Even if Joe Biden turns out to be irredeemably corrupt — and I am skeptical that would be the case — he is no match for President Trump's epic underhandedness.
The president and his allies have spent the last few weeks flogging the notion that Biden is a crime lord masquerading as a politician, accusing the former vice president and his son, Hunter, of sketchy deals involving an array of foreign countries. These accusations haven't gained much traction — perhaps because they are of questionable providence: The New York Post reporters who wrote up a "bombshell" report on Hunter Biden refused to have their bylines appear with the story, a sign they weren't confident in it. And NBC reported on Thursday that a document containing allegations against Hunter was disseminated to a conservative activists by a man who doesn't even exist.
So it is difficult to take these allegations seriously. But say, only for the sake of argument, they end up being true. Does that mean anti-corruption voters should turn to Donald Trump as their savior? Of course not.
- On Thursday, The New York Times reported the Trump administration had soft-peddled its prosecution of a Turkish bank accused of breaking U.S. sanctions law by funneling money to Iran — a scheme Justice Department lawyers believed was helping fund Iran's nuclear weapons program. But Trump has received millions of dollars of income from businesses in Turkey, leading officials to believe the president was looking out for his own best interest, instead of American interests. "He would interfere in the regular government process to do something for a foreign leader," John Bolton, Trump's former national security adviser, told the Times. "In anticipation of what? In anticipation of another favor from that person down the road."
- Before that, on Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that Trump's businesses have taken in at least $2.5 million from U.S. taxpayers — mostly for the privilege of letting the president hang out and do business on his own property. Expenses ranged from $1,000 worth of liquor for White House aides to $3 for the water Trump drank when meeting with the Japanese prime minister. That money is in addition to another $5.6 million Trump's campaign and fundraising committee paid to his businesses to support the boss' effort to stay in office, the Post reported, "turning campaign donations into private revenue." That isn't illegal. But it doesn't look good, either. "It's extremely unusual," one election law expert said.
These latest stories add to what we already know about how Trump has used his authority to pressure Ukraine into undermining Biden's candidacy, to help his friends evade punishment for breaking the law, and to push for the investigation of his enemies. Reports have also indicated that foreign governments used Trump's businesses — and the businesses of his children — to curry favor with the president. Presidents aren't supposed to abuse their power or benefit financially from holding office. Trump has done both.
There is a danger of cynicism in this discussion. A friend once told me he didn't mind Trump's corruption so much because he figured all politicians are dishonest and self-dealing. It is likely that the president and his allies throw mud at Biden simply to further that impression. We should expect better from our leaders, of course.
So Joe Biden and his family should not be held beyond scrutiny, by the media or voters. And if Biden is elected and then abuses his authority and office to benefit personally and politically, then he should be impeached. Two wrongs don't make a right, after all.
But when everything is going to hell, in a country afflicted with both pandemic and polarization, it is best to prioritize taking care of the big problems first, then addressing the smaller challenges. What is (implausibly) alleged against Biden doesn't much compare to all the evidence we have against Trump. If government corruption is your issue, voting for the former vice president seems a better bet.
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