Donald Trump is expected to be acquitted in his impeachment trial on Wednesday as Republicans look to turn the case against the president into political fodder against Joe Biden, one of his Democratic political rivals.
Mr Trump faced allegations that he abused his power by trying to pressure Ukraine’s president into announcing an investigation of Mr Biden and his son, who held a board position at an Ukrainian company linked to corruption.
Now, after rejecting witnesses at Mr Trump’s impeachment trial, Republicans are looking to associate Mr Biden with corruption in Ukraine as the 2020 election kicks into gear with the Iowa caucuses on Monday.
“The information about the Bidens is out there,” said Joni Ernst, the Republican senator from Iowa who voted against calling witnesses and has said she would acquit Mr Trump.
“It is up to the American people to decide, you know, was that a good choice for Hunter Biden to be on that board,” she told CNN’s State of the Union programme on Sunday.
The Senate is set to vote on Wednesday to acquit him along partisan lines, just a day after Mr Trump gives his State of the Union address.
Mr Trump’s impeachment trial has delivered mixed results for Democrats. Though a majority of the American public was convinced that he acted as alleged in the impeachment case, the country is divided on whether Mr Trump’s removal from office is warranted. And despite the damaging revelations about the president’s conduct, his approval numbers are little changed from where they were before the impeachment probe began.
An NBC/WSJ poll published on Sunday found that 46 per cent of registered voters thought Mr Trump should be removed from office as a result of the impeachment trial, against 49 per cent who did not — more or less unchanged from December’s poll. The question of whether the president should be removed was split along party lines.
On Sunday afternoon, President Trump repeated his claim that the impeachment process was unfair in a pre-Super Bowl interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News.
“It was all nonsense. The whole thing was nonsense. But it was very unfair and mostly it was unfair to my family [ . . .] It should never happen to another president.”
He renewed his attacks on Hunter Biden, asking: “Where’s Hunter? Where is he? He made millions of dollars.”
The potential collateral damage to Mr Biden’s election prospects from the impeachment case has been a risk for Democrats since last year.
As Democrats investigated Mr Trump’s effort to have Ukraine announce a probe into Mr Biden, the president and his Republican allies used the impeachment investigation to tar the Democratic frontrunner, who denies any wrongdoing.
Mr Biden, as vice-president in the Obama administration, led US efforts to combat corruption in Ukraine. In one instance, he forced the firing of a Ukrainian prosecutor whose removal was supported by western governments. At the same time his son, Hunter Biden, had a lucrative role as a board member at Burisma, an energy company linked to corruption.
Though Rudy Giuliani, Mr Trump’s personal attorney who has led efforts to dig up dirt on Mr Biden in Ukraine, has claimed that the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, was investigating Burisma at the time of his firing, Ukrainian officials have said the probe was dormant.
European officials wanted Mr Shokin fired in part because he was not actively combating corruption, an EU diplomat told the Financial Times in October. Despite the absence of any evidence that Mr Biden acted improperly in securing Mr Shokin’s dismissal, Republicans have called for an investigation into the former vice-president.
“When this is over the Congress will do it, if we can’t have an outside entity do it,” said Lindsey Graham, the Republican chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, said last week.
Some Republican senators criticised Mr Trump’s actions as they voted to bring his impeachment trial to a speedy acquittal.
Lamar Alexander, who dashed Democratic hopes he would support calling witnesses, said the president’s conduct was “inappropriate” but not impeachable.
“What I hope he would do is when he makes his State of the Union address, that he puts this completely behind him, never mentions it, and talks about what he thinks he’s done for the country and where we’re headed,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press show on Sunday.