As it happenedended1570479119

Trump news – live: President threatens to 'obliterate' Turkey economy after damning Syria condemnation, amid reports of White House impeachment panic

Follow the latest updates from Washington

Joe Sommerlad,Chris Riotta
Monday 07 October 2019 20:32
Donald Trump signs a trade deal with Japan

Donald Trump has been accused of endangering America’s Kurdish allies in Syria by his own former envoy, an ex-ambassador and a key DC attack dog after announcing a plan to withdraw US troops from the country’s northern border, therein abandoning the Syrian Democratic Forces to an onslaught from the Turkish military.

The president has meanwhile been ordered to turn over eight years of tax returns to New York prosecutors after a US district judge ruled his financial affairs are not immune from investigation in spite of his high office.

As the Ukraine scandal rumbles on, Mr Trump has conceded impeachment is a “bad thing to have on your resume” during a phone call with House Republicans, a rare confession that he fears for his legacy as a second whistleblower emerges to support the first’s account of the damning 25 July call with Volodymyr Zelensky during which the president appeared to push for the Eastern European leader to investigate allegations against his 2020 rival Joe Biden.

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Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad7 October 2019 09:20

Donald Trump conceded impeachment is a “bad thing to have on your resume” during a phone call with House Republicans on Friday, a rare confession that he fears for his legacy as the Ukraine scandal rumbles on.

According to two sources who spoke to Axios, the president then aadded: "But it's going to make Kevin speaker".

That last reference was to House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, whom, Trump was implying, will ultimately end up deposing Nancy Pelosi as speaker of the House of Representatives when the inevitable public backlash at the ballot box delivers the lower chamber back into the hands of the GOP. Hmmm.

Trump's advisers privately believe his primary concern is his legacy as president and regards any attempt to impeach him as a smear on his reputation, even if it does prove to be in his interests in the end by backfiring on the opposition. Those in his inner circle do expect him to be impeached by the House but believe there is little chance of him being convicted by the Republican-dominated Senate.

Trump's re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee are meanwhile spending a reported $10m ($8m) on targeted advertising featuring Democratic 2020 front-runner Joe Biden and the House impeachment inquiry in a bid to shore up the support of his base. 

Joe Sommerlad7 October 2019 09:35

A second whistleblower has meanwhile come forward “with first-hand knowledge” of the explosive allegations against Trump that first triggered the impeachment inquiry.

The official is said to have already been interviewed by Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the US Intelligence Community.

News of the development was revealed on ABC by Mark Zaid, the attorney representing the CIA whistleblower who first reported Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky, whick took place on 25 July and saw him pressure the latter to investigate corruption allegations against Biden.

Phil Thomas has more.

Joe Sommerlad7 October 2019 09:45

Rather than play his customary round of golf, the president spent the weekend lashing out at his political enemies, posting no fewer than 88 tweets (many scraped from Fox News) attacking Democratic rivals Biden, Speaker Pelosi and Adam Schiff and labelling Republican 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney a “pompous ‘ass’” for daring to break ranks and suggest he has questions to answer. 

Here were some of the highlights, from accusing Pelosi herself of "high crimes and misdemeanours" to slamming Hunter Biden's military service (Trump having received five draft deferrals from Vietnam) to posting GIFs of Schiff as Disney's Pinocchio.

For his part, Romney clearly did not give a single solitary damn, the Utah senator spending Saturday with his family rather than dignify the president's gibes with a response. 

Here's Vincent Wood, attempting to keep score.

Joe Sommerlad7 October 2019 10:00

The administration meanwhile says it will withdraw American troops from the Syrian border, seemingly clearing the way for Turkish operations against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, a key US ally in the fight against Isis.

“Turkey will soon be moving forward with its long-planned operation into Northern Syria. The United States Armed Forces will not support or be involved in the operation, and the United States forces, having defeated the Isis territorial 'Caliphate' will no longer be in the immediate area,” a White House statement said late on Sunday in the aftermath of a phone call between Trump and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Our Middle East correspondents Richard Hall and Borzou Daragahi have more on an astonishing act of abandonment.

Joe Sommerlad7 October 2019 10:15

The Sunday morning talk shows were pretty lively yesterday.

Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson was accused of pushing a "Fox News conspiracy" by Chuck Todd on Meet the Press during a heated exchange...

...prompting Trump to attack the host on Twitter:

On ABC's This Week, the ranking Republican congressman Jim Jordan refused to answer George Stephanopoulos when asked whether he thought it was appropriate for Trump to call on China to investigate the Bidens and insisted it was just a joke. 

That line was backed up on Face the Nation by Montana senator Roy Blunt, who doubted Trump was being serious.

