WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump pressed the leader of Ukraine to “look into” Joe Biden, Trump’s potential 2020 reelection rival, as well as the president’s lingering grievances from the 2016 election, according to a rough transcript 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.”
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 transcript on Wednesday, Pelosi declared: “Congress must act.”
Trump 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 rough transcript 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 letter to the acting director of national intelligence that the whistleblower could have “arguable political bias.”
The memo 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 on July 25, one day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill about his investigation into Russian 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.
STILLWATER — Memories were shared and laughs were had as the Oklahoma State University family celebrated the life of T. Boone Pickens on Wednesday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Hundreds of people joined university staff and state dignitaries for Pickens’ second memorial since his death. Pickens, a 1951 graduate of Oklahoma A&M, died at his home in Dallas on Sept. 11 at age 91. The first service was held last week in Dallas at Highland Park United Methodist Church.
OSU held the memorial in typical Pickens fashion. The OSU band played as people filed in ahead of a video tribute to Pickens on the jumbotron. The Pokeapella a cappella group also sang the Oklahoma state song during the memorial.
Senior Associate Athletic Director Larry Reece hosted the ceremony, while multiple speakers took the podium to share their remarks and favorite memories of Pickens. Gov. Kevin Stitt spoke, as did OSU President Burns Hargis, OSU donor Anne Greenwood, football coach Mike Gundy and OSU Athletic Director Mike Holder, one of Pickens’ closest friends.
“He’s the best friend that anyone could have in good times or bad times,” Holder said in the tribute video that was played.
Holder, who said Pickens was like a father to him, first met Pickens in 1973. Pickens donated more than $600 million to OSU academics and athletics with his biggest contribution being the $165 million gift to the Athletic Department.
Greenwood has also made major contributions to OSU, including her contributions to the Anne Greenwood Tennis Center and her newest gift to the Michael and Anne Greenwood School of Music. She shared during the ceremony how listening to Pickens speak at his 80th birthday celebration changed her life.
Pickens made comments about giving now instead of later because you don’t get the chance to see the impact you would have. Greenwood said that struck a chord with her and her husband, Michael.
“That is the absolute gift we got from Boone Pickens,” Greenwood said. “When he stepped up he said ‘maybe somebody is going to be inspired and maybe somebody is going to join me,’ and in every case absolutely, they did. That is his very best legacy as far as I’m concerned.”
Greenwood’s remarks are a testament to how Pickens’ dedicated donations to OSU inspired other alumni to do the same. Hargis said the university has raised more than $2 billion from approximately 70,000 donors since Pickens gave his $100 million gift in 2008.
“Clearly Boone’s impact and inspiration has gone way beyond his own gifts,” Hargis said. “He really has inspired our university forever.”
Gundy, who has coached the football program to consistent success since Pickens’ largest donation, shared one of his best memories of Pickens. He traveled to Dallas and had a three-hour conversation with Pickens a few years ago.
“We sat down as two people and had one topic and that was what can we do to continue the success of the university that we love,” Gundy said. “How can we find a way to make it better?”
Holder was the last person to share his remarks before the closing celebration, when the entire crowd stood up, locked arms and joined Pokeapella in the school song, the cheer squad and Pistol Pete led a Boone Pickens chant, and fans sang the fight song as orange and white confetti was shot from the stage.
Correction: This story originally misstated the name of the OSU a cappella group. It has been corrected.
In response to public scrutiny, Deputy Police Chief Jonathan Brooks has maintained that use-of-force incidents by Tulsa police officers are a rare occurrence.
The results of a 30-month study examining the Tulsa Police Department’s use-of-force data, unveiled Wednesday at City Hall, support that assertion, showing that officers administered force in 1.7% of arrests.
The study also found that race was not necessarily a predictor in use-of-force incidents.
The study, titled “A Multi-Method Investigation of Officer Decision-Making and Force Used or Avoided in Arrest Situations,” initiated through the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the University of Cincinnati Center for Police Research and Policy, examined 31,950 arrests from January 2016 to June 2018 based on administrative data compiled through Tulsa Regional Automated Criminal Information System reports, arrest data and written narratives submitted by the Police Department.
Led by researchers from the University of Texas-San Antonio Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, the study explored why some arrests turn violent, what factors contribute to injuries to citizens and officers, and how police can reduce the number of times they use force and injuries associated with use of force.
“The purpose of this study was to better understand the circumstances that lead to use-of-force and injury and how to reduce it,” said Robin Engel, a project researcher with the University of Cincinnati, who assisted with the study.
Policing in Tulsa has been criticized since the release of the city’s first Equality Indicators report. The 2018 report found that black people were five times more likely than Hispanics and twice as likely as whites to experience officer use-of-force. The 2019 report showed that blacks were three times more likely to experience use-of-force than Hispanics or whites.
But data from the study released Wednesday indicate that race was not a “statistically significant predictor of use-of-force after controlling for other factors.” Minorities were no more or less likely to have force used during arrests than white people under the same circumstances, the data suggest.
