Ensnarled in an impeachment investigation over his request for Ukraine to investigate a chief political rival, President Donald Trump on Thursday called on another nation to probe former Vice President Joe Biden: China.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said in remarks to reporters outside the White House. Trump said he hadn’t directly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to investigate Biden and his son Hunter but said it’s "certainly something we could start thinking about.”
Trump and personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have also tried to raise suspicions about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, leaning on the writings of conservative author Peter Schweizer. But there is no evidence that the former vice president benefited financially from his son’s business relationships.
Trump’s requests for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to dig up dirt on Biden, as well as Giuliani’s conduct, are at the center of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that sparked the House Democratic impeachment probe last week.
The president’s reference to China came unprompted in an unrelated question about the July 25 Ukraine call and moments after he was asked about trade negotiations with China to end a year-long trade war that has been a drag on both nation’s economies.
"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.
“You know what they call that,” Trump said. “They call that a payoff."
Trump’s comments came as he publicly acknowledged that his message to Zelenskiy and other officials was to investigate the 2020 Democratic presidential contender. Trump’s accusations of impropriety are unsupported by evidence.
“It’s a very simple answer,” Trump said of his call with Zelenskiy. “They should investigate the Bidens.”
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration's diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.
The president also said that he had fired former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch because he “heard very bad things about her.”
Yovanovitch was recalled from her position in Ukraine this year amid political attacks by conservative media and other allies of Trump, including Giuliani, who targeted her with unsubstantiated accusations. They argued that she “should be part of the investigation as part of the collusion.”
Yovanovitch is scheduled to appear before three House committees on Oct. 11 as part of the impeachment inquiry.
Trump made his comments as Kurt D. Volker, who resigned last week as the Trump administration’s special envoy for Ukraine, was being interviewed behind closed doors in front of three House committees.
Volker was among the officials mentioned by name in the whistleblower report raising concerns about Trump’s July phone call in which Trump pressed Zelensky to investigate the Bidens.
Biden’s campaign dismissed Trump’s remarks as without merit.
“Donald Trump is flailing and melting down on national television, desperately clutching for conspiracy theories that have been debunked and dismissed by independent, credible news organizations,” said Biden Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield in a statement. “It could not be more transparent: Donald Trump is terrified that Joe Biden will beat him like a drum.”
Also Thursday, Ellen Weintraub, a Democrat who is chair of the Federal Election Commission, retweeted a statement she originally made in June about electoral intervention from foreign governments.
“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” she said.
Trump’s assertions about China appear to originate from a 2018 book, “Secret Empires,” by the conservative author Peter Schweizer.
The book highlights how then-Vice President Biden took his son on a diplomatic trip to China in December 2013, and that around the same time, major Chinese companies formed a private-equity venture with which Hunter Biden was affiliated. The private-equity firm, known as Bohai Harvest RST, originally planned to raise $1 billion and later aimed for $1.5 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2014. This appears to be the amount of money the firm planned to invest on behalf of clients, not the value of the firm itself.
Hunter Biden was on the board of BHR from the outset, but he did not own an equity stake in the company until October 2017, after his father had left office, George Mesires, a lawyer for Hunter Biden, told Politifact. Mesires said Hunter Biden’s capital commitment in the venture is $420,000 and he has not received any earnings from the investment. He also said Hunter Biden was not paid for his service as a board member.
Material from Bloomberg news service and the Associated Press was used in this story.
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