By JULES WITCOVER
President Trump’s phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he criticized former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, has added fuel to talk of a Trump impeachment, on grounds of using his office to advance his 2020 reelection agenda.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after long resisting that step, joined the chorus Tuesday, calling for a broader House Democratic investigation of the president. As of now, however, Republican control of the Senate, which must convict after any House impeachment, would remain a major barrier to it.
While dismissing the call as “largely congratulatory” and “largely (about) corruption” in that country, Trump had told reporters Sunday that it was “largely (about) the fact we don’t want our people, like (the Bidens) creating the corruption already in Ukraine.”
It was a double-whammy assault unverified on any count. It alluded to Biden’s role as former President Barack Obama’s lead man in dealing with the former Russian satellite country under former Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and to Biden’s son Hunter, formerly a paid board member of a Ukrainian gas company.
An American whistleblower has voiced an “urgent” complaint to Congress that Trump may have sought dirt on Biden, the Democratic frontrunner opposing his reelection in 2020. Trump reportedly instructed his chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, to hold up congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine at least one week ahead of the phone call.
The news has roiled the political scene at home. The former vice president has denied any wrongdoing or having any conversation with his son on his earlier employment by the Ukrainian energy company.
On Sunday he told reporters they should “focus on the violation of the Constitution this president is engaged in.” He accused him of “abuse of power,” adding that Trump was striking out at him because “he knows I will beat him like drum” if Biden is his 2020 opponent. He added: “The more he thinks he’s likely to lose, the more erratic he becomes and the more things he does that are worrisome.”
Trump, responding Sunday, said of the elder Biden: “I’m not looking to hurt him with respect to his son. He’s got a lot of problems. Joe’s got enough problems. But he said a terrible thing,” perhaps implying he did have such a discussion with Hunter.
Further complicating the story is the involvement of Trump’s chief personal lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Earlier this year, he announced but then cancelled a trip to Ukraine to investigate allegation of improper actions by Hunter Biden.
On Fox News Sunday, Giuliani continued his attacks on Biden and said of his son, reported to be suffering from drug addiction: “The kid, unfortunately, is a drug addict.” Another Trump ally on Fox News, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, called on the Trump Justice Department to inquire “what relationships if any, did the Biden world have to the Ukraine? … There’s enough smoke here.”
It remains to be seen whether the Republican assault on Biden will hurt or help him in the critical weeks ahead as he seeks the Democratic nomination. On one hand, it could fire up Trump’s base. On the other, it seems to confirm Trump’s view that his strongest opposition will come from the former vice president, who demonstrated in his reaction he is ready and eager for the fight. Many Democrats may rally to Biden in the face of the president’s naked abuse of his office to kneecap one of their own.
Biden, however, has been slipping slightly in the polls. Over the weekend, he fell slightly behind Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts for the first time in the Des Moines Register poll in Iowa, site of the first delegate-selecting state caucus in late February.
That vote often has been a harbinger of things to come in subsequent early state caucuses and primaries in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada in early 2020. However, multiple-state Super Tuesday will occur near the start of the process in March, rather than in June as in the past, with substantial political impact.
Furthermore, leading the parade then will be California, which will choose by far the largest Democratic national convention delegation. The expectation, and the intention, of the Democratic National Committee officials is for an earlier identification of the party’s presidential nominee, the better to unify behind that standard-bearer against the man it is most determined to defeat at the ballot box in November. That intense and desired goal among Democrats may well be enhanced by Trump’s alleged repetition in Ukraine of his earlier invitation to Russia to provide political dirt against Democrat Hillary Clinton in his 2016 election.