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White House acknowledges strings attached in Trump withholding Ukraine aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump’s withholding of $ million in military aid to Ukraine was linked to his request that the Ukrainians look into a claim - debunked as a conspiracy theory - about the U.S. election, a senior presidential aide said on Thursday, the first time the White House acknowledged such a connection.

Trump and administration officials had denied for weeks that they had demanded a “quid pro quo” - a Latin phrase meaning a favor for a favor - for delivering the U.S. aid, a key part of a controversy that has triggered an impeachment inquiry in the House of Representatives against the Republican president.

But Mick Mulvaney, acting White House chief of staff, acknowledged in a briefing with reporters that the U.S. aid - already approved by Congress - was held up partly over Trump’s concerns about a Democratic National Committee (DNC) computer server alleged to be in Ukraine.

“I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy,” Mulvaney said.

He later contradicted himself, ruling out a quid pro quo in a statement from the White House.

In a July 25 call, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favor” to look into the server as well as the California-based cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which was hired by the DNC in to investigate hacking of Democratic emails that it later determined was done by Russia.

Trump also asked Zelenskiy to investigate a domestic political opponent, Joe Biden, and Biden’s son Hunter Biden, who had served as a director for a Ukrainian energy company. Zelenskiy agreed during the call to carry out the investigation that Trump sought. The U.S. aid was later provided to Ukraine.

The DNC server issue is a discredited claim that Ukraine and not Russia interfered in the U.S. election and that a Democratic Party computer server was being held somewhere in Ukraine. U.S. intelligence agencies and a special counsel investigation concluded that Russia used a campaign of hacking and propaganda to boost Trump’s candidacy.

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

Mulvaney said Trump did not like foreign aid, thought Ukraine was corrupt and was annoyed at how little “lethal aid” European nations provided to Ukraine as it combated Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

“Did he also mention to me in the past, the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question,” Mulvaney said, referring to Trump. “But that’s it. That’s why we held up the money.”

“The look-back to what happened in certainly was part of the things that he was worried about in corruption in that nation,” Mulvaney said, referring to Trump.

A reporter told Mulvaney that what he just described was a quid pro quo. “We do that all the time with foreign policy,” Mulvaney responded.

In his later statement, Mulvaney offered a different account, saying: “There was absolutely no quid pro quo.”

“There never was any condition on the flow of the aid related to the matter of the DNC server,” Mulvaney said.

Trump said he had a lot of confidence in Mulvaney.

Democratic members of the three House committees leading the impeachment inquiry pounced on Mulvaney’s earlier remarks.

Representative Gerald Connolly said: “I guess having failed at discrediting the facts of this case, they’ve decided on a new tactic, which is to admit them and basically say: ‘So what’?

“The answer to that is, well the ‘so what’ is you’re going to be impeached because that’s abuse of office. And extortion, the last time I checked, is still a crime,” he said.


Mulvaney’s comments came after the U.S. ambassador to the European Union said in written testimony in the impeachment inquiry that Trump told senior U.S. officials to talk directly to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about U.S. policy in Ukraine, raising concern that the president was outsourcing American foreign policy to a private citizen.

The envoy, Gordon Sondland, told lawmakers in the Democratic-led inquiry that he did not understand “until much later” that Giuliani’s agenda included a push for Ukraine to investigate Biden.

His testimony was the clearest sign yet that Trump’s efforts to erect a firewall around the White House and frustrate the Democratic-led inquiry’s efforts to interview administration officials are proving unsuccessful.

More testimony is expected next week, including from a top Pentagon official who oversees policy on Ukraine, two sources told Reuters on Thursday.

In prepared testimony, Sondland said he and two other officials - Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Ukraine Special Envoy Kurt Volker - were disappointed in Trump’s May order, but they followed it anyway. Sondland said he felt foreign policy should be the work of the State Department, not the president’s personal lawyer.

Trump said on Thursday that Perry would step down as energy secretary by the end of the year, adding he had known for months that Perry would resign. The former Texas governor said previously he had no plans to resign. He faces a Friday deadline to turn over documents in the impeachment probe.

Sondland, a Republican Trump political donor and a wealthy Oregon hotelier before being named by the president to his EU post last year, also said that “inviting a foreign government to undertake investigations for the purpose of influencing an upcoming U.S. election would be wrong.”

