US President Donald Trump on Thursday again invited foreign interference in a US presidential election, calling on Ukraine and China to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden – similar to a request that has already triggered an impeachment inquiry in Congress.
As he left the White House for a visit to Florida, Trump told reporters he believed Beijing should investigate Biden and his businessman son Hunter Biden despite there being no evidence of wrongdoing by the former vice president or his son.
“And by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump said.
Trump and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have accused former Vice President Biden, a leading contender for the Democratic Party nomination to run against Republican Trump in the 2020 election, of improperly assisting his son’s business ventures in Ukraine and China, but have offered no evidence.
Trump said he had not directly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to investigate the Bidens but it is “certainly something we could start thinking about”.
Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in a phone call in July to investigate Biden and his son over allegations of corruption. Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
The revelation by a whistle-blower of the request prompted House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi to announce a formal impeachment investigation against Trump last week.
Trump froze $400m in US aid to Ukraine shortly before he asked its president for the favour, prompting accusations from Democrats that he had misused US foreign policy for personal gain. Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong and has called the impeachment inquiry “witch-hunt garbage”.
Reacting to Trump’s comments on Thursday, Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, tweeted that the president “cannot use the power of his office to pressure foreign leaders to investigate his political opponents”.
He added that Trump’s “rant this morning reinforces the urgency of our work”.
The President cannot use the power of his office to pressure foreign leaders to investigate his political opponents.
His rant this morning reinforces the urgency of our work.
America is a Republic, if we can keep it. https://t.co/9KDCx1hVjs
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) October 3, 2019
A spokeswoman for Joe Biden said Trump was “desperately clutching for conspiracy theories that have been debunked and dismissed by independent, credible news organisations”.
Kate Bedingfield, Biden’s deputy campaign manager, added, “Now, with his administration in free-fall, Donald Trump is flailing and melting down on national television.”
Trump attacks journalists, probe
The impeachment inquiry has angered Trump, whose volatile presidency survived a two-year federal probe that found Russia had intervened to help him win the White House in 2016. That investigation did not find evidence of criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
Trump in July 2016 publicly encouraged Russian involvement in that year’s presidential election campaign concerning cyber-espionage targeting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Trump, referring to a controversy surrounding Clinton’s emails, said at that time: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
The president’s comments on Thursday came after a heated day in the impeachment inquiry.
On Wednesday, Trump railed at journalists during a news conference, used an expletive on Twitter and continued to call the probe a “hoax and a fraud” while pledging to cooperate.
Volker meets with House investigators
Meanwhile, a longtime US diplomat who served Trump’s special envoy for Ukraine appeared before congressional committee staff on Thursday as part of the inquiry.
Kurt Volker resigned as special representative for Ukraine negotiations on Friday, a day after the public release of a whistle-blower complaint that described him as trying to “contain the damage” from efforts by Giuliani to press Ukraine to investigate Democrats.
As the diplomat arrived on Capitol Hill, Giuliani shared on Twitter a series of text messages he had received from Volker discussing contacts with Andrey Yermak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Zelenskiy.
Giuliani has said senior officials at the State Department were aware of and endorsed his actions in Ukraine on behalf of the president.
In one text, Volker discussed a meeting in early August.
“Please send dates when you will be in Madrid. I am seeing Yermak tomorrow morning. He will come to you in Madrid. Thanks for your help! Kurt.”
The Madrid meeting was cited in the whistle-blower complaint as a follow-up to Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy.