“Need some help on your impeachment case, Democrats?” U.S. President Donald Trump might just as well have said. “I’m at your service.”
On Thursday, he handed political opponents ammunition they might only have dreamed of. “China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened in Ukraine,” Mr. Trump told reporters. This after saying of the Ukrainian leadership, “If they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens.”
To sum up, as an impeachment proceeding began on whether the President urged a foreign leader to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, he stood on the White House lawn and urged another foreign leader to investigate Biden.
The initial reaction had Democrats all but dancing in the streets. The President “just created another article of impeachment by doing in public what he did in private,” Representative Jackie Speier tweeted. “This time enlisting China to interfere in the 2020 election on behalf of his campaign. His disregard for the law is stunning. So much for his oath of office.”
Diplomats such as Nicholas Burns, a former undersecretary of state who worked for five presidents, were calling it “a new low.”
Instead of trying to convince Americans the whistle-blower was a fraud, Mr. Trump was making a head-spinning turn to claim what he did as president was all fine and well and normal. In his view, normal even to ask the Chinese dictatorship to interfere in an American election.
If he can make this work he will have out-Houdinied Houdini.
Not only is he putting himself on shakier ground in terms of political abuse of power, which is what the impeachment process seeks to establish, his actions raise questions of illegality as well.
“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office,” Federal Election Commission chairwoman Ellen Weintraub wrote a few months ago. “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.”
In the 2016 campaign Mr. Trump asked the Russians to release missing e-mails of his presidential opponent Hillary Clinton. It was not clear whether he was entirely serious. In any case the request was made as a private citizen. His requests Thursday, very serious, were as President of the country.
Mr. Trump survived the Mueller investigation into Russian collusion with the help of an incessant barrage of counterclaims insisting it was a witch hunt and that the Democrats were the wrongdoers. He and his allies will try the same strategy to ward off impeachment.
After his remarks Thursday, Republican Representative Liz Cheney went right after the Bidens. “If foreign entities attempted to influence US policy by paying Hunter Biden, the American people have a right to know,” she tweeted. “Question for @SpeakerPelosi and @RepAdamSchiff – why do you think the Ukrainians and Chinese were paying Hunter Biden?”
The China allegation involves Hunter Biden forming a Chinese private equity fund that was planning to raise money, including from China. Mr. Trump accuses Hunter Biden of using a trip on Air Force Two with his father to procure US$1.5-billion from China for his fund, calling it “a horrible thing.”
A lawyer for Hunter Biden has denied any business related to the China investment fund being conducted on that trip, and has said he was never an equity owner in the fund during Joe Biden’s vice-presidency. He also said the fund’s actual value is roughly $4.2-million. Joe Biden lashed out at Mr. Trump on Wednesday saying, “You’re not going destroy me and not going to destroy my family.”
To complicate matters, Mr. Trump’s investigation request to Beijing comes as a Chinese delegation prepares to visit Washington next week for critical trade talks to try and end the trade war between the two superpowers.
Intriguingly and perhaps menacingly, just before he delivered his request Thursday, Mr. Trump alluded to leverage he has over China. “I have a lot of options on China, but if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”
Could he possibly be planning to use a Biden investigation as a carrot for the Chinese if they want a better trade deal? Crazy as it sounds, in Trumpland anything is possible.
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