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Westlake Legal Group > Posts tagged "Trump, Donald J" (Page 80)

Senate Opens Trump Impeachment Trial as New Ukraine Revelations Emerge

Westlake Legal Group 16dc-impeach-facebookJumbo Senate Opens Trump Impeachment Trial as New Ukraine Revelations Emerge United States Politics and Government Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Senate Roberts, John G Jr Office of Management and Budget (US) impeachment House of Representatives Government Accountability Office

WASHINGTON — The Senate formally opened the impeachment trial of President Trump on Thursday, as senators accepted the promise to deliver “impartial justice” and installed Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. as the presiding officer.

In a somber ceremony that has happened only twice before in the nation’s history, Chief Justice Roberts vowed to conduct Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial “according to the Constitution and the laws.” He then administered the same, 222-year-old oath of impartiality and adherence to the Constitution to the senators, setting in motion the final step in a bitter and divisive effort by the president’s adversaries to remove him from office.

Even as the antiquated ritual unfolded, with senators signing their names one by one in an oath book near the marble Senate rostrum, new evidence was trickling out about Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine that is at the heart of the charges against him.

A trove of newly released texts, voice mail messages, calendar entries and other records handed over by Lev Parnas, an associate of the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani, offered new details about the scheme. And the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan federal watchdog, found that Mr. Trump’s decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid from Ukraine was an illegal breach of a law that limits a president’s power to block the spending of money allocated by Congress.

Two hours before the oath-taking on the Senate floor, seven House members made a solemn march to the chamber to read aloud the charges against Mr. Trump. His words echoing from the well of the Senate, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California accused the president of abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress by trying to cover up his actions.

“President Trump,” Mr. Schiff said, “warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust, or profit under the United States.”

The charges detailed the case against the president: that Mr. Trump pressured Ukraine for investigations into his political rivals, withholding $391 million in military aid as leverage, and that he obstructed Congress by blocking the inquiry into his conduct.

The evidence provided by Mr. Parnas adds significant new detail to the public record about how the pressure campaign played out. On Wednesday, Mr. Parnas told The New York Times that he believed Mr. Trump knew about the efforts to dig up dirt on his political rivals.

Just hours before the formal start of the trial, the Government Accountability Office said the decision by the White House Office of Management and Budget to withhold the aid violated the Impoundment Control Act, concluding that “faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law.” Mr. Trump directed the freeze on the Ukraine aid, and administration officials testified during the course of the impeachment inquiry that they had repeatedly warned that doing so could violate the law, but their concerns were not heeded.

Aides said Mr. Trump was not watching the ceremonial events on television as the trial got underway. But Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said the White House expected Mr. Trump’s formal response to the impeachment charges would prove he did nothing wrong, and she dismissed the stream of new details emerging about the Ukraine pressure campaign.

“We’re not too concerned about it,” Ms. Grisham told Fox News on Thursday. “Once again, we know that everything in the Senate is going to be fair.”

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

G.A.O. Report Says Trump Administration Broke Law in Withholding Ukraine Aid

Westlake Legal Group 16dc-gao-facebookJumbo G.A.O. Report Says Trump Administration Broke Law in Withholding Ukraine Aid United States Politics and Government Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Office of Management and Budget (US) impeachment Government Accountability Office Budgets and Budgeting

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration violated the law in withholding security assistance aid to Ukraine, a nonpartisan federal watchdog agency said, weighing in on a decision by President Trump that is at the heart of the impeachment case presented to the Senate on Thursday.

The agency, the Government Accountability Office, said the White House’s Office of Management and Budget violated the Impoundment Control Act when it withheld nearly $400 million this summer for “a policy reason,” even though the funds had been allocated by Congress.

The decision to freeze the aid was directed by the president himself, and during the House impeachment inquiry, administration officials testified that they had raised concerns about its legality to no avail.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the accountability office wrote in an opinion released Thursday. “The withholding was not a programmatic delay.”

The impoundment law, first enacted in 1974 over the veto of President Richard M. Nixon, limits a president’s power to withhold money that has been allocated by Congress, requiring approval from the legislative branch to do so.

The allegation that Mr. Trump withheld the security assistance as part of a campaign to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations of his political rivals is at the heart of the impeachment investigation.

The accountability office is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. It conducts audits of federal spending, issues legal decisions on questions about federal contracts and budget matters and examines if federal agencies are complying with other legal requirements imposed on them by Congress.

Accountability office officials said the timing of the ruling, as the impeachment trial was getting underway, was coincidental.

“Our legal decisions are issued when we have completed all our legal research and are ready to come to a sound conclusion,” Thomas H. Armstrong, the G.A.O.’s general counsel said in a statement. “There was no coordination of timing with any entity outside of G.A.O.”

The White House budget office promptly rejected the report’s conclusions, saying it had remained within the law.

“We disagree with G.A.O.’s opinion,” said Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the budget office. “O.M.B. uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the president’s priorities and with the law.”

The report, on its own, does not result in any action or specific penalty against the White House or Mr. Trump.

This is not the first time that the accountability office has ruled that the Trump administration violated the impoundment act. It did so in December 2017 related to Energy Department funds and in December 2018 related to the Department of Homeland Security’s funding.

