According to the plan, Ukraine would announce a blockbuster investigation of Joe Biden. Whether there was any evidence of wrongdoing mattered as little as the substance of Hillary Clinton’s email management practices. The goal was to create media stories linking Biden with payoffs and shakedowns in a foreign land, so voters would come to believe the Democrat was as corrupt and untrustworthy as Trump himself.
The plan fell apart, withering in sunlight and leading to Trump’s impeachment. But now, Trump’s allies in Congress are trying to revive it.
At a time when the country is dealing with some pretty serious problems, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, is relentlessly pursuing an investigation into … Hunter Biden and Burisma!
Johnson’s investigation is being propelled by a chain of information, if one can call it that, that begins with Russian-connected Ukrainians, runs through bonkers conspiracy theorist and presidential “lawyer” Rudy Giuliani, and is then delivered to Johnson. The obvious purpose is to make a case that when he was vice president and led an international effort to pressure Ukraine to confront its corruption problem, Joe Biden was actually trying to take the heat off the company that was paying his son.
If you thought this ridiculous allegation was comprehensively disproved during Trump’s impeachment, you’d be right. But Johnson is undeterred:
Johnson’s probe is proceeding as Ukrainians with a variety of competing agendas and links to Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani have been releasing apparently pilfered official conversations that Biden conducted while vice president with Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko, aiming to tarnish the presumptive Democratic nominee and his longtime interlocutor in Kyiv, as The Washington Post has previously reported.Critics say the efforts of the Ukrainians align with the interests of certain Ukrainian oligarchs and Russia, which for years has sown doubt about cooperation between Washington and Kyiv in an effort to eject the United States from the region.
One national security official told Politico that the Ukrainians feeding material to Giuliani and Johnson are so unreliable that it should be “out of the question to consider their information legitimate investigative material.” Additionally, the article reports, intelligence officials are so skeptical of his probe that “Johnson is considered ‘toxic’ by some members of the intelligence community.”
Even some Republicans such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham have been skeptical of the information Johnson is getting from Ukraine; in February, Graham warned, “Russia is playing us all like a fiddle.”
You can get lost in all the competing players and shady Ukrainian characters, but the point is this: At least some Republicans in Congress still think they can get Joe Biden, and help Trump win reelection, by creating the impression that he did something terrible in Ukraine.
This is essentially the Benghazi Theory in action: To help your presidential candidate, you can launch probe after probe of the other party’s nominee, and even if you don’t find anything real, you can at least concoct the illusion that something corrupt must have been going on. There were eight separate congressional investigations of Benghazi, and it was in the last one that Republicans discovered that Clinton sometimes used a private email for work (of course, no one in the Trump administration would ever do such a thing).
But there are a couple of reasons the Benghazi Theory probably won’t work this time. First, trying to persuade voters to revisit the issue of Ukraine is unlikely to work to Trump’s advantage. It just reminds everyone of his eagerness to corrupt U.S. foreign policy for his own benefit. It’s like saying, “While you’re freaking out about the 155,000 Americans who have died from covid-19 and the 30 million who are out of work all because of Trump’s disastrous incompetence, don’t forget that he was also impeached.”
Second, not only are Republicans’ charges against Biden completely without merit, but Trump may have also inoculated Biden against any last-minute surprise allegation. All of us — both voters and the media — have watched Trump lie and cheat, watched him use government to enrich himself, and watched him give pardons and commutations to his buddies. Not only won’t we be surprised if he and his allies try to smear Biden with a supposedly shocking charge in the waning days of the campaign, we’re expecting it.
So when Johnson holds a dramatic news conference to announce that some Ukrainian told Giuliani that Joe and Hunter Biden murdered a dozen orphans because they knew too much (or whatever he comes up with), it’s just not going to transform the presidential race. The boy who cried “Wolf!” has nothing on the party who cried “Burisma!”