Donald Trump spent Saturday vociferously defending himself against new abuse of power allegations.
If you’re late to this story, suffice to say Trump dialed up Volodymyr Zelensky in July and instructed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate Hunter Biden. Trump allegedly ordered the investigation no fewer than eight separate times during the same phone call.
If that sounds laughably ham-handed, we would encourage you to consider the source.
Critics have long suggested that Joe Biden inappropriately pressured Ukraine to oust a corrupt prosecutor who was investigating Burisma while the younger Biden was on the company’s board.
At the least, Hunter’s business dealings in the country represented a conflict of interest given his father’s position, and it’s no secret that the Obama administration had misgivings about that potential conflict.
What’s crucial to understand about Biden’s side of this story is that it’s not exactly new. While there’s almost surely more to it than the public knows (much of which will likely come out as the campaign drags on), one could say that about anything to do with US foreign policy.
The prosecutor who Biden successfully went after did have jurisdiction over probes into the oligarch whose company paid Hunter, but the vice president’s efforts were entirely in keeping with official US policy at the time, not to mention in line with the international community’s anti-corruption stance.
Trump unwittingly underscored just how public this whole thing is on Saturday by tweeting out a mashup video of broadcast news coverage which, while meant to sow doubt about the situation, only served to remind sane people that this is a story which has been well covered by the mainstream media.
Trump included a quote from Biden – unsurprisingly, it was taken out of context. There is no evidence to support the contention that Biden’s efforts to have the prosecutor removed were primarily motivated by a desire to enrich his son.
Obviously, one would be entirely justified in harboring skepticism about the idea that the elder Biden had no conception of the extent to which the whole thing was a net positive for a family member, but Trump isn’t exactly telling Americans anything new by reiterating that.
What the president is doing, though, is making himself sound more and more guilty, a habit he nurtures whenever possible.
“The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, want to stay as far away as possible from the Joe Biden demand that the Ukrainian Government fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son, or they won’t get a very large amount of US money, so they fabricate a story about me and a perfectly fine and routine conversation I had with the new President of the Ukraine”, Trump said on Saturday.
One struggles to come to terms with the sheer, blatant disregard for logic on full display to 64 million Twitter followers.
If the “fake news media” wanted to stay “as far away” from the Ukraine-Biden connection as possible, then the very last thing they (the media) would do is dedicate hours upon hours of prime time coverage to Trump’s phone call about Biden with the president of Ukraine.
Trump went on to insist that he’s never even been to that creek in the backyard where the sack full of drowned kittens was discovered.
“Nothing was said that was in any way wrong”, he said.
Note that just 24 hours ago, Trump was still pretending like he didn’t know what phone call everybody was talking about. “The Radical Left Democrats and their Fake News Media partners, headed up again by Little Adam Schiff, and batting Zero for 21 against me, are at it again!”, he screamed on Friday morning, adding that “they think I may have had a ‘dicey’ conversation with a certain foreign leader based on a ‘highly partisan’ whistleblower’s statement”.
That “highly partisan whistle-blower’s statement” served as the basis for a complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general who thought it was so egregious that it deserved “urgent concern” status. (The IG is a Trump appointee, by the way.)
Trump on Friday insisted that nothing untoward was said on the call. “Strange that with so many other people hearing or knowing of the perfectly fine and respectful conversation, that they would not have also come forward”, he tweeted, before asking (and answering) “Do you know the reason why they did not? Because there was nothing said wrong, it was pitch perfect!”
If that’s the case, then one certainly wonders why acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire was instructed to stonewall Congress on requests for information about the call and the whistle-blower complaint.
As the New York Times documents on Saturday, Rudy Giuliani has been aggressively badgering the Ukrainians about this for months (and months). To wit:
The pressure was so relentless that Mr. Zelensky dispatched one of his closest aides to open a line of communication with Giuliani.
Over breakfast in early July at the Trump International Hotel, Mr. Zelensky’s aide asked the State Department’s envoy to Ukraine for help connecting to Mr. Giuliani. Several days later, the aide discussed with Mr. Giuliani by phone the prospective investigations as well as something the Ukrainians wanted: a White House meeting between Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Trump.
As the Times goes on to note, “if Mr. Zelensky’s goal was to reduce the pressure to pursue the investigations and win more support from the White House — not least for Ukraine’s fight against Russia — he would be disappointed”.
Indeed he would. Because instead of hashing things out with the US president, Zelensky instead got an earful about Hunter Biden in the July 25 phone call at the heart of this debacle.
The Times goes on to recount what happened next:
In the weeks after the call, events unfolded rapidly in a way that alarmed some officials in both countries. They interpreted the discussions as dangling support to Ukraine in exchange for politically beneficial investigations.
On Aug. 12, a whistle-blower filed a complaint with the intelligence community inspector general that was at least in part about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, according to two people familiar with the matter.
Around the same time, Mr. Giuliani met face-to-face in Spain with Mr. Yermak to press again for the investigations.
Then, in late August, the Ukrainians learned that a package of American military assistance was being delayed by the White House, because, Vice President Mike Pence later explained after a meeting with Mr. Zelensky, he and Mr. Trump “have great concerns about issues of corruption.”
Again, it’s all so laughably ham-handed that it’s hard to fathom until you remember that it’s Trump and Rudy Giuliani, at which point it makes complete sense.
If you’re wondering whether the whole thing boils down to Trump’s generalized irritation with Ukraine for being on the “wrong” side vis-à-vis Russia and the 2016 election, the answer is as follows (again from the Times):
Mr. Trump has often struck a less-than-condemnatory tone toward Russian aggression, including its interference on his behalf in the 2016 presidential election, and its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, which Mr. Trump said last month should no longer prevent Russia from rejoining the Group of 7 industrialized nations.
Privately, Mr. Trump has had harsh words about Ukraine, a former Soviet state. He has been dismissive of his own administration’s recommendations that he throw the full support of the United States government to Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian and political neophyte who is seen in the West as a reformer elected with a mandate to stop both Russian aggression and the political corruption that has long plagued the country.
In May, a delegation of United States officials returned from Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration praising the new president and urging Mr. Trump to meet with him, arguing that Mr. Zelensky faced enormous headwinds and needed American support.
Mr. Trump was not sympathetic. “They’re terrible people,” he said of Ukrainian politicians, according to people familiar with the meeting. “They’re all corrupt and they tried to take me down.”
The skepticism harbored by Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani toward the Ukrainian government is derived at least partly from their belief that officials in the Ukrainian government of the time supported Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and tried to sabotage Mr. Trump’s.