Sen. Thom Tillis: Dems' strategy of personal destruction against Trump began with Brett Kavanaugh   

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Democrats know they can’t beat President Trump by running on the issues the American people care about, which is why they’ve employed the politics of personal destruction.
          

Steve Moore: Democrats are wrong. Middle-class incomes surging – thanks to Trump policies   

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Middle-class families are enjoying a near-unprecedented income windfall.
          

Liz Peek: Panicky Democrats beg Michelle Obama to run -- But would she win?   

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Washington insiders report that Democratic Party officials are also urging former First Lady Michelle Obama to enter the 2020 presidential race.
          

FreedomWorks Statement in Response to $984 Billion CBO Budget Deficit Estimate   

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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In response to the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) recently released final estimated budget deficit for FY 2019, which shows the deficit reaching $984 billion, Jason Pye, FreedomWorks Vice President of Legislative Affairs, commented:

“Democrats and Republicans must be held responsible for the outrageous deficit reported today by the CBO. Fiscal sanity has all but escaped Washington, as evidenced by this year’s cap-busting budget deal. This unsustainable situation is only going to get worse.

“In spite of record revenues, the deficit has grown to a nearly insurmountable figure under Congress’ watch — or more accurately, its lack thereof. If the federal government is to one day get its fiscal house in order, Congress needs to take a hard look at cutting spending, which means considering real reforms to mandatory spending programs, the primary drivers of the deficit.”


          

Trump: 'Democrats are lucky that they don't have any Mitt Romney types'   

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President Trump said in a tweet early Sunday that Democrats are “lucky” not to have any “Mitt Romney types” after the Republican senator said Trump’s call for China and Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was “wrong and appalling.” "The Democrats are lucky that they don’t have any Mitt Romney types," Trump tweeted. "They may be lousy politicians, with really bad policies (Open Borders, Sanctuary Cities etc.), but they stick together!"
          

South Carolina Will Be The First Test Of 2020 Democrats In The South   

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On Point Live! travels to South Carolina to hear what’s on the minds of voters in the Palmetto State. Gavin Jackson, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Rev. Tiffany Knowlin Boykin and Matt Moore join Meghna Chakrabarti.


          

Democrats Are Right to Insist on Better Enforcement Provisions in the USMCA   

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“If you can’t enforce the provisions in any treaty, then you really are not protecting American w

          

