The latest on Trump's Ukraine drama

By Meg Wagner, Veronica Rocha and Mike Hayes, CNN

Updated 6:58 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019
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2:13 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019

Trump adviser on Ukraine call: "This is a serious problem for us"

From CNN's Jim Acosta 

There is a range of reactions from inside Trump’s circle of advisers and aides as to just how critical the situation may be for the President after his admission that he discussed possible 2020 rival Joe Biden with Ukraine’s president.

One Trump adviser was candid about the potential legal peril for the President.

“This is a serious problem for us,” the adviser said. “He admitted doing it."

A separate source close to the White House said Trump’s team is treating the Ukraine story like the President’s taxes: That is, a problem but one that can potentially be fought out in the media and in the courts, if needed.

The source familiar with the matter said some on Trump’s internal White House legal team are currently leaning against releasing the transcript from the call.

But a White House official brushed off concerns about Trump’s interactions with Ukraine’s president, calling it “Mueller 2.”

“We’ve seen this movie before,” the official said.

1:19 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019

Zelensky aide describes Ukrainian contacts with Giuliani in a new interview

From CNN’s Mary Ilyushina and Nathan Hodge

An aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in an interview published today that Ukraine would not open or close investigations “on command,” amid questions in Washington over whether President Trump pressured the country to investigate Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden.

Andriy Yermak, a lawyer and top aide to Zelensky, addressed his contacts with US officials in an interview published today on the Ukrainian news site Yermak said he decided to get in touch with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, when he read that the former New York City mayor canceled a trip to Ukraine in May to push for that country to investigate Biden.

"When I read that he [Giuliani] was going to come to Ukraine, but changed his mind because 'Zelensky’s team has enemies of Trump in it,' I offered to talk to him,” Yermak said.

Yermak said he visited Washington this summer and met with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, informing lawmakers of his plans to meet with Giuliani and introduce the new Ukrainian president’s policy goals. 

“Most importantly, we have a new team, a new president, we are simple guys,” he characterized his pitch to Giuliani. “We do not need intermediaries for a meeting. Here is my phone number, you can always call me and come over.

“And anyway, I'm a fan of what he did for New York as mayor. I know that Giuliani is friends with [Kiev Mayor Vitaly] Klitschko, it would be nice for him to come to Kiev and share his experience," Yermak continued.

On the matter of pushing Ukraine investigations, Yermak said he told Giuliani: “We can guarantee that during our tenure investigations will occur transparently, there are not going to be any on-call commands to open or close the investigations. These are the fundamental principles and foundations of President Zelensky’s program with which we went to the polls."

Yermak added: "So, Giuliani and I talked on the phone, and after that we personally met in Madrid. I repeated to him the same points. He noted that it was important for him to hear that the new Ukrainian government would preach the principles of openness and legality, will fight corruption, and set as its goal to make Ukraine successful." 

1:13 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019

If Trump pressured Ukraine's president, here's why it would matter

Analysis from CNN's Stephen Collinson

President Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, according to a person familiar with the situation.

If that's true, it's a big deal: Presidents are expected to act in the interests of all Americans and not to use their vast discretion in foreign policy to pursue political vendettas or subvert US democracy. The Founders saw the presidency as a public trust, meaning that its incumbents should not put their personal interests over the national interest.

The Ukraine story is so significant because it may have the potential to fall into such grave constitutional territory and could represent an abuse of presidential power.

Trump and his team seemed at odds yesterday over whether to publish the transcript of his conversations with Zelensky. And they went on offense in typical fashion, bending facts and spinning conspiracy theories, obfuscation and hypocrisy.

What Trump has said: Trump insisted that he said "absolutely nothing wrong" in the call with the Ukrainian president. "It was perfect," he said.

Trump often gives the impression that he believes he is not constrained by norms on the limits of power observed by past presidents. In July for instance, he said, falsely, that Article 2 of the Constitution "allows me to do whatever I want as President."

Past scrapes like the 2016 Russian election meddling scandal — and multiple controversies ranging from his insulting behavior toward the late Sen. John McCain to his payments to women who claimed they had affairs with him – have failed to bring him down. His emergence from each may have taught him a lesson.

11:53 a.m. ET, September 23, 2019

John Kasich calls out Republicans for not pressuring the Trump administration to hand over whistleblower complaint

Former Ohio governor John Kasich called on Republicans in Congress to push the Trump administration to turn over the whistleblower complaint to the House Intelligence Committee.

"I am waiting for one or two Republicans to strongly say that this is wrong, but let's investigate, maybe there's some excuse out here that we don't know. I'm fine with that. But we need to know what happened," Kasich said in an interview with CNN.

