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Wake Up To Politics - September 26, 2019

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, September 26, 2019. 40 days until Election Day 2019. 130 days until the 2020 Iowa caucuses. 404 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Breaking: Just as this newsletter was being completed, the House Intelligence Committee released the full whistleblower complaint on President Trump's phone call with the Ukrainian president and related matters. The below newsletter does not reflect this development, but the complaint can be read here and the Intelligence Community Inspector General's letter about the complaint can be read here.

Tomorrow's newsletter will include full reporting and anlaysis about the whistleblower complaint, as well as about Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire's testimony, which is set to begin just minutes after this publication.

Trump asked Ukrainian president to investigate Biden as a "favor," White House memo shows

President Donald Trump repeatedly urged Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a July 25 phone call to "look into" former Vice President Joe Biden, his potential 2020 rival, according to a reconstructed transcript of the conversation released on Wednesday.

Trump asked Zelensky to work with Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, on the Biden probe.

While Trump did not make an explicit link between U.S. aid to Ukraine, which the president had placed on hold days earlier, and Zelensky initiating an investigation into Biden — a point that Trump and his allies emphasized after the White House memo's release — the U.S. president only brought up the latter after the Ukrainian leader brought up the former.

After effusively praising Trump on the phone call, Zelensky thanked Trump for his "great support in the area of defense" and said that Ukraine was "almost ready to buy more" American missiles "for defense purposes."

"I would like you to do us a favor though," Trump replied, going on to outline the investigations he wanted Zelensky to pursue with assistance from Barr and Giuliani: inquiries into Ukraine's possible role in emails being stolen from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign and into former Vice President Biden's push for a Ukrainian prosecutor to be fired.

Trump alleged that Ukraine "has" the hacked DNC server and that Biden waged a campaign to oust the prosecutor because of an investigation she was conducting into a business tied to his son, Hunter. (No evidence exists for either conspiracy theory.)

The disclosure of the White House memo on the Ukraine call, which came one day after House Democrats formally launched an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, elicited a range of responses on Capitol Hill. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) tweeted that it "reads like a classic mob shakedown," while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that it "confirms that the president engaged in behavior that undermines the integrity of our elections, the dignity of the office he holds and our national security."

Many congressional Republicans, on the other hand, jumped to President Trump's defense. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) called the partial transcript a "nothing (non-qud pro quo) burger," a point that many GOP lawmakers echoed. "The transcript of the president's phone call shows no wrongdoing," House Oversight Committee ranking member Jim Jordan (R-OH) said. "The real scandal here is that Democrats are using this issue to distract from wrongdoing by Vice President Biden and his son as they continue to relitigate the 2016 election and attempt to undo the will of the American people."
Some Republicans, particularly in the Senate, did express concern over Trump's request that a foreign leader investigate his domestic political rival. "It remains troubling in the extreme," Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) told reporters of the president's conversation with Zelensky. "It's deeply troubling."

Speaking to reporters between diplomatic meetings at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City, President Trump referred to his July conversation with Zelensky as a "perfect call." He added: "There was no pressure, the way you had that built up, the call, it was going to be the call from hell. It turned out to be a nothing call, other than a lot of people said, 'I never knew you could be so nice.'"

Ukrainian President Zelensky, who met with Trump face-to-face on Wednesday, said the phone call was "good" and "normal," but demurred when pressed for further comment by reporters: "I'm sorry, but I don't want to be involved [in] democratic, open elections of [the] U.S.A."

Trump also expressed comfort on Wednesday with releasing the transcripts of other communications he and Vice President Mike Pence have had with Zelensky. According to The New York Times, Trump first urged Zelensky in an April 25 phone call to coordinate with Giuliani on investigations of "corruption," using a term "which Ukrainian and former American officials say is understood as code for the Bidens and Ukrainians who released damaging information about the Trump campaign in 2016. (Ukrainian officials "understood" discussion of investigating Biden to be a precondition for any correspondence between Trump and Zelensky, a former adviser to the Ukrainian president told ABC News.)

The Justice Department on Wednesday also released an Office of Legal Counsel memo which was composed in response to a whistleblower complaint from inside the U.S. intelligence community related to the Ukraine call. The memo revealed that the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, referred the whistleblower complaint to the Justice Department, which examined whether the president had committed a violation of campaign finance laws (which prohibit political candidates from accepting or soliciting "a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value" from a foreign national).

