The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Power Up: Trump calls for Pelosi's impeachment as Week Three of the House inquiry begins

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with Brent D. Griffiths

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The Investigations

WELCOME TO WEEK III:  President Trump went there in a late-night tweet by accusing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) of treason and calling for her impeachment. 

It was completely unclear what Trump meant:


Fact check: There are some basic factual problems with those tweets — first off, members of Congress can't be impeached. And while Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) has said his committee counseled the whistleblower about how to file a complaint, there is no evidence the speaker was involved. That complaint has sparked an impeachment inquiry into Trump's calls for Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.

And a seemingly irate president is fighting back. Trump spent his weekend lashing out at Democrats, the whistleblower(s), Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), Sunday show anchors and guests, and others who have refused to bend to his point of view.

The president's 60-plus tweets did not make up for the absence of administration officials who declined to appear on Sunday shows or the shaky defenses fronted by some GOP lawmakers struggling to navigate “their political futures, legacies and, ultimately, their allegiance to a president who has held them captive,” our colleagues Bob Costa and Phil Rucker report. 

  • “Trump has been defiant in his defense, insisting his conduct with foreign leaders has been “perfect” and claiming a broad conspiracy by the Democratic Party, the intelligence community and the national media to remove him from office. Yet few Republican lawmakers have been willing to fully parrot White House talking points because they believe they lack credibility or fret they could be contradicted by new discoveries,” per Bob and Phil. 

Here are just a few of this weekend's key developments:

— On Sunday, it was revealed that a second whistleblower has spoken with the intelligence community's inspector general, Michael Atkinson. 

  • “Mark Zaid, the attorney representing the whistleblower who sounded the alarm on President Donald Trump's dealings with Ukraine and triggered an impeachment inquiry, tells ABC News that he is now representing a second whistleblower who has spoken with the inspector general,” ABC News's James Gordon Meek and Anne Flaherty. 
  • Zaid told ABC News's George Stephanopoulos the second whistleblower — “also described as an intelligence official — has firsthand knowledge of some of the allegations outlined in the original complaint.” 

— The AP scoops that a circle of GOP allies seeking business deals in Ukraine touted connections to Rudy Giuliani and Trump as they pushed for control of the government-owned gas company, Naftogaz, while Secretary of Energy Rick Perry was simultaneously efforting to replace board members of the massive firm. 

  • “As Rudy Giuliani was pushing Ukrainian officials last spring to investigate one of Donald Trump’s main political rivals, a group of individuals with ties to the president and his personal lawyer were also active in the former Soviet republic,” the Associated Press's Desmond Butler, Michael Biesecker and Richard Lardner report. 
  • Key: It's still unclear if the Perry and Giuliani allies were collaborating but “the affair shows how those with ties to Trump and his administration were pursuing business deals in Ukraine that went far beyond advancing the president’s personal political interests. It also raises questions about whether Trump allies were mixing business and politics just as Republicans were calling for a probe of Biden and his son Hunter, who served five years on the board of another Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.” 
  • Also notable: “The Trump and Giuliani allies driving the attempt to change the senior management at Naftogaz, however, appear to have had inside knowledge of the U.S. government’s plans in Ukraine. For example, they told people that Trump would replace the U.S. ambassador there months before she was actually recalled to Washington, according to three of the individuals interviewed by the AP. One of the individuals said he was so concerned by the whole affair that he reported it to a U.S. Embassy official in Ukraine months ago.” 
After news of a new whistleblower broke Oct. 6, Republicans slammed the media, and Democrats urged their colleagues to stop defending President Trump. (Video: The Washington Post)

— The Republican defense of Trump became even harder to follow. 

  • The Ron Johnson defense: Meet the Press's Chuck Todd was incredulous after Senate Homeland and Government Security Chair Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) brought up Lisa Page and Peter Strzok and asked “who planted” the story that Trump allegedly colluded with Russia to win the 2016 elections.
  • Er, the question was: Todd asked why Johnson told the Wall Street Journal's Siobhan Hughes and Rebecca Ballhaus he “winced” over a suggested made by the Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, that halted military aid to Ukraine was connected to a promise by Ukrainian President Zelensky for investigations.
  • “Answer the question that I asked you instead of trying to make Donald Trump feel better here that you're not criticizing him,” Todd told Johnson. 

Literally but not seriously: Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) echoed another defense Republican lawmakers are making after Trump publicly called on China to investigate Joe Biden and his son: Trump isn't serious.

  • “I think Sen. (Marco) Rubio said it a couple days ago, he's getting the press all spun up about this,” Jordan told Stephanopoulus. Remember, this is the president who's been tougher on China than any other president.”
  • Jordan refused to say whether he thought Trump's comments were right or wrong: “Well, I don't think it's going to happen. … I just don't think that's what the president was really saying.” 

The People

THE [CALL] WHERE IT HAPPENED: We still don't even know some of the basic details of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky that's at the center of the impeachment inquiry. We don't know the identities of all the call's participants, for instance, which could help explain why the normally routine communication between two world leaders appears to have been placed on a highly secure server to limit access.

Here's what we do know: Per the whistleblower's complaint, “approximately a dozen” White House officials were listening in on the call — “a mixture of policy officials and duty officers in the White House Situation Room, as is customary.” 

  • “The officials I spoke with told me that participation in the call had not been restricted in advance because everyone expected it would be a “routine” call with a foreign leader. I do not know whether anyone was physically present with the President during the call.”

In addition to Trump and Zelensky, we know of three other people in on the conversation — along with “very talented stenographers.” 

