I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Friday, October 18, 2019. 18 days until Election Day 2019. 108 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 382 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mulvaney admits — then denies — quid pro quo with Ukraine
From the Washington Post:
"Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said at a news conference Thursday that President Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid in part to pressure Ukraine to pursue an investigation that could benefit him politically — acknowledging before the nation a quid pro quo that is at the heart of an impeachment inquiry and that the president and his allies have vigorously denied for weeks."
"Mulvaney told reporters that Trump wanted the government in Kyiv to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory that a hacked Democratic National Committee computer server was taken to Ukraine in 2016 to hide evidence that it was that country, not Russia, that interfered in the presidential election."
"'Did [Trump] also mention to me in the past the corruption related to the DNC server?' he said. 'Absolutely, no question about that. But that’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.'"
"Mulvaney denied that the aid was also contingent on a Ukrainian investigation of former vice president Joe Biden, or Biden’s son Hunter, another potential quid pro quo that congressional Democrats are looking into as part of the impeachment inquiry."
"Mulvaney defended the president’s actions as commonplace and appropriate. 'I have news for everybody: Get over it. There’s going to be political influence in foreign policy,' Mulvaney said."
"Later, after Trump’s lawyer and other Republicans distanced themselves from Mulvaney, the White House scrambled to walk back his comments, issuing an official statement blaming the media for misconstruing his words 'to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump.'"
"'Let me be clear,' Mulvaney’s written statement said, 'there was absolutely no quid pro quo between Ukrainian military aid and any investigation into the 2016 election. There was never any connection between the funds and the Ukrainians doing anything with the server . . . there was never any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server.'"
..."In a sign of how potentially damaging Mulvaney’s remarks were, Jay Sekulow, another of Trump’s personal attorneys, released a statement that said: 'The President’s legal counsel was not involved in acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s press briefing.' Within the hour, Mulvaney issued his statement attempting to walk back what he’d said earlier."
"Even before Sekulow issued his statement, a Justice Department official took issue with Mulvaney’s original remarks: 'If the White House was withholding aid in regards to the cooperation of any investigation at the Department of Justice, that is news to us.'"
--- Mulvaney was holding the press briefing on Thursday to announce that the international G7 conference next June would be held at the Trump National Doral near Miami, one of the president's properties. The choice immediately raised questions about whether it violated the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution, which prohibits the president from accepting payments from foreign governments. The acting chief of staff told reporters that the Trump resort was "by far and away...the best physical facility for this meeting."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) called the decision "among the most brazen examples yet of the President’s corruption," accusing Trump of "exploiting his office and making official U.S. government decisions for his personal financial gain."
NYT's Nick Confessore on Twitter: "It’s striking that, as he faces intensifying legal and political jeopardy, and with more of the public favoring impeachment, President Trump is doing more — not fewer — things likely to invite criticism, disapproval, and investigation."
--- Meanwhile, in the impeachment inquiry: "Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, bolstered Democrats' impeachment inquiry Thursday as he broke sharply from President Donald Trump in testimony before House investigators."
"During nearly nine hours of testimony, Sondland said he reluctantly indulged what he described as the president’s efforts to run Ukraine policy through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. He indicated that he opposed Trump’s orders to reach out to Giuliani, who was pushing the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rivals." (Politico)
--- Related: Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced on Thursday that he plans to step down from his past by the end of the year. Perry's departure comes as he faces scrutiny for his role in the Trump administration's dealings with Ukraine; he faces a deadline today to comply with a subpoena from House investigators.
U.S., Turkey agree to cease-fire in Syria
From NBC News:
"Vice President Mike Pence announced Thursday that the United States reached a cease-fire agreement with Turkey to suspend its military operation in Syria to allow Kurdish forces to retreat from a designated safe zone."
"Pence said that Turkey will suspend its military operations for five days to allow the Kurdish forces to leave the zone, and that U.S. forces will aid in the retreat."