House Democratic Caucus chairman Hakeem Jeffries meanwhile told Stephanopoulos that Trump's own appointees "are clearly unnerved by the lawlessness of this president".

Here's Phil Thomas again on Chuck Todd.

Joe Sommerlad7 October 2019 10:35

Another interview that didn't go to plan was Ivanka Trump's soft soap exchange with Trish Regan of Fox News in which she badly flubbed a question about her father's impeachment. 

Darren Richman has more for Indy100.

Joe Sommerlad7 October 2019 10:55

The net appears to be closing around Trump's energy secretary Rick Perry whose spokeswoman admitted on Sunday he did encourage the president to speak to Zelensky in the first place, but only on energy and economic issues.

"Secretary Perry absolutely supported and encouraged the president to speak to the new president of Ukraine to discuss matters related to their energy security and economic development," Perry's Energy Department spokeswoman, Shaylyn Hynes, said in an email.

Trump has said during his aforementioned call with House Republicans on Friday that it was Perry who had teed up the July call with Ukraine without suggestioning Perry had anything to do with the pressure on Ukraine to investigate the Bidens or the US hold-up in military aid to the country.

Perry, the former governor of Texas and up to now a lower-profile but active member of Trump's Cabinet, has made repeated trips to Ukraine and met often with Ukranian officials, including Zelenskiy. Perry and his agency say his involvement with Ukraine was part of US policy, predating the Trump administration, to increase US natural gas, coal and other supplies to Eastern Europe to lessen Russia's control of the region's energy market.

"He continues to believe that there is significant need for improved regional energy security," Hynes said. Perry was heading to Lithuania again on Sunday night and would meet with nearly two dozen European energy officials, including those from Ukraine, she said.

Hynes did not immediately answer questions on Sunday about whether Perry had discussed the Trump administration's push for help investigating Trump's Democratic rivals in his meetings with Ukraine.

But Perry told an evangelical Christian news outlet, CBN News, in an interview aired on Friday that he had never heard anyone in the administration bring up Biden or Biden's son, who served on a board of a Ukraine natural gas business, in dealings with Ukrainian officials.

"Not once, as God as my witness, not once was a Biden name - not the former vice president, not his son - ever mentioned," Perry told the outlet. "Corruption was talked about in the country but it was always a relatively vague term of, you know, the oligarchs and this and that and what have you."

House lawmakers in the impeachment probe are presently seeking information from vice president Mike Pence and secretary of state Mike Pompeo on the administration's approach to Ukraine.

Joe Sommerlad7 October 2019 11:15

That defence of Perry comes as AP reports that allies of Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani tried to interfere to change the leadership at Ukraine's state-own gas company Naftogaz back in March, another line on inquiry that threatens to implicate the energy secretary.

The circle of businessmen and Republican donors apparently touted their connections to Trump and Giuliani while trying to install new management at the top of the former Soviet satellite's massive state gas company, replacing CEO Andriy Kobolyev with another senior executive at the company, Andrew Favorov. Their plan was to then steer lucrative contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies for profit, according to two sources.

But their scheme hit a snag after Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko lost his re-election bid to Zelensky in April, at which point the bid to install a friendly team at Naftogaz was taken up with Ukraine's new president by Perry, whose slate of candidates included a fellow Texan, Michael Bleyzer, who has been a keen political donor to his cause in the past.

Allegedly at the centre of the Naftogaz plan were three 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 (£264,000) 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.

Sargeant, his wife and corporate entities tied to the family have donated at least $1.2m (£975,225) to Republican campaigns and PACs over the last 20 years, including $100,000 (£81,274) 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 (£11,378) to Giuliani's failed 2008 presidential campaign.

It's unclear if Perry's attempts to replace board members at Naftogaz were co-ordinated 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's actions concerning another Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

The Trump and Giuliani allies driving the attempt to change the senior management at Naftogazt appear to have had inside knowledge of the US government's plans in Ukraine. For example, they told people that Trump would replace the US ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, months before she was actually recalled to Washington. One of the individuals who discussed the matter with the AP - Dale W Perry, Favorov's ex-business partner - said he was so concerned by the whole affair that he reported it to a US Embassy official in Ukraine months ago.

Zamira Rahim has more detail.

Joe Sommerlad7 October 2019 11:35

Secretary Pompeo, very much under the microscope over his role in all of this, has been busy dismissing the impeachment inquiry as a "silly gotcha game" and attempting to normalise the business of pressuring foreign leaders into investigating political rivals.

"This is what we do," he says.

Here's Conrad Duncan's report.

Joe Sommerlad7 October 2019 11:55

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