Donald Trump is being impeached for using his office to pressure foreign countries to investigate his political rivals. It is not clear Trump understands that, because he simply continues committing this offense in broad daylight.
In remarks to reporters today, Trump was asked what he wants Ukraine to do about the Bidens. He replied, “If they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens.” While elaborating on his answer, he added that he would also suggest China launch an investigation of the Biden family.
Of course, the idea that any American citizens should be subject to the Chinese justice system is absurd. The only possible way Trump could desire such an investigation would be if he believes China would fix the outcome in order to win his favor. For that matter, Joe Biden’s actions in Ukraine under the Obama administration had gained bipartisan support at the time, as CNN finds, so there is simply no legitimate basis for an investigation of him. Trump wants a cooked investigation with a predetermined outcome to help him politically.
In one of his two private conversations with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump explicitly suggested his counterpart investigate Biden. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” he says. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it …”
(Incidentally, the Washington Post assembles numerous clues — ranging from odd markings, unusual use of ellipses, and a word count that fails to match up to the call’s allotted time, all of which strongly suggest the official White House “transcript” is heavily abridged. Still, even the publicly released text shows Trump explicitly asking Zelensky to investigate Biden.)
In public, Trump has framed his demand slightly less directly. When asked if he told Ukraine to investigate Biden, he responded by invoking “corruption.”
The “corruption” code is utterly transparent. Now he is dispensing with even that bare fig leaf and openly committing impeachable offenses on the White House lawn, and expanding the list to a second country while he’s at it. He even throws in a threat that China would be under “scrutiny” in the absence of such an investigation, as if nepotistic business deals would be a scandal or illegal in China:
Of course, Trump has started a trade war with China, and has personal control over the tariffs he imposes, which gives China a strong financial incentive to placate him. Trump was not shy about reminding the Chinese of this juxtaposition:
In 2016, Trump asked Russia to hack his opponent’s emails on television. (“Russia, if you’re listening …”) His defenders dismissed it as a joke, even though Russia did not take it as a joke and made a hacking attempt that night. What Trump has taken away from all these episodes is that he is free to commit whatever crimes he wants.
This post has been updated.