"You have to make sure you're not putting your party and your own little hide ahead of what is correct in this case," Kasich said. "All you should be calling for is for all of this to be sent to the intelligence committee. That's what the law says and that is what you should be advocating."

On the whistleblower's credibility, Kasich said:

"This was not made by somebody living in outer space. This was somebody who was very concerned about what they heard on a communication, turned it over to the inspector general, who declared it a major problem. And now the administration won't follow the law. That's what they need to do, follow the law."

Kasich said he is "very, very, very concerned" and accused Republicans of "hiding." Kasich also appeared to challenge lawmakers to act more forcefully in getting the administration to release the whistleblower information.

"If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. Go do something else," Kasich said.

11:54 a.m. ET, September 23, 2019

Al Gore calls for impeachment investigation after Ukraine drama

From CNN's Mick Krever

Former Vice President Al Gore said there should be an impeachment investigation around the whistleblower report and President Trump’s conversations with Ukraine’s president.

"This latest accusation, like some of the others, falls into a rare category, the only remedy is an impeachment investigation," he said in an an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour today.

Gore continued: “Were it to be true, and not addressed, it would normalize the most obscene and outrageous behavior, threaten the rule of law and the promise of democracy and self governance. That much is at stake."

The interview will air later this week.

11:45 a.m. ET, September 23, 2019

Trump questions which "side" the whistleblower is on

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Trump in a pair of new tweets questioned who is the “so-called ‘whistleblower’” and whether he is “on our Country’s side.”

"Where does he come from. Is this all about Schiff & the Democrats again after years of being wrong?" Trump tweeted, referencing House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.

Trump also quotes ally Rep. Devin Nunes on Fox and Friends. Here are the tweets:

11:17 a.m. ET, September 23, 2019

Trump: "The one who's got a problem is Biden"

From CNN's Betsy Klein

President Trump has arrived inside at the United Nations General Assembly, where he talked about Joe Biden and what he called a “Democratic witch hunt.”

“The one who’s got the problem is Biden, because if you look at what Biden did, Biden did what they would like to have me do except there’s one problem: I didn’t do it," Trump said.

"What Biden did is a disgrace. What his son did is a disgrace. His son took money from Ukraine, his son took money from China. A lot of money from China. China would love to see — can think of nothing they’d rather see than Biden get in. Cause they would take this great deal that we’re about to make and they would really have themselves a deal.” 

More context: Trump on Sunday acknowledged that he discussed former Vice President Joe Biden in a July call with Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky. CNN previously reported Trump pressed Zelensky in the call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter, according to a person familiar with the situation. That call was also part of a whistleblower complaint submitted to the Intelligence Community Inspector General, another person familiar with the situation told CNN. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.

11:10 a.m. ET, September 23, 2019

House Democrats say they're nearing a "tipping point" on impeachment

From CNN's Manu Raju

House Democrats this morning say that they are close to a "tipping point" on impeachment in the wake of the Trump administration's blocking the whistleblower complaint and the President's admission of discussing the Bidens in his phone call with the Ukrainian leader. 

Democrats, both freshmen from Trump districts and moderates who have resisted calls for impeachment, are telling their colleagues privately they are prepared to announce their support for impeachment proceedings. This is especially true if the controversy continues to grow — namely if there's evidence that Trump sought to withhold military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigating the Bidens, according to Democratic sources involved in the conversations. 

That could change the calculus for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has in part resisted moving forward on impeachment because she has sought to protect vulnerable Democrats in GOP-leaning districts who could face voter backlash over impeachment. But if those members come out in support of impeachment proceedings, Pelosi is bound to shift her positioning as well, according to Democrats close to the speaker.

Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat on the House Oversight and Foreign Affairs panels, told CNN this morning: "I think we're reaching a tipping point both within our base and within our caucus."

"This weekend, all I hear at home is when are Democrats going to get tough?" Connolly said. "We are looking weak."

Rep. Vicente Gonzales, a Texas Democrat who has been cautious on impeachment, told CNN that his view on impeachment is shifting as well, saying, "I don't think we will have a choice" but to impeach if the controversy expands.

12:07 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019

Sources: White House officials are considering releasing a transcript of President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president

From CNN's Sarah Westwood, Pam Brown and Jeremy Diamond

White House officials are considering releasing a transcript of President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, multiple sources tell CNN.

However, some senior administration officials, like Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are against the idea because of the precedent releasing it could set with future foreign leaders — and because putting it out could give Congress ammunition to demand transcripts of Trump’s calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

White House officials were soliciting opinions from outside advisers over the weekend about whether they should release the transcript of Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president, as well as how advisers think the White House should message it if the transcript was “embarrassing.”

A person familiar with the discussions said the White House Counsel’s Office is currently involved in evaluating whether the transcript should be released and in what form. The person saying the release could happen “soon.”