As former Vice President Joe Biden prepares for his and his family’s reputation to be dragged across the floor of the Senate, the chamber where he spent the bulk of his career, his campaign has made only minor tweaks to the plan to defend him.
While the stage is bigger given the smears from the White House will be part of only the third impeachment trial in U.S. history, most of the campaign’s disinformation infrastructure and messaging is already in place, with a few exceptions.
On Tuesday, Biden’s campaign is rolling out a new digital video, first obtained by The Daily Beast, seeking to synthesize factual information into a conversational clip, titled, “What Really Happened in Ukraine.” For months, Team Trump and Hill Republicans have sought to cast Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, as an unscrupulous individual engaging in nefarious activity in Ukraine.
The nearly four-and-a-half minute slot, narrated by the Biden campaign’s rapid response director, Andrew Bates, walks through a historical timeline dating back to 2014, when Russia invaded the country and the U.S. joined in protecting Ukraine against aggression. Thirty seconds into the video, Bates plainly outlines the case they have long used against Trump’s claims on Hunter.
“So here was this guy, Viktor Shokin. He was the Prosecutor General of Ukraine--which is like the Attorney General in the United States. He became the embodiment of the corruption that has been hurting Ukraine’s government for a very long time,” Bates says.
“Everyone--from the EU to the IMF, Republican senators, the entire anti-corruption activist community in Ukraine, desperately wanted him fired. He was being protested in the streets,” he continues, before turning to the pitch: “And Joe Biden was the person who got him out of office.”
Then, the video outlines other facts in numerical order, including that “Biden was following official U.S. policy when he worked to get Shokin removed,” and that Skokin’s investigation of Burisma, the natural gas company of which Hunter Biden was a board member, was dormant. “He wasn’t investigating,” the clip’s text reads.
“The truth of this is the exact opposite of what Donald Trump has been telling you,” Bates says.
The video, which talks up three Republicans’ support of Biden’s effort at the time, Rob Portman (R-OH), Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Mark Kirk (R-IL), will be posted on the campaign website and coincides with other public-facing efforts the campaign has introduced leading up to the moment that has consumed Washington’s attention. And as some of Biden’s top rivals—Democratic Senators acting as jurors in the trial—are taken off the campaign trail just two weeks before the Iowa caucus, the former vice president is hoping to make his case directly to voters, with help from his communications shop steering the conversation from the inside.
Part of the campaign’s digital strategy includes revamping a website they launched in November, thefactsfolks.com, to provide voters with a tidy place to check verified information against inflammatory rhetoric. The campaign updated the site on Tuesday to feature dozens of relevant news articles debunking various Republican claims.
“There's a lot of misinformation and lies out there, so welcome to the one stop shop for the facts about Joe Biden. Stay informed about the truth Trump and his special interests are trying to distract from,” the site reads.
Biden’s campaign has also expanded its messaging beyond voters to caution the media to remain skeptical of the president’s claims over the next several days. On Monday, two senior campaign officials took an unusual step sending a memo to reporters and editors saying, Trump has been “spreading a malicious and conclusively debunked conspiracy theory” that “Biden engaged in wrongdoing when he executed official United States policy to remove a corrupt prosecutor from office.”
Then, in bold, the authors make a request: “It is not sufficient to say the allegations are ‘unsubstantiated’ or that ‘no evidence has emerged to support them,’” the memo, sent by Biden’s Deputy Campaign Manager Kate Bedingfield, and a Senior Adviser Tony Blinken, reads.
“Not only is there ‘no evidence’ for Republicans’ main argument against the Vice President--there is a mountain of evidence that actively debunks it. And it is malpractice to ignore that truth.”
The recent communications efforts come from Team Biden’s official HQ, but on the surrogate trail, the talking points are a bit looser.
“Ambassadors to news organizations have said there’s no wrongdoing on the part of the vice president,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Biden’s campaign co-chair told The Daily Beast. “My firm belief is you can’t engage in a debate with a person who doesn’t care about the facts.”
Put another way, Richmond added, “I don’t see an upside in wallowing in the mud with the president.”
So far, Biden hasn’t had that chance. The eventual Democratic nominee in 2020, for which the former vice president remains a leading contender, will face off in televised debates with Trump. Leading up to that, much of Biden’s presidential campaign has been based around the premise, backed by some polls, that he is best suited to take Trump head on, giving a nod to a vague electability argument that has irked several of his closest rivals for months.
“I don’t want to overthink this,” one senior official on Biden’s campaign said when asked about impeachment strategy. “Everyone has rapid response. We’re going to be prepared for changing dynamics. We are the campaign that does not want changing dynamics.”
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a longtime Biden ally and one of his most prominent surrogates, shrugged off any coordinated effort to combat the smears, saying sticking to the campaign’s already vetted facts is the best course of action.
“For this you just say, ‘no big deal,’” Rendell told The Daily Beast. “I don’t think we’ve ever been told we should make this response, it just makes sense.”