THE LATEST ON UKRAINE: President Trump admitted yesterday that he mentioned former vice president Joe Biden during a July 25 phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Refresher: The Post first reported last week that Trump pressured Zelensky on the call to investigate a gas company with ties to Hunter Biden — the subject of a whistleblower’s complaint. The call coincides with the Trump administration withholding $250 million of military and intelligence aid to Ukraine.
There is no evidence that Trump mentioned the aid as leverage on the call with the new Ukrainian leader but the administration only greenlit the aid last week after the whistleblower's complaint spilled into public view.
- “The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Trump told reporters. “And Ukraine, Ukraine’s got a lot of problems.”
- Later on in the day, Trump told reporters in Houston that he'd “have the right” to mention Biden's name with Zelensky and that he'd “love” to release a transcript of the call: “I’m not looking to hurt him with respect to his son … Joe’s got a lot of problems. Joe’s got enough problems. But what he said was a terrible thing,” suggesting Biden had lied about communications with his son about Ukraine.”
- Reminder: There is no evidence that Biden committed any wrongdoing.
Full-court press: Trump's admission came hours after senior members of his administration pulled off a full-court press on the Sunday shows, arguing they supported investigating whether Biden may have participated in “corrupt” behavior.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin defended Trump’s conversation with Zelensky and claimed it would be inappropriate to publish the transcript between the two leaders.
- “America cannot have our elections interfered with. … If there was that kind of activity engaged in by Vice President Biden, we need to know,” Pompeo said on ABC’s “This Week.”
- “I would say these are confidential discussions between two foreign leaders but I think the bigger issue is Biden came out this weekend saying he never had any discussions with his son. His son came out and said he had had business discussions with his father so I think that the real issue is not what the president said, but what, indeed, did Biden’s son do,” Mnuchin said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
All eyes on UNGA: Trump is scheduled to meet with Zelensky this week at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.
As for Biden, he finally responded to Trump's claims over the weekend:
Let’s be clear, Donald Trump pressured a foreign government to interfere in our elections. It goes against everything the United States stands for.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) September 22, 2019
We must make him a one-term president.
Changing minds: The fallout from the episode is unlikely to subside in the immediate future as some House Democrats who have resisted calls to initiate an impeachment inquiry are now changing course. The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has also refused to hand over the whistleblower's complaint to Congress and this could all come to a head on Thursday, when he is slated to testify publicly before the House Intelliegence Committee. The DNI's inspector general will testify before the committee behind closed doors.
“No director of national intelligence has ever refused to turn over a whistleblower complaint,” Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.”
The most important voice: “If the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to House Democrats.
"The growing calls to impeach Trump — or do something bold to confront the White House — follows an embarrassing week for House Democrats," my collaegue Rachael Bade reports. "Many feel increasingly helpless in fighting the White House’s obstruction, as Pelosi looks to the courts to uphold congressional subpoenas, a process that has taken months and could drag out for years."
Inherent contempt: Some House Democrats were fed up after Corey Lewandowski's in-your-face testimony last week, and urged invoking little-used powers to jail or fine people who defy subpoenas. “I say do it,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), according to Rachael. “Let them argue in court that they take the position that it’s legally questionable. We back off of everything! We’ve been very weak.”
Impeachment: Pelosi might not have used the word impeachment in the letter but Schiff went further than he has when it comes to the "I" word. Notably, he spoke with Pelosi spoke over the weekend “to coordinate their statements,” per the New York Times's Nick Fandos, Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman.
- “I have been very reluctant to go down the path of impeachment,” Schiff said on CNN's 'State of the Union'. “But if the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit, providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that conduct represents.”
What's giving House Dems some more confidence about impeachment? They're hearing it a bit more in their districts. Three House Ds from v diff parts of the country all told us the same on Sunday.— Jonathan Martin (@jmartNYT) September 23, 2019
From the right: Several senior Republican lawmakers surprisingly broke with the party line and called for the administration to release the transcript of Trump's call.
“I’m hoping the president can share, in an appropriate way, information to deal with the drama around the phone call,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told the Times. “I think it would be good for the country if we could deal with it.”
“If the President asked or pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate his political rival, either directly or through his personal attorney, it would be troubling in the extreme. Critical for the facts to come out,” Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) tweeted.
Nevertheless, it's unlikely that Republicans will publicly challenge Trump on the issue. Eighteen House Republicans to date have "announced plans to resign, retire or run for another office," my colleague Rachael Bade reports -- "a reminder of just how much Trump has remade the GOP — and of the purge of those who dare to oppose him."
“We’re here for a purpose — and it’s not this petty, childish b------t,” Rep. Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.), 62, told Rachael an interview in early September of his decision to retire after Trump's tweet telling four U.S. congresswomen to "go back" to their countries of origin.
