Trump tried to persuade Ukraine to smear Biden; now denounces media's "Ukraine Witch Hunt"

Trump suggests Biden pressured Ukraine to drop an investigation into his son, but that claim has been debunked

By Matthew Rozsa

Published September 22, 2019 10:00AM (EDT)


Update: Trump acknowledged to reporters in Washington on Sunday that he did mention Biden to Zelensky, saying that he told the Ukrainian leader "we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine," according to The New York Times

President Donald Trump is defending his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, one that recent media reports suggest may have been made in order to dig up dirt about one of Trump's likeliest and strongest opponents in the 2020 election, former Vice President Joe Biden.

"The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, want to stay as far away as possible from the Joe Biden demand that the Ukrainian Government fire a prosecutor who was investigating his son, or they won’t get a very large amount of U.S. money, so they fabricate a story about me and a perfectly fine and routine conversation I had with the new President of the Ukraine," Trump tweeted on Saturday. "Nothing was said that was in any way wrong, but Biden’s demand, on the other hand, was a complete and total disaster. The Fake News knows this but doesn’t want to report!"

He later claimed the reporting about his administration's contacts with Ukraine as "the Ukraine Witch Hunt" and said that Democrats and the media were pursuing the story because they "have gone 'bust' on every other of their Witch Hunt schemes." He also posted tweets on Saturday that quoted right-wing analysts claiming that the coverage is "another malicious seditious effort to protect the Obama/Clinton gang" (Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton) and that Trump was being spied upon by someone in one of America's intelligence agencies (Fox News legal analyst Gregg Jarrett). He also said that Biden was being "protected by the Media," referred to The New York Times and The Washington Post as "The Enemy of the People" and said that "the Fake News Media nowadays not only doesn’t check for the accuracy of the facts, they knowingly make up the facts."

In August an official in the U.S. intelligence community blew the whistle on what are alleged to have been improper communications between Trump and Zelensky, according to a USA Today story on Sunday that analyzed the confirmed information about the Ukraine scandal. Prior to the call, right-wing operatives and Trump advisers like Rudy Giuliani had been fabricating a story that Biden had pressured the country's former top prosecutor into resigning in order to protect his son, Hunter Biden, from prosecution over corruption. There is no evidence that Hunter Biden had been under investigation for wrongdoing or that Biden's pressure occurred for any reason other than the stated one, which was that the incumbent prosecutor was accused of ignoring corruption in his own office.

On July 25, Trump called Zelensky and told him that pursuing corruption cases could help the country's image. The following day, America's special representative to Ukraine, Ambassador Kurt Volker, met with Zelensky while Giuliani met in Spain with one of Zelensky's aides, Andriy Yermak. The Trump administration also withheld more than $391 million in security assistance that had been appropriated for the nation by Congress, although the money was later made available. During this time Giuliani repeatedly discussed the Biden-Ukraine hoax in public forums, and as recently as Thursday admitted that he had talked with Ukraine (although he said that "I did what I did on my own. I told [Trump] about it afterward.").

On August 12 a whistleblower complained about the Trump-Ukraine connections, including a supposed "promise" that Trump made to the Ukrainian leader. Joseph Maguire, the acting director of national intelligence, has refused to share the whistleblower's letter with Congress, although the inspector general for the director of national intelligence (DNI), Michael Atkinson, has said that he disagrees with that decision. Biden responded in a statement saying that "if these reports are true, then there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country. This behavior is particularly abhorrent because it exploits the foreign policy of our country and undermines our national security for political purposes."

The former vice president also alluded to the Trump-Russia scandal, writing that if true the accusation means Trump was pressuring a country "that is still under direct assault from Russia" to "subvert the rule of law in the express hope of extracting a political favor."

Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and is ABD in his PhD program in History at Lehigh University. His work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

MORE FROM Matthew Rozsa