WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump urged China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, potentially adding a dramatic new risk for the White House in an impeachment inquiry focused on Trump’s outreach to foreign governments to help him win reelection next year.
Unlike Trump’s then-private appeal in July for Ukraine to dig up dirt on his domestic political opponents, the crux of the House Democrats’ investigation so far, Trump publicly solicited China’s help Thursday in front of TV cameras on the south portico of the White House.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump declared before heading an event in The Villages, a retirement community in central Florida. He added, “You may very well find that there are many other countries that they scammed.”
Trump said Chinese officials will visit Washington next week in an effort to revive the stalled trade talks that have impacted both economies, suggesting a link to his push against Biden. “I have a lot of options on China, but if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power,” he said.
Asked if he had sought President Xi Jinping’s intervention, Trump replied, “I haven’t, but it’s certainly something we can start thinking about.”
In a July 25 phone call, Trump pressed Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to investigate Biden and other Democrats after Zelenskiy asked to buy U.S. weapons to help fight a Russian-backed insurgency, according to a call record released by the White House.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who announced the impeachment effort last week, wrote a letter of complaint to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and expressed amazement on Twitter that Trump would solicit China to take down a prominent American politician.
Once again, she wrote, Trump “has called on a foreign country to interfere in our elections — just the latest example of him putting his personal political gain ahead of defending the integrity of our elections.”
Trump’s comments came as the impeachment inquiry reached a milestone and began interviewing witnesses to events and conversations under scrutiny in Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Kurt Volker, who resigned last Friday as the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, was the first known witness to be deposed behind closed doors by staffers from the House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees.
The committees last week requested five current and former State Department employees, including Volker, to appear. On Monday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said they needed more time to prepare, but Volker clearly decided he was ready.
Volker’s testimony could be key. According to a whistleblower complaint sent to Congress, Volker and another senior U.S. envoy visited Kyiv a day after Trump’s July 25 phone call, and met with Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian officials to advise them “about how to ‘navigate’” Trump’s demands.
Over the past week, Trump has appeared enraged by the impeachment probe. But as Thursday’s outburst showed, he is also unbowed, publicly reiterating his request to Ukraine.
“So I would say that President Zelenskiy, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens because nobody has any doubt that they weren’t crooked,” Trump said.