Robbers grab 100,000 surgical masks at gunpoint as Ukraine enters shutdown

By Matthias Williams and Pavel Polityuk

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukrainian shops, restaurants and transport shut down on Tuesday as the country tightened restrictions to contain the spread of the coronavirus, while police arrested five people suspected of trying to rob 100,000 surgical masks at gunpoint in Kiev.

The country has seven confirmed cases of the coronavirus so far, including one death. The government has encouraged people to stay at home wherever possible except to buy food and medicine, but has stopped short of introducing curfews.

Following a series of emergency steps introduced by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, parliament in a special session on Tuesday approved measures including fines and prison sentences for people who broke mandatory quarantine.

The economic fallout from the epidemic also continued to bite as the hryvnia currency slipped to 27 to the dollar for the first time since June 2019.

The central bank said it would not impose foreign currency restrictions and added it had $25 billion in reserves to continue market interventions.

Nevertheless it warned of an economic hit on Ukraine, which is still fighting a simmering conflict against Russian-backed forces in the eastern Donbass region that has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014.

In Lviv, a picturesque city of cobblestone streets in western Ukraine that is popular with tourists, restaurants and cafes closed and supermarket attendants wore masks and gloves while working at the tills.

“Of course, no one is happy about the restaurant shutdown,” said Mark Zarhin, the owner of a restaurant chain.

“It is like a perfect storm in Lviv. We face both ‘plague’ and war today. It is the worst. But it’s not the fact that we close the restaurants that is bad, but the fact that we don’t know for how long. We cannot predict anything.”

The nationwide shutdown will include the closure of the Chernobyl area, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in April 1986 that has since become a visitor attraction.

Kiev’s main airport was mostly empty after the government banned passenger flights to and from the country, and announced a shutdown of domestic air travel from Wednesday.

The authorities also announced the arrest of a group of people who, initially posing as members of the state security service, stole a stash of 100,000 surgical masks at gunpoint from a private seller who had stored them in his car.

“Instead of negotiating the purchase and sale conditions, the criminals attacked (the seller), took the masks and beat the man,” Kiev police chief Andriy Kryshchenko said. “Wearing police uniforms and threatening to use firearms, the criminals took possession of the whole batch of goods.”

(Additional reporting by Sergiy Karazy; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

After clashes, Ukraine blames disinformation campaign for spreading coronavirus panic

By Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk on Friday blamed an “information war” being waged on the country for spreading panic and mistrust over the coronavirus, a day after the arrival of evacuees from China sparked clashes outside a sanatorium.

Speaking to parliament, Honcharuk said misinformation was being spread from within and outside Ukraine but did not elaborate.

The authorities are trying to find the source of bogus emails sent this week on behalf of the health ministry erroneously declaring there had been confirmed coronavirus cases in Ukraine, when so far there have been none.

In another example, Honcharuk cited an incident of Russian officials asking a wagon-load of passengers traveling on a train from Kiev to Moscow to disembark after a Chinese woman with fever was found to be traveling on board.

The Ukrainian railway service said it has asked Russia for more information on the case.

Police detained 24 people in clashes with residents of a town in central Ukraine on Thursday, who feared they would be infected by Ukrainians who had been evacuated from China’s Hubei province to a sanatorium for a mandatory two week quarantine.

“The events that took place yesterday, in my opinion, are a consequence of, in particular, the information war that continues against our country, both from inside and out,” Honcharuk said.

Protesters in the town of Novi Sanzhary had clashed with police, burned tires and hurled projectiles at a convoy of buses carrying the evacuees to the medical facility.

The authorities had appealed for calm, saying the evacuees were screened to make sure they were not infected before being allowed to fly. Health Minister Zoriana Skaletska announced she would join those in quarantine.

“Our health minister has agreed to stay with the citizens in this medical institution,” Honcharuk said. “This way her example will prove that there is no danger to Ukrainian citizens.”

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the protests had been stoked by “political support” but did not say from where. He appealed to Ukrainians not to vilify those returning from China.

“We constantly say that Ukraine is (a part of) Europe,” he said. “Yesterday, frankly, in some episodes it seemed that we are the Europe of the Middle Ages, unfortunately. Let’s not forget that we are all people.”