His testimony underscored the pivotal role of Giuliani in the Ukraine scandal. Before the president’s July call with Ukraine’s president, Giuliani had been working to persuade Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.

The impeachment inquiry could lead to the House passing formal charges - known as articles of impeachment - which would prompt a trial in the Senate on whether to remove Trump from office. The Senate is controlled by Trump’s fellow Republicans, who have shown little inclination toward removing him.


Sondland said that on May 23, three days after Zelenskiy’s inauguration, U.S. officials who had attended debriefed Trump and key aides at the White House.

The ambassador said the officials taking part in the meeting emphasized the strategic importance of Ukraine and the importance of the relationship with Zelenskiy, whom he called a reformer planning to fight corruption.

“We asked the White House to arrange a working phone call from President Trump and a working Oval Office visit. However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns,” he added.

“It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the president’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani,” he said.

During his White House briefing, Mulvaney acknowledged that Trump had directed officials to work with Giuliani on Ukraine, and defended the move as proper. Mulvaney denied that there was a “shadow foreign policy” on Ukraine led by Giuliani.

Giuliani did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sondland’s testimony.

Sondland is the latest witness to speak to lawmakers in the impeachment inquiry about his knowledge of efforts by the president to urge Ukraine to investigate Biden as lawmakers investigate whether Trump committed any “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Trump withheld the military aid to Ukraine before making the request.

“Please know that I would not have recommended that Mr. Giuliani or any private citizen be involved in these foreign policy matters,” Sondland said.

While he expressed misgivings in his testimony about Giuliani’s role, other witnesses have described Sondland as being among a trio of senior U.S. officials who were considered more reliable than career diplomats in pressing Ukraine to launch investigations that might help Trump’s re-election bid.

Trump has accused the Bidens of corruption related to Ukraine, without offering evidence. The Bidens have denied any wrongdoing.

Sondland said he did not fully appreciate in late May what Giuliani’s intentions were regarding Ukraine.

“I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the president’s re-election campaign,” Sondland said.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Karen Freifeld; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali, Phil Stewart, Mark Hosenball, Patricia Zengerle, Brendan Pierson, Jonathan Landay and Susan Cornwell; Writing by Will Dunham; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


U.S. imposes sanctions on Ukrainians over election interference

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on several Ukrainian individuals and entities, accusing them of U.S. election interference and associating with a pro-Russian Ukrainian lawmaker linked to efforts by President Donald Trump’s allies to dig up dirt on President-elect Joe Biden and his son.

“Russian disinformation campaigns targeting American citizens are a threat to our democracy,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, an ally of Trump who last week condemned the violence at the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, said in a statement.

The U.S. Treasury Department accused the seven individuals and four entities of involvement in a Russia-linked foreign influence network associated with Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach. The pro-Russian lawmaker was hit with sanctions by the U.S. government in September over accusations he tried to interfere in the U.S. election won by Biden.

The action freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from doing business with them.

“The United States will continue to aggressively defend the integrity of our election systems and processes,” Mnuchin added.

Trump is due to leave office on Jan.

The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives voted to impeach Trump in December on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress stemming from the Republican president’s request that Ukraine investigate Biden and his son Hunter ahead of the election. The Republican-led Senate in February voted to keep Trump in office.

Derkach has been a key figure in promoting unsubstantiated allegations that Hunter Biden improperly used his influence with his father - vice president at the time - to help Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company on whose board he sat, and that Joe Biden improperly pressured Ukraine to fire a top prosecutor who had investigated the firm.

These allegations, intended to harm Biden’s candidacy, have been seized upon by Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and some Republican lawmakers.

Derkach said in a statement those blacklisted were being punished for exposing alleged corruption.

Trump allies were dismayed about the sanctions against Ukrainians who had served as sources for Giuliani when he was trying to collect information on Hunter Biden, a source close to the president’s legal advisers said.

Some of the blacklisted individuals, notably former Ukrainian government officials Andrii Telizhenko and Konstantin Kulyk, were reported in news media accounts to be sources for Giuliani.

Democratic Senator Mark Warner, set to become chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, said, “Much of the false information spread about President-elect Biden during and since the campaign had its roots in the entities being sanctioned today, as we saw Russian entities seed or amplify dangerous narratives that gained significant traction in far-right media.”

