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U.S. diplomats worried about Trump withholding Ukraine aid, warned to downplay move, emails show


Oct. 10, 2019

2:52 a.m.
One of the questions House impeachment investigators are looking at is why President Trump quietly withheld $391 million in military and security aid to Ukraine from mid-July until late Sept. 11, a period in which Trump was pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and a widely debunked conspiracy theory about the 2016 election, according to a White House partial transcript of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and text messages released by his former Ukraine envoy, Kurt Volker. A whistleblower complaint about that July 25 call sparked the House impeachment inquiry.
U.S. diplomats involved with Ukraine were frustrated over the unexpected freeze of aid, already approved by Congress, and worried that it was tied to the two investigations Trump was demanding, The New York Times reports , citing newly unearthed State Department emails. And when they were informed early Sept. 12 that the money was being released, the diplomats were told to keep the news quiet.
Brad Freden, the State Department's acting deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasia, emailed that he'd heard about the security assistance being released from Tim Morrison, Trump's top Russia adviser at the National Security Council. "Ukrainians are aware, but NSC said that in the spirit of the 'hold' being a normal review, there will be no public announcement that it has been lifted," he wrote. "Keep moving, people, nothing to see here ..."
William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine — who'd expressed concern in private text messages about Trump tying the aid to his re-election campaign — emailed back: "I will inform President Zelensky as soon as he is out of a meeting. We then intend to make it public here." But Freden counseled discretion: "In terms of public messaging, NSC is deliberately treating both the hold and its lifting as administrative matters. There won't be a public announcement on this end. My advice is to keep your public messaging low-key as well." . Peter Weber
1:39 a.m.
After spending the summer gaining weight and building up muscle, a Fiordland penguin was released back into the wild, where Melbourne Zoo officials hope it is able to find a mate.
Fiordland penguins are endemic to New Zealand, and officials said they don't know how this penguin was able to travel 1,500 miles from New Zealand to a river near Melbourne. By the time the penguin was rescued, it had lost a lot of weight and was tired, so immediately, veterinarians at the Melbourne Zoo started giving it fluids and vitamins. The penguin gained more weight once it started eating its regular diet, and was soon swimming around in a pool, so it would have the muscles necessary to swim back to New Zealand.
Last month, zoo officials determined that the penguin had regained its strength, and was ready to start heading home. The penguin was released off the coast of Melbourne, joining the roughly 5,000 other Fiordland penguins in the wild. Dr. Michael Lynch, the Melbourne Zoo's head of veterinary services, said in a statement he's "hopeful this penguin will find its way back to New Zealand and eventually breed. We've given it every chance to do so." Catherine Garcia
1:32 a.m.
"Donald Trump is in trouble," Stephen Colbert said on Wednesday's Late Show , "thanks to two phone calls, one with the president of Ukraine in which he asked for dirt on Joe Biden, another call with the president of Turkey in which he sold out our allies the Kurds — I assume, for dirt on Joe Biden. In the end, Trump may be defeated by his greatest weakness, his Achilles' mouth. It's all detailed in the epic poem The Idiod . Yeah, it's a Homer joke," he explained.
Trump's calls with foreign leaders have long worried aides, who described them as "fawning," "obsequious," horrifying, and bizarre, Colbert said. But "Trump might be in trouble over more than just the phone calls because he just lost a big court ruling here in New York City. On Monday, the president was ordered to turn over his tax returns to the Manhattan D.A." Colbert dampened his audience's "simultaneous W-4gasm" by noting that the ruling is under appeal.
"We've had corrupt, lawless presidents before, but Trump is the top," Seth Meyers said at Late Night . He focused on Trump's letter explaining why the House impeachment inquiry "illegitimate" and unlawful. "That's right, Trump is literally calling impeachment — a process which is laid out in the Constitution — unconstitutional. He's going to be so shocked if he ever reads the Constitution one day," Meyers said. "This idea that impeachment is somehow unconstitutional is an insane theory that has been percolating on the right for a few weeks now," and "not only is this argument a threat to the very foundations of democracy, it's also incredibly dumb."
Trump keeps claiming he has magical "absolute powers" from Article II of the Constitution, Meyers said, laying out evidence that Trump has no idea what the Constitutional actually says. He also got a lot of mileage out of a Trump aide calling the president a "master baker." Watch below. Peter Weber
1:01 a.m.
