In an interview Tuesday, former U.S. President Donald Trump specifically asked Russian President Vladimir Putin to release information that Trump believes would implicate the family of U.S. President Joe Biden in financial wrongdoing.
In the interview with the “Just the News” television program on the network Real America’s Voice, Trump suggested that Putin might want to provide the information because he thinks it would harm the United States.
“As long as Putin now is not exactly a fan of our country,” Trump said, the Russian leader might be willing to explain why in 2014 Russian businesswoman Elena Baturina, the wife of the deceased former mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov, made a $3.5 million payment to a firm Trump supporters have claimed is associated with Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
“I would think Putin would know the answer to that,” Trump said. “I think he should release it.”
Trump characterized the payment as having been made to the “Biden family,” but it was actually made to an entity called Rosemont Seneca Thornton. Hunter Biden was an original founder of the investment fund Rosemont Seneca, but his attorney said that he had no connection with or interest in Rosemont Seneca Thornton.
“Hunter Biden had no interest in and was not a ‘co-founder’ of Rosemont Seneca Thornton, so the claim that he was paid $3.5 million is false,” the attorney, George Mesires, told PolitiFact in September 2020.
While Hunter Biden’s business dealings have been under investigation by federal prosecutors since at least 2018, the information about the payment from Baturina was revealed in a Republican-led Senate inquiry. The report provided no evidence that the payment was corrupt or associated with Hunter Biden’s investment fund in any way.
Experts in American politics struggled to find another instance in which a former U.S. president had solicited damaging information about a sitting president’s family from the leader of one of the country’s most significant geostrategic rivals.
“Don’t bother to look for parallels because it’s completely unparalleled,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told VOA. “This is an example of complete self-absorption and elevation of personal interest over the country’s interests.”
Sabato added, “That is something that, it goes without saying, should be beneath the dignity of any former president. But it’s not beneath Donald Trump’s dignity.”
It was difficult to find Republicans in Washington defending the former president’s comments on Wednesday. Utah Senator Mitt Romney told reporters, “I don’t think Vladimir Putin ought to be one of the people we go to for favors right now.”
Echoes of 2016 campaign
Trump’s public call for Putin to release information about Biden’s son echoed his request, during the 2016 presidential campaign, for Moscow to release emails belonging to his then-opponent, Hillary Clinton.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said in July 2016. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
Whether by coincidence or not, a special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election later determined that Russian hackers made their first attempt to break into computers in Clinton’s personal office on the same day as Trump’s request.
Also on Tuesday, Evgeny Popov, a member of the Russian Duma and the host of a program on state-run television, said during a broadcast that it was time for Russian citizens to call on U.S. citizens to end Biden’s term early, “and to again help our partner Trump to become president.”
Hunter Biden investigation
Hunter Biden’s business dealings have been a target of intense interest among Trump and his political allies. In 2018, the U.S. attorney for the District of Delaware, David Weiss, opened an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business activities in several foreign countries.
When Joe Biden took office in 2021, he left the Trump-appointed Weiss in office, in order to avoid the appearance of interfering in the investigation into his son.
Media reports indicate that the investigation into Hunter Biden has not only continued but has picked up pace.
Trump’s efforts to dig up dirt on the younger Biden related to his seat on the board of directors of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma led to his first impeachment. In a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in 2019, Trump appeared to condition the sale of military equipment to Ukraine on Zelenskyy’s willingness to do him a “favor” by announcing an investigation into the Bidens.
Biden’s membership on the Burisma board had raised eyebrows for a number of reasons. He was paid a generous $50,000 per month, despite having no apparent expertise in the energy business. Also, his father was in charge of the Obama administration’s Ukraine policy at the time.
No evidence has been made public suggesting that any decisions Joe Biden made while vice president were meant to aid his son’s business ventures.
Chinese energy firm
On Tuesday, The Washington Post published an investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China. The report relied on data from a laptop computer that Biden was purported to have left at a computer repair store and that was later turned over to the FBI.
Allies of Trump tried to get journalists to investigate the laptop during the 2020 election campaign, but many balked because of the circumstances under which the data from the machine was obtained. The owner of the store copied the computer’s hard drive before turning the device over to the FBI. The copied hard drive then found its way into the hands of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, who had actively worked to have Ukrainian officials announce an investigation into the Bidens.
The Post said it was able to independently verify the accuracy of some of the data on the machine.
Among other things, the Post story revealed that over 14 months, beginning in 2017, Hunter Biden’s company received $4.8 billion in payments from a Chinese energy conglomerate called CEFC China Energy. None of the energy projects that Biden discussed with the firm ever took shape, the paper reported, and one of the executives of CEFC was arrested by U.S. authorities for bribery.