President Donald Trump these days has his private-sector "personal" attorney Rudy Giuliani trying to pressure a foreign government, Ukraine, to investigate the family and actions of Joe Biden — who could end up Trump's opponent in next year's election.
That much is undisputed. It raises a question: Has American foreign policy been privatized for the political benefit of the man in charge?
Ukraine's new President Volodymyr Zelensky is very unlikely to believe that the outcome of his "private" talks with Giuliani have no implications for matters of state. Arms sales and aid to his country earmarked from the Pentagon totaling $250 million appear to be stalled.
House Democrats have added this intrigue to their ever-growing oversight agenda.
Three committee chairmen said in a newly released letter that Trump and Giuliani "appear to have acted outside legitimate law enforcement and diplomatic channels to coerce the Ukrainian government into pursuing politically motivated investigations under the guise of anti-corruption activity."
“As the 2020 election draws closer, President Trump and his personal attorney appear to have increased pressure on the Ukrainian government and its justice system in service of President Trump’s re-election campaign …"
Strong-arm moves are, by reputation, a way of life in Eastern European politics and business. The backdrop is key. Ukraine has been in conflict with Russia since that nation invaded disputed Crimea five years ago. Zelensky is reportedly ready to take part this month in a meeting of leaders of the Normandy Four — Ukraine, Germany, France and Russia.
Could the Trump camp's extracurricular talks with the Zelensky regime regarding Biden help or hurt Russian President Vladimir Putin's agenda at the conference?
That's unclear. But there's no question the Trump administration is trying to squeeze the Ukrainians. Vice President Mike Pence expressed solidarity with Ukraine while in Poland last week but also told reporters of the aid delay: "I mean, to invest additional taxpayer in Ukraine, the president wants to be assured that those resources are truly making their way to the kind of investments that will contribute to security and stability in Ukraine."
One can only wonder if cooperation on the Biden front would help Zelensky's cause — no matter how much members of Congress in both parties urge a release of Ukraine aid.
Trump's interests and America's interests have blurred in the international arena before.
True or not, he boasted at a 2015 rally: "Saudi Arabia, I like the Saudis. I make a lot of money with them. They buy all sorts of my stuff. All kinds of toys from Trump. They pay me millions and hundred of millions."
As president, he has shielded the Saudi royal family in official ways. He downplayed the murder of a dissident commentator widely linked to the highest levels of government in Riyadh, and vetoed legislation aimed at hindering U.S. support for the Saudis in Yemen.
At one point his biggest campaign contributor, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, a major backer of Israel, offered to help pay the cost of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
While in India last year, Trump's oldest son, Donald Jr., offered a reward to wealthy locals willing to buy property from him: They could “join Mr. Donald Trump Jr. for a conversation and dinner," according to a newspaper ad.
On the diplomatic front these days, Trump has stayed silent on India's controversial denial of autonomy to Kashmir, the center of that nation's decades-old dispute with Pakistan.
The line between private Trump and public Trump remains as faint as ever.