An invitation to participate in an indoor triathlon 16 years ago changed the course of Bobbe Greenberg's life.
The 73-year-old Highland Park, Illinois, resident was intrigued by the idea of an indoor triathlon, but had to overcome one major obstacle in order to take part: she had to learn how to swim. So, at 57, she started taking lessons. Greenberg ended up winning first place in the indoor triathlon, and caught the bug. She now trains at least 15 hours every week, and races as often as possible during the spring and summer.
This weekend, the retired English teacher will be in Hawaii for the Ironman World Championship triathlon, where she expects to finish swimming 2.4 miles in the ocean, riding a bike for 112 miles, and running a marathon in 14 or 15 hours. She is the defending women's age 70-74 champion, and told The Washington Post the entire process is "exhilarating. I think it's that feeling of youthfulness or vibrancy ... There's something it gives to me that I'm not able to get in any other way in my life." Catherine Garcia
12:11 a.m.
Following six hours of Turkish airstrikes Wednesday on five towns in northeastern Syria, Turkish ground troops made their way across the border, accompanied by Syrian rebels.
A Syrian activist group told The New York Times that at least seven people have been killed. Turkey launched its attack against the Kurdish fighters who control the region just a few days after President Trump abruptly announced that he would pull back U.S. troops from the area, allowing the operation to take place. Despite agreeing to move U.S. troops and paving the way for Turkey to attack, Trump on Wednesday said such an assault was "a bad idea."
The U.S. and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are allies, and there has been bipartisan condemnation of Trump's decision; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), typically one of Trump's biggest defenders, said the president "shamelessly abandoned" America's allies. The Kurds were instrumental in ridding Syria of the Islamic State. Experts warn that the Turkish operation makes it easier for ISIS to re-emerge in their former northeastern Syria stronghold.
Turkey's authoritarian president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, considers the Syrian Democratic Forces a terrorist organization. Two U.S. military officials told the Times that the U.S. is not offering support to either side, but recently gave Turkey intelligence gathered from a reconnaissance aircraft. Catherine Garcia
October 9, 2019
A Fox News poll released Wednesday recorded a 51 percent majority of voters in favor of both impeaching President Trump and removing him from office, with another 4 percent favoring impeachment but not removal and 40 percent opposed to impeachment. Support for impeachment was up 9 percentage points overall since a Fox News poll in July, including an 11 point rise among Democrats, a 5 point bump among Republicans, and a 3 point gain among independents.
There are some pretty bad numbers for Trump in the demographic breakdowns : 12 percent of Trump voters said they want him impeached and removed from office, for example, as did 28 percent of white evangelical Christians, 22 percent of self-described conservatives, 35 percent of white men without a college degree, 38 percent of white rural voters, and 57 percent of suburban women. In counties where Trump and Hillary Clinton were within 10 points of each other in 2016, 52 percent of voters want Trump impeached and removed, the poll found, a 10 point jump since July.
When asked to characterize the House's impeachment inquiry, 48 percent of voters said Trump is "getting what he deserves" while 37 percent said it's "people out to get him." A 55 percent majority said they think Trump does what's best for himself, including 18 percent of Republicans, while 39 percent said they think he tries to do what's best for the country. Fifty-one percent said they think the Trump administration is more corrupt than previous administrations, a rise of 5 points from last month.
The poll was conducted Oct. 6-8 by Beacon Research (D) and Shaw & Co. (R), who surveyed 1,003 registered voters nationwide via landline and cellphone. The margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points for all voters. . Peter Weber
October 9, 2019
The chairmen of the House Oversight, Intelligence, and Foreign Affairs committees have sent a letter to Fiona Hill, President Trump's former adviser on Russia, asking that she appear for a deposition on Oct. 14.
The letter, obtained by Axios , was sent on Wednesday, and also requests that Hill hand over specific documents dating back to January 2017. Hill left the administration in August, but most of her work was completed by mid-July, Axios reports, so it's unclear how much she knows about Trump's July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
During the call, Trump pushed Zelensky to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, and it was this conversation that sparked the whistleblower complaint that led to the House launching an impeachment inquiry against Trump. Hill is a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Axios reports, and served under former National Security Advisers H.R. McMaster and John Bolton on the National Security Council. 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
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