Trump says he might be willing to testify in impeachment inquiry

Trump says he might be willing to testify in impeachment inquiry
By Matt Spetalnick and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday indicated publicly for the first time that he might be willing to testify in the impeachment inquiry over his efforts to pressure Ukraine “even though I did nothing wrong.”

Lawmakers in the Democratic-led impeachment process in the U.S. House of Representatives have not formally called Trump as a witness in the inquiry into whether he used foreign policy to try to get Ukraine to investigate domestic political opponent Joe Biden.

During former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, Trump said he was willing to testify but ultimately gave only written answers. House Democrats said on Monday they are investigating whether those answers are untruthful, according to CNN.

Denying any wrongdoing, the Republican president has railed on Twitter and elsewhere against the impeachment inquiry and attacked witnesses by name.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat, said on Sunday in a CBS interview that Trump has every opportunity to present his case, including coming before intelligence committee hearings.

“Even though I did nothing wrong, and don’t like giving credibility to this No Due Process Hoax, I like the idea & will, in order to get Congress focused again, strongly consider it!” Trump said on Twitter.

At the heart of the inquiry is a July 25 phone call in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open a corruption investigation into former U.S. Vice President Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, and into a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election.

The hearings could pave the way for the House to approve articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump. That would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. Republicans control the Senate and have shown little support for Trump’s removal.

House Speaker Pelosi, in her interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” said: “The president could come right before the committee and speak all the truth that he wants if he wants to take the oath of office … or he can do it in writing. He has every opportunity to present his case.”

Trump’s written answers to federal investigators in the Mueller probe were under renewed scrutiny on Monday, CNN said. The House’s general counsel told a federal court in Washington that lawmakers were examining whether the answers were untruthful, the report said.

Last week, Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, Rick Gates, testified in the trial of Trump ally Roger Stone that Trump’s 2016 campaign was keen to keep abreast of the release of emails by WikiLeaks website potentially damaging to the Republican’s opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Gates’ testimony appeared to conflict with sworn written statements that Trump gave Mueller, CNN reported.

HEARINGS THIS WEEK

The public phase of hearings shifts into higher gear this week when a parade of officials will face questioning by Democratic lawmakers seeking details that could link Trump to a pressure campaign against Ukraine.

Eight more witnesses are due to testify in the second week of the televised hearings. They include Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, whose direct interactions with Trump are likely to be a main focus in the investigation of whether the president made security aid to Ukraine contingent on it agreeing to dig up dirt on Biden, who is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to take on Trump in 2020.

Several witnesses testified last week that they were alarmed over the pressure tactics used against Ukraine, as well as the role of Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani.

The latest round of hearings will stretch from Tuesday to Thursday before the House Intelligence Committee. Democrats are looking into whether Trump abused his power in part by withholding $391 million in aid to Ukraine as leverage to get Kiev to investigate Biden. The money, approved by the U.S. Congress to help U.S. ally Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists, was later provided.

At the first impeachment hearing last Wednesday, Republicans repeatedly blasted Democrats for not calling an anonymous whistleblower to testify publicly or behind-closed doors. The whistleblower account of the July 25 call led to Democrats opening the inquiry.

“There’s one witness, one witness that they won’t bring in front of us, they won’t bring in front of the American people, and that’s the guy who started it all, the whistle-blower,” Republican Jim Jordan said on Nov. 13.

Democrat Peter Welch responded at the time, “I would be glad to have the person who started it all come in and testify. President Trump is welcome to take a seat right there.”

(Reporting By Matt Spetalnick, Patricia Zengerle; additional reporting by Karen Freifeld, Susan Cornwell, Susan Heavey and Sarah N. Lynch; Writing by Matt Spetalnick and Grant McCool; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Democrats issue subpoena to see all of Mueller’s Russia probe evidence

The Mueller Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election is pictured in New York, New York, U.S., April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

By Doina Chiacu and David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Congressional Democrats on Friday demanded to see all of U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s evidence from his inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 election, as they consider how to use the probe’s findings against President Donald Trump.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, flanked by Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O'Callaghan and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaks at a news conference to discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, flanked by Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Edward O’Callaghan and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, speaks at a news conference to discuss Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential race, in Washington, U.S., April 18, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, issued a subpoena to the Justice Department to hand over the full Russia report by Mueller, saying he cannot accept a redacted version released on Thursday that “leaves most of Congress in the dark.”

“My committee needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence consistent with past practice. The redactions appear to be significant. We have so far seen none of the actual evidence that the Special Counsel developed to make this case,” Nadler said in a statement.

The report provided extensive details on Trump’s efforts to thwart Mueller’s Russia investigation, giving Democrats plenty of political ammunition against the Republican president but no consensus on how to use it.

The 448-page report painted a clear picture of how Trump had tried to hinder the probe but did not conclude that he had committed the crime of obstruction of justice, although it did not exonerate him.

The report blacked out details about secret grand jury information, U.S. intelligence gathering and active criminal cases as well as potentially damaging information about peripheral players who were not charged. Half a dozen former Trump aides were charged by Mueller’s office or convicted of crimes during the 22-month-long investigation.

The Democrats’ subpoena gives U.S. Attorney General William Barr until May 1 to produce the materials requested.

