President Donald Trump called openly Thursday for the leaders of Ukraine and China to investigate Trump’s campaign rival Joe Biden and Biden’s son Hunter for corruption. Trump’s explicit remarks came as leaders of the Democratic-led House pushed ahead rapidly with their impeachment investigation, which is centered around Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Shouting to reporters over the roar of the presidential helicopter from the White House lawn, Trump responded to a question about what he hoped to gain when he asked Zelensky to investigate the Bidens during that call.
President Donald Trump: “Well, I would think that if they were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens. It’s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens, because how does a company that’s newly formed, and all these companies, if you look at — and by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened to China is just about as bad as what happened with — with Ukraine.”
Trump’s comments came as CNN reported President Trump spoke to Chinese leader Xi Jinping about Joe Biden and another 2020 campaign rival, Senator Elizabeth Warren, during a phone call in June. A record of that conversation was reportedly moved to the same highly secured computer server used to store Trump’s July conversation with Ukraine’s leader. CNN also reports Trump promised President Xi he’d remain silent about Hong Kong authorities’ crackdown on pro-democracy protests during U.S.-China trade talks.
Trump’s appeal to foreign leaders to investigate the Bidens appears to be a direct violation of campaign finance law. Federal Elections Commission Chair Ellen Weintraub retweeted a statement she wrote last June, warning, “It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.” Trump may be getting what he wants: The Wall Street Journal is reporting Ukraine’s top prosecutor is reviewing past investigations into a gas company linked to Joe Biden’s son, and may reopen investigations amid pressure from President Trump.
On Capitol Hill, President Trump’s former special envoy for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, gave a nine-hour deposition to House impeachment investigators behind closed doors Thursday. After his deposition, lawmakers released damning text messages shared between Volker and other State Department officials making clear that the U.S. would only improve relations with Ukraine if President Volodymyr Zelensky cooperated with Trump’s demand that he investigate the Bidens. In one message to an aide of President Zelensky sent just hours before the now-infamous phone call with Trump, Volker dangles the prospect of a meeting with Trump, writing, “Heard from White House — assuming President Z convinces trump he will investigate/ 'get to the bottom of what happened' in 2016, we will nail down date for visit to Washington.” In another text message, Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat to Ukraine, expresses concern that the White House has frozen military aid to Ukraine, writing, “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
The Washington Post reports an Internal Revenue Service employee filed a whistleblower complaint reporting that a Treasury Department political appointee tried to improperly interfere with the tax audits for President Trump or Vice President Mike Pence. The complaint comes as Trump continues to resist lawmakers’ efforts to force him to turn over tax records as part of a congressional investigation into whether the president violated the Constitution’s anti-corruption provisions, known as the emoluments clauses. Meanwhile, House investigators are looking into reports that a trade association and a foreign government booked a large number of rooms at President Trump’s hotels but used only a fraction of them. Congressmember Gerry Connolly, who sits on the House Oversight Committee, told Politico, “It’s an obvious attempt to curry favor with [President Trump],” adding, “Now we’re looking at near raw bribery.”
The Department of Homeland Security said Wednesday it will soon begin collecting DNA samples from the hundreds of thousands of migrants arrested each year by immigration authorities. The data would be stored in the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, a massive national criminal database accessible to state and federal law enforcement agencies. Among those who would have their DNA taken and sequenced under the Trump administration plan are children and asylum seekers who have broken no U.S. laws. Attorney Vera Eidelman of the American Civil Liberties Union condemned the plan, writing, “This kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation to population surveillance, which is contrary to our basic notions of freedom and autonomy.”
In Iraq, the death toll after three days of anti-government protests has risen to 44 people as police and soldiers continue to open fire on thousands of demonstrators who are defying government-imposed curfews. The largest number of casualties have occurred in the city of Nasiriyah, where dozens of people have been shot dead. More of the deaths occurred in Baghdad, when police opened fire with tear gas and live bullets on protesters in the city’s Tahrir Square.
Protester: “We are Iraqis, and we are demanding our rights. This is all we want. We want an occupation, a job that would bring us some good. What have you done to us? Have we elected you into power for a day like this? You have pushed us backward, and the religious clerics are corrupt.”
Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi addressed the nation earlier today, calling protesters’ demands “legitimate” but ordering them to disperse.
Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernández is lashing out at federal prosecutors in the United States who have brought weapons and drug trafficking charges against his brother. On Wednesday, a U.S. prosecutor told a federal court in Brooklyn that the brother, Tony Hernández, personally accepted a million-dollar bribe meant for President Hernández from the notorious Mexican drug lord known as “El Chapo.” Tony Hernández is accused of trafficking tons of cocaine through Honduras bound for the U.S. and of providing heavily armed security for drug shipments. President Hernández is a staunch ally of Donald Trump. At a news conference on Thursday, he denied reports that he’s profited from narcotrafficking, and pledged continued support for the Trump administration.
