President Trump unloaded on Joe and Hunter Biden over their Ukrainian business dealings in Minneapolis on Thursday evening — at one point bringing the crowd to its feet by charging that Biden’s only useful trait as vice president was his preternatural ability to “kiss Barack Obama’s ass.”
Trump cited a new report in The Washington Examiner that the whistleblower at the center of Democrats’ impeachment push had worked with Biden, and derided the Biden campaign for aggressively convince Facebook and The New York Times, as well as all major television networks, not to cover what it calls “conspiracy theories” about potential Biden corruption.
“Isn’t it much better when I go off script?” Trump said to applause. “So much better.”
Within minutes of taking the stage, the president mocked ex-FBI officials and lovers Peter Strzok and Lisa Page with a passionate dramatic reading of their anti-Trump text messages. He also touted the country’s economy and suggested the U.S. will prevail in its trade war with China — without mentioning the growing issue of censorship in the U.S. over ongoing pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
The rally, Trump’s first since the House moved toward impeachment over his handling of a July phone call with Ukraine’s president, is in a state Trump nearly won in 2016 and has talked frequently of capturing in 2020. But it takes place in a traditionally liberal city and the home turf of a frequent foil, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.
Local news reports indicated that scores of Trump supporters, as well as pro-impeachment demonstrators, lined up hours before the event at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis began. At the rally, Trump said more than 20,000 people were inside the arena — and more than 25,000 were outside, out of nearly 100,000 who indicated online that they wanted to attend.
Before the president took the stage, his son Eric Trump briefly encouraged a “lock him up” chant directed at Joe and Hunter Biden, before telling the crowd it wouldn’t be necessary because Biden will lose his bid for the White House.
Trump turned to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky‘s comments earlier Thursday concerning his fateful call with Trump. Zelensky unequivocally told reporters the call involved no bribe, blackmail or quid pro quo, as impeachment-minded Democrats claim.
“That should be the end of it,” Trump told rallygoers. “We released a transcript of that call, which was so good that Crooked Adam Schiff had to make up a fake conversation that never happened, and he delivered it to the United States Congress and the American people. It was a total fraud. And then Nancy Pelosi said, ‘Oh, I think the president said that.’ These people are sick.”
Trump argued that Democrats never anticipated that he would release a full transcript of his call with Zelensky, and recklessly locked themselves into their impeachment inquiry before even reading the document.
“Where’s Hunter?” Trump asked rallygoers at one point, referring to Biden’s son. The president then launched into a mock interview with Hunter, whom Trump called “not too smart.”
“Hunter, you know nothing about energy, you know nothing about China, you know nothing about anything, frankly. Hunter, you’re a loser,” Trump said, his voice rising. “Why did you get $1.5B, hunter? And your father was never considered smart, he was never considered a good senator — he was only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass.”
Critics alleged Hunter — who secured a lucrative role on the board of Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma Holdings while his father was vice president — might have been selling access to his father, who had pushed Ukraine to increase its natural gas production.
The rally went ahead as scheduled even after Trump’s campaign threatened a lawsuit over the city’s effort to recover $530,000 in security costs relating to the event.
The dispute over the rally’s security costs erupted late Monday when the campaign accused Mayor Jacob Frey, a Trump critic, of trying to sink the rally. Frey called the costs reasonable and said he had a duty to protect taxpayers.
The campaign said the city sent the security cost estimate to Target Center’s operator, AEG Management, which threatened to cancel its contract to host the rally if the costs weren’t covered. Its law firm threatened to sue AEG if the rally doesn’t proceed.
Trump attacked Frey Tuesday on Twitter, writing: “Someone please tell the Radical Left Mayor of Minneapolis that he can’t price out Free Speech. Probably illegal!”
His campaign said the “bogus security charges” are an attempt to prevent Minneapolis residents from supporting Trump, and contrasted them with what they said were much smaller charges for a 2009 event by then-President Barack Obama in the same building.
“The radical leftist mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, is abusing the power of his office and attempting to extort President Trump’s re-election campaign,” Trump’s campaign said in a statement.
When the rally was announced last month, Frey said Trump’s “message of hatred” would never be welcome in Minnesota. But, at a news conference Tuesday, he said the city will do all it can to guarantee a “safe and peaceful week,” regardless of his political differences with Trump.
Frey stood by the security-cost estimate, saying a Trump political rally would bring “significant expenses” not associated with Obama’s 2009 event, which was aimed at building support for health-care reform.
Later Tuesday, the Trump campaign said in a statement that the operators of Target Center had backed off canceling the contract, with no agreement by the campaign to pay additional money.
AEG didn’t respond to messages seeking comment.
Trump also attacked Frey over Twitter for a policy prohibiting city police officers from wearing their uniforms in support of candidates at political events or in campaign ads. A spokesman for the city’s police union has complained about the policy, and the union has been selling “Cops for Trump” T-shirts.
Frey said the police force must be nonpartisan and non-ideological.
“They’re free to express their First Amendment rights but should do so off-duty,” he said.
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.