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In what he terms a 'nothing call, ' Trump sought 'a favor'
He asked Ukrainian leader to 'look into' Bidens and 2016 events; intel panels get whistleblower complaint

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump pressed the leader of Ukraine to "look into" Joe Biden, Trump's potential 2020 reelection rival, as well as the president's lingering grievances from the 2016 election, according to a rough transcript of a summer phone call that is now at the center of Democrats' impeachment probe.

Trump repeatedly prodded Volodymyr Zelenskiy, new president of the East European nation, to work with U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer. At one point in the July conversation, Trump said, "I would like for you to do us a favor."

The president's request for such help from a foreign leader set the parameters for the major U.S. debate to come — just the fourth impeachment investigation of an American president in the nation's history. The initial response highlighted the deep divide between the two parties: Democrats said the call amounted to a "shakedown" of a foreign leader, while Trump — backed by the vast majority of Republicans — dismissed it as a "nothing call."

The call is one part of a whistleblower complaint about the president's activities that have roiled Washington and led Democrats to move ahead with an impeachment inquiry of the Republican president on the cusp of the 2020 campaign.

After being stymied by the administration, members of the House and Senate intelligence committees took their first look at the complaint late Wednesday. Republicans kept largely quiet, but several Democrats, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, called the classified account "disturbing."

Some from both parties want it to be made public. Congress is also seeking an in-person interview with the whistleblower, who remains anonymous.

Trump spent Wednesday meeting with world leaders at the United Nations, a remarkable TV split screen even for the turbulence of the Trump era. Included on his schedule: ameeting with Zelenskiy.

In a light-hearted appearance before reporters, Zelenskiy said he didn't want to get involved in American elections, but added, "Nobody pushed me." Trump chimed in, "In other words, no pressure."

The next steps in the impeachment inquiry were quickly developing a day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched the probe. A rush of lawmakers, notablymoderate Democrats from districts where Trump remains popular, set aside political concerns and urged action.

One option Pelosi is considering, pressed by some lawmakers, is to focus the impeachment inquiry specifically on the Ukraine issues rather than the many others Congress has been investigating.

"For me, that's what's important," said Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., among the new lawmakers in Congress with national security backgrounds. She said it's "just an egregious idea that the president of the United States can contact a foreign leader and influence him for dirt on a political opponent. ... That can't be normalized."

Pelosi announced the impeachment probe Tuesday after months of personal resistance to a process she has warned would be divisive for the country and risky for her party. But after viewing the transcript on Wednesday, Pelosi declared: "Congress must act."

Trump, who thrives on combat, has all but dared Democrats to move toward impeachment, confident that the specter of an investigation led by the opposition party will bolster rather than diminish his political support.

"It's a joke. Impeachment, for that?" Trump said during a press conference in New York. He revived the same language he has used for months to deride the now-finished special counsel investigation into election interference, declaring impeachment "a hoax" and the "single greatest witch hunt in American history."

Republicans largely stood by the president and dismissed the notion that the rough transcript revealed any wrongdoing by Trump.

"I think it was a perfectly appropriate phone call, it was a congratulatory phone call," said Rep. Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican. "The Democrats continually make these huge claims and allegations about President Trump, and then you find out there's no there there."

The Trump administration also continued to raise questions about the whistleblower's motives. According to a Justice Department official, the intelligence community's inspector general said in letter to the acting director of national intelligence that the whistleblower could have "arguable political bias."

The memo released by the White House was not a verbatim transcript but was instead based on the records of officials who listened to the call. The conversation took place on July 25, one day after special counsel Robert Mueller testified on Capitol Hill about his investigation into Russia's 2016 election interference.

In the 30-minute phone call with Zelenskiy, Trump encourages the Ukrainian leader to talk with Giuliani and Barr about Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Immediately after saying they would be in touch, Trump references Ukraine's economy, saying: "Your economy is going to get better and better, I predict. You have a lot of assets. It's a great country."

At another point in the conversation, Trump asked Zelenskiy for a favor: his help looking into a cybersecurity firm that investigated the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee and determined it was carried out by Russia. Trump has falsely suggested that Crowdstrike was owned by a Ukrainian.

In the days before the call, Trump ordered advisers to freeze $400 million in military aid for Ukraine — prompting speculation that he was holding out the money as leverage for information on the Bidens.

Trump has denied that charge, and the aid package does not come up in the conversation with Zelenskiy, who was unaware of the aid freeze.

Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the gas company's board at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will appear at the Nebraska Democratic Party's annual fundraiser, the Morrison Exon dinner, in Omaha on Oct. 26.

The state party's announcement of the California Democrat's keynote speech comes two days after Pelosi, in her 17th term as a congresswoman, said the House will open an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

"We are in a fight for the soul of our country," Pelosi said in a press release. "I tell women all across the country to know their power. As the Nebraska Democrats celebrate the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, there is no better time to show our power."

