Minutes after President Trump called on the governments of China and Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential rival in the 2020 presidential campaign, the chair of the Federal Election Commission posted a reminder that seeking foreign political help is illegal.
In a tweet posted Thursday morning, Ellen Weintraub struck an incredulous tone.
Trump has said he wanted Ukraine to investigate “corruption” by Biden and his son Hunter, but the former vice president is a leading candidate to oppose him for reelection, and as his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has admitted, damaging Biden’s reputation is his actual purpose.
Weintraub is a Democrat, according to the FEC website, but was appointed to the commission in 2002, under President George W. Bush. Her nominal term expired more than a decade ago, but she has remained in the post as successive administrations have found it impossible to choose and confirm a successor.
On June 13, Weintraub originally posted a statement clarifying the illegality of candidates receiving election assistance from foreign governments after Trump told ABC News he would not alert the FBI if he was approached by a country such as Russia with damaging information about his 2020 opponent, and he would consider the information.
“It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it,” Trump told ABC. “If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI — if I thought there was something wrong. But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research, ‘Oh, let’s call the FBI.’ The FBI doesn’t have enough agents to take care of it. When you go and talk, honestly, to congressmen, they all do it, they always have, and that’s the way it is. It’s called oppo research.”
Candidates often look for damaging information on their opponents, but generally from published stories, court papers or other domestic sources, not from foreign governments.
In response to Trump’s interview in June, Weintraub took the opportunity to remind the nation that what Trump had proposed doing violated U.S. law.
“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office: It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” Weintraub wrote. “This is not a novel concept.”
On Thursday, Trump was again asked what he was specifically seeking on a July 25 call when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for “a favor.”
“Well, I would think if they were honest about it, they’d start a major investigation into the Bidens,” Trump responded. “It’s a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens because how does a company that’s newly formed and all these companies, and by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine. So I would say with President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend they start an investigation into the Bidens, because nobody has any doubt that they weren’t crooked.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who has taken the lead on the impeachment inquiry against Trump, echoed Weintraub’s warning.
Trump has tasked Attorney General William Barr to reach out to several foreign governments to investigate the role U.S. intelligence agencies played in the 2016 presidential election as a way to counter the narrative that Trump was aided by Russian interference. Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for their efforts to promote Trump’s candidacy, including hacking into and stealing files on a server used by the Democratic National Committee.
Joe and Hunter Biden are not under investigation in the U.S.