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

Staff Writer

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."

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), director Jason Reitman ("The Front Runner"), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, World War II historian Joshua Levine (consultant to "Dunkirk"), Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), seismologist John Vidale, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.

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