Trump’s in a Glass House, Throwing Stones

So today this happened:

President Trump on Thursday publicly called on China to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., 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,” Mr. Trump said Thursday as he left the White House to travel to Florida where he was expected to announce an executive order on Medicare.

I have been saying all along that, fundamentally, Trump is too stupid to understand when he’s out of bounds. There’s really no other explanation for why he keeps stepping on the same cow pie, so to speak, and publicly admitting to it.

(BTW, the executive order on Medicare is about beefing up Medicare Advantage, which probably means taking money out of regular Medicare and giving it to private insurers, because that’s how Trump rolls. This is supposed to be a response to Democrats’ Medicare for All proposal, and of course it is nothing of the sort.

The executive order, originally called “Protecting Medicare from Socialist Destruction,” was renamed “Protecting and Improving Medicare for our Nation’s Seniors” ahead of Mr. Trump’s speech. But administration officials called the renaming a distinction without a difference.

I guess that expanding the socialist progam Medicare makes it even more socialist, which would be why they are only beefing up the less-socialist part that is administered by private companies. This has been another bulletin about “why we can’t have nice things.” Now we return to your regularly scheduled blog.)

Now, why does Trump think China should be investigating the Bidens? This is his beef, expressed during the joint press conference, or whatever it was, with Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky on September 25.

Q    Mr. President, would you like President Zelensky to do more on Joe Biden and investigate (inaudible)?

PRESIDENT TRUMP:  No.  I want him to do whatever he can.  This was not his fault; he wasn’t there.  He’s just been here recently.  But whatever he can do in terms of corruption, because the corruption is massive.

Now, when Biden’s son walks away with millions of dollars from Ukraine, and he knows nothing, and they’re paying him millions of dollars, that’s corruption.

When Biden’s son walks out of China with $1.5 billion in a fund — and the biggest funds in the world can’t get money out of China — and he’s there for one quick meeting, and he flies in on Air Force Two, I think that’s a horrible thing.  I think it’s a horrible thing.

According to PolitiFact, this is a claim made in the book Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends by Peter Schweizer. Schweizer is also the author of Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, which PolitiFact says, dryly, it has given poor ratings.

What really happened? It’s hard to know. I found this in the New Yorker:

In 2012, Archer [a family friend] and Hunter talked to Jonathan Li, who ran a Chinese private-equity fund, Bohai Capital, about becoming partners in a new company that would invest Chinese capital—and, potentially, capital from other countries—in companies outside China. In June, 2013, Li, Archer, and other business partners signed a memorandum of understanding to create the fund, which they named BHR Partners, and, in November, they signed contracts related to the deal. Hunter became an unpaid member of BHR’s board but did not take an equity stake in BHR Partners until after his father left the White House.

In December, 2013, Vice-President Biden flew to Beijing to meet with President Xi Jinping. Biden often asked one of his grandchildren to accompany him on his international trips, and he invited Finnegan to come on this one. Hunter told his father that he wanted to join them. According to a Beijing-based BHR representative, Hunter, shortly after arriving in Beijing, on December 4th, helped arrange for Li to shake hands with his father in the lobby of the American delegation’s hotel. Afterward, Hunter and Li had what both parties described as a social meeting. Hunter told me that he didn’t understand why anyone would have been concerned about this. “How do I go to Beijing, halfway around the world, and not see them for a cup of coffee?” he said.

Hunter’s meeting with Li and his relationship with BHR attracted little attention at the time, but some of Biden’s advisers were worried that Hunter, by meeting with a business associate during his father’s visit, would expose the Vice-President to criticism. The former senior White House aide told me that Hunter’s behavior invited questions about whether he “was leveraging access for his benefit, which just wasn’t done in that White House. Optics really mattered, and that seemed to be cutting it pretty close, even if nothing nefarious was going on.”

