Former President Donald Trump for the third time has asked a foreign leader for help providing information that could work to Trump’s political advantage. And this time, the timing was particularly delicate: Trump made the public request of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has been internationally denounced for his brutal invasion of Ukraine.
In an interview with Real America’s voice show “Just the News,” Trump on Tuesday repeated an unsubstantiated claim that President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, received a generous sum of money from Elena Baturina, who was married to the late Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.
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“Why did the mayor of Moscow’s wife give the Bidens – both of them – $3.5 million? That’s a lot of money,” Trump wondered.
“She gave him $3.5 million. So now I would think Putin would know the answer to that. I think he should release it. I think we should know that answer.”
The White House – which assiduously avoids mentioning Trump by name, let alone engaging with the man Biden calls “the former guy” – delivered a brief and dismissive response.
“What kind of American, let alone an ex-president, thinks that this is the right time to enter into a scheme with Vladimir Putin and brag about his connections to Vladimir Putin?” White House communications director Kate Bedingfield said at Wednesday’s daily briefing in response to a media question.
“There’s only one – and it’s Donald Trump.”
It wasn’t the first time Trump has asked for help from abroad. During his 2016 campaign, then-candidate Trump appealed publicly to Putin to unearth and publicize any emails from or to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was Trump’s Democratic opponent for the 2016 presidential campaign.
While that request raised a furor, Trump got into more trouble the second time he went shopping for help from foreign leaders. In July 2019, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy for “a favor” in the form of dirt about Joe and Hunter Biden, something that could have damaged then-candidate Joe Biden.
Zelenskyy was desperate for military aid from the United States as he eyed his neighbor, Russia, and Trump in the call hinted that the cash – already approved by Congress – was contingent on the assistance.
The president got impeached for the first time for conduct related to that call, which he called a “perfect call.” He was acquitted by the Senate.
Hunter Biden is under federal investigation for his business and financial dealings. While the president has not been connected to any misdeeds on the part of his son, the right wing of the Republican Party has pushed the story aggressively, hoping to further weaken a president who is already performing poorly in opinion polls.
But Trump’s comments Tuesday aren’t helpful to Republicans, who are fielding criticism that several leading GOP figures have been too cozy with a man Biden called a “butcher” and a “war criminal.” Trump has called Putin a “genius,” while his former secretary of state and potential 2024 presidential candidate Mike Pompeo declared Putin “very shrewd” and “very capable.” Pompeo has more recently called Putin the “aggressor,” but Trump has not gone after Putin personally.
Critics pounced on Trump’s remarks as wildly inappropriate at a time when the United states and allies around the world are working to stop Putin’s war.
“Trump asking Putin to release dirt on Hunter Biden now – amid the Ukraine war, amid the Butcher of Moscow’s daily war crimes – is all you need to know to understand what malignant narcissism and sociopathy looks like,” tweeted historian Michael Beschloss.
Trump may not get the information he wants from Putin. He did, however, get something this week he desperately craves: attention.