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A guide to Trump's allegations about Ukraine, China and the Bidens

Trump says China should investigate Bidens
Trump says China should investigate Joe Biden and his son 08:46

In recent weeks, President Trump has made numerous allegations concerning Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, around the September 26 release of the summary of his July 25 call with the Ukrainian president. "There's a lot of talk about Biden's son," he told Volodymyr Zelensky, adding, "Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that." 

And Mr. Trump, in responding to a request by Zelensky for more Javelin anti-tank missiles, responded, "I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot, and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike ... I guess you have one of your wealthy people... The server, they say Ukraine has it."

These allegations appear to be wholly unrelated to the supposed origins of the U.S. government's investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election, another issue the Trump administration has been focused on. 

Here's a guide to what Mr. Trump is alleging. 

The background

After Ukrainians revolted and ousted pro-Russian Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych in 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin retaliated by invading Eastern Ukraine and annexing Crimea, a strategically vital peninsula in the Black Sea. The conflict between Russia and Ukraine led to new rounds of U.S. sanctions placed on Vladimir Putin's Russian government. The Obama administration also provided "non-lethal aid" to Ukrainian forces in their battle with Russia.

Meanwhile, Hunter Biden, the son of then-Vice President Joe Biden, joined the board of Burisma Holdings, an energy company based in Ukraine. At the time, Joe Biden was considered the "point man" for the Obama administration's efforts in the country, which was now lead by a pro-Western government.

The potential conflict-of-interest

A number of Obama administration officials voiced alarm that Hunter Biden, a sometime lobbyist with little-to-no experience in the energy sector, was now sitting on the board of a company closely linked to Ukrainian oligarchs while his father was vice president. There was also some news coverage at the time about Hunter Biden's arrangement with Burisma Holdings, which paid him $50,000 a month. Hunter Biden left the company's board when his term expired in 2019.

Joe Biden rejects any claim of wrongdoing and has said he never discussed Hunter Biden's international business dealings with his son. There is also no evidence that has emerged that Hunter Biden broke any U.S. or Ukrainian laws. 

Mr. Trump gets involved

Joe Biden announced his presidential campaign in March 2019. He was quickly anointed the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and led Democratic primary polls throughout the summer.

Mr. Trump and his political aides were reportedly worried that Biden, a relative moderate in the Democratic field with a high favorability rating among voters, would be a strong adversary. Meanwhile in Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, a popular comedian-turned-politician, was elected the nation's new president in May 2019.

The Trump administration had authorized significant financial aid for Ukraine and also allowed Kiev to purchase American anti-tank weapons. But the $391 million in U.S. aid — $250 million from the Defense Department and $141 million from the State Department — was suddenly and without explanation withheld in July by the president, before his call with Zelensky, even though the funding had already been appropriated by Congress.

In mid-September, the Trump administration finally released its promised aid to Ukraine.  

The phone call

In July, Mr. Trump spoke with Zelensky over the phone. During the call, he asked that Zelensky "look into" the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor who Mr. Trump seemingly believed had investigated Hunter Biden. Mr. Trump referred to his request as a "favor" when talking to Zelensky. The call was then the subject of an anonymous whistleblower complaint that attracted the attention of lawmakers and that is at the center of the House impeachment inquiry announced in late September.

Joe Biden has said that he was instrumental in the firing of the Ukrainian prosecutor, who was widely seen as corrupt by Western governments. The fired prosecutor's office had looked into Burisma Holdings, but there is no evidence to suggest he was investigating either the company or Hunter Biden when he was dismissed. 

Mr. Trump's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, also applied pressure on the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden. Both Giuliani and Mr. Trump appear to believe that the counterintelligence investigation into his campaign and Robert Mueller's follow-up investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election stem in part from an alleged Ukrainian campaign to sabotage his candidacy.

Kurt Volker, the Trump administration's now-former special envoy to Ukraine, testified before Congress in early October that Giuliani had insisted that Kiev explicitly and publicly commit to investigating Burisima Holdings and any Ukrainian involvement in the 2016 election. The Ukrainian government refused, and Volker said he agreed with their refusal, although texts submitted to Congress by Volker showed that he and other diplomats had made a concerted effort to convince top Ukrainian officials to investigate Burisma.

However, Volker and another diplomat appeared from the texts to believe initially that they were bartering the investigations for a White House visit the Ukrainians sought. That changed after a Politico story broke on August 28 about Mr. Trump's decision to suspend the aid for Ukraine. 

The other diplomat, Ukrainian Charge d'Affaires Bill Taylor, texted, "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign." The White House meeting with Zelensky never took place, and the administration released the Ukraine aid in September.

In early October, Ukraine's new top prosecutor announced that his office would review old Burisma Holdings cases. 

The investigation into Mr. Trump

On a separate track, the president and many of his supporters also believe that the investigations that began in 2015 into his relationship with the Russian government were politically motivated, an idea that has been rejected by the intelligence community and by the Mueller report

But the attorney general, William Barr, has expressed concern that "improper surveillance" of the Trump campaign may have taken place. He has appointed John Durham, the U.S. attorney for Connecticut, to look into the origins of the investigation. To that end, Mr. Trump and Attorney General William Barr have reached out to a number of foreign governments, including Australia and Italy, to assist with their investigation.

