WASHINGTON -- As President Donald Trump continued on Friday to beat back a rapidly progressing impeachment inquiry, he tried out a new message that immediately drew criticism: that his call for foreign governments to investigate his political rival Joe Biden and Biden's son was related to corruption, not politics.
"I'm only interested in corruption," Trump told reporters at the White House. "I don't care about politics. I don't care about Biden's politics."
After previewing it on Twitter Thursday night night and Friday morning, the president repeated that message multiple times in a 23-minute back-and-forth with reporters, a shift from his days of disparaging the whistleblower whose complaint about his dealings with Ukraine sparked the impeachment process. "We’re investigating corruption," Trump said. "We're not investigating campaigns. I don't care about his campaign."
Biden, who has rejected the accusations as false, is running for the Democratic nomination for president, and Democrats have criticized Trump for openly calling on Thursday for Ukraine and China to investigate the former vice president and his son as clear attempts to get foreign governments to influence the 2020 presidential election.
Like during most of his presidency, Trump has served as his chief spokesman -- particularly as his press secretary does not hold regular briefings or often grant interviews -- and he has alternately accused the whistleblower of filing an inaccurate complaint (without citing anything specifically erroneous); claimed he was the victim of a coup d'etat (a false claim), and called on House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., to resign (Schiff has pressed forward with his investigation). On Friday, he argued it was his obligation to look into corruption -- at one point invoking the U.S. Constitution, without elaborating.
“If we feel there’s corruption, we have a right to go to a foreign government,” Trump said.
The president's claim that calling for investigations of his political opponent was not motivated by politics drew a sharp rebuke from Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney.
"When the only American citizen President Trump singles out for China’s investigation is his political opponent in the midst of the Democratic nomination process, it strains credulity to suggest that it is anything other than politically motivated," Romney said in a statement. "By all appearances, the President’s brazen and unprecedented appeal to China and to Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden is wrong and appalling."
Asked by a reporter Friday if he had "asked foreign leaders for any corruption investigations that don't involve your political opponent," Trump replied: ""You know, we would have to look. But I tell you, what I ask for and what I always will ask for is anything having to do with corruption with respect to our country. If a foreign country can help us with respect to corruption and corruption probe, and -- I don't care if it's Biden or anybody else. If they can help us."