President Donald Trump just tossed his most pressing economic issue into the morass of impeachment politics.
Trump’s suggestion Thursday that Beijing should investigate a political rival, moments after threatening America’s “tremendous power” in the ongoing trade talks with China, exposes his long-running negotiations with the world’s No. 2 economy to new scrutiny and could cast a political shadow over the results.
Trump’s characteristic conflation of issues comes just a week before Chinese officials are due to arrive for a 13th round of trade talks in Washington.
Even if Trump’s comments don’t shift the dynamic at the negotiating table, people who have been tracking every twist in the trade talks say the president’s statement will cloud how any outcome from the talks is received by Trump’s Democratic opponents and other U.S. policymakers.
“This is a gift to anyone who doesn’t like the deal,” said Derek Scissors, a China scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who has advised the administration on China issues.
“It will be very easy to say, the U.S. could have gotten more but the president wanted China to investigate Biden and gave up something that would have helped American workers,” he added.
Trump on Thursday broadened the controversy over his request that Ukraine open a corruption investigation into the Bidens — already the focus of an impeachment inquiry by House Democrats — by bringing up China, unprompted, as another country that should look into the matter.
“Well, I would think that if they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens. It’s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens,” the president told reporters about Ukraine on the South Lawn of the White House. “Likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine.”
Trump and his allies have claimed that Hunter Biden convinced China to put $1.5 billion in a fund for an investment firm he had a stake in when his father, Joe Biden, was in office. Lawyers for the former vice president’s son have denied those assertions.
The statement came moments after Trump said the U.S. has “a lot of options” to get Beijing to bend to its will in the trade talks.
“If they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power,” he said.
By late Thursday, the controversy had opened a new front in the impeachment inquiry and spurred rebukes from Democrats across the board.
The top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), called on the White House, Treasury Department and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to explain whether the Biden issue had actually been raised in the context of trade talks and to produce any relevant documents.
“Linking trade negotiations to Donald Trump’s wide-ranging effort to fabricate foreign accusations against political rivals is a complete abuse of the powers of the president,” said Wyden in a statement. “I am increasingly concerned that he is using the leverage of trade threats for personal gain, just as he did with foreign aid to Ukraine. The Chinese communist government has a long record of concocting false evidence to convict political enemies, and I have no doubt they would happily fabricate evidence against the American president’s enemies in exchange for trade concessions from the United States.“
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