President Juan Orlando Hernández: “We will not stop working to keep on making Honduras a land that is hostile toward drug traffickers, toward gangs. This has been recognized by the United States from their president, their vice president, the State Department, the DEA and Homeland Security over all these years that I have been president.”
Honduras has become one of the most violent countries in the world because of the devastating drug war and a political crisis that stems in part from a U.S.-backed 2009 coup that ousted the democratically elected President Manuel Zelaya.
Ecuador’s president has declared a national emergency as protests rage nationwide over his decision to end diesel and gasoline subsidies. President Lenín Moreno’s austerity measures met a key demand of the International Monetary Fund as part of a $4.2 billion deal agreed to in February. On Thursday, protesters spilled into the streets of Quito and other cities as the cost of energy rose dramatically. Police fired tear gas to clear protesters who set up barricades. One of the demonstrators, Julio César, said President Moreno and other elites should pay to maintain fuel subsidies.
Julio César: “They should be paying for these measures, for this economic crisis. The people are mired in misery. A people who are hungry are a people who fight on.”
On Thursday, transit unions declared a nationwide strike to protest the fuel price hikes, ending bus routes, making taxis unavailable and closing roads across Ecuador.
Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra swore in a new Cabinet Thursday as a challenge to his leadership by right-wing opponents failed. On Monday, Vizcarra invoked a constitutional provision to dissolve Congress and call for new parliamentary elections. Congress responded by suspending Vizcarra as president and declaring his vice president, Mercedes Aráoz, to be Peru’s interim president. But that challenge fizzled after no foreign governments recognized Aráoz, who resigned just hours after being sworn in.
In Brazil, a newly surfaced photo shows far-right President Jair Bolsonaro smiling and posing with a man who’s been arrested in connection with the murder of human rights activist and Rio City Councilmember Marielle Franco. Josinaldo Lucas Freitas was arrested Thursday and charged with disposing of the guns used in the March 2018 assassination. It’s the second known photograph of Bolsonaro taken with a suspect in Franco’s murder. Another photo circulated in the Brazilian press shows Bolsonaro in a friendly embrace with a former police officer who’s been charged with driving the car used in the shooting. Marielle Franco, who was black and a vocal member of the LGBT community, was a longtime critic of Brazil’s police, who have been linked to thousands of killings and incidents of brutality in Rio’s impoverished favela neighborhoods.
In Las Vegas, Nevada, MGM Resorts International has agreed to an $800 million settlement with more than 4,000 survivors of the 2017 massacre outside the Mandalay Bay casino. The settlement was announced after survivors joined friends and families of those killed at a commemoration Tuesday marking the second anniversary of the massacre. It was October 1, 2017, when a lone gunman named Stephen Paddock used semiautomatic rifles altered with bump stocks to open fire from the resort’s 32nd floor on a country music festival below, killing 58 people and wounding 851 others. It remains the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
In Maryland, a white nationalist Coast Guard lieutenant pleaded guilty Thursday to federal weapons and drugs charges, after investigators uncovered his plot to kill high-profile liberal figures, including Democratic lawmakers, media personalities and judges. Fifty-year-old Christopher Hasson was arrested with a stockpile of 15 guns and more than 1,000 rounds of ammunition, after he used his work computer at the Coast Guard to read the manifestos of mass killers and to research sniper attacks. Federal prosecutors did not file terrorism charges against Hasson. He faces up to 31 years in prison at a January sentencing hearing.
Bernie Sanders’s campaign says the Vermont senator and 2020 presidential candidate is recovering well from surgery to clear a blocked artery. On Tuesday night, Sanders was hospitalized after he complained of chest pain at a campaign event in Las Vegas. Jane Sanders said her husband will spend the weekend recuperating at their home in Burlington, Vermont, and is looking forward to the October 15 debate, when 12 Democratic candidates will square off in Columbus, Ohio.
Two Iowa-based environmental activists have been charged by a federal grand jury with multiple felonies for their attempts to delay the construction of the $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline. Three years ago, Catholic Worker activists Jessica Reznicek and Ruby Montoya publicly took credit for setting fire to five pieces of heavy machinery being used to construct the pipeline, and for destroying pipeline valves, delaying construction for weeks. Speaking on Democracy Now! in 2017, Jessica Reznicek denied that her actions were violent.
Jessica Reznicek: “I think that the oil being taken out of the ground and the machinery that does it and the infrastructure which supports it, that this is violent. These tools and these mechanisms that industry and corporate power and government power have all colluded together to create, this is destructive, this is violent, and it needs to be stopped.”