The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Questions the media should ask about Trump and Ukraine

President Trump speaks in the Oval Office at the White House on Friday in Washington. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

It’s long past time that media outlets stop hyping the story line that former vice president Joe Biden did something untoward regarding Ukraine. Last week New York Times reporter Ken Vogel called Ukraine a “significant liability” for Biden and teased that “there is a story here.” Vogel added: “We’ve told some of it. There is more to be told. We are going to continue to sort of pull that back.”

In fact, there never was any “liability” whatsoever and the “more to be told” has turned out to be “nothing to be told.” When it came time to put the facts in print, Vogel reported: “As The New York Times reported this spring, no evidence has surfaced that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor’s dismissal. In fact, some of the vice president’s former associates said he never did anything to deter other efforts to go after the oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky.” Vogel omits mention that the spring report came under a misleading headline and that the admission there was no “there there” only came after paragraph upon paragraph suggesting Biden had some kind of problem.

At any rate, the jig is up, and it’s time for reporters without any proof to cease attempting to convert this into a Biden scandal. The Post’s fact-checker Glenn Kessler confirms:

There is no equivalency here: We fact-checked these allegations in May and found they did not add up. In fact, Biden’s case has gotten stronger with time.
[President] Trump has claimed that Biden in 2016 pressured the Ukrainian government to fire Viktor Shokin, the top Ukrainian prosecutor, because he was investigating a Ukrainian gas producer, Burisma Holdings, that had added Biden’s son Hunter to its board. But it turns out that the investigation had already been shelved when Biden acted and may have even involved a side company, not Burisma. The Ukrainian prosecutor was regarded as a failure, and “Joe Biden’s efforts to oust Shokin were universally praised,” said Anders Aslund, a Swedish economist heavily involved in Eastern European market reforms.
Moreover, Yuri Lutsenko, a former Ukrainian prosecutor general who succeeded the fired prosecutor, told Bloomberg News that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.

Whether in TV spots or in print, respectable journalists and outlets need to stop the baseless speculation and misleading headlines.

Follow Jennifer Rubin's opinionsFollow

Instead, there are a host of questions worth exploring, none having to do with Biden.

Let’s start with the basics:

  • What did Trump say on the phone to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky?
  • What other conversations did Trump or anyone else in the administration have regarding the Bidens with Zelensky or other Ukrainian officials? What records of those conversations exist?
  • What did Rudolph W. Giuliani and the president discuss about pressuring Ukraine? What has Giuliani said to Ukraine about aid and/or the Bidens?
  • Did Vice President Pence know about any of this? Secretary of State Mike Pompeo? Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin?
  • Who made the decision to withhold aid and why? What other officials were aware of the decision and/or carried out the decision to withhold aid?
  • Who at the Justice Department was involved in instructing acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire to suppress the whistleblower complaint? Was Attorney General William P. Barr involved?
  • Who at the White House directed that the whistleblower complaint be suppressed?

When you lay out the questions, it becomes obvious that many U.S. officials might have engaged in a conspiracy to enlist a foreign power’s interference in our elections. Many officials likely were engaged in the effort to suppress the whistleblower complaint. They should all be held accountable. None enjoys immunity from prosecution while in office (although Trump’s Justice Department will obviously not pursue this).

For purposes of a House investigation, the matter is much simpler. Trump and Giuliani essentially have conceded raising Biden with the Ukrainians. Multiple witnesses can confirm whether he asked or pressured the Ukrainians to find dirt, as can the whistleblower. To the extent the administration continues to withhold the whistleblower complaint at the president’s behest, Trump and his minions are engaged in obstruction of a congressional investigation. The media should hold the administration accountable for its actions and continue uncovering facts to allow the public to better understand a possible assault on our democracy.

In relatively short order, Congress can establish exactly what Trump and his surrogates said; if, as reports indicate, he did attempt to enlist the Ukrainians and then stymie the whistleblower, there is more than enough evidence to warrant impeachment. Indeed, there is no excuse not to. Congress can then continue its investigation into Pence, Pompeo and others.

This is arguably the most egregious scandal in history. You would think every member of the media would want to race to figure it all out rather than wink at disproved speculation. Perhaps now they will.

Read more:

Max Boot: This may be the worst Trump scandal yet

George T. Conway III and Neal Katyal: Trump has done plenty to warrant impeachment. But the Ukraine allegations are over the top.

The Post’s View: What did Trump tell Ukraine’s president?

Anne Applebaum: Welcome, Americans, to the Ukrainian swamp

Greg Sargent: As whistleblower scandal deepens, Trump bets on the coverup working

Max Boot: If Trump extorted a foreign leader for political gain, it’s impeachment time