(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Ros Russell)

Clashes, jeers and burning tires greet coronavirus evacuees in Ukraine

By Matthias Williams

NOVI SANZHARY, Ukraine (Reuters) – Residents of a central Ukrainian town clashed with police, burned tires and hurled projectiles at a convoy of buses carrying evacuees from China’s Hubei province, quarantined in case of the coronavirus, to a sanatorium on Thursday.

Some protesters and police were lying wounded on the ground after the clashes. At least two buses had their windows smashed while the evacuees sat behind curtains inside.

Locals in Novi Sanzhary feared they could become infected despite the authorities repeatedly insisting there was no danger and a special appeal from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for calm.

Ukraine has no confirmed cases of the virus.

Tempers flared after a tense day-long standoff in which protesters blocked a bridge leading to the sanatorium where the evacuees will be held in quarantine for at least two weeks to make sure they are not carrying the virus.

Hundreds of helmeted police, police vans and an armored personnel carrier had been dispatched to keep order. Police were periodically shouted at with cries of “shame on you” as the town waited for the evacuees to arrive.

In addition to 45 Ukrainians, there were 27 citizens of Argentina on the plane that landed in Ukraine on Thursday, as well as citizens from the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Costa Rica and other countries.

One Ukrainian woman refused to be evacuated at the last minute because she was not allowed by the Chinese authorities to take her dog, a Ukrainian embassy statement said.

The Ukrainian authorities say all passengers on board had been screened twice for the virus before being allowed to fly, but that was not enough to quell the protesters.

“Isn’t there any other place in Ukraine that can host 50 people, that is located in more or less remote villages or in far off areas where there is no threat to population?” said resident Yuriy Dzyubenko.

One protester was heard suggesting they should be kept at Chernobyl, the site of the world’s worst nuclear disaster in 1986. Another suggested taking them to parliament, while another said Zelenskiy should house them himself if he really believed there was no danger.

“This is what I am telling him, telling the president: “Take 10 people, then I will take two,” a man called Yuriy, who did not give his last name, said.

A weak healthcare system, corruption and mistrust of authority are widespread in Ukraine, which has recently also grappled with a measles epidemic amid a reluctance by some to vaccinate themselves and their children.

The protest had prompted Zelenskiy to issue a statement reassuring Ukrainians that there was no danger, that the authorities had done everything possible to make sure the virus would not spread to Ukraine.

“But there is another danger that I would like to mention. The danger of forgetting that we are all human and we are all Ukrainian,” he said.

In western Ukraine there were smaller protests by residents fearing the evacuees could be housed there instead.

China reported a drop in new cases in the province at the heart of the coronavirus outbreak on Thursday, though the death toll so far at over 2,000 has made it one of the biggest global health emergencies in recent decades.

(Reporting by Matthias Williams, Sergiy Karazy and Valentyn Ogirenko in Novi Sanzhary, Pavel Polityuk and Natalia Zinets in Kiev; editing by Nick Macfie)

Barr: U.S. scrutinizing information ahead of 2020 election, including from Giuliani

By Sarah N. Lynch and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General William Barr on Monday confirmed that the Justice Department has received information from President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani ahead of the November election, but that anything originating from Ukraine should not be taken “at face value.”

Barr spoke at a news conference a day after Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham said on the CBS News program “Face the Nation” that the department had created a process so that Giuliani could provide information and the department would see if it could be verified.

“We have to be very careful with respect to any information coming from the Ukraine,” Barr said. “There are a lot of agendas in the Ukraine. There are a lot of cross-currents, and we can’t take anything we receive from the Ukraine at face value.”

Last week, the Senate acquitted Republican Trump largely along party lines on impeachment charges that he had abused his power by asking Ukraine to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian energy company.

Trump had based his demands on unfounded allegations of corruption. The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives said Giuliani, a former prosecutor, sought information about the Bidens in Ukraine.

On Monday, Barr said that the Justice Department has created an “intake process in the field” that will be used to assess the “provenance and credibility” of any information.

“That is true for all information that comes to the department relating to the Ukraine, including anything Mr. Giuliani might provide,” he added.

Although the department acknowledged on Monday it is receiving and scrutinizing such materials, the FBI’s No. 2 official still stopped short of saying whether it had led to a more formal investigation into the Bidens.

