Joe Biden has Donald Trump spooked.
The former Vice President is well ahead of his Democratic rivals in public opinion surveys, and is even polling better than Trump in key states like Arizona.
Trump paid more attention to Biden’s campaign launch than any other Democrat’s, perhaps fearing that Biden’s man-of-the-people vibe would threaten the Republican Party’s only recently-established grip on industrial areas in the Midwest. He (or his staff) was tweeting furiously as Biden picked up support from firefighters in Pennsylvania at the end of April.
Trump has reacted – perhaps unsurprisingly for a man who promoted the racist “birther” conspiracy theory – by sending his favorite attack dog Rudy Giuliani down the rabbit hole of an elaborate conspiracy theory involving the former Vice President, his son, and the Ukrainian government.
It’s not the first time Trump has done something like this. During the 2016 campaign, Trump helped spread many falsehoods and fabrications about Hilary Clinton, accusing her of everything from faking medical records to child sacrifice.
Now Trump is circulating nonsense about Biden, hoping some of it will stick.
Trump and his cronies are alleging that Biden pressured the Ukrainian government to fire the country’s chief prosecutor, in order to protect his son, Hunter Biden, who has business connections to a shady Ukrainian oligarch, Mykola Zlochevsky.
Giuliani (who has become a laughingstock on late night television in recent years) announced – in his capacity as Trump’s personal lawyer – a trip to Ukraine to “investigate” the matter and planned to urge Ukraine’s president-elect, Volodymir Zelensky, to open investigations against the Bidens.
However, on Friday, May 10th, Giuliani abruptly cancelled the visit, claiming that his meeting with Zelensky had been a “set up” by “several vocal critics” of President Trump. Moreover, he claimed in a text to Politico that Zelensky was “in the hands of avowed enemies of Pres Trump.”
A more likely story is that Giuliani had discovered that he would not find an eager listener in President-Elect Zelensky. The former comedian and victorious presidential candidate is an anti-corruption crusader and doubtless knows the real facts of the case surrounding Joe Biden’s 2015 visit to Kiev.
While Biden certainly did pressure the Kiev government to fire Viktor Shokin, the then-prosecutor general of Ukraine, it was not to stop him running corruption investigations. In fact, Biden’s demand came because Shokin was infamously crooked, obstructing anti-corruption activists and investigators.
Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine were therefore not protected by his father’s pressure on the Ukrainian government; he may have actually been exposed to investigation because of it.
Giuliani’s insinuations have caused outrage in both the United States and Ukraine.
The House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, denounced Giuliani for actions that were, essentially, tantamount to seeking foreign intervention in the 2020 elections. Tim Meyer, an international law expert, told The Washington Post that, “This is the first instance of which I am aware in which a private lawyer for the president of the United States has, in his own words, ‘meddled’ in a foreign criminal investigation of a third party in order to politically benefit the president.”
In Ukraine, the story has caused fury amongst anti-corruption activists.
Daria Kaleniuk, the founder of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Centre, called the accusations against Biden “absolute nonsense,” in an interview with The Intercept. Kaleniuk argues that the conspiracy theory has the potential to rescue Viktor Shokin from well-deserved disgrace.
In the fake version of this story, Shokin is a dedicated, principled lawyer, fighting the good fight against the Bidens’ profiteering.
Kaleniuk doesn’t just reserve her ire for the President’s lackeys. What really “pisses [her] off,” she says, is that The New York Times’ article on the story also portrayed Shokin as an anti-corruption hero, spreading the lie and undermining the hard-won successes of Ukrainian activists for their fragile democracy.
The Biden-Ukraine conspiracy theories go far beyond Kiev and Washington D.C. Many conspiracy theories, focusing on fictional connections between Ukraine and the Democratic Party, have floated around right wing corners of the Internet.
The source of these can be traced back to Sputnik News, which, like RT, is a Russian state-controlled site. Another site heavily promoting the stories is The Epoch Times, a news site run by Falun Gong – a well known Chinese cult that has vociferously supported President Trump.
The Trump team’s disgraceful attempts to undermine Biden may not discredit the former Vice President, but they are certainly helping to spread Russian-generated misinformation, undermining attempts in Ukraine to root out deep corruption, and promoting increased fear and paranoia in American political life.