Trump left isolated as Republican allies revolt over US withdrawal from Syria   

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Trump left isolated as Republican allies revolt over US withdrawal from SyriaMitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham lead condemnation of foreign policy move that could prove ‘disaster in the making’Donald Trump with Mark Milley, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, in the Cabinet Room on Monday. Lindsey Graham said abandoning the Kurds would be ‘a stain on America’s honour’. Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/APDonald Trump was dangerously isolated on Monday as, in a rare rebuke, some of his most loyal allies revolted against his decision to withdraw US troops from north-eastern Syria.Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell led a chorus of Republicans who, having defended the president on almost every other issue – including over impeachment – decided to draw a line in the sand.“A precipitous withdrawal of US forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime,” McConnell said. “And it would increase the risk that Isis and other terrorist groups regroup.”He added: “As we learned the hard way during the Obama administration, American interests are best served by American leadership, not by retreat or withdrawal.”The criticism was significant because McConnell is usually at pains not to cross Trump even at his most capricious. Last week the Kentucky senator released a Facebook video promising to stop Democratic-led impeachment in its tracks.Article 1 of the United States constitution gives the House of Representatives the sole power to initiate impeachment and the Senate the sole power to try impeachments of the president. A president can be impeached if they are judged to have committed "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" – although the constitution does not specify what “high crimes and misdemeanors” are.The process starts with the House of Representatives passing articles of impeachment. A simple majority of members need to vote in favour of impeachment for it to pass to the next stage. Democrats currently control the house, with 235 representatives.The chief justice of the US supreme court then presides over the proceedings in the Senate, where the president is tried, with senators acting as the jury. For the president to be found guilty two-thirds of senators must vote to convict. Republicans currently control the Senate, with 53 of the 100 senators.Two presidents have previously been impeached, Bill Clinton in 1998, and Andrew Johnson in 1868, though neither was removed from office as a result. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before there was a formal vote to impeach him.Martin BelamThe unusual fracture emerged on Sunday night when, shortly after a phone conversation between Trump and Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the White House announced removal of US troops from the Syria-Turkey border area. “Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria,” it added.Critics of all political stripes have long feared that the move could open the way for a Turkish strike on Kurdish-led fighters in the area. Kurdish groups have fought alongside a small US presence in Syria to drive Islamic State militants from the region.The Republican backlash was rapid and potentially unnerving for a president whose fate is tethered to the party and the assumption that it will acquit him in the Senate if, as widely expected, the Democratic-led House of Representatives votes for impeachment.Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, who has become an outspoken defender (and frequent golf partner) of Trump, did not acquiesce this time. Abandonment of the Kurds would be “a disaster in the making”, he said, and “a stain on America’s honour”.Graham told Fox News: “I hope I’m making myself clear how short-sighted and irresponsible this decision is. I like President Trump. I’ve tried to help him. This, to me, is just unnerving to its core.”Graham wrote on Twitter that if the plan goes ahead, he will introduce a Senate resolution opposing it and seeking reversal of the decision. He added: “We will introduce bipartisan sanctions against Turkey if they invade Syria and will call for their suspension from NATO if they attack Kurdish forces who assisted the US in the destruction of the ISIS Caliphate.”Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in the House, whose attempts to defend Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president have provoked mockery, said: “If you make a commitment and somebody is fighting with you, America should keep their word.”Michael McCaul of Texas, the lead Republican on the House foreign affairs committee, also urged the president to reconsider. “The United States should not step aside and allow a Turkish military operation in north-east Syria,” he said. “This move will undermine our ongoing campaign to prevent an Isis resurgence and will ultimately threaten our homeland.“Additionally, the United States needs to stay engaged to prevent further destructive involvement in the region from our adversaries like the Assad regime, Putin and Iran.”Notably, senator Marco Rubio of Florida, reluctant to criticise Trump even when the president suggested that China investigate former vice president and 2020 election rival Joe Biden, was clear , describing the retreat as “a grave mistake that will have implications far beyond Syria”And Nikki Haley, Trump’s former UN ambassador, admonished Trump without mentioning his name. “We must always have the backs of our allies, if we expect them to have our back,” she tweeted. “The Kurds were instrumental in our successful fight against ISIS in Syria. Leaving them to die is a big mistake. TurkeyIsNotOurFriend”Ominously for Trump, even conservative Fox News aired dissent. Host Brian Kilmeade described the pullout as “a disaster”, telling viewers of Fox & Friends: “Abandon our allies? That’s a campaign promise? Abandon the people that got the caliphate destroyed?”Republicans who have contradicted Trump before did so forcefully again. Utah senator Mitt Romney described Trump’s announcement as “a betrayal”, adding: “It says that America is an unreliable ally; it facilitates ISIS resurgence; and it presages another humanitarian disaster.”Romney and Democratic senator Chris Murphy issued a joint statement insisting Trump’s administration “explain to the American people how betraying an ally and ceding influence to terrorists and adversaries is not disastrous for our national security interests”.Democrats also piled in but there was a lone voice of support for the president on Capitol Hill. Republican senator Rand Paul, long a critic of foreign intervention, said: “So many neocons want us to stay in wars all over the Middle East forever. [Trump] is absolutely right to end those wars and bring the troops home.”Trump himself was undeterred by the blowback. Speaking at the White House on Monday, he said he has “great respect” for the prominent Republican critics. And added: “People are extremely thrilled because they say it’s time to bring our people back home. We’re not a police force. They’re policing the area. We’re not a police force. The UK was very thrilled at this decision … many people agree with it very strongly.”



          

Comment on Impeachment summary 2: of honeymoons and resumés by William    

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Ah, the media. I never can abide Todd, so I am glad that he may have actually stood up to a Trump lackey in an interview. According to what I read, most of them on the Sunday shows just let them make their ridiculous defenses of Trump and attacks on Democrats, and say nothing. Why that is, would require a much-needed and bold book. Gene Lyons and Joe Conason wrote one after the Gore vs. Bush election, and I skimmed it in the store (too depressing to actually buy and fully read), and it said what most do not even dare to say, about how biased the media was against Gore, almost reveling in it. It was even worse with Hillary, of course. It is not a bug, as the computer people like to say. Trump is veritably destroying this country, and yet there must be this "respect" shown to him. He has called Biden and Waters crooked and stupid; he calls Schiff a traitor, and I guess it's okay. Hillary said "deplorables," and was excoriated for it. Yes, no one will trust us again Trump supports all dictators, and that's apparently okay with the media, too. If there were a fascist elected as president, someone who wanted to align with other fascists to form a consortium, which aided each other financially, and helped to snuff out all forms of protest, it would look very much like Trump.But the media can't or won't see what is at stake here. Are tax breaks that wonderful that the cost is giving up the American democracy? Can one imagine what a Trump second term, or even a Pence or Mark Sanford term would look like? Like France before the Revolution, most likely, or perhaps Dickens' London. The media cannot stop itself from holding Democrats to an infinitely higher standard in discourse and behavior. And rest assured that if we nominate Warren, as now seems likely, the entire campaign will be about the feasibility of her proposals, we will be on the defensive throughout. Corporate America values its wealth more than anything else. Trump has given them massive tax cuts and breaks, and that is apparently enough to obviate all the rest of the horror. I am much afraid that with an apparent chance to win the field, we are about to send the troops off a cliff because the view toward the other side looks inviting.
          