“I am not going to talk about any investigations as I never would. We do not talk about open investigations,” FBI Deputy Director David Bowdich said.

Graham said he would refrain from his own probe of the Bidens and concentrate instead on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court’s decision to issue warrants that led to a federal investigation into allegations that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in that election.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Susan Heavey; Editing by Grant McCool)

Explainer: Why will Republicans vote to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial?

By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Republican-led U.S. Senate is expected to acquit President Donald Trump on Wednesday at the end of his impeachment trial on charges that he abused his power in dealings with Ukraine and obstructed efforts to uncover the alleged misconduct.

Here is a summary of the reasons that Trump’s Republicans, who control 53 seats in the 100-seat chamber, say he should not be removed from office:

– Trump did nothing wrong

The impeachment charges against Trump contend that he sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading 2020 Democratic presidential contender, to benefit his own re-election campaign.

They say Trump withheld nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid and a coveted White House meeting with the newly elected Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Some Republicans say he did nothing wrong. They say Trump was simply trying to crack down on corruption in a country where that has long been a problem and wanted U.S. allies to share the burden of supporting Ukraine.

“Both of those objectives are consistent with law, are permissible and legal,” Republican Senator Ted Cruz said on the Senate floor.

Senators making this argument tend to represent reliably conservative states or, like Cruz, do not face re-election this year.

– Trump’s actions were wrong, but not impeachable

Nearly half-a-dozen Senate Republicans, including some from electoral swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, say Trump’s actions were wrong but do not qualify as “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which the U.S. Constitution specifies as grounds for impeachment.

“The president did it, shouldn’t have done it. But it’s a far cry from what the Constitution sets out as the standard for removing a president from office,” said Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

Others making that argument include Susan Collins, a moderate Republican facing a tough re-election campaign in Maine. She told the Senate that Trump’s request for an investigation of Biden was “improper and demonstrated very poor judgment.”

– Removal of Trump would upset voters

Regardless of the merits of the impeachment case, a large number of Republicans say ousting the president from office could worsen partisan divisions.

“Can anyone doubt that at least half of the country would view his removal as illegitimate — as nothing short of a coup d’etat?” Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said in statement.

No Republicans voted for Trump’s impeachment in the Democratic-led House of Representatives in December. During the Senate impeachment trial, Trump’s lawyers accused Democrats of seeking to remove Trump from office even before he became president in January 2017.

Trump’s approval rating has shown little change since news broke of his efforts to pressure Zelenskiy in September, and he remains popular among Republican voters. Reuters/Ipsos polling shows that Trump’s approval rating stood at 39 percent at the end of last week, down from 43 percent in late September, which is not a statistically significant change.

Trump’s popularity among Republican voters is surely a factor for the 21 Republican senators seeking re-election this year, as they could face a backlash if they were to vote to convict.

– Not enough evidence

Republicans accuse House Democrats of bringing a “half-baked” impeachment case to the Senate, saying they failed to fight in federal court for vital witnesses and documents that Trump has withheld.

They say House investigators have since inappropriately tried to persuade the Senate to complete the task for them by subpoenaing additional witnesses and documents. All but two Republicans voted last week against a Democratic motion to call more witnesses and present more evidence that could help make the case.

“They claimed dozens of times, that their existing case was, quote, ‘overwhelming and incontrovertible,'” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said. “At the same time, they were arguing for more witnesses.”

Other Republicans say the impeachment case relies too heavily on unprovable assertions that Trump’s motives were corrupt. They say it could set a precedent that would allow a future Congress to punish a president for pursuing genuine anti-corruption policies.

“The House of Representatives’ abuse-of-power theory rests entirely on the president’s subjective motive. This very vague standard cannot be sustained,” said Republican Senator Chuck Grassley.

– Let the voters decide

Republicans frequently said impeachment would subvert the will of voters who elected Trump in 2016. They say the Senate should not interfere with the Nov. 3 presidential election, in which Trump will seek another four years in office.

“Under the Constitution, impeachment wasn’t designed to be a litmus test on every action of the president. Elections were designed to be that check,” Republican Senator Joni Ernst said.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Andy Sullivan and Peter Cooney)

New phase begins in President Trump’s impeachment trial

By Susan Cornwell, Patricia Zengerle and Susan Heavey

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump unleashed his sharpest attack yet on John Bolton after his former national security adviser depicted Trump as playing a central role in a politically motivated pressure campaign on Ukraine, as the U.S. Senate prepared on Wednesday to enter a new phase in the president’s impeachment trial.

