You’ve got to hand it to President Trump — when he says he doesn’t see anything wrong with asking a foreign leader to go after his political rivals, he really means it.
Preparing to fly to Florida to give a speech contrasting his work on healthcare for seniors to the Medicare for All proposals advanced by some Democratic presidential candidates, Trump told reporters that Ukraine should investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. In fact, Trump said, China should too.
In a July 25 call, Trump asked new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to work with the U.S. attorney general and Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to investigate the Bidens’ activities in the Ukraine in the mid-2010s. While Biden was the Obama administration’s point man in Ukraine, his son was on the board of a major Ukrainian energy company that came under scrutiny for alleged corruption.
That call is now the focus of an impeachment inquiry launched by House Democrats, who are looking into whether Trump tried to leverage U.S. military aid to Ukraine to pressure the Zelensky government into digging up dirt on the Bidens. According to notes released by the White House, Trump also asked Zelensky for help in pursuing a far-fetched conspiracy theory that Ukrainians had fooled U.S. investigators into believing Russians were the ones who’d hacked the Democratic National Committee computers in 2016.
Trump has defended the conversation with Zelensky as “perfect” and insisted there was no quid pro quo, ignoring the obvious problem of a U.S. president asking a foreign government to help his reelection campaign. Trump reiterated that point Thursday morning, then held forth at length about why Ukraine should investigate the Bidens.
“I would think if they were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said, according to a reporter’s transcript released by the White House. “So I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens because nobody has any doubt that they weren’t crooked. That was a crooked deal, a hundred percent.”
Actually, Yuri Lutsenko, Ukraine’s former top prosecutor, told the L.A. Times that he’d found no evidence that either Biden had violated Ukrainian law, although he believed Hunter Biden may have had a conflict of interests. Lutsenko replaced Viktor Shokin, who was fired by the Ukrainian parliament at the urging of Joe Biden and numerous European leaders — not because Shokin was threatening the energy company that hired Hunter Biden (he wasn’t), but because they believed Shokin had not been aggressive enough in prosecuting corruption cases.
That’s not the story Trump has been advancing. On Thursday, Trump said of Hunter Biden: “He had no knowledge of energy, didn’t know the first thing about it, all of a sudden he’s getting $50,000 a month plus a lot of other things.” And Joe Biden’s offense? “Nobody has any doubt and they got rid of a prosecutor who was a very tough prosecutor. They got rid of him.”
When a reporter asked Trump whether he’d urged President Xi Jinping of China to investigate the Bidens, Trump replied, “I haven’t, but it’s certainly something we can start thinking about because I’m sure that President Xi does not like being under that kind of scrutiny where billions of dollars is taken out of his country by a guy that just got kicked out of the Navy. He got kicked out of the Navy, all of a sudden he’s getting billions of dollars. You know what they call that? They call that a payoff.”
Hunter Biden was discharged from the Navy Reserve in 2014 for testing positive for drugs.
So in summary, Trump on Thursday explicitly asked two countries — one that’s heavily dependent on U.S. military aid to keep Russia at bay, the other that’s locked in negotiations with the United States to end a bitter trade war — to investigate a leading Democratic challenger for the presidency in 2020 and his son.
The president has famously said that he’s not sorry about anything. He means that too.