Trump removed U.S. ambassador to Ukraine over complaints from Giuliani, other outsiders

President Donald Trump ordered the removal of the ambassador to Ukraine after months of complaints from allies outside the administration, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that she was undermining him abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the matter.

The recall of Marie Yovanovitch in the spring has become a key point of interest in the House impeachment inquiry. A whistleblower complaint by a CIA officer alleges the president solicited foreign interference in the 2020 elections by pressing Ukraine’s president in a July 25 call to pursue investigations, including into the activities of Biden, a Democrat who is running for president.

The complaint cites Yovanovitch’s ouster as one of a series of events that paved the way for what the whistleblower alleges was an abuse of power by the president. Trump has described the call with his Ukrainian counterpart as “perfect” and the House inquiry as a “hoax.”

State Department officials were told this spring that Yovanovitch’s removal was a priority for the president, a person familiar with the matter said. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo supported the move, an administration official said. Yovanovitch was told by State Department officials that they couldn’t shield her from attacks by the president and his allies, according to people close to her.

In an interview, Giuliani told The Wall Street Journal that in the lead-up to Yovanovitch’s removal, he reminded the president of complaints percolating among Trump supporters that she had displayed an anti-Trump bias in private conversations. In Giuliani’s view, she also had been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter.

[MarketWatch]

A top State Department official at the center of the Ukraine whistleblower complaint just resigned

Kurt Volker, the US State Department’s special envoy to Ukraine, resigned on Friday, following the release of the declassified version of a whistleblower complaint at the center of Democratic lawmakers’ inquiries on impeaching President Donald Trump.

Volker, was mentioned in the complaintthat was released Thursday morning. According to a section titled “ongoing concerns,” Volker met with Ukrainian leaders to help “navigate” Trump’s demands for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky after a July 25 phone call. Volker was said to have been accompanied by Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union.

According to the whistleblower, who spoke with numerous US officials who looked at readouts of the meetings, the two US diplomats allegedly “provided advice” to the Ukrainian leaders on Trump’s “demands.”

Volker served part-time in his position, according to The New York Times, and served as the US ambassador to NATO. His resignation was first reported by The State Press, Arizona State University’s student-run newspaper.

House lawmakers issued a deposition for Volker, in addition to other US officials mentioned in the whistleblower complaint, to testify before Congress next week.

Volker’s resignation comes after a whistleblower brought to light the existence of a controversial phone call between the US and Ukrainian president. In a publicly released summary of the Trump-Zelensky phone call, the US president was said to have asked the Ukrainian president for a “favor” in investigating a conspiracy theory about the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 US presidential election.

Trump had also requested Zelensky to “look into” unproven allegations of misconduct from former Vice President and 2020 Democratic candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, according to the summary.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire testified on Capitol Hill on Thursday, and the anonymous whistleblower has also indicated that they want to testify about the potential misconduct, according to information obtained by CNN

Trump denied there was a “quid pro quo” arrangement during the call with President Zelensky, who met the US president in New York on Wednesday. Zelensky publicly echoed Trump’s description of a cordial call, and he said he did not want to be involved in the “democratic, open elections of USA.”

[Business Insider]

Update

Volker’s role in helping Trump to interfere in the 2020 election was corroborated by… Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani. No really. Look:

White House fires DHS general counsel

The White House has fired John Mitnick, who served as the general counsel for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), The New York Timesreported on Tuesday.

A spokesperson for the department confirmed Mitnick’s exit to the news publication, saying: “We thank John for this service, and we wish him well.”

The official also told the paper that Chad Mizelle, an associate counsel to the president, will fill the position in Mitnick’s place.

Mitnick, who was nominated to the post by President Trump in 2017 and confirmed by the Senate the following year, was the department’s fifth general counsel.

His reported firing comes as DHS has continued to see a series of top aides and officials leave the agency amid tensions with the White House over its handling of immigration policy in recent months.

The news comes months after former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsenresigned from her post following speculation that her position was in jeopardy as the president grew frustrated over the situation at the border.

In the months following her exit, other top staffers, including Andrew Meehan, who served as top aide to acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, resigned from the department as tensions between it and the White House escalated.

The White House and DHS did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Hill.

[The Hill]

Wilbur Ross Threatened Firings at NOAA After Trump’s Dorian Tweets

The Secretary of Commerce threatened to fire top employees at the federal scientific agency responsible for weather forecasts last Friday after the agency’s Birmingham office contradicted President Trump’s claim that Hurricane Dorian might hit Alabama, according to three people familiar with the discussion.

