President Donald Trump pressed the leader of Ukraine to “look into” Joe Biden, Trump’s potential 2020 re-election rival, and the president’s lingering grievances from the 2016 election, according to a summary of a summer phone call that is now at the center of Democrats’ impeachment probe.
Trump repeatedly prodded Volodymyr Zelenskiy, new president of the East European nation, to work with U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer. At one point in the July conversation, Trump said, “I would like for you to do us a favor,” according to the summary.
The president’s request for such help from a foreign leader set the parameters for the major U.S. debate to come—just the fourth impeachment investigation of an American president in the nation’s history. The initial response highlighted the deep divide between the two parties: Democrats said the call amounted to a “shakedown” of a foreign leader, while Trump—backed by the vast majority of Republicans—dismissed it as a “nothing call.”
The call is one part of a whistleblower complaint about the president’s activities that have roiled Washington and led Democrats to move ahead with an impeachment inquiry of the Republican president on the cusp of the 2020 campaign.
After being stymied by the administration, members of the House and Senate intelligence committees took their first look at the complaint late Wednesday. Republicans kept largely quiet, but several Democrats, including Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, called the classified account “disturbing.”
Some from both parties want it to be made public. Congress is also seeking an in-person interview with the whistleblower, who remains anonymous.
Trump spent Wednesday meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, a remarkable TV split screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era. Included on his schedule: a meeting with Zelenskiy.
In a light-hearted appearance before reporters, Zelenskiy said he didn’t want to get involved in American elections but added, “Nobody pushed me.” Trump chimed in, “In other words, no pressure.”
The next steps in the impeachment inquiry were quickly developing a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the probe. A rush of lawmakers, notably moderate Democrats from districts where Trump remains popular, set aside political concerns and urged action.
One option Pelosi is considering, pressed by some lawmakers, is to focus the impeachment inquiry specifically on the Ukraine issues rather than the many others Congress has already been investigating.
“For me, that’s what’s important,” said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., among the new lawmakers in Congress with national security backgrounds. She said it’s “just an egregious idea that the president of the United States can contact a foreign leader and influence him for dirt on a political opponent. ... That can’t be normalized.”
Pelosi announced the impeachment probe Tuesday after months of personal resistance to a process she has warned would be divisive for the country and risky for her party. But after viewing the phone call summary Wednesday, Pelosi declared: “Congress must act.”
Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to move toward impeachment, confident that the specter of an investigation led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.
“It’s a joke. Impeachment, for that?” Trump said during a news conference in New York. He revived the same language he has used for months to deride the now-finished special counsel investigation into election interference, declaring impeachment “a hoax” and the “single greatest witch hunt in American history.”
Republicans largely stood by the president and dismissed the notion that the summary revealed any wrongdoing by Trump.
“I think it was a perfectly appropriate phone call. It was a congratulatory phone call,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican. “The Democrats continually make these huge claims and allegations about President Trump, and then you find out there’s no there there.”
The Trump administration also continued to raise questions about the whistleblower’s motives. According to a Justice Department official, the intelligence community’s inspector general said in a letter to the acting director of national intelligence that the whistleblower could have “arguable political bias.”
The document released by the White House was not a verbatim transcript, but was instead based on the records of officials who listened to the call. The conversation took place July 25, one day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill about his investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference.
In the 30-minute phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump encourages the Ukrainian leader to talk with Giuliani and Barr about Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Immediately after saying they would be in touch, Trump references Ukraine’s economy, saying: “Your economy is going to get better and better I predict. You have a lot of assets. It’s a great country.”
At another point in the conversation, Trump asked Zelenskiy for a favor: his help looking into a cybersecurity firm that investigated the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee and determined it was carried out by Russia. Trump has falsely suggested Crowdstrike was owned by a Ukrainian.
In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine—prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens. Trump has denied that charge, and the aid package does not come up in the conversation with Zelenskiy.