Comment on Impeachment summary 2: of honeymoons and resumés by jmac    

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<blockquote>It’s hard to know where to start with this. It would make me enumerate another list of outrageous behaviors by Trump that clearly show that Donald Trump didn’t deserve “well wishes from his opponents” or ANY decent American for that matter. None of his opponents want any part in this. We don’t condone it and we haven’t been given a good reason for why we should taint ourselves by being in the vicinity of his toxic waste pool.</blockquote> It's amazing that when the Democrats start to act like Republicans have acted since the mid-90s The Rs start to whine. <blockquote>Meanwhile, the honeymoon is over with the press.</blockquote> I hope you are right, but one call out doesn't begin to prove it to me.
          

House Democrats roll out plan to lower prescription med costs for families   

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As of 2016, Michigan had the fifth-highest prescription drug costs in the nation.
          

Impeachment subpoenas hit Pentagon, White House as second whistleblower steps forward   

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Monday brought a new round of subpoenas related to the impeachment inquiry, as House Democrats sent demands for documents to the Pentagon and White House budget office. Meanwhile, a second whistleblower entered the picture to back up the original complaint. Yamiche Alcindor reports, then joins Lisa Desjardins and Amna Nawaz for more, including the U.S. withdrawal from Syria.
          

2020 Democrats roll out new policy proposals on paid family leave, corporate interest   

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While some Democratic presidential candidates offered a chorus of tough words for President Trump from the campaign trail over the weekend, others, like Sen. Kamala Harris and Sen. Bernie Sanders, chose Monday to roll out new policy ideas. Lisa Desjardins reports.
          

Pentagon and budget office subpoenaed in impeachment inquiry   

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House Democrats have subpoenaed the Pentagon and White House budget office for documents on delay of military aid to Ukraine.
          

Judge says New York prosecutors can see Trump's tax returns   

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NEW YORK – With President Donald Trump under siege on Capitol Hill, a federal judge dealt him a setback on another front Monday and ruled that New York City prosecutors can see his tax returns for an investigation into matters including the payment of hush money to porn star Stormy Daniels and a Playboy centerfold.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero emphatically rejected Trump's attempt to keep his financial records under wraps, calling the president's broad claim of immunity from all criminal proceedings "extraordinary" and "an overreach of executive power" at odds with the Constitution.

For now, at least, the tax returns remain beyond the reach of prosecutors. The president's lawyers appealed the judge's ruling to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which put the matter on hold while it considers the case on an expedited basis.

At issue is a request from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. that Trump's accounting firm turn over eight years' worth of his business and personal tax returns dating back to 2011.

Vance, a Democrat, is investigating payments made to buy the silence of Daniels and model Karen McDougal, both of whom claimed to have had affairs with the president.

"The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts," Trump fumed on Twitter after the judge's ruling, "so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!"

The district attorney's office declined to comment.

The investigation is unfolding with Trump already facing a fast-moving impeachment drive by House Democrats that was set off by his attempts to get Ukraine's leader to investigate his political rival Joe Biden.

Trump's lawyers have said that Vance's investigation is politically motivated and that the request for tax records should be stopped because Trump is immune from any criminal probe as long as he is president.

The judge swept that claim aside as overly broad.

"As the court reads it, presidential immunity would stretch to cover every phase of criminal proceedings, including investigations, grand jury proceedings and subpoenas, indictment, prosecution, arrest, trial, conviction, and incarceration," Marrero wrote. "That constitutional protection presumably would encompass any conduct, at any time, in any forum, whether federal or state, and whether the President acted alone or in concert with other individuals."

The judge said he couldn't accept that legal view, "especially in the light of the fundamental concerns over excessive arrogation of power" that led the founding fathers to create a balance of power among the three branches of government.

Trump has steadfastly refused to make his tax returns public, breaking a tradition set by presidents and White House candidates decades ago. He has also gone to court to fight congressional subpoenas issued to his bank for various personal financial records, including his tax returns. That dispute is also before the federal appeals court.