So, what Hunter did wasn’t what Trump claimed, and it doesn’t seem Joe Biden did anything wrong, although neither was it completely proper. See also Hunter Biden’s Perfectly Legal, Socially Acceptable Corruption by Sarah Chayes in The Atlantic. There is a long-standing pattern of people with connections to high-level U.S. government officials cashing in through various “consulting” or other gigs related somehow to disreputable and corrupt foreign despots. It’s not illegal, as long as currently serving officials are kept out of it. And everything I’ve read says that Joe Biden himself was not part of whatever Hunter was up to.

However, at the same time, we can’t be making high-minded speeches about ending corruption if all kinds of Americans with connections to American leadership are cashing in on the corruption. If this isn’t illegal, maybe it ought to be.

Further, my dears, if we want to talk about people connected to American leadership, what about the Trump kids? It’s like Trump forgets he’s related to these people. Conor Friedersdorf wrote at The Atlantic,

Defenders of Trump on this matter would seem to be conceding that a President Kamala Harris could pressure foreign leaders to investigate Don Jr., Eric, and Ivanka Trump for corrupt business dealings in their respective countries, marshaling the leverage of U.S. foreign policy to secure answers.

The inquiry could extend to anything related, however tangentially, to the official doings and responsibilities of their father, which would plausibly encompass nearly all of the Trump Organization’s actions around the world.

Harris could run the whole operation through a personal attorney chosen for his or her personal and political loyalty, bypassing the procedures and checks against corruption embedded within the federal bureaucracy. And she could do this to the Trump kids even if one of them were running against her for president––indeed, it would not even matter if her motives were obviously venal.

So, Trump supporters: Do you think, as I do, that it would be an abuse of power for President Harris to investigate Don Jr., Eric, and Ivanka in this fashion? Or are you okay with the precedent that Trump is trying to set?

Aaron Rupar wrote at Vox:

To be clear, there’s no doubt that Hunter Biden leveraged his family name into positions he was otherwise unqualified for — like the $50,000-a-month gig on the board of the Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma that President Donald Trump and his enablers are now desperately trying to spin into a scandal.

But if anyone should sit out trying to exploit the situation it is the Trump children, who would not be as rich or as famous as they are if it weren’t for their father. And yet on Wednesday night, both Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. went on Fox News and tried to exploit it anyway.

The hypocrisy and irony of clips like the one below — pushed by an arm of the Trump campaign despite Eric and Don Jr.’s (broken) promise to stay out of politics so conflicts of interest could be avoided between their father and the family business they now manage on his behalf — is truly staggering:

And here it is:

Kind of takes one’s breath away. Back to Aaron Rupar:

Just hours before the Trumps’ Fox News appearances, Forbes reported that Eric and Don Jr. have sold more than $100 million of the family’s real estate since the January 2017 inauguration — including a $3.2 million deal in the Dominican Republic last year that is “the clearest violation of their father’s pledge to do no new foreign deals while in office.” Foreign money has also poured into the Trump International Hotel, located just blocks from the White House, which the president’s most recent financial disclosure indicated made him $41 million last year alone.

In addition to Ukraine, the Trumps have also accused Hunter Biden of cashing in in China. But as the New York Times detailed in August, a $1.7 billion Trump Organization project in Indonesia received a $500 billion infusion from a state-owned Chinese construction company. And it’s not just Eric and Don Jr.; Ivanka Trump, despite working in the White House, continues to do business in China as well.

Remember Ivanka’s trademarks? This is from May 2018:

China this month awarded Ivanka Trump seven new trademarks across a broad collection of businesses, including books, housewares and cushions.

At around the same time, President Trump vowed to find a way to prevent a major Chinese telecommunications company from going bust, even though the company has a history of violating American limits on doing business with countries like Iran and North Korea.

Coincidence? Well, probably.

The rule seems to be that if a Democrat does it, it’s bad; if a Trump does it, then it’s okay.

DALLAS, TX – SEPTEMBER 14: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the American Airlines Center on September 14, 2015 in Dallas, Texas. More than 20,000 tickets have been distributed for the event. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)