One of President Donald Trump’s top trade advisers on China is refusing to say whether he brought up China possibly investigating Joe Biden and his son during trade negotiations with Beijing.
Asked the question repeatedly by CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Thursday, Peter Navarro — one of the architects of Trump’s hardline trade policy toward China — said, “you don’t have the right to know what happens behind closed doors in the administration.”
While in one sense he’s right, governments need secrecy to hold sensitive diplomatic talks, it should’ve been quite easy for Navarro to answer “no” — unless the answer really is “yes.”
Navarro never directly addressed Sciutto’s straightforward question. Instead, he chose to attack the media. “The problem that I’ve seen over the last three years in Washington is that there are too many stories reported based on anonymous sources,” he said, adding that Sciutto’s inquiry “was not an appropriate question, in my judgment.”
But it was an appropriate question, and a timely one.
Recent testimony in the House Democrat-led impeachment inquiry shows that Trump may have led a policy toward Ukraine whereby the US withheld military aid in exchange for Kyiv’s commitment to investigate the Bidens.
And on October 3, Trump, on camera, urged Beijing to look into Joe Biden over his false belief that the former vice president somehow took billions of dollars out of the country. “China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump told reporters that day.
The administration repeatedly denies that there was an improper quid pro quo with Ukraine or that the Bidens ever came up during years-long talks with China over trade. “The president’s view is there is no linkage between that and the trade talks,” Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, told reporters on October 7. “I guarantee there will be no linkage.”
That’s no longer as clear. Navarro could’ve very easily said, “No, the Bidens never came up.” Instead, he chose to dodge the question and try to turn it back on the media.
But his assertion that the real problem is journalists reporting information and quotes from anonymous sources (a common practice in journalism) was a weak dodge. Because the alternative to quoting anonymous government officials is to ask government officials to answer your questions on the record — which is exactly what Scuitto was doing. And still Navarro refused to answer.
If Navarro had really wanted to set the record straight about whether the Bidens had come up during trade talks with China, he could’ve easily done so. He chose not to. That in itself is perhaps even more telling than a quote from an anonymous source would be.