President Donald Trump on Thursday publicly encouraged China to investigate Democratic political rival Joe Biden, thumbing his nose at an impeachment inquiry into whether a similar, private appeal to another foreign government violated his oath of office.
Trump declared at the White House, “China should start an investigation into the Bidens.” He said he hadn’t previously asked Chinese President Xi Jinping to investigate the former vice president and his son Hunter, but it’s “certainly something we could start thinking about.”
By publicly egging on China, Trump was amplifying the message he had delivered in private to the president of Ukraine. That message, revealed by a government whistleblower, has spawned the impeachment investigation by the House. Trump, who has defended his contact with Ukraine as “perfect,” went further in expanding his request to China, a communist world power that has much at stake in its relationship with the United States in an ongoing trade war.
The boldness of Trump’s call Thursday also suggests he will continue to act as though requests for other countries to investigate potential opponents in the 2020 election are normal, even in the face of broad condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans. It’s a tactic Trump has used successfully before, pushing questionable secret conversations into the open, helping to inoculate him against charges that he is engaged in nefarious action, cover-ups or obstruction of justice.
Vice President Mike Pence stepped in to defend Trump on Thursday, saying Americans have a right to know about the wrongdoing the president alleges, despite no evidence to support wrongdoing by Biden, a top contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Biden’s campaign chairman said Trump’s assertions merely show he’s afraid of facing Biden in next year’s election. House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff, who has a leading role in Congress’ impeachment inquiry, said Trump’s comments suggest “he feels he can do anything with impunity.”
Trump’s appeal to China evoked his public call in 2016 for Russia to track down his then-rival Hillary Clinton’s emails—a move that was seen as an unprecedented appeal for foreign election interference. It is a violation of federal campaign finance law to solicit anything of value from a foreign government to help a campaign.
In the case of both Ukraine and China, Trump has made his allegations against Biden without evidence of any wrongdoing.
The president and his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani have for days been raising suspicions about Hunter Biden’s business dealings in China, leaning heavily on the writings of conservative author Peter Schweizer. On Monday, Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the allegation that a Chinese government business gave Biden’s son $1.5 billion “totally groundless.”
Trump’s unprompted reference to China on Thursday came moments after he was asked about trade negotiations with the country.
“I have a lot of options on China, but if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous, tremendous power,” Trump said.
He later alleged without evidence that China had a “sweetheart deal” on trade with the U.S. because of the Bidens.
“You know what they call that,” Trump said. “They call that a payoff.”
Speaking to reporters in Arizona, Pence, whose aides had previously tried to distance him from the impeachment drama, echoed Trump’s call for investigation of the Bidens.
“The American people have a right to know if the vice president of the United States or his family profited from his position as vice president during the last administration,” he said.
Trump’s requests for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens, as well as Giuliani’s conduct, are at the center of an intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint that sparked the House Democratic impeachment inquiry last week.
Biden campaign Chairman Cedric Richmond dismissed Trump’s assertions as a reflection of the president’s concerns about facing Biden in a general election.
“This president is scared, and he’s acting out,” the Louisiana congressman said.
Federal Election Commission Chairwoman Ellen Weintraub responded to Trump’s remarks, tweeting a reminder that it is a violation of campaign finance law for anyone to “solicit accept or receive” anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election. The agency polices campaign finance laws. But after a recent resignation, its board does not have enough commissioners to legally meet and take enforcement action.
Trump himself has faced multiple allegations that he and his children have enriched themselves through his presidential candidacy and time in office, including spending by the U.S. and foreign governments at his properties. Trump has contended that his political life actually has cost him money, though he is the first major presidential candidate in modern history to refuse to release tax returns that would provide more detail.
Trump has sought to implicate Biden and his son in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. Trump encouraged Zelenskiy to work with Giuliani and also volunteered the assistance of Attorney General William Barr to investigate the Bidens.
On Thursday, House lawmakers heard testimony from the former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, whose conversations with Trump officials and Giuliani have made him a central figure in the Ukraine inquiry.
Ahead of the 2016 election, Trump publicly called on Russia to release Hillary Clinton’s emails if they had obtained them by hacking—which U.S. intelligence agencies later determined to be the case.
“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump said during a July 2016 press conference. He later claimed in written answers to questions from special counsel Robert Mueller that he made the appeal to Russia “in jest and sarcastically, as was apparent to any objective observer.”
Edgerton High School students this year are running a laboratory that raises fish and grows lettuce, and they consider that just part of going to school.
For the first time, juniors and seniors can enroll in a class that uses the school district’s new facility for aquaponics, which involves growing plants in a soil-less system with water, teacher Tony DeWar said.
