President Trump said Friday he thinks it would be “appropriate” for him to talk to Attorney General William P. Barr about opening an investigation into Joe Biden, the current front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
In an interview with Politico, Trump said he and Barr hadn’t considered an inquiry into his potential 2020 opponent — but he didn’t rule it out, either, saying “certainly it would be an appropriate thing to” discuss with Barr.
“Certainly it is a very big issue and we’ll see what happens,” he told the outlet. “I have not spoken to him about it. Would I speak to him about it? I haven’t thought of that. I mean, you’re asking me a question I just haven’t thought of.”
The suggestion that Trump would contemplate directing his Justice Department to investigate Biden drew condemnation from some legal experts, who said the idea smacked of an abuse of power.
“Does anyone doubt that this could have catastrophic consequences for democratic and electoral legitimacy?” said Susan Hennessey, executive editor of Lawfare, on Twitter. “Yet we seem to be hurtling towards this possibility with no one, certainly not congressional Republicans, drawing the line.”
In the Politico interview, Trump weighed the idea of an investigation into Biden in response to allegations that the former vice president had inappropriate interactions with the Ukrainian government while his son, Hunter Biden, was working for a gas company run by one of the country’s oligarchs. There is no evidence that Biden’s conduct was improper and at least one expert has said the accusations don’t hold up.
Yet that didn’t stop Trump from saying it “could be a very big situation” for Biden.
“Because he’s a Democrat it’s about 1/100 the size of the fact that if he were a Republican, it would be a lot bigger,” he told Politico.
Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, also said Friday that he’s traveling to Kiev to urge Ukrainian officials to open an investigation of their own.
“Explain to me why Biden shouldn’t be investigated,” Giuliani said, responding to criticism from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
But by Friday evening, Giuliani had changed his mind. He said in an interview on Fox News that he had reconsidered and would not be going to Ukraine.
“To remove any political suggestion, I will step back and I’ll just watch it unfold,” he said.
Some on the left have seized on the president’s comments, saying they bolster Democrats’ case for impeachment. Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe argued that Trump is “all but certain to abuse his powers as president to undermine the campaign of whoever his opponent turns out to be.”
Longtime Democratic adviser Ronald A. Klain warned on Twitter that, “If he can do this to @JoeBiden, he can do this to any other Democrat. If he can do this to any Democrat, he can do this to any Republican in Trump’s way. If he can do this any political rival, he can do this to any American.”
Trump’s comments come the week after Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee and seemed to stumble over his answer to questions from Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) about Trump-directed investigations. Harris asked Barr whether the president or any other White House official had ever suggested that he open an investigation into someone.
After an exchange, Barr told Harris, “I don’t know.”