China, are you listening?
Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy for Ukraine who quit last week, told House investigators on Thursday that he warned Rudy Giuliani that he was getting untrustworthy information from his Ukrainian sources who claimed to have dirt on the Bidens, The Washington Post reported.
But Giuliani and his client, Donald Trump, have persisted, not just in Ukraine but casting a net that circles the globe. Will the scope of the hunt on Joe and Hunter Biden soon rival that of the 2000s for bin Laden?
As if to show there's nothing abnormal about secretly asking a foreign government to investigate an American political rival, Trump stood on the White House South Lawn Thursday and did it in the open. “China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said. He said he hadn't directly raised that with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but it’s "certainly something we could start thinking about.”
The comments evoked his public “Russia, if you’re listening" appeal during the 2016 campaign for Russia to release Hillary Clinton’s emails if they had hacked them. Questioned about that remark last year by Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller, Trump said in written answers that he was just joking. If he was kidding then, he's not now.
Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, also have gone digging with Britain, Italy and Australia. But why stop there? Giuliani tweeted Thursday that if Joe Biden didn't know about Hunter's overseas business dealings, "where else was the son doing business that was in conflict with the best interest of the United States? Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, etc? Of course, it’s a lie."
Actual evidence of Biden wrongdoing remains lacking. The accusation that Biden, as vice president, forced out a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating his son's company runs up against multiple recollections that the ouster was widely supported by Western governments, the International Monetary Fund and Ukrainian anti-corruption advocates. There also was no active investigation of the company at the time.
But who needs evidence? "You may very well find that there are many other countries that they scammed, just like they scammed China and Ukraine," Trump said Thursday. Even the U.S. trade deficit with China could be Joe Biden's fault, according to Trump, who said, "That’s probably why China, for so many years, has had a sweetheart deal where China rips off the USA — because they deal with people like Biden, where they give their son a billion and a half dollars." Here's a detailed Washington Post fact-checker's explanation of why Trump's China claim is false.
Quid pro cray?
Weeks before the whistleblower complaint emerged, ABC News reports, a text exchange showed the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine was seeing what Trump denies — a quid pro quo between Trump's demand for a Biden investigation and the holdup in U.S. military aid. Volker provided the Sept. 9 group texts in a closed-door deposition before House committees pursuing the Trump impeachment inquiry.
The Kyiv-based U.S. diplomat, Bill Taylor, wrote, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, responded: "Bill, I believe you are incorrect about President Trump's intentions. The President has been crystal clear: no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelenskiy promised during his campaign." Sondland then suggested they take the conversation offline.
Of note: Taylor is a career foreign service officer who previously served as U.S. ambassador to Ukraine. Sondland, a hotelier and Republican megadonor, contributed over $1 million to Trump’s inaugural committee.
Taylor took over in Kyiv from another career diplomat, Marie Yovanovitch, who was ordered removed by Trump after months of complaints from Giuliani and other Trump allies outside the administration, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. Giuliani viewed her as an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Words for Zelenskiy's mouth
The New York Times reported that Sondland and Volker drafted a statement in August, with Giuliani's awareness, for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that would have committed the country to investigating the Bidens, but it was unclear if it ever reached Zelenskiy, and no such public statement was issued.
But the Times also reported that Sondland and Volker both believed that Giuliani was “poisoning” Trump’s mind about Ukraine and that eliciting a public commitment from Zelenskiy to pursue the investigations would induce Trump to more fully support the new Ukrainian government, according to the people familiar with it.
The Times said it was not clear if the statement came up during Volker's 10-hour closed-door session on Capitol Hill. The Associated Press said Volker told lawmakers he had warned Ukrainians to steer clear of American politics.
Janison: Corruption in plain sight
He's not even trying to hide it. Trump's remarks urging China to investigate the Bidens openly suggest that he might corruptly skew American foreign policy to get a rival power go after a domestic foe, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
In the same Q&A, Trump said unprompted regarding trade and tariffs: "I have a lot of options on China, but if they don't do what we want, we have tremendous power.”
