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 release new batch of testimony from Trump impeachment inquiry

Democrats release new batch of testimony from Trump impeachment inquiry
By Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives committees leading the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump on Monday released a transcript of a Pentagon official’s testimony as Trump continued to seethe over the investigation.

The release of the testimony given by Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense, in an earlier closed-door session came two days before the impeachment inquiry enters a crucial new phase. The first public hearings in the investigation – focused on Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden and whether he withheld security aid as leverage – are set for Wednesday and Friday.

Cooper described at some length the approval process for the $391 million in aid to Ukraine, including that the Pentagon had determined that Kiev had met anti-corruption requirements for the release of the funds. Trump and some of his supporters have argued that the funds – approved by the U.S. Congress to help combat Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of Ukraine – were blocked by Trump to press Zelenskiy’s government to fight corruption, not to seek an investigation of Biden and his son.

“All of the senior leaders of the U.S. national security departments and agencies were all unified in their – in their view that this assistance was essential,” Cooper said, according to the transcript of her remarks on Oct. 23, the day that a group of Republicans stormed into the secure facility where she was testifying, delaying her interview by a few hours.

On Wednesday and Friday, U.S. diplomats William Taylor, George Kent and Marie Yovanovitch are due to detail in public their concerns, previously expressed in testimony behind closed doors, that Trump and his administration sought to tie the security aid to investigations that might benefit his 2020 re-election bid.

The public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee will be carried by major broadcast and cable television networks and is expected to be viewed by millions of people, as Democrats seek to make the case for Trump’s potential removal from office.

The panel’s Democratic chairman, Representative Adam Schiff, has been a target of the Republican president’s attacks since the impeachment probe was launched in September after a whistleblower within the U.S. intelligence community brought a complaint against Trump over his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Democrats, who control the House, have argued that Trump abused his power in pressing a vulnerable U.S. ally to carry out investigations that would benefit Trump politically. Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face the Republican president in the 2020 election. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma.

Trump has denied there was a quid pro quo – or exchanging a favor for a favor – in his dealings with Ukraine, defended his call with Zelenskiy as “perfect” and branded the probe a politically motivated “hoax.” Trump wrote on Twitter on Monday that the inquiry should be ended and the unnamed whistleblower, the whistleblower’s lawyer and “Corrupt politician” Schiff should be investigated for fraud.

Democrats consider the open hearings to be crucial to building public support for a vote on articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump. If that occurs, the 100-seat Republican-controlled Senate would hold a trial on the charges. Republicans have so far shown little support for removing Trump from office, which would require two-thirds of senators present to vote to convict him.

No U.S. president ever has been removed from office through the impeachment process. It has been two decades since Americans last witnessed impeachment proceedings against a president. Republicans, who then controlled the House, brought impeachment charges against Democratic President Bill Clinton in a scandal involving his sexual relationship with a White House intern. The Senate voted to keep Clinton in office.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Susan Cornwell; Additional reporting by John Whitesides, Susan Heavey, James Oliphant and Doina Chiacu in Washington and Ron Bousso in Abu Dhabi; Writing by Paul Simao; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)

U.S. House committee to kick off public impeachment hearings next week

U.S. House committee to kick off public impeachment hearings next week
By Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee will kick off a series of public hearings in the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump next week, the panel’s Democratic chairman said on Wednesday.

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent will testify on Nov. 13, while former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch will appear on Nov. 15, Representative Adam Schiff, the committee’s chairman, said in a statement.

He said more details will be released in coming days.

All three diplomats have raised alarm bells about the release of U.S. security aid to Ukraine being made contingent on Kiev publicly declaring it would carry out politically motivated investigations that Trump, a Republican, had demanded.

Televised public hearings featuring U.S. officials testifying in Congress about alleged wrongdoing by Trump could crowd out other issues like the economy and immigration as voters turn their minds to the November 2020 election.

That might damage Trump, but some of his supporters say the impeachment drive could actually boost his re-election chances by showing him at loggerheads with Washington-based political foes.

Democrats had said they had enough material to move forward with public impeachment hearings, which would be a likely prelude to articles of impeachment – formal charges – against Trump being brought to a vote in the House.

If the House votes to approve the articles of impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate would then hold a trial on whether to remove Trump from office.