“There has been nothing but excitement and anticipation to actually get this system up and running,” Superintendent Dennis Pauli said.
Funding for the facility was donated by the late Bill Wartmann, a longtime supporter of education in the district.
The first aquaponics class last fall helped install equipment in the lab, but the curriculum was more classroom-based. In spring, students began to set up the lab to get it running.
This fall’s class is the first to use the lab since its completion in April.
The lab has four 110-gallon fish tanks filled with tilapia. Students feed the fish, and the fish waste gets funneled through pipes and tanks that separate out the solid waste.
Bacteria convert the waste products—ammonia and nitrite—into nitrate, which is used to grow lettuce in plant beds. The lettuce grows twice as fast in the lab as it does in soil, DeWar said.
The class has already sold lettuce to the high school’s food service program and plans to reach out to local restaurants and other schools. Some lettuce has been donated to local food pantries. Any money the students earn helps run the lab.
The students use no pesticides or chemicals, preferring all-natural pest control. They do almost all of the maintenance and troubleshooting on the system.
“It’s a sustainable way to grow foods. … It’s an organic product,” DeWar said. “It’s a cool little, very neat system.”
Students learn about plant and fish biology in aquaponics class, but the real education comes from the hands-on application. DeWar said water chemistry, life cycles, bacteria and chemicals are among the subjects they focus on.
“They get to apply what they’re learning in class. When it comes to science, kids always ask why they have to learn this, and here’s why.”
Edgerton junior Abigail Willey enrolled in aquaponics to prepare herself for what she might study after graduation.
“I have a future interest in horticulture and microbiology, and I figured the best place to start is the actual agricultural classes here at my school,” she said.
Pauli agreed that real-life experience makes the investment in the lab worthwhile.
“It’s better preparation for life beyond high school. They’re doing real-life work and getting experience if they were to ever have an interest in getting into an industry like this,” he said. “It’s really a science lab for them to get hands-on experience.”
At first, Willey wasn’t sure what to expect, but she said she’s learning a lot.
“It’s interesting to know the nitrification process and what needs both the fish and plants have to meet,” she said, “and especially in the food industry, how aquaponics is beneficial in growing plants for human consumption.”
Senior Brice Christianson said he likes learning about the business side of the aquaponics lab and how it helps pay for itself.
Remembering to do all the tasks needed to run the lab can be challenging, he said, but he still recommends the class to friends.
“A lot of my friends who say they have open spots, I’ll definitely recommend that they take aquaponics,” Christianson said. “It’s so fun. I’m having a great time.”
Maxine T. Cox
Kenneth E. Dean
Duane H. Edwards
William E. “Bill” Miller Jr.
The Janesville Fire Department’s improved insurance rating could draw businesses to town and make residents feel safer, Fire Chief Ernie Rhodes said.
The national Insurance Services Office last week bumped Janesville’s fire services rating from Class 3 to Class 2, which Rhodes said is a significant change.
Ratings are used by insurance carriers to determine rates for commercial and residential properties.
The change from Class 3 to 2 likely will lower commercial property insurance rates by a noticeable amount, Rhodes said.
Residential rates are less likely to change. Changes in rates are determined by insurance carriers, Rhodes said.
Low insurance rates draw business owners to plant roots in Janesville, Rhodes said.
Insurance Services Office ratings range from 1 to 10, with 1 being the best rating. Janesville is one of 45 fire departments in the state with a Class 2 rating, according to data provided by Rhodes.
Six departments in the state have Class 1 ratings.
Janesville’s fire department had a Class 3 rating for at least 28 years, said Dep. Chief Bill Ruchti.
The city’s investment in infrastructure, training and the quality of equipment firefighters carry drove the rating improvement, Rhodes said.
A commitment by the city to replace aging water mains made a large impact, Rhodes said.
The city’s mutual aid agreements with neighboring departments and its document keeping also contributed, Ruchti said.
It is unlikely Janesville will become a Class 1 department unless changes are made to the city’s budgeting process, Rhodes said.
State shared revenue, levy limits and the state’s expenditure restraint program make it difficult for Janesville to generate revenue, Rhodes said.
Janesville’s fire department would need more staff, another ladder company and other expensive changes to get the top rating, which Rhodes does not foresee in the near future, he said.
The Insurance Services Office evaluates departments every 10 years. Departments can request an evaluation outside of the 10-year cycle, Rhodes said.
The office looks at fire services, 911 dispatch, water utilities and other city services while determining ratings, Rhodes said.
Janesville residents should feel a higher level of comfort in knowing its fire department is “solid,” Rhodes said.
“It makes for a higher quality of life,” Rhodes said.