In yet another effort to pry loose Trump's tax records, California recently passed a law requiring candidates for president or governor to turn over five years' worth of returns, or else they cannot appear on the state's primary ballot. A federal judge blocked the law this month, saying it is probably unconstitutional.

Vance began his probe after federal prosecutors in New York completed their investigation into payments that Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to be made to the two women to keep them silent during the presidential race.

Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for crimes that included campaign finance violations in connection with the hush money.

Trump was never charged, though prosecutors said publicly that he was aware of and directed the illegal payments. Justice Department policy has long been that sitting presidents cannot be charged criminally.

Grand jury proceedings and records in New York are secret. If Vance gains access to Trump's returns through a grand jury investigation, that doesn't necessarily mean their contents will be disclosed publicly.

It is unclear what Trump's returns might have to do with the criminal investigation or why prosecutors are reaching back as far as 2011.

But the long reach of the subpoena might stem in part from testimony Cohen gave to Congress early this year when he asserted that Trump overstated his wealth to financial institutions before he became president.

Cohen turned over copies of financial statements he said the president provided to Deutsche Bank during a 2014 effort to buy the Buffalo Bills. The statements showed Trump's net worth soaring from $4.55 billion in 2012 to $8.66 billion in 2013.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this story.


          

Democrats subpoena Pentagon, White House budget office in impeachment probe   

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Congressional Democrats issued subpoenas to the Pentagon and the White House budget office on Monday as part of their impeachment inquiry, seeking documents related to U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withhold military assistance from Ukraine.

          

U.S. Republicans join Democrats to blast Trump's Syria withdrawal   

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In a rare show of bipartisanship, the top lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate on Monday condemned President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from northeastern Syria, which could open the way for a Turkish strike on Kurdish-led fighters in the area.

          

Democrats should quit talking and make a movie   

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We the people want to feel positive, upbeat and optimistic again about the future of our country. We are exhausted and want to cling to a hope that this incompetent, cruel and corrupt government wil...
          

House Democrats are finally catching up with Maxine Waters on impeachment   

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“The Constitution never envisioned anything like this.”
          

Favorable Views of Federal Agencies   

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From Pew:
Despite historically low levels of public trust in the federal government, Americans across the political spectrum continue to overwhelmingly express favorable opinions of a number of individual federal agencies, including the Postal Service, the National Park Service, NASA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And majorities of both Republicans and Democrats now express favorable views of the FBI, reflecting a rebound in GOP perceptions after a decline in recent years.
Of the 16 agencies asked about in a national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Sept. 5-16 among 2,004 U.S. adults, 14 are viewed more favorably than unfavorably by the public.
 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the sole agency asked about in the survey viewed more negatively (54% unfavorable) than positively (42% favorable), while the public is divided in its view of the Department of Education (48% favorable, 48% unfavorable).

          

NRA: Notable Russian Asset?   

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Adam Gabbatt at The Guardian:
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has acted as a “foreign asset” in providing Russian officials access to US political organizations, according to an investigation by Senate Democrats.
The results of the investigation were published by the Oregon senator Ron Wyden on Friday. The report also alleges that the NRA may have broken tax laws by using donated funds to further its officers’ business interests.
Wyden and other Democrats on the Senate finance committee found that a delegation of NRA officials traveled to Moscow in December 2015.
The trip was coordinated with Maria Butina and Alexander Torshin, who are both Russian. Butina is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence after she tried to infiltrate US conservative groups and the NRA to promote Russian political interests around the 2016 election.
While in Russia the NRA met with “a host of senior level Kremlin officials”, Wyden said. Those officials included Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the deputy prime minister, Dmitry Rogozin, who oversaw defense and munitions industries.
After the trip to Russia, the NRA allowed Butina to bring a delegation from Russia to its influential annual meeting. Wyden said the NRA also “provided access” to other conservative political organizations, including the National Prayer Breakfast and the Council for National Policy.
The investigation also found that the then vice-president of the NRA, Pete Brownell, had agreed to go on the trip in exchange for business opportunities in Russia. At least part of the trip was paid for by the NRA, according to the report. Brownell was the vice-president of the organization, which has tax-exempt status, from May 2017 to May 2018.

