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Donald Trump's new cause: World corruption fighter?

President Donald Trump on Monday in midtown Manhattan.

President Donald Trump on Monday in midtown Manhattan. Credit: AP / Evan Vucci

The king of clean

Donald Trump has tossed out a lot of ideas to change the world: America first. Fair trade. Tear up the Iran deal. Make Mexico pay for the wall. But one plan the president never mentioned until recently was to make himself an international crusader against corruption.

Yet that's the motive he claims for pressing Ukraine's president to revive a closed investigation into a company that employed Hunter Biden, a son of Joe Biden, who happens to be a political opponent. "We're supporting a country, we want to make sure that country is honest … Why would you give money to a country you think is corrupt?" Trump said.

Trump's interest in cleaning up the internal behavior of other countries seems to be a pivot. Last fall, after the CIA concluded that Saudi Arabia's crown prince ordered the murder of a dissident, Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump voiced less interest in Mohammed bin Salman's culpability (“Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t") than preserving U.S. arms sales to the kingdom.

The slayings of journalists, dissidents and anti-corruption activists who ran afoul of Vladimir Putin was no reason for Trump to stop trying to cozy up to the Russian leader. “There are a lot of killers. We have a lot of killers,” Trump has said. “Well, you think our country is so innocent?”

Trump praised Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job” of dealing with “the drug problem.” Duterte did the job with death squads that killed more than 7,000 addicts and dealers. That was in 2017, when Trump Tower Manila opened. Duterte named a Trump partner to the project as a business envoy to the United States. The Saudis also have invested with Trump. Trump's dream for a Moscow tower didn't work out.

Is profiting abroad on the power of a political family's name troubling if not in itself illegal? When Donald Trump Jr. visited India last year to promote Trump-branded luxury apartments, buyers willing to pay a $38,000 booking fee were invited to "a conversation and dinner" with the American president's son.

As for Ukraine, its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was elected on a vow to end corruption, which has been widespread and pervasive in his country. But Trump's interest, as he has explained it, was narrower in scope and quite particular. He wants dirt on the Bidens. He told reporters Monday: "If a Republican ever did what Joe Biden did … they’d be getting the electric chair by right now."

Can do no wrong

In a running series of exchanges with reporters in between meetings with world leaders at the UN General Assembly, Trump said he didn't explicitly threaten to withhold military aid to Ukraine if the Bidens aren't investigated.

“I did not make a statement that 'you have to do this or I won’t give you aid,’ ” Trump said. But it would “possibly have been OK if I did," he added.

Still, it is now coming out that he just happened to personally order the aid withheld days before his July 25 call with Zelensky.

Trump professed to have no fear about what a transcript of the conversation would show. But no decision has been made to release it, as Democrats on Capitol Hill have demanded since the administration refused to provide an intelligence community whistleblower's complaint about it.

Joe Biden tweeted: "So release the transcript of the call then."

"Perhaps you’ll see it, perhaps you won’t see that, it depends on what we want to do,” Trump said. His lawyer Rudy Giuliani, on Fox Business Monday, declared at first that Trump made no threat about the aid. But he amended that comment to "can’t say for 100%.” For more, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

Janison: Worse than Russiagate

The Ukraine affair looms larger as a scandal than Russian election meddling ever did for a simple reason, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. It strongly suggests an abuse of power committed inside the White House. Trump clearly aspired to use the clout of his elected office overseas to destroy a political opponent.

It's not a gray area: A president is supposed to direct foreign policy for the good of this country, not for himself. Trump was still a private citizen in 2016 when he called during a news conference for "Russia, if you're listening," to produce Hillary Clinton emails. Not this time.

It is hard to imagine that the crusading-prosecutor version of Giuliani in the 1980s wouldn't have called what he's now engaged in a crude shakedown.