  • Keith Kellogg Jr.: A retired lieutenant general and Vice President Pence's national security adviser. (Our colleagues Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Ashley Parker broke the news, Kellogg's participation, they write “was the standard practice, but did not see it as unusual or flag any concerns about it to the vice president, officials said.”
  • Mike Pompeo: The secretary of state initially gave an evasive answer when asked if he listened in. After the Wall Street Journal's Courtney McBride and Sadie Gurman broke the news of his participation, Pompeo publicly confirmed to reporters he was on the call while in Rome. Pompeo stood behind Trump saying the president “wanted only the best things for the people of Ukraine.”
  • T. Ulrich Brechbuhl: “In addition to White House personnel, I was told that a State Department official, Mr. T. Ulrich Brechbuhl, also listened in on the call,” per the whistleblower complaint. Ulrich is a counselor to Pompeo.
  • “Very talented stenographers”: We also know, per Trump's telling, it was being transcribed by “very talented stenographers." “I knew many people were on the phone. Not only were many people on the phone, we had stenographers on the phone taking it down, word for word,” the president said. 

Bookmark this: Our colleagues have put together a handy calendar to help you keep it all straight on what we can expect next in the impeachment inquiry:

At The White House

TRUMP PULLS U.S. TROOPS OUT OF NORTHERN SYRIA: "The United States will withdraw American troops from Syria’s border with Turkey, the White House said late on Sunday, as the Trump administration appeared to wash its hands of an explosive situation between the Turkish military and U.S.-allied Kurdish fighters," our colleagues Missy Ryan, Kareem Fahim and Karen DeYoung report.

  • More details: "The announcement that the United States would not intervene in a long-threatened Turkish offensive signaled an abrupt end to a months-long American effort to broker peace between two important allies," our colleagues write. "It came after a call between President Trump and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan."
  • Trump's announcement makes him an outlier: The "goes against the recommendations of top officials in the Pentagon and the State Department who have sought to keep a small troop presence in northeast Syria to continue operations against the Islamic State, or ISIS, and to act as a critical counterweight to Iran and Russia," the New York Times's  Eric Schmitt and Maggie Haberman report.
  • What does this mean for Kurdish forces?: "A senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an evolving situation, said the U.S. government 'has no idea' what the Turkish operation would look like, whether it would be a small, symbolic incursion or a major offensive intended to push 30 or 40 kilometers into Syria," our colleagues write. 
  • Key quote: “There are many potential disastrous outcomes to this,” a U.S.official told our colleagues.
  • Brett McGurk, the former U.S. envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State, immediately panned the decision with a striking attack on Trump. McGurk resigned last December in protest over Trump's decision to withdraw American forces from Syria. (Trump later backtracked on that commitment.)

Global Power

NBA IGNITES FIRESTORM OVER HONG KONG: Democratic presidential candidates and Republican lawmakers have lashed out at the NBA over the decision to distance itself from a Houston Rockets executive’s tweet in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. This is far from the first time an American company or for that matter major-global brand has had to correct itself to stay in Beijing’s good graces. 

  • What happened: The Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted on Friday to “stand with Hong Kong” then quickly deleted the message. But the damage was done as the Times’s Sopan Deb reports. The Chinese consulate general in Houston released a statement expressing its “strong dissatisfaction” and urged the team to take “immediate concrete measures to eliminate the adverse impact.”

It was the response of the NBA and the Rockets that caused much of the angry reaction in the U.S. as lawmakers pointed to fears that China was effectively silencing the First Amendment rights of an American citizen.

  • The problem: The league released a statement calling Morey's tweet “regrettable” and said the GM's views “deeply offended many of our friends and fans in China.” That response followed the Rockets’ owner who immediately rebuked Morey on Friday night. Morey tried to quell the situation himself on Sunday by issuing a pair of new tweets, but did not apologize for his original remarks.
  • More background: NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is scheduled to be in China later this week as the league continues its long tradition of hold preseason games there --- one of this year’s games will feature superstar LeBron James and his LA Lakers.
  • As Deb points out, “Basketball has long been China’s most popular sport and the N. B. A has made great efforts to cultivate the audience there, with a market that features hundreds of millions of fans. But the NBA has also been more open than other major sports leagues in letting its coaches and players express their political views.

Noted Rockets fan Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) blasted the league. Florida Sen. Rick Scott called the statement "an absolute joke." 

Andrew Yang was the first presidential candidate to weigh in. He was later followed by a pair of Texans, former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro and former congressman Beto O'Rourke.

From the Courts

SCOTUS COULD FACE SOME OF ITS MOST POLITICAL CASES IN YEARS: It's the first Monday in October. “The Supreme Court has a powerfully controversial docket for its term beginning [today] that will test Chief Justice John Roberts efforts to portray the institution as above the noisy and partisan battles of the moment,” our colleague Robert Barnes reports.

Here are some of the major cases the court is already schedule to hear:

  • Whether federal law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination or being fired.
  • Whether the Trump administration’s efforts to end the Obama-era program protecting immigrants brought to this country as children is lawful.
  • The first Second Amendment claim involving gun ownership in more than a decade.
  • Whether a state may withhold aid to private religious schools if it offers funding to secular ones.
  • An abortion case that gives the court’s new conservatives an opportunity to begin reconstructing its jurisprudence on what is perhaps the nation’s most divisive subject.

You'll notice there's a big potential case missing: The third potential Supreme Court case regarding the Affordable Care Act could be added later, as the potential effect of such a ruling during the height of the 2020 campaign has already been subject of speculation. The other potential bombshell(s) could come if any of the lawsuits between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration, including over the president's tax returns, wind their way through the system.

What the experts are watching: “The conservative majority — bolstered by [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s other appointee — is in position to be more assertive this term, according to those who watch the court,” our colleague writes. Of course, the health of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also remains a major question, though “she has counteracted the worries about her condition with an impressive show of vigor: nearly a dozen speaking engagements over the past month-plus,” our colleague writes.