President Donald Trump asking Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate 2020 candidate Joe Biden is the most direct example of the president encouraging foreign powers to target his political rivals. But it’s not the only time he’s attempted to solicit help from abroad.
The July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky, in which Trump also wanted Zelensky to pursue a bizarre conspiracy theory related to Hillary Clinton, instead appears to be part of a pattern of behavior in which Trump has flouted the rule of law and tried to influence foreign powers to do his dirty work.
‘Russia, If You’re Listening...’
Trump drew widespread criticism during the 2016 presidential race when he called during a July news conference for Russia to hack Clinton’s emails. The request drew even more scrutiny when special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation later revealed that Russian hackers attempted to breach Clinton’s personal office servers that same day.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said. “I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”
After WikiLeaks released a trove of Clinton’s emails weeks before the 2016 election, Trump loudly applauded the organization for publishing the damaging information against Clinton. He praised the organization more than 140 times, saying at one rally, “We love Wikileaks!”
Along with Trump’s personal request for foreign help in the election and celebration of WikiLeaks, his campaign sent fundraising emails to dozens of politicians in countries including Scotland, Canada, Iceland and Australia. Campaign finance watchdogs filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission alleging that Trump’s campaign violated federal election law that prohibits soliciting contributions from foreign nationals.
Trump has faced few political consequences for his requests for a hostile foreign power to meddle in the U.S. election, despite the special counsel’s investigation discovering numerous contacts between Trump associates and WikiLeaks or Kremlin-linked Russian nationals.
No Consequences, And No Changed Behavior
Trump’s campaign earlier this year did not say if it had a policy on accepting help from foreign agents, and Trump continued to openly acknowledge that he would take information on his opponents from foreign governments and sources. He denied that accepting foreign information on his rivals would amount to election interference, saying he would “take it” in an interview with ABC News in June 2019.
“There’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent.’ Oh, I think I’d want to hear it,” Trump told ABC News.
Republicans, Democrats and the Federal Election Commission harshly criticized Trump for his comments during the interview, emphasizing that accepting or soliciting anything of value from foreign nationals related to a U.S. election would be breaking the law.
But just over a month later, on July 25, Trump asked Ukraine’s President Zelensky cooperate with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and U.S. Attorney General William Barr to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. As he spoke with Zelensky, Trump was also holding up the delivery of $250 million in military aid to Ukraine.
This time, it appears that Trump’s pursuit of foreign interference for personal gain was too egregious for officials and lawmakers to ignore. The call prompted a whistleblower complaint, released on Thursday, that has moved Democrats to call for impeachment, and brought allegations that the White House was engaged in a cover-up. Trump, however, has denied any wrongdoing and described his call with Zelensky as “perfect.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article omitted the “million” from the amount of military aid pledged to Ukraine.