WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Thursday publicly called on China to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, in an extraordinary presidential request to a foreign country for help that could benefit him in the 2020 election.
“China should start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said Thursday as he left the White House to travel to Florida where he was expected to announce an executive order on Medicare.
The call for China to investigate Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings there came as the first witness appeared on Capitol Hill to be interviewed by House investigators as part of an impeachment inquiry into the president’s request in a phone call for help from President Volodymyr Zelenskiy of Ukraine.
Trump has defended his conversation with Zelenskiy as “perfect” even after a reconstructed transcript of the call was released that showed him seeking help from Ukraine in investigating the Bidens. And he doubled down on his request Thursday.
“I would say that President Zelenskiy, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens,” Trump said. “Because nobody has any doubt that they weren’t crooked.”
These requests, which critics argue are an abuse of presidential power, echo comments Trump made as a presidential candidate in 2016 for Russia to release missing emails of his political opponent, Hillary Clinton.
Trump made the comments about China before the latest round of trade talks, which are set to take place next week.
“We’re going to have a meeting with them, we’ll see,” Trump said of the talks. “I have a lot of options on China. But if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.”
In calling for China to investigate the Bidens, Trump referred to a business deal Hunter Biden was in that involved a fund drawing from investment from the Chinese government-owned Bank of China.
The fund was announced in late 2013 — days after Hunter Biden and one of his daughters flew to China from Japan aboard Air Force Two with the vice president, who was in the midst of a diplomatic mission to calm rising tensions in the region, warning Chinese leaders not to use fighter jets to enforce an air defense zone created by Beijing over contested waters. Hunter Biden and his daughter participated in a few public events there with Biden.
Conservative author Peter Schweizer claimed that Hunter Biden used the trip to secure a deal with the Bank of China. That allegation has been echoed by Trump’s allies and by the president himself Thursday.
But a lawyer for Hunter Biden has said that he did not conduct any business related to the China investment fund on that trip, and that he was never an equity owner in the fund while his father was vice president. Hunter Biden later acquired a 10% interest in the entity that oversees the fund, but to date has not received any money from the arrangement, according to the lawyer.
Trump on Thursday said he had not personally asked President Xi Jinping for assistance. “But it’s certainly something we can start thinking about because I’m sure that President Xi does not like being under that kind of scrutiny.”
Trump’s suggestion that China investigate the Bidens comes as a delegation of senior Chinese officials is set to come to Washington next week for another round of trade negotiations. The two countries, which have been locked in a trade war, are hoping to make progress toward a deal after a breakdown in the talks in May, leading to an escalation of tariffs on each other’s goods.
Trump publicly continues to express ambivalence about the need for a deal while his advisers have been contemplating additional measures, such as banning Chinese companies from American stock exchanges, to inflict economic pain on China. The United States is expected to raise tariff rates on more Chinese imports on Oct. 15.
In recent weeks Trump has been raising the issue of Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China along with his allegations that his business in Ukraine represented conflicts of interest for his father, the former vice president. Trump’s Republican allies have also lodged such concerns.
In August, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asking him whether the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States was improperly influenced by Biden in 2015 when it approved the acquisition of an American automotive technology company, Henniges Automotive, by a Chinese company and an investment firm linked to Hunter Biden.
The Treasury Department has said that it was reviewing the case.