‘Got to act’: Trump’s extraordinary demand

 

Donald Trump has called for US Attorney-General William Barr to launch an investigation of his political opponent, Joe Biden, before the election.

The President labelled Mr Biden a "criminal" and accused him of "major corruption" during a wide-ranging 40-minute interview with the Fox News morning show Fox & Friends today.

Early in the interview, hosts Will Cain, Ainsley Earhardt and Brian Kilmeade brought up the business dealings of Mr Biden's son Hunter.

I'll give you the context here, and then we will run through Mr Trump's remarks.

The New York Post recently published emails, purportedly drawn from the hard drive of a laptop owned by Hunter, which it described as a "smoking gun" regarding his business interests in Ukraine and China.

The FBI is currently investigating whether the material provided to the newspaper by Mr Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is linked to a Russian operation to spread misinformation before the election.

However Mr Trump's Director of National Intelligence, John Ratcliffe, has rejected that idea.

"Hunter Biden's laptop is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign," Mr Ratcliffe told Fox Business yesterday.

So what exactly is the accusation against Mr Biden here?

Mr Trump has repeatedly alleged that his opponent used his power as vice president to pressure Ukraine into firing its prosecutor-general, Viktor Shokin, because Mr Shokin was investigating an energy company called Burisma, whose board Hunter served on.

Mr Biden did indeed push Ukraine to get rid of Mr Shokin. He did so at the direction of then-president Barack Obama, and with the backing of most other European nations, who believed Mr Shokin was doing too little to investigate corruption.

At the time Mr Shokin was fired, the Burisma investigation had already been shelved.

The President has also accused Mr Biden of getting corrupt kickbacks from his son's business interests. There is no evidence to support that allegation.

RELATED: Trump claims Biden family is 'criminal enterprise'

 

'HE IS A CRIMINAL'

During his interview with Fox & Friends, Mr Trump called for Mr Barr, who heads the US Justice Department, to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Mr Biden.

"We've got to get the Attorney-General to act. He's got to act, and he's got to act fast. He's got to appoint somebody," the President said.

"This is major corruption, and this has to be known about before the election.

"They say, right, that this is the laptop from hell. They say right in the laptop that, you know, the big man has to get 10 per cent. And then in another case they say 50 per cent. This is 100 per cent.

"This is, even if (Biden) didn't get - and he does get, he lives like a king - but even if he didn't get all this money, you can't go to China and have a son walk out with $US1.5 billion. You can't get $3.5 million from the mayor of Moscow's wife.

"It's disgraceful, and the media refuses to cover it."

Mr Trump's claim that Hunter received $1.5 billion from a business deal in China has been debunked. His claim that Hunter got $3.5 million from Elena Baturina, wife of the former mayor of Moscow, is unproven.

A report authored by Senate Republicans, published earlier this year, found Ms Baturina had transferred that amount to an investment firm called Rosemont Seneca Thornton in 2014.

Various media reports in the past have described Hunter as a co-founder of the firm, though his lawyer denies this is true, and claims he had "no financial interest" in it.

"You can't go with your father and every stop you make you pick up a billion dollars," Mr Trump continued.

"The vice president got a kickback, and everybody knows it, and they've known it for a long time.

"This has to be done early, so the attorney-general has to act.

"He's committed crimes. He's a criminal."

The Democrats, led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, have dismissed the allegations as Russian "propaganda".

"We know that this whole smear on Joe Biden comes from the Kremlin," Mr Schiff told CNN on Saturday.

"I think we know who the driving force behind this smear has been all along, and it's been the President and the Kremlin. The Kremlin has an obvious interest in denigrating Joe Biden. They want Donald Trump to win."

To be clear, the FBI is only investigating whether Russia is involved here. It has not yet reached any conclusion.

"It's just crazy. I saw Shifty Schiff get up yesterday and say this is Russia. He's a sick man, he is so sick," Mr Trump said.

"This guy, he ought to be put away, something ought to be done with him.

"Adam Schiff ought to be investigated for what he does."

