October 21, 2019

President Trump's perception of Ukraine being a corrupt country was reinforced by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who made disparaging comments about the country during conversations with Trump, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.

This information was shared by George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state, during his closed-door testimony last week as part of the House impeachment inquiry against Trump, the Post reports. The officials said that Putin and Orban did not directly encourage Trump to request Ukraine launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, or push the debunked conspiracy theory that Kyiv was behind the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Instead, Trump was driven by his own belief in the conspiracy theory, peddled by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

National security officials were ready for Putin to try to damage the United States' relationship with Ukraine, the Post reports, and a former official said during a conversation in early May, Putin "did what he always did," which was say that Ukraine "is just a den of corruption." Such conversations made it harder for White House officials to get Trump to support Ukraine's new president, who was elected in April, and it didn't help that many people who backed aid to Ukraine, including former Defense Secretary James Mattis, had left the administration. Read more about how Trump is shaped by his relationships with authoritarian leaders at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

October 14, 2019

Federal investigators in Manhattan are taking a close look at Rudy Giuliani's business dealings in Ukraine, as well as his bank records, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

Prosecutors want to know about meetings Guiliani held and specific work he did in Ukraine. Investigators have been questioning witnesses since at least August regarding Giuliani's relationship with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, business associates who were arrested last week and accused of campaign finance violations, the Journal reports. The scope of the inquiry is unknown.

Giuliani, who is President Trump's personal lawyer, told the Journal on Monday he has done nothing wrong, and "they can look at my Ukraine business all they want." Giuliani is ensnared in Trump's Ukraine scandal, and as part of the impeachment inquiry, House committees have heard testimony from witnesses regarding Giuliani's role in the affair, including how he pushed Trump to remove Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine. Catherine Garcia

October 13, 2019

After hearing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threaten for two years to launch an assault against the Kurds in Syria, President Trump and senior administration officials did not think he would ever go through with it, six people with knowledge of the matter told Axios' Jonathan Swan.

Their discussions started in 2017, with Erdogan telling Trump the Kurds, who control northeastern Syria, are a threat to Turkey and need to be away from the border. Whenever he would say this, Axios reports, Trump would let Erdogan know that if he did invade, he would have to be solely responsible for whatever happened. During one conversation, Trump conveyed that Erdogan shouldn't mess with U.S. troops in Syria, but intimated that they wouldn't be there much longer and would not stay around to help the Kurds, people with knowledge of the matter told Axios.

Usually, Erdogan would take a few steps back, but last Sunday, he told Trump the invasion was on. Trump soon announced that U.S. troops would be pulled back from the border, a move that sparked bipartisan outrage, with lawmakers blasting Trump for turning on the United States' Kurdish allies. Erdogan thought Trump would reel him in, Turkish sources told Swan, and now he is in over his head as he faces international condemnation. Read more at Axios. Catherine Garcia

October 11, 2019

Attorney General William Barr and media mogul Rupert Murdoch had a private meeting on Wednesday night, not long after Fox News released a poll showing that 51 percent of voters are in favor of impeaching Trump and removing him from office, The New York Times reports.

A person familiar with the matter told the Times the pair met at Murdoch's home in New York. It's unclear if they were joined by others, or what exactly they talked about. Many Fox News hosts are pro-Trump, like Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham, but there are also people like anchor Shep Smith and senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano, who have been critical of Trump and his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Their denunciations coupled with the brutal poll resulted in a Trump tweet storm on Thursday morning. "Whoever their pollster is, they suck," Trump said. "But @FoxNews is also much different than it used to be in the good old days." Catherine Garcia

October 10, 2019

Prior to President Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, at least four national security officials were so worried about the administration's Ukraine policy that they went to a White House lawyer to voice their concerns, several U.S. officials told The Washington Post.

They were disturbed by the abrupt removal of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch in May, Rudy Giuliani's sharing of bizarre conspiracy theories about Ukraine, and suggestions that Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to give him material that could hurt former Vice President Joe Biden, the Post reports.

