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Trump’s presidency has worst month ever amid Syria, Ukraine scandals

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  • The last month has been the worst stretch of time in Donald Trump’s entire presidency.
  • In foreign policy, Trump sparked bipartisan outrage by pulling US troops out of northeast Syria, effectively abandoning US-allied Kurdish forces there.
  • On the domestic front, the president is besieged by a rapidly expanding congressional impeachment inquiry.
  • Trump officials are defying orders to stay silent, offering their own testimony to lawmakers in the impeachment inquiry.
  • Their revelations give a damning impression of a concerted effort to leverage US foreign policy in exchange for material that would personally benefit the president.
  • More whistleblowers are also coming out of the shadows, potentially bringing more trouble for the president.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The last month has been the worst stretch of time in Donald Trump’s entire presidency.

A little over a week ago, Trump abruptly decided to withdraw US forces from northeast Syria. The move prompted bipartisan criticism in Washington, including rare blowback from congressional Republicans who accused the president of effectively abandoning US-allied Kurdish forces to a Turkish military invasion. 

The Kurds bore the brunt of the US-led campaign against ISIS, losing roughly 11,000 fighters, and Trump was promptly accused of betraying US allies. Meanwhile, Trump was warned by US lawmakers and former officials that his decision could catalyze the resurgence of ISIS and create a power vacuum that Russia would be happy to fill.

Turkey invaded Syria last Wednesday, and within a week the situation has spiraled into a humanitarian catastrophe that ISIS and Moscow have already exploited.

Read more: FBI officials were ‘rattled’ and ‘blindsided’ by Trump’s call for Ukraine to manufacture dirt on Joe Biden

Beyond the criticism of Trump’s Syria retreat in Congress, leaders in Europe have said the president has significantly undermined US credibility by leaving the Kurds to fend off the Turkish assault.

Trump officials come out of the woodwork, defying his orders to stonewall Congress

All this comes as the president is besieged on the domestic front by an escalating congressional impeachment inquiry, which is examining whether Trump used his public office for private gain.

At the heart of the investigation is an unprecedented whistleblower complaint that a US intelligence official filed, accusing the president of using his public office for private gain.

The controversy exploded in mid-September, when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff revealed the existence of the complaint to the public.

Specifically, the official alleged that Trump repeatedly pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during a July 25 phone call to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, for corruption. Trump also asked Zelensky to help discredit the FBI’s finding that Russia secretly worked to help elect Trump.

Beyond asking a foreign power for dirt against a political rival ahead of an election, Trump is also battling allegations that he held up a nearly $400 million military-aid package to Ukraine days before the phone call to maintain leverage over Zelensky.

Read more: The floodgates are opening as Trump officials publicly defy his orders and more whistleblowers come out of the shadows

In the weeks since, Trump officials have come out of the woodwork, in defiance of his and other top officials’ orders to stay silent, to offer their own testimony in the impeachment inquiry.

Taken together, their revelations paint a damaging portrait of a concerted effort from the highest levels of the Trump administration to leverage US foreign policy in exchange for material that would personally benefit the president.

They also show how far Trump went to involve his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in the process. Here are the highlights:

  • The former Special Representative to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, turned over explosive text messages to Congress that revealed how intricately senior US diplomats were involved in Giuliani’s efforts to dig up dirt on the Bidens.
  • According to the texts, Volker and another diplomat convey to Ukraine that a good relationship was predicated on the Ukrainian government pursuing “investigations” and “getting to the bottom” of what happened in 2016.
  • The second diplomat, US ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, is expected to testify to Congress this week that the contents of a text message he wrote denying there was a quid pro quo exchange with Ukraine was relayed to him directly by Trump. 
  • Sondland will reportedly go even further and tell lawmakers he doesn’t even know if Trump was being honest when he denied the quid pro quo.
  • Marie Yovanovitch, a former US ambassador to Ukraine who refused to go along with Trump and Giuliani’s efforts against Biden, testified that she was abruptly recalled in May based on “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”
  • Yovanovitch said she was removed despite the State Department’s belief that she had “done nothing wrong.” She also said there had been “a concerted campaign” against her and that the department “had been under pressure from the president to remove [her] since the summer of 2018.”
  • Fiona Hill, the White House’s former top Russia analyst, testified that former national security adviser John Bolton was so angry with the pressure campaign on Ukraine that he instructed her to tell White House lawyers about it.
  • Hill also said Bolton described Giuliani as a “hand grenade” that would “blow everybody up.” She added that she witnessed “wrongdoing” while serving in the Trump administration.

Read more: These are the key players you need to know to make sense of the Trump impeachment inquiry

More whistleblowers come forward as Giuliani faces a federal criminal probe

Meanwhile, the president could face even more whistleblowers as other government officials consider stepping forward.

The attorneys representing the first Ukraine whistleblower have already said they’re representing a second US intelligence official who has more information about Trump’s call with Zelensky.

And the House Ways and Means Committee is trying to learn further information about a third whistleblower, who works in the IRS and whose complaint alleges “inappropriate efforts to influence” the agency’s audit of Trump’s tax returns, according to a court filing from the committee.

According to The Washington Post, the person accused of trying to interfere with the audit is a political appointee at the Treasury Department.

The Daily Beast also reported, citing two congressional sources, that new potential whistleblowers are coming forward in the wake of the House’s impeachment inquiry.

In the midst of the firestorm, Trump has resisted calls to beef up his legal team and White House war room.

But the president may well have to look elsewhere soon, given that Giuliani is at the center of a broadening federal criminal investigation into whether he broke foreign lobbying laws while working to oust Yovanovitch.

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