WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump is openly urging foreign governments to investigate his political foes — doubling down on an action that is already the subject of an impeachment inquiry.
Answering questions Thursday morning from reporters on the White House South Lawn, Trump was asked what favor exactly he desired from Ukrainian President Volodmyr Zelenskiy during a July 25 telephone call that sparked a whistleblower complaint.
“I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens,” the president said.
Later Thursday, Trump tweeted: "As the President of the United States, I have an absolute right, perhaps even a duty, to investigate, or have investigated, CORRUPTION, and that would include asking, or suggesting, other Countries to help us out!"
Trump, in recent days, has repeatedly attacked former Vice President Joe Biden, now a leading Democratic Party presidential candidate, saying Biden abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to back away from a criminal investigation that could have implicated the then-vice president’s son, Hunter, who worked for the Burisma energy company, based in Kyiv.
Trump, prior to boarding the Marine One helicopter for a day trip to Florida, alleged Biden had “scammed” Ukraine and also China.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens," he told reporters.
Trump has accused Hunter Biden of using a 2013 trip on Air Force Two to procure $1.5 billion from China for a private equity fund the vice president’s son was forming.
Democrats say Trump's comments Thursday are another example of him leveraging the presidency for personal political gain.
“The President cannot use the power of his office to pressure foreign leaders to investigate his political opponents,” tweeted House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who is leading the impeachment inquiry. “His rant this morning reinforces the urgency of our work. America is a Republic, if we can keep it.”
The President cannot use the power of his office to pressure foreign leaders to investigate his political opponents.— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) October 3, 2019
His rant this morning reinforces the urgency of our work.
America is a Republic, if we can keep it. https://t.co/9KDCx1hVjs
Biden campaign denounces Trump 'conspiracy theories'
Trump and his allies have not released any evidence demonstrating the Bidens were involved in any illegal activity.
The former vice president vociferously defended his reputation and attacked Trump in a Wednesday evening speech in Reno, Nevada.
“Let me make something clear to Trump and his hatchet men and the special interests funding his attacks against me — I’m not going anywhere,” said Biden. “You’re not going to destroy me. And you’re not going to destroy my family. I don’t care how much money you spend or how dirty the attacks get.”
Trump is “desperately clutching for conspiracy theories that have been debunked and dismissed by independent, credible news organizations,” Biden Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield says in response to the president’s Thursday morning remarks to reporters.
The president “is under the misimpression that if he keeps committing impeachable offenses, he can somehow normalize them and escape accountability,” says Robert Wiessman, president of Public Citizen, a liberal consumer rights advocacy group.
The impeachment inquiry by the Democratic Party-controlled House has emerged as Trump’s biggest political crisis since he took office in January of 2016.
A complaint filed by an intelligence community whistleblower is at the heart of the matter. The complaint alleges Trump used “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election," and that Attorney General Bill Barr and Trump’s personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, also appear to be involved in the effort.
Trump has strongly denied any wrongdoing. He has repeatedly termed the call with Zelenskiy as “perfect,” while attacking his critics as “traitors” and alleging a “coup” is in the works to remove him from office.