden sarcastically called his inquisitor, the Cedar Rapids Gazette columnist Liz Lenz, “a lovely person,” prompting her to reply: “Just asking the questions people want to know.”

Offstage after their exchange, she wrote on Twitter that Mr. Biden had called her “a real sweetheart,” a comment she said in a subsequent interview that she found to be “a little condescending.”

By Friday night, Mr. Biden’s campaign was fully embracing the argument that Mr. Trump’s attempted intervention with Kiev was evidence about which candidate he did not want to run against, blasting out a fund-raising email that even alluded to Hunter Biden. “Donald Trump asked a foreign leader eight times to investigate my family,” the money request went. “But I’m only going to ask you once.”

While Mr. Biden may embrace that message, his rivals have repeatedly questioned his age and his grasp on the fiercely polarized politics of the Trump era.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota cited her past three years in the Senate as experience that differentiated her from Mr. Biden.

“I’ve been able to navigate through this recent era, the Trump era,” she said. “I’ve been living it for two years.

Matt Stevens and Katie Glueck contributed reporting from New York and Jonathan Martin contributed reporting from Washington.

Whistle-Blower Complaint
Trump Pressed Ukraine’s Leader on Inquiry Into Biden’s Son

Sept. 20, 2019

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

Sept. 20, 2019

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Whistle-Blower Complaint Is Said to Involve Trump and Ukraine

Sept. 19, 2019

Westlake Legal Group merlin_161073222_208f05c1-d7af-4f03-9348-7fa67ff968c9-threeByTwoSmallAt2X For Biden, Whistle-Blower Complaint Could Cut 2 Ways Whistle-Blowers Ukraine Trump, Donald J Presidential Election of 2020 Iowa Democratic Party Biden, Joseph R Jr Biden, Hunter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But President Trump objected on Friday to any partial deal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But President Trump objected on Friday to any partial deal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Underwear to Cars, India’s Economy Is Fraying

TIRUPUR, India — When Alan Greenspan ran a consulting firm and wanted to know where the economy was headed, he would often look at sales of men’s underwear as a guide.

Mr. Greenspan, who later served as chairman of the Federal Reserve, believed that when times were tough, men would stop replacing worn-out underwear, which no one could see, before cutting other purchases.

By that measure, India is in a serious slump.

“Sales are down 50 percent,” said Jeffrin Moses, gesturing toward the boxes of cotton briefs and tank tops bulging from the shelves of the Tantex undergarment emporium in Tirupur, the southern city where most of the country’s knitwear is made.

It’s not just underwear. Car sales plunged 32 percent in August, the largest drop in two decades, and carmakers are warning of one million layoffs as shoppers balk at rising prices and struggle to get loans from skittish lenders. Macrotech, a big real estate developer that has teamed up with President Trump on a residential tower in Mumbai, just laid off 400 employees as demand for new housing sinks.

Families are even skimping on the 7-cent packets of Parle biscuits that are a staple of India’s morning milk and tea. They are turning instead to even cheaper snacks made by local food vendors, according to Mayank Shah, a Parle executive. Biscuit sales are down about 8 percent, he said, and if current trends continue, the company may cut as many as 10,000 jobs.

Further darkening India’s outlook is the global economic slowdown, the recent spike in oil prices and the impact of Mr. Trump’s trade battles — including one with India.

On Friday, the Indian government, which spent months playing down evidence of a slowdown, finally acknowledged the depth of the problem, announcing a surprise cut in income taxes for all companies and additional incentives for manufacturers.

And this weekend, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is traveling to Houston to meet with Mr. Trump and try to resolve some of their trade disputes.