According to The Washington Post, the Justice Department "took less than a month" before shelving the inquiry into Trump's phone call. (These revelations have sparked renewed questions about the independence of Attorney General Barr, who did not recuse himself from the DOJ's inquiry into the phone call despite being mentioned in it.)

Lawmakers began reviewing the original whistleblower complaint on Wednesday; according to Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), the document has been declassified and will be available to the public soon. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC that the complaint was "nothing short of explosive."

According to The New York Times, the whistleblower complaint raises concerns about Trump's phone call with Zelensky, as well as about "how the White House handled records of the conversation." The whistleblower also "identified multiple White House officials as witnesses to potential presidential misconduct who could corroborate the complaint," the Times reported. According to The Washington Post, the complaint "alleges a pattern of obfuscation at the White House, in which officials moved the records of some of Trump’s communications with foreign officials" — including his July 25 call with Zelensky — "onto a separate computer network from where they are normally stored."

The Ukraine saga will continue to unfold when Acting Director of National Intelligence Maguire, who is at the center of the fight over the whistleblower complaint, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee at 9 a.m today. According to The Washington Post, Maguire "threatened to resign over concerns that the White House might attempt to force him to stonewall Congress" at today's hearing. The Trump appointee, who serves as the nation's highest-ranking intelligence official, denied the report, asserting that "at no time have I considered resigning my position."

Maguire's appearance before Congress comes as the Trump administration steels itself for a months-long impeachment battle with the legislative branch, only the fourth such confrontation in American history. According to CNN, a House Judiciary Committee vote on articles of impeachment could come as soon as October.  The network also reported that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is pushing the Judiciary panel to narrow their impeachment probe to focus only on the Ukraine controversy.

Just one day after Pelosi threw her support behind the initiation of impeachment proceedings against Trump, the number of lawmakers who have indicated support for impeachment notched a crucial milestone on Wednesday evening: 218 House members, a majority in the chamber.

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Today at the White House

--- President Trump is in New York City today. At 9:15 a.m., he participates in a meet and greet with staff members at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. At 10:40 a.m., he delivers remarks at a fundraising breakfast. The president then departs New York, arriving back at the White House at 1:30 p.m.

--- Vice President Mike Pence travels to Indianapolis, Indiana, today. At 1 p.m., he delivers remarks at an event on the United States-Mexico-Canda Agreement (USMCA), the president's proposed replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Today in Congress

--- The Senate convenes at 10 a.m. today. At 12:15 p.m., the chamber will vote on passage of H.R. 4378, the House-passed continuing resolution extending government funding through November 21. At 1:30 p.m., the Senate will vote on confirmation of two presidential nominees: Gen. John E. Hyten (to be Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) and Eugene Scalia (to be Secretary of Labor).

--- The House convenes at 10 a.m. today. The chamber will consider S.J.Res. 54, a Senate-passed resolution overturning President Trump's February declaration of a national emergency on the southern border. The chamber is also scheduled to vote on 11 other pieces of legislation:

  1. H.R. 2528 – STEM Opportunities Act of 2019
  2. H.R. 335 – South Florida Clean Coastal Waters Act of 2019, as amended
  3. H.R. 3710 – Cybersecurity Vulnerability Remediation Act
  4. H.R. 2589 – Unifying DHS Intelligence Enterprise Act, as amended
  5. H.R. 3691 – TRANSLATE Act
  6. H.R. 3675 – Trusted Traveler Reconsideration and Restoration Act of 2019
  7. H.R. 3694 – Helping Families Fly Act of 2019
  8. H.R. 3722 – Joint Task Force to Combat Opioid Trafficking Act of 2019
  9. H.R. 3246 – Traveling Parents Screening Consistency Act of 2019
  10. H.R. 3526 – Counter Terrorist Network Act
  11. H.R. 3106 – Domestic and International Terrorism DATA Act

Today on the trail

--- Former Vice President Joe Biden attends fundraisers in California.

--- Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) participates in a "Politics & Eggs" event in Bedford, New Hampshire.

--- Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) joins members of United Auto Workers (UAW) on a picket line in Arlington, Texas.

--- Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) holds a town hall in Erie, Pennsylvania.

--- Spiritual author Marianne Williamson speaks at an event in Las Vegas, Nevada, on "making America safe for children." She will be joined by actor Richard Dreyfuss.

--- Entrepreneur Andrew Yang holds a town hall in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

*All times Eastern