The president’s personal attorney has convinced more Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry into his client. But Rudy Giuliani is already hinting at a new front in his questionable offensive against former Vice President Joe Biden’s son. And it’s a charge that Trump allies outside the White House have been pursuing for months.
A group of conservative activists closely aligned with the president—including former White House adviser Steve Bannon, conservative author Peter Schweizer, and anti-Muslim activist Frank Gaffney—are trying to spread dirt on Hunter Biden’s work in China. Their efforts have come as almost all of the national political attention is focused on Giuliani’s and President Donald Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government into investigating alleged corruption involving the former VP’s son, who formerly sat on the board of an energy company in the country.
Giuliani himself has barely concealed his desire to see a second line of attack opened on the younger Biden over his involvement in an investment fund called Bohai Harvest RST. In his protracted interview last week with CNN host Chris Cuomo, Trump’s attorney said the word “China” more than a dozen times to draw attention to the matter. Giuliani and Trump have also talked about China as a liability for Biden and his son in recent conversations, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions.
Reached for comment Monday afternoon, Giuliani said he couldn’t comment on his private conversation with President Trump, “except to say I’ve done nothing on China but repeat what others have reported but it really looks bad.”
“It’s arguably worse than Ukraine,” he added for good measure.
As with Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine, his supposed China controversy is rooted in the investigative work of Schweizer, a conservative journalist whose 2016 book, Clinton Cash, raised conflict-of-interest allegations surrounding Hillary Clinton and her family’s foundation that dogged the former secretary of state’s 2016 presidential bid.
Schweizer’s 2018 book, Secret Empires, sought to tie Bohai’s investment activity to Vice President Biden’s senior government position. Giuliani has spotlighted a $1.5 billion private-equity deal between Bohai and the Bank of China in his allegations of corruption. That figure came directly from Schweizer, who reported that the fund secured a $1.5 billion deal with the bank a few weeks after Hunter Biden traveled to Beijing with his father aboard Air Force Two in 2013.
On both fronts—Ukraine and China—Biden’s presidential campaign insists the attacks are scurrilous. In a memo to reporters Monday, a campaign spokesman called the corruption allegations at the heart of the charge “a roundly debunked conspiracy theory” that “Trump and Giuliani have tried to manipulate the media into repeating.” Schweizer’s reporting laid out a conspicuous timeline, but didn’t establish any actual connection between the Bidens’ trip to China and Bohai’s Bank of China-backed venture. Hunter Biden wasn’t even an equity owner while his father served as vice president, according to his attorneys, and he has said that he conducted no business while on that 2013 trip.
Nevertheless, Schweizer has called for additional government investigations into the Bank of China investment, as well as his business activities in Ukraine.
“Will the Senate investigate Joe and Hunter Biden’s actions in China and Ukraine? We don’t know, but they should,” Schweizer wrote in a May column in the New York Post.
That column ran about two weeks after a group of Trump allies assembled in New York for a conference on the economic threat posed to the U.S. by Beijing. The event was sponsored by a new group called the “Committee on the Present Danger: China,” which is led in part by Gaffney, the president of the Center for Security Policy, a right-wing foreign-policy group that alleges Biden and his family have “profited handsomely” from “business-as-usual with Beijing.”
The committee’s event in April featured remarks from Bannon, who cited Schweizer’s reporting in going after Biden’s presidential candidacy.
“Joe Biden’s gotta come one hundred percent clean on his relationship and his family’s relationship with the [Chinese Communist Party],” Bannon declared at the April conference. “We need to know every piece of involvement that Joe Biden has had with the Chinese Communist Party, the Bank of China and all the financial institutions in China.”
Bannon and Schweizer are longtime collaborators; the latter is a senior contributor to Breitbart News, the website that Bannon led before joining the Trump White House in 2017. Bannon also previously sat on the board of Schweizer’s nonprofit group, the Government Accountability Institute. That group is chaired by Rebekah Mercer, who also led Cambridge Analytica, the controversial pro-Trump data firm where Bannon previous served as a vice president. Her Mercer Family Foundation provided nearly two-thirds of all contributions to GAI from 2013 through 2017, according to annual tax filings.
The GAI appeared to anticipate being thrust into the middle of the 2020 presidential contest though its reporting on Biden and other prominent political figures. Last month, the group’s attorney requested an advisory opinion from the Federal Election Commission officially certifying that its public communications would not be considered political advertisements for the purposes of federal law.
Those communications are nonetheless informing political attacks on Biden’s candidacy. The Republican National Committee, seeking to keep attention on Hunter Biden rather than the president’s controversial efforts to force a Ukrainian investigation of his conduct, leaned heavily on Schweizer’s work in a lengthy statement on Monday going after Biden’s “tangled history of swampy dealings and quid pro quo.”
That statement went beyond Hunter Biden’s work in Ukraine, and hit the same allegations regarding Bohai that informed Bannon’s attack on Biden at the committee conference in April.
The expanded focus on the Bidens’ work in China comes even as attacks centering on their activity in Ukraine have landed Trump in an increasingly delicate political position. The president has all but admitted pressing authorities in Ukraine to pursue a corruption investigation against Hunter Biden, and the ensuing fallout in Washington has galvanized congressional Democrats seeking to impeach the president.
But Trump doesn’t appear to be minding the backlash—quite the opposite, in fact. Though Giuliani was widely ridiculed for his interview with Cuomo, Trump was ecstatic.
Shortly after the interview ended, Trump congratulated his personal attorney for sticking it to CNN, and told him how happy he was that Giuliani and others were getting allegations of Biden’s corruption out into the mainstream, according to a source with direct knowledge of Trump and Giuliani’s conversation. Indeed, the day after the CNN tussle, Giuliani was all smiles as one of the president’s guests at a black-tie White House state dinner.
The president also made a specific point of telling Giuliani to keep going on TV and cable news shows in the coming days, to focus as much attention as possible on Joe and Hunter Biden, this source added.
The interaction underscored Trump’s eagerness to engage in a fight that much of official Washington considers to be a politically dicey one at best, and a deeply costly one at worst. And it puts him on a collision course with others in his party. On Monday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) encouraged the president to release a transcript of a July phone call he had with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky—during which Trump reportedly asked Zelensky eight times to investigate Hunter Biden—as a way of getting the controversy off the docket.
Trump has publicly suggested that he could be comfortable with a transcript being released. But privately, according to two people who’ve spoken to him about this, the president believes the ongoing controversy over the unreleased transcript has been politically advantageous to him.
“He is absolutely enjoying that this is being dragged out,” said one senior administration official.
This story has been updated with additional reporting.