RELATED: Hunter Biden laments his own 'poor judgment'

 

NEW DEBATE RULES ARE 'CRAZY'

The President covered a bunch of other subjects as well, which we'll cover one-by-one.

Mr Trump complained about the rules for his final debate against Mr Biden, which is coming up at midday on Friday AEST.

The Commission on Presidential Debates, a nonpartisan body which organises these events, yesterday announced it would be muting the candidates' microphones for set periods during the debate, allowing Mr Trump and Mr Biden to deliver their initial two-minute response to each question without interruption.

The move is quite obviously a response to the acrimonious first debate, during which Mr Trump repeatedly interjected and spoke over his opponent, ignoring moderator Chris Wallace's attempts to enforce the rules.

"I think the whole thing is crazy. This commission, I had problems with them four years ago. They muted my mic. They did this to me already. They actually had to write me a letter of apology," Mr Trump said.

"These people are not good people, this commission, a lot of funny things go on with them."

The incident Mr Trump referred to there came during the first debate against Hillary Clinton four years ago. A technical issue with Mr Trump's audio lowered his sound level in the debate hall, but did not affect his volume on the TV broadcast.

There was no deliberate "muting" of Mr Trump's microphone, and the commission never sent him any letter of apology.

The President also went after the final debate's moderator, NBC News correspondent Kristen Welker, implying she would be biased because her parents support the Democratic Party.

"Kristen Welker is terrible. She is totally partisan. Her father and mother are big supporters of Joe Biden, for a long time," Mr Trump said.

"It would be nice to have a host that could be not necessarily a contributor to the campaigns and the Democrats.

"She is far worse than (Steve) Scully. But I do it anyway. But this is the way it is. It's so set up. It's pretty incredible that we've been winning for so long.

"And she deleted her entire account."

To be clear, Welker is not a contributor to the Democrats. Her parents have donated to its politicians in the past.

Scully was slated to moderate the second presidential debate before it was cancelled due to Mr Trump's refusal to conduct it remotely after his coronavirus diagnosis.

He has since been suspended by his employer, C-SPAN, for falsely claiming he was the victim of a Twitter hack.

Welker did not "delete her entire account" on Twitter, as Mr Trump said. She temporarily deactivated it when Scully said he had been hacked. It is now back up and running.

RELATED: First presidential debate quickly turns ugly

 

The President is also annoyed at the range of topics selected for the final debate. There are six in total: fighting COVID-10, American families, race in America, climate change, national security and leadership.

In most presidential election years, the third and final debate is devoted to foreign policy. Given the cancellation of this year's second debate, Welker has decided to broaden the subject matter.

Foreign policy will presumably come up during the segment on national security, but that will only last for 15 minutes.

"This was supposed to be a foreign policy debate, and now all of a sudden we're talking about things that aren't foreign policy," said Mr Trump.

"They made a change and it shouldn't have happened.

"The commission has lost tremendous credibility. They lost it with me four years ago when they modulated the mic."

The hosts asked Mr Trump whether he would change his approach, perhaps dialling back his interjections and allowing Mr Biden to speak more.

"Well I may do that. Actually the interesting thing, they said if you let him talk he'll lose his train of thought because he's gonzo," he replied.

"There are a lot of people who say let him talk, because they say he loses his train of thought, he loses his mind.

"Joe lies, and he lies a lot, and he'll say things that are crazy and he'll think people are supposed to believe him.

"Hillary was a much smarter person, but they play a much dirtier game. And she was dirty, I mean with the emails and that, but they play a more dishonest game.

"There's nothing fair about this debate, and that's OK."

BIDEN TO CREATE 'SOCIALIST HELLHOLE'

Moving on, Cain asked the President to identify the "starkest contrast" between his own candidacy and Mr Biden's.

"So many individual things, whether it's the Second Amendment, or energy, or all these things," Mr Trump said.

"The bottom line - the American Dream, the great American Dream, versus being a socialist hellhole. Because they're going to turn us into a socialist nation. We're going to be no different than Venezuela."

The host asked what "specifically" Mr Biden would do to turn the United States into a socialist country.

"Well, everything," said the President.

"You know, socialised medicine. They want you to go to the hospital if you have a cold. Socialised health care.

