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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6:58 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019

GOP challenger Bill Weld says Trump committed treason 

From CNN's Paul LeBlanc

Former Massachusetts governor and longshot candidate for the GOP nomination for president Bill Weld accused President Trump today of "treason" for pressing Ukraine's President to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden.

"Talk about pressuring a foreign country to interfere with and control a US election, it couldn't be clearer," Weld said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." "And that's not just undermining democratic institutions, that is treason. It's treason pure and simple."

"The penalty for treason under the US code is death. That's the only penalty," Weld added. "The penalty under the Constitution is removal from office and that might look like a pretty good alternative to the President if he could work out a plea deal."

Weld's comments come amid mounting scrutiny of Trump after he acknowledged discussing Biden and his son, Hunter, in a July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The call was part of a whistleblower complaint submitted to the Intelligence Community Inspector General, another person familiar with the situation told CNN.

White House officials are now considering releasing a transcript of the call, multiple sources have told CNN. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by either Joe or Hunter Biden.

Keep reading about Weld's comments here.

4:20 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019

3 House committees want Pompeo to give answers on Ukraine

Three House committees sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo today, asking him to produce documents on the Ukraine drama.

The letter was sent on behalf of Rep. Eliot L. Engel, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee; Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee; and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The committees want to hear from Pompeo by Thursday on "whether he intends to fully comply with these requests or whether subpoenas will be necessary," according to a statement.

“By withholding these documents and refusing to engage with the committees, the Trump administration is obstructing Congress’ oversight duty under the Constitution to protect our nation’s democratic process. Due to the urgent and grave nature of these allegations, our committees will have no choice but to move towards compulsory process this week unless the department produces the documents we have requested,” the chairmen wrote in the letter.

Read the full letter here.

3:50 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019

Trump accuses Joe Biden of being "corrupt"

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez and Betsy Klein 

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump went on the offensive today, openly accusing former Vice President Joe Biden of being "corrupt." Meanwhile, Trump himself faces claims that he asked Ukraine's President Volodmyr Zelensky to investigate the Democratic frontrunner.  

"Joe Biden and his son are corrupt," Trump said, referring to unfounded claims that Biden's son was involved in a corruption scheme in Ukraine. 

Trump then claimed — with no proof — that, "If a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did, if a Republican ever said what Joe Biden said, they'd be getting the electric chair right now." 

The President also denied claims he put pressure on the Ukrainian leader by threatening to withhold US aid, saying, “I did not make a statement that ‘you have to do this or I’m not going to give you aid.’ I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that.” 

"There was no pressure put on them whatsoever. I put no pressure on them whatsoever. I could have. I think it probably, possibly would have been OK if I did," he said. 

Trump again was opaque on whether a transcript on his call with the Ukraine president will be released. However, he suggested that he hoped it would be released.

“It was a very nice call. I hope you get to see it and I hope you get to see it soon," Trump said.

Trump made the comments during a bilateral meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda, where the two men signed what Trump called a “joint declaration on advancing defense cooperation.” 

3:36 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019

Biden to Trump: "Release the transcripts"

From CNN's David Wright and Sarah Mucha

Joe Biden replied to one of President Trump’s tweets about the Ukraine drama and called on the President to release transcripts of his call with Ukraine's president.

“So release the transcript of the call then,” Biden wrote.

2:45 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019

Trump on release of Ukraine transcript: "Perhaps you'll see it, perhaps you won't"

From CNN's Betsy Klein 

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

President Trump again was opaque on whether a transcript or information on his call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will be released.

While Trump was lamenting US support for Ukraine and what he perceives as a lack of support from Europe, Trump said, “When I spoke with, I had a great conversation with the new President of Ukraine and during that conversation, we discussed it. Perhaps you’ll see it, perhaps you won’t see that, it depends on what we want to do."

He continued: “But we had a great conversation, a very, very — a very nice conversation too, but one of the things we discussed is why isn’t Europe helping Ukraine more? Why is it always the United States? That’s bothered me from day one.”

Later, Trump said that he did not threaten to withhold aid to Ukraine.

“I did not make a statement that ‘you have to do this or I’m not going to give you aid.’ I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t do that,” he said.

Trump again suggested it’s his hope the call’s transcript is released

“It was a very nice call. I hope you get to see it, and I hope you get to see it soon," he said.

2:29 p.m. ET, September 23, 2019

Ukraine was never formally notified aid package was under review, source says

From CNN's Kylie Atwood

Ukraine was not formally notified of the assistance being put on hold for review, but they were asking about it constantly when the stories were written on the subject, a source familiar with those discussions explained.

Throughout that time, US special representative Kurt Volker and other State Department personnel were telling Ukraine that they judged the assistance would be released, given what they knew about Mike Pompeo and others in Washington being supportive of it. But there was no formal mechanism to tell them it was on hold, or that it has been released. The most formal nod that the Ukrainians got that they were good to go was a Sept. 12 tweet from the US embassy in Kyiv, saying US support remains ironclad.  

In the formal discussions of the assistance review, as far as State working level personnel were involved, former Vice President Joe Biden did not come up. Clearly, there was a tight hold on the political element to any discussions that were occurring, a source familiar said.

Why this matters: On Sunday, Trump said that he did indeed discuss Biden with Ukraine's president at a time when Kiev was awaiting a $250 million military aid package from the United States. The call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took place on July 25. Congress passed the bill in August and the White House lifted a hold on the money in September.

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.