Why Democratic Candidates Should Defend Biden

In March of 2018, Peter Schweizer published a book titled, “Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends.” In it, he claimed that Hunter Biden received millions of dollars from Ukrainian energy company Burisma, while his father directed $1.8 billion in aid money to Ukraine. During an interview with Breitbart, Schweizer claimed that, “[Biden’s] family, particularly his son, cashed in while he was vice president of the United States.”

A couple of weeks before Biden formally announced his candidacy at the end of April, John Solomon revived the story, claiming that Joe Biden had pressured the Ukrainian government to fire Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin to stop an investigation of Burisma, from which his son Hunter Biden was profiting.

The story was picked up by Ken Vogel and Julia Mendel at the New York Times on May 1st with the headline, “Biden Faces Conflict of Interest Questions That Are Being Promoted by Trump and Allies.” By then, Rudy Giuliani was beginning his campaign to pressure the Ukrainian government into opening an investigation into the Biden family, but Vogel and Mendel didn’t mention that until the tenth paragraph of their story. It wasn’t until the 19th paragraph that they included this little tidbit.

No evidence has surfaced that the former vice president intentionally tried to help his son by pressing for the prosecutor general’s dismissal. Some of his former associates, moreover, said Mr. Biden never did anything to deter other Obama administration officials who were pushing for the United States to support criminal investigations by Ukrainian and British authorities — and potentially to start its own investigation — into Burisma and its owner, Mykola Zlochevsky, for possible money laundering and abuse of office.

After that story was published, Bloomberg’s Stephanie Baker and Daryna Krasnolutska investigated the claims about the Bidens—interviewing Ukrainian officials and reviewing documents—and found them to be baseless.

If any of that sounds familiar, that’s because it is a repeat of what the same players did to Hillary Clinton in the summer of 2016. Schweizer wrote a book titled, “Clinton Cash” in which he alluded to corruption at the Clinton Foundation involving the so-called “Uranium One” deal. Solomon plugged the story relentlessly and the New York Times ran with it. In other words, as I wrote last spring, “Biden got Hillary’ed.”

Regardless of the fact that there was no case to be made, Giuliani continued to pressure the Ukrainian government into investigating the Bidens, and Donald Trump did the same thing during a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky towards the end of July. We’ve now learned that the whistleblower from the intelligence community referenced that call in the complaint that was filed with the inspector general.

In addition to the Bloomberg reporters, experts like Anders Åsland and Oliver Bullough have thoroughly debunked the claims being made by Trump and his enablers. Even Alan Cullison, writing for the Wall Street Journal, notes that Joe Biden’s pressure to have Shokin fired came because he was failing to investigate corruption (the opposite of what Giuliani claims) and that the then-vice president was supported in his calls for the firing of the prosecutor general by “everyone in the Western community,” including the whole G-7, the IMF, and the EBRD.

Even so, we still see headlines like the one in the Washington Post, which reads: “Scrutiny over Trump’s Ukraine scandal may also complicate Biden’s campaign.” Over the weekend, Ken Vogel of the New York Times said that the real problem with Giuliani’s ranting about this story is that it gets in the way of journalists explaining how this is “a significant liability for Joe Biden.”

Appearing on Fox News with Maria Bartiromo, Giuliani explained how this works.

“It’s the only way you can get this out. I mean, the only way [the media] would cover this story is by punching the president in the face, and then the president deflects the punch — which he’s done. The story has come way down from what it was. And then [Trump] hits them with a right hand that’s much more powerful,” Giuliani said.

So now we have Trump saying, “Sure, I did it. So what?” As expected, his supporters are buying it. Meanwhile, there are those on the extreme left who are joining with Trump’s enablers and some media outlets to suggest that Biden is compromised. That is exactly what one of Trump’s advisors was referring to when they told Maggie Haberman that, given Trump’s low approval numbers, he needs voters to feel negatively about his opponents. In 2016 Trump won voters who viewed both candidates unfavorably by about a two to one margin.

At this point, every Democratic candidate should be unapologetically defending Biden against these allegations. We’re seeing the Trump playbook in action—and it’s a repeat of exactly what his campaign did in 2016. If someone other than Biden goes on to become the nominee, they are guaranteed to get the same treatment. It is time to speak up loudly with one voice and say, “it’s not going to work this time.”

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.