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the gas company’s board at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
Biden said it was “tragedy” that Trump was willing to “put personal politics above his sacred oath.” He singled out Trump’s attempts to pull Barr and the Justice Department into efforts to investigate Biden, calling it “a direct attack on the core independence of that department, an independence essential to the rule of law.”
While the possibility of impeachment has hung over Trump for many months, the likelihood of a probe had faded after special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation ended without a clear directive for lawmakers.
Since then, the House committees have revisited aspects of the Mueller probe while also launching new inquiries into Trump’s businesses and various administration scandals that all seemed likely to drag on for months.
Details of Trump’s dealings with Ukraine prompted Democrats to quickly shift course. By the time Pelosi announced the probe, two-thirds of House Democrats had announced moving toward impeachment probes.
The burden will probably now shift to Democrats to make the case to a scandal-weary public. In a highly polarized Congress, an impeachment inquiry could simply showcase how clearly two sides can disagree when shown the same evidence rather than approach consensus.
TOWN OF LA PRAIRIE
Jacob Bobolz snapped open a soybean pod in a 70-acre field across the road from his family’s farm on a rolling ridge south of Janesville.
The pod was still green, but the beans inside were fully formed, almost pudgy between Bobolz’s thick fingers. And many of the plants were beginning to turn yellow, a sign they could soon drop leaves and dry out—if the latest run of rainy weather ends.
Bobolz hopes for more sunshine because his beans are still about a month away from harvest. Some neighbors who were able to plant different varieties earlier have beans that are nearly ready to pick.
“We really need a little more heat in the season to cure these beans. We have got to have that heat,” he said.
A year of wet weather, tariffs and an ongoing trade war with China has left crop prices flat.
Small family farms such as Bobolz’s are looking for some kind of silver lining. But a bright side might be tough to see, considering that some crop analysts predict a late harvest that could spill over into late November or even December.
Analysts also expect lower-than-average yields for both corn and soybeans. And unless there is a major shift in trade policies before winter, prices for corn and soybeans might not offset the costs to grow them.
“For me, the big bright spot this year is that we just got married,” Bobolz said as he looked over a picturesque hillside, eyeing an alfalfa crop that is so far behind he doubts it will produce another cutting before the first freeze.
Bobolz, 26, helps out on his father’s 300-acre farm, a Rock Prairie homestead his family has owned since about 1907.
Just west of the family farm on East Maple Lane Road, Bobolz operates his own farm, which he bought from a neighbor a couple of years ago.
To help pay the bills on his farm, where he grows corn and soybeans, Bobolz works 40 hours a week for Janesville’s Public Works Department.
This year, his family built a new workshop. It’s the first shop Bobolz’s family has had to work on its mostly used equipment. Bobolz dug the foundation himself in between episodes of rain that threw some of his corn crop off course.
In the next few years, Bobolz hopes he’ll get enough financial traction to farm his 150 acres without having to work a full-time job. Yet after a wet spring and early summer delayed some of his planting, now comes a fall that has been nearly as wet as the spring.
This might not be the year Bobolz finds a better footing.
Bobolz looked over his soybean field Wednesday afternoon and saw banks of gray clouds moving in. He dropped the bean pod in his hand onto the ground.
“It holds true what the old adage is. ‘Plant in the dust, and the bins will bust. Plant in the mud, and the crop’s a bust,” he said.
“I just hope it gets better.”
Some analysts say the harvest picture in Rock County isn’t as dour as some parts of the Midwest, particularly in flooded areas along the Mississippi River, where scores of farmers didn’t even plant crops.
Rene Johnson, vice president of agricultural lending at State Bank of Cross Plains in Evansville, said Rock County farmers mostly escaped washouts that would have prevented planting.
But she said many farmers and analysts expect the harvest could run late, partly because farmers had so many starts and stops while planting. Some corn crops are still developing, which could affect the yield and rate at which the crops dry—especially if the weather turns cold soon. Yield and quality of the crop both play a role in the prices growers get.
And because the harvest is predicted to run a few weeks to a full month behind schedule, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts, Johnson said farmers could find themselves harvesting multiple crops at once. That, she said, could create a logistical bottleneck for farmers facing a shrinking window between the frosts of late fall and the first snowfall.