That threat led to an unusual, unsigned statement later that Friday by the agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, disavowing the National Weather Service’s position that Alabama was not at risk. The reversal caused widespread anger within the agency and drew accusations from the scientific community that the National Weather Service, which is part of NOAA, had been bent to political purposes.

NOAA’s statement on Friday is now being examined by the Commerce Department’s Office of Inspector General, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times, and employees have been asked to preserve their files. NOAA is a division of the Commerce Department.

The National Weather Service “must maintain standards of scientific integrity,” the inspector general, Peggy E. Gustafson, wrote in a message to NOAA staff members in which she requested documents related to Friday’s statement. The circumstances, she wrote, “call into question the NWS’s processes, scientific independence, and ability to communicate accurate and timely weather warnings and data to the nation in times of national emergency.”

The Commerce Department disputed the account on behalf of the Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur L. Ross Jr. “Secretary Ross did not threaten to fire any NOAA staff over forecasting and public statements about Hurricane Dorian,” the department said in a statement issued by a spokesman.

The spokesman declined to comment on whether Mr. Ross had spoken with the NOAA administrator or ordered the agency to rebut the statement contradicting the president’s assertion about a threat to Alabama.

The Commerce Department’s Office of the Inspector General did not respond to requests for comment late Monday.

The accusations against Mr. Ross are the latest developments in a political imbroglio that began more than a week ago, when Dorian was bearing down on the Bahamas and Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that Alabama would be hit “harder than anticipated.” A few minutes later, the National Weather Service in Birmingham, Ala., posted on Twitter that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from Dorian. We repeat, no impacts from Hurricane Dorian will be felt across Alabama.”

Mr. Trump persisted in saying that Alabama was at risk and a few days later, on Sept. 4, he displayed a NOAA map that appeared to have been altered with a black Sharpie to include Alabama in the area potentially affected by Dorian. (Alabama was not struck by the hurricane.)

Mr. Ross, the commerce secretary, intervened two days later, early last Friday, according to the three people familiar with his actions. Mr. Ross phoned Neil Jacobs, the acting administrator of NOAA, from Greece where the secretary was traveling for meetings and instructed Dr. Jacobs to fix the agency’s perceived contradiction of the president.

Dr. Jacobs objected to the demand and was told that the political staff at NOAA would be fired if the situation was not fixed, according to the three individuals, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the episode.

The political staff at an agency typically includes a handful of top officials, such as Dr. Jacobs, and their aides. They are appointed to their jobs by the administration currently in power, as opposed to career government employees, who remain in their jobs as administrations come and go.

NOAA ultimately issued an unsigned statement last Friday calling the Birmingham office’s statement “inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

A senior administration official who asked not to be identified when discussing internal deliberations said that the Birmingham office had been wrong and that NOAA had simply done the responsible thing and corrected the record.

That official suggested the Twitter post by the Birmingham forecasters had been motivated by a desire to embarrass the president more than concern for the safety of people in Alabama. The official provided no evidence to support that conclusion.

[The New York Times]

Trump Threatens legal actions over confidentiality in wake of Westerhout firing

President Donald Trump on Saturday stressed his ongoing legal battles to keep details of his administration’s inner workings from emerging in books and press reports following the firing of his personal assistant.

“Yes, I am currently suing various people for violating their confidentiality agreements. Disgusting and foul mouthed Omarosa is one. I gave her every break, despite the fact that she was despised by everyone, and she went for some cheap money from a book. Numerous others also!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump’s attack on his former White House adviser, Omarosa Manigault Newman, followed the firing of his personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, who was let go Thusday for revealing to reporters details of her relationship with Trump and his daughters.

Trump also appeared to rebut a report by the New York Times stating that Westerhout did not sign a non-disclosure agreement.

“While Madeleine Westerhout has a fully enforceable confidentiality agreement, she is a very good person and I don’t think there would ever be reason to use it. She called me yesterday to apologize, had a bad night. I fully understood and forgave her! I love Tiffany, doing great!” Trump wrote.

Trump’s 2016 campaign team, transition team and political appointees are typically expected to sign a non-disclosure agreement, even if the legal foundations of such agreements are murky. Trump Organization employees would also be routinely required to sign such agreements.

NDAs are not typically signed by federal workers as they’re thought to be public servants who are not beholden to any individual, which would include White House staff. Any agreement is therefore not easily enforceable.

Omarosa claimed she refused to sign “that draconian NDA” during her tenure at the White House following the release of a tell-all book, although she stated she signed two non-disclosure agreements during Trump’s presidential campaign and her time on “The Apprentice” in 2003.

Following her acrimonious firing, Omarosa also released audio of conversations recorded at the White House.