          

'We're Not Fooling Around': Democrats Defend Inquiry As Trump Calls Efforts A Waste   

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Updated at 4 p.m. ET House Democrats defended their impeachment inquiry into President Trump on Wednesday, while opening another front in the ongoing battle with the White House over documents they are seeking for their probe. Three House committee chairmen threatened to issue a subpoena for the documents. "We're not fooling around here," House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said at a news conference with fellow California Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Schiff said White House attempts to stonewall the investigation "will be strengthening the case on obstruction" of justice. At a White House press conference alongside Finnish President Sauli Niinistö later on Wednesday, Trump said, "I always cooperate" with congressional subpoenas, but went on to repeatedly denigrate Democratic investigations moving toward impeachment as a "hoax." "We'll work together with shifty Schiff and Pelosi and all of them," Trump said. Pelosi repeated her argument that the president's July
          

Supreme Court’s election-year term opens with insanity case   

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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court began its election-year term Monday by wrestling over whether states must allow criminal defendants to plead insanity.

The one minor surprise when the justices took the bench just after 10 o’clock was the absence of Justice Clarence Thomas. The 71-year-old Thomas was at home, likely with the flu, the court said.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in her customary seat to the left of Chief Justice John Roberts. The 86-year-old Ginsburg asked the first question in the insanity arguments.

Ginsburg was treated this summer for a tumor on her pancreas.

Meeting for the first time in public since late June, the court opened a term that could reveal how far to the right and how fast the court’s conservative majority will move, even as Roberts has made clear he wants to keep the court clear of Washington partisan politics. The court is beginning its second term with both of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court appointees, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, on board.

The justices could be asked to intervene in disputes between congressional Democrats and the White House that might also involve the possible impeachment of the Republican president.

Roberts would preside over a Senate trial of Trump if the House were to impeach him.

Its biggest decisions, in cases involving abortion, protections for young immigrants and LGBT rights, are likely to be handed down in late June, four months before the election.

The case about an insanity defense comes from Kansas, where James Kraig Kahler was sentenced to death for killing his estranged wife, two teenage daughters and his wife’s grandmother.

Kahler wanted to mount an insanity defense, but Kansas is one of four states that eliminated a defendant’s ability to plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Idaho, Montana and Utah are the others. Alaska also limits the insanity defense.

It was unclear how the case would come out. Justice Elena Kagan suggested that even if Kahler were to win at the Supreme Court and could plead insanity, he ultimately would not get a reprieve from his conviction. In no state, she said, “would your client be found insane.”

The justices also were hearing arguments Monday in a challenge to a murder conviction by a non-unanimous jury in Louisiana.


          

Profit, not politics: Trump allies sought Ukraine gas deal   

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KYIV, Ukraine – As Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukrainian officials last spring to investigate one of Donald Trump’s main political rivals, a group of individuals with ties to the president and his personal lawyer were also active in the former Soviet republic.

Their aims were profit, not politics. This circle of businessmen and Republican donors touted connections to Giuliani and Trump while trying to install new management at the top of Ukraine’s massive state gas company. Their plan was to then steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies, according to two people with knowledge of their plans.

Their plan hit a snag after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko lost his reelection bid to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, whose conversation with Trump about former Vice President Joe Biden is now at the center of the House impeachment inquiry of Trump.

But the effort to install a friendlier management team at the helm of the gas company, Naftogaz, would soon be taken up with Ukraine’s new president by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, whose slate of candidates included a fellow Texan who is one of Perry’s past political donors.

It’s unclear if Perry’s attempts to replace board members at Naftogaz were coordinated with the Giuliani allies pushing for a similar outcome, and no one has alleged that there is criminal activity in any of these efforts. And it’s unclear what role, if any, Giuliani had in helping his clients push to get gas sales agreements with the state-owned company.

But the affair shows how those with ties to Trump and his administration were pursuing business deals in Ukraine that went far beyond advancing the president’s personal political interests. It also raises questions about whether Trump allies were mixing business and politics just as Republicans were calling for a probe of Biden and his son Hunter, who served five years on the board of another Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

On Friday, according to the news site Axios, Trump told a group of Republican lawmakers that it had been Perry who had prompted the phone call in which Trump asked Zelenskiy for a “favor” regarding Biden. Axios cited a source saying Trump said Perry had asked Trump to make the call to discuss “something about an LNG (liquefied natural gas) plant.”

While it’s unclear whether Trump’s remark Friday referred specifically to the behind-the-scenes maneuvers this spring involving the multibillion-dollar state gas company, The Associated Press has interviewed four people with direct knowledge of the attempts to influence Naftogaz, and their accounts show Perry playing a key role in the effort. Three of the four spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. The fourth is an American businessman with close ties to the Ukrainian energy sector.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Energy Department said Perry, a former Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate, was not advancing anyone’s personal interests. She said his conversations with Ukrainian officials about Naftogaz were part of his efforts to reform the country’s energy sector and create an environment in which Western companies can do business.