National estimates by AccuWeather, the USDA and others show that corn yields might be 168 bushels an acre—significantly lower than last year’s yields. For soybeans, AccuWeather predicts yields will be the lowest since 2013.
Bobolz said he was able to plant some corn before the relentless rains in April and May. That corn should have yields on par with the best growing seasons he has seen, he said.
Another of his corn plantings got a later start, more like June. That crop might yield a harvest on par with national forecasts—150 to 170 bushels per acre. That would mean a mixed year, even if prices were decent, he said.
However, soybeans aren’t fetching a price of $13 per bushel as they were in 2013. As of Wednesday, local cash bids for soybeans were going for $8.09 a bushel, according to Farm City Elevator in Delavan. The same elevator listed a cash bid of $3.49 for October corn.
Give or take 20 cents a bushel, corn prices now are about a half-dollar shy of what many growers consider break-even, Bobolz said.
Bobolz said the county farm bureau’s annual meeting was earlier this week. He said those who attended didn’t complain much about the weather, the prices and the uncertain fall. But try asking a farmer in his field the day before more rain comes in. That’s different.
“With all this downtrend with everything, prices, weather, you hear a lot of people just don’t seem as excited for harvest. They don’t seem as excited for planting. Everything’s just been stressful. Everything’s been a fight,” he said.
“And when you’re planting a crop knowing you’re going to end up having to sell it for below production costs, that’s not something that’s easy to get fired up about.”
Bobolz pictures a lot of area farmers hunkering down and storing their grain in hopes the federal government might make a lasting trade deal with China.
But Bobolz doesn’t have storage for his grain and beans.
“Plus, I can’t really wait to sell,” he said. “I’ve got bills coming due.”
LaVern Joseph Bahl
Helen M. Bunton
Richard “Dick” Chroust Sr.
Francis E. Heisz
Laurence C. Otto
Beverly J. Schwellenbach
Donald “Don” Stuhr
As the city continues to assess the possibility of building a new indoor sports complex/ice arena, residents had the chance Wednesday to offer their opinions on the location recommended by a pair of city committees.
Those panels recommend putting a new indoor sports facility on the Janesville Mall property. The city hosted a community forum at City Hall to gather resident opinions on the proposal.
Residents were asked what they thought of the idea after a short presentation by Jennifer Petruzzello, neighborhood and community services director for the city.
Just a handful of people volunteered to speak on the subject. Those who did offered opposing viewpoints.
Mark Peterson said he lives near the mall and that the proposed complex would be too close to his house, saying he would be able to hit the proposed complex by throwing a foam football from his home.
He said he thought the complex would go into the mall where the “commercial areas” are.
“I have a lot of concerns. ... The light, which is coming in my window, the noise, the pedestrians, early mornings or however late at night activities go,” Peterson said.
Frank Lopez lives two blocks away from the proposed site. He said he is excited by the prospect of putting a sports facility on the mall property.
“I think it’s great. It will revitalize the area, and I would hate to see the mall go,” he said. “I think this is a great option.”
Other residents asked questions about increased traffic and safety concerns.
Petruzzello said the property is already a high-traffic area because of the mall but added that the city would study nearby driveways and turn lanes to ensure safety before any final decision would be made.
Julie Cubbage is the general manager of the mall. Since taking the job in 2012, she has focused on keeping the mall relevant and revamping what it offers the community.
She said Wednesday a sports complex would be a big way to do that.
“The mall is trying very hard to revamp the properties that have been vacated by big-box stores,” she said.
The next steps in the process include a steering committee meeting to finalize its recommendation. James Lima, a development and project manager from New York, will come to Janesville for a few days in October to review the city’s proposal.
If the city keeps its schedule, the facility proposal at the mall site will go to the planning commission Oct. 21. Depending on the commission’s actions, the city council could consider the proposal Nov. 11.
If approved by both, the design phase would occur in 2020 before construction starts in 2021.