Ukraine Call Wasn't First Time Trump Wanted a Favor

Kathleen Hunter

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Two years before Donald Trump asked Ukraine’s leader to investigate 2020 rival Joe Biden, the U.S. president made another eyebrow-raising request.

During a 2017 Oval Office meeting, Trump pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who was a client of Rudy Giuliani, later Trump’s personal lawyer, Bloomberg exclusively reports.

Tillerson refused, saying it would constitute interference in an ongoing investigation, and other meeting participants were shocked by the request.

The episode bears the hallmarks of Trump’s executive style, defined by his willingness to forgo the customary constraints of government to pursue matters outside normal channels. It’s also likely to fuel long-standing concerns from some of Trump’s critics about his relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who had at the time made Zarrab’s release a high priority.

The episode came to light as Trump’s dealings with foreign leaders face intense scrutiny following the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that has sparked a House impeachment inquiry.

Locked in an escalating fight with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Trump has focused his outrage on Democrats, claiming a political witch hunt. But it’s increasingly clear others have held misgivings — including some who've worked closely with him.

Global Headlines

Syrian airstrikes | Turkey says it has hit at least 181 targets as part of its incursion — code-named “Peace Spring” — into Syria aimed at forcing Kurdish militants from border areas. The Kurds, who have been key allies of the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State, say they have halted their efforts against the jihadist group.

Follow the main developments in real time by clicking here. And here is a look at the relative strengths of the Turkish and Kurdish militaries.

Money talks | The Trump administration is considering offering a currency pact as part of a first-phase trade deal with China that could also see suspension of a planned tariff increase next week, Jenny Leonard reports. Chinese negotiators arrived in Washington to conduct the first high-level talks with their American counterparts since July. The U.S. said the currency pact had been agreed before negotiations broke down.

Health issue | Bernie Sanders’s heart attack hinders a candidacy already faltering as Elizabeth Warren, his rival for the progressive mantle, edges into a statistical tie for front-runner status in the Democratic presidential race. As Laura Litvan reports, Sanders, 78, now faces a dilemma: No candidate has disclosed a potentially life-threatening health incident while running for a major party’s White House nomination.

Click here for more on how the traditionally Republican state of Georgia could become a presidential and Senate battleground in November next year.

Crunch lunch | With Brexit talks stalled and only three weeks left until the U.K. is due to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will host his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar for lunch today to try to find common ground. If they can’t, the negotiations with the EU look certain to fold, leaving Britain facing a chaotic exit on Oct. 31, or another delay to its tortured European divorce.

Polarized nation | Tunisia’s moderate Islamist party won the most seats — about a quarter — in parliamentary elections but will find it tough to form a ruling coalition in the North African nation. And this weekend’s presidential run-off vote received a jolt yesterday when a court freed media mogul-turned-politician, Nabil Karoui, who placed second to a law professor in last month’s first ballot while in jail, riding a wave of popular discontent.

What to Watch

Zelenskiy rejected suggestions he was blackmailed by Trump during their now infamous July phone call as he spoke to journalists in an all-day session in Ukraine today, after reporters complained he hadn’t held a news conference since May. Romania’s government faces a no-confidence motion in parliament that will determine whether Prime Minister Viorica Dancila — already ruling in a minority — can stumble on or if the country must seek its fourth premier in three years. EU ambassadors will resume discussions tomorrow on whether to open accession talks with Albania and North Macedonia after some countries demanded conditions be attached. Trump’s new envoy for Kosovo will visit Serbia’s president today after saying he had a full mandate to strike a quick deal on the neighbors’ dispute.

Tell us how we’re doing or what we’re missing at balancepower@bloomberg.net.And finally... Californians are enduring their state’s largest-ever orchestrated power cuts to prevent wildfires as strong winds threaten electrical lines. Blackouts hit 232,100 customers in cities including Berkeley and Oakland, joining half a million homes and businesses already in the dark. More than 3 million people may eventually be affected and cities have warned residents to brace for six days without power. As California’s climate warms and dries, blackouts could become a new annual ordeal.

 

--With assistance from Karl Maier, Tim Ross and Rosalind Mathieson.

To contact the author of this story: Kathleen Hunter in London at khunter9@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Halpin at thalpin5@bloomberg.net, Michael Winfrey

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