"The agreement comes amid growing global concern over Turkey’s military incursion in Syria after President Donald Trump ordered U.S. forces to withdraw from the country, leaving the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG — a U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State terrorist group — without support."
..."Trump told reporters ahead of an event in Texas that his unorthodox approach to the conflict helped make the deal possible, calling Erdogan 'very smart' and a 'friend.'"
..."The agreement appears to be a significant embrace of Turkey’s position in the weeklong conflict, giving the Turks what they had sought to achieve with their military operation. After the Kurdish forces are cleared from the safe zone, Turkey has committed to a permanent cease-fire but is under no obligation to withdraw its troops. In addition, the deal gives Turkey relief from sanctions the administration had imposed and threatened to impose since the invasion began, meaning there will be no penalty for the operation."
"Kurdish forces were not party to the agreement, and it was not immediately clear whether they would comply."
"Trump praised and defended Turkey in his remarks to reporters Thursday, saying the country was taking actions to secure part of its border with Syria where Kurds have been gaining influence and it had to have that area 'cleaned out.'"
--- New York Times analysis: "The cease-fire agreement reached with Turkey by Vice President Mike Pence amounts to a near-total victory for Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who gains territory, pays little in penalties and appears to have outmaneuvered President Trump."
--- Trump in Dallas: President Trump celebrated the cease-fire at a campaign rally in Dallas on Thursday, likening Turkey and the Kurds (who have been U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS) to "two kids in a lot." Trump said: "You've got to let them fight and then you pull them apart."
--- Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) denounces cease-fire in floor speech: "The cease-fire does not change the fact that America has abandoned an ally, adding insult to dishonor. The administration speaks cavalierly, even flippantly, even as our ally has suffered death and casualty. Their homes have been burned and their families have been torn apart." He later added: "The decision to abandon the Kurds violates one of our most sacred duties. It strikes at American honor. What we have done to the Kurds will stand as a blood stain in the annals of American history."
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Today at the White House
--- At 12 p.m., President Trump receives his daily intelligence briefing.
--- At 5:35 a.m., Vice President Pence returned to Washington, D.C., after a daylong trip to Turkey. He has no public events on his schedule today.
Today in Congress
--- The Senate is not in session today.
--- The House convenes at 9 a.m. The chamber is scheduled to consider H.R. 3624, the Outsourcing Accountability Act of 2019.
Today at the Supreme Court
--- The Supreme Court justices meet for their Friday conference today.
Today on the trail
--- Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-CA) attend the "Elected Officials and Candidates Cook-Off" hosted by local Democratic activist Betty Henderson in Orangeburg, South Carolina.
--- Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) attends fundraisers in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
--- South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks at the University of Chicago Institute of Politics in Chicago, Illinois.
--- Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro campaigns in Iowa, participating in a roundtable on racial profiling in Des Moines, meeting with participants of Inside Out Community (a re-entry program for recently incarcerated individuals) in Iowa City, and participating in a "Leading the Nation" forum co-hosted by St. Ambrose University and the Quad City Times in Davenport.
--- Former Rep. John Delaney (D-MD) launches his "Heartland Startup Tour" with a presentation on jobs and entrepreneurship in North Liberty, Iowa.
--- Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) attends the University of Iowa Homecoming Parade in Iowa City, Iowa.
--- In addition to the South Carolina cook-off, Harris holds a house party in Clinton, Iowa.
--- Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) kicks off her "For All of America" bus tour through Iowa in Cedar Rapids, then makes stops in Sigourney (for a meet and greet), Crawfordsville (for a visit to a biodiesel plant), Wapello, and Davenport (for a town hall).
--- Former Gov. Mark Sanford (R-SC) continues his "Kids, We’re Bankrupt and We Didn’t Even Know It" road trip, making stops in Peoria, Illinois, and West Des Moines and Davenport, Iowa.
--- Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) continues his walk across New Hampshire, holding an event on immigration in Manchester and a "basketball and politics" event in Concord.
--- Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) holds a town hall in Norfolk, Virginia.
--- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang hosts a 10-hour-long online Q&A streamed on his campaign's website and social media channels.
*All times Eastern