But the ruling is certain to focus additional attention on questions about the legality of Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze the aid. The administration held up the money — $250 million distributed through the Pentagon and another $141 million channeled through the State Department — from late June until mid-September. The money was released only after the freeze became public and members of Congress from both parties made clear they wanted it released.

House Democrats, who were vocal critics of the decision to block the funds, said that the ruling further solidified their case for impeachment.

Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that “given that this illegal conduct threatened our security and undermined our elections, I feel even more strongly that the House has chosen the right course by impeaching President Trump.”

Senate Democrats said the legal opinion underscored their push to seek witnesses and new documents in the trial.

“The G.A.O. opinion makes clear that the documents we requested in our letter last month are even more needed now because G.A.O. confirmed the president broke the law,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, said in a statement.

The accountability office is led by Gene L. Dodaro, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010 and confirmed by the Senate. Directors of the agency serve 15-year terms in an effort to remove the influence of politics from their decisions.

The hold on the military aid to Ukraine had provoked questions this past summer from officials at the White House budget office as well as the Defense Department while the freeze was in place.

State Department and Pentagon officials were confused as to why the hold on the funding had been imposed. As the summer progressed, they became increasingly concerned that the money could not be completely spent before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

American diplomats testified last year during the impeachment inquiry that they understood the aid freeze to be a means of pressuring Ukraine into opening investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals. Mr. Trump has denied using the aid as leverage, and the White House has said the freeze was intended to provide time to explore whether Ukraine, with its long history of official corruption, could be trusted with the money.

The impeachment vote by the House and the ruling Thursday by the G.A.O. focused on different questions.

House Democrats accused Mr. Trump of using the aid as leverage in his pressure campaign against Ukraine.

The G.A.O. examined whether the Trump administration violated appropriations law by withholding the aid in the first place, a review conducted at the request of Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.

The agency found that the White House violated the law because it did not notify Congress about the deferral in the spending, and the freeze did not appear to be motivated by a desire to find a more efficient way to spend the money, which might have been allowable, the report said. Instead, the administration was arguing that it had the right to determine the “best use of such funds,” ignoring Congress’s power to set spending requirements.

“When Congress enacts appropriations, it has provided budget authority that agencies must obligate in a manner consistent with law,” said the ruling, which was signed by Mr. Armstrong. “The Constitution vests lawmaking power with the Congress.”

The accountability office’s ruling was focused on the money controlled by the Pentagon, which had informed Congress that Ukraine had met the conditions for receiving it and that it intended to release it. It did not rule on the money controlled by the State Department, but expressed frustration at the administration’s unwillingness to respond to questions about it.

“We consider a reluctance to provide a fulsome response to have constitutional significance,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. The G.A.O.’s role, he said, “is essential to ensuring respect for and allegiance to Congress’ constitutional power of the purse.”

Formal determinations by the G.A.O. that the Impoundment Control Act has been violated have occurred in past administrations, including during the tenure of President George W. Bush.

But a search of the agency’s website of past cases involving a “programmatic delay” — the formal legal term for what the White House claimed happened with the military assistance to Ukraine — suggests they have become more frequent during Mr. Trump’s tenure.

The agency concluded in late 2017 that the Energy Department violated the law when it withheld $91 million to help develop new energy technologies, a spending program created during the Obama administration that the department wanted to kill.

In late 2017, the Homeland Security Department refused to spend $95 million to build a new ship called a National Security Cutter, leading to objections from members of Congress, including then-Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, who represented the area where the ships are built.

In both cases, the administration ultimately released the money.

The ruling is a sign of an administration that appears to believe it can spend federal funds as it sees fit, regardless of the constitutional authority of Congress to decide on federal spending, said James P. Pfiffner, a professor at George Mason University who wrote a book about the impoundment act.

Other examples of the Trump administration’s belief that it can unilaterally determine how federal funds are spent include its shifting of Defense Department funds from different accounts to help build a wall on the southern border, Mr. Pfiffner said.

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

G.A.O. Report Says Trump Administration Broke Law in Withholding Ukraine Aid

Westlake Legal Group 16dc-gao-facebookJumbo G.A.O. Report Says Trump Administration Broke Law in Withholding Ukraine Aid United States Politics and Government Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Office of Management and Budget (US) impeachment Government Accountability Office Budgets and Budgeting

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration violated the law in withholding security assistance aid to Ukraine, a nonpartisan federal watchdog agency said, weighing in on a decision by President Trump that is at the heart of the impeachment case presented to the Senate on Thursday.

The agency, the Government Accountability Office, said the White House’s Office of Management and Budget violated the Impoundment Control Act when it withheld nearly $400 million this summer for “a policy reason,” even though the funds had been allocated by Congress.

The decision to freeze the aid was directed by the president himself, and during the House impeachment inquiry, administration officials testified that they had raised concerns about its legality to no avail.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the accountability office wrote in an opinion released Thursday. “The withholding was not a programmatic delay.”

The impoundment law, first enacted in 1974 over the veto of President Richard M. Nixon, limits a president’s power to withhold money that has been allocated by Congress, requiring approval from the legislative branch to do so.

The allegation that Mr. Trump withheld the security assistance as part of a campaign to pressure Ukraine to launch investigations of his political rivals is at the heart of the impeachment investigation.

