Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Trump team goes on the attack against Bidens

Brett Samuels 
Morgan Chalfant 
05:45 PM EST

President Trump’s defense team went on the offensive Monday against former Vice President Joe Biden as part of its impeachment arguments, zeroing in on allegations of a conflict of interest involving the Democratic presidential nominee and his son Hunter Biden.

Pam Bondi, a former Florida attorney general who recently joined the White House communications team to help with impeachment messaging, argued for roughly 30 minutes on the Senate floor that Trump had a legitimate reason for raising the Bidens on his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president.

“You’ve heard from the House managers. They do not believe that there was any concern to raise here, that all of this was baseless,” Bondi said. “And all that we are saying is that there was a basis to talk about this, to raise this issue. And that was enough.”

The president’s lawyers had teased in recent days that the former vice president — who is running at or near the top of most presidential primary polls — would come up in their arguments after House managers sought to knock down allegations of corruption against the Democratic front-runner.

"We would prefer not to be discussing this,” Bondi said. “But the House managers have placed this squarely at issue, so we must address it."

Trump and his Republican allies have hammered claims of corruption against Joe Biden for months, and the detail of Bondi’s presentation Monday indicated it had been in the works for some time. She interspersed her remarks with video clips of news reports and witness testimony about the Bidens.

Bondi walked through evidence dating back several years of corruption at Burisma Holdings, a Ukrainian gas company that employed Hunter Biden on its board during a time that his father was vice president. She played video of witness testimony from the House proceedings in which former administration officials acknowledged Hunter Biden’s role with Burisma minimally amounted to a conflict of interest.

Bondi also queued up a clip from a 2014 White House press briefing in which ABC News correspondent Jon Karl asked then-press secretary Jay Carney about whether Hunter Biden’s role with Burisma amounted to a conflict of interest.

“Hunter Biden and other members of the Biden family are obviously private citizens, and where they work does not reflect an endorsement by the administration or by the vice president or president,” Carney replied, referring Karl to the vice president’s office.

Defense team member Eric Herschmann followed Bondi with another Biden-focused presentation.

Hunter Biden joined the board of Burisma in 2014. The company's founder was under investigation by then-prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, who the U.S., United Kingdom and other Western governments argued had failed to rein in corruption in the country.

The U.S. at the time threatened to withhold roughly $1 billion in loan guarantees if Shokin was not replaced as prosecutor general, a message Joe Biden delivered to officials in Kyiv while serving as vice president and recounted during a 2018 Council on Foreign Relations conference — video of which Bondi displayed during her presentation.

While many of the president's allies have argued that there was some conflict of interest, the former vice president has denied acting with his son's interests in mind, and there is no evidence of any criminal wrongdoing by either of the Bidens.

Hunter Biden said in an interview with ABC last year that he regrets his role with Burisma provided fodder for attacks on his father, and he acknowledged he may not have gotten the job if not for his last name.

On the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump raised the Bidens and suggested Ukraine look into their dealings there, referencing the unsubstantiated claim that Biden acted in his son’s interests in pushing for the removal of the Ukrainian prosecutor.

Trump in October publicly called for Ukraine to investigate the Bidens over allegations of corruption. House managers played a clip of the statement numerous times last week during their three days of arguments, citing it as proof that Trump sought to leverage the presidency to investigate one of his political rivals.

Some Republican senators have raised the specter of subpoenaing one or both of the Bidens to testify in the event that former national security adviser John Bolton provides testimony, though it’s unclear if they would have the majority support needed in the full chamber.

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