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Trump shocks again by encouraging China to investigate the Bidens

President Donald Trump is facing an impeachment inquiry because he urged Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. But Thursday, Trump said he would welcome similar involvement from another foreign power: China. The admission comes as the two countries prepare for trade talks. Judy Woodruff talks to Yamiche Alcindor and The Washington Post's Michael Kranish.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    President Trump is already under fire for alleged abuse of power, and now he faces a new firestorm of his own making.

    It erupted today in front of White House reporters and TV cameras.

    White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor begins our coverage.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    First Ukraine, now China. On the White House lawn, President Trump set off a whole new controversy with these words:

  • President Donald Trump:

    China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with — with Ukraine.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Without evidence, the president renewed his claim that China let Hunter Biden open a major equity fund in 2013, in return for a sweetheart deal on trade with the Obama administration.

  • President Donald Trump:

    You know what they call that? They call that a payoff.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    President Trump said he has not requested China pursue an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

    But, moments earlier, he said he believes he has the upper hand in trade negotiations that resume next week.

  • President Donald Trump:

    I got a lot of options on China, but if they don't do what we want, we have tremendous, tremendous power.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    The comments sparked new outrage from top Democrats, including Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    The president of the United States encouraging a foreign nation to interfere again to help his campaign by investigating a rival is a fundamental breach of the president's oath of office.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    A spokeswoman for Vice President Biden's presidential campaign called President Trump's statements "a grotesque choice of lies." She also accused him of desperately clutching for conspiracy theories.

    Last night in Reno, Nevada, Joe Biden fired off his strongest denunciation yet of President Trump.

  • Joseph Biden:

    Like every bully in history, he's afraid. He's afraid of just how badly he may be beaten in November. I'm not going anywhere.

    (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

  • Joseph Biden:

    You are not going to destroy me. You're not going to destroy my family.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    But today, in Scottsdale, Arizona, Vice President Mike Pence reinforced President Trump's calls for a probe into the Bidens.

  • Mike Pence:

    I think the American people have a right to know if the vice president of the United States or his family profited from his position as vice president during the last administration.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, a first appearance from a key witness in the impeachment inquiry. Former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker was interviewed behind closed doors by members of three House committees.

    He resigned last Friday, after the release of a whistle-blower's complaint. It accused President Trump of pressuring Ukraine's president to investigate the Bidens. It is now the focus of the impeachment investigation.

    The complaint says Volker provided advice to the Ukrainian leadership about how to navigate President Trump's demands. It also says he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and other Ukrainian political figures in Kiev a day after the July phone call.

    Volker is one of five current or former State Department officials that Democrats want to hear from. But Republicans said his appearance today didn't advance the Democrats' impeachment agenda.

  • Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio:

    Not one thing he has said comports with any of the Democrats' impeachment narrative. Not one thing.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Congressman Jim Jordan, ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, also accused Democrats of unfair investigation procedures.

    House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy raised the same concerns in a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi. He called for a suspension of impeachment proceedings until the full House votes on ordering an impeachment inquiry. Pelosi responded with a letter of her own. She said the Constitution doesn't require a House vote before proceeding with an impeachment inquiry.

    Tomorrow, the inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, is scheduled to go behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee to discuss the whistle-blower's complaint.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    For more on all this, I'm joined by "NewsHour"'s White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, and by Washington Post investigative reporter Michael Kranish. He also joins us from The Post.

    Thanks to you both.

    Yamiche, I'm going to start with you.

    Now that out in the open the president is asking for China, as well as Ukraine, to investigate Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, you have been talking to people inside and outside the administration. What are they saying are the implications of all this?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the president was really doubling down on this idea that he thinks it's ethical and within his right to have a foreign leader investigate a political rival.

    The White House is defending his claims. Vice President Mike Pence was also out defending the president. And the president is essentially saying, look, I'm not going to face any consequences for this because I believe that this is the right thing to do. I believe that investigating Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden is essentially in the best interests of the United States.

    Of course, there are political opponents of the president who say that's not exactly what the president should be doing. Instead, they assume that the president and say that the president is really trying to normalize this idea that foreign leaders should be helping him in his political pursuits.

    And they say that that would be illegal. It's also important to note that the head of the Federal Elections Commission tweeted today. She said it's still illegal for a U.S. national to solicit information or to get any sort of help for a U.S. election from a foreign national.

