Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin found himself in a rhetorical trap of his own making on Sunday when CNN’s Jake Tapper cornered the treasury chief as he defended President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian president to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son Hunter.
During his appearance on State of the Union, Mnuchin immediately deflected when pressed by Tapper as to whether or not it was common for presidents to push foreign leaders to investigate their political rivals, pivoting instead to Biden’s claim he hasn’t spoken to his son about his business dealings.
“I haven’t heard that and I think you’re speculating on what the president said,” the Trump official said. “I would say these are confidential discussions between two foreign leaders but I think the bigger issue is Biden came out this weekend saying he never had any discussions with his son. His son came out and said he had had business discussions with his father so I think that the real issue is not what the president said, but what, indeed, did Biden’s son do.”
Mnuchin went on to repeatedly dismiss the reports on the president’s pressure campaign to get Ukraine to look into his political opponent as “speculation,” while at the same time saying it was a “terrible precedent” for Congress to be able to look at the whistleblower complaint because “conversations between world leaders are meant to be confidential.”
Tapper, meanwhile, continued to grill Mnuchin on the matter despite the Trump Cabinet member’s attempts to evade, eventually confronting Mnuchin with a hypothetical situation.
“Let me just close by asking, if for instance, President Obama had pressured a foreign leader, Putin or the president of Ukraine, anyone said 'I want you to look into Donald Trump Jr., or I want you to look into Eric Trump,' international businessmen, both of them, would you not find that inappropriate?” Tapper asked.
“I’m not going to speculate on that,” Mnuchin replied. “What I do find inappropriate is the fact that Vice President Biden—at the time’s—son did very significant business dealings in Ukraine. I, for one, find that to be concerning and to me that is the issue perhaps that should be further investigated.”
The CNN anchor, however, said he didn’t understand Mnuchin’s answer because it appeared he was saying it is “okay for Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump to do business all over the world and okay for Ivanka Trump to have copyrights approved all over the world while President Trump is president and while Joe Biden is vice president his son shouldn’t be able to do business dealings.”
As Mnuchin insisted he didn’t want to “go into more of these details,” Tapper fired back: “Well, you’re setting a precedent that the president is violating.”
“Again, I think there is a significant difference in what you’re saying, okay,” Mnuchin contended. “What I was saying between Biden and his son’s relationship with the Ukraine oligarch and potential business dealings that the Trump Organization has had which predated his presidency.”
The CNN host, for his part, made sure to end the conversation on this issue by pointing out that “the Ukrainian prosecutor said there is no evidence of any wrongdoing” by either Joe Biden or his son.
Elsewhere on Sunday, allies of the president defended Trump’s collusion attempts to get a foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 election while also calling for more scrutiny into the Bidens’ actions abroad. Appearing on Face the Nation, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo endorsed Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani’s scheme to pressure Ukraine to open a probe into Biden.
“If there was election interference that took place by [Vice President Joe Biden], I think the American people deserve to know,” he said.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), meanwhile, told Fox News host Maria Bartiromo that while he wasn’t really on board with Congress being able to look at the phone call at the center of the whistleblower complaint because it set a bad “precedent,” he did feel that the Justice Department needed to investigate Biden and Ukraine.
“So nobody’s looked at this, but somebody should, so I’m hoping that the Department of Justice will look at the Biden-Ukraine connection like we looked at the Trump-Russia connection,” he declared, adding: “There’s enough smoke here.”
And then there was Trump himself. Speaking to reporters on Sunday morning, the president insisted that he wasn’t looking to “hurt” Biden and had “no problem” with Congress speaking to Giuliani about his Ukraine antics. At the same time, however, the president basically confessed that his call with Ukraine was centered on pressuring them into investigating the former vice president.
“It was largely [about] fact that we don't want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” the president boasted.