Senate Republicans have so far shown little appetite for removing the president.

(Additional reporting by Humyera Pamuk and Richard Cowan in Washington and Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Writing by Susan Heavey and Paul Simao; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell)

 

Trump may read summary of Ukraine call in ‘fireside chat’: interview

Trump may read summary of Ukraine call in ‘fireside chat’: interview
By Doina Chiacu

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” U.S. President Donald Trump exhorts regularly on Twitter, referring to a telephone call with Ukraine’s president that led to an impeachment inquiry. Now he is threatening to do just that – on live television.

Trump told the Washington Examiner he would not cooperate with congressional impeachment proceedings and might read out loud a transcript of a July 25 call in which Trump asks President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political rival.

“This is over a phone call that is a good call,” Trump told the Examiner in an interview. “At some point, I’m going to sit down, perhaps as a fireside chat on live television, and I will read the transcript of the call, because people have to hear it. When you read it, it’s a straight call.”

Trump’s reference to the fireside chat recalled the informal evening radio addresses President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to reassure Americans facing hardships during the Great Depression – a far cry from a U.S. president defending himself against impeachment.

The Trump administration in September released a detailed summary of the 30-minute call – not a precise transcript – based on notes taken by aides, as Democrats in the House of Representatives began looking into Trump’s call following a whistleblower complaint.

The House, which is controlled by Democrats, approved rules on Thursday for the next, more public, stage in the inquiry into the Republican president’s attempt to have Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival.

The inquiry centers on whether Trump solicited foreign interference and aid in a U.S. election, which federal law prohibits. Democrats are also investigating whether Trump withheld $391 million in American aid to vulnerable Ukraine, who faced a military threat from Russian-backed separatists, as leverage to get Zelenskiy to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. [

Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the November 2020 presidential election. Hunter Biden sat on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. There has been no evidence of wrongdoing on their part.

Current and former Trump administration officials have testified behind closed doors that the White House went outside normal diplomatic channels to pressure Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens.

Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong. He said his administration would continue to not honor document requests and subpoenas.

He told the Examiner he would fight back with a defense of the Ukraine call and use his well-honed art of the slogan, offering T-shirts emblazoned with “Read the transcript.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Frances Kerry)

Trump impeachment effort passes first test in split U.S. Congress

Trump impeachment effort passes first test in split U.S. Congress
By Patricia Zengerle and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A deeply divided U.S. House of Representatives took a major step in the effort to impeach President Donald Trump on Thursday when lawmakers approved rules for the next stage, including public hearings, in the Democratic-led inquiry into Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival.

In the first formal test of support for the impeachment investigation, the Democratic-controlled House voted almost entirely along party lines – 232 to 196 – to move the probe forward in Congress.

The vote demonstrated unity among Democrats who accuse Trump of abusing his office and jeopardizing national security for personal political gain. But they did not pick up a single Republican vote.

“It’s a sad day. No one comes to Congress to impeach a president,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the vote.

Televised public hearings featuring U.S. officials testifying in Congress about alleged wrongdoing by Trump could crowd out other issues like the economy and immigration as voters turn their minds to the November 2020 presidential election.

That might damage Trump but some of his supporters say the impeachment drive could actually boost his re-election chances by showing him at loggerheads with Washington-based political foes.

Republicans accused Democrats of using impeachment to overturn the results of his 2016 victory.

“The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!” Trump wrote on Twitter after the vote.

The probe focuses on a July 25 telephone call in which Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymr Zelenskiy, to investigate Trump’s Democratic political rival Joe Biden, a former U.S. vice president, and his son Hunter, who had served as a director for Ukrainian energy company Burisma.

Biden is a leading candidate in the Democratic presidential nomination race to face Trump in the November 2020 election. He and his son have denied any wrongdoing.

Trump has also denied wrongdoing. Republicans have largely stuck by him, blasting the effort as a partisan exercise that has given them little input.

REPUBLICAN PUSHBACK

“The country next year will be deciding who our president is going to be. It should not be Nancy Pelosi and a small group of people that she selects that get to determine who is going to be our president,” said Kevin McCarthy, the top House Republican.

Just two Democrats – Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey – voted against the measure. Both represent districts where Trump won in the 2016 election. Other Democrats from Trump-leaning districts, such as Jared Golden of Maine, voted yes.