    So as the president is saying, this is within my right, you have at least federal officials saying, that's actually not true and this is not the way that things should be done.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Michael Kranish, when it comes to Joe Biden's son Hunter Biden, you have been reporting for a long time and looking for a long time into Hunter Biden's activities in China.

    We have heard what the president is alleging. What is it the source of this? How much of it do we know to be true?

  • Michael Kranish:

    Well, President Trump has alleged that Hunter Biden, the vice president's son, walked away with $1.5 billion for an investment fund.

    The evidence of that is not there. What happened was, on December 4 of 2013, Hunter Biden did go on Air Force Two with his father, Joe Biden, who was Vice President. Joe Biden met with the leader of China, Xi Jinping, and — for about five hours.

    And during this two-day trip, Joe Biden was introduced by his son Hunter to a gentleman who was involved with an investment matter that Hunter Biden was involved with.

    Hunter Biden did become a member, unpaid, of an advisory group that was advising an investment group that wanted to raise $1.5 billion. To this day, Hunter Biden's lawyer has said that Hunter Biden actually hasn't made any money from an investment that actually took effect in 2017.

    Hunter Biden owns about 10 percent of a company that is being involved here. And the lawyer has said that no money has been made. Hunter Biden has declined repeatedly to talk to us. There are still questions about why he joined this board, what exactly he did, why he did this, basically, in the wake of the trip with his father to Beijing.

    So there are some appearance issues there. I think folks on all sides might say, why would he do this and potentially put his father up for questioning later, just as Hunter Biden joined the board of a gas company in Ukraine at a time when his father was shepherding U.S. policy in that country and actually talking about gas policy.

    So there is a pattern here that's caused some issues even for members of the vice president's staff. Former staffers who I talked to said they were concerned, but they didn't feel any laws were broken. And so they let the matter pass. But they were concerned about appearance.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And just quickly, Michael Kranish, you have also reported that the president has tried at times to get the financier Stephen Schwarzman involved in these allegations around China.

    Remind us who Steve Schwarzman is and what it was the president was asking him to do.

  • Michael Kranish:

    Well, President Trump said last week at a meeting with the U.S. Mission at the U.N. in remarks that later were obtained by The Post in the video, he said that he talked to Steve Schwarzman, the head of Blackstone, one of the world's largest investment companies based here in the U.S., he talked to him about Hunter Biden.

    Steve Schwarzman wrote in a recent book that he had spent a lot of time helping the administration on the trade talks. He made eight trips in 2018 alone, he wrote — quote — "on behalf" — unquote — of the administration in their efforts to deal with trade matters in China.

    So Schwarzman — I wrote a story about Schwarzman last year where I referred to him as Trump's China whisperer. He's very influential on China policy. He is probably the U.S. businessperson closest to the Chinese leadership.

    So for Trump to say this was significant. However, Schwarzman's spokesman said this didn't happen. Mr. Schwarzman never talked to Trump about Hunter Biden. So the two disagree on whether this conversation even took place.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating.

    And finally, Yamiche, we know that the former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker was on the Hill today having private briefings with House members. What have we learned about what Mr. Volker had to say?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    According to a number of different sources and a number of different reports, Kurt Volker was eager to share information with lawmakers and staff today.

    He said a number of things, including that he wasn't personally involved with President Trump trying to pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden. He also said that he tried to warn Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal attorney, against using any information coming from Ukraine. He said, none of that is trustworthy and you shouldn't be using that.

    He also said that it wasn't unusual for Ukraine's military aid to be held up, even though it was eventually released. So it's really important to really follow and really look at whether or not Kurt Volker's statements are going to gel with what Democrats are looking for, and whether or not this is going to — how that's going to impact the impeachment inquiry.

    I also think it's important to note, as I was saying in the first answer about President Trump talking about China, next week, we're going to have Chinese negotiators meeting with the U.S. And the president is essentially saying, look, I'm going to use the military might and — the economic might, rather, of the U.S. to pressure China possibly to looking into Joe Biden.

    So what you have is Kurt Volker basically saying, I wasn't a part of any of that. And you have the president saying, look, I'm actually looking at a new country to find more information about Joe Biden.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So many strands to follow today and now and everyday, virtually.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Michael Kranish, thank you both.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Thanks.

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