This effort dovetails with Mr. Trump's call to Zelensky, in which he brought up "Crowdstrike" – the name of the cybersecurity company that was contracted by the Democratic National Committee to investigate a breach of their servers in their services. Crowdstrike determined that Russian intelligence was responsible for the hack, a finding later supported by the U.S. intelligence community.

According to a number of U.S. government agencies, the intelligence community and Robert Mueller's investigation, Russia looked to aid Mr. Trump's campaign against Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state under President Obama.

The "deep state"

Mr. Trump has repeatedly said that a "deep state" within the U.S. government has been looking to undermine him since he announced his candidacy. To that end, he has disputed the official explanation for the origins of the investigation into his ties with Russia, namely that it began after the U.S. government started looking into the issue after being tipped off by allied intelligence agencies.

The deep state, in the minds of people who subscribe to the theory, is a collection of American intelligence officials who sought to undermine Mr. Trump's campaign in partnership with the Obama administration. They believe that the investigation was nothing more than an attempt to baselessly smear Mr. Trump for political purposes, the "witch hunt" or "hoax" Mr. Trump so frequently references.

Robert Mueller's report noted numerous instances of potential obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump but did not find that campaign officials had "conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." After the report's release, Attorney General Barr announced an investigation into the origins of the investigations of Mr. Trump. 

The Manafort connection

According to The Washington Post, Giuliani has been communicating via an intermediary with former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is currently imprisoned in Pennsylvania after being convicted of corruption charges earlier this year. Giuliani is reportedly trying to prove that Manafort was the target of an alleged Ukrainian operation to damage Mr. Trump before the 2016 election. 

At the heart of Giuliani's theory is a ledger discovered by Ukrainian authorities that was said to detail millions in payments from Ukraine's then-president to Manafort. Giuliani told the Post that he asked Manafort's lawyer whether such a "black book" ever existed and was told it did not. However, as the Post pointed out, Manafort's attorneys didn't bring up the ledger or try to disprove its existence during his trial. 

As part of a plea deal with federal prosecutors, Manafort admitted to accepting millions from a Ukrainian political party before the 2014 revolution installed pro-Western leaders. Before that, Manafort's team had argued that the ledger was manufactured by the new Ukrainian government and disseminated with the help of the Democratic National Committee.

The White House has floated the theory that the Ukrainian government colluded with the Clinton campaign to hurt Mr. Trump's electoral prospects. "If you're looking for an example of a campaign coordinating with a foreign country or a foreign source, look no further than the DNC, who actually coordinated opposition research with the Ukrainian Embassy," Sarah Sanders, then the White House press secretary, said in 2017. No one has presented any evidence that this was the case.

The Ukraine connection

"I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike," Mr. Trump said in his call with Zelensky, according to a partial transcript of the conversation released by the White House. "I guess you have one of your wealthy people. The server, they say Ukraine has it."

According to The Daily Beast, Mr. Trump's request stems from a debunked conspiracy theory in which Crowdstrike is really a Ukrainian company. The theory falsely alleges that Dimitri Alperovich, a U.S. citizen born in Russia who fled the Soviet Union, is actually Ukrainian, and is therefore tied to Kiev.

The server in question would appear to be the Democratic National Committee servers that Crowdstrike found had been targeted by Russian intelligence, a finding later backed up by the FBI. After Crowdstike's analysis, the FBI asked to gain access to the server, a request that the DNC initially refused. The DNC later allowed Crowdstrike to share the server data with the FBI, which also determined that Russian intelligence was responsible for the breach.

Crowdstrike is a company based in California, although Mr. Trump implied in a 2017 interview with the Associated Press that he understood it was "Ukrainian-based" and "owned by a very rich Ukranian," an apparent reference to Alperovich.

So, Mr. Trump's request to Zelensky was two-fold. On the one hand, he wanted help proving that Ukrainian entities helped begin what he says was politically-motivated investigation into his connections with Russia, although there is no evidence to support such an investigation. 

Separately, he wanted Zelensky to open an investigation into the dismissal of the prosecutor supposedly fired at Joe Biden's behest for investigating Hunter Biden, although there is no evidence to support that claim, either.

The China connection

Mr. Trump, already the subject of a House impeachment inquiry due to his call with Zelensky, publicly asked the Chinese government to investigate the Bidens during a Thursday press conference on the White House lawn.

"China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine," Mr. Trump told reporters.

The president's latest request to a foreign government to investigate his political opponents was quickly denounced as yet another impeachable offense by Democrats and other critics of Mr. Trump. For his part, Mr. Trump says that he is not politically motivated, and is simply interested in stopping "corruption."

Here's what we know about that: In 2013, Hunter Biden travelled with his father aboard Air Force Two to China, where Joe Biden was undertaking a diplomatic mission. At the time, Hunter Biden was part of a business deal that involved a fund that received an investment from the Bank of China, which is owned by the Chinese government. The Bank of China's involvement in the deal was announced shortly after Hunter Biden returned to the U.S following the trip with his father.

China, a strategic rival run by an authoritarian Communist government, is currently engaged in a trade war with the U.S. The U.S. trade representative still hopes to finalize part of a trade deal with China by mid-November, raising the possibility that Mr. Trump could try to use what leverage he has in the trade dispute to pressure China into investigating the Bidens.

The Chinese legal system is neither free nor fair, and the Chinese government is responsible for numerous human rights abuses. It has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

Olivia Gazis and Clare Hymes contributed to this article.

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