Senators will begin the first of two planned days of posing questions to both Trump’s legal team and the Democrats in the House of Representatives lawmakers who have served as prosecutors in the trial on charges of abusing power and obstructing Congress arising from his request that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden.

The questioning, set to begin at about 1 p.m. (1800 GMT), precedes a vote later in the week on whether to call witnesses including Bolton, as Democrats have sought.

Senate Republicans so far have refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial, with Republican leaders hoping to vote as quickly as possible to acquit Trump, leaving him in office.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told senators on Tuesday he did not have the votes to block Democrats from calling witnesses because some Republicans remained uncommitted, several media outlets reported. Democrats need four Republican senators to join them in voting for witnesses in order to get a majority in the 100-seat Senate.

The Senate is expected to acquit Trump but allowing witnesses such as Bolton could inflict political damage on the Republican president as he seeks re-election on Nov.3.

Removing Trump from office would take a two-thirds majority. There are 53 Republican senators and none of them has publicly advocated removal. The Democratic-led House impeached Trump last month.

Trump lashed out at Bolton on Twitter. He said Bolton “couldn’t get approved for the Ambassador to the U.N. years ago, couldn’t get approved for anything since, ‘begged’ me for a non Senate approved job” and added that “if I listened to him, we would be in World War Six by now.”

Trump added that Bolton, who left his White House post in September, “goes out and IMMEDIATELY writes a nasty & untrue book. All Classified National Security. Who would do this?”

Contradicting Trump’s version of events, Bolton wrote in an unpublished book manuscript that the president told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until Kiev pursued investigations into Democrats, including Biden and the former vice president’s son Hunter Biden, the New York Times reported.

Bolton’s allegations go to the heart of the impeachment charges. Democrats have said Trump abused his power by using the security aid – passed by Congress to help Ukraine battle Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign power to smear a political rival.

Biden is a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in November.

Trump has denied telling Bolton he sought to use the aid as leverage to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. Trump has said he fired Bolton. Bolton, a foreign policy hawk who served as a temporary “recess appointee” as American ambassador to the United Nations under Republican former President George W. Bush, has said he quit.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, remained opposed to witnesses but said, “I am concerned when John Bolton’s credibility is attacked, it makes it more likely some will feel the need to call him as a witness. In that event, it would be important for the president and his team to call witnesses on other issues.”

PARNAS ARRIVES

Ukrainian-born U.S. businessman Lev Parnas, who worked with Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to press Ukraine to pursue the politically motivated investigations at the center of the impeachment drama, arrived in Washington and headed toward the U.S. Capitol, surrounded by reporters.

Parnas will not be able to enter the Senate gallery where the trial is taking place because he is wearing a court-ordered ankle-monitoring device, his lawyer said. Parnas, facing federal campaign finance charges in New York relating to donations to a pro-Trump political group and others, has provided information to House Democrats damaging to Trump.

Parnas indicated he would be willing to testify in the trial, adding, “The president knew everything that was going on with Ukraine.”

Wednesday’s questions during the trial will alternate between Republican and Democratic senators. They will be submitted in writing and read aloud by U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the trial.

Trump’s legal team wrapped up its opening arguments in the trial on Tuesday, saying he president did not commit any impeachable offenses even if what Bolton said was true.

The Senate is expected on Friday to debate and vote on whether to call witnesses. Top Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer made a fresh pitch for Republican support for witnesses, saying calling them would not result in a lengthy delay in the trial.

Senator Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat whose state strongly backs Trump, said it was critical to have witnesses and that he had yet to decide whether to acquit Trump, saying the two days of questioning would help him decide.

In a break with his party, Manchin also said Hunter Biden, like Bolton, would be a relevant witness who should be called. Republicans oppose calling any witnesses but have said they would want to hear from Hunter Biden if witnesses are permitted.

The younger Biden had worked for a Ukrainian energy company when his father was vice president. Trump has made unsubstantiated allegations of corruption against the Bidens.