Nebraska is a historically red state, but its Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District is seen as one of the most competitive House districts in the country. "The NDP is working to deliver that blue dot once again," said party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb. She called Pelosi's leadership and tenacity "unparalleled."— roseann moring

Sen. Ben Sasse: 'Terrible stuff' in Trump transcript, but more facts need to be gathered

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ben Sasse said Wednesday that there’s “terrible stuff” in the rough transcript of a phone call between President Donald Trump and the Ukrainian president.

But the Nebraska Republican also suggested that everybody needs to slow down before drawing final conclusions.

“Obviously, we shouldn’t be having any American officeholder or any American candidate looking for foreign nations to come in and be involved in U.S. elections,” Sasse told The World-Herald. “There’s a lot that’s troubling in this transcript, but there’s a lot more information I also want to see.”

Most other Capitol Hill lawmakers — including those from Nebraska and Iowa — have split along party lines regarding the summary of the phone call, an extensive but not necessarily verbatim documentation of the conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The two talked about ways the United States could help Ukraine. And Trump requested a favor: investigate interference in the 2016 presidential election and also dig into allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden.

Democrats backing an impeachment inquiry view the transcript as a smoking gun proving Trump illegally pressured a foreign country to go after his political rival.

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Many Republicans say it reflects a totally normal, candid call between two world leaders.

Sasse says both camps are misguided.

“Many Republicans are rushing to circle the wagons and declare that there’s nothing bad in the transcript — that isn’t true,” Sasse said in the interview. “But there are also Democrats who had already decided they were going to impeach the president yesterday before they had any actual facts in front of them and I think that’s disastrous for the public health.”

Sasse serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which will dig into the into the matter, including reviewing the whistleblower’s complaint that brought the call to light.

He said careful attention to detail will be better than cable television’s hour-after-hour series of “hot takes.”

“I think there’s a lot of people, right and left, running around like headless chickens,” Sasse said. “And I don’t think that serves the long-term public interest.”

The partisan divide cited by Sasse is reflected in reactions to the transcript by Iowa and Nebraska politicians.

Most GOP officeholders offered little or no criticism of the transcript contents, while Democratic candidates for Congress said it shows the need for an impeachment inquiry.

Sasse’s home-state GOP colleague, Sen. Deb Fischer, said in a statement: “I read the full unredacted transcript of President Trump’s phone call with the Ukrainian president and, contrary what we were led to believe, there was no ‘smoking gun.’ The conversation was as the president portrayed it.”

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said, “I’ve looked at the transcript; I don’t see anything there. The Senate Intelligence Committee is going through proper, bipartisan procedures on this whole matter.”

During a conference call with reporters, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, directed any criticism away from Trump and instead characterized Democrats as hypocrites, given that Biden bragged about getting Ukraine’s prosecutor fired for not aggressively pursuing corruption cases.

Republicans have suggested that move benefited Biden’s son Hunter, although Hunter Biden had not personally been accused of wrongdoing. Grassley also indicated that he and his GOP colleagues are not overly focused on impeachment.

“You go to my town meetings in Iowa, you don’t hear this talk about impeachment,” Grassley said.

As for Nebraska’s Republican House members, Adrian Smith reiterated previous criticism that the impeachment inquiry represents a rush to judgment, and Jeff Fortenberry said the Justice Department found no violation of campaign finance laws in the transcript.

The Omaha area’s representative, Don Bacon, said it’s not good for Trump or any U.S. official to talk about political opponents with a foreign leader because doing so leaves them open to attacks. But he saw nothing illegal in Trump’s conversation.

“There was no quid pro quo,” he said. “I found it rather innocuous, by and large.”

Two Democrats seeking to face Bacon next year, Kara Eastman and Ann Ashford, previously split over the impeachment question.

Eastman supports House Democrats’ move to open an impeachment inquiry — she’s been calling for them to do so since special counsel Robert Mueller testified in July. Ashford had counseled patience, but this week’s revelations prompted her to support the inquiry, which she said could help bring information out quicker.

“I think this is a really sad and sobering occasion that we’ve gotten to the point where an inquiry is necessary,” Ashford said. “But it is necessary and we need to follow where the facts lead us.”

Eastman said this isn’t the first time Trump has invited a foreign power to interfere in U.S. elections.

“We need people in Congress who are going to stand up and do what’s right for the country and for our national security regardless of party politics and regardless of what the leadership of the party tells us to do,” Eastman said. “And I think that’s where my independent voice is going to shine through.”

Chris Janicek, a Nebraska Democrat running for Sasse’s Senate seat, issued a statement supporting the impeachment inquiry.

“As a nation we cannot allow a complete disregard for the rule of law,” Janicek said. “President Trump appears to have undermined the faith voters put in him.”

Photos: Our best shots of 2019 (so far)

Mark Mercer, who preserved the Old Market, remembered for being a visionary

Mark Mercer never liked talking about “legacy.”

“I can just picture him squirming and squealing about anyone talking about his legacy,” said chef Paul Kulik, who, with Mercer and his wife, Vera, opened the Boiler Room restaurant and worked at La Buvette, their Old Market spot, for years. “That was not something he ever wanted to talk about. But my god, that family. And everything that they gave this town.”

