Reason Roundup

Move Over, Russia: Impeachment Talk Now Turns on Trump Dealings With Ukraine

Plus: Juul under criminal investigation, states pay millions to abortion providers, and more...

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Impeachment is coming, impeachment is coming! We've been hearing that for so long and with such profoundly unearned certainty that it's no wonder such assurances are now greeted with all the gravitas of Henny Penny squawking. Still, this time it really is different, pundits say.

I am still not inclined to believe them. (And from the sound of yesterday's Reason podcast, neither are my colleagues.) But at this point, simply ignoring the proximate cause for the latest impeachment predictionsPresident Donald Trump's purported request for Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden's son's business dealings thereno longer seems like an option. Since there's potential badness for both Democrats and Republicans to latch on to, both sides seem determined to make sure this story has legs.

So, here's a quickand nonpartisanrundown of what has happened, what's at stake, and what folks are saying about it.

Hunter Biden did have some potentially shady business dealings. As his dad was serving as vice president of the United States, the middle Biden child was brokering tight business relationships with state-associated companies in China and Ukraine, as part of work he was doing with John Kerry's stepson, Christopher Heinz. On multiple occasions, Heinz and Biden's business escapades coincided with their fathers meeting with (and sometimes being especially accommodating to) Chinese and Ukrainian leaders. "Of course, Trump would love to turn Hunter Biden into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. So, there's reasonable fear of giving too much oxygen to wild accusations," writes Boston Globe columnist Joan Vennochi. "But you don't have to work for Fox News to see legitimate concerns over Hunter Biden's business dealings. In fact, you can read all about them in presumably friendly media outposts like The New Yorker and the New York Times."

We have no evidence that Joe Biden was involved or acted improperly in service of his son. And the overlaps between Biden and Kerry statecraft and their sons' work could also be explained in the exact reverse way from how critics are framing it. That is, perhaps the younger Biden and Heinz got the deals they did because their fathers were already seen by foreign leaders as allies.

"On the narrow question of whether Joe Biden used his position as vice president to push for the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was investigating a Ukrainian energy company that was paying Hunter Biden lots of money—there's no credible evidence of that," notes Vennochi. Yet "some State Department officials had expressed concern that Hunter Biden's work in Ukraine could complicate his father's diplomacy there," as The New York Times put it. At the very least, this didn't look good, and Republicans are right when they say it would likely be taken much more seriously if this were the Trump family, for example, not the Bidens.

Trump has been his typically bombastic and shady self about all of this. First, Trump keeps getting key details about the Hunter Biden situation wrong. Plus, Trump and his people keep flip-flopping about what the president said in his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. We supposedly know about the phone call because a whistleblower filed a complaint with Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson. A recent Trump tweet suggested the whistleblower is full of crap.

And yet, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has admitted that he talked to the Ukrainian president about Biden. "As a brief review, we know that Giuliani…first denied, then admitted that he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden," points out David French at National Review. "We also know that Giuliani then strongly implied that Trump himself requested that Ukraine investigate Biden, calling that the president 'doing his job.'"

And Trump himself seemed to admit as much recently. He told reporters over the weekend:

The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption, all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don't want our people, like Vice President Biden and his son, creating to the corruption already in the Ukraine.

The media has played typically loose with insinuations and dot-connecting. "About a week before he urged Ukraine's president to investigate Hunter Biden, Trump told Mulvaney and others to halt aid," tweeted Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey with a link to a new article. "Eventually some feared decision could be illegal, and he was convinced to reverse." But the Post article itself elaborates that this wasn't strictly or at all about the Bidens:

Republican senators on the Senate Appropriations Committee said Sept. 12 that the aid to Ukraine had been held up while the Trump administration explored whether Zelensky, the country's new president, was pro-Russian or pro-Western. They said the White House decided to release the aid after Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) threatened to freeze $5 billion in Pentagon funding for next year unless the money for 2019 was distributed.

Or, as Axios put it: "There is no evidence that the release is tied to Trump's calls for Ukraine to investigate Biden."

Is it really so wrong to spend a little more time finding out if an administration is on our side before we sent them military aid? Or, as Trump told reporters Monday, "If you don't talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?"

We might hear more from the alleged whistleblower soon. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) sent a letter Sunday to all members of Congress saying that this Thursday, the House Intelligence Committee will hear from Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire and that, "at that time, we expect him to obey the law and turn over the whistleblower's full complaint to the Committee. We also expect that he will establish a path for the whistleblower to speak directly to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees as required by law."

Some top Democrats are saying this could really trigger impeachment proceedings. But for now, Pelosi seems to be taking things slowly. "We must be sure that the President and his Administration are always conducting our national security and foreign policy in the best interest of the American people, not the President's personal or political interest," said Pelosi in her letter. "If the Administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the President, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation."

But we're not there yet.

Basically, there are fools and liars on all sides. "Yes, there are already public voices racing beyond the facts to presume the worst about the (still unknown) whistleblower complaint and to presume the worst about (still unread) transcript of President Trump's call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky," notes French.

But let's be honest: What we know from Rudy Giuliani and from Trump himself is troubling, and it's troubling enough that every conservative should be focused far more on discovering the truth than on reflexively defending the president.

It's unclear whether this is bad or good for Biden. Sure, "Even if Trump is left standing, this latest development could finally doom Biden's political career," suggested Post opinion writer Ed Rogers. But the attention from Trump also seems to be rallying more Democrats around Biden, elevating him as a resistance leader facing unfair attacks.


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Anti-abortion laws costing states millions…while funding abortion clinics. "In the past four years, taxpayers in states trying to restrict abortion access have paid almost $10 million in attorney fees for abortion providers," The Washington Post reports. "That price tag is likely to keep growing as more abortion restrictions are challenged, including three in federal courts [on Monday]."

The states shelling out the most money were Texas ($2.3 million), Alabama ($1.7 million), Wisconsin ($1.6 million), North Carolina ($1 million), and Alaska ($995,000).


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Juul is facing a criminal investigation from the U.S. Department of Justice. For now, not much about the nature of the probe is known. "The investigation by the U.S. attorney's office of the Northern District of California is in its early stages," reported The Wall Street Journal yesterday.

A Juul spokesman had no immediate comment. The San Francisco company has said it never marketed to teens and that its products are intended for adult cigarette smokers who want to switch. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office said he couldn't confirm or deny an ongoing investigation.


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