Monday 18 November 2019

Trump denies asking Barr to say Ukraine call was legal

Defence: Donald Trump has hired new staff to help draft responses to the inquiry. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
Defence: Donald Trump has hired new staff to help draft responses to the inquiry. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

Rachael Alexander in Washington

Donald Trump has angrily denied asking his attorney general, William Barr, to declare publicly that his phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was not illegal, only for Mr Barr to decline.

As the House impeachment inquiry progresses, Bill Taylor, acting US ambassador to Kiev, is set to become its first televised witness when the hearings go public next week.

A 324-page transcript of his deposition to investigators was released this week, in which Mr Taylor agrees a quid pro quo was in play and worries about the administration's strategy of withholding military assistance.

At a rally in Louisiana, the president attacked the Democrats as "totalitarian", branding the inquiry a "hoax" and reviving his attack on 2020 candidate Elizabeth Warren, again deriding her claim to Native American heritage by labelling her "Pocahontas".

He condemned "corrupt" Democrats and the whistleblower behind the congressional impeachment inquiry, accusing them of pursuing a "deranged witch hunt".

Mr Trump said: "Democrats must be accountable for their hoaxes and their crimes. Now corrupt politicians Nancy Pelosi and shifty Adam Schiff and the crooked media have launched the deranged, delusional, destructive and hyper-partisan impeachment witch hunt.

"But the whistleblower came out with his horrible statement about this call. So I really had no choice. I said immediately - talk about transparency - I said: 'Release it. Release it immediately'.

"And then the whistleblower saw it, and shifty Schiff saw it, who is a total crook. Schiff saw it. Pelosi saw it. And they said, 'We've got a problem. We don't want to have anything to do with the whistleblower any more'. And the whistleblower disappeared."

The president was in Louisiana to boost Republican businessman Eddie Rispone's effort to unseat Democratic governor John Bel Edwards in the US's last governorship race of the year.

The run-off election offers the president an opportunity to pick up a win in a rare Democratic-held governor's seat in the Deep South and change the narrative after a pair of apparent setbacks this week for Republicans in Kentucky and Virginia.

"You're going out to replace a radical, liberal Democrat as your governor," Trump said. "John Bel Edwards has not done the job," Mr Trump said.

"The American people are fed up with Democrat lies, hoaxes, smears, slanders and scams. The Democrats' shameful conduct has created an angry majority. And that's what we are," Mr Trump said.

"We're a majority, and we're angry, that will vote the do-nothing Democrats out of office in 2020."

Looking uncomfortable, Mr Trump noted: "It may be 120 degrees in this room.

"Somebody is saving on air conditioning," he joked. "That's all right. You've always got to save a little money.'"

Trump is going all out with the Louisiana governor's race.

The White House confirmed he would visit Bossier City on November 14, two days before Louisiana voters head to polls.

Mr Trump also visited Lake Charles last month to encourage voters to back one of the Republicans ahead of the state's open primary.

Because no candidate won a majority in the October primary, the top two vote-getters - Mr Bel Edwards and Mr Rispone - advanced to the November 16 run-off.

Democrats have announced they will launch public impeachment hearings next week, intending to bring to life weeks of closed-door evidence and lay out a convincing narrative of presidential misconduct.

First to give evidence will be Mr Taylor, the senior diplomat in Ukraine, who has relayed in private his understanding that there was a blatant quid pro quo with Mr Trump holding up military aid to a US ally facing threats from its giant neighbour Russia.

That aid, at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, is alleged to have been held hostage until Ukraine agreed to investigate Mr Trump's political foe, Joe Biden.

The president has denied any wrongdoing and Republicans largely dismiss the impeachment inquiry, now into its second month, as a sham.

But Democratic representative Mr Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee leading the probe, said with two days of hearings next week Americans will have a chance to decide for themselves.

Irish Independent

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