Also blacklisted were: Ukrainian parliamentarian Oleksandr Dubinsky; former Ukrainian official Oleksandr Onyshchenko; Petro Zhuravel, a member of Derkach’s media team; Derkach supporter Dmytro Kovalchuk; and Anton Simonenko, who the Treasury Department said served as Derkach’s assistant and helped him hide financial assets.

Among the entities blacklisted was the Ukrainian website NABU Leaks, the source of leaked audio of conversations between Biden and former Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko. The website’s content closely aligns with Derkach’s agenda and talking points.

Dubinsky in a statement said, “Once again I declare that I have never interfered in elections in other states, including the American election, and never have anything to do with the publications or other similar actions of the so-called Poroshenko-Biden tapes.”

Simonenko declined to comment, Telizhenko and Kulyk did not immediately respond to requests for comment and Zhuravel could not be reached for comment.

“We didn’t expect such a broad list sanctioned under the ongoing administration,” Ukrainian anti-corruption activist Daria Kaleniuk said. “To me it is a good sign of the checks and balances system which still works in the U.S. government.”

Reporting by Raphael Satter, Mark Hosenball, Daphne Psaledakis and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Matthias Williams and Ilya Zhegulev in Kyiv and Karen Freifeld in New York; Editing by Will Dunham

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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How Ukraine got caught up in Trump's impeachment battle

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine has unwittingly become embroiled in a political battle in Washington between U.S. President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats who could announce formal impeachment charges against him within weeks.

Democrats launched an inquiry in September into allegations Trump abused his power to pressure Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democratic possible rival in the presidential race.

Trump calls the inquiry a partisan “witch hunt” and neither he nor his lawyers have agreed to appear in an inquiry hearing on Wednesday.


In a July 25 phone call, Trump pressed Zelenskiy to investigate an allegation that Biden, while in office, muscled the Ukrainian authorities to fire a top prosecutor to shut down a probe that could implicate his son Hunter.

Zelenskiy agreed to do so, according to a partial transcript that was released by the White House.

On the same call, Trump brought up a conspiracy theory that a hacked Democratic National Committee computer server was in Ukraine.

Democrats are also investigating whether Trump abused his powers by temporarily freezing $ million in security aid to pressure Zelenskiy. Trump denies doing so.


Zelenskiy denies being pressured by Trump and says he was unaware Trump had frozen aid at the time of their call. Zelenskiy’s administration insists it does not want to take sides or interfere in next year’s U.S. election.

Ukraine is acutely aware it relies on bipartisan support as well as military aid from Washington as Kiev battles Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region in a conflict that has killed more than 13, people.

Persistently questioned about the impeachment inquiry by journalists, Zelenskiy said last month that Ukrainians were tired of the issue.

In an interview, Zelenskiy denied speaking to Trump about a “quid pro quo”.

“I don’t want us to look like beggars. But you have to understand. We’re at war. If you’re our strategic partner, then you can’t go blocking anything for us,” he was quoted by Time magazine as saying.


By his own account, Joe Biden pressed the Ukrainian authorities to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin in , threatening to withhold $1 billion in loan guarantees if Kiev failed to comply.

Giuliani alleged Biden did so because Shokin was investigating the activities of Biden’s son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company called Burisma.

Trump and his aides have presented no evidence of corruption by the Bidens in Ukraine. Hunter Biden denies any wrongdoing during his work for Burisma. Joe Biden denies trying to protect his son, and says pressure to fire Shokin was being applied widely by European governments at the time because of concern over corruption.


After Zelenskiy took office this year, a new prosecutor general launched a wide-ranging audit of criminal cases. Thirteen of them relate to Burisma founder Mykola Zlochevsky, a multimillionaire former minister.

The allegations concern tax violations, money laundering and licenses given to Burisma during the period where Zlochevsky was in government. Zlochevsky has not commented and his whereabouts are unknown to the Ukrainian authorities.

The prosecutor said in October he was not aware of any evidence of wrongdoing by Hunter Biden, who was on the board of Burisma between


Giuliani alleges some Ukrainian officials conspired to help Trump’s Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton in by leaking information damaging to Trump’s then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.

Manafort, a long-time Republican political consultant who is now serving a prison sentence after being convicted of fraud and witness tampering, had worked in Ukraine for a previous Russia-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovich.