Perry was asked about the AP’s reporting on Monday while in Lithuania, where he was meeting with officials from Ukraine and other eastern European countries to discuss energy security and cooperation. He said any suggestion that he tried to force a management change at Naftogaz was a “totally dreamed up story.”

“We get asked for our recommendations about people who are experts in areas, various areas,” Perry said. “Folks who have expertise in particular areas. Obviously having been the governor of the state of Texas, I know a lot of people in the energy industry.”

The Trump and Giuliani allies driving the attempt to change the senior management at Naftogaz, however, appear to have had inside knowledge of the U.S. government’s plans in Ukraine. For example, they told people that Trump would replace the U.S. ambassador there months before she was actually recalled to Washington, according to three of the individuals interviewed by the AP. One of the individuals said he was so concerned by the whole affair that he reported it to a U.S. Embassy official in Ukraine months ago.

THE BUSINESSMEN

Ukraine, a resource-rich nation that sits on the geographic and symbolic border between Russia and the West, has long been plagued by corruption and government dysfunction, making it a magnet for foreign profiteers.

At the center of the Naftogaz plan, according to three individuals familiar with the details, were three such businessmen: two Soviet-born Florida real estate entrepreneurs, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, and an oil magnate from Boca Raton, Florida, named Harry Sargeant III.

Parnas and Fruman have made hundreds of thousands of dollars in political donations to Republicans, including $325,000 to a Trump-allied political action committee in 2018. This helped the relatively unknown entrepreneurs gain access to top levels of the Republican Party – including meetings with Trump at the White House and Mar-a-Lago.

The two have also faced lawsuits from disgruntled investors over unpaid debts. During the same period they were pursuing the Naftogaz deal, the two were coordinating with Giuliani to set up meetings with Ukrainian government officials and push for an investigation of the Bidens.

Sargeant, his wife and corporate entities tied to the family have donated at least $1.2 million to Republican campaigns and PACs over the last 20 years, including $100,000 in June to the Trump Victory Fund, according to federal and state campaign finance records. He has also served as finance chair of the Florida state GOP, and gave nearly $14,000 to Giuliani’s failed 2008 presidential campaign.

In early March, Fruman, Parnas and Sargeant were touting a plan to replace Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev with another senior executive at the company, Andrew Favorov, according to two individuals who spoke to the AP as well as a memorandum about the meeting that was later submitted to the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, formerly known as Kiev.

Going back to the Obama administration, the U.S. Energy Department and the State Department have long supported efforts to import American natural gas into Ukraine to reduce the country’s dependence on Russia.

The three approached Favorov with the idea while the Ukrainian executive was attending an energy industry conference in Texas. Parnas and Fruman told him they had flown in from Florida on a private jet to recruit him to be their partner in a new venture to export up to 100 tanker shipments a year of U.S. liquefied gas into Ukraine, where Naftogaz is the largest distributor, according to two people briefed on the details.

Sargeant told Favorov that he regularly meets with Trump at Mar-a-Lago and that the gas-sales plan had the president’s full support, according to the two people who said Favorov recounted the discussion to them.

These conversations were recounted to AP by Dale W. Perry, an American who is a former business partner of Favorov. He told AP in an interview that Favorov described the meeting to him soon after it happened and that Favorov perceived it to be a shakedown. Perry, who is no relation to the energy secretary, is the managing partner of Energy Resources of Ukraine, which currently has business agreements to import natural gas and electricity to Ukraine.

A second person who spoke on condition of anonymity also confirmed to the AP that Favorov had recounted details of the Houston meeting to him.

According to Dale Perry and the other person, Favorov said Parnas told him Trump planned to remove U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and replace her with someone more open to aiding their business interests.

Dale Perry told the AP he was so concerned about the efforts to change the management at Naftogaz and to get rid of Yovanovitch that he reported what he had heard to Suriya Jayanti, a State Department foreign service officer stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv who focuses on the energy industry.

He also wrote a detailed memo about Favorov’s account, dated April 12, which was shared with another current State Department official. Perry recently provided a copy of the April memo to AP.

Jayanti declined to provide comment. Favorov also declined to comment.

On March 24, Giuliani and Parnas gathered at the Trump International Hotel in Washington with Healy E. Baumgardner, a former Trump campaign adviser who once served as deputy communications director for Giuliani’s presidential campaign and as a communications official during the George W. Bush administration.