Does it mean he'd ease up on tariffs if Beijing does him this favor? It's a fair question. Perhaps it would even please Trump if China's authoritarian rulers who run roughshod over human rights created fake allegations against the Democratic targets du jour.
Projection is a perennial aspect of Trump's performance, Janison writes. The business actions of his own son and daughter in China, Russia and India have drawn questions. So it suits him to throw that kind of mud at the Bidens.
Sen. Lindsey Graham has been all in with the pursuit of the Bidens, and so he wrote the prime ministers of Australia, Italy and Britain, urging them to work with Barr's probe of the origins of the Russia investigation. But he may have pushed the Aussies too far.
In a vaguely sinister assertion, Graham wrote that someone "directed" an Australian diplomat in London, Alexander Downer, to contact Trump 2016 foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and pass information to the FBI. Papadopoulos, having drinks with Downer in a London bar, spilled that he'd heard Russia had thousands of emails that would embarrass Clinton.
Joe Hockey, Australian ambassador to the U.S., wrote back to Graham: “In your letter you made mention of the role of an Australian diplomat. We reject your characterization of his role." Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a conservative treated to a White House state dinner by Trump last month, said Australia is unlikely to provide the U.S. with internal government communications with Downer.
All the president's enemies
As the impeachment heat gets hotter, Trump's list of villains grows larger: the Democrats, the "corrupt" news media, "Shifty" treasonous "lowlife" Adam Schiff, Nancy Pelosi, the "dishonest" whistleblower, "spies" and of course the "Crooked and Demented Deep State."
Also now back in the mix is George Soros, the liberal financier and go-to scapegoat for all sorts of right-wing conspiracy theories. Giuliani said Soros was behind Democratic dirty dealings in Ukraine. Donald Trump Jr. is tweeting that Schiff is a "puppet" who has been "hand-picked and supported by George Soros."
Trump Jr. drew a rebuke from Anti-Defamation League national director Jonathan Greenblatt. "Invoking George Soros as a puppet master behind current events is an anti-Semitic trope. Such insinuations are dangerous and have no place in our political discourse," Greenblatt tweeted.
Trump expanded his enemies list Thursday while speaking at a retirement community in Florida, floating without evidence a claim that he "wouldn't be surprised" if pharmaceutical companies were pushing for impeachment because he has tried to reduce drug prices.
What else is happening:
- Chinese officials were at something of a loss Thursday when asked to respond to Trump's call for China to investigate the Bidens. "This is quite chaotic," one diplomat told CNN. "We do not want to get in the middle of the U.S. politics."
- An Internal Revenue Service official has filed a whistleblower complaint reporting that he was told at least one Treasury Department political appointee attempted to improperly interfere with the annual audit of the president or Vice President Mike Pence’s tax returns, The Washington Post reported.
- Citing copyright complaints, Twitter and YouTube removed a video from Trump that featured a Nickelback music video clip edited to take aim at Biden.
- A day after officials close to Pence told The Washington Post he was unaware of Trump's efforts to press Zelenskiy for damaging information about the Bidens, the vice president sounds like he's with the program. “The American people have the right to know whether or not" Biden or his family "profited from his position,” Pence said.
- Bernie Sanders, in a Las Vegas hospital where he received two heart stents, expects to be released soon and plans to be at the Democrats' next debate on Oct. 15, his campaign said. A dozen candidates are scheduled to participate.
- Biden's campaign announced Thursday that it raised $15 million in the past three months, which puts him third in the Democratic money race so far, behind Sanders and Pete Buttigieg. Elizabeth Warren, who is rising in the polls, has not yet been heard from.
- A pair of hapless right-wing dirty tricksters claimed Warren, 70, hired a 24-year-old ex-Marine for sexual romps, but the supposed escort struggled to keep a straight face at a news conference. He showed a scar he said was from S&M, but a photo on his Instagram showed the scar was years old. Warren appeared amused in a sly tweet recalling the sports teams at her alma mater, the University of Houston: "Go Cougars!"