"They want to defund your police or at least radically change your police. They want to destroy your police forces, and at the same time take away your guns so you can't defend yourself."

RELATED: Trump labels Kamala Harris a 'communist'

 

TRUMP CONTRADICTS OWN STIMULUS POSITION

Kilmeade asked Mr Trump about the White House's stimulus negotiations with congressional Democrats, which have failed to result in a deal for months.

The most fundamental sticking point has been the size of the coronavirus relief package. The Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have been pushing for spending totalling at least $2.2 trillion. Mr Trump's Republican Party wants something more modest, along the lines of $1.6 trillion.

During the interview, however, Mr Trump claimed he wanted to spend more money than Ms Pelosi.

"I want to do it even bigger than the Democrats, because this is money going to people that did not deserve what happened to them coming out of China," he said.

"To put it very simply, we want to do it, but Nancy Pelosi doesn't want to do it."

"She's at $2.4 trillion, and you want to go bigger than that?" Kilmeade asked, visibly surprised that Mr Trump was contradicting his own negotiating position.

"She's at $2.2 trillion, and I would be willing to go more," he confirmed.

"I would rather go bigger than that number, but we'll see. But here's the problem, she doesn't want to do anything before the election.

"Maybe she changes her tune, and I can tell you, there is a little bit of that, and that would be a very positive thing for the American people."

AMERICANS 'ARE LIVING WITH' THE VIRUS

The conversation eventually turned to the coronavirus pandemic. The hosts stipulated that Americans did not want to shut down again, and asked Mr Trump how he planned to reopen the country's economy safely "if the numbers keep going up".

The US is currently averaging nearly 60,000 new infections per day, and appears to be nearing its third peak of the pandemic.

"We are living with it, and we're having the vaccines coming out very soon," Mr Trump said.

"We're doing much better than Europe. Europe is going to get very hard. And we will never shut down.

"We understand the disease. No, there will be no shutdowns.

"We have to open up, and we live with it, and we open up our schools, and I'm the one that got Big Ten and Pac-12 (college) football back.

"I hope people realise that, that was pure and simple me.

"Young kids, 99.9 per cent, young kids have to go back to school. They have to get back.

"I mean look at NY, it's like a ghost town. Look at what they've done to NY, it's like a ghost town."

As someone who currently lives in New York, I would dispute Mr Trump's characterisation of it as a "ghost town".

The city's streets are noticeably quieter than they would be in normal times, but they're by no means empty. Most people are wearing masks, and all stores and restaurants are enforcing social distancing.

RELATED: How New York's Democrat leaders screwed up

 

Mr Trump addressed his public criticism of top coronavirus adviser Dr Anthony Fauci in recent days, insisting he actually likes the infectious disease expert.

"I get along with him very well. He's a Democrat, he's actually a very good friend of the Cuomo family," he said.

The Cuomos are a powerful political family in the US. Andrew Cuomo is currently Governor of New York, and his younger brother Chris is a high profile host on CNN. Their father Mario Cuomo was also a governor of New York.

Dr Fauci is not a Democrat. He is registered with neither political party, and has served under multiple Republican and Democratic administrations.

"He's a nice guy, but he's been wrong," Mr Trump continued.

"He said let the people from China that are heavily infected come in. He admits that he was wrong on that."

Dr Fauci has admitted to no such thing.

While Mr Trump often claims all of his advisers, including Dr Fauci, told him not to impose travel restrictions on people arriving from China at the end of January, Watergate journalist Bob Woodward has reported the move was actually recommended by at least five of them - Dr Fauci, Health Secretary Alex Azar, CDC Director Robert Redfield, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien, and Mr O'Brien's deputy Matthew Pottinger.

"Reporters like him because they think he's against me," Mr Trump said of Dr Fauci.

"He's a nice guy. He's got a really bad arm, not a good baseball thrower, but he's a nice guy. They only thing I would say is he's a little bit sometimes not a team player. But he is a Democrat."

The jab at Dr Fauci's throwing arm was a reference to the time he threw out the first pitch, poorly, at the opening game of the Major League Baseball season in July.