The accountability office is an independent, nonpartisan agency that works for Congress. It conducts audits of federal spending, issues legal decisions on questions about federal contracts and budget matters and examines if federal agencies are complying with other legal requirements imposed on them by Congress.

Accountability office officials said the timing of the ruling, as the impeachment trial was getting underway, was coincidental.

“Our legal decisions are issued when we have completed all our legal research and are ready to come to a sound conclusion,” Thomas H. Armstrong, the G.A.O.’s general counsel said in a statement. “There was no coordination of timing with any entity outside of G.A.O.”

The White House budget office promptly rejected the report’s conclusions, saying it had remained within the law.

“We disagree with G.A.O.’s opinion,” said Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the budget office. “O.M.B. uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the president’s priorities and with the law.”

The report, on its own, does not result in any action or specific penalty against the White House or Mr. Trump.

This is not the first time that the accountability office has ruled that the Trump administration violated the impoundment act. It did so in December 2017 related to Energy Department funds and in December 2018 related to the Department of Homeland Security’s funding.

But the ruling is certain to focus additional attention on questions about the legality of Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze the aid. The administration held up the money — $250 million distributed through the Pentagon and another $141 million channeled through the State Department — from late June until mid-September. The money was released only after the freeze became public and members of Congress from both parties made clear they wanted it released.

House Democrats, who were vocal critics of the decision to block the funds, said that the ruling further solidified their case for impeachment.

Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York and chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that “given that this illegal conduct threatened our security and undermined our elections, I feel even more strongly that the House has chosen the right course by impeaching President Trump.”

Senate Democrats said the legal opinion underscored their push to seek witnesses and new documents in the trial.

“The G.A.O. opinion makes clear that the documents we requested in our letter last month are even more needed now because G.A.O. confirmed the president broke the law,” Senator Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York and the minority leader, said in a statement.

The accountability office is led by Gene L. Dodaro, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2010 and confirmed by the Senate. Directors of the agency serve 15-year terms in an effort to remove the influence of politics from their decisions.

The hold on the military aid to Ukraine had provoked questions this past summer from officials at the White House budget office as well as the Defense Department while the freeze was in place.

State Department and Pentagon officials were confused as to why the hold on the funding had been imposed. As the summer progressed, they became increasingly concerned that the money could not be completely spent before the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

American diplomats testified last year during the impeachment inquiry that they understood the aid freeze to be a means of pressuring Ukraine into opening investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals. Mr. Trump has denied using the aid as leverage, and the White House has said the freeze was intended to provide time to explore whether Ukraine, with its long history of official corruption, could be trusted with the money.

The impeachment vote by the House and the ruling Thursday by the G.A.O. focused on different questions.

House Democrats accused Mr. Trump of using the aid as leverage in his pressure campaign against Ukraine.

The G.A.O. examined whether the Trump administration violated appropriations law by withholding the aid in the first place, a review conducted at the request of Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland.

The agency found that the White House violated the law because it did not notify Congress about the deferral in the spending, and the freeze did not appear to be motivated by a desire to find a more efficient way to spend the money, which might have been allowable, the report said. Instead, the administration was arguing that it had the right to determine the “best use of such funds,” ignoring Congress’s power to set spending requirements.

“When Congress enacts appropriations, it has provided budget authority that agencies must obligate in a manner consistent with law,” said the ruling, which was signed by Mr. Armstrong. “The Constitution vests lawmaking power with the Congress.”

The accountability office’s ruling was focused on the money controlled by the Pentagon, which had informed Congress that Ukraine had met the conditions for receiving it and that it intended to release it. It did not rule on the money controlled by the State Department, but expressed frustration at the administration’s unwillingness to respond to questions about it.

“We consider a reluctance to provide a fulsome response to have constitutional significance,” Mr. Armstrong wrote. The G.A.O.’s role, he said, “is essential to ensuring respect for and allegiance to Congress’ constitutional power of the purse.”

Formal determinations by the G.A.O. that the Impoundment Control Act has been violated have occurred in past administrations, including during the tenure of President George W. Bush.

But a search of the agency’s website of past cases involving a “programmatic delay” — the formal legal term for what the White House claimed happened with the military assistance to Ukraine — suggests they have become more frequent during Mr. Trump’s tenure.

The agency concluded in late 2017 that the Energy Department violated the law when it withheld $91 million to help develop new energy technologies, a spending program created during the Obama administration that the department wanted to kill.

In late 2017, the Homeland Security Department refused to spend $95 million to build a new ship called a National Security Cutter, leading to objections from members of Congress, including then-Senator Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, who represented the area where the ships are built.

In both cases, the administration ultimately released the money.

The ruling is a sign of an administration that appears to believe it can spend federal funds as it sees fit, regardless of the constitutional authority of Congress to decide on federal spending, said James P. Pfiffner, a professor at George Mason University who wrote a book about the impoundment act.

Other examples of the Trump administration’s belief that it can unilaterally determine how federal funds are spent include its shifting of Defense Department funds from different accounts to help build a wall on the southern border, Mr. Pfiffner said.

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

Trump Hopes Trade Deals Will Boost Growth. Experts Are Skeptical.