WHO ISN'T COMING TO THE UNGA CLIMATE SUMMIT: U.N. Secretary General António Guterres is today holding a special climate summit in which he has demanded that participating countries “bring with them promises of tangible action, such as vowing to reach net zero emissions by 2050, scaling back fossil fuel subsidies and halting construction of coal-fired power plants,” report Brady Dennis and Steve Mufson. The summit is taking place as part of the U.N. General Assembly annual meeting this week in New York.
- Key quote: "“I told leaders not to come with fancy speeches, but with concrete commitments,” Guterres told reporters this week. “We are losing the race against climate change. Our world is off track.”
- Not coming: “U.N. officials have said that only the countries that have promised meaningful new pledges — probably about 60 nations — will be allowed one of the three-minute speaking slots throughout the day,” Steven writes. “The United States isn't one of them.”
- But: The administration will attend UNGA (Trump is expected to meet with Zelensky on the sidelines).
Steven provided Power Up with some other insights on the week ahead — namely the contrasts between the Obama administration and Trump administration on climate change:
- “The meeting at the UN general assembly and climate sessions couldn't be more different,” Steven wrote us in an email. “President Trump has declared that he will withdraw from the Paris accord just as soon as possible -- which happens to be the day after the 2020 election. But that is just a formality. The Trump administration is already busy trying to roll back Obama era regulations and legislation. And the president has praised Brazil's new president, who favors development of the Amazon, and used most of his firepower with China on trade.
- For President Obama, the negotiations on climate change were among the high points of his diplomatic record. He corralled a group of difficult allies — China, India and Brazil — to make unprecedented commitments to slow or reverse greenhouse gas emissions. Those countries might have been upset that the United States had already emitted far more, but they bit their tongues and joined the international accord reached in December 2015.”
- One glaring example of the sea change will be the absence of the United States from the podium Monday. U.N. Secretary General António Guterres has demanded that the countries attending Monday’s summit bring with them promises of tangible action, such as vowing to reach net zero emissions by 2050, scaling back fossil fuel subsidies and halting construction of coal-fired power plants.”
- U.N. officials have said that only the countries that have promised meaningful new pledges — probably about 60 nations — will be allowed one of the three-minute speaking slots throughout the day. The United States isn't one of them,” Steven writes.
Instead of attending today's climate meeting, Trump is hosting a session on religious persecution. Elsewhere, activists aim to shutdown the D.C. commute as a way to draw attention to climate change, our colleague Hannah Natanson reports.
SANDERS IS IN TROUBLE: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) "has begun to eclipse [Sen. Bernie] Sanders’s once-dominant standing among the Democratic Party’s most liberal voters and surpass him in some polls in the first two states in the nominating process: Iowa and New Hampshire," our colleagues Sean Sullivan, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Chelsea Janes report.
- This comes at a bad time for Bernie: "These challenges have been compounded by volatility inside Sanders’s operations in Iowa and New Hampshire. The campaign quietly fired its Iowa political director in the late summer and has yet to name a replacement — a key vacancy as the race enters a crucial phase, with less than five months to go before the February caucuses," our colleagues write.
- And the gold standard of Iowa polls didn't allay those fears: "The poll provided the clearest indication yet that Warren is eating into his base. She is winning a bigger share of people who caucused for Sanders in 2016 than he is, and she is outpacing him among voters under 35, his former strong suit, according to the survey conducted by Selzer and Co. for the Des Moines Register, CNN and Mediacom. (You can read the full poll here.)
- The drama has spilled over too: "Inside the Sanders campaign in New Hampshire, there were issues at the top levels of the campaign from its earliest days. State director Joe Caiazzo and senior strategist Kurt Ehrenberg, two veterans of the 2016 campaign, were in constant conflict," our colleagues write. "The workplace situation became so strained earlier this year that a human resources official had to intervene."
- The Sanders campaign says everything is fine: This week, "Sanders will embark across Iowa for a 'Bernie Beats Trump' tour across the state, an effort to argue that he is the most electable choice against [Trump] in 2020."
IN OTHER NEWS:
Update on Israel: Israel’s Arab Parties Back Benny Gantz to End Netanyahu’s Grip. By the New York Times’s By David M. Halbfinger and Isabel Kershner
About last night: Inspiring speeches on diversity, equal pay rule Emmy night. By the Associated Press’s Jocelyn Noveck.
Emmy night proved two things: TV shows are great right now and some awards shows really, really need a host. By The Post’s Hank Stuever.
Bad blood: Rand Paul moves to thwart a Liz Cheney Senate run. By Politico’s Burgess Everett and Melanie Zanona.
The climate strikes heard 'round the world: Climate Protesters and World Leaders: Same Planet, Different Worlds. By the New York Times’s Somini Sengupta.
Silicon Valley Is One of the Most Polluted Places in the Country. By Tatiana Schlossberg for The Atlantic.
Making the rounds: Donald Trump vs. the United States of America. By the New York Times’s David Leonhardt.