If the House eventually votes to impeach Trump, that would set up a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate. Trump would not be removed from office unless votes to convict him by a two-thirds margin, something that looks unlikely as congressional Republicans have been reluctant to move against the president.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler declined say when public hearings would start but they are expected to begin in the next few weeks.

The U.S. Constitution gives the House broad authority to set ground rules for an impeachment inquiry and Democrats say they are following House rules on investigations. They have promised to hold public hearings on the case against Trump.

Lawmakers leading the inquiry heard closed-door testimony from Tim Morrison, the top Russia specialist on Trump’s National Security Council. Morrison resigned from his position on Wednesday, a senior administration official said.

Members of the three committees conducting the investigation expect Morrison to fill in more of the details about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. Morrison listened in on the July 25 phone call and said the call “could have been better,” according to acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor.

Committee members have asked a far more prominent player, former national security adviser John Bolton, to appear next week. Others have testified that Bolton was alarmed by a White House effort to pressure Zelenskiy. Bolton’s lawyer has said he was not willing to testify unless a subpoena is issued.

(Additional reporting by Doina Chiacu and Daphne Psaledakis; Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Alistair Bell)

Ukraine president says Trump didn’t seek to blackmail him

By Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Thursday that U.S. President Donald Trump did not seek to blackmail him during a phone call in July or a meeting in September.

Zelenskiy said he had not known that U.S. military aid to Ukraine had been blocked at the time of the call. Having been made aware of this by his defense minister later, he raised the issue during a separate meeting in September in Poland with Vice President Mike Pence.

The U.S. House of Representatives has launched an impeachment inquiry against Trump, focused on whether he used congressionally approved aid to Ukraine as leverage to pressure Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of Trump’s main Democratic rivals as he seeks re-election in 2020.

Trump has made allegations, without evidence, that Biden engaged in improper dealings in Ukraine. Biden’s son Hunter was on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma.

Zelenskiy told reporters that his aim in having a phone call with Trump was to arrange a subsequent meeting and that he had asked the White House to change its rhetoric on Ukraine.

He said Kiev was open to a joint investigation into Biden but added that Ukraine was an independent country with independent law enforcement agencies that he could not influence.

“There was no blackmail. This was not the subject of our conversation,” Zelenskiy said about his call with Trump, speaking to reporters in a day-long series of televised briefings with the press, held at a Kiev food court.

Zelenskiy said there were no conditions attached to him meeting Trump, including whether he should investigate the activities of Hunter at Burisma.

The White House published its summary of the call between Zelenskiy and Trump in September. Asked whether the Ukrainian version matched up to the U.S. one, Zelenskiy said: “I didn’t even check, but I think that it matches completely.”

Biden for the first time on Wednesday made a direct call for Trump’s impeachment. Trump meanwhile continued to paint the probe as a partisan smear and accused the U.S. intelligence officer who filed the whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment row of having political motives.

Zelenskiy said he had no desire to interfere in the U.S. election.

Zelenskiy said he had been made aware by his defense minister that Washington had frozen military aid to Ukraine.

He raised the issue at a meeting with Pence in Warsaw when they met at a commemoration to mark the 80th anniversary of the start of the Second World War.

“I told him … please help to resolve it,” Zelenskiy recalls asking Pence. “And after our meeting America unblocked the aid.”

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk, Natalia Zinets, Maria Tsvetkova and Matthias Williams; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by John Stonestreet and Peter Graff)

Pompeo says he was on phone call that triggered Trump impeachment drive

By David Brunnstrom and Patricia Zengerle

ROME/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged on Wednesday that he listened in on the telephone call between Donald Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart that prompted a House of Representatives impeachment inquiry against the Republican U.S. president.

The admission by Pompeo, a key Trump ally, moved the top U.S. diplomat closer to the center of the scandal and raised further questions about his role in the administration’s interactions with Ukraine, including the recall of the U.S. ambassador to Kiev earlier this year.

The Democratic-led House last week launched its impeachment inquiry, which threatens Trump’s presidency, in the aftermath of a complaint brought by a whistleblower within the U.S. intelligence community over Trump’s request to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy during a July 25 phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in the 2020 presidential election. Democrats have accused Trump of pressuring a vulnerable U.S. ally to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election to harm a domestic political rival for Trump’s personal political benefit.