Westlake Legal Group 15DC-CHINAECON-sub-facebookJumbo Trump Hopes Trade Deals Will Boost Growth. Experts Are Skeptical. United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Economy Trump, Donald J Presidential Election of 2020 International Trade and World Market Customs (Tariff) China

WASHINGTON — Cabinet secretaries and White House officials have predicted that President Trump’s initial trade agreement with China and his revised accord with Mexico and Canada — slated for final passage this week — will deliver twin jolts to the economy.

But outside forecasters, including some economists who have welcomed the China agreement in particular, have predicted much more modest gains — and, in some cases, no gains at all.

“We now have U.S.M.C.A.; that’s going to pass the Senate this week,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday on CNBC, referring to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. “We have China Phase 1, there is a deal with Japan, a deal with Korea. These are all going to have significant positive effects on the 2020 economy.”

He and other officials have good reason to hope: Mr. Trump is up for re-election, and the economy appears to have grown by just over 2 percent in 2019, a dip from 2018 and well short of the administration’s forecasts of growth above 3 percent for the year.

The administration has yet to publish an official 2020 growth forecast. Mr. Mnuchin said on Sunday that he expected the economy to grow between 2.5 percent and 3 percent this year, though he cautioned that growth could fall to the lower end of that range because of troubles at the aerospace giant Boeing.

Other forecasts were less optimistic. The World Bank said last week that it expected the United States economy to grow by 1.8 percent this year. The first phase of the China trade deals and the U.S.M.C.A. are not expected to have much of an impact on the more pessimistic predictions.

“I have not changed my forecast as of yet and don’t expect to materially,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief United States economist for High Frequency Economics. She expects the nation’s economy to grow by 1.8 percent this year.

The China agreement, she said, “is a step in the right direction, but tariffs remain in place, and I’m not sure they will be rolled back imminently.”

The Phase 1 agreement could affect American growth in two ways, and administration officials are counting on both to deliver.

First, the deal calls for China to begin purchasing what the administration says will be $200 billion worth of American crops and other exported goods and services. Those purchases should increase exports from the United States to China, which, all else being equal, would promote growth.

Second, and perhaps more important, administration officials appear to be counting on the agreement to revive business investment in the United States, which has fallen in recent quarters after surging in the first half of 2018. The uncertainty that Mr. Trump and the Chinese sowed as they imposed escalating tariffs on each other’s imports was largely to blame for that sluggishness, many companies and economists have said.

The bullish case for the China agreement is that it will ease that uncertainty. Some economists say the U.S.M.C.A. could do the same. For months, administration officials have touted a study by the United States International Trade Commission that predicted that the North American trade deal could raise growth by 0.35 percent, largely by reducing uncertainty over trade in digital services.

Andrew Hunter, senior United States economist at Capital Economics, backed that assessment on Tuesday. “The gap that opened up last year between investment and corporate profits suggests that tariff uncertainty has caused firms to delay” investment plans, he wrote in a research note. He added, “With the U.S.M.C.A. deal signed and the threat of further tariffs on Chinese goods seemingly off the table, that drag should now be fading.”

Many economists have praised the agreements for reducing uncertainty, but few have raised their growth forecasts because of them. That is in part because they say the deals still leave a large number of tariffs in place — particularly those against China, but also on some steel, aluminum, solar panels and washing machines imported from other countries.

They also noted that Mr. Trump had waged his trade wars on fronts well beyond North America and China. New trade battles loom this year, including one between the United States and France over a French push to impose a new tax that hits American tech giants like Google and Amazon.

Mary Lovely, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the Phase 1 agreement was “good news for the U.S. and the world economy.” But, she said, “there remains considerable uncertainly for businesses using China as a platform for products destined for the U.S. market, and we will continue to see the impact of this in slower investment and higher business costs.”

Lewis Alexander, chief United States economist at Nomura, revised his 2020 growth forecast up by 0.1 percentage points in late fall to reflect the suspension of a new round of tariffs that had been set to take effect in December. He said he did not expect a material gain in business investment because of the deals.

Several economists expressed optimism that a “Phase 2” deal with China that rolls back more tariffs — coupled with a long stretch of trade peace on other fronts — could deliver more benefits to the economy. But administration officials appear to have ruled out such a deal before November.

“Yes, there is some upside risk to our outlook if things go better than we expect,” Mr. Alexander said. “But in general the direct effects of tariff changes are not large, and to really change the tone, a lot of things about the U.S.-China relationship would have to be settled in a way that seemed durable. It’s hard to see how that could be achieved in an election year.”

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Watchdog Says Trump Administration Broke Law in Withholding Ukraine Aid

Westlake Legal Group 16dc-gao-facebookJumbo Watchdog Says Trump Administration Broke Law in Withholding Ukraine Aid United States Politics and Government Ukraine Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Office of Management and Budget (US) impeachment Government Accountability Office Budgets and Budgeting

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration violated the law in withholding security assistance aid to Ukraine, a nonpartisan federal watchdog agency said on Thursday, weighing in on a decision by President Trump that is at the heart of the impeachment case against him.

The Government Accountability Office said the White House’s Office of Management and Budget violated the Impoundment Control Act when it withheld nearly $400 million for “a policy reason,” even though the funds had been allocated by Congress. The decision was directed by the president himself, and during the House impeachment inquiry, administration officials testified that they had raised concerns about its legality to no avail.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the president to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” the G.A.O. wrote. “The withholding was not a programmatic delay.”

