President Trump on Thursday publicly encouraged both China and Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son amid growing concerns over how Trump has used his position to pressure foreign governments to look into his political rivals.
“I would think that if they were honest about it they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens,” Trump told reporters at the White House when asked what he wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do about the Bidens following the July 25 call between the two leaders.
That call triggered an intelligence community whistleblower complaint and is at the heart of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into the president.
“I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend they start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said Thursday. “Because nobody doubts they weren’t crooked.”
The president doubled down on unsubstantiated allegations that Biden and his son Hunter Biden engaged in corrupt behavior, also urging a probe by China.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said before departing for an executive order signing in Florida.
The president, whose administration is negotiating with China to resolve a trade dispute, said he had not explicitly asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to open an investigation, but that it’s “certainly something we can start thinking about.”
Following Trump’s comments on Thursday, the chairwoman of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) retweeted an earlier message from herself emphasizing that “it is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election.”
“Is this thing on?” FEC Chairwoman Ellen L. Weintraub asked next to a microphone emoji, implying Trump failed to hear her the first time.
The Biden campaign issued a statement decrying Trump’s remarks as “a grotesque choice of lies over truth and self over country,” and likening them to his comments during the 2016 election in which he suggested Russia try and find Hillary Clinton‘s missing emails.
“Now, with his administration in free-fall, Donald Trump is flailing and melting down on national television, desperately clutching for conspiracy theories that have been debunked and dismissed by independent, credible news organizations,” deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield said in a statement. “It could not be more transparent: Donald Trump is terrified that Joe Biden will beat him like a drum.”
Trump’s comments are likely to further fuel Democratic calls for impeachment. House Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry last week, and they have zeroed in on Trump soliciting a foreign leader to look into a domestic political rival as the basis for allegations that he abused his office.
House Democrats have threatened to subpoena the White House for records related to the Ukraine matter if it does not comply by Friday. The administration’s former envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker
, is sitting down with House lawmakers on Thursday for a deposition.
The call between Trump and Zelensky triggered a whistleblower complaint alleging concerns that Trump sought to pressure Ukraine’s president on the call for an investigation into Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential front-runner, and that it constituted an effort to solicit foreign interference in an American election.
A rough transcript of the call released by the White House showed Trump asked Ukraine to investigate theories about 2016 election interference and unsubstantiated allegations about Biden and his son, offering to put Zelensky in touch with his personal lawyer and attorney general.
But Trump has rejected the notion that he pressured Zelensky and defended the call as “perfect,” while doubling down on unfounded accusations that Biden engaged in corrupt acts on behalf of his son. Biden, who leads Trump in polls of a hypothetical 2020 match-up, has denied the allegations and described them as an effort by Trump to smear him.
As vice president, Biden pushed for Ukraine to oust its then-prosecutor general for failing to properly investigate corruption in the country. At the time, Hunter Biden worked at a major Ukrainian gas company that the prosecutor general was looking at.
There is no evidence either Biden committed any wrongdoing.
Trump has also denied there was any quid pro quo involved in his efforts, something Democrats have raised concerns about since the Zelensky call came just after Trump delayed hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to Ukraine.
Trump has derided House Democrats as they push forward with the impeachment inquiry, demanding witness testimony and documents from the State Department and threatening to subpoena the White House for records related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
And he has lashed out at the whistleblower as a partisan and claimed the individual offered an inaccurate account of his dealings with Zelensky. The whistleblower’s identity remains unknown, and Trump has alarmed Democrats and some Republicans by saying he should be able to interview the individual.
Trump called the complaint “totally inaccurate” on Thursday, noting the individual relied on secondhand information to piece together the call.
A redacted version of the whistleblower’s complaint released last week included an account of Trump’s July 25 call that closely matched the rough transcript released by the White House a day earlier.
Updated at 12:13 p.m.