Don’t believe Trump’s Biden-Ukraine smear

Sean Gannon, Columnist

When it comes to weaponizing misinformation for political gain, Donald Trump is a talented man. Just ask Hillary Clinton. Trump capitalized on her sloppiness with her private email server, hammering in the “but Hillary’s emails…” exaggerations and lies until a majority of Americans thought she either broke the law or at least covered up the facts, according to a Washington Post/ABC poll

Trump is looking to his 2016 playbook this election season. His new target? Joe Biden, Hunter Biden and Ukraine. Trump’s attack-line, though less coherent, goes something like this: while sitting as Vice President in 2014, Joe Biden pressured the Ukrainian Prime Minister to fire the country’s Prosecutor General, Viktor Shokin, for investigating a Ukrainian gas company that Biden’s son, Hunter, worked for. 

This accusation isn’t just dubious; it’s baseless. For one, Joe Biden wasn’t acting on his own volition when he made aid to Ukraine conditional on the replacement of Shokin. Biden was acting on behalf of the Obama administration, the IMF and Western democracies at large that believed Shokin wasn’t doing nearly enough to address the rampant corruption in Ukraine. In fact, there was nothing remotely controversial about Biden’s action at the time; no Republicans complained about it, and the EU praised the Obama administration’s initiative.

But Shokin, jobless and embarrassed on a global stage, rejected the narrative that he had been an incompetent Prosecutor General. Shokin insisted he was ousted by Biden for investigating Burisma Holdings, the gas company that Biden’s son was a board member of. As multiple fact-checking outfits have concluded, there is zero proof of these claims in Shokin’s written testimony. Instead of offering evidence, Shokin sticks to subjective “I assumed” and “In my opinion” statements. Moreover, there were no active investigations into Burisma by the time Shokin was fired. 

Still, it’s a bad look for Joe Biden. His son — who is widely seen as the “black sheep” of the family — earned up to $50,000 a month to sit on the Board of Directors of a foreign company, to which he had no qualifications or responsibility, solely because he was a family member of the U.S. Vice President. This is precisely the kind of sleazy nepotism that bears the stink of Washington D.C., but to pretend this is unique to the Bidens, or to conflate this with the “illegal corruption” that Trump has alleged, would be a denial of reality.

Trump’s persistent efforts to malign Hillary Clinton as crooked and dishonest worked in 2016. There are already signs that Trump’s new smears, still more than a year out from Election Day, are starting to work. More Americans (42 percent) believe that Biden probably did pressure Ukraine to fire Shokin to help his son than those who say he probably didn’t (37 percent), according to a recent Monmouth poll

As Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, who serves as a Biden 2020 campaign co-chairman, correctly notes, “if someone says something enough, people will start to believe it, and this President gets in his zone of telling a lie over and over again.” 

Don’t think for a second that Trump won’t ride this attack-line throughout the Primary and, provided Biden wins the nomination, into the General. Like Hillary’s email scandal, this smear could prove potent on Election Day. It is thus incumbent upon everyone who wishes to see Trump defeated to resoundingly reject his Biden-Ukraine fabrication.