DES MOINES—Iowa is over 5,000 miles away from Ukraine—which is where, according to repeated, baseless claims from Donald Trump, Democratic 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden engaged in a cover-up.
And yet even here in Des Moines, Democrats aren’t buying the president’s feigned outrage, choosing instead to dismiss the political uproar over Ukraine, Trump, and the man who hopes to take him on in the general election as nothing more than a red herring.
“This has been looked at and nothing untoward has been found,” Susan Judkins, a city council member from Clive, told The Daily Beast of Trump’s allegations that Biden abused his power in Ukraine. “Everything I’ve come to understand is that it isn’t a story.”
Judkins was addressing the already debunked corruption scandal that both Trump and his attorney, Rudy Giuliani, have frantically tried to revive in recent days as Trump came under fire amid reports he’d repeatedly pressured Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to investigate the Biden family ahead of the 2020 elections.
Trump and Giuliani have long claimed that Biden abused his position while vice president to force Ukrainian authorities to fire a top prosecutor who was ostensibly investigating a gas company linked to Biden’s son, Hunter. Despite Ukraine’s prosecutor general already explicitly stating there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden—and confirmation from numerous Western officials that there was unanimous demand for the firing of the Ukrainian prosecutor in question—Trump is said to have asked Zelenskyy at least eight times in one July phone call to investigate Biden. The apparent pressure campaign is also said to be at least part of the reason for a whistleblower complaint over Trump that has sparked a standoff between Congress and the U.S. intelligence community.
“I don’t know what Hunter did over there, but I don’t think he did anything illegal,” said Andrew Lietzow, a 67-year-old Des Moines resident who served as a precinct captain for former President Barack Obama. “People who want Biden are at this point really committed.”
On Saturday, Biden turned the tables on Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy theories and accused him of engaging in “an overwhelming abuse of power.”
Trump’s latest attack on his political rival started just before 17 presidential hopefuls and hundreds of supporters convened for the Polk County Steak Fry, one of the biggest cattle calls for Iowa Democrats of the year. Biden, who had a notable presence at the event, bought 1,800 tickets, the most out of any 2020 contender.
In interviews with over a dozen Democrats at the event, including many who count Biden as their first choice, most agreed that they have become newly energized in their support after he endured another personal attack from the president.
“It’s Trump. What do you expect?,” Jim Benzoni, a 64-year-old Biden supporter and frequent caucus-goer said when asked what to make of the president’s allegations about Biden and his son. “What else is new?”
Speaking to reporters under an overcast sky, Biden continued to redirect the attention back to the current occupant of the White House.
“Trump deserves to be investigated,” Biden said. “He is violating every basic norm of a president. Trump’s doing this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum.”
Biden has enjoyed frontrunner status for much of the early Democratic primary. But a new Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa poll released on Saturday night showed his support may be more malleable than previously indicated. In the survey, he slipped to second place following Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Warren, who started off an impassioned speech on Saturday by saying she’s here “to stand up for the Constitution” and that “Congress failed to act” in impeaching Trump, earned 22 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers, while Biden earned 20 percent. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) came in third at 11 percent.
Still, among Biden’s most ardent supporters, many view Trump’s attacks on his role in Ukraine as both illegitimate and politically advantageous for the former vice president.
“It’s something the president should have never done. Period,” Bill Alexander, a 73-year-old resident from Ottumwa, said. “I don’t think there’s anything to back it up.”
But it’s not just Biden supporters who agree Trump crossed a line. Supporters of a variety of rival Democratic candidates, including Warren, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and others rushed to Biden’s defense when asked about the president’s latest attack.
“I think it’s horrifying that he would bring in Biden’s son to try and divert people’s attention,” said Rose Oster, a 71-year-old Des Moines resident who’s leaning towards Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, but also likes Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).
Other Democratic attendees sounded concerns more broadly about the need for Trump’s impeachment, citing his latest moves as just the most recent example.
“Now that the Democrats and the Fake News Media have gone ‘bust’ on every other of their Witch Hunt schemes, they are trying to start one just as ridiculous as the others, call it the Ukraine Witch Hunt, while at the same time trying to protect Sleepy Joe Biden. Will fail again!” Trump tweeted on Saturday.
It’s that kind of rhetoric that Carmen Winters, a 70-year-old Des Moines resident and longtime Biden supporter, says leads people to turn against Trump.
“We know that he’s made up his life on lies,” Winters said. “He’s the one who makes the fake news. I don’t pay attention.”