“I was on the phone call,” Pompeo told reporters during a visit to Italy.

Pompeo said the call was in the context of U.S. policymaking in Ukraine, including “taking down the Russia threat,” rooting out corruption in government and boosting the economy. The Wall Street Journal first reported that Pompeo was on the call.

Trump made his request to Zelenskiy shortly after he had frozen nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine. Zelenskiy agreed to Trump’s request on the call. The aid money was later provided to Ukraine. Democrats have accused Trump of using taxpayer money as leverage on Ukraine.

Trump, who is seeking a second four-year term as president, has denied wrongdoing and has assailed the impeachment probe.

In an intensifying battle between House Democrats and Trump’s administration, Democratic-led committees have subpoenaed Pompeo and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, as well as documents. They will begin depositions of current and former State Department officials this week.

The department’s inspector general, Steve Linick, was due to brief congressional staff on Wednesday to address Ukraine-related documents that have been subpoenaed, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

‘FUNDAMENTAL VALUES’

Pompeo on Tuesday objected to House efforts to obtain depositions and accused Democrats of bullying and intimidation.

Asked about his concerns, Pompeo said State Department employees had been contacted directly by lawmakers or their staff and told not to talk to the State Department’s legal counsel. He said, however, that he would cooperate with Congress.

“We will, of course, do our constitutional duty to cooperate with this co-equal branch but we are going to do so in a way that is consistent with the fundamental values of the American system,” Pompeo said.

The Democratic chairmen of three House committees have accused Pompeo of intimidating witnesses and said doing so is illegal. They warned Pompeo on Tuesday that he is considered “a fact witness in the House impeachment inquiry” based on his role in Trump’s call with Zelenskiy.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings intends to subpoena the White House for Ukraine-related records on Friday after what he described as “flagrant disregard of multiple voluntary requests for documents,” according to a memo he sent to the panel.

According to a summary of the July call released by the White House, Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter in coordination with U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Giuliani.

Hunter Biden had sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that had been under investigation by Kiev.

The prospect that Trump solicited Ukraine’s help against his potential challenger next year has infuriated Democrats, many of whom blame the loss of the 2016 presidential election on Russian interference. Moscow has denied interfering in that campaign.

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said he saw no evidence of pressure in Trump’s July conversation with Zelenskiy and added that there was nothing wrong with the U.S. president asking for an investigation into potential corruption.

U.S. intelligence agencies and Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with a scheme of hacking and propaganda to boost the Republican Trump’s candidacy and disparage his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

Kurt Volker, who resigned last Friday as Trump’s special representative for Ukraine, was scheduled to go to Capitol Hill to give a deposition to House staff on Thursday, the day he had been asked to appear. Marie Yovanovitch, who was U.S. ambassador to Ukraine until she was abruptly recalled in May, has agreed to appear on Oct. 11. In his phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump called Yovanovitch “bad news.”

With their deep knowledge of Ukraine, testimony by Yovanovitch and Volker could be especially important to the impeachment probe.

The inquiry could lead to approval of articles of impeachment – or formal charges – against Trump in the House. That would lead to a trial in the Senate on whether to remove him from office. The president’s fellow Republicans control the Senate and have shown little appetite for removing him.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Doina Chiacu; Additional reporting by Makini Brice in Washington Katya Golubkova in Moscow; Writing by Patricia Zengerle and Paul Simao; Editing by Will Dunham)

Trump pressed Ukraine president to probe Biden activities: call summary

By Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump asked Ukraine’s president in a July phone call to investigate whether a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, had shut down an investigation into a gas company that employed his son, according to a summary of the call released by the Trump administration on Wednesday.

Setting up a dramatic political showdown that threatens Trump’s presidency, House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday said the Democratic-led chamber was launching an official impeachment inquiry and directed six committees to proceed with investigations of the president’s actions.

Democrats have accused Trump, a Republican who is seeking re-election next year, of soliciting Ukraine’s help to smear Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, before the 2020 election.

“There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that, so whatever you can do with the attorney general would be great,” Trump said in the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to the summary provided by the Justice Department.

“Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it. … It sounds horrible to me,” Trump said, according to the memo.

The call occurred after Trump had ordered the U.S. government to freeze nearly $400 million in American aid to Ukraine. The administration later released the aid.