The impoundment law limits a president’s power to withhold money that has been allocated by Congress, requiring that he secure approval by the legislative branch if he wishes to do so.

The White House budget office promptly rejected the report’s conclusions.

“We disagree with G.A.O.’s opinion,” said Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for the budget office. “O.M.B. uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the president’s priorities and with the law.”

The report, on its own, does not result in any action, although its release just as Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial is getting underway is certain to fuel additional questions about the impact of his actions.

Senator Chris Van Hollen, Democrat of Maryland, a vocal critic of Mr. Trump’s decision to block the funds, on Thursday called the G.A.O. report a “bombshell legal opinion.” It “demonstrates, without a doubt, that the Trump Administration illegally withheld assistance from Ukraine and the public evidence shows that the president himself ordered this illegal act,” he wrote on Twitter.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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Ukraine Investigates Reports of Surveillance of Marie Yovanovitch

Westlake Legal Group 16ukraine-facebookJumbo Ukraine Investigates Reports of Surveillance of Marie Yovanovitch Yovanovitch, Marie L United States International Relations United States Ukraine Trump, Donald J Surveillance of Citizens by Government Politics and Government impeachment

The police in Ukraine have opened a criminal investigation into whether allies of President Trump had the United States ambassador to the country under surveillance while she was stationed in Kyiv, the Ukrainian government said on Thursday.

Democrats in the House of Representative on Tuesday revealed text messages to and from Lev Parnas — an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer — pointing to surveillance of the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, just before Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate was scheduled to begin.

Mr. Parnas was involved in a campaign, led by Mr. Giuliani, to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Democratic presidential candidate; and his son Hunter Biden over the younger Mr. Biden’s lucrative time on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma.

Also on Thursday, Ukraine said it had asked the F.B.I. for help investigating the reported penetration of Burisma’s computer systems by hackers working for Russian intelligence.

As part of the pressure campaign against Ukraine, Mr. Trump’s allies were trying to have Ms. Yovanovitch, who was seen as an impediment, removed from her post. Mr. Trump recalled her last spring.

Last March, an exchange between Mr. Parnas and another man, Robert F. Hyde, indicated that Mr. Hyde was in contact with people who were watching Ms. Yovanovitch.

“They are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” one message from Mr. Hyde read.

Mr. Parnas said in a televised interview on Wednesday that he had not taken Mr. Hyde’s offer seriously.

Mr. Hyde told the Sinclair Broadcasting host Eric Bolling in a television interview on Wednesday that he was “absolutely not” monitoring Ms. Yovanovitch. He said he was under the influence of alcohol when he sent his messages to Mr. Parnas.

“It was just colorful, we were playing — I thought we were playing,” Mr. Hyde said.

The State Department did not reply to a list of questions about the text messages, surveillance of Ms. Yovanovitch, or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s knowledge of the matter and role in her ouster.

The Internal Affairs Ministry of Ukraine said in a statement released on Thursday that the country “cannot ignore such illegal activities” on its territory. “After analyzing these materials, the National Police of Ukraine upon their publication started criminal proceedings,” the statement read.

“Our goal is to investigate whether there were any violations of Ukrainian and international laws,” the ministry added. “Or maybe it was just bravado and fake conversation between two U.S. citizens.”

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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Ukraine Investigates Reports of Illegal Surveillance of U.S. Ambassador

Westlake Legal Group 16ukraine-facebookJumbo Ukraine Investigates Reports of Illegal Surveillance of U.S. Ambassador Yovanovitch, Marie L United States International Relations United States Ukraine Trump, Donald J Surveillance of Citizens by Government Politics and Government impeachment

The police in Ukraine have opened a criminal investigation into whether allies of President Trump had the United States ambassador to the country under surveillance while she was stationed in Kyiv, the Ukrainian government said on Thursday.

Democrats in the House of Representative on Tuesday revealed evidence pointing to surveillance of the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, just before Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial in the Senate was scheduled to begin.

The House released text messages to and from Lev Parnas — an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer — who was involved in a campaign to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who is seen as a strong potential challenger to Mr. Trump.

As part of that campaign, the president’s allies were trying to remove Ms. Yovanovitch from her post. They ultimately succeeded.

Last March, an exchange between Mr. Parnas and another man, Robert F. Hyde, indicated that Mr. Hyde was in contact with people who were watching Ms. Yovanovitch.

“They are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” said a message from Mr. Hyde.

The State Department did not reply to a list of questions about the text messages, surveillance of Ms. Yovanovitch, or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s knowledge of the matter and role in her ouster.

“Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on its territory,” Ukraine’s Internal Affairs Ministry said in a statement released on Thursday. “After analyzing these materials, the National Police of Ukraine upon their publication started criminal proceedings.”

“Our goal is to investigate whether there were any violations of Ukrainian and international laws,” the ministry added. “Or maybe it was just bravado and fake conversation between two U.S. citizens.”

Edward Wong contributed reporting.

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Trump Hopes Trade Deals Will Boost Growth. Experts Don’t Agree.