Partisan divide intact

The chairmen of three committees in the Democratic-led House threatened to subpoena Secretary of State Mike Pompeo if he does not produce information about whether Trump and Giuliani inappropriately tried to influence the government of Ukraine for political gain.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer urged Senate Republicans to open a hearing, and demanded the White House release transcripts of the call. Politico reported favor for impeachment is growing among moderate Democrats in swing districts. “This isn’t Mueller, it’s something else,” said a freshman Democrat, who declined to speak publicly. The lawmaker described a “seismic change in mood.”

The mood hasn't swung so much on the Republican side. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said the president should "tell us as much as he can without compromising executive privilege" and predicted Trump “is going to blow you away with his willingness to disclose and be transparent about this phone call, because I think he did nothing wrong, and he has nothing to hide.”

Sen. Marco Rubio told CNN "it’s possible it’s something he shouldn’t have done but not … an impeachable offense. It’s something voters will be aware of and can take into account next year.”

Only Congress or 2020 voters can decide whether Trump should face consequences, because legal experts said a criminal case is a nonstarter, The Washington Post reported. While there are laws on the books regarding bribery, corrupt dealings with foreign officials and foreign influence in an American election, Trump's position as president puts him out of reach, based on the Justice Department opinion that presidents cannot be indicted.

That ignoble Nobel committee

Trump on Monday revived his gripe that the committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize is rigged against him. He remains miffed that Barack Obama got one.

Speaking to reporters before a meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump asserted that “I would get a Nobel Prize for a lot of things, if they give it out fairly, which they don't.”

Trump continued: “They gave one to Obama immediately upon his ascent to the presidency and he had no idea why he got it … You know what? That was the only thing I agreed with him on.”

Always classy

Trump was evidently so disengaged in his "work" at the UN that he posted a mocking tweet of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg whose attention-getting appearance might also have made him jealous.

The Swedish teen's earnest warning that "we are in the beginning of a mass extinction" drew an adolescent tweet from the president: "She seems like a very happy young girl looking forward to a bright and wonderful future. So nice to see!"

Earlier she glared at him one-on-one as he passed at the UN.

Trump family feud on guns

Behind Trump's failure to make a decision on what legislation he could support to answer gun violence is an argument within his family on what would best serve his reelection chances, Politico reports.

On one side is Ivanka Trump, joined by Attorney General William Barr. Both are urging the president to back expanded background checks for gun sales. They say that plan can win him support from moderate suburban voters.

But Donald Trump Jr. is telling his dad that he risks losing support from his conservative base if he pushes too aggressively on new gun control legislation, they say. Trump's son is aligned with a top aide to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

What else is happening:

  • Trump's newfound eagerness to root out foreign "corruption" runs counter to an interview on CNBC in 2012 when he denounced the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. "It's a horrible law and it should be changed. I mean, we're like the policeman for the world. It's ridiculous," Trump said back then.
  • Trump ordered a hold on military aid to Ukraine at least a week before calling Zelensky, and instructed aides to hold back on telling Congress his reasons, The Washington Post reported Monday night.
  • Government officials and anti-corruption advocates in Ukraine say accusations that Joe Biden pushed to stop an investigation into Hunter Biden's employer are a misrepresentation of events, The Wall Street Journal reported. Here are additional explainers from The Associated Press and The New York Times on how evidence is absent pointing to wrongdoing by either of the Bidens.
  • Trump is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly on Tuesday morning. He told reporters on Monday the speech would focus heavily on Iran.
  • Trump said Monday that a fourth summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "could happen soon" amid stalled nuclear diplomacy.
  • Trump and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin bickered in front of the cameras after Mnuchin surprised the president with news that the United States asked a Chinese trade delegation to cancel its trip to visit farmers in Montana and Nebraska last week. "I want them to buy farm products," Trump said.
  • A poll by a firm linked to Biden is testing messages designed to undercut Democratic voters' support for Medicare for All, the plans advocated by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren for government-run health care, Bloomberg News reported. Sanders tweeted, "It's unfortunate but not surprising that Biden’s polling firm is helping distort Medicare for All."

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