ImageWestlake Legal Group merlin_160496793_88e61ecf-99b7-4c1b-9810-f1ddbb4f3b8e-articleLarge From Underwear to Cars, India’s Economy Is Fraying Trump, Donald J Third World and Developing Countries Prices (Fares, Fees and Rates) Politics and Government Modi, Narendra Layoffs and Job Reductions Labor and Jobs International Trade and World Market Infrastructure (Public Works) Indian Rupee (Currency) India Houston (Tex) Greenspan, Alan Far East, South and Southeast Asia and Pacific Areas Economic Conditions and Trends China

Jeffrin Moses selling Tantex underwear and other clothing in the Khaderpet market in Tirupur, India’s knitwear capital. Sales of underwear “are down 50 percent,” he said.CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

Parle biscuits for sale. Families are turning instead to even cheaper snacks made by local food vendors, according to Mayank Shah, a Parle executive.CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

Until last year, India, with a population of 1.3 billion people, was the world’s fastest-growing large economy, routinely clocking growth of 8 percent or more. Now the government pegs the country’s growth at 5 percent. And the layoff notices are piling up, with unemployment at 8.4 percent and rising, according to the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy.

India’s reversal of fortunes, partly driven by domestic problems like neglected farmers, is ominous for other developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America that are trying to navigate both the weakening global economy and Mr. Trump’s fusillade of trade conflicts.

“India is potentially a bellwether,” said Per Hammarlund, the chief emerging markets strategist at SEB, a Swedish bank. “It’s a sign of the global economic trend right now: Growth has slowed further this year than last year.”

As skittish global investors have flocked to the safety of the dollar, India’s rupee and other emerging-market currencies have plunged in value. That has made vital imports of energy, electronics and factory equipment more expensive. Last weekend’s attack on two Saudi Arabia’s oil facilities, which sent the global price of oil soaring, underscored just how vulnerable India and other developing countries are to external factors beyond their control.

Like China and Indonesia, India is grappling with the fallout from years of excessive lending encouraged by the state. In India’s case, the overhang of bad bank loans, coupled with recent defaults by nonbank financial firms, has curbed lending to consumers and businesses.

Policy decisions by India’s central and state governments have worsened the country’s downturn, according to economists and business leaders.

Auto manufacturers, for example, were hit by a triple whammy: New safety and emissions standards increased the cost of vehicles, nine states raised taxes on car sales, and the banks and finance companies that fund dealers and 80 percent of consumer car purchases were paralyzed by the credit crunch.

Workers sorting onions outside the Sri Balaji Traders store in the wholesale produce market in Tirupur.CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times
A few shoppers walking through the Khaderpet market, where wholesale, overstock and slightly defective clothing is sold. Usually these streets are bustling, merchants say.CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

“All of that coming in one year resulted in a normal cyclical recession becoming a deep depression in the auto sector,” said R.C. Bhargava, chairman of Maruti Suzuki, India’s largest automaker.

Some manufacturers are now begging the government to cut taxes on new car purchases or get old gas guzzlers off the road through a cash-for-clunkers program.

Mr. Modi was criticized in his first term for ignoring early evidence of a slowdown. After he won a sweeping re-election victory in May, many economists expected him to pass a short-term stimulus package and tackle longstanding issues like farm poverty and land reform.

Instead, he dealt the economy a blow with an unexpected tax increase on foreign investors, prompting them to dump Indian stocks and bonds. The rupee reeled.

More recently, the Modi administration has acknowledged the need for action. In addition to the tax cuts on Friday, the finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, recently promised that the government would step in to help automakers and speed infrastructure spending, and she has directed government-owned banks to make more loans. The government also reversed the new taxes on investors.

The textile industry, which employs about 45 million people and is India’s second-largest employer after agriculture, is emblematic of the country’s distress.

On an afternoon in early September, Tirupur’s market for wholesale, overstock and slightly defective clothing was deserted. Mr. Moses said that store owners and distributors typically traveled across India to place bulk orders for shirts, pants, dresses and fabric before the country’s September-to-November festival season.

“Now, people do not come,” he said.

The region’s spinning mills, which twirl cotton into yarn, are cutting production. Although the world price of cotton has plunged because of the increased American tariffs on Chinese textiles, owners say that yarn prices have also fallen, making it difficult for mills to profit.

