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Questions over possible abuse of power overshadow Trump’s agenda at UN

After President Trump acknowledged that he spoke to Ukraine's president about investigating possible 2020 rival Joe Biden, he spent the day at the U.N. fending off questions about the potential abuse of power. Meanwhile, the administration's refusal to share a whistleblower's complaint is pushing some Democrats closer to the question of impeachment. Yamiche Alcindor joins Judy Woodruff for more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump has spent this day in New York, meeting with world leaders and fending off questions about a possible abuse of power.

    He acknowledges speaking to Ukraine's president. But he denies that he threatened to cut U.S. military aid unless Kiev investigated Vice President Biden and his son for his business dealings there.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Increased calls for impeachment, and President Trump, at the United Nations, seeming unthreatened.

  • Question:

    How seriously are you taking impeachment talk?

  • President Donald Trump:

    Not at all seriously. We had a perfect phone call with the president of Ukraine. Everybody knows it. It's just a Democrat witch-hunt. Here we go again.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It's a claim he repeated throughout the day.

  • President Donald Trump:

    It's a great call. It's a very honorable call. It's a nice call. We had a great conversation, very, very — a very nice conversation too.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    It's that conversation and the White House's refusal to share a whistle-blower's concerns about it that is pushing some Democrats wary of impeachment closer to the brink.

    The acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to send the complaint to Congress. In a weekend letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged the Trump administration to hand over that complaint by Thursday.

    She didn't use the word impeachment. She did say, if the White House doesn't comply — quote — "They will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness, which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation."

    Yesterday, House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff told CNN that an impeachment inquiry may be the only option.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    That may be the only remedy that is co-equal to the evil that that conduct represents. We're going to hear from the director of national intelligence on Thursday why he is the first director to withhold ever a whistle-blower complaint. And we are going to make sure that we get that complaint. It may be that we do have to move forward with that extraordinary remedy.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The complaint reportedly claims that Mr. Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Hunter Biden. Biden is the son of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

    The younger Biden had business interests in Ukraine beginning when his father was vice president.

    Yesterday, President Trump admitted that he spoke was Zelensky about both Bidens, but he denied any wrongdoing.

  • President Donald Trump:

    Was largely the fact that we don't want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating the corruption already in the Ukraine.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Today, the president again sought to pit himself against the media.

  • President Donald Trump:

    If a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did, if a Republican ever said what Joe Biden said, they'd be getting the electric chair by right now.

    Look at the double standards. You people ought to be ashamed of yourself, and not all. We have some great journalists around, but you have got a lot of cooked journalists. You're crooked as hell.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On the campaign trail this weekend, Joe Biden didn't mince words.

  • Joseph Biden:

    He's violating every basic norm of a president. Trump is doing this because he knows I will beat him like a drum. And he's using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But the Ukrainian foreign minister said in an interview the discussion was business as usual between world leaders.

  • Vadym Prystaiko (through translator):

    Leaders sometimes share sensitive information between themselves. U.S. investigators have the power to request this information. But if somebody thinks that our president was under any pressure, they must prove it.

    I know what the conversation was about. And I do not think there was any pressure.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    On the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly this week, President Trump is scheduled to meet with Zelensky in person.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And Yamiche joins me now.

    So, Yamiche, how much is this controversy over whether the president threatened the president of Ukraine — what effect is it having on his visit to the United Nations, the General Assembly?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    That question, Judy, gets to the heart of the challenges that President Trump is going to face all week as he visits the United Nations General Assembly.

    This issue of whether or not he pushed the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden for his own political gain is overshadowing everything that the president is doing here in New York.

    The president was answering question after question during all sorts of meetings about Ukraine. He started off the morning by tweeting about Ukraine and tweeting about this controversy with Joe Biden when he was on his way to the first meetings of the day.

    He then was attacking Democrats and attacking the media and really lashing out at anyone who was asking him questions about this, and he's defending himself as well. He's talking about the idea of him not wanting to be impeached.

    And what you see is really the president on his heels as he's trying to meet with these world leaders, but in each meeting he's having to take questions on this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Yamiche, I know you have been talking to Democrats today as well. You somehow found time to do that.

    How do they see all this in terms of an opportunity to go after the president, investigate the president, after all the Mueller report and its aftermath?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Some believe that the Democrats really lost momentum after the Mueller report and after Robert Mueller testified before Congress.

    And this is really breathing new life into the Democrats' overall goal of trying to claim that President Trump is using the presidency for his own political gain and his own financial gain.

    So we now have three House committees, the House Oversight Committee, the House Intelligence Committee, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee, sending a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, saying that if they don't — if he doesn't produce the documents related to this whistle-blower complaint, that they are going to possibly subpoena them.

    So we see those Democrats really ratcheting up their issues. We also see Democrats, new Democrats coming out in favor of impeachment.

    Just today, Angie Craig and Dean Phillips, two Democrats who won districts that President Trump won in 2016 that they won in 2018, they're now coming out for impeachment. So we have Democrats changing their minds and taking what some saw initially as a risky move.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And finally, Yamiche, tell us what the main issues are confronting the president as he visits this U.N. General Assembly.

    And how does the White House see its priorities there?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The president wants to get a lot of things done.

    Tomorrow, he's going to be giving a speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly, and he is going to be talking, he says, about Iran and about the economy. There are also issues about climate change.

    He held a religious freedom event today, where he talked about religious persecution around the world. He didn't mention the fact that he at one point was backing banning all Muslims from entering the United States, or that he once said that Jews who don't support him are actually disloyal.

    But the president does have a large agenda. But I still think that Ukraine and this issue of him pushing the president for political gain is going to be looming over all of that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    All right, Yamiche Alcindor reporting for us this all week from New York, thank you, Yamiche.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks, Judy.

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