Democratic leaders played down talk of impeachment just 18 months before the 2020 presidential election, even as some prominent members of the party’s progressive wing, most notably U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, promised to push the idea.

Former FBI director Mueller also concluded there was not enough evidence to establish that Trump’s campaign engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Moscow to sway the 2016 election, a finding that has been was known since late March when Barr released a summary of what he described as Mueller’s principle conclusions.

(Reporting by David Morgan and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Andy Sullivan; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)

After nerve agent attack, NATO sees pattern of Russian interference

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg addresses a news conference at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herma

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – NATO accused Russia on Thursday of trying to destabilize the West with new nuclear weapons, cyber attacks and covert action, including the poisoning of a Russian former double agent in Britain, that blurred the line between peace and war.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters the use of the Novichok nerve agent against Sergei Skripal and his daughter “happened against a backdrop of a reckless pattern of Russian behavior over many years”.

Russia denies any involvement and says it is the U.S.-led Atlantic alliance that is a risk to peace in Europe.

Stoltenberg, who will meet British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Monday in Brussels, said Russia was mixing nuclear and conventional weapons in military doctrine and exercises, which lowered the threshold for launching nuclear attacks, and increasingly deploying “hybrid tactics” such as soldiers without insignia.

Stoltenberg listed Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, its direct support for separatists in Ukraine, its military presence in Moldova and Georgia, meddling in Western elections and its involvement in the war in Syria as evidence of Russia’s threat.

He cited the development of new nuclear weapons, which President Vladimir Putin unveiled in a bellicose speech on March 1, as another worrying development.

“BLURRING THE LINE”

He also accused Moscow of a “blurring of the line between peace, crisis and war”, which he said was “destabilizing and dangerous”.

Britain’s ambassador to the alliance briefed NATO envoys in the North Atlantic Council on Wednesday, and Stoltenberg said Britain’s National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill would address the Council later on Thursday.

While Stoltenberg stressed there had been no request from London to activate the Western military alliance’s mutual defense clause, he said Russia must be deterred.

“The UK will respond and is responding in a proportionate and measured way … I fully support there is a need for a response, because there must be consequences when we see actions like those in Salisbury,” he said.

NATO has deployed significant ground forces to the Baltic countries and Poland to dissuade Russia from repeating any Crimea-like seizures. But Stoltenberg said there was little for NATO as an alliance to do immediately in response to the nerve agent attack, beyond giving Britain strong political support.

(Reporting by Robin Emmott; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Kevin Liffey)

Spain sees Russian interference in Catalonia separatist vote

Protesters hold the lights of their mobile phones during a demonstration called by pro-independence associations asking for the release of jailed Catalan activists and leaders, in Barcelona, Spain, November 11, 2017.

By Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Madrid believes Russian-based groups used online social media to heavily promote Catalonia’s independence referendum last month in an attempt to destabilize Spain, Spanish ministers said on Monday.

Spain’s defense and foreign ministers said they had evidence that state and private-sector Russian groups, as well as groups in Venezuela, used Twitter, Facebook and other Internet sites to massively publicize the separatist cause and swing public opinion behind it in the run-up to the Oct. 1 referendum.

Catalonia’s separatist leaders have denied that Russian interference helped them in the vote.

“What we know today is that much of this came from Russian territory,” Spanish Defence Minister Maria Dolores de Cospedal said of Russian-based internet support.

“These are groups that, public and private, are trying to influence the situation and create instability in Europe,” she told reporters at a meeting of EU foreign and defense ministers in Brussels.

Asked if Madrid was certain of the accusations, Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis, also at the meeting, said: “Yes, we have proof.”

Dastis said Spain had detected false accounts on social media, half of which were traced back to Russia and another 30 percent to Venezuela, created to amplify the benefits of the separatist cause by re-publishing messages and posts.

Ramon Tremosa, the EU lawmaker for the PDeCat party of Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont, repeated on Monday that Russian interference had played no part in the referendum.

“Those that say Russia is helping Catalonia are those that have helped the Russian fleet in recent years, despite the EU’s boycott,” Tremosa tweeted, referring to Spanish media reports that Spain was allowing Russian warships to refuel at its ports.

Those who voted in the referendum opted overwhelmingly for independence. But turnout was only about 43 percent as Catalans who favor remaining part of Spain mainly boycotted the ballot.

The separatist vote has plunged Spain, the euro zone’s fourth-biggest economy, into its worst constitutional crisis since its return to democracy in the 1970s.

Dastis said he had raised the issue with the Kremlin.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any such interference and accuses the West of a campaign to discredit Russia.

NATO believes Moscow is involved in a deliberately ambiguous strategy of information warfare and disinformation to try to divide the West and break its unity over economic sanctions imposed on Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russia interfered in the U.S. election to try to help President Donald Trump defeat rival Hillary Clinton by hacking and releasing emails and spreading propaganda via social media.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who attended the EU meeting in Brussels, declined to comment on Spain’s accusations, but the alliance’s top commander said last week that Russian interference was a concern.

NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Curtis Scaparotti said “Russian malign influence” was trying to sway elections and other decisions in the West, describing it as a “destabilization campaign,” although he did not directly address the Catalonia referendum.

 

(Additional reporting by Angus Berwick in Spain; Editing by Richard Balmforth)