Westlake Legal Group 15DC-CHINAECON-sub-facebookJumbo Trump Hopes Trade Deals Will Boost Growth. Experts Don’t Agree. United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement United States Politics and Government United States International Relations United States Economy Trump, Donald J Presidential Election of 2020 International Trade and World Market China

WASHINGTON — Cabinet secretaries and White House officials have predicted that President Trump’s initial trade agreement with China and his revised accord with Mexico and Canada — slated for final passage this week — will deliver twin jolts to the economy.

But outside forecasters, including some economists who have welcomed the China agreement in particular, have predicted much more modest gains — and, in some cases, no gains at all.

“We now have U.S.M.C.A.; that’s going to pass the Senate this week,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Wednesday on CNBC, referring to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. “We have China Phase 1, there is a deal with Japan, a deal with Korea. These are all going to have significant positive effects on the 2020 economy.”

He and other officials have good reason to hope: Mr. Trump is up for re-election, and the economy appears to have grown by just over 2 percent in 2019, a dip from 2018 and well short of the administration’s forecasts of growth above 3 percent for the year.

The administration has yet to publish an official 2020 growth forecast. Mr. Mnuchin said on Sunday that he expected the economy to grow between 2.5 percent and 3 percent this year, though he cautioned that growth could fall to the lower end of that range because of troubles at the aerospace giant Boeing.

Other forecasts were less optimistic. The World Bank said last week that it expected the United States economy to grow by 1.8 percent this year. The first phase of the China trade deals and the U.S.M.C.A. are not expected to have much of an impact on the more pessimistic predictions.

“I have not changed my forecast as of yet and don’t expect to materially,” said Rubeela Farooqi, chief United States economist for High Frequency Economics. She expects the nation’s economy to grow by 1.8 percent this year.

The China agreement, she said, “is a step in the right direction, but tariffs remain in place, and I’m not sure they will be rolled back imminently.”

The Phase 1 agreement could affect American growth in two ways, and administration officials are counting on both to deliver.

First, the deal calls for China to begin purchasing what the administration says will be $200 billion worth of American crops and other exported goods and services. Those purchases should increase exports from the United States to China, which, all else being equal, would promote growth.

Second, and perhaps more important, administration officials appear to be counting on the agreement to revive business investment in the United States, which has fallen in recent quarters after surging in the first half of 2018. The uncertainty that Mr. Trump and the Chinese sowed as they imposed escalating tariffs on each other’s imports was largely to blame for that sluggishness, many companies and economists have said.

The bullish case for the China agreement is that it will ease that uncertainty. Some economists say the U.S.M.C.A. could do the same. For months, administration officials have touted a study by the United States International Trade Commission that predicted that the North American trade deal could raise growth by 0.35 percent, largely by reducing uncertainty over trade in digital services.

Andrew Hunter, senior United States economist at Capital Economics, backed that assessment on Tuesday. “The gap that opened up last year between investment and corporate profits suggests that tariff uncertainty has caused firms to delay” investment plans, he wrote in a research note. He added, “With the U.S.M.C.A. deal signed and the threat of further tariffs on Chinese goods seemingly off the table, that drag should now be fading.”

Many economists have praised the agreements for reducing uncertainty, but few have raised their growth forecasts because of them. That is in part because they say the deals still leave a large number of tariffs in place — particularly those against China, but also on some steel, aluminum, solar panels and washing machines imported from other countries.

They also noted that Mr. Trump had waged his trade wars on fronts well beyond North America and China. New trade battles loom this year, including one between the United States and France over a French push to impose a new tax that hits American tech giants like Google and Amazon.

Mary Lovely, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the Phase 1 agreement was “good news for the U.S. and the world economy.” But, she said, “there remains considerable uncertainly for businesses using China as a platform for products destined for the U.S. market, and we will continue to see the impact of this in slower investment and higher business costs.”

Lewis Alexander, chief United States economist at Nomura, revised his 2020 growth forecast up by 0.1 percentage points in late fall to reflect the suspension of a new round of tariffs that had been set to take effect in December. He said he did not expect a material gain in business investment because of the deals.

Several economists expressed optimism that a “Phase 2” deal with China that rolls back more tariffs — coupled with a long stretch of trade peace on other fronts — could deliver more benefits to the economy. But administration officials appear to have ruled out such a deal before November.

“Yes, there is some upside risk to our outlook if things go better than we expect,” Mr. Alexander said. “But in general the direct effects of tariff changes are not large, and to really change the tone, a lot of things about the U.S.-China relationship would have to be settled in a way that seemed durable. It’s hard to see how that could be achieved in an election year.”

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Lev Parnas, Key Player in Ukraine Affair, Completes Break With Trump and Giuliani

Westlake Legal Group merlin_166609758_87322c82-08ee-4f02-827d-a568d50bd233-facebookJumbo Lev Parnas, Key Player in Ukraine Affair, Completes Break With Trump and Giuliani Yovanovitch, Marie L United States Politics and Government United States International Relations Ukraine Trump, Donald J Jr Trump, Donald J Trump-Ukraine Whistle-Blower Complaint and Impeachment Inquiry Republican National Committee Presidential Election of 2020 Parnas, Lev One America Giuliani, Rudolph W Fruman, Igor America First Action

WASHINGTON — Lev Parnas, the Soviet-born businessman who played a central role in the campaign to pressure Ukraine to investigate political rivals of President Trump, completed his break with the White House on Wednesday, asserting for the first time in public that the president was fully aware of the efforts to dig up damaging information on his behalf.