She is now listed as the CEO of 45 Energy Group, a Houston-based energy company whose website describes it as a “government relations, public affairs and business development practice group.” The company’s name is an apparent nod to Trump, the 45th president.

This was a couple of weeks after the Houston meeting with Favorov, the Naftogaz executive. Giuliani, Parnas and Baumgardner were there to make a business pitch involving gas deals in the former Soviet bloc to a potential investor.

This time, according to Giuliani, the deals that were discussed involved Uzbekistan, not Ukraine.

“I have not pursued a deal in the Ukraine. I don’t know about a deal in the Ukraine. I would not do a deal in the Ukraine now, obviously,” said Giuliani, reached while attending a playoff baseball game between the New York Yankees and Minnesota Twins. “There is absolutely no proof that I did it, because I didn’t do it.”

During this meeting, Parnas again repeated that Yovanovitch, the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv, would soon be replaced, according to a person with direct knowledge of the gathering. She was removed two months later.

Giuliani, who serves as Trump’s personal lawyer and has no official role in government, acknowledged Friday that he was among those pushing the president to replace the ambassador, a career diplomat with a history of fighting corruption.

“The ambassador to Ukraine was replaced,” he said. “I did play a role in that.”

But Giuliani refused to discuss the details of his business dealings, or whether he helped his associates in their push to forge gas sales contracts with the Ukrainian company. He did describe Sergeant as a friend and referred to Parnas and Fruman as his clients in a tweet in May.

As part of their impeachment inquiry, House Democrats have subpoenaed Giuliani for documents and communications related to dozens of people, including Favorov, Parnas, Fruman and Baumgardner’s 45 Energy Group.

Baumgardner issued a written statement, saying: “While I won’t comment on business discussions, I will say this: this political assault on private business by the Democrats in Congress is complete harassment and an invasion of privacy that should scare the hell out of every American business owner.”

Baumgardner later denied that she had any business dealings in Ukraine but refused to say whether the replacement of Ambassador Yovanovitch was discussed.

Sargeant did not respond to a voice message left at a number listed for him at an address in Boca Raton.

John Dowd, a former Trump attorney who now represents Parnas and Fruman, said it was actually the Naftogaz executives who approached his clients about making a deal. Dowd says the group then approached Rick Perry to get the Energy Department on board.

“The people from the company solicited my clients because Igor is in the gas business, and they asked them, and they flew to Washington and they solicited,” Dowd said. “They sat down and talked about it. And then it was presented to Secretary Perry to see if they could get it together.

“It wasn’t a shakedown; it was an attempt to do legitimate business that didn’t work out.”

THE ENERGY SECRETARY

In May, Rick Perry traveled to Kyiv to serve as the senior U.S. government representative at the inauguration of the county’s new president.

In a private meeting with Zelenskiy, Perry pressed the Ukrainian president to fire members of the Naftogaz advisory board. Attendees left the meeting with the impression that Perry wanted to replace the American representative, Amos Hochstein, a former diplomat and energy representative who served in the Obama administration, with someone “reputable in Republican circles,” according to someone who was in the room.

Perry’s push for Ukraine’s state-owned natural gas company Naftogaz to change its supervisory board was first reported by Politico.

A second meeting during the trip, at a Kyiv hotel, included Ukrainian officials and energy sector people. There, Perry made clear that the Trump administration wanted to see the entire Naftogaz supervisory board replaced, according to a person who attended both meetings. Perry again referenced the list of advisers that he had given Zelenskiy, and it was widely interpreted that he wanted Michael Bleyzer, a Ukrainian-American businessman from Texas, to join the newly formed board, the person said. Also on the list was Robert Bensh, another Texan who frequently works in Ukraine, the Energy Department confirmed.

Gordon D. Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Kurt D. Volker, then the State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, were also in the room, according to photographs reviewed by AP. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear of retaliation, said he was floored by the American requests because the person had always viewed the U.S. government “as having a higher ethical standard.”

The Naftogaz supervisory board is supposed to be selected by the Ukrainian president’s Cabinet in consultation with international institutions, including the International Monetary Fund, the United States and the European Union. It must be approved by the Ukrainian Cabinet. Ukrainian officials perceived Perry’s push to swap out the board as circumventing that established process, according to the person in the room.

U.S. Energy Department spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said Perry had consistently called for the modernization of Ukraine’s business and energy sector in an effort to create an environment that will incentivize Western companies to do business there. She said Perry delivered that same message in the May meeting with Zelenskiy.

“What he did not do is advocate for the business interests of any one individual or company,” Hynes said Saturday. “That is fiction being pushed by those who are disingenuously seeking to advance a nefarious narrative that does not exist.”