Officials said their worries doubled after Trump's call with Zelensky, with one person who had been listening to the conversation "immediately" going to National Security Council legal adviser John Eisenberg to talk to him about the matter. It is unclear if Eisenberg took any action before or after the phone call. Then-National Security Adviser John Bolton also fielded calls from anxious subordinates, who shared the problems they had with Trump's conversation, officials told the Post. Bolton quickly tried to get a rough transcript of the call, they added, which was moved to a computer network that holds highly sensitive classified material.

A former senior official told the Post the people who were worried about Trump's Ukraine policy were "not a swamp, not a deep state," but rather "concerned about this because this is not the way they want to see the government run." Read more at The Washington Post. Catherine Garcia

October 9, 2019

During a 2017 meeting in the Oval Office, President Trump urged then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help coax the Justice Department into dropping a criminal case against one of Rudy Giuliani's clients, three people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg News.

Tillerson said he would not do this, as he would be interfering in an ongoing investigation, and others in the room were shocked by the request, Bloomberg News reports. Giuliani, a longtime supporter of Trump, is now the president's personal lawyer, but wasn't at the time. After the meeting, Tillerson conferred with then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in the hallway, telling him that what Trump asked him to do was illegal and he objected to the request, Bloomberg News says.

Giuliani's client was an Iranian-Turkish gold trader named Reza Zarrab, and federal prosecutors in New York had charged him with dodging U.S. sanctions against Iran's nuclear program. Prosecutors said he had "close ties" with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and ultimately, Zarrab pleaded guilty and began cooperating. Zarrab testified against the head of international banking at Turkey's state-owned Halkbank and said Erdogan backed the bank's laundering effort. Erdogan has denied this.

Giuliani first told Bloomberg News that he did not discuss Zarrab's case with Trump, then backtracked, saying he might have. "Suppose I did talk to Trump about it — so what?" Giuliani said. "I was a private lawyer at the time." When asked if he spoke to Tillerson about the case, Giuliani responded, "You have no right to know that." For more on the matter, including concerns officials have over Trump's relationship with Erdogan, visit Bloomberg News. Catherine Garcia

October 8, 2019

The whistleblower who filed a complaint about President Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke shortly afterwards with a White House official who described the exchange as "frightening," "crazy," and "completely lacking in substance related to national security," The New York Times reports.

The whistleblower wrote a memo prior to filing a complaint with the intelligence community inspector general in August. In it, the whistleblower stated that the White House official, who listened in on the call, was "visibly shaken by what had transpired," the Times reports. Inspector General Michael Atkinson deemed the subsequent complaint credible, and last week, Atkinson passed the memo and other documents related to the whistleblower to Congress; someone who was familiar with the memo described it to the Times.

In the memo, the whistleblower wrote that the White House official said "there was already a conversation with White House lawyers about how to handle the discussion because, in the official's view, the president had clearly committed a criminal act by urging a foreign power to investigate a U.S. person for the purpose of advancing his own re-election bid in 2020." Read more about the memo and complaint at The New York Times. Catherine Garcia

October 2, 2019

On multiple occasions, President Trump involved Vice President Mike Pence in his attempts to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into launching an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, U.S. officials told The Washington Post.

Trump brought up the Bidens several times during his July 25 phone call with Zelensky, and officials said Keith Kellogg, Pence's national security adviser, was listening in on the conversation. In May, Trump ordered Pence not to attend Zelensky's inauguration, and in early September, he had Pence inform Zelensky that U.S. aid "was still being withheld while demanding more aggressive action on corruption," the Post reports. The Ukrainians, the Post says, "probably understood action on corruption to include the investigation" of the Bidens.

People close to Pence told the Post he didn't know anything about Trump trying to get an investigation of Biden launched. White House officials said Pence would have received the transcript of Trump's phone call with Zelensky by July 26, and it would have been in the briefing materials he received ahead of his Sept. 1 meeting with Zelensky in Warsaw. Catherine Garcia

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