In an interview with The New York Times on the day the House transmitted articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump to the Senate, Mr. Parnas also expressed regret for having trusted Mr. Trump and Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and the architect of the Ukraine pressure campaign. His lawyer said he was eager to cooperate with federal prosecutors investigating Mr. Giuliani.

Mr. Parnas made his remarks as House impeachment investigators released more material he had turned over to them. The material, including text messages, photos and calendar entries, underscored how deeply Mr. Parnas and others were involved in carrying out the pressure campaign and how new information continues to surface even as the Senate prepares to begin Mr. Trump’s trial next week. And it provided additional evidence that the effort to win political advantage for Mr. Trump was widely known among his allies, showing that Mr. Parnas communicated regularly with two top Republican fund-raisers about what he was up to.

Text messages and call logs show that Mr. Parnas was in contact with Tom Hicks Jr., a donor and Trump family friend, and Joseph Ahearn, who raised money for pro-Trump political groups, about developments in the Ukraine pressure campaign.

In the text messages, Mr. Parnas kept Mr. Hicks and Mr. Ahearn apprised of efforts to disseminate damaging information about targets of Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani, including the United States ambassador to Kyiv, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Ukrainians who spread information about Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman.

The records seem to expand the circle of people around Mr. Trump who were aware in real time of the pressure campaign. The campaign led to Mr. Trump’s impeachment in the House last month and a Senate trial that will start next week just as the 2020 presidential campaign is moving into high gear.

In the interview with The Times, Mr. Parnas said that although he did not speak with Mr. Trump directly about the efforts, he met with the president on several occasions and was told by Mr. Giuliani that Mr. Trump was kept in the loop. Mr. Parnas pointed in particular to text messages, released by the House this week, in which Mr. Giuliani refers to an effort to obtain a visa for a former Ukrainian official who leveled corruption allegations against Mr. Biden.

In the messages, Mr. Giuliani boasted of the effort to secure the visa: “It’s going to work I have no 1 in it.” Mr. Parnas said the reference to No. 1 was to Mr. Trump.

“I am betting my whole life that Trump knew exactly everything that was going on that Rudy Giuliani was doing in Ukraine,” Mr. Parnas said.

Mr. Parnas, an American citizen who was arrested in October on largely unrelated federal criminal charges, expressed remorse for his role in helping the Ukrainian pressure campaign, but pinned blame on the president and Mr. Giuliani.

“My biggest regret is trusting so much,” he said. “I thought I was being a patriot and helping the president,” he said, adding that he “thought by listening to the president and his attorney that I couldn’t possibly get in trouble or do anything wrong.”

Now that he faces criminal charges in the Southern District of New York, Mr. Parnas, who has pleaded not guilty, is looking to cooperate with prosecutors in his case, who are conducting a broader investigation into Mr. Giuliani and his dealings in Ukraine.

“We very much want to be heard in the Southern District,” Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, said in the interview with The Times. “We very much want to provide substantial assistance to the government.”

Taken together, the comments on Wednesday capped a stunning turnabout for a man who was a Trump donor and once considered himself a close friend of Mr. Giuliani, who is a godfather to his son.

Mr. Giuliani said in a text message on Wednesday that it was “sad to watch how the Trump haters are using” Mr. Parnas. He attributed Mr. Parnas’s willingness to share documents with congressional Democrats to a desire for “attention.”

He called Mr. Parnas “a proven liar,” and suggested he was undermining his credibility as a potential witness. “Let him run himself out then I’ll respond if necessary,” Mr. Giuliani said.

During the interview with The Times, as well as in a taped interview Mr. Parnas gave on Wednesday to the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, Mr. Parnas emphasized that he was always acting on behalf of Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani.

When asked by The Times how he knew that Mr. Trump was aware of the pressure campaign, he said that Mr. Giuliani assured him that was the case.

Before taking his first trip to Ukraine in February 2019, Mr. Parnas said that he met with Mr. Giuliani at the Grand Havana Room, a smoke-filled private club high above Midtown Manhattan, and relayed a concern that he and an associate, Igor Fruman, lacked the diplomatic credentials to carry out their task. Mr. Parnas said he proposed that the president designate them “special envoys” to ensure their safety and access.

Then, Mr. Parnas said, Mr. Giuliani walked away to call Mr. Trump, and returned with a new plan: He would represent Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, as well as the president, a move that might afford their shared mission the confidentiality of attorney-client privilege. Mr. Giuliani has denied Mr. Parnas’s account.

Days later, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman embarked for Eastern Europe.

Upon his return, Mr. Parnas began working with influential conservatives to disseminate the information and claims he helped collect from Ukraine. The materials released Wednesday also show him maintaining regular communication with Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s chief prosecutor at the time, who was advocating the removal of the United States ambassador in Kyiv and was promising help in getting information about Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

By late March, as the claims began to circulate widely in the pro-Trump conservative news media, Mr. Parnas texted an associate, “I’m officially part of team trump,” according to the records released Wednesday.

In addition to the text messages, Mr. Parnas, who was indicted in October on campaign finance charges, provided Democrats in the House with voice mail messages left on his phone by Mr. Giuliani and another lawyer who worked on the Ukraine effort, emails, calendar entries and a bevy of photographs of Mr. Parnas with Trump allies.