Giuliani and other Trump allies say Ukrainians forged a record of millions of dollars in payments -- known as the “black ledger” -- to Manafort from Yanukovich’s associates.

Separately, some right-wing websites have said that the cyber security firm CrowdStrike falsely accused Russia of hacking Democratic Party organizations and then stashed hacked email servers in Ukraine as part of a cover-up. CrowdStrike denies that.

Trump referenced that theory during his call with Zelenskiy.


Current and former U.S. officials have testified Giuliani carried out a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine, and led efforts to get Zelenskiy to announce investigations into Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the U.S. election.

Text messages between Giuliani and U.S. diplomats show pressure was exerted on Zelenskiy. The U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, testified that Trump largely delegated Ukraine policy to Giuliani.

Giuliani says he met current and former Ukrainian prosecutors as part of his investigations into the Bidens and the election but played down his role in liaising with U.S. diplomats and Ukrainian officials.


Trump says he discussed Biden in call with Ukrainian president

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump said on Sunday that he discussed Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden and his son in a call with Ukraine’s president.

Trump’s statement to reporters about his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky came as the Democratic leader of a key congressional panel said the pursuit of Trump’s impeachment may be the “only remedy” to the situation.

Trump’s call with Zelensky has been at the center of an escalating battle in Washington since Friday, when news outlets reported that Trump repeatedly asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate whether Biden, the Democratic front-runner to take on Trump in next year’s election, misused his position when he was vice president.

Trump told reporters at the White House that their phone conversation was mostly congratulatory but also touched on corruption and the Bidens.

“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, with largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place and 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 said.

Democrats have said that if Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Biden, it is tantamount to promoting foreign interference in the election.

Trump has denied doing anything improper. His allies, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have defended the president’s phone call, which, according to news reports, was the subject of a complaint made by an as-yet-unnamed whistleblower.

If an investigation shows that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate Biden, the U.S. Congress may have no choice but to pursue impeachment, Democratic House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said on Sunday.

Schiff had previously shied away from calling for impeachment, but his comments on CNN’s “State of the Union” showed his stance had shifted.

“If the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader to do something illicit, to provide dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is co-equal to the evil that conduct represents,” Schiff said.

Other legislators have called for the Democratic leadership to pursue impeachment immediately, but Democratic House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far resisted calls to formally begin the process.

In a letter to colleagues later on Sunday, Pelosi warned the administration against keeping the details of the whistleblower complaint secret. The administration has so far resisted sharing the details of the complaint with lawmakers.

“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,” Pelosi wrote.


Senator Mitt Romney, who has clashed with Trump in the past, sounded a rare note of concern among Trump’s fellow Republicans, many of whom have remained silent, defended Trump or escalated their attacks on Biden in the days after the reports about the Trump-Zelensky call.

“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,” Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, said in a Twitter post.

Impeachment proceedings in Congress, which begin in the House, can lead to a president being removed from office, but Democrats would need the support of Republicans, who control the Senate.

Multiple news organizations reported on Friday that Trump repeatedly asked Zelensky to investigate whether Biden misused his position as vice president under Democratic President Barack Obama to threaten to withhold U.S. aid unless a prosecutor who was looking into a gas company in which Biden’s son was involved was fired.

Biden has confirmed he wanted the prosecutor fired but denies it was to help his son. Biden said the wider U.S. government, the European Union and other international institutions also wanted the prosecutor fired for his alleged failure to pursue major corruption cases.

Biden said on Saturday there should be an investigation into Trump’s call, saying it “appears to be an overwhelming abuse of power.” He said he never spoke to his son about Ukraine.

Reporting by Nandita Bose, Sarah N. Lynch and Lawrence Hurley; Writing by Amanda Becker; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Peter Cooney

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Ukraine reuters trump

Trump and Ukraine: timeline of events in the controversy

By Reuters Staff

5 Min Read

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump’s interactions with Ukraine have prompted an extraordinary whistleblower complaint that the Republican used his powers to pressure a foreign leader to investigate one of his chief Democratic rivals.

An unclassified version of the complaint - which prompted Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to launch a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump - was released on Thursday.

Here is a timeline of events in the controversy based on the whistleblower’s complaint and public reports.

