On Monday, President Donald Trump denied allegations that he extorted the president of Ukraine for information about Joe Biden. “It’s a ridiculous story,” Trump said during an appearance at the United Nations.
The controversy emerged after an anonymous whistleblower in the intelligence community logged a complaint with their agency about improper behavior by the president on a phone call with a foreign leader. “It’s a partisan whistleblower,” the president added.
Previously, the president's lawyer Rudy Giuliani had traveled to Ukraine to dig up dirt on Joe Biden. Critics worry that during a conversation with the president of Ukraine about rooting out corruption in his country, Trump suggested he offer information about Biden in exchange for funding.
Trump claimed that his demand for Ukraine's government to root out corruption was perfectly innocent.
“We’re supporting a country; we want to make sure that country is honest,” Trump said. “It’s very important to talk about corruption. If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt? . . . So it’s very important that, on occasion, you speak to somebody about corruption.”
Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Aaron Blake analyzes Trump's denial strategy.
"Trump made no mention of former vice president Joe Biden or his son, Hunter Biden, but he was essentially doing what Giuliani did Thursday: laying a preemptive defense in case it emerges that Trump did offer Ukraine something or threatened (explicitly or implicitly) to withhold something — such as $250 million in aid, which Trump did withhold for a time — in exchange for Ukraine investigating the Bidens," Blake writes.
"Trump refers broadly to 'corruption,' but that’s the umbrella term used to talk about investigating the Bidens (conveniently, without alluding to the fact that this is an issue in which Trump has a very personal stake). And the argument would cover just such an arrangement."
Trump and Giuliani's denials follow a familiar pattern. "To get ahead of bad news, Trump acolytes often will deny or decline to confirm the underlying charge, but also offer a preemptive defense in case it’s proven," Blake writes.
"As evidence finds its way out, though — and as Trump himself keeps talking publicly — we eventually learn that the initial suspicions were correct and they were offering a preemptive defense for a reason."
Trump and his acolytes more or less did the same thing throughout the Stormy Daniels scandal and the Russia investigation. And Blake raises the point that if the whistleblower's complaint is without substance, there's no reason for Trump and Giuliani to be so defensive.
"But if the complaint is completely without merit, you don’t really need to litigate what might happen if it turns out to be true," Blake says. "And history suggests this is a strong signal of what’s to come — whether Trump’s talks with the Ukrainians included an explicit quid pro quo or not."