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Biden Blasts Trump As A President Who 'Believes He Is Above The Law'

Sep 24, 2019
Originally published on September 24, 2019 11:31 pm

Updated at 3:43 p.m. ET

Former Vice President Joe Biden called for President Trump's impeachment unless the White House complies with congressional requests for information about a call the president made to a Ukrainian leader.

"We have a president who believes there is no limit to his power," Biden said. "We have a president who believes he can do anything and get away with it. We have a president who believes he is above the law."

Biden said Trump has been "stonewalling" Congress about the Ukraine call and said impeachment would be a "tragedy of his own making."

The support for impeachment is a shift for Biden. Unlike most of the 2020 presidential field, he had resisted calling for it. Earlier this year, Biden said impeachment proceedings would be a "gigantic distraction."

But Biden now calls Trump's conduct in holding up aid to Ukraine an "abuse of power."

"The allegation that [Trump] blocked hundreds of millions of dollars in congressionally approved aid to another country unless [Ukraine's leader] agreed to smear a political opponent is not the conduct of an American president," Biden said. "It's an abuse of power."

Biden made the remarks hours ahead of a planned meeting by House Democrats at which they are expected to take a decision about next moves on impeachment.

Biden is a particularly important piece of this puzzle, as he has been at the center of Trump's tactic to try to deflect attention from the controversy.

Without evidence and furthering a conspiracy theory populated in conservative circles, Trump has accused Biden of strong-arming Ukraine with funding to help his son Hunter, who was serving on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

While many point to Hunter Biden as cashing in on the Biden name, Joe Biden was carrying out Obama administration policy in calling for the removal from office of a prosecutor whom Western alliance countries, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank saw as corrupt. So Biden was hardly freelancing.

The allegations of corruption against the gas company, Burisma, predated Hunter Biden's joining its board. In fact, Burisma brought Hunter Biden on board in an effort to look like it was cleaning up its act. Joe Biden on Tuesday again denied any wrongdoing.

What's more, the fired prosecutor's investigation into Burisma had been completed before Biden, acting on behalf of the Obama administration, asked for him to be removed. And many in Ukraine credit Joe Biden with helping in the effort to clean up corruption in the country.

While Hunter Biden's involvement in the gas company threatens to continue to be a headache for Biden and his campaign, the controversy surrounding Trump has actually had the effect of insulating Biden, at least for now, in the Democratic primary.

For months, Biden, who has been leading in the polls, had been facing withering criticism from other Democratic candidates because of his more moderate policies and restorative vision for the country. But Democratic candidates haven't been able to criticize him for days now. The saga could end up hardening some of his support and increasing sympathy for him among Democratic primary voters.

A growing number of House Democrats, including civil rights icon John Lewis and seven freshmen, are throwing their support behind an impeachment inquiry.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A major shift in the Capitol today - Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi announced minutes ago that the House will move forward with an impeachment inquiry against President Trump.

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NANCY PELOSI: The actions of the Trump presidency revealed a dishonorable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections. Therefore, today I'm announcing the House of Representatives moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.

CORNISH: Prior to this, Pelosi had been reluctant to pursue impeachment. So to unpack all that's happened now, we have Scott Detrow in the studio. He covers politics for NPR.

Welcome back, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good afternoon.

CORNISH: We said it's a big shift. How big?

DETROW: Really big. Pelosi had been really wary about impeachment, to the frustration - increasingly vocal frustration of many liberal members of her caucus. Her mantra all along has been that impeachment needs to be bipartisan in both Congress and in the public in order to be successful. But it's clear that Pelosi and many members of the Democratic House Caucus viewed today - the news of the last few days as a bridge too far, and that's the reports that President Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. And it's been a really remarkable shift today. You've seen a parade all day long of statements from freshman Democrats in Republican-leaning districts who, up until now, had been really reluctant to support impeachment, worrying it's not something that their district would support.

CORNISH: The ones she allegedly was trying to protect, right?

DETROW: Exactly. These are the people who put Democrats in power and could lose their seats next year because they're swing districts. And they were all saying, this is too much. The president needs to cooperate and - especially if the president, the White House do not turn over the whistleblower report to Congress and do not cooperate with these probes. They were saying it is time for impeachment now. And today, Pelosi took that step.

CORNISH: Can we just parse that bit about the whistleblower? - because I know there's been some movements there as well in terms of the committees and what they're looking for.

DETROW: That's right. And in the next few days, we'll see more movement. The chairman of a key House committee, the Intelligence Committee, says lawyers for the whistleblower have been in touch, and this person wants to talk. Also already scheduled later this week, the acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire - this is the person who is denying Congress access to the report - is set to testify in an open hearing.

CORNISH: The context to this is Ukraine, and the person that President Trump has been trying to focus on is Joe Biden, his political opponent. And we actually heard from the former vice president today. What did he have to say about this allegation from President Trump?

DETROW: Yeah. And the - President Trump and his allies have been saying, without evidence, that while he was vice president, Biden interfered inappropriately in a corruption probe into an energy company his son Hunter was tied to. Biden said that he knew the president would go after him in this race.

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JOE BIDEN: I know that even though every reputable publication has looked at the charge that has been made against me and found them baseless and untrue and without merit, that's not about to stop him.

DETROW: Indicating that he expects these attacks to continue. But Biden did what his campaign has been doing for several days now, saying that if you look at all the reporting on this that's been done over the last few months, there is nothing - there's no evidence at this point to back what President Trump and his allies are repeatedly saying.

CORNISH: I know Biden spoke earlier in the day before the House speaker, but can you talk about what his position has been on impeachment?

DETROW: Yeah, he is shifting the same way you've seen a lot of Democratic leaders. He had been skeptical, saying before that he thought impeachment would be a gigantic distraction. This has changed his thinking, too, Biden now saying that he would - he thinks Congress should move forward with impeachment if President Trump does not comply, does not cooperate. That is nowhere near as far as many other members of the 2020 Democratic field, many of whom for months have been saying Congress needs to impeach the president, needs to move forward. Biden's still kind of saying it conditionally. Still, it's a big change in his view of this.

CORNISH: And we will continue following this throughout the evening.

That's NPR's Scott Detrow. Thanks so much.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.