The House inquiry could lead to articles of impeachment in the House that could trigger a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office.

Trump told Zelenskiy that Attorney General William Barr, the top U.S. law enforcement official, would reach out to him about re-opening the investigation into the Ukrainian gas company.

But Trump did not ask Barr to contact Ukraine, Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said, and Barr has not communicated with Ukraine about a possible investigation or any other subject. Barr, a Trump appointee, first found out about the conversation several weeks after it took place, Kupec said.

Trump told Zelenskiy to speak with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, a political ally who has no formal role in the U.S. government. Zelenskiy said one of his assistants had already spoken with Giuliani and that they looked forward to another meeting when the former New York mayor came to Ukraine, according to the summary of the call.

Trump has withstood repeated scandals since taking office in 2017. House Democrats had considered, but never moved ahead with, pursuing articles of impeachment over Trump’s actions relating to Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election aimed at boosting his candidacy.

Under the U.S. Constitution, the House has the power to impeach a president for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” No president has ever been removed from office through impeachment. Democrats currently control the House and Trump’s fellow Republicans control the Senate.

“The actions of the Trump presidency revealed a dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi said on Tuesday.

Justice Department officials concluded last week that Trump’s conduct on the call did not amount to a criminal violation of campaign finance law because what he was asking for – an investigation of a political rival – did not amount to a quantifiable “thing of value,” said a senior Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The department’s Office of Legal Counsel, however, said the complaint had been referred to the department’s criminal division for review.

Trump, who on Twitter on Tuesday called the House impeachment inquiry “Witch Hunt garbage,” in recent days has defended his actions in the Ukraine matter as appropriate.

On Tuesday, Trump said the call with Ukraine’s president was “perfect” and “couldn’t have been nicer,” adding, “There was no pressure put on them whatsoever.” Trump has repeatedly suggested wrongdoing by Biden and his son but has offered no evidence to back up the assertion.

Biden, who served as U.S. vice president from 2009 to 2017, is leading a field of other Democrats vying for the party’s nomination to face Trump, who is seeking a second four-year term in the November 2020 election.

AID TO UKRAINE

The United States has been giving military aid to Ukraine since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The $391.5 million in aid at issue in the current controversy was approved by the U.S. Congress to help Ukraine deal with an insurgency by Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Trump on Sunday acknowledged that he discussed Biden and Biden’s son Hunter, who had worked for a company drilling for gas in Ukraine, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. Trump on Monday denied trying to coerce Zelenskiy in the July 25 phone call to launch a corruption investigation into Biden and his son in return for the U.S. military aid.

Trump has offered differing reasons for why he wanted the money for Ukraine frozen, initially saying it was because of corruption in Ukraine and then saying it was because he wanted European countries like France and Germany, not the United States, to take the lead in providing assistance to Kiev.

The current controversy arose after a whistleblower from within the U.S. intelligence community brought a complaint with an internal watchdog relating to Trump’s conversation with Zelenskiy. Even though federal law calls for such complaints to be disclosed to Congress, the Trump administration has not done so.

Pelosi on Tuesday said Trump’s actions had “seriously violated the Constitution,” and accused his administration of violations of federal law.

The U.S. Senate voted unanimously on Tuesday, with no objections from Trump’s fellow Republicans, for a resolution calling for the whistleblower’s report to be sent to Congress. The House is due to vote on a similar non-binding resolution on Wednesday.

The Justice Department concluded that the whistleblower complaint did not need to be shared with Congress because the relevant law only covers conduct by intelligence officials, not the president, according to a legal analysis released by the department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

U.S. intelligence agencies and a special counsel named by the Justice Department previously concluded that Russia boosted Trump’s 2016 presidential election bid with a campaign of hacking and propaganda aimed at harming his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.

(Reporting by Andy Sullivan and Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. records 33 new measles cases, raising year’s total to 1,077

FILE PHOTO: A vial of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine at the International Community Health Services clinic in Seattle, Washington, U.S., March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Lindsey Wasson

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 33 new measles cases last week, bringing the number of confirmed cases this year to 1,077 in the worst outbreak of the virus since 1992, federal health officials said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the cases of the highly contagious and sometimes deadly disease rose 3% in the week ended June 20 from the prior week. The 2019 outbreak, which has spread to 28 states, is the worst since 1992, when 2,126 cases were recorded.