In one photograph, which appears to be from May 2018, Mr. Parnas poses at a restaurant table with Mr. Fruman, who was also charged in the campaign finance case, as well as Mr. Hicks and the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

That same month, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman donated $325,000 in the name of a newly-created energy company, Global Energy Producers, to a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, with which Mr. Hicks and Mr. Ahearn were affiliated.

In February, Mr. Hicks sent Mr. Parnas a video of a segment on the conservative television channel One America News Network that criticized a Ukrainian lawmaker who disseminated information about cash payments earmarked for Mr. Manafort by a Russia-aligned Ukrainian political party.

“Show Rudy,” Mr. Hicks wrote.

“On it now,” Mr. Parnas responded.

Mr. Hicks, who is friendly with Donald Trump Jr., later suggested that Mr. Parnas share “what we know at right time” with the editor and owner of the conservative Daily Caller website, whom he called “a friend. I trust him 100%.”

The next month, after the publication of a series of articles critical of the ambassador, Marie L. Yovanovitch, on which Mr. Parnas and Mr. Giuliani had worked with a conservative journalist, Mr. Parnas shared a tweet on a related subject by the Fox News host Sean Hannity.

“You should retweet it,” Mr. Parnas wrote.

Mr. Hicks responded “I should probably keep my hands clean on that!”

That day, Mr. Ahearn texted Mr. Parnas asking “What should I send Don to tweet,” an apparent reference to Donald Trump Jr.

Mr. Parnas responded with links to tweets highlighting the articles about Ms. Yovanovitch, and a Ukrainian official who released the documents about the payments earmarked for Mr. Manafort. “Have jr retweet it,” Mr. Parnas wrote.

“Sent,” Mr. Ahearn responded.

It is unclear if Mr. Ahearn passed along the request to Donald Trump Jr., though Mr. Trump did retweet a Republican strategist criticizing Ms. Yovanovitch.

And a few days later, Mr. Parnas texted Mr. Ahearn another article about calls to remove Ms. Yovanovitch, which Mr. Trump posted on Twitter, commenting that the United States needs “less of these jokers as ambassadors.”

Mr. Parnas then sent an image of Mr. Trump’s tweet to Mr. Ahearn.

Mr. Trump ordered Ms. Yovanovitch’s recall in late April amid mounting calls for him to do so from conservative figures.

Peter Chavkin, a lawyer for Mr. Ahearn, said, “Nothing in the communications seems out of the ordinary or sparks any concern.”

Mr. Hicks, who was the chairman of America First Action before stepping aside to become a co-chairman of the Republican National Committee, did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokeswoman for America First declined to comment. The organization has provided documents to prosecutors investigating the campaign finance charges against Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman. And two people who have helped raise money for America First Action were subpoenaed by the prosecutors last year.

Kenneth P. Vogel reported from Washington, and Ben Protess from New York. William K. Rashbaum and Michael Rothfeld contributed reporting from New York.

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Trump Tax Break That Benefited the Rich Is Being Investigated

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A federal tax break meant to help poor communities that became a windfall for wealthy investors is being investigated by the Treasury Department, the agency’s deputy inspector general said on Wednesday.

The inquiry is being conducted at the request of three Democratic lawmakers, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, Representative Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri and Representative Ron Kind of Wisconsin.

The lawmakers made their request after articles in The New York Times and ProPublica raised questions about the Opportunity Zone tax break.

The legislation, part of the 2017 tax overhaul, is supposed to encourage new investment in poor neighborhoods, leading to new housing, businesses and jobs. However, wealthy investors are piling into the initiative, including developers with ties to the Trump administration.

Last year, The Times reported how money eligible for the tax break — supported by both Democrats and Republicans — was going to luxury projects in affluent neighborhoods, including deals that were underway long before the tax break took effect.

In October, The Times described how the financier Michael Milken stood to benefit from a move the Treasury Department made over the objections of some agency officials to permit a census tract in Nevada to qualify for the Opportunity Zone tax break. Mr. Milken is a longtime friend of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s.

“Despite these warnings from staff, Secretary Mnuchin instructed Treasury officials to allow the otherwise ineligible tract to qualify for the incentive,” the lawmakers wrote in seeking the inquiry. “If the Treasury Department provided a stamp of approval as a political favor, it is not only unacceptable, but in complete violation of the congressional intent of the Opportunity Zones.”

The Treasury’s internal watchdog expects “to complete our work and respond to the congressional requesters in early spring,” Rich Delmar, the department’s deputy inspector general, said in a statement.

Other potential beneficiaries of the Opportunity Zone tax break, The Times reported last year, were billionaire financiers like Leon Cooperman; Chris Christie, the former New Jersey governor; Richard LeFrak, a New York real estate titan who is close to the president; and the family of Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser.

The initiative allows people to sell stocks or other investments and delay capital gains taxes for years — as long as they put the proceeds into projects in federally certified opportunity zones. Investors can avoid federal taxes on any profits from those projects.

In late December, the administration finished the program’s regulations. Officials said the regulations gave investors more clarity and flexibility on how to deploy their money, and push more funds into designated areas.

NBC News earlier reported the news of the inquiry.

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