The Memo: Trump troubles deepen amid Ukraine storm

President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE’s troubles deepened on Wednesday, just one day after Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump knocks testimony from 'Never Trumpers' at Louisiana rally Jordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' USMCA deal close, but not 'imminent,' Democrats say MORE (D-Calif.) announced her support for an impeachment effort.

The pressure appeared to show on Trump, who delivered a downbeat 40-minute performance at a news conference in New York late Wednesday afternoon. 

The president sought, without success, to shift the focus to his economic record, even as the storm clouds over his dealings with Ukraine — “a big hoax,” according to him — grew darker.

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The day was bookended by two developments that were bad news for the president: the release of a White House memo on a July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and the delivery of a whistleblower's complaint to committees in the House and Senate.

A related Washington Post story asserted the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, had threatened to resign amid fears that the White House would block him from testifying candidly before Congress on Thursday. Maguire denied having considered resignation, and the White House also pushed back vigorously against the story.

Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president was far more problematic. Far from being exculpatory, as Trump had previously suggested, it gave new fuel to the impeachment effort. 

It showed Trump pressing the Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California MORE, currently the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. It suggested Trump had explicitly pressed the foreign government for a “favor.” And it showed Trump suggesting Zelensky should work with his personal lawyer Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiTrump knocks testimony from 'Never Trumpers' at Louisiana rally Jordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' Giuliani under investigation for alleged campaign finance, lobbying breaches: report MORE and Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrGOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse DOJ watchdog won't let witnesses submit written feedback on investigation into Russia probe: report Bill Clinton advises Trump to ignore impeachment: 'You got hired to do a job' MORE in the efforts to excavate dirt on Biden and his son.

The final allegation was a new one and prompted a quick statement from the Department of Justice. Spokeswoman Kerri Kupec asserted that Barr was not informed of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky until “several weeks after the call took place.” 

Kupac added, “The President has not spoken with the Attorney General about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son. The President has not asked the Attorney General to contact Ukraine – on this or any other matter. The Attorney General has not communicated with Ukraine – on this or any other subject.”

The emphatic nature of that statement clarified Barr’s role, but it also contributed to the sense of chaos within an administration afflicted by a rising tide of crisis. 

Much less is known about the whistleblower’s account, given that it was delivered behind closed doors. The complaint, reportedly from an intelligence official, lit the fuse on the current controversy, but little is known for sure about its substance, and the identity of the whistleblower has yet to be revealed. 

The president has disparaged the person as “partisan” but has also said he does not know his or her identity.

Details were sparse in the immediate aftermath of the delivery of the complaint, though Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyLive coverage: House holds first public impeachment hearing Sondland emerges as key target after Vindman testimony In testimony, Dems see an ambassador scorned, while GOP defends Trump MORE (D-Ill.), who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, told reporters afterward that it “reinforces our concerns.”

On the Republican side, Sen. Ben SasseBenjamin (Ben) Eric SasseTrump circuit court nominee in jeopardy amid GOP opposition Trump has officially appointed one in four circuit court judges Senators press NSA official over shuttered phone surveillance program MORE (Neb.) stopped well short of a defense of the president, saying that his party colleagues should not “be rushing to circle the wagons” given that “there’s obviously lots that’s very troubling there,” according to one CBS News reporter.

Some Republicans and conservatives expressed unease with the earlier release of details of the phone call. Sen. Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Jon Huntsman expected to run for governor in Utah Trump Jr's 'Triggered' debuts at No. 1 on NY Times bestseller list MORE (R-Utah) called the memo “deeply troubling.” Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashWhat are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? Trump allies assail impeachment on process while House Democrats promise open hearings soon Hoyer: We are going to move as fast 'as the facts and truth dictate' on open hearings MORE (I-Mich.), who left the GOP this summer in protest of Trump’s behavior, called it a “devastating indictment.”

But the president can take heart that most Republicans are standing by him, as they have done throughout the various other controversies that have dotted his presidency. 

Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Turkish media paints White House visit as Erdoğan triumph over Trump Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators at White House MORE (R-Iowa), said, having viewed the account of the call, “I don’t see anything there.” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (R-S.C.) accused Democrats of having “lost their minds” in the impeachment effort. He said there was “not a scintilla of evidence” that Trump had engaged in a quid pro quo with Zelensky.

The president’s call with his Ukrainian counterpart came at a time when the administration was withholding almost $400 million in military aid that Congress had voted to give the Eastern European nation. But there is no reference on the call to that aid package.

Trump’s allies are making a vigorous defense, with a spokesman for the Republican National Committee emailing reporters to insist that the president had been “totally cleared” by the memo on the phone call.

Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE, who had earlier Wednesday predicted the president’s “landslide reelection,” tweeted that the Trump campaign had raised $5 million in the 24 hours since Pelosi announced the push for impeachment.

But it is clearly Democrats and Trump critics who have been buoyed by the newest revelations. Pelosi herself issued a statement about the phone call in which she blasted the president and said it was “not his job … to shake down other countries for the benefit of his campaign.” 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Chad Wolf becomes acting DHS secretary Schumer blocks drug pricing measure during Senate fight, seeking larger action MORE (D-N.Y.) said, having been apprised of the whistleblower’s complaint, “I’m even more worried about what happened than I was when I read the memorandum of the conversation."

On the first full day of the attempted impeachment of Trump, the hunters are clearly happier than the hunted.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primary focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.