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Trump tries out new defenses as damaging Ukraine evidence piles up

POLITICO logo POLITICO 10/4/2019 By Quint Forgey

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Video by The Washington Post

President Donald Trump on Friday defended his brazen call for foreign governments to interfere in the 2020 election by launching investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, claiming his outspoken desire for such probes is not politically motivated.

“As President I have an obligation to end CORRUPTION, even if that means requesting the help of a foreign country or countries. It is done all the time,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “This has NOTHING to do with politics or a political campaign against the Bidens. This does have to do with their corruption!”

Trump had declared Thursday from the White House lawn that the Chinese and Ukrainian governments should investigate unfounded accusations of corruption by the Bidens — despite facing an impeachment inquiry for pushing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do just that during a phone call in July.

Trump previously asserted Thursday night that he was justified in asking for the investigations into one of his chief opponents in the 2020 White House race. “As the President of the United States, I have an absolute right, perhaps even a duty, to investigate, or have investigated, CORRUPTION, and that would include asking, or suggesting, other Countries to help us out!” he tweeted.

President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 4, 2019, before his departure to nearby Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. © Pablo Martinez Monsivais President Donald Trump speaks to the media on the South Lawn of the White House on Oct. 4, 2019, before his departure to nearby Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) responded to that post Friday, imploring his Republican colleagues to break with the president.

“It comes down to this. We’ve cut through the denials. The deflections. The nonsense,” Schiff tweeted. “Donald Trump believes he can pressure a foreign nation to help him politically. It’s his ‘right.’ Every Republican in Congress has to decide: Is he right?”

The president’s morning missive on social media came as Washington awoke to news of damaging text messages exchanged in recent months among top American diplomats. Those communications — which Kurt Volker, the former special envoy to Ukraine, provided Thursday to congressional Democrats — detailed efforts by the administration to pressure Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and alleged meddling by the Eastern European nation in the 2016 election.

Slideshow by photo services

The texts are certain to open a new front in the impeachment drive by Democratic lawmakers, who say the explosive messages offer clear evidence that Trump made U.S. military aid and a White House visit contingent upon Zelensky's approval of the probes. The president's Republican defenders on Capitol Hill have so far argued that he proposed no such quid pro quo during his conversation over the summer with his foreign counterpart.

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) warned Friday that the revelation of the texts marked an “important moment for our democracy.”

“We now know that Trump was using access to the White House to get a foreign government to help destroy his political rival,” he tweeted. "There was an explicit quid pro quo: open an investigation into my rival, and I will invite you to the White House.”

Murphy wrote in another post that while “it’s never been necessary to show an explicit quid pro quo,” the texts also “make it pretty clear the aid was being withheld until Zelensky chose to investigate.”

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) also tore into the president after the latest evidence emerged. “Trump withheld $391 million in security aid for no reason. He then pressured the Ukrainian President to target an American citizen for political gain. How do you describe this extraordinary betrayal of America’s national security?” he tweeted, adding, “ABUSE OF POWER.”

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