Romney calls Trump statements ‘appalling’: Impeachment update

Steven T. Dennis and Chris Strohm

The House Intelligence Committee is hearing Friday from intelligence community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who has said he examined a whistle-blower’s complaint about President Donald Trump and Ukraine and found it to be “urgent” and “credible.”

Here are the latest developments:

Romney Calls Trump Statements Appalling’ (12:28 p.m.)

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, center, talks with reporters as he heads to the Senate for a vote, on Capitol Hill, Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2019 in Washington.

Republican Senator Mitt Romney strongly criticized Trump for calling on China and Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden.

“By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling,” Romney wrote on Twitter Friday.

The Utah senator is one of only a few GOP lawmakers to publicly chastise the president.

Romney also wrote on Twitter, “When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated.”

In late September, Romney said he was “deeply troubled” after reading a rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 call that showed the president asking Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden.

Cornyn Alleges Justice Is Probing Biden (11:35 a.m.)

Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, left, walks with a reporter as he arrives for a closed intelligence briefing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, Thursday Sept. 26, 2019, on Capitol Hill.

Republican Senator John Cornyn alleged on Twitter Friday that the Justice Department is reviewing possible conflicts of interest by former Vice President Joe Biden, but a person with knowledge of the matter said the probe that Cornyn referred to doesn’t involve Biden.

Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees and a close Trump ally, said in a tweet Friday that the top law enforcement agency “is investigating foreign government influence, VP Biden conflicts of interest, and possible corruption.” He refused to give any details.Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie said the Texas senator was referring to an investigation led by John Dunham, a U.S. attorney assigned by Attorney General William Barr to review the origins of the 2016 Justice Department and intelligence agency investigation of Russia’s influence in the 2016 election.

The person with knowledge of the matter said Durham’s investigation doesn’t involve the Bidens.

Trump has denounced the 2016 investigation as a “witch hunt” aimed at hurting him politically. He and his allies have been attempting to raise suspicions about actions by Biden, one of the leading contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Trump has publicly sought help from Ukraine and China to investigate Biden, and alleged efforts to do that behind the scenes are now the center of an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats. – Steven T. Dennis, Chris Strohm

Trump Insists He’s Fighting Corruption (10:49 a.m.)

President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019.

Trump insisted that he asked Ukraine’s government to re-open investigations into Joe Biden and his family only out of an interest in fighting corruption.

“We want to find out what happened with 2016,” Trump told reporters on Friday as he departed the White House to visit wounded soldiers at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. “I don’t care about Biden’s campaign, but I do care about corruption.

“I believe there was tremendous corruption with Biden,” he added.

Trump’s allegation that Joe Biden, as vice president, pressured Ukraine to abandon an investigation related to a company that employed his son Hunter Biden has been discredited. Trump has also asked Ukraine’s current government to explore an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that people in the country were behind hacks of Democratic Party email accounts during the 2016 election. – Josh Wingrove

Impeachment Probe Moves to Inspector General (10:08 a.m.)

Intelligence Inspector General Michael Atkinson arrived on Capitol Hill to face questions from House investigators regarding a whistle-blower’s complaint about President Donald Trump’s call with Ukraine’s president that is at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

Intelligence Committee members and staff intend to ask Atkinson about the administration’s initial handling of the whistle-blower’s information. They’ll also ask for corroborating information he found that led him to deem the complaint not only credible, but urgent.

Atkinson first received the complaint Aug. 12, and he determined the report to be credible on Aug. 26 after his initial investigation. House Republicans have raised questions about the origins of the whistle-blower’s report and its credibility. –Billy House

Pelosi Asks What Trump Offered China for Biden Probe (9:20 a.m.)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asked in a tweet Friday morning what President Donald Trump promised China “in exchange for interfering in our election?”

“An easier deal on trade? Ignoring crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement? Condoning repression of religious freedom?”

Pelosi said in a separate tweet, “Congress must not back down from our duty to defend the Constitution as @realDonaldTrump ignores the Founders’ warnings about foreign interference at every turn.” – Kasia Klimasinska

GOP’s Sasse Slams Trump Call on China to Probe Bidens (8 a.m.)

At least one Republican senator is worried about Trump’s invitation to China to investigate Joe Biden and his son. Ben Sasse of Nebraska issued a written statement to the Omaha World-Herald, saying it’s up to the justice system to investigate the Bidens, not Beijing.

“Hold up: Americans don’t look to Chinese commies for the truth,” Sasse said, according to the newspaper, in one of the strongest rebukes to Trump from a Republican yet. “If the Biden kid broke laws by selling his name to Beijing, that’s a matter for American courts, not communist tyrants running torture camps.”

Sasse nonetheless joined Trump in criticizing Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, who is leading the House’s impeachment investigation. “Congressman Schiff is running a partisan clown show in the House – that’s his right because the Constitution doesn’t prohibit clown shows, but fortunately, in the Senate, we’re working to follow the facts one step at a time,” Sasse said in his statement.

Speaking to reporters publicly on Thursday, Trump publicly declared some of the things that prompted the whistle-blower complaint in the first place. He called on both Ukraine and China to investigate the Bidens as House committees began impeachment inquiries into whether Trump abused his power to get foreign governments to investigate a political rival.

The president defended his comments in a Friday tweet, saying asking other countries to help probe corruption “is done all the time.” – Josh Wingrove

Key Events

  • Trump and his allies are trying to sow doubt by suggesting that Schiff orchestrated the whistle-blower complaint. Schiff’s aides have flatly denied coordination, and attorneys for the whistle-blower said Schiff didn’t have any contact with them or the whistle-blower.
  • Vice President Mike Pence said Thursday he raised issues of corruption in Ukraine when he met on Sept. 1 with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The vice president didn’t say whether he discussed anything related to Biden or his family. He has previously said he did not.
  • Biden’s campaign said Trump’s statement that Chinese President Xi Jinping should investigate the former vice president and his son was a “grotesque choice of lies over truth and self over country.”
  • House committees heard from their first formal witness, former U.S. envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker, behind closed doors Thursday. He resigned last Friday after the whistle-blower’s complaint contained references to him.

– With assistance from Kasia Klimasinska, Billy House, Josh Wingrove and Chris Strohm.