the national interest

Trump Lawyers Deny He Asked for Biden Probe. (He Did It on TV.)

Donal Trump Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

President Trump’s lawyers have presented a surreal pointillistic defense, picking apart individual pieces of evidence while ignoring the whole. At times this has ventured beyond the surreal into the outright false. One such moment came when Trump counsel Pat Philbin was asked about Trump’s demand that Ukraine investigate Joe Biden, and denied that Trump had ever requested any such thing.

“The question assumes there is a request of a United States person,” he said. “President Trump didn’t ask President Zelensky specifically for an investigation or an investigation into Vice-President Biden or his son Hunter.”

Philbin’s response relied on the usual method of seizing on one piece of evidence — in this case, the transcript — and interpreting it in the most unrealistic possible light. In the case of the transcript, Trump brings up Joe and Hunter Biden, making plain the target of his ire. But (as Trump often does) he stumbles on his wording, stringing together half-formed thoughts, in a way that left his meaning somewhat undefined. That is the ambiguity Philbin exploited to suggest that Trump just wanted Ukraine to look into the firing of Viktor Shokin, rather than pointing the finger directly at his opponent.

But the transcript is not the only, or best, evidence of what Trump demanded. There is a massive amount of additional evidence making it absolutely clear that Trump specifically wanted an investigation of Biden. Begin with the repeated public comments by his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who, starting in the spring, announced in the New York Times and in a series of Fox News appearances that he was specifically seeking investigations of Joe Biden. (The information “will be very, very helpful to my client, and may turn out to be helpful to my government,” he said, bluntly confessing that the two were not the same.)

Giuliani’s message came through clearly to several officials in the U.S. government. David Holmes testified, “On June 27, Ambassador Sondland told Ambassador Taylon in a phone conversation, the gist of which Ambassador Taylon shared with me at the time, that President Zelensky needed to make clear to President Trump that President Zelensky was not standing in the way of, quote, investigations. I understood that this was referring to the Burisma-Biden investigations that Mr. Giuliani and his associates had been speaking about in the media since March.”

Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman testified that Gordon Sondland told Ukrainian officials that a meeting between the two presidents depended on “investigations into the 2016 elections, the Bidens, and Burisma.”

And of course Trump himself removed all doubt when he was asked on the White House lawn what specifically he wanted Ukraine to do. He said he wanted it to investigate the Bidens:

The dissembling of Trump’s legal team has gotten tedious. But denying that Trump even wanted an investigation of the Bidens, when Trump literally stood on the White House lawn and announced this exact thing, is a level of dishonesty that is shocking even by their debased standards.

Trump Lawyer Denies He Asked for Biden Probe (He Did on TV)