The Washington Post had a piece a few weeks ago marveling at how Trump often tries to tamp down scandals by simply admitting the thing he’s accused of. Maybe he does that instinctively, because he doesn’t see what’s wrong with what he’s admitting to. Possibly he does it strategically, because he realizes that people are less likely to view something as scandalous if the accused is willing to admit to it straight out.
That hasn’t been his approach to the Ukraine case in every particular. For instance, he’s never admitted to the most damning allegation, that he deliberately withheld Ukraine’s military aid to put pressure on them to launch an investigation of the Bidens. He knows that evidence of him trying to extort Zelensky directly would move this into dangerous waters. But as to the simpler allegation, that he used the bully pulpit of the presidency to “request” that a foreign government investigate a potential general election opponent — sure, he’ll cop to that, even though some Democrats (and not just Democrats) insist that that alone would be big trouble. Trump’s approach is to confess and shrug. What about it? What’s the problem?
Here he is this morning going all-in on saying the proverbial quiet part loud. Not just with Ukraine this time, either. China too.
President Trump: "China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine. So, I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens." pic.twitter.com/Xia8vLUVT2
— CSPAN (@cspan) October 3, 2019
I didn’t see the question before this but a CNN reporter claims that the “request” to China also came in the context of a threat:
Trump at 10:37:24 a.m., talking about trade negotiations: "I have a lot of options on China, but if they don't do what we want, we have tremendous power."
Trump at 10:37:54 a.m., asked about Ukraine probe: "Likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens."
— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) October 3, 2019
Joe Biden is out with a statement noting that this isn’t the first time Trump has publicly solicited a foreign adversary to make trouble for a Democratic candidate. When he did it in 2016, he was still a private citizen and his “request” was played off as a joke…
…but this morning’s request obviously isn’t a joke and he isn’t a private citizen anymore. He’s a man with the power to end the trade war that’s wrecking China’s economy if Beijing “cooperates” with him.
I’m tempted to say that his new “request” to Ukraine doesn’t matter because the quasi-transcript of his July call with Zelensky already quotes him asking about the Bidens. All he did this morning was repeat his interest. There’s nothing new there. But it’d be more accurate to say there’s nothing new about it *to you and me*, because we follow this story closely. A poll out earlier this week of the general public, though, found that just 40 percent of Republicans believe that Trump brought up Biden during his chat with Zelensky even though the White House’s own document confirms that he did. By doubling down on it in front of the cameras this morning, Trump handed Democrats video proof that can be laid in front of skeptical voters of his willingness to solicit foreign aid in going after a political enemy.
The defense to this will be that there’s nothing wrong with the president investigating possible corruption by a former high-ranking U.S. official, even if that means input from foreign governments. That’s true, but it’s passing strange that Trump’s interest in Biden’s corruption bloomed so late, right around the time Biden was inching towards entering the 2020 presidential race. POTUS and the GOP enjoyed total control of government for two years; where was the House Republican investigation of Biden and Ukraine then? For that matter, if the president’s worried about corruption in the abstract instead of benefiting himself electorally by damaging Biden, it’s weird that he’s not “requesting” that China investigate Mitch McConnell and Elaine Chao. They were also a subject of Peter Schweizer’s book “Secret Empires,” one of the prime sources for the current allegations about the Bidens. And unlike Biden, McConnell and Chao are both current government officials with tremendous power. What’s the “neutral” explanation for investigating Biden but not the McConnells if all Trump is doing here is draining the swamp very belatedly?
I don’t know why he’s still talking about the Bidens and Ukraine or China at all. He has a million cronies on the Hill and in righty media who’d be happy to hammer this message for him day and night so that he can keep his fingerprints off of it. Biden’s probably done anyway, as his lead over Elizabeth Warren has all but disappeared in the RCP poll average. If Bernie Sanders is forced to leave the race for health reasons, most of his support will likely migrate to her and she may become a prohibitive frontrunner before long. All Trump is doing by providing soundbites like this at this point is handing Democrats material to use against him and meanwhile he reaps no corresponding benefit from it in damaging the likely nominee, Warren. Probably he thinks he has to lead the PR effort because he’s convinced no one around him can deliver his message as effectively as he can. If that means staring squarely into a camera and saying sure, I’d love for foreign governments to investigate Joe Biden, then hey.