A worker using a machine to check fabric for defects at a Dollar Industries underwear factory in Tirupur. The company suffered a 4 percent decline in sales last quarter.CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times
A worker preparing to cut fabric at a Dollar Industries factory.CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

At Dollar Industries, which has made men’s underwear for nearly half a century, a 4 percent decline in sales last quarter was a shock.

“I haven’t seen a slowdown like this,” said Gaurav Gupta, a son of one of Dollar’s founders, as he walked through the company’s plants. “For a customer who used to buy six pairs of garments, now he has come down to probably four.”

Still, Dollar’s Italian-made cutting machines continue to slice colorful sheets of fabric for undershirts and underpants, six days a week. About 100 workers sort the pieces and tie them into bales, ready for contractors who will sew them into finished garments.

Dollar has not laid off anyone yet, although it has cut work hours — and paychecks — by 10 to 20 percent. Mr. Gupta said his factories were switching to making thermal underwear for northern India’s chilly winters, and he hoped that the festival season would mark the beginning of a turnaround in sales.

Sambhu Karwar, a 22-year-old employee who smooths the fabric before it is cut, said the job was better than working in his family’s bakery in eastern India. Dollar pays him a monthly salary of 12,000 rupees, or about $167, and provides lodging and some subsidized food.

“It’s good living here,” said Mr. Karwar, whose brother also works at the factory.

The outlook is bleaker at Siva Exports, a contractor that stitches some of Dollar’s underwear.

Workers at the Siva Exports factory in Tirupur sorting freshly stitched T-shirts. Siva’s owner said he had lost his two biggest clients because he could not match the prices they could get in Bangladesh.CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

Most of the sewing machines in the two-story factory sit idle. Siva’s owner, V. Murugesan, said he had to lay off about three-quarters of his tailors over the last six months after he lost his two biggest clients — clothing brands in Italy and France. He said he could not match the prices they could get in Bangladesh, where wages are far lower.

“It’s a buyer’s market,” Mr. Murugesan said. “Orders are very slow.” He urged the government to help small exporters like him with subsidies or other support.

Dollar said its distributors and retailers were having trouble borrowing money to finance inventory. The government’s lengthy delays in paying tax refunds to small businesses are increasing the cash crunch.

So Dollar is trying to step into the gap, allowing its partners to buy a few weeks’ worth of stock at a time instead of requiring them to buy three months of inventory as it did previously.

“We are trying to work in a different manner,” said Shashi Agarwal, Dollar’s senior vice president of corporate strategy.

With the cheaper rupee and the higher American tariffs on imported Chinese textiles that began Sept. 1, India has an opportunity to export more garments to the United States.

Vijay Varthanan, right, who used to be a quality control manager in the garment industry, now runs a small grocery store in Tirupur. He predicted that times would get worse before they got better.CreditRebecca Conway for The New York Times

That’s the theory, at least.

But C. Anand, director of RTW Renaissance Asia, a Tirupur garment maker that focuses on exports to the United States, said that India could not compete on price alone against exports from Bangladesh or Vietnam or free-trade zones like Jordan or Haiti.

“You have to bring innovation to the market,” he said. For example, he said, his company has devised a way to process the cotton yarn and fabric for an American company’s work uniforms so that they can withstand at least 50 washings without significant wear.

Innovation may not be enough, however.

Vijay Varthanan, who was once a quality control manager at a garment factory and now runs a small grocery store in Tirupur, predicted that times would get worse before they got better.

Sales are down by about 50 percent in his shop, he said, and a lot of people are buying food on credit. Mr. Varthanan said that many workers would head back to their home villages next month for Diwali, India’s biggest holiday — and not come back.

“Everything is totally down,” he said. “People are just waiting for their Diwali bonuses.”

Ayesha Venkataraman contributed research from Mumbai, India.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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