Of 642 people police officers used force against, 52.3% were white, 35.2% were black, 8.6% were Hispanic and 3.9% were from other racial categories.
The Tulsa Police Department and the local Fraternal Order of Police have maintained that the Equality Indicators reports provide inaccurate appraisals of use of force because they were based on total population numbers instead of the number of people arrested.
Jared Lindsey, chairman of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 93 board of directors, said Wednesday’s presentation backed up the organization’s contention that there were no racial disparities related to use-of-force.
“We’ve agreed with that since the beginning,” said Lindsey. “We have been preaching since the beginning that the Equality Indicators destroy trust and did not accurately represent what was going on for Tulsans.”
To reach their own conclusions, UTSA researchers examined variables such as time of day, neighborhood crime rate and call priority to determine factors that might lead to use of force in arrests.
In addition to being promoted as an independent, unbiased and in-depth analysis of the Tulsa Police Department’s use-of-force numbers, the study also reviewed the department’s training and procedures.
The study found that 32.1% of use-of-force incidents involved the use of stun guns, 4.4% involved firearms, 16.8% involved pepper spray, and 28.3% involved the deployment of police dogs.
To improve the Police Department’s use-of-force practices, researchers recommended that the department change its reporting policy to require officers to report any time “more than a firm grip” is used on a citizen. They also suggested that the Police Department improve documentation of force and better capture instances when deadly force should be used.
Further, it was recommended that the department conduct a thorough review of the current use-of-force policy and training to compare it with known best practices and review the training and force practices of using dogs in arrests.
Brooks said the data will only enhance TPD’s ability to function in concert with the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommendations.
“We know going forward we have a lot of things we’re going to work on and there are a lot of considerations to take into account,” he said.
While the police union might have discounted apparent disparities in policing, Brooks said TPD will continue to use external evaluations and already established programs to help reduce inequities where they exist.
“This is an opportunity for us to all come together and work for a common cause,” he said.
Mayor G.T. Bynum’s alternative to creating an Office of the Independent Monitor does not include reviews of police use-of-force incidents but instead focuses on improving the city’s community policing practices and community engagement.
The mayor told councilors on Wednesday that he wants to focus on the aspects of his proposal that had broad support, and he said he remains open to further discussions on a vehicle for use-of-force reviews.
Bynum said after the meeting that he continues to support implementing independent reviews of police use-of-force incidents.
“I still stand by what I (originally) presented to the council. I’m also not opposed to OSBI (the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) doing that function, as some councilors have suggested,” the mayor said. “But any approach is going to cost money, and that requires five votes on the council, something none of the various ideas thrown out to date enjoys right now.”
Bynum’s alternative plan includes the following initiatives:
• Engaging an entity to conduct a participatory study of the city’s existing community policing programs and help develop an update.
• Providing an annual policing report to include use-of-force data and other information that would have been in the Office of the Independent Monitor’s annual review; councilors would have input as to what other data would be collected.
• Formalizing existing community police programs: Citizen Action Groups and Citizen Advisory Board. Among the goals is to ensure that the public is aware of the meetings.
• Implementing recommendations on police use-of-force presented at Tulsa City Hall by the University of Cincinnati and the University of Texas-San Antonio on Wednesday.
• Expanding the scope of the community resource officers program to focus on areas where distrust of police officers is highest.
Bynum sent an email to city councilors earlier this month asking them to pull his Office of the Independent Monitor proposal, citing a lack of support from a majority of city councilors and some community activists.
“My team is developing an alternative that I believe will address similar goals through a less divisive vehicle,” the mayor wrote.
The proposal would have given the independent monitor three primary responsibilities: to follow up on citizen complaints about police and review Tulsa Police Department Internal Affairs’ investigations of use-of-force incidents; review best practices for police and make policy recommendations; and conduct community outreach.
The mayor said Wednesday that a number of councilors have indicated a desire to explore other police oversight models and to have public discussions of other approaches that could be taken.
“Obviously, I think it’s a very important approach, and I encourage that,” he said.
The issue that motivated him to propose the OIM — a lack of trust by some Tulsans of their Police Department — remains today, Bynum said.
“So if you folks want to take more time to work on the oversight function, that is great,” he said. “But I don’t want us to be stuck in the mud on items 2 and 3.”
When initially unveiling his proposal in January, Bynum noted that the only time there is a public discussion of use-of-force allegations is if the District Attorney’s Office files criminal charges or someone files a lawsuit against the city.
“Internal Affairs investigations are conducted confidentially, and citizens don’t have a means of verifying results,” Bynum said. “I think we owe it to the citizens and to the officers to do better.”
The council was divided on how use-of-force incidents should be reviewed, with some councilors seeking to give the proposed OIM more power and others pushing for the OSBI to do the reviews.
City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper said after the mayor’s presentation that real trust between the police and the public won’t be achieved without independent oversight of the Police Department.
“Without oversight, there is no way we are going to build trust in the community, which, I think everyone agrees, is the goal,” she said.