Now the U.S. president has invited China to investigate Joe Biden’s family. Republicans have not criticized this overstep.
On the defensive since House Democrats began impeachment proceedings, Donald Trump tried to take the reins back on Thursday, Oct. 3 … by overreacting. While he was leaving the White House for a trip to Florida, the president publicly invited Ukraine and China to investigate one of his political opponents, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter.
Trump had already suggested that his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, undertake such an investigation during a telephone conversation on July 25, which is the basis for the impeachment proceedings. On Thursday morning, he answered a question he had ducked the day before, in an increasingly angry tone, despite the relentless volley from Reuters reporter Jeff Mason.
“What did you want President Zelenskiy to do about Vice President Biden and his son Hunter?” Trump was asked.
“Well, I would think that if they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens. It’s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens … And, by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump said.
Asked if he had already discussed the subject with his counterpart Xi Jinping, Trump replied:
“I haven’t, but it’s certainly something we can start thinking about.”
No Republican publicly criticized this escalated situation on Thursday. The Financial Times stated that it had individually contacted each of the 53 GOP senators whose votes would be decisive if the House of Representative drafted articles of impeachment. Not one responded, according to the newspaper.
Trump’s invitation to Beijing on Thursday recalls the “Russia, if you’re listening …” invitation he sent after the Republican Convention in Cleveland in July 2016. At that time, the Republican candidate had asked Russia to investigate the thousands of emails that his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton deleted because her staff believed them to be personal. Asked about the statement in writing by Robert Mueller, special counsel for the investigation of Russian interference in the presidential race, the president claimed that the statement was meant to be “sarcastic,” that it had been made “in jest … as was apparent to any objective observer.” There was nothing humorous about Trump’s remarks on Thursday.
A particular target of the American conservative press, Hunter Biden served on the board of directors of a Ukrainian gas company from 2014 to 2019. He served as a consultant in China in 2013, when his father served as vice president (2009-2017). Beyond engaging in an undeniable mix of activities, Hunter Biden has never been a subject of concern in either of these two countries.
Trump’s counterattack seeks to shift attention to the former vice president at a time when Trump finds himself in an ethically delicate position, given his decision not to break ties with his real estate empire – now managed by his sons – upon assuming the presidency. In August, Trump proposed that the next Group of Seven summit of leading industrial nations, scheduled to take place in the United States, be held on one of his Florida properties.
Trump’s outburst came as the House of Representatives heard nine hours of closed-door testimony from the U.S. special representative for Ukraine, diplomat Kurt Volker, who resigned on Sept. 27. According to U.S. media, Volker claimed that he had warned Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, about Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, on whom he was relying to investigate the Biden family. The diplomat considered the prosecutor to be unreliable.
Change of strategy
On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal further confirmed Giuliani’s prominent role by claiming that he was instrumental in the dismissal of U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, in May. According to the paper, the president’s lawyer accused Yovanovitch of obstructing his efforts to open an investigation into the Biden family by Ukrainian authorities. The New York Times also reported that Giuliani had closely followed the efforts of two diplomats, including Volker, to write a statement that they intended the Ukrainian president to make, in which he publicly committed to open the investigations suggested by Trump. This statement was never delivered.
Early Thursday evening, a message posted to Trump’s Twitter account outlined this change of strategy. After initially denying having asked Ukraine for an investigation, Trump asserted that “As the President of the United States, I have an absolute right, perhaps even a duty, to investigate, or have investigated, corruption, and that would include asking, or suggesting, other countries to help us out!”
This tweet spurred the chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, Ellen Weintraub, to retweet a message on Thursday that she had already expressed in June. “Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. This is not a novel concept.”
For Democrats, there is no doubt that Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and China fall into this category.