In an interview with MSNBC, Manchin said that “being afraid to put up anybody who might have pertinent information is wrong, whether you’re Democrat or Republican.”

Schumer told reporters that Republicans have a Senate majority and could vote to call Hunter Biden if they want to, but added, “Hunter Biden is irrelevant and a distraction.”

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, David Morgan, Doina Chiacu, Patricia Zengerle, Susan Heavey, Susan Cornwell, Makini Brice, Karen Freifeld and Lisa Lambert; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Howard Goller and Alistair Bell)

Republicans in Trump impeachment trial on the spot over Bolton book report

By Richard Cowan and Susan Cornwell

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s fellow Republicans in the U.S. Senate came under fresh pressure on Monday to allow witnesses and new documents in his impeachment trial, while Trump’s defense team argued that policy differences were a crucial reason that Democrats have sought to remove him from office.

A New York Times report that former national security adviser John Bolton has written in an unpublished book manuscript that Trump told him he wanted to freeze security aid to Ukraine until Kiev helped with politically beneficial investigations prompted fresh calls by Democrats for Bolton and other witnesses to testify at the trial.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney, a sometime critic of Trump, said there was a growing likelihood that at least four Republican senators would vote to call for Bolton to testify, which would give Democrats the votes necessary to summon the former national security adviser.

Senate Republicans so far have refused to allow any witnesses or new evidence in the trial that will determine whether Trump is removed from office. Trump’s legal team on Monday resumed its presentation of opening arguments in the trial, including remarks by Ken Starr, the former independent counsel whose investigation paved the way for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in 1998.

The New York Times cited the manuscript by Bolton as saying that Trump told him he wanted to freeze $391 million in security aid to Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

Bolton left his post in September. Trump said he fired him. Bolton said he quit.

If confirmed, the report would add weight to Democrats’ accusations that Trump used the aid – approved by the U.S. Congress to help Ukraine combat Russia-backed separatists – as leverage to get a foreign country to help him dig up dirt on a domestic political rival.

Biden is a leading contender for the Democratic nomination to face Trump in the Nov. 3 presidential election.

Trump on Monday denied telling Bolton that he sought to use the aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens on unsubstantiated corruption allegations. Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was U.S. vice president.

“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton,” Romney told reporters.

Another moderate Republican senator, Susan Collins, said the reports regarding Bolton’s book “strengthen the case for witnesses.” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a Republican ally of Trump, said he would support issuing a subpoena to obtain Bolton’s manuscript to see if it should be added to the record, a CNN reporter said on Twitter.

The Democratic-led House of Representatives impeached Trump last month on charges of abuse of power in his dealings with Ukraine and obstruction of Congress, setting up the trial in the Republican-led Senate.

Trump is expected to be acquitted in the 100-seat Senate, where Republicans hold 53 seats and a two-thirds vote is required to convict and remove a president from office.

Trump denied telling Bolton he was seeking something in return for unfreezing the Ukrainian aid, which eventually was provided in September after the controversy became public.

“I haven’t seen the manuscript, but I can tell you nothing was ever said to John Bolton,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

DEFENSE ARGUMENT

In its second day of its opening arguments, Trump’s defense team said a crucial reason that House Democrats impeached Trump was not due to misconduct by the president but because of deep political differences.

“We live in a constitutional republic where you have deep policy concerns and deep differences. That should not be the basis of an impeachment,” Jay Sekulow, one of Trump’s lawyers, told the senators.

“It is our position, as the president’s counsel, that the president was at all times acting under his constitutional authority, under his legal authority, international interest, and pursuant to his oath of office. Asking a foreign leader to get to the bottom of issues of corruption is not a violation of an oath,” Sekulow added.

The issue of whether to call witnesses might be resolved in a Senate vote on Friday or Saturday. Democrats said the Bolton report made it all the more pressing for the Senate to call Bolton as a witness in what is only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history.

“It completely blasts another hole in the president’s defense,” said Representative Adam Schiff, the head of the House Democratic team of “managers” who are presenting the prosecution case against Trump, told CNN.

Many Republicans want a speedy trial without witnesses or any evidence beyond the material amassed in the House impeachment inquiry. But Republican senators and staff spent Monday morning getting up to speed on how the witness process would work, according to a senior Republican aide, in case the trial goes in that direction.

