In 2016, Donald Trump, who had directed secret efforts to obtain stolen Hillary Clinton emails, made a public televised request to Russia. That night, Russia made an attempt to hack into her email. Nevertheless, Republicans consistently dismissed Trump’s message as a joke.
In 2019, backed by a monthslong diplomatic pressure campaign, President Trump asked Ukraine’s president to investigate Joe Biden in a phone call, and has repeatedly affirmed his right to do so. Yesterday, he stood on the White House lawn and asked Ukraine and China to investigate Joe Biden, and followed that up with a tweet reaffirming his “absolute right” to ask any country to investigate anybody he deems corrupt.
Senator Marco Rubio was asked about the new request to China. Rubio suggested it was probably just a joke and not “a real request” — “just him needling the press.”
As with Russia, China did not see Trump’s request as a joke. “One Trump ally outside the White House described receiving a message from Chinese government officials asking if Trump was serious when he suggested China open an investigation into Biden,” CNN reports, “The response: Investigating corruption is an easy way to earn goodwill with Trump.”
Trump’s economic adviser, Lawrence Kudlow, meanwhile, when asked by an interviewer if he could assure the audience that Trump’s demands for a Biden probe would not be part of his negotiations with China, replied, “I can’t assure you of anything.”
On Sunday morning, Trump has again tweeted his position that he is entitled to demand an investigation of Biden (or any American) by China (or any country) for any reason:
Trump is either really, really committed to this joke – like Andy Kaufman-level committed – or else he actually means it.
Trump has made his position completely plain: Any country that can produce dirt on his domestic enemies, plausible or otherwise, will be diplomatically rewarded. That offer not only includes but is especially targeted to countries with the most brutal and corrupt systems of justice. (It’s not like Canada can easily gin up a fake investigation because the president wants one.) Republicans of principle will object to this flagrant abuse of power, but nobody considers “Republicans of principle” to be a category that includes Marco Rubio.
This post has been updated.