On Wednesday, President Donald Trump repeatedly refused to answer a reporter's question about what he was hoping would come of his controversial phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky—a conversation that has ensnared Trump in an impeachment inquiry for the possibility of asking a foreign country to interfere in U.S. elections. A day later, Trump was asked again about the purpose of the call. This time he couldn't help but defend himself, while also dragging China into the mix—and committing another impeachable offense.
Trump's main accusation against the Bidens is that Joe's son Hunter only escaped scrutiny while sitting on the board of a Ukrainian natural-gas company because Biden, then the vice president, pressured the Ukrainian government into firing a prosecutor who was investigating high-level corruption. While Hunter's position on the board is, on its merits, of dubious origins and a fairly clear case of nepotism at work (something the Trump family knows a thing or two about), the aforementioned prosecutor was actually ousted because he wasn't investigating corruption thoroughly enough. As James Risen, the reporter who originally broke the Biden-Ukraine story, recently wrote for The Intercept, "The then-vice president issued his demands for greater anti-corruption measures by the Ukrainian government despite the possibility that those demands would actually increase—not lessen—the chances that Hunter Biden...would face legal trouble in Ukraine."
Trump's newfound fixation on China is based on another unsubstantiated claim: that Hunter was raking in untold amounts of money while his father was in office. In 2013, the vice president traveled on Air Force Two to China, and his son tagged along. Shortly thereafter, news emerged that Hunter was part of a new Chinese private equity fund and had met with a funding partner while traveling with his father. (Hunter says it was a "social visit," a fairly silly rebuttal.) As is the case with Ukraine, the optics here are bad and nepotism was almost certainly at work, but Trump and his allies have distorted the facts. POTUS says Hunter got $1.5 billion from China, a wildly inaccurate figure, according to NBC News:
Despite Trump's accusations, there has been no evidence of corruption on the part of the former vice president or his son. Hunter Biden’s spokesman, George Mesires, told NBC News that Hunter Biden wasn’t initially an “owner” of the company and has never gotten paid for serving on the board. He said Hunter Biden didn’t acquire an equity interest in the fund until 2017, after his father had left office. And when he did, he put in only about $420,000—a 10 percent interest. That puts the total capitalization of the fund at the time at about $4.2 million—a far cry from the $1.5 billion that Trump has alleged.
On Thursday, Trump told the press gaggle, “That's probably why China for so many years has had a sweetheart deal, where China rips off the U.S.A. Because they deal with people like Biden." Though he's publicly calling for China to investigate the Bidens, he says he hasn't yet spoken to President Xi Jinping about it. Whether that's true or not is anyone's guess, given the Trump administration's apparent propensity for covering up phone calls in which the president strays from the script and starts negotiating potential quid pro quos with foreign leaders based on headlines from Fox News. In a written response, the Biden campaign called Trump's latest accusations “a grotesque choice of lies over truth and self over country.”
The United States and China are currently engaged in a trade war, and both sides are looking for any sort of leverage they can muster. For Trump, that leverage might be promising to cede ground on tariffs in exchange for his own political goals: an "investigation" by a foreign government into the actions of a frontrunner for the Democratic presidential race. It remains to be seen what President Xi thinks of that bargaining chip.
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