The White House directed current and former administration officials not to provide testimony or documents in the House inquiry, leading the House also to charge him with obstruction of Congress as well as abusing his office.

Starr, a former federal judge and Justice Department official, said there were ways short of impeachment for the House to force an administration to comply with its oversight obligations.

“Go to court. It really is as simple as that, I don’t need to belabor the point,” Starr said.

Starr said impeachment was an overused tool.

“The Senate is being called to sit as the high court of impeachment all too frequently,” Starr said. “How did we get here with presidential impeachment invoked in its inherently destabilizing and acrimonious way?”

According to the Times, Trump was pressed for weeks by senior aides including Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to release the aid.

But in an August 2019 discussion with Bolton, Trump said he preferred sending no aid to Ukraine until officials there turned over all materials they had about the investigation that involved Biden, as well as Hillary Clinton backers in Ukraine, according to the Times.

Senior administration officials have disputed the report.

If senators do not allow new witnesses and evidence, the Senate could vote as soon as the end of this week on whether to remove Trump.

(Additional Reporting by Pete Schroeder, Arshad Mohammed, Tim Ahmann, Makini Brice, Steve Holland, Jeff Mason and Lisa Lambert; Writing Alistair Bell; Editing by Will Dunham; Editing by Andy Sullivan)

Trump trial enters pivotal week as calls for witnesses grow

By Richard Cowan and Karen Freifeld

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial enters a pivotal week on Monday as his lawyers resume their defense following a fresh report that could intensify pressure on Senate Republicans to call former national security adviser John Bolton to testify.

The New York Times cited an unpublished Bolton manuscript as saying that Trump told him he wanted to freeze security aid to Ukraine until its officials helped with investigations into Democrats, including former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden.

The elder Biden is a leading Democratic contender to face the Republican president in the Nov. 3 U.S. election. Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was vice president.

The report, which did not quote the manuscript but cited multiple people describing Bolton’s account, may undercut a key element of Trump’s defense: that there was no quid pro quo when he asked Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, in a July phone call.

Bolton’s lawyer Charles Cooper said in a statement on Sunday that the manuscript had been submitted to the White House for a standard prepublication security review for classified information.

“It is clear, regrettably, from The New York Times article published today that the prepublication review process has been corrupted and that information has been disclosed by persons other than those properly involved in reviewing the manuscript,” Cooper said.

A Bolton aide said he had not given the manuscript to anyone else besides the White House for review.

White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham cast doubt on the timing of the report, which was published around the time pre-ordering for Bolton’s book began.

Trump denied the allegations in a series of tweets early on Monday.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens … If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book,” Trump wrote.

Trump’s team has previously said he was well within his constitutional authority to press Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens as part of what he says was an anti-corruption drive. The Bidens deny wrongdoing.

In only the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history, Democrats argued last week that Trump should be removed for encouraging Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election by pressuring its leader to dig up dirt on Biden.

Trump’s defense tried to turn that election interference line against the Democrats in its opening argument on Saturday by warning against removing a president less than 10 months before Americans vote on whether to give him a second term.

The president’s team will continue with his defense on Monday afternoon.

While the Republican-controlled Senate is highly unlikely to remove Trump from office, it is important for him to try to blunt the Democratic accusations to limit political damage to his bid for a second term.

The report drew immediate Democratic demands that the Senate call Bolton as a witness, an issue the 100-member chamber is likely to address later in the week.

The impeachment trial rules provide for a two-step process on whether to subpoena witness and documents, with an initial vote on whether to consider doing so and, if approved, subsequent votes to actually call witnesses or demand documents.

Democrats argue this could allow Republicans have it both ways – allowing them to first vote “yes” on whether to proceed and then vote “no” on actually allowing witnesses or documents.

As a result, vulnerable Senate Republicans could make the case to moderates that they had voted in favor of witnesses in the first vote while avoiding alienating Trump supporters by refusing to actually call any in later votes.

If the Senate called witnesses or demanded documents, the trial could lengthen. If not, the Senate could vote toward the end of the week on whether to remove Trump from office.

If that were to happen the trial could be over before the first U.S. voting contest takes place in Iowa on Feb. 3 and before Trump is scheduled to deliver the annual State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Feb. 4.