Hynes said the Ukrainian government had requested U.S. recommendations to advise the country on energy matters, and Perry provided those recommendations. She confirmed Bleyzer was on the list.

Bleyzer, whose company is based in Houston, did not respond on Saturday to a voicemail seeking comment. Bensh also did not respond to a phone message.

Perry has close ties to the Texas oil and gas industry. He appointed Bleyzer to a two-year term on a state technologies fund board in 2009. The following year, records show Bleyzer donated $20,000 to Perry’s reelection campaign.

Zelenskiy’s office declined to comment on Saturday.

In an interview Friday with the Christian Broadcasting Network, Perry said that “as God as my witness” he never discussed Biden or his son in meetings with Ukrainian or U.S. officials, including Trump or Giuliani. He did confirm he had had a conversation with Giuliani by phone, but a spokeswoman for the energy secretary declined to say when that call was or whether the two had discussed Naftogaz.

In Lithuania on Monday, Perry said he could not recall whether Bleyzer’s name was on the list provided to Zelenskiy. But Perry confirmed he had known Bleyzer for years and called him “a really brilliant, capable businessman.”

“I would recommend him for a host of different things in Kyiv because he knows the country,” Perry said of Bleyzer. “He’s from there. So, why not? I mean I would be stunned if someone said that would you eliminate Michael Bleyzer from a recommendation of people you ought to talk to about how to do business in the country, whether they’re knowledgeable. It’d be remarkable if I didn’t say, `Talk to Michael.“’


          

Judge rejects Trump challenge to release of his tax returns   

Cache   

NEW YORK – A federal judge Monday emphatically rejected President Donald Trump’s challenge to the release of his tax returns to New York prosecutors, saying the president’s broad claim of immunity from all criminal investigations is at odds with the Constitution. But an appeals court blocked any handover of the records for now.

At issue is a request from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. that Trump’s accounting firm turn over eight years’ worth of his business and personal tax returns for an investigation into the payment of hush money to two women who claimed to have had affairs with the president.

U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero turned down Trump’s attempt to keep the tax returns under wraps, saying the president was making a “categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity.”

The president’s lawyers immediately appealed to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and it granted a temporary stay of the judge’s ruling “pending expedited review” by the court.

“The Radical Left Democrats have failed on all fronts,” Trump fumed on Twitter, “so now they are pushing local New York City and State Democrat prosecutors to go get President Trump. A thing like this has never happened to any President before. Not even close!”

The criminal investigation in New York is unfolding with Trump already under siege on Capitol Hill from a fast-moving impeachment drive set off by his attempts to get Ukraine’s leader to investigate his political rival Joe Biden. The judge’s ruling marked the latest in a string of setbacks for the president in the past couple of weeks.

Trump’s lawyers have said that the investigation led by Vance, a Democrat, is politically motivated and that the request for his tax records should be stopped because he is immune from any criminal probe as long as he is president.

Marrero called Trump’s claim of broad immunity “extraordinary” and “an overreach of executive power.”

“As the court reads it, presidential immunity would stretch to cover every phase of criminal proceedings, including investigations, grand jury proceedings and subpoenas, indictment, prosecution, arrest, trial, conviction, and incarceration,” the judge wrote. “That constitutional protection presumably would encompass any conduct, at any time, in any forum, whether federal or state, and whether the President acted alone or in concert with other individuals.”

The judge said couldn’t accept that legal view, “especially in the light of the fundamental concerns over excessive arrogation of power” that led the founding fathers to create a balance of power among the three branches of government.

Trump’s lawyers and the district attorney’s office did not immediately comment in response to the ruling. Justice Department attorneys in Washington, who had urged Marrero to delay deciding the issue, declined to comment.

Vance began his probe after federal prosecutors in New York completed their investigation into payments that Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, arranged to be paid to porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal to keep them silent during the presidential race. The Trump Organization later reimbursed Cohen.

Cohen is serving a three-year prison sentence for crimes that included campaign finance violations in connection with the hush money.

Trump was never charged, though prosecutors said publicly that he was aware of and directed the illegal payments. Justice Department policy has long been that sitting presidents cannot be charged criminally.

Trump has steadfastly refused to make his tax returns public, breaking from a tradition set by presidents and presidential candidates decades ago.

Grand jury proceedings and records in New York are secret. If Vance gains access to Trump’s returns through a grand jury investigation, that doesn’t mean that their contents will be disclosed publicly.

It is unclear what Trump’s returns might have to do with the criminal investigation.


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