[Politico]

Trump calls Fed Chairman Jay Powell ‘enemy,’ compares him to Chinese President Xi

President Donald Trump significantly ramped up his criticism of Fed Board Chairman Jay Powell on Friday, describing his longtime target on economic issues as an “enemy” and likening him to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“My only question is, who is our bigger enemy, Jay Powel or Chairman Xi?,” Trump wrote, misspelling Powell’s name. 

Trump has repeatedly blasted the Fed, even before his election. But his long-standing dissatisfaction with the Fed, which he accuses of bungling the U.S. economy, has increased amid concerns over a global economic slowdown. Trump nominated Powell as chairman in 2017.

The president’s tweet came as he prepares to head to France on Friday for the G-7 meeting of world leaders, where trade and the economy will be atop the agenda. 

The Fed, an independent board whose members are appointed by the president, raises interest rates to cool down a hot economy and cuts them to stimulate a sluggish one. The rates affect how much it costs to use a credit card, sign a car loan or buy a home.

Trump this week has upped the ante in his year-long campaign to browbeat the Federal Reserve into slashing rates, calling for the central bank to lower its key short-term rate by “at least” a full percentage point “over a fairly short period of time.”

For good measure, he has added that the move should be accompanied by “perhaps some quantitative easing as well,” referring to the Fed’s massive bond purchases during and after the Great Recession to lower long-term rates. 

Trump again voiced frustration with the Fed on Wednesday, tweeting that Germany “is actually being paid to borrow money, while the U.S., a far stronger and more important credit, is paying interest.”

[USA Today]

State Department watchdog details political retaliation against ‘disloyal’ staffers

Top officials in the State Department bureau that deals with international organizations engaged in “disrespectful and hostile treatment” of staffers, including harassing some over suspicions that they were “disloyal” due to their perceived political views, a federal watchdog says.

The findings were contained in a report soon-to-be published by the State Department inspector general’s office.

The report, obtained Thursday by POLITICO, is one of two reports that explore allegations that President Donald Trump’s political appointees retaliated against career State Department employees.

The report singles out the assistant secretary in the international organizations bureau, Kevin Moley, as failing to stop the misbehavior despite numerous complaints. It also contains numerous examples of alleged actions taken by Mari Stull, another senior political appointee in the bureau, who has since left.

Stull and Moley were said to have “frequently berated employees, raised their voices, and generally engaged in unprofessional behavior toward staff,” according to the report.

The majority of the employees the inspector general’s office interviewed “either directly experienced hostile treatment or witnessed such treatment directed at others. In fact, one IO employee told OIG that working with Ms. Stull involved ‘six to eight hostile interactions per day.’ 

Stull, who was known to describe herself as “the Vino Vixen” due to her past keeping of a wine blog, was also alleged in past media reports as having tried to keep lists of career government staffers she considered disloyal or loyal to the president.

According to the inspector general’s report, many staffers said Moley and Stull “made positive or negative comments about employees based on perceived political views. For example, several career employees reported that throughout her tenure at the Department, Ms. Stull referred to them or to other career employees as ‘Obama holdovers,’ ‘traitors,’ or ‘disloyal.'”

Moley, however, insisted to the inspector general’s office that “the only occasion on which he heard Ms. Stull make such remarks was in reference to former political appointees whom she believed were converted to career employees.”

Career government staffers are sworn to serve in government in a non-partisan fashion, no matter who or which party controls the White House. But many of Trump’s political appointees believe there exists a “deep state” among the career staffers determined to thwart the president’s agenda.

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick’s next report on the broader topic of alleged political retaliation is expected to focus on staffers who worked directly for the secretary of state’s office. It’s not clear when that report will be published.

Moley did not immediately reply to a request for comment, but in a response to the investigation, which the inspector general included in his report, he said the misbehavior attributed to him “does not represent the person I am or have ever been.”

Stull could not immediately be reached for comment. She declined the inspector general’s interview request during the investigation

[Politico]

Trump’s intelligence chief resigned after the White House repeatedly suppressed his warnings about Russian interference

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats repeatedly found his warnings about the threat posed by Russia suppressed by the White House, The New York Times reported Sunday amid his resignation from the post.

According to The Times, Coats has often found himself at odds with President Donald Trump over Russia, a situation that worsened in recent months.

Coats saw Russia as an adversary to the US, The Times wrote, and pushed for closer cooperation with European countries to counter it, but the White House did not agree.

Several times Coats saw his language on the Kremlin’s activities watered down by the White House, according to The Times.

A secret report by Coats on Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2018 midterms by spreading disinformation was reportedly altered by the White House. A public statement on Coats’ conclusions contained less critical language than the original, The Times said.

A former senior intelligence official told The Washington Post that Coats felt marginalized on national security issues by the president and had come to see his departure as inevitable.