(Additional Reporting by Pete Schroeder, Arshad Mohammed, Tim Ahmann, Makini Brice, Steve Holland and Lisa Lambert; Writing Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Chizu Nomiyama)

Democrats turn focus to obstruction charge in Trump impeachment trial

Democrats turn focus to obstruction charge in Trump impeachment trial
By David Morgan and Richard Cowan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats serving as prosecutors in U.S. President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial in the Republican-led Senate will make their case he improperly interfered in Congress’ probe of his dealings with Ukraine in their final day of arguments on Friday.

Democratic managers from the House of Representatives will try to convince senators and the U.S. public that the Republican president is guilty of the charge of obstructing Congress for withholding key witnesses and documents from the investigation.

The Democratic-led House impeached Trump last month on that charge and a separate charge of abuse of power for allegedly trying to coerce Ukraine’s government into digging up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden, a top contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

The impeachment trial in the Senate, the third such proceeding in U.S. history, will determine whether Trump is ousted from power less than 10 months before he faces re-election.

The U.S. Constitution sets out the impeachment process for removing a president who commits “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Trump denies wrongdoing, while his Republican allies argue his conduct does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.

Once Democrats conclude their opening arguments, Trump’s legal team will have up to 24 hours over three days to mount a defense. Senate Republicans are expected to acquit him. A two-thirds vote of the chamber is required to eject him from office.

Trump on Friday retweeted dozens of supporters who repeated his criticism of the proceedings as unfair and politically motivated. The former reality television personality also complained his lawyers would have to begin arguments on Saturday, when, he said, nobody watches television.

“Looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

As the trial neared the end of its first week, there was little sign that Senate Republicans were being persuaded by the Democratic case.

Democrats spent Thursday meticulously detailing their allegations that Trump only grew interested in corruption in Ukraine when it appeared that Biden could become a serious political threat.

Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, the lead House manager, said Trump had used U.S. foreign policy for his own personal interest, and that failing to oust him from office would open the door to a “lot of damage” in the coming months.

“This is why if you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters and truth matters. Otherwise we are lost,” Schiff said in his closing argument on Thursday.

In a July 25 phone call, Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma. Trump temporarily withheld $391 million in U.S. military aid to Ukraine, which Democrats say was leverage for his demands.

DEMOCRATS PUSH FOR WITNESSES

On Friday, they will argue that Trump also unlawfully refused to cooperate with the House probe of the matter by directing officials to ignore Democratic requests to testify and for relevant documents.

Key administration officials who refused to comply with subpoenas in the probe included Vice President Mike Pence, White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Former national security adviser John Bolton refused a request by the House to testify.

Democrats sought to have Bolton testify in the trial, but senators voted along party lines on Tuesday against all Democrats’ proposed witnesses.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone, a member of Trump’s legal team, has accused Democrats of using the impeachment process to try to “steal” the 2020 election and said the president had a constitutional right to keep aides from testifying.

During the proceedings, Democrats have argued the Senate should allow new witnesses such as Bolton to testify. Republicans have resisted their push but have threatened to call a witness such as Joe or Hunter Biden in retaliation.

The Senate could return next week to that issue. Democrats are holding out hope that they can persuade enough moderate Republican senators to vote to allow additional witness testimony and documents into the trial.

Democratic Representative Val Demings, one of the House impeachment managers, said Democrats will continue to press for that, but added there was a strong case against the president without additional testimony.

“The best witness is the president himself and listening to his own words” in the Zelenskiy call and Trump’s public calls for other nations to interfere in the November election, Demings said in an interview with MSNBC. “That’s hard to ignore.”

(Reporting by Richard Cowan, Susan Cornwell and David Morgan; Writing by James Oliphant and Paul Simao; Editing by Peter Cooney, Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

Democrats accuse Trump at impeachment trial of corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine

By Susan Cornwell and Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrats accused President Donald Trump at his impeachment trial on Wednesday of a corrupt scheme to pressure Ukraine to help him get re-elected and warned that America’s global prestige would suffer if the U.S. Senate acquits him.

The Republican Trump, who has denied wrongdoing, sounded a defiant note, telling reporters in Switzerland the Democrats did not have enough evidence to find him guilty and remove him from office.

