But Trump himself has other ideas. He is unabashedly arguing that, yes, he absolutely did want Ukraine to investigate one of his leading 2020 campaign rivals — Joe Biden — because, after all, Biden is indeed corrupt. And that undercuts the GOP’s generic-corruption spin.
We just saw this dynamic play out to perfection. First Axios reported on a new and lengthy memo from House Republicans that offers their official arguments for the public impeachment inquiry.
An important element of the House GOP argument is that “Trump holds a deep-seated, genuine, and reasonable skepticism of Ukraine due to its history of pervasive corruption.” The memo repeatedly casts doubt on whether Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate Biden.
But then Trump promptly undercut all that by tweeting that, yes, he did want Ukraine to investigate Biden. Trump claimed the summary of his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky shows that there was “no pressure” on him.
“He and others also stated that there was ‘no pressure’ put on him to investigate Sleepy Joe Biden even though, as President, I have an ‘obligation’ to look into corruption, and Biden’s actions, on tape, about firing the prosecutor,” Trump added. Emphasis mine.
Trump had an “obligation” to look into corruption and Biden’s actions. In other words, Trump didn’t corruptly pressure Ukraine to “investigate” Biden; he merely carried out his duty by asking Ukraine to do so as part of his due diligence in deciding whether to award Ukraine its military aid.
At times, Trump has been even more direct than this. On Oct. 3, after the White House released the call summary, which showed Trump explicitly naming Biden as a target of the investigations he wanted, Trump reiterated this right in the faces of reporters:
QUESTION: Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call? Exactly.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I would think that, if they were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens. It’s a very simple answer.
Trump thinks he’s hatched a way to say this without undercutting the idea that he wanted Ukraine to investigate corruption more broadly. His latest iteration, noted above, is that his demand that Ukraine investigate corruption of necessity also entailed investigating Biden as well, because (again) Biden was corrupt.
The fact that Biden also happens to be a leading 2020 rival is of course pure coincidence. Or it’s irrelevant, since — say it with me this time — Biden actually was corrupt.
Others have started floating this defense. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) offered a particularly convoluted version on “Meet the Press,” claiming that Trump is exonerated because he genuinely believed Biden was corrupt.
It’s based on lies
As a substantive matter, Trump’s line contains three separate statements. Two are lies, and the third is a knee-slapping absurdity.
The first lie is that Biden was corrupt. That’s based on claims about Biden trying to oust a prosecutor because he was investigating Burisma, Biden’s son’s company, that have been debunked as a purely fabricated narrative.
The second lie is that Trump didn’t pressure the Ukrainian president. This is nonsense in every which way: In the call, Trump demanded this “favor” right after Zelensky asked for military aid. Those released texts show Ukrainian officials fully understood that good relations with Trump depended on carrying out his political dirty deeds. They knew they were being pressured.
What’s more, Trump lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani — and remember, Trump himself told Zelensky that Giuliani was his point man for carrying out this whole scheme — repeatedly conveyed through public and private channels that Ukraine had to launch the investigation of Biden that Trump wanted. And Ambassador Gordon Sondland admitted he told a top Zelensky aide that the aid probably wouldn’t be forthcoming until he committed to doing Trump’s bidding.
The knee-slapping absurdity is that Trump cared about generic corruption in Ukraine. A new Post piece patiently debunks this in extensive detail. Among other things, before Trump froze the aid, his own State and Defense departments certified that Ukraine had made “substantial actions” toward “decreasing corruption” and recommended the aid go forward.
Trump’s confession is right in his political ad
All of this points to a crowning absurdity hiding right in plain sight. The whole point of this scheme all along was to damage Biden. We know this because Giuliani (who acted at Trump’s direction) told us so, claiming in May that getting Ukraine to investigate Biden would be “very helpful to my client.”
“I’m Donald Trump, and I approve this message,” Trump says in the ad. Yes, and he approved the scheme to extort Ukraine into somehow making this fabricated narrative true, as well.
And so, given that the whole point all along was to damage Biden, why would he let go of that goal now? It then naturally follows that Trump can’t help but keep admitting that he did want Ukraine to investigate Biden, since that’s necessary to keep alive the fiction that — one last time — Biden was corrupt.
But that undercuts his spinners’ generic-corruption defense. It forces them into ever more ridiculous contortions, such as arguing it’s just pure coincidence that investigating Ukrainian corruption also happened to include investigating a leading Trump political rival or that Trump actually did believe Biden was corrupt.