President Donald Trump’s aggressive new strategy to thwart the Democrats’ impeachment offensive is already sinking under the weight of new revelations.
Trump tried to turn the tide Thursday, after struggling to counter the core Democratic argument that he had abused his power to hurt a political rival, Joe Biden, including staging a remarkable photo op in which he effectively asked China, America’s rising geopolitical rival for global power, to help him win in 2020.
But an avalanche of disclosures about his administration’s previous attempts to enlist Ukraine in his effort to smear Biden showed his White House is failing to contain a crisis that is threatening his presidency.
Perhaps the biggest problem for Trump is the release of text messages provided by his former special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who gave a deposition on Capitol Hill. The texts include a key message from Volker to a Ukrainian aide to President Volodymyr Zelensky, sent just before the infamous July 25 call at the center of the impeachment probe, which lays out how an investigation into Trump’s political interests could help assure a meeting between the two presidents.
The unveiling of the text messages threatens to undermine one of the President and his supporters’ key defenses: that there was no quid pro quo when Trump asked Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter.
Trump’s seeming obsession with undermining Biden’s campaign may also present problems for him on the other side of the globe.
In addition to Trump publicly asking the Chinese to investigate the Bidens, CNN reported Thursday that Trump had brought up Biden and his political prospects to Chinese President Xi Jinping in a phone call back in June. The disclosure was the latest sign that the President was using his constitutional leeway to set foreign policy in order to advance his own political interests.
The gambit threatened to introduce a new conflict of interest into talks to ease the President’s trade war with China. But on a deeper level it raised questions about Trump’s willingness to embrace foreign intervention in US politics — a possibility that haunted America’s founders as they contemplated the shape of a new republic more than two centuries ago.
Before the latest breaking developments, the President had sought to combat the perception that he had secretly attempted to get a foreign power to intervene in US politics.
But then he appeared on the South Lawn of the White House to take another shot at Biden and to say that both Ukraine and China should investigate his potential 2020 foe, and then later tweeted that he had the “absolute right” to do so.
It was a brazen yet quintessentially Trumpian response to his crisis.
The President has spent days, unusually, struggling to switch a damaging political narrative triggered by evidence that he pressured a foreign nation to target a political opponent in an apparent abuse of power.