Impeachment pressure complicates trade picture
Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, his Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Attorney General William Barr were all drawn deeper into the House impeachment inquiry after new details of the administration’s foreign contacts emerged on Monday.
Three House committees said they had subpoenaed Giuliani for records of his dealings with Ukraine on Trump’s behalf. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that Pompeo had listened to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is central to the impeachment investigation.
Barr has asked Trump to contact “other countries” for help with a probe into the origins of the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, department spokeswoman Kerry Kupec said in an e-mail. The prosecutor leading the investigation, U.S. Attorney John Durham, “is gathering information from numerous sources, including a number of foreign countries,” she said.
The New York Times reported that Trump recently asked Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to assist Barr in his probe, and the Washington Post reported that Barr has held meetings overseas with foreign intelligence officials to seek their help.
The rapid-fire developments expanded the potential scope of the House’s inquiry, which began last week after revelations of Trump’s call with Zelensky. According to a whistle-blower complaint and a memorandum of the call the White House released, Trump asked Zelensky, whose country is dependent on U.S. military aid to combat a Russia-backed insurgency, to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.
The Democratic chairmen of the House panels on Foreign Affairs, Intelligence and Oversight gave Giuliani a deadline of Oct. 15 to turn over documents he referred to in television interviews regarding his conversations with Ukrainian officials. The documents include “text messages, phone records and other communications” that could indicate other administration officials might be involved.
Giuliani accused Joe Biden of bribery in an interview with Fox Business Network on Monday, without presenting any evidence. Trump has alleged that as vice president in 2016, Biden pressured Ukraine to fire a former prosecutor general to protect his son from an investigation of a gas company that employed him as a board member. The claim has been discredited by Ukrainian officials and documents obtained by Bloomberg News.
Trump urged Morrison to assist Barr in his efforts to undercut Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 American election, the Times said, citing two American officials. The request was made in a phone call, the Times said, adding that a transcript of the conversation was restricted to just a few officials.
It was not clear when the call took place, but Barr was sworn in on Feb. 14, shortly before Mueller submitted his final report. Morrison visited Washington and was treated to a state dinner at the White House earlier this month.
“The Australian government has always been ready to assist and cooperate with efforts that help shed further light on the matters under investigation,” a spokesperson for the Australian government said in a statement Tuesday. “The PM confirmed this readiness once again in conversation with the president.”
Alexander Downer, Australia’s former high commissioner to the U.K., confirmed that he’d spoken with Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos in 2016 and had passed information from that conversation to Australian authorities.
“I don’t know anything at all about conversations that Scott Morrison has had with Donald Trump, I’m afraid these days it’s not the sort of thing I’m privy to,” Downer said in an interview Tuesday with Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
The handling of the Morrison call record appears similar to the White House’s treatment of a memorandum documenting Trump’s call with Zelensky. The White House last week corroborated the whistle-blower’s claim that the Zelensky memo was placed in an electronic system intended to store highly sensitive information.
The whistle-blower also implicated Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, and Barr in the president’s efforts to seek a Ukraine investigation of Biden.
The complaint led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump.
The Journal report that Pompeo listened to the phone conversation pulls the secretary of state deeper into the drama. Pompeo, who is widely believed to be considering a run for a Senate seat in his home state of Kansas, brushed off the whistle-blower’s complaint at a news briefing on Friday in New York, saying he hadn’t read the document.
Officials at the State Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.