Trump says China should probe Bi­dens

VP Pence echoes call amid Ukraine in­ves­ti­ga­tion

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin

WASHINGTON — En­snared in an impeachmen­t in­quiry over his once-se­cret ap­peal for Ukraine to in­ves­ti­gate an Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal ri­val, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump openly un­der­scored that re­quest Thurs­day and flung it wider, urg­ing in­ter­na­tional ri­val China to in­ves­ti­gate Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Joe Bi­den and his son.

Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence said Amer­i­cans have a right to know about the wrong­do­ing the pres­i­dent al­leges.

But Bi­den’s cam­paign chair­man said Trump’s as­ser­tions show he’s scared of fac­ing Bi­den in next year’s elec­tion.

House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee Chair­man Adam Schiff, who has a lead­ing role in the House’s impeachmen­t in­quiry, said Trump’s com­ments show “he feels he can do any­thing with im­punity.”

Trump de­clared at the White House, “China should start an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the Bi­dens.”

He said he hadn’t pre­vi­ously asked Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping to in­ves­ti­gate the former vice pres­i­dent and his son Hunter, but it’s “cer­tainly

some­thing we could start think­ing about.”

By pub­licly egging on China to in­ves­ti­gate a Demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal ri­val, Trump was am­pli­fy­ing the mes­sage he’d de­liv­ered in pri­vate to the pres­i­dent of Ukraine. That mes­sage, re­vealed by a gov­ern­ment whistle­blower, has spawned the impeachmen­t in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the House into whether he abused his of­fice for per­sonal po­lit­i­cal gain.

Trump, who has de­fended his con­tact with Ukraine as “per­fect,” went fur­ther in ex­pand­ing his re­quest to China, a com­mu­nist world power that has much at stake in its re­la­tion­ship with the United States in an on­go­ing trade war.

Trump’s com­ments evoked his pub­lic call in 2016 for Rus­sia to track down his then-ri­val Hil­lary Clin­ton’s emails — a move that was seen as an un­prece­dented ap­peal for for­eign elec­tion in­ter­fer­ence.

It is a vi­o­la­tion of fed­eral cam­paign fi­nance law to so­licit any­thing of value from a for­eign gov­ern­ment to help a cam­paign.

The bold­ness of Trump’s call Thurs­day also sug­gests he will con­tinue to act as if re­quests for other coun­tries to in­ves­ti­gate po­ten­tial op­po­nents in the 2020 elec­tion are nor­mal, even in the face of broad condemnati­on from Democrats and some Repub­li­cans.

It’s a tac­tic Trump has used suc­cess­fully, push­ing ques­tion­able se­cret con­ver­sa­tions into the open, help­ing to in­oc­u­late him­self against charges that he is en­gaged in ne­far­i­ous ac­tion, cover-ups or ob­struc­tion of jus­tice.

In the case of Ukraine and China, Trump smeared Bi­den with un­sub­stan­ti­ated or false al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion. No ev­i­dence has emerged of any wrong­do­ing by the former vice pres­i­dent or his son Hunter, who had business deal­ings in Ukraine and China.

The pres­i­dent and his per­sonal lawyer Rudy Gi­u­liani have for days been rais­ing sus­pi­cions about Hunter Bi­den’s business deal­ings in China, lean­ing heav­ily on the writ­ings of con­ser­va­tive au­thor Peter Sch­weizer.

On Mon­day, Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Min­istry of For­eign Af­fairs, called the al­le­ga­tion that Chi­nese gov­ern­ment business gave Bi­den’s son $1.5 bil­lion “to­tally ground­less.“

Trump’s un­prompted ref­er­ence to China on Thurs­day came mo­ments af­ter he was asked about trade ne­go­ti­a­tions with the coun­try.

“I have a lot of op­tions on China, but if they don’t do what we want, we have tremen­dous, tremen­dous power,” Trump said.

He later al­leged with­out ev­i­dence that China had a “sweet­heart deal“on trade with the U.S. be­cause of the Bi­dens.

Speak­ing to re­porters in Ari­zona, Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence, whose aides had pre­vi­ously tried to dis­tance him from the impeachmen­t drama, echoed Trump’s call for in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Bi­dens.

“The Amer­i­can peo­ple have a right to know if the vice pres­i­dent of the United States or his fam­ily prof­ited from his po­si­tion as vice pres­i­dent dur­ing the last ad­min­is­tra­tion,” he said.

Bi­den cam­paign Chair­man Cedric Rich­mond dis­missed Trump’s as­ser­tions as a re­flec­tion of the pres­i­dent’s con­cerns about fac­ing Bi­den in a gen­eral elec­tion.

On Thurs­day, House law­mak­ers heard tes­ti­mony from the former spe­cial U.S. en­voy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, whose con­ver­sa­tions with Trump of­fi­cials and Gi­u­liani have made him a cen­tral fig­ure in the Ukraine in­quiry.

Voker told House in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he warned Gi­u­liani that he was re­ceiv­ing un­trust­wor­thy in­for­ma­tion from Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal fig­ures about the Bi­dens, ac­cord­ing to two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with his tes­ti­mony.

Volker’s tes­ti­mony of­fers the first in­side ac­count of the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ef­forts to press for a Ukrainian in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Trump’s po­lit­i­cal ri­val.

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