UPDATE, 2:43 p.m. PT: Chuck Todd opened “Meet the Press Daily” on Thursday by telling viewers, “I don’t say this lightly, but let’s be frank. A national nightmare is upon us. The basic rules of democracy are under attack by the president.”
That was after a flurry of breaking news related to the whistleblower complaint and the impeachment inquiry, led by the President Donald Trump’s public call for Ukraine and China to investigate his potential rival in 2020, Joe Biden.
PREVIOUSLY, 8:59 a.m. PT: Shortly after President Donald Trump took questions from reporters on the South Lawn today, NBC News White House correspondent Peter Alexander went on air to explain what just happened:
“President Trump is now publicly asking foreign leaders to investigate Joe Biden, in the midst of an impeachment inquiry into whether he privately asked a foreign leader to investigate Joe Biden,” Alexander said.
As he was headed off to Florida for an event, Trump told reporters that “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 that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens.”
In the nine days since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of an impeachment inquiry against Trump, print and TV journalists have broken story after story that advances the narrative, with the biggest bombshells seemingly reserved for the late afternoon ET hours.
But Trump has missed very few opportunities to try to make his own headlines, often on Twitter but also in his interactions with the White House press corps. Even as he has tagged mainstream media as mostly “corrupt,” he has still been stopping to answer questions from reporters sometimes several times a day.
It may take weeks to see if Trump’s efforts to turn the focus onto the Bidens has worked. Support for impeachment has jumped since last week, according to multiple polls. And while one poll released yesterday showed that 42% of respondents think that Biden “probably did”
put pressure on Ukraine to not investigate his son’s businesses, it will take more polling to see if Trump’s unproven claims stick. News outlets like The New Yorker
and The Washington Post
have looked into the Biden story and found no evidence to support Trump’s claims.
Curiously, the question that Trump was answering on Thursday – about what he wanted from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky when he talked about the Bidens on their July 25 phone call – was the same one that Reuters’ Jeff Mason asked twice at a press conference on Wednesday, prompting Trump to dodge the question and berate Mason. On Thursday, the president made clear that what he’d wanted was the Bidens investigated – and for China to do it too.
That sent news outlets into a new fever of analysis over what it meant for the impeachment inquiry.
“It is legally wrong. It is morally wrong. And the president has to hear that from people on Capitol Hill,” Nicholas Burns, a former State Department official under George W. Bush, said on CNN. He made similar comments earlier on MSNBC, but also said that he is backing Biden in the presidential election.
Fox News turned to Gerard Baker, editor at large for The Wall Street Journal, who suggested that this was Trump’s m.o. or even part of some kind of strategy.
“It is classic Donald Trump,” Baker said on the channel. “He doubles down…He just says, ‘far from feeling ashamed or sorry…he says, ‘Yeah, they should investigate.'”
He said that Trump feels that “far from this being an abuse of power, as the Democrats would say, to get a foreign government to investigate a domestic political opponent, he feels that there is some serious questionable stuff that Hunter Biden has done in various roles around the world and it is absolutely legitimate to ask for other countries to investigate.”
Biden campaign communications director Kate Bedingfield said that the White House “itself has admitted that Donald Trump tried to bully a foreign country into lying about the domestic opponent he’s afraid to look in the eye next November. Now, with his administration in free fall, Donald Trump is flailing and melting down on national television, desperately clutching for conspiracy theories that have been debunked and dismissed by independent, credible news organizations.”