Mercer, who is widely recognized along with his father, Sam, and his wife of 50 years for developing and preserving Omaha’s Old Market neighborhood, died Sept. 16 after a yearlong battle with cancer. He was 75.

Mercer, an Omaha native, was an artist, a lover of food and restaurants and a deep believer in historic preservation, said his friend and former Omaha city planner Bob Peters. Peters met Mercer in 1973.

He remembers Mercer working to get the Old Market landmark status in 1976, and his work throughout the 1970s to find local, interesting businesses to fill the neighborhood’s storefronts. The Old Market has grown into one of Omaha’s top tourist attractions.

“(Mark and Vera) created a strong vision with a soft touch,” he said. “Their focus was always to find the unique and the independent kind of tenant. They took on projects that weren’t as easy or as commonplace. And when they couldn’t find someone who mirrored their vision, they accomplished it themselves.”

Sam Mercer in the 1960s began redeveloping the area that had served as a wholesale produce district. He had taken ownership of several buildings near 11th and Howard Streets in 1963 and refused to raze the buildings, despite political pressure.

Mark Mercer continued that work, opening several restaurants and creating places to live in the Old Market.

Mercer’s cousin, Nicholas Bonham Carter, said Mark Mercer’s interests were vast and varied.


Mark and Sam Mercer in 1982. Without them, “there would be no Old Market.”

“He was a Renaissance man who was very interested in science but also very interested in the arts.”

Among the Mercer-owned businesses in the Old Market are the former French Cafe; V. Mertz restaurant, which Bonham Carter said started out as a deli and grew into the fine dining establishment it is today; the Garden of the Zodiac gallery and sculpture garden; and a bookstore inside the singular Old Market Passageway they built along with Bonham Carter.

The family also owns La Buvette, their Parisian-style cafe; and The Boiler Room Restaurant inside the actual boiler room of the 130-year old Bemis Bag Building, which they opened together with Kulik in 2009.

Kulik ran La Buvette for several years, expanding a baking kitchen in the restaurant’s basement and renovating the restaurant’s front doors so they would open to the busy sidewalk outside. That move created one of the most popular open-air seating areas at any restaurant in the city.

“Mark was so sensitive to spaces,” Kulik said. “The idea of sitting down with (a computer program) and laying out where the lights would go (in The Boiler Room), that seemed insane to him. Instead you’d get a ladder and hang a flashlight. That was light design.”

Darech Gaskill, who manages La Buvette and has worked there for a decade, said Mercer became his accidental mentor.

“He was incapable of being anyone but himself,” Gaskill said. “He had to have known that everyone thought he was eccentric as hell, but he wasn’t afraid to show it. He didn’t care he was different.”

Mercer never did anything for money, fame or recognition, Gaskill said. He said he thinks Mercer felt a responsibility to preserve the neighborhood.

“You do it because it needs to be done,” he said. “He was steadfast.”

That dedication to the Old Market never waned, particularly after the fire that destroyed M’s Pub restaurant in January 2016 (it reopened in October 2017) and heavily damaged the Mercer-owned building.

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“Demolition was never an option for Mark,” Kulik said. “So he figured out other ways forward.”

That building was one in which Mercer established housing in the neighborhood; it is still home to condo units after the fire. Peters said Mercer worked to establish some of the first housing in the Old Market, first above the old French Cafe, now Kulik’s Le Bouillon, and later in the building above Mr. Toad’s.

“They were the original inhabitants of their own buildings,” he said.

Mercer also worked with Ree Kaneko, founder of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, to create living spaces for artists in the Bemis building off 11th and Jones Streets. Peters said it was the earliest version of what the Bemis is now.

Mercer Management said in a statement that everything is to remain the same, including the real estate, properties and businesses.

Peters said that without Mercer’s decades of leadership, that neighborhood — downtown Omaha — might have looked very different.

“I truly believe that without the Mercers’ leadership, there would be no Old Market in downtown Omaha,” he said. “They loved artists, so they opened art galleries. They loved wine, so they opened La Buvette. They loved food, so they opened restaurants. So rich is the palette they’ve placed before us.”

Whether he liked the word or not, Gaskill said, Mercer left a legacy.

“Our goal now is to keep that legacy alive in the Market. He didn’t care about a legacy. He doesn’t care to have his name on the wall. But we do. It’s important.”

Historic buildings in and around the Old Market

Early signs of vaping risks were missed or downplayed

Scientists, regulators and e-cigarette proponents missed, ignored or downplayed signs that vaping could significantly damage the lungs for nearly a decade, a review of medical literature, government documents and interviews with doctors shows.

At least 15 incidents of lung injuries linked to vaping occurred prior to this year's epidemic, a review by Bloomberg News found. The cases — spanning the globe from Guam to Japan to England to the U.S. — include reports of mysterious pneumonia and fatal bleeding from tiny air sacs.

"It's fair to say that there were early warning signs that were missed," said Stanton Glantz, a tobacco researcher at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco. "These