President Trump said Friday that he would keep issues related to former Vice President Joe Biden “separate” from trade discussions with China while defending his public urgings to have foreign countries investigate his political rival’s family for unsubstantiated corruption allegations.
“It has nothing to do with it,” Trump told reporters Friday morning before departing the White House. “I want to do a trade deal with China but only if it’s good for our country.”
“One thing has nothing to do with the other,” Trump said.
The president one day earlier encouraged both Ukraine and China to investigate the Biden family, doubling down on accusations that Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, engaged in corrupt behavior without providing any evidence of his claims. Biden has dismissed Trump’s claims as an effort to smear him and accused the president of abusing his office.
CNN is reporting that Trump raised Democratic candidates Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on a June 18 phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping. On the same call, Trump reportedly told China’s leader he would stay quiet about ongoing pro-Democracy protests in Hong Kong while trade discussions were still ongoing.
Trump’s pronouncement triggered widespread condemnation from House Democrats, who opened an impeachment inquiry into the president last week focused on a July 25 phone call during which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate the Bidens and theories about 2016 election interference.
The Zelensky call is the subject of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint alleging Trump used his official position to solicit foreign interference in an American election.
Trump defended his comments on Friday, telling reporters his urgings have nothing to do with politics and accusing Democrats of pursuing a “witch hunt.” At the same time, Trump couldn’t say whether he had requested corruption investigations into anyone other than a political opponent, telling reporters that he would have “to look.” And he said he had an “obligation” to urge foreign countries to investigate allegations of corruption like those he has leveled against Biden.
“I’m only interested in corruption. I don’t care about politics. I don’t care about Biden’s politics. I never thought Biden was going to win, to be honest,” Trump said.
Trump’s remarks came after House Democrats released text messages late Thursday showing that Trump administration officials communicated to Ukraine that a meeting between Trump and Zelensky would be contingent on Ukraine launching investigations into 2016 election interference and a Ukrainian energy company with which Biden’s son Hunter was involved.
The text exchanges also showed that Trump administration officials encouraged Ukraine to go public with the investigations.
In one exchange, a top Ukrainian embassy official, William Taylor, raises concerns about military aid being withheld from Ukraine for help with political investigations.
Asked about the text messages Friday, Trump told reporters he didn’t recognize the names of the State Department officials but claimed they showed nothing his administration did was improper and that there was “no quid pro quo.”
Trump referred to one message from Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, stating the president didn’t want any “quid pro quos” involved in discussions with Ukraine.
“As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” Taylor wrote in a message on Sept. 9.
“I believe you are incorrect about President Trump’s intentions,” Sondland replied. “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind. The President is trying to evaluate whether Ukraine is truly going to adopt the transparency and reforms that President Zelensky promised during his campaign.”
The former State Department special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, furnished House Democrats with the messages as part of an impeachment inquiry into Trump that centers on a July 25 call he had with Zelensky. Volker also testified behind closed doors before three House panels as part of the inquiry on Thursday.
According to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House, Trump encouraged Zelensky to investigate a debunked theory about Ukraine’s involvement in 2016 election interference as well as unsubstantiated corruption allegations about the Biden family.