Late - Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani speaks to former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin by Skype. Shokin, widely accused of corruption, had been removed from his job in

Late January - Giuliani meets with then Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko in New York.

Mid-February - Giuliani meets Lutsenko in Warsaw.

Late March - Lutsenko and other Ukrainian officials begin publishing series of articles in Washington website The Hill alleging that their political rivals had worked with the Democratic National Committee and U.S. Embassy in Kiev to interfere in the presidential election, and that former Vice President Joe Biden had pressured the former Ukrainian president to fire a prosecutor looking into a gas company connected with his son, Hunter Biden.

April 21 - Volodymyr Zelenskiy wins Ukrainian election, beating incumbent Petro Poroshenko. Trump calls Zelenskiy to congratulate him and discusses “reforms that strengthen democracy, increase prosperity, and root out corruption” according to a White House readout of the call.

May 6 - State Department announces ambassador to Ukraine Masha Yovanovitch - a career diplomat - would end her assignment in Kiev. Democratic lawmakers immediately call the decision politically motivated.

May 9 - The New York Times reports Giuliani plans to travel to Ukraine to press government to investigate interference in election and the Biden family.

May 10 - Trump tells Politico he plans to speak with Giuliani about the trip. Giuliani later cancels the trip, claiming Zelenskiy was “surrounded by enemies” of Trump.

May 14 - In a published interview with a Ukrainian journalist, Giuliani says Yovanovitch had been removed because she had been working against Trump.

Around May 14 - Trump instructs Vice President Mike Pence to cancel plans to attend Zelenskiy’s inauguration. Instead, Energy Secretary Rick Perry led the small U.S. delegation.

Mid-May - Whistleblower hears from multiple officials that Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative to Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, had spoken with Giuliani to try to “contain the damage” from his efforts. Volker and Sondland also met with Zelenskiy’s administration to talk about the issues.

May 20 - Zelenskiy is inaugurated as president.

June 21 - Giuliani complains in a tweet that Zelenskiy “still silent on investigation of Ukrainian interference in and alleged Biden bribery” of Poroshenko.

July 18 - White House Office of Management and Budget informs departments and agencies that Trump had issued instructions earlier than month to suspend all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine.

July 25 - Trump has a phone call with Zelenskiy and asks him to speak to Attorney General William Barr and Giuliani about reopening a Ukrainian investigation into a Ukrainian gas company connected to Hunter Biden.

July 26 - Volker and Sondland meet with Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian political figures and “reportedly provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to ‘navigate’ the demands that the president had made,” according to the whistleblower report released on Thursday.

Aug. 2 - On or around this date, Giuliani travels to Madrid to meet Zelenskiy adviser Andriy Yernak, which the whistleblower said was “a ‘direct follow-up’” to the July 25 Trump-Zelenskiy phone call.

Aug. 8 - Giuliani tells Fox News that U.S. Attorney John Durham was investigating Ukraine. Durham had been named by Attorney General William Barr as part of a probe into the origins of the investigation into Russian election meddling and connects to the Trump campaign.

Aug. 12 - The whistleblower delivers his complaint to the chairmen of the intelligence committees of the Senate and House of Representatives.

Sept. 18 - The Washington Post publishes first public account about the whistleblower complaint.

Sept. 25 - Justice Department releases summary of Trump-Zelenskiy call. Trump and Zelenskiy meet in person for the first time at a U.N. gathering in New York.

Sept. 26 - House Intelligence Committee releases unclassified version of whistleblower complaint.

Watch the full, on-camera shouting match between Trump, Pelosi and Schumer - The Washington Post

Ukraine president thought only U.S. side of Trump call would be published

By Reuters Staff

1 Min Read

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Wednesday he thought that only U.S. President Donald Trump’s side of their July phone call would be published.

According to a summary of the momentous telephone call released by the Trump administration, Trump pressed Zelenskiy to investigate a political rival, former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, in coordination with the U.S. attorney general and Trump’s personal lawyer.

“I personally think that sometimes such calls between presidents of independent countries should not be published,” Zelenskiy told Ukrainian media in a briefing in New York that was broadcast in Ukraine. “I just thought that they would publish their part.”

Zelenskiy said he did not know the details of an investigation into Biden’s son, repeating that he wants his new general prosecutor to investigate all cases.


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