The TAKE with Rick Klein
While the plot thickens, the strands that tie President Donald Trump to his Republican Party are wearing a little thinner.
Two men who had helped Rudy Giuliani investigate former Vice President Joe Biden now stand under federal indictment, as part of a swampy, alleged scheme to funnel Russian money into political campaigns.
The White House, meanwhile, is blocking witnesses from appearing before Congress and dictating no cooperation with the impeachment inquiry.
And a presidential directive removing U.S. troops from northern Syria has drawn wide condemnation at an inopportune time for the president.
Abandoning the Kurds, who helped the U.S. defeat the Islamic State, has sparked outrage among prominent evangelicals, who fear a slaughter of both Kurds and Christians could come next. Retiring Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., sent word that he no longer supports Trump’s reelection.
Also notable: Add Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., to the list of Republican lawmakers who won’t say if it’s appropriate for the president to ask a foreign country for help investigating a political rival. And add former national security adviser H.R. McMaster to the list of former Trump administration officials who say Trump’s actions were inappropriate.
Trump has sought to rally his party against impeachment by highlighting and mocking the Democrats’ process.
But on matters of substance, almost each day brings new reasons for his party to worry about the trail he is blazing.
The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks
Headlines this week again made it clear that foreign governments are extremely interested in gaining leverage and sway in U.S. politics – and employing a wide range of tactics to do so.
The indictment on Thursday against two Soviet-born businessmen based in Florida described a "foreign national donor scheme." Law enforcement alleged the men arrested, both of whom had ties to Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, "conspired to circumvent the federal law against foreign influence," specifically funneling money from a Russian donor into candidate campaigns and a pro-Trump super PAC working in U.S. elections last year.
"These contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working," the indictment said. Relatedly, one of the foreign-born men arrested allegedly met a Trump adviser and sought his "assistance" removing or recalling then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. She was later recalled from her post.
Trump told reporters Thursday he does not know the gentlemen arrested, but added, “That is possible I have a picture with them, because I have a picture with everybody.”
Picture or not, the story alone raises serious questions (again) about the extent to which foreign actors, with foreign allegiances, were working to buy and manipulate their way into the good graces of the GOP and the president’s campaign. And, whether having learned that may have been the case, the president cared and will do anything to defend against it happening next year.
The TIP with Quinn Scanlan
Despite being the last candidate to jump into the large Democratic presidential field, Tom Steyer – the billionaire former hedge fund manager and liberal activist – has already qualified for November's primary debate. The other candidates have taken notice – and they aren't happy for him.
Steyer has already spent an estimated $18.7 million on television ads, according to CMAG, nearly $5.8 million on Facebook ads and about $2.6 million on Google ads since announcing his campaign in July, dwarfing his Democratic competitors in total spending. In just the past week, he's spent more than $2 million on TV ads – and that’s the entire amount his campaign said on Thursday that he's raised since he became a candidate.
In a fundraising email sent to supporters on Monday, former Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke's campaign said Steyer, "succeeded in buying his way up" onto the debate stage. On Tuesday, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., sent a fundraising email that said Steyer's,"ability to spend millions of his personal wealth has helped him gain in the polls like no one else in this race." And in an email sent on Wednesday, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro took a more veiled shot at Steyer, not mentioning him by name, but writing, "Unfortunately, I don’t have billions in personal wealth to blanket the air with TV ads."
This coming Tuesday, Steyer will make his first debate appearance at Otterbein University in Ohio. Whether and how hard any candidates go after him for using his wealth to support his campaign will be something to watch for, especially considering that among the trio, only Booker – who will be next to Steyer on stage – has also already secured a spot in November's debate.
ONE MORE THING
At least some of the still-unfounded claims referenced by President Donald Trump on his controversial call with Ukraine’s president in July echoed a year-old effort by a Ukrainian government official to oust the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, according to government documents reviewed by ABC News, public statements from the president’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and others, as well as from newly unsealed court documents.
ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Friday morning’s episode features ABC News’ Alexander Mallin, who tells us why the arrest of two Rudy Giuliani associates could have implications in the ongoing impeachment inquiry. Then, ABC News Senior Foreign correspondent Ian Pannell checks in from Syria as refugees flee the Turkish offensive. http://apple.co/2HPocUL
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS WEEKEND
Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.
The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the key political moments of the day ahead. Please check back Monday for the latest.