I agree with Scott that the latest media attack on President Trump — the New York Times’ report that “Trump Pressed Australian Leader to Help Barr Investigate Mueller Inquiry’s Origins” — is a non-scandal. As Scott notes, the report does not appear to be accurate. In any event, there would be nothing wrong with Trump pressing a foreign leader for cooperation in a Justice Department investigation of possible wrongdoing.
As I see it, the key elements here are (1) the existence of a Justice Department investigation, (2) the absence of any request that Australia open a proceeding of its own, and (3) the absence in this matter of Trump’s personal attorney, as far as I can tell.
The controversial Ukraine call seems to be different. From all that appears, there was no Justice Department investigation of the Bidens. Attorney General Barr has said that Trump never asked him to contact Ukraine about any matter related to Joe Biden.
In addition, Trump didn’t just ask Ukraine’s president to cooperate with the attorney general. He also asked him to cooperate with Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, who, unlike Barr, was investigating the Bidens.
Finally, Trump may have been seeking more than just a conversation between Ukraine’s president and Barr/Giuliani. He may have been seeking action against the Bidens by Ukraine’s prosecutor. I can’t tell with confidence from the “transcript” whether this was the case.
It’s natural that Trump would want some sort of Ukrainian proceeding as a remedy for the firing of a Ukraine prosecutor who may have been on the verge of going after Hunter Biden. But presidents can want, for reasons legitimate or illegitimate, that lots of things be done to their political opponents and their family members. If a president were to try to use the power of his office to get them done via the intervention of a foreign prosecutor, that to me would be problematic.
In any event, I think it’s clear that Trump’s Australia intervention is (1) not problematic and (2) different from his Ukraine intervention.