Indeed it is — and while it doesn’t reflect well on either, both Joe Biden and Donald Trump have the same problem. If Joe Biden can use the threat of withholding US aid to Ukraine to benefit his son, then why can’t Trump do the same thing to benefit himself? And if it’s an impeachable offense for one, why not the other?
The New York Times reported this past May on Biden’s intervention as Vice President in the Ukrainian prosecution in 2016. The same elements of the so-called crime were in place — the personal gain, the use of US power to achieve it, the threat that make Ukrainian national security the ransom in the deal. It worked for Biden in 2016, too:
It was a foreign policy role Joseph R. Biden Jr. enthusiastically embraced during his vice presidency: browbeating Ukraine’s notoriously corrupt government to clean up its act. And one of his most memorable performances came on a trip to Kiev in March 2016, when he threatened to withhold $1 billion in United States loan guarantees if Ukraine’s leaders did not dismiss the country’s top prosecutor, who had been accused of turning a blind eye to corruption in his own office and among the political elite.
The pressure campaign worked. The prosecutor general, long a target of criticism from other Western nations and international lenders, was soon voted out by the Ukrainian Parliament.
Among those who had a stake in the outcome was Hunter Biden, Mr. Biden’s younger son, who at the time was on the board of an energy company owned by a Ukrainian oligarch who had been in the sights of the fired prosecutor general. …
The broad outlines of how the Bidens’ roles intersected in Ukraine have been known for some time. The former vice president’s campaign said that he had always acted to carry out United States policy without regard to any activities of his son, that he had never discussed the matter with Hunter Biden and that he learned of his son’s role with the Ukrainian energy company from news reports.
But new details about Hunter Biden’s involvement, and a decision this year by the current Ukrainian prosecutor general to reverse himself and reopen an investigation into Burisma, have pushed the issue back into the spotlight just as the senior Mr. Biden is beginning his 2020 presidential campaign.
At that point, the stars were aligned for Trump. The Ukrainians were reopening the investigation into Burisma, perhaps raising hopes that their new investigation would highlight Biden’s use of US diplomatic pressure to rescue Hunter’s bosses. However, Petro Poroshenko suffered a surprising loss in the national elections to Volodymyr Zelensky, who planned to replace the prosecutors in his new government. That’s what apparently prompted Trump to pressure Zelensky to keep the investigation open, with or without an explicit quid pro quo — the exact same thing Biden had done with Poroshenko to get the Burisma probe shut down three years earlier.
Ken Vogel, the lead NYT reporter on the story in May, told MSNBC that the situations are similar enough that perhaps the Left might want to tread carefully. If Democrats nominate Biden, this story would become “a significant liability” to their White House hopes. Vogel also suggested that Rudy Giuliani was making issues exponentially worse for Trump by opening his mouth, but Vogel’s main observation was as popular across the aisle as you’d expect:
Here's @kenvogel of the New York Times saying on MSNBC that he views Joe Biden son's work in Ukraine as "a significant liability for Joe Biden."
"There is a story here," Vogel adds, saying "we're going to continue to, sort of, pull that back." (I'm sure Trump is very grateful!) pic.twitter.com/HSl90pk6Zn
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 20, 2019
Today, Politico’s team of reporters bolster Vogel’s argument, although they also write that Biden’s team has begun pushing back more aggressively on the comparison:
Despite the outrage that greeted reports of the president’s actions, Biden’s immediate response was no simple matter. His son Hunter Biden’s lucrative contracts with Ukraine — at the same time the vice president was in charge of U.S. policy toward the country raised — raised the prospect of fueling a narrative with downside political risk for Biden.
“This puts him on the ropes over having to talk about this,” said Patrick Murray, a pollster with Monmouth University. “He certainly doesn’t want to talk about this, his family.”
Murray suggested the ethical dimensions of the controversy — and the implications of Trump’s actions for impeachment, which Biden at present does not support — made any extended discussion of the story potentially perilous for Biden.
“At the primary level, I don’t think Democrats would believe these charges [concerning Biden] because of how polarized the debate is right now, but then they could start worrying that this could hurt him if he is the nominee,” Murray said. “It’s ‘can Biden fight back? Will this hurt his ability to take Trump on fully?’ And will it undermine that electability argument that he’s been making?”
Democrats are trying to argue that Biden should go on full attack because the two incidents aren’t similar, but that’s poppycock — and Biden knows it. Remember when his team leaked that he might not run at all because people would attack his family? At the time, the comment was a headscratcher, considered maybe to be just a general commentary on the state of politics as bloodsport these days. In retrospect, it looks much more like a serious attempt to lay the groundwork for an argument that any investigation into Biden’s official actions as VP on behalf of his son’s financial interests would amount to a personal attack on his family.
Unfortunately, Biden can’t have it both ways — and for that matter, neither can Trump. If Trump abused his office to force Ukraine to go after his political opponent, it’s every bit the same as Biden using his office to protect his son’s financial arrangements with Burisma, and vice versa. It’s a swampy stalemate, and Trump can mostly thank Giuliani for his end of the predicament. If Giuliani hadn’t shot his mouth off over and over about forcing an investigation by Ukraine into Burisma, perhaps the sotto voce approach might have worked and kept Trump’s actions out of the papers.
Democrats could avoid the whole mess by finding someone else to run against Trump, of course. No one in the top tier has Biden’s draw in the Midwest and Rust Belt, however, and it’s getting very late in the day for a dark horse like Steve Bullock to make a move from the outside. As long as Biden keeps running, Democrats can’t do a thing about this Trump scandal.