According to reports, Trump had been discussing replacing Coats for months.

Trump has long faced scrutiny for his warm comments on Russia and his changing positions on whether Russia interfered to help him secure his 2016 election victory.

Robert Mueller concluded in the special counsel’s Russia investigation that there was insufficient evidence to charge the president or his aides with criminally conspiring with Russia in 2016.

Trump in a tweet Sunday announced that Coats would step down in mid-August and nominated Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas as his replacement.

In his tweet, he thanked Coats for his service but offered him no praise.

“The intelligence community is stronger than ever and increasingly well prepared to meet new challenges and opportunities,” Coats wrote in his resignation letter, citing the recent appointment of an official charged with countering foreign election interference.

During his time as director of national intelligence, Coats had publicly contradicted Trump on the president’s claims regarding Russia and North Korea.

In a statement released after Trump’s summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2018, Coats rebutted the president’s apparent acceptance of Putin’s claim that Russia had not interfered in the 2016 election.

At a national security conference in Colorado last year, Coats reacted with incredulity when told Trump had invited Putin to the White House at the summit.

“That’s going to be special,” he remarked.

And in testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, Coats contradicted Trump’s claims that North Korea no longer posed a threat because of his summits with its leader, Kim Jong Un.

[Business Insider]

Trump slams Fox News polls as ‘terrible to me’ a day after he praised one

The up-and-down relationship between President Donald Trump and Fox News took another negative turn Friday.

A day after praising a Fox News poll that reflected confidence in his economic record, Trump attacked another Fox News poll that shows him losing the 2020 race to former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden.

“@FoxNews is at it again,” Trump said in a tweet. “So different from what they used to be during the 2016 Primaries, & before – Proud Warriors!”

He added another barb: “Now new Fox Polls, which have always been terrible to me (they had me losing BIG to Crooked Hillary), have me down to Sleepy Joe.”

Just a day before, Trump touted Fox News data on the economy –  “Fox Poll say best Economy in DECADES!” – while ignoring less impressive numbers (a 51% disapproval rating).

Trump continues to give interviews to Fox News hosts – he spoke Thursday with Sean Hannity on his show – but has periodically attacked his favored network on other fronts.

Earlier this month, Trump hit Fox News over the hiring of Democratic consultant Donna Brazile as a political commentator. 

Back in April, Trump attacked Fox News anchor Bret Baier over sponsoring a town hall featuring Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

That one drew a retweet from Baier, who said “thanks for watching Mr. President” and added that “we cover all sides.”

Despite his criticism, there are many examples of Trump praising Fox News polls – when they look good for him.

“New Fox Poll: 58% of people say that the FBI broke the law in investigating Donald J. Trump,” the president tweeted in May. In November, he praised a Fox News poll claiming he had a record approval rating among African Americans. Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump praised numerous Fox News polls showing him leading Republican candidates nationally, inIowa and in New Hampshire. He also boasted about a 2015 Fox News poll showing him ahead of then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. 

As for the latest survey, the one showing him losing to Biden, Fox anchor Julie Banderas tweeted that Trump “is incorrect” when he suggests that the information is coming from Fox News itself. 

“FOX News Opinion Polls are the public’s opinion,” she tweeted.

[USA Today]

Trump met with Nunes to talk intel chief replacements

President Donald Trump recently spoke to top House Intelligence Republican Devin Nunes about replacements for the country’s intelligence chief — the latest sign that Dan Coats’ tenure may be short-lived.

Nunes, who grabbed national attention with his controversial allegations of Obama administration surveillance abuses, met with Trump and other senior White House officials last week to discuss who could take over for Coats at the Office of Director of National Intelligence, according to three people familiar with the get-together.

Coats has run ODNI since early in the Trump administration, but his job security is the subject of constant speculation, especially after he gave public testimony on North Korea, Iran and Syria that diverged from Trump’s prior comments on the issues. The ODNI chief oversees the government’s intelligence agencies, coordinates the country’s global information-gathering operation and frequently briefs the president on threats each morning.

The meeting between Trump and Nunes has only fueled more chatter about Coats’ departure. The pace of Trump’s discussions with allies about potential replacements has ramped up in recent weeks, the people said.

Fred Fleitz, a former CIA analyst who served as national security adviser John Bolton’s chief of staff, has been discussed as a possible ODNI replacement. Fleitz left his White House post in October 2018 to serve as president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy, a far-right think tank that has been sharply critical of “radical Islam.”

Some within the intelligence community have also promoted the ODNI’s current No. 2, Sue Gordon, as be a logical replacement for Coats. Gordon is a career intelligence official who is generally well-liked within the organization.

[Politico]

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