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'How long can Ukraine fight off Russia?' asks Trump on tape


Trump supporters wait for the president to arrive in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Photo: Reuters

Trump supporters wait for the president to arrive in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Photo: Reuters

Trump supporters wait for the president to arrive in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Photo: Reuters

President Donald Trump inquired how long Ukraine would be able to resist Russian aggression without US assistance during a 2018 meeting with donors that included the indicted associates of his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.

"How long would they last in a fight with Russia?" Mr Trump is heard asking in the audio portion of a video recording, moments before he calls for the firing of US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.

She was removed a year later after a campaign to discredit her by Mr Giuliani and others, an action that was part of the Democrats' case arguing for removal of the president in his Senate impeachment trial.

A video recording of the entire 80-minute dinner at the Trump Hotel in Washington has been obtained by the Associated Press news agency.

It contradicts the president's statements that he did not know the Giuliani associates Lev Parnas or Igor Fruman, key figures in the investigation who were indicted last year on campaign finance charges.

On the recording, a voice that appears to be Mr Parnas's can be heard saying: "The biggest problem there, I think where we need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador."

He later can be heard telling Mr Trump: "She's basically walking around telling everybody, 'Wait, he's gonna get impeached. Just wait.'"

Mr Trump responds: "Get rid of her! Get her out tomorrow. I don't care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. OK? Do it."

Ukraine came up during the dinner in the context of a discussion of energy markets.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit accusing Mr Trump of illegally profiting off the presidency through his luxury Washington hotel was revived yesterday by a federal appeals court.

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The lawsuit brought by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia alleges Mr Trump has violated the US constitution by accepting profits through foreign and domestic officials who stay at the Trump International Hotel.

The ruling from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond could jumpstart efforts by the two jurisdictions to obtain financial records showing how much state and foreign governments have paid the Trump Organisation to stay at the hotel and hold events there.

A lower court judge approved more than three dozen subpoenas issued to the General Services Administration - the administrator of the lease on the hotel - and other government agencies, but the subpoenas were put on hold while Mr Trump's appeal was pending.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh and District Attorney General Karl Racine - both Democrats - said they expect the case to return to US District Court in Maryland, where a judge could lift the stay on the subpoenas.

But both Mr Frosh and Mr Racine said they think it's likely the Trump administration will ask the Supreme Court to hear the case.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said the DOJ is reviewing the ruling, but did not comment on whether it will seek review by the high court.

The lawsuit was filed almost three years ago. US District Judge Peter Messitte refused to dismiss it, but his ruling was overturned by three judges of the 4th Circuit.

They found Maryland and the District of Columbia lacked standing to pursue their claims against the president.

But it was overturned yesterday by the full court of 15 judges. In a 9-6 ruling, the court found the three-judge panel overstepped its authority when it ordered Judge Messitte to dismiss the lawsuit.

"We recognise that the president is no ordinary petitioner, and we accord him great deference as the head of the Executive branch.

"But Congress and the Supreme Court have severely limited our ability to grant the extraordinary relief the president seeks," Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote for the majority in rejecting Mr Trump's request to dismiss the lawsuit.

The six judges who disagreed wrote a scathing dissenting opinion, saying the lawsuit should be thrown out.

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