Health experts say the virus has spread among school-age children whose parents declined to give them the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, which confers immunity to the disease. A vocal fringe of U.S. parents, some in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities, cite concerns that the vaccine may cause autism, despite scientific studies that have debunked such claims.

The disease has mostly affected children who have not received the vaccine.

Measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, meaning there was no continuous transmission of the disease for a year. Still, cases of the virus occur and spread via travelers coming from countries where measles is common.

CDC officials have warned that the country risks losing its measles elimination status if the ongoing outbreak, which began in October 2018 in New York, continues until October 2019.

The outbreak has escalated since 82 people in 2018 and more than 40 people in 2019 brought measles to the United States from other countries, most frequently Ukraine, Israel and the Philippines, federal officials said.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber and Susan Thomas)

Russians, Ukrainian to face murder charges over downing of Flight MH17

FILE PHOTO: A Malaysian air crash investigator inspects the crash site of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, near the village of Hrabove (Grabovo) in Donetsk region, Ukraine, July 22, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev/File Photo

By Toby Sterling and Anthony Deutsch

NIEUWEGEIN, Netherlands (Reuters) – Three Russians and a Ukrainian will face murder charges for the deaths of 298 people aboard Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 that was shot down over eastern Ukraine in 2014, the international investigative team said on Wednesday.

The suspects are likely to be tried in absentia in proceedings set to start in the Netherlands next March. Dutch authorities said Russia has not cooperated with the inquiry and is not expected to surrender defendants.

“These suspects are seen to have played an important role in the death of 298 innocent civilians,” Dutch Chief Prosecutor Fred Westerbeke said.

“Although they did not push the button themselves, we suspect them of close cooperation to get the (missile launcher) where it was, with the aim to shoot down an airplane.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry denied that it had not cooperated while saying on Wednesday the investigation was intended to damage Moscow’s reputation.

“Once again, absolutely groundless accusations are being made against the Russian side, aimed at discrediting the Russian Federation in the eyes of the international community,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Dutch Justice Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus said in a letter to parliament the Netherlands had taken unspecified “diplomatic steps” against Moscow for failing to fully comply with legal requests or providing incorrect information.

MH17 was shot out of the sky on July 17, 2014 over territory held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine as it was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. Everyone aboard died.

The Dutch-led international team tasked with assigning criminal responsibility for the plane’s destruction named the four suspects as Russians Sergey Dubinsky, Oleg Pulatov and Igor Girkin, as well as Ukrainian Leonid Kharchenko. It said international arrest warrants for the four had been issued.

Girkin, 48, a vocal and battle-hardened Russian nationalist, is believed to live in Moscow where he makes regular public appearances. He is a commentator on Russian and foreign affairs via his own website and YouTube channel.

“The rebels did not shoot down the Boeing,” Girkin told Reuters on Wednesday without elaborating.

Ukrainian authorities said they would try to detain Kharchenko, the suspect believed to be on their territory.

“The Russian Federation must now cooperate fully with the prosecution and provide any assistance it requests,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said. There were 10 Britons on the flight.

RUSSIAN MISSILE

Most of the passengers were Dutch. The joint investigation team formed by Australia, Belgium, Malaysia, the Netherlands and Ukraine found that the plane was downed by a Russian missile.

Last year Russian President Vladimir Putin called MH17’s downing a “terrible tragedy” but said Moscow was not to blame and there are other explanations for what happened.

Asked if she expected the suspects to attend the trial, Silene Fredriksz, whose son Bryce was on the plane, said: “No, I don’t think so. But I don’t care. I just want the truth, and this is the truth.”

The investigation team said Girkin was a former Russian FSB security service colonel who served as minister of defense of the self-declared Donetsk People’s Republic (DNR) in eastern Ukraine in the summer of 2014.

It said Dubinsky was head of the military intelligence agency of DNR, while Pulatov headed a second department of the agency. Kharchenko was head of a reconnaissance battalion for the second department, it said.

Prosecutors have said the missile system that brought down the airliner came from the Russian 53rd Anti-Aircraft Brigade, based in the western Russian city of Kursk.

(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer in Amsterdam; Christian Lowe, Anastasia Teterevleva and Maria Vasilyeva in Moscow; Editing by Mark Heinrich)