Mr Trump went on to praise another of his coronavirus advisers, Dr Scott Atlas, who has claimed face masks do not work and advocated a "herd immunity" approach to the virus.

"Scott Atlas is fantastic, but they go after him so much," he said.

"We've saved millions of lives by the decisions I've made.

"We're doing much better than Europe and we're doing much better than everyone else, and our recovery is the strongest in the world."

It is true that Europe is currently suffering a sharp spike in infections. America's death toll, at over 220,000, remains the worst in the world.

RELATED: White House undermines its own expert's advice

 

TRUMP PREDICTS ECONOMIC 'DEPRESSION'

We are nearing the end here, I promise. What can I say? It was a long interview.

Mr Trump returned to painting a dark picture of a potential Biden presidency. In the process, he mischaracterised a few parts of the Democrat's policy platform.

"You won't even be able to buy a car. You'll go into a depression the likes of which this country has never seen, at least since 1929," he said.

"They're going to double, triple, quadruple your taxes. They actually say they're going to quadruple, to pay for the Green New Deal.

"What they're doing is crazy, and their taxes will quadruple, they're going to take your guns away."

Mr Biden does intend to raise taxes, and by a hefty amount - about $4 trillion over the next decade. The highest burden would fall on the top 1 per cent of earners, whose tax bill would rise by about 40 per cent. Even their taxes would not double, let alone quadruple.

Mr Biden has said he does not support the Green New Deal, which is an extensive policy program proposed by left-wing Democrats, though he does consider it a "crucial framework" for his own agenda. Make of that what you will.

On guns, the Democratic nominee has promised to ban the sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Anyone who currently owns assault weapons would have the choice of either selling them back to the government or registering them.

Mr Trump kept speaking about the Green New Deal, alleging it would lead to buildings being refitted with "tiny windows".

"They want to take a building and take it from nice windows to little windows. Let's take your windows out and make tiny little windows, because you're going to save two cents on energy," the President said.

"This is the most important election in the history of our country. We will never allow this country to become a socialist nation, and that's what they are trying to do."

The policy does call for all existing buildings in the US to adopt new energy and water efficiency measures. It doesn't say anything about tiny windows.

'WE ARE GOING TO WIN'

Finally, the hosts asked Mr Trump how he felt about his chances of winning the election. He sounded optimistic.

"We're doing very well. We're going to win the election," said Mr Trump.

"We're doing great all over."

It is unclear whether the Trump campaign's internal polling is significantly better than the public polling, or whether the President is merely dismissing the polls altogether.

RealClearPolitics' national polling average currently has Mr Biden ahead by 8.6 per cent. He leads in eight of the swing states Mr Trump won four years ago, though the margins there are generally much smaller. The President still leads in one swing state, Ohio, by 0.2 per cent.

"I think we're in great shape. I really do. You've seen it," said Mr Trump.

"We're up in Florida, way up. We're up in North Carolina, all you have to do is look at the numbers. Pennsylvania's pretty even."

Public polling averages show Mr Biden leading these three states by 1, 2 and 4 per cent, respectively.

"The rallies are rallies like, in history, there have never been - and I think I can say this, many people have said, many of the enemy have said it, we're having rallies like nobody has ever seen before," he continued.

"You look at Biden, the other day he had a rally and four people showed up. They go and stand in the circles."

The Democrat's public events are indeed much smaller than Mr Trump's rallies, which draw thousands of people and involve no social distancing. Attendees are encouraged, but not required, to wear masks.

 

Asked whether it would be harder to win this election than the one against Ms Clinton four years ago, Mr Trump gave a surprising answer.

"No, it's easier, and we're way ahead of where we were by the way, especially when you see the numbers that are coming in," he said.

"This election was over until the plague came in from China. Then the plague came in and it affected this country, and it affected many other countries. Look at other countries where a leader was doing a good job, and many of those people are gone.

"We've done an incredible job, both with COVID - we've saved millions of lives. The press doesn't want to give us any credit for that.

"We are doing great."

Originally published as 'Got to act': Trump's extraordinary demand



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