President Donald Trump told POLITICO on Friday that it would be “appropriate” for him to speak to Attorney General Bill Barr about launching an investigation into his potential 2020 rival, Joe Biden, or his son, Hunter.
The question of whether Trump could pressure Barr to probe Biden is coming under scrutiny after Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, said he would be traveling to Ukraine to urge the incoming government there to look at Hunter Biden’s involvement with a Ukrainian energy company that has reportedly been in prosecutors’ crosshairs. The efforts appear to be part of a broader campaign by Trump’s allies to damage the former Democratic vice president’s White House campaign and have raised questions about whether Trump’s team is trying to enlist a foreign government to aid the president’s re-election bid.
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“Certainly it would be an appropriate thing to speak to him about, but I have not done that as of yet. … It could be a very big situation,” Trump said in a 15-minute telephone interview on Friday afternoon, which stemmed from POLITICO’s inquiries for a separate story.
Barr also drew attention during his recent congressional testimony when he demurred on a question about whether anybody in the White House had ever suggested that he launch an investigation.
The two Bidens’ connections to Ukraine have become a subject of deep interest among the president’s political allies, who charge that Biden as vice president pressured the Ukrainian government to oust a prosecutor in order to benefit his son. The Ukrainian prosecutor had reportedly faced allegations of ignoring corruption among Ukraine’s business and political elite. No evidence has emerged that Joe Biden was acting to assist his son, and it is not clear that the official was probing the company at the time.
The New York Times earlier this month reported on Giuliani’s efforts to investigate and publicize the issue.
The president argued that the alleged conflict of interest, or appearance thereof, was not mushrooming into an all-out scandal because Biden is a Democrat.
“Because he’s a Democrat,” Trump said, the report had about “one-hundredth” the impact as it would have if he “were a Republican.”
That’s not for lack of effort by the president’s allies. Giuliani is about to travel to Ukraine in an effort to push the country’s president-elect to pursue the investigation into Hunter Biden’s involvement with the energy company, Burisma Holdings. He also wants Ukraine to probe whether the country’s officials were trying to help Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election by releasing forged documents tied to Paul Manafort.
Biden’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Giuliani will leave Sunday and return Wednesday, he told POLITICO in an interview on Friday. During his trip, Giuliani said he expects to meet with Volodymyr Zelensky, a television actor who was elected president of the Ukraine last month and who has reportedly said he’s looking to replace one of the prosecutors involved in the cases.
“I just want to tell him, ‘Don’t let these crooks talk you out of the investigation. There are real facts there they’ve got to investigate,’” Giuliani said. “A lot of this stuff is a lot easier for them to get. They do get nervous if they think the government is going to scuttle this investigation.”
“It’d be a shame if it’s scuttled. My interest is as an American citizen and as a lawyer to the president,” he added.
The president said Friday he didn’t know much about Giuliani’s upcoming trip but plans to speak with him before he leaves the country.
“I have not spoken to him at any great length, but I will,” Trump said in the interview. “I will speak to him about it before he leaves.”
The former New York mayor for weeks has been talking with reporters about the Biden-Ukraine connection, insisting it is a scandal.
“I don’t see how you get from here to the presidency without that being investigated,” Giuliani said, swinging back at critics who say the president’s attorney is openly encouraging a foreign government to meddle in the American election.
“If I wanted to meddle in the election, I’d be talking about it a year from now,” Giuliani said. “I’d have kept it for myself and I’d have popped it right before the Democratic convention. That’d be fun.”
Trump’s critics have long feared that the president would pressure the Justice Department to investigate his political opponents.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump and his allies led chants of “Lock her up!” in reference to Clinton, though there has been no public follow-up on the Clinton investigation since the arrival of the Trump administration.
More recently, Barr has come under fire for his reply to Sen. Kamala Harris during a hearing last week where the attorney general did not explicitly answer the California Democrat’s questions about whether Trump or anyone else in the White House asked or suggested the DOJ launch an investigation.
“I’m trying to grapple with the world ‘suggest’,” Barr replied during the hearing. “I mean there have been discussions of, of matters out there that uh … they have not asked me open an investigation.”
Harris, who is running for president, followed up by asking if the White House had hinted at an investigation, and the attorney general replied, “I don’t know.”