In a two-hour opening argument for the prosecution after days of procedural wrangling, U.S. Representative Adam Schiff said Trump had pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and Biden’s son on unsubstantiated corruption charges last year.

“To implement this corrupt scheme, President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into two discredited allegations that would benefit President Trump’s 2020 presidential campaign,” said Schiff, leading the House Democrats’ prosecution team of “managers.”

The Democratic team pressed its case against Trump in eight hours of arguments, which will resume on Thursday.

They contend that Trump was trying to find dirt on Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination for the November election, and his son Hunter Biden who had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, to help the president win a second term.

Trump was impeached last month by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his dealings with Ukraine and impeding the inquiry into the matter.

Trump is almost certain to be acquitted by the Republican-controlled 100-member Senate, where a two-thirds majority is needed to remove him from office. But the trial’s effect on his re-election bid is unclear.

FOCUS ON JULY 25 CALL

His fellow Republicans in the Senate say his behavior does not fit the description of “high crimes and misdemeanors” outlined in the U.S. Constitution as a reason to oust a U.S. president.

“We believe without question that the president will be acquitted,” Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow told reporters at the end of Wednesday’s session.

Democrats have two more days to make their case. Trump’s defense team will have three days after that for rebuttal in a trial that could potentially conclude next week.

The case against Trump is focused on a July 25 telephone call in which he asked Zelenskiy to open a corruption investigation into the Bidens as well as a discredited theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. election. U.S. military aid to Ukraine was frozen for a period of time.

“We have the evidence to prove President Trump ordered the aid withheld, he did so to force Ukraine to help his re-election campaign … we can and will prove President Trump guilty of this conduct and of obstructing the investigation into his conduct,” Schiff said as the day concluded.

Making references to 18th century U.S. founding father Alexander Hamilton and the late Republican President Ronald Reagan, Schiff said the world was watching.

“For how can any country trust the United States as a model of governance if it’s one that sanctions precisely the political corruption and invitation to foreign meddling that we have long sought to eradicate in burgeoning democracies around the world?”

He said senators would “also undermine our global standing” if they did not oust Trump three years into his tumultuous presidency.

Tuesday’s start of the impeachment trial drew about 11 million TV viewers, according to Nielsen ratings data, a figure that fell short of the roughly 13.8 million who watched last November for the first day of the House impeachment inquiry into Trump.

HISTORIC TRIAL

It is the third presidential impeachment trial in U.S. history. The opening days have been dominated by arguments over Democratic requests for more witnesses and records.

The Trump administration has not complied with subpoenas for documents and has urged officials like former national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo not to participate in the impeachment investigation.

A Reuters-Ipsos poll released on Wednesday found a bipartisan majority of Americans wanting to see new witnesses testify in the impeachment trial.

It said about 72% agreed that the trial “should allow witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the impeachment charges to testify,” including 84% of Democrats and 69% of Republicans.

In Davos, Switzerland, Trump told reporters at the World Economic Forum that he was happy with the way the trial was going.

“I thought our team did a very good job. But honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material,” Trump said.

Democratic U.S. Representative Val Demings, one of the House impeachment managers, said Trump’s comment amounted to boasting about obstruction of Congress.

“This morning, the president not only confessed to it, he bragged about it: ‘Honestly, we have all the material. They don’t have the material,'” she said.

But a senior administration official, asked to explain what Trump was referring to, said: “What he’s clearly saying is we have all the facts on our side, and those facts prove he’s done nothing wrong.”

Trump said allowing Bolton to testify at the trial would present national security concerns.

“He knows some of my thoughts, he knows what I think about leaders. What happens if he reveals what I think about a certain leader and it’s not very positive?” Trump said.

Bolton, a foreign policy hawk who was fired by Trump last year, has disdainfully described the Ukraine pressure campaign as a “drug deal” and testimony from him could be awkward for the president.

A parade of current and former officials spoke at House impeachment hearings last year of a coordinated Trump effort to pressure Ukraine.

But those televised hearings did little to change support for and against Trump’s impeachment. Reuters/Ipsos polling since the inquiry began shows Democrats and Republicans responding largely along party lines.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and David Morgan; Additional reporting by Richard Cowan and Susan Heavey; Writing by Alistair Bell and Steve Holland; Editing by Andy Sullivan, Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)